This can be a rough time of year for some people. If that's you, I'd like to encourage you to give yourself this gift:
Be as kind to yourself as you are to your friends.
Once a day or so, check how you've been treating yourself.
If you find yourself hosting a harsh inner critic and you haven't been able to overcome it, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) this month--December 2015--and I'll send you a present: my downloadable mp3 program on how to tame your harsh inner critic.
Usually this costs $69, but there's no catch, I won't bombard you with offers of paid products, I won't share your email address with anybody else, it's just a little gift. Hmm, according to the principle...now I have to give myself a present, too. Win-win!
A lot has been written in the past few years about the state of "flow," in which whatever you're doing seems to come to you effortlessly. I had a rare experience of it yesterday, on a ten-hour flight back to London from Los Angeles.
I wrote about six thousand words during that time, on a new idea for a kids' book. I'm sure the work is rough but it was great to have it pouring out.
THE CONDITIONS FOR FLOW
The conditions seem to be:
I'm not sure whether having a general idea about where the story is going is important. In this case, the same character is involved in a lot of short stories, which is an easier structure to handle.
That's not to say that flow happens every time those conditions are met. I've made that flight many times, and have been very productive on only one out of five or six.
It's made me wonder to create such conditions without getting on an airplane. Some writers do it by going to a hotel for a few days or weeks, not turning on the TV, not hooking up to the wi-fi, and taking at least some of their meals via room service. That's a fairly drastic approach, though (as well as expensive).
Working in a cafe, ideally without internet access, can be a mini-version of that, although here in the center of London it's hard to find one that doesn't have the distraction of people-watching and the obligation to move on after you've had a couple of cups of coffee. Maybe I just need to look harder for an unpopular place.
Getting on a train (obviously not during peak times) for a couple of hours might do it, although given the price of train travel it could be an expensive option.
If you'd care to share how you get into a flow state, please leave a comment. I'll be experimenting more with this and will let you know how it turns out.
Have you ever come to the end of the year only to find that many of the things you intended to do somehow fell by the wayside and you're pretty much at the same point with them as you were at the end of the previous year? I have.
Then it's hard to get excited about setting new goals because in the back of our minds is the nagging suspicion that it'll just end the same way.
Obviously, it's a busy time, and 18 days isn't very long, so I'm not suggesting setting some humungous task for ourselves--that would be a prescription for more disappointment. But getting a little head start on something you care about could help you feel better about it at the beginning of the year, and build some momentum going into January.
I'LL SHOW YOU MINE
I have one commissioned project to finish by the end of this month, a rewrite of a script that I originally wrote about fifteen years ago, but in addition to that my head-start goal is to finish the manuscript of a children's book I've been working on, on and off, for a while. Having a complete draft of that on January 1 would give me a good feeling.
WANT TO SHOW ME YOURS?
What would do the same for you? Why not add a bit of accountability by adding it in the comments section--I'll check back on January 1!
Is there such a thing as getting out of writing shape? I read the other day that if you exercise regularly and then stop, it takes three to five weeks before you lose general strength but specialized (sport-specific) strength diminishes in as little as two weeks.
There's no doubt that taking a break from anything you do a lot can be beneficial, but if you stop writing for an extended period is there a danger that you'll lose "writing strength"? Well, I doubt that you will suddenly not be able to string words together, but I think there is a danger that you'll lose momentum and some of the passion you had for the project you were working on when you stopped.
After all, the writing habit is like any other, it gets stronger the more we do it, but weakens when we stop. Of course sometimes life gets in our way and we have to stop. In that case, a few strategies might help:
1. Schedule your re-start. Put it in your calendar and clear the time needed on that date and afterward. It may be that you'll have to change this date and that's fine, but at least this way you have a specific target.
2. When you stop, jot down the next few things you'll write when you resume. For instance, this could be a note about what happens next in your novel or screenplay.
3. Unless you want or need a total break (when you go on vacation, for example) take a few minutes each day to think about the project and note any new ideas. When you resume, these ideas will help you get started again.
I see that somebody has an ebook out called "8 Hour Bestseller: How to Write Your Bestselling Book in Record Time." I guess in an era of the supposed 4-hour work week, 8 hours is a long time.
The author says his ebook will show you how to write 2000 words an hour. Wait a minute, that means your book will be only 16,000 words long. That's kind of short. Oh wait, his book has a print length of 59 pages. Allowing for the title page, table of contents, etc. probably it's only 50 pages...times, say, 300 words per page...equals 15,000 words. OK, I guess he considers that a book.
Oh wait, his book has a print length of 59 pages. Allowing for the title page, table of contents, etc. probably it's only 50 pages... times, say, 300 words per page...equals 15,000 words. OK, I guess he considers that a book.
By the way, his definition of "bestseller" is a book that reaches number one in its category on Amazon, which isn't hard to do if you get a bunch of people to buy your book at the same time. It has no relationship to the normal definition of bestseller.
I don't necessarily mean to be harsh with this author, it may be that his book has lots of useful information. What annoys me is the emphasis on how to write a book in the fastest possible time, rather than one that actually is as good as you can make it...and that won't happen in 8 hours.
If you want to write a book, you'll find friendly guidance in my book, Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from your favorite bookseller. Warning: it emphasizes quality over speed..
The interpretation of these rules is mine, not the Dalai Lama’s, but I hope I’ve stayed within the spirit of his intention.
1: Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk
Yes, there’s a chance nobody will want to publish your book or buy your screenplay. If you self-publish, there’s a possibility few will buy your book. But if you are passionate about writing, these risks are worth it.
2: When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
Rejection is part of the writing process. Sometimes it doesn’t even take someone else to reject our work, we may realize when a project is done that it’s not our best work and put it aside. But there are lessons within each rejection, whether they be about writing or marketing, and if we can gain those, we’ve not lost.
3: Follow the three Rs:
Respect for self
If writing is important to you, go for it even if others are sceptical or unsupportive. Respect your dream.
Respect for others
There will always be people who don’t get it. These could be family members who don’t understand why you’re spending so much time on something they can’t relate to, or editors who fail to appreciate your work, or people who make rude or stupid comments on your blog or in a review. Don’t waste time trying to win them over. Respect their right to have an opinion…and your right to ignore it. But also be open to the possibility that sometimes criticism stated the wrong way may still have something useful at its core.
Responsibility for all your actions
If you’re not writing, it’s nobody else’s fault. Yes, you have pressures and demands but many who have had as many or more obstacles have managed to write books and scripts and plays.
4: Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
There are many successful writers who desperately wanted their first novel to be published and it wasn’t. Years later they look back and say thank goodness, because it wasn’t good enough. Had it been published, probably it would have failed and delayed their eventual success.
5: Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
The so-called rules of writing have evolved from the experience of many writers over many years, and they will stand you in good stead most of the time. Once you understand them, you can feel free to experiment and break them.
6: Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
Never ask for anyone's opinion about your work unless you're ready to hear it--good or bad--and not let negative feedback affect your relationship. As I said above, some people in your life won't get it. If you value those people for other reasons, keep your writing life as separate as possible from your interactions with them.
(next post: rules 7-12)
"The only blank paper in the house was hers, and if she found out I touched it she’d go crazy. I sometimes stole paper from school and even that made her mad. I think it’s why I hoard paper to this day. I have so much blank paper everywhere, in every drawer, on every shelf, and still when I need a sheet I look in the garbage first. I agonize over using a “good” sheet of paper for anything. I have good drawing paper I’ve been dragging around for twenty years because I’m not good enough to use it yet. Yes, I know this is insane."
Embarrassing confession: I have some notebooks about which I feel the same, and I can't even blame my mother. But reading Barry's confession has made me realize that the best time to use the good paper is now.
Of course "the good paper" is also a metaphor for anything you've been denying yourself because you're not good enough yet, or the time is not right yet, or some other excuse.
Do you think maybe it's time for you to "use the good paper", too?
If you've been putting off writing that book you've been thinking about, you'll find friendly guidance and useful tips in my book, Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from your favorite bookseller.
We all know how it goes: resolutions are made on January 1st and generally they’re forgotten by February 1st. If we don’t take action, we’ll end 2015 making exactly the same resolutions again. That doesn’t mean you’re lazy or lack ambition, it means you’re human and nobody’s helped you do it right.
HERE’S WHAT NOT TO DO
Do not just try to do the same thing, only this time on February 1st! It didn’t work in January, it’s not going to work in February or March or April. There’s a better way.
FOUR SIMPLE STEPS? REALLY?
How come books on achieving your goals make it so complicated? Well, you wouldn’t pay for a book as short as this email, would you? People have to pad it out and give it some kind of fancy name so that you’ll hand over some money. I make my money doing other stuff, so I can be concise. I’m not selling anything. Weird, huh?
Imagine it’s New Year’s Eve, 2015. What’s the ONE THING you want to have be different? What do you want to feel proud that you did? For instance:
* you got your weight and fitness levels where you want them
* you started your own business
* you wrote that book you’ve been thinking about
* you improved your relationship with your kids
* you learned a new language
* you got your finances in order
STEP ONE. Complete this sentence, in writing:
“By the end of this year, the one thing I definitely want to achieve is________________________.”
That doesn’t mean you can’t achieve other things as well, but this is going to be your highest priority, so pick something you’d really be proud to have done. If you achieve it in less than a year, great! You can move on to your next goal.
You’ve heard the saying, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Well, it continues with a single step, too. Lots of single steps.
One of the main reasons people fail to achieve their resolutions is they don’t chunk down their goal into small enough bits. They start out big--maybe taking an hour a day to exercise, for instance...but then life takes over. The stuff you used to do in the time you’re now spending on exercising still needs to be done, so you fall behind. And before you know it, it’s too hard to keep up the new effort and you stop.
STEP TWO. Fill in these two sentences once a week, in writing:
This week, here’s what I’m going to do to move toward my goal during just one session of 15 minutes a day:________________________________________. To make this possible here’s what i’m going to do 15 minutes a day less: __________________________________.
First, what can you achieve in only 15 minutes? If you’re learning a language, you can learn a new word or two. If you want to write a book, you can jot down notes about the plot, the characters, the theme. If you want to improve your relationship with somebody, you can spend 15 minutes a day listening--not talking or judging or giving advice, just listening--to them. If you want to get your finances in order, you can set up a filing system and use it on all the receipts and other documents that are in a big jumble at the moment.
The reason you fill in these sentences once a week is that what you will be doing will change as you make progress. Once you’ve spent a few weeks jotting down general ideas about your book, you may decide to spend that 15 minutesa day working on the main plot points. Once you’ve learned a bunch of new words in another language you may decide to spend 15 minutes a day listening to audio lessons on how to form simple sentences, Most of the time you’ll find it easy to figure out the next logical thing to do.
Second, what can you do less of? If you’re getting more than 7 or 8 hours a night of sleep, you can sleep 15 minutes less. Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier, or go to bed 15 minutes later. Or you may choose to eliminate 15 minutes a day of TV, Facebook or Twitter time, or something else. There isn’t anybody who can’t find a spare fifteen minutes a day.
You may think there’s no danger that you’ll forget to do your 15 minutes a day, but there is. Trust me, I’ve done it myself.
We need to remind ourselves to do it. One way is to link it to something we do already--something we like or need to do, so we never forget to do it. For instance, you might decide:
* I will not have breakfast until I’ve done the 15 minutes. Put a note on your box of cereal or on your fridge to remind you.
* I will not watch any TV until I’ve done the 15 minutes. Put the note on your remote control.
* I will not look at Facebook/ Twitter/ Pinterest / Whatever until I’ve done the 15 minutes Put the note on your computer screen or your tablet or phone.
* I will not put on my shoes until I’ve done the 15 minutes. Put the note on your shoes.
You can also set an alarm, or authorize somebody in your household to remind you every day, or make a pact with a buddy to phone or email each other every day, or email yourself at the end of every day. It’s a good idea to use two or three methods at first, to make sure that you’re remembering to do the fifteen minutes. Eventually it will become a habit, but that may take six weeks or more.
Also set up a way to remind yourself to review your progress once a week and set out the plan for the next week. Put it into your calendar, add an alarm to that day, schedule a call with a buddy so you can compare progress and support each other in setting up the following week, or whatever works best for you. It may take a few tries until you find the method that works every time.
STEP THREE. Fill in the following:
To remind myself to do this every day, I will: _________________________________. If that doesn’t work, I will:________________________________________. To remind myself to review the week and set out the plan for the next week, I will:___________________________________________.
If you ever lapse, take that as a signal to try something else, not to give up doing the 15 minutes!
STEP FOUR. Do it now.
I lied. There are really only three steps, but I’m making the fourth one do it today. Ideally, NOW. Skip reading the rest of your emails for the next fifteen minutes. If you haven’t filled in the sentences above, that can be your fifteen minute task for the day. That, plus setting up whatever kind of reminders you’re going to use. If you’d like to have a goals buddy, forward this email to them and invite them to join you.
Did you notice that I asked you to fill in the sentences “in writing”? You need to write or print out those completed sentences and keep them where you can see them every day. That’s an important part of the method, please don’t skip it.
By putting in lots of daily short sessions, you will gain momentum. You will see your goal starting to become real. You will feel proud of yourself. You will have greater motivation to keep going.
You may reach a point where 15 minutes a day isn’t the ideal way to spend time on your project. That’s fine, then you can get creative about how to find bigger chunks of time. Maybe you will decide to spend 30 minutes every other day. Or maybe you will be excited enough by your progress to give up an hour a night of TV in favor of working on your project. Or maybe your project now seems more desirable than however you used to spend your Saturdays, and you give it a full day every week.
The process will be basically the same, though. For every new chunk of time, you decide on something to give up, you work out each week what you’re going to do, you set up reminders for yourself, and you keep going. The closer you get to your goal, the more exciting and easier this gets.
If you have any questions about how you can apply this to your own situation, feel free to email me:email@example.com. If I can help, I will.
"When his apprentice wants to know which route he should choose, the Yaqui brujo answers, "Any path is only a path...All paths are the same: they all lead nowhere. The only important question you must ask is: 'Does this path have heart?'
If a path has heart for you, then dare to follow it. It is important to give up on irrelevant questioning, to take care not to waste yourself."
--Sheldon Kopp in "If You Meet the Buddha On the Road, Kill Him!"
Does what you are writing have heart for you? Then dare to follow it. It may or may not lead you to publication; for sure it will lead you to yourself.
December 07, 2014 in Feed Your Head, Getting Ideas to Flow, Screenwriting, Self-publishing, Time to Write, Writer's block, Writers to Admire, Writing a Novel, writing a play, Writing for children, Writing for Children, Writing for Young Adults (YA), Writing Motivation | Permalink | Comments (0)
| | | | | |
The charming short (2 minute) video below uses kids to demonstrate the difference between going with your first idea and giving yourself enough time to come up with something more creative:
A series on how to improve your life, 5 minutes at a time.
Today: Stop and ask yourself one question
Several times a day, stop what you're doing and ask yourself: "Is this the best use of my time right now?"
If it is, congratulations!
If not, figure out what IS the best use of your time at that moment and do it instead.
This is important because it's so easy to get distracted or to pay attention to the urgent rather than the important. Of course the urgent must be done, but is this the best moment to do it? It's not that we don't know what we should be doing, but that it's so easy to forget.
Of course it's also easy to forget to ask yourself this question, so I recommend setting an alarm on your phone or tablet or watch for three times during your work day. When the alarm rings, ask yourself the question and, if necessary, adjust what you're doing. If the alarm would annoy others, set it to vibrate.
Probably you already know the times of the day you tend to get distracted, so schedule the alarms accordingly.
TIP: If what you're doing is enjoyable but not the right thing at that moment, schedule it as a reward for finishing the thing that IS the best use of your time.
(If you're looking for additional innovative ways to be more productive, get a copy of my book, "Focus: use the power of targeted thinking to get more done." It's published by Pearson and available from your favorite bookseller.)
In the Early to Rise newsletter, Stephen Guise, author of MiniHabits, suggested a different way of looking at risk and rewards in order to change your habits or overcome avoiding things you'd like to do.
TWO KINDS OF RISK
One kind of risk involves the possiblity that something everybody would agree is bad could happen.
It would be fun to jump into that lake but you don't know how deep the water is. The risk is that you could break your neck or at least your leg. Clearly the reward is not worth the risk.
Or you can go to a casino and bet a year's wages on black or red. The odds are almost 50-50 (you get nothing if the ball stops on the 0 or 00). If you win, you can take a year off. If you lose, you might have to work two jobs for a year. Whether or not it's worth taking that risk is up to you but again there's a clear downside.
However there are also many things we avoid because they carry the risk that we will feel embarrassed or rejected if we fail. For these, Guise suggests attaching a reward to trying, not to whether or not you gain what you wanted.
WHAT REWARDS ARE EFFECTIVE?
The reward can be whatever you enjoy, ideally something you don't do or get all the time anyway. If Guise was drinking three smoothies a day already, having another one wouldn't have been a very effective reward. I don't recommend using food as a reward anyway, it's likely to lead to gaining weight and to forming assocIations that ultimately are not helpful.
I do find it difficult to think of non-food rewards; maybe I don't deny myself enough normally. So far the ones that come to mind are:
* 30 minutes at a cofee shop or in the park, reading for pleasure
* On DVD, watching an episode of a television show that I like (I'm a few seasons behind on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and two or so behind on 30 Rock)
* 15 or 30 minutes of checking out new music on Spotify
* A blended juice drink from Planet Organic (it's just down the street)
If you have any favorite rewards to suggest, please leave a comment.
ADD THE "TINY STEPS" APPROACH
You can combine this approach with dividing a daunting task into small steps. Figure out some small rewards and attach one to each step of the process. This way you reinforce making at least some progress every day rather than making the reward contingent on achieving the overall big goal.
This also fits in with the fact that research has shown that in training animals (and let's face it, that what we are, too) a reward works best when it follows the desired behaviour immediately.
HOW TO USE THIS FOR NEW HABITS
If you're cultivating a new habit it can make sense to break it down into component parts as well.
The second week you don't get a reward until you've not only gotten up but also have put on your running clothes.
The next week the reward comes only when you've at least left the house.
The next week only when you've run (or at least walked) a quarter of a mile, and so on.
Normally if we got up, put on running clothes, but then didn't run, we'd think of that as a failure. From this new perspective we see it as a step on the road to success and as such reward it.
How could you employ this method to your advantage? Is there something you avoid that you might reward?
The hot topic these days is quantifying aspects of your life: how far you walk, how long and well you sleep, how many calories you consume, your weight, your heart rate, and on and on. You now can record absolutely everything that happens to you with a camera you wear that takes a snapshot every time you move or somebody or something in front of you moves.
It's getting harder to separate the useful information from the narcissistic navel-gazing.
I confess to having a Fitbit that measures how far I walk but so far that's the extent of my participation in this trend.
I'm sure that some of the indicators of fitness and health will be very useful but in terms of being more productive and creative, what are the key things you might want to measure?
* Your output. For a writer that might be the number of words written per day or week. Obviously the ultimate question is whether what you write (or draw or create in some way) is any good, but often before it's good it's not so good. That's what rewriting is for. But even before it's not so good, it just has to exist, and that's where keeping track of quantity of words is helpful.
I do suggest using that rather than the number of hours as a measure; I know from personal experience that it's all too easy to justify a few hours of skimming articles as research that relates to writing...kind of.
* How much time you spend thinking, daydreaming, and reflecting. This kind of uniterrupted time is essential and harder and harder to achieve. Even ten or fifteen minutes a day can make a difference.
* How much time you spend stepping back from the everyday busyness to consider whether you're on the right track in the different facets of your life, whether some adjustments are needed, and whether you're taking care of yourself as well as others. An hour or so every month should suffice.
I reckon if we give enough time to these, we'll do pretty well!
The Zen Habits blog listed ten questions that can help you take action. In this series of posts I suggest how to apply nine of those specifically to writing more. You can easily adapt them to drawing or whatever other creative activity you'd like to increase.
5. Does the pain of not doing it outweigh the fear of doing it?
This question gets to the heart of the issue: usually it's not really lack of time or any external obstacle that stops you from doing what you care about.
WHAT ARE WE SCARED OF?
There are lots of fears, actually, but the biggest one is fear of failure. What if you try to write a novel and you fail? You have your choice of several failures to contemplate: what if your idea is no good, what if you run out of steam halfway through, what if you finish it but nobody wants to publish it, what if it gets published but gets humiliating reviews? What if people will think you're silly even to try?
The pain of not doing what you'd love to do is more subtle.
STAB OR ACHE?
Whereas fears are like stabs, the pain of not doing is an ache. But it's an ache that can go very deep, that can settle into your bones. I've met a few people like that. It made them bitter. They looked for excuses--they didn't have a good enough education, or the publishing world was stacked against them, or you had to be part of the Hollywood in-group. I have a feeling the nights they woke up at 4am they knew they had defeated themselves.
If you want to go for it but the fear is stronger than the pain you can address either side of the equation.
OPTION 1: INCREASE THE PAIN
You can increase the pain. Think about what you're giving up. Think about how long you've made excuses. Think about how you feel when you look at the things you intend to do "soon" and realize it's the same list you had last year and the year before and the year before.
OPTION 2: DECREASE THE FEAR
My preferred solution is to decrease the fear. Not by assuming failure is impossible but by looking realistically at the consequences of failing.
If you fail, will you die?
Will you go hungry?
Will a mob congregate outside your housewith pitchforks?
Will it make the six o'clock news?
Frankly, hardly anybody will notice. And who says not getting the result you want is failure? How often have you looked back at things that seemed like failures or catastrophes at the time and realized they weren't, or at least not totally. If you learn how to write a good screenplay by first writing a couple of bad ones, are those failures?
I believe if you you look at the fear of failure realistically you can knock it out in the first round.