You found an idea and arranged the words to express that idea before putting them out in the world.
You spent time and effort making sure you’re adding something new to the conversation.
You’ve chosen to share it with the world, but it’s still yours.
Except that the moment you pressed publish, you lost control.
No Strings Attached
We’re trained to be polite when giving and receiving gifts. We learn to navigate the minefield according to unwritten rules, and if someone fails to play the game right we call foul.
When you send your work into the world, you expect it to be received with polite thanks at least, and effusive gratitude at best. But you fear bad things will happen and you’ll be powerless to do anything about it.
Your work, that gift for the reader that you laboured over, gets ignored, thrown to the ground and trampled on, or taken apart until it is shredded beyond recognition. You’re angry, disappointed, and afraid to risk trying again.
You must try again and change your attitude to giving.
We’re all adults and we know that many gifts don’t hit the spot. It’s on the recipient to decide what they do with the gift, and as long as you gave in good faith that’s where your influence ends.
If you’re giving what someone might need or use, give it freely. Don’t be that person who gives money but dictates what to buy with it. Don’t be that person who gets huffy when you don’t bring out their gift every time they visit.
All you can do is put enough time and effort into making sure you’ve created your best possible work.
After that, it’s time to forget expectations and cut the strings.
Lightly Not Tightly
A busy road separates my house from the main residential area. My son, then aged nine, wanted to cross the road and cycle to his friend’s house alone. I was worried; a girl had been killed on that road shortly after we moved in. I was acutely aware of all the potential hazards. At the same time, he was growing up and wanting more independence.
I had several options at that point:
Keep him at home
Let him go but only with a parent
Let him go alone
Many factors played into this decision but eventually, he would have to face the world without me beside him. My job as a parent was to teach him how.
Two of the hardest parenting lessons to learn are how and when to let go.
Stories are like children. You’re responsible for keeping them safe while they develop and giving them the tools to survive. But after that, they’re on their own.
Your story belonged to you. Now you must find a way to set it free with a light heart, rather than holding on too tight. Then, like your child leaving the nest, you give your words and creativity room to grow and fulfil their purpose.
Random Acts of Connection
I know that books seem like the ultimate thing that’s made by one person, but that’s not true. Every reading of a book is a collaboration between the reader and the writer who are making the story up together. John Green
We write with a specific idea in mind, but that idea can spark many different connections in different minds.
Once I wrote a fictional argument between two gay men about authenticity. I received a long comment in return from a woman, married with children, who identified so strongly with one character that she was in tears reading it.
This was not the reaction I intended. But it told me that for one person at least the issues resonated, so strongly that she took the time to reply.
We write to connect. We can’t predict whether we connect or in what way, because each reader is unique. Each reader views the story through a unique lens shaped by personality and experience.
A story is different for everybody who reads it and the writer only owns the first version. The reader filters and changes your words, consciously or not. Their response has more to say about them and where they find themselves at that moment than the story itself.
The glory of a good tale is that it’s limitless & fluid; a good tale belongs to each reader in its own particular way. Stephen King
So consider your story a child of your imagination. Make it as strong as you can. When it’s ready, send it into the world. Your story is outside your control now, and that’s as it should be.
Every child must walk its own path. Every story must make its own way.
Whether people react to your words with delight, anger, scorn, or tears, you’ve done your job. You made a connection. The outcome is not your responsibility as long as the story comes from a place of love, and a desire to share and receive something positive.
That also means that every story has the ability to change someone in ways you can’t predict. Who knows what comfort you can give to a person who can finally say, “That’s me, that’s how I feel.” If you can do that, why hesitate?
That’s the true worth of a story – the possibility of learning, wonder, and growth for writer and reader. Accept this responsibility and use your powers for good.
Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning. Gloria Steinem
As December ends and we leave the holiday season behind, our thoughts naturally turn to the new year. Like the two headed Roman god Janus, patron of doorways and transitions, we look forward and back at the same time.
It can be a time of regret for missed opportunities, unwanted challenges faced, and unfulfilled dreams.
It’s also a time to look forward with hope, taking the lessons we’ve learned forward to do better in the new year. Here are 19 uncommon goals to improve your writing. Let’s do the WRITE thing in 2019.
Write More, Write Better
1. Write a manifesto
Companies write inspiring mission statements to express their aims in a few words. Write out your personal manifesto. What do you believe in when it comes to life and your creative work? What principles guide you? Condense the ideas into a single sentence that captures the essence of your vision. Use it in your bio on Medium, Twitter and your blog.
2. Set a monthly word count and track your output
What gets measured, gets done.
Daily word counts work well for some people but with busy lives sometimes a weekly or monthly target is better. This allows you flexibility to vary the count according to life events and the unexpected.
You might favour a fancy bullet journal, but a cheap desk diary works too if you like analogue records. If a spreadsheet works better for you, use that. The format doesn’t matter, as long as you complete it.
Set aside fifteen minutes each Sunday to record your word count and plan your week. If you’re falling behind, revise your goals. Schedule it in your diary and show up.
3. Finish that project — create a timeline
Unfinished projects derail you in three ways.
You waste time and energy feeling guilty and anxious.
You deprive yourself of the satisfaction of completion.
You deprive the world because it never sees your work.
You know that thing you started but never finished? Its time has come.
Whether it’s a novel or a blog post, pull up the document now. Figure out the minimum needed to complete it. Start writing. Keep going until it’s done. Don’t think, write.
Don’t stop, even if all you write is “blah blah blah and then they were abducted by aliens, The End.”
When you finish, breathe a sigh of relief and hit delete. You never have to look at it again. And you never have to let it drain your mental energy again, unless it is to edit and publish — if you want to.
4. Build or update your website
Everyone who hopes to send work into the world should have their own blog. It’s a place to build your portfolio, to connect with readers and clients, and to express yourself. Having all your work in one place is unwise, unless you own the platform.
If the platform vanishes, your work will vanish with it. By all means publish on Medium or elsewhere, but also have your own site where you can start to build an email list.
Make a free website this year with WordPress or Blogger.
If you have a blog already, refresh it with a new theme. Rewrite your About pages. Ensure you’re collecting emails for your subscriber list.
Read Something Interesting
It is well to read everything of something, and something of everything. Joseph Brodsky
5. Read a craft book
There’s a number of classic books on the craft of writing. You probably have one unread on the shelf right now. Here’s a list to get you started.
Pick one craft book and read it. Make notes on the new things you learned. Commit to using at least two of them in your next month of writing. It’s not enough to read and understand, you must also apply and assess results.
6. Read one book in a less favoured genre
You know what you like, right? And you avoid what you don’t. But you can learn new skills from different genres. Those skills are transferable to any genre.
Mystery shows how to write foreshadowing and twists. Horror shows how to write suspense. Fantasy shows how to write worldbuilding. And romance shows how to write dialogue.
Pick a book in a genre you never usually choose. Then read like a writer. You might need to read through and then go back to dissect how the writer achieved their aims.
If you could improve in the areas where you are weakest, imagine how much better your writing would be.
You can experiment with something new, or see what the competition is like in your chosen niche. It might give you ideas.
If you like a book, leave a review. That’s the best way to support a fellow writer, apart from buying their books.
8. Choose new authors on Medium and elsewhere
We live in an age of algorithms and filtered results tailored to our preferences. You can end up in an echo chamber where everyone holds the same views and no dissenting voices appear. That’s not good for discourse or for empathising with other people.
Instead of clicking on the same few names in your Medium email, try searching the tags you’re interested in. Pick a new author and have a look at their posts. Leave an intelligent comment and vote when you like a piece. You might find a new favourite.
Improve Your Skills
9. Take a course
The knowledge you need is out there. Commit to completing a course this year. Paid options include Udemy and CreativeLive. The latter offers some free to view content.
Free content is available as a signup bonus for some blogs like Jericho Writers as well as formal paid courses.
If you learn better with feedback or with demonstration, taking a course might suit you more than reading a book. Take your professional development seriously.
10. Retreat from the world
Writing retreats vary from simple to luxurious, local to exotic, with price tags to match. The opportunity to focus on writing can jumpstart your project or your mindset.
If you can commit the time, you’re halfway there. A retreat could consist of eight dedicated hours on Saturday with the kids sent to a relative or friend and the phone switched off. Or it could be a Caribbean cruise with well-known writers and cocktails.
Award yourself some time to write.
11. Join a Twitter pitch event
Each year, a number of writers find their agent through Twitter. Events are organised regularly by genre, using hashtags for authors to describe their books. Agents read the pitches and request pages, and some authors get signed.
Condensing your book into a 140 or 280 character pitch requires discipline and economy. The same skills are needed for writing blurbs and synopses. If you can’t condense it, maybe your story isn’t ready for an agent. Find tips and advice on winning twitter pitch events here.
12. Make an ebook for download
Ebooks are often used as incentives to sign up for an email list, and it’s good to offer your new readers something valuable in return for their time.
Include your best blog posts, or new stories not published elsewhere. Having your own mini book is another signal that you take yourself seriously as an author.
Use free resources from Canva or LucidPress to make professional looking booklets with ease. Then link it to your sign-up form using a mail program like Mailchimp or Convertkit.
There’s an undeniable sense of achievement in saying “I made that.”
Talk and Connect
13. Leave a meaningful review or comment
Be the change you want to see in the world.
You want people to read and engage with your words. Commit to doing this for another author at least once a week. Leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Reviews are hard to get and vital to a book’s success.
Write a comment that goes beyond ‘good job’ and shows how the words impacted you. Claps and reads and votes are marvellous, but a thoughtful comment is gold. And you can start a conversation that becomes a real relationship, without having to make small talk or even get dressed.
14. Join a group — genre or other
Writing is solitary and people in real life don’t get it. Join a group of people who do. Facebook has hundreds of groups organised by genre, gender, location, and philosophy of writing.
Writing conferences happen throughout the year and all over the world. Most offer workshops, sometimes with well-known authors, and the opportunity to meet agents and others in the publishing world. You can practice your pitch and chat with other writers. Self-publishing is also covered.
Cost will determine your choices here. Weekend events sometimes allow day visitors, which reduces costs of accommodation and catering.
16. Attend an author event
Attend a book signing or reading that’s local to you. Ask Google, or your local bookshop or library might have a calendar of events.
Have a sensible question for the author, but don’t monopolise the conversation or make it all about your book.
Like number 13, this is about good karma and being supportive, as well as learning by observation. Make good connections, because one day it could be your turn.
Entering a contest sets a deadline, which encourages you to finish your piece. You might have to write to a prompt or theme. And if you win, it will take your self-confidence to the next level as well as giving you bragging rights for your bio — and hopefully some cash too.
18. Milestone rewards for writing goals
Celebrate your successes and remind yourself how far you’ve come. Set some goals with a time limit, and write them out. You’re going to attach a reward to each milestone such as number of blog posts, finishing a project, hitting your monthly word count or whatever.
This reward will be something meaningful to you. Getting your 100th follower might mean more than hitting a word count, so let the rewards show that.
Big milestones deserve big celebrations. You got an agent? Finished your 120K epic saga? Wrote for 100 days without a break? Take a bow, choose a prize.
This is when your writing group gives another benefit — having people to celebrate with you. Don’t look for credit where you know it won’t be given, that’s just self-sabotage. Be happy for yourself.
19. Publish a book
The joy of self-publishing is that it gives you total control. There is no gatekeeper. You can write and publish a book with your name on it this year — if you want.
Like many things in life, the most successful authors are not necessarily the most visible. There are independent authors making millions, others following a hybrid self and trad publishing path, and others just thrilled to hold their own book in their hands. It’s not all about money.
Collect your best blog posts and add 25% new material. Collect your short stories or poetry by theme. Polish up your novella.
If this seems like an impossible stretch target, remember everything that exists was once no more than a passing thought.
Think of yourself as a published author. Then act like a published author. Ignore the disparaging comment “self-pub isn’t real publishing.” It is real, and if you’re going to be the next Kindle millionaire you’d better get started.
Putting the 20 into 2019
Most of us have heard of the power of affirmations. And most of us don’t really believe that repeating positive phrases will change our reality.
But we’re mistaken.
Thinking things into being is what creatives do.
So I challenge you to take your wildest, most precious, most secret wish for your creative life. Write it down, for your eyes only, on real paper. Tell it like it’s already real; say I am… or I have…
Now choose a physical object to symbolise your wish.
It could be a talisman like a crystal or a lucky pen. Maybe you’ll roll up your wish on a tiny scrap of paper and hide it in a locket.
Hold your wish in your hand once a week. Say it out loud.
Dream first, because that’s where everything real begins.
Then get working to make it come true.
When you do the things in the present that you can see, you are shaping the future that you are yet to see. Idowu Koyenikan
Good luck with your writing goals in the coming year.
They say that everyone has a novel inside them. Maybe you know someone who is hard at work on theirs. You read their comments online or chat with them at an event. They tell you they’ve been working on it for a while. “How long?” you ask. They tell you it’s been several years so far. These perfectionists have laboured over this one piece for five, seven, ten years. And they don’t know when it will be finished.
Or maybe it’s your work that has limped on forever. You’re stuck because you can’t figure out the right style of the gowns in your Imperial court, or your research on spring weather patterns in Kansas has led down increasingly arcane corridors.
You’ll publish or submit, someday. But it’s not perfect yet. And so your great work sits on your hard drive and the world never sees it.
What Are You Afraid Of?
Perfectionists are often procrastinators. You believe if a thing’s worth doing, it must be done properly and nothing less will do. So you either rework and edit endlessly, or you don’t even start because you can never get it absolutely right. And you can’t edit an empty page.
You conceal these feelings behind strong psychological defences and sublimate them into pointless activity. But research isn’t writing. At some level, you know that and you’re disappointed with yourself.
At the heart of perfectionism is fear.
Fear of failure.
Fear of success, because then you have to do it again, leading back to fear of failure.
To overcome perfectionism, you need to understand your fear and master it. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is action despite feeling fear. Courage is taking a deep breath and doing it anyway because your desire for something is greater than the fear of what might happen.
If you never challenge yourself to move past fear, you cannot improve or grow. Everything you really want is outside of your comfort zone.
In order to step out there and thrive, you’ll need to let some ideas go and embrace new thinking. We’ll look at how to do this next.
Everybody sucks and nobody cares
Fear is a basic emotion that we all understand. You fear humiliation and ridicule for getting something wrong. Perhaps you replay some old memory of being laughed at for a minor error, and that underlies your current avoidant behaviour.
Here are two reasons why you should leave that in the past where it belongs.
Everybody sucks in the beginning. Every author, actor, artist, or sports person you admire now was once terrible at their chosen discipline. They wrote awful prose, missed more shots than they scored, and forgot their lines on stage. But they carried on and used those early failures to improve over time. Nobody has a perfect score overall.
People aren’t actually watching that closely. They are as consumed by their inner lives as you are by yours. Even if they look your way, they forget you the next moment as their own drama takes over. Though you might feel as though everyone is looking at you, they’re really not. In psychology, this is known as the spotlight effect. Knowing about the spotlight effect is liberating. It frees you to do whatever you need to do without the pressure of a supposed audience.
Act like a baby
Babies are the world’s fastest learners. From zero, they learn to feed, walk, talk, and live in a social unit, all within two years. They achieve this not by being perfect, but the opposite. They stumble, fall, stand up again.
They babble nonsense and parrot speech without understanding at first. Eventually, they achieve a level of competence that allows them to run, jump, and sing a nursery rhyme.
They do not beat themselves up because they can’t yet recite Shakespeare. They simply chatter and listen to adults when corrected. Each time they repeat, they’re closer to the goal of intelligible speech.
You learned to speak, walk, and countless other complex skills in the same way. If you had waited to speak until you were perfect, you would not have uttered a word for years.
Cultivate a beginner’s mind. Understand that supposed errors are signposts back to the right path, and you’re much less fearful of your results. Judge not against some unattainable level of perfection, but against where you were last time you tried.
You already know how to learn and improve. Adjust your aim, and try again.
Less is not more
While you’re slaving over one meticulously crafted blog post, searching tirelessly for exactly the right image and quote, I’m ramping up my output. One post every Friday was my first goal. Having reached that goal and with over 200 posts under my belt, now I’m aiming to post two or three articles every week. I don’t have time to agonise endlessly over a picture.
Oh, you say, but you prefer quality over quantity. People repeat this justification for low output as if it were gospel truth. It’s completely wrong.
Quantity leads to quality
In an experiment, students in a ceramics class were split into two groups. One group was told that they could get an A by turning in one perfect piece. The other group was told that they would be graded solely on the total weight of pieces produced, of any quality.
The results were surprising. The second group produced a large number of extremely good pieces. They were freed from the constraints of perfection and given free rein to experiment without being penalised. I’d bet money they were happier with their work too.
Repeated practice increased their skills and confidence. They weren’t paralysed by over-analysis or worried about criticism. They did not fear the impossibility of lightning striking twice, because they knew how to create a storm. They were able to replicate good work because they understood what went into making it.
Imagine if Dali had refused to let anyone see his paintings, or if Michelangelo had obsessively chipped away at and repolished his David. How much poorer we would be! Remember also that an artist’s most famous works comprise only a fraction of their total output.
Writers learn more from finishing one story than from starting and abandoning ten. You’ll learn where you wrote yourself into a corner, and how to figure your way out. You’ll learn how many plots you can juggle. You’ll learn what makes a good ending. And eventually, you’ll join up all those skills and move from conscious competence to unconscious competence.
In other words, you will master your craft and spend more effort on deciding where to put the ball than how to kick it.
At some point, you have to declare a thing finished and let it go. The more refined your skill, the harder it is. You always feel there is just one more thing you could improve upon.
Let it go. Ship it. Publish, submit, and move on to the next thing. That’s the secret; always have a next thing. Each piece becomes a little less precious when it forms a smaller part of your portfolio. You may still have your favourites and the ones you shrug over, but the totality is what matters.
Confidence comes from improvement. You know that you can make another piece, and it might be even better than the last. And if it’s not, that’s okay too.
That is true creative freedom.
Ready to reclaim your creativity?
This free short e-book will show you how to stop letting limiting beliefs hold you back and finally start creating the work you’ve been dreaming of. Want your creative spark back? This is the guide for you.
Images of beautifully curated writing spaces fill Pinterest and mock less organised writers at the top of equally beautiful articles. White walls enhance carefully chosen artefacts on the table, and there is always coffee with artistic foam.
JK Rowling started Harry Potter’s journey at The Elephant House Cafe in Edinburgh. Beat Generation writers like Jack Kerouac met at Vesuvio Cafe in San Francisco. Maya Angelou rented a room in a local hotel by the month. Marcel Proust wrote in bed. Roald Dahl and George Bernard Shaw had sheds in their gardens.
The necessary environment is that which secures the artist in the way that lets him be in the world in the most fruitful manner.
Creating a ritual
A space to write can form an essential part of the ritual of writing. The mind and body is primed for the coming activity, and overcomes the inertia of getting started. This is particularly important to evade writer’s block. Like a sports or crafts person, we need to show up and do the work. By having designated space and a list of things to follow, you can avoid the empty brain syndrome of not knowing what to do next.
However, one size does not fit all. Some like music, others, white noise, others natural sounds. Some must have silence, and others like activity around them while their peers shudder at the thought and close the door.
Routine is a prison
Most of us have busy lives. In order to write every day, or capture inspiration when it strikes, we must be able to write in different places. Life is rarely ideal for more than a moment, especially if writing is something you squeeze into a packed schedule rather than your sole activity.
Knowing your ideal writing space is one thing. Learning to block out the non-ideal will free you to write elsewhere. Before my last holiday I would have said it was too hot, too distracting and uncomfortable to write at the beach. In fact, writing by hand in a small notebook and observing people was a revelation. Dialogue fragments, poem ideas, and simple journaling poured on to the pages. The background sounds of the sea are very soothing for me, which helped.
Music can be the best companion, or the worst. I find lyrics distracting, as they compete against the words I’m trying to find. Instrumental music is good, especially familiar pieces that fade into the background. You can find lots of playlists on 8tracks designed for study or writing. There is a free option with ads, or you can pay a monthly fee to avoid ads and make your own playlists.
I tried a nature noise generator and found that rain is soothing but thunder distracts me. There are over one hundred and fifty noise generators available at myNoise.net. They are grouped by activity or need, such as focus, to mask tinnitus or external noise, or for relaxation and sleep. Each soundscape has several elements that can be customised to create your perfect mix.
Not only helping you to work better, the soundscapes can also keep you company while working alone.
Making anywhere your best place to write
Creating a ritual and finding a dedicated space is helpful to a solid writing habit. Being able to change things up, whether that means learning to write with noise or creating your own soundscape to block it out, will broaden your options. Routine should be your servant and not your master.
In the end, it is about creating different options for the situations you find yourself in. Then you will not be reliant on your lucky mug or favourite pen. When the idea strikes, you will be ready.
How many people say “I wish I had time to write/paint/play sport” but do nothing about it?
How many people have said to me “I don’t know how you find the time to write as well as work?”
Quite a few over the years, is the answer. I’ve said it myself. What I am really saying is, I refuse to organise my life so that I can do the thing. I’m making excuses.
Time is precious, finite. It cannot be manufactured, but it can definitely be wasted. It is like holding sand in your fist, not noticing it slipping between your fingers but bemoaning the slow reduction in the pile. With a little effort you could find a way to contain it, as far as anyone can.
Everyone has the same24 hours a day, 168 hours a week, 8760 hours a year. Achieving something worthwhile, something that’s important to you, means making the best use of those hours. Whatever you want to do, whether it’s write a novel or train for a marathon, can only be done in small chunks. John Grisham wrote his hugely successful legal thriller The Firm in the time between hearings, while pulling the long hours of an attorney.
Write 250 words every day, and by the year’s end you’ll have 91,250 words. That’s a novel’s worth.
We underestimate the power of steady effort over time. It really does add up.
Free time + wasted time = enough time
Start with a chart
Yes, really. Start with a simple chart showing seven days with a slot for each hour. You can make one with a spreadsheet or find it on the web. Or you could draw your own.
fill in essentials like sleep, work, travel, caring and domestic commitments
add all the extras you currently do like exercise, entertainment, hobbies
see where the gaps are
It’s important to be honest about what you do with your time. If you think all your evenings are full, consider how much time is spent on watching TV. Maybe even consider tracking actual hours watched for a week.
A 2015 survey showed that 31% of UK adults spent 11-20 hours per week watching TV. A further 39% watched more than 20 hours weekly.
The New York Times ran an article in 2016 showing that Americans watched on average five hours of TV daily, and 90% of that was live TV. We have DVRs and catch up TV, but we don’t necessarily use them.
TV is the thief of time
When I decided to start writing seriously again, I cut out mindless TV viewing and channel surfing. It wasn’t hard. There are a few programmes I like to watch, but I don’t follow soaps or serials (apart from NCIS, and even then, repeats are a real thing.) Working days were long and stressful, but I needed writing time. And reading time. And just plain old decompression time. I programmed in my writing time to suit my schedule. And I set the box to record anything I liked, to watch when I had time rather than when it aired. Let’s face it, Saturday night can be a lean time on the box if you don’t enjoy game shows and reality TV.
Listen to the sinking feeling
Did you sigh when you filled in some commitments? If they are optional, consider dropping them. If they are essential, be critical. Can you spend less time visiting a relative you see regularly? Could you listen to an audiobook on your commute? Do you look forward to catching up with that friend, or does she drain you? Pay attention and act. Limit time and energy drains, even if you can’t eliminate them. Your gut knows, even as your brain rationalises.
Night owl or lark?
All of us have circadian rhythms that mean we peak at certain times of the day. For many, that is first thing in the morning. Waking early might gain you the hour you need. But that might not suit you. You work shifts; you have small children who wake at five anyway and you cannot face waking before that; you’re narcoleptic before noon even with a double espresso. Maybe the later hours are your best time. If you can’t sleep, get up and write. It worked for me. I wrote this poem about insomnia during a sleepless, jet-lagged night.
Our time on earth is finite. In a year’s time we won’t remember the soap opera finale or the latest game show winner. But we can have an achievement to celebrate, which makes our lives meaningful. Be mindful with your most precious commodity.
Take control of your time and commit to the things you really want.
We’re meant to be up and at it, all the time. Get on the grind, be always hustling.
Some days are not for progress. Especially for creators, some days it just won’t come. You run aground, the wind drops, the tide falls away. It’s not artists’ block, but something deeper. The well has run dry.
What does it mean, this empty feeling when the words won’t come and the eyes don’t see and there are no more songs in your head? Your Muse can’t be heard. Maybe they have fallen silent, maybe they are struggling against louder voices in your head.
At this point, you need to give up, without giving up completely.
Diagnosing the cause comes first, then action. Step away from your project and check in with yourself. Spend some time considering the possible origins. Write it down if that helps. I find pen and paper works better.
Body– are you hungry, tired, tense from inactivity, thirsty?
try this Go for a walk.
Drink some water rather than yet more coffee.
Go to bed an hour earlier for a few nights.
Stretch your hands and back regularly.
Mind – are you overcommitted, frazzled by too many demands, exhausted by conflicts in relationships?
try this List all your current commitments, personal and professional, consider delegating when possible.
Let go of perfectionism and embrace the idea of good enough. Prioritise and finish the most urgent thing on your list.
Start saying no. Between FOMO and the need to be liked, you risk spreading yourself too thin. Be choosy about where your energy goes.
Identify the people who are energy vampires, sucking the life out of you. Spend less time with them. Yes, even if they are your mother or close friend.
Spirit – are you deeply unhappy, profoundly lost, lacking in motivation for life itself?
You might need help from another if your depression and/or anxiety stands between you and what you want and need to do. I wrote here about what to do when you feel you can’t go on.
try this You can make a start on refilling your well by creating something different; a cake, a tidy room or garden area, a picture if you write, a poem if you draw.
Seek out peace in whatever way makes sense to you. You probably gave it up at some point, whether it be running, prayer, music, looking at the ocean, reading, or yoga. Schedule a half or even a whole hour. Devote the entire time to your own tranquility.
Go to a museum or gallery or store and enjoy looking at beautiful things. Then come home and make something small that is not connected to your main project.
Of course a week off in the Caribbean sounds like the perfect answer to the blahs. What it actually represents is time and space to do the things above. Since we mostly can’t take off whenever we need to reset our compass, what’s needed is a pause.
Just don’t stop completely.
You pause, catch your breath, and then you can go on.
As each year draws to a close, we naturally think about taking stock. What did we do, what did we get, what are we still hoping for, good or bad. It’s been a hell of a year, on many levels. Sometimes the big picture is overwhelming, and we can only make sense of small things. Like tracking our own progress, footprints in the snow.
I recently read a Medium post by Dajana Bergmark, called Blueprint for a productive 2017 . I liked a lot in the post, especially the brain dump and the idea of prioritising your effort, because effort and time are finite resources. I never have enough, and I’m sure you’re the same. But the further I read, the less attractive it became, for me. I’m not good with organisers and ticking boxes, and forcing myself results only in abandoning the whole idea. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Any system has to be customised to suit you. Take what you can use and leave the rest.
I’m a whole picture person who baulks at prescribed step-by-step plans in minute detail. Details matter, but at different levels for everyone. So, I look for a broad brush solution I can live with, then drill down only as far as I will actually implement. I wrote recently about making progress with writing, and seeing that at the level of a whole piece. This is about a closer look at how things are moving forward.
I mentioned before that I took up watercolour painting as a complete beginner. I devised a simple list which allowed me to track progress without it being a chore.
Attend a beginners’ class (weekly for 10 weeks)
Complete at least one painting every week – from the class or a book
Date each painting and write 2-3 comments about technique on the back
File paintings consecutively in a portfolio
Just dating each painting proved to be an incredibly powerful tool. It allowed me to see my progress over time, which was very motivating. Committing to one painting a week, thinking about the techniques and writing a comment helped me move fast, even when the classes were over.
I was able to join an improvers’ class after a few months. Granted, many of the artists there were much more experienced, but that also spurred me to learn more and raise my game. But without my portfolio behind me, I would never have had the courage to consider that class.
But what if I don’t want to paint/write, or don’t know what to paint/write?
Painter’s block, creative block, writer’s block all yield to action. What works for me is to step away from the emotion, and simply get to work. That might mean opening a random page in a magazine and painting whatever is there. It might mean going to a writing prompt website, picking one, and writing. It might mean creating something else; a poem, a meal, a garden, an ordered and tidy room.
If I want to improve, that means practising my art, just as an athlete practises before the big game or competition. I can’t afford to do only what I want, especially when time is precious.
The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.
In other words, inspiration comes after initiation. Get warmed up, then get going.
Tracking my journey as a writer
This is very important, yet it must be simple. For writing, my 2016 list looked like this:
Attend a writing group regularly and produce work for it
Submit to at least 10 competitions
Revise my novel to make it ready for submission
Read 2-3 craft books
Write a weekly blog post NaNoWriMo
Using a standard calendar that comes with Excel, I have noted what I wrote and when. For my blog, WordPress has analytics built-in. It is surprising how motivating it is to see a run of completed boxes. I guess the whole idea of star charts is not just for kids after all. I can see which months were better for writing than others. And I can course correct when necessary, which is why NaNo dropped off the list.
Yes, I achieved those goals. Feels good, too!
Each written piece is tagged and dated, and sometime soon I will compare the first and last, the group pieces with my other work, and so on. Now it’s time to think about next year’s goals, building on this year’s successes and challenges. I might build another layer of detail into my tracking, or commit to a number of words per week. I already know that writing every day is impossible with my current commitments, (because I tried it, and failed) so a weekly target is more realistic.
That which is measured, improves. That which is measured and reported, improves exponentially. Pearson’s law
As long as we don’t spend all our time reporting instead of producing work, this could be useful. Making a beautiful map is not a substitute for making the journey.
My Very Easy Tracking Plan™ boils down to this:
Find a system that you can commit to over a long period.
Track your work, no matter how simply.
Finish your stuff.
Enjoy your achievements.*
In the end, it is producing the work and growing as a creative that matters. Not blog views, competition wins, external validation of some sort. That may come, and of course we hope it will. But the work comes first. Always.