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writing tips

The Real Reason You Can’t Stop Procrastinating

SAMSUNGFirst of all, let’s address some common concerns.

You are not lazy.

You are not useless.

And you are not doing anything wrong.

Lazy, useless people actually never worry about getting things done.

Lazy, useless people don’t have any projects, or even any ideas for projects, that they put off starting. You, on the other hand, have this intelligent, curious, creative brain that has many ideas and projects that you would love to follow through on and finish. But…procrastination tends to seep in.

So if you’re so intelligent, curious, and creative, then why do you have problems with procrastination at all?

Precisely because of those very same traits.

Intelligent, curious, creative people are also intense, driven, and struggle with perfectionism. Our brains work well with extremes, and that’s why we’re able to think not only outside the box, but we can also imagine what would happen if the box was invisible, had superpowers, or decided to impersonate a unicorn just for kicks.

This extreme mode of thinking sometimes gets us into trouble. When we think about starting the first chapter of our novel, we then leap ahead to the second and third chapters, then the ending, then how readers will react, then onto the book tour—and then we’re totally exhausted because all of these things have flitted through our mind in the space of one half second. And we haven’t even picked up the pen yet!

This is not a bad thing. Our brains are wild, dynamic creatures that must swim and fly and roam. Letting them do just that is totally okay. As long as there is one solid part of you that gets into the habit of hanging back and being the sensible parent. That part knows that your eyes are always bigger than your stomach and only lets you put one or two things on your plate instead the whole buffet.

The practice of writing down your goals can be extremely helpful when it comes to parenting yourself. You don’t have to go nuts with a crazy to-do list. In fact, it will be most helpful if you keep it simple. Most writers already know their big goal—write a book and get it published—so you don’t have to worry about that. What you want to do is write down your small goals, the things you can get done in one day.

So if you want to move forward with writing your novel, a daily goal list for you might look like this:

Write two pages

That’s it. The aim is to keep things simple, manageable and no-pressure. If two pages still seem overwhelming, then make your goal one page, or one paragraph. The amount of work does not matter. The forward motion is what matters. And beware of listening to the Beast of Self-Judgment who will try to tell you that you aren’t doing enough. The truth is that even one short paragraph gets you further than you were before.

Every time you think about starting or continuing a project you’re procrastinating on, pull out your post-it notes and write down one small goal connected to that project. Keep these notes somewhere all together and every day choose just one of them to complete. Some days you will feel like you breezed through that one job and you’re ready to tackle another. Go ahead. But be prepared for other days, when it will feel like a Herculean task to move through just that one little goal. No judging yourself when you’re in this space! Just move through the work and give yourself props for doing it.

Think of it this way—if you saw all the food you were going to eat in one year piled up in front of you, it would most likely make you feel physically ill. That’s how your path to success works. If you look at the whole thing together there is a 99% chance of you becoming overwhelmed. Truly successful people do a little bit each day and count on all those increments to add up.

Take the first step towards conquering procrastination—know that your eyes are always bigger than your stomach.

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Do You Know the Secret to Writing an Amazing Memoir?

SAMSUNGMemoirs usually depend on some sort of chronological timeline. But just because you’re telling the story of your life, your business, or how you scaled Mt. Everest, doesn’t mean you have to write the pieces in order.

First-time memoir writers can get caught up on this when they try to view their book through the eyes of their anticipated readers. For example, they might think: “How can I write about my big promotion before I’ve even written about my first day at the company?” In the writer’s mind, the meat of the story centers around the unfolding of events. And this is absolutely true…when it comes to the final draft.

Mosaic Method is a way of working with your rough draft that frees you from the restrictions of writing according to any sort of timeline. You can write the pieces as certain memories come to you, or as you decide to focus your attention on particular emotions or turning points. You have complete artistic license to write what you want, when you want. For first-time memoir writers, this freedom is sometimes the most valuable tool to increase creative flow.

Here’s how to do it.

Create the Pieces
Writing a book using Mosaic Method is like stitching together a big, colorful quilt. First, you’re going to create the pieces by gathering your memories. Start with your most vivid, emotional memories. The memories you can still go back to in your mind and see every bright (or bleak) detail. Every time you sit down to write, write down one full memory, just as you see it in your mind. You don’t need to go back and reread these sections, although if you like you can make a note of them so you know they’ve been covered. Once you’re done with a section, file it away.

Take Inventory of Your Pieces
When you’ve finished writing all of the pieces (i.e., all of the sections you want to include in your book) you’re going to catalog them in a visual framework. You might choose to make a list of all the pieces by title in a Word doc (e.g., Piece 1: First Day at Work, Piece 2: Meeting My Boss, etc.). Or you can actually use the handwritten or printed sections, label them with post-it notes, and arrange them around a room or on the dining room table to get an idea of the story structure. It doesn’t matter how you choose to do it, just so long as you can physically see all the pieces in front of you.

Note Any Missing Pieces
Once you’ve arranged the pieces visually, it will be pretty easy to see if you’ve left anything out. For instance, if you look at your bedroom floor where you have all your pieces spread out and you see: First Day of Work right next to Getting into Trouble with the Boss, you can evaluate if there needs to be a bridge between the two, like Meeting My Boss, that might help clarify things for the reader. Make a list of any and all missing pieces that could be helpful to the arc of the story.

Create Fill-In Pieces
Your next task is to write down the memories that will serve to fill in the gaps you noticed when you arranged things visually. Once you’ve written each of the sections listed on your missing pieces list, you’re ready to roll with a second inventory to double-check that everything is where it should be.

Stitch It!
If you’re handwriting your book, arrange the sections in order, in a stack, before typing it all up. If each of your sections is on your computer, open a new Word Doc and cut and paste each one in according to the order you decided on during inventory. When you’re finished, you should have a sloppy first draft that’s in your choice of best chronological order.

Mosaic Method does take a little work. But if you’re writing a memoir, you’re going to be doing this sort of work anyway. Writing a book requires a good deal of editing, revision, and fine-tooth-combing as par for the course. Using Mosaic Method helps memoir writers to definitively separate writing vs. editing during the actual creative process.

When you don’t have to worry about fitting your memories into a preconceived outline, your creativity has much more room to include spontaneity and expressive emotion—two magic ingredients for any memoir.

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7 Best Writing Guides Ever

SAMSUNGBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Anne Lamott
Lamott reminds us to set realistic goals for our writing (like writing one or two pages before we worry about writing the whole book), and encourages the idea of forming a writing group that can also be an emotional support group. Bird by Bird is a classic for a reason: you come out of it feeling not so alone in this whole writing thing.

Writing Down the Bones
Natalie Goldberg
Goldberg infuses writing method with Zen practice. This is a short little book that you can probably finish in a day or two, but can reference for years after. And if you really dig this guide, you can pick up some of her other books: Old Friend from Far Away is about writing memoir, and Wild Mind is about living the writer’s life.

The War of Art
Steven Pressfield
When I first read the War of Art in 2009 it completely changed my writing life, and I’m not exaggerating. If you have problems with procrastination, perfectionism, fear of failure and self-doubt, this is the guide for you. Pressfield doesn’t sugarcoat his advice, but somehow it doesn’t come out sounding harsh, just inspiring. If you need a serious kick in the pants, get your hands on this guide.

The Elements of Style
William Strunk and E.B. White
It’s the very nice man who wrote Charlotte’s Web! He teamed up with a professor from Cornell to write a kick-ass little guide to using the English language with style and—dare we say—flair. These guys are the Batman and Robin of grammar. Get this guide in your personal library, ASAP.

If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit
Brenda Ueland
They broke the mold when they made Brenda Ueland. She’s like the Katharine Hepburn of writers. Totally unconventional, eccentric, high-spirited and truly inspiring. After reading Ueland, you come away feeling like a gushing fountain of creativity, and also like it’s okay to eat ice cream for breakfast. Yeah, she’s that kind of awesome lady.

The Artist’s Way
Julia Cameron
This guide to waking up your creativity requires you put a little elbow grease into it. The book is designed as a 12-week program that includes writing 3 pages every morning and setting aside two hours a week devoted to experiencing and observing. If you’re serious about dissolving your writer’s block, Cameron is the way to go.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Stephen King
This is an excellent book even if you’re not a Stephen King fan. In addition to providing great advice on the nuts-and-bolts of writing (verb choice, character description, etc.), King also wraps up on a really encouraging note. Not only do you feel like it’s possible to write your book, you come away feeling like it’s also possible to actually get published. And that feeling alone is worth a million bucks.

Writing guides are like diet and nutrition. There are a ton of choices out there, but you’re a unique individual and some types of food are going to work better for you than others. Nibble at this and that and see what agrees with you—then try cooking something all on your own.

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Writing Out Loud

SAMSUNGA couple of weeks ago my writing group got together and staged a reading. We did it at the apartment of one of our members, and each of us brought a dish or snack to share. We each picked a bookstore or venue where it would be our dream to have our own author event. One of the other writers in our group introduced us and we presented our writing exactly as if our book had just been published and we were doing the book tour. Then we did the Q&A afterward.

It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had.

This is what I learned:

Your writing is always different spoken out loud
Sentences that flow on the page might turn up clumsy out of the mouth. Dialogue that seems lackluster in written form can surprise you with how funny it sounds in actual conversation. Your writing takes on a different personality when you read it in front of other people (or even just yourself), and this difference can give you valuable information about the way you work your particular craft.

Reading in front of people builds your confidence
Yes, it is nerve-wracking at first. When it was my turn to get up and read my voice was shaking, my hands were shaking, and I even had trouble breathing! Every gland on my body that could sweat started sweating. But it got easier as I read page after page. The audience laughed at my funny stuff, and groaned at my embarrassing parts. I heard with my own ears how my writing was doing what I wanted it to do, and inside, I grew stronger.

Other writers are just as unsure as you
When you’re struggling to write your first novel, it’s easy to assume that other writers magically have their shit together and know exactly what they’re doing. This is simply not true. There are so many other writers out there who are just as uncertain about what to expect as you are. If we make the journey together and support each other along the way, it won’t be as scary. The energy we would have put toward fear, we can shift toward getting our work published and finding new readers.

So now that you know the benefits, who will be your audience for your very first reading?

How about…

Your Writing Group
If you’re part of a Reading Circle, you’re doing this kind of work anyway. But if you’re part of a Critique Group or a Timed Writing Group, it couldn’t hurt to propose a practice reading to your group, solely focused on encouragement and the art of public speaking. Your writing group should function as your sounding board and your local community; a practice reading will contribute to both of these functions.

Open Mic Night
If you live in the city, you can probably find an Open Mic Night at a local bar, bookstore, or community center. These are usually focused on poetry and spoken word, but sometimes you can present flash fiction too. This is a good option for more extroverted writers who like being in the spotlight.

The Stuffed Animal Brigade
If you’re an introvert, or just not ready to share your writing at that level, then the two options above might feel like too much for you. This is when you call in the troops—your favorite stuffed animals, ceramic figurines, Halloween masks—anything with a face! Assemble them all together as your audience and read your work loud and proud.

Reading your work out loud is a serious step toward finding your voice as a writer. You don’t have to agonize over which option to choose, just make the choice and start reading your week out loud, at least once every couple of months.

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The Beast of Self-Judgment

SAMSUNGWhat’s the number one thing that cripples writers?

Self-Judgment

No matter what kind of fiction we write, most of us writers have eerily similar personalities. We are sensitive and intelligent, and we have high standards when it comes to our creative work. So high, in fact, that sometimes our standards turn into the two-headed Beast of Self-Judgment that breathes fire with one head and drools poison with the other, usually all over our fragile dreams.

If you are writing your first novel, you will do battle with the beast of Self-Judgment over and over again. And you will even judge yourself on who’s winning or losing the battle.

Here’s how you know when you’re losing:

You hear that critical voice in your head that makes you feel terrible about yourself.
You inwardly call yourself names, or call yourself stupid.
Your chest feels tight, your throat feels tight, you feel like you might cry.
Your stomach sinks like a dead weight.
You get agitated and reach for any addiction—food, the remote, a drink, whatever.

If you feel any of these things while reading your writing, or talking about your writing, or even just thinking about your writing, the Beast of Self-Judgment is in the room with you.

It’s time to do battle.

But how do you fight the Beast? It has an argument ready for every point you debate. It digs up old secrets and memories that make you feel even worse. It hits below the belt, every time.

I’m going to give you a quick exercise you can do anytime, anywhere, and the results are huge. But if you want it to actually work, you have to put your whole imagination into it. No half-assing this. No “kind of” trying to do it. Close your eyes and really do it.

Picture yourself as you were when you were six years old. Remember how you looked, how small you were, how unsure of the world. Page through an old photo album if you have one. Really sit and settle into those six-year-old shoes.

Now picture another six-year-old kid—someone who is not you. Maybe you have a son or daughter that age, or a niece or nephew. Maybe you’re a teacher and you can picture some of the kids in your school. If you really don’t know any six-year-old kids, Google what’s going on at a local school in your community and look at the pictures of the first-graders.

Notice how small and innocent these kids are. How bright and hopeful. Sit with the feeling of being an adult, being a protector and a leader for these kids. Feel how much potential they have, how much joy they can bring to the world.

Okay—now that you’ve got all those feelings loaded and locked down in your psyche, go back to the space where you felt the most Self-Judgment. How would you react if you heard someone being as harsh as you are on yourself, to those six-year-old kids you were picturing? What if one of those kids was writing his or her first story and some mean crazy person came along and told them it was stupid?

How hurtful would that be?

Now go back to six-year-old you. Picture you as the kid sitting there writing that story. You’re excited and having fun, totally lit up from the inside out. The voice of Self-Judgment is the crazy mean person who comes along and tries to kick your story to pieces.

But now, there’s a difference. You are going to come in as the adult and protect you as the child. The six-year-old you writing that story is your little flame of creativity. It has limitless potential, boundless joy and curiosity for the world. You-the-adult understands that some things are worth protecting. That just because someone is small right now and still learning, doesn’t give anyone else the right to try to tear them down.

Anytime you feel that icky feeling of Self-Judgment, that snaky poisonous voice of self-criticism, you’re going to picture yourself as a child once again, sitting at a sunny table writing your very first story. And then you’re going to imagine yourself as the adult you are now, shielding that child inside and taking your creative power back.

This exercise truly can work wonders for you, but you must practice it earnestly. You must be serious about dedicating yourself to the protection and well-being of the child writer inside you.

Be brave—your six-year-old self is counting on you!