How do you like my work space? Pretty nice, don’t you think? Clear desk top, awesome computer, I’d have added in the view of the Red River I have, but it’s snowing right now (April 5 and it’s snowing) and I can’t bear to look at it at the moment. The snow is also the reason I don’t have my standing desk set up. It’s a lovely little Oristand portable number that I put on the desk in front of the window and put my laptop on to write as well.
My office space didn’t always look this nice. This is a very new deal for me. For the longest time, I had a computer that didn’t work particularly well because it was so old. My desk was covered in papers, and I didn’t have that nice little side table/desk. It took me a good solid weekend with very little sleep, to get my office cleaned up, to get all the stacks of paper off the floor and into boxes for shredding and recycling. I can now walk in here without having to step over stuff all the time.
I didn’t have to clean up the space. I could have very easily kept my office as the “space where stuff goes to die”, the one room where everything goes to be “out of the way”. It wasn’t like I needed the space for writing. I have a gorgeous MacBook Air that does pretty much everything I can do with my iMac, and it is portable. I was quite comfortable sitting on my couch and writing. To help my ergonomics I bought a little desk and the Oristand Standing Desk and had those in my living room, and I was perfectly content. Perfectly content to sit there with my laptop open, or manuscript on my lap and pen in hand, and watch television all night and all weekend.
I had bought my Condo for two reasons: the walk-in closet in the master bedroom (really, any closet would have been a step up from what I’d had the previous few years), and the river view. It was time I made use of the river view and at the same time, improve my writing time.
See, I’ve always thought I could write and edit while watching TV. Maybe it wasn’t as fast as otherwise, but there was nothing wrong with it. But after some experimenting, I realized just how bad it was. I had to do something about it.
I made my workspace workable. I cleaned it up. I got a new computer. I moved my standing desk setup into my office.
I love it back here now. I’m surrounded by books (the wall behind me is all bookshelves), I have reminders of why I write on the wall above my computer, and it is really, really comfortable.
What makes a workspace workable, besides having it tidy? And what kind of difference can it make?
- Have it set up so that it is ergonomically comfortable. I’ve had carpal tunnel syndrome. Had to have the surgery. it is not fun. Trust me. Writing with pain in your wrists, in your shoulders, in your back, is not worth it. Have your monitor set at the right height. Get an ergonomic keyboard if you want one. I’m using a Microsoft Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 5000. I also use it with my laptop when I use my standing desk. Get a comfortable and adjustable office chair. Sitting on the couch or the Lay-z-boy might be more comfortable in the short term, but if you plan to spend a lot of time writing, make your desk ergonomic. You don’t have to go all-out. Some simple adjustments that I mentioned in this point will make a huge difference. It’s a whole lot easier to sit at the computer and write when you don’t have physical pain or are dreading the strain that will come after an hour.
- Having a clear desk top eliminates distractions. Period. I don’t care how tidy you are in the rest of your house or your office. Clear off your writing desk as much as possible. Writers have a tendency to procrastinate at the best of times. Email, Facebook, twitter, and surfing the web are more than enough distractions. Clutter around you will also make you feel crowded. it intrudes on your mental space and will make you feel like you can’t write in that space.
- Having dedicated writing space also eliminates distractions. If you have a door you can close, do it if you you need to. Get away from the television and the noisy neighbours. I do still need some kind of noise, music is perfect for me. I have it on in the background, it provides enough ambient noise to keep me from going crazy and yet it doesn’t distract me. i don’t have to pay attention to it. I don’t have to listen closely.
- Put up inspiration and motivation around you. I have my university degrees and my certificate from Odyssey Writing Workshop on the wall above my computer. I have my writing books to one side, and most of my books on the shelves behind me. I need more bookshelves. I am surrounded with reminders of why I’m back here writing, all that I’ve worked for and what I continue to work towards. And when the snow stops, I’ll have the river to look at because I love water, it relaxes me and allows my creativity to flow.
Make your workspace someplace you want to spend time. When you’re int there, use it only for writing. It will soon become habit that when you are in that space, you write. You won’t be as distracted and your productivity will increase.
What changes do you need to make to your workspace? What positive outcomes do you expect to occur once you make those changes?
We’ve been pursuing our writing goals, our writing dreams, for three months now, and it’s time for a check-in. What goals did you set for yourself at the beginning of January? How close are you to achieving them? What is working for you? What are you struggling with?
Until now, we’ve been looking at things we need to do, to change, goals we need to set, to have success as writers. Next week, we’re going to shift focus to being more actively productive as writers. There will still be some of that internal stuff, because most often it is that internal stuff that keeps us from being productive, but it won’t be our main focus.
If you’d like to further explore any of the issues we’ve talked about in this blog, or what we will be talking about, if you’d like to have a personalized plan and one-on-one guidance from me, head on over to my page on coaching, and sign up for your Complimentary Discovery Session! Let’s chat, and see if coaching is the right step, the next step, for you.
Not quite ready to take the plunge into coaching? Sign up for my e-newsletter and you will receive the quick guide “10 Keys to Perseverance”. Each monthly newsletter contains an additional article or two each month. Need another reason to sign up? Each month in 2016, one of my newsletter subscribers who also comments on my blog, receives a $10 gift card for their favorite bookstore.
I’m going to have some more exciting news for you in the next few weeks. I can let you know that some of it involves the workshops I offer, making them accessible to all, and easy to use any time.
And now I’m going to comment on my own Check-in!
I set the goal of having my novel edited by the end of March. I am very close to having the second draft done. I need to work hard the next few days to get there, but I think I’ll make it. If not by the end of the day on Thursday, for sure by the end of the weekend. It’s still not where I wanted it to be. The second half needs a lot of work, but I think once this draft is done, the worst of it is over, and then it is the fine-tuning and adding the finesse. I want it done by the end of April. So yes, some success, but there have been some struggles. Some of those struggles I’ve shared with you. It is with these kinds of struggles that I have to revisit my goals, revise them as needed, make the changes I am in control of, and carry on.
What goals did you set for yourself at the beginning of January? How close are you to achieving them? What is working for you? What are you struggling with?
“It was a bad writing day yesterday. Today isn’t going to be any better.”
“You didn’t write yesterday. Don’t bother writing today.”
If I were a betting person, I’d wager you’ve thought those above statements plenty of times before. They are two of the favourite things our Inner Saboteur likes to say to us.
The Saboteur doesn’t just stop there. The Saboteur elaborates, tells us how we’re terrible writers because of those bad days; that we should quit; that we aren’t real writers. The exact words may vary, but the message is the same.
Picking ourselves up after these smack-downs is not easy. What is easy, is giving in to the not writing, the belief that you aren’t good enough, that you shouldn’t bother Giving in isn’t going to get us to completing our goals.
There is only one way we can pick ourselves up and move forward, and that’s to write.
I am very aware of how difficult that is. It does’t have to be. Here are a few ways to make it easier:
- Every day is a new day. Scarlett O’Hara’s known for saying “Tomorrow is another day.” If it helps, tell that to yourself when you go to bed after a bad or non-writing day. When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself, “Today is another day.” What happened yesterday no longer matters.
- Set it aside. Not the writing, but whatever happened the day before to stop you from writing. I mention this a fair bit, but it’s worth repeating. Pull out a journal or open up a file on your computer. Write down you doubts, your worries, what your Inner Saboteur is telling you. Set the journal aside, shut the file. If you need more drastic measures, delete the file or rip out the page and tear it up.
- Revisit your goals. Remind yourself of what you want, why you want it, and what you will do to get it. Remind yourself that watching TV or surfing the internet isn’t going to get you there, writing will.
- Revisit your daily goals. Are they realistic? Do they fit into your daily schedule? Our lives change over time. Add words, remove words, shift your writing time. Make adjustments as necessary.
- Reward yourself. Last week we talked about how anticipating a reward helps make an action a habit. Reinforce that anticipation. Give yourself that reward at the end of the day’s writing session. Give yourself that reward after each writing session for the first twenty-one days.
- Believe in yourself. Believe that you can do this. You can write.
What will you do today, to pick yourself up, and write?
Writing is my heroin. I am unquestionably a happier more productive human being when I write regularly.
I didn’t know this about myself for a long time. I remember distinctly, having a series of very bad days. I was constantly grumpy, everything seemed to be going wrong, the world was falling apart around me, and I didn’t know why. It dawned on me that I hadn’t written in a few days. Up until then, I’d been writing daily as I was working on an epic novel. I had pitched it to an agent who had asked for the first three chapters. I figured I’d better get the thing done in case she asked for more. (She didn’t, but she did give wonderful feedback. It was a terrible novel).
Once the draft was done, I stopped writing. I hadn’t realized how much the writing, the satisfaction of achieving my daily word-count, had affected my mood.
I needed to make writing a habit the way it had been. But once you stop something, it’s hard to start up again. (Look at me talking physics!)
There are ways we can make writing a habit. Scheduling regular time is the most obvious step. But just because we have the time scheduled, doesn’t mean we will spend it writing.
I’m going to recomend a great book on habits and how we form them, called “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business” by Charles Duhigg. It is a fascinating read on how we form habits and the studies that have been done.
One of the things Charles Duhigg talks about is the cue – action – reward cycle that is the basis for forming habits. We have some kind of cue that inspires action and when we perform that action, we get a reward. So, in our case, as writers, the cue might be sitting down at the computer, using our favorite pen, having our cup of coffee in our favorite coffee mug. We associate that cue with writing. Favorite pen in hand? Must write. Favorite coffee mug? Time to write. The reward for our writing comes from the satisfaction of achieving your writing goal, achieving a word-count, having written an exciting scene, whatever it is that makes you feel satisfied at the end of your writing session.
The reward is great, but it isn’t enough to make this cycle a true habit. The habit forms when we see the cue and anticipate the reward, we want the reward, we crave it and we will do whatever we need to do to satisfy that craving.
If you’ve ever had an addiction, on a diet, pregnant (or live with someone who is), you understand cravings. The example Duhigg gives is the box of donuts. Until you’ve had your first donut, you don’t know that that box contains oh so sweet and sugary carbs. But once you’ve had that first donut, you know. And every time you see that box, your brain anticipates that sugary goodness. If you deny yourself that reward, your brain releases a chemical that makes you sad, almost depressed, until you satisfy that craving.
If the key to making writing a habit is a reward you will crave, how do we come up with a suitable reward?
These kinds of rewards are very individualized. I’m going to recomend another book here, which covers this far more than I ever could, and has been a great help to me. “Motivate Your Writing!: Using Motivational Psychology to Energize Your Writing Life” by Stephen P. Kelner Jr. It is an indepth look at what drives us emotionally, what rewards suit certain personality types, and how we can use those to get us sitting down to write.
For example, one motivation type is Influence. This means that when readers and fans respond positively to your work, you have incentive to keep writing. Those fan letters or tweets or comments that you made a positive impact on them remind you that you are succeeding in your writing.
If you find your motivation, you will find the reward you crave. Satisfy that craving often and make writing a habit. Make it your addiction, your drug of choice!
What will your motivation, your reward, be?
For the last couple of months I’ve been blogging about setting goals and making choices and making changes to achieve those goals. I’ve blogged about embracing our fears, and putting ourselves and our writing first. Last week I talked about ways to make our deadlines matter so we wouldn’t disappoint ourselves.
One of the ways I suggested to make a deadline matter, was to have an accountability buddy to set goals with so that you didn’t disappoint someone else.
It works, but it got me thinking — that and one of the comments about how easy it is to disappoint ourselves. I got to thinking that while an accountability buddy is a good thing, long-term, it defeats the purpose of what we’re trying to do, what I’m encouraging us all to do, which is to put ourselves first. To not worry about other people, what they want and what they need.
Everything I’ve been blogging about, and will continue to blog about this year, are ways to put ourselves first. But if we don’t believe in ourselves enough, none of it is going to matter. If we don’t believe that we are worthy, then there is no point in making any of these changes, because they won’t last.
What can be done, or how can we make ourselves feel we are worthy? Worthy of putting our needs first. Worthy of achieving our writing goals. Worthy of writing success.
I don’t know.
Most of my life I have felt unworthy of anything. I wasn’t worth loving, or having as a friend. I wasn’t smart enough, funny enough, kind enough, generous enough, ambitious enough, thin enough, interesting enough. If anyone complimented me, I knew they were just saying it because they had to because they were family, or they were simply being polite, and therefore it was never genuine.
Your story may be similar, it may be different. It may simply be that we’ve all fallen into societal expectations of serving others before ourselves.
Over the last few years, I’ve started believing in myself, and feeling worthy. Not every day, but the majority of days. It started when I was at Seton Hill University working on my M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction. I saw how my classmates believed in themselves (or at least gave me the impression that they did), and they believed in me.
More importantly, I started looking at the limiting beliefs I had: that I wasn’t thin enough, or interesting enough, or good enough. I wrote out those beliefs, and what evidence I had to support it. There was plenty of evidence to back them up. What I noticed, though, is that the evidence was largely circumstantial, and it wasn’t necessarily true. It wasn’t concrete. Rejections are subjective. Maybe I just wasn’t writing what the editors were looking for. Maybe my introversion makes me seem unapproachable. Maybe I had received numerous compliments and I was simply too oblivious to notice, and only took note of the negative remarks of childhood bullies.
Understanding that the evidence I had to back-up my limiting beliefs weren’t solid, I could start eliminating them. disproving them, understanding that they weren’t relevant any more.
More importantly, i started looking at times when I did achieve my goals, I did achieve success. I looked at my behaviour and my belief in myself, that made those moments happen.
I have to remind myself every day, that my limiting beliefs are the ones that are holding me back. I remind myself every day of those moments of success and what led to them. I came up with my motto, which is something like this:
“When I am my brave and assertive self, magic happens.”
I am rarely my brave and assertive self. I have to remind myself to be brave and assertive at conventions and conferences simply to introduce myself to people.
I have to remind myself that I am being brave and assertive simply by sitting down and writing, by putting myself and my writing goals first.
Does it work? More often than not, for me. But it isn’t the only answer.
We are all individuals. We all have different stories, different reasons for why we feel unworthy. And only we know what it will take to make ourselves believe we are worthy of putting ourselves first.
If my method resonates with you, great. Give it a try. If not, that’s OK. I want to encourage each of you, to look deep within yourself, and find what it is you need to know that you are worthy of love, of success, and of putting yourself first.
When you find what it is, when you find that belief, please, share it with me, and with your fellow writers.
Until you find that belief in yourself, know that I believe in you. And I will continue to believe in you and your worth, until you’re ready to take that mantle from me.
Unless you’re one of the lucky ones with a publishing contract, or in a writing course with submission deadlines that if missed will cost you money, it can be difficult to set and stick to deadlines. Why? Because we don’t really have anything really at stake.
Perhaps a pitch session at a conference/convention you’re attending is coming up, or your critique group has it’s monthly submission deadline approaching and you want something ready for it, and you’re writing and editing furiously to make those deadlines. But there’s always that voice in the back of your mind, the voice of your Inner Saboteur, reminding you that if you miss it, it’s OK. You can alwasy submit to your writer’s group next month. You don’t have to pitch at the conference, you can always submit to the agent/editor any time, you’ll just socialize with them at the conference, it will make a better impression anyway.
Without concrete deadlines, we can take our sweet time in completing our wiritng projects. We can always find things to edit and change, and it will never, ever, be good enough to submit.
Here are 2 simple ways to create deadlines that matter:
- Have an accountability buddy with an ultimate reward you BOTH want. Give yourselves a three-month deadline to finish a draft or finish editing a manuscript. If you BOTH achieve that goal in the time alotted, you BOTH get a reward, such as a hotel stay at a local convention. Make it something that you wouldn’t normally spend on yourself, and something that will make an event far more enjoyable. It has to be something you both want. It works, because you will find that while it is easy and OK to disappoint yourself by not having your work completed in a given time-frame, you don’t want to disappoint your friend. You are counting on EACH OTHER. Does it have to be a hotel stay? No, but it should be bigger than a meal out or a movie.
- Plan ahead. Look for grants, contests, scholarships, or other submission deadlines. They all have specific windows of opporuntiy. Be aware of what those submission windows are well in advance, mark them in your calendar and work towards them. If you miss them, not only do you have to wait another year before you can try again, you may also be missing out on a financial opportunity. So just like the publishing contract or the writing course deadlines, missing out on these deadlines could cost you money.
Contact your local writer’s organization, or national writer’s associations like the Romance Writers of America, or Horror Writers of America, visit www.savvyauthors.com, and check out the websites of any conventions you plan on attending in the next year. See what they have planned, if there any pitch sessions, or if they have any grant or scholarships coming up. Mark it in your calendar and break down all that you have to do to be ready for that deadline. Find an accountability buddy, and go for it. Make that deadline matter to you.
Join the conversation! What will you be working towards over the next few months? I have two submission periods: the first is due by March 31, and the other is June 15. A lot of work to do! Better get to it!
I’m stubborn. If someone makes a suggestion to me or asks something of me, often my first response is “No.”
On the positive side, my stubbornness is called persistence. I refuse to quit. I won’t give up, or give in. There’s a saying something like persistence is more important than talent. So I figure I’ll keep submitting and someday I’ll have outlasted all the other writers.
I’ve always been that way.
I will never forget when one of my teachers kindly informed me that I wasn’t going to ever be as good as one of his other students Needless to say, I was stunned and hurt, but I was also royally teed off. I remember marching home that day thinking, “What does he know? I’ll show him!”
This attitude has come in handy when facing my writing fears.
I fear I won’t complete my novel. I fear that it won’t be good enough. I fear that I will fail, that I am a failure. I have a choice.
I have a choice. I can adopt these fears and let them control me, let them stop me from writing. I did this for a long time. I still do, sometimes. They are at the heart of it all on the days I procrastinate. OR, I can face these fears, acknowledge them, use them to push me, but saying to them, “Just Watch Me!”
Fear: “You’ll never finish.”
Me: “Then I’ll write until I do. Justt watch me!”
Fear: “You’re not good enough.”
Me: “Then I’ll keep learning and practicing and growing until I am. Just watch me!”
Fear: “You are a failure.”
Me: “Then I’ll work harder, submit more, until I succeed. Just watch me!”
Fear: “You’re a fake.”
Me: “Am I? Then I’ll have to just fake it until I make it! I’ll just have to keep on writing and working at it to mee the standards others already believe I’ve set. Just watch me!”
You too have a choice. You can allow your fears to slow you down, to stop you, or you can embrace them, use them to push you in the direction you want to go.
Join the conversation! What are your writing fears? How can you use them to push you forward?
In Martha Stout’s book “The Sociopath Next Door“, she opens up her introduction with the following: “Imagine–if you can–not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members.”
I remember reading that and thinking, “What’s the problem? That would be heavenly!” No, I don’t really want to be a sociopath without a conscience, not caring what happens to others, willing to walk-over and destroy everyone around me to get what I want.
I do think there is some merit to taking time for yourself and what you care about, without the guilt of always being concerned about others to the point where you put everyone else’s needs before your own.
In a way that’s a controversial thought, in a way it isn’t. Certainly Oprah started the “Me” movement decades ago, which is all about looking after what “I” need, what “I” want, so what I’m saying isn’t new. At the same time, there is still so much pressure, so much guilt put on us, especially on women, still, to look after everyone else, to put our needs second, that when someone calls, asks for help, asks a favour, we are supposed to, we are required to, drop what we’re doing to respond.
In the workshops I lead, this question comes up all the time: How can I put myself first? I often think there is an expectation that I will have a pat answer, a trick or tip on how to make other people respect boundaries or to not need so much. I always respond with another question:
Why do think you are unworthy of being first?
Conversely, What makes you worthy of being first?
Why shouldn’t you be first?
I know, I know, society makes us feel guilty if we make ourselves a priority. And that guilt is not easy to dispel. So let’s take that guilt into account as we work this out.
Think about the time you spend writing, looking after yourself and your needs. What do you get out of that time? More energy? Happiness? Experience? You’ve learned something new? You’re healthier? What else?
Take all that you have gained and think about how much that helps you grow as a person. When we grow as people, when we are happier, healthier, more knowledgeable, we have more to offer those around us, those who depend on us.
So, no, I’m not saying you should put yourself first always and to not care about the well-being of others all the time. I’m saying to do it enough that you can grow as a person, be happy with who you are, and have more to offer.
We’ve all heard it: If you don’t look after yourself, no one will. It’s true. Have you heard this? If we don’t put ourselves first, we are teaching others that we are not worthy of being first. Others treat us the way we teach them to treat us.
Join the conversation! What makes you worthy of being first? What do you gain from putting yourself first, looking after your needs, your goals? What will you commit to doing this week to put yourself and your goals first?
I was going to have a completely different post this week, a continuation of the theme of change or about embracing our fears. I may post that next week.
I needed to change my post. If this is a journey we’re doing together, then I need to be honest with you. So here goes:
I’ve been struggling. I’ve been struggling a lot the last few weeks. Sure I have good writing days and not so good writing days. We all have those, and that’s OK.
But most days, i feel like a fraud.
I feel like a fraud because those nasty self-doubts I coach writers to work through, have been rearing their ugly heads. A lot.
Things like: It’s never going to happen, no one wants to read this, it’s terrible writing, I’m a terrible writer, I’m a failure, a complete and utter failure.
I don’t believe that my doubts are different or any stronger than anyone else’s.
They are my doubts, and I have been giving in to them. For that, I am ashamed and a fraud.
Except that I’m not.
I do take my own advice, and find ways to argue back against my inner saboteur, but I still give in.
That doesn’t make me a fair or a fraud. It makes me human.
It makes me a human, with depression. It’s not something I’m ashamed of. I struggled for many years before I even knew I had depression. Getting medical and psychological help for it has been a tremendous help. But that help doesn’t mean it will ever really go away. The depression may fade for a time, but it does come back, and when it does, I struggle, and I struggle a lot.
When I struggle with depression, I do my best to get words on the page. Often I have to be satisfied with a sentence or two, or the placement of a period. Most days I pick up my pen and paper or turn on my computer and stare at it for hours with no clue how to proceed, with too much noise in my head to form any kind of clear thought.
I know enough on the worst of days to be gentle with myself. To understand that I simply don’t have the energy or the mental fortitude to write anything that day and that if I take it easy today, tomorrow should be better. Often times it is.
I’ve been gentle with myself. I took it easy. I make myself write. I tell my inner saboteur to shut up. And the next day, I have to be gentle again. I tell myself that I’m drafting and that it doesn’t have to be perfect. I need to be patient with myself and the whole writing process. It’s the same stuff I coach my clients on. I pick up my pen, turn my computer on, and I try again, until it gets easier.
So what’s my point? My point is that I’ve been struggling.
My point is to tell you so that if you’re struggling, you know you’re not alone.
So here’s to better and brighter writing days.