Bite-Sized Goals and Mousey Nibbles: Managing Lengthy Projects

Working your way through large, lengthy projects, like . . . oh, writing a novel, for instance, can be overwhelming, can’t it? First you have to write down the words, then you have to fix the words, then you have to fix them a second time, and possibly a third or fourth or fifth time. Then you have to figure out how to get those words out into the world, whether via traditional methods or indie. And while you’re trying to accomplish all of this, you have everyday life stuff to deal with too: jobs, family, chores—as well as non-everyday stuff, such as illnesses, vacations, bad mental health days, holidays . . . I could go on and on.

Of course, it helps to get organized by setting goals and deadlines—to mark on your calendar in bold when you want your first draft to be finished by, when you need to be done with the first round of edits, and so on. But when setting these longer deadlines, it’s easy to underestimate how long you’re really going to need.

I’ve made this mistake many times. I’ve tried to prevent it by calculating out how many words I need to write each day leading up to my deadline in order to reach it—making room for days when I know I’ll have less time to write. As long as I write the prescribed number of words each day, I’ll be perfectly fine, right? But then, life throws obstacles in my path, and soon I’m failing to meet my word counts and falling behind. The farther behind I fall, the more frustrated I get. I move my deadline out. I recalculate my word counts. Then I fall behind again. I get discouraged and overwhelmed over, and over, and I start to think I’ll never finish this darn thing.

Does this sound familiar?

Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you do well with large goals and a daily word count system. Maybe that’s all you need in order to get things done. If so, that’s fantastic! It’s common advice, so it must work for a lot of writers, right? But if it’s not working for you, just as it hasn’t been working for me, I’d like to suggest a few things that have been working for me lately, in the hopes that you, too, will find them helpful.

Make 2-3 Bite-Sized Goals At A Time

I still plan out the large goals (finish draft, revise draft, edit draft.) But I’ve lessened their importance in favor of smaller, bite-sized goals (that, I must stress, aren’t word counts,) and I only plan out a few of these goals at a time. For instance, my goal this weekend was to re-examine my outline, because I’ve discovered I need to throw out some scenes and replace them with brand new ones. I wasn’t writing the scenes this weekend—just taking a look and deciding what I need those scenes to do. My next bite-sized goal will be to outline those scenes. The bite-sized goal after that will be to finally draft those scenes. And . . . that’s it. That’s as far ahead as I’ve planned. Obviously, I have an idea of what I’ll need to do after that, because I know that my ultimate goal is to finish revising this entire draft. But for now, I’m not going to worry about anything further than getting through these next few scenes.

Keeping my goals small and few in number helps me feel like I’m actually making progress. If I look at it in respect to the larger goal of finishing my revisions, it won’t feel like I’ve done much at all. I’ll feel like I’m moving at a snail’s pace, and I’ll get frustrated. So I don’t do that.

Only Work Under Your Best Working Conditions

Pay close attention to when and where you do your best work. Do you get more done in the morning? Then work in the morning and don’t try to squeeze more work out of yourself past that time (unless you absolutely must.) Do you have specific days when you’re less likely to be able to focus? Keep your expectations low on those days. I have a standing appointment every Tuesday morning that tends to throw off my concentration for the rest of the day. I’ve come to accept that if I do get any writing done on Tuesdays, it’s a bonus. I’m better off using Tuesdays to catch up on chores or other things that don’t require me to think too much. I’m having a harder time convincing myself that writing post-children’s bedtimes is also a lost cause. But it’s a fact that I’m usually too tired and brain-drained to do much of anything by then. My best times for focusing are late morning and early afternoon when the kids are at school, so that’s when I make myself sit down and work. I also pay attention to my energy level. If I try to work with my laptop on the couch, am I more likely to nap instead? If so, I’ll make myself a cup of coffee or tea, and work sitting up at my desk. Is my back bothering me to the point where sitting at my desk will make the pain worse and/or distract me? Then maybe the couch would be better after all.

Just Take a Mousey Nibble

Okay, this one probably needs some background. My oldest son is a very picky eater. Always has been. He has texture issues and we suspect he may also be a super taster, because he will often complain about things tasting “too strong.” There was a period when he was younger where he was so anxious about trying new foods, that he would burst into tears at the mere suggestion. That is until one day, he told us that maybe . . . maybe he could just try a mouse-sized bite. A little mousey nibble. A nearly microscopic taste that, like sticking a toe in the water, would help to alleviate some of his fear of the unknown. This still works with him. “Just take a mousey nibble, and if you don’t like it, that’s okay,” we tell him. And so he does. And then sometimes, all on his own, he will decide to take a larger taste afterward.

If, even with your bite-sized goals, you’re still feeling anxious about sitting down to work, or you’re not sure how to get started, or you’re just plain unmotivated, tell yourself that you only have to take a mousey nibble. Open your document and commit to five minutes. You don’t even have to type anything. You can use those five minutes to look over your last paragraph, or glance through your outline, or heck, just stare at the blank screen. Chances are though, once your timer goes off, you’ll be able to settle yourself into your task. And if you still can’t, that’s ok. Take a break and try another mousey nibble later. Maybe it’ll taste different next time.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you. Do you have any other tricks up your sleeve that help you get through large projects? Please share them with us in the comments.

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When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard, Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele, knitting, or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys and three mischievous cats. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Tallying the Tailwinds

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I come from a family of runners and writers. Both pursuits can be difficult and, at times, discouraging. My brother and I were talking about running recently and laughing about the fact that he’d run the same route every morning for months, always thinking, “I have the worst luck. The wind always picks up when I turn back for home.”

We were laughing because of course, this wasn’t true. The wind was there all along. But he wasn’t aware of it when it was pushing him gently along, helping him toward his goal. As runners, we’re aware of our tailwinds for a minute or two, and then we simply don’t notice them. Headwinds, however, are nearly always in our thoughts because they’re quite literally in our faces.

As it turns out, this isn’t an experience unique to running, and certainly not to my brother. In all aspects of life, we are more likely to notice the forces working against us than those working for us. Not because we are negative or pessimists, but because the obstacles are the very things we’re trying to overcome, and therefore they have our attention. The things that are helping us along don’t require our attention and therefore don’t receive it to nearly the same degree.

In psychology, this is known as the Headwinds/Tailwinds Asymmetry. Tom Gilovich of Cornell University has studied this phenomenon for years, sharing his results in scholarly articles as well as this highly accessible podcast interview. It’s a phenomenon that shows up across the human experience, in areas from sports to politics to family matters.

In conjunction with this research, Gilovich also references the fact that who actively practice gratitude—which is, in essence, the act of acknowledging and appreciating your tailwinds—are happier and healthier. Those who don’t are more likely to not only focus on their headwinds—the obstacles in their way—but to succumb to greed and envy, two feelings that are essentially the opposites of gratitude. As you might guess, this does not result in happier, healthier outcomes.

Let’s return, then, to writing. It’s easy to focus on the (valid) writing is difficult for you and on the obstacles you’ve faced and are facing.

But have you tallied your tailwinds lately? Ever? Your list might include some of these:

  • Your education and literacy (For so much of the world, this is not a given.)
  • Access to libraries, and perhaps even a personal library
  • Access to the materials you need to write, whether that’s a brand-new laptop or a notebook and a sharp pencil
  • Writing software (Search and replace! Track changes! What incredible tools we have.)
  • A supportive family
  • Wise critique partners
  • A writing community, including mentors who pay it forward
  • Access to information (Google Earth! Google Translate! Straight-up Google! YouTube! Blogs like this one!)
  • Emotional health, including a heart capable of empathizing with the characters you create
  • Physical health, including healthy hands capable of typing
  • Mental health, including a mind capable of creating
  • A supportive and knowledgeable agent
  • An editor or publisher who champions your book
  • Readers who love your work (whether they number in the millions or we’re just talking about your mom)

My own list includes many of these, and I’m sure there are things I’m missing—advantages I’ve enjoyed for so long that I simply don’t see them. But the very act of writing this list has helped me appreciate all the forces working in my favor. The very act of listing your tailwinds, or even stopping to think about it, can make all the difference in outlook and, as a result, outcome. It’s certainly something I plan to practice on a much more regular basis.


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of Like Magic and Paper Chains (HarperCollins). She loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

The Art of Self-Discipline

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about self-discipline. Specifically, my severe lack of it. So many goals have come and gone with noble intentions but feeble follow-through. I vow to go to bed earlier, get up earlier, read more, eat less, obey the speed limit, and a thousand other things large and small. Broken resolutions are, unfortunately, part of being human.

I get mad at myself. But I also tend to laugh it off and turn it into a joke: “Ha ha, another resolution bites the dust,” or “Whoops! There goes the diet. Maybe I’ll try again next week.” It’s a coping mechanism, I suppose, to make myself feel better. But when a goal repeatedly goes unrealized, at some point I have to do something different to get a different result. I can’t keep setting the same goal without taking proper action to see it through.

Consider the following quote by Calvin Coolidge:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

When I think about the times I truly made a lasting change in life or accomplished a major goal, it took a special brand of persistence: the kind that requires sacrifice, sheer stubbornness, and a willingness to work every day, even when I didn’t feel like it.

No, it’s not always fun.

Yes, it gets results.

Every time I finish or revise a manuscript, I reach a point in the process where it seems too hard—even impossible. Where I want to chuck it all in the garbage and give up writing forever. Sometimes it’s my own self-doubt that gets in the way. Other times it’s just life: work, family, health issues, and more.

So how do you overcome that temporary paralysis? How do you work around the many demands on your time, move beyond self-doubt, and get the thing done?

Forward progress is the key. A chapter a day, or a page. Even a paragraph.

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Someone once told me that time will pass whether you’re working toward your goal or not. A year from now, would you rather have a finished manuscript or a pile of excuses and regrets? Easy to say and harder to do, I know, but here are a few simple methods to help you stay on track:

Accountability

Have a friend or loved one check in with you once a day, once a week—whatever suits your writing pace—and ask how things are going. A supportive confidant can offer words of encouragement, monitor your progress, or be a sounding board for new ideas.

Reminders

Writing programs, apps, a simple alarm clock, sticky notes—choose one method or several that will remind you to get working and encourage you to keep at it.

Rewards

For every chapter finished or every thousand words written or every page revised or –insert goal here-, reward yourself. Eat a favorite treat, take a walk outdoors, buy a new notebook (my favorite), or choose another reward that is personal and meaningful to you. Some writers even use sticker charts or other fun trackers.

Routine

If you are a creature of habit, try to write in the same place at the same time every day. A strict routine leaves little room for procrastination. Or, if the sight of your office or writing space is killing your creativity, try a change of scenery. Change up your routine by writing at the coffee shop, library, or other public space. I tend to get a ton of writing done when surrounded by strangers.

Self-discipline, I believe, is more art than science. It takes trial and error to find a style that works for you. For some it comes naturally; for others, it’s a daily struggle. But it’s a necessary skill for any writer whose end goal is a masterpiece in the form of a finished, polished manuscript.

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Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.

Getting Back on that (Writing) Horse

I went horseback riding last month, for the first time in about [number redacted for security reasons] years. I grew up in Los Angeles, owned a horse, and went riding a couple times a week. My husband grew up in Southern Utah, had horses in his backyard, and had never been on one in his life. Go figure.

So I decided it was time to see what my life’s companion looked like on horseback. (Spoiler: like someone way more comfortable with a steering wheel in one hand and a gear shifter in the other.)

It wasn’t until right before the big moment that I started to wonder about what I would look like on horseback. Even though I rode all the time as a teenager. Even though I’ve been bucked off, stepped on, kicked, and shoveled more manure than I ever want to see again. Ever. Even though I endured months of riding lessons, walking, jogging, and cantering around in circles while my teenaged instructor made out with her boyfriend in the middle of the ring (which made me an expert in boredom, if nothing else).

So, yeah, I used to be an ok rider, but remember that number? The big one at the beginning of this post?

But of course that’s not the real reason I was worried. The real reason is plain ole’ everyday stage fright. The tittering voice in the back of our heads that tells us we’re just not good enough, and why on earth would we put ourselves on display like that when it would be so much easier to go sit in a corner somewhere?

Getting Back on that (Writing) Horse

I don’t know about you, but this gnawing doubt has always been part of my writing experience. As with riding, I took several years off from writing seriously. There was always a reason. My kids were young. I had just started a new job. I went through a divorce, and then a remarriage. But at heart, the real reason was this: I knew, just knew, that real writers had something I didn’t, and that nobody could possibly be interested in what I had to say.

Until I realized that there was something missing in my life, something I missed desperately. So I started taking my writing seriously again. But it took me some time to feel comfortable with it.

To return to my dubious horse metaphor—I was convinced I’d make a fool of myself, even though the poor little mare I hoisted myself onto wasn’t much bigger than I am. There was little resemblance to my old horse, Aman Mirage. Aman had been a piss-and-vinegar half-Arabian with attitude to spare. The horse before me now made me think of Banjo, the tired, grizzled pony I rode once a week until he died at age 24. I hoped this one wasn’t about to die, as well.

Now, I’d known all along this ride would be no heroic adventure. It was a cruise ship shore excursion, of all things, designed to suit every possible level of physical fitness. Sleepy toddlers would have finished the journey with their slumbers intact. I think my horse slept through it, too.

But I’ll admit, it took a minute before everything started to come back. And I felt so sorry for my little horse that I didn’t have the heart to push her into anything more energetic than follow the leader. But soon my feet fell into place, my hands remembered their job, and my back straightened up. Turns out riding a horse is like riding a bike. And you know what they say about riding a bike.

My “aha” moment, the profound thought that inspired this post, was when I noticed my right hand. These reins were short, but I had learned to ride Western style, with long, trailing reins. I glanced down, and caught my right hand resting on my thigh, looking forlorn. It was missing those trailing reins. My right hand had remembered what to do, even though I had never consciously reminded it. Here I was, trying to force myself to remember everything, and all along, my hand just lay there, unconcerned, wondering where the rest of the reins were.

I was trying too hard, as usual. When I started writing again, too, it took some time to relax and let my word-generating muscles take over. I (mostly) stopped worrying about what people would think and just let myself do it. And pretty soon, things started rolling along.

We’re all here because we love words—reading them and writing them. But we don’t always consciously remember what we know. Sometimes all it takes is to flex those muscles to get them doing their thing. And soon enough, we’re riding off into the sunset.

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Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah with her husband, son, dog, and more cats than she likes to admit. When not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she can most likely be found rereading one of her favorite books. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden. Her favorite children’s book is The Owl and the Pussycat and her favorite element is copper. She writes renaissance-era historical fiction topped with a generous scoop of magic.

Focus

I have a slight (okay, huge) problem with staying focused on tasks that I don’t want to do. Sometimes it’s because I find a task boring–like housework. Or it’s repetitive, or I don’t see the point, or . . . I love it, and I find it interesting, and I want to do it, buuuuuuuut it’s hard.

Writing, you guys. Writing is hard. I love writing, but it’s hard. So hard. It is, I might even  go so far as to say, quite difficult.

Whenever I get stuck for words, or I’m not quite sure how I want to go about writing the next scene, that’s it, my brain’s like “this is HARD,” and I’m off clicking on social media, checking my texts, getting up to grab a snack I don’t need, etc. But I’ve been trying a few things to help with this problem, and I thought I’d share them with you in case you have a similar issue.

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1. Meditation

Meditation is basically just training your brain to focus, and you don’t have to do it for very long each day. I’ve been using an app called Headspace to help me out. It does require a subscription to be able to use all of it, but the Take-Ten (10 minute) beginner/training sessions are free. There are also other apps out there–a quick search in your app store will bring up many. But you don’t even need an app for the basics. Just find a quiet, comfortable spot (sitting, preferably, so you don’t get too relaxed and fall asleep) and focus on your breathing. Count your breaths in your head, if that helps. And whenever you notice that your mind is wandering (and it will), just gently acknowledge that and bring it back to focus on your breaths again. I try to do this before I sit down to write, and it really helps a lot.

2. Physical Activity

Again, it doesn’t take much. A brisk walk or some yoga, or even just dropping to the floor and doing a few pushups can help get the blood flowing to your brain and increase your ability to concentrate. I will often do some stretches or pushups between writing sprints.

3. Less Caffeine

Wait . . . WHAT?!

Yes, I know. I’m a writer. Don’t writer’s practically bleed caffeine? I used to, but I just can’t do it anymore. Too much caffeine sends my brain into hyper drive, and makes it more difficult for me to reign it in. I do need some in the morning, however, to jumpstart my day. so I’ve started making my morning cup with one scoop of caffeinated grounds, and one scoop of decaf. That combo is perfect for me. You might need to do some adjusting to figure out the right balance for you.

4. Set up a Permanent Writing Space

. . . and be consistent about writing there. I’ve had a writing desk set up for quite a while, actually, but the couch is so comfy, you know? And so, until recently, I rarely ever wrote at my desk, preferring my laptop, a cozy blanket, and my sofa. It’s no wonder writing often made me sleepy. As soon as I lost focus, I’d often opt for a nap (and no, this has nothing to do with the reduction in caffeine–couches just make me want to nap no matter what, so don’t even go there.) Not only that, but the living room is where we watch TV and play games, and mine’s connected to an open kitchen where I can see all the dishes that are piling up, not to mention mail and papers and . . . you see what I’m getting at? It’s distracting because it’s associated with many different things, and they’re all competing for my attention.  My writing desk, however, is tucked away in this weird little nook in the hallway that the builders thought needed to be there for some reason, and it’s away from the chaos of the rest of the house. Everything on and around my desk reminds me either of my writing, or the things that have inspired my writing (like my T.A.R.D.I.S. and my Mulder and Scully Pop figurines.) If I consistently choose to write at my desk, my brain will associate that spot with writing only. And so far, it’s working really well.

So those are the main things that have helped me focus and stay on task as a writer. I hope you find them helpful too, and if you happen to have any other tips, I’d love it if you’d share them in the comments.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Crush Your New Year’s Writing Goals

Every year, I make a list of New Year’s Goals. Yes, Goals. I don’t call them resolutions, because that just seems too concrete and causes too much pressure, setting me up for failure from the very start. Still, even then, some of my goals pan out . . . aaand some of them don’t. But I’ve started to notice a pattern throughout these successes and failures, and I thought I’d share some tips with you that I will be trying this year in the hopes of producing a higher success rate, especially when it comes to writing goals.

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1) Focus on small habits, not the ultimate result.

I think the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to NOT make your resolution the same as your end-game, like “write a novel,” for instance. A goal like that is too daunting, too big. It’s also too vague. There are so many steps involved in writing a novel, and so many life “things” that can get in the way. Instead, a better goal would be to “write every day.” Don’t set a word count. Don’t say you’re going to write 1000 words every day. That’s also setting yourself up for failure. There will be days where you are definitely NOT going to make your word count goal, and you need to make room for that.

In fact, even better, don’t even set your goal to write every day. Make it something more tangible. Just say you’ll work on your novel every day. That can include anything: research, pre-writing, outlining, revising. . . .  And that’s GOOD, because all of those steps are going to get you closer to achieving that end goal that I told you to ignore: to write a full-blown novel. In order to reach that end goal, you need a game plan, so it’s that game plan you need to focus on the most. If your main goal focuses on the process of achieving that end result, you will be much more likely to reach it.

 

2) Failure isn’t an excuse for giving up

No matter what you do, there are probably going to be days, weeks, even months, where you are unable to work on your goals. Everyone goes through periods when they find it difficult to write. You might call that failure. “My goal was to write every day, but I haven’t written for weeks, therefore I’ve failed, therefore I might as well quit.” No! No no no no no. Don’t quit. Just start a-new. Start where you left off. It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. If you quit, then you’ve failed. But if you can accept that you’ve had a set-back and then pick yourself up and get back to work, you’ll know you have what it takes to succeed.

 

3) Flexibility is Key

Remember that a year is a long time. Things change. You change. The goals that you set in January may no longer apply in July. And that’s okay! I like to reassess my goals every few months to see what’s working, what’s not, and to think about what I need to do differently. It’s not failing or giving up if you decide that you need to take a different path. The point of a New Year’s goal is to improve yourself. Or to change yourself. Or to finally get the thing done that you’ve been wanting to get done. And in order to do any of those things without going crazy, you need to embrace flexibility. Go with the flow. If you don’t take a rigid stance, you’ll be more likely to succeed. At least, that’s my experience. Maybe it’s just because I tend to rebel against rules and rigidity. You may be different. But either way, you need to be willing to reassess and change if need be.

 

I hope these tips have helped. I will fully admit that I haven’t had a great track record for meeting the goals I’ve set each year, but a lot of that is because I haven’t followed my own advice. This year, I plan to. And I hope it helps you as well as me. Happy New Year, and good luck!

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When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

How to Write When You Just Don’t Wanna

Can we all just agree that the last two weeks have been the worst? I mean it. No matter what side of the political debate you fall on, the aftermath of this election has taken a toll on all of us.

I’m not here to get political, but I do want to address this toll and the effect it has had on our writing. Many—MANY—of my friends and colleagues have expressed how hard it has been for them to write lately. Many haven’t been able to write at all. I’ve seen several posts over social media bemoaning the looming end of NaNoWriMo and how behind everyone is because the election stress threw such a wrench in their ability to focus.

I’m one of them. At 22,000 words, I’m over 10k behind where I should be right now. I have massive amounts of writing to do if I’m going to hit 50k by the end of the month. I could just give up. I mean, it’s just an arbitrary contest. It’s not like my career is hinging on whether I can write 50k in 30 days. And everything else going on in the world right now feels much more important to me than finishing my draft.

Besides, I’ve failed NaNo before. Several times before. It’s not a big deal. But here’s the thing: at the beginning of this month, I made a promise to myself that I was going to REALLY DO THIS this time. I was going to finish this novel this month, come Hell or high water. Well . . . some might argue that Hell and high water are here, and now I’m struggling to keep my promise. I do still want to reach my goal, but when it comes to actually sitting down to write? I . . . don’t wanna.

I. Just. Don’t. Wanna. I mean, I do, logically. But I don’t have the mental energy for it. I’d rather take a nap, thank you very much, and hopefully not wake up until the year 2020 has come around.

Despite this, however, I’ve been managing to push myself through this writing slump, and so I thought I’d share some tips for how to get words down, even when you just don’t wanna.

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1) Allow yourself a few day’s break

This seems counter-intuitive. “Wait, so in order to get yourself to write, you . . . didn’t write?” Yup, I didn’t write. I gave my brain and emotions some time to try and work themselves out, with the promise that after a certain amount of time, even if I still didn’t feel like I was in a place where I could write, I would try to write anyway. That day came, and I turned off all social media, and told myself I couldn’t get back on until I’d written 4k. And amazingly, I wrote 4k. I’m still not sure how, but I did. And you probably can too if you really set your mind to it. But first allow yourself that break.

2) Break it down into small chunks of time

Not words. Time. You’ll probably surprise yourself by how much you’ll get written in that small amount of time. One thing I’ve done on days when I’m especially having trouble focusing, is I’ve set my alarm to go off once every hour. When it goes off, I drop whatever I’m doing (or not doing, as the case has been lately) and write for five minutes. If I hit flow, I’ll keep going. Sometimes that’s all it takes. It’s like a little shove on the back of the sled to get you to the start of the slope. Once you’re there, your sled will tip, and gravity will carry you the rest of the way down.

3) Multitask

I’ve become quite the fan of writing via dictation, and the bulk of my NaNo draft has actually been written via this method while I’m doing other boring tasks, such as folding laundry, picking up clutter, and waiting in the carpool lane to pick up the kids from school. Somehow, for me, I’ve been finding it easier to break through the I-don’t-wannas this way. It’s not for everyone, but if you haven’t tried it yet, I recommend you do.

4) Find a second creative outlet

Set aside some time every day to work on something else creative and/or relaxing that has nothing to do with your draft. Adult coloring books are great for this. Also crafts, such as knitting, crochet, or other needlework—basically anything that relaxes you but also stimulates the creative side of your brain. Sometimes when I do this, I’ll find my mind wandering off to work on my story without me, solving plot problems, coming up with new characters, all while in a nice, relaxed, state of mind rather than while stressing out over a blank page.

5) Don’t panic

If none of this works for you, and you just can’t do it, don’t beat yourself up about it. Stress is a nasty beast that sometimes takes longer to defeat than we would like. Allow yourself the extra time you need. Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, go to bed at a decent hour, and take lots of bubble baths. Your ability to write has not left you forever. It will come back when it’s ready.

I do hope these strategies help you as much as they’ve been helping me. I will point out that they don’t work one-hundred percent of the time. Some days I just have to throw in the towel and admit that writing isn’t going to happen. But even if it works only a third of the time, that’s better than not at all. Also, if you have any tips of your own, please do share them in the comments. I’d love to give them a try.

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When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.