Stop Riding Your Writing Brakes

When I was first learning to drive, my dad warned me to not ride my brakes when going down a hill. I still hear his words echo in my head when I coast down a mountain hill. The consequence of burned out brakes is… smash, crash, and road rash.

Anyway.

Are you in the habit of riding your writing brakes? Are you stopping yourself from an incredible ride? Here’s a few clues that you are burning out your brakes:

Are You an Over-thinker?

You have the perfect story idea. The vision of this finished piece keeps you day dreaming. You feel the passion for it… but, unfortunately it’s all in your head. Oh, I’ve sat here on a busy highway of success only to find myself constantly passed by successful coasters who don’t use their brakes. Lack of action plan keeps you permanently sitting on the perfect story idea. Yep. Sitting. As in not moving.
You spend lots of valuable thinking time on what could be. You work out every minuscule detail before you begin. You address pop-quiz problem trivia. Yeah, you know the “what if” game I’m referring to. Here’s the problem: overthinking paralyzes production.

An over-thinker is burning fuses. Too much power overloads the fuse and it shuts down. You have something amazing to share. Stop thinking and start inking that paper up. Keep your inflow and outflow of currents matched up.

Are You an Over-planner?

Maybe you are an over-planner. An over-planner spends ample time on busy work. They think they are taking care of things that will make the ride smoother. They work on knowing everything before starting. An over-planners writing life consists of research, research, and more research. They may read blogs, attend writing conferences, and take classes to insure their knowledge. Story ideas need substance. Yeah, actual writing pieces, or submissions. Maybe you’re ahead of yourself and your steps are all out of whack. Are you are perfecting step #47 when you haven’t even started on step #1?

Do you find yourself writing outlines over and over? Are you writing down a myriad of ideas and never implementing action plans? Remember no matter how well you plan, something will change that plan. Deal with it as it comes. Yes, I agree, planning is important. Spend some time on it but not all of your time.

Take time to plan out your entire book in a day, or maybe a week. But, immediately get to work when the planning is done. The key is to end your planning. Things always change so throw in a reevaluation day. Persevere and then race to the finish. If you aspire to be a writing planner, keep doing what you’re doing. On the other hand, if you want to be a writer… I recommend writing. Don’t tire out when the plan takes a new direction- just go with it. Enjoy it.

An over-planner pays too much to their insurance. They never get from point A to B because they are afraid of crashes and expensive deductibles. So they park the vehicle instead. They play it safe, stocking up really great insurance policies. Yes, insurance is needed but never get more than you need. (Like the insurance for a $5 toy. Ridiculous.) Expect mistakes, a change of plans, and a price to pay. Know that your biggest mistake is to never begin.

Are You and Over-excuser?

Do you always find really good reasons to not write? I don’t have time. I’m not good enough. No one likes my stuff (based on one comment you heard once… one time folks). I might fail. My computer sometimes crashes. I’m working on teaching my fish tricks.

Really? Really?

Oh, boy. Great opportunities slide when we feed our excuses. Take a risk. Do one thing every day to bring you closer to your goal as a writer. Find a solution to every excuse you make. If you don’t think you have time, keep a time log where you record what you are doing every 15 minutes. You will be surprised. Give yourself positive affirmations. Backup your work. Um… and about the fish: you can’t be serious.

Meh. Lame solutions for lame excuses. But, practice countering every thought that stops you from following your passion. If you love writing, spend time with it. Forget what can’t be done and show the world what can be done.

Negative energy sucks enthusiasm. It drains your battery. Is it time for a jump start? Learn tips from and associate yourself with fireball writers; feed off their energy flow. Come on. You also have something the world needs. Show yourself.

Use the Right Writing Breaks

Yes, it’s true. We all need a good break from the things that we love, or we lose our punch. It’s okay to back away from writing for a little bit. And it comes highly recommended at times. But, writing brakes and writing breaks are completely different things. One is initiated out of fear of crashing, and the other is spurred from exhaustion of best effort. Both slow us down, but only one refreshes and rejuvenates our writing vehicle. Where do you want to go with your writing goals?

Don’t ride your brakes, ride your breaks.

Release the brakes and enjoy the ride. Oh, and just so you know, expect a crash or two. No writer comes out without a few scratches. It’s all part of the journey. Just take caution to shift down a gear, there will be less casualties when you move forward in your writing goals. I repeat: shift down.

Don’t think big, think incredibly small. What’s the littlest thing you can do to reach your dreams as a writer? Go ahead. We are waiting to see what you can do.

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Christie Perkins is a survivor of boy humor, chemo, and faulty recipes. She loves freelance writing and is a nonfiction junkie. A couple of national magazines have paid her for her work but her biggest paycheck is her incredible family. Christie hates spiders, the dark, and Shepherd’s Pie. Bleh. Mood boosters: white daisies, playing basketball, and peanut butter M&M’s. You can find out more about her at howperkyworks.com.      

Measuring Progress

In the writing world, there are many ways to count progress – word count, chapters finished, how many “The End”‘s we’ve written. I get the excitement that can come from crossing these markers, but at the same time, I’m a high school English teacher whose students just took end of level tests to see how they understand language arts, tests that are looking at the things that are measurable.

But the problem with getting focused on things that are data measurable in regards to something that is in essence an art – emotional connections, imagination and an increased appreciation of humanity are not nor were they ever intended to be measurable. We can’t weigh the value of a Picasso against that of Van Gogh, determine Beethoven’s worth versus Mozart. 
And that means that when it comes to our own work, we can not rely on data and numbers either. 
Then, what’s a writer to do? 
There are several options:
1.Note the reactions from readers. 
Whether or not it is bizarre, I love making my readers cry. I love when they were only going to read a little and couldn’t stop. Or when they giggle at a love story that is beginning to unfold. 
2. Observe the fluidity of your process.

When a character manifests their true self better, when a setting clicks in to sync, when the foreshadowing and symbolism fall into place better than you could have expected. Note those times, record them somewhere, and refer back to it when the doubts reappear.
3. Pay attention to your own responses. 
At some point, we all question our abilities as creators. However, we also have those moments when our responses will testify of the strength our story. Those moments when we giggle (for whatever reason), when we reflect on love of friendship or spouses, when we can’t help but cry at the love or grief experienced. Those are moments when are art speaks truth, moments that are not able to be measured by data, moments that reveal our humanity. 
What techniques do you use to determine your progress as a writer?

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Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.