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.



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.

The Key to Rediscovering Your Enthusiasm For Your Story

We are thrilled to welcome back former contributor Jamie Raintree as today’s guest! 

This year has been a crazy year. When I signed my first book contract, I knew I was signing up for deadlines, more responsibilities, more time spent on promotion, and more focus on my career in general. And I was–and am–100% in. The author life is everything I’ve dreamed it would be and I’m so grateful to have made it to this stage in my career and my life.

What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was how it would impact my creativity.

Up until that point, writing alone had taken up the majority of the time and energy I dedicated toward my career. I’ve been a regular blogger for many years, but otherwise, the best thing I could do was put as much effort into writing a great story as possible. It was almost never easy, but it was rewarding in a way that nothing else in my life was at that time. I loved it. I loved–and still do–watching my characters grow, immersing myself in their story, and the aha moments that hit at all hours.

And then things got busy. Really busy.

The thing about managing a publishing career is that: 1) there are deadlines and often, the things that aren’t as pressing have to get put on the back burner to take care of the things that are pressing. While writing Book 2 has been in the works since I first signed my book deal, the distant deadline meant that it was easy to put it aside to take care of production and promotion items for the more looming release of my debut novel.

And 2) most of those pressing items are left-brained activities and when you spend most of your day in left-brain mode, it becomes all the more difficult to switch into right-brain mode to write.

At first, it wasn’t a big deal. The deadline for Book 2 seemed like a lifetime away. And I was excited to watch my debut turn into a tangible thing. I wrote when I could but many days, I was too depleted to get myself in the headspace to write.

Eventually, though, months passed and that distant deadline wasn’t so distant anymore. I began to feel the pressure to produce, which only added to the difficulty of getting the words to flow. And the more days that passed without writing anything, the sicker I felt when I thought about opening my document back up to write. This book that I’ve been working on is actually the first novel I ever tried to write so it holds a special place in my heart, but I was coming to despise it. It seemed to represent this haunting sense of failure I couldn’t shake.

How was I ever going get it written–in a publishable shape, no less–when I could hardly bring myself to look at it?

This is not an uncommon feeling, I know. I’ve heard many authors talk about how publishing changes their writing processes. I’ve even experienced the struggle myself, during early editing phases when I was spending all my time focusing on what was wrong with my story, forgetting completely everything I once loved about it. Like a scorned lover, I just wanted some space, but deadlines make this impossible.

And thank goodness for that, because without a looming deadline, I may have forgotten what makes us fall in love with our stories:

Consistent progress.

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I know it’s not sexy. It’s not very poetic or artistic in any way, actually, but while we may adore our characters and look forward to writing certain scenes, it’s easy to lose track of that when we go days, weeks, or months without looking at our projects. Distance does not make the heart grow fonder.

It really does come down to Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard. I hate to beat a dead horse here, but I think it bears repeating. I think we’re always looking for that magic tip that is going to suddenly make writing easy (heaven knows I’ve searched for them all). We think that once we sign that contract, then we’ll be able to take our writing more seriously. We’ll have more support and we’ll really make the time to get it done.

There is no magic tip. Writing will never be easy. Life does not get more manageable once you sign the contract.

We must simply ignore the voice inside our heads that says we’re too tired, that we don’t have time, that this story isn’t going anywhere, our writing sucks, and we are complete hacks. That voice is pretty incessant for about the first couple of minutes of each writing session, but if you can work through that–and you can!–on the other side you will find all the reasons you started writing your story in the first place.

I am happy to report that I’ve since resumed my love affair with my story. I think about it all day and plan ways to sneak a little extra time with it when I can, and that is THE. BEST. FEELING. It’s the kind of relationship I always want to have with my writing. It is difficult to make this kind of consistent commitment my stories because the deadlines, they keep on coming. But like with any relationship, when it’s important to you, you just find a way.


Jamie Raintree Book Cover Photo Square.jpg

Jamie Raintree is an author and a writing business teacher. She is also a mother of two girls, a wife, a businesswoman, a nature-lover, and a wannabe yogi. Her debut novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, was released on October 3, 2017 by Graydon House. Subscribe to her newsletter for more writing tips and tools, and book news. To find out more, visit her website.

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads


Perfectly Undone by Jamie Raintree Cover.jpgSet among the breezy days of a sultry Portland summer, Perfectly Undone is a deeply moving novel of family secrets, forgiveness and finding yourself in the most surprising of places.

“Raintree’s lead characters are vividly realized, and readers will be moved…” – Publisher’s Weekly

“The most sensational, emotionally raw, and satisfying debut of fall.” – Redbook Magazine

Amazon |  Barnes & Noble | iBooks | IndieBound | Kobo



Thinking Through Your Brain … and Then Your Fingers

Last week, an author I follow on Facebook (Larry Correia, best-selling author of the “Monster Hunter International” books, among other awesomeness) made an interesting observation about his writing process:

Ten years ago when I was starting out, I wrote my first book while I had two jobs. I had to write super late at night, or marathon weekends. So I beat myself up trying to crank out as many words in one sitting as possible. I’d often write until 3:00 in the morning.

But I wrote a ton of stuff that wound up not being that good, which got thrown away. After the first couple years I learned to never bother writing past 1 in the morning, because there was a 90% chance anything past that, no matter how awesome I thought it was at the time writing it, was going to suck.

Then when I only had one job, but my career was taking off, and I was writing less crazy hours every night, and then shooting for 5,000 word days over the weekend. It made for a ton of really late nights and long ass Saturdays and Sundays.

And I still ended up throwing out a bunch, or spending a lot of time editing and cleaning.

For the last few years I’ve written full time, I do about 2,000-3,000 a day consistent, and I usually wrap up around 4;00 in the afternoon or so because my creativity is worn out by then and my mind is starting to wander.

But now, I seldom have to throw away much, and the editing time is a lot shorter. Because when I’m not pushing as hard, the first pass is far cleaner.

So even though I was cranking out more words in shorter amounts of time back then, the overall productivity is better because when I’m not pushing crazy hard, there is less clean up time later.

As Howard Tayler would say (for those of you who listen to the Writing Excuses podcast): “LUXURY!” It would be great to be able to quit my job and write full time. But I have this weird addiction to food, clothing and shelter, so I still haven’t quite made that jump. Someday, I hope. But not today—not yet.

I imagine there are more TTOF readers who are in the “starting out” phase, as opposed to writing full-time like Larry Correia. We have no option but to write when we can, always during the times when our day jobs and other responsibilities aren’t commanding our attention. For some, that means getting up early and cranking out words. For others (like one of my writing group friends), that means arranging our schedules for long lunchtime writing sessions. For me, that means blocking out the last several hours of the night for writing time.

Discovering your most productive time of day is just smart. Some other important considerations include location (kitchen table, home office, coffee shop, public library?) and auditory stimulus (this music, that music, silence?). Timing and environment can have a profound impact both on how quickly we write and on the quality of what we produce. But I suggest you can become more productive as a writer by paying attention to the length and frequency of your writing sessions.

Brain-Writing vs. Finger-Writing

In general, I believe that “trying to crank out as many words in one sitting as possible” can be counterproductive. I have a non-scientific explanation for this. Your brain may work differently (or maybe mine is defective), so all of the standard caveats apply. I’m basing this on my own experience, and of course your mileage may vary.

I think writers have two brains. We have a normal one that allows us to walk, do our jobs, recognize our spouses and progeny, tie our shoes and make it to dentist appointments on time. Deep inside our skulls, we also have a “writer’s brain” that generates story ideas, dreams up characters and conflicts, makes connections between plot points, and generally does all of those other things related to the weird stories that pop into our heads.

During the “brain-writing” phase, our writer’s brains spin like crazy to queue up ideas for us to put on paper. Then we sit at the keyboard and do the “finger-writing,” during which we transfer those ideas onto paper (literally or figuratively) so they can be revised, edited, and cherished forever. (Or thrown out—that’s always an option.) While finger-writing only happens when we’re actually at our keyboards, brain-writing happens all the time—while we work, play, and even sleep.

(The only time brain-writing might actually shut down is when we watch television. I could be wrong on that, though. Remember: I said this was non-scientific.)

The concept of brain-writing explains why we sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with an idea for a current or future project. Our ever-restless writer’s brains tend to spit things out on their own schedule. We have to write down those ideas immediately or they can be lost forever.

I don’t know about everyone else, but it seems there might be a practical limit to how much stuff my brain can queue up at one time. When I try to finger-write beyond the point in a story where my writer’s brain has brain-written, the quality of my prose (and my storytelling) tends to suffer. In Larry’s parlance, I can always tell when I’m “pushing crazy hard,” meaning that I’ll end up with stuff that either gets tossed out or requires a lot more work to hammer into shape.


Guessing at Larry’s Schedule

The idea of brain-writing and finger-writing helps explain the pattern of production (both in quantity and quality) that Larry described in his post. What it sounds like is that, when he was writing part time, he was trying to cram his finger-writing into a few long sessions. Today, as a full-time author, he’s producing fewer words, most likely in shorter bursts.

Based on what I know about Larry as an author and a guy, if he’s producing between 2,000 and 3,000 words per day, he probably has a schedule that goes something like this:

8:00: Get up. Scratch. Eat something manly.
8:15: Shoot a moose using ammo he crimped with his own teeth.
8:30: Personal hygiene activities of various kinds.
9:00: Sit down at computer. Destroy Internet trolls. Drink the tears of his enemies.
10:30: Write stuff.
12:00: Eat a manly lunch. More scratching.
1:00: Wrestle a bear or blow something up. Whatevs.
1:30: Destroy a few more haters. Twerk on their disemboweled arguments.
2:00: Write more stuff.
4:00: Done. Go out and fell trees with karate. Bench-press a Camry. More scratching.

My point is that he’s probably writing his 2,000 or 3,000 words in a couple of sessions per day, with some time in between for his writer’s brain to front-load more content for his afternoon session. And then, of course, he has all evening and overnight (while his regular brain is fighting ninjas, plotting the overthrow of a small South American country, and possibly even sleeping) to do the brain-writing ahead of his finger-writing the next morning.

Personal Writing Retreats

Two Novembers ago, I did something that I’d always wanted to try during NaNoWriMo: a personal writer’s retreat. Since I live relatively close to Las Vegas, I threw some clothes in a bag and drove to Sin City for a veritable orgy of word-cranking. My goal was to see if I could produce 15,000 words in a single long weekend. I managed to do exactly that, but only by spreading my production across multiple short sessions.

On Thursday, I wrote for about two hours as soon as I got to town. Then I had some dinner, saw a show, and wrote for a couple more hours. Boom: 3,000 words my first night.

Friday morning, I went to Einstein’s for a bagel, caffeine, and another thousand words. I returned to my hotel, where I showered and watched a little TV, then cranked out another 1,000 words before the housekeepers knocked on the door. I went out and did some shopping, then camped out at a public library for a while, pounding my keyboard like a rented mule. I was able to generate over 6,000 words that day in six sessions. I did essentially the same thing on Saturday, slept the sleep of the dead and drove home on Sunday with a draft that was 15,000 words longer. And doggone it if many of those words didn’t turn out to be pretty good ones.

I guess I could’ve tried it a different way, chaining myself to the hotel desk first thing in the morning and saying, “You’re not allowed to eat, sleep, or do anything else until you produce 6,000 words.” Would that have worked? I don’t know. But that’s not how I work. And that’s the point.

By the way, I repeated the experiment again in 2016, with similar results.

Add Sessions, Not Hours

What I’m trying to say here is that it is possible to increase your production, but if your fingers get too far ahead of your brain, the stuff you produce might not be the best.

If you want to produce more, instead of adding hours to a single regular writing session, try adding another session to your schedule. If you’re a morning writer, tack on an hour at lunchtime and see if that helps. If you’re a night writer, try pounding out some words right after work, then returning to the keyboard after your writer’s brain has had time to get ahead of the story again. If you want a high-production weekend, you might do better with four sessions spaced out rather than a single marathon of frustration.

Your brain might be totally different from mine, but maybe not. Who knows? It never hurts to try.
David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, volunteers with young people, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play was subsequently published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at

Back to School, Back to Writing

I didn’t intend to skip most of my writing days this summer. No, we weren’t gone on tons of family vacations. Most days we didn’t even have much going on. But I have 6 kids and they generate a lot of noise and distraction, so writing was super difficult to come by.

Now I’m sitting here, on my kids’ first day back to school with my thoughts jumping here and there, my own distractions (ahem, I’m looking at you Facebook and email!), and I’m struggling to get back into the swing of things.

Really, this is a pep-talk to me, but you’re welcome to come along if you can admit you have a problem (the first step is acknowledgement…).

How to bring focus back to your day

Writing isn’t our only priority in life. We have house cleaning, other jobs, kids to take care of, bills to pay, grocery shopping, etc. But it’s easy to waste the day clicking refresh on email or scrolling social media instead of actually getting anything done. But how do you get done what you need to and still write?

Back to School

How many of us save writing for “later” or when we’ve finished everything else?

Stop that and try these:

  • Make daily lists. Be specific. What do you need and want to accomplish today? Put in a specific writing goal whether it’s 100 words or 10k words. Check it off as you go along. If you are accomplishing everything and still wasting a lot of time, you may need to up your goals.
  • Accountability partner. Having a person you check in with throughout the day or at the end of the day helps keep you on task. You exchange lists and cheer each other on as you achieve your goals. They can also help encourage you (or threaten you) to work harder.
  • Yoga, meditation, and grounding exercises. Sometimes focusing is hard because our mind is anything but quiet. Finding ways to calm your thoughts is necessary to help you focus. Some need meditation, some need yoga. Being mindful of yourself is healthy. You will figure out what you need to calm the thoughts and focus.
  • Healthy diet. If you feel good physically, it impacts your mood and your ability to think. I was at a retreat last week and had healthy, fresh, non-processed foods every day. It really made me realize how much what we put in our bodies impacts our ability to work hard. If we don’t feel good, we don’t function as well.
  • Set a timer and turn off social media. Make yourself sit butt in chair, fingers typing for 30 minutes to an hour. Then get up and walk, dance, or move in general. Find a healthy snack or get a drink. Do another task, or get right back to it.
  • Reward yourself. Sometimes we’re like little kids who need some positive reinforcement to work harder. Say your goal is 10k words for the week (doable, right?). If you achieve that goal, maybe then you get to buy a pair of shoes, or get a massage, go to dinner with friends, buy a new book, whatever will motivate you. Find your “currency” and offer it to yourself as a reward for achieving a larger goal.

Hopefully some of these help me this year. Maybe they will help you as well.

What nifty tricks do you have to keep yourself focused and writing?


576A6469Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 500 articles—family-oriented articles on and book reviews. She recently started a website for something she is passionate about–helping victims of sexual abuse find hope and healing. Wendy is the mother of 6 spirited children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In the throes of writing a few books (fiction and nonfiction), she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading, loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

Puzzling Out Your Revisions

I did it! I finished my draft! And now . . . ohhh boy, is it a mess.

I’m not talking about awkward sentences and sparse details—though there’s certainly plenty of that. I’m talking about huge plot and character shifts part way through, characters I introduced, then ghosted on, a beloved pet dog that appears in the first chapter only—that kind of a mess.

I have chapters I wrote, then moved, that now need to be rewritten so they’ll make sense within their new context. I have location shifts, missing parents, siblings that I may or may not add in. . . .

Basically, I have a TON of work ahead of me. When I look at everything that needs to be done, it’s overwhelming.

As writers, one of the most prevalent pieces of advice we’re given is to get the words down. Just get them down, finish that draft, worry about the mess later. We can’t revise what isn’t there, right? This is great advice; however, once we’ve followed it . . . what do we do next?


First, take a deep breath.

Then another.

Ok, just one more.

Now that you’ve calmed down a bit, open your document back up.

You might even want to go so far as to print it out so you can physically go at it with a red pen. Or, if you prefer, you can use the comments option in your word processing software program of choice. Do whichever feels easier for you when it comes to wrapping your head around the monumental task ahead.

First, read your manuscript and take notes—any and all thoughts that come to mind—but resist making any changes at this time. (I know, it’s hard.) If you make changes as you go though, you might find later that the changes you made at the beginning still aren’t going to work with the changes you end up needing to make at the end. Think of this as the Intel-Gathering phase. Right now, you’re a detective figuring out what best needs to be done to your story and how best to do it—how to fit the pieces of this messed up puzzle together in a way that makes the most sense.

Ok, so you’ve done that, and . . . you’re still feeling super intimidated, aren’t you? Maybe you should take a few more deep breaths.

Better? Good.

The next thing you need to do is categorize your notes. Just like separating out puzzle pieces into groups—grass pieces over here, sky pieces there, what looks like maybe the hull of a wooden boat? Maybe it’s a house . . . over there. I find organizing and separating the different types of fixes that need to be made in my draft, helps me break things down into more manageable tasks that make the entire process feel less daunting. Rather than go through the manuscript one time, tackling each note one by one, I’ll make multiple passes focusing on one problem at a time.

Big stuff comes first. (It’s ok to take another deep breath here if you need to. Ready? In . . . out . . . good.)

What is it about your draft that needs the most work? For me, it’s usually characterization. For you, it could be setting, or filling in plot holes, or smoothing transitions. Take the biggest task and go through only focusing on that. Trust me, you’ll feel so much better once you get that bit out of the way. Next, move on to the second biggest issue.

And keep on moving down the list this way. I haven’t finished taking notes on my current draft, but I’m guessing my big focus areas for example, in order from messiest to least messy, will end up being characters, setting, plot holes, transitions, dialogue.

Once you’ve finished these big picture tasks, move on to the nitty-gritty things, like grammar, punctuation, varying your sentence structures, and finally, removing unnecessary filler words (like, very, really, that, etc.) and adverbs.

And that’s it! Keep in mind, you might need to go back and adjust areas you’ve previously focused on after you’ve made some later changes, but it should be much easier now. And then, of course, you’ll absolutely need to go through the entire process again once you’ve let your critique partners and/or beta reads get a hold of it. But the hardest part should be over. Congratulations! You’ve now turned your huge, jumbled up, intimidating mess into something you’re actually willing to let people read! The puzzle is now complete.


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.

Getting Your Wishful Writing Couch Potato Off the Couch

I hover happily where I am in my writing world. I write so many hours a week, maintain a blog, attend writing conferences (sometimes), journal, network with other writers, and spend way too long on a simple thank you note (you know, it has to be all the right words). I’m happy where I am.

The problem is I’m flat lining. Yep. I’m experiencing this cushy comfortable lifestyle of writer riding where I do nothing but drive the same highway of writing. And that’s why the perk of writing is falling flat.

I’ve got a disease. I suffer from fear of the next step syndrome.

Instead my wishful writing dreams lounge out on a couch somewhere. And, really looking at it all, where I am is not a bad place to be. It’s just that where I am is not taking me anywhere. Scratch that. I still get somewhere I just end up ignoring places I could go. I’m in my comfort zone with writing. And let’s face it, it’s hard to progress when you don’t push yourself to explore new territories.

Maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. But, I know that the next step will be good for me I just don’t make time for it. The next step requires research, planning, failing, and reworking the already comfortable schedule.

But, what I really want from my writing begs for my attention. My wishful writing parks its long legs on the back couch and reminds me of its presence and stares me down.

Hey girl. You ignoring me!


So I go back to my comfortable writing world and my wishful writing couch potato continues to invade my living room. I can’t ignore it. It munches on crunchy chips while I write. It sits in the presence of company, it tucks me into bed at night, plays boogie man, and it greets me every morning. And  it especially makes its presence known  when I witness other people mastering “their thing.” The reminder of my next step quietly makes its presence known.

So, um… you just gonna sit there?

It’s time to give it some attention so it will go away.

I know I’m not the only one that has these nagging feelings. I love the line in the movie, Babe. The narrator says, “Farmer Hoggett knew that little ideas that tickled and nagged and refused to away should never be ignored, for in them lie the seeds of destiny.”

Hm. Destiny, eh?

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4 Tips To Get That Wishful Writing Couch Potato Working Out:

My wishful writing couch potato is getting fat. I need to put it to work because the longer I wait the harder it is to get momentum. I have always discovered that something grand is on the outside of a little extra effort.

The next step is like getting back into exercise after a long haul of couch potato writing. Here’s a few of my favorite exercising tips that apply to writing as well. It’s time to get your wishful writing couch potato off the couch and start feeding him your little seeds of destiny. Here’s how to get started without baking the potato in the first week. Don’t get ambitious and burned on your first week. A perfect baked potato takes time.

Start Slow

It’s easy to get overambitious on the first attempt of the next step. If you plan to get too much done you will be disappointed that things aren’t moving quicker for you. You have to ease into it and do simple steps. Be very specific. Maybe today I will research how to write a proposal or how to design a web page. Give yourself small, achievable deadlines. By Friday I will begin my proposal, completing at least the hook or the marketing plan. Whatever your next step is, go slow but the point is to go.

Go Hard Enough You Can Carry On a Conversation

So yes, it is possible to take it too slow. That won’t give your dreams their proper attention. In the exercise world you need to be working out hard enough that you can still carry on a conversation while you exercise. Stressing a little is good, it shows growth. So you need to push yourself hard enough that you are sweating it out (or stressing) a little but that you are also able to attend to your other needs. I’m a big believer people connections. So for me this is a necessary element to being successful in writing. That’s just my personal opinion. Take if for whatever you want. New, big, steps can take a lot of time but I think that proper balance keeps you happy in your writing. Make it a goal to squeeze in meaningful conversation even amid working out your couch potato dreams. Of course I write then talk (I rarely mix the two). I simply do this by setting a timer and tell my midget genetic counterparts that I will be with them when the timer goes off. I work hard now, and then later I am still able to carry on a conversation. I have to have this goal because it is very easy for me to work hard and neglect meaningful conversations. Writing makes me happy but so do my little people.

Log Your Writing Time

Seems pointless right? But, if you are having a difficult time seeing your progress then monitor it. People use tools all the time to measure their success. Fitbits or ancient yesterday pedometers measure how active you are. Or you can simply take a slice of the clock instead (that’s my method). Log your success and feel an instant reward for not creating a to-do list, but for creating a log of successful writing moments. You’re creating a backward to-do list. It feels much more satisfying tracking what was done rather than gawking at what wasn’t done.

Track three main areas of writing:

1-Writing time. Count words, pages, time, whatever you want to track.

2-Planning and Research Time. Studying things out sometimes feels like you aren’t getting writing done but it is an important element in being successful. Simply track what you spent your time on and how long. You will feel better knowing you were moving when it appears you weren’t.

3-Business and Marketing Time. This has always been my biggest beef with writing. I just want to write so it feels like this takes away from what I could be doing. But, this is a very important element that keeps your writing up. Take a regular time to connect and keep the business side of writing in balance. Track your connections. Use these methods of logging and see yourself inch along as a writer but be miles ahead of the wishful writing couch potato friends.

Enjoy It

This is the biggest measure of success as a writer and new ambitious exercisers. Over and over you will find that those who have stuck with an exercise regimen are those who enjoy what they are doing. The same is true of writers. If you find satisfaction with writing then you will most likely stick with it. Satisfaction doesn’t always equate to being the star player. Most of my delight in exercise and writing comes from learning and applying new techniques or breaking new norms. Simply find one thing you love in your new push to get that wishful writing couch potato up.  Yes, there will be hard days, but if you consistently look for one perk in your efforts you will continue to find joy in writing.

Do you suffer from the next step syndrome? What nags and begs for your attention? It’s time to get that wishful writing couch potato up and moving. Today’s your day to start feeding your “destiny.” Take that next step. What are you going to do?



Christie Perkins is a survivor of boy humor, chemo, and faulty recipes. She loves freelance writing, blogging, and is a nonfiction junkie. Her stage 4 cancer doesn’t knock down her passion for life and writing. Not a chance. A couple of magazines have published 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 on her blog at
















Share your Invisible Work

I just started playing the with idea for a new book. It’s in such beginning stages that I have possible character names and a decent idea of a fictional location based off of some real places I’ve lived. Because I like to infuse a little magic into my writing, I’m also exploring mythologies that incorporate what I think will be key parts of my story. But if you were to ask me what it’s about, I’d say Sisters. I think.

And, if this book idea gets an okay from my agent, if it stays a good idea, if it gets picked up by a publisher, and if, someday, I’m talking about this book and you ask me what inspired me to write this book, what my process was in creating the book, almost none of what I’m doing now would make the cut.

The reality is that most jobs have invisible work – that is, work that is done, that is necessary, and that is very rarely seen. When my children were younger, people could see if they were well-dressed and/or well-groomed, but they couldn’t see the nights when a bed intended for two became a bed for three or four depending on the speed of a bad dream. People who listen to me or my daughters perform music can comment on that performance, but they are oblivious to the times when three or four notes were worked over and over and over again because they were tricky. People who see a couple in love are not privy to the private conversations that took place over the course of years to find the truth that can only be discovered through courage and vulnerability and compassion.

And so it is, that any good work – really good work – is going to have varying levels of invisibility behind it. This is probably also one of the reasons that so many fledging writers think they can just write a story and then it’ll be published and sell and life will be lovely.

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I think creatives of all kinds, but especially writers, need to have the courage to provide insight into what is involved in our invisible work. I’m not alone in this idea either. Austin Kleon said:

“Human beings want to know where things came from, how they were made, who made them. The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work, and how people feel and what they understand about your work affects how they value it.”

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How I start my stories…it’s jumbled

This is not to say that you have to give away everything. But there is a value in letting others see how your work comes together. Even more? There’s value in documenting how you put your own work together. Just as my children aren’t aware of how tall they are getting, when they put on old clothes, stand against the measuring wall, see a relative who is now not quite so tall, they learn of the growth they already did. If we keep our invisible work hidden from ourselves, we too miss out on understanding the way that we have improved and honed our craft.

How do you track your invisible work? Which writers do you think show their work well? 

profileTasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.