5 Ways to Start Writing Right Now

There’s this thing we do when we have to take out the trash, scrub the bathtub, or visit the in-laws.

  • “Right after this nap.”
  • “Right after the game ends.”
  • “Right after I hit 110 on this World of Warcraft toon.” (Currently sitting at level 1.)

It’s called procrastinate, and for good reason. No one wants to do chores because we don’t get anything out of them. (Unless you count a fresher smelling kitchen.) That’s why the allure of video games isn’t surprising: you kill something, you get a reward.

So why do we still procrastinate when it comes to something we want to do–like write?

I mean, we don’t hem and haw over whether to eat a cupcake or not.

  • “Nah, I think I’ll eat it next week.”
  • “Maybe after I eat this huge salad.”
  • “I have to go work out first.” (Said no one ever in the face of cake.)

chocolate-cupcake-1014635_640

You do want to write, right? You do dream of sitting in your pajamas every day, writing for hours, chain-smoking and drinking scotch, right? Being a best-selling author, going on whirlwind book tours, speaking at international writing conferences, and being nominated for Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club, right?

The problem with writing is, we’re not getting a sugar rush or anything else for that matter after putting in the time. Sure, you can fool yourself into thinking you’re getting a reward by actually giving yourself something when you’re done (a cupcake perhaps?), but that’s going to be costly both for your pocketbook and your waistline if that’s your only source of motivation.

What can you do instead? So glad you asked. Here are five ways to start (and keep) writing that don’t involve rewards.

1. Face your fears

You may think you’re not writing as much as you’d like (or at all) because you don’t have time:

  • “I have to take the trash out.”
  • “I have to scrub the bathtub this very second.”
  • “I have to visit the in-laws this weekend.”

Or you don’t have a dedicated space:

  • “I’d be able to write if I had an 18th century escritoire.”
  • “I need to buy some post-it notes first.”
  • “The kids will bother me more if I close the door.”

You may even think you need more time to let your ideas percolate before committing them to paper.

If you find yourself coming up with excuses as to why you don’t write, it’s because deep down you have some fear of the outcome. It could be fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of never having another creative idea, fear of missing out on something else, fear everyone will know you’re a fraud, fear you’ll be letting your family down, fear everyone will think you’re awesome, fear people will demand more from you, fear of overwhelming success.

Whatever it is, the only way you’re going to get over it is by acknowledging it.

facing fears

Get yourself a journal (or any other notebook, napkin, junk mail envelope because that is not an excuse to not do this exercise) and write about why you’re not writing. Go ahead, start with all your excuses. Take your time. Come back to this exercise as often as you like. This process will suck and make you feel worse, but you have to do it. It’s like an infection festering deep inside that once it finally bursts through the skin like a big, fat pimple, it hurts like hell for a while. Then you slap some cream on it and wait while it heals.

I guarantee once you find the real reason behind why you’re not writing, you can overcome it.

(Hey look, you just wrote something!)

2. Once more with feeling

Now that you’ve cleared away those excuses and named your fears, it’s time to stop feeling bad about them. If you procrastinate instead of writing because you fear rejection, then what would it feel like to be accepted? Who do you want to feel acceptance from–your parents, a publishing company, your classmates at a high school reunion, a bookstore full of fans lining up to buy the fourth installment in your highly acclaimed detective series?

Whether you want to feel accomplished, light, energized, successful, or something completely different, meditate on it. Feel it. In your soul. Sit with your eyes closed and be in that moment. See yourself typing your last words of the day and hitting “Save.” You stretch back and feel __________.

happy writing

What you’re doing right now is setting yourself up for success. You’re programming your mind and body to replicate those feelings every time you write. Trust me, it will be a much more enjoyable experience than the usual self-flagellation you would normally inflict because your subconscious used to associate writing with fear.

Practice how you want writing to feel every day. Before getting out of bed, before going to bed, before writing, or whenever you get a chance. Connect with it, and soon your subconscious will associate the new feeling with writing instead.

3. Be your own cheerleader

You should be feeling pretty psyched up to write by now. Further this excitement (or cement it in place) by telling yourself how excited you are to go home and write. I know you talk to yourself out loud anyway, and I bet most of what you say is pretty negative.

  • “I can’t believe I just said that. I’m so stupid.”
  • “What was I thinking eating that cupcake?”
  • “I just wasted my whole weekend binge-watching Sherlock instead of writingI’m such a loser.” (But really, who could blame you on that one?)

Let’s turn that around by using the power of crazy talk to inspire yourself.

cheerleader

Keep telling yourself, all day, every day, how excited you are to write and pretty soon you’ll be believing it. Now watch as the first thing you pick up when you get home is your laptop (much to the delight of your cat if she’s anything like mine).

4. Spare no details

Once you’ve identified how you want to feel, write about it.

Grab your journal or the back of your kid’s math homework (because who needs math when you’re a best-selling author?) and write out how you envision your perfect writing life. You can start with the moment your eyes open or the moment your butt hits the chair at your 18th century escritoire. You could be well into your millions or be about to accept an offer on a four-book deal. Spare no details.

Where do you live? What does your work space look like? Who is with you (no one? lucky you!)? How long do you write for? What are you writing? What do you do before you write? What do you do when you’re done? Do you drink a pot of tea and eat gingerbread scones while writing? What do they taste like? Are birds singing, is music playing, can you hear the winds howling around the eaves? How do you feel while you’re writing?

home office

Use as much sensory detail as possible. And most importantly, use the feelings you identified in #2 as often as possible. Take as much time as you need for this exercise. Go back to it over the course of several days or whenever you have time, adding more and more detail.

This doesn’t have to be polished or perfect. You do not have to be poetic. No one is ever going to read this but you. But it must move you and it must call up your feeling du jour.

Now, every day for as long as it takes (days, weeks, months, years), reread what you wrote and reconnect to that feeling.

Alternatively, you can do this exercise as many times as you want, rewriting your perfect day of writing so you are in your  dream space or your current digs, your ideal situation or your chaotic life.

(See what I did there? I just got you to write and you liked it.)

5. Write for low stakes

If you’re just starting to get into the writing game or you’re trying to build a habit, don’t crush it with some lofty goal like writing a novel every agent will fight over that will make you a million dollars so you’ll never have to work that boring desk job again.

Instead, find something you like to write for fun. Maybe it’s working on #4 above, maybe it’s using writing prompts. Maybe it’s writing World of Warcraft serial fan-fiction starring your own character. Whatever you choose, it should be something you do for yourself. It doesn’t mean no one else will never read it, but you aren’t placing any unreal expectations on it either. If you never shop that short story around, it won’t be the end of the world.

success

When I searched for images labeled “success,” this is what I got. This is what you should aspire to when just starting out. Be zany. Be creative. Be wild. Have fun.

That doesn’t mean you can never aspire to finish your novel. It means, you should wait until your subconscious associates writing with having fun and feeling (fill in the blank) and your habit becomes automatic and something you look forward to. Again, this could take days, weeks, months, years.

If you’ve followed along with these (very helpful) suggestions, you’ve probably noticed you got some writing done too. Yay you!

You didn’t procrastinate, it didn’t kill you, and your fears never actualized. I call that success.

If this post helped you in any way, drop me a comment. I’d love to hear about all your amazing success stories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Sunday Inspiration: Neil Gaiman

Working on stories was something I did for fun. I didn’t have any grandiose aspirations of becoming published or being a best selling author. (Well, I did, but those were dreams I never thought would actually come true.) I just loved to create characters and send them on exciting and often dangerous adventures. I particularly remember feeling excitement and joy at the prospect of working on my stories during the summers when I was getting my Bachelor’s degree because I worked full time and went to school full time, which didn’t leave time for anything else.

Somewhere along the way though, specifically after graduating from my MFA program, I lost that feeling of excitement and joy to write. I had adopted the mindset that my writing had to perfect, it had to be “of publishible quality” (like they taught in grad school or you wouldn’t pass). I believed my writing had to be perfect not just after months and months of revisions but on first drafts too. After all, I’d been on a schedule of both revising 30 pages and writing 30 new pages every 30 days for two years, which was a ridiculous schedule and did not lead to writing “of publishible quality.” I’d effectively lost my joy.

That mindset of perfection and never being able to achieve it eventually warped into thinking and feeling that writing was hard and laborous and torturous and something to be avoided at all costs (to, you know, wash the dishes or clean the litter box). Of course, not writing just perpetuated feelings of guilt and shame (especially when my mother asked me if I was working on anything) because that was all I knew how to do, that’s all I really wanted to do, and I had let my higher or my younger self down.

I needed to get back to that feeling of excitement and joy, and it needed to start with accepting that first drafts are not meant to be perfect.

Say it with me, kids, “First drafts shouldn’t be perfect.”

The belief that writing was fun and easy naturally followed, and guess what? It is.

I actually look forward to my days off now when I can sit down with my novel and play. My writing hasn’t changed (it still takes me hours to write a scene), but my mindset about it has. And that has made all the difference.

So I invite you to honor your higher self or your younger self who used to get excited to write and felt joy while doing it–not because she was trying to get published or land an agent but because it was fun and that’s what she did.

You are on the cusp of change and your brilliant future awaits. Get excited and get inspired for it by watching Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts.

Now go out there and “Make Good Art.”

 

 

Write What is Right With the World

If you’re like me and have been looking to Facebook or other social media for solace, comfort, human connection, or hope that the universe will sort this shit out, you’ve probably only found misery, despair, proof the world is coming to an end, and other lost souls who don’t have the faintest clue in how to process their feelings or make it all better.

That’s why I propose we write What is Right With the World.

martin-luther

Share what is right and great about life right now. Not to forget, to distract, to diminish all the work we have to do to make sure everyone feels safe and respected in this country, but to find a safe haven between battles, respite from the storm, and light at the end of the day.

Here are a few things that come to mind:

  1. The unconditional love in your purring kitty or snuggly dog’s eyes when he looks at you. (If your thing is a furry tarantula, something scaly or that sheds its skin, I can’t help.)

kitten-purr

2. The sun rising again even when you thought it never would.

forest-sunrise-winter-trees-wallpaper-1

3. This face, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Dalai Lama-Peace Sign

4. And this quote from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

dalailama

5. This for obvious reasons. (Because it’s called the warrior pose, ladies!)

warrior-pose

So in those dark moments, please share in the comments below, on your Facebook page, on Twitter, on Instagram, on Snapchat, on whatever else you use #WhatisRightWiththeWorld.

And, um, let’s just make America great.

NaNo Warm-Up Part 1

Perhaps you haven’t been writing as often as you’d like lately, or you haven’t written anything at all in years.

Perhaps you even think that signing up for NaNo next month is just what you need to get back on track.

Well, hold on, sport. Trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days when you haven’t written that much in a year is like trying to run a marathon when you can’t even run a mile.

article-2130678-12a04cdd000005dc-303_634x433

There’s training involved. You have to flex those creative muscles first, get them warmed up and firing. Does this mean you have to glue yourself to a desk and write for hours on end? Hell no! Chances are you probably wouldn’t even make it to the chair if you thought that.

What you need to start with is consistency. Don’t worry about how long your sessions will have to be to write the obligatory 1,667 words a day during NaNo. For now, just focus on writing something every day. Sounds doable, right?

Writing consistently, without specifying a time limit, will reduce anxiety, especially if you fail to meet your minute mark because something else came up. Life happens. No one’s perfect. Not even you. But you can probably manage a sentence or two every day.

Writing consistently will also help you form a sustainable habit like brushing your teeth. It will just become something you do without any dreadful thoughts about how sucky you are at it. I mean, how often have you said to yourself, “Wow, I could have brushed that right incisor better.”

brushing-teeth-too-hard

And if you haven’t been writing consistently, you probably do have some nagging thoughts in your head about how sucky you are. You might even think, “I’ll never be able to write anything ever again.”

Let me just put that fear right out of your head. You have not suddenly forgotten how to hold a pen or pencil and form words on a piece of paper, or forgotten how to open Word or Google Docs and type. And you probably have written something in the past 10 minutes, be it an email, text, or grocery list. So I don’t believe it when you say you can’t write. What you’re really scared of is not being as creative as you used to be.

To that I say, consistency will train the creativity muscle. The more you show up for your muse, the more your muse will show up for you. She might even have to sleep over because she’s sick of driving back and forth every day. Just think, muse on demand.

The trick to being consistently creative is to start out by writing something inconsequential. Don’t try working on the next Great American Novel, even if it’s only for 10 minutes a day. That’s too much pressure. Instead, work on quick writing prompts. Remember, this is a warm-up, not the long haul. Wait until your muscles are sufficiently fired up before diving into that important project.

So for the next month, I’m going to supply you with a new exercise each week. You don’t have to set a time limit, but if you want, start with something small like 10 minutes. Literally set a timer. When it dings, you stop. Or you continue. Either way, you win.

NaNo Warm-Up Part 1:

I’m sure this exercise has origins elsewhere, but I found it in Lawrence Block’s Write For Your Life: The Home Seminar for Writers. This is not a craft book or how-to write anything specific book. It’s about how to write more often, despite fear and procrastination, not about how to write better.

Here’s the two-part exercise.

  • First (and you can use this as one of your daily sessions), you will have to come up with 50 to 100 sentences you can use as the opening line of a story
  • Then type the list double- or triple-spaced, print it out, and cut each sentence into slips; or write each one on its own index card
  • Secondly, every day, randomly select one of the sentences (set your timer for 10 minutes if you choose) and continue the story without stopping until the timer goes off or you have run out of steam
  • If you come up with 365 sentences, you can have a different prompt every day of the year

Easy peasy. Now to help you get started, I’ll share some of the opening sentences I’ve come up with. Feel free to add these to your collection or use them as a jumping off point. If it would help, you also might want to come up with prompts in your genre of choosing. For instance, I tend toward murder mysteries, so a lot of my sentences were geared toward them. However, once you get the wheels turning, you might want to try coming up with prompts in a genre you are unfamiliar with. This will flex those muscles even more.

bigstock-portrait-of-a-muscular-young-m-69171598

  • When the weather turned cool, so did his emotions.
  • She only had time to pack one evening dress, and it wasn’t even her best one.
  • Another year, another dead body.
  • If she knew how to read tea leaves, hers would say, “Death.”
  • Backpacking across Europe sounded like a great idea until he did it.
  • It wasn’t just the tights that turned him off from being a superhero.
  • Baby Jesus hung upside down in a tree.

Alternatively:

  • Open a random book to page 52 (or any page number you prefer)
  • Choose the second sentence (or any number sentence) on the page (even if it’s just one word) and use that as the opening line for your daily prompt
  • Continue as above

Do not worry about grammar, punctuation, or if what you’re writing even makes sense. Do not try to work these prompts into something you are already writing or want to write. Let the ideas flow without restricting them. If you can’t think of anything to write, write, “I can’t think of anything to write,” over and over again until you can think of something or the timer runs out.

The only way you can fail at this exercise is to not do it.

Good luck and let me know how you did or share some of your opening sentences too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Habits

 “Habit is more important than Inspiration.” –Anonymous

Truer words have never been spoken. Because after all, inspiration is everywhere. We need only clean out our closets to find pages of ideas and unfinished stories/poems/screenplays/whatever.

From the sweet scent of petunias wafting through the open windows, to the conversation overheard at Starbucks, to the wispy clouds passing across the full moon, our problem is not inspiration; it is habit. We are not taking advantage of that 1% inspiration and we are deluding ourselves that this is the culprit of our lack of productivity.

Speaking of which, think back to a time when you were at your most creative and productive. I’ll bet you were writing all the time.  See? Habit. After all, that’s what being “productive” means, isn’t it? Bringing something into existence by working at it.

So I am challenging all of you to begin Writing 15 Minutes a Day on August 1. All you need is a pen, a journal, and a calendar. No, the calendar is not to mark off the days until August 31. It is to schedule your 15 minutes as if you were scheduling anything else you can’t get out of. Like, work for instance, or picking up your children from soccer practice, or fitting in the grocery shopping or laundry, or all of the other hundreds of things you do out of habit that take up all your time.

We are creatures of habit, but it seems like the only habits we stick to are ones that don’t nurture our soul. Or the ones that cause severe consequences. For instance, we go to work every day because if we didn’t we’d be broke and destitute, and living in a cardboard box (hopefully). We brush and floss our teeth because if we didn’t, we’d have disgusting, stinky breath and no one would want to kiss us let alone talk to us. We do laundry because otherwise we’d have to walk around naked and we’ve already decided that working out is nasty habit we’d rather not be bothered with.

Scheduling your 15 minutes is going to take some forethought and organization. Namely, when you can fit it in. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning before family members (and cats) wake up and demand breakfast. Maybe it’s after everyone has gone to bed and it’s just you and the starry night. Perhaps it’s on your lunch break, or commute to work, or a few stolen moments locked in the bathroom when you’re pretending to take a shower. Whatever time works for you is the time you’re going to schedule it. Put it on your calendar in PERMANENT magic marker. Treat that time as if there were dire consequences–like stranding your kids on the soccer field. After all, there are dire consequences; you will feel like crap if you don’t do it. But the subject of self-inflicted guilt is another topic entirely.

And don’t be afraid if you find fitting in your 15 minutes will change from day to day. You don’t have to spend the whole month writing at 5:00 am if, for instance, you find something else on your schedule conflicts with it (like sleep). All you have to do is find the time that works best for you each day.

You may also choose to use writing prompts to get you writing. But the Writing Lounge’s 15 minutes a day program will not provide any prompts. Basically, because you don’t need them. You are writers, you have brains, you have found inspiration everywhere (even in your overstocked closet).

This program is not about writing the next Great American novel or Pushcart prize-winning poetry or Academy Award-winning 120 page screenplay–that comes later after you have developed your nasty habit and, like smoking, just can’t break it. No, this month is all about getting words down on paper. (And hey, it’s cheaper than buying a pack of cigarettes.) You will not be hearing Halleluiah sung in the background or see angels fluttering their wings around your head. You will be sweating, toiling, cramping, and quite possibly cursing. But hard work does not come without its reward.  

The prize is to find that at the end of the month we feel good about ourselves, we feel accomplished, and we feel that exhiliration of writing again. Our muse is happy, we are happy, and we have banished all that self-guilt that has brought us down in the past.

Then, and only then, can we grab our inspiration and begin creating a work of a lifetime.

Are you up to the challenge?