4 Great Reasons Writing Out Can Help Writers

4 Great Reasons Writing Out Can Help WritersBeing a continually productive writer is always a challenge. However, one of the many benefits of writing is that it can be done anywhere, including the comfort of our own homes. Which can be good because it means we should have no excuse not to get our words in. But I think we all know, that’s not exactly how writing works.

One of the problems of working at home is the number of distractions that can pull us away from our work. There’s housework to do, family members who want our attention, and an entire DVR of programming just calling our names. Ignoring these distractions may be easy when you’re writing well, but even that’s debatable. If you’re struggling with your story or going through a stretch where you just don’t feel like writing, the distractions can very easily win out.

One of the best ways I’ve found to beat in-house distraction and raise my productivity is to go out to write. Here are four reasons why I swear by writing out.

It gives you a set amount of time to work

Another downside with working at home is that there’s always “later.” It’s easy to tell yourself, “I’ll write later, let me just run the vacuum.” Then one task leads to another and “later” never happens. When you go out to write, you don’t have later. You can only be in that place for so long. At some point, you’ll have to go home. If you want to make the trip worth it, you have to actually get the work done now.

There is nothing else for you to do except work

Those distractions we talked about earlier? They aren’t “out” with you. You can’t clean the house or catch up on shows, and no one is around to ask you a question/favor. There is nothing else for you to do except your work. I would also advise you not to connect to the internet unless you absolutely need it. This takes the one distraction that can follow you off the table.

I’ve also found that most of the time, making it to my location is the hardest part. Once I do, I’m always more motivated to make it worthwhile. I took the time to pack up my stuff and get in my car, so I better not come home empty handed. This really helps me make the most of my time. Also, the idea that I’m taking up a table for a few hours keeps me working consistently. Like, if I’m going to taking up space/a table in this location, and keeping said space from other people, I better be working (even though I’m always at a cafe, or someplace that I know doesn’t care how long I’m there).

It keeps you from being too isolated

Writing can be isolating. Even if you have a job and a busy life, when you sit down to write, you’re very much alone. I like being alone, so this is one of my favorite things about writing. But it can also be good for you and your work if you can get out of your own head a little bit. If you’re struggling with your writing at home, the only place you can look to for inspiration is your own familiar surroundings. If you’re “out” you can come across someone or something that might not have occurred to you otherwise. Maybe the woman at the counter with the bright lipstick will make her way into your book? Or maybe she’ll inspire an idea that will.  When you’re outside of your house, have a lot to pull from.

You have a lot of options

Personally, I think cafe-type places or Paneras are ideal, but you have options! If you’re someone who needs silence to work, or who doesn’t want to buy something to “rent” a table for a few hours, a library might be perfect for you. If you like writing outdoors, try a local park. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Any place you can set up shop for a few hours will work. The key is to get away from the distractions of being home and give yourself a set amount of time to work.

I hope this gives you a good idea how writing out can help you!

With all of this said, I do want to note that this approach will not be for everyone. Some people absolutely cannot concentrate if there are other people around, and that’s fine! You have to do what works for you. But if you’ve never tried writing out, I’d encourage you to at least give it a shot. You have nothing to lose and you may find it helpful to your process. I was always someone who thought I could never write out, but I did it for a class once and it completely revolutionized my process.

If you’re on the fence about giving this a shot, check out this article in New Scientist, which discusses why some people get their best work done in coffee shops.

Now it’s your turn: Do you write in or write out? Have you tried both? Which do you prefer and why? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Stop Talking Bad About Your Writing: 4 Writing Tips

Stop Talking Bad about your WritingSelf-doubt is pretty common among writers. We may think our books aren’t good enough. We may get frustrated because they’re not what we want them to be. Or we may just feel like our writing is bad. But no matter how bad you might be feeling, I would encourage you not to talk bad about your writing or your WIP.

Now, this isn’t to say that you should keep everything bottled up. It’s okay to question your story and acknowledge or discuss its problems. That’s how stories get better. The issue comes when we wallow in our books’ problems. If we stay in this negative place for too long, we start to perpetuate the idea that these problems make us bad writers. If you say these negative thoughts out loud enough, you may actually start to believe they’re true. It creates a negative headspace that is unhelpful and unproductive. And it certainly doesn’t help you enjoy the process or build a happy writing life.

Something else to consider: you are the biggest advocate for your story. If you want other people to be excited about your work, you need to talk about it positively. And to talk about it positively, you need to see your work positively. I’ve found it helpful to practice this outlook at all stages of the writing process, so I try to think of my work as positively as possible.

Here are some tips that help me see my work in a positive light day in and day out:

1) Don’t focus on the end result while you’re writing

Be patient with your process and progress. Celebrate the victory of simply moving forward on a regular basis. Remember, it’s okay if your book is not good while you’re working on it. It actually isn’t supposed to be good until you’re finished. Try not to think about someone else reading your work and embrace the experience of writing. As long as you are making progress, things are going well.

Now, like I said earlier, I’m not saying you can’t acknowledge that your WIP is bad while it’s in progress. I do this all the time. But I don’t let the fact that my book isn’t good yet be a bad thing. It’s simply a fact. I trust that my book is where it needs to be and that if I keep putting the time in and moving forward, I will end up with a story I’m happy with and that I enjoyed creating. Focusing on creation and not the result makes it easier to stay in a good mind set.

2) Don’t get caught up in “my book sucks” or “I hate my book”

Living in negativity is a waste of time, and it doesn’t help your book improve. Instead, take the time to understand exactly what you don’t like so you can fix it. Similarly to the point above, it’s okay to say you don’t like your book, but it’s not okay to wallow in this feeling. If you can’t get past “this sucks” you might find that the idea working on your project becomes torturous. So instead, try to figure out what the problem is. Give brainstorming or freewriting a shot. They may help you get to the bottom of your book’s issues. If you need help figuring out what isn’t working, consider these areas.

Also, if you haven’t finished a complete draft yet, try to keep writing until you do–even if you hate your book. For tips on how, check out 6 Tips for Finishing Your First Draft and Stop Editing While You Write. You also might want to take a look at Why Writers Should Embrace Imperfection in Their Writing.

3) Focus on what IS working

Maybe it’s a character, maybe it’s the concept, maybe it’s one scene. These are places to pull from. These are places to celebrate. Let these areas remind you why you started writing this in the first place. Let these elements inspire the parts of the book that aren’t working yet. And once you know what areas you like, take the time to figure out why. Just like understanding what you don’t like can help you fix problems, understanding what you do like can help you appreciate your book and move it in a direction that makes you happy.

4) When someone compliments your work, say thank you

Don’t blow it off or down play their compliment. Your work mattered to someone. Even if you don’t think it’s your best, that’s something to appreciate. This doesn’t make you egotistical. It makes you grateful. I would encourage you to use compliments as a source of inspiration. If your work mattered to someone once, there’s no reason to think it won’t again. I also think allowing yourself to take a compliment will make you feel better about what you’ve written and see your work more positively going forward.

This tip is for the sake of your reader as much as it is for you. As writers, I think most of us found our way to writing because a story mattered to us at some point. Personally, I connect with the stories I love deeply. It would gut me if a creator of something I love replied to a compliment by saying, “it was nothing,” or “it could have been a lot better,” or “I’m glad you liked it but I wish some things were different.” People like things because they connect with them. Don’t dismiss their connection to your work. Say thank you.

I hope this helps you to see your work in a more positive light!

For more on the side effects of negative self-talk, check out this article from VeryWellMind.

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever caught yourself talking bad about your work? How has it influenced your writing, if at all? Tell me about it in the comments!

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The Importance of Setting Reasonable Writing Goals

The Importance of Setting Reasonable Writing GoalsI’ve talked about how to set manageable writing goals before, but I never really got into why setting reasonable writing goals is so important.

Setting reasonable writing goals has been really helpful for balancing my writing life. When I aim too high and don’t meet my goals, I have a harder time functioning outside of my writing. I feel like my work day isn’t finished until my goals are met and it’s harder to focus on other things when I feel like I should still be working. Being fully present is just as important to writing as actually writing. It’s what gives us the experiences and emotions that we write about.

Another problem with setting unreasonable goals is how easy it is to fall behind. Once you do, you’re often in a constant state of catch-up, which most likely only makes you fall farther behind. From there, it can go one of two ways. You either get discouraged and quit, or you get hyper-focused on your goals and other areas of your life suffer as a result. Neither option is ideal for a happy writing life.

Here are some things I (try to) do to set reasonable writing goals:

Under-scheduling

This is something new for me. Basically, I’m making a conscious effort to do less work daily in the hopes that I’m sharper and more productive when I am working. This will ideally make me more productive in the long run. Minimalist blogger Courtney Carver explains in this post. This also builds in plenty of time for things not to go as planned, so it’s easier to stay on track. So far I’ve found that this has made me more productive with the time I have and that the quality of my writing has been better than it was when I was scrambling to do as much as possible.

I plan my day the night before

This gives me a realistic sense of my time and a better handle on what I can accomplish within that time. I schedule everything, from waking up, to getting coffee, doing yoga, writing, appointments, work, travel time, and even watching TV. If I have all of my time accounted for, I can’t afford to procrastinate, which keeps me productive throughout the day.

It’s also nice to see where my time is going and to see if I can sneak more writing time in if I need it. For example, if I end up on an unavoidable phone call during my writing time, I know I have the window of TV time later in the night to get more work in. It’s also helped me see how much of time was going to non-essential or repetitive tasks so I can alter my schedule accordingly. Thanks to this, I started baching a handful of daily tasks, which has helped me find more time to write.

Stretch Goals

I’ve mentioned these before. The idea is every day you set a ‘light’ goal that you can guarantee you’ll have time to accomplish, and then a stretch goal that you really want to accomplish, but it’s okay if you don’t. This (ideally) gives you something realistic to work towards while still working to be as productive as possible. This also keeps you from wasting writing time if it turns out you’re super locked in and end up with some extra time on your hands. It’s a good solution if you’re like me and find yourself getting over ambitious with your goals. This way you can be realistic without selling yourself short.

If I get behind, I don’t try to catch up all at once

Instead, I make a plan to chip away over an extended period of time. So, if I miss a day of writing, instead of doubling up I’ll add a few hundred words to my daily goals for the next week or so. If I don’t have time to add to my daily goal, I add another day to my overall schedule. I’d rather be a day late and have something I enjoyed creating than push myself to the point that writing becomes a source of stress. I’ve found this is something my writing benefits from. If you’re on a tight deadline, this may not be an option. Still, do what you can to distribute your catch up work as evenly as possible.

I imagine when you set your writing goals, you probably did your best to distribute those goals pretty evenly. So why does it make sense to double up just so you can catch up? Sure, it may take longer for you to feel like you’re caught up, but you will catch up. However, if you put too much pressure on yourself to catch up at once, it’s likely that you’ll get overwhelmed or discouraged (or both). This may make you start to feel like writing isn’t worth all this. Writing is always worth it, but pressuring yourself to write, isn’t. Do what you can to avoid putting yourself in that kind of situation.

My Reality

Setting reasonable writing goals is admittedly a weakness for me. I like to be productive and I always think I can do more than I realistically have time for. Plus, goals keep me motivated. Whether it’s fixing a scene or hitting a word count, meeting a goal gives me a feeling of accomplishment, even if I don’t like what I wrote that day.

But I also know I’m a better writer when I’m a balanced writer so I try to check myself whenever I start to get too caught up in my output and my goal of finishing my project. These tips have been a huge help in maintaining (or rediscovering) that balance.

I hope this helps you set reasonable writing goals!

Now it’s your turn: How do you set reasonable writing goals? Have you found yourself struggling to meet your goals? If you have, how do you manage it? If you haven’t, what tips can you share? Tell me about it in the comments!

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3 Reasons Time Off From Writing Can Help Your Novel

The Importance of Taking Time off from writingI talk a lot on this blog about the importance of making time to write and protecting your writing time. But equally as important is taking the time to not write. Most writers I know fit writing into a busy life. Maybe you get up early to write before anyone in your house is awake, or maybe you stay up later than anyone to get your words in. Or maybe you write on your lunch break or on your commute.

It can be hard to “not write.” You set time aside to be productive, so not writing during that time seems like a waste. It’s also possible you’ve set a deadline for yourself and you think you can’t afford to get behind. But I’ve found that sometimes, taking time away from the page is exactly what I need to take my book to the next level.

No matter when you write or how frequently, giving yourself some time off can be just as important to your finished product as actually writing. Here are some ways not writing has helped me personally:

1) It’s refreshed my creativity

Have you ever heard the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty glass?” This has proven to be true for writing too. Taking time to experience the world or take in other forms of creativity have often helped me write better. I have, on more than one occasion, been feeling like my story was boring, unoriginal, or just “off” in some way. Instead of staring at the screen trying to fix it, I’ve gone for walks, called a friend, or fallen down a YouTube hole. I may not always have a solution when I sit back down to work, but often times, the problem doesn’t seem as big. Typically, this means a solution isn’t too far off.

Other times, taking time to take in another form of art has lead to a story idea of its own. The ideas for Crossing the Line came when I was watching The Avengers and not actively thinking about writing or creating. The idea for a fantasy series I’m working on came when I was browsing Pinterest for fun. You really never know when the world will present you with your next great idea. If you don’t spend time away from your writing, you might miss it.

2) It’s led me to a creative solution that had been escaping me

Writers have a habit of overthinking and getting in their own way. Planning time to not write and not think about my story has often allowed ideas and solutions to surface naturally. For example, I was two drafts into Enemy Exposure when I realized that most of my plot was not working. I struggled with this for a week or two, trying desperately to nail it down, but it just wasn’t coming together. My deadline was about eight months away, and though I had plenty of time before the book was due, I was now behind schedule.

My sister and I had plans to watch Orphan Black together (I’d seen it but she hadn’t). When the time came to watch the show, a part of me thought I couldn’t afford to take the time away. But I also knew I’d been thinking this problem to death and I didn’t want to cancel on my sister at the last minute. So kept my plans and put my work aside. As it turned out, Orphan Black held the key to all of my plot problems. If you’ve seen the show and read Enemy Exposure, you can probably see the influence. Many people have told me they think this book is better than the first, and it wouldn’t exist if I didn’t take time to not write.

3) It keeps burnout at bay

Some people can write every day, but I’ve found when I do, I get fried and unproductive in a little over a week. Six days is my max, then I take a day off. But even with this schedule, I still feel drained from time to time, and I know if I keep pushing myself through that feeling, it will lead to full-blown burnout. I’ve learned that I’m better off taking a day or two to watch tv, read, or spend time with friends/family than to force myself to write. I’d rather lose a day or two when I feel it coming than a week or two down the line.

Even if you’re someone who can and needs to write every day, it’s still a good idea to step away from your work from time to time. Even if writing energizes you, consider a few lighter days or a day here and there where you do a different form of creative work.

For more on this, check out the post: What to do When You’re too Drained to Write.

So, how do you find the extra time?

If you can cut something out of your schedule that isn’t writing, do it. But, given how busy most writers are, I realize that may be asking a bit much. Instead, sacrifice some writing time. I know, I know, this is the opposite of almost every piece of writing advice out there. But it doesn’t have to be a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to be often. Maybe it’s once a month, or once every other week–whatever you feel like you can do. It may seem like you’re “wasting writing time” but you’re not. As long as you spend that time in a way that refreshes you, you’re not wasting anything. Part of being a productive writer is taking care of your brain. Not writing is essential to that. If you need some things to do, I have a whole post on How to Declutter You’re Writing Brain.

I hope this gives you a good idea how time off from writing can help you and your book!

If you’re looking for more on this subject, Bustle has an article on the benefits of taking time off from work. I think a lot of this can apply to writers too!

Now it’s your turn: How often do you take time away from writing? What refreshes you when you do? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Five Awesome Tips to Eliminate Digital Distractions

Eliminating Digital DistractionsAbout nine months ago, I started to notice how digital distractions throughout the course of my day had a negative impact on both my writing and my life. Every time I got a notification on my phone, it took me away from what I was doing, whether I was watching a movie, catching up with friends, or trying to write. Even if I knew I could wait until later to respond, my curiosity always got the better of me.

I also noticed myself checking social media apps habitually, scrolling with no purpose, and wasting a lot of time trying to keep up with what was happening online. Not only were these habits distracting to my writing, but they were also pulling my brain in too many directions. It left me feeling unfocused and mentally drained on a regular basis. It was affecting my writing, my mood, and my concentration. Maybe there some part of this you can relate to?

I decided these distractions had to go! Here’s what I did to get my digital distractions under control:

I turned off my notifications

First, I turned off every notification on my phone that isn’t a function of a cell phone. The only notifications I get now are for phone calls and text messages. Emails (with the exceptions of a handful of VIPs that push through) and social media notifications can wait until I’m choosing to check them. This has been one of the biggest game changers for me.

This played a massive role in eliminating my digital distractions. Even when I was getting email and social media notifications, I always tried to avoid answering on my phone if I could. It takes too long to type out and easy typos and auto correct make miscommunication far too likely. But I also had a hard time letting a notification sit unanswered. Once I see a message, I typically start formulating a response. And once I have a response in mind, I like to just write it and send it as soon as I can. So when I would get an email notification, it would somehow worm it’s way to the top of my priority list–even if I didn’t have time for it. Now, I don’t know there’s a message until I sit down at my computer and have the time to respond to what whatever is in my inbox.

I check my email less

Speaking of email, I also check it way less than I did in the past. I used to check in almost compulsively throughout the day. I was afraid someone might need something from me and I hated the idea of keeping them waiting. Now, when it comes to my work email, I’ve decided that once every 24 hours/5 days a week is enough. Anyone who would need me more urgently than that has my phone number. (Though like I said in the last point, there are a handful of VIPs that I do want to get back to ASAP, so I use my phone notifications for them.)

When I do check my email, I make it a point to only do so when I have time for anything that might require a response. I used to do “quick” email checks periodically throughout the day. But it was never quick if it turned out I needed to respond to something. This response would often eat up more time than I could afford at the moment. Now that I check-in less, I don’t lose time like this anymore.

I cut back on social media

There are many advantages to social media, but I think we can all agree, it has their disadvantages too. Social Media sites can be massive digital distractions. When you know there’s almost always something happening online, it can become hard to step away–whether it’s to get some work done or to give your full attention to the person/experience in front of you. This can make social media one of the biggest digital distractions. To help with this I only check in on social media once a day at a designated time. And to keep myself from accidentally landing on social media, I stay logged out of my accounts and only log in during my designated check-in times. (I have a whole post about Writing/Social Media Balance if you want to learn more.)

If other corners of the internet are a problem for you, you might want to think about apps like Self-Control or Cold Turkey. These apps will block those distracting websites for a set amount of time, which will make it easier to focus on getting your work done.

I keep my phone out of sight

Clearly, my phone was the biggest distraction for me.  I used to keep my phone next all the time–whether I was working, watching TV, or catching up with people. To cut back, I started making it a point to walk away from or put away my phone more often, including when I move around my house, go on walks, or hang out with my friends. When I first made this change, I found myself reaching for it compulsively. Now that I’m used to not having it around, I’ve realized that half the time when it is next to me, I forget it’s there unless I get a message.

I put my phone on silent when I’m working

This was another game changer for me. I thought not having my phone out or near me would be enough. As it turned out, even if my phone was away or out of sight, I could almost always hear it go off. This always took me out of my work. First, because the sound itself would jolt me back to my surrounds, and second, because my curiosity would often get the best of me and I would wonder who needed me and for what. Now, I don’t even know there’s a message until I’m finished work for the day.

If you’re concerned that you won’t be able to be reached in an emergency, check your phone’s do not disturb settings. You may be able to set your phone to ring if the same number calls twice within a certain time period. Then all you have to do is let close friends and family know to call you twice right away in an emergency. This way, you’re reachable when you have to be, but you’ll still be able to work in peace the rest of the time.

I hope these tips help you cut down on your own digital distractions!

All of these techniques have made it easier to be more focused on my life, which in turn has made me a more focused writer. If you give them a shot, I hope they do the same for you!

Now it’s your turn: Have you found notifications and social media distracting you from life? How do you manage your digital distractions? Tell me about it in the comments. If you have any tips to share, you can leave them there as well!

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Why Writers Should Embrace Imperfection in Writing

Why Writers Should Embrace ImperfectionLearning to write imperfectly is one of the biggest reasons why I am a happy writer. There’s something kind of magical that happens when you embrace the idea of imperfection. It’s why I get excited to work every day and why I never hate my work-in-progress, no matter what stage it’s in.

As writers, a part of us (maybe a large part) is programmed to strive for perfection. It’s inherent. We want our stories to be the best they can be and because of that, we are often all too aware of their flaws. And once we’re aware of those flaws, we have a compulsive need to fix them. I’ve found breaking free from this compulsion to be transformative.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be thorough and focused or that you shouldn’t polish your book to the best of your ability, but I am saying you shouldn’t obsess. And you shouldn’t make perfection a goal.

Accepting that your work will not be perfect is one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your book. It can be hard to do but it’s also worth it! Here are some reasons why you should embrace imperfection and some tips on how to make it happen.

Why writers should Embrace Imperfection

You can focus on what really matters

Once you accept and celebrate the fact that your work will not be perfect, it no longer has to be. That means you can put your time and attention on what really matters–telling yourself a story that makes you happy. Perfection really comes into play when you think about what agents/editors/readers/people will think about your work. And that’s something to consider after your book is written, but while you’re writing, it’s not about any of them. It’s about you and how writing it makes you feel. Write a story that excites you and makes you happy. Then keep improving it until it reads like a book you would love if you hadn’t written it. It may not be perfect, but it will still be excellent.

It frees your mind and your story

All of that brain power you’ve been using to perfect your story as you write is suddenly free. This means instead of obsessing over what you’ve already written, your mind has the space to generate new ideas and directions for your book. Sometimes those ideas will even help fix your books problems–without any of the stress or worry you’ve probably grown accustomed to.

It won’t hurt your story

At the time I’m writing this, I have two published books out in the world. There are definitely things I would change about them. I don’t think there’s a writer alive who can read their own work and not want to change it. And while I did my very best to be detail oriented and thorough during the editing process, I didn’t obsess. I made a decision, I double checked, and then I moved on. My books are not perfect. I haven’t read the published versions, but if nothing else, people have told me that there are typos. That version has been read by more friends, editors, proofreaders, and myself than I can count and it still isn’t perfect. And yet, I’ve gotten emails, and tweets, and Instagram messages from people all over the world who tell me how much they enjoyed reading my books.

So, what’s the takeaway? An imperfect story is still worth reading. And I don’t regret that I didn’t obsess, even knowing I missed things. I’ve obsessed in the past, so I know what it feels like. And I know how good it feels when I don’t. Perfection is not worth my sanity. And it turns out, plenty of people like my stories just fine, as imperfect as they are.

Tips to help embrace imperfection

Of course, the idea of embracing imperfection sounds great, but it can be a hard place to get to. So, here are a few tips to help you break free!

Set a goal and give yourself time limit

That goal could be a word count or page count, but it should definitely be quantifiable and something you could reasonably manage if you worked without stopping in a given time period. (Like 600 words in 30 minutes.) The only thing that matters is meeting your goal in the time you set. When your goal is to hit a number, not write well, you can’t afford to worry about imperfections–especially when you’re racing against the clock. I find this particularly helpful in the drafting and revision stages.

Free write or write exercises

Like I touched on earlier, perfectionism is less about you writing and more about the idea of other people reading your writing. So get used to writing pages that are just for you and that will never be read by anyone else. Ever. These pages can be free-writes of a book or project you’re working on, a response to a prompt, or a writing exercise. The point is to write without considering a reader–because there isn’t going to be one. Then once you learn what this feels like, carry that feeling and mindset into your project.

When you get stuck ask people you trust for help

I found that when I started asking my critique partners and trusted friends for help when I got stuck, it made it easier to write imperfectly. When I got used to the idea that I didn’t have to solve every problem on my own, as I was writing it, it became easier to write badly or imperfectly and know that I would fix it later. (Note: Don’t trust just anyone with this step. The people you talk to need to get what you’re trying to do and actually help you, not discourage you or add to your stress.)

That’s it for this one! I hope you have a good idea of why writers should embrace imperfection in their work!

If you’re still not convinced, check out this article on the BBC about the dangerous downsides of perfectionism. They make a pretty good argument. 🙂

Now it’s your turn: Have you struggled with perfectionism? If you have, how have you tried to manage it? If you haven’t, what’s your mindset? Tell me in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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How to Use Freewriting to Solve Your Writing Problems

How Freewriting can Solve Almost Any Writing ProblemI say “almost” any writing problem because nothing in writing is one hundred percent, but for me, freewriting is pretty close.

Freewriting is an essential part of my brainstorming, but it’s also become my fall back anytime my story isn’t working. I type my drafts and freewriting on paper. I think there’s something organic about this. It takes the screen away and puts me just a little closer to my work. Typically, I’ve found approaching my work differently can make me think about it differently, which can help stimulate creativity.

Beyond that, freewriting has become a good way to keep moving forward when I’m struggling. It lets me work on my story, without the expectations or challenge of making everything “fit.”

Here are some ways I use freewriting and how you might want to use it too:

To take a time out from drafting if my book feels like it’s headed in the wrong direction

I’m a big outliner. But no matter how much I plan and outline, I don’t really know what will work in my story until I write it. Sometimes, I find that I’m deep in my story and the direction I was taking my book in just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it doesn’t jive with a new story element I discovered while writing, or maybe the story that sounded good in theory doesn’t work so well in practice. Or maybe there are aspects that are just flat out boring. In those situations, I mentally back up to where the book last made sense and freewrite 5-10 different directions the story could go in–including the direction I was headed.

This helps me explore all of my options without committing to it in the draft.

To freewrite with a focus

Anytime a storyline or any aspect of my book is giving me a hard time or just seems to be lacking, I freewrite with a focus on that area. I make sure these thoughts are unstructured and stream-of-conscience. These types of freewrites help me to explore details and corners of an idea that hadn’t occurred to me before. There’s something about writing these thoughts down that forces solutions to the surface in a way that “just thinking about them” doesn’t.

In most cases, these freewrites often turn into a rough outline or guide for the problematic storyline.

To consider revision options and plans

When it comes time to prep for revision, I use freewriting to consider my options. If I find a problem in my story, I’ll brainstorm a handful of possible solutions. Then I’ll write about how my book would look if I take each of my possible solutions. This helps me to have a strong and developed idea of how each of the solutions will impact my story, along with insights into any new problems those solutions may create. I’ll do this for every problem, storyline, and character arc change to select the best possible option for my book.

To flesh out a character

There’s a lot about a character that your reader may never know. However, as the author, it’s important for me to have a strong understanding of who my characters are, what their life has been like, and what’s help shaped them. Freewriting about my characters and their history has been far more beneficial for me than any character questionnaire has ever been. (Though they definitely have their place too!) It allows me to follow my characters history naturally and really dig into important aspects of their lives in an organic way. This is also really helpful in exploring key character relationships and other defining moments.

To develop backstory

Like character, there is so much backstory that you need to know as a writer that will never make it into your novel. This includes world building, character history, historic events that happened in your world prior to the start of your book, and so much more! You could certainly keep a list of these events and elements, but freewriting allows you to bring those moments to life. They’ll become almost as real as your book and they’ll stick with you long after you’ve written them. They may reveal an aspect of your world or story if you hadn’t taken the time to write it all out.

To take a break

Sometimes, I just need to take a break from a problem story. In these situations, it usually doesn’t help to just watch TV or go for a walk. I need something to clear the problem out of my mind. In these instances, I’ll often freewrite something totally unrelated. Sometimes it’s a brainstorm for a new story, or sometimes it’s something related to a story I already have in progress.

Changing gears often gives me a mental break and sticking with freewriting keeps the new idea from feeling too serious. It’s also helpful because if I’m having a problem, it’s likely that I’ve been trying way too hard to get an idea to “fit” in my novel. Taking those kinds of limitations off my creativity almost never fail to recharge and refresh my mind. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve agonized over a problem, then solved in half an hour after a half day of freewriting a different project.

One last thought

Freewriting should not be hard! If you find that it is, it’s likely that you’re putting too much energy on getting it “right.” That’s not what freewriting is about. It’s about opening up your mind and letting the ideas flow as organically and as unfiltered as possible. I’ve found that this wakes up your subconscious and gives your brain permission to set free some outlandish and wonderful ideas. Freewriting is a great exercise in trusting yourself and trusting your story. If you need some help letting go and embracing that kind of imperfection, check out this post. And for more on the benefits of freewriting, check out this article from the Writing Cooperative

I hope this gives you a good idea how the many ways you can use freewriting to solve your writing problems!

Now it’s your turn: Have you found freewriting to be helpful? Do you have your own fallback when you’re struggling? Tell me about it in the comments. If you have any tips to share, you can leave them there as well!

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Protect Your Writing Time: How to Say No to Others

Saying No to OthersMaking time for writing can be a challenge in and of itself. It gets even more difficult when others ask for things during the time we set aside to write. It can be hard to say no to people when writing is something we want to do and someone needs us. Plus, it’s easy to think we can just write later. But if we keep saying yes and sacrificing our writing time for others, “later” never really happens.

Learning to say no is vital to a productive writing life, but it can be challenging. Here are some things that help me say no when people ask for my time:

I remember why I’m doing this

Before I was published, I kept in mind that I was prioritizing writing because my ultimate goal was to see my book on a shelf. I would tell myself that if I want to make my goals a reality, then it means saying no to people. It meant sometimes, they may have to wait until I’m truly available to help them.

And really, that hasn’t changed just because my first goal was met. I never just wanted to be published. I want a writing career. And I know that if I don’t prioritize my writing time, no one else is going to do it for me. I will not get to publish another book if I don’t make the time to write and protect that time.

I treated writing like my job years before it actually was my job

For me, this approach started in grad school. Getting an MFA helped me start to think of writing as my work. Granted, this was easy to do when the writing was for a class, but I found once I reframed my thoughts for school, it was really helpful to carry that mindset into non-school writing.

If someone asks me to do something at a time I had planned to write, 90% of the time I say no. Because I’m not really free–I’m working. Thinking of writing this way helped give me a different perspective of my time and has made me feel a lot less obligated to say yes to favors and other requests during my scheduled writing time. If I were to ask someone for a favor and they were scheduled to work, they would understandably tell me they aren’t available. So if I’m scheduled to write, I’m not available either. It doesn’t matter that I made the schedule–I am scheduled to work. This approach has served me incredibly well.

(Click here for more on how to treat writing like a job and the pros and cons of getting an MFA.)

I leave the house

One of the easiest ways to say no is to avoid being asked all together. I’ve found that physically not being around, makes it harder for people to ask things of me. So if you’re someone who lives with other people, or has friends and family members who are known to drop by without notice, you might want to try leaving your house so no one can ask you for anything. Places like coffee shops, Panara, or the library make it possible to work out of the house with little to no cost. If it’s a nice day, you can even take your writing to a park, or another outdoor environment. Don’t be afraid to get creative! You might even find that writing “out” is great for your process. For more on that, check out this post!

I put my phone on silent

Leaving the house may help with face to face requests, but phones and technology make it hard to avoid contact completely. One way to combat this is to put your phone on silent and turn off any email notifications on your computer while you work. And if you still want to be reached in an emergency, most phones have override settings. For example, you may be able to set your phone to ring if the same person calls twice in a ten or fifteen minute period. This way you avoid being asked non-essential favors, but you’re still reachable in an emergency. For more on eliminating digital distractions, check out this post.

I explain why I’m unavailable to friends and family

It’s typically your friends and family who are most likely to ask things of you. I’m lucky to have a lot of friends and family who were very supportive of my goals even before I was published. I’ve found that when I tell these supportive people why I can’t help them, they are very receptive. In fact, they appreciate why I’m saying no and see it as an opportunity to help me meet my goals. Of course, since these people are supportive of me, I do my best to help them out when I’m not writing.

If people don’t respect my reason for saying no, I stop giving them a reason

There are always going to be people who see your goals as frivolous. Even now that I’m published, some people don’t seem to understand that books don’t write themselves. They do, in fact, think I can just “write later” and help them out when they ask. Since I’m not answering to a boss on a day-to-day basis, my schedule seems flexible to them. While this is infuriating, it’s also rarely worth the time and energy of a fight. So instead, I don’t give these people a reason as to why I can’t help them. I simply say, “I’m not around then,” or “I can’t then, but how about [insert available time here].”

Because here’s the bottom line: You do not owe anyone an explanation of how you spend your time. It’s your time. And while it’s nice to share it, you are not obligated to. If someone cannot respect your priorities, they don’t deserve your time. And they definitely don’t deserve your writing time. Don’t explain yourself. Simply say that you’re unavailable.

As always, I hope this helps you say no to others and protecting your writing time!

For further thought: Ultimately, saying no and protecting your time, is creating a healthy boundary. So if you’re still feeling a little hesitant, here’s an article from the HuffPost on the ten benefits of setting healthy boundaries.

Now it’s your turn: Have you struggled to say no to others in order to protect your writing time?  Tell me about it in the comments. If you have any tips to share, you can leave them there as well!

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6 Awesome Tips to Declutter Your Writing Brain

Declutter your writing brainAs writers, we juggle A LOT in our heads when we’re writing a story: characters, plot, dialogue, and the writing itself. An entire world lives inside you! That can be a lot to carry around. Your brain is your biggest creative tool, so it’s important to take care of it! If you write too much for too long, you can risk burning yourself out. (Clearly, I’m speaking from experience.) Giving your brain a break and a chance to refresh itself is important at every stage of the writing process. Here are six tips to decompress and declutter your writing brain.

1) Take time off

This may seem counter-productive if the reason you’re writing so much is to meet a deadline (self-imposed or otherwise), but it also may be exactly what you need. When I work on a project for too long I get less productive as I go. It becomes harder to focus on my work and solve problems. It also takes me longer to accomplish tasks. While it may be hard to walk away, especially if I’m on a deadline that isn’t self-imposed, it’s always worth it. When I come back to my project after a break, my brain is sharper, I write quicker, and my overall production drastically increases.

If you are on a deadline and find yourself in a situation where you really can’t afford to lose a whole day to give your writing brain a break, try to steal 24 consecutive hours. So on Day 1, decide that you’ll go hard until 3 PM. Then, give yourself off until 3 PM the following day, at which point you can pick your story back up again. This way, you still get a ‘day’ off without losing an entire workday.

2) Move more

Exercise is, of course, great for you physically, but it can also do wonders for your creative brain. Personally, I’ve found walking and/or running or other cardio is great because there’s very little you have to focus on. This gives your mind the freedom to wander and think about whatever it wants. When you write, you spend a lot of time forcing your brain in a direction, so unforced time can be a great way to refresh.

On the other hand, doing a very specific workout routine can be equally as helpful. By giving your brain a specific task to focus on, which practically guarantees time away from your story. Yoga is my personal favorite, but any video or guided routine can have this effect. (FYI, my favorite yoga resource is Bad Yogi, if you’re into that kind of thing.)

3) Veg out

Take an entire day and do nothing. Seriously. Don’t leave the house. Don’t talk to another person. The only reason to get off the couch for anything other than food (which should definitely be mac and cheese 😜). Watch your favorite movie/TV show, read a book, do whatever you have to do to fully recharge. I shoot for at least one of these days per month if I can. When I get back to work the following day, I’m sharp and refreshed.

4) Take in other creative content

Personally speaking, taking in other people’s creative work can go a long way in decluttering my brain. This can mean watching TV, reading a book, or falling down a YouTube hole. I think experience stories that are not mine and may not even be in my medium helps me to come out of my own head a little bit. And sometimes, once I can relax enough to get caught up in someone else’s story, I’ve found it can also inspire my own.

Another tip: Sometimes I find that since I work with words all day, reading a book for enjoyment is just asking too much of my brain. I can’t always focus on the story, the page, or the words. (Maybe this is you too?) Instead, I’ve started listening to audiobooks. It’s been a great way to get through my reading list when I’m too tired to read to myself. Unfortunately, audiobooks can be expensive. However, most libraries have them available either physically or for digital download.

5) Create relaxing spaces

This may be a little hippy, but creating a relaxing environment has really helped my entire process. When I’m fried from a day of writing, the last thing I want is to be in a room with harsh lights, loud sounds, or anywhere near a pile of ‘stuff’ I have to do. I’m easily overstimulated to begin with. After an intense writing day, it’s even worse.  What bothers you when you’re fried may be different. Whatever it is, take the time to figure out what you’re sensitive to and find a way to counteract it so your brain can recharge.  (If harsh lights are also an issue for you, my resources page as some of my favorite low-lighting alternatives).

6) Sleep

As far as I’m concerned, all-nighters are never worth it. Sure, sometimes you may need to work late to meet your goals, but I don’t believe it’s a good idea to push yourself so hard that you compromise your health on a regular basis. If you are consistently tired, then your brain isn’t as sharp as it could be. This is a massive disadvantage to you and your story.

That’s it for this one! I hope this helps you keep your writing brain in good condition!

Now it’s your turn: How do you declutter your writing brain? I’m always looking for new techniques so please let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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4 Great Tips to Balance Writing and Social Media

How to Balance Writing and Social MediaA couple of weeks ago, I did a post on Why Writers Should Spend Time Offline. That post spoke more generally to the importance of unplugging, but this post focuses more on day-to-day writing/social media balance.  There’s also a little bit of a story behind my motivation for both of these posts.

Regardless of where you are in your writing journey, there’s a lot of emphasis on building an author platform these days. You may have even heard that it’s never too soon to start. That’s something I would agree with. Followers will absolutely help you out when it comes to selling or promoting a book, so the sooner you start building your account, the better off you are. But, if you’re not careful, it can be really easy to let that social media eat up a lot of your writing time and energy. This is something I know all too well.

A few months ago, I realized I was spending way too much time online. Checking my phone and social media accounts had become a compulsion. I also found it was getting in the way of my writing and my life. I knew I needed to do something to right the ship. It turned out that when I focused solely on managing my time on social media, my overall internet time cut down across the board. I didn’t want to ditch social media entirely–there’s a lot I like about it–but I did want it to take less time and be less of a distraction. If you find yourself spending more time on social media than you’d like, here are four tips that really helped me cut back without disappearing entirely.

1) Only check in at specific times each day

This was one of my first techniques. I had gotten into the habit of jumping on Twitter and scrolling anytime I had a free minute. Then I’d inevitably find myself following a thread of tweets, doing more research on something I’ve read, or contemplating a response to a mention. I also found myself mindlessly and taking “quick breaks” from writing or work just to see what was happening. So one of the first things I did was limit the time I went on social media. I picked three times a day–once in the morning, afternoon, and night to check-in online. Each check-in was no longer than fifteen minutes long.

2) Limit the devices you’re logged into

Of course, limiting your social media check-ins is a good plan, but it can take some serious self-control. After all, you’re breaking a habit here. I caught myself mindlessly opening Twitter on my browser on several occasions. What helped was to limit the places I was logged into. I work on my computer a lot, so being logged into the social media on there made it way too easy to get distracted and sucked back in. So for me, my phone made the most sense. Now when I use social media, it’s almost exclusively from my phone.

And if you’re thinking, “Well, Meghan, that sounds great, but what’s to keep me from constantly checking my phone?” Here’s tip 2a). Before I started cutting back, I checked social media on my phone so much that I often burned through my battery by the end of each day–sometimes sooner. Perhaps you’ve been there? To keep my phone time and social media time-limited, I found it really helpful to play a game with myself to see how long I could make my battery last. For whatever reason, that really helped me stay off my phone and cut down on social media time in the process. I went from charging my phone at least once a day to only every three days.

3) Only log on when you’re posting something

After a few weeks, I had gotten pretty good at my three times a day check-ins and I was ready to take it to the next level. I decided I would definitely check-in once a day to see what’s going on (like I said, I do like social media), but aside from that, I only log on when I have something to post. This was when the habit really broke for me. Now from time to time, I actually forget my once a day check-in.

4) Make your posts purposeful

When it came to posting, I found I spent way too much time thinking of and writing posts. I posted more frequently then than I do now, but I was also sporadic. Some weeks I’d post three times a day and then nothing for a stretch. Once I decided I wanted my accounts to have more of a theme (which is writing), it got a lot easier to post on a fairly regular schedule. That’s not to say that I don’t share other stuff. I do–but I try to focus my regular content on my theme. This has given me a focus and has made it easier to come up with posts.

I also try to plan and write a lot of these theme posts ahead of time, which means I don’t have to constantly remember to write and post. Later app has made doing this on Instagram really easy. Once you have a (free) account you can log in on your computer, type your Instagram posts out, save them, and schedule notifications to be sent to your phone so you don’t forget to post. I used to tap out my really long #WritingWednesday posts in the app, one letter at a time. I love writing those posts, but it took forever! And sometimes my post would be too long and Instagram wouldn’t post it the caption which would make me very sad!

Finding this app has made me so much more efficient and saved me a lot of time. I don’t post nearly as much as I did in the past, but I’m much more consistent, which has helped be maintain a good balance.

I hope this gives you a good idea of how you can balance writing and social media!

Now it’s your turn: Have you had trouble balancing social media and writing? What’s something that’s helped you? What’s something you’ve struggled with? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.

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