3 ways to combat writer’s block

typeriter writers blockRecently, a writer friend asked me how I combat writer’s block. Before I share what I told her, let me just tell you that writer’s block doesn’t discriminate. I don’t care if you’re JK frickin Rowling, every author is afflicted with this curse. Case in point, I gave this friend my answer for battling writer’s block. But later that week, I found myself daunted by a blinking cursor, the only thing moving on the blank page before me. It’s absolutely ridiculous how inspiration bleeds from my pores when I’m in the middle of something, but then vanishes once I am in the position to write. I’ll have the plot of a story coursing through me in anticipation for my scheduled alone time, only to have forgotten every bit of it when I open my laptop. Or worse, my brilliant idea transforms into something completely stupid.

So while I can’t tell you the absolute cure for curbing writer’s block, I can share some of the things that have helped me to climb over this albatross.

  1. Write every day.

This is probably the #1 advice any author will give you. I liken the practice of writing every day to the practice of training for a marathon. You wouldn’t wake up one day and run 26.2 miles without months of training beforehand, would you? The same goes for writing. You have to strengthen your writing muscle before you can take part in regular word sprints and inspirational prose. Set aside a certain time every day when it’s just you and your writing. It can be as short as 30 minutes, if you want, but it’s best if you can plan for this at the same time every day. Then write what you want. Write a poem. Write a journal entry. Write a description of the room where you’re sitting. Write anything. At first, it will feel daunting. That blinking cursor might plague you just as it plagues me. However, if you keep showing up every day ready to write, there will come a day when your muse will arrive at the same time.

If you’re stumped on what to write, here are 365 writing prompts, one for every day of the year.

  1. Turn off all distractions.

My phone is my nemesis. It’s what I reach for whenever I can’t figure out what to write, or how to perfectly word what I’m trying to say. If I’m frustrated with my writing, I’ll reach for my phone and scroll through social media or my email, waiting for inspiration to hit. Thing is, digital distractions are creativity killers. I will never find the right words or feel the pull of inspiration while scrolling through perfectly filtered photos on Instagram. To be honest, I’m actually going to feel much worse, much less inspired, and way more frustrated. This is my current issue. Is this your issue, too? The best way to free yourself from these distractions is to get them away from you completely. I know it can feel uncomfortable freeing yourself from busyness, but creativity craves the quiet. If it’s your scheduled writing time, keep your phone out of the room, or at least on airplane mode. Turn the internet off your phone. Close the door and lock it. It might even help to set a timer, mandating distraction free time, and then permitting that distraction when the timer runs out.

Hey, you can even write about that distraction during your writing time. 🙂

  1. Do something else.

Sometimes the well is dry. The words are gone. The ideas have scattered. The muse has left the building. It happens, and fighting it won’t make reality any different. If you find yourself completely sapped of creativity, it’s time to take a break (and no, not a scroll through social media break). Go do something that will refill your writing well. What recharges you? What fills you with inspiration? Is it a walk in the woods? Is it a day to just watch the waves roll in at the ocean, the clouds drift by overhead, or the grass blow in the wind?

Give yourself permission to go slow. My favorite poem by Mary Oliver perfectly encapsulates what an escape like this might look like:

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver

I mean, to sit and contemplate a grasshopper for an afternoon? To distance yourself from the rapid pace of this world? To spend a moment being slow and deliberate with your focus? Pure bliss.

I cover the issue of blocked creativity quite a bit in my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul. The book is split into sections that cover calming techniques, soul exercises,  organization (uncluttering your life so you can focus), boundaries (protecting your writing time and self-esteem), and how to apply all this to your life. In the final chapter, I wrote this:

Our jobs as artists is to capture pieces of what we perceive, transform it into something new, then offer it back to the people of this world so that they can see it in a different light.

Our tools are our imagination, our experiences, and our emotions. We also draw from our community and beyond. This is why it’s so important for us to not only pay attention to our surroundings, but we should also be with people and in environments that inspire us to go further with our art.

Inspiration won’t always meet you at your desk. There are times when it’s necessary to leave your chair and search for it. You’ll find it in nature, in art galleries, in interesting people…and even in spending the afternoon with a curious grasshopper.

What do you do to combat writer’s block?

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Inconvenient inspiration, and how to seize it before it slips away

writingA few years ago, I was shopping at Trader Joe’s when I saw every parent’s nightmare unfold in front of me. A woman was gathering fruit from the bin while her toddler stood in the large part of the grocery cart. Without warning, the cart tipped and the toddler fell to the ground. The mother immediately swooped up her screaming child, consoling him while shoppers moved around them. Some people stared, and some were completely oblivious to what happened. I placed myself in her shoes, feeling her shame from any judgment over letting her son be in that part of the cart in the first place, and her worry over her son who could have been hurt much worse from the fall. Then the questions began forming in my mind. What if it was much worse? What if her son didn’t survive? As a mother, what would her identity be if her only child passed away?

That scene inspired my book, The Road to Hope, a story about Jill, a mother who loses her son to this very accident. This story also introduced an accidental character—Maddie, a pregnant teen who crosses paths with Jill. I continued the series telling Maddie’s story, infusing pieces of my life into hers, a process that allowed me to grieve and heal from experiences I’d been stuffing.

I pull inspiration for my stories from many different places. Sometimes it’s from something I witness—like the grocery store scene—that leads me to scenarios and characters that grow by just asking myself questions. Sometimes it’s from overhearing a conversation, which prompts me to fill in the gaps. Sometimes it’s inspired by moments from my life that I need to work out in fiction. And sometimes the story comes from a dream.

My first published book, A Symphony of Cicadas, was based on a dream I had while I was planning my wedding. My greatest fear at that time was that something would happen to me before I got to marry the love of my life. Because of this, I had a dream where I died in a car crash. But instead of waking up as soon as I died, the dream continued, showing how all the people I loved were moving on after my death, including my fiancé. I watched as my fiancé met and fell in love with another woman. As I witnessed this, I experienced a small bit of wistfulness. But mostly, I felt this immense rush of peace because he was happy and I knew he was going to be okay. I woke up crying, and the whole book began flowing through me. I couldn’t outline it fast enough.

This kind of dream inspiration happened again with Numbered, the book I’m currently writing. At the time, I was at a crossroads in my writing life, wondering if I had any more books in me. But then I had this dream. All I saw was a man’s face, but I knew his whole story. He was dying from cancer, despite looking completely healthy, and he knew the exact date of his death. I woke up with a question—what if everyone actually knew the date they would die? How would that affect the way they live? The story began flowing through me and I ran downstairs to get it down before I lost it, spending two hours outlining the novel, and describing the characters and their backgrounds.

Inspiration can some from anywhere, you just have to pay attention and be ready to receive it when it comes calling. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott shares how she carries index cards everywhere, ready to write down conversations, moments, anything that comes to her while she’s out and about because inspiration rarely comes when it’s convenient. Nowadays, you don’t even need index cards if you have a smartphone, because it’s just as easy to jot it down in your phone’s notes or even record it as a voice memo. Inspiration likes to hit me while I’m driving, which is an awful time for it to arrive. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve lost because I didn’t pull over immediately and get it down. By the time I reach a convenient moment, all or most of the story has already gone.

One of my favorite stories about the way inspiration works is how Liz Gilbert shared in her Ted talk about the late American poet, Ruth Stone, and how a poem would come barreling at her over the landscape. Ruth Stone’s job at that point was to drop everything and race for a pencil because if she didn’t, the poem would flow in and then out of her, searching for another poet who was ready to receive it. Watch it below (it’s less than 2 minutes long).

Have you ever had a moment when inspiration struck you when you least expected it? What did you do to make sure you didn’t lose it?

The day I met Anne Lamott…and choked

annecrissi

Seven years ago, I waited in line to meet her, Annie Lamott, the author whose books I had devoured in a frantic kind of way, as if reading everything she’d written would somehow make me a better writer. I’d discovered her years before by accident when a friend told me that my confessional way of writing reminded them of her. I wanted to see what that meant, so I picked up her book, Traveling Mercies. Instantly, I was drawn into her world, at her coffee table, beside her and God and her son Sam as we compared imperfections, the wonderful sucky miraculous life of single motherhood, and how our own mothers drove us crazy and probably gave us our imperfections. I was hooked. I went on to read every other book she wrote, then followed her on social media where I gleefully witnessed her tell it like it was with no apology. I wished I could be that brave, to write out exactly what I was thinking without ever worrying about what my church thought, my coworkers thought, my mother thought. I lived vicariously through her, thinking that maybe I should have a stronger opinion on political figures and refer to God as a woman, just like she did. I wished my flattened hair was kinky enough to do something as bold as the dreads she wore, and wondered if I’d be as cool as she was when I reached my 60s.

I’d just finished hearing her tell a crowd of us “everything she knew about writing,” which only took an hour to tell. It was enough to further inspire my writing dreams. I had several unfinished novels collecting dust under my bed, and aspirations to one day be published. I wanted to ask how she gathered the courage to share unflattering stories about her family. It was one thing to share about one’s own mistakes and disparaging attributes, but to reveal the flaws of others was a thorny situation. Did they forgive her for outing them because she was the Anne Lamott? Did the pleasure of seeing their stories in print supersede their shameful shortcomings made public? Or did Annie simply step around their wagging fingers and high-pitched complaints, holding her head high on her way to writing a new bestselling, must-read novel?

“Are you nervous?” my husband asked, lacing his fingers through mine as I craned my neck toward the front of the line. I’d studied her outfit, the casual way she wore a scarf draped around her neck, the moon and star necklace I’d seen her wear on several different interviews, and how even her casual appearance seemed elegant in a way. In her writing and on stage, she’d mentioned her struggle with weight, but I saw no sign of it. Her pants were loose on her slim figure, her clothing like something out of an L.L. Bean catalog where men and women danced on beaches in colorful fashions as breezy as the wind.

“No,” I answered him, even though it was a lie. I was more aware of my stomach the closer we got, the words I wanted to say to her swimming around my head like a school of herring in an underwater tornado. My questions were starting to fade into statements, ones that told her how much she meant to me, how she inspired me, how her words made me want to be a better writer. Judging by the way the line kept inching forward, I only had a minute or two to convey my appreciation. Would it be enough? I grasped my copy of Traveling Mercies in my hand, trying to bend the curling cover so that it lay flat once again, and thinking of the other books I’d left behind. Was this really the one I wanted her to sign? It was the first book I’d read of hers, but there were others she’d written that touched me in different ways. Bird by Bird, in particular. Why hadn’t I brought that one?

One person stood between Anne Lamott and me, and my tongue was suddenly as dry as the Sahara Desert. Everything I thought I’d say to her disappeared. All my visions of her asking me out to coffee, maybe even her house, so we could discuss our shared profession of writing and my future success as an author…it all evaporated as the person in front of me ended their turn and she turned to me.

“Uh,” I started, which is always a good place to start when talking to your idol. “Uh hi.” What was wrong with me? I thought I should at least mention the book I was working on, the one that would make me famous. But then I realized she might not care, or worse, she’d ask me what it was about. “Um, my name is Crissi.”

“Nice to meet you, Crissi,” she said, her kind eyes meeting mine. This surprised me. She looked at me as if I were the only person there, giving me her full attention like I was someone important.

“Uh, nice to meet you,” I said. “I wanted to tell you, uh…” What did I want to tell her? How could I put it in words, how she’d voiced every single feelings I’d ever had, and mentioned things I’d felt shame over as if they were no big deal? How could I tell her that the love letter she wrote to her thighs, who she called “the aunties,” made me love my body a little bit better? Or that the way she wrote about her son made motherhood feel that much more special? Or how her honest way of talking about the pain of writing made me feel so much less alone?

“I wanted to tell you,” I began again. “I want you to know, uh, how much your writing has meant to me.” She smiled, seeming unrushed despite the line behind me. If I was wasting her time, she never made any show of it.

“She’s read almost all of your books,” Shawn offered, nodding at the book in my hands. Anne looked down and motioned at the book.

“Can I sign that for you?” she asked, and I handed it over. I knew I wouldn’t say anything else. I couldn’t. It was enough that I was there, standing next to Anne Lamott as she wrote my name next to hers inside the very first book of hers I’d read.

“Can I get a picture of you two?” Shawn asked, and I was so grateful he was there. Anne turned and we pressed our heads together as if we’d known each other for years. On my face was a smile, but in my head was a million cannons, firing off t-shirts into the crowd stating that my head was touching the famous dreadlocks of my favorite author, the knotted hair holding years of history I’d read about in her books—the loss of her very best friend Pammy to cancer, her difficult relationship with her mother and then losing her to Alzheimer’s, the day she let a black woman and her daughter make a religious experience out of dreadlocking her hair…the very hair that was touching mine.

“Thank you,” I breathed, and she gave me a gracious “you’re welcome” before turning to the next lucky person in line.

It wasn’t how I’d envisioned it, but it was enough. Plus, I still had her words written down in her books. And maybe, just maybe, if I ever got the chance to meet her again, I’d have better luck telling her how much she meant to me.

10 books that will change your life

It doesn’t matter if you make resolutions or not, most of us look at the New Year as a time to change habits, make things new, start over, and hope for a better year. As a book lover, I can’t think of a better way to incorporate these changes than by reading an inspirational book. Here are the books I’ve found to be extremely life-changing:

Braving the Wilderness, by Brené Brown
“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission.” Brené Brown, a vulnerability researcher, starts off Braving the Wilderness telling her own heart-wrenching story, a tale of childhood most people can relate with. Then she continues, sharing things we are all grappling with in this age of politics, moving fast, polarization, and the desire to belong, and how to move through them. All of Brown’s books are must-reads, and this one is no exception.

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
In 2009, Elizabeth Gilbert gave an inspiring TED talk that has captivated millions of creative people, “Your Elusive Creative Genuis.” This talk was about two years after she released “Eat. Pray. Love.,” a memoir that inspired many a divorcee to drop everything and go on a global soul journey. Years later, this TED talk became the tip of the iceberg in her book on creativity, a bible for all aspiring creators called “Big Magic.” In this book, Gilbert shares how to overcome paralyzing fear that can stand between an artist and their art. She shares vital attitudes, approaches and habits that promote living a creative life.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
I know this book was on everyone’s bedside table two years ago, but the concepts in this book aren’t any less important. Marie Kondo shares simple ways to create order to your home, purging unnecessary items and making things, well, tidy in surprisingly painless ways. I still KonMari my drawers, thanks to this book.

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
A few years back, Gretchen Rubin struggled to find anything happy about her life. In an effort to change her perspective, she dedicated a year of her life to her own happiness project. In this memoir, she shares how she spent a year testing out wisdom and research from different times, cultures and more. The result? She not only changed her life, but she changed the lives of millions of readers.

Reclaim Your Creative Soul, by Crissi Langwell
Yes, this is a shameless plug, but still a book I believe is important for anyone who wants to find more time for their creative projects. In this guide, I share the secrets to how I’ve organized my own busy life to make room for my craft, and how you can, too. Not only that, I include access to meal plans and shopping lists (to save you time in the kitchen), a guide to creating a budget (to free your mind of worry), and a cheat sheet to inspirational quotes that can help you in any situation. It’s my hope that this book will be part of your journey toward a more creative life.

Promise Me, Dad, by Joe Biden
While serving as Vice President, Joe Biden suffered the devastating loss of his eldest son, Beau, who died from a brain tumor. “Promise me, Dad,” Beau said to his father in his final months. “Give me your word that no matter what happens, you’re going to be all right.” Biden gave him his word. In his touching memoir, Biden shares an intimate look at his son’s last year of life, and what he learned in the painful process of letting go.

The Wisdom of Sundays, by Oprah Winfrey
If you’re a fan of Super Soul Sundays like I am, this book wraps up some of the best moments from those conversations, and combines them with Oprah’s own spiritual journey. You’ll find some of your favorite moments, including excerpts from talks with Tony Robbins, Arianna Huffington, Shonda Rhimes, Eckhart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hahn, Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer and more. This is everything you expect to get from a cozy episode of S.S.S., but now it’s right at your fingertips.

The Desire Map Planner, by Danielle La Porte
While technically this isn’t a book, this is one bound publication that could change the course of your year. Bestselling author Danielle La Porte created a unique engagement calendar that’s anything but your regular daily planner. With sections for gratitude notes, soul prompts and “stop doing” lists, this Desire Map Planner is for those “who want to put their soul on the agenda.” This planner corresponds with an actual book, “The Desire Map,” which, together, you could totally map out a whole new way of living.

Tribe of Mentors, by Tim Ferris
Most people know Tim Ferris from his best-selling book, “The 4-Hour Workweek” or his guide to successful habits in “Tools of the Titan.” Ferris continues the wisdom of his latter book in his latest publication, “Tribe of Mentors,” a collection of wisdom from those he’s looked up to in his life. The book shares everything from morning routines, how to bounce back from failure, the power in risky art, how to have real work-life balance, and more.

When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chödrön
This is not Pema Chödrön’s most recent book, but it’s one that’s touched me profoundly. In this guide, Chödrön, shares the importance of moving towards pain and difficulties as a way of conquering them. If you’ve found yourself stuck in grief, stress, and hard times, this book is a way to open yourself up, transform your suffering, and rediscover joy.

What books have you read that have changed your life?

The temptation to give up

Today, an author I’m friends with wrote a post about giving up. “It turns out the world does not need my novels,” she wrote. “I have spent thousands and thousands of hours writing and reading about writing, and for what?”

I hate that she wrote this. And I get why she wrote this. And I totally understand why she is ready to call it quits on writing.

I have these arguments with myself almost every day.

In fact, I was just talking myself down today as I drove home from work . It had been an especially hectic day at my day job, and I’d left my desk knowing that if I lingered for even a minute more, thirty more minutes of work would land in my lap. So I raced out of there. And the whole drive home, I questioned what I was doing. Why was I working so damn hard at a job that sometimes feels suffocating, and it’s not what I want to be doing? Why hasn’t my dream of being a full-time author been realized when I’ve worked so damn hard at this for the past 5 years of publishing, and 3 decades of writing? How long can I sustain writing novels, working full time, going to school, taking care of my family, and every other part of my life, all at the same time?

What if….what if I wasn’t meant to be an author?

I’m always stunned into silence when this thought crosses my mind.

I love words. I love the shape of them, the taste of them, and the feel of them. I love the way they look on a page, how they smell in a book, and how they sound in other people’s mouths. I want to spend the rest of my life playing with words, and my dream is that this will always involve storytelling: playing with words, creating words, writing words, and then using them to create books that people love to read.

But what if the people never come?

Today I saw another frustrated post from a different author who had written 20 novels, and she still hadn’t seen any kind of success. Her books don’t suck, either! Meanwhile, I’m sitting over here with 8 books, believing my time should have come. Apparently there’s no number to these things.

It is really, really hard when you want something so bad, and it just isn’t coming to you. In The Alchemist (my favorite book), Paulo Coelho writes, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

But why does the universe have to take so damn long???

Coelho also writes, “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

And this, my friends, is the meaning of life.

We all have dreams we wish to fulfill. And when that dream is realized, a new one must be sought after. After all, life would lose meaning if you had nothing to work toward.

Do I want to be chasing success this hard all my life as an author? Absolutely not. But I never want it to get old. It’s always going to be hard, and I’m always going to be striving to make it happen, as this is what I know I’m supposed to be doing.

Now, that’s not to say that my dream won’t one day change or evolve, or that my friend is wrong for “giving up.” Sometimes things just aren’t in the cards, as much as that hurts to write. However, no dream is a wasted dream. I truly believe this. An unrealized dream may just be the bridge you need to set you on the path toward the dream that’s meant to be.

Or, sometimes we just need to give ourselves a break so we can rediscover what we loved about our original dream in the first place.

___

SHAMELESS PLUG: My book, The Road to Hope, is still FREE! But only until Sunday. Don’t miss this chance to read the first book in my 3-book Hope series for free!

From weight loss to writing a book: How to set a goal and accomplish it

goal wish

Weight has been a weighty issue with me all my life. As a kid, I was always a little chubby. I never noticed it when I was younger, but as I entered my awkward pre-teen years, body issues introduced themselves to me one by one. I couldn’t rest my legs when I was sitting because my thighs would spread across the seat. I couldn’t wear shorts, even in the hottest weather, because my skin was too pale. I couldn’t join the popular crowd because popular girls weren’t fat.

My body lost all the baby fat in my teen years, but in my mind, it was still there. I flirted with anorexia, and still thought I was fat as my body shrunk and my oversized clothes hung off me. I think the first time I ever saw myself as thin was at 19, when a year of poverty brought me down to 97 pounds. That’s the same time I found out I was pregnant, and before I really knew what weight issues and baby fat were.

20 years later, and I’ve gained and lost weight more times than I can count. My biggest success was when I lost weight before my wedding 5 years ago, reaching my lowest healthy weight in all my adult life. But then I went on my honeymoon, and I’ve been eating ever since. Now when I “diet,” I stay good for a few weeks, give up when the results don’t match my expectations, and gain back more weight than I lost. I kept setting an “emergency” weight—the absolute heaviest I could be before taking drastic measures. I’d reach that weight, and then I’d keep gaining. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to lose weight. The desire was there. But for some reason, I just couldn’t make it happen. I was left feeling frustrated and without hope, afraid to keep trying to lose weight because every time I did, I just ended up gaining more. And I’d cling to that wedding weight image of myself, holding it as both my ideal body, and the ideal that was impossible to reach.

The reason I bring up my weighty issue is because I’ve approached weight loss in the same way people approach large goals…and fail. It’s kind of like a New Year’s Resolution:

“I’m going to lose 40 pounds this year.”

“I’m going to write a book this year.”

“I’m going to get out of debt this year.”

Having a goal is a good thing to have. In fact, it’s vital to have something to strive for. It gives you a purpose, a reason for moving forward—a “why.” In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl says, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how.’” A goal becomes that “why,” whether it’s weight loss, writing the great American novel, saving money, and so on. And yet, if you don’t create achievable successes on the way toward that huge goal, that goal will never be attainable.

I’m gearing up to release the 2nd novel in the Hope series in September—my 9th novel in 4 1/2 years. Before I’d ever published a book, I kept a Post-It note on the side of my dresser with a drawing of a book and my name on it as the author. Every morning, that Post-It was the first thing I’d see. I dreamed of writing a book someday. But as long as I kept that dream stationed on someday, the book was not being written. The dream felt out of reach. Writing a book seemed too hard, too big, too impossible. It took forever to finally muster up the courage to sit down and start writing. I kept track of my progress by word count. My goal was 50,000 words by the end of the month (those of you familiar with NaNoWriMo know what I’m talking about), which seemed like a huge number. However, I focused on my daily word count, aiming for 2,000 words each day (which would pad my number and allow me to finish early). The first day, I ended with 2,000 words. The next day, I had 4,000 words. By the end of the week, I had 14,000 words. That’s 14,000 more words than I had at the beginning of the week, and 14,000 words closer to my goal.

I finished that novel in 25 days, ending with a grand total of 75,000 words. This set the tone for my writing practice, and gave me a new way to look at goals.

However, I apparently forgot how to do this every time I approached my weight. Instead of setting small goals, I kept looking at the weight I used to be, lamenting the fact that I wasn’t there. By doing this, every small success would never be good enough—after all, you can’t lose 40 pounds in one week.

So here I am, starting another weight loss journey (hence, the running I mentioned in yesterday’s blog), but implementing a plan of attack in the same way I tackle my writing goals:

  1. Set a goal.
  2. Create smaller, more manageable goals, and then set your deadline.
  3. Celebrate small milestones.
  4. Take it one day at a time.

Here’s what this looks like:

  1. Set a goal.

Here is where you reach for the stars. What do you hope to accomplish? Losing a specific amount of weight? Writing a book? Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail? Becoming fluent in a foreign language? Going on your dream vacation? If you can dream it, you can achieve it.

  1. Create smaller, more manageable goals/set your deadline.

Break your huge goal into bite-sized pieces. If you’re trying to lose weight, aim for a weekly weight loss of a pound or two, and then look on the calendar to see when you’ll reach your goal if you’re consistent. If you’re trying to write a book, map out how many words you need to write each day until you’ve reached your goal. If you have endurance goals, what can you do every day to build your endurance? If you’re saving for a huge expense like a vacation or a car, how much can you realistically put aside each paycheck until you’ve reached that amount? Making a plan and setting a deadline makes your goal feel much more attainable, and seeing the finish line will help you remain motivated.

  1. Celebrate every small milestone.

Lost 5 pounds? Get a pedicure! Wrote 5,000 words? Enjoy an hour of guilt-free TV time! Saved $300? Find a cost-free way to reward yourself! Find little ways to make your accomplishments that much more exciting, and to motivate you to keep going.

  1. Take it one day at a time.

Don’t worry about what you have to do tomorrow to achieve your goal, or how much you’ll have to do altogether. And if you messed up yesterday, let it go. The only thing you should worry about is what you can do this day, or even just this moment. For me, this means knowing about the 40 pounds I want to lose, and then letting that go, focusing instead on what I need to do TODAY to lose 2 pounds by next week. I need to let go of the sum total of what I need to do to lose 40 pounds, and just focus on the food I’m eating TODAY, the exercise I’m doing TODAY, and the choices I’m making that support my goal of losing 2 pounds this week. It’s just 2 pounds, but in two weeks, I’ll have lost 4 pounds, and the week after that, 6…and eventually, it will add up to 10, then 20, and finally 40.

With any goal, it’s about the choices we make in the moment that support a small milestone, which will help to reach that bigger accomplishment. By setting a goal, breaking it up, celebrating milestones, and taking it a day at a time, you can write your book, go on a dream vacation, learn how to run, or lose weight.

What’s your big goal?


Do you lead a busy life and wish you had more time for your writing? Are all the responsibilities of your day eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Do you often wish you didn’t need to work full-time so that you had more time to write? Learn how to have both a full-time job AND a fulfilling writing career with Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.

Running, writing, and changing your thoughts

running

This morning when I woke up at 6 a.m., I had a choice on how I could spend the next 30 minutes before I had to start getting ready for work.

I could go for a run.

I could sit and peruse Facebook and email.

I could cram in some editing.

I could close my eyes and get 30 more minutes of rest.

My preference would have been to lounge in bed, scrolling through social media. I’ve made that choice many times. But this morning, knowing I was due for a run, I got out of bed and put on the workout clothes I’d set out the night before. And then, before I could talk myself out of it, I walked out the door and hit the pavement.

Let me confess here that I am not a natural runner. Before I even start running, I HATE running. I’ve learned to just not think about it too much beforehand, because if I do, I’ll talk myself out of it every time. Instead, I have to set myself up for success by laying out my clothes the night before, and set the coffee so it’s brewed by the time I’m done running.

Once I’m running, the first few minutes are spent getting over the shock to my system. Remember, I’ve only woken up about 10 minutes earlier, so my mind is generally cussing me out. Not my body, mind you. My body is still unsure what’s going on, and is just going with the flow. But my mind is well aware that I traded scrolling Facebook for heavy sweat and aching muscles.

Here’s where the shift comes in. It’s up to me to pull my mind out of the mental gutter and focus on what’s going right.

***

Mind: @*#%@*&

Me: I’m not sure you should be using that kind of language.

Mind: Fine. This sucks.

Me: No it doesn’t. I’m powerful.

Mind: No, I’m slow.

Me. But I’m learning to be fast.

Mind: Everyone thinks I look stupid.

Me: No, everyone thinks I’m amazing for even being out here running at this hour. Besides, why do I care what people think?

Mind: I don’t even know why I’m doing this. Eventually I’m just going to give up and stop running. Then all this will be for nothing.

Me: I’m not worried about tomorrow, or any other day. I’m worried about right now. And right now, I’m running. And right now, this feels easier than it did yesterday, and the day before that.

Mind: Actually, that’s true.

Me: Yup. And I’m almost done running.

Mind: Wait, that was fast. And I kind of feel amazing. And powerful!

Me: See?

Mind: Still, I’m going to have to do this again. And it’s taking forever to make progress.

Me: But each step forward brings me closer to my goal. So I’m not giving up.

***

And you know what happens after my run? My calves ache. My body sweats. And I feel incredible. In fact, I feel like I can take on the world. Just 30 minutes earlier, I’d been filled with doubt. But once I pushed through it, not only did I feel amazing, but I felt triumphant to have accomplished today’s challenge. It was only 30 minutes, and I got it done and out of the way before the day even started.

This is the trick with any goal, and the exact way I tackle my writing career. Do you think I always wake up ready to write when I’m in the middle of a book project? No. That’s a big fat NO. There are some days when I just want to sleep in or take a day off. But if I do that, I know I’ll lose the motivation I need to finish my book. So every day, I wake up at an ungodly hour and I start writing. To ensure success, I always leave myself notes during the previous writing session so I know where I left off. And I make sure my writing station is (mostly) clutter free, all my materials are within reach, and the coffee pot is set to brew. Every morning I have the same choice of options as I do on my running days—waste time on social media, sleep, or write. To keep from making the wrong choice, I don’t even check my social media or email until after my writing time is complete. Then I dive right into my book project. I don’t even worry if it sucks (rather, that voice does come up, but I push it out of the way). I know I can fix it later. I don’t bother with necessary research, I just make a note to check it later. I write, going through the motions until I get in the groove, and I change my thoughts every time I start to get down on myself.

Regardless of the goal you’ve set for yourself, you have to change your mind’s thought process first. If you’re telling yourself that you suck, encourage yourself instead. If you tell yourself that you’re going to fail, focus instead on what you’re doing RIGHT NOW to succeed. If you’ve become buried under negative thoughts, find positive ones to take their place. Speak to yourself as if you were one of your friends. Leave inspirational notes around your bedroom or in your car. Read inspirational books that uplift you and make you want to strive for more (I recommend Man’s Search for Meaning, The Alchemist, and A Return to Love, to start). Keep yourself surrounded by the positive so you can chase away the negative. You might have to force it, at first. But do it enough times, and that voice of positivity might sound more and more like you.

Stay tuned, I have another blog coming on how to make goals and stick to them.


Do you lead a busy life and wish you had more time for your writing? Are all the responsibilities of your day eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Do you often wish you didn’t need to work full-time so that you had more time to write? Learn how to have both a full-time job AND a fulfilling writing career with Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.

 

Focusing on one thing at time

busy

This morning, I found myself in between the craziness of finals. I have no more homework left to do, I have enough time to study for my next final, and the essay I’m working on for English needs a day of rest. My morning was free and clear to spend on the other things I have been wanting to do. Naturally, I picked up my manuscript for Hope at the Crossroads, and resumed editing it. I haven’t been able to work on it for weeks, so this was a rare opportunity.

But guilt and distraction reared their ugly heads, and they started whispering in my ear. What about those short stories you promised to edit? You really should be taking the time out to study. You sit all day, why not go to the gym? I know, write a blog entry!

Okay, so I folded on that last one. However, I’m going to make this short. There are always going to be other things you *should* be doing, or *could* be doing. But you can’t do everything at the same time. Right now (after this blog entry), I am working on my manuscript. Just my manuscript. Tonight I will work on my short stories. Everything else will have its time, but it’s not right now. If I keep focusing on everything I *should* be doing, I’m doing a crappy job on the one thing in front of me.

Doing one thing at a time is faster than trying to do all the things at once.


Do you lead a busy life and wish you had more time for your writing? Are all the responsibilities of your day eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Do you often wish you didn’t need to work full-time so that you had more time to write? Learn how to have both a full-time job AND a fulfilling writing career with Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.

Being too busy to write, and why it’s ok (for a season)


I’m in the final weeks of my 2nd semester of college, and it’s kicking my butt. Any quality time I have to devote to something substantial is spent on studying and doing homework. The manuscripts I’d rather be editing are pushed to the side. The book ideas I want to write are put on hold. The books I want to read for fun are saved for later. All creative projects, besides my morning journaling, are not happening right now. 

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated. My creative soul is screaming to stretch and grow, to create something – anything! – just to release some of this pent up creative pressure. However, it just isn’t the time. 

In my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, I shared the secrets to making room for your creative endeavors, even with a busy life. However, I also talked about those times in your life when things are so busy, it’s near impossible to find room for creative time. This includes times when your kids are small, when you have a big project at work, when your focus is needed on something huge, and when you’re in the middle of midterms and preparing for finals. If trying to fit creative time into a mandatory busy time is going to make you go insane, it’s ok to put creativity on hold for a time. 

But that’s the difference. It’s just temporary!

While I’d love to be more creative right now, my schoolwork is demanding my attention. Writing and editing will have to wait. I have only 2 1/2 more weeks left of this semester, and then I can dive headfirst into my creative life. Until then, I’ll have to be patient. 

If you’re experiencing an overly busy time in your life, give yourself some grace. If this is becoming the norm, you may need to shift a few things so that you don’t completely lose your motivation to be creative. However, sometimes we need to focus all of our energy on things other than our creative projects just so we can clear them off our plates (and then have the room to create). We just have to ensure it’s only for a season, and not forever. 

Two novels, four months. Here’s how.

Back in November, I battened down the hatches and cleared my schedule to take part in yet another NaNoWriMo. As you may remember, I really grappled with whether I would actually write a novel this year. I’d just started school, and it was taking up a good portion of my time. I eventually made a last minute decision that I’d at least attempt a NaNoWriMo effort, and would give myself grace if I didn’t finish.

Well, I’m one persistent writer. I managed to stick to writing every day, even with a busy school and work schedule, and ended up with a rough draft novel by the end of November. I had chosen to continue the story I began in my novel, The Road to Hope, and it was incredible to revisit these characters I had grown to love when I first wrote the original story.

Thing is, the story wasn’t done when I finished that novel. Towards the end of the month, a whole new situation arose with these characters, and I realized I had another book in me. So when I finished that first book, I began the next. This time, I took my time in writing it. First, school dictated my pace. I entered a new semester with harder classes and more demanding homework. There were some weeks I could only write on the weekends.

img_8144This past weekend, I planted myself in a chair and spent three days completing the story. On Monday,  thanks to President’s Day and a work holiday, I completed the final hours of that manuscript and was finally able to type The End.

In my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, I encouraged all you artists on ways to work your schedule around your craft, and to place priority on being creative. And then I started school. I seriously thought my creative life was going to have to be placed on hold for the next few years, and this killed me! Not only was I sure I’d be miserable, I was also afraid of being a hypocrite. It was easy for me to tell people to make time for their craft. It’s not so easy to make that happen in real life.

Not so easy, but not impossible.

reclaim tableI stand by everything I wrote in Reclaim Your Creative Soul, especially now. We have 24 hours in each day, and there is always space to include the things we love to do. I’ve sacrificed sleep, lunch hours, mindless television, and playing on my phone in favor of writing or just being creative. Sometimes, the sacrifice is painful. But it’s always worth it because a life without creativity is worse.

Do you have anything standing in the way of your creative endeavors? You are the reason I wrote Reclaim Your Creative Soul. If you wish you could be more creative, but aren’t sure how you could possibly fit creativity into your busy schedule, then I hope you’ll pick up a copy of this book. It could totally change your life.