Imagine the Changes That Can Bring Good Things

One of my favorite movies is Music & Lyrics with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. Drew’s character has a creative block at one point and she insists they go for a walk out in the city night. She says, sometimes you have to go see new things, do new things, eat new things to get past the block. And she does!

I’ve read several creativity and neuroscience books that suggest traveling to open up your creativity. (I’m still reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer right now.) All the new experiences help to create new thoughts and patterns in your head. It’s particularly useful if you go somewhere quite unlike what you’re used to. If you live in the countryside of Alabama, a visit to New York City would be very different. If you live in Chicago, a visit to Albuquerque might really surprise you. Even though it was mostly the same language, living in Australia for a couple years definitely changed some of my neural pathways. 🙂

I think this way of thinking, looking for new ways of thinking, really does open up your creativity. If you have been in a normal, everyday kind of rut, do something different, eat something different.

I said last week that I’d spent the last two weeks working in a warehouse doing manual labor. I wondered how much my creativity would spike just by going from normal routine to something completely different and back to writing. Well, whether it was the change, or whether it was desperately wanting to get away and write again, I don’t know. But I got about 55,000 words edited last week! Woo-hooo!!

If you’re trying to figure out how to jumpstart your creativity, read something different like neuroscience books on creativity (I’ve read about half a dozen so far), or nonfiction history books (I heard Killing Lincoln is good), or children’s books (just saw that Lemony Snicket is coming out with a new book).

Or listen to something you haven’t listened to before. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately – Dave Ramsey and Joyce Meyer in particular. I’m learning a lot about new ways to think about money and new ways to think about living my life. Joyce has a great podcast series on watching your tongue, what you say to and about yourself, because you can make things happen – or not happen – by the way you talk, including how complaining affects your attitude and life.

I mentioned last week that I’m going to participate in the open submission window for Harper Voyager going on now. Then I heard that Love Inspired Suspense (part of Harlequin) has a Fast Track Event (open submissions) later this month. I’m brainstorming a new story for them, too. Carina Press, a digital imprint at Harlequin who accepts both romance and non-romance, has an open submission period going on now through Thursday. If you have a completed manuscript, or a synopsis and first chapter for Love Inspired Suspense, maybe the thing you need to do to change it up in your writing life is to submit your work. Right now.

The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll get feedback on why your book wasn’t right for the two Harlequin lines, or no response at all from Harper Voyager (per guidelines). That’s not bad. The best thing that could happen by submitting is that you’ve got a book someone wants to publish.

But the exciting thing that may well happen for you – it’s happening for me! – is that the deadline will add fire to your writing now. Trust me, it feels great!

Whatever you decide to do, try something different this week. It may change your writing, and your writing routines, for the better.

P.S. In the vein of sharing what I’m learning in the world of self-publishing, you’ve got to read this blog by Lindsay Buroker about her self-publishing journey. She really nails the points you need to be focusing on if you go this direction in your career.

Change Things Up, Make It Happen

As in any part of life, sometimes our writing gets in a rut. Either we’re doing the same old thing over and over again with no results, or we can’t seem to get it together at all. My rut this year has had elements of both. Sometimes something kicks us in the butt and makes us change up our routine – and that kick can get us out of our rut.

My kick came in the form of a temp job. John is in between projects and I was feeling like I should do something to help. My $10 a month from Amazon doesn’t go very far towards our rent. So I called up my temp agency to see what they had. The job I got was a twisted combination of great and horrible.

“It’s a publishing company”, the representative told me.

A publishing company? In my little town? Could I be so lucky? I remembered reading there was a Christian book distributor a couple towns over; could it be there?

“You’ll be working in the warehouse, pulling books to be shipped out,” she said.

Thunk. (That’s the sound of the other shoe falling.)

Right. Of course. Because it’s the hottest summer people can remember, and I hate being hot and sweating. Of course that’s the job I would get. (Insert growing bad attitude here.)

Then she told me how much I’d be paid. It’s been nearly 20 years since I got paid so little. I couldn’t decide if this job would be humbling or straight out humiliating. (Increasingly bad attitude battles with attempts to thank God for providing a job in the first place.)

So for the last two weeks I pulled construction books out of a warehouse and wheeled them over to shipping. All day long. By the time I got home from work every night, my feet and back and neck hurt from the work. (I think it might be a sign I need new tennis shoes that my feet hurt every day. The arches must’ve lost their support over the last few years. I wonder how often you’re supposed to replace tennis shoes for healthy, unhurting feet.)

I wanted to work on my superhero book at night, but I just fell onto the couch when I got home, breathing deeply and trying to relax. Then I’d chow down on dinner because now I was so hungry every night! And since it’s an unnaturally hot summer, and our area has no air conditioning in houses or apartments because we’re near the ocean, our apartment was in the 80s inside when I came home. The best I could do to stay cool was soak my shirt in cool water and sit in front of the fan. I was fairly miserable the first week.

The weather cooled down slightly at the beginning of the second week, and we were catching up on orders so sometimes I got to sit inside at a desk and do actual accounting. I got to know my co-workers a little since I was inside, and that made the job easier because they’re all really nice people.

But I was still freaking out about getting my superhero book edited and off to Harper Voyager by their October 14 deadline. And I was still too tired to do much at night. And too hot. I checked the weather and it was supposed to get even hotter by the time my job ended! Thursday night I had the brainstorm to call our timeshare company and see if there were any openings anywhere within driving distance this week. There was!! (THANK YOU, GOD!!!)

So yesterday we drove 2 hours (in an air conditioned car) to a timeshare where I can write all day (in air conditioning) to prep my book for submission. I don’t think I can get it done in one week, especially since John’s birthday is tomorrow and that will require some fun time off to celebrate, but this is what I learned in that warehouse.

Sometimes you have to change your routine for a little while in order to come back to your work with more energy.

During those ten days in the warehouse, I couldn’t help but think that if I was going to work this hard for someone else – hard manual labor, sweating through my clothes, exhausted and unable to move at the end of the day – I could and would work that hard for myself!

Being someplace else, doing something else, makes the neurons in your brain fire in new ways. Learning something completely alien and new makes your brain work differently. I’ve been reading a lot about this in a variety of neuroscience books (fascinating stuff!!) and I’ll share more of that with you next week. I’m hoping that this week, with all the changes from the last couple weeks, my brain is even better equipped for creating a crazy fun story people will want to read.

So keep in mind that changes – even seemingly negative ones – can be good for helping you create new and better routines. With that in mind, I’m going to curl up with my laptop in this wonderfully cool room and work furiously away on my superhero story! We’ll see next week how much being someplace different helped me get work done.  🙂

Who Are Your Influences?

John has a knack for finding cool photos of other people’s amazing libraries, reading rooms, and funny things made out of books. This staircase is something he promises to paint for me when we have a home of our own. I love it! When I look at it, I see a pyramid of influences.

When we paint our own stairs someday, I think I’ll paint the Bible on the bottom step. It’s my first and most important foundation for all things including my writing life. There is excellent advice on the best way to use your time, how to manage your money, how to grow as a person, and how to build healthy relationships with other people. It also gives me a lot of story ideas! The backstory of my superhero novels comes from Genesis chapter 4.

I haven’t decided who I’m going to paint on the other steps, but some of the other influencers in my writing life include Jennifer Crusie, Susan Elizabeth Philips, Christopher Vogler, Dean Koontz, and C.S. Lewis. To name a very few!

When it comes to who I really listen to, though, that’s a somewhat different list. Of course, Shonna and Stephanie here at Routines for Writers are major influencers in my writing life. So are my writing friends Lauraine Snelling, Kathleen Damp Wright, Marcy Weydemuller, the Reunioners group, and The Coven, my writers group in Australia. My Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America are also high on my list. And I listen to almost all of the workshops of the annual RWA conference when I’m running, so those writer-speakers are some of my big influencers as well.

I’m beginning to find that some of my readers – old friends and new – are becoming influencers for me, too. I’ve gotten some of the nicest compliments from friends and strangers (i.e., friends I don’t know well yet) who have read Little Miss Lovesick or my short story that just came out, “Hero in Disguise” in the anthology Romancing the Pages. The things they’ve told me about what made them laugh and what they found to be romantic gave me good ideas for how to keep giving them more of the same. (And, of course, it felt great to get such positive feedback!)

I just went to the Dave Ramsey one-day EntreLeadership course on Friday. Dave has become another one of my influencers on the business side of writing. (Well, personal finances, too.) He and the other speakers at the event reminded me that if you “just” have a business and it’s not doing well, there’s nothing wrong with quitting, shutting it down, trying something else. But if you feel strongly that there is a reason for what you’re doing – I want to help young women understand they have more power over their happiness than they realize – then you should never, never, never give up!

When it comes to encouragement, I want to be one of your influencers reminding you of that same thing: if this is more than a hobby, if it’s more important than pursuing a dream for yourself, if your writing is about changing the world for the better – never, never, never give up! And while you’re at it, try to be a positive influence on those around you. Slowly, but surely, you will make the world a better place! And in that you’ll find that you have more power over your own happiness than you may realize.

The Efficiency of Routines

Last year my kids and I read a book called Cheaper by the Dozen which records the real-life antics of the Gilbreth family in the early 1900s. Their father was a motion study/efficiency expert and often conducted efficiency experiments with his twelve kids. He started down this road when he was a bricklayer and developed ways to make bricklaying faster and easier. From buttoning a shirt bottom to top, to bribing the kids to learn to type using his methods, to getting their tonsils taken out, he was always looking for the best, most efficient way to do something.

This is how I view writing routines. I try to pay attention to how I am writing/editing and decide if there are better ways to go about it. Then I can create my own writing profile set to optimal writing. Or, at least, that’s the theory!

Some Variables for Routines:

 Methods (for getting words down):

  • write same time every day
  • write whenever I can fit it in
  • word goals
  • NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo
  • word sprints
  • deadlines (self-imposed or for conferences or contests)
  • keep word count score on the calendar for accountability
  • follow an outline

Location:

  • home: (comfy chair, bed, office, behind a locked door?)
  • coffee shop
  • library
  • beach (that’s for you Kitty!)

Timing:

  • mornings
  • during breaks in the day
  • nights
  • weekends
  • retreats
  • Thursdays and Saturdays

I’m sure you can discover more movable pieces to your writing routines. Pay attention and see if you can increase your own efficiency.

4 Ways to Meet Your Writing Goals

You probably know this has been a hard year for Stephanie, Shonna and me. We’ve talked about how to keep going, both personally and professionally. We’ve discussed whether we have any more to offer you or whether Routines for Writers has run its course. And all three of us have struggled to keep writing through a variety of personal and professional setbacks.

There are so many cliches we could offer each other, and you, to keep writing and not give up. But here are four solid things you can do now, or anytime you need a boost, to keep going and accomplish your writing goals.

(I didn’t mean for this to be so long, but I wanted to share with you what has worked for me. Go to the end for the bullet points if you’re short on time, and come back and read the full post when you have time. 🙂 )

 

Writing Routines 

 

You can tell from the title of our blog that we strongly believe in routines in general, and writing routines in particular.  Routines are habits you are acquiring on purpose. I choose to routinely run three days a week because I have a goal of beating my best time in the half marathon I signed up for in January. My habit thus far has been to overeat and carry a lot of extra weight that is not helping me with my running. For my January race goal, I have identified one routine and one bad habit that I need to change into a positive routine.

In my writing, I have several goals regarding getting my current book into print format, getting my next book out as an ebook and in print, and submitting my superhero novel to Harper Voyager during their open submission period next month. In addition, my 2012 goals include increasing traffic to my web site/blog, creating more online classes to teach in 2013, and learning how to promote my books to increase sales.

It’s great to have goals, but you need to have a plan, too. Just like in Shonna’s post last Friday, I take my big goals and work backwards to break them down into pieces so I know what needs to be done every month to make the goals a reality at the end of the year. When I’ve got that list of monthly goal pieces written down, I can create routines that work for me that will turn the goal pieces into accomplishments. For instance, when my life was calmer, I wrote four days a week and did all my business-of-writing stuff on Fridays. It’s less important what you choose to do, perhaps, than that you create a routine that moves you toward your goal at a pace you can keep up.

Using the “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” metaphor, let me tell you that the training programs for running marathons and half marathons (I only do half’s) suggests running moderately short distances several days a week, increasing your distance slowly, and doing one longer run on the weekend. So I might run four or five miles a day three days a week, then an 8-mile run on Saturday. More 5-mile runs the next week, and then 9 or 10 miles that Saturday. This is the kind of schedule that you can keep up even if you have to get to work in the morning. And it’s a good parallel for making a writing routine as well.

 

Periodic Reevaluations

 

When life is going smoothly (or monotonously, depending on your perspective), it can be difficult to remember to check your progress against your goals before the year is up. Several of my friends and I have an unhelpful tendency to wait until November or December, then freak out and try to cram all the rest of the work into the busiest time of the year. Brilliant.

When I teach my goal setting and time management class (coming again in January), I encourage people to check their goals after a month to see if they were on a “get it done” high when they wrote out their list. 🙂 Then I suggest quarterly reviews, taking 15 minutes to see how close you are to where you’d planned to be. At these checkpoints, we can decide if we think we should readjust our goals, and do so if necessary.

Remember, goal setting is about making progress toward something you want. It is not about beating yourself up for what you haven’t accomplished! You need to sit down and think about why you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do, but only because you need to decide if you should change course or just change tactics. You also need to reward yourself for what you have accomplished. That will give you energy to keep on going. (I started a “Done” journal a year or two ago. I write down all my writing-related work that I do on any given day, bullet-point style so I can scan it easily. I haven’t done half of what I’ve set out to do, but I’ve done a LOT and the Done journal helps me stay upbeat.)

 

Willingness to Change

 

Depending on how your reevaluations go, you may decide you want to make some changes. It may be that your goals are fine, but the way you are going about trying to accomplish them needs to change. For instance, say you decide to take someone’s advice to get up an hour early to write every day, and two months into that new routine you are exhausted and cranky. You’ve got your pages, but people have started to avoid you.

You may decide that you need to write for half an hour during your lunch break, and half an hour in the car before you come home from work. That way you are getting the sleep you need, and no one feels like you’re ignoring them. I wrote part of Little Miss Lovesick that way. I find it almost impossible to ignore my husband – we’re  like little kids who just want to play when we’re together – and this way I made my goals quickly because there’s an end to my lunch break (hurry!) and the car is not an easy place to type and I’m hungry (hurry!).

This weekend, I did a periodic reevaluation for a different reason. My life has been in constant upheaval this year (and for much longer, really) and I knew I wasn’t going to make all my 2012 goals. I needed to see where I was and figure out what was most important to me to get done before the end of the year. I looked at the big picture and monthly goals for 2012 and sighed. Heavily. Then I wrote down what I most want to accomplish before the end of the year. Yikes! It’s still a lot! But I dropped several projects on my original goals list, promising myself I’d look into whether I still wanted to pursue them next year.

Due to my husband’s unemployment and our recent dedication to following through with our Financial Peace University goals, I’ve taken on some outside work. For every hour I take out of my writing week, I’ll have to make some adjustments to either personal time that will become writing time, and/or decrease my 2012 goals again. I just have to keep reminding myself that I’m willing to make changes now to accomplish big picture goals in my “regular” life as well as my writing life.

 

Decide Now to Keep Going Later

 

Perhaps one of the best things you can do to help you meet your writing goals is to decide now not to quit when it gets tough. Life is an ebb and flow of good and bad, hard and easy. When times get tough, what is your plan?

Yes, a plan will help you not to quit.

My plan for this particular hard time was to not quit writing altogether, to not focus entirely on the areas of life calling for my attention. My plan was to let writing time decrease, but to make sure I was still making progress every week. Every baby step counts, and I have to keep reminding of myself of that.

My plan for when life gets into an easier cycle is to work on my writing career with “gazelle intensity” – a Dave Ramsey term he uses to get people totally focused on getting out of debt. As soon as I’m not juggling bills or working temp jobs, I’m going to be working 10-12 hour days to get back on track. I’m giving up some of my personal time and time with John (he supports this – yay!) and I’m focusing on making up some lost time. I did this last week for a few days before my temp job started and I couldn’t believe how much I got done. I was exhausted, but it was worth it because I was seeing progress in just a few days. (I strongly recommend you take at least one full day off from work a week if you decide to do this. You need a full battery each week to keep up this kind of pace.)

The reason I recommend a plan for what you’re going to do when life takes some (or nearly all) of your writing time, and a plan for what to do if you get a windfall of time, is that you can be prepared and make good decisions that much quicker. A few years ago I walked one step at a time into a very deep rut. I didn’t know how to get out of it and I didn’t know who to talk to about it. I stopped writing, for the most part, pretending to most of my peers that I was still working away. But I bet I didn’t write 5000 words (outside this blog) that whole year.

Ouch. If only I’d had a plan for what to do when something like that happened. But because I learned from that experience, when my mom died this year, and so many other pieces of my life seemed to fall apart, I had an idea about how to survive and continue. I decided back then that I would keep going now.

 

Bullet Points

 

To meet your writing goals, you need to:

  • Create writing routines that help you to keep going, step after step after step, getting a little done at a time so that you accomplish your annual goals by the end of the year
  • Periodically reevaluate your goals and your progress, at least quarterly, deciding if you need to make any changes
  • Be willing to make changes, either to your goals and/or your tactics in trying to accomplish your goals
  • Decide now what your plan is to not quit later when times are tough, and another plan for what you’ll do with extra time

I hope you take some time to reevaluate your goals and tactics this week. What can you reasonably accomplish in the next four months? Good luck! I’m rooting for you!

Start at the End and Work Backwards

This month we are talking about taking control of our writing careers. This week, it’s about the Big Picture VS the Details.

For me, this means the old saying: plan your work and work your plan.

THE BIG PICTURE: Plan Your Work

What is your end goal?

Career? Hobby?

Do you write as a creative outlet, but not necessarily to make it your day job? Do you need to make money? Is your biggest desire to add your own work to the body of literature that you love so much?

Start here. Dream big. (The way you used to when you were young and nothing had beaten you down yet!) Write down your big dream, then above it, write an even bigger dream because your first dream was probably too small. We’re talking BIG PICUTRE, by-the-end-of-my-life type dreams.

THE DETAILS: Work Your Plan

Work backwards from your BIG PICTURE. Let me catch up to you in the middle of the backwards plan:

FIRST PUBLISHED BOOK
Celebrate! And now comes all the marketing and other authorly duties. Once you’ve signed the contract and have a publishing date, figure out your marketing plans working backwards from that date. Get it all on your calendar so it doesn’t sneak up on you.

AGENTED
Start creating your list now so when it’s time to submit you’ll be ready. Remember at this stage you will need huge doses of patience. Avoid anyone’s blog that talks about how quickly it happened for them. It’ll just make you grumpy.

This process is slow enough, so don’t do anything to make it slower. Make sure you query in batches. (Because likely you started querying before you finished polishing. If your first round comes up with no requests at all, go back to polishing.)

And say “no” to exclusives. If you do agree to an exclusive, for a Revise & Resubmit for example, set an end date. Even if the agent says these things are hard to determine, set an end date at which time you can decide whether or not to continue with the exclusive agreement. Time has a way of slipping by when there is no deadline, so put in a stop-gap and then you won’t stress out wondering what is happening.

WHERE’S THE MONEY?
Now that you’ve got some experience under your belt, you have options if you want to hustle. From the easiest: affiliate links from your website all the way to teaching classes (on and offline) self-publishing ebooks, offering critiquing and editing services. Even after publications, authors need to get additional income streams to pay the bills.

POLISHED MANUSCRIPT(S)

The majority of your time will likely be spent here. More time than you think, because our manuscripts read differently in OUR heads (which know the story and how it’s supposed to read!) than what is actually on the page that other people read.

This is where critique partners can be so helpful. Try to find people who can go several rounds with you and who aren’t afraid of hurting your feelings. (Although it is nice to have someone who just loves everything you do! It’s just not helpful in making the story better.)

FIRST DRAFT
You must finish. You must finish. You must finish.

EDUCATION
You’ve got to learn how to become a writer. Being an artist doesn’t mean the work naturally comes out of you all perfect. There are techniques. Genre conventions. Accepted business practices. Learn them as you go. Never stop learning.

DESIRE
This is where it starts. You keep this desire burning and it will help carry you up through the other steps. Do all you can to encourage yourself because things will get hard and you’ll want to quit many times over. And we all know what a writer who never quits is called: published.

Do You See the Big Picture or the Details?

The question says it all – are you a big picture person or a detail person? Which one comes more naturally to you?

I don’t know about you, but for me, it depends on where I am in the process. When I’m starting a project, I’m totally a big picture person. Planning a trip? I’m all about where we can go and when, comparing how much it will cost to drive or fly, thinking through all the options from the top down.

But once I’ve started a course of action, I love getting immersed in the details. I love spreadsheets and numbers and formulas. I love balancing my checkbook! LOL! If I find a discrepancy, I find it hard to stop until I’ve cleared it up. I can’t sleep if I’m in the middle of a Sudoku puzzle at bedtime.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve not been the best employee at times when I had to be able to go back and forth between the big picture and the details. I get so focused on details that I find it hard to pull back if there isn’t a lot of time.

On the other hand, I also hate to admit that I find it difficult to delegate to people unless I know they are detail-oriented. I tend to have high standards when it comes to details and I get cranky if people don’t follow through in the same way I would.

Okay, so there are some of the areas I’m weak in, but what am I good at? Which area am I best at? I’ve not read about the psychology of this topic, and I haven’t taken a test that I remember tested me in this area, but in my opinion I’m good at both. I think that’s what helps me to be a good writer. I start at the top with the big picture and work my way down to the details of writing and editing the book, even focusing in the end on punctuation.

What about you? Are you better at one than the other? How do you think that helps or hurts your writing? Let me know. I’m really curious about how other people think. 🙂

Options and Opportunity Cost

Once you decide you want to become a novelist, you have to look at your options through the eyes of a writer.

Not just the option to traditionally publish or self publish, but how you are going to spend your days, your weeks, your years in pursuit of this goal.

Options.

We have lots of them.

Do I write or do I research? Do I write or do I watch TV? Do I write or do I __________.

Any activity we choose over writing will leave behind the opportunity cost of NOT writing.

How big that cost is to you depends upon how serious you are about publishing. If you aren’t that serious, the opportunity cost will be small. It would be no big deal if you blew off your writing time in favor of something else.

But if you are serious about furthering your career, you have to keep in mind the opportunity cost of getting distracted by other pursuits when you should be writing. Your time is finite. You are either writing or you are not. The cost of not writing is high if your plan is to be successfully published.

That time you take to _________ is no longer just about _________, it’s about NOT writing. Not finishing the first draft. Not slugging through the edits. Not taking one more step toward your dream.

Now, I know we can’t possibly spend all our time writing. Pouring out all that creativity without doing something to fill those creative buckets back up will be a quick way to short-circuit your career.

But, I’d guess if an aspiring writer has any problem, it’s not spending enough time writing! It’s so much easier to read a book about writing, or read blogs, or chat with our critique partners about how hard this business is!

Or is it just me?!?

Twin Engines of Creativity

          I don’t know much about jet airplanes, but I have watched enough TV and movies to realize there are at least two engines. According to those dramas, a jet plane can still fly even if an engine stops working. It’s not easy nor incredibly safe (which makes good drama opportunity, right?), but it is possible. (There are also small twin-engine planes, but I’m not sure they can fly on only one engine, which means they won’t fit my analogy.)

          This week we are talking about creative breakthroughs. Until recently, I would have said you must be working in order to have a creative breakthrough. How could you break through anything if you aren’t pushing on it? However, as we explored last week, procrastination can actually aid in production. I’ve come to realize that creative breakthroughs are powered by the twin engines of creative discipline and creative procrastination.

          Discipline creates an infrastructure that can support the creativity. The discipline of just “showing up” for work creates a routine that ensures there is time to accomplish the creative work. When a routine time is scheduled (and guarded) for writing and only writing is done during that time, there is a guarantee something will be written. It might not be fantastic; it may not be a breakthrough; but it will be consistent. That consistency creates an environment of productivity as well as giving direction and forward momentum. It doesn’t matter if I am consistently writing every day or only writing from 2-3pm on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays or for some extended time on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. It’s not the when that matters. It is the consistency. That consistent time for writing, or any other creative endeavor, programs the mind to be ready to work.

          Creative procrastination is the other engine that powers the jet plane of our creative productivity, creating an environment conducive to creative breakthroughs. If an engine is run constantly, it eventually gives out. In the same way, if we are always “on”, always trying to produce something, we’ll eventually burn out. Even when we do have a breakthrough, we may not have the energy to follow through. As we all discussed last week, taking a break from our work, even totally ignoring or abandoning it for a time, can actually make us more productive.

          Taking a break gives our “creative brain” or consciousness a rest. The pressure to produce is removed for a time. Just as several hours of sleep can totally refresh us even though the body is still “working,” so a break from our writing can refresh us even though our subconscious mind, muse, or whatever you want to call it, is most likely still be working on the project. In addition, the activities we engage in during those breaks provide input of new ideas and experiences that fuels our inspiration. That time away from the project allows us to be refreshed and re-energized, returning to the project with new ideas and new enthusiasm.

          I’ve come to believe consistent productivity can only be achieved with a finely tuned balance of creative discipline and creative procrastination. I’m in the process of tuning that balance.

Is Creative Procrastination an Excuse?

So you find yourself stuck.

It’s your first draft and you feel the storyline is starting to get boring. Or, you’re editing and know your character needs a personality change, but you don’t know how to fix it.

Do you plough through until you work it out…or do you set it aside, poke at it now and then, and wait for inspiration?

The “just do it” writer in me says well, of course, you just sit yourself down and work it out. You dig up all your creative techniques to keep yourself going: mind mapping, character charts, plot charts, etc. How else will your story ever get done if you don’t keep working on it? Routines, people! Routines!

But what if you do all that and your novel still has *that problem* You’ve just written several versions around the same problem. You’ve been working, but you’ve been writing in circles. Couldn’t there have been a better way to use your time?

Since the whole point is to finish, you need to try everything you can to get to DONE. I think you have to try working through the barrier first. Because maybe by diligently chipping away at your WIP you will figure it out. You will stay in the mind of the novel and everything will come together.

But if you sense that you are writing in circles, STOP! Perhaps your brain needs a break. A chance to breathe a little. If you push too much you risk getting frustrated and angry and mad at the writing world. (Oh? Is it just me?)

Procrastinating finishing your novel might just be the thing that allows your subconscious time to come up with a brilliant plot twist or a new way to show your character’s inner self.

However, you don’t want to lose your writing momentum either! Remember to work at keeping your writing muscles strong.

Taking a break from your WIP doesn’t mean you should take a break from writing! Just stop working on that one problem for a while. Pick up your next WIP. Or start doing writing prompts. Or practice writing on *that problem* but in a totally different context.

It’s only a matter of time before you’ll find yourself unstuck.