Why I’ve Decided To Not Learn Anything New This Month

My inbox is full each day. It’s true for almost all of us. It’s also true that this is my fault, I signed up for most of these newsletters and let’s be clear I enjoy the content, for the most part.

I spend a lot of time tending my email garden. I also spent a lot of time reading books on creativity, how to become a better author, and the latest tips and tricks of blogging/email marketing.

But these actions are coiling the spring. I am learing. And there comes a point where the learning needs to end and action needs to start.

Graduates

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the benefits of being a life long learner and consider myself one. However, if you are cold, there is a huge difference between learning how to build a fire, and actually making one.

My life, much like yours, is crowded. There is only so much time in a week. And it’s time I started using what I have learned.

So I am putting the books away.

I am clicking on the delete or archive button and not opening that email.

Because July is dedicated to action.

To forward movement.

To getting out there and getting my hands dirtier than they’ve been this year.

After all, this is the intension of learning is it not?

To act.

To go.

To grow.

How To Finish Your Writing Projects

Last week I listened to a podcast about creativity. In it writer Jeff Goins and Dr. Keith Sawyer discuss how creative people function and the contents of Dr. Sawyer’s book Zig Zag. One idea they mentioned was that writing or creativity does not have to be perfect. But there should be movement from one project to another.

Besides fear, this is one of the main issues I have with writing. Battling the urge to make a billion tweaks until it reaches perfection versus sending out projects before they are finished is a weekly struggle.

I forget that having a process means that some of my writing will work and some will fail and whatever form of failure I feel is not a reflection of me. Finishing anything – a book, a blog post, a book proposal – is an opportunity to learn how to write better.

Finish - Track

The trouble is that I thought any writing process needed to be straightforward and I have difficulty with linear thinking.

From what I can understand, my mind works sorta like a game of soccer, but played by four and five year olds. It’s scrambly, often working in the wrong direction in a tangle of limbs, sometimes picking flowers, and other moments forgetting the rules entirely.

I decided it was high time to focus. To understand how to get this mind of mine to move through a project from start to finish.

I tried the one project method and ended up bored. I wanted to jump to the next thing as soon as I was stuck. I realized if my methodology incorporated bouncing from project to project then I’d better develop a plan.

Here it is – Finishing is the most important thing.

I devised a Finishing Plan and began using it on my blog and a non-fiction e-book I finished last month. It’s been working great. Here is what it is.

1. Finish a draft. Could take a day, weeks, months, or even years. But finish it. Don’t edit. Write the chapters out of order then fill in the cracks, jump to another idea, then circle back, whatever. Just get it out. Did I mention don’t edit?

2. Edit. I print off what I’ve written (or make a separate edit file electronically) and challenge everything. Make notes, scribble in the margins, destroy darlings, and rewrite. Then get it to a friend or editor for more edits. Then I make the necessary changes.

3. Polish. Add the fonts you love, the appropriate artwork, and anything else you may need to dress up the piece.

4. Send it. Post it, query it, submit it to a journal. Just get it out there, and then move to the next project.

5. Circle back and consider what worked or what didn’t and do more of what did.

This system may seem bare and basic but life is complicated. I also tend to hold onto projects too long and need to get them out there and this process allows me to do that.

Reader, what system do you use? How do you keep moving to the next stage or next project? I’d love to hear from you.

Why Do You Pursue The Creative Life?

If I told you I was going to pursue a job that offered virtually no money, could occasionally feel like mental torture, and have the ability to ruin me emotionally for days on end, but I’d be happy, what would you think?

Writing is more than that but it feels like a grey-sky filled plod from time to time. Then after struggling in the dark you see a ray a sunshine, for a minute, and its enough to keep going.

Recently I’ve has two big wins in the writing realm. I’ll share more on them in later posts but I cannot help the fact that writing looks more like the pie chart below (borrowed from Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work)

So, why do I keep writing?

Artist WayThat is an excellent question. For me, I guess I enjoy it. Yes, even the torture.

I’m not a Navy Seal or professional athlete but I think I get them now more than I did before writing got difficult. It’s not about the trials its about what comes after. And for me that pay off is worth the effort in the end.

How about you? Why do you write or pursue your dream?

Goal Setting For the Time-Starved Writer

Early on in my marriage, my wife would laugh at me when I listed my goals for the evening.

Read 40 pages of a book, watch a movie, go for a run, do all of our laundry, wash the dishes, and maybe rearrange a bedroom or two. Then have some friends over for dinner once we are done.

Seriously. I could get a out of hand.

Courtesy Unsplash

 

Nearly eleven years later I am better at adjusting my expectations, but still have difficulty setting daily goals. I now have four kids and an ever-growing mound of responsibilities.

What I struggled with, and what I am guess you do from time to time, is wanting immediate results. And when they don’t happen on my schedule, having a good attitude and trying again tomorrow.

If you are a writer, or a creative of any sort, this desire for immediate results can mean frustration and angst and a mercurial mood that can ruin or severly strain your relationships.

I’ve found one of the best ways to avoid feeling like a failure and actually accomplishing my daily goals is to make them realistic and remind myself that I am working for the long haul, neither of which is easy.

So my encouragement to you is to do what you can today. Don’t worry if you cannot finish all of your goals. Stay in the game, even if the movement is subtle.

Above all remember you are writing not for today, but for a year from now, when you will finish your book.

 

Why Small Moments Are The Most Important Ones

Last year I signed up for a 10K run. Immediately thereafter, I was hit with a flood of panic. The run was less than two months away and I had not even jogged in six months.

In my mind I knew I would fail. But I decided to try anyway.

After I crossed the finish line, I slowed down to a walking pace and smiled. I could not believe I finished. I beat my target time and never walked. It was a feeling I won’t soon forget.

After the moment passed, I wondered, how did I do it? How did I go from not running for months to completing my longest distance in years?A man against the setting sun

The truth is, I didn’t get up and believe I was going to run a 10K on my first day of training. I mapped out a one mile run and began. After time, I throttled things up a bit and soon, I covered four to five miles in a single exercise.

This principle of starting where you can, right now, and battling back the fear is applicable to running and the writing of books. For my novels, I focus on a the current chapter, not the entire length of a book.

These small moments – days with mile runs and weeks with two thousand words – are the moments that matter in the end. Any grand, front stage moments start here in a state of quiet progress, day after day, with a target date in mind.

As I headed out for training runs this weekend in preparation for my 10K in a two weeks I was reminded of the power of a single writing session compounded one hundred times. The yield is a book.

Don’t forget about the every day. Don’t forget about the small moments of writing time. Put them together. You’ll be glad to did in a few months.

 

Let Your Actions Back Up Your Talk

Occasionally, I find myself in this embarrassing situation. I tell someone my plan for renovating my house, my latest book, or another random dream. Cool, they say, do you need help with that?

I stare at them realizing I haven’t touched that book in weeks, researched costs for the renovation, or fleshed out that dream. I’m talking about what I want to do and forgetting the most integral part of any dream – Action.

hear me out

My goal for this post, and I hope many before it, is to lead you to action, something I find I lose every now and then. I read books, blogs, and websites, but forget the most integral part of all of the learning and research. The follow through.

This is what Part-Time Novel is all about – becoming a writer in the margins of life. But in order to become anything you must actually work on that thing.

You can’t just talk about wanting a better marriage. You must spend quality time with your spouse. If I said I love you to my wife but never spent time cultivating our relationship, they’re just words.

Whenever I become unsatisfied with something, it is usually because of my lack of follow through. I have not taken the time to sit down and work on it.

This past weekend I thought long and hard about what I wanted in the next six months. Books, proposals, new website launches, etc., and I developed an action plan, not just a list of to dos, and have been working on them every day.

How about you? Do you ever find yourself talking and not acting?

What do you need to act on today?

Time is the currency we all have. Use it well.

Writer, How Do You Hit Your Word Count Goal?

My ideal writing output has changed over time. I’ve tied the satisfaction with my work to words per week, hours allotted, and pages per month. Most of this effort is me trying to trick myself into writing as efficiently as I can during a challenging point in my life.

My key to finish any work is simple – do whatever it takes to keep going. The easiest way for me to keep writing is to take my focus away from the project itself and instead focus on the steps I need to take to complete it.

Stone steps 1

I enjoy taking something complex and tearing it down into smaller bites that help me understand it or conquer it. This is true whether I am building a desk, mowing the lawn, or driving to someplace I’ve never been, my mind is constantly looking for steps I need to take, like a map unfolding before me. Writing is no different.

I firmly believe if you sit down and tell yourself you are going to write an eighty-thousand-word novel, you will fail. If you start out and say “I am going to write the first scene or thousands words” and go from there, you have a better chance at succeeding. For me, writing has always been a joy. But doing the same thing day in and day out, even if I am creating new and exciting content, can grow old. And I, like you, need to figure out the best way to keep moving forward.

But for the writer, production is what we seek. The ability to create more stories. This week I am going to try something new.

I am going to write down seven different word count goals. 500 – five times, and 1000 – two times, on the dry erase board near my desk. Before I go to bed, I must erase one of these numbers. If I am tired, it is 500. If my wife has a project or is going out for the evening or it’s my writing evening, it’s a 1000.

By doing this, focusing on a small portion of words, I will have a better chance of hitting my word count goal on each one of the projects I want to accomplish.

2 blogs (300 word-ish each)

2500 on my YA novel

1500 on my e-book about writing with a family, job, and other life obligations.

To keep momentum, I will come to the blank page with a solid idea of what I want to write about by leaving a note where I left off. This should prevent me from losing the story thread between days.

This is just one method – focusing on bite sized pieces of larger projects. Once I am done with these pieces, it’ll be time to develop a process for editing. But one step at a time.

How do you keep going?

How do you ensure you keep moving forward with your books?

 

 

When You Feel Like Giving Up

Have you ever started a project with gusto and then while in the middle of it realize that you may have made a terrible mistake?

It could be a book, an organizational task, a move, or a garage sale. But you and I have both had that sinking feeling of “Oh no. What have I done!”

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Photo Credit: TheNoxid via Compfight cc

My blogs, books, and several of my moves over the last ten years have felt this way. I stand there, wondering what the next step is, and consider eating seven slices of pizza as the answer to feeling overwhelmed. It’ll never get done anyway.

I wrote a while back about the U shaped journey of the creative referenced in Todd Henry’s book Louder Than Words. The visionary starts their journey with joy. They can see the other side and it should be a quick hike down into the valley and up the other side. Once the sun is out of view, however, the forest grows tall and dark, and the traveler hears a wolf howl. So they stumble forward with suborn single-mindedness and soon enough, find ourselves out the other side.

Life is not this easy. But the truth is that anything worth doing is bound to get really difficult. I am not sure who said writing books and having four kids was easy but they were lying. Sure I love my novels and non-fiction stories and love my kids even more than that but I’d like to commiserate with you and say we’ve all been there, feeling like everything we do is terrible.

That ___ is a mistake.

That ___ will amount to nothing.

It wasn’t always this hard or energy sapping but it feels like it will forever be so going forward.

Friend, great writers weren’t magically endowed with the writing gift when they were born. Sure some might have a leg up, but I know many writers that are incredibly talented that struggle with doubt in the middle of every project.

I have heard it said that when you get to the place of being really uncomfortable or feeling like you are lost then you have crossed the border between imitation and originality in art.

If you feel like giving up, I implore you to move forward. There are so many books and blogs that have encouraged and inspired me on my journey. I know that it may seem impossible to continue onward but I hope you do. Remember the joy that came at the beginning and write from there.

It will take time but keep writing. That is the one and only way to know if your work will be worth it in the end.

Do you feel like giving up?

How can I encourage you today?

 

What Do You Think Of When You Hear The Word Commitment?

Commitment is a tricky word. If you Google the definition you’ll get some fairly sad synonyms. Responsibility, obligation, duty, tie, and liability.

The word can read more like shackles to throw off than a noun that could inspire you to move to the next level in your book or entrepreneurial ventures.

But commitment gets a bad reputation with those doldrum definitions.

Wedding ring

You’ve heard the classic line after someone gets married. They now have a ball and chain. They are taken, cooped up, unable to enjoy the freedoms that individuality can bring. Thankfully, commitment has other meanings as well.

Dedication

Devotion

Allegiance

Loyalty

Faithfulness

If you are writing a book, in a relationship, or employed these words can mean the difference between being successful and an unfinished or tragic end.

Often for me, time passes too quickly and I can become dissatisfied with my writing output. But I have to remind myself that I am not in it for the quick fix or euphoria of a day. I am writing for the long haul. I am committed to my craft. This requires time. It also requires an epic amount of commitment.

What do you think when you hear the word commitment?

Do you need to commit or recommit to something or someone today?

The Biggest Myth Non-Writers Believe About Writers

Before I started writing I thought writers were mysterious beings that heard a song that the rest of the world could not hear. These creatures, I thought, disappear for six months only to reappear with a book that was perfect, required no editing, and had the power to enrapture a generation.

The reality? It doesn’t work that way.

typewriter

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction and I am in the middle of Creativity Inc., by Ed Catmul with Amy Wallace. It’s about leadership more than anything else but in it Mr. Catmul details some of the creative processes that Pixar Animation and Disney Animation implement to create and develop their stories.

Up is one of my favorite Pixar movies and I was shocked to discover that it’s first draft looked nothing like the finished product. Mr. Catmul explains that the bird and the title Up are the only two things that survived the first iteration of the story. The first draft was about two boys that lived in a castle in the sky.

Even Pixar’s first drafts are bad.

The process of writing a book is a lot like this. Once a first draft is done, there is a mountain of refining that takes place. The idea is usually hidden in the drivel but only through careful counsel and thoughtful consideration on the writers’ behalf can the non-fiction book be rounded into form or the fiction story be shaped into a coherent, compelling tale.

Perhaps the biggest mystery is not how writers do it but how they persevere when others may not be able to see the vision of their story.

I don’t know what possessed me to start writing. Maybe it was my Grandma Evenhouse who always had books around and stories to tell. It could have been the allure of Lowry’s Book and More in my hometown or maybe it was the college professor that told me I could be a writer, out of the blue, or the encouraging email or comment about a recent blog post, but I find myself among writers now and even call myself one.

If you are a writer and your ideas don’t come out right or you are stuck, don’t worry. Great stories take time to shape. You have to try to poke holes in them, let it fall on the page without editing, and then build it back up or mold it into something new.

If you’ve ever thought of writing, and still maintain that desire, I challenge you to start now, with the advanced knowledge that the road will be hard and perseverance is your only guide through.