Five Tips for Sustaining a New Year’s Writing Resolution

Five Tips for Sustaining a New Year’s Writing Resolution

Did you know that as many as 40% of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions, but fewer than 8% will actually succeed? While it doesn’t figure in the Top 10 most common resolutions, one of the resolutions I tend to hear from people I meet is “I’m going to get my book written this year!” If this one’s on your list, here are five tips to help you beat the odds and be one of the few who actually succeed in following through. 1. Be Realistic Many people fail because the goals they set themselves are not realistic or achievable. If you’re a first-time author, for example, don’t set yourself up for failure by declaring that you’re going to write your book in the first month of the year. While that may not be impossible (I’ve written books in as little as six weeks), it’s not the best approach for someone who’s never written a book before. Think about what you can reasonably achieve in the time you have available. For example, you might decide to draft one chapter per week, or two per month. Give yourself time to do the best work you can—too much self-imposed pressure can end up stifling your creativity. If you do need to work intensively (perhaps you have a publication deadline to meet, or you have a limited amount of time set aside to focus on your writing), consider scheduling a writing retreat to give yourself the best chance at success (see my series Planning Your Writing Retreat for advice on how to do this). 2. Give Something Up Writing a book is a big commitment. If you’re going to make space for it in your life, chances are you’ll need to stop doing something else. Think seriously about what you’re willing to not do in order to get your book done. Talk to the important people in your life about how they may be able to support you by temporarily picking up responsibilities you need to set aside for the time you’re working on your book. Making a conscious decision about what you’re going to not do is a critical step toward your success. Not only will it free up time and mental bandwidth, but it also makes your commitment more tangible—in your own mind and for those around you. 3. Don’t Try To Go It Alone Unless you’re a very experienced writer and accustomed to working on large, long-term projects, you’ll most likely need support from someone who can keep you on track, hold you accountable, give you feedback, think through the tricky parts with you, and help you organize your time. This could be a friend or “writing buddy”—perhaps you know someone who is...

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Planning Your Writing Retreat Part III: Choosing the Perfect Place

Planning Your Writing Retreat Part III: Choosing the Perfect Place

When you think “writing retreat,” do you dream of a secluded cabin in the woods, miles from anywhere? A beachfront condo on a tropical island? Or perhaps a mountain refuge, high above the world and its distractions? Unfortunately, options like those are not always available to writers, especially those struggling to make ends meet while pursuing their dream of authorship. But the places I described above may also, in fact, not be the most conducive choices. If you’ve decided to set aside some time for a writing retreat (read Part I in this series for more on why this is a good idea), your choice of place is critical. Here are some criteria I’ve found to be helpful in choosing a place for your retreat. Try to find somewhere that: 1. Is removed from your usual routines… This is perhaps the most important criteria when choosing a place for a retreat—ideally, it should be far enough removed from your home/workplace that you won’t be tempted to go pick up your laundry, reorganize your office space, or any of the other easy distractions that surround you at home. If you simply don’t have the option of being away from your home, try to at least designate a space in your home that is free from distractions, turn off phones etc for the times you’re working, and let your friends and family know that for this period of time you are not available in the ways you might normally be. 2. … But is not too far from civilization.  Unless you plan on taking with you and preparing all your own food etc., secluded locations are actually often not the best choice for writing retreats. You’ll end up spending a lot of time dealing with things like grocery shopping, cooking, washing dishes, and so on. I like to plan my retreats in places where I can easily get to a selection of good restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores. While I don’t always want to eat out, I want getting meals to be easy and not a source of distraction. 3. Provides a variety of locations for work…  Some people like to work in one place every day. Personally, I find that I need variety—sometimes I need to head to the coffee shop for a change of scene. I’ve found that doing writing retreats in areas where there are several hotels or resorts nearby can be a great option—you don’t have to be staying in these places to go in, use their facilities (food, drinks, wifi), and enjoy working in a beautiful environment. These kinds of places often have big beautiful lobby areas that are perfect for writing. I was once...

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Planning Your Writing Retreat Part II: Making the Best Use of Your Time

Planning Your Writing Retreat Part II: Making the Best Use of Your Time

In the midst of our busy lives, many writers dream about getting away to some secluded haven with nothing but a laptop and a pile of books. If only we could escape all the distractions, we imagine we’d be blissfully focused and creative from dawn to dusk. The reality, however, is that most human beings are not built that way. In fact, it’s been estimated that most of us can do no more than 4.5 hours of our best, focused creative work each day, usually in three 90-minute increments. (For more on this idea, read this article from Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project.)  And we need to make sure we build in time to recharge our batteries. Writing retreats are a wonderful way to make progress on big projects, (for all the reasons I explained in Planning Your Writing Retreat Part I) but to make them productive and satisfying takes planning. If you do have the opportunity to set aside a few days or weeks to focus on your writing (whether at home or away), it’s important to think in a strategic and realistic way about how you’re going to most effectively use your time. When I’m planning a focused writing retreat for myself or a client, I find it helpful to think about four distinct types of activity: 1.     Prime Time—this is your best, most focused time, which you should reserve for doing the most creatively challenging work. Usually this means writing! Try to schedule 4.5 hours of this, in three 90-minute segments. During this time, turn off all other distractions (email, phone, Facebook, etc.) and also resist the temptation to get lost in doing research (which can be done at other, less focused times) or working through your “to do” list. When scheduling your Prime Time, think about what time of day works best for you in terms of your energy level, alertness, etc. Some people find that they are at their peak early in the morning; others prefer afternoons or evenings. If you schedule your segments consecutively, take a break between them to move, stretch, and refresh. You might feel like this is not enough—you’ve taken this precious time out to write and you should “push through” for as long as you possibly can. But I encourage you to try limiting your best creative time. You may be surprised by how productive you can be. I once did a week-long writing retreat with one of my favorite clients in Grand Cayman. We wrote every morning for four or five hours and then spent our afternoons on the beach. And by the time we reluctantly headed home, we’d written almost half of the first draft of her book!...

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Planning Your Writing Retreat Part I: Why It’s a Good Idea

Planning Your Writing Retreat Part I: Why It’s a Good Idea

Do you struggle to find the time or energy to write amidst the demands of your busy life? Do you wonder when you’ll ever have the space to finish your book? For many of us, juggling work, family, and some semblance of a social life barely leaves time to catch up on email, let alone dig in to a creatively demanding project like writing a book. Even those like myself, who are lucky enough to write for a living, can still find it challenging to carve out the focused time and space to be satisfyingly productive and creative. A great solution to this dilemma is to plan a Writing Retreat. Whether it’s a week, a month, or more, set aside a period of time when writing your book is your number one priority. You may not be able to finish your book in one retreat, but you can make very significant progress. Even as little as five days can be worthwhile. The greatest benefit of a writing retreat, in my experience, isn’t just more time—it’s momentum. I find that if I’m moving between projects in my usual daily busyness, I waste a lot of time getting “in” each time I return to a particular piece of writing. I have to re-establish my connection to the material, the voice, and the flow before I can be productive. On a retreat, however, I stay “in” even when I’m not writing because I don’t work on anything else. I’m able to pick up each day where I left off the previous day, and find a “flow” very quickly. The exponential difference in my productivity at times like this always surprises me. If you have the option to do your Writing Retreat somewhere other than your usual home or work environment, it’s often a great idea. Getting away from routines and distractions can give your creativity a boost and being in a new place can provide a much-needed fresh perspective. If you need to do your retreat at home, you can still create a focused environment by letting friends and family know you’re on retreat; turning off distractions like phone, email, and social media; and designating a space within or near your home as your writing sanctuary. (I’ll be writing more about choosing a place for a writing retreat later in this series.) What Kind of Writing Retreat is Right for You?   1. Solo. Just you and the blank page. Some writers find solitude the most conducive backdrop for creativity and relish the opportunity to get away from all distractions, including other people. When you’re on your own, creating structure for yourself is essential. (See Part II of this series for advice on how to...

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3 Ways to “Slow Down” Your Writing

3 Ways to “Slow Down” Your Writing

I had lunch today with a new client who was having trouble writing on his blog. He had no shortage of ideas and was good at explaining them person-to-person, but found that when he sat down to write, the results were dense, hard to follow, and inaccessible to people not very familiar with his field. He asked me for some tips to “slow down” his writing process — to make sure he was connecting the dots and taking readers with him. I thought I’d share a few of my suggestions here — let me know if you find these helpful, and tell me about your favorite ways to add some breathing space to your writing! 1. Write a letter to your reader Picture in your mind the kind of person you would like to read and understand your work. Now think about the people you know, and pick someone who fits your target reader profile. Don’t pick someone who already “gets” your ideas; pick someone who would potentially be interested but would need convincing. It might be your teenage nephew, a good friend, or someone you met professionally. My husband always writes with his parents in mind. Once you’ve chosen someone, write your blog post/essay/book chapter as if it were a letter to that person. Start with “Dear X,” and write the letter you would write if you were trying to explain the topic of your writing to that person. You’ll find that you naturally take more care to connect the dots when you have your reader in mind as a real person. Once the draft is written, you can remove the opening and closing of the letter, and you’ll be left with a piece of writing that has been shaped by an awareness of the person on the other end. 2. Interview yourself Once you’ve chosen a topic to write about, imagine that you were going to interview yourself on that topic. What questions would you ask yourself? Write them down — as many as you can think of. Then go back and answer the questions, one at a time. Write a sentence or a paragraph in response to each question. When you’re done, you can go back and remove the questions and connect your paragraphs together. If you’re someone who thinks better out loud, you can also use this technique with a collaborator — a friend, colleague, or editor/writing coach. Have him or her ask you the questions, and record your answers. You can transcribe the audio to get the raw material for your draft, which you can then edit into written form. 3. Follow the boredom! I must give credit for this one to my client, who...

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Is the Publishing Industry Thriving?

Is the Publishing Industry Thriving?

This month’s issue of the New Republic is dedicated to the theme of books, with a special feature section entitled “The Book Industry Is Thriving! Somehow.” It’s well worth a read for anyone who cares about books, and presents interesting evidence that the book has made the transition into the digital era better than any other major cultural product. Here’s a short excerpt from Evan Hughes’ article “Books Don’t Want to Be Free” and links below to read the full articles. At the individual level, everyone in the trade—whether executive, editor, agent, author, or bookseller—faces threats to his or her livelihood: self-publishing, mergers and “efficiencies,” and, yes, the suspicious motives of Amazon executives. But the book itself is hanging on and even thriving. More than any major cultural product, it has retained its essential worth. . . . According to the leading annual industry survey, net revenue in trade publishing has increased overall since 2008. While it’s true that the economy as a whole also improved during that period, that wasn’t enough to reverse the trajectory of other culture industries. What has really made a difference for publishers is that e-book revenue has skyrocketed—by more than 4,500 percent. Just as important, the boom has come at surprisingly little expense to higher- priced hardcovers and paperbacks, sales of which are only slightly down. The feature section also includes an interview with uber-agent Andrew Wylie and an argument for Why Writers Should Embrace Amazon’s Takeover of the Publishing Industry.  Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments!    ...

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