Productivity · Writer Self-Care

5 Tips To Help You Stay Sane While Working From Home

For the last 6-7 years, I’ve worked from home as a freelance writer, project manager, and editor. A lot of people think that working from home is all about being in your pajamas and binging Netflix in the background, but it’s actually a bit more involved than that (though I do have some friends who still work in their PJs).

Because you never “leave” work it can be easy to fall into habits of working all the time and never truly relaxing…Or you can end up constantly trying to stay on task when you’re “at work.” It can also start to feel socially isolating because you get less face to face time with other people, and sometimes it feels like you haven’t moved forward much.

Do not fret! I’ve got 5 ways you can avoid these things, and I learned them the hard way so you don’t have to!

Keep a Good Routine – Don’t Work All the Time

When I first started working from home, I would basically make myself available to clients 24/7. If I got a request for a job or an email from a client at 9:30 at night, I’d rush to my computer to answer it. 

It took me several years of working from home to realize that isn’t feasible in the long term. You will wear yourself out super quickly. It’s pretty rare that any of these questions or tasks are urgent, especially if you’re in an industry like me, where most questions would be fine if you answered them in the morning.

Set work hours for yourself. Just like a real job, you need a routine of when you are on and off work. For me, I’m ‘at work’ at 8 o’clock each morning, whether I’m working on my own projects or projects for clients I work with. I usually work until noon, take a lunch break and then try to get back to it around 1 PM. From there, I’ll work until 2-3 PM. Sometimes it will feel like you’re not working the ‘full’ 8 hours, but I’ve spent the last few years really disciplining myself. If I’m working, that’s most of what I’m doing. I’m not checking social media or other distractions. When you’re in an office, some of those 8 hours are filled will chatting with co-workers or moments of being off task. 

You’ll want to be mindful of your time and aware of your distractions, but 4-6 hours of non-distracted work easily matches 8 hours of distracted work for me. I can walk away from 5 hours of non-distracted work and feel pretty accomplished and also pretty drained. Listen to your brain and body and don’t overwork yourself.

One other tool I use to stay on task is called Time Boxing. Planning out your day or week can help you stay on task and remind yourself “Right now, I’m working.” or “It’s time for leisure right now, I shouldn’t be working.” It’s important to make time to work and relax in pretty much equal parts, especially when your home becomes your workplace.

Practice Good Hygiene.

Get up, shower and brush your teeth. I have some friends who do work in their PJs, but they’ve turned that into a productive “work uniform” for themselves. They see PJs as the sort of clothing they create or work in, so being in a suit or something more formal doesn’t work the same way for them anymore.

I personally started wearing a nightshirt to bed and then when I get up in the morning after I do my morning routine, I change into new clothes. I still wear comfy jeans and a t-shirt most days, but it feels good to be in clean clothes as you start your day.

Socialize and Get Out of the House (If you can)

Okay, I totally get that a lot of you are working from home right now as a means of practicing social distancing. I’m proud of you! Thank you for helping us protect ourselves and our loved ones. I’m doing the same! But, this advice still holds, we still need to socialize even if it’s done over the phone or over the internet. Humans crave connection.

When the world is not impacted by a pandemic, I try to leave my house at least once every 3-4 days. Sometimes I just go shopping at TJ Maxx or I go to my Silent Book Club or other activities were my friends will be. If you’re not an extrovert, going for a walk or exercising outside is also a great option.

I’ve also found other ways to socialize thanks to the internet. I’ve played online games via console or my PC with friends and we use discord or party chats to speak to each other as we play. For a long time, I had a group of friends who met up almost every night of the week to game together. It was our version of ‘hanging out after work’ even though we were all doing it from the comfort of our own homes.

I also call family and friends and video chat with some of them regularly. We have a lot of applications and games out there that can help us feel a sense of connection and interaction with people, you can make good use of them.

Co-Work Virtually

A dear friend and I both work from home frequently, so we do a thing we call “sprinting” to help each other stay productive. We email each other when we’re working and we check in on the hour mark to see what we did for the hour. This both helps give us a bit of social interaction and it helps us stay productive and on-task during work hours. 

I’ve also read stories where artists used Skype or Discord to do video or phone chats with other artists, so they feel like they’re working together, like they might in an office. 

It can really help to motivate you if you know you have to tell someone else what you did for the last hour. I have another blog on Accountability Buddies if you want to learn more.

One word of caution with this though: Don’t let the socializing become the thing you’re “doing” for the hour. My friend and I use email because we’re less likely to pull each other off-task with it. I’ve had sprinting buddies in the past who wanted to keep talking while we were supposed to be working. If that happens, just do your best to stay on task and it might be time to find a new buddy.

Reflect on Your Accomplishments. It’s Easy to Miss Them.

I had a “friend” who used to make comments about how working from home wasn’t truly ‘working.’ I don’t think she intended to be mean, but she would often tell me I could take care of tasks she couldn’t because I had “so much free time.” I think this attitude will become less common in the coming weeks, because as more people work from home, more people are going to realize how hard it can be and how you can totally lose all your boundaries with work when it’s a room away, rather than a commute away.

The greatest way I’ve found to combat these negative comments or feelings is to reflect on what you’ve accomplished. Did you finish a bunch of tasks? WOO! Were you supportive of the people you work with or students you work with? That’s awesome! Did you manage to learn something new or build on a skill you already had? YOU ARE DOING GREAT! 

Just because you may not have a boss or co-workers to directly acknowledge all the progress you are making, doesn’t mean you’re not still making progress. You are, trust me. Even adjusting to working from home is a huge amount of progress. Like I said, it’s taken me years to make these adjustments and feel happy and comfortable with my work/life balance. 

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them down below! I’m happy to share anything I’ve learned in the last few years, especially if it helps the people around me.

Also, my friend I virtually co-work a lot with has written a companion piece to this blog about different apps and tools you can use to help you stay productive and on task while working from home.

Go check her blog out here: https://virtuosity1111.wordpress.com/ (I’ll update the link when the post is up)

Motivation · Productivity · Writer Self-Care

Why Failure Isn’t A Bad Thing

One of my favorite hobbies is playing video games. I’m one of those silly adults who actually really enjoys games like Fortnite, and when I first started playing the game, I was pretty bad at it. I would only use one kind of weapon, because it was the only one I thought I was good at and for a while, I told myself it was not worth trying to get better at other types of weapons. 

Eventually though, if I wanted to continue to get better, I needed more options. So I started learning how to use the sniper rifle. And then I figured out how to use a shotgun. I was honestly trash at them when I started out, but I kept at it. I learned how to use the scope and time my shots. Nowadays, I can hit a snipe in Fortnite about 50-70% of the time.

The reason I was able to improve and get better at the game, is because I changed my mindset. I went from a “fixed” mindset, where I had concluded I could not get better to a “growth” mindset. When we have a fixed mindset we believe our skills are sort of set in stone. If we fail, we decide that this thing we were trying to do just isn’t our thing.

With a growth mindset, we see failure as part of the learning process.

You learn from your failure and you try again. I’ve met a lot of writers who struggle to take feedback, because they think that failure is the end of their journey. It’s not. If we have a growth mindset, we can look at that feedback and we can see where we have weaknesses. Once you know where your issues are, you can try to improve them. 

I know for a fact that I struggle with really well-written descriptions. When I edit the first draft of my own work, I watch for sections where I could really improve the descriptions. I still don’t rewrite them until I’ve gone through the entire draft, but eventually, I hunker down and flesh them out. It still does not come easy to me, and I sort of doubt it ever will, but that’s okay. I’m constantly improving my writing practices. 

We can only learn from our weakness and build our skills if we know what they are and are willing to try to overcome them.

I’ve been reading a great book on this subject called “Brave, Not Perfect” by Reshma Saujani. She specifically talks about how a lot of girls and women are socialized to have a fixed mindset. If you want to change your perspective, you could definitely check out her book or watch her TED Talk here.

I’ll end this blog with one of my favorite quotes about failure:

Editing · Writing

Why You Need An Editor (Yes, you!)

A few nights ago, I had a dream about a friend I had not seen in a while. She was lamenting how she had this piece of finished work, but that the story just wasn’t having the impact she wanted and it wasn’t selling. 

I gave her the same advice I’ve given to a lot of my friends over the years. “You need an editor.” 

I found it funny I had said that in my dream. People often view editors as an “extra” cost, but if you think about the world of professional writing, they are not an optional service. Every author I know of and admire has editors they work with who help them clarify and strengthen their vision. 

The reason I’ve given this piece of advice so much is because I’ve read a lot of work out there that could have truly benefited from some editing, and I know my work is ten times better when I have someone edit it. That pair of fresh eyes can spot things you can’t see, because you are so close to the work. They can also help you learn from those mistakes and become a better writer. That is why you need an editor.

And realistically, editors can be pricey, so if you’re not on the level to pay someone to review your work yet, there are a few other ways you can level up your work.

Ask Friends, Exchange Services, Or Join A Writing Site

If you are not in a position to pay for an editor just yet, you can ask friends to look over your work. Ideally, these should be friends who do some writing themselves so they can give you a critique you can really use. You can also offer to review and critique their work in the future.

If you aren’t able to exchange critiques, you can see if there are other services you can swap with your friends. Right now, I’m providing editing/coaching services for a friend and they are going to do some artwork for me. It’s a mutually beneficial agreement for both of us.

Lastly, if you don’t have any writer friends just yet, join a writing site that focuses on improvement and feedback. There are tons of services out there that should meet your needs. In the past, I’ve used both Writing.com and Scribophile.com and both sites have systems in place to help you get your work reviewed/critiqued.

When Your Ready For An Editor

The great thing about a good editor is that there are no feelings involved. With friends, they may try to spare your feelings and avoid giving you critiques you may need. 

A good editor is there to help you fix mistakes, clarify your vision and improve your writing. You may want to build up a thick skin before you hire an editor. Taking critique can be hard, but it is truly necessary if you want to learn and improve your craft.  Every professional author you admire is able to take feedback. I’ve written more on the subject here.

You also don’t have to take every edit your editor suggests. Now and then, you will feel it in your gut that you need to stick with your instincts and keep a line or a part of the story. It’s okay to take some of the advice, but not all of it. Do your best to consider their edits thoughtfully and incorporate what you can.

When I work as an editor, I always remind myself that I am there to help the author communicate their vision. The author/editor relationship is all about communication and compromise. 

Writing

Why Taking (And Giving!) Feedback is an Essential Skill for Writers

Feedback provides us with an opportunity to learn from and improve on our mistakes. Learning to take criticism with grace and positivity is an essential skill for writers.

Building Your Feedback Skills

First off, it’s okay if you aren’t perfect at taking feedback. I’ve spent the last few years building up a thick skin for constructive criticism and I still feel the burn sometimes when I ask for critique. The defensive monster at the back of my mind pokes her head out to say “noo, my work is great, how dare you!?” but I push her back into her cave after letting her rage for a minute or two. Here are some ways you can work on building your skills so you can make feedback work for you. 

Don’t make excuses

It’s okay to explain why you wrote something a particular way if you have a strong reason for doing it, but don’t give your critique partner or editor a bunch of excuses. If you find yourself constantly explaining why you did something, what you’re really saying is that your work can not stand by itself and that you have to explain it. That alone is enough for you to do a re-write. 

React, but don’t respond right away.

As I said above, I still get defensive of my work sometimes, even with critique partners and editors I’ve worked with for YEARS. These folks know me and they know my writing, but it still stings sometimes. I don’t tell them that it stings or let my defensiveness leak through.

I give myself a few hours to process the sting and then I go back in and try to look at the feedback constructively. 

Take the feedback and make edits.

Read through the feedback carefully and do your best to use it as a tool to improve both the current piece your working on and future work. You might find that you actually really love the feedback once you’ve incorporated it and strengthened your writing.

Be Aware of What Constructive Criticism looks like

I used to be a teacher and during my undergraduate program, I learned some really vital things about feedback. For every 1 negative we give a young student, we need to give them 4 positive and specific points of feedback. I don’t use that exact ratio when I do editing work, but I do try to provide them with both constructive negative criticism AND specific positive feedback. 

If you have ever had someone edit your work and just tear it apart, without telling you that you did anything right, you know how hard it is to take that person’s advice. It’s important to be able to discern when feedback is constructive and when it is just overly negative or critical. If you feel like a feedback partner/editor isn’t giving you helpful notes and doesn’t get your vision, it’s okay to look for a new feedback partner or hire a new editor.

A good feedback partner or editor should help build you up, not just tear you down.

Also, don’t take unsolicited feedback from someone you would not ask for advice from. If you’re in a workshop setting and you know a writer there is not someone who’s advice you really want, it’s okay to take their feedback with a grain of salt.

Giving Feedback Helps You Become A Better Writer

Giving feedback to others also helps you improve your own writing. Figuring what is and isn’t’ working for others can help you problem solve your own writing issues. It can also help you gain a deeper understanding of good dialogue, good plot and more!

Writing · Writing Career

Building a Writing Career: How to Submit to Anthologies

Getting published seems like a scary and hard-to-achieve goal for a lot of the writers I’ve talked to, but one way to get your name out there is to submit to anthologies. It’s a great place to get started because you can focus on short fiction for a bit and learn about story structure.

If just one anthology accepts and publishes your submission, that’s it, you can say you’re a published writer. 

Finding Out Where to Submit Your Story

Literistic is a monthly email service that sends you a list of open contests, literary magazines and more. They have both a free and paid version of their monthly newsletter. The free version is quite a bit shorter than the paid, but if you are just starting out, the free version is a great way to get a feel for it and find a few different places you would like to submit your work to.

Many universities and community colleges have a literary journal/magazine or anthology that they publish yearly. They usually have open submissions but prioritize student authors or local authors. You can contact your local institution or take a look at their website to find out if they have a literary journal.

You can check out this link here for a list of the top 100 literary journals. This is a great list to get you started!

Read the Submission Guidelines Carefully

I’ve submitted several stories and though the process is almost always similar, no two submissions were exactly the same. Some journals want a cover letter with an author bio, while others just want your story. Some will want your name on every page, while others will only want your name on the cover letter. Make sure you read the instructions carefully and follow them very closely. 

Many editorial teams will not read your work if you did not follow their guidelines.

Rejection Happens

Now, just like any other submission process, you will want to ready yourself for rejection. Just because you did not get accepted, does not mean the story is bad or poorly written. It just means that it was not right for that particular literary journal. Hold on to the story, edit it again if you feel you need to, and submit it somewhere else. I personally try to submit to journals that either offer a free copy of the book/journal, or even offer some kind of payment for the story.

Keep Writing

The more short stories you write, the more work you have to submit. I keep most of my stories in a folder in google docs and when I find a literary journal I want to submit to, I see if I have anything already written or if I need to create a new story.

Good luck! Let me know if you have any questions, I’m happy to share more of my experience.

Book Review · Personal Post · Writing

My 2020 Reading List

Hey everyone, I wanted to share a part of my reading list for 2020, just to put some awesome books on your radar!

I tend to read a lot of self-help and instructional books, I enjoy the way they help me center my thinking. Last year, I tried to balance that with a bit more fiction reading. In my teens and early twenties, I would to ravenously devour fiction books and I’d like to get back to that. I struggle to sit still and ignore distractions, so sometimes sitting quietly and reading can be difficult, but this year I want to try to retrain my brain to be okay with quiet time. 

I also make a list of books each year that I would like to read and create a page in my bullet journal for it.

My Full Reading List So Far

Some of the books are novels I’ve read before that I want a refresher on, some of them are books I meant to read last year but didn’t start…And a few are books I started but didn’t finish. 

I listen to audiobooks pretty often, so it can be easy to get a few hours in and forget that I was reading that book. This year, I hope to finish a lot more than I did last year.

Here’s a few of the books on my list that I’m really excited about:

  1. Brave, Not Perfect by Reshma Suanjani – Reshma started the “Girls Who Code” organization and this book dives into studies on why girls tend to develop a fixed mindset about what they are capable of. She also shares insights on how we can move beyond trying to be “perfect” and choose to be brave instead.
  2. Meditations of Marcus Aurelius – I just find stoic philosophy pretty fascinating and would like to practice it more.
  3. Protect the Prince by Jennifer Estep – I read the first book in this series last year and I really enjoyed it. It was the sort of adventure/fantasy/romance book that fits exactly what I look for in those sorts of genres. Often, I’ve found a lot of stories like this are reserved for YA, but the main character in this book is 27. 
  4. Wyvern by Grace Draven – Draven is one of my favorite fantasy romance authors. Once I get started on her books, I typically devour them quite quickly. 
  5. Lagom by Niki Brantmark – This book is about the Swedish art of living a happy, balanced life. I picked it up after I really enjoyed Hygge by Meik Wiking. Hygge is a Danish concept of happiness. I have Scandinavian ancestry and books like this help me feel more connected to the cultures of my great-grandparents.
  6. The Night Witches by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun – This is a graphic novel about female military aviators who fought during WWII. They would idle their engines and glide toward their bombing targets and that got them the nickname “Night Witches” from their Nazi enemies. It was very uncommon to see women in combat roles during this time in history.

So there you have it. Obviously there are a lot more books on my list in my bullet journal, but these are the ones I hope to start the year off strong with.

Writing Guide

4 Pieces of Bad Writing Advice You Should Not Listen To

I’ve been in and out of various online and offline writing communities for over a decade now. In that time, I’ve seen some great writing advice and some really bad writing advice. 

Bad writing advice is often offered with good intentions. It sounds like good writing advice, but at best it isn’t really practical advice and at worst…it’s the blind leading the blind. I want to share four pieces of bad writing advice that I wish I had never listened to. I hope they help you avoid any pitfalls! 

Only Write When You Feel The Flow

I love those moments when I feel like everything is flowing, the story is coming alive, but if I only wrote when I felt like that, I would nothing finished or published. 

I think it was Neil Gaiman who talked about how if you go back and read your writing during those moments of “flow” versus the moments you just force yourself to get it down on paper, you’re not going to see a huge difference in quality.

Another tip with this: I have had a lot of writer friends over the years who wait to feel inspired. Many of them have never finished a project. You have to work when you feel it and when you don’t. Pushing through is the only way to get to the other side of things and finish your work.

Long, Flowery Text Is Better Than Basic or Accessible Writing

It’s easy to romanticize the writers that filled their stories with flowery prose. To be honest, the flowery stuff never really appealed to me, even when most of my friends were in a phase where they would be looking through their thesaurus more than actually writing.

Think about the last book you read that you loved. Did you have to read the text multiple times to understand what they were trying to communicate? Most of the time the answer is no. 

Good writing is usually concise and accessible. Even if you use big, beautiful descriptive words in your sentences, your entire sentence shouldn’t be filled with those big words. You should contextual cues and other more accessible writing so the reader can figure out what you’re saying, without having to pull out their dictionary. 

Write What You Know 

Okay, this advice works within reason. It is way easier to write cultures you are familiar with, to write about your own experiences and such. 

But do you think George Lucas knew what it was like to fight in a revolutionary space war? No. He pulled inspiration from a variety of sources and crafted a story he wanted to tell. It’s okay to break out of the box of what you know and go beyond it. 

If you plan to write a culture or experience that is very different from your own, you just need to do your research. Study that culture and talk to people with those experiences. One thing that is important to remember, is people are going to figure it out if you write from a place that isn’t authentic. 

I grew up the mountain west and when I read books or see TV shows that portray where I grew up in a way that’s not authentic, it sticks out like a sore thumb and oftentimes ruins the experience for me. That’s something to keep in mind as you write outside your box. Figure out how to make your writing as authentic as you can.

You Aren’t A Writer Until You’ve Been Published

I was sort of lucky, when I started really pursuing writing, I had a short piece of fiction published pretty quickly. It was validating, but that did not mean I was not a writer up until that point. I’ve sort of felt like I was a writer and a storyteller most of my life. Even after that initial publication, I’ve had other contracts and “sure thing” opportunities fall through, I’ve dealt with a lot of kind and not-so-kind rejections. 

That’s sort of the nature of the beast, when you’re a writer.

You don’t need someone else to validate you. If you write, you’re a writer. 

Free Resource

Why I Love the “Save The Cat” Plotting Method

I found the “Save the Cat”  beat sheet about a year ago. I can’t remember if it was recommended at a panel I had been to or if it came up as a suggestion on another blog I read, but I fell in love immediately.

Plot structure has been something I’ve been trying to study more and more over the last few years. I had read articles and books on the Hero’s Journey and Three Act Structure, and even though I could pick the plot points from those out of movies and books, I still struggled to use those structures to outline my own stories.

For one, a lot of examples I found for the Hero’s Journey had male protagonists and some gender bias written right into them. The gender of your protagonist isn’t the most important thing about them, but a large part of my goal is to write stories where the ladies are the heroes. There are definitely more examples now (The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc). I still found that Save the Cat was easy for me to learn and apply to my own favorite films and books, without bias.

Until I read Save the Cat and Save the Cat Writes a Novel. I highly suggest getting either of those books, even after you read this blog. I’m going to talk about some of the basics that helped me and share the worksheet I use for personal reference, but the books break it down in a detailed and easy-to-understand way that can’t be substituted in a quick blog post.

I’ve also created a worksheet that I used to have an “at-a-glance” look at my plot for NaNoWriMo, here’s a preview and you can grab the link to the PDF at the bottom of this post.

The Basic Structure

One thing that majorly helped me understand how the Save the Cat structure worked was seeing it applied to one of my favorite movies. 

The Winter Soldier is by far my favorite Marvel movie. My husband and I actually regularly cosplay Captain America and Black Widow. I know the movie by heart so when I found a beat sheet for it, it was easy to see how the story elements ran along with the plot. 

You can check out the beat sheet for The Winter Soldier and a ton of other movies here. For me, once I could visual the parts and elements of the beat sheet, I could start to create my own.

Here are the basics:

Act 1 

Opening Image – This sets the tone for the book and establishes what the “ordinary world” is like. We get a taste of the main character’s problem.

Set-Up – We learn more about the “ordinary world” before the adventure begins.

Theme Stated – This is the main theme of your story, stated by someone in the story to your main character. They don’t understand the theme yet. That will come over the course of the story.

Catalyst – This is like the inciting incident, it kicks off the action and now things are starting to change for your main character.

Debate – Your character has to make a choice based on the catalyst. The main character may doubt their ability to move forward. 

Act 2

Break into Two – The main character has made their choice and it’s time to start the adventure. The world of act 2 should be an upside-down or opposite world from the “ordinary world” either literally or figuratively.

B Story – The B Story usually centers around a love interest or close friend of the main character. You can have multiple B Stories in a plot. These characters help teach the main character the theme of the story.

The Promise of the Premise – The character goes on their adventure and explores the premise that the book has set out.

Midpoint – This is the point where the main character gets what they think they want, but they realize it’s not really what they need. A lot of act two is your character trying to solve their problem the “wrong” way.

Bad Guys Close In – This one is a little self-explanatory. The bad guys take their shot, whether they are physical enemies, the main character’s insecurities, or other entities. The main character has to keep going and keep fighting.

All is Lost – This is a lot like the Catalyst, it’s a call for the main character to act against bad odds. They may have lost friends, lost their will to move forward, or realized that they’ve spent a lot of time and effort for nothing. They may even lose more in this section, to really shake their hopes and motivation.

Dark Night of the Soul – This echoes the Debate in the first act. The character has hit rock bottom and they have a choice. Give in to the darkness and give up, or try again. Try something new.

Act 3

Break into 3 – The hero rallies behind a new idea, new motivation, a new will to try. The world of the third act combines the first two acts. It synthesizes the ordinary world and the upside-down world into a new combined world for the third act. Our hero is still the person at the start of the story, but now they’ve gained skill and wisdom.

Finale – The Climax! The main character has learned the theme, they fight and they win.

Final Image – This tends to echo the opening image, but now everything is different. It highlights the change and the journey that has been taken.

Grab the worksheet here:

https://app.box.com/s/z39sujjyvxiwlyi3dpcm45qsopt5uuuj

Productivity · Time Management

Writing Sprints – What They Are And How They Can Help You Finish What You’re Working On

I started doing writing sprints 5 or 6 years ago, during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I still use them pretty often today. I am not the fastest writer when it comes to typing under a time crunch, but sprints are a quick and easy way for me to get some words on the page.

What Is A Writing Sprint?

A writing sprint is a set amount of time where you write like your life depends on it. During a sprint, I do my best to cut out distractions and just write. I usually set time frames of :15-:25 minutes for my sprints, with short breaks in between. The time doesn’t really matter, you can do whatever works best for you. I have friends who go for a full hour, and some that prefer 10 minute sprints.

Sprints led me to the Pomodoro Technique a few years ago. Pomodoros function in a similar way to Writing Sprints. You work for 25 minutes or so, then take a 5-minute break, then do another 25 minute “Pomodoro.” Once you’ve completed 4 Pomodoros (about 2 hours) you take a longer break, usually 30 minutes or so.

Sprinting Is Best With Friends…Or Co-Workers…Or Other Authors

I can definitely self-motivate when I need to, but during NaNoWriMo I actually schedule a daily sprint with writing friends. This means I’m more or less obligated to show up daily and sprint with them. At the end of the sprint, we all share our word counts or we talk about how productive the sprint was for us. 

To be honest, it’s a little competitive, but not in a negative or hurtful way. If I have friends who are writing 1K words in 25 minutes, it motivates me to go a bit faster, because I know I’m not really competing against them word for word. The only person I’m really competing against is myself. 

It’s a lot like having a gym buddy. If you know your friend is going to be there waiting for you at 6 AM to hop on the treadmill, you’re probably a lot more likely to show up and do the work out. 

If you aren’t sure where to find friends or people to sprint with, there are tons of discords and other places out there with writers just like you! I’ve found some on the NaNo forums and on the NaNo subreddit. 

I’ve even used the concept of sprinting/Pomodoros just to keep myself on task and productive. A friend and I have actually emailed back and forth for years during the weekdays, checking in with each other on what we got accomplished during our last “sprint.” 

Motivation · Writer Self-Care

4 Ways To Get Unstuck Creatively

This year, I’ve felt stuck and unmotivated to write or work on my writing projects more times than I would like to admit. There are a variety of reasons for this, sometimes I feel like no matter how much work I put in I’m not moving forward quickly enough, other times I don’t have the creative “flow” I wish I had. I’ve found some strategies to help me keep moving when I feel stuck though and I wanted to share them with you in case your struggling with the same sorts of feelings.

Make a list of what you’ve accomplished over the last year or so. Celebrate your accomplishments, even if they’re small.

I say the last year or so because sometimes it’s easier to look back at a longer portion of time, but you can go shorter if you need to. You can even review your goals for the year and take some time to pat yourself on the back for the things you’ve achieved. If you’re anything like me, sometimes you forget to stop and smell the roses and recognize the things you’ve accomplished.

Give yourself credit. Seriously, even if you’ve only hit 1/10 of your goals, hitting that one goal still puts you closer to your dreams than you were if you had not tried at all. You can also look at things other than your goals. This past April, I went to Wasatch Comic-Con, a smaller convention that focuses on creators. I went to workshops and hung out with creators in the industry I aspire to be a part of, I got great advice and I was brave to go to those workshops and do things outside the comfort zone. That experience has moved many of my comic projects forward and has helped me grow as a writer and creator. I may not be moving as fast as I wish I was in terms of getting things finished/published, but I can look back on that experience and acknowledge it helped me move forward.

Talk with other creators or creative friends.

This can be hard for those of us who spend a lot of time on our own during our creative process, but I’ve found that reaching out, especially when you feel stuck, can help immensely. Sometimes your friends can help you see your story or plot from a different perspective or by merely talking about what you’re trying to create, you can work towards clarifying your vision.

Ideally, it’s great to do this over the phone or face to face, because as humans, we’re social creatures and that social contact can help lift our spirits. For me, I live in a tiny, rural town so that’s not an experience I always have easy access to regularly. Sometimes I will contact a friend via email, Discord or other means and ask if I can chit-chat and bounce ideas off them for a bit. It always amazes me how sharing my ideas helps me improve them and make them more clear.

Read the stuff you enjoy.

I set a new goal for myself in the last couple of months where I try to read at least two books and two graphic novels a month, as well as trying to read for at least 30 minutes a day for pleasure. I have a terrible habit of feeling like reading is the time I could spend being productive, but by making reading for pleasure apart of my goals, it feels more like productive time. If you want to be a writer or author or creator, it’s good to consume books and graphic novels you enjoy so that you can see what other writers are doing and admire their accomplishments (and perhaps, learn from them).

Take a break. Or take some time to free write.

It can be tempting to sit at a desk and punish yourself for not being productive enough. If you find yourself doing this, step away from your work and try doing something else you enjoy for a while.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling stuck, but you still want to write something, try freewriting for a bit. It doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to be great, you’re just putting words down on the page and acknowledging that you may have to edit or delete a good portion of them. Something I’ve discovered over the years is that self-punishment isn’t productive and it doesn’t help me motivate myself to do more, so sometimes I sit down and write for a bit, even if it’s not connected to my current projects. I’ve found that once you start writing, it’s easier to switch gears to one of your more cohesive projects and get going on it again.