Productivity · Writer Self-Care

Hustle Culture is Destroying Your Creativity – Avoid the Burnout

I’ve been lucky the last couple of years to work with dear friends and amazing people on a variety of projects. One thing we’ve told each other a lot this past year is that we have to remember to rest. I have a tendency to try to fix one more thing, or do one more project, which feeds into a habit of working all the time.

This year, it finally caught up with me. I had two months where I just did not want to write or create anything. I felt like my creative well was completely dry, which honestly freaked me out because I’m the kind of person who doesn’t believe in things like “writer’s block.” I do believe that our creative energy is finite to an extent. A few years ago I saw someone refer to it as your “creative cup” and that you have to be mindful of what is drawing from it.

For the first time in years, I completely drained that cup and this time I had no idea how to fill it back up. I tried my usual methods, start a new story, clean a space in my house, etc. Nothing worked, I was just drained. I was also working incredibly hard, on-call for a community I had built 24/7 that was fine a few years ago but now it had grown so much I could not just answer every call or try to fix every problem. For some people, this would be the point where they put down firm boundaries and stopped jumping at notifications. I am not able to do that. Because of the way my brain works, I tend to want to answer notifications/emails/etc. immediately, so I realized I had to step out of my position in that community and take some time to re-connect with myself.

It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made in the last few years. I loved the space and I loved the people I worked with, but I knew what I was doing was not sustainable and that the people I worked with had better boundaries than I did.

I realized it was time to take a real break and figure out what came next.

I had to change my strategies for filling my creative cup back up, and these were the questions that helped me work out what path I needed to take going forward.

  • What do I want my daily life and routines to look like? For me, I didn’t want to be on call 24/7 anymore. I wanted to wake up and choose the routine to start my day. Right now, it includes figuring out theme for my day, 3 tasks to focus on (research says that’s really all you can do in a day), writing down what I plan to do for exercise and ways to relax/play each day.
  • What was the most draining about my past projects? Can I avoid those aspects in the future? My choice on this question was that I will not take on volunteer projects unless A. I love the project, I’m excited about it and it’s helping me move myself/my career forward. or B. The project has to work with my schedule and pay me for my time. If it doesn’t fit that basic criteria, I can’t take it on.
  • Will I be happy I did this in five to ten years? I’ve seen a lot of posts that ask you to think about when you’re old and gray, but I want to go a bit less forward. If it is not something I think I’ll look back on and smile in five years, I need to approach the project carefully and decide if it is worth it.
  • Am I working with someone who values my work? If the answer is “no” one thing the last year has definitely taught me is that it’s time to get out. I’ve spent too much time building up people who take my work and effort for granted. If they can’t say “thank you” and recognize my skills, it’s time to step out.

Lastly, thank the people who have supported you and recognized your need for growth. Also, if they do recognize your skills but it doesn’t fit with your vision for your life and future, remember to tell those folks how much you care about them and thank them for the ways they’ve supported you. For me, I’ve worked with some amazing people in volunteer positions that I’ve had to step down from as I grew as a person. As my career progresses, I want to keep them in mind for projects that I need to hire people for. I firmly believe that rising tides lift all boats, but that we still need to remember that everyone needs rest and support as we flow through those tides.

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

How To Achieve Your Goals With An Accountability Buddy

Creative work can be isolating and it is easy to lose your motivation when you feel like you spend day in and day out working on your projects alone. Finding a friend or creative partner to help you stay on task is a great way to keep yourself motivated. I have had a few different accountability partners over the years and it has made all the difference.

A few years ago a dear friend and I decided we would work together through “accountability sprints” where we would check in via email every hour or so to see what the other had worked on. More recently, I’ve done weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with my accountability partner because that’s what our schedules allow for. If you need motivation and you want to start looking for someone to help hold you accountable, here are some tips and tricks I have learned over the years.

Make Checking in a Habit

I’ve done this a few different ways.  As I mentioned above, I have had partners I checked in with pretty frequently and some that I only checked in with every week or so. When we check in we always go over what we accomplished, what we did not quite finish, and what we want to do in the future.  You can use tools like a shared google doc to keep track of what you are currently working on, so your partner can visually see what your goals are and what you are working towards.

Build Trust and Be Comfortable

You need to be able to give and take constructive criticism from your accountability buddy.  If you can’t be honest about your productivity with your partner, then it may be difficult for the partnership to really push you to do more.   

The two best accountability partners I’ve had were people I was good friends with first.  We both knew when to say “Hey, dude, you are slacking” and when to say “Hey, I know you did not hit all your goals this week, but you worked really hard and that matters.” Finding someone that you share enough trust with that they can give you honest feedback and helpful praise is really important.

Make Sure You’re On Similar Levels Creatively

A couple years ago I met a friend who I thought would make a good accountability buddy.  They were just starting to build a writing career, so they needed a lot of feedback, but they seemed rather eager and willing to do start the work so I dove in.  As time went on, I realized that I was giving them a lot of constructive comments on their work and trying to motivate them past the planning/plotting stage of their work.  As the months wore on, they stayed stuck in that stage and I realized it was not working out for either of us.

It’s best to find someone who is on a similar level to you creatively.  If you work with someone who has some finished work and has shown they can start and finish their projects it is more likely you’ll both be able to move forward creatively together.

Be A Good Buddy

One thing from my career as a teacher that stuck with me is that you need to give a good amount of positive feedback and give negative feedback carefully and kindly.  This applies to being a good accountability buddy too! Think about the feedback you give and make sure it’s both helpful and productive. You want to be a good cheerleader for your buddy and have them be a good cheerleader for you too!