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All Posts in Category: Motivation

Finish Your Book bootcamp!

If you have a book project (fiction or nonfiction) that you’re struggling to make progress on, please join me for an online Finish Your Book Bootcamp! It starts May 18th and ends June 14th–and it’s free.

What is Finish Your Book Bootcamp? It’s basically an accountability partnership. You set your overall goal for the month. Then each Monday you say what you’ll accomplish that week. There’s a midweek check-in and a Friday check-in. I’m the point person you share your goals with and I’ll send along a couple of emails each week with some thoughts on motivation. With those midweek check-ins I try to help brainstorm solutions to problems people are having.

The bootcamp includes a Facebook group page where everyone who wants to can post their goals and help each other figure out stumbling blocks. Sometimes just having the accountability can make a difference. Last year I made amazing progress on a personal project and so did several students. If it sounds like you’d want to join, just let me know! There’s no charge for the bootcamp. Just email me at But do let me know ASAP. I can only take a limited number of participants.

New books for writers!

I just finished two small books for writers. Both are based on popular classes I’ve taught. The first is Finish Your Book, a short guide (about 25 pages) that offers tips and guidance for overcoming the stumbling blocks that keep you from finishing that novel you started last year. The other is Write Your Book Proposal, a slightly longer piece (about 35 pages) on putting together a proposal for a nonfiction book. Both links will lead you to the Kindle edition. Both also have paperback versions, here and here. It always takes Amazon a while to link the two together.

Hope you find these helpful!

Avoiding Creative Burnout

I recently got a note from a writer saying she felt creatively drained.  She said, “My book is good.  How can I convince others?”

Reading between the lines, I figured she’d written a book she felt was excellent but agents/editors were rejecting it, and that was making her feel a lot like not writing any more books, and also that she wished she could figure out how to get an agent’s (or publisher’s) attention.

I will be the first to admit that beating your head against a wall is way more fun than querying agents and editors, and that the more rejections you get, the harder it can be to feel like doing it all over again.  I also know that making creativity your work — the thing that pays the bills — is a
good way to want to shovel ditches for a living.

Basically, we have two connected questions: “How can I succeed in the commercial arena of publishing?” and “How can I, at the same time, renew and feed my creative energies?”

You really do have to separate the act of creation from the act of publishing.  The act of creation is something to be nurtured and protected, even on the days when you don’t feel like it.  The act of publishing is a business transaction, period.  They are two very different creatures, although of course we’re bound to conflate them, being human and wanting to see our hard work rewarded.

Protecting your creativity — renewing it, feeding it, keeping it from shutting down when you get five more rejection letters this week — requires a couple of important habits:

  1. Protect the time.  Even if you’re just drawing doodles on a sketchpad, keep your creative time free from other encumbrances.  My first two hours of every day are for The Work, even though sometimes they actually consist of talking to friends at the coffee shop.
  2. Remember that sheer financial terror impedes creativity.  Putting the entire burden of your financial health on the capricious whims of the publishing industry requires nerves of steel. Have different work to serve different purposes.  It’s not selling out: you’re buying the time to do The Work.
  3. The Work is sufficient in and of itself.  Yes, it’s nice to be recognized for your talent, but it’s not required.  There are ways to share your work beyond traditional publishing, if it comes to that.
  4. Keep more than one project going.  Have new work you’re conceptualizing while you edit the old work and send out the older.  Keep your focus on your work and not on the publishing business.

To the in some ways more difficult question of succeeding in commercial publishing:

  1. Create a network.  The hardest thing in writing is feeling like you’re talking to yourself.  Have other writers, readers, colleagues, who can give feedback and offer resources.
  2. Learn to sell your book.  It’s easier to write a blurb about someone else’s book.  So either pretend you’re writing your query about someone else’s book or trade with a friend: write a query for someone else’s book and have them write one for yours.  See if that helps you nail your query.
  3. Don’t invest everything in one project.  Especially these days.  Times are tough in publishing. You can love your book but you also need to Let. It. Go.  Maybe it will be published, maybe it won’t.  Like a child, you do your best by it but beyond that, you don’t have a lot of say in how it turns out. Get to work on the next book.
  4. Invest in getting better.  Yes, this book is good.  Focus on how the next one is going to be better.  Read, attend conferences, join writers’ groups. Immerse yourself in understanding the craft and the publishing process.  Experiment.  Fail.  Fail a lot.  Learn something. Fail some more.  Write the book no one can turn down (then sell the secret for one million dollars).  That’ll keep you too busy to focus on the inadequacies of the agents and editors who are rejecting your book.
  5. Recognize what you can control and what you can’t.  Writing the best book you can?  Completely under your control.  Convincing other people it’s the cat’s meow?  Not so

Big Projects and Productivity

People sometimes get stuck on long projects and stall because the sheer massiveness of the task is so intimidating. “Write a book” seems a little daunting. You can’t get it done today. So you shy away from getting started at all.

Productivity gurus talk about figuring out next steps and putting them in your planner (i.e., David Allen and his Getting Things Done), and that strategy makes a lot of sense for many tasks. If you want to plan a family vacation, you can figure out the main steps and break them down: save the money, book the trip, have a good time.

To save the money you might set up an automatic withdrawal at your bank so that a certain amount of money from each paycheck is moved to a special savings account. To book the trip, you might call a travel agent or search online at Travelocity. And so on.

But some projects are stubbornly resistant to this approach. The “steps” to writing a book are pretty basic: Write one page. Write another page. Repeat as needed. The same for other big, long-term goals. To lose weight, the steps are simple (which is not to say they’re easy): eat less and exercise more.

You can turn these steps into action items by marking off time in your planner, for example, but it still comes back to having the motivation to do these things for the long haul, over and over, even when results aren’t immediate. “Write a book” can be a paralyzing prospect, but so can “write page one, then page two and so on for the next five hundred days,” which is what a productivity guru would have us do.

But to me, and I think to most people who successfully get to the end of a big project, the trick is to get excited about writing one page after the other. I’m lucky I can dedicate time every day to working on my fiction. I can think of years when I didn’t have that kind of luxury. It’s a gift, and I don’t want to squander it.

What I mean is we have to love the process – the act of writing. That’s why so many of us fail at things we know we should do – like lose weight – because we don’t love the process. All we’re doing is trying to get to the reward. But it is really hard to reach the reward if you don’t love the proceess.

Which is why you need to love the process, even when you’ve spent the afternoon erasing everything you wrote in the morning. To me, this is more about mindset than anything: I’m learning something every time I take out a scene I spent six hours lovingly crafting (when I could have spent that six hours doing something equally valuable).This is what I tell myself, anyway, and I think that’s the crucial point. The things we tell ourselves about our work shape the reality of our work. So look for all the ways you can love the process of whatever you’re doing instead of focusing only on the reward at the end of it.