Writing with Purpose

Recently, I’ve been working on a mini-series that focusses on the writing routines of non-fiction authors. While researching the first two episodes of this series, I noticed one piece of advice continued to come up: writing is easier when you have something to say. 

This may sound like it’s only relevant to non-fiction, but it’s just as important when writing fiction. 

When you first begin a writing project, you may know what it is you want to say (i.e writing from experience) or you might simply be interested in learning more about a topic. 

Often, for me, I have a loose idea of what I want to say, but it is in the act of writing and researching that the message solidifies, become more complex, or changes entirely. 

I wish I was the type of writer who could clarify their argument or idea simply by thinking about the story or essay, or by conducting research, but it is in the act of writing that I am forced to articulate the connections I’m making and it’s how I assess the strength of my argument or story. 

Is this efficient?

Not if you consider the volume of words that may wind up getting cut, but if writing is the process that helps me get to the conclusion, then maybe it is efficient. Maybe it helps me arrive at ‘The End’ sooner than I could have if I’d only thought about the story. (Obviously, if you only think about your book you’ll never finish it because you never started it!).

In the end, we all pay the same toll fee, just at different ends of the highway. Some writers spend years researching, brainstorming, and outlining before they begin writing. The result is that they produce a very good first draft. Other writers may spend the same number of years toggling between researching, thinking, writing, and editing, producing multiple drafts along the way. 

Is one better than the other? Nope. It’s just a matter of process.

So why does having something to say – no matter how you go about figuring that out – make writing easier?

#1 Because it can guide your structure. 

When you know what your ultimate conclusion is, you can walk backwards and figure out what steps (or chapters/scenes) would lead to this result.  

#2 It keeps you focussed. 

When you start wandering off the path, your message is the beacon that guides you back. It helps you stay clear on what to include and exclude. 

When working on non-fiction pieces, you can follow the basic structure of …

  1. Provide context (introduce the problem/event/scenario)
  2. Provide evidence and clarify your argument
  3. Arrive at a conclusion (and potentially give the reader an action step)

When writing fiction, you need to consider whether the overall story or the individual scenes work together to support the message or theme you are exploring. 

While it is easy to write a loose and spooling essay or story, it is much more difficult to figure out what it is you have to say. 

So, how do you have something to say?

By doing stuff. 

By living life. 

By having experiences, making mistakes, taking risks, reading books, talking to smart people, thinking deeply about big problems, and looking for connections. 

Having a writing practise will make you a better writer. You’ll learn how to start projects and most importantly how to finish them. You’ll get an understanding of sentence structure and language, of how to build an argument or craft a compelling story. It will help you figure out a process and routine that works for you. 

Writing can help you figure out your thoughts around a particular topic, but that spark of inspiration, that desperation to share an insight, story, or message will most likely come from living. 

When you know what it is you have to say, writing then becomes the container for saying it.  


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Ryan Holiday’s Writing Routine

If you missed last week’s post which was all about Gretchen Rubin’s writing routine, then you may not realise that I am doing a mini-series on the creative practises of non-fiction authors. This week, I’m focussing on Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday is an American author whose books focus on bringing stoic philosophy into the modern-day. He is also a PR strategist, bookstore owner (yes!), and he is the host of The Daily Stoic podcast. 

Ryan takes his writing seriously, and for that reason, he has chosen to set professional work hours. He doesn’t work hurriedly to meet a deadline or wait until inspiration strikes and he doesn’t write in his pyjamas while working in bed. 

Instead, he writes every day and he treats it like work. Ryan is clearest and less likely to be interrupted in the morning so that’s when he writes. 

In treating it like a job, Ryan gets up, has a shower, gets dressed and then goes to his office, which is outside of the home, as though he were going to a conventional workplace. Ryan used to work at his home office but decided to relocate to a space above his bookstore, moving all of his books and work desk to the new location where he can write his books and blogs and recorded his podcast. 

In fact, he doesn’t even have a desk in his home anymore. 

Once he arrives at his office, he begins work on whatever writing task he has assigned himself that day, working from eight or nine until eleven or twelve. 

Three hours and he’s done. 

He finds the idea of working in a café bizarre as he values being able to stand up, pace, move around and stare. He needs to spread out his research materials, turn the music up or head out for a walk. 

In terms of structure, Ryan’s books are broken up into small sections. For each section, he creates a new Google Doc, but eventually, he joins them all together into one Word Doc, switching from writing online to offline for editing and re-writing. 

During his research phase, his favourite tool is 4×6 notecards which are stored in photo boxes. He outlines and organizes the entire book using these cards which are filed according to different parts of the project, or which subsection the thought or information is relevant to. 

Each of his books is made up of thousands of notecards which are based upon the books he’s read, interviews he has conducted, or his reflections, conclusions, or observations. 

Each card is done by hand unless the passage is especially lengthy. 

He knows that all of this research is actually starting to become something when he exports the documents from Google to Microsoft. 

Interesting, he uses music as a way to block outside noise and relax his mind. He will often pick one embarrassing song he’d never admit to listening to, and play that on repeat. There are few albums he’s been able to do this with that have the same effect as a single song to support him into getting into a state of flow. However, he considers some songs sacred. For example, he’d never use Alice in Chain’s Nutshell for this practice. (I LOVE that song!). He’ll stick with this one song until, for whatever reason, it stops working for him. 

His two pre-writing rituals include avoiding email and writing in his journal before switching over to professional writing. 

He says that he aims to figure out what he wants to say before he starts writing, rather than figuring his writing out on the page. A good day will see him write 2000 words, but because he aims to write clean content straight out the gate, it is often less than this. 

When he sits down to write, he begins by asking himself: how should this start? What is my argument? Where am I taking this? If this approach doesn’t work, he’ll start in the middle and work outwards. 

When editing, he takes a cycling approach, where he’ll write the first third, edited it, write the middle, then edit both sections together, and then write the final third.

 In this way, Ryan says, the beginning is constantly improving and by the time he gets to the end, he knows the first two thirds so well that the last comes together more easily and with less editing. 

Despite his rigorous approach, Ryan also knows when to call it quits. 

That may occur after only an hour, but he feels that it must have been a productive hour if that is how he feels exhausted. He aims to leave enough on the page that he has a beginning point the following day, stating that it’s vital to ensure you are creating as much momentum as possible for yourself, even if it’s only an illusion. In this way, he hopes to make writing as easy as possible. 

For Ryan, he says research is totally separate from writing. He may spend several months or years gathering material for a new project before he starts writing. Admittedly, he does conduct some research while writing as inconsistencies, gaps, or insufficiencies become apparent through writing. 

One of his favourite hacks is to read content that is totally different from what he is writing about as a way to forge new and unexpected connections. 

Interestingly, Ryan says that writing is easier than coming up with something to say and figuring out how best to present an argument, but he would never describe writing itself as easy. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Gretchen Rubin’s Writing Routine

Previously, I did a series that covered the writing rules of several famous authors including Octavia Butler, Natalie Goldberg, Kurt Vonnegut, and Steven King. 

I enjoyed creating this series because like all writers, I love to see how others approach writing, what types of routines they’ve crafted for themselves, and what habits or tools make getting to the blank page as easy and efficient as possible. 

The best part? Learning about the routines of others can give us ideas for our own routines.

This time I’m taking a slightly different angle by focussing strictly on the routines of non-fiction authors and this week I’m unpacking the writing routine of Gretchen Rubin. 

Gretchen Rubin is a New York based writer who explores human nature to understand how we can make our lives better. Her best-selling books include The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, Better than Before, The Four Tendencies (her personality framework as it relates to expectations [I am an Upholder]) and Outer Order, Inner Calm. 

The New York Times describes her as the queen of self-help memoir, but Gretchen prefers to think of herself as a moral essayist. 

She posts a weekly podcast with her sister called Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and is a devourer of books, sending out a regular ‘what I read this month’ newsletter to her subscribers (which often includes more than ten books!). 

Gretchen’s routine varies depending on which stage she’s in. She posts a new blog on her website almost every day and the bank of material is not that far ahead, so she is constantly working on new content for the site. When she’s working on a book, she aims to have three hours a day of original work, Monday-Friday. 

Though she has a home office, her preferred place to work is the New York Society Library, a small public library located one block away from her apartment. 

Research plays a major role in her work, and part of that includes being well-read. Gretchen reads widely: novels, memoirs, philosophy, and essays, as well as scientific and traditional journal articles. Part of her research occurs through conversation and observation, finding insight in the minutia of everyday life. 

She takes copious notes and is always trying to process information and look for connections. She carries a notebook and will often email herself notes or random thoughts. She also keeps a huge document that is sorted by subject. By copying out this content, she believes it helps cement the ideas in her brain, and she is also a big lover of profound or well-crafted quotes. 

One of her favourite things about herself is that she often becomes obsessed with a subject, conducting countless hours of research to learn more about it, sometimes for years. 

While reading, Gretchen is actively looking for content that is worth noting. If it’s a library book, she’ll mark it with a sticky note, and if she owns the book, she’ll underline important passages. 

Once she’s finished reading the book, then she goes back and copies out all of the notes. 

If it’s an especially profound quote, she will also copy it and paste it into a large file specifically designated to quotes. 

When taking or copying notes, she’s not concerned with organisation. That occurs later, once she begins outlining the book. Instead, she tags each section with a relevant key work so that she can use the search function to locate it later. 

For Gretchen, the real struggle comes once it’s time to start structuring the book. She says that the structure of a book often seems obvious once she lands on the right one, but that it doesn’t seem obvious when first beginning. 

As she says, ‘Structure is so, so, so important – and the structure must serve the meaning.’ For this reason, she can’t always figure out the structure until she’s determined what it is she really wants to say with a book. 

That being said, one of the best things about her note-taking system is that she never begins a book with a blank page, as she already has hundreds of pages to guide her thinking. 

For Gretchen, the most important thing about writing is having something to say. Once you have something to say, the writing comes much more easily, but you still have to actually write it. As she says, Many people have ideas or the intention to write, but what matters, in the end, is what is on the page.

Should Writers Work From Home?

When the pandemic yet, many workers were forced out of their office spaces and told to work from home. 

During this time, I heard many authors say in interviews and online that for them, nothing had really changed because they worked from home anyway. Rolling from the bed to the desk was nothing new to them. Several jokingly said they’d spent their entire working career preparing for this very moment. 

For some, the only thing that really changed was that they were no longer the only person home. Though this is not an insignificant fact, to a degree, maybe it is true that writers who work from home were the best prepared and the least affected during lockdowns. 

In a recent piece for the New Yorker, Cal Newport noted that historically, writing is one of the few cognitively demanding tasks that could be performed outside of a professional office or workspace. 

There is a reason why Penguin Random House doesn’t offer a workstation when you sign a publishing deal, nor does IngramSpark when you use them as a distributor for your self-published venture. 

Writers decide for themselves where they are happiest to work and for many novelists and freelance writers, that happens to be at home. 

Obviously, this decision is partly informed by financial factors. You don’t need an office or formal workspace to write, so why spend the money on renting a co-working space when, hypothetically, you can work anywhere as long as you have a laptop or a notepad and pen?

The second is convenience. It is just too easy to wake up, go about your morning routine, and then disappear into your home office. 

No commute. Pants optional. 

You don’t have to buy a coffee every hour as payment for occupying a table in a café and you don’t have to pack up your laptop and notes every time you need to go to the bathroom if you’re working at a public library. 

And yet, despite the financial benefits and convenience of writing at home, some authors have gone to great lengths to get out of the house. 

Prior to the pandemic, Joanna Penn would take the entire morning to write at a local café. While Non-fiction author, Gretchen Rubin, has an office space in her home, she chooses to write her books at a small local library, and Ray Bradbury wrote on a typewriter in the basement of UCLA’s library. 

Maya Angelou used to rent out hotel rooms, arriving at 6:30 in the morning with nothing but a bible, yellow legal pad, and a bottle of sherry. 

TS Elliott, Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein, and F Scott Fitzgerald all wrote while sitting in coffee shops and cafes. 

Beloved Zen devote and writing guru Natalie Goldberg appears to write everywhere from cafes to workshops to friend’s houses to park benches and even while out walking! 

So why did all of these writers choose to work outside of the home, despite the benefits of pyjamas and free coffee and tea? 

The reason why there were so many ‘how to work from home’ articles published during 2020 is because working from home is not always the most supportive environment. 

Why? Because we associate this space with family time, nourishment, celebration, and rest. Four words we probably wouldn’t use to describe work. 

Beyond this, however, is the simple fact that houses are filled with distraction. 

Every short trip to the bathroom or kettle risks derailing productivity. 

Seeing a laundry basket full of dirty clothes, a dishwasher in need of emptying, wilting pot plants, or dusty shelves sends a signal to your easily distracted brain: you should do that, it will only take a minute. But as Newport argues, the visual cues ‘destabilizes the subtle neuronal dance required to think clearly.’  

Some people love to work from home because it means that they can complete these domestic chores in-between work tasks, but according to Newport and other academics concerned with the link between cognitive process and productivity, home may not be the most supportive space for cultivating good work. 

Maybe it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. Does it really matter if you get up to put a load of laundry on during a scheduled break? Well, no, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. 

Instead, consider how your home is a minefield of potential distraction and even if you don’t engage in that distraction, your mind is momentarily pulled towards this urgent but unimportant domestic task and away from whatever it was you were working on. 

It takes a lot of discipline and energy to write and we don’t want to waste those finite resources on overcoming potential distractions (see: laundry, dishes, vacuuming, mowing). 

And I haven’t even begun to talk about how other people are also a form of distraction. 

Working from home is often presented as a perk and it is one of the few benefits that writers – well known or not – share. And yet, there are many writers who forego this privilege in the name of productivity. 

Perhaps the solution then is, as Newport said, to work from near home. 

For those on a shoestring budget, that may look like working from public libraries, but you’d be surprised at how creative you can get with this. I’ve spoken with writers who’ve written books in the empty spaces above bookshops, who’ve contacted their local library and requested a private space work, or who have made an arrangement with their local university. 

A lot of magic can happen when you ask and the worst is that they will say ‘no’. (And I’m pretty sure you can handle that). 

If you can afford it, then renting a desk in a co-working space or hiring a room that you can turn into a writing retreat may be a great option for you.  

Now, is this an unnecessary and privileged expense? 

You bet ya. 

But this type of grand gesture is what can elevate you from amateur to professional, or so Steven Pressfield would say. This kind of investment is a signal to yourself that writing is important to you, that you are worth backing, and that you are taking this writing practice seriously. And you never know, the cost of working in such a space could be covered by your increase in productivity. 

As with all writing advice, you need to decide what works best for you, but I do think this is an aspect of our writing routine that deserves some serious experimentation. 

Now I’d love to hear from you. Do you write from home? Do you find this space supportive or distractive? If you write at home, please share what types of locations work well for you, cafes, libraries, co-working spaces, and do you think this makes writing easier? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it because I’d love to know. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Five Lesser Known Writer Problems

We’re all familiar with some of the problems that writers’ struggle with: writer’s block, procrastination, perfectionism, and crappy royalties… 

But in this week’s blog I want to discuss five common, but less discussed problems, that many writers’ experience.   

#1 Between projects 

It takes a long time to write a book, often years.  

We have moments of really loving what we’re doing and moment where we cannot wait for this thing to be over.  

We pour so much of ourselves into the creative process, and following publication, we don our extrovert hats and go out into the world to promote the heck out of it.  

But once we return home, we realise that even though we couldn’t possibly read our book one more time, we kind of miss working on a project.  

If you’re lucky, you may already have another manuscript on the go, but even then, starting a project is very different to being in the middle of, or finishing, a novel.  

During the later stages of writing, you still feel self-doubt, but you know the work and you’re reasonably confident in your ability to pull it off.  

Starting energy is different to finishing energy.  

Beginnings are wide open with possibility; they are the great unknown.  

You could take your manuscript in a variety of different directions and it’s very exploratory which in one way is fun and in another way totally overwhelming because there are so many things that you could do that you don’t know what to do.  

It’s decision overload.  

But as a work nears its completion, the parameters around the story narrow because you’ve already made all those big important decisions about plot, character, setting, structure, theme and so on.  

You’re not creating a work from scratch, you’re just improving the story that you already have.  

When a major project wraps up it’s a cause for celebrations, but once the confetti settles and it’s just you and the giant unknown of ‘what’s next?’ it can be surprising and uncomfortable to discover that you don’t know what the answer is.   

#2 Repeating yourself

This problem piggy-backs off problem number one.  

Once we finally get an idea for a new project or we feel brave enough to pursue one of the many ideas in our creative volt, it can be a huge relief to have writing back in our lives again.  

But you may reach a point in your draft where you start to have this niggly feeling of, hmmmm this seem familiar.  

With great dismay, you discover that your new manuscript is eerily similar to the last one.  

The characters sound the same, the plotline is overly similar, and you’ve chosen a near identical setting.  

You start to wonder if you’re a one hit wonder, that maybe you only had one story to tell, and that if you pursue this new project, you’ll become one of those writers who build a career off publishing the same book.  

You worry that you’ll never release a “second album” and that your creativity was a lot more limited than you thought.  

The thing is, we spend so long working on a book that the structure and format of that project become embedded in our brain. It’s a loop that we’ve create through multiple drafts, edits, and countless hours spent thinking about the narrative.  

Little wonder that when we sit down to write a new book, we end up playing the same track.  

Fortunately, awareness is the first step to recovery. Once you realise that you’re repeating yourself, you can then take active steps to construct new characters, chose an alternative setting, and dismantle the structure.  

Writing is largely about problem solving and every writer begins again with the start of every new project.  

We’re drawn to writing in part because of the challenge that it presents and realising that your new manuscript is a cover of the last is just one more opportunity for you to develop your writing skills.   

#3 Someone already wrote it

Many writers have experienced this problem which is basically a backhanded compliment. 

In one way, it’s physical proof that you were right. This is a great idea; a publisher would be interested in this and there is a market for this type of story. The slap is that now it has been done. A publisher has already accepted this story and this could have been your success if you hadn’t spent so much time procrastinating.  

Your inner optimist will attempt to reassure you by saying that there’s no such thing as an original story and that every book is drawing upon all of the many books, myths, and fables that came before it—nothing is wholly original.  

And your inner-pessimist will want to shove a muffin down their Polly-Anna throat.  

#4 Writing what you don’t know

Write what you know has become a cliché piece of writing advice for good reason. First, it’s easy to write what you know. You can do it with authority, confidence, and include details and insights that don’t exist on Google.  

But there comes a time when you must also write what you don’t know because our lives and experiences are limited and part of creative writing is using our imagination to step into different worlds, careers, and experiences.  

But writing what you don’t know is hard. It takes a lot of research (see: rabbit holes) and it’s scary because you don’t know what you don’t know and the last thing you want to do is make a giant mistake that will cause insiders to laugh at you or worse, you offend them. 

We worry that if we write what we know our work will lack diversity and if we write what we don’t know we will be accused of appropriation.  

Ultimately, what this comes down to is checking in with your ethics (why are you write about this?), doing a bunch of research, and reaching out to sensitivity readers or professionals in the industry.  

What happens after that is between you and your editor.  

#5 Writing isn’t instantly rewarding 

The weird thing about writing is that it kind of feels like you’re doing nothing. 

Like I mentioned in point one, it takes a long time to write a novel. We chip away at our book baby for years before it’s released.  

Rarely do you feel a sense of completion when working on a book. For the most part, it’s just this on-going project that you tinker with for a couple hours a day (if you’re lucky and super disciplined).  

Finishing a scene doesn’t really bring any sense of completion because that means you’re just starting a new scene tomorrow. Sending your manuscript off to an editor brings only a brief reprieve until you receive the line edits.    

The book isn’t done until you’re holding a printed copy on pub day.  

For this reason, when you’re working on a book, on the day to day, it can feel as though you aren’t really making any progress. Even when you’re working on a second or third draft or you’re deep into editing, our progress is often small. Two thousand words written (with 60,000 to go) or three pages edited (with 300 to go).  

Accepting that this is simply the nature of the beast goes a long way to making this fact more palatable. But tracking hours spent or words added (depending on what stage you are at) can help remind you that you are indeed making progress (even if it feels like you’re only taking micro-steps).  

There you have it. That’s my take on five underrated writer problems. Now I’d love to hear from you, what’s a writing problem you encounter that no one talks about? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it.   


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Writing After a Break

I haven’t done any creative writing for two months.

Why? Because other things became the priority: teaching, coaching, writing my exegesis, helping family, and taking on some extra hospo work. [NB: an exegesis is like a mini-thesis and forms part of my overall dissertation].

I record my habits every day in a tracker because collecting data keeps me honest, but I was shocked to discover that eight weeks had passed since I’d worked on the manuscript.

Now, admittedly, you can’t do everything all the time.

While I was working on the novel, I made the conscious decision to put academic research aside until I was ninety percent happy with the revision.

Once I reached that point, I then put the novel aside so that I could focus on putting my exegesis together.

We’re all capable of focussing on more than one thing at a time, but I couldn’t see how — realistically — I could continue to write every day, plus work on my exegesis, and take care of my responsibilities as a sessional academic and writing coach.

If you’re a frequent watcher of this channel, or a member of my email list, you already know that my regular Thursday uploads have been irregular lately.

I definitely don’t work on everything every day because cognitive task switching drains energy and fractures focus, and I have to work around time constraints and interruptions (just like everyone else!).

I hate studying writing while not writing.

I hate teaching writing while not writing.

I hate sharing writing advice while not writing.

At first, I tried to justify this brief abandoning of the manuscript, and writing in general, by saying that the project had shifted into a different season, and while that is correct, the project is not complete and I wasn’t going to finish the latest round of edits unless I made writing a priority again.

With everything on my plate right now, I know I can’t dedicate whole days to writing, and even if I could, such approaches usually lead to creative burn out.

So, instead, I’m taking my own advice and carving out a little time each morning to work on the manuscript.

The stage I’m at right now is applying the structural feedback I’ve received from my mentors for acts one and two, as well as conducting a general line edit to correct typos and sentence structure.

This stuff is not earth shatteringly difficult, but as the last two months have shown, this edit will not get done unless I actively make time for it.

I considered using writing as a reward; something I could do after I’d completed working on my exegesis or teaching materials, but knowing how draining these tasks can be, I chose to start my day with writing. That way, I’m coming to the page as my freshest, bestest self.

For now, I’m only working on the edits for an hour a day, and I got to be honest, that hour goes quickly, and even though part of me wants to shove my schedule aside and keep writing, at least for this week, I’m sticking to my one hour.

Why? Because I do have to complete other work that isn’t nearly as developed as the manuscript and two, because I don’t want to do one big day and then not touch the book again for another week.

But that’s just my process from many years of trial and error.

It’s only been a week, but because I’ve structured my entire life around writing, everything starts to feel wobbely when that centre is removed.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. Do you ever take breaks from writing, either consciously or unconsciously? Do you feel rusty when you return to writing or does it feel natural? Do you miss writing when you aren’t working on a project? Leave a comment below and let me know.


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Everything is Writing | Part Two

A while back, I posted a blog titled Everything is Writing which broke down how most writes fall into one of two camps when it comes to what constitutes as writing.

Some people think that the only thing that counts as writing is words on the page. They believe that writing is writing, so don’t kid yourself into thinking anything different.

For a long time, I agreed with this perspective, but as I shared in the previously mentioned video, I’ve jumped camps.

Now, I see how my writing is very much impacted by what is going on in my life, both in a practical sense and in a reflect sense. For example, if I have a bunch of teaching deadlines, this will impact how much time I have for writing. Similarly, the books I read or the conversation I have with other people may spark a new idea for the work.

I believe that thinking, reading, teaching, exercise, relaxation, socialising, and even errands can count as writing.

You can actively find ways to connect all of these aspects of your life to writing, but we also need to acknowledged how important it’s for our brains to have legitimate downtime.

Obsessively thinking about writing or your manuscript isn’t helpful.

Our subconscious is startling good at coming up with creative solutions and new idea and how we do that is by giving our conscious mind a rest by swapping tasks or giving ourselves permission to relax.

This reframe of what counts as writing is infinitely more helpful then the punitive belief that only writing is writing, however, even this reframe has a few potential problems.

When you’re first getting into writing, you will mostly likely consume a lot of content as a way to improve and develop your writing ability, your understanding of craft, how to be consistent, as well as how the industry, both traditional and indie publishing works.

You may join a writing group, sign-up for courses online, become a member of your state’s writing centre, attend book launches, volunteer at festivals, and follow other writers on social media.

All of this stuff is great and becoming an active member in your local and digital writing network can be really supportive, but we also need to balance all these external activities with our actual practise.

Don’t let them replace writing.

Let me explain…

Talking for hours with a writing buddy about your latest idea for a manuscript is a lot of fun and deeply satisfying.

However…

We write because our ideas comes with a certain about of tension: we aren’t certain what the story is, who is in it, or what they will do.

Remember, our brains are hardwired to solve problems, and stories are one giant problem, but by talking through your story with a buddy, you’ve largely solved the problem and thus eliminated the tension that would have propelled you into writing.

Every writer is different. Some writers can talk about their ideas before they have fully developed them and it doesn’t affect their progress.

Famously, the collaborative duo Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman develop their stories ideas together and outline the first one hundred pages of their co-written novels — but note that this is an example of a writing team not a solo writer sharing their ideas with another writer or friend.

In this case, Jay and Amie are also acting as accountability partners and they are both invested in working on their story together, plus they only draft one hundred pages at a time, so that the story contains some mystery and flexibility.

Maybe talking with other writers is supportive to your process, maybe it isn’t. But if you talk about writing more than you actually write, then we have a problem.

Similarly, reading craft books, completing online courses, obsessively listening to writing podcasts, attending festivals, book launches, and events are a great way to become a part of the community and to meet like-minded people, but these too can quickly become a trap.

Firstly, you may fall into the habit of constantly learning but never doing. You understand the fundamentals of craft, you’ve studies the writing routines of classic and contemporary writers, you’ve given your inner critic a persona, created multiple Pinterest boards that reflect your novel’s aesthetic, bought a bunch of notebooks, and read Writing Down the Bones four times and On Writing six times.

But you haven’t created an outline. Or written a chapter. Or played around with character profiles.

The internet is wonderful. Seriously. But sometimes knowing so much can actually become a hindrance.

We worry that we’re going to get it wrong.

We’re afraid that if we actually start writing, our worst fear will be proven: that we suck.

Let me reassure you here, you probably (see: totally) do suck because all first drafts suck and that’s okay. That’s why we edit books.

These external activities can hinder you in other strange ways, by getting to know people and building connections, you feel like a part of the tribe. You got accepted even though you haven’t finished (or started?) your novel.

That’s the wonderful thing about the writing community, we accept people of all different levels, experience, and motivations. Beginners, professionals, hobbyists, and devotees – everyone is welcomed.

And yet, when you get initiated into a group without having to do anything except show up and show some level of interest, there’s little reason to write your book because look – you already got in!

Of course, these activity help build your knowledge and being around other writers can inspire you to take writing more seriously, but you can’t rely on the community as a whole to make you accountable.

If you need accountability to reach your goals, then find a writing buddy, a mentor, or group to support you.  

The final problem with all these writing related activities is that they take time: a writer’s most precious resource.

Depending on where you’re at with writing, you need to assess how your time is best spent.

Will a weekend attending a writers festival refill your creative well, provide important industry insight, and forge new connections or should you finish the final round of edits on your novel?

Will signing up for a writing course give you the permission you need to be creative, or should you just get to work on your outline?

While I am presenting these scenarios as ‘this’ or ‘that’, sometimes it is possible to do both. For example, spend one day at a writers festival and one day editing or create your outline (and more!) while doing the course.

Writing related activities can give us the satisfaction we expect to get from writing, only without the hard work, wonder, tears, and joy that is creative practise.

Everything is writing, provided that you are actually writing.


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Are Author Platforms Worth It?

Whether you are an indie or traditionally published author, we all feel the pressure to be online, producing content, and cultivating relationships with our audience.

Most traditional publishers will want to know what your numbers are, and if you don’t have a public author profile, they’ll want you to set one up.

I have seen examples of traditionally published authors who’s social media accounts are run by the publisher or that are totally inactive (created as a way to safeguard against posers), but these examples are rare and it’s likely that these writers have only been able to get away with this behaviour because their books are best sellers — but how did they become best sellers?

Because the publisher ran a massive marketing campaign.

Of course, there are examples of heavily marketed books that ‘failed’ despite the big backing (and big budget) of a major publishing house, and there are examples of indie authors who went from obscurity to lucrative full-time earnings solely because their platform suddenly took off.

Social media can be powerful and it can work for you, but there is no guarantee — and the same goes for traditional marketing.

We’re attracted to building a social media platform because it’s in our control and we’re attracted to traditional publishers because they offer support, experience, reach and a network. (NB: Sometimes ALL that still isn’t enough for a book to be ‘successful’).

What sucks though is when traditional publishers ask their new or mid-list authors to develop a platform. Because here’s the thing: it’s actually not that easy to build a big, engaged audience, AND it’s a massive time suck.

Looking for content to repost on Twitter with a summary sentence or witty comment, replying to comments, creating Instagram stories, and finding your balance between 80% sharing and 20% promotion (the ‘magic ratio’ according to some person on the internet) — all takes time and energy.

The same two resources we need to write, which is the activity that lead to the product we’re trying to sell in the first place!

And let’s be honest, if you don’t have a public author page by now, it’s probably because you don’t want one and if you don’t want one, but feel pressured to have one, you probably won’t do a very good job.

Alternatively, some indie authors have only been able to survive because of their platforms (for e.g. Jenna Moreci).

However, if you speak to the booksellers of brick and mortar stores, they’ll say their customers’ purchases are based off recommendations in the newspaper, radio interviews, or because of a friend.

Now, this may be because the bulk of buyers who still go to physical bookstores consume these type of media, whereas the bulk of people who buy online look to podcasts, YouTube videos, or social media profiles for recommendations. Who knows?

It’s very difficult to track how many followers convert into buyers online, but I’ve heard other writers say that for every 40, 000 followers they’ll make 2,000 sales (during a launch). But again, every platform and artist is different.

The one thing that all those business marketing courses, free videos, and blogs fail to tell you is that convincing a stranger on the internet to buy your stuff is hard.

You can work on your know, like, and trust factors, put in a funnel, develop an email campaign, and every other step recommended out there on the interwebs and there is still no guarantee.

You can do everything you’re supposed to do and not achieve the results you had hoped for, but that’s not to say you won’t ever achieve success, you just need to find the model that works for you, and sometimes, you simply have to give something more time.

The whole point of this post is not to arrive at one tidy conclusion backed by a step by step action plan, but to show that there is no guarantee of failure or success no matter which way you go.

Social media is one way to promote your books and yourself as an author, but it’s not the only way.

The best way to approach this aspect of the writing life is to have an experimental attitude and to find the methods that work best for you.


Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, please join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

It’s okay to write slow

We can be really hard on ourselves, and writing — honestly — can be so frustrating because it’s the exact opposite of everything that capitalism and hustler culture stand for.

Writing takes time.



We shouldn’t speak in absolutes and it’s true that writing a book doesn’t have to take a long time. There are indie authors who write and publish books every 6-8 week; they produce a draft, give it a quick edit, and hit publish.

Dead Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rush are big believers in the originality and authenticity that comes through fast drafting, though admittedly, they always give their fiction three rounds of edits before they publish.

For the rapid release model to be viable as a business, you need to publish new long form content every 3 months.

Sales will peak at the beginning, then taper off over the first, second, and third month.

Some writers maintain this publishing schedule because it’s their full-time job and they want it to become a sustainable source of income, however, there is a massive dropout rate because writing takes energy and many people find that writing 8,000-10,000 words a day and publishing a new 40,000-60,000 word book every three months is unsustainable and they quickly burnout.

To paraphrase the creator of 20booksto50Ks, Michael Anderle, if you stop writing and publishing books, you’ll stop making money.

Rapid release is an option, but it is not the only option.

This model works because it follows the rules of capitalism and hustle culture, but that doesn’t mean that it’s sustainable or enjoyable.

The problem is, most of us aren’t full-time writers, though for some of us that’s the dream.

Because we’re working other full-time jobs or maintaining a portfolio career, our writing time is less than we desire. We get frustrated that it is taking so long to finish a first draft, but writing (prior to the golden days of CreateSpace back in 2002) has always been slow with a few exceptions, such as Charles Dicken’s serial publications.

It used to be that releasing one book a year was considered fast and to be honest, I can’t imagine working at that pace, at least not at the moment.

For example, if I had published the first, second, or even third draft of my current manuscript, it would have been fine, but it would have lacked the complexity and emotional richness that the current (sixth) draft has.

You can write and publish at whatever speed suits you, this is totally in your control, but do not use your slower pace as a reason to beat yourself up.

Even when you work on your writing 2-3 hours a day, five days a week, it still feels slow because we’re often not ‘finishing’ anything. Instead, think of writing as a slow progression, a gentle unfurling.

Writing this way feels more enriching, satisfying, and rewarding. We’re able to go deep into the work, to explore all the possible variations, and we allow space for new discoveries and revelations to occur in the act of writing and when we are out living our lives.  

In this model, writing isn’t a product it’s a practice. It’s an activity that is connected to every other part of your life and every part of your life is connected to your writing.

You’re allowed to take your time, to get messy, to question the work, to lift your game and stretch your abilities, to work in short bursts and long walks. It’s okay to spend time on your writing. The world will wait, and when you’re ready, you’ll know that you did the right thing by yourself and the book because writing is the reward.

Now I’d love to hear from you. Do you wish you could write faster? Do you have the pace of your own writing frustrating, or do you enjoy taking your time? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it.


Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, please join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

What’s Your Writing Superpower?

It’s human nature to want to progress. One of the best and worst parts of being human is that once we solve a problem or master a skill, we immediately start looking towards the next thing.

We don’t just do this to ourselves, but others too.

At a friend’s wedding, we ask when they will start having kids; a week after someone has given birth, we ask when they will have another; and we toast a new graduate while asking, ‘What now?’ (This problem is so prevalent that Ann Patchett wrote a commencement speech and then published a tiny book by the same name.)

We do this as writers too. We’re constantly looking for ways to develop our skills, to reach a greater audience, and to generally improve.

When we read a great work of fiction, we inevitably compare it to our own work.

The gap between where they are and where we are may be wide or narrow, but it is there all the same.

We’re told one of the best ways to improve our writing is to read more, and this is one of the easiest ways to become aware of our weaknesses as a writer, but it can also be a great source of inspiration as it shows us what is possible.

Reading is one of the best ways to improve your writing.

As creatives, we are so aware of the gap between where we are and where we want to be.

With our eye on the prize, we focus intently on our weakness.

We’re berate ourselves for being ‘bad’ at …

  • Setting
  • Description
  • Dialogue
  • Underwriting
  • Overwriting
  • Character
  • Plot
  • Structure
  • Tension

Of course, it’s important to be aware of our weaknesses, but I invite you to think about what are your writing superpowers?

What’s your writing superpower?

What aspects of writing come naturally to you? What can you do so easily that you’re not even aware of it, or think about it as special?

Write them down or ask a writing buddy, your critique partner, betareaders, or editor.

To give you a little inspiration here are my three superpowers:

  1. Dedication
  2. Discipline
  3. Application of feedback

You’ll note that none of these aspects have to do with craft element but instead relate to mindset and behaviour.

What writing skills come to you so naturally you don’t even think of them as special?


1 / Dedication

I gave up a lucrative job and moved city (multiple times) to pursue writing and writing-related study. (NB: I don’t have a mortgage or kids, but I do have a high tolerance for risk!).

You don’t have to give up your job or move cities to prove that you are dedicated to writing, those are massive decisions with massive ramifications, and to be honest, it’s the mundane, garden-variety dedication that creates meaningful results.

I started a weekly blog seven years ago and later a YouTube channel as a way to document my experiences and share all the writing advice I’d come across (and yes, to build a platform. Let’s be transparent here!).

I consume A LOT of writing-related content, which means I’m able to recommend other resources to my coaching clients and to reference them myself when needed!

I’ve seeped myself in this community for years, and while I don’t know everything, I know a lot.

My dedication to writing is the reason all of these things have happened.

I didn’t give up when I got rejected or even when other things had to become the number one priority.

2 / Discipline

I make time for writing and when I show up, I work with little distraction, not even my inner critic can stop me.

My inner critic may say things like, ‘This is a waste of time. You’re ruining your life. This sucks. You suck. This is boring.’

I acknowledges these comments, often by writing them down, and I think, ‘okay this may suck. This could be boring, but I’m going to keep writing anyway.’ And then I do.

Part of the reason I am so disciplined with writing is two-fold.

One, I’ve worked a lot of soul crushing job and I really want to make this current trajectory to work.

Two, I know the following statement to be all too true: ‘Resisting writing is harder than writing.’ Even on bad days, even on shit days, writing is always better than not writing (even if only for five minutes).

Of course, you don’t have to be saving the world with your writing all the time. Even superheroes deserve a break.

3 / Application of Feedback

I’m great at receiving feedback from betareaders and editors, but I didn’t realise this was a strength until my mentor pointed it out!

They said so many people will accept punctuation suggestions but then reject all the critical advice surrounding plot, structure, characterisation, and so on.

I am always open to feedback and while I’m aware that makes these changes will be work, I know they will lead to a better book/short story/article.

I don’t take the criticism personally because I work with smart and kind people who I trust so I know their feedback is coming from a good, informed place, and it’s often great fun to brainstorm potential solutions.

As life coach, Cheryl Richardson says, ‘Don’t go to the hardware store for milk!’ by which she means, be selective in whom you seek advice from. 

It’s so easy to only focus on our weakness as a writer, and this makes sense because awareness is the first step to improving that aspect of our craft, but it’s also important that we celebrate and acknowledge what we’re actually good at too.

Know I’d love to hear from you. In the comments below, please share 1-3 of your writing superpowers. Remember, these can be related to mindset, behaviour, habits, or craft.


Access The Follow-Through Formula training video

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, please join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.