The Problem with Outlining Your Novel

Outlines are helpful because they make us feel safe. They are a blueprint which convinces us, rightly or wrongly, that we know what the story is going to be about and where it is going.  

Novels are large wieldy beasts that contain multiple threads and components. An outline is a great way to make all that seem just a little bit more manageable. It can be difficult to hold an entire novel in your mind, but an outline basically acts like a second brain that can store your story in a small number of pages.

It takes a long time to write a novel, so it can be good to know before you start writing that you’ve already thought about some of the potential problems that could occur and solved them.

This type of planning can give you the confidence to start, but an overreliance on an outline can actually be detrimental to your novel. 

If a writer spends too much time creating an outline and then fiercely sticking to it, they may shut themselves off from the sudden insights and awareness that can only happen once you actually started writing. 

Often, we may plan something out ahead of time, but once we start writing a scene, those events may no longer make sense or feel organic. 

If a writer has sunk hours into the creation of an outline, they may feel beholden to follow it, even if the ideas and scenes they mapped out fail to come to life on the page. 

When it comes to novel writing, writers should learn how to remain curious and open about their stories. 

Rather than working from an outline as a way to prevent major rewrites or edits, it is perhaps more accurate to say that a novel emerges slowly and through multiple drafts as the writer critically reflects on what they have written, adapts to sudden changes or ideas, and incorporates new material as the discover it in real-time. 

The good thing about stories is that if you write something and it doesn’t work, you can either move it someplace else, revise it, or delete it! If you write a bad scene, the entire novel isn’t going to collapse as a result. Instead, we need to think of novels as beings that evolve and unfold over time as we continue to engage with the work. 

Outlines are incredibly helpful tools for sorting out our thinking, but we are under no obligation to follow them, particularly if you want to challenge yourself by pursuing a new idea or you just want to see what happens, following your curiosity and instincts. 

The entire novel doesn’t need to be figured out before you start drafting. Give yourself permission to discover the story as you write it – that’s half the fun! 

Something to consider before you start is: how would I write this draft differently if no one was going to read 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.

How to Critique Other Writers’ Work

The purpose behind writing workshops is to give and receive feedback on your creative works. 

I’ve noticed a trend among creative writing students to only focus on the aspects of the story that are working and shying away from the parts that do not.

Some students feel that they are not experienced enough to offer critical feedback on another student’s work (‘who am I to say their story is bad?), and many are afraid of hurting their peer’s feelings.

This is understandable because sharing creative work is incredibly venerable, and sharing new work (stories the writer has spent little time with) is even more so. 

The critiquing process of creative writing workshops is a flawed system because writing is subjective—at least to a degree. I would argue that most of us know good writing when we see it… 

The workshop model has been criticised for favouring realism, stifling creativity, and encouraging students to write more or less the same. 

However, workshops and critiques can be very valuable. We can’t see our work clearly, and there is something really wonderful about getting to discuss early drafts of our work with other people who understand writing craft. Ideally, these critiques are offered in an environment that is safe, supportive, and encouraging. 

Critiques are the most helpful when they are specific. And this is one way we can combat the fear of hurting someone’s feelings. If you describe a story as boring, confusing, or bad, the following can happen: 1) the writer’s feelings will be hurt (obviously) and 2) the criticism is too vague to be meaningful. 

Instead, if you described the story as slow because there was too much exposition or a transition between two scenes as confusing because there is no signposting…  then it is clear that you have engaged with the work, thought deeply about what exactly the problem is, and the criticism also hints towards the solution: reduce the exposition (more show, less tell) and use signposting (or scene breaks) to make transitions clearer. 

This is invaluable information for the writer. 

This is the type of feedback that can guide the writer as they move into the revision stage. When you focus on the writing rather than the writer, your comments are less likely to be personally offensive or hurtful. 

A good critique will not hurt a writer’s feelings. Instead, it should make them excited to know, very clearly, was aspects of the work could be further developed and what can be left alone. 

The critiquing process is a way for you to fine tune your ability to think about a creative work critically. It is always easier to do this with someone else’s story than your own, but by practising this skill, the hope is that eventually, you’ll be able to do this same process for yourself. 

Critiques can support us during the revision process, but it is also important that we eventually develop the ability to trust our own instincts and decisions. 

And that’s the strange thing about writing. This process is both fiercely solo and collaborative, you just need to know when to engage with these strategies and at what stage.  


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.

What to do during the second draft of your book

First drafts are about getting the story down. Maybe you are working from an outline, or you are writing intuitively, but either way you are transforming a blank word document into a book-like thing. 

As you already know, I’m really not precious about first drafts. I do not put any effort into making the writing good, the descriptions polished, or for my language to be poetic. 

For me, a first draft is one version of the story, and more often than not, it is the wrong version. I once heard Holly Black say that she has to write the story the wrong way before she can write it the right way—and this is the purpose of the first draft. I’ve also heard Leigh Bardough say that you cannot outsmart the first draft–a comment that is both liberating and heartbreaking. 

First drafts aren’t about good writing, at least not for me. First draft are just about the story. The interesting thing about first draft is that, at least for me, they improve the further into them you get.

Drafting is making decisions and then responding to those decisions. This is how you move forward. As you write further into the story, there is at least some level of clarity about where the story is heading and who the characters are. As you continue to work on the story, you often generate more ideas, or at least more interesting ideas, then you may have been able to come up with during the outlining or planning stage. 

After completing a first draft, you’ll likely realise that the story has taken a shape you’re not happy with, but this is what second drafts are for. 

Second drafts are where you get to look at the book as a whole and reflect on important questions about structure, plot, setting, and characterisation. 

You get to ask yourself whether the story has everything that it needs and whether the events are in the right place. One quick trick is to create an outline for the draft you’ve already written, summarising each scene in a sentence. At a glance, you can see how the book hangs together as a whole and whether you need to move or adjust any of the scenes or events. 

Seconds drafts, like first drafts, are not concerned with good writing. In fact, spending too much time polishing a scene at the line level can actually be a disservice to the story as it will be harder to cut it later if you realise it’s unnecessary. 

Second drafts are still very much a work in progress, and during this stage you should be looking at the big and little building blocks that make up the narrative. Are these blocks well built, flimsy, or missing something?

So, when do you start to worry about perfecting your prose? The short answer? When you’re arrived at a story shape and plot that you are happy with. The even shorter answer? You’ll know.  

We spend a lot of time talking about first draft because many hobbie writers never make it beyond this stage. We often put a lot of effort into the preparation stage before beginning a first draft, but it’s also worth pausing, and coming up with a plan for how best to approach the writing of our second draft. Ask yourself what you hope to achieve within this space, and be realistic about how much work happens between a first and second draft. 

It often takes a lot of work to fix all the problems that exist in a first draft, which is another reason why you don’t want to further complicate the matter by editing the work on the line level during this stage. Only spend time making your writing sing once you’re happy that all the building blocks are in the right place and that the story is working the way you had hoped it would. 


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.

Short Writing Sessions + Process Journal

This post is short, but I wanted to share my current process for fast drafting my newest manuscript. 

Before I started working on this manuscript ‘officially’, I spent about a month brainstorming various ideas for the plot and setting. I didn’t create a strict outline, but I did spend a lot of time thinking about what I would like to see happen in the novel, and I came up with a handful of specific turning points and events. 

Once I felt confident enough about the general direction of the story, I started working on the zero draft.

To make this process as fun and as relaxed as possible, I’ve set a minimum goal of 25-minutes a day and a maximum goal of 50-minutes. 

Rather than working from an outline, I’m writing intuitively towards the few significant events that I came up with, but I’m also holding myself to the possibility that new and better ideas might emerge as I continue to write the manuscript. 

By opting to only write for a very small amount of time, it’s more likely that I will be able to do at least some creative writing every day, and this is particularly important because I’m not working with an outline. By writing every day, it is easier for me to keep a tab on what is happening in the story, and I am able to easily pick up from where I left off the previous day. 

Before I finish each writing session, I take just a few minutes to write down what will happen next, or to brainstorm several options from which I can choose the following day. 

This has made my ‘entry’ back into the story so much easier because I’m following the same thought thread and I don’t have to familiarise myself with what I wrote the previous day in order to figure out where I should be going next. 

After I’ve finished my session for the day, I write a few sentences down in my process journal. I usually record the date, how many words I wrote, and any general reflections on how the writing felt that day. 

The reason why I am doing this is so I can have a record of all the questions and uncertainties that come up during the drafting process. 

I recently finished work on a manuscript I’ve been writing for three years and because books get easier as you get closer to finishing them, it is easy to trick myself into thinking that there is something ‘wrong’ with the new book. This thinking can look like, ‘My last book was so easy and this one is so hard!’  

By looking back on my process journals for my last book, I know that is not the case. That book was every bit as difficult and riddled with uncertainty as this new project is. 

I’ve also decided to take the pressure off while writing this first draft. Whenever a thought comes in like, ‘I don’t know where this is going, or what this story is even about’ I recommit to the story and choose to remain open to whatever emerges onto the page. This has largely made the writing so much more fun, and the work feels a lot more alive on the sentence level. 

 I don’t expect to write a perfect first draft, but I do expect to have fun while doing 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 while Working a Day Job

Writers love talking about their creative routines because it’s comforting to give shape and reason to what is often a mysterious and shifting process. 

We need a slew of tools and strategies to support us because our lives and schedules are constantly changing, and for most of us, writing is a passion that fills the fringes of our time. 

I once read a productivity article that said when things get busy, the first activity most people drop is exercise. 

For myself, that activity is writing. (Followed by exercise.)

To clarify, I stop working on personal fiction projects that no one is waiting for or wants. (Yet.) 

There are two things I know to be true: 

  1. Resisting writing is harder than writing 
  2. It is easy not to write. 

These two points may seem contradictory, but it’s not that simple. 

Resisting writing refers to the troubled relationship we can sometimes have with our craft. This can look like procrastination, perfectionism, impostor-syndrome, and the inner-critic. Resistence happens when the idea of writing makes you feel anxitious, restless, not good enough, or clueless (where is this story even going?)

It is easy not to write when the demands of life increase. It is easy not to write when there is a mountain of important and urgent tasks that need to be completed. Why? Because it plays into the idea that writing is a waste of time; writing is optional. 

Of course, there are times when it is correct for writing to go on the backburner and for other aspects of our lives to become a priority. Maybe you’re moving house, changing jobs, having a baby, grieving a loss, or dealing with a health issue. 

And then there are times when, unintentionally, writing slips away. You’re not necessarily dealing with any of these big life changes; you just got caught up on the hamster wheel of life. Maybe work is busy and your social life is full. 

So how do you make writing happen when your life is busy?

For myself, personally, I’m a habit tracker. The best thing about this ludicrously simple strategy is that I can see, at a glance, where I am spending my time. 

A week without writing is one thing. A month … that’s when I know I need to make changes. 

This is when we need to lean on the tools and strategies that we’ve gathered through all of the writing advice we’ve read. And I know you’ve read a lot of it. 

If your work day is spent in front of a computer, you probably don’t want to sit on a computer when you get home. Yes, you could work with paper and pen instead, but another option would be getting your writing done before you go to work, or during your lunch break. If that doesn’t work, consider dictation. Maybe you leave writing for the weekends and during the week you engage with your story by doing content research (reading non-fiction books or articles that would inform your story), sketching out scenes on paper, building character profiles, editing a print out of a chapter…you get the idea.

If you get home from work feeling burnt out and like you have nothing else to give, maybe reach for a ‘micro’ win. Write two crappy sentences. Spend five minutes researching your topic online. Watch some ‘infotainment’ videos on YouTube that are relevant to your book. Do an outline for a scene that you can write tomorrow. Sit on the couch and think about your book for five minutes, or my personal favourite, turn your daily walk into thinking sessions. Instead of listening to a podcast, music, or audio book, spend that time daydreaming about your book. 

It is so easy not to write, but it is so important that we find a way to engage with our work on a regular basis, even if only in a small way. If you’re a writer, then you have to write. That doesn’t mean you need to pump out 2000 words every day, but it does mean that in order to feel happy, to feel as though you are making progress, to feel connected to that aspect of your personality, you need to look for opportunities to engage with your creativity and imagination. 

For most of us, finding the time to write will be a never-ending struggle. Creating and then protecting your writing time takes effort and a willingness to expend energy that we don’t always have. But even a little time spent writing can give us a small boost, a hit of dopamine, and the thrill of a big tick in our habit tracker. 

You don’t have to write every day to finish a book, but you do have to write some days and you’ll be a happier creator if you do.  


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.

Preparing to Write a Zero Draft

I’ve started working on a new book. 

New books are scary; they are so open with possibilities. 

What’s strange about this particular book is that it’s been bouncing around in my head for, oh, ten years. I thought I knew a lot about it until I started writing it. The vivid scenes that I had replayed again and again in my mind turned into stick figures once I wrote them on the page. I also realised that while I had one story thread figured out, it wasn’t enough to carry the whole novel. 

In the past, the writing of my zero drafts happened intuitively and I usually threw out most of what I wrote.  

I don’t mind scrapping 80,000 words because this draft helps me figure out what the story is or is not about, who the characters are, and how my original thoughts/plans/intentions for the novel may have been limited. 

But for the story I am writing now, this method hasn’t been so helpful. Once I sketched out the handful of scenes I already had planned, I felt uncertain about what else needed to happen. I realised I needed at least some scaffolding before I could get started. Plus, my interests as a writer have changed and it is important to me that particular contemporary issues be folded into this story. 

Rather than launching right into the story because it feels productive to say, ‘I wrote 2000 words today,’ I’m instead taking a lot more time to think about the book. 

What this has looked like is a lot of daydreaming, post-it notes that map out ideas for world-building, scribblings out potential plots (there are several), watching YouTube videos on related topics, jotting down ideas sparked by conversations, and reading books that are doing similar things (and then deconstructing them). 

I’m a writer and I like writing, which is why in the past I’ve spent very little time planning my novels before beginning the zero draft. I would always create character profiles and an outline as a way to get me going, but these were usually created in a week and often forgotten about once I started writing. I was never beholden to these outlines. 

But this time I want to do something different. I want to spend the time exploring my ideas and concepts and all the potential forms this story could take before I commit to writing the zero draft. 

I don’t know that this process is any better–I don’t think we can use the word better when it comes to process. It doesn’t matter how we write our books, so long as we figure out what we need as writers to get the work done. And what we need changes constantly, even within the same day. What worked for your last book may not work for this book; the strategies that helped you this morning may be useless this afternoon. 

It’s all just one giant experiment. 

The point of this post is to give you permission to mess with your routines and processes. If you feel like writing in a different way, give it a go! Shake things up. Take risks and make mistakes. 

How you write stories is allowed to change just as much as you do. 


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.

Reading Journals for Writers

Only in the last few years have I actively kept a recording of what I am reading. 

This record is nothing elaborate. It is literally a numbered list I keep in my day-planner listing the title and authors I’ve read that year. 

And then, one of the members of my book club told me she had a reading journal. 

As I’ve been living under the rock of my doctorate, I had no idea that reading journals were ‘a thing,’ or that there was a corner of YouTube dedicated to reading journal layouts. 

I’ve actively been trying to increase the number of books I read each year. Why? Because reading is one of the best ways to improve your writing. However, as the number of books I read increased, I wondered whether there was a way to get more out of my reading. 

I know goodreads exists, but the beauty of a reading journal is that it isn’t public, it’s not on the internet, you don’t have to write a lengthy review, and it isn’t connected to Amazon. 

So, what do you record in your reading journal? Obviously, anything you want! If you’re stumped for ideas, you could always check out the aforementioned corner of YouTube…

For myself, I’ve kept it pretty simple. Each entry includes:

  • The book’s title + author
  • A general summary of the plot
  • A character list and brief summary 
  • Favourite quotes
  • A star rating 
  • And five things I would steal.

Most of these are self-explanatory, but I’d like to unpack that final point. Five things I would steal refer to aspects of the book that (from a writer’s perspective) I was impressed by. 

This could be anything from the unique metaphors that the author used to the structure of the book, the believable character, plot twist, beautifully written sentences, or they way they played with point of view. 

Initially, I was a little concerned that keeping a reading journal would become just another task that I needed to complete, and I doubted my ability to maintain it, but this small and simple form of record keeping has really added to my reading life. 

Keeping a reading journal creates an opportunity to engage with the books I’ve read on a deeper level. It forces me to stay with the book a little longer before I move on to the next. 

One of the first things I learnt when I started conducting research as part of my doctorate is how important it is to summarise the things I’ve read in my own words. It’s one thing to read an article, or in this case a book, and to think I know what it’s about and another to actually put those thoughts into words. 

Recording my thoughts on each novel makes me feel closer to the book. It often clarifies my opinions, helps me to pause long enough to consider its strengths and weaknesses; and any strategies I could experiment with in my own writing. 

Whenever I come up against a problem in my own writing, I’m able to flick through this journal to see if any of the books I’ve read handled this problem well. 

You can write in your reading journal in real time as you work through a book, or like me you can keep a more general record of your thoughts once you’ve finished the book. My only real advice with keeping a reading journal is that you experiment with a few different layouts until you decide on the one that is the most useful and the most do-able for you. And don’t get behind on your recording your entries! These records are the most powerful and accurate when completed straight after finishing a book. 


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.

Do Not Quit Your Book

What do you do when a project starts to feel stagnate? 

Quit and start something new. 

Just kidding. 

Mostly. 

Shiny new object syndrome is most likely to strike when our creative projects slipped from being pure-play to mostly work.

We sometimes consider giving up on our books when the writing gets tough. Maybe we feel uncertain about where the story is going, or maybe our grand idea now seems boring, predictable, and unoriginal. 

The problem is, our new idea is none of these things. Our new idea seems magical, malleable, and magnificent because it is unfamiliar.

When we get a new idea for a project, there are a thousand activities to pursue. New story ideas are kernels that need to be fleshed out, which means conducting content research, developing an outline, constructing new characters, figuring out the genre, deciding on a location etc. There are a million easy to identify decisions that need to be made. 

You need to build the foundation of the story; a process that involves a lot of play, creativity, and imagination. 

Once all those fun and juicy decisions get made, you’re left with the task of writing the book.

These same qualities can exist when you’re revising a story, but the further into the revision process you get, the more your inner-editor becomes present. Things become a little less play and a little more, ‘how do I make this book work?’ 

All of a sudden, writing has gone from a world of colourful play to:

  1. Write book
  2. Edit book
  3. Publish

And that just looks like hard work. 

How do you make these steps more doable? 

We’ve all heard that we need to break big goals into smaller more manageable chunks, but I’m going to go one step further and suggest that you identify a range of micro-wins. Preferably tasks that you could complete in one writing session or within a week. 

This could be anything from organising an interview with an expert as part of your research to completing a chapter. Creating a bunch of tiny goals can help reinvigorate your enthusiasm for the project because you can see progress is being made. 

Of course, if your new ideas continue to stick around, there’s no harm and giving them some of your time. You are allowed to work on multiple projects at once, but you may need to decide which project/s will get the baulk of your efforts and which ones are still in a state of development. 

The author VE Schwabs has said that she usually has multiple projects on the go but they are all at different stages. She can do line edits on one book while drafting another, and she usually lets story ideas simmer for several years before she begins writing them in earnest. 

You’re allowed to think, dream, tinker, and develop the new story ideas that come to you, but there is a level of commitment that is needed to see a project through to completion. 

Writing isn’t always pure play, and to reach those glorious words ‘the end’ you sometimes need to do some grunt work and stay with a project even once it’s become stagnant. 

Identifying some tiny goals to measure the forward movement of your project is one way to keep yourself in the writing chair. 


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.

How Writers Procrastinate Evolves: Stopping writing when the writing is going well

Steven Pressfield is well-known for his books about resistance, particularly in regards to writing.

Resistance, as Pressfield presents it, is the internal struggle we experience every time we sit down to write. 

Resistance can stop us on the macro level, beginning a new project, and the micro level, setting a timer and writing for thirty minutes. 

Procrastination is the most common way that resistance can show up, but it’s note the only way. Self-doubt, criticism, perfectionism, fear, limiting internal narratives and so on.

When you first start taking writing seriously, it is easier to spot how resistance manifests for you. But as time goes on and you develop ways to manage your unique form of resistance, Pressfield argues, resistance becomes sneakier.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this weird habit I have of stopping writing when the writing is going well.

It seems to happen whenever I’ve ‘tipped’ over into a flow state. 

I’m a big fan of using the pomodoro technique as a way to measure my writing sessions. I set a timer and write for 25 minutes and then have a five-minute break. If I write for three or four hours, the first session is by far the hardest, the second is easier, and then the middle sessions are the easiest. I sort of wind-up into the writing, and then wind down towards the session’s end. 

Sometimes, just as I finally start to warm up, something might happen; I get an idea, write a really great line, or I notice an unintended connection in the story and I get really excited. This sudden insight causes a spur of energy and my inspiration increases because of all the possibilities this new information brings, or maybe I just feel a little bit chuffed with myself… 

But then, and here’s the weird thing, this burst of energy pushes me out of the story and as my cognitive mind comes into play I feel compelled to do something else, like make a cup of tea or check my emails, or check social media (otherwise known as the productivity kiss of death). I almost never post about these moments in real time, but there is this weird compulsion to tell somebody about this sudden insight. 

The problem is, there’s no one around to share this information with, or they don’t know the story like I do, and even if they did, it can be difficult to recreate this strange feeling of ‘eureka’ in an email. 

Sometimes, even when I’ve slipped into a flow state or I’ve managed to otherwise immerse myself in the story’s world, there is this weird restlessness that can occur and this too can eject me from the story. 

It often happens when I am finally starting to get somewhere with a project. The words are coming out and I can feel the story steamrolling ahead. This is every writer’s desired state: we long to reach this point where the writing is more play than work. 

I’ve heard so many people–including myself—talk about how writing is always hardest at the beginning. And what I mean is, the first 10-60 minutes of any given session (I’m giving a wide berth here as we’re all different!). 

We all talk a lot about how to eliminate distractions and impose self-discipline while writing so that we don’t self-sabotage by checking email or social media etc, but I’ve heard few people talk about this weird form of procrastination that occurs during a writing session, when the writing is going well, and frankly, because the writing is going well. 

And this is what I mean about resistance becoming sneakier. 

You might have some solid habits and rules when it comes to writing, such as switching your phone off, writing in a distraction free environment, and ignoring your inner-critic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve beaten resistance for good. 

When we make writing a habit, not writing feels weird, but it doesn’t magically become easier. Usually, we just get better at sitting with the discomfort of not knowing what we are doing or the discomfort of how difficult it can be to make something out of nothing. 

The self-sabotaging behaviour of stopping when the writing is going well is just one more way resistance can present itself. So how do you deal with it? Surprisingly, the same way you deal with most forms of resistance. You need to be able to identify what is happening and know that your sudden impulse to check emails or make a cup of tea instead of continuing with the scene is Resistance’s attempt to keep your story small. 

There are a number of general ways to deal with resistance and they work just as well for this particular scenario as any other. For instance, Pressfield often talks about the idea of choosing to act like a professional rather than an amateur. A professional would stay with the work and see the session or scene through to the end. If the impulse to stop writing is too great, you could spend a few minutes writing about this urge as a way to pacify it and get it out of your system. You can quickly remind yourself why you are writing this book (hint: it’s a great idea to have your ‘why’ written on a notecard near your desk) as a way to recommit to the session, or if all else fails, bribe yourself with the promise of a reward when the session is complete. 

None of this advice is original, but it’s free and easily accessible which is probably why you’ve heard it a million times already. Plus, they work. Usually. 

This post wasn’t written for the sake of neatly solving this sticky problem, instead, I wrote it simply to bring light to the issue. 1) because it’s important to be aware of all the ways that resistance can appear in our writing routines 2) resistance becomes sneakier over time and 3) maybe this is something that happens to you but you’ve never heard anyone talk about before.

I hope it helps! Now go forth and write into that flow state without fear and without the need to hit the eject button!


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 Strategies that Work

Writing is fun. I genuinely enjoy it. There are times when I doubt the quality of my work, but I never see writing as wasted time.

(To be honest, though, sometimes I wonder if there is any point in writing. Note, this question is always and only ever asked through the lens of external validation, i.e. sales numbers, views, likes etc).

Days when I have spent time writing, are infinitely more satisfying than days when I don’t write. 

I write across multiple forms, and each offers their own unique rewards. Writing blogs and YouTube scripts are enjoyable, fun, and bring personal clarification; writing journal articles or working on my thesis feels progressive, useful, and mentally stimulating, but fiction writing is satisfying on a variety of levels, both emotional and mental. 

And yet, despite the fact that I enjoy writing (in various ways), that doesn’t mean that I always choose writing when I have ‘free’ time. Sometimes I’d rather read someone else’s book than write my own. Sometimes other activities are chosen for practical or pleasurable reasons. Yeah okay, that last part sounds kinda off, but I liked the alliteration. 

It also doesn’t mean that writing, itself, is always easy. Writing, especially when you are challenging yourself to grow or try something different is often uncomfortable and cognitively demanding. You may hit a flow for a couple of hundred words and then snag on a plot beat that feels off, or you suddenly become self-conscious about the character that you are writing or the scene itself. 

Writing is hard, even when it’s fun, even when we love it, so … how do we make ourselves do it?

In a video posted on his YouTube channel, Brandon Sanderson tackled this exact issue and I really liked what he had to say about the topic. His first piece of advice comes by way of a motto, ‘Do the thing that you want to have done.’ In other words, if you want to write a fantasy novel, then you need to spend time writing that fantasy novel. The book is not going to make itself; it cannot exist without your assistance. 

I love this motto for its boot-strapping pragmatism. If you want to get something done, then you have to do it. It reminds me a lot of a quote from Elizabeth Strout, ‘There’s no magic to it. When you do the work, the work gets done.’

This motto is a knife that cuts through all the BS narratives we feed ourselves; the way we victimise ourselves or act as though our days/time mysteriously get away from us. 

Really, there are only a few reasons why you haven’t written your book. Writing is either not a priority (right now); you’re not writing because you’re crippled with fear, procrastination, perfectionism; or you do not have access to the resources and support needed to write (time, money, energy, education, space, etc). Note: these are not frivolous barriers. If you are working two jobs and have three kids, with little access to important resources or support, writing isn’t going to be a priority because you’re just trying to survive. 

But some of these barriers, say fear, procrastination, and perfectionism (which are all forms of our old friend, Resistance), are within your control. You have the power to do something about these hindrances.

Okay, so you’ve sticky-tapped a post-it with this handy-dandy motto above your desk, now what? This is the part where you need to do a little self-investigation. You need to figure out what motivates you, or in other words, how can you trick yourself into writing. 

A friend recently asked me what motivates me to write and publish my work. My answer? I am more terrified of not being a writer than being a writer. In my early twenties, I spent a few years working an office job that was comfortable and paid well. It asked very little of me and I genuinely liked (and am still friends with) many of the people I worked with. I saw how easy it would be for me to just…stay there. 

And the thought–again–terrified me so much that I enrolled in a grad certificate that quickly swallowed up my mornings, evenings, and weekends. I started writing articles and publishing them on small, but professional markets. I started a blog. I started slowly (so slowly) shifting my life away from muggle work and towards magical work. 

Interestingly, this strategy also worked for Sanderson. For a while, he imagined a cubical monster was chasing him and if he didn’t write his book, he was going to get captured and turned into a salesman. 

Note: what motivates you may change over time. For Sanderson, this imaginary cubical was no longer a threat once he reached a certain level of success. However, he quickly realised that tracking his daily word count brought a lot of satisfaction as he could visually see how much closer he was to the end. 

For me, I enjoy tracking my pomodoro sessions by marking them off in my diary. Every time I complete a 25-min writing block, I draw a little square and there is something so satisfying about seeing a chain of little squares when my three or four hour session is up. 

Perhaps rewards would work for you or a daily minimum? You could write out your ‘why’ and review it before every writing session, or you could create a list of values that you review every week. Maybe listening to music makes you feel inspired or traveling to a particular location. Perhaps you’d benefit from having a pre-writing ritual (a cup of tea, a listening to a special playlist, or lighting a candle). 

What you do doesn’t matter as long as it results in you writing words. 

And finally, you need to break big goals into small steps. Rather than saying, ‘I’m going to write a book’, you instead focus on writing an outline, a scene, a chapter. It takes a long time to write a book and if you focus too much on the ultimate outcome–a published book–it will feel as though your daily efforts are meaningless and that no real progress is being made. 

And that, dear reader, is secret sauce recipe. Think about what it is you want to have done (write a book/blog/series whatever), figure out how to trick yourself into doing it, and break big goals into small steps.

There is a voice in our head that can convince us that writing is mysterious and that the reason behind why we don’t write is equally mysterious, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes you need a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder that when you do the work, the work gets done. 


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.