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. 


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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. 


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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. 


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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!


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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.

Two Stages of Writing

I recently read an article by Charlotte Doyle titled, ‘The writer tells: The creative process in the writing of literary fiction,’ which closely examined the creative process of five fiction writers. Through her in-depth interviews, Doyle identified two specific patterns. 

Firstly, every writer described their creative works as beginning with a seed incident. This could be an image, a sentence, an emotion, an idea, or even a title that they then wish to explore or expand upon within their fiction. This seed incident can come from outside sources, such as a comment made by another or they might witness a situation or incident. Sometimes, seed incidents occur spontaneously and the idea or image pops into the writer’s head while they are doing other things. 

The seed incident is not necessarily what the book will be about—though it can be—but more often than not it is just a starting point. 

Speaking for myself, Every Time He Dies came about when an exchange of dialogue randomly popped into my head one day while I was driving. Australian author James Bradley said during the promotion of his book Ghost Species that the title came first and then he had to discover the story that would match it. This process in particular reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s habit of brainstorming titles and then using them as writing prompts which is what led to the writing of Dandelion Wine and R is for Rockets. 

The writer VE Schwab said that her popular Shades of Magic Series began with the image of a girl walking through a wall and colliding with a boy. Brandon Sander’s Mistborn trilogy was a way of exploring the question, ‘what if the teenage hero didn’t defeat the villain?’ 

Note that seed incidents don’t always come to us by chance through an external event or our own intuition, sometimes we can actively create a seed incident. For example, let’s say you want to write a fantasy novel but you’re not entirely sure how to bring something new to this genre. You could begin by considering the tropes associated with this genre and how you might subvert them, or you could take the general premise of an existing story but present it from a new angle. You can also take two competing ideas and find a way for them to work together. 

Ultimately though, ideas are the easy part; it’s finding a way to explore them in a gripping story that is hard. 

In her study, Doyle noticed that writers experienced two different stages when writing and she dubbed thes ethe writingrealm and the fictionrealm (we’re really going for a fantasy theme today, apparently!). 

The writingrealm, refers to the writer’s withdrawal from their daily life so that they may write; this stage may include planning and reflection. The fictionworld referred to the intuitive processes that occurred while writing, as narrative decisions and options are improvised in the act of writing. 

When in the writingrealm, a writer is often more critical and analytical. They shut the external world out so that they can focus on the work and closely assess it. They might be identifying plot holes and figuring out solutions, conducting contextual research, mapping out a revision or engaging with other cognitive processes to improve the work, such as line-level editing or focussing on their use of language. 

The fictionrealm is different. This refers to the moment when the story takes over and the writer feels as though they are inhabiting the world. They may still need to make decisions in this stage, but the process seems more passive and intuitive than the writingrealm as the story is unfolding in real-time as the writer records it. Writers often spoke about the need to remain a ‘resident’ of this space, and one of the best ways to do this was to find the correct voice for the work. If the voice didn’t work, then it was difficult to find a natural flow with the story. 

In the fictionrealm, there is little room for reflection, instead, the writer is more present with what is happening and they are following a type of narrative improvisation as they follow the story’s lead. 

Personally, I think this is a pretty accurate description of what writing is like. All stories begin somewhere and often the prompt to write is very small, an idea, image, premise, or sentence. I also agree that there are multiple modes of writing and that they all require different skills and they all count as writing. Being in the writingrealm is just as important as the fictionrealm and both of these stages require the other to exist. If you don’t draft a scene you can’t edit it. If you don’t take the time to cultivate ideas, reflect, or conduct research, writing quickly becomes very difficult. 

However, there are times during the late revision of a novel when you can straddle these two realms. For instance, while I was applying the last round of edits to my latest novel, I was often toggling between the writingrealm and the fictionrealm. I would begin by identifying the weaknesses in a scene, particularly in regards to language and imagery, and then I would ‘enter the story’ to apply the edits (the story playing in my mind like a movie), before jumping back out judge whether the rewrite was more successful. 

Doyle’s article is helpful because it provides us with a way to talk about the process of writing and to better understand it. It also acknowledges that writing is both a critical and creative process that involves intuition, play, and imagination, as well as skilful problem-solving and a knowledge of the writing craft. 

For me, having a deeper understanding of how writing happens is useful because it provides reassurance and permission. Reassurance that my approach mirrors the experience of other writers, and the permission to shut out the world so that I can enter another. 

What about you? Do you identify with Doyle’s description of seed incidents, the writingrealm and fictionrealm, or is your experience of writing different? 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.

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Write 500 words a Day

I’m a big fan of Cal Newport’s podcast, Deep Questions, and in a recent episode, he was talking about John McPhee’s habit of writing 500 words a day. 

John McPhee is an American, Pulitzer Prize-winning non-fiction writer who has written twenty-nine books and countless articles for The New York where he was a staff member for some time before joining the faculty at Princeton University where he taught the current editor for The New Yorker, David Ramnick, multiple former editors of Time magazine, entrepreneur and podcast host Tim Ferris, as well as best-selling author Jennifer Weiner. 

McPhee is often described as prolific, for obvious reasons, but while he admits that in a way he has produced a lot of work, in reality, he only ever wrote 500 words a day, six days a week. In an interview with The Paris Review, McPhee said, ‘if you put a drop in a bucket every day, after three hundred and sixty-five days, the bucket’s going to have some water in it.’

The reason why McPhee adopted this method of 500 words a day is that whenever he had a big writing day where he worked well into the night, he’d then go two or more days without writing. 

He found this way of work inefficient, and in fact, maintaining the smaller but more measurable word count of 500 words a day resulted in a higher word count at the end of the month than his previous method of long writing days followed by non-writing days. 

Instead of working through until 3 am, he’d quit writing at 7 pm, even if he was in the middle of a sentence. This trick in particular would make him excited to return to writing the next day. And we all know that Hemmingway used this same method.

I’ve experimented with a bunch of different tracking methods in the past, including word count, but lately, I’ve been more focussed on time spent. I made this switch because I worried that focussing on word count would affect the quality of my writing as I’d be more concerned with hitting my target than doing a good job. 

Of course, we can be just as lazy when working to a time limit. I know there have been countless times when I have spent the final five minutes of a session scrolling through the manuscript instead of working on the manuscript. 

I’ve also given up writing every day because toggling between multiple tasks across a single day was, you know, not super-duper awesome. Spending an hour in the morning on the novel, switching to a couple of hours on my dissertation, and then a few more on teaching in the afternoon was, frankly, starting to fry my brain. 

I enjoyed working this way for years until I didn’t. 

And this is the whole argument behind batching tasks: the fewer cognitive switches you have to make in a day, the better. This means that I delegate a few days a week to writing. Do I write all day? Um, no. Four hours of original writing (fiction or nonfiction) is about my limit. 

And yet, there is something about those 500 words that just seems so pathetically doable. 

Fiction writer and creative coach, Amie McNee, has often talked about her daily ‘bare minimum’ goal of 500 words, as she believes that consistency is key.

I’d go one step further and say that the 500 words a day method would also make you feel, not only more productive as a writer but as if you are a writer. It would also, probably, make writing that tiny bit easier because you are staying in contact with your story. 

You don’t have to spend twenty minutes reacquainting yourself with the story a week or a month has passed since you last wrote, and you don’t have to fret (as much) about the ‘voice’ being inconsistent (the worst!). 

BUT! Something McPhee doesn’t address in the interview is his research and thinking time. And here’s where the 500 words a day method becomes a bit sticky. Can you write 500 words without conducting contextual research or thinking through what it is you have to say? Will that 500 words be any good to you if they are factually incorrect or contain a major plot hole? Five hundred words a day sounds incredibly doable, something you could probably get done in 30-40 minutes, but that’s only if you are prepared. 

If you have to conduct research or think deeply about what your argument is or an aspect of the story (character/plot/theme etc), those 500 words are no longer so simple. 

And that’s the thing about writing, it is nuanced and it involves a lot more than just putting words on the page. 

Setting the goal of 500 words a day is good, and I think it is immensely important that we create small and achievable goals because tiny steps can lead to big accomplishments, but we also need to be honest about what it can take to make that 500 words happen. 

Thinking, reading, researching, editing, and imagining all count as writing. And you won’t get 500 good, usable, publishable words without also making time for these aspects of 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.


Recommitting | The Decision to be a Writer

I recently read a fantastic article by Charlotte Doyle that closely examined the creative process of five writers. When interviewing these writers, Doyle noticed that each writer had made the active decision to be a writer before they started writing. 

I’ve previously spoken about the importance of claiming the title as a writer, but I found this comment especially insightful because whether you’re a hobbyist or a full-timer, writers tend to make writing part of their identity. 

One of the most common questions a writer will be asked in an interview, besides where do you get your ideas, is ‘when did you know you wanted to be a writer?’ 

Now, we all have a tendency to mythologise our paths, and this would be doubly so when you are asked time and again to provide a descriptive anecdote to this specific question, but the thing about writing and being a writer, to me, is that you don’t just make this decision once. For many of us, we chose to be a writer again and again, and what it means to be a writer is an evolving process. 

Many claim that they knew they wanted to be a writer since they were a kid, but of course, that’s not the case for everyone. I thought I wanted to be a fine artist, and then later a pharmacist (weirdo), and then a journalist, before discovering my love of fiction writing. 

And even once I did realise I wanted to be a fiction writer, I had no real idea what that meant or how to make that happen. Okay, I realised that being a fiction writer meant that I had to write fiction, but I didn’t know what kind of writer I was (genre? literary?) or what my routine would be, let alone how to write an opening chapter, or–yipes!–publish something. And then there was the whole trap of can I call myself a writer if I haven’t published anything. 

The thing about being an artist is that there is no road map. Everybody’s career model is different, even if they do contain some of the same parts. You could follow the same path of a writer you love and not experience the same success. 

The ‘how’ behind another writer’s success is not always that useful to us, and why some writers make it and others don’t is the reason creative careers continue to be shrouded in mystery. 

Even when you do choose to be a writer, you will frequently question that decision. 

You may reach the stage where you proudly introduce yourself as a writer, but there will be times when you don’t feel like a writer because maybe you’re in promotion mode, focussing on building your platform, or other aspects of your life have simply taken over. 

Because sometimes life happens around writing (e.g. tight deadlines) and sometimes writing happens around life. Like right now, I’m writing this blog on my laptop in the kitchen while I cook this for dinner. What can I say? It was a day.

Anyway, the point is, I don’t think we chose to be a writer just once. I think we make this decision again and again and we’re all constantly recommitting to this part of our identity in ways that are big and small, conscious and unconscious. 

Every time you sit down to work on your book, you are both consciously and unconsciously deciding to be a writer. Every time you get a rejection letter and decide to submit your work to another publisher, you are consciously deciding to be a writer. Every time your inner critic tells you this book sucks and you keep writing anyway, you are choosing to be a writer. 

There is so much power in choice and there is nothing as powerful as a mind made up. 

And maybe that is, in fact, the secret to writing. You need to choose to be a writer and then choose that path again and again. 


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.

The role of introversion and extroversion in creativity

Writers often struggle to find a balance between being an active participant in the world while also maintaining and protecting their inner life. Both ways of being are vital to the creative process, and they influence one another, but they are also in opposition. 

An interest in the external world provides the material and inspiration necessary to write, but a writer must also protect themselves, their energy, attention, and time, to ensure that these resources can be given over to their writing. 

For many of us, writing is a way to escape reality. Our imaginations can quickly become a refuge from our daily lives and events happening in the world. It can be a form of escapism that is similar to reading, except you are largely in control of what is happening in the story. 

I say largely because sometimes it can feel as though our stories have a mind and will of their own…

In order to get to that dreamlike state of writing, where it feels more like dictation than creation, we need to become quite immersed and enmeshed with the work. As Ray Bradbury says,  You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you’. 

What Bradbury means by this, is that the demands, responsibilities, and distractions of ordinary life threaten writing because they pull us away from our stories. They can reinforce the idea that writing is not that important: cleaning dishes, replying to emails, and reading headlines is what really matters in life. 

Of course, not everyone agrees with this. Stephen King argues that the threat of ordinary, everyday interruptions and distractions don’t much hurt a work in progress, but may actually ‘help it in some ways’. Rather than entirely shutting oneself away from the world by attending writing workshops, retreats, or residencies where the pressure to produce is overridden by your desire to write, King believes that writing while living your ordinary life may be just as good, perhaps better. ‘It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters’ (King, p. 232). And yet, King also admits that, to a degree, a writer must be able to separate themselves from their work if they are to engage with it deeper. Writing is a way to escape the world, and the more you protect yourself from that external noise, the more you’re forced back on your own imagination.’ (King 2001, p. 80)

Writers are generally thought of as introverts and the isolation typically associated with the craft is often considered necessary, though at times unpleasant. As Richard Powers says, ‘I really do believe that most writers start out learning how to cope with isolation and then end up desiring it.’ Richard Powers describes the relationship that writers have with the external world as paradoxical. A writer must remove themselves from the world in order to have control over the ways of depicting it. Powers goes on to say that ‘Being a writer means constantly engaging with this anxious ‘battle between the inside and the outside–the struggle to solve being in the world sufficiently to feel what’s really going on, and being out of the world sufficiently to be able to protect yourself from what’s going on’. Regardless of the genre that a writer may be working in, they must be aware of current events and global conversations to represent, reflect, or otherwise accurately engage with these topics and issues, whether indirectly or not. A writer needs to be in the world to represent it, if they shut themselves off too much, they risk their work appearing irrelevant or impotent.

And then there is the issue of inspiration. 

When I am lacking inspiration, I turn outwards. That can look like going on a trip, reading the works of others, or looking at news and current events. I want to know what conversations are happening in the world. Both Ray Bradbury and Octavia Butler used current events as a way to fuel their writing. Rather than passively reading an article, they’d pay close attention to how that article made them feel. They’d consider whether they agreed with the piece, and if not, why? Nadine Gordimer articulates this balance as a ‘double process’, meaning that most writers are obsessed with the lives of others, and yet they also find a way to remain detached from the world. She says, ‘the tension between standing apart and being fully involved: that is what makes a writer.’ 

Part of the reason why a writer needs to protect themselves from the outside world is because writing can be hard. Even when we approach the page with joy, most of us will encounter some form of resistance. It takes commitment and determination to push through that resistance and to show up for ourselves. That in itself is a battle. If you were to add the noise and distractions of the outside world on top of that, writing would become nearly impossible. 

Once writers reach a certain point in their process, they need to shut out the world to limit distraction, but also to tune into what they really think and what the work really wants to be. 

Writing original work takes deep focus. This is a skill that can be strengthened and developed, but it is also easily derailed. 

The Australian author Patrick White, dramatically describes the act of getting words onto the page as having them ‘dragged out, by tongs, a bloody mess, in the small hours.’ These types of melodramatic and dark descriptions of writing are common, even if a little absurd. 

And yet so many writers can relate to this type of dark imagery. Even the writer Charlotte Wood has said, ‘At times my writing process has been so full of darkness that descriptions like these are the only ones that come close to the truth.’ 

So much of writing is problem-solving, as I’ve said numerous times on this blog, and when you are creating something that doesn’t exist and trying to find solutions to a problem that has never occurred before, you need a lot of space and time to come up with solutions. 

And in order to do that, the writer has to step back from the world and into themselves. They have to find a way to stay drunk on writing. 


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

Writing Identities: The Other Self

Some writers talk about themselves as though they have two identities: their writing self and their everyday self. 

For instance, science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, stated that it is his child-self who authored his fiction, not his adult self. When Bradbury felt weighed down by the responsibilities of adulthood or heavy with dark thoughts or emotion, a sensation he described as ‘a long damp November in my soul’, he knew that it was time to reconnect or return to the younger version of himself. The one who was filled with ‘multitudinous joys’ and ‘terrible nightmares.’ He says, ‘I’m not sure where he leaves off and I start. But I’m proud of the tandem team.’ 

A writer’s ability to compartmentalise their identity not only allows them to better enter the mind of their characters but to also be more transparent about their own life experience. Authors who write essays or memoirs find writing, as a form, to be an easier way to express or share their true selves.

Many writers have spoken about how they can write, in-explicit detail, about events or thoughts that they’d find nearly impossible to talk about with another person. Sometimes they even discuss these topics in panels in front of audiences. For some reason, expressing those same experiences or thoughts in the privacy of their own lives is more difficult than putting it on paper, even when they know it will be later read by an audience. This would of course make sense if the writer was using a pen name, but often this is not the case. Perhaps this comes from some kind of denial around how many people will read the article or book, or it is further proof of how rarely the people closest to us read our work (!), but perhaps it’s simply because the work itself acts as a buffer. We can express ourselves fully without interruption and we can shape our ideas until we’re happy with them. Plus, we don’t have to listen to the other side of that conversation, unless, of course, a reader DMs us or sends an email. 

Margaret Attwood writes extensively about this notion of two identities in her book, Neogration with the Dead (2002)in which a writer may ‘split’ themselves in a way that is similar to a double or doppelgänger: there is the writing self and the non-writing self. Our non-writing self is the one who cleans the house, goes to a day job, and grocery shops. The writing self exists in the same body, only we don’t recognaise ourselves in the work that it produces. 

I think we’ve all had the experience when we’ve looked at something we’ve written and thought, ‘Where did that come from?’ You may think of yourself as a nice person, but then on the page, you put your characters through hell or you write characters who are morally grey and whose actions and worldviews differ wildly from your own. We are not always ourselves when we are writing. 

Personally, I see little division between my life and my writing. Not because I embed my life in my fiction, but because I chose to see all aspects of my life as being connected to and informing my writing. 

My writing self is no different to the self who puts the rubbish out on Sunday night. 

And yet, there is a shift that happens when I start writing. There is a deep focus that takes over when you are working on a project. You don’t always write the story you thought you would write, instead, instinct, intuition, and something that can only be called magic occurs. 

You work with the story, following whatever internal logic the narrative creates for itself. Writing is a form of escapism, and that may also include escaping yourself. 

I don’t know that I full prescribe to the concept of a distinct writing identity that is separate from myself, but I can say that when I am writing and when I am in flow with writing, the minutia of life falls away and the only thing that feels real is the words that appear before me. 


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.