Cathy Yardley is an author, mother, and the brains behind Rock Your Writing, a terrific online resource for novelists. Cathy’s ebooks and audiobooks — Rock Your Plot, Rock Your Revisions, Rock Your Query, and Write Every Day — are full of accessible, well-grounded strategies. While Cathy’s focus is genre fiction, writers across the board will benefit from her advice. (I keep the audio versions of Rock Your Plot and Write Every Day in my Audible app for frequent hits of inspiration.) Writers among the Studio Mothers audience will appreciate the article in Cathy’s latest newsletter, which is reprinted below, with Cathy’s generous permission. Enjoy!
Ah, February. The month when the shiny, sexy promise of New Year’s resolutions turns into the dreaded “morning after” of everyday life… when the dream meets the routine.
Suddenly, getting up at 5:00 am every morning to bang out a few pages isn’t as enticing as staying under your warm covers. You’ll do the pages at night, you promise yourself, tapping the snooze button.
But you have a hell of a time at the day job, you find out your son’s book report is actually due tomorrow and he hasn’t started, you’re out of dog food, and you’ve got no idea what you’re making for dinner.
By the time everyone who needs to be is fed and in bed, it’s nearly 11:00, you’ve got all the energy of a dead car battery, and your creativity resembles a fossilized raisin.
Next thing you know, you rationalize: I’ll just double the pages I write tomorrow.
After “doubling” to the point where you’d need to write 20 pages in one day to catch up, you find yourself passively or actively avoiding writing altogether.
You’ve fallen off the writing wagon — and you’re not quite sure how to get back on.
“No plan survives contact with the enemy.” — Helmuth von Moltke
If this sounds familiar, fear not. You are in good company (to the tune of 95% of the writers I know). If you want to get back on track (and stay there), here are some tips that might help:
- Set the bar really low and hit it out of the park.
The first way to “pull out of the spin” is to simply do something. Write a page, or 250 words. It’s relatively small, but it’s also substantial. (In 400 days, a series of 250 words turns into a 100K word draft!)
If you can’t do 250 words, do 100. If you can’t do that, write a paragraph. But do something small, and then celebrate that accomplishment.
That may seem ridiculous, but you’re not doing this for the milestone. You’re doing this to start re-training your brain to think “action, momentum, result, reward.” Not “disappointment, exhaustion, discouragement, aversion.”
- Mindfully adjust.
The word “mindful” gets kicked around a lot, and can seem awfully Zen and mystic. It isn’t. It’s just another way of saying “pay really close attention without being judgmental.” In other words, instead of beating yourself up for not writing (which will drain your energy), just go “Huh. So that didn’t work. What happened instead?”
Again: no judgment. It won’t help you. There isn’t even an inherent benefit to it. It’s not like the world will think you’re a better person because you felt guilty.
Just the facts. You didn’t write. As I explain in my ebook Write Every Day, it’s usually a time issue, an energy issue, a fear issue, or a process issue. Be a detective. Determine what the issue is (or issues, plural) and then create an action plan to address it and keep moving.
- Get support.
There are a few different kinds of support.
You can have critique support. One benefit to this: actually showing someone your work, which in turn encourages you to complete and hand something off. Hopefully, you will also receive valuable input and hone your writing skills, as well.
You can have accountability support. You don’t need a writer for this. This is just someone you tell your goal to, someone you report in with on a weekly basis, to make sure you’re staying on track. If you need a boot camp-styled “drill instructor” or a “loving supportive mentor,” match your personal motivating style. The wrong mix (you need gentle, comforting motivation, and you’ve got somebody yelling on your voice mail “WHERE ARE THOSE PAGES?”) will actually derail you faster.
You can have mentoring support. That can be check in with a coach, or taking a class.
Finally, you can have emotional support. Going to writing groups where you actually feel energized because people are talking shop, may be an option. Or simply connecting with a group of other people who are pursuing big goals and who are cheering each other on might be helpful.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a combination of several kinds of support in the same person. However it works, it’s very difficult to accomplish your writing goals without support of some kind.
Forty Places to Find a Critique Partner
I’ve written a guest post over on The Write Life called “Forty Places to Find a Critique Partner Who Will Help Improve Your Writing.” It’s a hefty article, but if you’re looking for critiques, accountability, or even mentors, the list might have just what you’re looking for.
How to you plan to achieve your writing goals this year?