Let me make the case to you for setting micro goals. Writing a book is a complicated process. Some days, 100 words are more than doable. Other days, it feels a gargantuan task. When I have days like the latter, what helps is telling myself I only have to write one sentence. It’s almost impossible not to talk myself into doing just that much. Usually, once I have that one sentence down, it’s enough to motivate me to keep going with the work.
Take this blog post, for example. I told myself I was only going to write a topic sentence. But a minute or so has gone by now, and I am still writing the post. I can’t keep this little sprint going for much longer, but it’s given me a solid start. That’s the power of micro goals.
When I’m working on a draft of a novel, I set a word count goal for 2,000 words per day. It’s been like this for as long as I can remember, maybe since college. But on days when writing feels impossible, like the last thing I would ever want to do, I lower my expectations.
On days when I’m struggling, I focus on a much lower word count target, say, 500 words, or 100. Once, I even set a target for like, 50 words (a Very Bad Day). Still, it counted as writing, because I was getting words down. Even if my word count goal was lower than I wanted, I still got something done. That is the power of micro goals.
So, the next time you’re struggling, lower the bar. Decrease the word count goal. This is not only good for morale, but also productivity. You’ll be surprised how much progress you’ll make.
As I write this, I am dictating it. I’m in the middle of a pretty bad arthritis flare-up, I have it in my hands, so it makes writing difficult. I wanted to get this blog post done, however, so I set a goal to just write the next sentence. Here we are now, at the conclusion of this post. It’s going to be a short one, but I hope it helps someone as much as it’s helped me to figure this out.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
We’ve all been through periods in life where everything is up in the air, for the most part. You might be between jobs right now, or maybe you’re looking for a new apartment or a new relationship. Whatever the case, you might be feeling lost, helpless, and confused. But I want you to know this: you are not alone.
I’m not where I thought I’d be three months ago. Sometimes that terrifies me. Other times, it’s exciting. My mood shifts every day. As a perfectionist and a self-professed control freak, this is difficult for me. Nothing is going the way I planned, and sometimes, I feel stuck, unmotivated, and anxious about my current situation.
In moments of helplessness, you might feel as though you’ll never get “unstuck,” or that you’ll be where you are for the rest of your life. Of course, that’s not the case. No matter how confused, anxious, or lost you may be feeling right now, you are not alone, and this transition period will end. Nothing lasts forever, after all.
But while you’re in the midst of a difficult phase, there are some things you can do to make your life a little easier. Here are a few strategies I’ve discovered for how to survive a transition period in life.
1. LIST YOUR STRESSES
The next time you feel anxious or upset about the course your life has taken, sit down and make a list (bonus points for writing it out on paper) of all your current stressors. An example from my own life might say, “Not enough writing time, don’t have my own apartment, live far from friends” and things of that nature. No matter how silly or small what’s stressing you out seems, I want you to write it down. Once you’ve got your list, it’s time to move on to…
2. CIRCLE EVERYTHING YOU CAN CHANGE
Chances are, there are several things on your list that are outside your control, such as the deteriorating health of a loved one, suffering from a chronic illness, or anything like that. For this exercise, I want you to try to ignore those points. We’re only going to focus on what’s within our power to change. Let’s look at my examples: writing time, apartment, and distance from friends. These are all within my power to change, regardless of how hard it might be to do so. After you’ve figured out what you can change, feel free to…
3. LIST POTENTIAL NEXT STEPS
When you’ve figured out what you can change, you should decide how exactly you want it to change. For me, with writing time, I want to write more. If I make that goal more specific, it means I want to edit or draft at least 1,000 words each day, regardless of the project I have going at the moment. Some next steps toward that goal would be analyzing my time, determining what can be cut, tracking my writing progress, telling friends and loved ones, and perhaps outsourcing some tasks. When you know what all you need to do, go ahead and…
4. DETERMINE ORDER AND PRIORITY
Now that you have your next steps, what needs to be done first? Let’s go again with my writing example. I need to track my time and determine what can be cut from my life to make time for writing. I need to outsource some tasks to make more time for writing, and tell friends and loved ones that I’m taking time for myself each day, so they’ll know not to disturb me. I also need to track my progress once I’m writing regularly, to make sure my system is as efficient as possible. So, my order and priority list might look something like this:
- Track time spent every hour of every day.
- Analyze time, determine what can be cut or outsourced.
- Cut any distractions or necessary tasks, outsource others.
- Determine writing schedule and block off time.
- Tell loved ones of my time block.
- Keep track of writing progress and analyze to determine maximum efficiency.
Not too shabby, right? As soon as you’ve listed everything out, you can always break it down into smaller steps too, if need be. But when you’ve written out your list, it’s time to…
5. ATTACK THE LIST
From here, all you have to do is tackle each item on the list, one at a time, until you accomplish your goal. That’s not so bad now, is it? If you want extra productivity and goal-setting points, you can also add self-imposed deadlines. So for me, let’s say I want to track all my time every day this week, and start my analysis on Saturday. Self-imposed deadlines are a great way to help you stay motivated and on track.
Pro tip: Tackle one goal at a time! Although it might be thrilling to try to change everything at once, you’re much more likely to see success through building habits one by one. Wait until you reach one goal before rushing on to the next one. 🙂
I also recommend writing your goals out, including the order and priority of your next steps, and keeping them somewhere you can see them every day. That way, you can be constantly reminded where you might be heading, instead of where you are.
What are your tips for staying focused on your goals?
No one who knows me will be surprised to hear that I frequently work too hard. I’m a perfectionist and have a serious type-A personality. Combine that with an insatiable curiosity and desire to achieve my goals no matter what, and you’ve got a recipe for burnout. I’m notoriously terrible about taking breaks. It’s gotten me in trouble before. Still, I’m stubborn. I never learn.
Recently, I got sick. It was just a cold, but it absolutely drained me. I couldn’t stop coughing, I had a fever, and I was exhausted all the time. It was all I could do to get dressed in the morning, let alone go to work and then come home and do housework and writing tasks. It got so bad that I even went to the doctor to get checked for mono (which I didn’t have, thank God).
This bout of illness opened my eyes to a truth I’d been trying to ignore: I need to rest. I need to take breaks. Every once in a while, I need to make time for myself, spend a day on self-care, and things of that nature. I can’t spend all my time working or I’ll wear myself out. And if I’m worn out, I can’t be productive. To me, a lack of productivity constitutes a death sentence. There were no bones about it: I had to scale back.
Since recovering from being sick, I’ve been working on a plan to reduce my stress levels. I’m scheduling blog posts and bills and things as much as I can, and the rest of the time, I’m setting limits on how much I can work outside of my day job. While it’s still too early to have seen real results, I’m positive more breaks will make a difference in my writing.
Learn from my mistakes, people. Take more breaks. Go easy on yourself. Your writing will thank you.
Hello, this is Briana! I’m on vacation in West Virginia this week, so I’m publishing some wonderful guest posts. As soon as I’m back, we will return you to your regularly scheduled programming. Until then, enjoy!
The bullet journal. It seemed to come out of nowhere. For some people, it may be too much flexibility and not enough structure. For others, the flexibility means freedom and creativity.
If you’re new, the official bullet journal website outlines the basics. Give it a quick read. I can wait.
Read it? You know what “Collections” and “Migration” are? Good.
The beauty about bullet journaling comes from the customisation. The basics really are the basics: there are no limits to what you can include. My system has changed often since I began at the end of March as a to-do list and day planner. I’m now rethinking what I include. My brainstorming led me to ideas for bookish spreads to re-focus on writing and reading!
Calendars can range from one month to multiple years, depending on your needs.
New release dates: Don’t forget that amazing book coming out in eight months! See at a glance when you need to start saving for those new books.
Deadlines and due dates: Mark your writing deadlines—from drafting to editing to marketing—so you can try to avoid procrastination and last-minute anxiety. Also avoid overdue fines from the library by writing books’ due dates.
Although I don’t use collections, I won’t discriminate!
Plotbunnies: Jot down your random ideas. Seeing them all in one place can help find ways to bundle them together. Expand to bits of dialogue or description.
Quotes: Inspiration, motivation, great lines… You name it, you write it.
Books read: Goodreads can feel so impersonal. Jazz up your reading history by doodling a bookshelf of empty book spines. Go simple with just the title, author, and date you started and finished.
Book statistics: How many female and male writers? How many indie authors? Make a chart to see your own reading habits and trends.
Trackers are a simple way to see how often you do something. The scope can range from daily to weekly to monthly. You can fill in boxes, use checkmarks for successful days and X’s unsuccessful days, or try the sticker method Briana raved about to encourage you!
Writing habits: See how often you’re writing. Daily? On weekends? In spurts? Track it!
Word counts: Set a word count for that day, or decide a minimum word count per day. Check it off when it’s reached.
Pages read: I can read a book in a day or go weeks without reading. I want to improve my reading habits by tracking a set number of pages or time spent reading each day.
If you’re afraid to commit to a notebook, use a sheet of paper to experiment. Pinterest and Instagram are fantastic places to inspire layout designs. I’ve definitely lost sleep admiring the creativity in the BuJo community. . .
So, have I converted you? Give it a shot—there’s nothing to lose but some ink and paper.
Coryl o’Reilly is a Canadian writer, artist, and LGBT and mental health advocate. She intensely loves lemons, Studio Ghibli, and poetic prose. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and her blog. Thanks so much for writing this post, Coryl!
What do you think about bullet journaling?
If you’re interested in bullet journaling, you NEED to read this post by @coryldork. (Click to tweet)
I’ve mentioned before that myWriteClub is one of my favorite writing resources. I first heard of it over on Ava Jae’s blog, where she wrote a post about it. Since then, I’ve used mWriteClub to track my progress and keep myself motivated to finish my projects (follow me!).
If you’re not using myWriteClub, you really should be. It has a commenting feature where people can provide encouragement and spur you onward, a nifty colored bar that fills up as you write, and an amazing new feature I never would have known about without Ava Jae–myWriteClub supports personal and global word sprints!
For those of you unfamiliar with the term word sprints, I’m talking about writing in short bursts, setting a timer for say, fifteen minutes, and writing as much as you can without stopping until the timer goes off. Word sprints are an excellent way to get through a first draft, and I never would have been able to finish writing Blood and Water without them. Before MyWriteClub, I used either a physical timer (which was okay) or Write or Die (which wasn’t great, as I’ve since learned I don’t do well with negative stiumli). For some reason, timed writing leads to serious productivity for me, so myWriteClub’s word sprint feature is an absolute godsend.
Just this past week, I used myWriteClub’s global sprinting feature to write 2K words in less than an hour each day. How amazing is that?? And the cool thing about myWriteClub (well, one of them) is that the program gives you a star for each 100 words you reach. Positive reinforcement! I love it.
It’s free to sign up for myWriteClub, and it’s only in the beta stage, but it looks promising! If you give it a try, let me know what you think! And feel free to add me. 🙂
How do you feel about writing sprints?
Are you a fan of writing sprints? Find out how @brianawrites is using them and myWriteClub to write more! (Click to tweet)
I love following other writers on Twitter. It’s great to get to see other authors’ processes and methods for writing productivity. I’ve mentioned how Twitter can be useful for writers before, but in case you’re still not sold on the idea, let me share a more concrete example.
I’m not sure where exactly the idea came from—whose tweet sparked my inspiration—but a year or two ago, I discovered a unique method for increasing writing productivity. Various authors were posting pictures of paper calendars covered with stickers. Often, there were multiple stickers on different days, or different colors with different meanings. The authors using this method usually posted some kind of key with their pictures, revealing what the number and color of stickers stood for. Most of them even used this method for editing.
It seemed so simple that I was convinced it wouldn’t work. I shoved the idea to the back of my mind. I would find another way.
Flash forward to last month. I happened upon a pack of cute summer-themed stickers in Target’s Dollar Spot, and grabbed them up right away. I was in the middle of a writing slump and had tried almost everything. What could the sticker method hurt?
When I got home, I decided on a simple system—one sticker each day I made some progress in my WIP. Even if I only wrote a sentence, that would translate to a sticker. And you know what? It worked.
I couldn’t believe it. Halfway through the month of April, I realized I’d written almost every single day utilizing this method. And now into May, as you can see from the picture, I’m still going strong. I’ve even bought some more stickers to use once these are gone!
Am I crazy? Maybe. Is this childish? Probably. But guess what—it does challenge me to keep writing each day. Every single day, in order to earn a sticker, I have to get words down. And that keeps me going.
The next time you’re stuck, consider trying something as silly as the sticker method. Don’t be too surprised if it ends up working out.
What are your tips for writing productivity? How do you stay motivated to keep your writing schedule?
How do you stay motivated while #amwriting? @brianawrites shares a surprising method that worked for her. (Click to tweet)
I haven’t had time to watch television lately. I’ve been focusing on writing and editing (for myself and for others), which means working with the TV off until the work is finished. It’s my rule. This process repeats until the weekend rolls around.
Last Saturday, I watched a show a lot of people have been talking about, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It was smart, entertaining, and well-executed. Parts of it were funny, but not hilarious. Still, the show got me thinking and drawing connections to my writing life (as all writers do).
Throughout the show, Kimmy proves she is wise beyond her years—mostly due to her captivity in an underground bunker (I can’t even begin to explain that in this post, so just go watch it). One of her most profound ideas crops up in the second episode of season one, “Kimmy Gets a Job.” In the episode, she has to throw a party to impress her new employer. When her employer’s child complains about having to wait to open his presents, she assures him that he’ll be able to wait.
“I learned a long time ago that a person can stand just about anything for ten seconds,” Kimmy says. Cue flashback: Kimmy is turning a mysterious crank, and we learn she’s been doing the task for several days. When her “sister” offers to take over for her, Kimmy shrugs her off. “It’s no big deal,” she says. “You can stand anything for ten seconds. Then, you just start on a new ten seconds.” And she proceeds to do just that as she keeps turning the crank. Back in the present, she tells the boy, “Take it ten seconds at a time.”
That scene got me thinking. For me, one of the hardest parts of writing is just getting started. It’s sitting down and making the commitment to get the words down. It’s the ability to push past this mental block and write that separates the wannabe writers from the professionals. It’s not enough to want to write—you must actually produce something.
Kimmy Schmidt reminded me that a task is easier to accomplish when it has a definite end. I applied this idea to my writing life by setting a timer for ten minutes, rather than ten seconds. Ten minutes isn’t long at all. I sat down in my chair and told myself I only had to write until the timer went off. If I felt tapped out, I didn’t have to go on—the only rule was that I couldn’t stop until I heard the ding.
It’s been twenty minutes now, and I’m still writing this blog post. It took me forever to get started until I thought of Kimmy Schmidt. The next time you can’t bring yourself to sit down and start writer, set a timer and go. You don’t need to write something perfect, but you need to write something. How else can you expect to make a living as a writer? The key to success in the craft is production.
You can stand almost anything for ten minutes, darling. Go ahead and take it ten minutes at a time.
What do you think about this advice? How do you get started when you don’t feel like writing?
Find out how Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt inspired @brianawrites’ writing life. (Click to tweet)
Sit down and start writing – just take it ten minutes at a time, like @brianawrites. (Click to tweet)
It’s been a while since I talked about my 23 Before 23.
In my last post on the subject, I made a list of 23 things I wanted to accomplish before my 23rd birthday. Since my birthday is now only three months and one day away (June 17), I thought it might be a good time to update you on my progress.
Long story short – I haven’t accomplished as much as I’d hoped to by now. I could really use some help.
Once more, here’s my list of 23 Before 23:
- Stop drinking soda. I’ve cut back a lot, and at the time of writing this post, I haven’t had soda in five days or so. (Thanks, Chris!)
- Read 23 books. I think I’ve read about seven so far. Eek.
Pay off my cat’s veterinary bills.
- Make a dent in my student loans. I need to make this goal more specific somehow… Any suggestions?
- Host a dinner party. Oops. I actually forgot about this one.
- Get published. Working on it!
- Join a club. I’ve signed up to volunteer with the local theater. Fingers crossed!
- Comment on at least one blog post per day. I need to get better about this one, too.
- Trade guest posts with three bloggers. One down, two to go!
- Mentor someone. WHO NEEDS A MENTOR??
- Get a new laptop. Found a MacBook Pro for pretty cheap. I just need to save some money.
- Save $1000 dollars. I was close, and then I hit some financial hardship. *sighs*
- Go ziplining. I found the place, but I don’t want to go alone.
- Try out for a play. See number seven.
Consistently post three times a week. Say “yes” to invitations. Volunteer. Contact one writer, blogger, or person I admire per week.
- Compile a blog directory. Ava Jae’s blog directory is absolutely gorgeous and an excellent idea.
Support my favorite authors and beloved writing tweeps. Stop biting my nails.
- Make my bed every day. Why is this so difficult?
- Visit New York again. Except I don’t really want to do that anymore – I want to go somewhere new instead.
So, there it is. I have my shortcomings. I’m running out of time to accomplish all these things, and I’m going to need help and support from all of you. Please keep me accountable to this list! If you could ask me how I’m doing with it every so often, I would love you forever.
Well, more than I already do, anyway.
I’m also thinking about starting some kind of club where we all try one new habit or routine each month, like a thirty-day challenge. Let me know what you think!
What tips can you give me to help with this list? What would your list look like? What do you think about my thirty-day challenge club idea?Tweet tweet:Three months before her birthday, @brianawrites discusses the items on her list that have yet to be crossed off. (Click to tweet)
I’m writing this blog post after a long day at work. Like many of you, I work full-time at a standard 8-5 job. At the end of the day, I want nothing more than to come up and curl up on the couch with my cat. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have any chores to do, emails to answer, or posts to write, but it is what it is. Even though I’ve worked all day, I know I can’t rest the minute I open the door to my apartment. There’s still work to be done.
You know how it is: you get home from work, grab a snack and a drink, plop down on the couch, and turn on the television. Next thing you know, you’re three hours into your House of Cards binge and you haven’t eaten dinner, fed the cat, or gotten any of the items crossed off your to-do list. You swear you’ll accomplish everything tomorrow.
The next day, when you get home from work, you grab a snack and a drink, plop down on the couch, and repeat the whole cycle. You know you’re wasting your life, but you can’t help it – or so you think.
That’s where I come in. No matter how set in your ways you might be, I promise you that you can change your routine. How do I know? Because I’ve been there. When I started this job (my first real full-time gig), I could barely keep my eyes open throughout the day, much less continue to be productive once I got home. Soon I realized that if I didn’t change my habits, I would never be able to accomplish my goals. I took a hard look at myself and took the plunge.
Now, I work a full-time job, run a blog, post on social media, film vlogs, and work on my novel – all while managing to keep the apartment in an organized state of chaos (caveat: my chaos is much cleaner than most people’s). So how did I manage to turn things around?
The biggest change I made was to turn off the TV.
Really. I’m not joking.
I already wrote a post about turning off your television, but I didn’t emphasize how it helps your productivity. For me, TV changes my whole mindset. Once I turn it on, I’m done being productive. I can say “only one episode” all I want, but we all know it’s easy to get sucked in to Netflix.
See how long you can go without turning on the TV. Make it a game. Each day, try to beat your personal best. You’ll be surprised how much time you have now that you’re not glued to the screen. With your new free time, you can read, write, or even do some chores around the house.
Try it for yourself and see how much more productive you can be. You’ll cut down on distraction, earn some peace and quiet, and carve out a few more minutes to do what you’re passionate about.
What are your secrets for getting things done after work? What do you think about avoiding the television?
What’s the secret to getting things done after work? See what writer @brianawrites has to say. (Click to tweet)