How Do You Bribe Yourself Into Getting Busy?

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed that I’ve been having a little bit of trouble with motivation these days. Monday, April 22, 2:27 p.m.: “I just picked up a book, slammed it down, and shouted at myself, ‘You can read that if you get shit done!’ Obviously losing it.” Tuesday, April 23, [...]

Why Your Goals Aren’t Good Enough

Earlier this month, I met up with Susan Johnston of the Urban Muse at the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park. We don’t get to see each other often — she lives in Boston, I live in NJ, and the last time we saw each other was at the ASJA conference back in April — but [...]

How To Break Through Your Work Block

I’ve made a lot of excuses for myself over the past month:

I just finished several large projects; I deserve a break.

I’m distracted because I’m waiting on responses to my lit agent queries; can you blame me?

I’m suffering from Holiday Brain.

I’m suffering from S.A.D.

I’m suffering from this god-awful, nasty, lingering cold.

Poor excuses all, especially considering how much work I could’ve been doing based upon the goals I’d set out for myself.

I’ve been procrastinating on one project in particular: pulling together the notes for the ASJA panel I’m appearing on in the spring. (For more information, you can now find the lowdown on my Sex Writing panel here, on the tab for Saturday, April 28.)

Of course, when it comes to issues of procrastination, burnout, and rebooting, there’s a lot of advice out there: Step away from your work. Schedule in a walk, workout, or meal. Do something that nourishes your soul. Meditate. Etc.

But don’t these tips assume we’re all struggling for one, universal reason? Aren’t they all just temporary salves that don’t actually solve the underlying problem? Why else would we need to repeat them again and again (and again)?

Shouldn’t we be tackling the root of the problem?

Earlier this week, I started reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (I know; I’m just 20 thousand years behind every other writer in the world), and began doing morning pages. On my very first morning, I found myself writing about the ASJA task I mentioned above, and about my true reasons for procrastinating. Somewhat miraculously, I was able to tease out the actual fears that were lurking behind my first reason for procrastinating: It’s far off, so I don’t yet feel any great sense of urgency.

One of those fears was in regard to my general horror in regard to public speaking. Will I be completely awkward? Will I be boring? Will I have a panic attack and lose consciousness? 

But the greater fear was revealed to be about my own feelings of inferiority. Am I too small-time for the well-established writers who will be attending ASJA? Will attendees be disappointed? I don’t make all my money as a writer! I’ve only written for two national magazines! I’m the only one on this panel without a published book! Am I good enough for this?

Once I had targeted these fears, I started flipping them around, transforming them into affirmations:

I have accomplished so much as a writer.

This is a sex writing panel. I have been writing about sex for 10 years, in a variety of media. I have a lot of valuable information to share.

I have been successful in the ways I’ve been hoping for. I am making enough money for me.

I have co-authored an ebook with a well-known sex counselor, and receive royalties. This accomplishment should bring me just as much validitation as the other panelists’ books.

I have something unique to offer.

After concluding my morning pages, I made my way to my computer and opened up the blank document that was to contain all my notes for the ASJA panel. I spent the next five hours drawing up a preliminary script for my presentation, putting together an outline for all the information I wanted to include, and contacting past editors for publication-specific advice I could share with panel attendees.

I got into the zone and, when I was done, I felt good. Relieved. Productive. Accomplished.

Scheduling in breaks and taking care of yourself are good tips when you’re suffering from burnout.

But what if you’re suffering from imposter syndrome? Or boredom with a project? Or lack of faith? What then?

Have you been procrastinating on a specific project lately? Try to pinpoint the true cause of your ambivalence. Then treat that cause… not the symptom.

Related: Didn’t Get It Done? That’s Your Own Damn Fault, Getting It Done, Want Freelance Success? Watch Your Health, How To Work from Home Without Losing Your Mind

How To Harness the Power of NaNoWriMo… All Year Long

We’re just a few days in to NaNoWriMo, and the tweets and motivational blog posts are already flying fast and furious. Not that I’m participating, mind you. I’m not a novelist, and all of my attempts at “fiction” back in college were thinly-veiled, totally emo personal essays (as were everyone else’s). But I can’t help feeling envious that fiction writers have a month like this, during which they can go all in on that large project they’ve been daydreaming about for eons, a built-in support network (and hard-core accountability) just an email or dedicated forum away.

Of course, I get my motivation and accountability elsewhere. My writing partner, Lyz Lenz, sends me threatening emails every week.

But what about the rest of you? Where can you go to ensure that your writing goals are met, thanks to a mix of motivation, camaraderie, and abject fear?

1. For those of you who have trouble updating your blog on a regular basis (shut up; I was doing very, very important things… okay, I was tweeting and surfing Etsy), there’s NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month (also in November). You can check out the BlogHer site for writing prompts and badges and then dive on in, secure in the knowledge that, at least for one month, you were on top of things.

2. If your November is just too damn busy (with Christmas shopping), there’s always Michelle Rafter’s WordCount Blogathon, in May. Check out Michelle’s Blogathon page for all the ways in which participating can help you build your biz.

3. And of course, those are just two of the more well-known ones. You can search for blog carnivals within your specific niche at this handy-dandy online directory.

4. If you’ve got your blogging covered, however, and would rather concentrate on content you can create for actual money, I highly recommend Freelance Success‘s twice-a-year Query Challenge. For the brief period of time in which I was a member of this professional writer’s group, I found the Challenge to be its most beneficial resource. Participants were split into teams and pitted against each other, earning points through queries and LOIs, and through the assignments that resulted from them. Team members had to report their points once a week, and team rankings were sent out in the weekly e-newsletter. There’s nothing like some healthy competition (and the fear of letting your teammates down) to make you sweat.

5. Then there are those sites and applications that target your writing productivity, and that can be used year-round. 750 Words is one such resource. It’s a site on which users aim to write at least 750 words a day and, for their troubles, receive points for their progress, and stats about what they’ve written (such as their most productive times of day, their quickest entries, their most common topics, and their most frequently used words).

6. Finally, if extreme terror is the most effective form of motivation for you, there’s always Write or Die. I’m afraid to use it, but rumor has it that, if you don’t reach your writing goals for the day, this application send you a threatening email, announces your failure to the entire Twitterverse, erases your hard drive, and makes your coffee pot malfunction.

Just kidding.

Write or Die tracks your writing and, if you pause for too long, you either a) receive a gentle reminder pop-up, telling you to stop being such a goddamn slacker (gentle mode), b) are subjected to an “unpleasant sound” that only ceases if you continue writing (normal mode), or c) are forced to watch your writing unwrite itself (kamikaze mode). Note: I am afraid to use this app.

7. Of course, you could always use mini goals, rewards, self-imposed deadlines, and good, old-fashioned self-discipline, but where’s the fun in that?

Any of you guys have an app or non-technical trick that keeps you at your keyboard?

Related: Didn’t Get It Done? That’s Your Own Damn Fault, Resource Roundup: 4 Time Management Applications, Are Professional Organizations Worth the Cost?, Motivational Trick: Fear (of Letting Others Down), Finding Someone to Drag You to the Finish Line

Didn’t Get It Done? That’s Your Own Damn Fault

Things that distract me:

- my cats
- an opened bag of Candy Cane Kisses
- music that is particularly peppy
- the knowledge that there is an unwatched episode of The Sing-Off on my DVR
- the dust I just noticed on the far edge of my desk
- a sink full of dishes
- Etsy
- my sudden obsession with yoga bolsters, brightly colored jeans, or illusion necklaces
- Twitter
- etc.

This past weekend — at a time when I was supposed to be working on the first chapter of my book so that I could get it to my writing partner by Monday — we lost power (along with hundreds of thousands of others on the east coast, thanks to a freak October blizzard). Okay, fine, I thought to myself. I’ll give myself a pass. My laptop will die in under two hours anyway.

Then, on Sunday night, the power came back on.

By Monday morning, however, Internet had still not been restored. “Ooh!” I said to my husband. “I’ll take this opportunity to write that chapter without any distractions!”

I then proceeded to spend the next few hours watching Project Runway, playing Spider Solitaire, and checking email on my phone.

Here’s the thing: Even without the typical distractions, we will create them. Because sitting down and starting something is hard.

So don’t complain about all the distractions at home. Don’t say you couldn’t get your book done or your business started up because of this or that or oh my god my cat needs snuggles!

Sit your ass down and let it flow.

It won’t flow all at once. It won’t come easy. But if you work hard at clearing out the cobwebs and pushing past the crap, it will come eventually.

Need help? Here are some tips and resources I’ve blogged about in the past:

Also, here are some fantastic apps for eliminating the number one distraction in your life: the Internet.

What’s worked for you when it comes to sitting your butt in the chair and forging on, despite distractions?

You’re Doing Great. You Should Give Thanks and Chill the Eff Out.

In case you forgot, I was at a retreat this past weekend (neener neener). It was glorious, I didn’t have phone or Internet access, and I even found maple cotton candy while I was up there.

But I’m not here to gloat. (Or am I? J/K. Or not.)

I wanted to share something with you.

At the beginning of the retreat, we had a welcome ceremony, during which yoga instructor Erica Mather passed around a talking stick and asked each of us to answer a few questions. Among them: What are you hoping to gain from this retreat?

When it was my turn to speak, the talking stick shook in my hands. My eyes teared up. What was I looking for? I had been feeling a lot of anger and frustration lately, both from the continued lack of interest in our condo, and in my continued failure to get pregnant. I told the group before me that I was looking for calm.

At the end of the retreat — five yoga classes, five cooking classes, two hot tub sessions, a greenhouse field trip, a journaling session, and a s’mored up, drunken bonfire later — we passed around the talking stick again. What do you feel gratitude for? Erica asked us. What have you learned?

By that point, it was clear I’d received something much better than simple calm. I’m grateful that I was able to experience something like this, I told the group. I learned that I have a lot to be grateful forso I should just chill out.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to take this trip. At the time, I was working a permalance gig, at which I was overworked and underpaid. I had also completed a career coaching certification program, but was failing to bring in clients, despite several contests on my blog, an e-course experiment, and a successful Word Nerd Networking event. I struggled to pay the bills, and was consumed by the thought that I was probably failing.

Now? I’m only two months away from eradicating the last of my credit card debt. The other month, I was able to splurge on a yoga studio membership. And this month? I was able to go on a mothereffing yoga/cooking retreat.

It’s just… wild.

It’s not Thanksgiving yet, but I don’t think it’s too early to give thanks for the circumstances that have brought me to this place:

  • I’m grateful my parents believed in me enough to lend me the money for my career coaching certification program. At long last, their investment appears to be paying off.
  • I’m grateful to my husband for spending many, many hours making my website pretty, setting up an e-course platform, giving me e-commerce capabilities, and more.
  • I’m grateful to the writing opportunities that have come my way as a result of the work I’ve done, and the people I’ve met.
  • I’m grateful to have learned my worth, learned how to negotiate… and learned how to walk away.
  • I’m grateful I was finally able to muster up the courage to cut that permalance safety net loose and, as a result, begin earning the money I deserve.
  • I’m grateful to the people I’ve met not only through work, but also through Twitter, Brazen Careerist, the YEC, and this blog. I love how we support each other.
  • I’m grateful for being able to find gratitude in the midst of the anger that has overwhelmed me lately.

I haven’t reached my full potential yet. Obviously. But I have a lot to be grateful for, and I need to remember that. I need to remember how lucky I am.

Have you been feeling angry lately? Frustrated. Anxious or scared or jealous or desperate? Your feelings aren’t invalid by any means, but ask yourself: What do you feel gratitude for?

Related: Looking for Fulfillment? Don’t Hold Out for Perfect, Inch By Inch: How Small Steps Lead to Big Success

You Need To Wear Many Hats… But You Shouldn’t Wear Them All

You can't wear ALL the hats. You'll just look silly.

Last month, I wrote a piece on spec for a new online startup. I wouldn’t typically do such a thing, but I was excited about the forthcoming website, and the project was backed by several companies I admired.

When the piece was killed, I was disappointed, but the editor I was in contact with assured me it had nothing to do with me. She told me that her and her superiors liked my writing style, and wanted to give me another assignment. Despite misgivings, I went ahead with it, working my ass off to get the piece done before deadline.

Then, the second piece was killed. We like your writing, the editor wrote to me, but the two posts you’ve written for us fail to demonstrate an understanding of what people are interested in or intrigued by.

Lemme tell you. That email really ruined my day.

Yes, I was angry at myself for doing work on spec. Twice. But I was more upset because I felt insulted by the implication that I didn’t know what people wanted to read… and I was the target audience!

I started to doubt my abilities as a writer. (Surprise, surprise.) I knew that anonymous commenters and online trolls were best ignored, but editors? Where could I go from here?

Then, a well-paying job floated in from a new client. Another regular client approached me with several more projects. I talked another editor into doubling their rates for me. I landed a new coaching client.

I realized:

I can’t please everyone. Nor should I want to. Because when you try to write for everyone, you end up writing for no one.

I’m not implying you should ignore contrary comments from your editors because you’re awesome and perfect and poop word glitter. No. Please do take that constructive criticism from the editors whose judgment you trust, and use it to become even awesomer.

What I am saying is that you can’t be the right fit for every editor. And that’s okay.

Take what you excel at and for the love of god run with it.

Have you ever received criticism from an editor that gave you pause? How did you bounce back?

Related: They Hate Me! They Really Hate Me!, The Vulnerability of Writers, Has the Editing Process Crushed Your Soul?, Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes