Progress is Progress

If there’s a big goal you want to achieve, there is definitely an even bigger picture where it belongs.

It’s easy to be blinded by the bigger picture and feel lost in the tapestry of it all.

One way to break it down into tinier, more managable pieces, is to appreciate the progress you’ve made thus far.

This is something I need to remind myself of quite often because I constantly find myself getting lost in my journey. It has been a year since I quit my last job and decided to go full time with writing. Reminding myself that progress is progress has been the only refuge I’ve had available to me because although I may be poor financially compared to last year, at least nowadays I’m not as spiritually poor as I was when I was stuck building someone else’s dream.

It shouldn’t have come as a shock to me, but surprise surprise, starting your own business is incredibly difficult. And quite often it is hard to see any tangible results of my hard work other than my own self assurance that I try to keep as objective as possible (because let’s face it, I do want to keep my spirits up, but I don’t want to delude myself into thinking I’m succeeding more than I think).

Throwing away the steady and predictable paycheck is the cost entrepeneurs need to pay, and all the security that comes with it is something all of us need to deal with before making our big breaks. Some entrepeneurs are able to take off and create a steady income early on, while most of us, more often than not, need to work harder than we ever have working a 9-5 job in order to simply make a decent buck for ourselves.

Now despite all these challenges, and I am not deterred.

I am proud of what I have done so far.

I am happy with the choices I’ve made.

The choice to focus on finishing the third draft of It Starts at Home, and the much scarier choice of hosting creative writing workshops, have gleaned more spiritual, intellectual, and emotional “income” than I have ever generated working 9-5 jobs. I am not so flippant to dismiss the value of money as I do appreciate making the money I’ve made, since I spent the past 10 years buying books to educate myself at my own pace based on my own individual interests.

All I’m saying is that as good as it felt to made all that money, it feels a lot better to be creating value and giving of myself to the world. Sharing my gift and inspiring others. Whether they were coaching clients who I spoke to one hour a week to give them the space to geek out about their works in progress, or people who have attended to my writing workshops.

Rest assured, I finally feel I’m doing what I was meant to do with my life.

Hosting writing workshops has been a desire of mine for two, three, or even more years now, and to finally have done it feels like a nice big checkmark off the bucket list.

Before every single one, I’m a nervous wreck.

I wonder if people will even care about what I have to say.

I fear if no one’s going to show up.

Early on I had to remind myself to prepare for the best case scenario so I could stop driving myself crazy. The energy I carried with that allowed me to promote my events and present my work with confidence and it sure as hell felt good to have had amazing turn outs with several people coming to some workshops, and equally as good to have only a few people coming to other workshops.

Sometimes it felt too good to be true that this was happening. That people were coming and showing their interest in what I had to say, and it took everything in my power to not self sabotage.

To make a very long story short, the past three months have allowed me to feel incredible success as well as horrible failure. I had many fears about people not caring about what I had to say, tripping over my words, and the worst one of all; no one showing up to my workshops.

All of these things happened; I experienced what it was like to see someone show that they were losing interest in the workshop as the night went on. I tripped over my words, lost my breath, and had to take a moment to recollect myself. And even worse, there was one workshop where I had 0 attendance.

And you know what?

I survived.

Don’t get me wrong, I felt disappointed, maybe a little angry, but not as much as I thought I would when I ran those disaster scenarios in my head beforehand.

The way I see it is that this was my chance to work out the kinks of an ongoing process. Now that I’ve gotten used to the flow of creation, promotion, and presentation, I think I am better equipped next year to bring the Four Pillars of Fiction series back and try to reach a wider audience than I already have this year.

My numbers may not be as big as I first hoped in terms of income, attendance, and clients signing up for sessions, but it’s definitely a lot more than the resounding 0 I would have to face had I not tried.

At the end of the day, I am proud that I at least created my first batch of workshop presentations and don’t have to worry about making anything from scratch in the next go round. I am proud that I reached some people and got some noggins nodding whenever something clicked with them if I made a valid point about writing they hadn’t considered before.

To me that’s worth it.

To me that’s progress.

It may not be much in a conventional sense, but progress is progress.

Now enough about me, how about for yourself? In what ways can you acknowledge yourself and your progress? If your goal is still very far from reach, what accomplishments can you celebrate today to motivate yourself to continue tomorrow?

 

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How to Thrive During NaNoWriMo

Today is the day writers all around the world take part in National Novel Writing Month, an annual event that challenges them to write 50,000 words all within the glorious (or grueling) 30 days of November. Whether they are glorious and/or grueling is completely up to you. I know this from experience.

I’m not going to pretend I have an on going track record with NaNoWriMo as I have only done it once last year when I rewrote my YA novel, It Starts at Home, completely from scratch a third time in a row. My advice is drawn more from the past decade of novel writing, things I’ve observed about myself, that in turn I hope you can relate to and glean some value from.

So without further adieu, here is how I learned not to beat my head against the wall during NaNoWriMo:

1. Remember Your Why

Amidst the commotion of trying to write 1667 words a day, remind yourself why you write in the first place. Perhaps there are some injustices you want to expose through your fiction, or you simply want to entertain. Whatever your reason, it has value because you want to provide value through it or at least have something burning inside you, urging you to express it. Let the call to adventure ring loud and clear. Make it more about the message than about reaching a quota.

2. Don’t Make it About Word Count

Sure, it’s important, as it is a measurable guage of how much you’ve done, but don’t sweat it if you can’t reach 1667 a day or the 50,000 at the end of November. Word count is important, but it shouldn’t take precendence over expressing yourself and possibly spreading your message. Especially if you have controversial topics to cover in your book, accept that it’s not going to be easy, and the fun is in the challenge of finding ways to convey your philosophy through fiction.

3. Don’t Find Time, Make Time For Writing

This is something I hear often from working parents with children, and anybody else with very busy working schedules. It’s important to know that no matter what obligations you’ve got going for you in life, whether you show up or not is completely up to you and it is your life to manage. No one else’s. Don’t find time to write, make time to write. Make it a priority. You don’t have to do a million things in your life. Yes, pay bills. Yes, feed your children. But if you have the free time to sit around and play Candy Crush, maybe make time to write and see that as your leisure time. Scratch that. Writing is leisure time, no matter how difficult it gets at times.

4. Keep a Progress Journal

Give yourself 10-30 minutes a day to free write about your book, detailing all your progress and intetions with it before every session. You gotta warm yourself up to writing and what could help is giving yourself the opportunity to write whatever’s on your mind will free up space in your brain to focus on the narrative. This works especially if you’re stuck at certain points. The more stuck you are, the longer the progress journaling session should be. Progress journals are also where you can remind yourself of your why in a more concrete way than just repeating the mantra in your head.

5. Let Yourself Write

This is a no brainer, but basically what I mean is to not get caught up in syntax and style. If you have trippy sci-fi or fantastical fantasy concepts in your story, that’s fine, but don’t let all your wordiness get in the way of simply telling a story. And who cares if it doesn’t make any sense or if it isn’t eloquent? This is most likely just another draft to be improved on later. So let yourself write to your heart’s content and kick perfectionism to the curb where it belongs!

6. Write in Tiny Bursts

If you can’t stomach 1667 in one 20-60 minute writing session, do little by little throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be done all in one sitting. Do 500-600 in the morning, another 500-600 in the afternoon, and the final 500-600 at night. Before you know it, you’ll reach the daily quota without burning yourself out from one intense writing session in the day.

7. Let Yourself Fall Behind

It could happen. In fact it happens to a lot of writers, even published ones. Let yourself fall behind and be okay with it. Despite what I said about making time to write, sometimes life gets in the way, or worse, our egoes prevent us from putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). If and when that happens, accept it with grace and don’t let it deter you from getting back into the groove. You never know, you just might write 3500 words in one day to catch back up with the daily average.

8. Exercise

Writing is a very physically limiting activity where you are confined to a chair all slouched over and giving your mind a massive work out. Don’t forget to give your body a work out, too! Exercise can help release some muscle tension as well as clear your mind when you focus on the sensations your body goes through during exercise. Go for a run, lift some weights, or do some yoga. There’s an endless amount of options for physical activity, and often times it is due to physical stagnance that our minds also refuse to work, so go and create a little communion between body and mind.

9. Write a Crappy Story on the Side

More often than not, the novel you choose to write for NaNoWriMo is “The Big One,” and that’s all well and good. However, with that comes the pressure to make sure it’s done right, even if you follow tip #5. In addition to letting yourelf write, I propose you let yourself write crap. Yeah, if you feel stuck with your main work in progress, go start a side story that you write for the express purpose of writing as poorly as possible. This is a sure fire way to pump out 3000 meaningless words before hunkering down and writing your finely honed 1667 main manuscript words for the day.

10. Reward Yourself

When it’s all said and done, be sure to reward yourself. The time it takes to write may seem like a huge price to pay with little to no tangible, immediate return on investments, so it’s best to make one for yourself. This can be treating yourself to a bath, a Netflix binging hour (or five), or if you’re a gamer like me, a gaming session could feel incredibly better after having written. In the wise words of my cousin, after all your hard work you gotta “treat yoself!”

11. Sleep!

And as a bonus tip: sleep! We live in an unhealthy culture that rewards and promotes the notion that “sleep is for the weak,” and busy bodies often proclaim that they’ll sleep when they’re dead. I sure as hell hope you don’t buy into mythology, as sleep is a very important human function. Yes, it sucks that eats away the time we could be doing more more more with our lives, but deal with it, sleep is a fact of life. You need to recharge your batteries in order to operate better than you would hopped up on caffeine and a single muffin.

What all these tips come down to is: treat yourself kindly.

Happy writing!

 

The Progress Journal

Have you ever been so consumed by a project that you can’t stop yourself from writing? It’s one of the greatest feelings a writer can have, knowing that you’re tapping into your potential and expressing yourself in the fullest. It mostly happens when you’ve found something you’re passionate about and it’s so important that you need to get it all out of your head and all on the page or it’ll keep you up at night.

medium_Writers_Block_ComicThen comes the point where the dreaded Writer’s Block stumps your motivation and creativity. It happens to the best of us. We all lose steam and start slowing down how many words we can write in a minute, and even drop in our daily word count goals. (If you don’t already have a word count goal, you should, and I’ll make a case for its importance in a later post.)

Following in one of the principles taught in The Free Fall Journal, the Progress Journal is the same in that you set a timer for 10-30 minutes and write as much as you can without stopping until the timer is up. The vast difference is a Progress Journal is project specific. So that means focusing on nothing but the project you’re stuck on and why.

If it has been days since you wrote a single word, or you pre-emptively feel a slow down coming on, set 10-30 minutes for free writing about your current project. Even if the first sentence consists of, “I don’t want to write,I don’t want to write, I don’t want to write…” Of course you do, you just need to take the time to explore why you’re not writing.

The purpose of this exercise is to get you into the groove of writing so that when you open up your project, you’ll feel more confident in continuing it. It has been my experience that thanks to keeping a Progress Journal, I have accomplished the following:

  • Planned the next chapter when I thought I had no idea what had to happen next or why
  • Discovered the intellectual or emotional reasons why I didn’t want to continue
  • Got back on track after a TWO MONTH long break from writing
  • Doubled and sometimes tripled my daily word count
  • Considered more plot points and character developments for later

I would suggest that the longer the break you’ve taken, or the more doubt you feel, the longer you should set the timer. It doesn’t have to be a full 30 minutes, but set the timer to 30 minutes and keep writing until you feel compelled to hop right onto your project. If you don’t, that’s okay too because as long as you’ve actually written about your project–making plans and obtaining insights on it–you’ll always have the Progress Journal entry to keep vibing off of until you are compelled to continue.

Even if you’re already writing everyday, a 10 minute Progress Journal entry is a sure way to connect with yourself and your project, keeping Writer’s Block at bay for yet another day.

Real Life Application and the Importance of This Exercise:

Keeping a Progress Journal is not exclusive to writing. You can still make one based on any other creative endeavours you have going on like a work or school project. It will help you get your bearings on what you need to do and how to approach it. Even at the personal level, you can use a Progress Journal to keep track on the habits and thought processes that permeate your daily life. What gets tracked can be observed, and having a Progress Journal to refer to can help you determine where you’ve been stuck before and help you avoid similar mistakes by recognizing how you got past hurdles before.

Do you have other motivation maintaining tips? Feel free to comment below and share the energy!