Writing Fiction During The Holidays

Are you writing fiction during the holidays? If not, or not as much as you expected, you're not alone.

Christmas OrnamentI had high hopes for December.

In the fall, I taught a legal writing class and released a new non-fiction book. (Fiction Writing As Your Second Career – more on that here.)

But I made little progress on the rewrite of my latest novel. As I graded the last student papers, though, I felt so excited. Finally, stretches of open time in which to write. Or, in my case, rewrite.

And then…

Holiday Fun

First, the weekends filled.

The law firm where I do some project work hosted a gathering in New Orleans. I'm in Chicago and the firm's home office is in Denver. I hadn't seen everyone since about a year before the Covid pandemic began.

So how could I turn down a weekend-long party in New Orleans? And I'm so glad I didn't. It was wonderful. I ate good food. Saw beautiful architecture. Visited the WWII museum (worth a visit whether you are a history buff or not — I am not). And connected with my colleagues and met many of their friends.

It felt fantastic.

Then I had a chance to join a friend for a weekend trip to Geneva, Illinois. It's a suburb filled with antique and gift shops, a historic courthouse and inn, and the Fox River. It was all decorated beautifully for the holidays.

Haven't had that much fun in forever. I expected to have a similar time in Galena, Illinois, this past weekend.

Now you might think, as I did, that I'd write a lot during the weekdays despite all the weekend fun. And that was the plan.

Too Much To Do

But busy weekends meant taking care of things like eye doctor visits, renewing my driver's license (which took 2 trips to the DMV), and finishing holiday shopping during the week.

Also, I usually do many of my Buffy and the Art of Story podcast work on Saturdays. That, too, needed to get done during the week. As a result, I barely got halfway through the novel rewrite.

Still, things looked promising. This week and next were meant to be premium writing time other than Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But while I was traveling, I got sick.

Life Happens

Despite being exposed a few times, until now I avoided Covid. It hasn't been terrible, possibly because I had a booster shot in October. But I spent my last weekend trip in my hotel room either in bed or wrapped in a blanket. And since I got home I've mostly needed to rest. Today's the first day I spent more than 15 minutes at the computer without feeling exhausted.

I'm still too fuzzy headed to address the intricate plot rewrites I need to make in my cold case double murder mystery.

And you know what? That's okay.

You're A Person First

There are times to push through with writing fiction. In other words, to write whether you feel like it or not. Sometimes if you don't, you'll never get that first 1,000 — or last 1,000 — words on the page.

But we are not only writers. We're humans.

And the last couple years have been hard on most of us. You might have been ill yourself. Or lost someone you loved. Pandemic concerns might have isolated you and taken a toll on your mental, emotional, or physical health. Your creativity may have suffered from lack of new experiences or input.

So if you're enjoying this holiday season and feeling renewed and happy but you're not writing, could be you need this joy more than you need to write for now. And if you're not feeling so great and you're not writing, take a moment now to consider what will help you feel better. If it's diving into your fictional world, great. Write whatever you think you'll enjoy most.

But if what you need is to rest and you're able to, do that. Read a book, take a nap, binge watch TV. (Among other things, I'm rewatching Vampire Diaries — yes, again. Who knew it was a Covid treatment?)

And if you're not feeling great but still have way too much do for the holiday to rest, take a breath. You'll get through it. Your writing will still be there in the new year.

That's all for now. I hope you are finding some joy and peace this holiday season. Feel free to Reply to this email and let me know how it's going.

Best,

L. M. Lilly

P.S. I recently learned (due to a subscriber kind enough to email me — thank you) that my course How To Plot Your Novel: From Idea To First Draft was showing as closed to enrollment. That should be fixed now. If you tried before to enroll and it didn't work, you can sign up on this page. Apologies for any inconvenience!

Make Your Writing Life Easier

A lot of writing and marketing advice adds to your To Do list. Let's talk instead about how to make your writing life easier.

Because life is challenging enough these days.

Also, for most of us, writing started as a passion. Whether you're trying to earn money at it or just fit it in as an unpaid pursuit, making it easier makes sense.

5 ways to do that (more on each below):

  • Only Decide Once
  • Create Your Own Rules
  • Making Starting Simple
  • Create Easy Entry Points
  • Use Tech Well

Read on for how you can apply these suggestions.

Make Decisions Once (And Only Once)

When I looked over how I spent my time in 2021, I asked how I might save time this year without getting less done or spending more money.

And I discovered I spent a lot of time researching and deciding the same things over and over. For example, every month I advertised the first book, which is free, in my Awakening supernatural thriller series in 2 or 3 different enewsletters.

As I glanced over the list of ads, I saw that I repeated many of the same ones throughout the year, spacing them a few months apart.

Yet every month I spent 45 minutes to an hour checking to see which enewsletters had categories where the book fit, which ones covered sales outlets beyond Amazon, and which performed well for me in the past.

Based on that discovery, I created a 3-month schedule to advertise in 2 different enewsletters–ones I already researched–each month. On Month 4, I start over. It takes me all of 10 minutes to schedule. I also made a note to review and check for new places to advertise at the end of 6 months.

That's 35-45 minutes a month saved, which might not sound like a lot.

But I found 4 recurring tasks that fell in this category, bringing the total saved to 2-3 hours. I don't know about you, but I definitely appreciate an extra 2.5 hours when I can relax.

Create Your Own Rules

Take a moment to think about what you do over and over. Maybe it's deciding when to fit writing into your day or week. Or it could be a non-writing task like taking a trip to the store.

Can you create a rule, such as “I write every Friday morning from 6-7 a.m.” or “I write any time I've got at least 20 minutes to myself in the evening”?

Or maybe you can make a task automatic by going to the store every first Monday of the month to buy paper goods, cleaning supplies, toothpaste, etc.?

Make Starting Simple

When I'm outlining or first drafting it takes me a while to get each writing session started. Those phases of a novel just aren't my favorites. I find sitting down to rewrite a lot easier.

You may feel exactly the opposite. Perhaps you love exploring your story at the first draft stage but find revising tedious.

Whatever phase challenges you most in your writing life, think about how you can make it easier to get rolling. For me, that means as I'm finishing a first drafting session, I add a note in brackets to myself about what will happen next. When I'm outlining, I add bullet points to think about next time.

That way when I open the document I'm not struggling to remember where I left off. And I don't stare at the screen trying to figure out what to write next, as usually my unconscious mind has been sorting through those bullet points or notes.

What can you do to help you start your next writing session?

Easy Entry Points

Look for an easy entry point to your writing session.

To borrow an example from the world of physical health, I'm not someone who loves exercise, but I've got a pretty solid routine. That's because I start with the smallest possible step.

First thing in the morning, I roll out my yoga mat. I tell myself I don't need to use it, and once in a very great while I don't. But 49 times out of 50 once the mat is out, I start with some stretches. Then I transition into whatever I haven't done much of lately, whether it's actual yoga, physical therapy exercises for my neck and shoulders, or strength training.

Writing works the same way. When I really truly don't feel like writing the 3,000 (or 300) words I scheduled for the day I tell myself all I'll do for now is open the document. Just in case I decide to write.

Once it's open I see a line or maybe those bullet points. Usually that's enough to get my fingers on the keyboard.

Make Use Of Your Tech

So often technology frustrates and aggravates us. (More on that in Dealing With Tech Glitches That Steal Your Time.) But you can use it to save time and make your writing life easier, too.

And that's beyond the basic–and pretty amazing–ways computers already make typing, revising, and saving easier. (Yep, I started when it was typewriting on paper. Typos alone presented serious challenges, let alone major revisions.)

Some examples from my writing and publishing work include:

  • Formatting chapter headers as I write so they convert easily into Vellum (the program I use to layout ebook and print files).
  • Creating quick keys (Autocorrect in Word) for my recurring names. So qq becomes Quille, the detective protagonist of my Q.C. Davis mystery series, and b[ become Buffy for my podcast outlines.
  • Using scheduling options for blog posts and podcast episodes so that I can upload batches rather than logging in and navigating to the right screens each time.

What will make your life easier depends on your routines. Take a few minutes now to think about how you might use tech to help make your writing life easier.

I hope that was helpful!

L. M. Lilly

P.S. Wishing you could make plotting your novel easier?  Check out Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide To Plotting And Writing Your Novel.

Writing With the Winter Blues

If you tend to get the winter blues, writing can become more challenging. Since we can't skip past the season (and who wants to wish away months of life anyway), asking yourself these 3 questions might help:

  1. What about winter specifically triggers feeling down or anxious?
  2. What excites you and makes you happy about writing?
  3. What small things can you do ease (1) and increase (2)?

Triggers For The Winter Blues

Your first thought might be that everything about winter affects your mood — and not in a good way. But usually there are particular parts of winter weather that impact you. And they might not be the ones you think.

For example, I always figured cold weather triggered my blue or anxious winter feelings. (Not so good given that I live in Chicago where winter sometimes lasts 5 months whatever the calendar says.)

Mind Map for Mystery Novel
Diagram created this January for the latest Q.C. Davis Mystery

But then I made a point to notice when I felt the best in winter.

It turned out that I felt pretty good when it was sunny and cold. I didn't like feeling chilled, but it didn't make me sad. In contrast, overcast gray days did. To my surprise, zero degrees and sunny was far better than thirty degrees and gloomy.

I also noticed that as my skin got drier (due to forced air heat) I felt more on edge. And because I have close vision problems it was much harder for me to read in the evening in low light, which also made it harder for me to wind down and relax.

While none of the things I just mentioned are fun, they're all a lot easier to deal with than the entire season of winter.

Consider what's happening in your environment in the winter months and how it makes you feel. You might want to jot a few notes or write a journal entry about it.

And speaking of writing…

When Writing Was Exciting

If you're already struggling a bit with the winter blues you may feel like nothing about writing makes you happy, feels fun, or fills you with excitement.

Yet I'm certain you felt that way once or you wouldn't be reading this. And you wouldn't still be trying to write unless someone's paying you a million dollars. In which case maybe focus on the million dollars.

So think back to a time when you did feel excited and happy to write.

Did you love interviewing your characters? Writing brand new scenes? Building entire imaginary worlds? Rewriting each paragraph until it sparkled?

Small Steps Address Winter Blues

Now think about some small, easy ways to address what you learned from Questions 1 and 2. Below are some examples from my efforts.

Letting In Some Light

I moved my writing desk in front of my home office window despite that it's colder there. Seeing more sun as I write on sunny days and getting even a little more outdoor light on gray days lifts my mood.

I also check the weather for the week and look for the sunniest days and hours. That's when I take a walk outdoors.

If I have to wear multiple layers and a hat over earmuffs so be it. I put those out the night before to make it more likely I'll head out the door.

For my hands, I bought moisturizing soap and shea butter hand lotion. And I got brighter bulbs that cast whiter light that makes reading easier in the evening.

Happy Writing

As to writing, my favorite parts are putting together the plots for my mystery novels. Also rewriting once I've got my first draft done. The first draft itself often feels like more of a slog to me and I prefer to write it as fast as I can.

Yet for my last novel, I rushed through the plotting stage, telling myself it was “not writing” and I “should” be writing. That led me to spend more time first drafting because I stalled out more often, uncertain which way to go.

I finished Book 5 in my mystery series on time but I enjoyed writing it a lot less. (And when was I first drafting? You guessed it. In the depths of winter.)

This time around I'm extending the plot phase. And I tried a new method – creating a diagram with magic marker on a giant piece of butcher paper. (Photo above.)

It makes me feel like a kid again to sit on my office floor and sort out my plot. And that's fun.

Your Turn

Now it's your turn. What are a couple small things you might do to address the aspects of winter that affect your mood in a negative way?

And what can you do to enhance the fun parts of your writing?

That's all for this time. Best wishes for a happy new year of writing.

L. M. Lilly

P.S. If you'd like a little more help with anxious feelings, you might find my book Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life useful.

5 Tips to Overcome Writer’s Block

Stuck? 5 Ways To Start Writing Again.Writer's block or feeling stuck happens even to the most prolific writers. All of us struggle with what to write, or what to write next, from time to time.

If you're feeling stuck, or you're writing but you're not as excited about it as you want to be, these tips to get past writer's block might help.

1. Learn Something New

If you're out of ideas, or you're not thrilled with the ideas you have, try learning about a topic, person, or activity that's new to you.

For instance, while right now it may be difficult to take up water skiing (either due to weather or travel restrictions because of Covid), you could still learn about it.

Find instructional videos on YouTube. Order books or get them at your local library (which may lend ebooks and audiobooks without the need to visit in person). Follow someone on social media who water skis and read their posts.

Does that mean you'll write about water skiing?

Well, maybe.

But that's not the point. I'm in the midst of reading a book one of my brothers recommended about a former United States president. He's one I didn't vote for, and in reading it I'm learning a ton about how his career and ideals evolved over the decades, his relationship with his family, and about foreign affairs.

None of it will appear directly in any book I'm planning, but already it's given me new angles on certain characters and several new story ideas that aren't about politics, but do involve conflicts similar to those in the book.

2. Let Yourself Be Bored

This is the opposite of Tip No.1 in a way. Sometimes we're so eager to fill every moment with TV or podcasts or news that we're not allowing our minds to unwind and become peaceful.

Just sitting and staring out the window feels like a waste of time. And it's boring!

But letting yourself sit for a while as your mind wanders could be just what you need to allow your creative mind free range to come up with ideas. Or to unconsciously sort through the ideas you have and improve them. Or winnow some of them out so you can focus on one.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through this site, but that doesn’t change the purchase price to you as the buyer.

3. Relax To Overcome Writer's Block

Doing nothing (see No. 2 above) may help you relax. But it may not work for everyone.

Try some other ways to relax. It can be a challenge these days when most of us are limited in what we can do as we try to keep Covid-19 from spreading further.

But some things that work for me include taking a half hour walk (even in the icy cold, which I just got back from doing), reading a mystery or horror novel, playing solitaire or memory card games, rewatching favorite TV shows, yoga, and paging through magazines with beautiful pictures.

(Yes, I still get some print magazines. That and a glass of wine or cup of tea equals a relaxing evening for me, which equals a more satisfying writing session the next day.)

This type of relaxation can help you get past writer's block.

4. Stimulate Your Senses

If you can safely go to an art museum, you might want to fill your brain with stunning visual art. Whether you like what you see or not, it's bound to absorb you. If you can't go in person, there are lots of online art forums and sites.

You can also listen to music. Find a comfortable spot, shut your eyes, and listen. It's a great way to free your mind and fill it at the same time.

Explore scent.

I find certain scents, like vanilla and lavender, help me relax. Others remind me of specific times and places. Making a point to smell candles, spices, food, or pretty much anything can stimulate your thoughts and spark your creativity.

Finally, be aware of sensations. If you're outside, take a moment to feel that wind across your face. Focus on the fabric of your clothes. Go through your closet or your cupboard in search of different materials. Smooth, rough, textured, satiny.

It sounds a little odd, but all these sensations can bring back memories, spark your imagination, or help you enhance details when you write a scene.

5. End Writer's Block: Set The Stage

Before they start cooking, chefs prepare (or have assistants prepare) ingredients. They sort, measure, and chop in advance so when it's time to cook they're ready. (Which is why it looks so easy on those cooking shows.)

This is known as mise en place, and it's part of writing too. It's essentially getting all the prep work out of the way, or setting the stage, so you can focus.

Take a moment now to think about what you need to get started with, or return to, a writing project.

Does one of your characters still need a name? Do you know what the next major turn is in your story? Is your computer keyboard at a comfortable height?

Whatever you need to be ready to write the first word, or the next word, take 15-30 minutes to take care of it now. Then when it's time to write you'll be ready.

That's all for this month. Hope these tips on overcoming writer's block help your 2021 start well!

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Looking for more help with your novel? Download free story structure worksheets and learn about other resources here.

Before You Create A Writing Habit

4 Tendencies That May Motivate You To WriteA lot of writers (including me) believe creating a writing habit is key to writing more. But recently it hit me that, in a way, that advice puts the cart before the horse.

Because different things motivate different people.

Which means that creating a habit (or trying any other strategy) may work great for one person but make it harder for another to write.

Here's what I mean.

Before You Create A Writing Habit

In the book The Four Tendencies, author Gretchen Rubin writes about research showing people tend to find ways to meet goals in four main ways. Understanding your main way can make it much easier to do what you want to do.

These tendencies explain why using a word count chart helps me finish a first draft on time, causes another writer to say, “Why would I ever do that?” and leaves another less likely to write and more likely to feel guilty about not writing.

Here's a thumbnail of the tendencies Rubin talks about. (Any errors are mine. You can visit her website or read the book for more information if you like.)

The Upholder

If you fit this tendency you meet your own goals and other people's expectations. It's probably easy to form habits, including a writing habit, and you usually get the things done that you want to do whether or not anyone else pushes you to do them.

One downside, though (which I've experienced), is you may be so driven that you meet everyone's expectations plus your own, leaving little time to relax.

And you may forget to ask whether the goals you set for yourself six months ago still make sense.

The Obligor

If this is your tendency, you do everything you promised anyone else you would do. Friends, family, and coworkers all know they can rely on you.

But you may find it hard to get done what you want to do if no one else asks or requires you to do it. For example, if you and a friend agree to go to the gym at seven a.m. each day, you'll be there to meet your friend even if you have to drag yourself out of bed.

But if you decide on a solo early morning exercise plan, you may very well skip it after the first day. And then feel upset about what you see as a lack of follow through.

The Questioner

Questioners want to know why they should do things.

If you tend this way, you will do something if your questions are answered and you feel satisfied the reasons for doing it are solid. This is true whether it's a personal goal or one someone else expects you to take on.

On the upside, once you're convinced, you follow through. Also, you're unlikely to take on too many projects without thinking it through. But the downside is you might spend a lot of time on questions about why, what's the best way, and where to start, which can hinder getting your projects off the ground.

The Rebel

If you have Rebel tendencies, you may resist all expectations – your own and anyone else's. If someone tells you to do something, you immediately don't want to do it.

You may find a lot of motivation, however, if someone tells you that you can't do something.

For example, if an English teacher told you you'll never be a writer, you might work very hard and take great delight in proving him wrong.

On the upside, you're unlikely to be defined by others' expectations. On the downside, you may find it hard to meet even a goal you chose yourself, or to set a goal in the first place, as it feels too confining.

All four tendencies can overlap according to Rubin, but she believes everyone tends toward one more than the others.

Writing Habits And The Tendencies

You're probably already thinking about how these tendencies apply to writing. It's the first thing that occurred to me, too, when I read the book.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through this site, but that doesn’t change the purchase price to you as the buyer.

Upholders And Inner Goals

Because Upholders feel best when they meet their own inner goals, setting clear ones is key. To Do lists, charts, and tracking how much you write are probably great motivators. (I love to check off boxes!)

It's also important to take time regularly to reassess your goals – and your obligations to others – to be sure they still make sense.

If you set a goal of writing 3 romance novels, for example, but after you finish the first one you realize you don't like writing romance, it's okay to reconsider the goal. You may still go ahead with it, or not, but you'll have made a choice.

Obligors And Accountability

Obligors need outside accountability.

Rather than giving yourself a hard time if you don't finish that writing project on your To Do list, enlist someone else who can help you stay on track.

You might find a writing buddy and agree to meet for dinner every two weeks. If you don't get your pages written, your friend will have to buy you dinner. While at first look it sounds like it should be the other way around, you're probably more motivated if your lack of follow through inconveniences your friend, not you. (You don't want your friend to have to spend more money because you didn't write your pages, right?)

Do You Question Needing A Writing Habit?

Given that Questioners need reasons, if that's your tendency, take some time to ask yourself why you want to write your novel (or screenplay or story).

Write down as many answers as you can. Do you want to become famous? Make money? Feel the satisfaction of saying you're done? Share it with an audience? Enjoy the process?

Review your answers down the road if your motivation flags. You also may want to plan times when you revisit your questions. Asking new ones may bring out new reasons and enhance your motivation.

Rebellion And Creativity

If you have Rebel tendencies, freedom and creativity likely motivate and excite you far more than schedules, deadlines, and To Do Lists.

So if a set schedule makes your blood run cold, or if it makes writing feel too much like work, you don't need one.

Perhaps instead you can see writing as your private time, set aside for just you and no one else. Time no one else is entitled to claim.

On a long writing project, you may want to jump around, writing the scenes that interest you most during any particular writing session rather than writing straight through in order. Or you may want to have various projects in the works so you can always choose the one that appeals to you rather than feeling like you're sitting down to do your homework.

I hope these thoughts are helpful.

L.M. Lilly

P.S. Looking for more help with your novel? Download free story structure worksheets and learn about other resources here.

 

Writing Deadlines Can Lower Your Stress

It sounds strange to think of deadlines as a way to lower stress. For most of us, forces and people outside ourselves impose deadlines on us.

It can make us feel anxious and rushed, especially at our day jobs.

In my work as a lawyer, deadlines created a lot of stress. Because I both wanted to produce the best work possible and finish on time.  Often that meant I worked a lot of late hours and weekends.

For that reason, I resisted setting hard deadlines on my writing.

While I do set word count goals and am pretty good at meeting them, when I do things that can’t be easily measured by a number I lean toward simply spending as long as needed to get a task done.

What’s the problem with that?

Getting It Done Or Making It Perfect?

If getting it done to you means turning out a perfect product or the best you can possibly do ever, every project can take nearly endless hours. The result is that I end up working more and more and getting less done overall.

So not giving myself a hard deadline creates more stress and frustration.

Especially when I suspect what I’m doing is not a great use of my time.

What's Worth Your Time

For example, if my audience cares far more about getting my next book sooner than whether I edited every single breath sound out of my podcast, then it makes more sense to stop spending 2 hours a week editing out breath sounds.

Yet it's hard for me to do that because I want the best possible recording out there.

Deadlines Help You Choose

Finally it hit me that when I have external deadlines and multiple projects, I'm always deciding what's worth the time and what's not. Or, put another way, what tasks increase the benefit to a client (or a boss or customer) enough that I need to do them and which ones do not matter much or at all to them. Those things can be sacrificed to get other work finished on time.

Without hard deadlines, though, everything feels equally important whether it is or not.

Because of that, I now not only set deadlines but limit the time I spend on certain tasks if there's something more valuable I could do.

And more valuable includes setting aside time each week when I just relax and have fun. Because to have a happy life, not just a productive one, means enjoying it.

More Deadlines, More Happiness?

And that is the last key to making deadlines you set for yourself lower your stress instead of increase it. If you figure out what tasks to cut to meet your deadline, you can set aside some of that time for yourself.

Because deadlines can prompt you to think carefully and make better choices about your work, using them helps create more time to enjoy life.

I hope that’s helpful as you look forward to the rest of the month!

L.M. Lilly

P.S. While its title worried me (I thought it might be teaching me to cram far too many more things into my schedule) Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours turned out to be very helpful in organizing my time — and freeing more of it to relax. You might find it useful, too.

 

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through this site. But that doesn’t change the purchase price to you as the buyer.

Juggling Act: Writer, Lawyer, Authorpreneur

Lawyerpreneur Podcast InterviewAuthorpreneur is how some writers who independently publish their own work describe themselves.

It pulls in the combined creative and business efforts involved in writing and publishing.

While I don't think we said that specific word, this week I had the chance to be a guest on Jeremy Richter's Lawyerpreneur podcast to talk about exactly that mix of creative pursuits.

Like me, Jeremy is a lawyer, podcaster, and writer. He devotes his podcast to the many things attorneys do both inside and outside their law practices.

We talked about my gradual shift from law to writing, the idea for my podcast Buffy and the Art of Story, productivity, and creativity.

Whether or not you consider yourself an authorpreneur, some things you might find helpful in the interview:

  • prioritizing a personal life when work is all around you
  • balancing career responsibilities with fiction writing
  • how time management and productivity change when you look at projects rather than hours
  • the pros and cons of engaging in more than one profession

You can check it out here:

Slaying Briefs, Books, and Vampires with Lisa Lilly

P.S. For more on staying centered while juggling more than one career you may want to check out Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life.

The Big Picture And What You’re Not Doing

Time Management and the Big PictureRecently, I started feeling more and more stressed about time management. As if I were constantly failing to do something important, but I didn’t know what it was.

This feeling persisted despite that the last month has been one of my most productive.

If you’ve ever felt like the proverbial hamster on the hamster wheel, moving your legs faster and faster but not getting anywhere, you understand.

So what to do?

The Big Picture And The Long List

Most of us have a long To Do list. If you work for yourself — or you're pursuing writing alongside another full-time endeavor — your list, like mine, probably includes a lot of projects and tasks.

Every month I choose two or three goals to focus on. Then each week I put the tasks that will help me achieve those goals at the top of my list. The remaining tasks I feel okay about carrying over another week if I need to.

Buffy and the Art of Story Season OneThat’s how I achieved my goals for April and May. I reached the halfway point in the first draft of my latest mystery novel. On the nonfiction side, I published Buffy And The Art Of Story Season One: Writing Better Fiction By Watching Buffy. And I improved the return on investment for my Amazon and BookBub Dashboard advertising.

Yet I felt pressured. And stressed.

Checking The Boxes

Feeling that type of pressure isn’t new to me. When I ran my own law practice I often felt that way. I was fortunate enough to have so much work that I was always busy. Too busy. Looking back, I can think of a lot of things I might have done to better manage that workload and lower my stress.

But after thinking it through, I couldn't see that any of those solutions made sense for my author business. So at first I thought my law practice experience had nothing to teach me now.

Until I listened to Joanna Penn’s recent podcast episode The 7-Figure One Person Creative Business With Elaine Pofeldt. In talking about one-person businesses (and what else is an author?), Pfeldt said that a lot of people scramble “from one project to the next.”

She went on to point out: “If you're always in that mindset, your business will not grow and you'll never have a very peaceful business.”

During that same interview, Joanna Penn noted that she is someone who likes lists and crossing things off of them (as do I), and sometimes that gets in the way of the big picture.

That’s when it hit me. Yes, I feel more peaceful these days because I love writing so much and find it less stressful than a full-time law practice. But my author business still can’t grow if all I ever focus on is getting the next project done.

Because feeling happy about writing and using time well requires more than simply hitting a word count goal or publishing the next book.

What You’re Not Doing

I went back to my “I don’t know” feeling. And realized that was the big picture issue I needed to tackle. To be more specific, I needed to set aside some time to learn more so I could figure out which projects on my list made sense and what I might want to add or change.

If I didn't do that, I'd just keep on with one project after another. Yes, after another year or two I'd have more books on my shelf to sell, and that's good. But what did that add up to? More to the point, what did I want it to add up to?

I've got resources to help me figure that out. An email folder labeled “Industry Items To Read” full of messages and articles about writing and publishing. Three video courses I paid for and only partially completed.

But I hadn't set aside time to read or watch or learn.

And every time I saw those folders with those materials, I felt that sense of pressure. That feeling that despite all the projects completed, I was missing something. So I blocked Saturday afternoons in my calendar solely for education. And on the very first Saturday, as soon as I started my three hours on course materials, the feeling of pressure eased.

If you’re feeling stressed about time, ask yourself if there’s something significant you’re not doing that might help you chart a new course, change direction, or improve your writing or business on a big picture level. If there is, carving out time for it might just help you manage the rest of your workload.

That’s all for now –

L.M. Lilly

P.S. So much of my creativity and productivity has been inspired by online courses I took from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. You can check them out here. While I'm an affiliate and get a small fee if you opt to take one, that doesn’t change the price to you.

Think Small To Overcome Writing Fears

When I ask people what stops them from writing a novel, they often tell me about their fears. Fear of success, fear of being judged, fear of failure.

While there's no one-size-fits-all way to conquer fear, I've found one approach nearly always helps:

Think Small.

The Small Picture

Eight years out of college I decided to attend law school at night while working full time. I talked to an acquaintance who'd gone to law school the same way, and he gave me the best advice I ever got.

He told me to think only about what I needed to do for the semester I was in, and to forgot about how I was going to get through the entire four years. That would be overwhelming, he said.

I realized he was right. I had already decided to go to law school, so I knew where the finish line was. And all I could really affect was my work in each class as I took it. Which meant there was no point in looking too far ahead.

The same advice applies to writing.

Once you decide to write a novel, thinking too much about how much time it will take, whether you know enough about writing to finish it, or whether anyone will like it when it's done undermines your motivation.

One Scene At A Time

No one writes a novel in one sitting.

Now and then you hear a story about someone hiding away for a few weeks or a month and banging out a best seller. Maybe it's true. And maybe those stories are missing something — such as the author is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who wrote 8 novels before and spent 2 months outlining this one.

The point is, however quickly or slowly you write, every novel is written one scene at a time. (Or, literally, a word, line, or page at a time.)

So if you find yourself worrying about whether you can finish a novel before you've started, ask yourself if you can write one scene that might belong in that novel. Or, if that feels overwhelming, one paragraph that might fit into a scene that might fit into your novel.

Breaking it down that way makes it easier to find time to write. And, perhaps more important, to enjoy writing and let go of what others might think of the finished product. And if you decide later a scene isn't working, it's easy to change, cut, or move it around in your story.

Plotters, Pantsers, and Writing Fears

I fall somewhere between a plotter – someone who maps out the entire novel in advance – and a pantser. A panster, also known as a discovery writer, wings the whole writing process.

For me, knowing the key plot turns before I write speeds my process and alleviates my fears about finishing, as I know where I'm headed.

But regardless how much you plan, you still can only write a scene at a time. For that reason, if I'm in the middle of one scene and have an idea for another, I type a quick note to myself about it in boldfaced brackets, then keep going with the current scene.

That note often becomes the starting point for my next writing session or my next scene.

Give it a try and see whether thinking small helps.

That's all for now. Until next time –

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If you want to try out the plot turns and story structure I've found helpful, download these free story structure worksheets.

Find Time To Write By Scheduling Realistically (not Aspirationally)

Okay, whether we’re talking about how to find time to write or anything else, I feel sure aspirationally is not a real word.

But I bet you get what I mean.

Most of us are overoptimistic, or aspirational, about how much we’ll get done in a set amount of time. Which often means that unexpected issues or events hijack the time we set aside to write.

So how do you ensure you find time to write?

Start by blocking your time for the year, but do it realistically.  Which means:

  • Expect the unexpected
  • Plan for things to go wrong
  • Schedule breaks

What Does It Mean To Block Your Time?

By blocking I mean scheduling your time in batches of tasks for a long period, such as six months or a year.

It’s not about putting To Do lists into your calendar, though. It’s about setting aside chunks of time for the things you want and need to do.

Some blocks will be the same every day or week. For example, every weekday I block 7-7:30 for yoga or other exercise. I block time to prepare for the podcast I host and record (Buffy and the Art of Story), time to record, and time to edit.

When I’m teaching for a semester, I block out the hours I’ll teach, my office hours, and three hours for grading assignments and preparing the week’s lecture.

I also block writing time. Right now it’s three afternoons a week.

Find Time To Write & For Fun

For some days or weeks, though, I override all the regularly scheduled programming to take time off.

How does that help me find time to write?

I used to think it wouldn’t. So I never included time off in my calendar, figuring I'd relax when I got everything else done. (Which never happened.)

In other words, when I didn’t plan breaks or fun, I put both off. And ended feeling so burnt out that I'm sure I got less done in the time I set aside to write.

That happened because we all need downtime, and writers and others pursuing creative endeavors especially need it. Because that’s when our unconscious minds relax and come up with new ideas. It’s when creativity occurs.

So include time in your calendar to do things you enjoy simply because you enjoy them.

Plan to spend time with the people you love. To do nothing. Or see a movie. Read a book.

Whatever is fun for you, make at least a little time for it, even if it means you write a little less.

Expect The Unexpected

Most things that throw off our schedules aren’t really unexpected.

Maybe the particular problem is. You don’t know the car will break down this week, or your son will need to stay home from school ill, or your in-laws will visit, or just as you finish that report your boss wanted the entire computer network will go down and wipe it out.

But you do know that life almost never runs exactly as expected or planned.

Instead of being surprised each time and having to steal time from your writing schedule or your free time, block out an hour each week to finish things you didn’t get to because the unexpected happened.

Are you saying you don’t have an extra hour each week? If so, I believe you. I’ve been there.

But the reality is that over time you’ll use that hour per week whether you block it or not. The only difference is by not planning for it, you’ll feel even more stressed because you’ll think about everything else you meant to get done during it.

In my view, better to take that hour away from something else when you’re planning. Then when things go wrong, you can say, “Oh, right, good thing I planned some extra time.”

Recognize Overoptimism

The other reason it’s so hard to plan an hour a week for overflow is that most of us plan to do too much.

On the one hand, it’s great to set high goals and expectations. If I aim to finish my novel in six months and instead I finish in nine, perhaps I've still written the book a lot faster than if I had aimed for a year.

But it you get a lot done yet also always feel you’re racing the clock or falling behind, you’re probably being unrealistic and overoptimistic. And likely all that’s doing is stressing you more rather than helping you find time to write.

Instead, consider blocking 1.5 to 2 times as long as you think something will take into your schedule. So if you think you can finish a novel in a year, block out a schedule that lets you finish in eighteen months.

If you get done faster – wonderful. Next time you can shave off some time.

And if you get done as planned – also wonderful. You were realistic! And less stressed.

That’s all for today. Until next time—

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on how to find time to write when life events interfere, check out Writing When Life Throws You A Curve.