5 Tips to Overcome Writer’s Block

5 Tips To Overcome Writer's Block graphicAll 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.

3. Relax

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. 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. Need help getting your story started? You might find some help here, including free story structure worksheets.

Before You Create A Writing Habit

Before You Create A Writing HabitA 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. Have you created a writing habit? Let me know in the comments!

 

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.

Write Early and More Easily

Writing early in the day — first thing if possible — helps most people write more regularly and feel less blocked. That's especially true if you work another job, have another career, or are managing other significant responsibilities.

Why does writing early help? I cover a few reasons below.

If you're at a place in life, though, where you simply can't get up any earlier, or you don't have a regular schedule, there are still ways to find time to write.

Try the spare change method or the other ideas in Tips For Writing Novels While Working More Than Full Time.

Writing Requires Decisions

You're probably heard of decision fatigue. It's the idea that the more decisions you make in a day, the harder it is to decide what to do (or buy or eat).

Basically, you get worn out.

And, as Amanda Brown, the Homepreneur, pointed out recently in an interview on The Creative Penn, writing is all about deciding. What characters to write about. Who they are. What happens next.

All of us make decisions all day long. So if you wait until the end of the day to write, you probably won't feel much like making a lot more decisions about your fictional world.

It's Easier To Write Early

Also, because you haven't been making decisions all day, you'll have more focus and energy to decide to write first thing in the morning.

In contrast, at the end of the day it'll be a lot harder to decide to sit at your keyboard rather than simply going with the flow of whatever's happening at the moment.

Early Helps You Stick To The Plan

We all know the old saying about the best laid plans of mice and men.

If you aim to write later in the day, there are so many more opportunities for other things to arise that seem — or truly are — more urgent and important.

For many of us, the only time we can be fairly certain we'll have 15 or 30 minutes free is if we get up earlier. That way we can write before anyone else is awake or anyone expects us to do anything.

That's also why so many people exercise first thing in the morning.

And, as with exercising, if you can write every morning before you do anything else, it'll become habit. Which means you won't need to decide at all. You'll just do it.

That's all for today.

L.M. Lilly

 

Dealing With Tech Glitches That Steal Your Time

As a writer, even if you're not yet publishing, you're certain to run into tech glitches. A task that you thought would be quick and easy (or at least one or the other) turns out to be complex and time-consuming.

If you're like me, when that happens you probably:

  1. feel frustrated and overwhelmed
  2. find yourself running late for your next appointment or task
  3. swear at your laptop
  4. do all of the above

But none of those things makes you feel better. Or helps you get anything done faster.

I know. I've run into this problem often the last few months while planning the launch of my first podcast.

So how do you keep tech glitches from hijacking your time and your mental well-being?

Predicting Tech Glitches

Tech problems are most likely to happen when:

  1. you're dealing with new (to you at least) technology
  2. you're starting a new project
  3. a program or app needs to be updated

Anytime you try something using technology you haven't used before, odds are you'll run into trouble.

That's because until we use a new app or program, we don't know its ins and outs. A feature that looks easy to use at first glance might require a few preliminary set up steps. Or you'll need to update other software to make it compatible with a new program. Maybe you'll have to hunt for data to input that you didn't expect.

Likewise, a new project often includes steps you didn't know enough to plan for. Or requires using technology you've never used before (see above).

And then there's updates.

A lot of programs update automatically or prompt you to update. Others don't.

If a program or app needs an update, it may not work properly or do what you need it to do. If you don't realize an update is needed until that last minute, that can add a lot of time and frustration to your task.

When It All Happens At Once

My most recent tech glitch incorporated all of the above.

I finally got my first ever podcast episode (for Buffy and the Art of Story) edited. But I exported it as a WAV file, and it took up too much space. I felt so pleased when I realized this morning the reason my file was too large. I thought it would take me about 3 minutes to reexport it as an MP3.

Buffy and the Art of Story podcast coverExcept the software I'm using, Audacity, wouldn't let me.

After Googling and reading help screens and threads I discovered there had been several new versions of Audacity in the last couple months. I needed to update first (not easy in itself), then I could export.

What I thought would take 3 minutes took slightly over an hour.

Planning For Tech Glitches

Happily, there are a few things that can help you deal with tech glitches.

  1. Build them into your project timeline
  2. Carefully choose when you'll undertake any task that involves new technology or that you haven't done before
  3. Make a plan for dealing with unexpected glitches

Your Timeline

A project manager and author I heard speak said the general rule for IT is that everything will take 2.7 times longer than you expect.

He wasn't talking about technology specifically. Just the human tendency to plan our time as if everything will go right when that just never happens.

I find the 2.7 times is a good rule for project I've done before, like writing another novel in the same series.

If I'm doing something brand-new, though (like creating a podcast for the first time) instead I multiply my timeline by 10.

I hope it will take me less time.

But I know there are lots of aspects of the project that I'm completely unaware of. All that extra time gives me time the room to figure all those new things out.

Choosing Your Time

The worst time to embark on a new project is when you're facing a hard deadline on existing work or you're otherwise in a hurry. That's so because while you're dealing with tech glitches , you'll also be panicking about not getting your other work done.

For that reason, it's key to schedule brand-new projects for times when your other responsibilities are lighter.

The alternative — and we need one because most of us have ongoing work with deadlines — is to set a very soft deadline on your new project.

As an example, I had hoped to launch my new Buffy and the Art of Story podcast by the end of September. But I was also working on the launch of my latest novel, which has a hard deadline of November 4, 2019. And I was teaching a new class starting in late August that I suspected might be very time-consuming. (Spoiler, I was right.)

So I didn't announce the new podcast to anyone outside my mailing list subscribers. And with them, I let them know the release date was uncertain.

Even now, I put the first episode up on my website, but still need to upload it to iTunes, Stitcher, and other podcast services. I hope to do that by Halloween.

But I'm not promising anyone that I will.

In a perfect world for the last month I would have been sharing a specific launch date and publicizing for months beforehand. But knowing about all my other work, it was better for me to leave the release open ended.

When A Glitch Happens

When technology problems do happen, here are some steps to take:

Step One:

Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you expected glitches. It's normal. You can handle this.

Step Two:

If you're worried about other work, take a moment to figure out if you are better off (a) setting aside your current project and working on something else for the day; (b) setting aside your other work for a few hours and dealing only with the glitch; or (c) alternating between trying different things to address the glitch and doing other work.

Step Three:

When you do deal with the glitch, there's bound to be down time when the software updates, your laptop reboots, or you're waiting for an answer from someone you contacted for help.

Use the time well.

Rather than drumming your fingers on your desktop as you stare at the screen (and maybe curse), turn to some task you've been putting off.

Clean out that file drawer you haven't looked at in a decade. Proofread 10 pages of your latest novel. Fill out those reports you've been dragging your feet on for your other job.

When you're done, you'll feel you've accomplished something. And odds are your computer will be ready for you to take another step.

Technology can be wonderful and it can also be frustrating. I hope the above helps it feel wonderful more often, and saves you some time.

That's all for now. Until next Friday —

L. M. Lilly

 

P.S. Struggling with stress or anxiety as you juggle writing and the rest of life? Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life might be able to help.

Saying No So You Can Write More

If you're writing novels and doing other work as well, paid or unpaid, Saying No to other things is key to carving out time to write and to feeling happy.

For most of us, though, it's hard to do.

So instead, if you're like me, you become more stressed and overwhelmed. You might feel angry — at yourself for saying yes, at the people who keep asking you to do things, at your entire life or schedule.

So how do you say No?

Understand Your No

There are different reasons for wanting or needing to say No to another task or project. Here are several:

  1. It's something we really want to do for ourselves but we feel overloaded already
  2. Someone we care about asked us to do it and we want to help that person but we feel we have no time
  3. It's something we don't want to do but we feel we should
  4. It's something we don't want to do for any reason

It matters which of the above is true because there's no rule requiring us to say Yes or No without any conditions.

For some tasks that fall into 1-3 we might want or be able to say Yes if the circumstances were right.

So how do we do that?

Saying Yes If…

If you're already stretched to your limit (or beyond) but want to take on something new, ask yourself these questions:

  • Could you fit in the task without too much stress a week or month from now?
  • Is there a way to narrow or limit the task so that it fits your schedule?
  • Can you think of an alternate way to achieve the same goal that will take less time or effort?

For example, I adjunct teach legal writing. My students sometimes ask me if I can help with advice on preparing for interviews or go over an article they've written. The demands of reviewing class work alone often make it hard to get my own writing and publishing done. But I really want to help.

So often I answer with a condition: Yes, I'd love to review your article if getting comments back to you in 3 weeks is soon enough.

Or: Yes, I'm happy to give you advice if you can stay after class one evening (rather than needing me to meet at a separate time).

If I truly can't make time to review an entire article, I might offer to do a narrower task such as meeting to discuss proposed topics or reviewing and marking a limited number of pages with suggested edits.

At times I've also offered instead to connect a student with another lawyer who is more familiar with a particular area of law. (After I've checked to be sure that lawyer is willing to help.)

Saying No Clearly

Sometimes you just need or want to say No. But it can be tricky, even if it's something you absolutely don't want to do. That's especially so if the person asking is someone you care about.

The key is to be clear so you don't get talked out of your No.

Being clear means saying the word No without conditions. Or explanations.

Why no conditions or explanations? As soon as you add either, you're inviting the person to come back with proposed ways you could instead say Yes. Or with arguments about why your explanation isn't valid.

Here's how that usually goes:

You: Sorry, I can't come to dinner Sunday afternoon. That's my only time to write.

Family Member: That's okay – it'll only take a couple hours. You can write after. Or in the morning.

You: No, I can't. I've got budgets to prepare for work in the morning and plans in the evening.

Family Member: Can't you change your plans? And why are you working on the weekend anyway? You work too much.

You get the idea.

Instead, try saying: No, it's not possible for me to be there Sunday. I hope to make it next time.

When your family member (or friend or whoever it is) pushes back and asks why or what you're doing, rather than get drawn in, simply rephrase your answer but say the same thing.

It's just not possible this weekend. I'm sorry to miss it and look forward to another time.

If the person keeps pressing, it's time to say that you need to go (hang up/leave/stop texting) but would love to talk again another time.

The Order Of No

The order in which you give your answer can help protect your relationship.

Notice above I suggested saying No (or it's not possible) first and then ending with a statement that lets the person know you care. That's because the word “but,” even when it's implied as it is in the above examples, is very powerful.

In fact, most of us only hear what comes after the “but.”

Think about the classic “You're a great person, but…” No one thinks there's anything good coming after that. So, likewise, if you start with “I'd love to be there, but…” the listener will walk away thinking about the No.

If you flip the order, you're reassuring the person. Your words make it clearer that saying No is about your schedule, and you value and care about helping that person or being there.

That's all for now. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. For more on fitting writing into your schedule check out Writing A Novel 15 Minutes At A Time.