Top Ten Reasons Dogs Are a Writer’s Best Friend

April 22, 2014

dog play1.  Dogs remind us to play. Especially as puppies, dogs know that play is the best way to explore the world. If you need a reminder about the value of play, check out the Top 10 Reasons to Play.

2.  Training a dog gives you practical lessons in how to reward and motivate yourself to keep writing.

dogs take us for walks3.  A dog will take you for a walk everyday. Walking is an outstanding way to move yourself out of writing resistance.

4.  Dogs are excellent listeners. Just as therapy dogs in schools help kids learn how to read better, reading what you’re working on to a dog can help you write better.

dogs never criticize5.  Dogs never criticize your writing.

6.  Dogs require consistency and a regular schedule of potty breaks, feeding times, exercise, play and rest. Essayist and artist Jean Cook observes, “When I’m really absorbed in what I’m writing or editing and losing track of time, Luci reminds me to take a break to feed her dinner, and to have some myself.”

dogs teach us to live in the present7.  Dogs teach us Zen. Balancing the regularity in #6 with the flexibility to live in the present moment is a great antidote to writing resistance, which thrives in the extremes of chaotic, inconsistent environments on the one hand and rigid, overscheduled, overcommitted situations on the other hand.

8.  Dogs remind us when it’s time to stop working. If I try to sneak in extra time in my office in the evenings, Blue always shows up with a tennis ball and insists I play with her instead.

dogs show when and how to nap9.  Dogs are great role models for napping. Dogs sleep about 16 hours a day, which might be excessive. but it’s a step in the right direction for many of us. Sleep deprivation interferes with creativity and causes writer’s block. On the other hand, really creative people tend to be great nappers (Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt are prime examples). Napping has been shown to increase creative thinking.

dogs keep us young10.  Dogs keep us young. As dogs evolved from wolves, they adapted to live and partner with humans. One of the adaptations was developing “neoteny,” the tendency to retain juvenile characteristics into adulthood. Dogs are wolf pups that never really grow up. As dogs evolved to live with humans, humans evolved to live with dogs, and one of the gifts of our partnership is that humans acquired a bit of neoteny as well. Compared to other primates, humans have a much longer childhood and adolescence. Being with a dog keeps you young in body, mind and spirit.

Dogs remind us to stop workingBonus 11.  Not only will dogs never criticize your writing, they love you and your writing unconditionally. Unless of course, you try to sneak in extra time in the office, in which case your dog will eat your homework.


Writing Is Hard, Not Writing Is Harder

April 18, 2014

quoteOne my coaching clients asked me, “Why didn’t you tell me writing was going to be so hard?”

I’m pretty sure I did. And I’m pretty sure my mentors told me writing is hard work and yet I remember how surprised I was when I made my own transition from the high of writing when I was inspired and only when inspired to the sober commitment to write even when I wasn’t.

It’s hard to show up when you’re not bursting with a great idea. It’s even harder when you don’t even have a clue where to start. And harder still when your Saboteur shows up to mock and assault your feeble efforts.

It’s hard to honor your 15 Magic Minutes commitment when it seems there’s nothing magical about your writing. It’s hard to keep your fingers moving when everything you write is complete dreck.

So let me make this perfectly clear: Good writing comes from hard work.

Yes, there will be moments of amazing insights, tremendous satisfaction and creative joy, but there will be more hard work than inspiration. And you can’t complete anything of significance if you’re willing to show up only when you’re guaranteed easy satisfaction and joy.

Even when you get one of the rare inspired, insightful and energized writing sessions, the next day will only be even harder because then you have expectations.

And yet we writers keep showing up. Maybe we’re crazy. Maybe we’re gluttons for punishment. Or maybe we’ve realized the painful, hard truth of Anais Nin:quote2

Or maybe we’ve found that not only is a writer, as Thomas Mann observes, “someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people,” but a writer is also someone for whom not writing is even more torturous than writing.

Personalize The Action Map to Free Your Writing

April 15, 2014

action map 3In our previous post, we illustrated how to use an Action Map to break big writing projects into small steps you can work on in a 15 minute Product Time session.

You don’t need your Action Map to be perfect, but the more details you capture on Post-It Notes™, the more effective you can be in using the map.

After you capture your first ideas about the steps needed to complete a big writing project on Post-It Notes™, these questions will help you personalize your Action Map. As you write your responses to the questions, add Post-It Notes™ to your Action Map to identify more steps you need to take to fully complete the project and achieve the results you want.

questions canstockphoto7418437 (2)Why is this project important to you as a writer and to your community?

How will you know when you have completed this project? What must happen for you to feel satisfied with the project’s outcome? For example: you have fun, feel more confident, satisfied and proud, you publish your work, and so  on.

Who, in addition to you, will be involved with this project and how will they participate? For example: people you’ll interview will participate by giving you time, answering your questions, suggesting other resources to explore; your writer’s group and beta readers will give you feedback. Who will be affected by the actions you take to complete this project?

What materials, supplies, equipment, space, people, financial and time resources will you need to complete the project? For example, you might need new database to record your research or submissions, or child care to give you time to write.

How can you best employ your Action Map? Some writers post their Action Map where they’ll see it everyday. Others like to put their Action Maps in file folders that can be filed when they’re not working on the project mapped.

Some writers like to put a gold star, check mark or other indicator when they complete the step on a Post-It Note™ so they can see how much they’ve accomplished. Others prefer to move completed Post-It Notes™ to another file so that their Action Map shows only what remains to be done.

Some writers like to use different sizes and colors of Post-It Notes™ on their Action Maps; others prefer to keep the Action Map simple and consistent.

Please share your Action Mapping questions, successes and preferences.

Action Map Your Way Out of Writer’s Resistance Part 2

April 11, 2014

action map 3In our previous post, we explored how Action Maps break through writer’s resistance by breaking big writing projects into manageable steps.

To help you identify the multitude of small steps your Action Map might include, I provided a list of possible tasks. The relevance of the tasks listed will depend on the type of writing project you’re mapping.

There is nothing special about the way I worded the tasks, nor are they presented in any particular order. Use this list to spark ideas about what might go into completing your writing task, not to dictate what you must include.

Find idea

Research topic

Research characters

Research setting

big ideaUpdate Action Map

Research potential publishers

Read sample issues

Request writer’s guidelines

Read writer’s guidelines

Read writing book

Read well-crafted samples of your genre

Observe what established writers do that works

Do exercises in writing book

Draw map of the location

Write character sketches

efficientWrite outline

Dreamstorm scenes

Write scene cards

Play with scene cards to discover the story’s structure

Write query letter

Write cover letter

Write/sign letter of agreement

Draft chapter

Draft next chapter

Draft introduction

Identify items to include in index

chocolate canstockphoto6773559 (2)Prepare chapter end notes

Reward yourself


Find readers

Tell readers what kind of feedback you want

Meet with readers and listen to feedback


Plan book launch party

Sign contract with agent

Sign contract with publisher

correctionsCash advance check

Hire editor

Revise (I know I said this twice already; “Revise” bears repeating)

Join a writer’s group

Take writing class on dialogue, freelancing, poetry, etc.

Interview experts

Interview sources

Interview characters

Schedule interviews

Write synopsis

Prepare book proposal

Upcoming post will show you how to personalize your Action Map.

Action Map Your Way Out of Writer’s Resistance

April 8, 2014

overwhelmThe bigger a writing project is, the more likely it is to create anxiety. The more anxiety you feel, the more likely you are to employ your favorite form of resistance.

You might decide to wait until you have more time or know more about how to get started (procrastinate). Or you might find something else that needs your attention (distract).

The bigger a writing project is, the more you need to break it into bite-sized pieces.

Action Maps Reduce Big Projects to Manageable Steps

To create an Action Map, you put each small step needed to complete the project on a separate Post-It Note™. Each step should be small enough and specific enough that you could at least start it in a 15 minute Product Time session.

Why Post-It Notes™?

Post-It Notes™ are small and friendly, so you can’t be intimidated by them.

They’re flexible. If you think of another step later, you just write a new Post-It Note™ and add it to your Action Map. If you make a mistake, it’s no big deal; you just crumble the Post-It Note™ up and get another.

Here’s an Action Map to show you how to start Action Mapping.

Action map

Notice that the Post-It Notes™ are not in any particular order. As I thought of different things to do, I wrote them on the notes and slapped the notes on the Action Map surface, which can be a large piece of paper, a file folder or a whiteboard.

Asking yourself “What do I need next?” and “What would I need to do before I could do this step?” will help you identify many of the steps.

Because creative projects vary so much, you probably won’t know every step you’ll need to take. Fortunately, you don’t have to.

When you’ve listed all the steps you can think of on Post-It Notes™, put the note with the first step in the upper right hand corner of the Action Mapping surface. Put the last step in the lower right hand corner. Arrange the rest of the steps in the order you anticipate taking them.

action map 3

Just Enough Choice

Too many choices can paralyze you. The Action Map allows you to jump right in before your fears get the best of you. Instead of staring at the blank page or screen like a deer in the headlights, you know where to start.

The Action Map gives you choices about what to do during your Product Time. You can follow the Post-It Notes™ exactly as you arrange them if that makes you feel secure. But you don’t have to. Some steps must logically precede others; you can’t write the Post-It Notes™ until you buy them, for example.

But there almost always options to choose from and knowing you have choices can ease anxiety and reduce resistance. At the start of your Product Time, you look at the steps on your Action Map and you might think, “I’m not ready for this step yet. Nope, not that one either. Oooh, this looks good. This is the one I want to work on today.”

Upcoming posts will reveal typical steps to include on a writing Action Map and what questions will help you tailor your Action Map for your particular project.

New Book Update: Easy Doesn’t Always Do It

April 4, 2014

easy-hardWhen I started revising my novel, The Essential Path, back on January 3, I started keeping a new journal just for the novel. It didn’t include as much detail as my Product Time Tracking Table, but the short, simple journal entries worked for me.

Around the Ides of March, I realized I hadn’t written in the novel journal for about a week. My habit of  writing in the journal only when I worked on the novel made it easy to not notice when I wasn’t showing up. For an entire week, I didn’t show up and I had only a fuzzy sense that “it’s been awhile.”


That realization sent me back to my Tracking Table on March 17 when I noted in the Comments column “Didn’t make time for novel – recognized my resistance.”

Admitting my resistance in writing pushed me to show up the next day. March 18, I worked on the novel for 50 minutes and commented, “Satisfied about my recommitment.”

I haven’t missed one weekday since. I make an entry every weekday to record what time I show up, how long I work and what I worked on. Making a daily entry forces the kind of conscious awareness I need.

Most days my comments were positive: “Felt good to get back into it” or “Engaged, pleased.” Two days I commented “Tired, guilty I didn’t get to it sooner” and “FRUSTRATED and tired.”

On April 1, I thought about skipping the novel because I had spent two and a half hours working on a blog post, it was late and I was tired. But when I thought about what to put in the Comments column for that day, I just couldn’t bring myself to write “I didn’t have time for the novel.” It wasn’t true. And my commitment to make a daily entry left no room for denial.

liar-liar-pants-on-fireWould I lie and write excuses in the Tracking Table or would I do what I promised myself I’d do?

I thought about I tell my students and coaching clients: I only had to do something with my novel for 15 Magic Minutes. Once again, the magic of the small commitment worked. I not only honored my 15 minute commitment, I got on a roll and logged 30 minutes.

It may be that those 30 minutes were the best 30 minutes I’ll ever invest in my novel, not because I did stellar work that night, but because I showed up when I wanted to “forget” my commitment.

Novels are not written on the days when it’s easy to show up; they’re written on the days we fight ourselves to show up.

What’s Wrong with this Picture of a Writer?

April 1, 2014

What’s wrong with this picture? The writer is asking to be rewarded; he should be rewarding himself!

It’s no accident that the Get Around Writer’s Block flowchart says “Reward myself,” not “Ask for reward.”

The research is clear: when incentives are offered for routine work, they work; when incentives are offered for creative work, they fail.

In Around the Writer’s Block, I write,

“Contingent, if-then rewards limit autonomy, one of the three key sources of intrinsic motivation. In one study, Teresa Amabile, one of the world’s leading researchers on creativity, asked twenty-three professional artists to submit ten commissioned works and ten noncommissioned works, selected by the artists at random.

“Not surprisingly, the artists reported that they felt more constrained when working on commissioned pieces. Furthermore, a panel of artists and curators, who were unaware of the purposes of the study, consistently found the commissioned works less creative than the noncommissioned works.”

Not only does the promise of an extrinsic reward significantly reduce our sense of autonomy, which is essential for innovative work, the reward can move the focus from the creative work to itself, as the New Yorker cartoon illustrates. If the man in the cartoon was focused on  writing, he wouldn’t even think about a cookie.

No Cookie for You!

cookieDoes this mean you shouldn’t give yourself a cookie? Yes and no.

If a treat is so compelling it distracts you, it can’t be effective as a reward. I tried Tootsie Rolls for rewards because they’re small. But I had trouble limiting myself to just one Tootsie, so I stopped using them.

There’s little point in giving yourself a cookie for the parts of writing that are intrinsically rewarding. But for the parts of the writing process you don’t get excited about, rewards help.

Rewards are also valuable when resistance makes it more difficult to get started. As soon as the reward gets you into the flow and the process of writing becomes rewarding, you’ll forget about cookies.

When the writing is intrinsically rewarding, when you find satisfaction just in doing it, the only reward you need is to pay attention. Say to yourself “That was fun and challenging – I can’t wait to get back to it.”

Noticing what you did and how good it felt to do it is vital. Research shows that lasting brain changes happen only when we’re paying attention. That’s why my Product Time Tracking Table has space for these observations.

Share the Vision, Not Cookies

brain to brainWhen you have a vision and strive to put that vision into words so it can leap to another person’s mind, you’ll create your best writing. The act of writing itself will be the biggest reward. But when you write to please and win approval from editors, judges, readers, reviewers, friends or family, you simply cannot do your best creative work.

The paradox is that you do have to think about how to reach your audience so you can effectively communicate the vision. But the minute you start thinking about how to please your audience, your writing is doomed to be less than your best.

An even bigger paradox is, as I write in AWB, “artists who are least interested in extrinsic rewards and who pursue their art for the challenge and joy of creating are more likely to get both the intrinsic satisfaction and the extrinsic rewards of success, recognition and money.”

Of course, the money, success and recognition are never a measure of the value of any creative work. Van Gogh died penniless. Not all best-selling books are great or even good. And not all great books are best-sellers or even published.

There are no guarantees except that surrendering your autonomy to let someone else motivate and approve of your writing will make it impossible to create your best writing. That’s what’s wrong with the picture.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 701 other followers

%d bloggers like this: