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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Action Map Your Way Out of Writer’s Resistance

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.

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13 Comments on “Action Map Your Way Out of Writer’s Resistance”

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  4. Joel D Canfield April 10, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    As I ramp up to multiple books this year, this kind of planning becomes more and more important.

    Everyone and their sister recommends Post-It notes. For some reason, seeing your images convinced me to finally do something about it.


    • rosannebane April 16, 2014 at 8:12 am #

      The advantage of Post-It Notes is that they’re small, simple and friendly. The downside can be that they’re so small, simple and friendly, you can’t imagine how effective they can be.
      Sometimes you have to hear something 100 times before you recognize the wisdom of it. This is frustrating for everyone who is 1-99, but rewarding for the 100th person. I’m glad to be your 100th on this, Joel.



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