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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.

Big Significant Next Steps Make Writing Harder


leap of faith writer's block canstockphoto14135040Transitions are usually difficult for me. Which is why I’m so surprised that the current transition is – I’m almost afraid to jinx it – easy.

Typically, while I’m clipping along in one stage – doing research or drafting, for example – I’ve got momentum working for me. I show up for Product Time and get to work.

But when I’m transitioning from research to drafting, from drafting to revising, and now from revising to finding an agent, I don’t always know what to do. I need to pop out of my hole and scan the horizon like a prairie dog or meerkat. And like a prairie dog, I can get freaked out by the expanse.

But this time was different.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I sent the first 100 pages of my novel to Laura Zats last February. (Laura requested them when I pitched to her at the Loft Pitch Conference in November.) I wrote a post about how vulnerable I felt and how writers need to develop our tolerance for failure.

Despite that insight in February, I kept myself busy enough with final revisions on the rest of the book to ease my vulnerability and fear of failure. I settled into a comfortable fantasy about how the first agent I pitched to (i.e. Laura Zats) could be my agent and how this could be as synchronistic, quick and easy as finding my first two agents.

Laura tweeted that she replies to partial manuscripts in 8 to 12 weeks. As the 12 weeks got closer and closer without a response from her, I began to worry I would have to abandon my fantasy.

rejection noI fretted about how difficult and depressing it was going to be to slog through hours of researching agents and attempting to write the perfect query letter (when “perfect” is an unknowable quality that varies from agent to agent in mysterious ways), only to droop under the weight of rejection after rejection before I found my “dream date” agent.  

No wonder I was dreading it, right?

This was going to be a Big, Significant Next Step (BSNS)! I talked about it, thought about it, and coached about it.

action map 3Finally I did what I would advise a coaching client or student to do: I stopped thinking about how challenging the BSNS was and just identified the little steps that would move me through it.

I committed to spend just 15 minutes with some of those little steps. I’d already done more than I realized, and within an hour, that BSNS was reduced to simply pressing Send on an email to an agent.

“Well, this is easier and quicker than I thought,” I said to myself. “Am I missing something? Maybe I should do more research. Or run SpellCheck a third time. Shouldn’t it be more complicated?”

I pressed Send. Like T.S. Elliot’s world ending “not with a bang, but a whimper,” the BSNS went with a shrug, not a shudder. I didn’t have to force myself to dive off a cliff of significance into a chasm of self-doubt. I sent just one email. To just one agent.

Don’t get me wrong; I was thorough and conscientious. I sent the best email I could. I just stopped worrying about sending the perfect email.

And because I took my focus off a desperate need for a specific result and focused on what small actions I could take, my lateral habenula didn’t butt in to kill my motivation.

success step by stepReducing the BSNS to small steps makes easier to see what I can do and easier to take just one small step a day during my Product Time.

One day, I joined QueryTracker.net. Another, I listened to a webinar about self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Last week, I sent the complete novel to my beta readers. Yesterday, I queried an agent I found on QueryTracker.

Tomorrow, I might research another agent or self-publishing, or add my information to Author.me, or read the latest theories on query letters or…

The more I focus on the expanse of a BSNS filled with mysteries I should know the answer to (as if there is only one right answer and as if it’s possible to find a solution without trial and error), the harder the transition is. Especially when I expect myself to execute these BSNS fearlessly, faultlessly and all in one giant leap.  

Today, I’m not thinking about the BSNS. All I have to do is show up for 15 Magic Minutes and take one small, imperfect step.

What small, imperfect step can you take in your next 15 minutes of Product Time?

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