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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.

Are Transisitons About to Derail Your Writing?

Transitions are tricky. Even when you know you’re headed into one, the ramifications and reverberations can surprise you.

Tricky and tough as they are, transitions are essential – we don’t move through the creative process without them.

Writers face transitions as we go:

  • from nowhere-in-particular to the out-of-the-blue glimmer of a new idea, character or image
  • from that glimmer to entertaining, exploring and researching
  • from research to imagining, dreamstorming, playing with the pieces of the puzzle
  • from dreamstorming to drafting
  • from drafting to letting the current project rest (and finding other writing related tasks to do during your Product Time)
  • from resting to reading with loving eyes
  • from reading with loving eyes to revising
  • from revising to calling it done
  • from calling it done to publishing
  • and, with luck, from publishing to a new glimmer.

It’s no surprise we encounter resistance as we move through the creative process. There’s a gap, a mini limbo, between each stage and the next, and those gaps throw us off our stride.

We are challenged to find a new balance and a new routine as we shift from doing what we know how to do to figuring out how to do the next stage.

Life Transitions

Significant life changes for you, your spouse/partner, your children or other close family members also throw off your routine and trigger resistance:

  • starting or ending a relationship
  • significantly changing an existing relationship, e.g. getting engaged or married
  • moving your home, office or both
  • adding a new member to the family
  • losing a family member
  • losing a job, staring a new job or changing employers
  • retiring or changing your career
  • starting or ending a school year, graduating or changing schools
  • experiencing significant changes in health
  • experiencing big community or cultural changes, e.g. national elections, #MeToo movement, natural disasters.

How Transitions Derailed My Writing

Last fall, I transitioned from completing the revision of my novel to searching for a fiction agent (my nonfiction agent doesn’t represent science fiction). This was and continues to be a challenging shift even though I’ve done it before.

A few months later, I made a major life transition from full-time self-employment to semi-retired. I was supposed to have more time for my writing, so I guess it’s no wonder I got doubly resistant and couldn’t quite figure out what to do and when.

My Product Time was sporadic. I stopped entering my commitments in my Product Time tracking table. I stopped entering my actual Product Time. I told myself it was okay because there was all the retirement stuff going on, then Christmas and New Year, then a road trip. 

I began to wonder how I’d find my way back to writing.

How I Got Back On Track

I talked with my co-coach Laura, who is also in the agent-search process. We committed to 1) take an online class on preparing submission materials (query, synopsis and first pages) together and 2) work through Lisa Cron’s Story Genius together as we each start a new novel.

The class got both of us moving. I wrestled with trimming my synopsis – and I mean, wrestled! Laura and I commiserated and reminded each other we could and would do what we needed to do.

Knowing I had an opportunity to get feedback from an agent and that the window for that opportunity closed at midnight last Friday, I pushed through to a version of my synopsis I declared complete. Undoubtedly, I’ll work more on it (that was the point of getting professional critique), but I had a sense of completion instead of nagging uncertainty. 

And most important, I’m working again!

The other thing that brought me back on track is writing this blog. Because I didn’t have an idea for a new post, I looked at what I’d written about transitions previously (here and here), hoping I’d find something to repost. Even better, I remembered what worked for me before. Today I started the “Brave 10 Step Plan.”

How You Can Get Back on Track

  1. Enlist a trustworthy ally, writing buddy, co-coach or coach and be honest and compassionate about your struggles and celebrate your successes
  2. Hire professional help (classes, editors, conferences, etc.)
  3. Look back at what worked for you before and repeat or modify
  4. Reboot the basics (Process, Product Time and Self-care; making commitments, tracking, etc.)
  5. Read (blogs, books, magazines)
  6. Read your own work with loving eyes
  7. Return to what inspires you – music, art, literature, nature
  8. Keep showing up!

Please comment with what has helped you get back on track.

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3 Comments on “Are Transisitons About to Derail Your Writing?”

  1. Adrian Michael Kelly March 22, 2018 at 6:31 pm #

    Many thanks for this helpful post. It was especially timely in my case: lately I’ve been derailed by a number of transitions on the page and off. To get back on track, I employ several if not all of the strategies you list, but I do so with the help of techniques called The Tools, detailed in the book of the same name (and its equally helpful sequel, Coming Alive) by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, easily among the greatest game changers in my creative and personal life. I now teach Tools to my own clients. In my own case, I was having trouble recently simply putting in the required and often unromantic hours, the grind time, and the playful, reflective time equally necessary to moving a piece along. Too many evenings wasted with YouTube. Too many gizmo-based distractions throughout the day. A Tool called the Black Sun in Coming Alive helps with impulse control. As Phil Stutz says, “Deprivation is creation.” I’ve also been over-editing as I compose. Tricky one, this, as I know many good writers who abjure “shitty first drafts” followed by revision in favour of proceeding a sentence at a time. Sometimes, that works for me. Following rhythm. Other times, it kills momentum, kills story. Then it’s time to relinquish control, and freewrite. To permit myself to play. Which means facing fear and uncertainty. I use Tools for that, too. (See the Reversal of Desire Tool, the Tool of Tools.) Try them. They may not work for you. Or they might help you put this post’s advice into action–if you need that extra push. Best, AMK.



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