A two-step journaling process (for when you’re feeling stuck or scared)

“My writer self is braver than the rest of me.” — Natalie Goldberg

On one of our recent group calls, a fellow participant in Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle asked me how I use journaling when I’m feeling stuck on my fiction writing. I thought I’d share my process, in case others might benefit from it.

My journal is one of the safest spaces I know.

And I’m someone who’s struggled a lot with safety. (I remember when I was an undergraduate, a teacher had us do an exercise that started with the sentence “Imagine you’re in a safe space.” At that time, I literally could not think of a safe space, so I couldn’t go on with the exercise.)

Safety is important. We’re often told to “take creative risks” and “really put ourselves out there,” but we’re doing ourselves a disservice if we pretend that isn’t scary, if we pretend that we feel safe, when in fact we do not. Nothing creates a feeling of stuckness like pretending we feel differently than we actually do.

So, a lot of the time, when I’m feeling stuck or scared as I’m trying to write, it’s because I’m not feeling safe.

Safe to what?

Safe to explore. Safe to write the worst crap imaginable. Safe to share only what I’m ready to share. Safe to be with the discomfort of whatever’s coming up for me. Safe to write that thing that brings up the pain of the past.

So getting away from my document on the computer (which can feel so oddly “formal”) and going to my journaling notebook is STEP ONE of creating safety. I think of the journal as a room, a room where there’s only me (and anyone else with whom I feel completely safe).

From this point on (STEP TWO), I ask myself questions on the page.

Any of the following questions are good jumping-off points.

* What do I really want to say that I’m not allowing myself to say?

* What’s the worst thing that can happen if I write the thing I’m afraid to write?

* Why don’t I want to write this thing?

* What’s the worst thing that can happen if I make a wrong turn?

* Do I actually need to step away from the story right now? (If the answer is yes, follow this one up with “How can I make that feel okay?”)

* Where is the tension (fear, stress, sadness) located in my body right now? If that tension had a voice, what would it say?

* What does this particular feeling of stuckness remind me of?

* If I had a guarantee that no one but me would ever read this writing, what would I write now? (This one can really point us to where we are censoring ourselves.)

* Am I truly ready to write this story? Why or why not?

* If I honestly don’t know where to go with the story right now, how might I open myself up to all the possibilities?

Take one of these questions, and run with it. Don’t deliberate too much over which question to choose — they’re all designed to create movement, which is what we need when we’re feeling stuck. Go with one of the questions and keep writing until you feel ready to stop. Often, new questions arise for me while I’m writing, and I ponder those, too, on the page.

A page from my journal: answering the questions, + doodling

A page from my journal: answering the questions, + doodling

This process does not have to take a lot of time — I often do it in ten minutes or so. The idea here is not to find the perfect answer to the question (there isn’t one). The idea is to dig beneath your surface “stuckness” and generate a new perspective. “Feeling stuck” is nothing more than believing something about your writing or yourself that is not helpful.

You can probably come up with other, better questions. Make a master list of them and have it on hand for times when you’re sitting in front of the computer and the sweat on your forehead feels like blood. We don’t have to make the act of writing so dramatic (put that drama on the page!).

(By the way, you can transfer this process to any art form, or anything at all that you’re feeling stuck on.)

What do you do when you’re feeling stuck on your writing, artwork, or any other creative project? Please share in the comments!

On that note, Aug. 15 is the last day I’ll be offering my Free Mini Unsticky Sessions! (I’ll be offering them for a low cost, in a slightly different format, after Aug. 15.) Want to grab one? Check them out, here.

And: This Thursday, Aug. 8, is the last day to register for the next session of Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle. I’ve been a member of this group for going on two years now (I’m also one of the coaches) and it’s been an amazing source of support for me. Interested? Read more, here.

Honoring the pace of your dream


Often I hear from my clients that their dreams are progressing much more slowly than they’d like. Because I love to work with people on clearing out the “stuck stuff” that keeps them from deeply engaging with their creative work (or play, as I prefer to call it), clients usually come to me when they are in this space. Either they feel disconnected from their creativity, or they are judging their process for being “too slow” and therefore creating a feeling of stuckness around their process.

Our creative projects, our creative visions and dreams, have different ways of unfolding. Some of these unfold very quickly, so quickly it can feel frightening. I remember writing a short story that poured out of me so fast I felt like the top of my head was going to come off. Truly, it felt like I did not “write” this story — it had its own momentum and its own timing, and that happened to be an extremely fast “birth” from inside of me into the physical world.

I’ve experienced this type of velocity with other creative projects, but more often than not, the pace of my creative projects and dreams tends to be much slower. When the dream is large, like writing a book or creating a business, we often have a huge learning curve, even if it is something we’ve done before. The new book (or business) is a completely different entity from the old one, and the guideposts we created in the process of doing the previous thing may no longer apply. We must discover new ones.

It’s important to accept that we are not necessarily in control of the pace of a creative project. I know that can feel frustrating to hear when we have deadlines we want to meet, or if we feel we haven’t put our creative work into the world as much as we’d like, but it’s still important to honor. My friend and fellow writer and coach Terri Fedonczak (with whom I participate in Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle*), often said during the process of writing her forthcoming book, “I am not the timekeeper.”

I love this. It’s true — we can plan and plan, but within each creative dream lies the knowledge of its own unfolding. When we allow a dream to unfold at the pace that feels right and juicy to us — no matter how slow or fast we judge it to be — we are creating a solid foundation for that dream. We’re creating a dream that’s got legs.

If we rush our vision, or, at the other extreme, try to halt its momentum because the momentum is unsettling to us, the project can either burn itself out before it has a chance to truly take root within us, or lose its glow for us because it’s not allowed to fly as fast as it wants to.

If the process of creating your dream feels like it is moving too slow, ask yourself:

* Slow by whose standards?

* Why do I think I need to move faster? What do I believe would be gained, or lost, by moving faster? Is this true?

* Do I have enough support (inner and outer) for this project or dream?

* If I totally trusted myself and the unfolding of this dream, would I be okay with this pace?

If your project, vision or dream feels like it’s moving too fast and you’re getting scared, here are some things to remember:

* It’s essential to develop a practice of grounding and centering yourself regularly, particularly if you are highly sensitive. Your nervous system is going to be more reactive to rapid change than that of the “average” person, and you are going to need to practice radical self-care now more than ever.

* It’s important — and totally valid — to feel safe. At the same time, we can feel unsafe when in fact we truly are safe. Ask yourself: How can I create a feeling of deep inner safety for myself, even if my external world feels like it’s moving too quickly for me right now?

* When change is moving quickly — and that change feels like it is good for us — we are also growing and changing very quickly. When I’m in a period of rapid change, I know that the “me” who does not feel capable of handling the change today will be more than capable of handling that change tomorrow, or tonight, in the moment I am called on to handle it.

Accepting the pace of our dreams starts with deep self-acceptance. When we’re not accepting of an aspect of ourselves, we are going to project that onto our dream and thwart the growth of that dream.

Think of your creative dream as a child: some kids need lots of time to play in blissful solitude; others run right out into the throng and play until they drop. If the kid who needs to play mostly alone, at her own pace, is forced out into the throng, she suffers and withdraws. If the kid who wants to immediately join the pack and play hard until the sun sets is forced into slower, solitary play, he feels isolated and suffers.

If you can accept your own needs AND the needs of your particular vision, your dream will unfold in a way that’s good for you AND the dream.

How do you deal with the unfolding of your creative projects? What have you learned about yourself along the way? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Work With Me: Need some support in allowing your creative vision to unfold? I have openings for new coaching clients. Find out more, here!

*And: Tomorrow, June 13, is the last day to register for the next session of Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle. If you’d like to develop a more regular writing habit with group support, check it out here.

Image is “Caterpillar” © Christy Mitchell | Dreamstime Stock Photos

What one thing can you let go of?


I’ve noticed a pattern with myself and some of my clients. We want to add new things to our lives and we’re excited about that. But our current lives are so full that there literally isn’t any space for that newness. We try to stuff the newness into the cracks in our current lives, but our lives start to feel like they’re bursting at the seams. Ouch. The newness can’t truly take root and grow because there’s no rich soil for it to anchor itself to.

We need to actually make space in our lives for the newness. We need to create room where the future can enter. If we keep ourselves constantly busy and scheduled every day, if we choose not to notice our need to let go of something which no longer feels good or serves us, we spin our wheels.

I know, this sounds mildly upsetting and maybe even scary. Change can suck, even when you desperately want it.

But you can open up this space in your life, this space in which to allow for the new, bit by bit. You don’t have to do a massive overhaul of your entire life.

One of my clients who felt ready for change but completely burdened by her schedule had been taking a weekly Pilates class for more than two years. It wasn’t feeling great to her anymore, but how could she let go of it? It was Pilates, and therefore, good for her! Right?

After some poking around on the issue, we realized that the energy of the group in the class had shifted significantly and it didn’t resonate for her anymore. What had once felt like a supportive habit no longer did. She quit the class, and just that one open evening a week began to pave the way for change. She found herself using the open time to sit quietly and within a couple of weeks she started cleaning out a closet and packing up some very old stuff to donate to charity.

Sometimes the “one thing” might just be a one-time letting go, too. A friend of mine who never, ever takes a day off work recently decided she would take just one day off. She’d been convinced that things would “go to hell in a handbasket” (I love that phrase! — what does it mean?) at her office if whe wasn’t there.

As it turned out, everything went smoothly in her absence and it occurred to her that she could loosen her grip on things around there a little, delegate more, and maybe take a day off here and there in the future. (If you have perfectionistic tendencies, you are likely addicted to “showing up”. See what happens when you don’t. Just once.)

So, I know you’re thinking, what if the one thing you choose to let go of is on a grander scale, like a job, a relationship, a project near and dear to your heart? I know. That is so, so hard. But, while there’s no denying letting go can feel utterly crappy, the way we think about letting go can make it either harder or easier.

Letting go happens in layers. You don’t have to do it all at once. Even the big things we let go of are full of tiny things you can let go of one at a time.

Years ago, I left a job I’d been at for a long time, and it was hard. I knew in my heart that letting go was the thing I needed to do, but the thought of it was so overwhelming. The change! The massive change! For several months, I spun around in this cycle: I want to leave. But it’s so hard. It’s so overwhelming. I can’t do it! I won’t. But I want to leave. But it’s so hard. I can’t do it!

Then one day it occurred to me that I could make the decision to leave without having to act on it. I know, it sounds counterintuitive, right? But that’s what I did. Making the decision to leave was my “one thing.” And as soon as the decision was made, my entire body felt lighter. I didn’t actually give my notice at the job until almost a month after I’d made the decision to do it. Giving notice was another “one thing” in a series of “one things” that needed to happen for me to exit the job.

Note that my making the decision to leave — even before I’d actually given my notice at work, before I’d actually physically left the job — created space for newness to enter. Because I was no longer spinning my wheels — do I or don’t I? — my energy was freed up to magnetize itself to my not-yet-created future. And because I could see a finite end to the work situation, it became far more bearable for the remaining time I was there.

As I write this, I remember, too, that another “one thing” that helped me make the decision to leave was that I had decided to sit on the blue chair in my apartment instead of the couch where I usually sat. Yep, that was it. I looked at the chair and thought, I’m sitting here while I write in my journal today. Not there. And from that journaling space on the blue chair came my decision to leave my job.

Do not underestimate the power of letting go of one thing. Even if it’s only for today.

For a variation on this theme, check out my previous article, “The power of tiny new things.”

Work With Me: Are you in transition and feeling stuck or scared about moving forward? I have two openings for new coaching clients. Read more here to see if we might be a good fit.

Image is “Lizard 1” © Alexey Lisovoy | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Practicing Reverent Curiosity


“Novel-writing is not so much a profession as a yoga, or ‘way’, an alternative to ordinary life-in-the-world.” — John Gardner

On Thanksgiving Day, I was hit with a bad cold. I spent two days pretending the cold wasn’t actually there and that I could go on functioning as if I were well. By the third day, I had to admit that I really was sick — and this meant I had to let go of my need for that thing I fondly call “momentum.”

I like the feeling of momentum. I like the idea that I am moving forward. The trouble comes in when I start to believe I can truly control exactly how things move.

When I returned to working on my novel after being sick, I felt disconnected from what I really wanted to say, at a loss with the story. My characters seemed like they were doing silly things, just marking time, moving around the rooms of my pages for no purpose.

Yesterday, during a group writing sprint with other members of Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle, I went to the page with the same feeling of stuckness and confusion about my story that I’ve had lately. “This is terrible!” a familiar voice inside me piped up. “You have to get over this! You need to make this story work!” (No pressure, or anything.)

When, as a coach, I work with a client who’s stuck, I often use metaphor to help them see their situation clearly. I asked for a helpful image to come to me, and the image that bubbled up in my mind was my cat, when we have a vet visit scheduled and he’s caught on to the fact that the cat carrier has entered the room. Once he gets under the bed, my mission is impossible: he knows he can hide there from me as long as he wants, because I can’t physically pick up the bed and get him out. And we’ve certainly had incidents where I’ve chased him around the house, and sometimes I end up standing the cat carrier on its end and stuffing him into it while he braces his back legs on its sides and writhes furiously. I hate this. And, of course, so does he.

There was this one time, though, when my cat snuck under the bed and I just didn’t have it in me to figure out a way to get him out and stuff him into the cat carrier. I set the carrier on the floor in the living room and sat down in a chair. I called the vet and told them we probably weren’t going to make it to our appointment.

The vet’s assistant was completely laidback about this. “Come on in if you catch him,” she said, laughing.

I sat quietly in my chair. Really, chasing my cat just didn’t seem worth it. He wasn’t ill; it was just a routine check-up since he’s getting into his senior years.

Within fifteen minutes, my cat emerged from beneath the bed and tentatively walked into the living room. He saw me sitting in the chair, looking quite harmless; he approached the cat carrier and sniffed at it. Then he began to investigate the carrier very thoroughly, with a kind of reverent curiosity. It was like he wanted to fully understand this instrument of his impending doom.

I realized that I was treating my story the way I treat my cat when I just want to get him to the damn vet. I stuff him into a box and endure his plaintive meows, feeling like a world-class jerk. Because I want to fix things. Because I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing. Because I’m driven by a kind of urgency.

Obviously, sometimes my cat needs to go to the vet and we do engage in this routine (though I’ve gotten quieter and better at doing sneak attacks, so neither of us struggle as much these days — usually).

But does this pattern work with my novel, with my characters?

I was stuck and overwhelmed because I was invested in the idea that my story needed to be “fixed,” that it contained a problem that needed to be solved. There are certainly plenty of books and advice out there that can tell me how to “fix my novel problem.” And some of them can be very helpful, at certain points in the process. But I realized yesterday that approaching my story in this top-down way, as if it was something I could fix from the outside by forcing it into a box of my choosing, was disconnecting me from anything the story had to show me, from letting it reveal itself.

When I sat back, relaxed, and made the choice to approach my story with that reverent curiosity my cat is so good at, I discovered a fascinating thing: I got really interested in my story again. I wasn’t trying to make it be, or do, anything; I was just interested in it. That all-important question, “What is it about?” welled up in me, and I realized I knew exactly what it was about. I also realized that this novel does not want to be as long as I’ve been thinking it should be. It just might want to be a novella. It knows what it is; and I’ve been so set on “fixing it” that I’ve lost touch with the thread that connects one scene to the next.

My story started to move again. I wrote beyond the 0ne-hour set time of the group sprint, I was so caught up in it.  Hallelujah! I understand my story better. And why did I get into this writing in the first place, if not to better understand?

Can I approach my life, too, from this space of reverent curiosity? Can I step back, breathe for a moment, and give my life the space and kind attention it needs in order to be what it wants to be?

Work With Me: I love helping writers and artists who are feeling stuck. Check out my one-on-one coaching, here.

Image is “Wonder Cat” © Eden Daniel | Dreamstime.com

Being Patient with Impatience

Two Saturdays ago, I had one of my marathon journaling sessions where I seemed to be taking dictation from the universe, and I made a long list of things I want to do to move forward with my coaching practice, my writing, and my life in general. All the things on this list felt exciting, organic, juicy. Enthusiasm flooded through me. Clarity! Momentum! I couldn’t wait to get started. I was sure that in, say, a week, all these things would be effortlessly accomplished and I’d be “on my way” — whatever it is that means.

Fast-forward nine days, to this past Monday evening. I’d spent the most of the day, and the night before, in frustration, confused, vaguely panicked, complaining to my boyfriend that I just couldn’t get anything done and I didn’t know why. This shouldn’t be so hard, I kept hearing myself say. I’m so behind schedule, I kept hearing myself say. Somehow my exuberance, enthusiasm and excitement had become — what? I couldn’t pinpoint it at first, and then I realized what it was: Impatience. Of the extreme variety.

There’s a line from the movie “Postcards from the Edge” — I’m paraphrasing here, but it goes something like this: “In the movies, you have a big realization and your life changes. In life, you have a big realization and six months later your life changes.”

Sigh. Yes, it’s true — things generally do not happen as quickly as I think I would like them to happen. And often, I get clear on a vision of what I want, and then realize — thud! — that there’s a lot of letting go and restructuring that has to happen before that vision can actually become reality. And sometimes, in the process of moving toward that vision, I change, or I understand myself better, and I realize that what I thought I wanted is no longer what I do want.

Sometimes it really will be six months before the change I want is ready to be born. Sometimes it will be a year. Sometimes (as in this case — I think!), it just means I have to do what I want to do over the course of a month instead of a week.

What’s clear is that that graspy, impatient, want-it-yesterday voice inside me is not the voice of my inner wisdom — though it certainly seems like the truth when I’m in the grip of it. But I can tell it is not the truth by the behavior and results it creates — haste, confusion, spinning in circles, accidentally deleting almost-finished blog posts, stubbing my toe on the chair leg.

Impatience is one of the most common themes with my coaching clients. And I’m right there with them. We want to hurry the process so we can get to the reward, forgetting that the only tangible reward is right here, in the process.

The voice of impatience ruins the process.

I picked up SARK’s wonderful book “Make Your Creative Dreams Real” last night for a little bit of guidance. I knew I needed to get grounded. Can you believe the book actually opened to a section titled “Impatience”? I didn’t even remember ever reading this section of the book before, but there it was.

She writes: “Being patient with our creative dreams, our lives, and ourselves can only shelter and nourish us. I am learning ways to be patient with myself and my creative dreams.”

Most of us are pretty familiar with impatience. Our culture teaches us impatience and instant gratification. Be counter-culture. Nurture patience in yourself, even though it may feel unnatural and unfamiliar.

There’s an upside to impatience, too, though. It means you’re opening up to bigger stuff. It means you’re getting ready for newness. Sometimes, it means you’re no longer willing for things to be as they have been because you’ve outgrown them.

And that is all good! But if it’s not moving as quickly as you’d like it to, see if you can hold that impatience in patience’s wider lens. See if you can take a more expansive view — what Martha Beck calls “eagle vision” — and allow yourself to feel that deep knowing that you are exactly where you are supposed to be right now, doing exactly what you are supposed to do in this moment.

Image is AUTUMN STAIRCASE © Lbwhaples | Dreamstime.com

Your True Supporters

Sometimes, when you’re in a place of confusion and feeling really vulnerable about it, someone else steps in and seems to think they know exactly what’s going on for you. And they label what’s happening for you and because you’re not sure what’s up for you, you start to think, maybe they’re right.

Many years ago, when I’d left college and I was in a total “liminal period”, as Martha Beck would call it, I started seeing a psychotherapist who really liked to label my behavior as “healthy” or “unhealthy”. This produced a pretty strong “ick” in the pit of my stomach (a sure sign that her way of working wasn’t right for my essential self), but back then I had a longstanding habit of ignoring my body and its messages.

So for six sessions, I saw this therapist and kept hoping she’d see me. I thought if I just explained myself well enough, she’d “get me.” I remember sitting in her big black pleather chair, telling her that memories from a particular period of my life had been flooding my thoughts, and they felt vivid and compelling. It felt like there was a message for me in those memories, I told her, and I wanted to be open to it.

She stared at me flatly and said, “You’re focusing on the past so you don’t have to move forward. You’re procrastinating.”

I wondered if she was right.  I mean, it sounded right. But it didn’t feel right.

What I know now, years later, is that for me, moving forward often looks like going back — temporarily. Frequently, before I arrive at my next stop, I need to backtrack a little and gather, process, and integrate what happened “back there.” Maybe I’ve frozen certain emotions that need to be brought up, or maybe so much happened in such a short period of time that I haven’t yet caught up with myself.

I’ve written previously about the importance of trusting your own, unique process. If your process looks like mine at all, and you’re feeling like it’s messy and confusing and you’re pretty raw about it right now, don’t let anyone else tell you you’re “not moving forward.” Trust me: You are moving forward. You’re just doing it in your own circular, zig-zag way. It’s all good.

Your true supporters on your journey will honor, support (and even be enchanted by!) your process, your way of working through and coming out on the other side.

That’s why, a year or so after I stopped seeing the aformentioned therapist, I found an amazing therapist who deeply honored my process. And because she honored my process, I learned to honor it myself. And I came to trust myself. Fiercely.

Your true supporters may not “get you” one hundred percent, but they have faith that you know what’s best for you, and they remind you that you are on your own side. They know, as Rainer Maria Rilke said, that “what goes on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love.”

But the most important thing, of course, is that you know this.


Image is BUTTERFLY © Martina Misar-tummeltshammer | Dreamstime.com

Creative Ebbs: Not the Same as Stuckness

If you think about any relationship you’ve ever had, you’ll notice that there were phases to the relationship. Sometimes you were sitting on the couch shoulder to shoulder eating cookie dough ice cream and watching Netflixed episodes of “The Office” (British version, preferably) and you couldn’t stop laughing and finishing each other’s sentences. Other times, you were kind of quiet and it was just nice. Other times you went rollerskating and you couldn’t stop falling down, in a good way.

And then there were those times when there was just nothing to say. Phone calls felt heavy; there were lots of long pauses, and not the good kind. You got on each other’s nerves without meaning to; previously endearing odd little habits began to seem like dealbreakers.

Maybe in your younger years, the not-so-good times felt like sound reasons to end the relationship; but as you got older and had more experience, you began to see that it was important to ride them out because the ice-cream-on-the-couch times could always come back.

You have a relationship with your creativity, too. And it needs to be accepted, nurtured and protected just like any other relationship you care about. But a lot of times (and what I see happening most often with my clients) is that we either neglect this relationship or ignore it — or, at the other end of the spectrum, we push it so hard and try to control it so much that it withers or hides from us.

Accept that your relationship with your creativity has seasons, cycles, ebbs and flows. You can — believe it or not — trust these ebbs and flows. Most of us are afraid to trust them. We love the flow, but the ebb, not so much.

So I won’t talk about what to do when you’re in creative flow. Most of us love that place. I’ll address the dreaded ebb (though you shouldn’t dread it — it’s really simply the yin to the yang that is the flow).

A creative ebb is a period in which nothing much feels like it’s happening creatively for you. It’s not the same thing as feeling stuck — stuck has to do, usually, with your fears around what you’re creating, or when you’ve reached, say, the middle of your novel and you have no idea what happens next and nothing you try feels right. When we’re stuck, it’s important to bring our fears to light and give them voice so we don’t dig our wheels further into the mud.

An ebb is a bit different. You might feel it for a few days or weeks after you’ve had a period of unusually high creativity. I used to create and sell these little paintings, mostly of cats. The way my process worked was I’d get a very clear picture of what I wanted to paint in my mind, often when I was out walking, and then I’d come home and get out one of my little canvases and the image would flow out onto it, usually quite similar to what I’d envisioned.

For a period of time, I did about three of these paintings a week. And the more people bought them the more I wanted to create them. But after about nine months or so of this, the ideas gradually stopped coming. I didn’t rush to my canvases the way I had. The art I created didn’t feel as inspired to me. Some of it wasn’t selling.

I was at an ebb. How do I know it was an ebb? Well, luckily for me, in this case I’d thought of this artwork as pure fun, not at all my “life’s work” or “serious art” — I didn’t have any of those ideas attached to it that can create stuckness because we make it so big and important. So when the “flow” stopped happening, I didn’t freak out. I just kind of noticed. By now I was about to move into a new home anyway, so I focused on that. The part of me that did the paintings rested.

And within about six weeks, I was ready to go again. I starting getting new ideas and now I was incorporating collage into the paintings. I began selling them again and I got my first overseas customers.

Creative ebbs don’t necessarily last for weeks. The ebb can occur, on a smaller scale, on a daily basis, when you do your writing in the morning, say, and it goes amazingly well but by evening you’re wiped out. That evening time is what Julia Cameron calls “filling the well” time. Although it’s true that the more I create, the more creative energy I tend to have, it’s also true that a prime component to our creativity is this resting phase, whether that’s a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days.

So what do you do when you’re faced with a creative ebb? Ideally, not much of anything — putter, water plants, daydream. But I know that doesn’t sit well with you if you make your living through your creativity, or if you’re on a tight deadline. In those cases, let the resting, “be-ing” energy be there as much as you can, while keeping up a regular creative habit. Sometimes this looks like doing the minimum that needs to be done and calling it a day.

Whatever you do, don’t demand of yourself that you reach for the creative high you experience when you’re in creative flow. That, my friend, is a sure-fire recipe for getting stuck.

Allow the ebb. The ebb is your friend. When the flow returns, you’ll reap the benefits of the ebb and see just how much richness that “fallow” period has brought to your creativity.

Announcement: This Thursday, Aug. 2, is the last day to sign up for the next session of Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle. I’m Jenna’s co-coach, and I’ve also been a participant in this group for nearly a year. It’s a great way to develop a regular writing habit and get group support. Check it out here!

Also: I’ll have openings for new coaching clients starting in mid August. If you’re feeling stuck or scared around your creativity, or it seems like life just won’t stop getting in the way, feel free to set up a free consultation with me.

Image is MUD FLATS © Slidepix | Dreamstime.com

Don’t let perfectionism keep you from getting started (or from finishing)

This is the first in a series of several articles I’ll be publishing on perfectionism and how it keeps us from doing what we most want to do, or from enjoying it when we do accomplish it!

I finished a first draft of my novel yesterday. I had to declare myself finished. This draft had been sitting for more than three years when I returned to it early this year.

I had a hard time starting the novel way back when because I wasn’t sure I had the “just right” story, and I wasn’t sure I had the “just right” point of view (I even wrote 200 pages of it in third person and then rewrote it all in first, which, if you write fiction, you know is a lot harder than just changing “she” to “I”). I kept rehashing and rewriting these 200 pages, polishing scenes, cutting scenes and creating new ones, changing the order. At one point I went back to third person and wrote from multiple points of view. Then I went back to first.

At some point, I realized I needed to make some choices, stick with them, and continue — even if the draft wasn’t exactly the way I envisioned it.

So I did. And as I finally neared the end of my draft this week, everything felt bittersweet. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the writing of it (generating the writing is my favorite part; I like editing and rewriting much less). But mostly, I wanted to feel I had the best possible ending. I wanted to feel like, wow! This ending rocks. (That was how I felt when I finished the first draft of my other novel, a few months ago, which you can read about here.) I’d venture to say we all want that from our endings, and our readers, of course, want that too.

But this was a first draft, and at some point, I realized I needed to call it enough. As Anne Lamott tells us, it’s totally okay for first drafts to be shitty. My friend and mentor Jenna Avery said, “How about calling it enough for now?”

Yep. “Enough for now” felt exactly right.

Those of us who tend to be perfectionists can forget the concepts of “enough” and “for now.” We want it to be right, we want it to be brilliant, we want it to be perfect. Only the thing is, in wanting that so badly, we often don’t actually do our work, don’t get it to those who can benefit from it and appreciate it, because we don’t get started, or we don’t ever allow ourselves to finish.

A first draft is just that. It’s something rough, something messy, something that takes chances and probably contains lots of mistakes.

That is good. What if we could apply a “first draft” mentality not only to our first drafts of our writing, but to our lives? I know I love the things I love in part because they are messy, and rough around the edges, and imperfect. Not because they’re polished to a high shine, but because they move me, in all their imperfection.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with starting and finishing. What helps you begin something you’re afraid of, and what helps you say I’m done, for now?

Also: Today, May 10, is the last day to register for Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle. It’s through my participation in this group that I’ve now completed drafts of two novels. (I’m also one of the coaches.) If you can’t seem to get started on something you’d love to create, or you’ve gotten stuck, check it out here!

And: I have a couple of spots open for new one-on-one coaching clients. Find out more here.

Things I’m noticing while I write, list #2

Here’s the second in my series of lists of things I’m noticing as I work on my novel.

1) It’s fun to write with friends. This morning, some members of Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle sprinted with me. We checked in with each other before and after the sprint. Writing can feel so solitary. And sometimes that solitude feels good. But it’s also nice to know there are others out there doing it too, struggling with the same stuff I am.

2) It’s okay to go back. Although I’ve been really encouraging myself in this draft to move forward, forward, forward (since I have a tendency to go back and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, and therefore not to finish my drafts), something kept nagging at me and I knew I’d taken a wrong turn. The story didn’t feel as alive as I knew it could, because two chapters earlier I’d gone left instead of right. So I went back, and made that right turn. And that right turn, was, well, the right one. My story felt alive again, and it just starting writing itself (righting itself?). When a story writes itself, fun things happen. (Like, who knew there was a ghost living in my main character’s apartment? The ghost wouldn’t have revealed itself if I hadn’t gone back and course-corrected.)

And by the way, you can do this in life too. You can always course-correct, no matter how far off the path you’ve wandered. And sometimes, wandering off the path becomes your new path.

3) I do better when I write earlier in the day. In keeping with my last post, about trusting my own process, I’ve noticed that there’s a world of difference for me when I write earlier. Maybe it’s because, often, writing is the most difficult thing I have on my plate, and when I get it done earlier, I know I can handle anything else that comes my way that day.

4) When I’m writing what I know I must write — when it’s coming through me and I’m aware that I’m not really the author, I’m just the conduit — I’m not concerned with how good it is.  This doesn’t mean I won’t look at it with editor’s eyes later on in the process and see how it might be improved. It’s just that there’s a huge difference between “I want to write something terrific” and “This writing was just waiting to be born. And now it’s here.” (Am I making the writing, or am I allowing the writing?)

And by the way, the more I make it about me, the more blocked and stuck I get.

What are you noticing while you write? I’d love to hear how it’s going for you.

Things I’m noticing while I write, list #1

I’m fascinated by the challenges creators face, which is why I coach creators. And I’m my own client — in fact, I’m the one client I’d better love working with, because I’m kinda stuck with me, for life. So every now and then I’m going to post some brief lists of things I’m noticing while I work on my novel draft. Just little tidbits that might spark you to say, hey, that’s true for me too. Or, hmm — that’s not true for me at all. Interesting.

Here’s today’s list.

1. When the writing feels really daunting, there’s only one thing to do: Write one sentence. Really. And there’s only one thing to do after that: write one sentence. I can go the whole way that way.

2. Sometimes, I worry I’ve gone in the wrong direction with a scene. But the problem isn’t that I’ve gone in the wrong direction. The problem is the worrying about it. I don’t have to worry. When I’m clear that it’s wrong enough, I will change it. That’s all I need to know.

3. Discomfort is okay. It’s not a sign I should stop, or that what I’m writing is terrible. It does mean I need to be extra-compassionate with myself in order to keep moving forward. Yes, my dear. This is hard. The fact that it’s hard doesn’t mean something is wrong.

4. I love the process. And I thank my lucky stars that I do. When I get very results-focused, I can forget that I write to begin with because I love it. Because it’s my particular way of expressing what I value, who I am. The process can be its own reward, even when I desire a certain outcome. Valuing, even relishing, the process does not mean I am giving up on results. It just means I get to be happy now, instead of then.

What are you noticing while you create? I’d love to hear from you.

Also: while I’m on the subject of writing, as I’ve mentioned previously, I’m both a participant and a coach for Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle. Tomorrow, March 15, is the last day to sign up for the next session. If you’re having trouble committing to a daily writing habit, I highly recommend you check out this group! Click here to find out more.

And: I offer free Creativity Consultations. If you’re feeling stuck or scared and having a hard time moving forward on your creative project, check them out here.