Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Time Blocking for Writers

The #1 challenge most writers face is having enough time to write. Yes, we all have the same 24 hours in a day. And yes, we don’t “find time”, we “make time” for what’s important to us. Is your writing time a priority for you? 

Or are you like most writers… still struggling to find a way to squeeze more writing time into your life? Here are three simple things to think about when trying to fit more time to write into your day.

Where Will You Write?

Most writers will eventually find or create a rhythm that works for them, but this question is something important to consider. Maybe you steal moments of time throughout your day such as the car line, the doctor’s office, a bus ride, your kid’s soccer game, even standing in line at the grocery store. I mean ANY writing is better than NO writing, so definitely steal what you can - when you can - and where you can.

But the important thing is to be consistent. Because if you’re always writing in a different place (and at different times), it’s harder to get the momentum going. The question to take your writing to the next level is, “Where will you write?”

Having a dedicated place to write every day, week after week will help you become more consistent. Will you write in bed? On the couch? Outside in a hammock? At your office desk on the computer? On a laptop? In a notebook? At the kitchen table? In your child’s closet?

Choose a comfortable place. Make it special. Decorate it with pictures, writerly quotes, and things that inspire you. Have books, pens, highlighters, and plenty of paper handy. And when it’s time to write, go there. Take a deep breath. Smile. And do some writing.

When Will You Write?

If you’re like me, you wish you could block off 2-3 hours a day to write. That’s my ultimate dream. One day…

In the meantime, I know it’s important to write when I can (see above). But I also want to make my time more focused and productive, so it definitely helps to set aside a specific time to write. The hard part is sticking to it. But consistency makes it easier over time. Remember that your writing is important, so make it a priority.

Ask yourself how much time you can spare in a day or a week. Twenty minutes a day? Two hours once a week? What feels good to you? Schedule it and show up! Right now, I write on Tuesday nights from 8 to 10 pm. The trick is to not overschedule yourself. Be generous with kindness. But definitely schedule something.

Getting Clear on Your Goals

Lastly, once you know where you’ll be writing, and when you’ll be writing, think about your goal. There are basically two ways to measure it. You can write for time or you can write for distance (word count).

When I run, I often set a time goal (30 minutes), or a distance goal (3 miles), but not usually a speed goal (3 miles in 30 minutes). While speed workouts are great, that’s not how I do it. With writing, I never sit down and say, “I want to write 2,000 words in the next hour.” It’s always one or the other. I choose a word count goal or a time goal.

A third option is to have a scene goal. You write until the scene is finished, no matter how long it takes or how many words it takes. Sometimes I do this when I know I have more time and won’t be stressed about it.

It’s not a bad thing to stop mid-scene though. It keeps the fire alive and the momentum going. Just jot down a sentence or two (if that’s helpful) and what you want to accomplish with your next writing session.

Before long, you’ll see how having a set time and place to write will help you be more consistent with your writing. And oftentimes, you’ll end up squeezing even more writing sessions into your week.

What’s your favorite place to write? Let me know in the comments!


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Are You a Pantser or a Plotter?

If you’ve been around the writing world for any time at all, you’ve probably heard about the great debate of panster vs. plotter. If you’ve never been asked if you’re a pantser or a plotter, you might be new to writing. And no, we’re not talking about pulling someone’s pants down. We’re talking about how writers approach their writing. Do you plan? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
Writers who write by the seat of their pants are called pantsers.


In the 1930s, pilots coined the term “fly by the seat of your pants,” which likely originated in the UK since there are several instances of this American idiom that have been known to use the word “trousers,” which is totally a British thing. 

Basically, it came about right around the time that instrument panels started to become a thing for airplanes. But most pilots of the era flew airplanes with little to no instrument panels. They had to fly “blind” and to use their gut instincts to fly by the seat of their pants. 

In writing, this means that a writer just writes. It’s an adventure to see where they end up. They trust their gut, and just go with it. In essence, they are flying by the seat of their pants, hence the term “pantser”. They don’t have a fancy instrument panel to help guide the journey (a plot outline). They may not even know how the story is going to end. And that’s okay too.


A writer who claims to be a plotter is someone who loves outlining every last detail. They know what scenes are in each chapter. They might have a character worksheet filled out for each of their characters and know how the book will end. Perhaps it’s one way to counteract the fear of writer’s block

Pantsers claim that plotters have no fun. Plotters claim that pantsers will take 10 years to finish a book. There’s no right or wrong way to approach your writing. While plotters may take more time up front to plan the book, pantsers take more time on the back end with revisions. Either way, it still takes about the same amount of time to write a book and get your story straight.

Can You Be Both?

In recent years, a new term has been coined: a “plantser”. That’s a writer who takes a middle-of-the-road approach. I like to call them planners. Basically, it’s someone who starts with the end in mind, has a couple of main characters, and generally works through the plot ahead of time, but not down to the last detail of every chapter and every scene. 

Being a planner (or plantser) is my favorite approach. You get the best of both worlds. Because when you plot out your five main plot points, you’re posting your milestones out ahead of time and you always know what’s coming next. Yes, even the ending. And since you’re not planning every last detail, you’re free to explore different pathways to get to your next milestone, keeping the fun aspect fully alive. 

After all, isn’t that what keeps a writer going… the fact that we actually enjoy it? So, if planning out the basic story structure of your novel is helpful to keep the fun factor alive (while also being organized and helping you feel a little bit in control), then let’s do THAT all day long! 

QUESTION: If you had to choose one or the other, what side do you lean a little closer to? Are you 100% pantser or 100% plotter? I’m 85% plotter. What about you? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

How to Bust Through Writer's Block… for Good

Yes, Virginia, Writer’s Block is real. It comes when you least expect it, when you round a corner of doubt, or when you’re excitedly working toward the end of your story. But how can you chisel your way out of this problematic writer’s block and turn it into an exquisite wooden statue of a bear, an angelic ice sculpture, or your own marble masterpiece?

How Do You Define Writer’s Block?

There are two camps of thought when it comes to Writer’s Block: either you believe it exists or you believe it is hogwash. But that depends on how you define it.

The basic definition of Writer’s Block is when a writer feels unable or uninspired to write or continue writing. 

Does this exist? Do writers ever feel uninspired or unable to continue writing or to start a new project? Absolutely!

Or is it just a bunch of hogwash? Is it all because a writer is being lazy?

There are two types of writer’s block - based on why it happens in the first place. And both camps of thought can peacefully coexist in the world of writing.


Reasons Why Writer’s Block Happens

There are two reasons why a writer faces Writer’s Block. 

  1. It’s an excuse to not write. You’re being lazy. There’s something unpleasant about the imminent writing task placed before you that is making you procrastinate it. This reason is what leads many to believe that Writer’s Block is a myth - pure hogwash.
  2. You’re facing a problem in your writing that you’re struggling to solve. All writers solve problems every time they add a new chapter, a new character, a new action, or start revising their stories. You can’t always simply “write through it.” This reason often requires reflection, deep thought, and different options to try out in order to bust through the mental block.

So if you believe that Writer’s Block doesn’t exist, you’re right (if you’re procrastinating or just being lazy). And if you believe that Writer’s Block does exist, you are also right! Either way, there is a solution to help you cure your Writer’s Block woes.

Three Things to Help Counteract Writer’s Block

Yes, Virginia, there is a cure for Writer’s Block. How do you bust through that tough block of wood in the backyard of your brain? While there are many things you can do to help combat this common writing problem, these are the three best ways to bust through your mental blocks:

  1. Brainstorm. You can brainstorm out loud with others or brainstorm silently on paper all by yourself. Either way, brainstorming is a powerful way to help you see more options. When you see several paths laid out before you, it’s much easier to take a single step - a leap of faith - than when you are staring at a brick wall thinking you have to somehow figure out how to scale it.
  2. Run (or walk). Running (and of course walking too), is a proven method with science to back it up to help a person become (and stay) more creative. Even horseback riding works! Sure, doing chores or mindlessly watching TV can help switch your brain’s airwaves and trigger a new thought the next time you return to your writing, but running is magical. It has to do with CSF, or Cerebrospinal Fluid. It’s a clear liquid that runs through the spinal cord to the brain, which stimulates neurological reactions. So go for a run!
  3. Go to a writing retreat. If you’re facing a funk due to lack of inspiration, a writing retreat works wonders. Workshops and conferences are good too, but a retreat is my favorite. If you’re struggling with revisions, a writing retreat can provide you with fellow writers to give you personal feedback in real life. A writing retreat can provide you with inspiration, collaboration, feedback, learning, and so much more. Find out about the Writers Who Run Retreat and get added to the waitlist for 2023.

QUESTION: How often do you take your writing with you when you head out for a jaunt? Share about a time when it helped solve one of your plot problems. Share your comment here.

Keep on keepin' on... 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Story Ideas Are Like Seeds

You can start a story with a nugget of an idea. Story ideas are like seeds; nurture them and they will grow. Just like humans, plants have a few basic necessities for life - air and water being the two most basic. When you plant a seed, it needs soil, water, sunlight, and air in order to thrive and grow. Stories are no different. 

Stories need four basic ingredients to grow from an idea into a story. You don’t need to have a green thumb to make a seed (or your story ideas) grow, you just need to know that you are good enough to be a writer. And to be patient in the process. Stories (and plants) take time.

Character is the Soil

It’s not that hard to start building a story - even if you only have a snippet of an idea.  Your idea needs a place to live. First, think about who your story might be about and create a character. What kind of strengths and weaknesses might your character have? Once you know who will be in your story interacting with each other, it’s time to give them some water and make them do something.


Plot is the Water

When you water a seed planted in soil, it gets excited. Plot is what your characters will do during the story. Plot is basically what happens during your story. What kinds of things will your characters need to do to reach their goal? Once you have some characters and a simple plot, you can flesh it out later.

Conflict is the Sunlight

Next up is a little sunlight. Or in the case of a conflict analogy, probably some shade too. Conflict is the thing that stands in the way of your character reaching their goal. Conflict is what helps make your story more interesting. Ever heard the phrase, “Put your character up in a tree and throw rocks at him”? Conflict makes it hard on your character, which is what makes it interesting and the reader has someone to root for. If it’s too easy, then the story is boring.

As far as fleshing out your seedling of an idea, a good brainstorming session or a little help from a fellow writer might be all you need to get the ball rolling with more ideas before you start to feel like you actually have a great story idea. Just remember to make life hard for your character. Even a tiny seedling has to work to push through the soil and burst into the sunlight. (So maybe the soil should be the conflict?)

Theme is the Air

Lastly, you need a theme if you want your story to matter. Usually, the theme emerges as you write multiple drafts. You can technically start a story without a theme because, like I said, it often emerges later. The theme is basically what an editor is thinking about when they ask, “What’s the point of the story?” 

You already know how to write a story. I just wanted to remind you that the idea doesn’t have to be fleshed out in stone to pursue it. In fact, ALL stories start with a seedling of an idea. As you slowly add a little character, a little plot, a little conflict, and a little theme, your story will begin to take shape and pretty soon, you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

QUESTION: How many ideas do you get in a day, a week, a month? Share your comment here.

Keep on keepin' on... 


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