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On Impermanence, Murder and The Book That Lives Inside You

As the detectives came into the room, each of the group members sat rigid in their chairs, awaiting the news. They had only just learned that there was news to be heard.

The lead detective shifted his weight from foot-to-foot as he stood in front of the business networking group. There were twenty-five anxious faces staring at him. He hated this part of the job.

“He’s dead. We found him in a cornfield off of Gulf Ave,” the detective started and then paused.

Gasps went around the room as the group looked to the detective for more.

“His wife found his car parked next to the field late Monday night, and immediately filed a missing person’s report. We searched the scene the following morning and found his body. He had been shot to death.” The detective stopped again, checking the faces of the group members.

As the realization that their beloved friend was gone hit the group members, tears poured, and the room fell silent, except for the sniffles and nose-blowing.

“What happened?” shouted one of the group members, desperate for answers.

The detective ran his hand through his hair before responding. “We don’t really know at this point.”

“You said you found his car?” another group member said between sobs.

“We found his car with the driver’s side doors and trunk open. The car was jacked up and the spare was on the grass next to it. But none of his tires were flat.” The detective looked at the floor as he delivered this news. The facts just weren’t adding up, and he knew these people deserved answers…

This sounds like the beginnings of a really good novel… except it’s a tragic true story.

On October 21, 2013, my friend and business mentor, Jeff Newland, was shot and killed. No one knows why.

The police called it homicide, because there’s no concrete proof of what happened, but the evidence left behind seems to point otherwise.

Impermanence in Life

Often in life we carry the false belief that everything we have now we will always have; that it will always be present in our lives.

But the truth is, everything has an expiration date. 

I met Jeff back in July of this year, when I was experiencing the local business networking scene for the first time. I showed up to his BNI networking meeting as the guest of another group member.

We hit it off right away, because he was a business coach who wanted to write a book, and I am a writing coach who helps people write books. After the networking group meeting, we set up a time to meet one-on-one to talk about his book.

Jeff turned out to be a brilliant business coach. He was so dedicated to helping entrepreneur’s who have big dreams, that he started a consulting business called Best 2 Things. He also helped change people’s focus and perspective through his Best In Class business workshops.

I became a member of Best In Class, and attended the workshops each month. It was there around Jeff’s invisible campfire where I discovered new and amazing things about myself and my business.

His workshops were electric; you could feel the energy buzzing around in the room. They forced you to think about things you had never considered before.

Most importantly, everyone’s opinion mattered. The workshops were an open discussion where we could share with a group of like-minded people.

When I walked out of one of Jeff’s workshops, I felt like I was on top of the world and anything was possible. The man just brought that out in people.

Jeff lived every single day of his life with a focus on what he loved. He was always striving to be better and to bring more value to the world and to the people he served. His dreams were never on the back burner. He was living his life fully alive.

On October 30 it was on my schedule to be attending Jeff’s “Build Your Best Week” workshop. Instead, I attended his wake.

If I knew when I saw him at the last Best In Class meet up that it would be the for the final time, I would’ve hugged him and thanked him for relighting my flame of passion for my work.

Everything in life is impermanent, including you. Live accordingly. 

Killing Your Dreams

Since finding out about Jeff’s death, I have’t gotten much accomplished. The initial shock was so deep that it froze me in place. My new book I was finishing up came to a halt.

Besides the obvious questions bouncing in my head—whodunit? Why? How could this happen to someone doing such amazing work in the world?—I had questions about myself, about my life, about my work.

What was I doing? Why was I doing it? What was the point?

I began questioning all the projects I was working on and all the people I was working with. Am I happy? Am I serving people in a big way? Am I helping change people’s lives? Do I have habits that are fueling my dreams or killing my dreams?

These are the big questions that dance on our brains when we lose someone of importance to us. It sends a shock through your system, and suddenly you look at everything with skepticism.

While I’m still answering these questions for myself, I invite you to answer them for yourself too.

What ideas are you squashing with your negativity? What old habits are no longer serving your writing dream?

The Book Living Inside You

There is a book that’s living deep inside you. There’s probably more than one book. I know this because you wouldn’t be reading my blog otherwise.

There is a story inside you that only you can tell. There are experiences you’ve had that no one else has. There are reflections, insights and perspectives in your heart that only you can deliver to the world.

If you are feeling called to write a book, to share your story, to inspire others, do it. Don’t let anything stop you.

Give up the excuses that hold you back. Let go of the limiting beliefs that dampen your dream. Sit down and put the words on the page.

Do it right now. Today.

Jeff never got a chance to write his book and tell his stories before he left this world.

But you’re still here. So there’s still time for you to write yours.

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What’s holding you back from writing your book? 

Image courtesy of Licorice Medusa 

 

 

How To Create Your Own Writing Retreat

Have you ever thought about going on a writing retreat to a place that’s peaceful, distraction-free and you have all the time in the world to get your writing done?

And, really, what writer wouldn’t?

These retreats are held in beautiful locations, such as the Rocky Mountains or Napa Valley, for up to a week and are intended to be inspirational and tranquil. The focus is usually on spending time doing exploratory writing and working on creative projects, as well as sharing with the other writers and getting feedback.

These retreats are definitely worth the experience if you have the time and money. Unfortunately, these writing retreats can be upwards of a thousand dollars (sometimes more!), and aren’t always within your budget.

Creating A Writing Retreat At Home

Rather than spend the thousands of dollars to go far away from home to write, why not create your own writing retreat right at home?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Gather all your writer friends for an afternoon of writing. Invite them to your house, make some delicious, energy-sustaining snacks and sit around together and write. Play some soft music or light some candles. Make the room as tranquil and inspiring as possible.
  • Create a private retreat somewhere in your house. Find a place that you’ve never written before–the back porch, the closet under the stairs, the laundry room–and try writing there. You’ll be amazed how a change of location can spark your creativity.
  • Make your home office a daily writing retreat. Set up your desk with things that inspire you, such as flowers, photos or quotes. Cover the desk with your favorite table cloth or buy some fabric from your local craft store. Buy a Betta fish or a plant to place on your desk. Hang beautiful photos/images or create a vision board on the walls surrounding the area.  If you make your writing space as inviting and retreat-like as possible, you just may find yourself spending time there more often.

By creating your own writing retreat–whether that be alone or with other writers–you’ll be able to kick-start your creativity and get some writing done.

The Everyday Writer’s Retreat

If you love to write, but are finding the time between your writing sessions keeps getting longer, it’s time for a reboot! Next Tuesday the doors open to my new virtual writing workshop with Author and Writing Coach, Suzanne Boothby.

While we’re not whisking you away to a beautiful beach location (this time), we are packing this workshop with exercises and writing prompts to get you in the flow. Best of all, we’ll be writing together on every call, and you can ask us whatever questions you have.

If you’re in need of a gentle nudge in the writing direction, I’d love for you to join myself and Suzanne for a virtual writing retreat.

To be the first to know when the doors are officially open, be sure to sign up for my free email newsletter (you’ll also get a 7-day email workshop on how to un-stick your stuck words so you can start writing).

 

Stop Procrastinating In 5 Simple Steps

By Jennifer Blanchard

Over and over writers say that they want to learn how to stop procrastinating. So here are 5 steps that you can take:

  1. Sit down in front of your computer.
  2. Open a Word document.
  3. Place your fingers on your keyboard.
  4. Start typing.
  5. Don’t stop ’til you’ve written at least 500 to 1,000 words.

Yes. It’s really that simple.

Write Or Die: A Free Tool for Procrastinating Writers


By Jennifer Blanchard

I was recently introduced to an awesome writing productivity tool from a follower on Twitter (@armselig). The tool is called “Write or Die,” which is “a Web application that encourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing. Start typing in the box. As long as you keep typing, you’re fine, but once you stop typing, you have a grace period of a certain number of seconds and then there are consequences,” according to the tool’s creator, Dr. Wicked.

Here’s how “Write or Die” works:

  • There are 3 modes: Gentle, Normal and Kamikaze.
  • In Gentle Mode, when you stop writing, you will get “writing reminders” that pop up on your screen reminding you to keep writing until your time limit is up/you have hit your word count.
  • In Normal Mode, when you stop writing, you’ll hear a very annoying noise, which will only go away if you keep writing.
  • In Kamikaze Mode, when you stop writing, it gives you a few seconds and then it starts deleting your words. To keep it from deleting everything, you have to keep writing.
  • Once you choose your word count/time limit, mode and how “forgiving” you want the tool to be, you’re off and writing.

Now before you try out this tool, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • This is for productivity ONLY—Do not expect to write anything even remotely close to The Great Gatsby or Grapes of Wrath just by using this tool. This tool is not here to make you a better writer. It’s here to make you write, period. (You can worry about editing what you’ve written after you’ve written it!)
  • Kamikaze mode is the BY FAR the best mode to use—Since it deletes your writing if you stop for more than a few seconds, you are forced to keep writing in order to not get anything deleted. If you are serious about getting writing done, this is the mode for you.
  • If you’re attempting this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge, Write or Die will easily help you reach your daily word count (of 1667 words).
  • Remember to select all the text you wrote and copy it—There is no way to save your text using this tool, and once you navigate away from the page, everything you’ve written is gone. That’s why you need to copy what you wrote and paste it into a Word document in order to save it.
By using this writing productivity tool, you are learning to shut off your inner editor and just getting writing done. And that, Procrastinating Writers, is what it truly takes to be a successful writer.

How To Overcome Procrastination

By Jennifer Blanchard

How are those New Year’s Goals going? Have you given some time to thinking about what you want in 2009?

One thing many of you probably have in mind for this year is overcoming your procrastination. So this is one post out of many to come in the months following that will begin to explore what procrastination is, why it happens to you and how you can overcome it.

Personal development blogger and author, Steve Pavlina, explains in his article, Overcoming Procrastination, that there are 4 root causes of procrastination:

    1. Thinking you absolutely have to do something–“When you tell yourself that you have to do something, you’re implying that you’re being forced to do it, so you’ll automatically feel a sense of resentment and rebellion,” Pavlina says. “Procrastination kicks in as a defense mechanism to keep you away from this pain. If the task you are putting off has a real deadline, then when the deadline gets very close, the sense of pain associated with the task becomes overridden by the much greater sense of pain if you don’t get started immediately.”Pavlina says that the best way to overcome this mental block is to realize and accept that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. “Even though there may be serious consequences, you are always free to choose,” he says. “No one is forcing you to run your business the way you do. All the decisions you’ve made along the way have brought you to where you are today. If you don’t like where you’ve ended up, you’re free to start making different decisions, and new results will follow.”Overcome it: Choose projects to undertake in 2009 that you want to undertake. Choose something that inspires you or something that you’re really passionate about. (And if you’re having a difficult time figuring out what you want, do what I do, pretend today is your last day on earth–what would you regret not having done? These are the things you need to be pursuing now!)
    2. Thinking of the project as a whole–“Thinking of a task as one big whole that you have to complete will virtually ensure that you put it off,” Pavlina says. “When you focus on the idea of finishing a task where you can’t even clearly envision all the steps that will lead to completion, you create a feeling of overwhelm. You then associate this painful feeling to the task and delay as long as possible. If you say to yourself, ‘I’ve got to do my taxes today,’ or ‘I must complete this report,’ you’re very likely to feel overwhelmed and put the task off.”

Overcome it: Focus on one small piece of the overall task at a time. By doing this, you’ll complete the task in steps, which will make it easier for you to keep motivated.

  1. Being a perfectionist–Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons people procrastinate. They get so worried and worked up about wanting something to be perfect that they end up not even working on it for fear it will come out flawed.”Thinking that you must do the job perfectly the first try will likely prevent you from ever getting started,” he says. “Believing that you must do something perfectly is a recipe for stress, and you’ll associate that stress with the task and thus condition yourself to avoid it. You then end up putting the task off to the last possible minute, so that you finally have a way out of this trap. Now there isn’t enough time to do the job perfectly, so you’re off the hook because you can tell yourself that you could have been perfect if you only had more time. But if you have no specific deadline for a task, perfectionism can cause you to delay indefinitely.”Overcome it: Allow yourself to be human. Humans are not perfect; they make mistakes. That is part of what is so beautiful about life–you get important (sometimes life-changing) lessons from every experience you have, every mistake you make.
  2. Thinking that completing the task-at-hand will deprive you of fun–“This means you believe that undertaking a project will offset much of the pleasure in your life,” Pavlina says. “In order to complete this project, will you have to put the rest of your life on hold? Do you tell yourself that you will have to go into seclusion, work long hours, never see your family, and have no time for fun? That’s not likely to be very motivating, yet this is what many people do when trying to push themselves into action. Picturing an extended period of working long hours in solitude with no time for fun is a great way to guarantee procrastination.”Overcome it: Plan out your fun activities and schedule your work/tasks around them. By doing this, you’re making sure you have plenty of time for the activities you love to do (the activities where you usually don’t procrastinate). Then work/tasks won’t feel so overwhelming because you won’t feel like all you’ll be doing is working/completing tasks.

For more details on each of these root causes of procrastination and more tips for overcoming them, check out Pavlina’s article.

So for 2009, look at overcoming writing procrastination as small hurdles to jump, rather than as a huge thing you need to overcome.

10 Things Procrastinating Taught Yvonne Russell

In light of the fact that National Novel Writing Month is finally over, I thought I’d give you something humorous to read. This comes from the “Grow Your Writing Business” blog written by Yvonne Russell:

Ten Things I Learned From Procrastinating

1. I can get lots of things done, just not the one I should be doing

2. Procrastination can be fun and guilt inducing at the same time

3. Procrastination and perfectionism are a sure fire combo for stress

4. There sure are a lot of interesting sites you discover when procrastinating

5. Procrastination is often called research

6. Research is never called procrastination

7. Procrastination is often called thinking

8. Thinking is never called procrastination

9. Checking emails is high in the hierarchy of procrastination

10. Procrastination inevitably leads to doing… eventually…

Happy writing…jb

I Did It! What I Learned While Writing My First Novel…and How It Will Help You (Part 2)

In Part One I talked about four lessons I learned while writing my first novel. Here are another three for you:

  • When You Want To Procrastinate, Nothing Will Get You Moving–Picture this: You’re one chapter away from being finished with your first novel. You’ve been waiting for this moment for years. You were starting to think this day would never come.A week later, you’re still one chapter away from being finished with your first novel. You’ve been waiting for this moment for years. You were starting to think this day would never come.A week later, you’re still one chapter away…Ok, are you sensing a pattern here?

    Procrastination is a killer, especially to the novel. Remember, people often fear success because of what might change, so it’s not all that uncommon for someone to be a chapter shy, a few scenes shy, whatever, from finishing their project and then they set it aside and never complete it.

    I thought that was going to be me because I was one chapter away and I had the most delicious bottle of champagne chilling in my fridge, waiting to be cracked the moment I wrote my last word, and it still took me almost three weeks to finish my final chapter.

    Thankfully, I was able to step around my fear (of success, of failure, of my first draft sucking, etc) and finish my novel. And drink that delicious bottle of champagne.

    When this happens to you, lean on your RB. Tell them exactly how you’re feeling and let them reassure you that everything will turn out great. They’re right.

  • “Shitty First Drafts” Are an Urban Legend–Ok, maybe not an urban legend, but they’re definitely a myth. When I finished my novel and sat down to reread the whole thing, I realized that I actually had a pretty damn good first draft on my hands.Sure, it needs editing–what first draft doesn’t? But I feel like I have a complete story that has no major plot holes, no major “bad” writing issues and best of all, it’s actually pretty compelling.So stop being so hard on yourself about writing your first draft. When I think I’m writing my worst, it usually turns out to be some of my best. And you’ll find the same thing with your first draft as well.

    And if you do find some parts that make you want to hurl (ok, so maybe it was a bad idea to use that cliched love scene as the turning point in your book), it’s ok. Take a deep breath and relax. That’s why they call it a first draft!

  • It Goes By So Fast–When I look back on the whole novel-writing process, I realize that, after years and years of talking about writing a novel and sitting around thinking about it, but taking no action, when I finally sat down and wrote my novel, it actually went by so fast I don’t remember most of it.

So don’t let the fear of how many hours or weeks or months you’ll have to spend dedicated to writing this novel stop you from writing. When it comes down to it, if you set yourself tight deadlines (I gave my writing coach two chapters a week, for example) and meet them, you’ll get your book written so quickly you won’t even know how you could’ve procrastinated for so long.

I hope the lessons I learned while writing my first novel help you to finally get your novel written. Remember, negativity is always going to make your writing “bad.” So keep a positive, upbeat attitude and remind yourself that your story is worth writing, so sit down and write it!

I Did It! What I Learned While Writing My First Novel…and How It Will Help You (Part 1)

Well here we are. On March 22, I invited all of you to come with me on a journey to a place I like to call, “the first draft of my novel is complete.” So here we are, on October 1. I’ve finished my first novel and I can’t be anymore stoked about it.

 

So…how did you do?

 

If you’ve gotten to this point in the year and you still haven’t kept your commitment to yourself and to your writing, it’s ok. Or maybe you never made a commitment to start with.

 

Whatever is holding you back, let it go. Just let it go and finally sit down and write your novel (or screenplay or poem, you get the idea…). Trust me, it’s not as hard as you think.

 

And to prove it, I offer you what I learned writing my first novel…and how it will help you:
  • Plot Outlines Work–I used Holly Lisle’s Create a Plot Outline to figure out the basic plot of my novel and it changed everything for me. Not only did I have a pretty good idea about where the story was going, I also was able to stay on track and make sure the story kept moving along.If you’re one of those writers who has a hard time just sitting down with a blank Word document and writing, I highly recommend using an outline. It makes things much simplier. I even wrote mini-outlines for each chapter…which brings me to the next thing I learned…
  • Have “Goals” For Each Chapter–I didn’t write all the details of each chapter down in an outline before I wrote the actual chapter. But I did start with the first chapter and say to myself, “Where does the story need to go from here?” and then I made bullet points for where it needed to go in a notebook.Then I started writing. I tried to follow the list, but I also strayed a little when my characters had a better idea than I did.When I thought the chapter was over, I ended it and moved the events I thought were going to fall in the current chapter to the next chapter.Having goals made it so much easier for me to stay on track with the story and make sure I didn’t have any holes in my plot.
  • Find a “Reliability Buddy”–Find someone you trust, a friend, sibling, parent, significant other, etc., and ask them to be your “reliability buddy” for your novel. Sit down with them and set some writing “deadlines” for yourself. Pick something that’s not too quick, but not to far off either.Choosing a tighter deadline will help you have less time to scrutinize yourself/your book and more time to just get the writing done.Then ask your RB to keep on you to hit your deadlines. Also, it helps if you have a meeting once a week. And this doesn’t need to be a long meeting, even five or ten minutes on the phone to check in and see how you’re doing or to get a quick pep talk if you need one works.Having a person to answer to and set weekly goals with is another good way to stay on track.
  • Embrace Your Support System–When the going gets rough–or you get blocked/feel uninspired/want to throw your computer out the window–it helps to have a person (or group of people) you can turn to for support.I hired a writing coach to be my RB and help me stay on track, but she also ended up being a great support system for me. Whenever I was feeling stuck with the story or wanted to quit writing it altogether, I turned to her for support and she would always talk me away from the delete button. She is most definitely one of the main reasons my book is finished right now.Even though I wrote the book, my coach was a vital part of my success. She not only kept me organized and on track, but she allowed me to see things from other perspectives and make my story the best it could possibly be.

Stay tuned for Part Two of what I learned, coming this weekend.

Share: What Inspires You?

According to Wisegeek.com, “Many artists, writers, poets and musicians have said that their creative work has been inspired by an individual whom they refer to as their muse. A muse is someone who has such an influence on another that he or she becomes the focus and inspiration for that person’s creative work.”

Writers often talk about their muse and how it helps them get to work on their creative projects.

Every writer has something that inspires them–a person, a place, a song, etc. And in order to get and stay inspired, you need to figure out exactly what inspires you and channel it.

If it’s music that inspires you, listen to the same CD every time you write. If it’s a place, go there and write as often as you can. Or if it’s a far-off place, get a picture of it and keep it by your computer when you’re writing. If it’s a person, try to have that person around when you write, or at least keep a photo of them with you.

Another way to channel your muse is to sit down for five to ten minutes before you start to write and think about the person/place/etc. Remember times you’ve spent there or fun things you’ve done with the person.

By listening to the music or thinking about the person/place, you’re reminding yourself of why it inspires you and it will help continue to inspire you.

My muse is John Mayer. Even though I don’t know him, his music and his public personality have inspired almost every story I’ve ever written, including the novel I’m currently penning. Whenever I’m writing, I always listen to John Mayer (ok, sometimes I also listen to Seether, but whenever I’m writing my novel, I listen to John). This helps me channel the inspiration and keeps me writing.

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So what inspires you? Who/what is you muse?

Take A Break Every Now and Then


Writers are some of the hardest working people I know. Most of my writer friends are writers by day and writers by night. But working at magazines and freelance writing and in marketing and public relations departments all day long sometimes makes it hard to go home and continue working on that novel or screenplay or memoir. I know that happens to me a lot and I wish I could just work full-time from home so I could dedicate my time to my fiction, but you have to make a living somehow, right?

Writing all day long kind of sucks the creativity out of me. So what usually happens is, I end up spending very little time writing my novel and when I am writing it, I get burned out quickly.

Oddly enough, for a project at work, I’ve been researching and learning about job burnout. The symptoms of project burnout include:

  • Inability to concentrate on the task at hand–working on your project
  • General apathy, particularly in issues relating to your project
  • Lack of interest in socializing because you feel like you have to spend all your free time on your project
  • Inability to have fun
  • Feeling like nothing ever happens with the project
  • Feelings of stagnation
  • Feeling that no one cares what’s going on with your project
  • Feeling that everything is wrong or is not working out
  • an overall negative attitude

In order to be a writer for the long-haul, you need to takes breaks every so often in order not to get burned out on a project (especially when you write all day long).

Here are some ways to avoid project burnout:

  • Take a mini-vacation–go away for the weekend with your friends or significant other, take a day trip to the beach, go visit a friend who lives in another city. Anything you can do to take your mind off your project for a little bit is good.
  • Switch off–it’s good to be working on a couple projects at the same time* so if you get blocked on one you can work on the other. This helps me immensely with not burning out, but I also find by working on two or three projects simultaneously that when I’m working on one project, I’ll get ideas for the others.
  • Take a Break–leave the project for ten minutes, an hour, whatever and grab a cup of coffee, or take a walk around your favorite local mall. Getting your mind off your project for even a short period of time can help when you’re blocked. By thinking about something else, I always get ideas for my projects.

*One word of caution–don’t try working on more than three projects at one time or you may risk spreading yourself too thin. Instead, try to dedicate your time evenly to all of your projects. And ignore this caution when a project takes off; when this happens, you’re better off running with it and coming back to the other ones later.