Getting unstuck in your writing habits

Today I want to talk about what it really takes to get unstuck with your writing. I’ll dig into the reality of what you need to do in order to establish a writing habit that doesn’t only get words on the page, but provides a creative transformation in your life.

If that sounds big, that’s because it is.

Each day I work with writers in my Creative Shift Mastermind. Here, we do the real work of moving ahead with writing goals. The progress of the writers in the group is amazing. I want to share just three stories of what they have been doing in the past couple of months.

Kris Verdeck shared her experience this way:
“I’ve been writing this novel for about 10 years (taking long breaks when work overtook my life – 100 hour weeks that made my life about nothing but work.) Two years ago I left the corporate event planning world and those types of hours behind, yet I seemed to fill the hours with my new work and distractions. It hasn’t been until this past month, through the inspiration of the Creative Shift Mastermind, that I have have sat down for 2+ hours each day to commit to the revisions, to finishing this book, and to pitching it again to agents.

I’ve mentioned Jeannie Ewing recently about her writing progress once she joined the Mastermind. Here is an update on how she is getting words on the page:
“I’ve been a subscriber of Dan’s newsletter for years. I knew the Creative Shift Mastermind would be beneficial for me, but it never seemed to be the right timing. This past summer, I had the gut feeling that the timing was perfect. My identity as a writer has been shifting for a while, and instead of writing the books publishers wanted me to write, I yearned to write my book, the book of my heart – my memoir. I never would have started this project or taken this risk to step outside of my typical genre if it weren’t for the clarity and community in the Mastermind. I am over halfway finished with the first draft, and I started writing two months ago. It’s the first time in my life I feel a sense of freedom in what I write and in experimenting with my style, which might not have happened if I hadn’t joined the Mastermind when I did.

Tony Bonds shares his creative progress that doesn’t just extend to his writing, but to his entire career:
“The encouragement and support I’m getting from my experience in the Creative Shift Mastermind is immensely helpful, and is truly working to enact a creative shift in my life that has been a long time coming. When I joined this group in July, forming my own business was a pipe dream. Now here I am, setting hard goals, analyzing financials, my family is on board with my plans, and it’s like I’m finally unstuck and my life is finally moving forward. This is exciting!

Each of these people are incredibly busy with responsibilities: family, work, health, and so much else. How is all of this possible in just a couple of months?

Below are the ingredients of not just of establishing solid writing habits, but for a larger creative transformation as well. Yes, in my Creative Shift Mastermind I take you through each of these. But even if you never join, I encourage you to consider how you can make each of these items a part of your life:

#1 Radical Clarity
If you want more time and energy to be able to write and create, it begins with clarity. When you know exactly what you want to create and why, you are able to better leverage your very finite resources of time and energy. In the Mastermind, I not only take you through my Clarity Card process, I extend it’s power as a decision-making tool in your life. Without radical clarity, you are just managing to-do lists, which is a recipe for creative failure.

#2 A Support System
Most writers I speak to want their books and creative work to truly connect with others. When they worry about this not happening, they grow concerned over not understanding some kind of marketing or publishing trend. But those things don’t matter if you work in total isolation. Your creative work dies not because of trends, but in darkness. To shine light on it, develop a support system of collaborators. People who know you write, who you can get advice from, who hold you accountable, who believe in your abilities.

#3 Mentorship
Consider this difference between showing up to a 20,000 square foot gym by yourself… staring out at an ocean of equipment vs a personal trainer meeting you at the door with a smile, and guiding you through the best workout of your life. That is mentorship. Someone who is available to share expertise and guide you, answer every question you have, and personalize their advice for your specific goals and situation.

#4 A Clear Step-by-Step Plan
Too many writers collect information on how to move ahead with their writing, but they never create a plan that works. They collect notes and ideas gleaned from thousands of blogs, podcasts, webinars, courses, and events. While each piece is interesting, it never comes together as a clear and useful plan. I have found this myself in a wide range of creative endeavors. In my goal to learn to play the guitar, I can sample from thousands of individual tips via YouTube. But I have found nothing works better than having an instructor who takes me through a clear step-by-step process of what to do, and when.

These are the exact things I take you through in the Creative Shift Mastermind. If anything above resonated with you, please consider joining the next session that begins October 1.

This is where I work directly with you and a small group of 10-20 other writers. These are the creative collaborators you always dreamed of having.

If the Mastermind isn’t a good fit for you right now, I would strongly encourage you to take steps to infuse your life with the items I mentioned above. If you don’t know where to begin, try this:

  1. Radical Clarity: write down one small goal for your writing that you want to accomplish by January 1. Tape it to the mirror you look at in the morning.
  2. Support System: find one person who you trust and tell them your goal. Then tell them that if you don’t achieve your goal by January 1, that you will give them $100, or if they won’t accept it, you will donate $100 to their favorite charity.
  3. Mentorship: email me your goal and ask me one question where you think my advice would be most helpful:
  4. A Plan: Take out a calendar, it could be digital or paper. On each Monday between now and the end of the year, write one intention for the week that will help lead you to your goal. Check the calendar daily. You don’t need a perfect plan to begin — but you need to set an intention and stick to it. That habit alone will change how you create for the rest of your life.


Creative renewal

For many people, this is the last week of summer before school begins. I always find that this is a quiet week, one where I consider the idea of creative renewal.

When you are a kid, September is the “start again” period. As an adult it is just another month of routines.

Today I want to talk about how you grow as a writer. How you reconnect with what drives you to create. How you feel a sense of renewal in your creative drive.

Too often, our writing or art is lost amidst the responsibilities of life. We struggle to find the time to create, and when we do, we face a mix of confusing signals. This has always been best summed up in my favorite episode of the TV show The Office.

Pam is a receptionist by day, but has been taking art classes. Here she is at her first art show, her paintings thumbtacked to the wall. She stands there, lonely, her work on display for others to accept, reject, or in this case, ignore:

While a lot of friends and colleagues say they will stop by, only one or two actually do. Oscar struggles to find anything positive to say about the art:

They try to be supportive, but it’s been a long day at work, and they have other things on their mind. In this case, Gil criticizes Pam’s art, and she overhears it:

As she comes to the end of the night, she begins taking down her artwork. She was hoping for validation, but received just the opposite:

Then suddenly Michael shows up, apologizing for being late. Look at this image, the artist waiting for the viewer to give feedback:

But then, one of the paintings connects with Michael, he sees something of himself in it:

His expression changes from one who is observing the “other,” an object, to one who is connecting with the art. In this image, Michael and the art are one:

The artist sees this. I mean, just look at her expression:

Michael looks at Pam and says, “I’m really proud of you.”

Out of nowhere, Pam hugs him. Someone sees her as an artist, and connects with her work:

This series of images illustrates so much of the journey that writers and artists go through. The apprehension of sharing you work, of wanting to be seen for what you create, and to have it connect with another human being in a meaningful way.

This process begins with creative clarity. Knowing what you want to express. Deciding what you will create. Persevering with the craft amidst an otherwise busy life.

It means continuing even when there is no validation. Even when you feel your craft isn’t hitting the mark. Even when there are setbacks.

Just a few weeks back, I mentioned how author Jeannie Ewing is in my Creative Shift Mastermind, and that she begin writing her memoir. At the time, she had written 15,000 words in just a few weeks. Right now, she is up to 45,000 words.

That is what creative clarity brings. It leads to action, and to work that allows us to grow as writer and individuals.

When I consider the idea of creative renewal, I think it is important to consider what drives you to create. I’ve always liked the phrase “Going back to the well” — returning to the source of your own inspiration that gives you the inner resources to create.

As the summer turns to autumn, I’m thinking a lot about this for myself and my own writing.

I want to offer a resource to help you dig into your own creative clarity. During the week of September 9th, I am offering a free weeklong workshop where I take you through my Clarity Card process.

What are Clarity Cards? It is an exercise where you get clarity on what you create and why, and you prioritize this amidst the rest of your busy life.

At the end of the 5-step process, they look like this:

They look simple, but they have a powerful way of reframing not just your creative goals, but your entire life. I have taken hundreds of people through this process, and have used it myself for years. I have seen this exercise lead to profound breakthroughs for people, as well as practical ways to find more time and energy to write.

To be a part of this, simply join my Reader Connection Project Facebook Group. Each day during the week of September 9th, I will walk you through the Clarity Card Process and answer your questions.


The best marketing begins with creating

I was watching a guitar tutorial on YouTube the other day and saw this comment:

Too often, people dream of creating, but don’t. When I hear of someone picking up a new craft at age 74, I feel inspired. It is a reminder that every day, we each have the choice to create.

Last week I shared my interview with author Jessica Lahey, and she outlined specific things she did to market her book. I heard from a lot of people who loved her ideas, and one of them noted how Jess brought creative energy to the process of marketing her book. She truly enjoys it, not because she loves “marketing,” but because she likes connecting with real people about the themes of her book.

What I find is that creating is the best marketing. I talk to too many writers who dream of being known as a writer, but who struggle to find the time to write. Who put off publishing for years not because they are unable, but unwilling to take the risk. These are writers who believe in their creative vision, but eschew actually connecting it to real people.

Today I want to talk about how to find more creative energy to:

1. Create more often.
2. Do marketing that works.
3. Feel a sense of fulfillment in the process.

The process to get there involves three steps: creative clarity, creative habits, and human-centered communication. Let’s dig into each:

Step 1: Creative Clarity

What would you start if you knew you couldn’t fail? When I read that post above from the 74 year old who just started learning to play guitar, I imagine a lifetime of him daydreaming about learning that craft, and putting it off.

Which begs the question: for your writing, are you putting it off? If so, for how long? What do you lose in that process?

When we don’t create, we lose a lot. The chance to grow as a person, not by thinking about creating, but what you learn in doing it. We lose our capacity to master a skill. We likely struggle with decision-making for years of whether we should write, or what we should write, or how to write… without ever actually writing. We end up with all the stress, and none of the magic of writing.

I talk to writers every day in my Mastermind group, where we are deep in the trenches of meeting creative goals. What I have found is that creative clarity is challenged by deep narratives in our heads about who we are, and what we are capable of.

What would you double down on if you could?

If you were gifted a monthlong stay at a writing retreat in Iceland, what would you create? (Artist & author Samantha Dion Baker recently visited Iceland — the photos are amazing. Also, here is my interview with Samantha about creating every day!)

Step 2: Creative Habits

As I mentioned above, most writers struggle to fit writing into their busy daily lives.

Last year I published an interview with Elise Blaha Cripe who has astounding creative habits. When asked how she decides to create without second-guessing herself, she answered it this way:

“Not doing anything is a waste of time. At least when I do something, I am learning from what works and doesn’t. The only way to know is through doing stuff. Knowing who you are is a must. If you don’t know who you are and the way you like to do things, you may constantly be comparing and feeling inadequate.”

That came through in my chat with Jessica Lahey as well. It wasn’t simply that she had decided to take some powerful steps to market her book, it is that she did them consistently over the course of years. Often what trips up good habits (or good marketing) is not a lack of ideas, but a lack of follow-through. Each time the writer sits down to create, they second guess what they are writing, their own ability, their own aspirations.

What Samantha, Elise, and Jess talk about is how to create anyway.

Step 3: Human-Centered Communication

Why do most writers struggle to market their books? Because they call it “marketing.” They treat it like this dreaded activity that they will rush to do at the last possible moment. What else in life do we treat this way? Dreaded obligations like changing the litter box. We do it quickly, with our nose turned away, rushing it at the last possible second just before we head out the door for work.

But what if you took a different path? What if marketing wasn’t about algorithms, going viral, gaming social media for likes, hashtags, or publicity?

What if it was just connecting with people you like, on topics you love writing about, in a manner that feels meaningful?

A couple months back I shared a case study of how one writer, Alison Taylor-Brown grew an engaged audience, and I shared this quote from author Gary Vaynerchuk: “Document, don’t create.”

What he means is that when you consider talking about your writing, don’t create some marketing promotions that keeps people at an arm’s distance.

Instead, simply document what you write and why. What lights you up about these books, these stories, these characters? Who inspires you, what else do you read, who is a part of your creative community? Document why you write, how you write, who you meet, your creative aspirations, your process, milestones, and setbacks.

These three things — creative clarity, creative habits, and human-centered communication — are all foundational to creating more, and to feel a sense of purpose in marketing your writing.

Thank you.

We Are Stories

Today I want to talk about the small moments of our lives, and how these moments add up to the stories of who we are, what we create, and the impact we have on others.

In the work I do, I speak to writers all the time about how they can share their writing, and how what they create and how they share it can create meaningful experiences.

It is these moments of connection — between a reader and a story — that drives so much of our hope of what a book can do. But I also speak to authors nearly every day about the meaningful moments that they have with readers.

I’m going to go a bit deep here, and a bit personal, I hope that’s okay. When I consider those moments between readers and writers, I consider the moments that matter most in our lives. The people who make those moments possible.

And today I’m thinking of my dad.

He just turned 80. The day after his birthday he went in for surgery he is still recovering from, but more and more he is his old self again.

I’ve been thinking back to this day:

That is my grandmother walking into the hospital in 1939, about to give birth to my father. Here they are just a few days after birth, about to go home:

Here is my dad as that kid who loved playing ball in the streets of the Bronx, and getting comic books at corner store:

Here he is as big brother:

Eating a hot dog on a New York boardwalk:

Looking rather dapper in his late teens/early 20s:

Here is my dad meeting the love of his life and getting married to her later that same year (they have been married more than 50 years now!):

My dad becoming a father (that’s my brother):

My dad traveling the world (that’s me in the stripes!):

My dad the assistant soccer coach (He’s on the right, I’m standing directly in front of him):

My dad the grandfather:

These snapshots capture moments, and in between are the experiences that make up our lives.

Each day when I speak to writers, they challenge me to help them to create, to share, to connect. In doing so, I keep in mind my father. I keep in mind everyone in my life, and how we each have our stories… our moments of growing, learning, and connecting.

Creating these moments between writers and readers is a part of who we are, and who we become.

Happy birthday dad.

Craft, and the promise of what we can create

This past week, my family and I vacationed in Mystic, Connecticut. Like so many old adorable towns throughout the US, Mystic embodies a sense of history that allows us to appreciate older crafts that have since succumbed to technology.

Literally across the street from the house we rented was a full-scale replica of the Mayflower being restored. This is the view from our front window:

And a clearer view of it from the other side:

It is part of the Mystic Seaport Museum, which showcases the craft of shipbuilding with real workshops:

Throughout the trip, we stepped on and off boats, and constantly wondered out loud, “Wow, they really lived like this?” The ships themselves are majestic:

But the living quarters for the crew seem torturous. Imagine sleeping here for months or years at a time:

We visited a printing press that showcased the old way of how print worked:

It makes these very words I’m writing seem downright magical by comparison. My ability to “typeset” on the keyboard, and to “print” with the click of a button, and to “publish and distribute” just as easily.

A highlight of our trip was a visit to the Mystic library. Just look at this main room:

And in the corner, this framed photo hung on the wall:

I don’t know any of the context for this image, but I imagine the woman to be a beloved librarian from decades ago, petting a cat who resided in the library. A tribute to someone who helped the community connect to knowledge and stories.

To me, the trip was a wonderful appreciation of craft. Of how it defines our days, and what we are capable of.

I was also reminded of the laborious effort involved to create and connect back then.

To not just write, but to have the considerable means to print. To rely fully on others recommending your book in the right moment. And then, to hope your stories spread from person to person, town to town, all around the world.

Every day, I speak to writers about the challenges they face in finding their voice, creating their stories and books, and connecting to readers.

While I appreciate the beauty of craft from years ago, I marvel at our current ability to create and connect with each other.

I love that craft is being preserved in Mystic. But I am returning from vacation energized to help writers pursue their craft right here, right now.

What will you create today?

Thank you.