writing flow

The Productive Writer

I got a bit behind during week 2 of NaNo. Some major changes happened in the trajectory of my projects (I’ll explain in Friday’s newsletter), so I’ve got some MAJOR catching up to do this week!

Anyway, as promised for NaNoWriMo, I’m sharing links each Monday to all my past content so that YOU can more easily find what you’re looking for.

In addition to the organized posts, I have a forum open where you can ask anything about today’s topic, and I’ll answer it as best I can.

During week 1, I covered A Writer’s Basic Toolbox (ask questions here!), and in week 2, I dug deeper into the more advanced tools at a writer’s disposal (ask questions here!).

This week, we’re moving onto maximizing our productivity and output.

Productive Writer


General Productivity


Rituals & Routines


Rhythm & Immersion


Goals, Breaks, & Progress


Improving Your Skills


Speak up:



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Increase Your Writing Productivity (part 2): the power of ritual

RitualLast week, I introduced my Productivity Pyramid (that isn’t a pyramid at all, but I just can’t let go of the lovely alliteration from 2 p’s, you know?). This week, I’m focusing on what I think is the most important part of that pyramid–the base upon which all the other R-words are built.

Yeah, that’s right: Ritual. A ritual is (according to Merriam-Webster) “an act or series of acts done in a particular situation and in the same way each time.”

Rituals are INCREDIBLY powerful tools, and they can be the key to unlocking some great habits.

But wait, you say, I thought we were building rituals, Sooz! Make up your mind!

Yes, yes–we’re building rituals too. But in order to understand why cultivating rituals can effect change in your lives, you need to understand how a habit works.

Understanding Habit

A habit is (again, according to Merriam-Webster) “an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.” So for example, I have this awful habit of putting on lip balm whenever I’m nervous. I’m pretty sure I don’t even need the stuff, but whenever I get a bit stressed, I’m grabbing for it from my pocket.

I have another habit, though, that’s a good one: I can easily fall into creative flow. Like, as long as I have the right set of conditions–the right ritual to start–I can sink into a productive whirlwind right away.

And that’s our goal here, guys: We want to build a ritual so that productive flow becomes a habit.

Now what do I mean when I say productive flow? I mean “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” (definition from Wikipedia)

For me, productive flow = creative flow. When I’m writing in a mental state of creative flow, the hours ZIP by. I feel great, I love what I’m doing, and I come out feeling energized. That energy is a great reward, so I want to make sure I feel it again the next day…and the next day and the next.

But I wasn’t always this way. In fact, it used to be a real challenge for me to get to a creative free-fall state. I needed the “perfect conditions” or “inspiration had to strike” or some other magical voodoo star-alignment had to happen. However, just as I learned how to build the habit of productive flow, you can learn too. 🙂

As the amazing John Cleese put it:

“Creativity is not a talent. It is not a talent, it is a way of operating…the most creative have simply acquired a facility for getting themselves into a particular mood–“a way of operating”–which allowed their natural creativity to function.” – from John Cleese’s talk on creativity

Components of Habit

According to Charles Duhigg’s fabulous book The Power of Habit, there are three components to a habit: the cue, the routine, the reward. Essentially, a cue triggers you to behave a certain way, and then after the behavior, you get some sort of reward. That reward reinforces your habit so that it reoccurs each time you’re exposed to the cue.

Here, watch this video and you can understand.

Of course, Duhigg is talking about breaking habits (which is a useful thing to be able to do), but what we want to do here is start a new habit. We want to make productive flow a habit. And we’ll do that by tapping into what he calls the “cue.”

Rituals as Habit Cues

So just as my anxiety is a cue for grab lip balm from my pocket, I have a cue that triggers me to start writing. My cue is a ritual–a specific series of acts and conditions–and when I enact my ritual, it gears up my brain for work. And not just work, but creative, productive, focused work.

Sounds pretty fantastic, doesn’t it? Well, I’m not gonna lie: it is fantastic. And I’m not the only one who has a cue. A close author friend of mine always drafts on her laptop while sitting on her couch. That location (the couch) and the prop (her laptop) tell her brain it’s “go time”.

I have another friend who uses legal pads. When she sees the legal pad (her prop) sitting on the desk (her location), her mind slips into creative flow immediately. But it’s not just my group of writer friends who rely on cues to trigger productive flow. Here are some famous authors who have tapped into the power of ritual:

Recently I was talking to a writer who described something she did whenever she moved to her writing table. I don’t remember exactly what the gesture was–there is something on her desk that she touches before she hits the computer keyboard–but we began to talk about little rituals that one goes through before beginning to write. I, at first, thought I didn’t have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee and watch the light come. And she said, Well, that’s a ritual. And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space I can only call nonsecular… Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transaction. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense. – Toni Morrison (from The Paris Review, via Daily Routines)

When he first started writing, Grisham says, he had “these little rituals that were silly and brutal but very important. The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I’d jump in the shower. My office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week.” –San Francisco Chronicle, via Daily Routines)

“I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning,” he explained. “I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.” (from Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King, via Daily Routines)

Notice that each author has are a specific sets of circumstances, and I’ve divide these “ways of approach” into three categories:

    • props
    • locations
    • actions

My personal ritual requires 2 props: a spiral-bound notebook and a pen. That’s it. I don’t need a special location or a special action. As soon as I see the ruled paper, I am ready to write.

That said, in the past few months, I’ve honed my ritual to try and take my creative flow to a new level.

I’ve added an action (making a cup of coffee), a location (an old 1960s couch in my office), and a third prop (my headphones & music). Now, when I have all five components of the ritual–notebook, pen, coffee, couch, music–my brain is instantly cued that it’s creation time! Hours will fly by, and I’ll come out of the writing/revising/brainstorming session feeling like I can take over the world.

Crafting Your Own Ritual

The key to tapping into your own habit of productive flow is to figure out WHAT your ritual/cue is. So take a close look at your current creative time. Is there something you ALWAYS do before your most productive sessions? Even the smallest thing might be crucial to getting your brain in the zone.

It took me years to recognize that I am a tactile writer. I can’t work on a computer–I prefer to write by hand, to revise by hand, and to generally create by hand. In all likelihood this is because I started writing before I had a computer. Not only that, but I usually wrote my stories while I was in class. I would scribble new worlds and characters into the margins of my notes.

And guess what–I took notes in spiral-bound notebooks. In other words, I cultivated a ritual for creative flow back when I was 13–without realizing I did it, of course–and I still react to those same powerful cues.

Of course, if you don’t have a ritual, you can CULTIVATE one by creating a specific set of circumstances–specific props, locations, and actions. If you enact these specific actions with specific props in a specific location every time before you start your work, it will teach your brain to react as you want it to react.

Basically, you are Pavlov’s dogs right now, and you need to make your own bell.

Your “bell” could be something as simple curling up on your bed and opening your laptop (a specific location and a specific prop). Or it could be as complicated as catching a bus to your favorite coffee shop (a specific action as well as a specific location), ordering a cookie (an action and a prop), playing your favorite musical piece three times (an action), and then opening a Word doc (an action/prop).

In fact, here’s an example of what I’d call a pretty complex–though clearly effective–ritual:

“Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, rises at 5am and checks into a hotel, where staff are instructed to remove all stimuli from the walls of her room. She takes legal pads, a bottle of sherry, playing cards, a Bible and Roget’s Thesaurus, writing 12 pages before leaving in the afternoon and editing the pages that evening.” – Shortlist.com

Pretty crazy routine, no? Yet 12 pages a day is insanely productive, and you could easily have a draft in a month at that rate!

The Power of Ritual

Hopefully I’ve offered you enough incentive to look at your own rituals and habits. The great thing about this tool–what really makes ritual incredibly powerful–is that you can it to trigger your brain for any new habit. Want to start jogging in the mornings? Try putting your shoes and workout clothes on the floor beside your bed. Then, when you wake up, you’ll step on them…and then put them on. Once you’re dressed to impress, there’s nothing to stop you from heading out the door to run. If you do this every morning, eventually, the ritual of seeing your clothes/shoes will cue you for the habit of a morning jog.

The next post takes us to the next step on the Productivity Pyramid–routinebut in order to effectively tap into the power of routines, we need to first hone our rituals and habits.

So you tell me: What rituals do you have that prep your brain for productive flow? Or what rituals would like to cultivate?

Speak up:



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From FRAB to Fab (part 3): the science of fear and why fighting won’t help

In case you missed the first parts in this series on overcoming artistic blocks, here are the links:

Read them first, and then come back here. 🙂

So as I mentioned last week, we’re going to be avoid getting aggressive with our fears, and instead, we’re going to try a “let’s all play nice” approach. I won’t pretend I came up with this method entirely on my own–it was actually sparked by a few outside sources.

The Science of Fear

The first spark that led to my FRAB-busting method was the book Maximize Your Potential from 99U (I’m unhealthily obsessed with 99U and I highly recommend their books), and in particular, this lines:

“When we think about risks, we think about failure. When we think about failure, we start to get scared. When we start to get scared, our brains send out signals to get the hell out of there.”

-Chapter 4 introduction in Maximize your Potential

I read that line, and it was like a light bulb exploded over my head. The scientist in me couldn’t help but consider all the implications of such a statement. Think about it with me:

As animals, we are hardwired to avoid things that put us in danger. Back in the caveman-day, those dangers were sabertooth tigers or blizzards. Nowadays, they’re more like eating undercooked meat or walking down sketchy alleyways at night.

In other words, you could walk down that empty alleyway by yourself, but is it worth the risk? Probably not, your brain tells you. So you choose a different route home and your survival instinct might’ve just saved your life.

But what if the outcome isn’t physical (like getting food-poisoning from undercooked meat) but rather emotional (like embarrassment in front of others)? Can your brain tell the difference? Or does it just try to protect you either way?

Short answer? Nope. Doesn’t know the difference.

“The primal fear center in the brain, the amygdala, lights up, sending chemicals coursing through our bodies that make us physically uneasy, emotional uncomfortable, and in short order, spent.”

-from the essay “Leaning into Uncertainty” by Jonathan Fields,

in Maximize your Potential

Basically, our brains are just trying to protect us from whatever it is that scares us. A long time ago, it was rational, life-threatening stuff. These days, it gets way more emo.

Yet whatever artistic-related fears you’re grappling with, they are nothing more than your survival instincts at their finest. My fears simply want to keep uncomfortable outcomes at bay–be they Salmonella or embarrassment.

And what “uncomfortable outcomes” am I so afraid of? Here are just a few of the biggest, deepest ones:

  • failure
  • rejection
  • looking stupid in front others
  • wasting time I can never get back

Of course, as it turns out, humans expect failure to suck way more than it ever does, so we end of fearing failure way more than we ever need to.

“But science is also revealing that these fears are not only counterproductive, they are overblown. It turns out that humans have a strong tendency to overestimate both the pain of failure and how negatively others perceive our mishaps.”

-from the essay “Demystifying the fear factor in failure”

by Michael Schwalbe, in Maximize your Potential

Ah, so our brains want to keep us safe, but they aren’t very good at gauging the SCALE of a risk. Heck, for many people, the thought of speaking in public is ten thousand times more terrifying than being caught in a tsunami. But only one of those events is likely to kill you…

Logical? No. But we already know fears aren’t logical. Which is why logic almost never works on combatting them–or it doesn’t work for my fears, at least. These guys have been crippling me for decades, so it takes a bit more than mere rationalization to get them on my side.

Making Peace with your Fear

This is where my second invaluable source came into play: the blog Fluent Self, specifically this post, this post, and this book (which I haven’t read, but just reading about it opened my eyes. I imagine, if you can afford the cost, it is very helpful. Havi Brooks is a wise, wise lady).

What I read was this line (from this post):

The only way to get the fear to dissolve is to interact with it. Just like you, it wants to be noticed and cared for.

Your fear needs to know that you are taking steps to keep yourself safe. So give it some reassurance.

Again, a lightbulb burst into a thousand shards over my head. If I talked to my fears–if I explained to them that I wasn’t nearly as exposed to risk as they believed–then maybe I could convince them to step aside for a bit.

Then I read Havi Brooks’ example conversation in this post, and I saw exactly how it was done. You just REASON WITH THEM. Show them the steps you’ve taken to safety-proof yourself, and they back off quietly.

Of course, it was much easier said than done, and I found that I had too many different fears weighing me down. Though they almost always revolved around EPIC FAILURE, they were definitely separate kinds of fear. So I poked some more around Havi Brooks’ website, and I stumbled on her book Monster Manual. Now, as I mentioned above, I haven’t read the book, but just reading the page ABOUT the book was the final link in my FRAB puzzle. (You guys might want to give her book a try; it might have way more helpful insight to offer than I have.)

What I figured out was that I needed to identify each of my fears, and then I needed to name them.

Yeah, I realize it sounds super hippie-woowoo, and trust me: it felt very strange to me too. BUT I swear there’s something incredibly effective about anthropomorphizing your fears. You can even go so far as to give them a face. Yes, my fears do have names and faces–and I’ll share two of them below. That way, you can see how this whole anthropomorphizing a FRAB works, and you can see what MY fears are like (and hopefully see you’re not alone).

Two of my Creative Fears

CaterpillarDisneyMeet FRAB #1: Humbert.

Humbert is a nasty little fear who crops up a lot in my creative life–and it always mumbles the same thing:

Everyone else writes better than youYou can never write as well as them, so there’s no point in even trying.

I bet at least one of you reading this post knows that FRAB. It’s a pretty common, I think–especially among creative types.

And before you ask: no, I don’t know why I named the FRAB Humbert (or why he’s male)…or why I imagine him looking and sounding like the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. Maybe because Humbert has absurdly high standards, and that darn caterpillar is super pretentious and snobby…?

Which is sort of our how my FRAB is too. Humbert doesn’t want to bring me down–he WANTS to keep me from making a total fool of myself. He looks at everyone else’s success, beauty, power, wealth, and triumphs, and he just doesn’t want me to fall on my ass because I aimed too high.

Now, if you’re not sure whether or not you’re being plagued by a Humbert-like FRAB, then skim these questions below:

    • Do you ever say nasty things about other people in your creative field? If yes, how often?
    • Do you ever catch yourself feeling jealous of other people in your creative field? If yes, how often?
    • Do you ever speculate on the hows or whys of someone else’s success–and then chalk it up to better luck than you have? If yes, how often?
    • Do you ever say/think, “If I just had what X-artist had, then I’d be happy”? If yes, how often?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions–and then went on to say, “pretty often”, then I’d say you’re definitely dealing with a Humbert-like FRAB.

But don’t worry. I’ll show you EXACTLY how I “play nice with Humber” next week. (Sorry to make you wait! I would do it this week, but this post has already gotten mondo enough.) In the meantime, remember: for all Humbert’s expensive tastes and lofty ideals, he isn’t actually judging you. He’s trying protect you.

GollumNow let’s meet FRAB #2: Giles.

Giles is one of those FRABs that is very closely related to Humbert–and that oftentimes pops up alongside Humbert. The difference with Giles is that he’s nastier than Humbert–darker, meaner, and much, much harder to reason with.

In my mind, he looks and sounds like Gollum–maybe because Gollum is sometimes Frodo’s friend (when he has the power to withstand the pull of the Precious) yet is mostly just Frodo’s antagonist. But at the end of the day, isn’t poor Gollum just another victim of the One Ring’s nasty, evil, deep-seeded power?

Well, so is Giles. He’s just succumbing to the weight of embarrassment and shame. He doesn’t want me to feel the pain of failure.

So what is that Giles tells me?

You are not and will not ever be good at writing.

Pretty straight-forward, huh? Yet unlike Humbert, which is very much a comparison-based FRAB and only  seems to appear when I’m on social media or glancing at a magazine cover, Giles is a fear that always lurks in the back of my mind. And let me tell you: Giles can be crippling when it comes to my creative flow. There is nothing that will stop a story from pouring out than the certainty that everything I write is crap.

Not sure if you’re suffering from a Giles-like FRAB? Scan these questions–and answer honestly!

    • Do you ever think or feel that your creative endeavor is just a giant waste of time? If so, how often do you feel that?
    • Do you ever think or feel that if your project isn’t “perfect” it’s not worth doing? If so, how often do you feel that?
    • Do you ever feel incredibly enthusiastic for a project, only to then find yourself stalling after (or perhaps before) you begin? How many projects do you have like this?
    • Do you daydream about being an authors/illustrators/film-makers/(insert creative field here) but never quite take the first step?
    • Do you ever feel like giving up on your dream? If so, how often?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions–and then went on to say, “pretty often”, then you’re definitely dealing with a Giles-like FRAB. As am I…and as are most creatives, I suspect.

From FRAB to Fab: Homework Assignment 3

1. Read through your mission statements from week 1. Are there any more goals you might have uncovered since you first started this workshop? For example, I have a new mission statement that came up since I wrote the first post in this series.

I don’t want to feel guilty anymore about taking breaks. I want to reach the end of each week, knowing I accomplished as much as I could.

2. List the negative outcomes from which your creative fears are trying to protect you. (Like I did above, starting with “failure”.) Think back to the last time you experienced that negative outcome. Was it as bad as you thought it would be? Or did you actually move on pretty quickly…?

3. Do you think Humbert and Giles are getting in your way? Try looking at your other FRABs (from week 2’s homework) and anthropomorphizing/naming them. And as you do so, remember that they aren’t the enemies. These FRABs actually have your best interest at heart.

Now head over to the final part in FRAB to Fab series. I’ll share how I safety-proofed my life so that, when I find myself having a chat with my FRABs about their over-protectiveness, I can point to all the defensive strategies I have in play. Then I’ll share exactly WHAT I say to Humbert and Giles and all the rest of my well-meaning FRABs.

Also,  over on Pub(lishing) Crawl, I have the first in a new series about increasing your creative productivity. It’s a continuation on the FRAB series since there’s nothing like routine and high output to help keep the fears away. 🙂

And as always, feel free to comment  below or to email me privately (susan @ susandennard . com).

Speak up:



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From FRAB to Fab (part 2): finding the fears that hold you back

Last Monday, I introduced the nasty FRAB–or Fear-Related Artistic Block. A lot of you responded well–either in the comments, via twitter, or by email. Thank you for all your replies. It honestly bolsters ME to know that I’m not alone with these nasty ol’ FRABs, and your personal stories and feedback also help me guide how I approach the rest of this series.

(Also, you might notice I changed the series’ name. I didn’t not come up with that amazing new name–it was crafted by the wildly clever Diyana Wan. THANK YOU, DIYANA!!)

To summarize last week’s post: Sometimes our creative flow gets cramped (or maybe–if you’re like me–it’s not just sometimes but oftentimes) and the cause isn’t just laziness or a simple I-don’t-know-what-comes-next-in-my-project. The culprit that keeps us from getting our stories on the page or our hearts on the canvas is that old, always-lurking enemy: fear.

Before you read on (and potentially waste your precious creative time), head back to my first post and run through the checklist–just to make sure you even have a FRAB. If you already know or suspect that fear is holding you back, then read on–because this week, we’re finding our fears.

And we’re not just finding the fears–we’re articulating them and getting really up-close-and-personal. If we don’t know which fears we have festering inside, we can’t make friends them…

Yeah, you read that right:

We’re not fighting our FRABs.

We’re making friends with them.

I used to be all about “punching fear in the face.” I used to think that facing a fear head-on and telling it to piss off was the best way to power ahead. I thought that if you smashed a fear hard enough beneath your boot heel, the triumph of proving a fear wrong would be enough to banish the fear forever.

Nope. Sorry. Not the case at all.

When you fight your fears by dismissing them or pretending you’re not afraid at all, you’re only brushing the fear beneath the rug. Temporarily. It’s like that one closet that everyone has*–you know the one where all your junk goes? That’s getting fuller and messier every time you crack the door to stuff in something else? One of these days, though, the closet will overfloweth, and when you crack open the door to hide one more unsightly sock or doggie chew toy before the guests arrive, the closet will reach its tipping-point…and an avalanche of stuff will crush you beneath its messy vengeance.

Obviously, the closet filled with stuff is a metaphor for that place we try to stash away all our fears. Now I’m not talking about your arachnophobia or your fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth (which is a thing–no joke–that’s called arachibutyrophobia). I’m talking about those deep fears that have to do with yourself. With your place in the world and how people perceive you. Those are the fears that can leave you so crippled with self-doubt, you want to vomit or cry or break something or maybe just huddle beneath a blanket and never face the world again.

Note: if you don’t have any fears like that or have already managed to deal with them, then why are you reading this post? You obviously don’t have any FRABs to befriend, and I am infinitely, infinitely jealous of your unwavering confidence. And you know what? Go. You. Rock that confidence–and maybe I’ll soon see you on the other side.

But if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you have at least one gut-wrenching self-doubt–probably more than one. Most humans do. It’s both normal and totally okay. In western culture, though, we tend to glorify the tough guys. “Suck it up” or “don’t be a pussy” or “get over it” have been said to me more times than I can count. Worse, I’ve even said it before–to myself or to others.

Fear is seen as weakness, and no one wants weakness. “You should be strong” is what we’re taught, and as a result, many of us fake it until we make it.

But in my own desperation to be seen as “tough enough”–to fake confidence and strength until I start to feel them–I have spent my whole life shrugging off things that upset me. Smiling when I want to cry. Forcing a laugh when things I work really hard for fall through.

Yeah, well, thirty years of doing that hasn’t worked out so well for me. (Has it worked for you? If so, then see the note above.) The fears I think I’ve conquered, the zen and inner peace I thought I’ve honed–they always come roaring back eventually. Twice as loud and twice as mean.

I’ve tried rationalizing my fears too. And I’ve had plenty of other people try to rationalize my fears for me. But rationalization is really just another form of fighting a fear–of telling a fear it isn’t valid and to go back whence it came. But fears aren’t rational, so how could trying to rationalize them–trying to force them into submission via logic–ever possibly work? It certainly hasn’t for me.

And I know I am not the only person like this. As a culture, we have gotten really good at saying, “No problem”, that we start to believe that lie ourselves. But it doesn’t change the fact that oftentimes there is a problem.

So this week, to get to the bottom of our FRABs and keep them from popping up and hindering our creative flow, we’re going to figure out WHAT fears are stopping us in the first place. To start, I’ll share some basic fears.

Take note of any you suspect (or know) you might have.

Some General Fears

    • I am a failure–everything I try to do fails. As such, any new project I attempt will inevitably fail like all the others.
    • Everyone does this better than I do it.
    • I have no idea what I’m doing and one of these days, everyone is going to figure out that I’m just a fraud.
    • I have bad luck and that’s all I deserve.
    • Everyone thinks I’m a hack and they’re all laughing at me behind my back.
    • I’ll never get it right/perfect, and people will know.
    • I am wasting my time that should be used on something with guaranteed results.
    • No one cares what I think.

Contextualizing Those Fears in the Writing World:

    • I am a crappy writer and no matter how hard I try, I still suck. Why bother writing a new book just to watch it fail like all the others?
    • Everyone writes better stories than I do. Why even try? I’ll never be as good as them.
    • I don’t deserve the success I have. One of these days, everyone will realize it and my house of cards will topple.
    • My book has flopped/been rejected again/been overlooked by my publisher/etc., and that’s all I deserve because my book is crap. I am crap.
    • Everyone thinks my writing is terrible and they’re all laughing at me behind my back–or saying I don’t deserve the success I have.
    • I will never get this story perfect–be it the characters or the world or the research–and people will call me on it. There’s no point in even trying.
    • I am wasting my time and should abandon writing in favor of a “real job”.
    • No one cares what I think and no one will ever want to read what I have to say.

Obviously, this list is not even close to exhaustive. These are just the fears that popped in my mind as I was making this post. What other fears are out there? What fears do YOU have? If you’re willing to share in the comments, I’d love to hear them.

Or you can always email me privately: susan @ susandennard . com

OR, just make a list on your own.

From FRAB to Fab: Homework Assignment 2

1. Got your mission statement(s) from last week ready? Good. Pull it out. Look at it. Memorize it. It’s your fuel, remember?

2. Look over the list of fears above. Look at each fear closely and look at them honestly. Do you recognize any of them? All of them perhaps? If you have any fears that aren’t on the list, write them down (or share them in the comments/via email so I can add them to my list).

Also: think long and hard about this stuff. Spend time on it and dig so deep that it makes your chest hurt and your heart feel awfully exposed. Then, whenever you feel like turning away from the discomfort, look at your mission statement(s), remember why you’re doing this, and then dig a little deeper. You can do this. Get those fears on the paper.

And remember that these don’t have to be artistic-based fears. If you’re feeling brave, you can explore any personal fears that you think are holding you back.

3. Have you ever or do you currently deal with your fears by trying to fight or rationalize them? Has that worked well for you? Or have these fears that you thought you’d conquered only come back to nag at you later in life?


This week’s assignment is probably the hardest because it requires some uncomfortable self-honesty. But it’s worth it. I can tell you from personal experience that the payoff–that goal you set in your mission statement–can happen. So stay strong and then head to the next post, in which I finally show you how to do this FRAB-friend-making stuff.

*If you don’t have one of those closets or drawers or little nooks in your living space, then you’re clearly an alien.

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My life’s a bit crazy right now…

…but I swear I haven’t abandoned the blog and become a lazy person.

This will be a sunny breakfast nook...eventually.

I think I’ve mentioned this already (?), but my husband and I bought a house! Then we moved into said house three weeks ago. This house is being renovated and the workers are doing a splendid job…but they were supposed to be done three weeks ago. Before we moved in.

So we’ve been living in our basement. We don’t have a kitchen (though my husband DID put the stove in Sunday night and I have NEVER been so excited over boiling water). We do have a bathroom sink, a toilet, and a tub–but none of them are in the same room. So that’s interesting. Oh, and with our 2 dogs and 2 cats, things are pretty cramped in the basement.

ANYWAY, hopefully things will be back to a more normal schedule soon. Our wonderful builders did at least finish my office, so I’m setting that up now–and ahhhhhhhh. Such a relief to have a space of my own again.

Now a few administrative bits of news: (Read more…)

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I’m back from the drafting swamp! And with exciting news in tow!

I’m BACK! Oh my gosh, that was an intense couple of months.

But I come baring some news! First off: TOMORROW, me and several other authors have a very big, very COOL announcement. So stay tuned!

Second: I’ll be doing this super cool event in Dallas on April 27th. Along with 9 other YA authors, I’ll be selling/signing books at a huge concert called Edgefest. This is easily the “hippest” event I’ve ever done, and I am–needless to say–SO excited for it.

Third: I’ll be in Vermillion, SD for a series of events on May 15th. If any of you are from around there, I hope to see you!

Fourth…there is no fourth. There is just a long post in which I pontificate on book 3 and the woes/joys of being a writer.

So, after having a tough time with book 2 (A Darkness Strange and Lovely) because I only started it 4 months before it was due…and then got whooping cough, I had vowed I would not be so foolish for book 3.

I also vowed, after having such a hard time with the novella (A Dawn Most Wicked), that I would never write another crappy, wasted draft again…

HA. Well, I started working on book 3 during last May. I had 20K written by the fall, and then by the end of NaNoWriMo, I had almost 60K. But I’ll be honest: I wasn’t feeling good about what I’d written. I kept thinking, “Oh, I can just revise it into a decent book. I just need to wait for my Muse and not pressure myself.” But deep down, I knew that wasn’t the only solution…

Then the holidays came, and I indulged my fickle Muse by writing 50K in something else (Screechers) over the space of 2 weeks (So. Much. Fun!) when I knew I should be working on book 3…

Then New Years hit and I admitted to my soul twin, Sarah J. Maas, that I didn’t think my book 3 would ever come together. We talked out what I’d written and what I had planned…and it hit me as I was talking: I had approached everything in book 3 WRONG.

I was planning the wrong ending. It was an ending where everyone lived Happily Ever After and there were no consequences. It was ending for ME so that I could finish the series and not forever feel like there was more story left to tell.

But here’s the thing, guys: There is ALWAYS more story left to tell. Maybe they are mundane bits of an ordinary life, but there will always be heavy emotional consequences when you put your characters through the stories I’ve put them through. They can never truly be Happily Ever After with battle scars like they have. They can have happiness, certainly, but there have to be emotional consequences.

And yet, my planned ending just didn’t match up to that… (Read more…)

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Finding the Right Writing “Groove”

This is where all the magic...er, more like mayhem for the novella took place. Click on the picture for a chance to win a copy of SS&D AND to see more pics!

After breathing, eating, sleeping, and seeing ONLY my novella for a few weeks, I finally managed to cross the finish. Remember that draft I mentioned doing in my last post? Draft #3? Well, I was finally onto something there…but it still wasn’t right. It took me one more almost complete rewrite…but at least THAT draft was it. And once I’d tapped into the right vein, the words and story just poured out exactly as they needed to be.

The thing is, this always happens to me. And I know it–I know that it’s simply a matter of me uncovering the proper story. Then everything tumbles out in a waterfall of near-perfect words. It happened with Something Strange & Deadly, with A Darkness Strange & Lovely, and with Screechers. It took me a few misses before I finally hit the “right story”. I knew this would happen with this novella, but goodness, it took me a lot longer to finally get my groove. I went through 2 total rewrites with Something Strange & Deadly and A Darkness Strange & Lovely. For Screechers, it was 3 total rewrites. And for this novella, it was 4 total rewrites. (Read more…)

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BICHOK: Draino for your Writing Clog (LTWF)

Note: this post is (sort of) a continuation of If It Doesn’t Fit, Don’t Force It, and When the Glass Isn’t Half-Full.

A few people have asked how I managed to get my writing “swing” back, and I gave a brief rundown in the comments last week.  I thought I’d go into a tad more detail here.

First off: writing has something of an ebb and flow to it—for everyone, I believe.

For me, the “ebb” is like the really steep incline on a rollercoaster.  And then the “flow” is all the free-falling, loop-dee-loop, high-speed ACTION!

(Read more…)

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Reigniting the Writing Flame

Oh, how the time flies when you’re stuck with family.  You blink and suddenly realize you’ve done nothing for two weeks but eat, argue, and return Christmas presents.  Not to mention, all that writing flow and inspiration you had so carefully honed, and maintained has now flown off with Santa Claus.

That’s why today’s post is about getting back on track when life has interfered.  It about what do with all those pages that had been writing themselves but are now followed by terrifying blankness.

What to do?  What to do?  If you’re like me, there’s a moment of panic followed by forceful procrastination.  I’ve read two books, watched half of season 1 of Mary Tyler Moore (thanks, sis, for the fab X-mas gift), and filled my Kung-fu fix for the next three months.  All in an attempt not to work.  All in the last four days.

Let’s take a deep breath and do this together.  We can get back into our Writing Flow, and here’s how: (Read more…)

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Writing flow

Writer's flow: not so different from an ice flow

A bit more on inspiration today since it’s just been One of Those Days.  But, it’s been an Awesome One of those Days.

After over a month of outlining and research, I finally started writing last week.  I’m pumping out two scenes per day (that’s, like, 2500 words), and it feels great!  I’m inspired. (Read more…)

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