Romance novelist knows best — Nora Roberts on writing

First a confession: I have never read any of Nora Roberts’s novels. It’s not that they’re hard to find. She highlights five “New Releases” on her website. Five. Most authors struggle to turn out one book a year. But I’ve never read even one, so I am in no position to comment on her craft.

Nora Roberts New Releases

Her dedication, on the other hand, well that impressed the hell out of me. Roberts managed to dispense some excellent advice in between quips on the NPR show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me. Host Peter Sagal asked her if she ever suffered from writer’s block.

Roberts replied:

“I don’t let myself believe in it. I feel very strongly writing is a habit as much as an art or a craft.”

She continued—and I would paint this over the threshold of my classroom, if I had anything more than a virtual classroom:

“If you write crap, you’re still writing—and you can fix that. But if you walk away, then you’ve broken the habit.”

You can fix bad writing. You can’t fix no writing. So get in the habit of writing—she didn’t say daily, but surely you can’t churn out five novels a year by only writing on Saturdays. Get in the habit of writing daily—and stay there.


Write better when you write more often. Join my 5-day writing challenge: Write for 15 minutes a day and I’ll donate your registration fee to a global literacy nonprofit. More info and registration link here.

Too meta for words: a blog about why I’m not blogging

Today’s post brings my daily writing streak to 570 words. Not letting go of that, even as I try to wean myself off publishing something original in this space every day. Is this post feeling too meta already?

Well, it’s about to get even meta-er: Yesterday I wrote on Medium about my blogging hiatus. The piece got picked up by one of the more popular publications on the site, so that could be a nice visibility boost. (Another boost: if you read and enjoy the post, could you “clap” for it? Apparently that matters.)

It occurred to me even as I wrote the piece that writing about not-writing still counts as—well—as writing. So perhaps I can scratch my ideation itch every day anyway, even as I seek World Domination Through Marketing a wider audience.

metaAnd speaking of audiences: I’ve got a free webinar coming up on Monday, November 20th: “Say What You Want to Say”—a webinar for women who are ready to lead. I’ve got some stories to tell, some advice to share (expect that Seth Godin’s name will come up), and we can talk through some solutions. I’ll be leading the webinar live in the morning and evening, Eastern time, so the far-flung folks in my tribe don’t have to stay up to the wee hours to participate. Click on the link or the photo to register; I’d love to see you.

What happened? — Frequent Questions

Q: What happened?
A: Glad you missed me.

I took Sunday off from blogging. I think some people thought I’d fallen in a sinkhole.

Nope. I’m fine. And my writing streak remains intact—567 days in a row as of yesterday.

It’s easy for me to talk to you here about whatever’s on my mind. And it’s fun, too. But if it was supposed to be fun all the time, they wouldn’t call it “work,” would they?

I need to spend more time wrasslin’ with Marketing Block. And less time writing blog posts.

For now.

Do you need some practice speaking up at work? Join me for “Say What You Want to Say”—a webinar for women who are ready to lead. Priceless advice from an award-winning business speechwriter: On November 20th, it’s free.

The hardest time to find: playtime

I made a new commitment at the beginning of this quarter: I would spend at least 20 hours a week NOT working. Sleeping wouldn’t count (thankfully I get much more than 20 hours of that). Nor would errand-running. Just 20 hours a week for myself to do whatever I like. Three weeks in and I am failing miserably. It turns out that playtime is the hardest time to find.

As I write this at 5:30 on Sunday night, I’m still seven hours short. Even if I were to stop writing and lunge for my TV remote and knitting needles RIGHT NOW, there aren’t seven more hours left in the week.

And, anyway, so much of my to-do list is still not to-done.

Schedule playtime

Once upon a time, playtime came so easily to me. I could spend all weekend curled up with needlepoint and Law & Order reruns. When I felt over-worked, I’d declare an imaginary snow day—with imaginary snow so deep that I couldn’t even make it from the bedroom to my office down the hall. (Climate change is a bitch.)

But since I started building my webinar/writing coach brand extension, my work has definitely expanded to fill the time allotted. And since the time allotted is, with the exception of sleep, fairly infinite…playtime has taken a backseat.

I’m not burned out—been there once and did not enjoy the trip. I love what I do. I just do too much of it.

Every once in a while I remember that relaxation is good for business. (Ironically, that’s one of the topics I write about a lot for my clients.) And here, this article in Inc. backs it up with actual science: “Relaxing Makes You More Creative.” And  smarter, too. Who wouldn’t want that?

So playtime goes in my book this week. Meditation in the morning; relaxation at night. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even finish that shawl I’ve been knitting since July.

Retreat? Did somebody say “retreat”? Yes indeed. Check out my year-end retreat—two and a half days to focus on your story, improve your writing, and enjoy the community of a select group of women writers. Enrollment limited to six writers. Will you be one of them?

Golden brandcuffs — the downside of commitments

golden brandcuffsYou’ve heard of golden handcuffs? They’re a series of payouts timed over a long period—the corporate world’s way of keeping key executives from straying. I don’t have golden handcuffs keeping me here at Bennett Ink. But I do seem to have forged myself a pair of golden brandcuffs.

I was taking some Me Time on Sunday evening. I’d just spent an exhausting three days at a conference. Valuable stuff, but my mental gastank was pinned on E.

Despite that, after the last session ended I had to pound out a speech for a client. I had definitely earned that baseball-watching time.

Maybe, I found myself thinking, maybe that two hours I spent writing for my client could count as my 15 minutes for today? That’s not the commitment I’d made to myself 538 days earlier—I’d promised to count only non-client writing. But I was mentally fried. And there was baseball on the television machine.

And then I saw that Julia Wu, one of the writers in my Writing Unbound class, had posted a piece in our Facebook group and on her Medium blog. A meditation on what makes a brand. The brand examples she cited included this one:

“A writing coach who centers her business around the word daily: daily practice and daily publishing.”

And off the couch I got. So what if it’s a tie ballgame? The Cubs had a 50% chance of losing it, and did I really need to see the Cubs lose again?

Choosing the golden brandcuffs

Now, obviously I forged these golden brandcuffs all by myself; I choose to write and publish daily. But Julia Wu’s salute to my daily habits came at an interesting moment.

The coach I was working with this weekend insists we should spend no more than two hours a week creating content. Although I’ve only committed to 15 minutes a day, I probably average something closer to 30; the longer posts may creep up to an hour. So I’m at upwards of 3.5 hours of content-creation—not counting marketing emails and my Occasional Flashes of Brilliance.

Of course, I could always blog on my own time. Problem is, when you’re a solopreneur, every minute is your “own time.” And this quarter I’m trying to spend at least 20 hours a week having a—what’s it called?—life.

Still, it’s not every day you build a recognizable brand. Maybe it’s worth investing the extra time to maintain it?

I don’t know. What do you think? Scroll down and let me know.

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15 minutes of commitment

By now, pretty much everybody in my life is used to my 15 minutes of writing a day. As I tell my writers when they start out,

If you respect your commitment, the people around you will respect it too.

15 minutesWhen I arrived at my cousin’s house the other day for a quick overnight before an early morning trip to the airport, I wanted to visit with her. But I also needed to write. So I did something I don’t usually do—I plopped down on the sofa to watch the baseball game with her (did I mention we’re related?) and I opened up my laptop. My cousin understood.

So instead of 15 minutes of focused writing, I did several innings’ worth of semi-distracted writing—the first time I’ve done that, but I don’t think it showed. Still, I’m glad I did it, because the question my cousin asked—well, the minute she asked it I knew I’d be blogging about it:

“Do you do this for yourself?”

15 minutes for me…and more

And I realized that the answer was both yes and no.

No—not in the sense she meant. She didn’t know about my blog (someone’s not reading her email; she subscribes to my Occasional Flashes of Brilliance). And I guess for a person who lives a very offline life, the idea of throwing upwards of 300 words into cyberspace every day seems a little baffling.

And yes, of course I do this for myself. My 15 minutes a day has made me a better writer. It’s helped me be braver about the topics I take on. And it’s helped me make a connection to you. I’ve enjoyed that.

My coach Samantha Bennett (no relation) suggested the 15 minutes a day format. My virtual mentor Seth Godin said that blogging every day is the best business decision he’s ever made. And who’s gonna look at Seth Godin’s career and not start blogging daily? Certainly not me.

So here we are, you and I and my 15 minutes of commitment. If you’ve ever thought about doing it, do it. Today. For yourself.

Want to communicate more courageously? Click here to get my e-book Do It Anyway: Tips for Courageous Writing

Streaking — writers’ edition

streaking for writersStreaking — back in the ’70s it meant taking off all your clothes and running around in public buck naked. Don’t ask me why. But I’m guessing there was usually liquor involved.

My own version of streaking, as regular readers know by now, involves only metaphorical nakedness. Yesterday marked Day 534 of my writing streak.

But I’m not the only streaker around here. One of my writers has got a pretty good one going. On our group call the other day she mentioned she’d been writing every day. I asked if she’s been keeping track and she said yes.

So, I asked, how long is your streak?

“187 days.”

I would have shouted it from the rafters, but Dr. Jeffifer Shoemaker said it like it’s no big deal. Maybe she doesn’t have rafters. Well, she’s gonna reach 200 in a couple of weeks; maybe she can build some.

Streaking and celebrating

Apparently I’ve made my point about the benefits of writing daily. Now I guess I need to talk about celebrating.

Even an 8-day writing streak can be cause for celebration. Heck, if writing daily is a new habit for you, celebrate every freaking day. Celebrate every day until you get tired of it, and then find a new way to reward yourself.

Because it’s not every day we form a new habit—not every day we even try. So if you’re trying, you deserve to celebrate.

Just—if you’re doing it in public—try to keep your clothes on.

Like what you’re reading? Click here to keep in touch—and I’ll send you my “$100,000 Writing Lesson” as thanks.

Living (and creating) while imperfect

Raise your hand if you’re imperfect.

Okay, put it down; you’re gonna need it to scroll through this post.

Most of us accept imperfections in our life:

  • The eyeliner on your left eye that never quite matches the line on your right.
  • The burned roast—but it’s only burned on one side; you can slice that right off. Or—hey!—become a vegan.
  • The attempt at parallel parking that…Well, do I really need to detail all the ways that can go wrong?

imperfectionWe park the car imperfectly and move on. Because we have to. Because if we futzed around until it was perfect we’d miss our lunch appointment…and probably dinner too.

Why can’t we do the same thing when our writing is imperfect?

So your writing’s imperfect? Join the club

No one writes well all the time. No one. I’ve said it before—many people have said it before, but none as eloquently as Ernest Hemingway, who opined:

Everyone’s first draft is shit.

And of course he was right. I mean, maybe one in a million people writes brilliantly right out of the gate. More likely that one in a million just thinks that—and they’re wrong.

So what do you do with imperfect writing?

You figure out how much time you can spend parallel parking it, and then you get out of the car—step away from the computer—and make it to your appointment on time.

Your appointment, in this case, is not lunch but your writer’s group, or your class, or your blog, or your supportive best friend who’s been writing for longer than you.

Get out of the car, no matter how badly you’ve parked it, and let another human being read your work. Yes, your imperfect, human work.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking

But maybe they’ll hate it.

And indeed, maybe they will. But did you ever consider this? Maybe they won’t.

You can try all the confidence-boosting tricks in the book—and I’ll be sharing some tomorrow on my free webinar “Confidence & Creativity for writers and other humans.”

But nothing—No. Thing.—can replace feedback from an actual reader.

I mean, that’s what you’re writing for, right? To be read.

Don’t be shy about it. It’s a perfectly fine goal, even for an imperfect writer like you. And me.

So make a commitment:

  • When you will share.
  • How you will share.
  • With whom you will share.
  • What you will share.

And then make like Nike: Just do it.

(And join us at the Confidence & Creativity webinar tomorrow.)

Writers’ batting order—creativity leads off

writers' batting orderAs I said goodbye to the 2017 baseball season yesterday—well for my Mets, anyway—I got to thinking about the magic of the batting order.

You want your swiftest runner batting first. Second, you want a player likely to move that runner along with a base hit or a well-placed bunt. In the third spot, you want someone who can deliver a big hit. And to make sure the opposing pitcher doesn’t pitch around Mr. Big Hit in the third slot, you want a cleanup hitter (the fourth slot) who can reliably hit the ball out of the park.

And then I got to wondering—well, the Mets were down 6-0 in the fifth; there wasn’t a lot of game to care about—I got to wondering what my writers’ batting order would look like. This is what I came up with:


How I set my writers’ batting order

Some people might flip the first two batters. What do you need first: Creativity to generate the idea? Or confidence to get you to the computer? That would make for a lively discussion if there were a literary equivalent of the sports bar.

But I put Creativity first because you can have all the confidence in the world—not that I’ve encountered many good writers who have all the confidence in the world…But theoretically you could have all the confidence in the world when you sit down at the keyboard, but if you don’t have an idea how are you gonna make those words appear on the screen?

So Creativity leads off on my team. But then you absolutely need Confidence next. That’s what gets your butt in the seat. What keeps your fingers pounding the keys, even when you’re writing badly. Because not even Confidence bats 1.000. Confidence reassures you that even if you have an off day—hey, even the best hitters only reach base about a third of the time.

Commitment’s up third. Confidence may get your butt in the chair, but Commitment keeps it there. And keeps it coming back every day. Whether or not you want to—it’s not up for debate; you’ve made a commitment.

Those three Cs set the table for the fourth one, the one that pays off all this hard word: Communication. You get to share your ideas, your creativity, with the world.

You’re not going to hit a home run every time—and if you expect that you will, you’re in for a big disappointment, my friend. But if you do your best, “take your hacks” as they say in baseball, you have every reason to be proud.

But you have to step up to the plate. You have to try. So stop reading this and write something. Yes, now.

Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change.

Ignoring the Willits — another 90-Day Writing Challenge in the books

no Willits allowedIt’s only been a month or so since I introduced you to the Willits, surely the most annoying creatures on the planet. The Willits always pop by unannounced—generally about two or three sentences into whatever I’m writing. And they don’t just tiptoe in. They announce themselves loudly, asking unanswerable questions:

Will it move anyone?
Will it be coherent?

And, of course—always—

Will it sell?

I called these unanswerable questions. They’re also completely irrelevant.

How will your audience receive you work—will it move them? will they buy it?—you have about as much control over that as you do over the wind. The middle question—will people understand your writing—you have a modicum of control over that one. But you don’t have to think about it—in fact, you should never think about it—until the first draft is done and it’s time to revise.

Writers ignoring the Willits

A dozen writers entered the 90-Day Writing Challenge that wrapped up yesterday. One of them never started; two of them dropped out in the first week. The rest navigated life and the Willits as best they could. And, believe me, life and the Willits threw everything but the kitchen sink at these people.

Two writers finished the full 90 days; a third completed her commitment of writing Monday through Friday for 13 weeks. One writer made it all the way to 70 days before life intervened—and then started a new streak the very next day. Another writer missed the full 90 by two days. Together, they raised $610 for their favorite charities in the U.S. and abroad. And they did something important for themselves. As one writer put it,

“It is amazing the benefits I have got from doing this – not just writing but positivity, focus, clarity and peace of mind.”

Positivity, focus, clarity, and peace of mind—the Willits hate those things.

Willits, Willits everywhere

Even if you write every day as I do (Day 522 yesterday), the Willits will still pop in. But they’re much less likely to stay if you have a goal, a commitment—to yourself, to your client, to a class. If your attitude is I’ll write this when I feel like it, the Willits will hijack your attention in a heartbeat. So set yourself a goal that matters—and pound your NO WILLITS sign firmly into the front lawn.

Staying on course is always easier when you have a supportive community. That’s one of the reasons my Writing Unbound course combines live group discussions with watch-at-your-own-schedule videos. Click the link, fill out the application, and let’s talk. If you need a Willit-free zone, we can help you create one.