My Handout for “How to Improve Your Writing in 20 Minutes a Day” Workshop

This is my handout from the workshop I conducted at the Story Circle Network Writing Conference in Austin, Texas 2 weeks ago. Some helpful hints on overcoming writer’s block and establishing good habits, writing and otherwise.

Benefits of Writing 20 Minutes a Day:

Increased fluidity, developing voice, discovering who you are and how you think, feeling good about yourself by doing something every day related to writing, you can call yourself a writer, will force you to stop being such a perfectionist, will be a chronicle of your life in these entries, will create a body of work.

If you blog daily, you will increase readership, open yourself up to people writing similar things on the internet, create a community of writers, increase your chances of attracting an agent, and others’ posts will spur your own writing.

Reasons to Blog:

From Pat Bean:

I just wanted to say that daily blogging gave me a voice, blocked my self-censor a bit and forced me to go deeper into myself for my writing. It’s an excellent tool for writers.

From Mary Ann Parker:

I still consider myself a novice, but maintaining all 3 blogs has given me discipline (I post to each once a week), diversity (each blog is a different theme), and desire. During a very stressful and over committed season recently, my husband said to me, “You know, you don’t HAVE to do the blog posts.” I know he thought he was trying to help me, but my reaction shows just how much this has come to mean to me. I told him, “I know I don’t have to, it is that I WANT to.” I love pairing my writing and photography.

Challenges to Writing 20 Minutes a Day:

1) I am boring and so is my life.
2) Why would anybody care about what I’m writing?
3) I am wasting my time. I will never make money doing this.
4) I have nothing to write about. I am blank.
5) I am not a good writer, why am I bothering?
6) My family is complaining that they need me, and I should be more attentive to them.
7) I am kidding myself that this makes any sense.
8) Other people give me that look that reads, “Oh my, who do you think you’re kidding? You will only fail at this.”
9) I would write, but I have so many other more important things that need my attention.
10) I am too lazy for this; this must be for other people not me.

Ways to Combat Negative Self-Talk:
Helen (Len) Leatherwood

Set a timer, pick up your computer or notebook and make a list of your own negative messages you tell yourself. Then, as Dr. Daniel Amen suggests, combat those automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) by asking yourself if each is 100% true. Learn to fight negative self-talk by challenging those blanket claims. Defend yourself against all that negativity by coming up with the reasons why they are not 100% true. For example, to the claim, “My life is boring and nobody wants to read about it,” I could say: “Is it true my life is 100% boring? I might write: “Well, no, I have a few interesting moments. ” Then, the question might follow, ” Is it possible that people like to read about everyday occurrences sometimes?” And my answer would be, “Well, yes, I like reading about ordinary life, I guess others do, too.” Suddenly, that statement about my life being too boring to write about isn’t as powerful anymore. Instead I might say, “It’s true some people might find my life boring, but others may not.” That makes me more inclined to write.
You can try this approach, too. It actually works.

In the meantime, you will be writing, as well as building your writing muscles. You will also be learning some positive approaches to healthier and happier living.
Happy writing or just plain living!

18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick:

Scott H Young

Wouldn’t it be nice to have everything run on autopilot? Chores, exercise, eating healthy and getting your work done just happening automatically. Unless they manage to invent robot servants, all your work isn’t going to disappear overnight. But if you program behaviors as new habits you can take out the struggle.
With a small amount of initial discipline, you can create a new habit that requires little effort to maintain. Here are some tips for creating new habits and making them stick:

1. Commit to Thirty Days – Three to four weeks is all the time you need to make a habit automatic. If you can make it through the initial conditioning phase, it becomes much easier to sustain. A month is a good block of time to commit to a change since it easily fits in your calendar.
2. Make it Daily – Consistency is critical if you want to make a habit stick. If you want to start exercising, go to the gym every day for your first thirty days. Going a couple times a week will make it harder to form the habit. Activities you do once every few days are trickier to lock in as habits.
3. Start Simple – Don’t try to completely change your life in one day. It is easy to get over-motivated and take on too much. If you wanted to study two hours a day, first make the habit to go for thirty minutes and build on that.
4. Remind Yourself – Around two weeks into your commitment it can be easy to forget. Place reminders to execute your habit each day or you might miss a few days. If you miss time it defeats the purpose of setting a habit to begin with.
5. Stay Consistent – The more consistent your habit the easier it will be to stick. If you want to start exercising, try going at the same time, to the same place for your thirty days. When cues like time of day, place and circumstances are the same in each case it is easier to stick.
6. Get a Buddy – Find someone who will go along with you and keep you motivated if you feel like quitting.
7. Form a Trigger – A trigger is a ritual you use right before executing your habit. If you wanted to wake up earlier, this could mean waking up in exactly the same way each morning. If you wanted to quit smoking you could practice snapping your fingers each time you felt the urge to pick up a cigarette.
8. Replace Lost Needs – If you are giving up something in your habit, make sure you are adequately replacing any needs you’ve lost. If watching television gave you a way to relax, you could take up meditation or reading as a way to replace that same need.
9. Be Imperfect – Don’t expect all your attempts to change habits to be successful immediately. It took me four independent tries before I started exercising regularly. Now I love it. Try your best, but expect a few bumps along the way.
10. Use “But” – A prominent habit changing therapist once told me this great technique for changing bad thought patterns. When you start to think negative thoughts, use the word “but” to interrupt it. “I’m no good at this, but, if I work at it I might get better later.”
11. Remove Temptation – Restructure your environment so it won’t tempt you in the first thirty days. Remove junk food from your house, cancel your cable subscription, throw out the cigarettes so you won’t need to struggle with willpower later.
12. Associate With Role Models – Spend more time with people who model the habits you want to mirror. A recent study found that having an obese friend indicated you were more likely to become fat. You become what you spend time around.
13. Run it as an Experiment – Withhold judgment until after a month has past and use it as an experiment in behavior. Experiments can’t fail, they just have different results so it will give you a different perspective on changing your habit.
14. Swish – A technique from NLP. Visualize yourself performing the bad habit. Next visualize yourself pushing aside the bad habit and performing an alternative. Finally, end that sequence with an image of yourself in a highly positive state. See yourself picking up the cigarette, see yourself putting it down and snapping your fingers, finally visualize yourself running and breathing free. Do it a few times until you automatically go through the pattern before executing the old habit.
15. Write it Down – A piece of paper with a resolution on it isn’t that important. Writing that resolution is. Writing makes your ideas more clear and focuses you on your end result.
16. Know the Benefits – Familiarize yourself with the benefits of making a change. Get books that show the benefits of regular exercise. Notice any changes in energy levels after you take on a new diet. Imagine getting better grades after improving your study habits.
17. Know the Pain – You should also be aware of the consequences. Exposing yourself to realistic information about the downsides of not making a change will give you added motivation.
18. Do it For Yourself – Don’t worry about all the things you “should” have as habits. Instead tool your habits towards your goals and the things that motivate you. Weak guilt and empty resolutions aren’t enough.

Free Writing Prompts –

Free Writing Prompt – Take the prompt provided below and develop it into a story. This particular prompt is an example of selecting a scene and allowing the character to reveal “himself”. Write for 15-20 min without editing.
Free Writing Prompt – Use the following line as inspiration. Tracing the outline of her face from a photograph…”
Free Writing Prompt – Use the following phrase as a focal point to write from: “The stain will not come out…”
Free Writing Prompt – Write short prose or poetry using the following theme: transparency
Free Writing Prompt – Without using color names, describe a tree.
Free Writing Prompt with Prop – As a visual reference, select a box that has dimensions under 12X12 inches. Tape the box closed. Set the box in front of you. Write a story, poem or free writing based on what is inside the box.
Free Writing Prompt – Flip through a magazine and select a page for your inspiration. You can use the subject matter, or the illustration.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes using the following prompt: “The afternoon…”
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes using the following prompt: “My life is made up of seconds…”
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes using “Flowers for XXX (whoever you name)” as the title.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes: “WWW (Whoever you name) was a nice guy…”
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes (without editing) in any style using “everyday object” as your title
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes (without editing) in any style: using, “turning into silence”.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes (without editing) in any style using “At This Very Moment” as your title.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes (without editing) in any style using “Hidden Camera” as your title.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes (without editing) in any style: using “faded denim” as your title.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes (without editing) in any style using “arrivals and departures” as your starter.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes (without editing): “In the event of an emergency…” Consider writing with humor.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes in any style using the following as your title, “Spending Purgatory with… ” Consider using humor.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes (without editing) in any style, using a Laundromat as your setting.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes, (without editing) in any style, describing one of your parents.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes, (without editing) “Why XXX (whoever you name) Left” as a starter.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes, (without editing) in any style using: “My last memory of…”
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes (without editing) in any style using, “Soap Bubbles” or “Bottle Rockets” as your title.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes (without editing) in any style using, “An Ordinary Morning”.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes starting with “The Color of Smoke”.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes using “Shallow Breath”.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes starting with, “The First Time I Saw the Circus”.
Free Writing Prompt – Write for 20 minutes using “Mundane Occurrences.”

Memoir Writing from Memory Prompts:

Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg

To write memoir, Goldberg says we must first know how to remember. Through timed, associative, and meditative exercises, Old Friend from Far Away guides you to the attentive state of thought in which you discover and open forgotten doors of memory.

Thinking About Memoir by Abigail Thomas

A tiny volume of writing prompts that encourage writers to write brief bits, coming at your life at an angle, through the “side door,” as she does in her slim, fine memoirs (A Three Dog Life (about caring for her husband after a hit-and-run accident shatters his skull) and Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life from a Life (which shows how vignettes and snippets artfully arranged can convey the arc of a changing relationship, or relationships).

To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come by Bob Greene.

A small book of writing prompts for oral or written family histories — one of the first of its kind.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

The important message here is: Put pen to paper and write as fast as you can for ten minutes, in “writing ‘sprints’ that train the hand and mind to quicken their pace and give up conscious control.” For those having trouble getting started.Writing Your Life: An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Writing an

Autobiography by Mary Borg.

A slim, spiral-bound, illustrated, easy-to-maneuver workbook (good for senior centers) with questions and memory joggers to tease out a life story, and excerpts from real autobiographies.

You Are Next In Line: Everyone’s Guide for Writing Your Autobiography by Armiger Jagoe.

A slim, simple do-it-yourself guide with brief extracts from famous life stories to illustrate certain themes: In the Beginning, Family Affairs, First Home, Early Years, Grown Up, Adult Life, Special People, Humor, Important Events and Life Passages.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Jane Laysen says:

    Wow! Thanks for all the great advice. 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on jackqulainwilliams and commented:
    Getting the creative juices flowing again;)

  3. If this doesn’t inspire anyone, it’s their own fault.

    1. Glad you liked it!


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