Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Goals’ Category

What’s up with Self-Improvement Month? (Think Writing/Editing!)

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Self-Improvement Month, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on September 13, 2020 at 11:00 am

Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services works on a writing project of writing a short story for Self-Improvement Month. She plans to enter the story in an anthology contest.

It seems there’s a month or day for most everything, so it’s fitting to have a month dedicated just to self-improvement.

With September being Self-Improvement Month, do you have something you’d like to improve in your own life? Is there a hobby you’d like to pick up or a behavior you’d like to engage in to be healthier? Hobbies expand your skill set and teach you something new, while living a healthy lifestyle helps you function better mentally and physically, and exercise is shown to reverse the effects of aging.

Take Steps toward Change

Self-improvement takes change, which can be difficult to do, but staying stagnant can be boring or frustrating. Change is best done in steps, instead of all at once. That way over time, the new activity, behavior or approach becomes routine without requiring a lot of self-convincing to get started or going.

Like with New Year’s resolutions, taking on too much may result in goal dropping by February—gyms are busy in January, but then numbers go down a month later. To start, cut out what’s not working then pick your goal.

If you decide you’re goal is writing or editing (that’s my subject of expertise), here are a few things you can do to turn the goal into a habit (something you do automatically without a lot of forethought).

To start, maybe you need to change your approach to the task and not look at it as something to fear or a chore to dread. I used to dislike editing my own work, but now I see it as a fun project because I get to cut, move things around and flesh out what’s flat or boring. To get to that point, I had to set up my editing routine with a list of goals, timelines, due dates and progress check-ins.

Establish a Routine

To get into a writing (or editing) routine, you can:

  • Create a writing plan to prioritize a set of goals that keep you dedicated and focused. You could write 30 to 60 minutes a day or two times a week, but plan for the same time and day, so that it becomes part of your schedule (and be sure to put it in your planner). Get started writing even if you don’t feel inspired simply by describing something in the room or counting syllables to write a haiku (it’s 5, 7, 5).
  • Break writing into smaller tasks, so that it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Set up mini-deadlines and items that you can cross off your to-do list. (I like to start my new lists with recent accomplishments that get a big checkmark, so I can remember what I just finished and feel like I’m in the middle of things, not just starting.)
  • Go backward, figuring out a final due date or deadline for a project and coming up with a list of tasks to get there. Write in an estimated completion time for each item on the list. Then schedule the items out, leaving a couple extra leeway days in case of interruptions.

Self-Congratulate

Once you finish your first writing or editing project, have a reward in place, doing something you normally wouldn’t do. Maybe go out for an extra nice dinner or buy a gift for yourself (I tend to pick boxes of fancy chocolate).

If you get through September with your new goals turned into routines or even habits, you can get ready for the long months of winter when you might be stuck inside. I find the cold weather is a good time to buckle down and get serious about my writing projects—during the warmer months, I tend to want to be outside and play. That’s why I’m glad Self-Improvement Month happens in the fall.

Outfitting the Writer’s Tool Kit

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation, Writing Processes, Writing Tips on August 30, 2020 at 11:00 am

My writer’s tool kit includes my bookshelf of writing reference books, which help spark the passion engine.

Every writer’s tool kit has different tools, but the most essential is the desire to write. It’s what keeps the passion engine going.

Learning about the elements of writing—storytelling, story structure and word usage—is similar to using an instruction manual to fix a car without the wrenches, pliers and other tools.

Diagnosing the problem, looking at a chart pointing out the parts of the car and reading about the necessary steps doesn’t mean the problem will be solved. The missing element could be the desire to do the work, or the confidence and skill to complete it so the car runs. Even if that passion is there.

The Work of Writing

Writing requires work, and to do that work, there needs to be motivation, discipline and, I believe, a love for some or several aspects of creating or the final creation. Do you love words, individually or how they sound in sentences? Do you love telling stories? Do you love solving story problems? Do you want to make readers feel? Do you want to feel?

Or maybe you like to see your name in print? Or to have finished something?

Writers need spark, just like cars need spark plugs to fire the ignition. For me that spark is a passion for words and getting lost in the story or poem I’m writing, so that what comes out feels like dancing and breathing and living, while I lose awareness of my physical self.

Setting Aside Writing Time

Like cars that need gas in the tank, writers need the space and time to be present for writing. If the tank drops toward the E, writers need to ride out their writer’s block or frustration with the knowledge that these emotions are not permanent.

I find that I get frustrated having so little time for writing.

The result is I save up words, emotions and ideas like money in the bank for when I do get to hang out with my laptop. I let go of my editor and inner critic, plus any negative emotions I have, because now it’s time for my date with QWERTY.

I schedule my writing time, not to specific days but to two to three times a week. I log in the hours I write, so I can see that, like an odometer marking the miles, I am making progress toward a goal. I get excited about every 5,000 words I finish in a novel’s rough draft.

The Writing Fuel

All of this is my fuel for not giving up when I am unpublished with a burning, driving, raging yawp to get my words out into the world. I want my words to be heard, read and even sung.

I don’t necessarily have a map with every step plotted out, but what I do have is a giant imagination, a spark of creativity without which I would fade and a passion for this art I cannot stop loving.

50 Tips for Writing and Editing (plus, a book for sale!)

In Editing Advice, Editing Tips, Writer's Block, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on June 22, 2020 at 11:00 am

The image appears on the cover of the soon-to-be-released “50 Tips for First-Time Authors.

Writing has a bit of mystique to it, since it’s something we all do, but it also has what I like to call the Gold Star Effect.

Writing is essential to work, life and business, but …

What Exactly is Good Writing?

Good writing tells a story, inspires change and is layered in purpose and in meaning, causing readers to ponder, think and act.

Good writing is structurally sound with clear, concise content and, if fiction, a fully fleshed-out story.

Good writing also looks impeccable on the page, free of errors in grammar, mechanics, syntax, punctuation and spelling.

But to get that place of good writing, or the Gold Star Effect, work is involved, along with discipline, motivation, practice and, of course, revision.

I’ve been writing professionally for more than 20 years, first as a journalist, then as a freelance writer and editor, but also as an aspiring author. I have plans to self-publish two novels and am trying to get agents for two other novels. I also have two I shelved, because they just didn’t work out.

50 Tips for First-Time Authors

Through all of this writing work and experience, I’ve gathered my top tips for writing, editing and doing the work of both.

I share my tips in “50 Tips for First-Time Authors: Learn the Secrets of Writing for Publication,” which will be published on Kindle and in print on Lucky 7/7, or July 7, 2020.

In my booklet, I cover tips for getting started writing, what’s involved in the writing process, the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction, and editing best practices, plus ways to avoid the dreaded writer’s block. I wrap up with a dozen reasons for loving writing.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

A writing list is a great way to get motivated and stay on task, turning a desire to write into the action of writing.

It provides a few rules to live by that make writing a routine and, over time, a habit without too much planning, thinking or agonizing about it.

It’s a way to show up for the writing, finding that once you get started, you have something to say, a short story to write in a sitting or two, or descriptions and storylines to add to a work in progress.

To find even more tips, visit Amazon for a pre-order to have the book ready to go on Lucky 7/7.

Thanks for checking out years of tips made concise in nine chapters. These tips have the Gold Star Effect in that they rose to the top from the hundreds of tips I’ve learned and collected!

(Note: I must admit the idea of self-publishing seemed intimidating, so I attended webinars, workshops and seminars and read two books on the subject. Two particularly useful tools are Gundi Gabrielle’s “Kindle Bestseller Publishing: Publish a Bestseller in the Next 30 Days!!” and Richard N. Williams’ “Self Publish Your Novel Made Easy.”)

Achieving Work-Life Balance in Writing (especially during a crisis)

In Work-Life Balance, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals, Writing Spaces, Writing Spots, Writing Tips on May 17, 2020 at 7:00 am

 

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services works at home on the couch using a portable lap desk to add variety to her stuck-at-home approach to work-life balance.

During the pandemic crisis, are you stuck indoors without a lot of variety to your office space? Did you use to enjoy mixing working at home with your other favorite writing places?

I don’t like sitting, and I don’t like being in front of a computer—at least for long periods of time. I also don’t like the same sitting spot for hours on end.

So I came up with a COVID desk survival plan. I had to since I write for a living, and I write for fun with the goal to make the writing I want to do—writing novels—full time. It’s a lot of writing, as a result, but I try to balance it with daily exercise—running and lifting weights—and doing social things (or, I used to, now that social time is on Zoom).

Work-Life Writing Balance

How do you achieve balance when you work life and your other life both involve computers?

  • First of all, find several writing spots in the house, such as the desk with the hopefully ergonomic chair, plus the couch with a portable lap desk. (I got mine at Barnes & Noble back in the day when you could physically go into stores.)
  • Set aside certain times for your writing routine, but don’t guilt yourself if you don’t write. I aim for three one-hour sessions a week—but during COVID, I’ve had time to write or edit about 10 hours a week. (I’ve gained extra time from not driving and social distancing).
  • Vary where you write, such as the office, living room and kitchen and find something stimulating in that environment to think about or absorb—such as the grinding of the coffee beans or the way the air feels as time shifts from high noon into the afternoon. (You have to use some imagination here, since we’re all stuck inside, but I do have the option of going out on my patio, and I pretend it’s the park!)
  • Take breaks every few minutes to stretch, or take a mini-walk for a mind refresher. Join a writers group, such as Northern Colorado Writers, and join in on the Zoom tea chats or coffee breaks to get that actual break.
  • Make sure you have free time to do whatever you want that gets you away from the routine, particularly if it doesn’t involve writing.
  • Try writing in a notebook if computers are your normal tool, or vice versa. The switch may cause you to see and write differently—handwriting slows you down, while typing causes you to lose the pen-hand connection and get lost in the writer’s world.
  • Find a new interest or hobby to learn something new or see things from a new perspective.
  • Congratulate yourself when you write when you don’t feel like it. Treat it like a job, even if you’re not working because of the shutdown.

Fair Play in Writing

And remember, it may not be so much of a balance but a matter of sharing the space of work with the space of the rest of life. I like to call it work-life fair play.

Top 7 Writing Tips for 2020

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on January 5, 2020 at 11:00 am

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To Do lists are a great way to compile top tips, such as for writing.

Do you like To Do lists? I find them to be necessary, but there’s another type of list that I adore—top 5, 7 or 10 lists.

Top lists are great to post on the fridge or keep in a special file, acting as motivation and inspiration triggers, while chore lists are reminders of what still needs to be done.

My top 7 list is gathered from my notes about writing advice and tidbits collected from magazine articles and books, writing conferences and workshops, and my own personal experiences. The list is a useful resource for those times when I feel stuck or don’t want to write. It’s also a great tool to know what to look for when hiring a writer.

The tips provide a few ideas for how to make writing a routine and, with the investment of effort and time, a habit. Once a habit, writing feels like a necessity without thinking or agonizing about it. Soon, you’ll eagerly show up for writing (and editing), finding that once you get started, the words will come, even if it’s slow at first. The momentum will pick up and the process will become rewarding, as does the result.

Top 7 Writing Tips

  • Don’t wait for inspiration, but create it. The more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Find a place to write, but don’t make it an absolute. A coffee shop or a home office may be ideal, but be sure to set aside time to be there only for writing and not distractions (which serve as excuses to not write).
  • Set a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three to four times a week. For example, plan writing sessions for a set amount of time, such as one hour, or until a certain word count is reached, such as 500 or 1,000 words.
  • Accept that you are not in total control of your writing. Trust your subconscious to make connections your conscious mind isn’t ready to or won’t necessarily be able to make.
  • Realize that rough or first drafts aren’t perfection on the first try. As you write, the story or message unfolds and isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the sentences down and then revise in a couple of rounds for overall structure, followed by proofreading at the line level.
  • Accept that writing is supposed to be hard and focus on the process instead of the results to make it more fun and enjoyable.
  • Read and to analyze what you read, identifying what works and what doesn’t work and why. Apply what you learn to your own writing.

Make Writing a Habit

As the New Year starts, add to the list additional ways to find the time, motivation and inspiration to sit down and do the work of writing. Soon, it won’t feel like work and will be a habit. What a great way to welcome the year of 2020!

 

Making New Year’s Resolutions Fun

In Goal Setting, New Year's Resolutions, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals on December 29, 2019 at 11:00 am

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The Christmas tree is reflected in a storefront window, overlapping a coffee tree at the Coffee Tree coffee shop in downtown Loveland, Colo. It’s sparkly and fun, just like New Year’s resolutions should be to make them easier to carry out.

New Year’s Eve is sparkly, bubbly, colorful and fun—and then there’s the countdown.

For me, Jan. 1 is both a letdown and an exciting time. First, the holidays are over, presents are unwrapped, and it seems like a long time to Valentine’s Day (and lots of candy) and even longer to spring.

January is my least favorite month (short days, too much snow) until I remember it’s the month for … Resolutions! I love goal setting because of the whole self-improvement thing, but it’s also a way to accomplish something and to have an excuse for self-reward.

What are your resolutions for 2020? The usual of exercising more, eating less, finding a new job, increasing your reading or learning a new skill or hobby?

A Writing Tangent

My resolutions are around writing—to publish a couple of my novels, to write a short story a month and to do more professional writing. I also want to improve my blog so it’s fun and exciting. This is how I originally started this blog:

Writing is essential to a business to market its products and services, build brands and reach customers.

But is it necessarily something that you want to do?

Sure, that’s all right, but it’s not fun. Why? Because you can read those sentences pretty much anywhere, maybe with a word change or two. As a note, I just went on a tangent off the subject of resolutions, which typically doesn’t make for good writing. Professional writing needs to be straight like an arrow, moving from point to point with enough details while avoiding overwriting.

So back to the point of making and keeping resolutions. Statistics show that only 8 percent of those who make resolutions follow through with their plans. Being part of that group can be exciting and also rewarding by the end of the year.

For those who want to make writing a goal for 2020, for example, can set a schedule for writing, such as a half-hour a day or two times a week. They can find a place to do the writing. And they can reward themselves for accomplishing the goal to continue the momentum.

Focusing on Resolutions

For resolutions in general, here are a few good steps to take:

  • Pick a resolution that makes you feel excited and is something you want to do. Don’t pick something that you think is good for you, like exercising an hour a day when 15 minutes is better to get used to it.
  • Opt for one to three resolutions instead of a long list of everything you ever wanted to accomplish in life. Lists are difficult to manage (I made a 30-item to-do list, and it took four months to get through it). Plus, being selective can help you focus your efforts on what you really want to accomplish.
  • Break the resolutions into smaller steps that can be accomplished each week or month.
  • Be specific in your goals, such as planning to blog once a week, posting it on the same day to be consistent and build traction.
  • Identify your most productive time of day to work and fit your goals into that time frame, even if it is for a half-hour for three or four days a week. A lot can be accomplished in small chunks.
  • Place a written statement of your goals in a prominent place, such as on your desk or the fridge. Seeing the resolutions will be a reminder, and even if you are busy at that moment, you can visualize how you will carry them out.
  • Create a checklist of accomplishments toward your goals, marking the time you put in each week. This is a way to make sure you’re meeting your goals and figuring out if any adjustments need to be made.

Working on your resolutions is a reward for moving toward self improvement. Reward yourself every quarter or for certain accomplishments. Soon, the resolution will become routine and eventually a habit. And once a habit, it will be something that will get noticed.

Merry Christmas (with Reflections on Joy)

In Finding Joy, Loving Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Goals on December 22, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Holiday decorations add color and joy to the lagoon in downtown Loveland, Colo.

Christmas can be a season of joy or not so much depending on your personal story and outlook on holidays in general.

First off, there’s the over-commercialization and the religious aspects. There also can be stress, anxiety and fatigue from a change in routine. I think of it as another month of the year with lots of red and green, repetitive (and beautiful) Christmas music, and a time to practice contentedness.

The Joy Bubble

That contentedness comes from acceptance and a bubble—I accept what is, I try for what I want, and I have a bubble around me to protect me from negative emotions. I feel them, of course, and then let them go. I also encounter crap (from not-so-nice people and things not working out just how I want) that I absorb being highly sensitive, but then I have to move on.

However, I haven’t fully learned the turn-the-other-cheek lesson, though as a non-confrontational person, I say things in my usual sweet voice (but my thoughts are not so nice). I want to work on my thoughts and brush off the negative and quickly move on.

Why am I going into all of this? Well, I committed to a weekly blog (and skipped a few weeks this year) and can’t seem to focus on writing. I just talked with a friend who brought up the holidays depression bit, and I told him about my bubble and how I go out in nature every day (I’m a runner and photographer) and take joy in that.

The Joy Choice

Joy, really, is a choice (for those of us who aren’t in the midst of awful life situations)—but if life is okay enough with bills paid, a job, friends, family and everything in place, it can be practiced on a daily basis (or at least for the most part). I chose joy because I don’t like being down. It’s too stressful, and it makes me tired. It takes more energy being sad and angry than going about, thinking, “Whatever.”

In my practice of joy this year, I even liked to learn snow. I used to say I hate snow, but then I realized how pretty it is stuck all sparkly like to the trees. We got two-plus feet of it here in Colorado just before Thanksgiving, and it’s still hanging about. Joy.

I also learned to like having a business—it’s kind of hard, at least for me as a dreamy artist type. I go to the Loveland Business Development Center and am advised to make my blog about promoting my writing and editing. I really doubt I did that here.

Writing for Joy

But here goes—the holidays are a busy time of year (wonderful or sad, however you look at them), but the need to market doesn’t go away just because it’s December. In fact, blogs, articles and edited content need to be kept up to pace, so that when it’s Jan. 1 and resolution time, the getting-behind-feeling won’t be there, and it will be time to start anew with new goals.

The thing about goals is that meeting them, even halfway, is a way to feel joy. I know, because I’m still in business after three years (I thought that would never happen), I came up with a plan to publish my novels, and I’m improving as a writer because I do it all the time. All. The. Time.

I love writing. I found my love. How can I not be joyful with a big love like that?

Fast and Fun Tips for Fitting in Blogging

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Fast and Fun Tips, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on December 8, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Fitting in blogging into a busy schedule is similar to ducks finding a small circle of water within a snow-covered lagoon.

The holidays are full of busyness, but if blogs are a key marketing tool for your business, how can you fit it in?

If you don’t hire out the blogs, which for greatest impact, should be posted every week or at least once month, how can you find the time and space to write them?

In other words, think about The What and The Where, or the act of writing and the physical place to do it that feels the most inspiring and comfortable. But this comfort shouldn’t limit you to writing only when you have the time and can be in that exact spot.

Instead, sneak in writing in small increments and think of writing spots as being anywhere you can sit or stand. Realize that the setting doesn’t have to be perfect, nor does the writing or the tools—use a eyebrow pencil and a napkin or scrap of paper if need be. And carry a notebook wherever you go, since inspiration can hit at unplanned and awkward moments.

Finding a Writing Spot

To find a good writing spot, ask yourself a few questions, making sure you’re ready to write. For instance:

  • Do you need quiet or activity around you? Do you like having background noise to stimulate you as you work?
  • Do you want to write in solitude or be around other people?
  • Do you like working outside, in an office or in a cozy small space?
  • Do you want your things around you set up in a special way to serve as a source of inspiration or comfort?
  • Do you want to go somewhere away from home and the excuses of chores and whatever else can distract you?
  • Do you have a time of day when you do your best writing? Do you need a routine, or a schedule?

Other Ideas for Writing Spots

Here are a few places you can try: a desk in the bedroom or living room, the library, coffee shops, restaurants, a patio or even a bar.

Once you find the right spot, make that your writing office or special place to engage in and write your blogs. But also think of that writing spot as wherever you have an idea or a spark of a great phrase.

 

How to Keep Up With Summer Writing

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on July 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

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During my 2018 summer trip to Florida, I photographed shorebirds at Busch Gardens chasing another bird holding a bun, making it so the bird with the prize couldn’t stop to have a snack. I turned my observation into a poem, taking advantage of summer fun to get in some writing time.

With summer a few weeks in, how do you keep up the writing pace when fun beckons?

Writing and blogging seem to be the kind of practices that if set aside lose momentum. Coming back to the project or a regular posting schedule takes review and discipline, just like setting aside a book and forgetting some of the intricacies of the plot and character.

For writers, bloggers and those who need to post a weekly or monthly blog or article, can the serious work of writing be included in busy summer plans?

Try small chunks so that it doesn’t feel like work. Plan a regular time for writing, a little at a time, or write ahead and schedule the blog online, or turn in the article early before deadline. And then don’t open the laptop or notebook unless there is free time or you feel inspired or motivated to write, so that it is not an obligation.

Think of it as quick and dirty writing: get in, do the work of fast content and return to the fun. The result is a mini-moment of work with a reward of having achieved something.

Methods for Quick Writing

Here are a few tips for quick and dirty, but effective writing.

First off, commit to writing while waiting or between the moments of work, errands and summer plans.

And then:

  • Schedule an hour or two for writing every other day or every three days. Even 15 minutes will suffice. It will add up over time, but if you don’t write, then there will be nothing but the desire to do so.
  • Do the writing in the morning by getting up extra early (or just before going to bed) and treat yourself to the rest of the fun summer schedule.
  • Acknowledge the accomplishment, such as by tracking it on a spreadsheet or a check-off list.
  • Break up writing into smaller tasks. Write for a few minutes and then set it aside to make it feel like less work. Come back to it later.

What I Do for Quick Writing

For me, writing after engaging in professional writing and editing during the workday requires discipline, so I set up a schedule in my planner and mark on my spreadsheet the number of hours I achieve writing. I have a project deadline and a weekly goal of a certain word count or page count, depending on if I’m in the writing or the editing stage of my project.

And then I sit down and write, aiming for an hour but if it’s less or more, I’m fine with it. The important thing is that I write.

Fitting in Writing Time and Space

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing and Mindset, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on June 2, 2019 at 5:00 pm

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Zoey the Cute Dachshund is a key motivator for finding time and space for writing.

A fellow writer said five minutes is enough time to write and a car is a good enough space to pull out a notebook—the key is acknowledging the writing no matter when, where and how.

Writing doesn’t have to have the optimal conditions but can be slipped in, because waiting for the right place and right time can end up being limiting. The ideas or what could have happened get lost in the takeover of seemingly more important things.

I find that I can write for 15 minutes (five doesn’t work for me) and get a poem in, but for stories I do need a half-hour. If I wait for an hour or more, I skip it and do other tasks on my to-do list.

The lesson: just make do so you can write.

Carry a notebook wherever you go, or even different notebooks for different places—I have a mini one in my purse, a small one in my workbag and a few in my house. Inspiration can hit at unplanned or inconvenient moments, but take the five minutes, or even two, to jot down a reminder of what you want to say when you do have the time.

Finding a Writing Spot

For those mini writing moments, establish a writing spot that becomes your writing get-away. To do this, ask yourself a few questions, such as:

  • Do you need quiet or background noise from conversations and music?
  • Do you want an area that’s open or a small space, such as a closet converted into an office? Do you like working outside if it’s nice out?
  • Do you want to write alone or be around other people? Do you need to write with a writing partner or a write-in group?
  • Do you want to go somewhere away from home and the excuses of chores and whatever else can distract you?
  • Do you have a time of day when you do your best writing? Do you need a routine, or a schedule?

Other Ideas for Writing Spots

Here are a few places you can try: a desk in the bedroom or living room, the library, coffee shops, restaurants, bars or a porch, deck or patio during nice weather.

Once you find a spot you consider comfortable and also inspiring, make that your go-to place for writing. And then cherish it and the work that you do there.