Three Ways to Organize Your Writing Life {Plus a FREE Trello Board}

Three Ways to Organize Your Writing Life Plus a Free Trello Board

Writing is really messy. If you are anything like me, you have files strewn across your laptop and desktop, writing software on one but not the other, notes in your journal, your planner, and on the side of your grocery list. And that’s just for general writing. If you’re writing a novel, memoir, or nonfiction, you might have experienced this: You sit down, eager to write about that one idea you had the other day while you were in the shower. You remember jumping out, dripping wet to write it down---or did you type it? You look through your phone, your text messages, your notes app, your Evernote app. Nothing. You skim through notebook after notebook. Thirty minutes later you sit down in frustration.

If this sounds like you, here are three ways to organize your writing life.

Idea 1: Have a dedicated writing notebook and an electronic version for your phone.

Instead of jotting down your writing ideas in any notebook, keep one small notebook handy in your house for when inspiration hits. Then when you sit down to write, you know all of your writing ideas are in one place. Similarly, pick ONE note app to use in your phone and then make ONE writing note that you update when you have an idea when you are out of the house. This way you don’t have to browse through dozens of apps and notes.

Idea 2: Invest in Scrivener

If you are working on a full-length project, I highly recommend investing in Scrivener. It basically allows you to have separate files, notes, and sections for your WIP, all stored in ONE file. So when you go to work on your story, you don’t have to open several different files in Word, you open your Scrivener file and it’s ALL RIGHT THERE. It’s really convenient and has lots of other great features. There is a bit of a learning curve, but they have an easy tutorial to get you started and even if all you use are the basics of the software, it’s worth the investment.

Idea 3: Use Trello.

Trello is my fave organizing tool right now for my business. I’m planning on adapting it for my personal life as well--and it just occurred to me the other day that it would also make an AMAZING tool for writing. How, exactly, would you use it for writing? Trello consists of boards, lists, and cards, so the possibilities are essentially endless. And while that’s lovely, it sometimes results in overwhelm. So I made you a WIP board that you can copy and tweak to fit your current work in progress.

The great thing about Trello is it's available anywhere you have an internet connection, from any computer--and they even have a free app. This means you can truly keep all your notes and writing in one place (mind = blown).

Here is what the board looks like:

Free Trello Board for Your Writing
Free Trello Board for Planning Your Writing
Free Trello Board for Planning Your Writing

****Note: The purpose of this post is not to explain how to use Trello, but there are TONS of great tutorials out there including the one Trello walks you through right when you sign up.

And here’s a video showing you how it works:

Get the FREE Trello board for writing your novel by clicking the button above or clicking here. (Instructions about how to copy the board are included on the board itself--have fun!)

Happy writing!

Ashly

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Free Trello board for organizing your work in progress

Why You Should Build Your Writing Portfolio {Plus some tools to get you started}

Why You Need a Writing Portfolio

Are you actively maintaining and adding to your writing portfolio? If not, you totally should be. Even if you are writing an epic fantasy that is 350,000 words (um, don't write one that long...) you should still be taking breaks to add on to and develop your writing portfolio.

How exactly can you build a writing portfolio? Try any (or all) of these:

  • Blogging/guest blogging

  • Writing shorter pieces related to the genre of your larger project

  • Submitting your work (essays, short stories, poetry) to magazines or websites

  • Trying new genres and smaller side projects

For ideas on where to submit, check out this helpful article that links a few articles with submission lists, my Pinterest board, and if you want to make a fancy online portfolio (or just corral all your various guest posts and online essays), check out this article.

Why make a portfolio?

1. It fights the gremlins. It's a growing list of people who wanted you to write for them. It's proof that you aren't just trying to be a writer, you already are.

2. It is much easier to start building a portfolio now then in five years when an agent/editor/publishing house/potential employer asks you for one (and you suddenly realize how many random posts you have strewn across the internet).

3. It's like the grownup version of making your own homemade (hopefully more sophisticated) cover and stapling your book together. It's fun. And you get to point to it and say "I made dis!"

4. It keeps you writing. It's just insanely inspiring to get your words out into the world. Something about it makes you want to keep writing.

Okay, go knock ‘em dead!

XXXX

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How to Find Time to Write When You Are a Mom

How to Find Time to Write When You Are a Mom

As a mother and business owner, let me be the first to say that finding time to write can sometimes feel impossible. I am attacked by mom guilt when I make writing a priority and when I'm being a good mom, I'm attacked by writing guilt and fear I will never finish my book. 

So where is the balance?

Do I give up on writing until my daughter is grown and out of the house? Do I make writing a priority and let my family deal with it? Of course, no one can answer this for us. We have to make these choices ourselves. But I can share with you some truths that I've come to believe and that I use to shape my writing life and find that elusive balance. 

1. Don't wait until your kids grow up to pursue your writing dream.

First, chasing your dreams will show your kids the value of passion and commitment. Our kids learn best by watching what we do not by listening to what we say so pursuing a dream like this is a powerful example for them. Second, there will always be a reason not to write. When your kids are grown, you will be busy with something else and then who knows, maybe you will have grandkids, and so it goes. If you don't make room now you may never make room. So give yourself permission to start a writing practice now.

2. Know that there are seasons in your writing life. 

Yes, pursue your writing dream no matter what, but adjust your expectations. If you are a mom of littles, set a goal for yourself that you can accomplish. Maybe you only write 200 words per day. Maybe you have a set time to write (nap time, bath time, etc...) and on the days when that doesn't happen, neither does your writing. Whatever system you have, be gracious with yourself and remind yourself that this is not forever. It is just the season of life you are in right now.


3. Having a writing practice is a form of self-care

We have to take care of ourselves if we want to care well for others. My writing practice gives me purpose and focus. It fills me up and when I shut my laptop after a writing session I have more to give to my husband and daughter than I did when I sat down.


4. Something is better than nothing. 

I have spent large amounts of my life not writing because I couldn't have the writing practice I wanted. I wanted two hours of peace and quiet in a perfect environment. It was impossible and so I didn't write. Imagine how much progress I would have made if I'd just done a little bit consistently? Even if I only wrote one paragraph a day I'd certainly have a completed draft by now at least, if not a few completed drafts. Don't let the image of a perfect writing practice prevent you from having a writing practice at all.

XXXX

Of course, all of these ideas are great and inspiring, but how do you actually do it? When? Where? You want practical ideas so you don't have to think not emotional fiddle-faddle. I hear you loud and clear. Here are some ideas you can implement immediately:


1. Write during bath time. Set up your kids in the tub with toys, bubbles, or whatever they need to stay busy. Then sit in the hallway where you can see them and write until they are ready to get out.

2. Write for a set amount of time (or a set amount of words) as soon as the kids are in bed (or as soon as dinner is cleaned up if you don't have kids). Don't do anything else until you hit your goal (and make the goal pretty small--ten minutes or a couple hundred words). Then you can visit with your spouse, watch tv, or do whatever you like doing to unwind.

3. Use the Sleep Cycle app to find the best time to wake up and consider waking up early. (This is not for everyone, I know, but it's worth putting out there because it can make you insanely productive.)

4. Schedule one day a month as your writing day--put it on the calendar, hire a sitter, do whatever you need to do and then go to a coffee shop for several hours and write.

5. Write with paper and pen instead of a laptop and see if this opens up writing opportunities for you. Can you write while waiting to get the kids from school? At the park for ten minutes? At dance lessons?

6. Consider making writing time something the whole family does (this will probably work best if your kids are a bit older). Maybe after dinner everyone pulls out their writing tools and works on their book for half an hour. Maybe after lunch you set up your little ones with coloring books while you write for a bit. I've found I'm more likely to write if I find a way to do it while my daughter is still awake instead of trying to fit it in after she is asleep.

How do you fit writing time in as a parent? Share in the comments! We need all the ideas we can get! ;)

XXXX

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How to Set Good Writing Goals

How to Set Good Writing Goals

I absolutely love setting goals, but for some reason I never really used goal setting in my writing practice until recently. I mean, I set big, vague goals like "Write every day" or "Finish my novel" but I never used specific, actionable goals. Now that I've started, I wonder where they've been all my life. Setting specific, actionable goals like "Finish outlining my novel by the end of August" has given me so much more excitement and momentum in my writing practice.

Here's how to use this in your own writing practice:

1. Gather your planning resources. This might include your planner, your phone calendar, your bullet journal, a blank calendar and writing log (you can find those in the Secret Library).

2. Set a tangible goal related to a specific project (i.e. instead of making a goal to write ten minutes a day, make a goal to spend ten minutes a day working on articles that you plan on submitting). Make sure this goal is tied to a specific outcome.

If possible, have a larger goal in mind that you are working toward as well. For example, right now my goal is to work at least a few minutes on finishing my Story Genius Writing Checklist (I'm outlining my novel using the Story Genius Method) with a goal of finishing the outline by the end of August. But my larger goal is to finish my first draft by the end of the year.

3. Break down your tangible goals into smaller weekly and daily goals, then plug them into your calendar. Hang up your goal setting sheets where you can see them and be reminded of them daily.

4. Lastly,  adjust your goals regularly. Life happens and you might get behind. Or you might discover you need to scale your goals back a bit or use a different method. It's okay to change your goals. In fact, it's a good thing because it means you are taking your goals seriously.

XXXX

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Ten Ways to Make Yourself Write (Even When You Aren't in the Mood)

Ten Ways to Make Yourself Write

Want to sit down and write? ME TOO! But you know what I do instead: the dishes. Or check my Instagram. Or look up that one planner I've been meaning to get. Or almost anything other than write.

You too?

I know from conversations with many of you that I am not alone in this struggle, so I thought for this post I'd give you some of the ideas I've been collecting over the years.

Here are ten ways to make yourself write when you don't feel like it.

1. Don't overthink it. Take action and move your body toward what you want to do. Don't get caught up in wondering if you should write, and wondering why writing is so hard--just go get the notebook, the pen, sit, and put words on the page.

2. Change your idea of what writing looks like. In order to put words on paper you need to think, gather inspiration, observe, read, and learn about writing. All of this can count toward "writing" for the day.

3. Write less but do it more frequently. While sitting and writing for five hours on a Saturday sounds great, it's hard to keep up that kind of momentum. Instead, write something small like 15 minutes or one page every day. The consistency will help form a habit, the low expectations will help you actually do it every day.

4. Don't set out to write the great American novel. Set out to write--period. Keep your expectations low. Tell yourself, "I don't have to write well, I just need to write."

5. Submit your work (because having other people respond to your work is really inspiring).

6. Complete small writing projects. It's motivating to finish something and if you gather lots of small completed projects in your portfolio, your confidence will grow, which will keep you coming back to write more.

7. Write for quantity over quality. I know this all sounds counter intuitive, but for some reason we put a lot of pressure on ourselves as writers to do it well right out of the gate. The truth is rough drafts are always rough, but not always finished. Get the rough draft finished. Worry about the quality later (that's what editing is for).

8. Combine writing time with something else you love: time with a friend, a glass of wine, a hike, a trip to the coffee shop, chocolate.

9. Figure out what strange expectations you have of yourself and your writing and then defy those expectations. If you think you have to write sitting still, write on a walk; if you think you have to write well, write the worst stuff you can think of; if you think you have to write for one hour, write for one minute. The point is to prove to yourself that you don't need to make your writing (or your writing practice) looks a certain way. You get to make it work for you.

10. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, write for yourself. Write what you want to write for you alone. If you don't--if you are always writing for an audience--you will never find consistent joy in your writing practice.

XXXX

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Letter to a Writing Friend: Five Steps to Becoming a Writer

How to Become a Writer

Dear friend,

Several years ago I had given up my writing dream as impractical, embarrassing, and impossible. On the rare occasions when I had a burst of inspiration and typed it out quickly into a Word document, I always felt hollow afterward. Pointless, a voice would whisper in my head. Not that good, another would whisper as I reread my own words, starving for something that would show me I should keep writing.

Years passed and life happened--I worked full time as an English teacher, was married, eventually had my daughter. As each role landed on my plate, writing slipped further away and I felt almost comfortable with it. It wasn’t meant to be. There were lots of hobbies out there. I didn’t need to write. It was easier not to want to write actually. 

One day I was talking with a friend who unabashedly pursued her writing dreams and I found myself judging her: Who does she think she is? Does she really think she will get published? What an arrogant assumption. I stopped myself. My vicious inner critic had turned on others. And when I thought about it I realized what was really going on was simply this: I was jealous. I wanted to write too. I wanted to believe in my writing dreams too. I desperately, almost primally, wanted to hold a book in my hands that I wrote.

I started writing again, but my writing was inconsistent at best. Constantly attacked by doubt and self-criticism, writing wasn’t very fun. It often left me depressed. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t want to pour my heart into something and fail. I was constantly second guessing whether my writing was “any good.”

Then life happened (as it does) and I found myself in a therapist's office, relearning how to be an adult human. Learning for the first time lots of things that I should have known all along: Things like my innate value as a human being and that we do things for love of the process not to prove ourselves to anyone.

And then I entered a writing contest for a very small online magazine--and I won. People cared what I wrote? People actually wanted to publish it so others could read it? Something flipped in my heart and I began chasing this writing thing for real. It took another few years of growth and learning and being in the writing community, but one day I woke up and thought: “I’m a writer.” And I felt its truth in my bones. There were no voices bickering with me about it. It was just simple truth.

My next step was to make writing a habit. For a long time I’d left writing on the sidelines of my life, like a scarf I was knitting, there to be picked up when I wanted something to do and left languishing the other 349 days out of the year.

I didn’t follow a process as I tried to build my writing practice. It was messy and all over the place. But on the other side, looking back I know that there were several steps I took to get to this place: Where writing is a grace-filled and purpose-filled constant in my life.

Want to know how I did it? Here are the exact steps I took:

First, I tackled my inner critic and writing misbeliefs. I addressed those noisy voices and subtle subconscious misbeliefs that were directing my actions.

Second, I looked at what I wanted from my writing. What were my goals? What was my vision for myself as a writer?

Third, I made writing goals and planned for my writing. Where did writing fit in my life? How flexible could I be with it? How could I make real progress on it?

Fourth, I learned that a thriving writing practice went way beyond just getting words on the page. It included sharing my work with others, gathering inspiration, and learning about the craft.

Fifth, I realized I needed to accept that I wasn’t always going to meet my writing goals--and believe that I was still a writer, even on the days I didn’t write. I had to learn to give myself heaps of grace so that writing didn’t become connected with shame but with joy.

I wrote the course Build Your Writing Life based on these ideas. There is so much good work to be done if we decide to claim our identity as writers and create a writing habit that lasts and brings us great joy. You have so much to offer the world my writer friend. Don’t let shame or self-doubt or insecurity rob you of even one more day. 

If you think this course might help you defeat the gremlins, you can get more info on the course at this link

And if the course isn’t for you, that’s no problem. Take the steps above and work them out for yourself. Gather resources and support for yourself. Don’t stop until you’ve built yourself a writing practice that you love.

I can’t wait to hold your book in my hands some day. Here’s to becoming the writers we were meant to be. So happy to be on this journey with you.

Much love,

Ashly