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Finding your ideal writing spot |


Has this ever happened to you?

You’ve scheduled in a block of time to write, explained to your family that you’ll be unavailable for the next several hours, made deals and swapped responsibilities to get this precious time with your book only to sit down in your writing spot and realize you can’t concentrate. At all.

Where you write is just as important as making the time.

One of the essentials I work on with clients when we begin our process together is figuring out where they can get the most writing done. Finding a good writing spot is necessary before you can make progress on your project.

Setting aside time to write is a waste if you don’t have the right place to work.

Even trickier? Not everyone has the same needs when it comes to writing. So let’s go through the process together to ensure that when you take those hours (or minutes) to yourself, you’re certain that it will be time well spent.

Step 1: Write a job description for your writing spot.

This may sound a bit odd, but it’s an assignment I give nearly all my new clients. Imagine you are hiring the ideal place to write in, and you’re placing a classified ad. What qualities and amenities are you looking for in a writing spot? If you’re not sure, consider the following questions:

  • Does background noise soothe you or make you crazy?
  • Do you like to stare out a window at a nice view or does that slow you down?
  • Do you like other people around you, or do you prefer to be entirely alone?
  • Is food (or a particular beverage, say coffee?) a part of your ritual, or do you set these things aside when writing?
  • Can you unplug completely or do you need to be accessible to your partner, children or work?
  • How close does this place need to be from your home or work?
  • Do you need several hours to write, or are you better while snatching scraps of time here and there?

Take a little time to journal on these points. Many people don’t think about these things directly when deciding where to write and end up wasting precious minutes in spots that don’t suit them. Someone who needs others around them and the num of background noise will suffer in a library, whereas someone who needs total silence is never going to get anything done on the train or in a cafe.

Step 2: Create a list of places that you can interview as writing spots and interview them.

You don’t have to hire the first writing spot you interview. Just like if you were choosing a new employee, make sure you have a decent pool of candidates. Come up with a list of at least five options if you can, and begin trying them out for your writing sessions. If you haven’t started one already, keep a writing process journal and make notes about where you wrote, for how long, and how productive the session was. If it didn’t work out as expected, note down why and adjust your job description and list of other candidates as needed.

Love everything about the place, except it was too busy and impossible to get a seat? Modify your description to look for places that are less hip and trendy.

Did you realize that making yourself accessible by phone meant you were interrupted so much you didn’t write a word? Try going offline for longer and longer increments to get comfortable being away. Let those who need to find you in an emergency where you are and what you’re up to.

Keep interviewing your writing spot candidates until you have a solid list.

Make sure to note the type of work you did in each one and how it went- different spots may be better for different tasks. For example, when drafting new scenes or material I prefer to be in a dead silent library where I feel silly doing anything but writing. When editing or revising, I prefer to be in a cafe, and often buy myself a treat I’m only allowed to ask for if I reach my writing goal.

Step 3: Going forward, consider where you will write as much as when.

When you schedule time to write in your calendar, consider your list of writing spot candidates and the type of writing you plan to do in that session before planning where you’ll write. With your new tailored writing spots, the word count will soon be adding up like crazy.

What spots work best for you for writing? I’ve seen everything from cafes to libraries to sneaking time on a phone before work to a gorgeous writing shed in the garden work for me and my clients. I’d love to know where you are writing – share your favorite spots in the comments below!

Leaving Los Angeles.

I’m writing this in the corner of our office in the house we’ve lived in the past three and a half years. My husband and I have begun taking this house apart, because we’ve decided that it’s time to stop saying “someday” about our dream to live in Berlin. We’d run out of reasons not to go, and so the transition begins.

We told our families and friends, I’ve given notice at my job here in LA, but I’m lucky that the podcast, my clients, and my writing world all come with me. This is a move that will make more space for the creative work we both want to do.

As we’ve been shedding the astonishing amount of stuff that has accumulated over the past twelve years in LA (in my case) and the past 20 years here (in his), we’ve been struck by how easy it has been to let it all go. The stuff, that is. The hundreds and hundreds of books we thought defined who we were and the weird clothes I haven’t touched or remembered were there in the back of the closet. It’s been like shedding a skin.

What has been much harder is spending time with all the amazing people we love in this city, knowing it won’t be so easy to see them in person going forward. We’ll always come back to LA – we both have family here as well as friends that have become like family. But they won’t be able to grab a dinner last minute. This is the price we pay for this change.

I have noticed that something happens to me about every ten years, where I get itchy. To go into the woo-woo, I’m year of the snake and I think I need to do a big shed every decade or so. Turning 40 has meant taking a hard look at what I really want to accomplish in my life with the time that I have. I’m not old, but I’m aware that life doesn’t last forever.

I’ve been working on some book or other since I was 25 and life has always been making other plans that are just a little bit more urgent than finishing the book in question. I spent most of my 20s in San Francisco, a city even more financially unforgiving than the Los Angeles of my 30s, and before that I was still in School. It goes so fast.

The podcast has been such an incredible gift to me over the past two years, providing a reason to talk to so many incredible writers about how they got their books done. After over 100 conversations, I think I can boil down the one piece of advice that will help anyone finish a book:

[Tweet “If you want to write a book, you cannot allow anything else to be more important than writing.”]

I can hear the objections building already, because they’ve been screaming in my head for decades now:

But I need to make money. But I’m in a relationship. But I have kids.

Yes, and. It’s impossible to write 24 hours a day. Maybe someone does it, but I don’t advise it. What I have learned is necessary is to plan for your writing first.

Need to make money? Of course – we all do. If we’re fortunate enough to have jobs that aren’t 12 hour shifts, then allocate the leftover time you will give writing first.

Same with your kids. Every parent I know who is also a writer has a deal they’ve worked out with their partner, or their sleep if they don’t have a partner helping them raise their family: writing gets scheduled first in the time that is there.

I haven’t been taking this advice for myself. Los Angeles has become a place that doesn’t allow for the windows needed to write. The time in the car, the amount of hours we need to work, and the fact that I am less and less able to tolerate the heat of the summers has pushed writing further down the list.

And I haven’t been ok with that happening.

I can’t in good conscience lead groups and clients through structures to help them write their books if I’m not allowing the space to finish my own.

As we sell and donate so many of our things, and place our favorites in good homes to be babysat, I feel both terrified and so much lighter.

Because I have realized what I have been doing for years: I’ve been buying stuff to console myself for not writing. And all this stuff in the garage and the closet and the cabinets is evidence that I needed a pick-me-up in order to tolerate another day not putting writing first.

I don’t think it’s necessary to move over 5,000 miles away to reach these conclusions, but it is a good catalyst if you’re up for it. Don’t make this mistake. If you’re called to write, please write. Not just for the rest of us who will benefit from what you share, but for yourself and the way it will change your life as you are writing.

Writing makes me a better person, without question. And for all the times I’ve felt it’s selfish to take time away from other pursuits to be alone and write, I’ve realized that it’s actually even more selfish not to.

Sometimes you have to let go of much that is familiar to remember what you must accomplish in life.

In yoga the other day, my teacher shared the following thought as we were all in savasana at the end:

“Our time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

I pass it on to you. Don’t wait to write. The someday you are waiting for to start is today.


I Wrote it Anyway

Have a story about overcoming obstacles to write? Submit it to a new anthology: I Wrote It Anyway

Sometimes the hardest part about writing is getting started.

Dal Kular and I are on a mission: support writers in overcoming the obstacles that keep them from telling their stories. Whether these obstacles were imposed externally, or came up inside you as the critic, we want to band together to break through as writers.

We are currently accepting entries into an anthology we are assembling to showcase tales of anyone who felt the fear and wrote it anyway. Told by a teacher you’d never write? Tell us your story. Crippled by doubt and perfectionism despite support from those around you? We want that story too. Circumstances conspiring to prevent you ever having the time to write? Hell yes we want that story told.

Here’s how to submit to I Wrote it Anyway:

    • *We are accepting submissions of up to 2,500 words
    • *Please listen to the Secret Library Podcast Episode #88 to hear our discussion of the anthology’s mission
    • *Submissions must be sent in by March 15, 2018 at midnight Pacific Time
    • *Email your submission as an attachment to:
    • *Share this post on Social Media with the hashtag #iwroteitanyway
    • *We will announce the essays we select for the final collection on April 30, 2018

Good luck! We look forward to reading all your stories. As Dal says in this episode, writing is a revolutionary act. We all benefit when more stories are told. Let’s share what helped us write.

All proceeds will be split equally to benefit 826 LA and Arts Emergency

{Writing Life} What to Do When You Get Stuck

We’ve all reached that point in a project where we run out of things to say. I’ll be honest, I thought that point was never going to come with the novel I’m working on. I started with such grand dreams and the process felt wide and bottomless. This is not a new feeling- I have started and abandoned about five novels now. So to imagine this feeling would not return was a bit, shall we say, misguided?

It comes on in different ways- things can begin to feel slow when you sit down to write. The voices of the story feel quieter. It’s harder to hear what the characters are saying. Sometimes there is suddenly a flood of social invitations that sound too amazing to pass up. Sometimes you get to a busy time of year and then there isn’t time to get to the book for a day, and then a month.

The first thing to remember is that this is not a sign that you are writing a bad book. Getting to a stuck place has nothing to do with the quality of your idea. It’s simply a part of the process that is inevitable as a writer. One of the curses of anxiety is how it compounds itself. First, you feel anxious about how the project is going. Then, this can fold in to become a layer where the presence of the anxiety begins to mean that the project is not worth continuing.

Take a deep breath and let that thought go. Your book is absolutely worth writing. Your story still matters. In these stuck moments, the important thing is not to damage your relationship with writing when things feel difficult. Instead of walking away completely or forcing yourself to grind through and continue at your prior pace no matter what, here are some helpful steps to take at low moments in a draft:

  1. 1) Write backstory. That relationship between two of your characters that isn’t quite clear? How your main character’s parents met? What happened that summer that no one can talk about? These kinds of plot lines that the reader may never find out completely in the course of the book, but that you need to know to decide what you put in the book and what you leave out are perfect ways to spend your time when writing the actual official book isn’t going so smoothly. I learned this tip from Scott O’Connor (ep. 72)


  1. 2) Let yourself cheat on your project, for a little while. I have lost count of how many writers have told me that they cheat on their main project when they get stuck. Patricia Park (ep. 71) started two other novels while at work on Re Jane. Edan Lepucki (ep. 4) always has a new book idea as a lover on the side when she’s working on a novel that she can look forward to working on when the current book is finished. If you’re feeling a bit bored with this project because a new one seems much shinier, then give yourself a few days to play. When you come back to your current project, you’ll be that much more motivated to finish and move on to the next story.


  1. 3) Change format. Don’t underestimate the power of the bright shiny object. When I get stuck on a project, I switch freely from handwriting it to typing straight into Scrivener, to dictating into a voice recorder on walks and then transcribing with Dragon Naturally Speaking (ep 84 Joanna Penn‘s hot tip for avoiding RSI), to typing with the Alpha smart (A trick I learned from Piper Huguley in ep 77) Sometimes changing how you write can be just the trick to keep writing.


  1. 4) Give it time. There is so much pressure to write fast and to get everything down as quickly as possible, but it isn’t always possible to write a book or a story as fast as we’d like to. It takes time to digest all the material and all the thinking you need to in order to write your story the best way you can. I have yet to speak to a writer who wishes their book had taken longer to write, but almost everyone wishes they could have gotten in done more quickly. Even so, Jade Chang and Paul McVeigh both said in their episodes that a lot of what made stories they got stuck on work was more time. That after reflecting and letting the work breathe, it came together on its own in the end.


  1. 5) Pull a tarot card. I have found this to be an incredible source of breakthrough in my writing as well as for others. Once a friend asked me to do a tarot reading for her writing project instead of her and the results were so profound that we were both utterly gobsmacked. I created an entire course about using tarot to break through blocks in writing and it’s still available for anyone who needs some support and guidance getting started.

Don’t give up on your writing. Everyone gets stuck and everyone has a hard time seeing the way forward when you’re in the middle. It’s normal to get rattled by this point. It’s called the messy middle for a reason. But just because things get messy doesn’t mean you have to give up on your story.

I hope you keep writing. I hope you keep going back to the page. I struggle with the same issues, and I have learned that every single writer does, too, no matter how successful they become. You are not failing if you get stuck. Trust your story, trust yourself, and keep going.

Your story is worth it and so are you.

{Writing Life} The 5 Things You Need to Know to Finish Your Book

How to finish your book with advice from Secret Library Podcast guests

For close to two years, I’ve been interviewing authors every week for the Secret Library Podcast about the process of writing and publishing books. As we approach episode 100, I’ve been reflecting on the immense volume of advice and input that has come through the show. Themes have emerged and, when it comes down to it, many authors have similar things to say about what it takes to finish a book.

It is my greatest hope that this show inspires people to write. Whenever I get a response to the newsletter that says someone kept writing because of something they heard on the show, it makes me whole day- maybe even my whole month. Take these notes about writing to heart. It is possible for you to finish your book. Please keep going, with the following in mind:

1. Every book is different. Even if you’ve written many books, each one poses its own challenges. Don’t get stuck trying to find “one method that rules them all” that will work with every book you ever write from now on. And even if you do find that method, you’ll still get stuck. (V.E. Schwab was particularly eloquent on this last point.) As reassuring as hearing about other people’s routines is, the only one that matters is the one that works for you.

2. Finishing a book is doable, and happens all the time. One of my favorite comments from the show came from Scott Carney, who said “If you’re intimidated by writing a book, you’re probably looking at writing a book wrong.” He breaks his writing down into 500 words a day, no more and no less, and continues until he has a first draft. This may seem to contradict #1, but the benefit I have felt from talking to this many published authors is having it beaten into me that people finish books every day. If you keep writing, it will happen. Giving up is the only thing that will stop you from ending up with a finished manuscript.

3. Don’t force the process. This is particularly important with Fiction, but can come up with other forms of writing as well. If you feel like you’re having to squeeze it out of your brain, it’s not going to be fun to write or for anyone to read. I go back to an early episode with Sarah Selecky all the time, who talked about writing as a kind of magical transcription. If you sit in a place of curiosity and take notes from that place, the story will come. Keep showing up on your schedule, and be open to magic. This episode will change the way you think about writing fiction, and is such a relief. If you feel like you have to white knuckle your story onto the page, this conversation will set you free.

4. You’re in charge. So many people feel scared of the responsibility of writing a book, but a flip that many authors have reminded us of is this: where else do you get to be completely in charge of everything that happens in the whole world? Perhaps the tyranny of choice is a bit scary, but an alternative is to enjoy this experience. Frustrated at your job? Wish you had more say in some aspects of your life? Relish the fact that every single thing that happens in your book is up to you. Fall in love with the world you are writing about and immerse yourself. (J. Ryan Stradaal will share how smitten you can become with your world and how to keep going when research is too enticing)

5. Above all, know why you want to write THIS book. So many of us dream of writing books. I have since I was little. And each book that sits on a shelf somewhere started out as a “what if…?” for its author. To take it all the way to the final moment, the reason you’re writing it has to feel important to you. It doesn’t matter how much this book would mean to anyone else when you’re writing it. You will spend more time with this book than anyone else will, even if they read it numerous times. Find out why you HAVE to write this down and it will get done. Look to Natashia Deón’s drive to write while waiting at court for her job as inspiration, and Lisa Cron’s exploration of finding your why for support.)

Remember that you can do this, and that your writing matters. Speaking to writer after writer, each one tells me they get scared or blocked or worried that their book is total crap, but then they keep going and finish it anyway. And I am inspired by each one of them who keeps sitting down and doing the work. It’s hard to talk yourself into writing sometimes, but please remember that the end result is worth it. Your story is worth it.

Thank you for being brave and for continuing. More stories told makes a better world for all of us.

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