Boundaries and Writing

I made the mistake, the one that every freelancer warns about. It’s so hard, isn’t it? You think you have a flexible schedule, and you find yourself giving away an hour here, an hour there. What’s a half-day here? A little time there?

And suddenly, writing full-time has become writing three or four days a week.


Long story short, I sat down with my schedule tonight. I need to undo some commitments, particularly the non-paying kind. Not my volunteering day. That’s a sacred day. The other sacred day is Glenn day. He didn’t hit the road so he can watch me write; we need to go out and see stuff, once a week. And taking one day off every week won’t kill me.


So that leaves five days, and I truly need five full days of writing, with no errands, hour-here or hour-there stuff in the middle of the day.

Um, duh, it’s a full-time job.

I know lots of moms run around in between writing snatches. Some thrive while writing amidst chaos. Others, like Nora Roberts, shut their office door, and there better be blood or fire if her kids interrupt her. (Or did: they’re grown now.)

The bit about Nora does give me some relief. In the middle of stressing about this, I did have a moment of panic: if I let life get to my writing with NO kids, how am I going to do it WITH kids?

Still just a little panicky about that, but MILLIONS of moms work full-time jobs while raising kids. And I wouldn’t mind the door being open. What really kills my productivity is running to the store, doing errands, or doing an hour class here or whatnot.

Lastly, all the studies show that for optimum creativity, you need to have the butt in chair at a regular time, so the biorhythms or some such thing know when to show up. And this isn’t exactly a business where you can thrive with sub-optimum creativity.


I’ve been stressing about this for days. Sometimes, you just have to say, “I can’t do that, I’m sorry.”

So what about you? How do you enforce boundaries around your writing? Do you aim for a regular time? Or do you work best with a day-to-day, flexible schedule that changes? And do you stress out about saying no? How do you say no?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags:

Practical Writing Motivation

Now to apply the research to writing. A few days ago, I posted about my latest readings on motivation and productivity. I have three “idea” and personal goals for the year, but I’m still working on my writing and career goals.

(Sorry about all these posts. I wrote them a few days ago, while strategizing for the year. I’ll be done in a week. :-)

If you’re a numbers person, check out my spreadsheets with the pretty graphs that track word count and multiple book projects. All, except the Google one, have been updated. If you want one customized to you, just email me at spyscribbler through gmail and I’ll be happy to help.

If you’re looking for some different ideas on self-motivation, keep reading. :-)

1. Set learning goals instead of performance goals. For big goals, learn to write a novel with multiple viewpoints is better than sell a novel to New York. On a day-to-day basis, try focusing on paragraph construction, or juggling sentence structure, or rhythm, or getting deeper into a character’s emotion.

2. Expect and treasure the grit. A lot of mastery isn’t fun. In sports, you’ve got the endless sit-ups and weight-lifting and whatnot. It’s been proven that the more you embrace and do the grit work, the more successful you are.

How to enjoy the grit work? I don’t know. I like feeling sore in sports, but I’m not sure there’s a writing equivalent. :-)

3. Visualize the work and the obstacles, not the end result. Studies show that visualizing the achievement, like your books on the shelf or whatnot, makes you happier, but they actually hinder your progress and motivation in the long run.

Instead, visualize the day-to-day work. Tiger Woods visualizes his golf swing, not the trophy. :-) You can throw in the trophy, but first visualize the possible obstacles to your goal, and then visualize yourself mastering those obstacles.

4. Make mastery goals. I’ve said before that art is striving toward unreachable perfection. Mastery is the same way. “Mastery attracts because mastery eludes.”

Writing the “perfect” novel may be a good lifetime goal, but on a day-to-day basis to avoid the perfectionism trap, Daniel Pink suggests asking yourself, “Was I better today than yesterday?”

5. Practice deliberately. Always change. If you keep doing the same practice, you will get the same results. When you catch yourself saying, “But I have to do it this way,” then change. Try a new way. Shake things up. Stretch yourself. Change your approach.

6. Chase flow. Figure out how you get in the flow, and then go after it. Flow is the ultimate intrinsic reward, and the gist of what I’ve researched this week has been it’s more motivating to replace extrinsic with intrinsic goals.

7. Profit as a pathway to purpose: Money objectives are more powerful if you make them a pathway to a life purpose, like a charity or a “calling” or whatnot.

For example, in my last story, sure, I wanted to be able to pay the bills. But that stresses me out and worries me and makes me second-guess.

But when I make my goal to touch my readers’ hearts, or to make them feel understood and respected and accepted, I’m motivated.

8. Schedule a weekly Play Day: Confession time: I used to do this with my student’s piano assignments. One practice a week, they could practice ANYTHING they wanted, for as little or as long as they wanted. One year, I started making the “play day” optional, and there was a HUGE DIFFERENCE in student motivation. That play day felt silly when we had so much to accomplish, but in reality, the motivation they lost when they skipped the play day did not make up for the extra day of “real work” they did. In fact, it put them at –1.

Studies show that spending twenty percent of your working life on meaningful, purposeful, and/or fun work strictly for YOUR purpose and/or pleasure, prevents burnout and increases both happiness and motivation.

And increases creativity.

So take a day each week, or at least an afternoon, to experiment. Write something just for you, not for your goals. Write a poem. Write a letter to the editor about a cause you’re passionate about. Play with that novel you don’t think is marketable. Try a new voice, or a new point of view.

Play! :-)

What think you on all this? Any other tips to share?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags: , ,

Motivation and Writing I

I always read or skim books on motivation or learning. Even though I’m no longer teaching, I use it for myself. Yesterday, I discovered Drive by Daniel Pink, which has some hard, scientific studies on motivation and productivity, and my experience as a teacher agrees with his findings.

I’m sorry this is a little long, but I think it’s worth it. It does have some new ideas on the subject, all based in real-world research.

I was surprised that money, beyond that which puts food on the table, does not actually motivate us well. One study found that people will do things for charity or for free far more than they will do things for money.

Mark Twain summed this idea up:

There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign.

Other findings?

Higher rewards lead to worse performance.

Rewards narrow our focus and hinder creativity. In artists, commissioned works were rated as having the same technical quality as non-commissioned works, but commissioned works were rated as less creative.

“The highest levels of creativity were produced by subjects who received a reward as a kind of a bonus,” of which they had no knowledge until after they completed the task. And those rewards are better if they’re praise, feedback, or useful information about their work, rather than monetary or materialistic rewards.

The studies also show (and I’d say they pretty much 100% agree with my experience as a teacher) that the stick and carrot approach does not work as well as we like to think it does.

Three things work:

Autonomy: A full feeling of choice. The research says makes for happier people. There can be deadlines, but people need to feel like they can get the job done the way they want to get it done.

Writing is like this, of course. Easy-peasy. :-)

Mastery: Improvement, rather than results, make more effective goals. “The desire for intellectual challenge—that is, the urge to master something new and engaging—was the best predictor of productivity.”

This fascinates me. I said before that “numbers” goals were not terribly motivating to me. Perhaps I need to focus more on mastery goals.

Purpose: People who set profit goals tend to be anxious and depressed while pursuing them, and unhappy when they achieve them. People who set purpose goals are happier as they work, and fulfilled when they achieve them.

In writing, I suppose a goal of “making readers feel understood” is more motivating than “make $50,000 this year.”

In a couple days, I’ve got another post on the practical applications of this information for writers.

What think you about the above? And what motivates you? When are you most productive? How are you most driven?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Musings | Tags: , , ,

Persistence and Determination

It’s the fall equinox, the time for celebrating one’s yearly harvest, meaning one must take stock of one’s yearly harvest. Some years feel more depressing than a cause for celebration, but we try.

When I tripped over this quote by Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, I thought it would be inspirational for this time of year.

Press on; nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; un-rewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Now I’m off to plant some more seeds, see if I can squeeze in an Indian summer harvest. :-) I never seem to be happy with my word count, so I’ve been focusing on getting a solid 8 hours a day with the word document open and my fingers typing.

How was your harvest this year? Writing? Family? Career? Life?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Musings | Tags: , ,

Ya’ Lazy Louse!

I’m writing all out of order again. I’ve got about 15K of the end, and today I filled out two scenes in the beginning. And added more to the end. Ended up, by the end of the day, having written over 5,000 words.

I really dislike when my process changes. I’d rather it stay the same. Predictable and reliable. IN ORDER.

Anyhow, it sounds like a productive day, doesn’t it?


I didn’t get up. I didn’t dress. I didn’t shower. I didn’t brush my teeth. I just lay in bed and wrote until I was done. Until 2pm.

I was going to get up after the writing and go to a movie, but then I remembered that I set the absolutely crazy goal of reading 365 books this year and I’m a bit worried I’ve bitten off more than is humanly possible to chew.

But I told you guys. So now I’m embarrassed. So I sat in bed for another three and half hours, reading. The sun was shining, a nice breeze was blowing through my camper, and everything was drying out in preparation to be rained and leaked on again tonight. The window is right here when I’m in my bed, whereas if I sit at my little tiny desk, I’m looking at the dirty dishes in my sink. I mean, if I want to look at the window from my little desk, I have to put forth the incredible effort and TURN MY HEAD.

This is the life.

So I can look at this in two ways. I’m writing a lot and reading a lot and that’s productive to my goals and I need to do that every day. Worse, out of the last week, if I lie in bed and don’t get out until I finish writing, I get my writing goals done before 11am or 1pm or 2pm. If I get up like a normal human being? I get nothing done.

(I would’ve sat outside but it was raining. I might be able to sit outside tonight, if it doesn’t rain. But it will. :-( This is Ohio.)

Or you can look at it like the whole campground probably sees it: that lazy louse in the little camper lays in bed all day. She didn’t get up until 2pm!

I promise to go on an hour walk every night (while listening to books on tape… this goal was a lot bigger than I thought it was). I promise to do yoga every night. A whole hour. I promise to go hiking this weekend. I promise to patch the leaks in my camper… soon. I might even go to the county fair tonight.

I still feel guilty. I still feel like I lay in bed all day like a lazy louse. See? I’m the one who gives writers a bad rap.

Jury: What’s the verdict? What would you do?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags: ,

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