A 1-minute exercise to help you stop procrastinating

How to stop procrastinating and write: with this easy, 1 minute exercise you can overcome procrastination, stop struggling to start writing, and finally just start writing without stopping.


It’s like carrying a goat on your shoulders. Have you ever seen someone sling a full-grown goat over their shoulders?

(Maybe not, but let’s use our imaginations here.)

It weighs them down and pushes their head toward the ground and makes them generally wish it weren’t there.

That’s how I think of big projects I’m procrastinating on. Everything’s going dandy and then—bam—I remember I have to write something big tomorrow or finally face editing a tricky section of a proposal. It’s a bummer. Not because I don’t like the work of writing and editing (I love it), but because the anticipation makes me anxious, and every time I wonder if I’ll be able to actually do that writing and editing and do it well.

Instead, I’m tempted to distract myself with the easy stuff: emails, phone calls, contracts, and whatever else is less intimidating. And that goat of a project keeps weighing me down subconsciously, bleating to be done and generally stressing me out with how difficult it seems.

All procrastination is fear

Steven Pressfield calls this burden “resistance” in The War of Art. It’s resistance to start the difficult work. Elizabeth Gilbert said “All procrastination is fear” in Big Magic, and I don’t think I’ve ever underlined a sentence in a book so many times. We’ve all felt it, and every writer I’ve ever worked with has struggled with it at one time or another.

But what are we really afraid of? I’ve heard every fear you can think of from writers and bloggers, and here’s just a little sampling from the cornucopia:

Fear of not being able to stay focused. Fear of giving up and escaping to something easy instead. Fear of never finishing that book. Fear of it not selling. Fear of no one caring. Fear of having lost the magic that allowed us to write last time. Fear of being untalented. (But talent is a myth, and here’s why.)

Essentially, fear of it being hard—really, really hard.

But over the years, I’ve learned a few techniques from my authors and from plain ol’ trial and error that has taken the wind out of my procrastination sails. Now, I feel anxious if I procrastinate at all, and I try to do the hardest things first thing in the morning, when I can.

easy stop procrastinating writing

How can we stop procrastinating and finally write?

The key is realizing this: procrastination is not real. All those thoughts that race through our minds when we’re trying to wheedle our way out of writing are just thoughts. They are not reality. They are not who we are. They are not what’s happening in this moment now.

They are a story we are telling ourselves, a story no one can hear but us. And the way to hear, understand, and edit the stories we tell ourselves, just as we do with a piece of writing, is to practice mindfulness.

I think of mindfulness and writing as two sides of the same coin: one helps us fully live our own story from moment to moment, the other helps us live the stories of others. Both require a good amount of focus; both build compassion and empathy; both are a practice; both can kick your butt they are so hard.

Luckily, I work with authors who are much wiser than me, and so I wanted to share with you today a 1-minute practice I learned recently from my author, Jillian Pransky, which can help writers breathe through the fear and keep working on their manuscripts and books.

Jillian shares a remarkable program in her book, Deep Listening, which is just out from Rodale, called the Calm Body, Clear Mind, Open Heart program. She’s taught it all over the world for over 25 years, and you should see the devotion her students have for her. Her work is soaked in the magic of life-changingness—that light people get when they’re talking about something that changed a deep part of them.

Deep listening jillian pransky cover

The book is full of stories, reflections, practices, prompts, and mini-resets that are perfect for yogis but would also help any writer feel a little more brave and a little less anxious about their writing. But here’s one easy practice that I think will especially help writers overcome procrastination and the fear that whispers behind it.

This practice takes just 1 minute, and you can use it when you’re about to sit down to work or in moments where you feel resistance and procrastination rising. Go ahead and give it a try now! Read it through once, then close your eyes, do the practice, and see how you feel after.

A 1-minute exercise to help you stop procrastinating and start writing

Excerpted from Deep Listening by Jillian Pransky.

Instant Pause and Reset: Label and Let It Be

Pause to instantly reset your attention several times a day. Take a moment to notice the activity in your mind and body. Notice if you are “somewhere else,” doing “something else.” And draw yourself back into the present.

  • Pause and sense where your body meets the ground. Soften excess squinting and gripping in your face, neck, and shoulders. Let yourself land completely.
  • Notice what is going on in your mind and body right now. Label whatever you find…are you planning, worrying, sleepy, sad, happy. Maybe your body is achy, tight, or energized. It doesn’t matter what you find, you are just taking a moment to notice how you are and to label it and let it be.
  • Kindly bring your attention to your next three breaths and mentally chant for the length of your inhale, “I am” and for the duration of your exhale, “here now.” I am, here now.
  • Pause at the end of your third breath and notice your body and how you are meeting support. Open your awareness fully to the immediate space around you.
  • Welcome yourself into the moment just as you are. Slowly continue into your next activity.

Whew. I hope that helped you relax and face your writing with less tension and anxiety.

How to stick with it and stop procrastinating for good

If you found this exercise helpful, try bookmarking this page with a catchy tag like “Do this before writing.” I can’t ever seem to implement new practices unless I have them front-and-center with a “do this when/if/before” type of tag, and my computer is littered with documents like “Start here before writing a post” “Check this before submitting a proposal” etc.

So, in case your brain is as porous and forgetful as mine us, tuck this practice someplace safe and visible so you have a refuge next time the urge to procrastinate rises. And I hope it’ll help you put down that heavy goat of fear and procrastination so you can walk tall into the work that matters.

And if you want to learn more about Jillian’s practices, read more about Deep Listening:

“World-renowned restorative yoga teacher Jillian Pransky came to the practice of yoga to heal herself. For much of her life, she subscribed to a relentless work hard/play hard mentality, burying parts of herself beneath the pursuit of busy-ness and accomplishment. It wasn’t until a devastating personal loss and health crisis thrust her into suffocating anxiety that she stopped racing around. As she began to pause and examine her actions and emotions, she found herself able to unlock deeply seated tension in her mind and body. Since then, Pransky has been devoted to studying and teaching mindfulness practices, deep relaxation, and compassionate listening.

In Deep Listening, Pransky presents her signature Calm Body, Clear Mind, Open Heart program―a 10-step journey of self-exploration that she’s taught around the world. Derived from the techniques that healed her, the practice of Deep Listening invites you to pay close attention to your body, mind, and heart. You’re taught how to tune inward and relax into a state of openness, ease, and clarity. This is the new frontier in integrative wellness―mindfulness designed for healing.

Pransky doesn’t ask you to ‘be your best self,’ or ‘do more!’ She asks you to ‘be here’ and ‘do less.’ She guides you gently through the stages of Deep Listening, from being present and noticing your tension to welcoming what you discover with softness and compassion. She integrates tools like guided meditations, journaling prompts, and restorative yoga poses to help you regard yourself with kindness and curiosity. Immersing yourself in the practice of Deep Listening will allow you to nurture your own well-being.”

To find more practices for relaxation and centering, order a copy of Deep Listening on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or from your favorite local bookstore!

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Class I’m Excited About This Week

literary agent books blog

Guys, Food Blogger Pro is open again! I know a lot of you signed up during the last enrollment period, and I hope you’ve been enjoying all the class material and videos as much as I’ve been.

In case you’re not familiar with Food Blogger Pro, it is one of only two classes I’ll recommend for bloggers. It’s, by far, the best way to learn how to start and grow a blog, even if you blog about things other than food. I feel so strongly about it for a few reasons:

  1. Lindsay and Bjork of Pinch of Yum are at the top of the blogging world, and they make as much as $30,000+ per month on their blog, with millions of page views per month. Because I work in publishing, I’m always highly skeptical of people who tout themselves as experts but don’t have the numbers to prove it. But I also think when you find someone who is clearly one of the best and is willing to teach you everything they know, you have to jump on it. I did–I’ve been a member of FBP for 3+ months, and I feel so much better about blogging knowing I have the huge FBP archive and community at my fingertips. It’s been so much more fun to blog now that I feel less in the dark about how to do it!
  2. I actually think it’s a ridiculously good deal. I work with or know a lot of experts who sell their Everything-I-Know classes for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, so at $29 a month, FBP feels like a steal. (I mean, I spend more on dog treats for Pepper. And my ROI is a big fat zero on those.)
  3. A lot of the very best bloggers, who have now become bestselling authors, went through Food Blogger Pro. It’s a class and community that I admire because it shows you how to build a site and spread your work with integrity–after all, you don’t want to learn how to grow a blog from the shouty, annoying types on the internet. To me, FBP provides a clear North Star-like guide to making this blog better for you all, instead of forcing me to sift through weird or flash-in-the-pan advice that pops up on Pinterest or Google.

But enough from me, you can read more about the class and sign up for Food Blogger Pro here! And if it feels like a fit for you, you can use my promo code to get 10% off a yearly membership or $3 off the monthly membership.

(If you do decide to try FBP, would you consider using the links above? It provides a small commission to fund the hours of work we put into c&b. Hope to see you inside Food Blogger Pro–if you join, say hi!)


What I’m Reading This Week

5-Minute Meditation With Mindfulness Expert Jillian Pransky (Forbes): If you’d like to go deeper right now, try this beautiful 5-minute video meditation with Jillian. It’s the instant breath of fresh air your mind needs!

How Information Overload Robs Us of Our Creativity: What the Scientific Research Shows (Josh Jones on Open Culture): Scientific proof that we need to wash and wring out our brains every once in awhile if we’re going to be creative.

The 6 Things Always on Your Writer’s To-Do List (Rachel Geisel): “As writers, we write and we read. And at a basic level, this is all you really need. But you don’t have to be writing 24/7 to be involved in your writing life, and you shouldn’t try to.”

The Angsty Relationships Between Writing and Sales (Andi Cumbo-Floyd on JaneFriedman.com): “…it’s really okay to promote your own work, even if people tell you it’s not. You are proud of what you write, teach, provide. Put it out in the world. Let your flowers rise up toward the sun.” Amen.

Radhika Jones, Vanity Fair’s Surprise Choice, Is Ready to Go (Sydney Ember for The New York Times): And in industry moves, the Editorial Director of the books department at the Times is heading over to Vanity Fair.


What We’re Eating This Week

Because last week was such a garbage fire of busy, this week I’m trying this new thing called eat like a normal person and actually cook at home, you lazy sack. The Yelp reviews for dinner at our house this week would be a solid 4 stars–we’re not the best, but hey, we could be worse.

Sunday: Ropa Vieja, made from a recipe given to us by a friend from an old Cuban cookbook. This alone dragged our dinner table Yelp rating up by at least 1/2 a star.

Monday: “We’re trying to be healthy”: a phrase I say dozens of times per week, usually while eating salad bathed in ranch dressing and feeling delusionally virtuous. We made the Teriyaki Chicken Cauliflower Bowls from SkinnyTaste: Fast and Slow, and they were a huge hit, maybe because I added wasabi mayo dressing, extra teriyaki sauce, and 2 glasses of wine as a side to the recipe. But hey, the book still says 236 calories per serving, so I’m going with that.

Tuesday: Glorious, cheesy pasta: Brussels Sprouts and Three-Cheese Pasta Bake from Smitten Kitchen Every Day. Because we were healthy yesterday, you know?

Wednesday: My lovely author Robyn’s White Chicken Chili recipe, which I’m doggedly trying to teach Jarrett to make and he’s doggedly flattering that “I make it best.” Stand-off continues; war looms.

Thursday: I’m running two book auctions this week, so Thursday will be beautiful, effortless takeout. Pizza or Chinese? That’s the only decision my brain can handle after the frenzy of an auction.

Friday: The most basic ground beef tacos, because hey, we’re a 4 star joint, not a 5-star one. Deal with it.

Cheers!

Read More

Why talent is a myth, and the 3 things you actually need to be a bestseller

Why writing talent is a myth, and the 3 things that can actually help you become a bestselling author.


I was scrolling through my Instagram feed on Monday when something stopped me:

“I’m afraid I’m not talented enough.”

It was a caption on a pretty photo of a journal, and it was by a young writer who wasn’t sure she should keep going.

I could almost picture the real scene. The paralysis and anxiety about opening her manuscript. The embarrassment and self-criticism over what she’d written already. The fear that it was all for nothing. The escape to social media so she wouldn’t have to face those hard feelings.

I know it all, because I’ve been there, too. Who wouldn’t rather watch panda videos instead of doing the hard work? (She says as she Googles for panda videos…)

But anyone who’s ever written anything, from a novel to a blog post to a pitch letter, has had those same sinking feelings.

What if we don’t have what it takes? What if we’re not talented?

This nagging fear crops up everywhere, and it makes us wonder if, no matter how much effort we put in, we’ll just never be any good. We say we want to write, but then life gets in the way. Yet if we’re honest with ourselves, what’s really keeping us from writing?

It’s us. Our own fear.

The fear that we’re not talented enough.

how to become a bestselling author

But here’s what I’ve come to realize, after nearly a decade of working with writers and successful authors: that person who seems “talented”? They just have more experience.

It may seem like talented is a natural state for some, but that’s because all we see is the output of today and not the inputs of their entire lives. It’s a totally bogus construct. Most likely, that person began paying attention to writing before you, or maybe, through luck and circumstance, they have more time each day to pay attention to writing. They’ve simply accrued more hours on their experience meter, or they’ve had higher quality inputs. They’re not innately “better” than you–I promise!

What do I mean by inputs? I know we’re not machines, but I’ve always found it helpful to think of the creative mind like a container, one which has both inputs and outputs.

The output—the quality of your work—can only be made with the inputs that already exist in the container. Inputs can be anything. A creative mind is like a sponge, and it sops up anything and everything it finds interesting, even if it has no immediate use for it.

Inputs can be:

  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Art
  • Music
  • TV shows
  • Advice
  • Classes
  • Research
  • Nature
  • Conversations

See? Anything. But the key is:

The more high-quality inputs you have, the higher-quality your output is.

If you started reading The New Yorker at 7, you will be a better writer than most people, simply because you’ve absorbed the cadences of good writing. If you’re reading US Weekly and corporate memos most days, your inputs are mucking up your mind, and you may have to unlearn some bad cadences and turns of phrase.

Since we can’t see most people’s inputs, we assume their superior output is coming from someplace else: their talent. Instead, it’s coming from their superior inputs.

Which, trust me, is great news: it means all you have to do to up your game is fill yourself with the best writing, reading, and other inputs you can.

But fears are like whack-a-mole. You finally stop worrying about whether you’re talented, and then you start worrying about whether you’re self-disciplined enough. Or smart enough. Or clever enough. Or literally [any adjective] enough. Instead, we need to unplug the game and go get a drink at the bar. Um, I mean…stop letting the moles run the show.

That’s what separates bestselling authors from struggling authors. They know that the fears will always be there, but they don’t let them run the show.

Instead, bestselling authors have 3 deep beliefs about themselves and the world that make them completely unstoppable.

That’s why I believe that part of the work of being a writer, blogger, or creative of any kind is character-building. Without methodically developing these 3 beliefs, just like you methodically develop your writing or photos, you can only go so far.

Here are the 3 beliefs that separate bestselling authors from the rest:

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How to waste time in a way that makes you more creative

3 ways to flex your creativity and stretch your brain, even if you don’t have energy to read or write.

“I am SO tired.”

I had just finished working, and I was collapsed on the couch, feeling dazed from staring at the screen all day. We had dinner to make, laundry to do, a million to-dos still pending from the work day, and all Jarrett and I wanted to do was zone out in front of the TV.

So we did just that. We poured some wine, scrambled some eggs for dinner, and planted ourselves onto the couch to watch House Hunters. (Have you seen Tiny House Hunters? I’m in love!)

But that feeling of guilt, that I was “wasting” time when I should have been reading the millions of books on my TBR list or writing my next piece? It wasn’t there.

In fact, I waste time like this every week. Even though I work on books about productivity, creativity, and personal growth, I totally veg out sometimes.

And that’s okay.

In fact, science shows that you’re at your most creative when you’re tired at the end of the day. So wasting time—either by doing nothing at all or doing something not goal-oriented–will actually make you more likely to make novel connections between things and to refresh your perspective for the next day.

And you don’t have to feel guilty about it. Because isn’t that the double-edged sword? We feel guilty when we “waste” our time going down rabbit holes online or channel surfing, but we also feel unhappy and exhausted when we pack every minute of our days with useful, productive things.

The reality is: even those things we think of as time-wasters are incredible for our creativity and learning, as long as we’re engaging in them the right way. What’s the right way? More on that below!

3 ways to transform your time-wasting tasks into creative rocket fuel

(even if you don’t have energy to read or write)

how to be more creative anytime

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6 mindfulness practices to relax into your work

It’s 77 degrees in Alexandria today. (What?!)

Spring is popping up in every corner, and Pepper has had more long walks this past week than she knows what to do with. She loves to chase squirrel trails (which I’m convinced she’s just pretending to pick up on so that she can go berserk), and she runs so fast that she practically drags my lazy butt down the running path.

mindfulness practices for writers

But it feels so good to finally be entering into spring—I love that feeling of both new energy and slow growth. It’s equal parts raring-to-go and stop-and-sniff-the-flowers (or be dragged away from the flowers by your embarrassingly athletic dog).

Isn’t that the same balance we strive to keep in our work? Excited and energetic, yet still calm, composed, and present. Which isn’t easy for writers—I think nearly every writer or blogger would own up to being neurotic or perfectionistic or overachievers or wound a little too tight in one way or another. (I think their agent might be guilty of this, too. Ahem.)

So today I’m sharing 6 mindfulness practices that can help bring a little more zen into your day-to-day work. I think we’re all guilty sometimes of being so results-oriented and efficiency-driven that we completely forget that we actually like doing this work that’s in front of us.

I know that happens to me all the time! Half the time that I’m editing proposals or answering emails my shoulders are so tense and my jaw so clenched that it feels like I’m shouldering through some sort of terrible trial. But in reality, I love editing proposals, and I love chatting on email with my authors. With just a few calming breaths and some of these mindfulness practices, I’m reminded that I love this work I do and that it’s okay to relax and enjoy it.

Maybe the same thing happens to you?

You sit down to write and find yourself so pressured by the ticking clock or the word count or your own expectations that your whole body tenses up?

Or maybe you find yourself knotted into a ball of stress as you’re drafting query letters, or writing social media posts, or responding to email?

If so, head on over and read this article on The Kitchn!

It’s framed around work in the kitchen, but these practices can just as easily be applied to showing up at your computer to write or facing a stack of pages to edit.

I hope it’s a little reminder in the middle of your week that, once we learn to relax into our tasks, anything can become the soothing and meaningful experience we search for in meditation and yoga. So for those of you who show up to a manuscript or a computer or a kitchen every day, remember to breathe, feeling deep gratitude for this moment, right here, right now, with this work.

Mindfulness Practices for writers


What I’m Reading This Week

Ready to Learn How to Write With Purpose? (Kristen Kieffer of Well-Storied): Since we’re chatting about being purposeful today, it was perfect timing that Kristen released this free 46-page workbook! Aren’t we all trying to bridge the gap between what our ideal workday looks like and our actual habits? If you’re nodding “yes” along with me, then this is a great resource to help you take a few more steps toward getting it right.

The Why of Urgent Vs. Important (Seth Godin): “The reason we go for urgent is that it makes us feel competent. We’re good at it. We didn’t used to be, but we are now. Important, on the other hand, is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure. Now that you know why, you can dance with it.”

Remember Chutes and Ladders? Book Publishing is Just Like the Game (Emily Wenstrom on The Write Life): This is a great inside look at how to speed up (or slow down) your journey toward reaching your publishing goals. And yes! Be bold and chase down any leads, always staying professional along the way.

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds (Elizabeth Kolbert for The New Yorker): “People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.”

12 Tips for Pitching Articles to Publications and Websites (Dianne Jacob): Essential tips for pitching to both online and print outlets! Make sure you scan through these before starting in on pitching a piece.


What We’re Eating This Week

Another week without traveling for work means lots of fun things to cook! And would you believe this: we ended up with the pickiest eater of a dog. I’m now the world’s most accomplished chopper-upper of hot dogs. There has to be a culinary award in this.

Monday: Ah, Monday. I always feel better about you if I have a salad on deck for dinner. Otto-inspired Italian chopped salad it is (with extra salami, of course).

Tuesday: Soboro beef with rice and broccoli, using this Bon Appétit recipe. Easy, yummy, and not a hot dog. Checks all the boxes!

Wednesday: Thai chicken and rice noodle soup, from my author Jenn of Once Upon a Chef. Because springtime means soup…? I don’t know, I just wanted soup. Welp.

Thursday: Arroz cubano, just like my Yaya makes! Start by packing some white rice into a cup, turn it over, and shake it out to form a little mountain. Then top with whatever kind of tomato sauce you like and a crispy-edged, olive-oil-fried egg. Kids love it; adults love it; dogs better not decide they love it.

Friday: ??? I have no idea. Can we have gin and tonics for dinner?

Cheers!