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?


Why you need to schedule a goal-setting day this month

I’ve been thinking a lot about goal-setting lately. Every month, I do a little Monthly Review (inspired by this method from ZenHabits), where I go back and look at how things went that month in some important areas of my life. For me, these important areas are:

  • Spiritual Life
  • Health
  • Relationships
  • Career

And then I end with a little “Hopes for Next Month” section, where I jot down a few things that I want to think on or work on for the next month.

I can’t tell you how invigorating and inspiring this practice has been. I only started in January 2016, but it’s something I don’t think I’d ever give up now.

 literary agent blog goals for writers lon

We spend so much of our lives in the thick of things, so busy getting everything done that we straight forget what we are actually doing in this big game of life. We only see the immediate to-dos looming over our next few days and weeks, and the future is a blurry mess of hopes. Usually, the past is even blurrier—I know I’m so guilty of glossing over successes and moving on to the next thing right away!

This is so especially true of us creative types who work for ourselves or have a side hustle we want to develop. There’s no boss that’s going to sit you down at the end of the year and grade your performance. (Believe it or not, I actually miss the year-end reviews from my previous corporate life!) And there’s no time allotted for you to set goals for next year and to plan your long-term career trajectory. There’s also no bonus to reward you for all those times you pushed through to meet a goal. It’s all on you.

That’s why you need to take goal-setting time for yourself.

No one’s going to come along and tap you on the shoulder incessantly until you schedule in that time. (I’m tempted to do that, but consider this your official nagging from your local literary agent on the subject!)

But really, I can’t stress enough how important this is for writers, bloggers, everyone. If you’re involved in any creative endeavor whatsoever, even if it’s just a side project, then you really owe it to yourself to be intentional about how you spend your time.

And you absolutely owe it to yourself to celebrate your accomplishments in 2016 and get excited for the adventures of 2017.

Your creative life will feel so much richer and more meaningful if you can see the big picture, if you can be mindful of your strengths and weaknesses, and if you can be intentional about what you want to accomplish and what you don’t.

That’s just another reason to love these last quiet weeks of the year. At least in publishing, things are a little slower, more people are out of the office, and there’s more time to do big-picture planning.

The problem is: most of us have no idea how to set goals the right way. (And yes, there is definitely a right way.) Yet, as we all know, goals are high-stakes. We feel awful about ourselves when we don’t meet our goals, and we feel amazing when we crush them. So setting them at all becomes a highly emotional process. How do we know our goals aren’t too easy? How do we know they’re unrealistic? How many goals should we be setting? And the big one: how in the heck are we supposed to put a plan in place to accomplish those goals? We all know it’s not as easy as making a list of things we’d like to do.

The truth is: no one is born knowing these things. Just because you’ve successfully knocked off goals in the past doesn’t mean 2017 won’t throw you some curve balls. Just because you’ve missed some goals in the past doesn’t mean 2017 won’t be the year you hit it out of the park.

But as I talked about here, books and the experts who write them pull us off the isolated island of our own experience and immerse us in the stream of collective learning. There’s no reason we have to struggle on our own when there are hundreds of resources out there for learning important life skills. And you betchya that goal-setting should be one of them.

So this year, I highly recommend making “Set up a system for making and meeting goals” one of your goals.

Yes, a goal about goals. It’s weird. But it’ll be fun to challenge yourself to learn a new goal-setting process, and it’s going to lay the foundation for many, many years of accomplishments.

Personally, I’m going to take all the expert help I can get this year and put a chunk of my continuing education budget (i.e. my book budget) into Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever class. I’ve been a huge fan of all things Hyatt for many years (he was the former CEO of Thomas Nelson publishers, for anyone who doesn’t know him), and he builds better resources for advancing your career and creative life than anyone out there.

Michael kicked things off this week with a LifeScore Assessment, which I found really fascinating. It only takes a few minutes, it’s free, and it’s a great way to see where you are now. Take a few extra minutes to read through all 4 options for each of the areas of life—I think it’ll inspire you to let go of complacency in 2017.

My score was a 76, but I’d love to hear what you got! Take it here for free.

And if you’re interested in signing up for his class with me, you can read more about it here. I won’t go yadda yadda about all you could learn in it, but I do think it’s one of the few online classes that will give you a strong return on your investment. Especially since it teaches you a process you can apply to anything, rather than a very niche skill.

He’s closing to new students on December 15th so that the whole class can go through the program together, but he’s running an early bird discount now until this Thursday. So save some money and go for it now, if you feel like it’s right for you!

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What I’m Reading

How to Smartly Evaluate a Small Publisher (Jane Friedman): I’ve worked at small, medium, and Big 5 publishers, and I’ve seen how drastically the publishing experience can vary based on what kind of house you’re with. Here are some very smart questions to ask when deciding whether to sign with a smaller house.

The Making of a Cookbook (Chandra Ram for Plate): This is a fantastic piece, with deep detail, about how the team behind the Fat Rice restaurant got their cookbook deal then created and launched The Adventures of Fat Rice.

5 Bookish Christmas Eve Traditions to Start This Year (Kate Scott for BookRiot): My favorite holiday tradition? Spend alllllll of Christmas day reading a book. Requires little set-up and allows for maximum mid-chapter snacking!

So Many Ways to Organize a Cookbook (Dianne Jacob): On the art of creating a cookbook table of contents!

The Miracle of Mindfulness (Thich Nhat Hanh): I loved this conversation between Krista Tippett and Thich Nhat Hanh on the On Being podcast so deeply that I immediately put The Miracle of Mindfulness, How to Relax, and The Long Road Turns to Joy on my reading list. I’ve been so enjoying dipping into How to Relax and am already planning on gifting it to a few people this season, but I think The Miracle of Mindfulness is the best place to start for someone new to mindfulness.

What We’re Eating

Another week on the road for me! Dinner prospects are bleak. (Luckily, I usually have editor or author lunches booked, so at least I get one wonderful meal a day.)

Monday: We had our night of volunteering with The Reading Connection, so we ate the lentil soup I had made Sunday night. This was no hardship at all. I think lentil soup is one of the most perfect foods. My recipe involves dumping a lot of spices in the pot and tasting over and over until it’s just how I like it.

Tuesday: I’m up in NYC, so tortilla de patata with my grandma it is!

Wednesday: ???

Thursday: Send help.

Friday: Back home to homemade pizza and beer. Amen.


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(By the way, I partnered with the Hyatt team to spread the word about his class, but only because I’d buy it myself!)

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Why and How to Take a Writing Sabbatical

Happy Monday! I know that’s not a thing, but I so rarely pop in to say hi to you all on Mondays that I couldn’t resist. I hope everyone had a great weekend (we went camping!) and is feeling great about what’s on deck for the week ahead.

you can't rush something you want to last forever quote printable

Personally, I’m feeling fantastic about this week. And that’s because I’m changing up the routine.

I will be taking a blogging sabbatical for several weeks to do some much-needed refocusing and rebalancing.

This September I came back from our wedding and mini-moon blurry-eyed, blinking, wondering what’s next, yet still digging out from the to-dos that were pushed off for a year until after the wedding. We started a lot of sentences this year with “after the wedding,” and now that “after the wedding” has arrived, I feel like I need to shake off the head-down, just-get-it-done fog that’s been over me for much of this year. It’s time to resurface, look around, and get clear-eyed again.

It’s only September, but I’m already wondering where this year went. Maybe you are, too? Maybe you see the colors outside starting to change, but your eyes are pulled back to the computer screen before you can fully register them? Maybe you’re certain you don’t have time to stop and take a walk outside to enjoy the fall air? There’s so much to do, and walking isn’t very productive, right?

I hear you. I’ve spent most of the past year trying to maximize my output, and now that I’m finally over the hump and coasting down the hill, I want to hold on to that feeling a bit longer. I want a little more wind in my hair and a little less hunching over a screen.

a sabbatical break for writers

If you’re feeling that way, too, you might want to consider taking a sabbatical from writing, blogging, or other creative work. A sabbatical can teach you just as much as a work-packed month, and it will allow you to:

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