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

4 unexpected ways to make your book a perennial bestseller

The 4 best takeaways and a book review of Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts by Ryan Holiday–plus a free downloadable PDF art print to inspire you to become a perennial seller!


“That book has taken on a life of its own.”

I blinked at this—what did that mean? It was 2009, and I was working at a Big 5 publisher in New York.  I had asked one of the senior editors about a backlist book that was still selling and selling, even after 10 years.

The book was a perennial seller for the publishing house. It had built momentous word-of-mouth and now needed almost no help from the author or publisher to keep it selling steadily.  You can recognize these books because they wave you down with numbers: “2 million copies sold,” “now published in 15 countries!”

how to write a perennial seller book 1

What I wanted to know was exactly how that book had become a perennial bestseller. Was it the author’s platform? Was it the idea? Had they marketed the heck out of it?

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:

Read More

How is your writing going?

It’s our anniversary on Sunday! Jarrett and I are off to Richmond for the weekend, which is where we met and got engaged, and I’m crazy excited to stay at the new Quirk Hotel.

quirk hotel in richmond

Isn’t it pretty?

I may also be a complete lunatic and pack up my wedding dress to wear in the room…or around the lobby, if I’m brave enough. It’s just that I adore this dress, and it’s not fair that I’ve only gotten to wear it once.

155

So I’m taking a cue from this smart chick and wearing it again. And yes, Jarrett’s wearing his suit again. We might even recreate a few of our wedding photos. And we will definitely be eating the Dexter Cider Mill donuts (our “cake”) that are stashed in our freezer.

Did I mention that I can’t wait?

But in the meantime, I wanted to ask you a quick question: is there anything in your writing life that has you completely stumped lately? We talked all about our reading lives a few weeks ago in our survey, but now I’m curious to know how you guys are feeling about your writing.

For me, I’m feeling stumped about how to balance it all—I adore working with authors, writing + editing proposals, writing here to you guys, coaching my authors through the publishing process, and writing for The Kitchn now and then. I just want more time. Someone package me up and send me a bundle of time. (There’s a cooking joke in there somewhere.)

So I’d love to hear: what’s your biggest obstacle in your writing life right now?

I’d love to hear all about it, and the more details you can give me, the more I can try to help you out!

No fancy survey today—just email me at maria @ cooksplusbooks . com and let me know what’s on your mind. I LOVE hearing from you guys, and you can bet I will read and respond to every single one of your notes.

Can’t wait to chat!


As a thank you…

I’d buy you a drink if I could, but let’s go for the next best thing: a cocktail recipe! Here’s a Cucumber Jalapeno Gimlet recipe Jarrett developed a few weeks ago. It was GOOD. Really good. And it’s exactly what you need for soaking up these last few weeks of summer.

Cucumber Jalapeno Gimlet Recipe

cucumber jalapeno gimlet recipe

Makes 1 cocktail

For cocktail:
  • 5 slices of cucumber + more for garnish
  • 1-2 slices of jalapeno, seeds removed (optional)
  • ¾ oz. lime juice
  • 2 oz. cucumber gin
  • ¾ oz. mint syrup
  • Club soda
For mint syrup:
  • 5-6 mint leaves
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
For cucumber gin:
  • 3-4 cucumber slices
  • 1 cup gin
For the mint syrup: Add 5-6 mint leaves to 1 cup of water in a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of sugar and heat over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Let steep until cool, then strain out mint leaves.

For the cucumber gin: Chop 3-4 slices of cucumbers and place them in a glass with 1 cup of gin. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes, then strain out the cucumber.

For the cocktail: Pour the mint syrup into a shaker along with 5 slices of cucumbers and 2 slices of jalapeno (optional). Muddle, then add the lime juice and gin. Add ice up to level of liquid, and shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds. Double-strain into chilled coupe (or a Collins glass filled with ice, if you prefer); top with a splash of club soda. Add a cucumber or jalapeno slice for garnish.

Cheers!


What I’ve Been Reading This Week

Your Literary Twin, According to Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type (Carolyn Stanley for PureWow): Here’s a fun one for the weekend! I’m an INFJ, which means my literary twin is Jane Eyre. Who are you?

How to Write Your Book and Blog at The Same Time: 7 Strategies for Succeeding at Both (Chad R. Allen): I get asked about this all. The. Time. I’ll let Chad answer it this time–he has 7 great actionable steps you can take right away to get this issue sorted out. I think you’ll find this really helpful!

The Secret Life of a Book Manuscript (Thomas E. Ricks for The Atlantic): I love the subtitle for this piece: “A best-selling author submits a draft to his editor. Hijinks ensue.” I remember that feeling of getting a manuscript in from an author and realizing it was not the book you had signed up. It still makes me shudder. This is such a well-written and fascinating look at what happens when you need to take your manuscript apart and put it all back together, and how this can happen even to bestselling authors. So don’t stress if editing is tearing you up–you’re in great company.

How the Silent Book Club Gave Me Back My Reading Life (Maggie Downs for Literary Hub): Would you go to a public space to read silently with others? Here’s what Downs thought of it: “There aren’t enough words to convey how good this feels. I’m the mother of a toddler, and carving out reading time for myself has been a challenge. During the day, I’m either working or playing with my child. At night I can’t crack open a book without the crushing guilt of the dirty dishes or the overflowing laundry hamper or, hell, my actual professional work.” Me? I would totally do it.

The ‘New York Times’ Books Desk Will Make You Read Again (John Maher for Publisher’s Weekly): “Its chief critic took a buy-out. It’s consolidating like crazy. But the Gray Lady’s books team is neither flailing nor failing. Here’s what it is doing.”


What We’re Eating This Week

We were normal! Yes, we ate some pretty normal and home-cooked things this week, for a change. Nothing fancy–just the food, ma’m.

Monday: Mondo burrito bowls with charred corn and ground beef that Jarrett accidentally seasoned with thyme. (There HAS to be a cooking joke in there somewhere.)

Tuesday: Creamy Miso Fettucine with Brussels Sprouts from The Love & Lemons Cookbook, but with almonds instead of cashews, broccoli instead of brussels, and umami paste instead of miso, because apparently I never have the right ingredients for anything. It’s the thought that counts?

Wednesday: I am still crushing hard on these lentil bowls. My plan is to make them every week until I get tired of them and ruin a good thing. Hooray!

Thursday: Wine for dinner. I mean. We will order food, too. But we’ll be at Maxwell for a friend’s birthday, and you know how Thursdays go. #EntirelyMadeUpRationale

Friday: PIZZA NIGHT! I’m not excited except that I am, and it’s been months since we’ve had a shameless Friday pizza night. There will be plenty of salami and arugula on my pizza, plus my favorite roasted broccoli from Back Pocket Pasta. Yes and yes and yes.

Happy weekend!

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