Boundaries, Writers! (A four-part series)

Guest Post by Christina Kaake

As therapists, here’s a concept you know and love, right?

Well for those of you who have stuff to write, and particularly if you have trouble with writing anxiety, boundaries are your BEST writing friend! Set yourself some keyboard-related boundaries because they give you an incredible edge in finishing what you start and, importantly, making sure you finish strong.

I’m sure some of you are excited about even the concept of a new boundary to set (amiright?) and some of you think this makes no sense at all, so let’s get down to hard rules. Maelisa recently asked a bunch of you who are currently working on writing projects what your writing weaknesses are.

Concerns that came up a lot were overthinking what you write and/or writing too much.

We also heard from people who are too personal or too vague, and from a few of you who love exclamation points (ahem, Maelisa). Over the next few weeks, we’re going to address all of those problems, and every single one has — you guessed it — a corresponding boundary!

Get the Party Started—Part One

I’ve been there: The blank computer screen and the 1001 excuses not to focus on it. I think every writer (or college student) has been there. There’s always something else you could be doing, another project that needs your attention, and the nagging self-doubt that always seems to win those internal arguments.

If you have trouble starting there are boundaries and tips to get you over the hump.

A few of the boundaries are simple, so we’ll start with those.

Make It Happen

Set yourself a schedule. Whether you write daily, weekly, or monthly, or you tackle your projects for one hour or eight, successful professional writers know that you need to treat writing like any other job.

Create your schedule and stick to it just like you ask your clients to do.

You probably won’t charge yourself for a skipped appointment with your laptop, but you should remember that a note left unfinished could rear its ugly head with real-life consequences and web copy left unpublished results every day in missed sales and missed income.

Once you’ve got your schedule, make sure you set a specific goal every time you sit down to write.

I’m not talking goals like, “I will start my book today,” or “I will catch up on notes.” You want to sit down with a plan for a topic you’ll deal with or a number of words you’ll write. For example, “Today I will explain how I’ve used a reward system to get through a task that was difficult for me to stay focused on and finish in a timely manner.”

If that’s not enough to get you started, try some writer-tested, writer-approved techniques for breaking free of writer’s block.

Free writing and writing prompts are two techniques that work just as well for your professional work as they do for fiction writing. Using the example from above, if I know I want to explain how my reward system has worked but I’m still having trouble getting into it, I can free write about goals, rewards, and do a little journaling about the experience I want to relay to you.

Even if you go off track, allow yourself the freedom to do that.

Stick to your boundaries by setting a timer for your free writing exercise. When the timer goes off re-read what you’ve got and start pulling the important points out to expand on them.

If prompts are more your style, write some for yourself. Think of the question you get asked most often, and how you answer it or why it’s so difficult to answer for people.

What research is needed to tailor the answer to a person? Or what is frustrating about the question? Once you get stuck into answering those prompts, you may just find yourself with a blog post ready for editing. If you’re writing notes, try prompting yourself by asking what stuck out to you most from the session, and why.

If you’re still having trouble, try combining your new boundaries with a little excitement.

Treat Yo’self

How we all feel about this 21st century advice is probably a topic with enough oomph for its own entire set of blog posts. But I’m not advising that you go out and buy a new video game or purse, or have a night out at an expensive restaurant every time you write.

I’m talking about a small system of goals and rewards.

A few years ago I was regularly reviewing books, which in case you’re wondering, is a compulsive reader’s dream. Unless, of course, the book is badly written. The thing about journalism is that it includes a deadline for every project, which means having a hard time getting started is a Very Bad Problem.

One day, as I was trying to convince myself to read a particularly onerous book because the review was due the next day, I came up with a system. I knew what I really wanted to do was binge-watch my favorite show on Netflix. So I made a deal with myself that I could watch one episode for every two chapters I read.

Having that small reward to look forward to was truly a weight off my shoulders.

I could commit to two chapters at a time and in fact, most of the time I could get through four or five before stopping. I was able to finish the book on time, and the review, and I also gave myself permission to rest and relax.

If your writing project fills you with dread, give yourself permission to chill when you reach small goals.

Make sure they’re treats you really will be able to enjoy, and that will give you a true break from your work. If you’re a social media junkie, give yourself 15 minutes to zone out on Insta once you finish five notes. If you’ve got a new murder mystery on the bookshelf, let yourself read two chapters for every 500 words you write. If you love to bake, try out a bread recipe that requires resting and kneading, and work in between.

Regardless of what you choose, the excitement of getting that time to do something you love will keep you motivated and give you new energy to re-focus when you come back to your writing.

What tips and tricks have you used to get yourself on track?

If you need some help making your writing projects happen, consider joining the Therapist Writer’s Support Group. You got an email about it last week if you’re on the QA Prep mailing list and if you’re not already on the list, you can sign up here!

You can also check out some of Maelisa’s past blogs about writing notes here and here.