Sunday, November 14, 2010

Discipline: Enough with The Crazies!

"It is not enough to have great qualities; we should also have the management of them." La Rochefoucauld

Ok, so for the sake of this post, let's swap qualities for talent.

There is a lament shared by those of us who work with writers (teachers; consultants(me); agents(used to be me); editors; and publishers (please forgive if I've left out a group)). It is the one that usually starts with: He was such a brilliant writer but couldn't get out of his own way! or She has the potential of becoming the next [insert name of favorite brilliant author here] but she always misses her deadline!

This lament ends with the reality that the brilliant writer will never fully realize their potential because they lack the clarity of mind and desire to order their lives in such a way that only their best will flow from them. The best effort. The best success. The best writing career they could have ever imaged for themselves. All because they couldn't make good choices. Couldn't manage their time well. Couldn't manage their talent.

This is why I do what I do - consult writers; not just about the business of publishing - that's just the half of it! I also talk with writers about the challenges in their lives and help them find ways through them so they can realize their own success to the fullest. I was so tired of seeing brilliant writers fail in their careers or not fully enjoy their potential because they couldn't manage their time, their attitude, their choices, their life! There were so many excuses! Here's the most popular; I'm having a crazy day/week/month/life! I'm crazy busy! Oh, to hang with it, as my grandma would say! I've really begun to dislike that word, crazy. It's a bad word. Crazy has been the culprit of missed deadlines, lost contracts, beyond rude tardiness or no shows to important meetings/lunches/phone calls/signings, etc. (And yes, some of this has to do with integrity and choices, but we'll get to that another post.) So, you'd think crazy means things are out of control right? As in, too many things out of your control. It's crazy's fault! Well. There are 10 definitions of the word crazy (as found on and not one of them define or allude to crazy as a definite or general loss of control.

The root of too much "crazy" is a general lack of organization. You could also be making better choices that keep you on a positive path toward producing your best work and/or finding your way toward publication. Pain and simple, my dears. Yep, it's time for the mama talk.

Ok, let's break this down. Let's look at organization first. If you're totally type A and a minimalist, you can skip the rest. If, on the contrary, you're like me, you'd rather watch a Hannah Montana marathon than organize your desk space, clean out your email inbox, and put stuff away where you can, you know, find it when you need it. Sigh. I know. You'd rather be writing, researching or connecting - the fun part of creativity! But writers, you've got to strive to become more organized. Because when you are, my dears, life just clicks into place almost effortlessly. It's a beautiful thing. And the benefit of having a place for everything and managing what comes in and out is that you're not wasting time searching for whatever it is you've lost...which usually dominoes into you being late or feeling frazzled, which tumbles into you having a "crazy" totally less than brilliantly productive day. What a waste!

So, if you can control something that would streamline your entire life, wouldn't you? Or do you like the feeling of being out of control...which does nothing for your writing, FYI. A disorganized life show up in your prose. Most agents can spot this dead on.

Your Action: Take a day or at least a few hours to totally organize your working space and email inbox. Today, if possible. Toss or donate what you don't need or haven't used. Keep what you always need or use and find a permanent home for those things. Keep them there and put them back when you've used them! My mom is the queen of this. Aren't all moms?

This is a totally messy process and that's ok. So is editing. You'll eventually find the right clean, organized workspace (major extra credit if you tackle the rest of your house). When you do, strive to keep it clean and let that positive, clutter-free energy flow into your writing. And music is important. Listen to music while you're doing this. Mondays are my organizing days. I think I'll stream in some Stevie Wonder...

And, hey, wield the word crazy only when truly appropriate.

Tomorrow we'll take a look at how making the right choices positively affect your writing and your writer's life.



  1. Sometime, you just have to cut the crap out of your life! I think being disorganized and distracted comes from doing too much all at the same time. Who isn't guilty of this, whatever trade or profession you have? I think it's just that authors don't get fired if they're late for work, so the motivation to stay focused is not really there.

  2. Great post, Erin. I'm cross-posting! But my trouble is TIME management! I joke to my husband that if cloning is ever perfected, there will be at least a dozen of me...funny how he shivers with fear at the thought!

  3. Yes, Cathy, those of us who work from home or work solo don't have clear parameters set in place that keep us on track. There's no policy and procedures handbook. It's up to US to create those parameters and stay within them for the sake of our own success and acting responsibly in the lit world at large. Bottom line, you lose credibility with publishing professionals in a second if your business practices are sloppy.

    And yes, Jill, time management is huge. That'll be the next post. ( :

  4. Great post, Erin.

    And I like how your challenge to have us clean up our workspaces/desks follows the principles of feng shui.

    Our minds cannot be clear & focused if our surroundings/workspaces are cluttered and disarrayed.

    Will get to it, and establish a clean platform from which my thoughts can flow.

  5. This is so true ... it think it's particularly hard for writers (and other creatives) because so often, we are squeezing it in wherever we can around the rest of lives-who wants to spend that precious creative time organizing, of all things? You'd think that writers of all people would be able to come up with better words than "crazy" anyway.

    I consider myself a pretty disorganized person by nature. But over the years I've found systems that work for me to help me keep on top of things. Now my disorganization is more inside my head, while my external environment is well systematized. It lets me play with new story ideas without worrying about what will happen to the necessary other aspects of the writing biz while I lose myself in the "crazy" for a little bit.

  6. Organization...I guess you could say I lack there. But you have great advice, especially for someone like me. Usually, when I'm in a horrible mood and think the world is out to get me, it's usually because I find myself unorganized, and too lazy to get my life together. I'm really glad that you gave this advice- if there's anything I've learned from trying to do NaNo, it's that it is a far better thing to spend a month getting organized instead of just winging it.

    Great post, Ms. Reel! I can't wait for the next one.


    ~Anon, the young writer

  7. Thanks for your responses, all!

    Doreen, you make a great point!

    bloggEm, I have three children under the age of 13 and a busy coaching/writing practice, so I know what you mean. It really is all about the systems, as you say, you put into place to create a more organized, harmonious environment. Over time, that happy flow will no doubt leak into the brain. For some of us, it takes a little more discipline, but it can be done. And you're right to focus on writing for writing sake rather than the business part of writing in the midst of your creation. WAY too many writers focus on finding the right agent when they're yet to polish their novel or proposal. One step at a time, dears.

    Young One (Anon), winging it will almost always leave you with so-so results. Don't wing it, plan as much as possible, but be flexible with changing your plans when necessary. As far as writing goes, outlining is always a great process to organize your work, whatever it is.

    So what's the word count? Keep at it!

  8. [WAY too many writers focus on finding the right agent when they're yet to polish their novel or proposal. One step at a time, dears.]

    That's advice that I should definitely teach myself to pay attention to. Even in the first stages of my novel, I find myself worrying about that type of step at a time is right!

    [outlining is always a great process to organize your work...] Would you suggest any techniques for outlining? Online, I find a whole bunch of different strategies, but am yet one that really ends up working for me.

    [So what's the word count?] On one of my projects, a mere three thousand, a different one, something like eight hundred, and the one I focused on last weekend, six thousand. I'm still deciding which one to outline before I continue my goal to get to fifty thousand. (I've mostly given up on reaching that by I'm aiming for outlining until January.)

    Thank you!


  9. You know, everyone has their own way of outlining. For me to go into this in depth would take another blog. Another poster to this blog suggested the outlines the author of BOOKLIFE presents have been helpful to her/him (they posted anon).

    I wish you success with your WriMo goal!


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