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Do you take writing classes?  Do you do exercises or tutorials from books and websites?

If you've been around the writing life for a while it might seem like you've found all the information you really need.  It might feel like a class on dialogue or setting is just going to be repetition of things you've already heard.  A class on basic creative writing?  You're so far beyond that!

Or maybe not.  Taking classes isn't all about learning something new (although that's great, too, so do if if you can).  It's about immersing yourself in your writing.  It's about setting aside time and attention solely for your writing.  It's about getting focused, maybe hearing a new take on an old subject, and building connections with fellow writers.

Why Take Classes:

  • External deadlines--class assignments will help keep you moving forward
  • Community--you'll meet other writers, including the teacher, either in person or virtually, and being around other writers is great for motivation
  • Focus--when you've paid for a class, you're more likely to actually put in the time and focus on your writing, at least during the duration of the course
  • Fresh ideas--you can always learn new things, even about something you already know a lot about; classes will let you hear ideas from others and maybe spark new ideas of your own

Why Use Tutorials and Exercises:

  • New ideas--someone else's questions may spark new ideas in you
  • Break through a block--questions and exercises can give you an entry point into your writing that can help you get past the blank page
  • New understanding--someone else's phrasing of something you already know can give you clearer understanding of the subject
  • Build a cushion--doing exercises can help you build up a stash of story ideas, story starters, scenes, and dialogue for later use which is especially helpful when you feel stuck

Obviously I'm a fan of taking classes to keep your writing flowing.  It's a great way to keep connected to your writing and to the writing community.  And tutorials, exercises, etc. are a great way to get your brain out of your personal grooves and into different thought patterns. So, especially if you're feeling stuck or sluggish in your writing lately, try out a class and see if it gets things going again. I think it will be worth your time.

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Holiday time! Sparkly decorations and parties and food and friends and family time! Frazzled time? Sometimes.  This time of year can leave us feeling overwhelmed and stressed rather than warm and fuzzy.  So what to do about it?

Holiday Mix 2

One of my favorite de-frazzlers is list making.  I know!  I saw you rolling your eyes.  I'm not talking about the productivity lists, the every-single-minute-accounted-for lists, the lists with so many items there's no way you can do everything in one day, nothing like that.  I'm talking useful, calming lists.  Want to give it a try?

First, decide what the actual purpose is for making this list. Is it to make sure we don't forget to do certain things that we want to get done? Or is it that we have so many things that we think we need to do that we can't possibly keep track of all of them without a list? The former is a good reason. The latter might indicate that your lists need some work. Figure out what you really want from a to-do list, what you want it to do for you, and go from there.

For me, I want my lists to be filled with things I really want to do in a day, things that will make my life better or easier, things that will move me forward in my creative dreams, things that I can put on a done list at the end of the day if I want to make one and feel really good about having done. I want my list to be like a friendly guide showing me the way to where I want to be.

How do you turn your lists into friendly guides to the life you want?

Tip #1: Cut down your daily list drastically. Only add on things that move you forward in the important areas of your life or things that you really do want to do today that you are worried might slip through the cracks of a busy day (that's why my list tells me to make a grocery list—so I don't end up at the store trying to remember what I need to buy). Don't put down every little thing you think you want to do or should do today. Just put down the truly important stuff.

Tip #2: Prioritize. Some days you will have things that really do need to be done that day. Put those at the top of your list. After that, prioritize by what pulls you the most, the things that feel like they will really move you in the direction you want to go. Some days you might need to rest and be calm because life has been too hectic lately, so you might put "knitting" or "painting" on your list, and you might want to put it fairly high up because you really want to fit that in. Let what is important to you today, right now, guide you in deciding how to order your list.

Tip #3: Categorize. Decide on the areas of life you want to give time and attention to regularly. Maybe even make a master list of sorts (for me, my master list is writing, coaching, organizing my house into a haven, and improving my health). This shouldn't be a very long list—probably no more than five things. Make sure that your daily list has something from at least one or two of these areas so you know you're working on the things that are most important to you.

Here are some questions to ask yourself after you write your list:

  • Does this list make me feel like I'm going to fill my day with important things I want to do?
  • Will completing the tasks on this list make me feel like I've done a good day's work?
  • Does this really need to be on my list?
  • Is there some way to make doing this easier, more pleasant, more fun?
  • What part of my life does this item make better?
  • Will something bad happen if I don't do this today?
  • Will something bad happen if I throw out this idea and just don't do it at all?
  • If this really needs to be done but I don't want to do it, can I pass it on to someone else?

Let your intuition guide you as you add and remove things from your list. Ask yourself how you feel about adding or removing a task. Experiment with leaving off things you thought for sure you needed to have on your daily list. Let your list become a helper instead of your keeper, and give yourself more time to actually go out and do the things you like.

A little end note—NPR offers a list of reasons to make lists: 10 Reasons Why We Love Making Lists. Lots of great reasons and ways to use lists for your best interests.

And another note: this article was originally published in my newsletter, although I've edited it for the blog and added a new picture.  Doing a blog post was on my list of things to do for the week, but I've been feeling too busy, so I used the "how can I make this easier?" question and came up with something I hope will be useful to all of us.

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