6 Ways to Be Self-Disciplined When Your Creative Juices Run Low

ID-10025692When I decided to start a new career as a freelance writer, I was ecstatic at the thought of enjoying my freedom while doing something I enjoy to be doing.

My 9 to 5 routine was over, and I could, at long last, work for myself.

I wanted a new beginning. I wanted to be heard.

I wanted to make a difference and make money. I wanted to be my own boss.

I don’t know about you, but in my case, once I reached that kind of freedom, I fell into a big trap – lack of self-discipline.

This, combined with having no idea, at times, what I could possibly write about, led to self-doubt. I had days when I thought I could move mountains, and days when I was stuck and would wonder what the heck I was doing.

I used to start every day by checking my email. And my Twitter account. And my Facebook.  It was like my morning fix. By noon, I’d realize that my mind was all over the place and everything I planned to do that morning didn’t happen. I turned into a compulsive procrastinator.

When I understood that being my own boss is a serious business (i.e. people to serve, deadlines to meet), I chose to make a change within myself and my mindset. It didn’t happen overnight. But it’s a ritual that I strive to stick to regularly.

I knew I needed something to keep me focused and centered.

I needed something to keep me on track with my writing business.

And that’s how I started:

  1. Meditation

One day, a friend of mine who’s a clinical psychologist recommended me Jon Kabat-Zinn’s tome called Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness.

I was hesitant in the beginning because I had this misconception about meditating and yoga being all about sitting in Lotus posture while burning incense sticks in some ashram in a middle of nowhere. When I read Kabat-Zinn’s book, I finally understood that practicing mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment. No matter where you are. No matter what you do.

His Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program is explained in very simple terms. It’s an 8-week program that can be done in the comfort of your own home. So, I bought the set of CDs which are in conjunction with the book, and started to incorporate meditation in my daily routine by simply following the program’s guidelines.

I noticed, through the practice of meditation, how involved in DOING I was every single day because I never took the time to just BE. I now practice mindfulness every morning after I wake up, whether it’s guided meditation or a simple set of hatha yoga exercises. The key is to have the willingness to do that every day. If I can do it, I’m sure anybody can.

I can’t highlight enough how immense the benefits are. The program gives me strength and flexibility not just in my body but also in my emotional life. It makes me more mindful in a world where we are connected 24/7. (By the way, I don’t get paid for praising Kabat-Zinn’s program; it’s simply my personal experience that I’m sharing here with you.)

  1. Journaling

In addition to meditation, I started to write daily on 750words.com, a site created by Buster Benson out of his own need “to think out loud without having to worry about half-formed ideas, random tangents, private stuff, and all the other things in our heads that we often filter out before ever voicing them or writing about them. It’s a daily brain dump.”

This is my go-to place every morning after my meditation routine. I write about whatever bugs me at the time. It helps me clear my mind, dig into my subconscious, and my ideas start flowing for the rest of the day.

Whenever I don’t get to do this in the morning, I try not to go to bed without writing down my thoughts about certain things that happened during the day, why I think that I could have performed some tasks better, and even come up with an article or blog post idea for the next day.

What motivates you is that you get points. It provides you with an analysis of your mindset and emotions, whether you use some words more than others, or you’re more centered on yourself than the people you interact with and so on. And you have a permanent overview on your word count.

The more you stick to writing daily, the more you earn points. And that motivates you to stay on streaks.  Plus, if you’re competitive you can partake in monthly challenges.

Benson thinks that 750 words (the equivalent of three pages) is about the standard accepted number for a daily word count. (I know writers who have set a clear objective of writing at least 1,000 words a day, but end up writing 3,000+).

It’s all private. You have the option to share publicly, if you’d like.

750words.com used to be free until May 1, 2013 and writers who’ve been using the site before that, can keep their free accounts for life. Those who’d like to join the site after this date will have to become members within 30 days after signing up in order to keep writing. That would cost them merely $4/month.

  1. Planning articles and blog posts in advance

I made a list of headlines. I go through it and add to it constantly. I made a ritual out of it.

If you have a blog, set an editorial schedule with at least a two-week lead-time . That gives you enough time to have articles and blog posts outlined and written in advance for your blog, and implement a writing routine you adhere to, no matter what falls in your lap when you expect the least.

This helps with being organized, having a clear picture of how many clients you can take on and how many other popular blogs you can pitch your ideas to while you keep your blog updated and honor your commitments.

You can do the same exercise for your clients’ content strategy.

  1. Using the Pomodoro Technique 

I just love this one! I read about it in a blog post on writersincharge.com written by Bill White, an archaeologist, researcher, and author. It’s about breaking down large tasks in 30-minute chunks, a simple technique I included into my daily routine besides meditation.

I basically focus on a task (eg. writing or researching) for 25 minutes, then I take a 5-minute break. AWAY from the computer. That was the hardest part just like in Bill’s case. I kept being glued to my computer during those 5 minutes (you know, Twitter, Facebook etc) and technically I was taking no break.

Now I just move around a little, do a few simple movements to release the tension in my neck, shoulders and wrists, drink a glass of water, or I do a short sitting meditation session. I alternate all the time what I do within these 5 minutes. Then I go back to my task refreshed, with a clear mind.

This could also be an alternative to EyeDefender as it helps with resting your eyes as well. To me (I’m short sighted and wear glasses) this is really important.

  1. Sleeping well

Resting properly (at least seven hours of restful sleep every night) without watching TV, using your computer, or any electronic device before going to bed is crucial. Not doing so will keep your mind in overdrive instead of calming itself naturally. I made a habit of doing a 10-minute body scan meditation before I fall asleep.

Ariana Huffington strongly recommends getting more sleep to succeed. As a woman myself who aspires to at least a slice of Ms. Huffington’s success and more, I loved when she said in this TED talk: “We are literally going to sleep our way to the top – literally!”

Sleep deprivation was also a topic Leo Widrich, Buffer’s Co-founder, covered in an in-depth researched article, where he explored the quantity and quality of sleep we need in order to be productive.

Bottom line is that with a rested mind you can see the big picture. You’re more inspired, creative and productive in your daily endeavors.

  1. Writing, no matter what

What helps greatly when I don’t feel like writing or I run on empty, is Brian Clark’s short and sweet post, 10 steps to becoming a better writer. It always reaches its purpose. I keep it on the wall in front of me and read it every day.

And while I cringe when I read steps 5 and 8, I keep putting words on page and tell myself that only practice makes perfect.

Write, edit, save, post. And repeat.

Image courtesy of  Michal Marchol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What do you do when you feel that your muse have left you? How do you overcome your lack of inspiration?

NOTE: This blog post is featured on Make a Living Writing’s Link Party for Writers. If you like it, start voting for it over the weekend (July 6 – July 7).

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  1. says

    As writers we can count on getting stuck or having our creative juices clog. That’s why what you’ve shared is vital to our survival.

    The way you once began your mornings into procrastination land describes the biggest hurdle to my productivity. The second one is insufficient sleep.

    I’m presently working on getting a full night’s sleep. Now I will investigate your meditation suggestion.

    Thank you for pinpointing this common problem and presenting solutions that have worked for you

    • Anca Dumitru says

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Flora! Meditation was really THE aspect that put things in perspective for me. Hope it works as well for you.

  2. says

    Hi Anca – I love this blog post. I think it’s great and something I’ll take on board.

    Sometimes it’s difficult to juggle work – personal life – blogging (something always gives!) but if you’re passionate about it, you’ll always find a way! :)

    • Anca Dumitru says

      Thanks, Colin. Glad you find the post useful. I agree — where there’s a will, there’s a way. Write on! :)


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