The Practice of Creativity

How do you design a life and work that really work? How often do you throw up your hands in frustration about the way one facet of your life is going? Cornelia Shipley, a master coach, has spent much of the last decade refining her transformative approach using her ‘Design Your Life’ process to explore the hidden reasons why people don’t experience the level of satisfaction, fulfillment, and freedom they want in their life. Her new book Design Your Life: How to Create a Meaningful Life, Advance Your Career and Live Your Dreams grew out of a painful moment in Cornelia’s life. She used that moment, however, to develop a framework that helps people to develop their vision, create ‘say yes’ standards, understand the power of a personal brand, and create a ‘money mindset’ to empower them to reach for their dreams.

I met Cornelia many years ago when I was doing holistic financial coaching and she was transitioning from the corporate world to that of an entrepreneur. She had already built a successful consulting practice and my work was to support the incredible vision she held for her business. From my first conversation with Cornelia, I was inspired by her energy, passion and dedication to helping people bust through self-defeating blocks.

Cornelia Shipley PCC, BCC, ELI-MP, is Founder and President of 3C Consulting, a leadership development firm specializing in Executive Coaching and Strategic Planning.  A member of the coaching faculty at the University of Wisconsin Professional Life Coach Certification Program and the GPSS Coaching Model, Cornelia works with organizational leaders.

Cornelia is a sought-after speaker and coach.  She leads strategic planning workshops for senior leaders across the US, is creator of the annual women’s leadership conference ‘Design Your Life’ and serves as a board member for Women for Coaching Community Change.  Cornelia has a strong passion for systems theory, which she uses in her Leadership Boot camp and Executive Impact programs.

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Cornelia was recently featured on my tele-summit ‘The Creativity Bonfire Series: Sustaining Your Flame: Secrets from Wildly Inspired Creators’ where she captivated audiences with snippets from her new book Design Your Life. She made me eager to learn more. I’m delighted to welcome Cornelia Shipley to the ‘Practice of Creativity’.

 

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Tell us about your new book Design Your Life: How to Create a Meaningful Life, Advance Your Career and Live Your Dreams. What sparked your interest in writing this book? 

The concept for the book came to me while I was living in Melbourne, Victoria in Australia. I was so amazed at how present people were in their own lives and their ability to leave the expectations of others behind and simply live life on their terms. When I got back to the United States the cultural contrast was so clear to me. Over the next almost 9 years I would start and stop writing the book. Just before my wedding in 2012 I committed to begin work on the manuscript when we returned from our honeymoon. Little did I know how much my life would change in the span of a week. I went from being single to married and planning the funeral of my mother who passed away unexpectedly only 5 short days after our wedding. Over the three weeks we spent planning for her services I became acutely aware of the HUGE benefits I was experiencing because of the choice I made in 2006 to live a designed life. In the face of the tragic loss, I was well supported and able to meet the needs of those around me. I felt called to finally put pen to paper and share the process I was using so successfully with the world. No longer could I sit by and watch as people lived unfulfilled, frustrating lives. So I got busy writing, rewriting and in April of this year began the pre-launch of the book which became available TODAY worldwide on Amazon!

You advocate for people to break out of their conditioned ‘shoulds’, in order, to experience an extraordinary life. What are some of the features of the ‘design your life’ system that helps people pursue their dreams?

Wow, what a great question Michele. I am going to stay with the “shoulds” of your question as it is so critical to remove the “shoulds” from your life – the external expectations and noise of others. In so many cases we are living based on what someone else said we SHOULD want, do, be or have. So we start by looking at the stories of our lives to discover what desires we have that are ours and which ones have been imposed on others. Readers are invited to clarify their values, operating principles and standards. From there we being the process of creating a personal brand that speaks for you and supports you in achieving your personal goals and objectives. We spend some time with your personal definition of success, creating a reward system and finally expanding your mindset to embrace the big vision you have for your life. It has been interesting watching readers’ response to the book. So many have started the book thinking it will be a “quick read” and find themselves STOPPED by the provocative questions in the designed action section in each chapter.

 What was the most difficult chapter to write (and why)?

OK, Michele so the truth is the hardest part for me was the final review of the last chapter. I kept putting it off. I am sure you have had that happen when you are so close to the finish line and for some reason you just can’t make it those last 10 yards. I would read a page and take a 2 hour break and it went on like this for almost a week until I realized that I didn’t want to finish writing the book because my mother was not here for me to call to share in the accomplishment. When I realized what was holding me back, I spent some time crying, called a good friend, finished the final edit and then met my friend to celebrate. I followed my own process to get unstuck. I allowed the truth to surface (me missing Mom) sat in the truth (cried and talked with my friend) made the choice to complete what I started (finished the edit) and went to celebrate (met my friend for some good food and great laughs).

What’s the most surprising thing to you thus far about being a published author?

There have been two things that have surprised me, the enhanced credibility I have as a professional and the almost immediate “celebrity” status I get in some circles having written a book. I think the best thing about being the author of this particular work is hearing the positive impact that the stories and the process is having on people’s lives. I am amazed at the bold action and outstanding results people are getting from doing their work and committing to create a future that excites them.

This book was written over a number of years. How did you keep yourself motivated to finish it? 

For several years I did absolutely nothing. I knew that when I returned from my honeymoon I would have an amazing story to tell about finding love, and living my definition of success. I think ultimately my commitment to finish the book going into my marriage and my mother passing so quickly after my wedding created the perfect storm and final push. Although, at one point when I got stuck I simply booked my first signing which gave me all the final motivation I needed to get the book finished.

 What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

I never pictured myself as an author, so for me it was important to follow my process and to get help from a seasoned writer and editor to help me think through the layout of the book, make sure the process was clear to readers who would be new to the material and ensure the overall tone and flow was what I wanted. Bottom line as a writer you have to be willing to follow your unique creative process without judgment.

 

Cornelia Shipley holds an MBA in Management Consulting and Strategy from Southern Methodist University, a BA in Communication from the University of Michigan, is a Board Certified Coach and Master Practitioner of Energy Leadership (IPEC).

To find out more about Cornelia’s ‘Design Your Life’ system and the book, visit her website.

To find out more about Cornelia, click here.

 

 

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Randi Davenport while she was a colleague at UNC-Chapel Hill. She served as the Executive Director of the James M. Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence and taught Honors students for Carolina’s Department of English and Comparative Literature. After a couple of meetings, we soon recognized each other as kindred spirits with similar backgrounds in the liberal arts, a deep passion for teaching, and an interest in women’s studies. It was also thrilling to find another academic who was pursuing a creative writing life. Randi has an MA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Literature, both from Syracuse University. Over the years, I have been inspired by Randi’s dedication to writing.

Randi’s first book, a memoir The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes: A Mother’s Story is about her developmentally disabled son Chase’s psychotic breakdown at age 15. She chronicled being a single parent and the challenges of dealing with the medical industry. This blurb by Alice Hoffman is indicative of the high praise the book received: “A heartbreaking, disturbing, and truly courageous story of one mother’s fight to save her son.”

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Randi Davenport is the author of the novel The End of Always (Hachette/Twelve, 2014) and of The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2010). In 2011, she received the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writer’s Award for Creative Non-fiction, and was a finalist for the Books for a Better Life Award and nominated for a Ragan Old North State Cup Award for Non-fiction. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Salon, Huffington Post, Washington Post, Ontario Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Women’s History Review, Literature/Film Quarterly, Victorian Literature and Culture, among others.

I have been looking forward to speaking with Randi about her new novel The End of Always that is partly based on her family’s history. And, I am thrilled to announce that the novel has just been nominated for a National Book Award! I am delighted to welcome Randi Davenport to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

 

The desire for love is a nearly universal human experience, and Marie seeks love throughout the book. But in The End of Always, power and violence seem to thwart her every step of the way. How you do balance these big ideas while telling a tale like this?

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I didn’t start by thinking that I was going to write a novel about power and violence, that’s for sure. I started with Marie. Marie Reehs was my mother’s grandmother, which makes her my great-grandmother. She was born in America but her father, mother, and several older siblings were born in Germany, on the island of Rugen. This is where the family came from when they immigrated to Waukesha, Wisconsin. The only thing I knew about Marie when I started was that her name was connected to a deep family mystery. I set out to solve this. When I did, I discovered the events that inspired The End of Always. And those events eventually led me to the issues of power and violence you mention. But I couldn’t start with those, just as I couldn’t write a novel that was just a literal transcription of my great-grandmother’s life. Either choice would have taken me on a fool’s errand.

It’s important to remember that the novel is a story, first and foremost. It’s about one young woman whose life, I suspect, will feel achingly familiar to many readers. If I’ve done my job, Marie’s experiences cannot help but tell us something about ourselves. Perhaps that’s where the things you call “big ideas” come into play. But I didn’t write the novel trying to nail those concepts. I wanted to get at the heart of Marie’s life. The “big ideas” about power and violence are inescapably central to her world. As they are to women everywhere.

Talk a little about the title The End of Always. What does this phrase mean to you?

In the most obvious sense, the title refers to Marie’s fight to escape the brutality that the women in her family have always endured. For her, at least as far as the world of the novel is concerned, always comes to an end. But the end is hard won. It may not last. We don’t know.

More broadly, the title refers to the always that women in America experience. Even women who insist that they have never experienced violence and perhaps believe that it’s not all that pervasive know what a risk they take when they walk in a parking garage alone at night or on an empty street in an unfamiliar neighborhood. They know what it might mean if they run out of gas on a country road or fail to check the back seat in their car when they get into it at the mall. They have seen the things that men they know do. Deep down inside, we all know where we live, even if we say otherwise.

The title is less hopeful on this score. Could there be an end to that always? I’m forever optimistic, but I’m a realist, too.

What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

Writing this book was the most difficult part of writing this book! I made a number of false starts. I kept re-writing. My agent was endlessly patient with me. I was still revising right up to the day the page proofs were due. I had a hard time letting the book go. I think everyone at Hachette/Twelve could still see my fingernail marks on the pages when they arrived at their office.

Socialist ideas pervade the Wisconsin community of immigrants that populate The End of Always, but the novel makes clear that true equality does not extend to women. Do you consider this a political novel?

The End of Always is a novel. It’s not a polemic. It is, above all else, a story about a girl and the choices she makes or the choices that are thrust upon her, and her discovery of her place in the world. When I started writing, I actually was thinking of Hardy’s  Tess of the D’Urbevilles, which is a story of a girl’s journey in an inhospitable land.

But to the extent that The End of Always shines a light on the hard and absolute fact that some Americans are beaten or killed or abused or otherwise damaged when they try to walk this land free and equal—well. I can understand why readers might find the political in that. And of course, the novel focuses on a girl’s story as a way to talk about America, to give us insight into ourselves. That literary terrain is nearly invariably reserved for male characters so I suppose this book is disruptive in that way as well.

What does your writing practice look like?

I’m a writer so I write. If you come across me during work hours, it might not look like I’m writing. It might look like I’m staring into space. Or like I’m pulling my hair out. When I was more able, I’d go for long walks. I do lots of thinking before I begin but I don’t do outlines of any sort. I often talk to myself. Depending where I am in the process, I might be sobbing. No. Just kidding. It rarely comes to that. I also write every day. In the morning, before I do anything else. I’ve always done it this way. When my kids were little I’d get up two hours before they did to write. Now that they’re grown, the habit of writing first thing in the day stays with me.

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Let’s see. There are lots of people out there giving advice to writers. Very little of that advice is any good. The best of it is mostly just okay. A good deal of it is truly terrible. Potentially damaging, even. I don’t want to contribute to the problem. However, I’ve been writing my whole life and by this point I do know something about the process. So here’s my advice: If you want to write, write. Forget prompts and tricks and gimmicks. Roll your sleeves up, plant your butt in your chair, and tell your story. Write. And if this isn’t something you can bring yourself to do or if you can imagine any other way to spend your time (Face Book? Twitter? Vacuuming?), it could be that writing is not the thing for you. That’s a hard fact but it’s true. Writers write. And my advice is to get to it.

 

To find out more about Randi Davenport, visit her website.

 

I’m continuing on with tips to boost your writing mid-year.
Tip 4: Practice Being a ‘Public Writer’.

Although summer is the time of beaches and barbeques, I would challenge you to add in a few ways to practice being a ‘public writer’. There are lots of ways to do this, but I am going to focus on two topics here—attending open mics and readings.

 
Attend More Open Mics and Read at Them
Reading your work in front of an audience is an invaluable experience for a writer. We can see when people lean toward us, laugh (one hopes at the appropriate places), and get a sense of how our words affect others. Reading aloud also helps us to become comfortable with our work no matter what the reaction. We meet new friends and learn about the work of other writers. In most places there are many opportunities to read your work in public—open mics organized by writing groups, in bookstores and cafes, writing conferences, and informal gatherings with friends. Practice, practice and practice some more.

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If you get to read your work in public, be gracious if someone compliments you on your writing. Don’t say that you’re not really a writer because you’re not published yet (or published widely), or let any negative comments about your work leak out. Shine in the moment.

 
Attend More Readings
I hear from so many writers, “I don’t have time to read or attend readings.” Reading other writers and hearing them read is part of our writerly duties. We have to make the time. Attending a reading helps us learn about writers new to us.  But, it is also about building community and being visible as a public writer.

You learn so much from how an author gives a reading. You learn about their writing practice, you learn about how to answer questions skillfully, you learn about what kinds of things to reveal, and you learn about how much work an audience can digest in a given sitting. It’s a great way to observe differences in style and tone between newly minted authors and long-standing ones. We also get to practice going up to a published writer and introducing our self and talking intelligently about our own work (if asked).

I recently got to see speculative fiction writer Mary Robinette Kowal talk about her new book, Valor and Vanity. She is a former puppeteer and she incorporated puppetry into her talk (which was very cool). She dressed in an outfit that reflected the early 1800s time period that she was writes about (partly handsewn, to boot! Mary is super creative!).  Her discussion of 1800s fashion became another interesting layer of the reading. Mary oriented the audience by giving some background on the ‘Glamourist Histories’ for those of us who were new to her work (we were in a minority), which I appreciated. But, instead of reading from her current novel, she did something very interesting. She gave us a teaser from the novel that she is currently writing which will complete the series and is due out in 2015. I thought that was a very cool thing to do as most people were probably going to buy the current book anyway, so it was nice to feel like we were hearing fresh material.

She also encouraged the audience to buy something from the independent book store, even if it wasn’t her book. As incentive, for people who bought any book, she gave out beautiful fans with a clever tag on them that contained information about Valor and Vanity. Not only did I learn about Mary’s work (Valor and Vanity is the 4th in the Glamourist Histories series), and buy her book, but I learned something new about how to promote one’s work in a fun, clever and ethical way. Her exemplar reading satisfied and surprised on so many levels.

Another tip for jump-starting mid-year writing.

Tip 3: Plan a Submissions Party

In my first writing group, more than fifteen years ago, I learned about the power of holding at least one ‘submission party’ during the year. A submission party meant that we planned a date and we all brought our polished manuscripts, manila envelopes, our bundle of SASEs (self-addressed stamped envelopes –yes, back in those days when you had to send manuscripts via snail mail and with a SASE!), and food and drink to someone’s house. We helped each other write query letters, find new markets to submit work, develop submission charts, and triple check final copies of stories. And, the best part of all, we’d each leave with several stuffed packets ready to mail to magazine and anthology editors and contest judges.  These parties uplifted us and took the fear, dread and challenge out of submitting. And, they helped us get a batch of stories into the mail at one time.

If you are trying to stretch yourself by increasing your submission rate, a submission party might be just the kind of event that inspires you.

Last year, my current writers’ group decided to gather for a submissions party. Now, we were very lucky as our impeccable host went above and beyond throwing a simple submissions party. She set up stations where we could list our current writing accomplishments and talk about the rejection (or acceptance) letters we had received (i.e. the ‘good, bad and ugly’).

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She also made up little gift boxes for each of us containing chocolate, specific submission markets and also laminated strips of paper with prompts for building characters (gleaned, she said, from the local community college catalog—reminding us that inspiration is everywhere).

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And, to top it all off, she also made delicious crepes!IMG_2458

At this party, we also helped one of the writers come up with a marketing strategy for her recently published novella. We traded literary journals and read aloud some of our favorite poets. We talked about our dreams for ourselves as writers and, of course, we told stories. We’re a critique group that meets monthly, so this party was a nice departure from our usual routine. We’re planning another submissions party in July and I suggested that we each bring a recipe for a drink of one our favorite writers (or make up one for a character that we’re working on). The making and sampling of a variety of non-alcoholic and ‘adult beverages’ should be fun!

At your next writers’ group meeting, suggest hosting a submission party during the summer. And, it doesn’t have to be as elaborate as the one I described. And, if you’re not in a group (Well, you should be! Remember–when focused friendly people come together to support each other, they can produce incredible results!), then ask a writing buddy, if he or she would be interested in executing this idea on a smaller scale.

This piece originally appeared in the ‘My View’ column for The Chapel Hill News, June 13, 2014.

Like many other people, over the past few weeks, I have been remembering Maya Angelou and mourning the loss of such a tremendous creative force.

Dr. Angelou was a teacher, writer, healer and lover of life until the very end. I discovered her work in college and remember performing her poems “Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Woman” with other powerful women at various gatherings. As a young woman, I found her work accessible, rich with positive female imagery, sensuous and often jubilant.

Maya Angelou’s death has made me think about aging, writing and being a creative “late bloomer.” What many people don’t know about Angelou, and I take great comfort in, is that she didn’t publish her first book until her early 40s (although she longed to do so before this).

She was an actress and performer for many years and then left the United States in 1960 to live in Cairo, Egypt, where she served as editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer. Her next stop, a year later, was to Ghana where she taught at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama. She continued honing her writing there by working as a features editor for The African Review and also wrote for The Ghanaian Times.

She used her years abroad to great advantage by studying and taking classes in French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti. After her return to the States, with encouragement of her mentor, the esteemed James Baldwin, she started work on her famous memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which became an international bestseller. And once those creative floodgates opened, she didn’t stop, writing seven memoirs in total (with an eighth underway at the time of her death), a cookbook, television and film scripts, music scores, and more.

Angelou’s writing trajectory that began later in life makes me grateful about manifesting my creative work in my early 40s. It’s only been recently that I’ve come to appreciate that the path to your heart’s desire is rarely straight and narrow, or progress easily demarcated strictly by one’s age.

Enchantment with child stars and people who seemed to achieve big things early in their careers used to fascinate me. And, it’s true that as an academic, I’ve had solid and early professional success, so I can’t complain on that front. I’ve written creatively all my life, but it is has only been in the last decade that I’ve made more space for that identity to flourish. When younger I was convinced that something needed to happen at a particular age – 20, 25 or 38. I’m now less worried about age being a gauge of inner or outer success. If they have been blocked, by midlife, people often open to inner prompts, urgings and guidance about fresh directions. This leads to new commitments to pursue buried or unrealized dreams.

I am also cheered by examples of writers including Sapphire, Amy Tan and Toni Morrison that didn’t start their writing careers until their late thirties and early forties. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a remarkable memoir. The skill and focus it took to craft it might not have been there if Angelou had not lived a full and complex life (i.e. sex worker, sexual assault survivor, performance artist, world traveler, and teacher), and faced her internal demons and doubts as a mature woman.

A writing life in middle age, though, demands mandatory self-care. The average life expectancy for American women is 80 years. It will take all the mental and physical courage I can muster to meet the page every day for the next 30 or so odd years; I want a supple mind and a healthy body. I have embraced a preventative regimen: a weekly schedule of yoga, exercise (to counteract all that sitting), meditation (to counteract loud inner critics), eating right and easy on the alcohol.

Watching Dr. Angelou over the years, it seemed that she found a balance between work and deep pleasure. She taught until 2011, but had plans to go back into the classroom later this year. Angelou appeared to be as delighted by the language of aspiring poets as she was by the writers she deeply admired including Shakespeare and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. And, her dinner parties in Winston-Salem were legendary.

If I die at my desk, at 80, with a pen in my hand, a gorgeous journal in my lap, surrounded by my published works, I’ll be a happy woman.

And, if I can get a few fabulous dinner parties in before I go, I imagine Maya would be proud.

This month, I’m offering some tips that can support your writing practice mid-year.

Tip 2: Increase Your Submission Rate & Strive for 99 Rejections

Years ago, writer Marjorie Hudson, shifted my perspective on submitting one’s work and coping with rejection. She declared that as part of claiming the mantle of a writer, one should strive to gather at least 99 rejections. I sat in the workshop feeling pretty smug thinking that surely with all the years that I have been trying to get published I reached that number, no problem. Later, when I reviewed my submission file, I was shocked to realize that I wasn’t even half way close to 99 rejections! This revelation spurred me on submit my work, in a serious and organized way.

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I love Chris Offutt’s essay, ‘The Eleventh Draft’, where he discusses how he dealt with the fear of rejection:

“The notion of submitting anything to a magazine filled me with terror. A stranger would read my precious words, judge them deficient, and reject them, which meant I was worthless. A poet friend was so astonished by my inaction that he shamed me into sending stories out. My goal, however, was not publication, which was still too scary a thought. My goal was a hundred rejections a year.

I mailed my stories in multiple submissions and waited eagerly for their return, which they promptly did. Each rejection brought me that much closer to my goal—a cause for celebration, rather than depression. Eventually disaster struck. The Coe Review published my first story in spring 1990. The magazine was in the small industrial town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with a circulation that barely surpassed the city limits. The payment was one copy of the magazine, and the editor spelled my name wrong. Nevertheless, I felt valid in every way—I was no longer a hillbilly with a pencil full of dreams. I was a real live writer.”

The common suggestion is for writers to have at least five pieces submitted at any given time. Last year, I submitted pieces to a total of 21 different contests, anthologies, and literary journals, etc. Three pieces were accepted for publication and another story placed in a contest. And, I received my fair share of rejections. However, I also received a few lovely emails from editors who although declined the piece submitted, encouraged me to submit something else. The submission and rejection cycle is also one of building relationships with editors whose work you admire. Think of it as deepening your apprenticeship.

This year, I have submitted to 9 places and can claim an even higher rate of success with four pieces accepted for publication and an honorable mention in a contest. I’m hoping to beat last year’s submission record by the end June. The more work you have out, the easier rejection becomes. It’s also incredibly gratifying to take action in support of your writing life.

 
How is your submission rate going? Are you close to 99 rejections?

June is a great time to research new markets and submit to them.

BTW: Have you checked out my post on the ‘Magic Spreadsheet’ and how it can support your daily writing practice?

PS, If you’ve surpassed 99 rejections go and celebrate and also check out Mur Lafferty’s excellent podcast about going beyond 100 rejections and keeping the submission process fun and creative (Episode 317)

June provides a great time for us to review the goals, commitments and visions we made at the beginning of the year. Do we even remember the commitments we made in January? Do our goals still take our breath away? Have we already accomplished some of them?

When you think about your writing goals are you feeling a sense of ‘Woo-hoo’ or ‘Uh-oh’? I hope you’re on the side of joy and excitement. If not, then it may be time to take stock of your writing strategies thus far and make some adjustments. There is still plenty of time to meet the writing goals that you set at the beginning of the year. This month, I’m going to suggest some tips that can support your writing.

Tip #1: Track your daily word count using the ‘Magic Spreadsheet’ (or your own system).

I discovered the Magic Spreadsheet from author Mur Lafferty. For many years Mur has hosted a terrific (and addictive) podcast for writers called I Should Be Writing. One of her MFA buddies, Tony Pisculli got inspired to design a support structure that would encourage one of the hardest practices of the writing life to maintain—daily writing. The story goes that he heard that author Cory Doctorow say that if you write about 250 words per day, in a year you’ll have a book. When it comes to writing, small increments of time and energy can yield tremendous results. And, Tony thought on most days, one can write at least 250 words.

So, he designed a system (a spreadsheet) where people can enter their daily 250 word count. He also added elements of ‘gamification’, meaning that it has fun elements–there are points awarded, levels to gain, etc. He circulated it to his MFA community and then over the last two years many other people discovered it and joined in. Currently, it is hosted on Google.

I think the Magic Spreadsheet is brilliant and is a great service to writers. This idea appeals to me on a variety of levels. I love group related activities that provide public support and accountability. I love the idea of friendly competition (it’s all on an honor system), and I love anything that kind of resembles a video game. Score, score, score!

The only thing that you do is enter your name, a few details and then move across the spreadsheet to enter your daily word count and with a click of a button, the program calculates all the other stuff. It’s like magic!

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People are using the Magic Spreadsheet to make progress on their goals of finishing short stories, novels, plays, and even a few dissertations. You get more points for every day you write and every day you make the 250 word count (but you are of course free to enter in higher word counts).

A few days ago, on my birthday, I found a space on the spreadsheet and entered my name and word count. I wanted to start the spreadsheet on my birthday with the intention of writing every day from now until my birthday next year. I’m a pretty consistent writer, but have never tried to write 7 days a week, no matter what and with a minimum word count. It was a great way to kick off my birthday!

If you’re interested, you can listen to two podcasts here where Mur Lafferty interviews Tony about the Magic Spreadsheet’s origins and about the technology behind the scenes that makes it possible. You can also find all the info about the Magic Spreadsheet and how to join in here. There’s info at the link about the Facebook and Google+ groups. And, BTW, it’s all free! How is that for support?

Give the Magic Spreadsheet a try or set up your own system. Setting a specific and manageable word count (or page length) and sticking to it consistently is a fantastic way to build your writing muscle that is fun and sustainable.

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