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A Framework for Success

Six Weeks To Success

Your Writing Life Begins Here

Your Writing Life Masterclass

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It's Time for a New Approach to Writing

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If you came here from a link and haven’t registered yet for the whole Your Writing Life masterclass, make sure you’re on the list: 

Let me know how you’re feeling about my challenges and if you’ll take me up on them….leave a comment below:

Writing Isn’t Just “Writing”

There’s more to a writing life than simply sitting down at your desk and writing. 

But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. 

You can make steady progress and it can feel a lot easier than we often make it seem.

Why Should You Believe Me?

I’m Julie Duffy and I’ve been helping writers become more productive, more creative and more fulfilled since 1998, the past 10 years of that as the host of the StoryADay May challenge and community, which is regularly picked as one of Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers.

During that time I’ve met a lot of people who want to be more successful in their writing life, but are struggling to find the right next steps for them.

In This Series

Spend the next few days with me, exploring the framework I’ve uncovered for building a satisfying writing practice so that you can begin to make meaningful progress in your writing and start bringing your stories to a world that is hungry for connection.

I call it the I, WRITER Framework.

Your Voice Matters

Writers in the StoryADay community come from all kinds of backgrounds, working class and wealthy, white, black and brown, gay, straight and pan, all flavors of religious and non-religious backgrounds. We have people from almost every time zone… and each of these people has something to share with a reader who needs to hear it.

 You do, too.

The World Needs Your Story

Remember being that kid with your nose buried in a book, falling in love with the character that seemed a little bit like the best version of you? 

Those stories made us believe it was possible for someone like us to be the hero?

We can do that for the readers who need to hear that message, today.

I am on an unapologetic mission to get you writing more, and sharing your stories because I know there are people who need the stories only you can write.

And I know you can do this because I’ve helped so many writers, including myself, get there.

What Type of (Frustrated) Writer Are You?

Ten years ago I was at home with young children–who I adored–but with no family nearby, I was busy, busy, busy…always thinking “I will get to my writing tomorrow”. 

Sound familiar?

 For you, it might be work, or other types of caregiving, or the demands of your friends or some other factor pulling you away from your creative calling, but I know you know what I was feeling back then: it feels like losing part of yourself.

Or maybe you’re one of those people who has figured out how to prioritize time for writing in your life.. And yet you feel a little stagnant, like you’re not making measurable progress quickly enough. 

Or maybe you’ve signed up for a challenge like StoryADay or NaNoWriMo and you’ve realized it’s all just a bit too unstructured for you. You know you do better with a curriculum, but you don’t know where to find one that fits you like a glove.

That’s what I want to talk to you about in this series. 

There is a Structure

There is a structure for creating a life that includes 

  • writing, and 
  • making measurable progress towards your goals, and 
  • becoming more productive, more creative and more fulfilled,

And doing it in a way where each action builds on the last until you have an integrated writing practice that fits your life and your goals.

HOPING  that we’re going to figure out this writing thing one day doesn’t get us there.

Putting a plan and framework in place, does.

Stories From Their Lives 

I’ve been talking to some of the writers in the StoryADay community about this and I’m going to be sharing more about their journeys in this series, to prove to you that whoever you are, and where ever you live, you can be a writer.

I’ll introduce you to Janine who struggled to write consistently and used this framework to discover what it is that she really wanted to be writing, and how to give herself permission to do that.

You’ll meet Safiya who said it ‘opened up a whole new venue’ for her writing that she hadn’t known existed.

And Neha who learned to appreciate her writing as a cyclic activity with different times for different tasks throughout the year and accelerating her progress because of it.

And I’ll introduce to you Jeff who moved from being paralyzed by the idea that his writing wasn’t good enough, to learning to love the process and who’s writing every day now.

Think You Hate Rules? 

When I talk about a framework or a structure many creative people bristle. 

(A wise friend of mine told me, “Artists never follow the rules. They just go and invent the better way.”)

Rules  can feel restrictive and we worried about getting bored.

But what I’m talking about is the underlying structure of a successful creative life.I want to show you a framework that supports you while you get to dress it up any way you like. 

On The Shoulders Of Giants

When Michaelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling, one of the sublime works of art in the western world, he didn’t waste time with ladders or experiment with paint brushes on long poles. 

No, he used a technique that has been in use since Neolothic times: scaffolding. 

Michaelangelo erected a framework and quickly scaled it to stand on a stabilized board 60 feet in the air. It let him get as quickly as possible to the important part of the work, the creative work. He didn’t have to invent the whole process. And it didn’t seem to stifle his creativity noticeably.

Building the I, WRITER Framework

I looked back over 10 years of working with writers who have stayed in this game for the long haul. I’ve pulled out the common elements of their practice and the I, WRITER framework lays them out like scaffolding that you can use to support and stabilize your creative ascent.

I want to show you how to make writing easy. 

Not effortless. 

But fulfilling rather than frustrating.

Why Is Writing (Sometimes) So Hard?

Let’s talk about what writing is. Because it’s not just ‘writing’.

  • First, you have to be able to string words into compelling sentences. That tends to be what people picture when you talk about being a writer: someone at their desk, spinning sentences into gold.
  • Before you get there though, you need imagination, ideas, inspiration for characters who’ll bring those ideas to life. And the techniques to do that in words.
  • Before that, you need to build time and space into your life to allow those ideas to develop
  • You need to write the imperfect first draft 
  • You’ll need to develop the skills and knowledge to improve your writing through editing & revision, taking feedback and learning to trust our gut. 
  • Then we need to learn how to share those stories whether we’re sending them to friends, self-publishing or pursuing traditional publishing. 
  • We have to connect with others in the writing world and the reading world
  • And we have to do it all over again for the next project.

That’s a lot more than simply traipsing to our desks and churning out deathless prose! Are we still surprised that it’s hard to make progress in our writing?

And all of it takes time and effort. It also courage and persistence and willpower, things that are easier to access when you have a support system in place

Now that you can see that writing is a complex process of decisions and tasks and new skills, do you feel a little better about the fact that you haven’t got further, faster? Can you begin to see how writing is as much about having a process as it is about turning out a product?

Seeing The Forest AND The Trees

I’m not telling you this to overwhelm you. 

In fact,  In the next part of this series I’m going to teach you the whole I. WRITER framework so you can begin to think about your writing life as a manageable endeavour. 

Each of the letters in I, WRITER stand for part of the process:

I, Imagine 

W, Write

R, Refine

I, Improve

T, Triumph

E, Engage

R, Repeat

In Part II of this free class I’ll show you how you can use this framework to isolate the areas of your writing that need attention at any given moment, and, crucially, block out the non-essentials, so you can focus on making progress, and meeting your personal writing goals. 

I’ll show you how you can use the framework to clarify everything from mindset to idea generation to engaging with the wider world, and staying consistent over the long haul. 

You can also use it during the writing process, to stay laser-focused on the correct part of the process for the stage your project’s in, so that you can more quickly draft, revise and share your stories.

I’ll also tell you about an experiment I began earlier this year that transformed my writing life and the lives of many people in the StoryADay Community. I wonder if you’ll be as surprised as I was, when I saw the results.

Tell Me How You Feel

But before we get to that, I want to hear from you.

Are you already a fan of structure and routine and if so, what works best for you? 

Are you resistant to the idea of following a framework in your writing life? 

What does that bring up for you?

Either way I’d love it if you’d leave a comment telling me what comes up for you when I talk about ditching blind hope and putting in place a plan for your writing.

Leave a comment and I’ll see you back here soon. 

27 thoughts on “Your Writing Life Lesson 1”

  1. As I am not a fan of structure and organization… yet, I needed to hear this to start thinking about what it really means to write.
    Even now although I have not seen the framework in play yet, I love the way you guided me to think more about making stories shareable. For me now I feel more committed to the process as for the joke about the challenge I made it about 9 days in this first time, so I can see now that this framework will help a lot. As an artist I liked that joke about how we don’t like rules very much. Afterwards, pointing out that some need that push of structure to jumpstart. When I have so many things to juggle in the day already to keep others happy.

    Thanks! I really needed this jumpstart and to make it more accessible for artists, writers, etc. From all walks of life

  2. I’m just 17 but I love writing I honestly do, I love every single second of it and I want to make it my life but my parents don’t understand my “Hobbies”
    as they call it, I’ve been trying to convince them someway, I’ve been publishing my writing whenever I get the opportunity, in how many ever competitions as possible, trying to make my writing successful, trying to prove to them that my writing can be successful and I’m trying, I’m trying every single day. Till now I’ve self-published 2 books on Amazon in two years and they were proud of me at first but later considered it to be a burden because I indulged myself too much in writing. So can you tell me how to either convince them or how to make my writing more successful.

  3. “Focus” — that’s my issue. I know I CAN write (I think I can), but I tend to allow anxiety and indecisiveness to fill the foreground. Self-discipline is not a dominant feature in my life—I do the essentials, but back away from many potentially fulfilling options.
    I like your “pitch”. Am I a viable candidate?

  4. I need time – time to write and not to do stuff that’s not writing, like grading papers or endless admin. It’s hard to create a daily schedule when daily life is unplannable. Something is always given to me that is ‘more important’ or ‘essential’ and I do have to do that instead. Things have to change before the work kills me, so I’m going to give this a try

    1. Hi Alison, I’m Janet.
      Oh, how your words resonated! This is exactly how I feel. I always promise myself that I’ll make time to write, then am pulled in several different directions at once, by things which take over. By the time other stuff gets done, I don’t feel like a writer at all, so then can’t write. And it kills. Each time, part of me falls into silence and it gets more and more difficult to allow myself my voice. I really hope this course, being around writers, like minds, people sharing their struggles and ultimately, their triumphs, helps lead you to your triumph x

  5. I stopped writing when I entered the publishing world. I gave that up in 2014. Since then I even set my Alexa (Echo Dot) to tell me it is time to start writing. 2 hours later she tells me what a good job I have done. I hadn’t written a word. It’s all there. I know what I want to write, but I just can’t seem to do it. It’s like everything else takes precedence. I can’t even read anymore. I’m editing everything. It’s not that the things are more important that stop me from writing. I just don’t do it. So how does one just do it?

    1. {{hugs}} I hear you.

      This is the most important, most difficult thing. Training yourself to allow yourself to write, regardless of the quality in the moment, is the hardest part of getting back to writing (and continuing!).

      Anne Lamott talks about the “shitty first draft” which is a great concept. But it’s easy to say, harder to let yourself DO it.

      It takes patience and determination and vulnerability and is hard to do without support from other writers.

      Lowering your standards (for now), writing anything, celebrating when you have, and remembering that patience is a gift, and that slow can be fast in the long run…all these things help a bit.

      I wrote about this, this very week: https://StoryADay.org/the-value-of-morning-pages

  6. Hi everyone,
    I must admit I am an intruder to your world of prose. I’ve spent a life of fifty-four years tearing apart every bit of words I collect together. I struggled through language learning to language teaching and have been delaying this dream to write. Now, I am about to free myself from teaching words to generating them depicting the most complex images and experiences a silly life can offer; yet I feel I need some guidance; to start or to never. I am in-jailed in four languages; English being my 4th foreigh language. So, is there a lending hand?. I would be greateful to be reborn within a community who understands the very value of words. If someone replies a million thanks.

    1. Welcome to the world of fiction and written prose.
      And I can’t be the first person to have said, “if English is your fourth language, I can’t imagine how eloquent you are in your first!” Bravo!

  7. I have just read through many of these comments and feel relieved that so many writers feel like me, the more time I have, the less I get done. The problem is that since StoryADay May, I have been procrastinating. The thing is, I really want to finish a short story I have been working on for so long, and feel that I can’t work on anything else until I finish. That is problem number 1. Problem number 2 is that I’m not really sure how the story will end, and not having that definite safety net makes me constantly second guess myself. I mean, if I don’t know how the story will end, then how do I build up scenes that will support the ending? Yikes! I need more confidence. It seems that so many short stories out there have this shock factor, but what if mine doesn’t have that, do they all have to have that in order to be interesting? Oh boy do I need structure and a deadline that will make me write and say, oh…too bad for you, that’s all the time you have now, Kath, time to move on!!!!

  8. I had an established writing ritual for 8 years. Since 2016 when my situation changed, I’ve had difficulty finding that sweet spot of time that allows me to write and get all those other things done. Seems I was more productive with less time and less productive with more time. I fully expected the opposite to be true. Obviously, I need a new routine.

    1. You’re not alone, though. I’ve talked to so many people who thought having more time would make writing easier when in fact it just makes it easier for you to put it off!

      Also, a change in circumstances does take a long time to adjust to. Sounds like you’re ready for something new, though. Let”s do it, Margo. Let me know how I can help!

  9. Thank you Julie,
    You are always helpful and perceptive ! I have to have a structure so that I can work in snatched moments. I can never be sure how much time I will have in each session when I write. Having a structure enables me to stop and start without struggling to find where I’d got to in the process. My problem is lack of knowledge and experience with writing. It’s a whole new journey of discovery and the more I travel on, the more I realise the things I don’t know. Your challenges have taught me one very important thing though. I must write for my emotional and mental well being and, hard as finding time for myself is, I am driven to do it. I feel proud because I have worked out that there are different aspects to the writing process and they don’t all involve holding a pen or sitting at a computer. 🤩. I look forward to hearing your next talk. X

    1. I’m so glad to hear you’ve made that realization about writing for your mental health. So many people deny themselves the benefits of writing because they think they have to justify it (usually to someone else’s definition of “writing success”)

  10. Awesome!
    A structure to creativity? Interesting.
    Something that has never happened before
    Eager to experience

  11. Hi,

    Many thanks for this series!

    I love structure and process. I generally work much better when I have discipline, a routine. In most areas of my life that works well.

    The struggle I have with my writing life is the balance of leaning into structure a little too much. Net-net: the expectation that I have to have everything figured out.

    Looks like this: Great, I have an idea! My brain says “ok, outline everything from start to finish, create a daily writing schedule, and just get to it!” You know where this is going…

    I don’t have everything figured out, and somehow just can’t figure out a way to be ok with simply writing a bit at a time and letting myself be ok with any place it might lead. My structure and discipline brain struggles with how to use those things that do work for me (ex: setting aside a daily writing block) while remaining open to the fact that I don’t know exactly where the story might take me. Progress doesn’t only mean finishing something from A to B in X time. It can also mean traveling a winding road to get to a better result.

    Again, really appreciate the series and looking forward to learning more. Thank you.

    1. Ooooh, this is something I’ve experienced and something I hear from a LOT of people.

      It’s one of the joys of my life that people in the Superstars group talk about how being in the group has helped them be more consistent because (since they join for a year at a time) they just keep turning up and discovering that they CAN be OK with doing a little at a time (this is not a sales pitch! The group isn’t open for new members at the moment!). They are much happier as writers, and that makes me very happy.

      But the lesson is: finding a way to turn up even when you feel you’re not making progress, and realizing that, as a result you ARE making progress, is a wonderful thing.

      Now that you’ve spotted the flaw in your thinking, I’m optimistic for you. I think you’re on the right track!

  12. I like structure. I like routines. I like flexibility. But I also like consistency. I think my expectations are too high and I struggle to maintain an excitement about my ideas and characters. Mostly, I struggle to take the time to write because I can’t focus on one thing at a time. I love writing, but I struggle with it too much.

    1. High expectations are a good thing…until they’re not.

      I know you’ve been at this for a while, so it might be helpful to take a long-term look at your progress. Rushing to do too much too quickly and burning out hasn’t served you well. There’s a strong case to be made for lowering your expectations and maybe setting some maximum thresholds, like I talked about in a recent podcast (https://storyaday.org/episode212/). It’s an interesting twist on the idea of goals…

      I know you can make time for your writing, since you love it, but looking at what you consider ‘success’ is probably a conversation worth having.

  13. I’m a stay at home mom of four without family around to help with childcare. I wrote before having kids regularly creatively and as my job, but since having kids can’t get into a groove. There seems to be no time of day that one kid isn’t in need, and when they all finally fall asleep, my body and brain feel like mush.

    1. Ah, yes. I’m 3,000 miles-and-an-ocean away from family, with 2 kiddoes. And I have never, ever been able to get up early and not have somebody ALSO decide that this is the morning they want to get up early (and need something or chat — and one of mine is almost in off to college!)

      It’s tough, no doubt, especially when they are younger. But there are many moms in this community. I’ve watched some home-school four kids (even before the pandemic) and still stay connected. I’ve also watched them leave meetings with a wry shrug to attend to the needs of a little one, before coming back.

      Sometimes it takes ‘putting it on the calendar’ and turning up for meetings (maybe even paying for courses) to convince the writing mom she’s able to/allowed to take an hour here or there. And even at that, it’s hard to be productive. But it IS important to make some time for yourself, even if you just sit and open your word-processor or hang out with other writers. This season will pass (trust me) and staying connected to your writing will pay off, even if you’re not producing much just now.

      Plus, it’s fabulous when you hear your kids say the magic words “my mum’s a writer”, and you realize how much they watch what we do, and how we prioritize things. Or when they bring THEIR stories to you, because they need another writer to talk to.

      Hang in there!

        1. I have a demanding job teaching at a university, but I have the month of July to myself to experiment with fiction/nonfiction—rather than academic—writing. I have been interested in writing in the personal essay/memoir genre for several years but have struggled with anxiety and keeping to a schedule. I am also open to the possibility of creating a fictional character based on my own experience, because I have found that writing about oneself feels embarrassing. In any case, I just want to start writing to see what happens. But I have been procrastinating.

  14. Hello!
    I am a fan of Structure and Process. I’ve experienced the benefits of both throughout my life.
    I like the scaffolding metaphor you used in this video. For writing — I still have not found a structure that I stay with (not having faith in the structure). I am great at organizing my “stuff” – but organization does not help with the motivation and daily process of writing. I’m even clear about my purpose in life (that includes writing) yet —- I’ve not found a process that I stick with.
    My current process is .. Write X amount of hours a day, I have deadlines for a play I’m writing, and goals for website blog, and related book. But, they are not enough. HELP!!!
    As an example: I had 8 weeks before my play was going to be workshopped. I of course thought about it .. considered different scenes…. And 3 days before the event I finished it and immediately I realized the play that REALLY needed to be written. So, in the following 3 days.. I rewrote it. In my mind .. I make up the story that if I’d have had a different process that in the 8 weeks prior to the event .. I would / could have been more productive. OR did I need those 8 weeks to have the play “bake” in my head? HELP!

    I have this set of assumptions that say: When I find the right process I’ll have less resistance, I’ll be more productive, it will be easier to do the work every day, there will be an alignment of my mind and my body, etc. I also question maybe these are not reasonable assumptions but subconsciously .. I make these assumptions.

    Thanks !!

    1. Loved seeing you work through your process here.

      And oh, I groaned with recognition as you related your play story. I have learned that yes, you do need time to let things percolate but also I need to trick myself into getting the first draft done in advance, so I have time to revise it (which I always want to do). Otherwise, you end up sprinting like crazy –like you did 🙂 — and burning out a bit. And that’s not a great structure for a writing life.

      The allure of “one process to rule them all” is strong, but I’ve found I need different processes for different seasons. In fact, we were just talking about that in the Superstars group this morning: how summer is, for some people their MOST productive time and for others it means a complete slow down. We can fight that all we like, but part of the beauty of being your own boss (which you are, in your writing life) is that you get to work when it works best for you.

      Thanks for sharing. It’s so useful to hear from other writers about this stuff, isn’t it?

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