3 Steps to a Problem-Solving Mindset

Forgetful. Lazy. Wasting your time. Those are a few of the “name-calling” labels that came up in Monday’s post on the dangers of labels. You could probably continue the list with labels of your own–you know, the things your inner critic starts chanting whenever you don’t measure up as a writer or a person.

Labels are death to creativity.


Labels send the insidious message that you that you can’t change your situation. They keep you stuck.

Fortunately, you can fight back against those negative labels–by taking these steps toward a problem-solving mindset.

Step 1. Become Aware

Before you can banish damaging labels from your self-talk, you have to notice when and where they crop up. I gave some examples of negative labels in Monday’s post. Sounds easy enough to identify your inner name-calling, right?  In the heat of the moment, though, it’s easy to accept whatever your inner critic throws your way without stopping to question it.

Here are a few clues that you’re dealing with a “label problem”:

  • You feel stuck
  • You feel powerless to change a situation
  • You feel judged or worthless

These feelings are a signal that subconsciously, you’ve identified some problem as beyond your control. And although some situations will be beyond your ability to affect, most aren’t. Start having a conversation with yourself. Find out what’s making you feel stuck. Make a list. Get every problem, barrier, and obstacle down on paper.

Step 2. Replace Simplistic Labels With Compassionate Truth

Do you have your list of problems, barriers, and obstacles? You next step is to question them. Every one.

  • First, is the label/obstacle/barrier actually true? Is it possible you’ve accepted a label that exaggerates the situation?
  • Second, is the problem caused by this label/obstacle/barrier really insurmountable?

Labels tend to judge, globalize, and oversimplify. As a result, they often rule out any possibility of change. You need to replace the labels with a more realistic understanding of your situation.

Here’s what this process might look like inside my brain (enter at your own risk…):

The Label, Obstacle, or Problem

I’m so unproductive! I’ve gotten nothing done all week.

The Challenge

Seriously? What about that midnight brainstorming session on the new novel?Well, okay, I did come up with some cool ideas. But I should have gotten a lot more accomplished!Let’s take a look at this past week before labeling you “unproductive.” Your kiddo was home sick Tuesday, which took out most of that day’s writing time. You also spent several unplanned hours troubleshooting problems with your website. You got a lot done, just not the things you wanted to get done.

Tip: Telling yourself the truth isn’t the same as positive thinking. Make sure that you don’t replace an oversimplified negative label with an oversimplified positive one!

Step 3. Start Searching for Solutions

Once you’ve identified the truth in your situation–the actual problem–you can start brainstorming solutions. Continuing the inner dialogue I began above…

Brainstorming Solutions

 Okay, I really didn’t get as much accomplished as I wanted to–not because I was lazy, but because I chose to spend my time on other important things. The real problem is that I feel like I’m letting my creative writing come after everything else. What would make me feel more connected to my creative project? Maybe I could take half an hour to myself on those days when my schedule is upended, to make sure I’m still thinking about the story. I can usually spare an hour even when I’m crazy busy…the trick is to make sure that I do it BEFORE nonessentials.

What things are nonessentials? Hmm…let me think about what I might cut out of my routine on this kind of day….

It’s hard to change the habit of assigning judgmental and critical labels to ourselves when we don’t measure up…but in the words of  psychologist Randy Paterson, we have a trump card in the attempt to change our thinking:

Our typical negative thoughts have a trump card: We have rehearsed them so long they have become instinctive. The truth has a trump card of its own: Reality will confirm it over time.”
–Randy Paterson


3 Reasons Sketchnotes Can Level Up Your Creative Process

tsh-cover-175pxDo you ever finish a brainstorming session feeling like you’ve just rehashed the same old ideas on new sheets of paper?

Does your freewriting exercise stall before you hit the second paragraph?

Does your plot refuse to twist, or do your characters insist on behaving predictably?

Maybe you need a creative kick-start! I have an awesome–and fun–new tool for you to add to your creativity toolbox:



What the Heck Are Sketchnotes?

Sketchnoting authority Mike Rohde, author of the Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking, puts it this way:

Sketchnotes are rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes & lines.”

Sketchnotes arose from Mike’s frustration with the standard note-taking process. He was filling notebooks with pages of detailed, text-only notes, and then never referring to them again.

Sound familiar? How many of us have notebooks full of notes from conferences and meetings, notebooks that now gather dust on shelves (**raises hand**)? Perhaps worse, how many of us have notebooks filled with valuable story ideas or character descriptions, similarly gathering dust because sorting through them is too daunting a task?

Sketchnotes focus on capturing BIG IDEAS and representing them VISUALLY. By using symbols and shapes to capture concepts, sketchnotes can convey information more succinctly than text alone. The way information is organized on the page can help communicate a hierarchy of ideas or logical progression.

The end result is a “visual map,” Mike says. Sketchnotes “are built from meaningful thoughts and ideas your mind collects and squirrels away….”

In other words, when you translate ideas into sketchnotes, you store them in a format that’s easy to review and access later.

Sketchnotes let you translate ideas into a format that’s QUICK TO SCAN and EASY TO REVISIT. 


Cool, right? But that’s not the only benefit of sketchnoting–as you might’ve guessed based on the the title of this post.

Sketchnoting Is About PROCESS as Much as PRODUCT

Sketchnoting isn’t just about creating a beautiful end product–which is why you don’t need to be an artist to start creating your own sketchnotes. Sketchnoting helps you think differently.

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Ways Writers Can Collaborate – and Kick-Start the Creative Process!

Earlier this week, I shared some of the joys of collaborating with other creative types…but I think I missed something. It’s all well and good to talk about why collaboration is great for the creative process, but if you’re a writer–probably working solo from your home office–what does collaboration actually look like?


Hans Splinter, Flickr

The Many Faces of Collaboration

I’m not expert on the collaboration front. I haven’t co-authored a book with anyone, for instance–the stereotypical form of writerly collaboration. However, I’ve found that kicking around ideas with other readers, writers, and daydreamers is a great way to improve my fiction writing.

It got me thinking: Where have I benefited from working with others on a project? What opportunities for collaboration have I stumbled upon, and what collaborative possibilities have other writers harnessed that I haven’t yet tried?

Here’s what I came up with, listed from least (“Level 1″) to most interactive (“Level 4″). Feel free to suggest more possibilities and examples in the comments!

Level 1: Soliciting Feedback

This is a great starting point for the novice collaborator: sign up for a conference critique, find a writing mentor, or join a critique group to solicit others’ views on your plot, story world, characters, etc. This is a great way to experiment with what it feels like to work with others on a creative project.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • When giving or receiving feedback, be sure to bring an open, non-judgmental mindset to the process
  • But also remember–you’re the owner of your project, so don’t let others squash your vision

These days, though, critiques from other writers aren’t the only form of feedback you can seek. You can also connect with “regular” readers. Share your writing on platforms such as WattpadFictionPress.net, or even your own blog or website–not for a critique, but to get a sense of what is and isn’t working in your stories.

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Why NaNoWriMo?

What Insane Person Tries to Write 50K Words in 30 Days?

One who wants to improve their ability to create!

This quick video explains why NaNoWriMo is worth doing and what you’ll gain from the experience.

This is for you if

  • You’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and want to know more
  • Your friend / classmate / significant other is participating in NaNoWriMo and you think they’re crazy
  • YOU are participating in NaNoWriMo…and you’re wondering if YOU are crazy
  • You know you thought this book-in-a-month thing was a good idea, but you can’t seem to remember why
  • You just need a good excuse to procrastinate because you don’t want to write :)

If you enjoy, please share!

This is also available as a Prezi (below) if you prefer to go through it without the narration.