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It has been five years since I have functioned as a professor of philosophy. For a good while, I thought I might never teach or write again without the carrot stick of “getting tenure.” 

In the field of academia, you have to “publish or perish”—get your work OUT THERE or die. I wondered to myself, “Without a job that pays me to research, write and publish, will I ever write again?” To wit: this is not a wise thing to think about when you’re jobless and utterly burnt out.

I have come to see writing like our circadian rhythm, that internal clock which governs our body’s temperature and the secretion of hormones… something that we cannot mess with for too long without paying a high price. Daily writing, like daily meditation, can help me “treat” an exhaustion in me that getting more sleep simply cannot touch. Still, sometimes it can be hard to get started.

In order to bust out of feeling stuck, I’ve come up with these eight steps to keep myself energized as a writer. I’m constantly editing these steps so please keep me informed about what works for you.

1. Keep a consistent rhythm

Pick a few things to do each day that nurture you…things that you would encourage a child to do in a daily way, i.e., go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day. Eat three small meals and two snacks-a-day around the same time (8am,12pm, 4pm, 6pm, 8pm). Sleep 8-10 hours a night. Did you know that Americans are the most sleep-deprived, profit-first people on the planet? That explains why we are adrenalin junkies with addictive tendencies; caff up, work hard, “play” (i.e., consume) hard. How do you think that routine is working for us?

People with seasonal affective disorder—most Pacific North Westerners—have to be especially careful to prevent disturbances in our cycles in order to keep our jobs/livelihood, friends, mates and family members. Long-term disruption to our natural rhythm creates physical, emotional, financial and creative havoc, just ask the sleepless people hooked on The Home Shopping Network. When they wake up the next day, the only thing they’re writing is a check.

2. Know the color of your lobster?

When you put a lobster in a pot of boiling water, it jumps out to preserve its life. You put the same lobster in cold water, turning up the heat gradually, and she stays in there, acclimating to the temperature, until, that is, she boils to death.

I can feel the temperature rising in my pot lately, so I’ve just ordered a bunch of ice-cubes – a week-long vacation, vitamin D supplements, extra coaching, Korean Spa time – to cool things down. Being burnt (out) leaves me utterly empty of good stories to share.

3. Buddy up

When on field trips to The Woodland Park Zoo as a kid, we were told to “pick a buddy and be accountable.” Teaming up with someone offered each one a chance to pay attention to a relationship—you now have another person to keep alive—okay, that might be a little extreme for kindergartners. But, let’s face it, writers are too often loners and as any scary werewolf movie will show you, lone wolves can become freakishly rabid.

To stay well, we have to stay connected. Writers who check-in with someone—preferably an ally—tend to get their work finished and, as a result, they are more likely to get that work published. If you are a people-pleaser like me, you’ll want to “be good” and get a verbal “gold star” from your writing buddy. Ask your pal to do this in writing as well as out loud and you’ll be on the right track.

Partnerships are famously successful when they are focused on one thing that is relevant to both members. For instance, in the workplace, some—especially introverts—resist a team approach to progress and, instead, prefer working with a partner to get things done well and on time.

Connection doesn’t just feel better it promotes collegial morale. In exercise or weight-loss programs, people seem more inclined to get up an hour early rather than hit the snooze button if there’s someone who’ll be counting on them for moral support. In twelve-step groups, people pair up to double their progress when walking together through the shadows of their past. On our own, we rarely unload destructive beliefs that feed into self-harming habits.

4. Squeeze in some “useless” time

There is another kind of rest that is almost as crucial to our well being as sleep and that is being useless—good for nothing and no one. In Chinese philosophy this way of being is called wu-wei or “action-less” or unselfconscious “action.” Non-doing is often necessary when we find ourselves spinning with worry and exhaustion. But, how do we do nothing? I start out by making a list of stuff I like to do that does not improve myself or anyone else (not even my loved ones or the planet). Even the most selfless Mother-Teresa type needs to charge her batteries.

Here’s my list of useless “activities”:

Watch things that make me laugh: Glee, South Park, Family Guy or Daily Show.
Watch my dog rub her back on the grass in serpentine shimmies.
De-clutter (desk, car, house)—seriously, this relaxes me.
Make beauty (wearable art) with my hands and oddly-imaginative design sensibility.
Give myself monthly 1/2-day meditation time.
Soak up ANY sun (as I said above, we in Seattle are bleached of Vitamin D).
Be near or in the water (a Jacuzzi or tub, on a ferry boat or listen to ocean waves)
Stare out a window.
Look up at the sky.
See fun movies with a friend.
Sing along with the great Ella Fitzgerald (et al.).
Read for fun (resist self-improvement books).
Warm up in front of any fire.
Walk in the woods with a friend (preferably one that has, or likes, dogs).

If your body is without a cushion for too long, you’ll get sore, brittle and perhaps feel like you are falling apart, like Humpty Dumpty. And, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but sometimes doctors—even new age healers—can’t put you back together again.

5. Know your triggers

After 20 years of therapy and 24 years of hanging out in some kind of support group, I think I have finally located my triggers that suck my energy:

a. going too long without eating protein;
b. forgetting why I am standing in a super-sized Target or Costco store with over 100 aisles of products manufactured in China;
c. screaming children ramped up on sugar, and;
d. having (or overhearing) conversations with people who think that absolutely every challenge (physical, mental, financial, creative) can be fixed with the right thoughts or positive self-talk. Grrrrrh!

6. Know you don’t have to know it all

Needing to be brilliant as a writer is as practical as needing to have your way at all times. It is a nice idea but it’s not going to happen. Energizing your inner writer—getting her to need to communicate—is an experiment. It’s not like knowing everything and then sharing this wisdom with the world…pedantic writing is NOT good reading.

7. You don’t have to have will power, just willingness

Making inflexible rules about writing is similar to being on a permanent diet. If you start off determined to avoid your favorite binge food by eating a salad for lunch every day, your diet will last approximately three days. At least that’s when I threw out the bowl of lettuce and reached for a gigantic tub of popcorn with a lot of melted, sharp-cheddar cheese on top.

You have to pace yourself—chunk down your writing goal to something small (and put the goal in WRITING). DDRR—> Declare it: commit to doing it (out loud), Do it, (then cross it off your list), Reward yourself and Repeat. If you feel like it, tell your buddy to keep the generative momentum flowing. My own business coach, Molly Gordon, says, “By doing this four-part DDRR routine you’ll be creating new neural pathways!” Plus, trying and fulfilling on what you say you’ll do builds integrity; it feels good to be someone who does what she says she will do. Don’t believe me? Try it.

Science supports my claim here: Humans have a limited amount of will power. It’s like oil. So don’t even try to quit smoking when you’re eating veggies, or abstaining from your one big glass of Chardonnay, or when you’re trying to live more simply by de-cluttering your house…. “Rots of ruck!” as my Mandarin teacher used to say. Instead of setting yourself up to fail with impossible expectations, make your writerly goals measurable and ridiculously easy to complete and don’t forget to celebrate ANY progress along the way.

8. Practice makes it a ritual

I’m not talking about reciting The Stations of the Cross while crawling on your blood-soaked knees. I’m talking about setting your watch for 15-minutes to write non-stop and without a censor. Do this as an experiment. Ask yourself a question related to what you like to write (and learn) and answer that question before the buzzer rings. Do this writing exercise once and then see how you feel. Try doing it everyday for a week if you really want to sink it into your bones.

Let me know if this works to enliven your inner writer. If you’ve experienced some better tricks that work for you, please share them with us here or contact me via my website.

Jennifer Manlowe, PhD, CPC is an author, educator, and Certified Publishing Coach with over 20 years of experience helping people express themselves in ways that bring joy, self-sufficiency, good pay and a sense of contribution. She loves hearing from readers and writers and is eager to support them as they launch their creative work in the world!

Be sure to schedule a 15-minute complimentary phone consultation to see how this kind of coaching works. Make an appointment via telephone: (206) 617-8832 or email:



“The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.” ~ Bertrand Russell

Halloween is my very favorite holiday. The days that follow, All Souls/All Saints Day, are equally celebratory. Still, I wonder why dressing up in various costumes, pretending to be scary monsters, has held such fascination for so many of us? Is it because we get to include what is called our “shadow” or a “disowned self”? Might it have to do with testing out a taboo version of ourselves, one that we’re not quite ready to include in our ordinary lives? Perhaps it’s just fun to play someone other than us for a night (or day). But, most important, what, if anything, does playing have to do with writing?

Playing has everything to do with good-enough writing. If we can’t start, we’ll never finish. Thus, I make writing anything into a game because I have a fairly simple kid within me who likes games and will take on any dare. I’ll say, “Hey, I dare you to write a really crappy version of that assignment you’ve been given (or have given yourself)!” Seriously, without fail, this invitation provokes me to give it a try. Why? Because I can’t fail at producing a really crappy version of anything and I hate to fail. What’s more, if there’s no version to work with, there’s nothing to share with the world (via publishing).

Such tricks (and their inevitable treats that follow) may get even the stuffiest intellectuals down on the ground with paint on their hands. When writing has no more at stake than finger painting, we’re all a bit more willing to throw ourselves into the game of creating. I know; I’ve been using this trick on myself since 1985 (graduate school at Princeton Seminary).

“I can’t write a book commensurate with Shakespeare, but I can write a book by me.” ~ Walter Raleigh, Sr.

Keeping your writing simple isn’t done just for you to get something out and down on paper, it can save your reader a lot of hassles. Consider this: if you cannot say what you mean in one page, you may need more time to keep writing in your journal (or on those pesky scraps of paper). Ask your inner writer, “What am I trying to share with my ‘just right’ reader?”

“Elevator speeches” can help, i.e., can you talk about your book project in the time it takes to go from the 1st floor to the 9th floor of a building? Using such a facile technique doesn’t mean the book will be thin soup for the reader, rather, they’ll have a sense that you’ve been working with a clear head and have a strong sense of where you will be taking them on their reading expedition.

Another trick I’ll use to stay connected to my reader is to keep in mind (as my imaginary audience) an intelligent and curious 8th grader. If I cannot connect with her, hold her attention, interest her, or help her flourish in a way that she’ll understand, then I’ll be missing most readers all together.

As a university professor and an academic writer from 1993-2005, I have developed lots of methods to impress my competition (the few readers of academic journals who love to find logical holes in other people’s arguments). While my skin got thicker every year, I lost my capacity to relate to my ideal readers.

Now, I write to connect, not to impress. My recommendation to you is this: “Have a non-academic friend read your book, preferably a teenager who loves to read. She or he may be your best test-reader and will offer you the most helpful feedback!” Of course, if you want further guidance and even more simple tricks-of-the-trade, give me a call.

Jennifer Manlowe, PhD is an author, educator, writing and publishing coach with over 20 years of experience helping people express themselves in ways that bring joy, self-sufficiency, good pay and a sense of contribution. She loves hearing from readers and writers and is eager to support them as they launch their creative work in the world!

Be sure to schedule a 30-minute complimentary phone consultation to see how this kind of coaching works. Make an appointment via telephone: (206) 617-8832 or email:

“You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith.” ~ Mary Manin Morrissey

Fear can be a huge boulder in any writer’s path, preventing her from being able to see that there might be a way to work with, even capitalize on, its universality.

Fear has a way of throwing us off balance, making us feel uncertain and insecure, but it is not meant to discourage us. Its purpose is to notify us that we are at the edge of our comfort zone, poised in between the old life and a new one. Whenever we face our fear, we overcome an inner obstacle and move into new territory, both inside and out.

Many would-be authors let their fears keep them from embracing their writerly possibilities. Which type of fear keeps you from fulfilling your writing goals? Here is just a small sampling (based on my clients’ and my own experiences):

• Fear of change(s)

• Fear of the unknown

• Fear of failing

• Fear of succeeding

• Fear of getting outside the “comfort zone” (those comfortable but stinky slippers)

• Fear of being too old to be relevant or too young to write a memoir

• Fear of being seen as frivolous or vain

• Fear of losing money – no guarantees

• Fear of being broke

• Fear of having to BE AN AUTHOR (“Will I have to pump out books like Stephen King for the rest of my life?”)

• Fear of not having what it takes (discipline, talent, passion)

• Fear of being wrong (too many typos and grammatical errors)

• Fear of not being able to begin (or finish!)

• Fear of humiliation, worries of what friends, family or colleagues will think

• Fear of self-delusion; that your experiment as an author will appear to be grandiose, full of fallacious arguments and factoids

• Fear that it’s all been said before anyway

• Fear of being audacious, “How dare I think I have something unique to say!”

• Fear of no longer having this goal (dream?)

• Fear of lawsuit or of physical retaliation (from those that think you’re REALLY writing about them!); and finally, the biggest fear of them all:

• Fear of being ordinary (just another schmo on the bus).

The point of this list is for us to see that we all have fears! It’s called being conscious. If we don’t feel fear, we may be suffering from PTSD (a kind of numbness born of trauma), or we might be a sociopath — one who has no capacity for empathizing with other living beings. But, my guess, most of us suffer from neither of these troubling conditions.

The majority of us feel fear and wish we didn’t get stopped by this fact of human existence. Well, I’m here to tell you, there’s no way around it, just through it.

I promise you, everybody can find ways to confront and move through their fears. I say to myself and my clients, “Just keep walking!” All dark tunnels have openings.

“I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.” ~ Annie Dillard

While comfort with fear is a contradiction in terms, we can learn to honor our fear, recognizing its arrival, listening to its intelligence, and respecting it as a harbinger of transformation. Indeed, it informs us that what we are doing (or about to do) is significant.

When we work with, or befriend our fears, we can take the focus off resisting them, (the main reason we’re all so exhausted, let’s face it), and commit to our readers. After we have made the mental commitment to completing our book or other writing, we will have evidence — in our hands — that fears can be walked through, perhaps even worked through, at least for today.

Time Is Just An Invention!

Time Is Just An Invention!

“Today, like every other day, I wake up empty and frightened. Don’t go to the door of the study and read a book. Instead take down the dulcimer, let the beauty of what you love be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, there are a thousand ways to go home again.” ~ Rumi

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
~ Socrates

Little by little, I realize that nobody ever finds time—time is not lost. Time is actually related to the word “tide” (in Old English tima). It’s not a thing, but something that we experience with our senses. Time is something that we carve out of the rocky schedule or impenetrable wall of activity in which we live.

I’m coming to accept that time must be attended to, like a garden, or one will surely pay via its drying up; neglect produces parchedness. Time must be nurtured, it must be coddled and affirmed—doing so will ensure it will give back ten-fold.

So many Americans live lives that are frantically busy, driven by sense of lack, and without reflection. Socrates would roll over in his grave with our general lack of rigorous self-examination. “There’s no time,” we all snap back. “Who has time to examine their choices, their habits, their ways of being with others, their ways of being alone?” Do we ever think about what our busy-ness gives or promises us? Can we afford to live such unexamined lives?

What would Socrates say? Is this lifestyle of frantic activity (multi-tasking, multi-texting, even while driving) making our lives worth living? “Time is money,” they say. The truth is, time is what we make it to be. It’s like an ordinary piece of fabric—we can make with it a mat to rest upon or a noose to hang ourselves with…it’s up to us.

At this particular time in my life, I’m making time to write—“just three pages a day,” as The Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron suggests. She calls them “morning pages” because they can start the flow of creativity the first thing in the morning, just like meditation. I’ve called them “mourning pages” because even as a kid they were a kind of lamentation of my half-lived life. If I hang in there with the writing, it usually unearths the shadowy parts of myself that often experience sadness, fear, anger or loss of some kind.

If you were willing to take responsibility for making time for your reflection, what would you discover? Do you hope to get somewhere else by moving faster through life? Such unexpressed feeling often turns into depression or general moodiness. Everyone benefits when I use my “mourning pages.”

Making This Practice My Own:

I commit to writing three pages a day this week, right after I get up in the morning.

I commit to move my pen on paper—without criticism for what I see during this time. I will not edit my words or thoughts, I will let my imagination run wild with thick description for what I’m feeling, seeing, noticing this moment.

During this time, I will let my brain drain out onto the page. I will let myself “let it rip” if I want to complain. I will let myself rant if I want to rant. I will let myself be full of self-pity if I want to be full of self-pity—accounting for all the wrongs done to me in my lifetime. If I want to moan, I’ll moan while I do this. If I want to imagine myself in a horror movie, I’ll spell out the details in my morning writing. If I want to imagine myself in some tawdry affair, I’ll not miss one drop of saucy description. If I want to make this one long wish list, for seven whole days, that’s just great.

How does using time to listen to your unexpressed feelings feel? What’s it like to carve out space for yourself to just exhale—no resistance, no holding back to what you’ve been feeling? Can you bring more of your plucky self (what Buddhist’s call your “original nature”) to what you do in work and love?

Do you need support in sticking with this commitment? I hope to hear from you! Contact me through my this blog or my home website!

I recommend The War of Art to all my clients and students who want to authorize their creative life and use writing as their vehicle. People who are striving to bust out of old ruts, who want to stop making excuses, to resist their inner saboteur, or throw down that old saw, “I never seem to find the time to do what I want to do” are Pressfield’s, (The Legend of Bagger Vance novelist), target audience. 

“Julia Cameron’s Artist Way meets Sunzi’s Art of War” is how some people think of this book because it speaks authoritatively and strategically to procrastinators who can’t seem to get off the couch of constant complaining which sounds something like this, “I woulda, shoulda, coulda been a contender!”

Because Pressfield’s book and I both reach out to serve the same group of people: those who want to take their second-half-of-life and make it reflect the transformation they’re going through—from cocooning to creating something authentic to share with the world—this book has become mandatory reading and re-reading.

Unlike Sunzi, however, The War of Art and Artist’s Way have reference to a divine entity of some kind that can be appealed to throughout the bumpy process of overcoming self-limiting beliefs and doubt. Sunzi’s Art of War, considered to be a Daoist text compiled more than 2,000 years ago by a mysterious warrior-philosopher schooled in the Chinese Classics, renders conflict as inevitable and inspires readers to deal with it by cultivating a lifestyle of multifaceted discipline. There is no “out there” or “up there” called upon as if there were some divine “object” that was separate from a mortal “subject” called “human being.” All of us are believed to have the innate capacity to work with mystery, practice skillfulness, honor ourselves and each other, and experience a natural inner-wisdom that helps us “harmonize-with-what-is-so”—which leads to victory without fail. The key difference in the Chinese Classics, (and I’m not referring to folk practices here), is that there is no external power, (Divinity), to appeal to in Daoism, Buddhism, or Confucianism (the three great traditions of Classical China).

Does this mean these 20th-century, popular books will not have traction with agnostics/atheists or non-Westerners? Not necessarily so. Whether you’re trying to practice painting, singing, writing, sculpting, exercising, or starting a business or a non-profit, we all enjoy a reliable ally to hold us responsible to making creative choices in a daily way. Pressfield gives readers of all stripes smart questions and savvy exercises to interrogate themselves to a point but, more often, to risk getting into action. No one gets to Carnegie Hall any other way.

The only aspect of this book that I found off-putting was the Patton (U.S. General)—like military tone in the last third of the book (a tone not at all like Sunzi’s who sees the most skillful victory to be a murderless one). Nevertheless, setting down the macho tone is easy if one wants the best Pressfield has to offer: a sense of humor, a relentless busting of all your favorite reasons to say, “I can’t but I want to,” and a boat load of tricks and techniques, conveyed through a very personal journal, as to how he finally stepped into the river and joined the flow of collective creativity.

Note: My favorite Pressfield inspiration of all, that also reflects his tone, is this one: “Hitler wanted to be an artist. Apparently it was easier to start World War II than stare at a blank canvas.”

What helps you overcome procrastination? Are there any books that have helped you take creative action or do they keep you stuck in reflection mode—my favorite way of being?

P.S. You know where to go if you need a book coach, right? See: