What CAN DO can do for you

Written by Claire L. Fishback, PMP

Book Coach & Story Strategist

May 1, 2024

The CAN DO Formula is the way to create the writing habit you’ve always wanted so you can finish your book.

You finally have some spare time in your busy life to work on your novel. Maybe it’s an hour, maybe, by the grace of everything holy, it’s even more!

You’re so excited to finally finally have some time to weave plot threads and reacquaint yourself with your characters.

You sit down to write, fingers poised over the keyboard.

Your phone vibrates (or chimes or whatever).

You check the text message. You send a reply.

While you have your phone in your hand, you decide to check your social media (maybe while waiting for a response from the texter).

There you are, laughing at reel after reel, video after video, post after post, scrolling and scrolling.

You get another text. You switch over and check that one. On your way back to your social media app, you see a new email with an intriguing subject line. You check it out.

You ‌glance at the clock while switching between apps.

Your precious writing time is up. You look at the still-blank screen, maybe with regret, maybe sadness, maybe a resignation of some sort, because this is not the first time this has happened.

Maybe Brittany Spears’s song, “Oops I Did it Again” plays in your mind, as you think, “I wish I had more time to write.”

This, by the way, was me about 5 years ago.

That is, until I figured out how to trick myself into instant writing mode with the Toucan20.

I wrote about the Toucan20 Method and why it works in full in another post, but I’ll give a brief recap here. The Toucan20 Method is super simple.

  1. You set a timer for 20 minutes.
  2. You sit your butt down.
  3. You write until the timer goes off. Simple as that.

If you have time, you can take a quick break and do it again. It’s super simple, and it works, and the best part is, it’s only 20 minutes.

Short. Focused. Easy to fit into your day.

But what if you can’t even find twenty minutes in your day? That’s where the CAN DO Formula comes in.

The CAN DO formula is a bunch of tools to put in your writer’s life toolbox. I’ll tell you what each letter stands for, followed by a brief description of what it is, and finally why it’s important.

Use these simple tools and you will be well on your way to creating and maintaining the writing habit and practice of your dreams. If you still need help, I have a Masterclass, a full course, and a mentorship style accountability program for you to check out.

CAN DO stands for: Cultivate awareness, activate your time, nix excuses, diligently show up, and overtake your goals.

Cultivate Awareness

Cultivating awareness is all about finding time in your busy day by keeping track of how you spend your time. Once you find a few 20 minute slots in your day in which you could fit a writing session, typically between other things in your packed schedule, you can test those different times to see which one works best for you, your body, your mind, your natural internal rhythm, etc.

Why cultivating awareness is important

Cultivating Awareness is important because, first of all, knowing how you spend your time–as in the very act of tracking it–will automatically make you more aware of how you spend it. You’ll be less likely to do what I consider a “time wasting” activity, because you’ll have to log it on your time tracker. Testing out various times throughout your day and tracking your word count, motivation, and other factors will help you determine which time is the best for you and how your body functions. Though, you definitely can force yourself to write at a time your body resists… but that’s the key word. You will more often resist writing if the time slot doesn’t work for you.

Activate Your Time

The next step, now that you have identified some spots in your day for a 20-minute writing session, is to activate that time by creating a pre-writing ritual.

Why activating your time is important

Even the best writers sit down to write and often struggle with getting started writing. When you have a routine or a ritual at the beginning of your time that you use every time over and over again, you will start to get into the flow state zone a lot quicker

Nix Excuses

Nixing excuses is all about your negative inner voice trying to distract and discourage you from writing because writing can be a scary thing and our brains are constantly trying to protect us from ourselves. And so if you’re nervous or even slightly not confident in your writing ability, then your brain will send you all kinds of evil messages to stop you from writing. Nixing excuses is all about binding and gagging your negative inner voice, as well as looking at your behaviors that are directly linked to your internal negative voice.

These are the poisons to productivity: Resistance, procrastination, avoidance behavior, shiny new idea syndrome (SNIS).

Why nixing excuses is important

Binding and gagging your negative inner voice is important because, as writers and creatives, we are constantly shut down, discouraged, distracted, demoralized by self-doubt, impostor syndrome, perfectionism, or in our inner critic. Being able to find ways to ignore that voice at the very least will help you to overcome it and recognize when it’s a negative inner voice and when it has validity.

Diligently Show Up

Diligence is all about handling external obstacles that physically keep you from showing up to your computer, notebook, or stone tablet (don’t forget your chisel!). I say handling, because chances are, these external obstacles are unavoidable. They present as emergencies, schedule changes, people who rely on you, your day job, etc. They interrupt your writing time, or worse, steal it altogether. I wrote this post and this post presenting the tools to plan for anything. Pick the ones that resonate best and use them.

Why diligently showing up is important

Showing up over and over again to your writing time will solidify your writing habit. Using the tools to overcome external distractions and interruptions, and putting a plan in place on which tools to use for what distraction or interruption will set you up for success at the beginning. As a result, your negative inner voice won’t have as much ammo to fire at you! Double bonus!

Overtake Your Goals

Overtaking your goals is all about coming up with some big deal goals (BDGs) and breaking them down into small attainable targets. For example, if your big deal goal is to write your novel, an attainable target is to write for 20 minutes every day. Or 500 words every writing session.

Begin by listing out all of your Big Deal Goals. Then, take each goal and break it down into small incremental and doable targets. Create a deadline for each smaller target. The deadline can be flexible, especially if your BDGs have dependencies within them. Finally, brainstorm some small rewards to give yourself when you complete the targets, and something a little more substantial when you complete your BDGs. Rewards will add more positivity to your mindset around your goals.

Why overtaking your goals is important

Setting yourself up for success is a key factor in feeling good about what you can and do accomplish. Successfully completing tasks releases dopamine–the “feel good” chemical–in your brain. If you have just one big deal goal, it can feel overwhelming. Breaking it down into these smaller tasks makes it less overwhelming, and sets you up for success. Having feelings of success around your writing time is important in keeping your inner negative voice bound and gagged, as well as making you feel good to keep showing up every time.

What CAN DO can do for you

As you can see, each step in the CAN DO formula offers solutions to each part of the writing habit journey. Becoming aware of how you spend your time helps you to find and upcycle “wasted” time into writing sessions. Activating your time helps you get into the zone quicker, so you can write more words in your shorter time spans. Nixing excuses keeps your negative self-talk at bay. Diligently showing up keeps your external distractors and interruptors from stealing your time. Overtaking your goals sets you up for immediate success. All of these tools gathered together in your toolbox will help you create powerful positive associations with writing. Your excitement for what you love to do will be reignited. You’ll be more likely to show up, and by showing up you’ll create a habit that sticks, and one you love.

Beyond this article: The CAN DO Formula courses

I have two courses that teach the CAN DO Formula in more depth. The first one is my “cornerstone” course, The Busy Author Toolbox. The second one is a 60-minute masterclass that sort of fast tracks you to incorporating the tactics into your writing life.

Learn more about the Busy Author Toolbox

Learn more about the CAN DO Formula Masterclass

Set your timer! Go write!

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