Category Archives: Insecure Writer’s Support Group

Giving yourself a break!

I had a post in mind for this months Insecure Writer’s Support Group post… But then I got slammed with feeling sick, overwhelmed, and on buses that wanted to run late.

So instead I write this, on my phone while waiting to get home after a long day (and briefly edit before heading to work the next morning).

When I get home I plan to curl up and go to bed, I’ve been dreaming about it all day.  Because I  am drained, completely and thoroughly.
It really should be no surprise. I “won” NaNoWriMo this month, while working full time with a long commute, still keeping up on this blog and other projects, AND I cooked and prepared meals for much of a two-day Thanksgiving extravaganza, and the rest of the month wasn’t exactly low-key on the social scale. I should be tired.

And yet, I feel guilty for not planning to write tonight. For not writing much at all since the 26th.

I have to remind myself (and I am sure I’m not the only one needing this reminder), that we need to give ourselves breaks. Sometimes life overwhelms, and we then need to step back and give ourselves room to breath.  It doesn’t make one any less of a writer to not write for a short while – we need to take time to rest, and that’s okay. You know, sometimes it’s even okay to decide to watch some tv, rather than read a book – just another form of storytelling.

Pushing ourselves to far without a break can be detrimental. It can cause those insecurities to flare up and take control because we are weakened.  Just like a body pushed beyond its limit with not sleeping as well as you should, or not eating properly, can make you more vulnerable to illness, pushing yourself with your work too much (a little pushing is important) can make you more likely to start over-criticizing and questioning your ability and the worth of your art.

Writing is a draining activity – even in those amazing moments of story creation you are using a lot of energy and effort. So be sure to take the time to allow yourselves to refuel.

Sometimes it is okay to let yourself take a break. Sometimes it is even necessary.


Also, exciting news!  The Insecure Writer’s Support Group has a new book out!  For free (through most sites).  Check it out for all sorts of great articles on topics from writing to publishing, everything in-between and beyond!


This is my monthly post as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a IWSG badgegreat group of supportive writers, helping one another through our writing ups-and-downs.
There is also a great Facebook Community for more daily connection!  More posts from the group are tagged on Twitter at #IWSG.  

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Juggling Act

My elementary school gym teacher was also a clown, so my gym classes included things like juggling, riding a unicycle, and balancing a feather on your hand (and getting occasional opportunities to watch his ventriloquism act).  I learned valuable lessons in those classes, ones that I can readily apply to my life now — especially my writing life.

When we started juggling we used scarves.  Up goes one scarf, catch it.  Up goes one scarf, up goes another, catch, catch.  Throw, throw, catch, catch.    You learn a pattern, start out slow, and then build.  After mastering three scarves, you switch to juggling balls or bean-bags.  Throw, catch.  Throw, throw, catch, catch.  And then, when you get really good at that:  throw, throw, catch, throw, catch,  throw… or something like that.  I never quite managed to build to three very well.

I can sometimes keep three small stuffed animals in the air (enough to entertain toddlers), last time I tried a unicycle was probably about two decades ago (I think I did okay), and I still can balance a peacock feather on my hand like a pro.

But some people I know, they can juggle three, or even more exciting things.  Some of them can even do it while balancing on a unicycle.   They didn’t get there overnight, it took a lot of practice, dedication, and some amount of skill.

 As writers we’re always juggling.  There are paying jobs (writing or otherwise), families, friends, self-care, and writing to keep up with.  Within the writing itself there are often multiple characters, plot-lines, plot-snags, grammatical rules to obey (or not), scenes clamoring to be written, and scenes presenting problems.  Add to that social media, the “writer/author platforms,” networking and (if you have work already produced) marketing.  It is a lot to keep moving.

I’m early in the process.  I have to remind myself of that.  Just like juggling started out with the lightweight scarves, slowly building to more challenging things to catch.  We have to build up slowly, taking on too much at too quickly can end badly, like a novice juggler deciding to try knives or flames.

We’re all move at our own paces.  While the kid next to me may have been able to move from the scarves to the juggling balls faster than me, I might have been able to master the unicycle with more ease.

Writing is about balance.  “Just keep writing,” is bandied about as an important phrase, when you don’t feel like writing, keep writing.  But sometimes this isn’t the case.  Sometimes you need to just STOP writing, to give yourself room to breath.  When you’re juggling, if you start to lose the rhythm, you can quickly lose control, and it wont be long before they all fall.  You have to pace yourself.  You have to keep an eye to the rhythm.  Yes, it may speed up or slow down, but it is still there.

Same with writing.  Sometimes you’ll push and move fast, sometimes you’ll slow down and there will be more space between writing sessions.  There is a rhythm unique to you, and you need to learn to listen to that.

There are times when you can do it all.  When you can sit on the unicycle, juggling flaming knives while playing the kazoo and causing the tree to sing the alphabet backwards.  Embrace those moments when the world comes together and you are in “the flow” and able to do it all.  For me they are relatively rare, and I need to remember that they are not the bar to which I should hold myself, but rather a dream to reach for.

Other times you have to do things one at a time.  Start slowly and allow yourself space to breath.  There’s nothing wrong with only riding the unicycle for a while, or going back to scarves for a while to get your grounding.  Take your time.  It’s okay to have stumbles, to not get something written — because you can only do so much.  We can’t all always be juggling masters.

So.. it may be a somewhat jumbled metaphor but… I think it works.  Especially right now, in the starting stages of NaNo where I need to be reminded that, while it is a bit of a marathon, I still need to pace myself, and keep balancing in mind.


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  This is my monthly post as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a great group of supportive writers, helping one another through our writing ups-and-downs.
There is also a great Facebook Community for more daily connection!  More posts from the group are tagged on Twitter at #IWSG.

Get Outta My Way! Pushing Past Amazing

I already knew that I was my own worst critic, but recently I have realized how much I can get in my own way.

An upcoming deadline to submit a piece of writing is a great example, making me realize the layers of the challenge.  I’ve known for a month that I wanted to write something for the Insecure Writers Support Group anthology.  Yet, here I am at the edge of the deadline with nothing written, struggling to find an idea.

I’m not just struggling for an idea for the one project, but for any of my writing.  The struggle is contagious, or perhaps just builds on itself.  For the first time in months I am sitting down in front of my Work-in-Process and having NO ideas.  Sure, I’ve struggled before with a character, found myself edging up self-set deadlines unsure if I’d make them.  But this is different.  This time it feels like all my ideas are hiding, running from me as fast as they can.  It’s even spreading to my job — basic language to convey basic information that, on a normal day, would be simple for me to write becomes an all-consuming challenge.

The reason, I think, is the pressure I’ve started putting on myself.   I see an opportunity, something that would be excellent (and so cool) to be a part of.  Which means, of course, that whatever I put together for it would have to be AMAZING.

There it is.

AMAZING.  

My own version of “perfect.”  I’m fine sweeping away the idea of perfection — I know that is something that can’t be achieved — but AMAZING…. that should be attainable.

But, what is amazing?  It’s a high-bar to reach, and it means every single idea and every single word gets super-analyzed.  It means NOTHING is good enough.  Nothing is original enough, nothing will do.

As long as I hold myself to an expectation that is undefined, and unattainable, I set myself up to fail.  Which then destroys my sense of being able to accomplish things, which feeds into over-analyzing all the writing and so on and so on.  A vicious cycle.

Sometimes I have to just get out of my own way.  I have to let go of this idea of “amazing.”  I have to just write.  No matter how stupid the idea might be, write it.  Editing can happen later, but if I don’t get anything on the page I end up with nothing at all.

This time, though, I couldn’t quite get myself to put words on the page.  Perhaps (hopefully) recognizing the challenge will help open the floodgates.  Though I do find myself wondering how many times I need to be reminded that I have to get out of my own way before it starts to stick.

So this months post, basically, boils down to explaining why you won’t find an article by me in the Insecure Writers Support Group anthology (though when it is put together I most certainly will be spreading the word to everyone!)

I hope I can start pushing beyond that block.  Stop holding myself to some huge “amazing” expectation, instead recognize that simply writing in the first place is pretty awesome.

[Edit:  Thanks to all the support below, this post has been revised and submitted for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group anthology.  Thank you all!]


IWSG badge

 This is my monthly post as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a great group of supportive writers, helping one another through our writing ups-and-downs.
There is also a great Facebook Community for more daily connection!  More posts from the group are tagged on Twitter at #IWSG.

Wanted: Thick-skinned, hypersensitive, observant daydreamer.

I can imagine the advertisement and the job description:

This position requires a sensitive individual, who can be in-tune with the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of a vast array of people.  You must be able to place yourself into the shoes of another, sometimes many others in one sitting.  A keen observer of human nature and the world around you, this positions required you also be an excellent communicator able to articulate these observations with language that engages the reader, is accessible and original.  It takes years of hard work, practice, and a lot of time and energy which must never show in the finished product.

It is the societal expectation that this individual also be moody, somewhat reclusive, and exhibit moments of oddity.  However, you must also be a marketing mastermind, able to promote yourself and your product, without being too pushy, of course.  Be your authentic self, which, at minimum, means witty, engaging, reflective and wise.  If you are not these things, then you must learn to pretend.

Additionally, you must have thick skin.  Though you have mastered this craft, the position requires that you prepare to gracefully take criticism from everyone.   That guy on the street-corner who chats cordially with the shrubbery and yells at the cars?  He may well decide to leave a review tearing your work to shreds — and he is well within his right to do so, and he may well sign that review with claims to great writing credentials.  You are expected to take the review of the cat-chatting, car-yelling Continue reading Wanted: Thick-skinned, hypersensitive, observant daydreamer.

Writing My Way: Sacrifice… Kinda, Sorta…

I’m realizing how much power can come from making something “a priority” in your life.  It causes you to look at everything you are spending your time on, weighing it out to decide if it is worth taking the time away from what you really want to be doing, thus causing you to look at all those things that take your time, and debate if they are worth it or not.  At least, this has been my experience.

For a long time I hesitated in “making myself write” because I did not want my enjoyable pastime to become a chore.  I did not write (fiction) unless I felt like it; I did not write unless the ideas flowed freely (or I was pretty convinced that they would if I got over that one obstacle).  If a new story idea caught my interest I would quickly abandon the old.  As for editing… editing was a thing I did rarely (outside of homework assignments for creative writing classes), because it wasn’t fun.

But this year I’ve had a renewed commitment to my writing.  I’ve begun to step away from my fear of failing enough to be willing to try. This willingness to try has translated into allowing my writing to become my work, not my job (that’s the thing that pays the bills), but work nonetheless.  Deserving of real time and attention.  Even when I don’t necessarily feel like it.

I’ll never be the kind of person who writes X-words a day.  I’ve tried, it doesn’t work for me.  I work it bits and pieces instead, some days I’ll pound out thousands of words, others I’ll be lucky to get 5.   But I know that I have to set aside SOME amount of time each week if I want to get things done, and I have to hold myself to that.

Which means occasionally having to say, “No” to things in order to make room for writing.   It means keeping my writing in my mind when I make decisions.  I have to sometimes be willing to prioritize my writing above other things.

These decisions are not always easy to make.  I would love to fill my weekends with social time with friends, vegging-out at movies, baking and cooking, and perhaps even some cleaning.  But if I do fill the weekends it means that I don’t have time to write, writing I need to do in order to make progress, and to stay on-top of my goals.

Would I like to jump to that project, or perhaps that other one, or oooh…shiny!?  Yes… of course.  But then other things get lost, and I never come to any real product.

Sometimes this means making challenging decisions.  Deciding where I want to place my energy and focus, paying close attention to what my dreams and goals really are and how I can reach for them.  Weighing the pro’s and con’s for any given opportunity and deciding if it is worth taking more time from my craft.

It’s frightening to make some of these decisions.  I can’t help but wonder if I’m making a mistake, chasing a pipe-dream.  Will I burn out in 6-months and find myself unable to push through?  Will I look back in a year and regret passing-up some of the things that I have said “no” to?

It comes back, always, to trusting my gut, listening to myself, and being willing to face the true challenges of following my dreams.

I know many of my readers are writers themselves, but I am sure there are some who have other crafts and art-forms.  What are some of the sacrifices you’ve made for your work?  Do you still think it was worth it?

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 This is my monthly post as part of the Insecure Writer's Support Group.  It is a great group of supportive writers, helping one another through our writing ups-and-downs.

Writing at Your Own Pace

Reviving this post for NaNo 2014 — For those of you joining through the Lovely NaNo Link-up, hosted by The Novelista!

The Novelista

Be sure to check out more NaNo-related posts this month through the NaNo category under “The Season”!


 

I’m not sure why I continue to be surprised at how much of what I’ve come to realize about life in general also applies to more specific parts of my life, for instance, my writing.  In this case it’s the matter of moving at my own pace, not holding to other peoples schedules.

I got a glimpse of a microcosm of this while I was participating in some NaNoWriMo Word Sprints.  A short sprint could see a word-count disparity that I don’t think is always simply explained by a difference in typing speeds.

Sure, there are distractions, there are those who did not type the full time, and those who are typing speed-demons.  But it also has to do with the vastly different ways that people approach their writing.  For some it is a matter of dumping the ideas on the page, writing absolutely horrible writing if that’s what it takes, to just get it down, and then sorting it out and editing it later.  For others every single word is meticulously planned from the first appearance on the page, with a lot of editing happening before the words can be written.  And yet others fall somewhere in between.

Just the same, some can write a novel in a matter of months, from first idea to finished project, while others will take years for the process.  Some want to make sure that everything is plotted out, others are happy to just see where the characters and the story may lead.

And it can cause hesitation when you’re faced with someone who takes a different approach than you.  At least, it does for me.  I find myself wondering if perhaps I’m doing it wrong.  Maybe I would be [more successful] [a better writer] [more productive] if I wrote differently.

The truth,  though, is that there is no right or wrong way to write.  Sure, there are suggestions, “rules” for writing.  And for every rule there’s an excellent example of a time to break it.  Every writer has their own method, their own way to reach their goals… and their own understanding of those goals.

Most important of all, there is no right or wrong way to write — there’s only what works for you.  I was taught to write every day, but I know a writer (a bestseller at that!) who only writes on weekends.

– Tamora Pierce

What are some of the “writer-expectations” that you have heard and embraced, or rejected?  Where are places that you’ve found yourself setting your own pace?

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 This is my monthly post as part of the Insecure Writer's Support Group.  

It is a great group of supportive writers, helping one another through our writing ups-and-downs.

What if I get it wrong?

Among the many titles I like to give myself (quietly and mostly when thinking to myself) is “historian.”  History has been a passion of mine for my entire life.  As a kid I would create projects that focused on history.  Throughout school, if I were given the chance, I would turn my assignments towards historical topics.  I read historical-fiction, and historical non-fiction like mad.  I ended up with a BA in history, and an MA in religion — with a thesis focused on a historical figure.  And I have now been accepted in another graduate program, where I will pursue an MA in History (starting this fall).  I dream that, someday, I’ll have a Doctorate in History, that I’ll work in a museum or as a history professor, or perhaps a historical consultant or… the possibilities seem nearly endless.

Hey!  Look!  A historic marker... can we stop a minute?
Hey! Look! A historic marker… can we stop a minute?

I have driven my family crazy with requests to pull over for every roadside “this event happened here” sign that I could find, and have structured entire vacations around historical topics.  Sure, I have my favorite eras, locations and people, but to be honest I have yet to find a historical person, place, or thing, that I haven’t been happy to explore.

And I love to research.  To find more resources that I can use, more information.  I peruse bibliographies for fun, and love detailed footnotes that lead me to all sorts of other, passingly related, topics.  I have the ability to lose hours wandering through the internet, or library, or whatever resource may be on hand, gathering links, or titles, or anything else to “look into later.”

But I have this fear that has kept me from writing historical fiction.  Even though there are some stories that I think may belong as historical fiction, and others that I would like to write, I find myself stalling out in the face of the possibility that I will get it wrong.  That I will not be able to rid myself of modern slang and modern sensibilities enough to write a character and scenario that is realistic.  That I will make a mistake and, gasp, someone will call me on it.

It’s horrifying.  Seriously.
And I know that I have to get past this block if I want to write historical fiction.  I have to be willing to make mistakes – and trust that I can ask other researchers to help check my work.  I’m doing that for a number of projects.  I’ve been asking a friend who actually knows about sword-fighting to help me with research/resources so I can write a more realistic sword-fighting scene in my fantasy novel (not that it would be hard to get better than the current text: “she watched as he [does something that makes it clear that he’s no good at sword fighting, yup]…”), for example.

And perhaps this is reflective of a larger fear.  I hate to say it’s a fear of being wrong (because I know that I am wrong at times, just how often probably depends highly on who you ask), but perhaps a fear of being unable to capture a sense of true authenticity.  I would hate to pour so much time and energy into something and then have it pulled apart because the facts didn’t add up.  I worry about this enough when I am writing in a fantasy world and dealing with something I don’t know a lot about (like earlier-mentioned sword fighting, or farming, or royal court etiquette).  And in fantasy stories I can always have an escape-route… argue that this is the way it works in this land.

But in history, I can’t do that.  What happens if I include some turn-of-phrase that wouldn’t have been in use?  Or have someone referring to something that hadn’t happened yet?  Or I just can’t stay true to the historical sensibilities?

And how do I go about overcoming this fear?  That is the real question.  How do I find a way to be willing to make mistakes, to trust that my editing process (and my research) will help me keep from making (at least glaring) errors?  And how do I let go of the sense of needing to be right and not making a mistake?

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 This is my monthly post as part of the Insecure Writer's Support Group -- I am very much looking forward to being a part of this community!