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December 23, 2011
We started this series with the goal of learning how to make the writing fun, how to enter into that timeless “flow” state more often.
Which is it?
I’m sure you’ve noticed contradicting writing advice. One author says you have to “let go and let the story unfold.” Another (just as famous) author advises a detailed outline, scene by scene, so the story doesn’t get away from you.
One person says to just sit down and write on schedule–use that willpower! Others counsel you to establish many rituals and writing practices so “inspiration” will come calling.
One magazine article says, “Know your audience!” Another magazine says, “Write only for yourself.”
How do you find the truth? Which is it in all these opposite situations–one or the other? Actually, it’s both. That’s why Key #3 for getting into flow is finding the balance among all these opposites. Let’s look at four pairs of “writer opposites” now.
A: In control vs. out of control
While most of us would love to have a story or book spring full-blown from our brains and flow out our fingertips, that is rare. There are different feelings at different times of the writing process.
While I’m doing interesting research, doing character studies, thinking up plot twists and turns, I feel more in control of the process. It’s often done “in flow,” and time flies! During rough draft writing–pulling words out of thin air–I feel very out of control (and I don’t like it). It’s harder for me to write in flow during a rough draft, unless I’m writing an exciting or dramatic or emotional scene where I get really involved. During multiple revisions, it’s easier for me to write in flow most of the time and lose all track of time–probably because I feel more in control with a manuscript to work on.
If you’re not a control freak like me, you may find it easier to write in flow during the rough draft stage, as some of my writer friends do.
B: To think vs. suspend thinking
When we’re writing in flow, our thinking feels different. It doesn’t feel like the kind of thinking you do when you’re balancing your checkbook or trying to install new software. Some writers say they make a real effort to “not think” when it’s time to write.
For some time now, it’s been a belief that it’s mostly just the right brain–the creative side–that’s at work when writing. However, Perry says that “brain studies show that those whose brains communicate most richly between the hemispheres are more creative. They are more in touch with their feelings and express them through their creative productions.” Based on brain research then, it might appear that women have an easier time here because of their increased connections between the sides of the brain.
I highly suspect that even though some writers claim that they “suspend thinking” when they’re creating, their thinking is just going on at a different level. Their brains are humming quietly in the background, but they must be thinking!
C: Willpower vs. inspiration
“While you can certainly will yourself to work, it’s not necessarily possible to will yourself to enter flow,” says Perry. I agree. As another writer said, “It’s a kind of grace that comes after long preparation…there’s much mulling over first.”
While Perry’s five keys work to get yourself in the best possible position to experience flow, you can’t grit your teeth and command yourself to write in flow. You prepare yourself, you create the best possible environment, but then you will have to wait for inspiration to arrive on its own. Like flow, it can be invited–even coaxed–but it can’t be forced.
D: Write for audience vs. write for self
If we write and hope to be published, at some point we’ll encounter this one. Most writers prefer not to think of an audience at all when they write. Worrying about critical reviewers, readers who might post one-star reviews on Amazon.com, editors who reject without comment, even parents or critique partners who won’t like it–it can stifle the most inspired writer.
“I just write for myself,” say many writers. I do too–at least in the rough draft. During the revisions, it’s more tyical to consider your audience. “Even then, it’s usually only in the interests of clarity, rather than being concerned about a potentially critical judgment.”
I loved a comment made by popular novelist Michael Connelly, who said his main goal is to write a book that he would like to read himself and that “if I like a book, there’s a good chance a lot of people will like it.”
Most writers agree that you can’t think of the audience if you want to write in flow. If your audience is envisioned as critical, it will yank you right out of flow. Ursula K. Le Guin said, “Consciousness of audience while writing is fatal to the work.” Yes, there comes a time when you need to consider public opinion–but not when you’re first writing your manuscript.
Embrace Both for Balance
Mull over these four issues for yourself, and come to peace with BOTH sides of each equation. Once you do, you’ll find entering the flow state–and staying there–much easier.
August 3, 2011
Each person has his or her own set of priorities. However, remember that time is finite. It can’t be stretched, saved, or borrowed.
The time devoted to things must be balanced, for if we give too much in one area we neglect our duty in another important area.
Restore Balance Now
Here are Richard Swenson’s suggestions for restoring balance from his book, Margin.
First, you must cultivate the ability to say no. “In life, as in the buffet, our plates fill up sooner than we realize. In attempting to be sociable we try to accommodate everyone’s invitations. In attempting to be good parents we try to give our children more opportunities than we had. In attempting to be compassionate, we want to help with everyone’s problems.” Sometimes you will have to say no, even to some very good things.
Second, you must gain control over your own life. Sometimes your life and time are ruled by other people’s demands or crises. Sometimes your life is ruled by your own out-of-control behavior. Do what is necessary to regain control over your life.
Third, beware of trying to solve the problem of imbalance by becoming even more imbalanced. A doctor warned his patients that we tend to respond to our sense of imbalance by committing more time and energy to the area in which we feel deficient. But if you are already maxed out in time and energy, you can’t give added attention to one area unless you subtract from another area. (That sounds like common sense, but it’s still the mistake I usually make.)
Fourth, accept the no given to you by others. Give others the freedom to find balance in their own lives. Don’t put your expectations on other people.
Margin and Writing
In case anyone thinks I’ve lost the point of this blog–first aid for writers–I haven’t. These issues of finding margin (while maintaining your mental and emotional and relational health) have been the biggest struggles of my writing life for thirty years. Few of us are raised by mental health professionals or counselors, so we come to some of these principles later in life. But if you want to have a healthy writing career as well as a healthy life, these ideas will help you get there.
In last week’s and this week’s posts, I’ve barely skimmed the surface of the ideas, suggestions, and life-changing advice in Richard Swenson’s book, Margin. I hope you will find a copy for yourself. This is one book I would have dearly loved to have about twenty-five years ago.
August 1, 2011
In the Margin book, Richard Swenson, M.D. talked about the tug-of-war in our everyday lives and the challenge of finding balance.
The Balancing Act
I don’t know about you, but I feel a constant tug-of-war between choices. Should I work now, or relax a bit? Should I take action, or should I think about it more? Should I take the lead in this decision, or be a good follower? Should I speak up, or just listen? Should I keep studying and researching and learning, or is it time to apply what I know? Should I judge and confront, or should I give grace here? Should I say yes to this gathering, or retire in much-needed solitude?
It’s no wonder we have difficulty finding balance!
There are so many decisions to make, minute by minute sometimes. Added to that, we know that life requires both. We need to both work and rest. Sometimes we need to speak up, but sometimes we need to listen. We need to both study and apply what we know. We need the company of other people, but writers also require a lot of solitude.
These are not either/or questions. “Balance has always been necessary and will always be necessary. It is just becoming more difficult,” says the author of Margin.
Balance or Excellence?
I believe in high standards. I believe in doing things in an excellent way. In many ways, especially in the past, I’ve gone overboard into perfectionism.
“Much is made today of the virtues of excellence. But what does this mean? Often the excellence described is only in one narrow corridor of life,” says Swenson. He talks of musicians who are virtuosos, executives who live at the office, and other passionate high achievers. Many are not so successful in the rest of their lives though.
Many writers – including myself – have dreamed of the day when they would have time to be passionately high achieving writers. While my children were smaller and I was also teaching, I dreamed of the day when I would have the hours to be one of those high achieving writers I read about. I have met a few of them at conferences, and I admire them a great deal. But each time, when talking to them, I discovered something that I knew I didn’t want in my own life. I didn’t want to ignore my community, give up my ministry at church, lose close contact with grandchildren, or be unhealthy and out of shape. I wanted it all!
“While undivided devotion to one cause can bring great success and vault a person into prominence, such a priority structure often leaves the rest of that person’s life in a state of disorder,” says Swenson. You might excel at your career – like the famous surgeon or performer – yet fail as a parent or neglect personal health in order to achieve it.
I have found this to be true in my own life. I can push through when deadlines demand it. I can do it for months on end if necessary. But to my frustration, something always breaks down. Headaches get bad. I find that I’m out of touch with grown children or grandchildren. Or I put on five pounds because I stopped walking and feel like a slug.
What’s the Answer?
“Doing our best has limits,” says Swenson. “Our rush toward excellence in one quadrant of life must not be permitted to cause destruction in another.” Those who go “all out” for success in one area – even writing – risk failure in other important areas of life.
So what’s the answer? Come back Wednesday, and I’ll give you four tips for restoring balance in your life.
July 1, 2011
When you take a break on this hot Fourth of July weekend, try some of these articles. They’ll keep you in a writing frame of mind!
What If You Think You Might Be a Mediocre Fiction Writer? Every novelist hits the point, sooner or later, where they think they just might not actually have any talent. What do you do in that case? Should you just throw in the towel? Or muddle forward? How do you know if you’re any good?
Book Marketing Methods That Don’t Work (from Writer Beware! blog) For any author, whether self-, small press-, or big house-published, getting noticed is one of the primary challenges. Larger publishers provide marketing support for their authors (yes, they really do, despite popular wisdom to the contrary), but with smaller publishers, and if you’ve self-published, you may be mostly or entirely on your own.
The Internet and Procrastination If you have trouble wasting time on the Internet when you want to be writing instead, read this article. Some good tips–as well as information about a program called “Freedom”–just might get you past this modern-day obstruction–and back to writing!
Do Publishers Market Books? Do publishers still market books? Or don’t they? Should you go ahead and self-publish since you’ll just have to do the marketing yourself anyway? Before you go that route, read this article. It’s true! And are you willing and able to do all those things for your book? Pays thinking about.
Tension on the Page, or Micro-Tension Tension! Tension! Tension! Great books have tension that keep us involved in the story. Micro-tension involves a diverse set of techniques.
May 11, 2011
Women are givers. Women writers are some of the most giving people I know.
We tend to have stronger relationships because of it–with babies, grown children, friends, and extended family.
But unless you learn how to balance all this giving with replenishment, you’ll find it nearly impossible to write.
Gift from the Sea
It has been a particularly busy family time the last six weeks, with little sleep and even less time to write. I wouldn’t go back and change any of it either–very rewarding times. But there comes a time when you realize you’re close to being drained. Pay attention to those times, or you’ll pay for it later (in your health, in your lack of writing, and in lack of patience with those around you).
This morning I was reading a bit in one of my favorite little books, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book, Gift from the Sea. I re-read it at least once a year. Here are a few snippets that might speak to you giving women:
- What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. It leads …to fragmentation. It does not bring grace; it destroys the soul.
- Eternally, woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim.
- Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.
- One must lose one’s life to find it. Woman can best refind herself by losing herself in some kind of creative activity of her own.
Is That You?
If you find yourself feeling fragmented and agitated today, find a way to steal away from everyone for even ten minutes of total solitude (and if possible, silence). Breathe deeply. Bring the energy spilled on everyone else back inside for a few minutes. Re-focus. Relax.
If you have a couple hours, get a copy of Gift from the Sea and read straight through it. You’ll love it!
And if you have a couple extra minutes, leave a comment and tell us your favorite way to find solitude–whether for a day or just a few minutes. We all need suggestions for this!