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January 11, 2013
I’ve been reading a book on how fear affects writing (and art-making of all kinds). Fear is what holds many (even most) of us back from being the writers we dream of being–and probably could be.
Art & Fear suggests that these fears fall into two main categories: (1) fears about yourself, and (2) fears of how others will receive your work.
The fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work. Fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.
The Great Pretender (or fears about self)
When you doubt your own abilities, you feel like a fake, an impostor. You feel like your best work was an accident, a happy fluke that you can’t seem to duplicate. It feels as if you’re going through the motions of being a writer–typing, reading how-to books and magazines, attending conferences–but you suspect that you don’t really know what you’re doing. (And we wrongly assume that all those other writers DO know what they’re doing.)
You also suspect you don’t have any real talent. After all, talented people perform their art with ease. Writers might start out that way, but inevitably you reach a point (if you’re truly working) where it definitely is NOT easy! You take that as a sign that you don’t really have enough talent to be a writer after all. (Truth: talent is a gift, and most people have enough talent. Probably 95% of success is what you do with it–and for writers, that means showing up at the page consistently.)
These fears WILL keep you from doing your best work.
Whose Priorities Count? (or fears about others)
The best writing is not produced by committee. It’s produced when a writer who is passionate about an idea is left alone to create. At these times we aren’t even thinking about others.
Problems arise when we confuse others’ priorities with our own. In our heads, we hear these critical voices. (Some come from our pasts, some from current writing friends, some from what we read in magazines and publishing journals.) Since published writers depend on reviews for sales, what others think has to matter at some point. However, when others’ opinions–how they think we should write–influences you too much and too soon in the process, you stop writing what you truly love and start writing what “they” have said is better or more salable.
Wanting to be understood is a basic need, and writers want others to understand their stories. They don’t want to be booed off the stage for being too different. (We all learned at an early age the dangers of being considered different or weird.) So the inner war continues with writers: can I find the courage to be true to what I need to write, or will I buckle to others’ opinions so I have a better chance of being received well? Buckling to fears of being misunderstood makes you dependent on your readers or audience.
These fears WILL keep you from doing your own work.
This coming week, when you’re out scooping snow or taking a walk, give these two questions some thought:
What fears do you have about yourself that prevent you from doing your BEST work?
What fears about your reception by others prevents you from doing your OWN work?
And if you’re REALLY brave, leave a comment about one (or both). It will give me ideas for future topics!
October 10, 2011
Today I want to share something with you that I read about dreams.
“Only dreams give birth to change,” the meditation for writers said. “Gradually, as you become curator of your own contentment, you will learn to embrace the gentle yearnings of your heart.”
Guardian of Writing Dreams
What longings about your writing life do you have tucked away somewhere? I think we all have them. Some get tucked away until that fictional future of “when I have more time.” Others are hidden because we don’t believe that we have the skill or ability to produce the kind of writing we hold dear.
“There are years that ask questions,” said Zora Neale Hurston, “and years that answer.” Right now, with the publishing industry changing so much (in both good and challenging ways) some of your writing dreams may be on hold. But this time shall pass. We are growing and adapting as writers. So don’t let “dreams on hold” become “dreams forgotten.”
Sowing Until You Reap
Don’t stop dreaming. Continue to sow the seeds of your dreams. Water them daily. Be the curator of your writing contentment. Your dreams need guarding and protecting, and you’re the only one who can do that.
Take a moment today and write down your most private writing aspirations. Name two things you can do to protect those dreams. Today, do at least one of them!
July 22, 2011
During the 1988 Jamboree encampment of 32,000 Boy Scouts, one troop (38 Scouts) led the entire Jamboree in cuts treated at the medical tent.
The huge number of nicks from busy knives sounded negative until someone toured the camp and saw the unique artistic walking sticks each boy in that troop had made. They led the entire encampment in other kinds of games, too.
Wounds simply mean that you’re in the game. It’s true for Boy Scouts–and it’s true for writers as well.
I know an excellent writer who has revised a book for years–but won’t submit it, even though everyone who has read it feels the book is ready. What benefit does she get from that? She never has to face rejection. She never has to hear an editor say, “This is good–but it needs work.” She never has to read a bad review of her book, or do any speaking engagements to promote her work, or learn how to put together a website.
She will also never feel the exhilaration of holding her published book in her hands. She won’t get letters from children who tell her how much her book means to them and has helped them. She won’t get a starred review or win an award or do a book signing. She won’t move on and write a second (and third and fourth) book.
Paying the Price
If you want to be a writer, you have to get into the game and risk a few wounds. Figure out ways to bandage them and recover from them, but don’t be afraid of getting them. They’re simply a sign that you’re a writer. Wear the battle scars proudly!
What part(s) of the writing life make you want to stay on the sidelines and out of the line of fire?
January 31, 2011
Yesterday on a long Skype call, I talked with a writer friend about what fuels our writing.
For me, my favorite books (both in terms of the writing and how well they did after publication) were often fueled by some kind of pain or wound. Something difficult that I was going through (or one of my children) would spark an idea for a book, and the drive to solve the problem provided the passion and energy to see the story through to completion.
Negatives to Positives
Energy from hurts and wounds and pain can be very useful to you as a writer. But, if you’re just wounded, does that automatically translate into books others will want to read? No.
As Bill O’Hanlon says in Write is a Verb, “in order to have your wound fuel your writing process, the hurt or negative energy needs to be turned into creative energy, informing or driving your writing. It’s not enough to be wounded; you must find a way to turn that wound into energy for your writing.”
Pain = Energy for Writing
He quoted many authors (some quite famous) who had tragedies befall them, but they took the pain and turned around to write some of the most gripping books of our time on the very subject that nearly destroyed them.
It doesn’t have to be a wound the size of the Grand Canyon either (a child being kidnapped, losing your home in a hurricane, both parents dying from cancer the same month). It isn’t the size of the wound–it’s what you do with it that counts.
Just Let It All Hang Out?
In order for your pain to be useful to you as a writer, you’ll need to step back a bit and distance yourself from it. Otherwise you won’t be able to see the story possibilities in it. You’ll be too hung up on the facts. (“But it really HAPPENED this way!” you protest.) Yes, but facts need to be shaped a lot if you’re going to create a story or article or book from those facts. (The truth of your experience can shine through, despite changing some facts.)
Facts will need to change in order to create well-rounded characters, and the plot still needs a beginning, middle, climax and ending. Things will be added–and subtracted–from your experience to make a better story. If you can’t do that, you’re probably still too wounded to turn the experience into a viable story.
“Make no mistake. I have seen writing full of anger, self-pity, or hate that I think will never (and should never) be published,” says O’Hanlon. “They are simply expressions of the author’s pain, more like a journal entry than a book. They are self-indulgent and should be kept private… In order to turn that pain and anger into a book, the writing needs to somehow turn the personal into the universal.” In other words, the book needs to speak to other readers in a way that helps or nourishes them.
Identify Your Writing Energy
How can you tell if your pain and wounds might be energy for your writing? Here are four questions to ask yourself, suggested by the author. They can pinpoint sources of writing energy in your life just waiting to be tapped into.
- What do you care about so deeply or get so excited about that you talk about it to anyone who will listen?
- What upsets you so much that you are compelled to write about it or include the theme in your book?
- What are you afraid to write but know is a deep truth?
- Who are you afraid will disapprove of your writing or be upset by it?
- What fears could you write and perhaps work through by writing?
Take some time this weekend with those questions and a journal. Or write them on a card and take a long walk while you think about the answers. You may not be as blocked or depressed as you fear. You may simply be sitting over a deep pool of writing energy that’s just waiting for you.
August 20, 2010
If a friend from your critique group told you ”I just can’t get started on my story today,” what would you say? “Get moving, you lazy do-nothing wannabe!” I hope not!
If your writing friend bemoans receiving another rejection, do you say, “Well, what did you expect? Your novel stinks!”?
I would hope not. Most of us are better friends than that…except to ourselves.
Your Own Best Friend
Listen to how you talk to yourself. When you procrastinate, do you beat yourself up? Do you call yourself names? And to paraphrase Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?” Does it spur you on to do your best writing–or to give up and eat a pint of ice cream?
When you receive a rejection, do you downgrade your writing? Do you tell yourself that publishing is just a pipe dream, that it’s for others but not for you?
Do you say things to yourself that you would NEVER say to a writer friend?
Time to STOP!
Learn to tell yourself the truth–but with kindness. Be a mirror that reflects back understanding. If you got off course, gently encourage yourself back on the writing path you want to travel.
- You’re so lazy that you’ll never get anything written and published.
- No editor or agent will ever read your novel, much less publish it!
- You only have friends on Facebook because they don’t really know you.
Say this instead:
- You may have trouble getting started because you’re afraid of something. Try journaling to get to the bottom of it.
- You may (or may not) find an editor who loves your novel–but you’ll never know if you don’t keep sending it out. Let’s try one more time.
- Many people in your real life know you and love you. Make a list. Be thankful for each person on the list.
Be That Good Friend
The next time you stall or hit a rough spot in your work, talk to yourself like a true friend would. Be kind, be understanding, give some praise, and encourage yourself to try again.
You can be your own best friend.
August 16, 2010
Are you a pessimist? You might be surprised. Choosing to be an optimist, according to author Randy Ingermanson, can change your writing life. Read his article below, reprinted with permission. It’s long–but worth it!
What’s Holding You Back?
I recently discovered something about myself that surprised me. Something that makes me take a lot longer to get things done than I should. Something that sometimes keeps me from finishing tasks. Something that occasionally even keeps me from trying in the first place.
I’m a pessimist.
This came as quite a surprise. After all, I’m not nearly as pessimistic as “Joe,” a guy I used to work with. Every time I suggested a new idea to “Joe,” the first thing he’d say was, “Now be careful! There’s a lot of things you haven’t thought about yet.” Then he’d shoot the idea down with rocket-powered grenades.
After a while, I learned not to run ideas past “Joe” because apparently, all my ideas were bad.
I haven’t seen “Joe” in years, and I’m pretty sure I’m not as pessimistic as he is. But somewhere along the way, I definitely went over to the Dark Side. I became more like him than I ever imagined possible.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that pessimism is not forever. You can quit being a pessimist and start being an optimist.
But should you? Aren’t those pesky pessimists more in touch with reality than those annoying optimists?
Yes and no.
Yes, pessimists generally do have a better grasp of the hard realities of the situation. “Life sucks” and all that. You can prove in the lab that pessimists are better at recognizing reality.
But no, no, no, because in very real ways, you make your own reality. We all know about self-fulfilling prophecies. Those work both ways. Optimists are
happier, healthier, and get more done. Because they expect to. Pessimists are less happy, less healthy, and get less done. Because they expect to. Again, you can measure that difference in the lab.
If you’re a pessimist and you want to know what’s holding you back in life, just go look in a mirror.
It’s you. But you already knew that, and you were already down on yourself, and now you’re mad at me for blaming you, but realistically, you secretly believe it’s your own darned fault, so you’re really just mad at me for telling you what you already knew.
Sorry about that. I feel your pain. Remember, I’m a pessimist too, and I’m probably a bigger one than you are.
I’m a pessimist, but I’m going to change. Which is actually an optimistic thing to say, and it means the cure is already working.
What is pessimism? And what is optimism? And how do you know which you are?
I’m not the expert on this. Martin Seligman is the expert, and he has been for a long time. Recently, somebody recommended Seligman’s book to me. The title is LEARNED OPTIMISM.
I grabbed a copy off Amazon and began reading. Seligman hooked me right away with his account of how he and a number of other researchers broke the stranglehold on psychology that had been held for decades by the
Behaviorists taught that people were created by their environment. To change a person, you had to condition him to a new behavior. A person couldn’t change himself merely by thinking differently, because thinking didn’t matter. Only conditioning mattered.
What Seligman and others showed was that the behaviorists were wrong. The way you think matters. Thinking optimistically, you could change things for the better. Thinking pessimistically, you could change things for the worse–or at best just wallow in the “life sucks” mud.
There’s a test you can take in LEARNED OPTIMISM that helps you figure out your particular style of thinking. There are three particular aspects to measure:
* Permanence — if things are good (or bad), do you expect them to stay like that for a long time?
* Pervasiveness — if one thing is good (or bad), do you expect everything else to be like that?
* Personalization — if things are good (or bad), who gets the credit (or blame) — you or somebody else?
Optimists think that good things will continue on but that bad things will go away soon. Likewise, they think that good things are pervasive whereas bad things are merely aberrations from the norm. When good things happen, optimists are willing to take a fair share of the credit; when bad things happen, they’re willing to let others take a fair share of the blame.
Pessimists are the opposite on all of these.
I took the test and discovered that I’m somewhat pessimistic in two of these aspects and strongly pessimistic in the other.
That’s not good. But (having now read the book) it’s not permanent. I can change if I want to. Furthermore, that pessimism is in my head, it’s not a pervasive feature of the universe. Most importantly, my pessimism isn’t entirely my fault, because I can see now who taught it to me.
The above paragraph is a model of how to change from pessimism to optimism. Both optimism and pessimism are driven by your beliefs, which are driven by what you tell yourself.
When you change your self-talk, you change your beliefs. When you change your beliefs, you change your behavior. When you change your behavior, you change your life. Chapters 12, 13, and 14 of LEARNED OPTIIMISM
teach you the techniques you need to change your self-talk.
Let’s be clear on one thing. Optimism is not about the alleged “power of positive thinking,” not about making those wretchedly gooey self-affirmations, and not about telling lies to yourself.
Optimism is about looking for alternative plausible explanations that might lead to improving your life.
Pessimism is about looking for alternative plausible explanations that might lead to disimproving your life.
Which of those is likely to make you happier, healthier, and more productive? Bringing this home to the topic of fiction writing, which of those is likely to help you get your novel written, get it read by an agent, and get it published?
Research shows that optimism is an invaluable tool in dealing with criticism and rejection. If you’ve ever shut down for three days after a tough critique, or stopped sending out query letters for three months after getting a rejection from that perfect agent, then you can see the value of learning optimism.
Optimism will keep you going through the hard times as a writer. And you are going to have hard times. That will never change. What can change is how you respond to those hard times.
There is no way I can explain in 500 words exactly how it all works. The best I can do is to point you to Martin Seligman’s book and tell you that I think it’s gold. I expect this book is going to revolutionize my life in the next year. I hope it changes yours too.
Here’s Randy’s Amazon affiliate link to LEARNED OPTIMISM:
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 21,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/>http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.
May 10, 2010
When I’m frustrated, it’s usually a sign that I’m trying to control something I can’t control. This can be a person or a situation or an event. The process can churn your mind into mush until you can’t think.
On the other hand, making a 180-degree switch and focusing on the things I can control (self-control) is the fastest way out of frustration. This concept certainly applies to your writing life.
Words of Wisdom
Remember the Serenity Prayer? It goes like this: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
How about reducing frustration with your writing life by applying that wisdom to your career? Here are some things to accept that you cannot change:
- How long it takes to get a response from editors and agents
- Editors moving before buying the manuscript they asked to see
- Size of print runs
- Publisher’s budget for your book’s publicity and promotion
Trying to change anything on the above list is a sure-fire route to frustration and wanting to quit.
However, do you have courage to change the things you can? Here are some:
- Giving yourself positive feedback and affirmations
- Reading positive books on the writing life
- Studying writing craft books
- Writing more hours
- Reading more books in the genre where you want to publish
- Attending local, state, regional and national conferences you can afford
- Joining or forming a critique group
Wisdom to Know the Difference
If you’re battling frustration and discouragement with the writing life, chances are good that you’re trying to control something beyond your control. It will make you crazy! The fastest way back to sanity is to concentrate on what you can control about the writing life.
Choose anything from that second list–or share an additional idea in the comments below–and get on with becoming a better writer. In the end, that’s all you can do–and it will be enough.