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December 5, 2011
Writing requires energy. Life requires energy! What fuel are you running on?
Many people these days are frantically running from place to place, working too many hours, volunteering for too many projects, working nights and weekends (partly) because of a need for approval.
They are fueled by sugar, caffeine, cigarettes and adrenaline to keep going. You might get more done short-term this way, but if this is your fuel, you’re injuring your health in the long run.
Last week in the online retreat workshop, we talked about “destressing the writing life.” Before we can do much, we have to destress life in general, I think.
I don’t need to tell you that we live “on alert” these days. We are bombarded from so many information sources. We allow ourselves to be at the beck and call of anyone who rings our cell phone or shoots us an email. Adrenaline is used like a drug, pushing tired bodies to work faster and harder. The end result is a crash-and-burn depletion of your reserves.
Go Against the Flow
Do you want to have a long-term writing life? Do you want to have enough energy to write longer than a 30-day NaNoWriMo stint? Then while you still have time–while you still have your health–I urge you to develop a counter-cultural lifestyle. Look at your life now. Make a list of the things that have stressed you out this past week.
No groceries in the cupboard because a meeting ran late and you couldn’t stop at the store? Phone call from a teacher saying little Johnny forgot his required permission slip for the day’s field trip? A bounced check? Having to work late at night while everyone else is sleeping, just to keep life from derailing?
All of these things make us run on adrenaline that wears down our bodies. And much as we might argue otherwise, all of these things are preventable.
Replace the Old with the New
Habits that cause you to run on adrenaline are habits that need to be replaced. I can’t tell you which habits you need to exchange, but I can share some of mine.
For one thing, I’ve noticed that for six months, I’ve arrived places out of breath and a little bit late, and I go tearing into meetings or classes after the program has begun. So embarrassing. I sweat it on the way to the meeting, and backed-up traffic skyrockets my blood pressure. I hate to waste time, so I hate arriving somewhere early and waiting. Solution? To avoid the adrenaline rush, I plan to leave early enough to arrive early, but take work or a book along, stay in the parking lot and write or read, then walk in calmly ten minutes before the class starts.
I have also noticed that the days I DON’T run on adrenaline are the days I start with exercise and devotional reading and prayer. And yet, too many times lately, I’ve awakened feeling energetic, considered the two hours I’d lose if I stuck to my exercise/relaxation regimen, and jumped into work instead. Make hay while the sun shines, right? Mostly, I’ve made headaches and a sore back and neck. I need to remember that my health regimen actually saves me time in the long run. And I run those days, not on adrenaline, but on healthy energy supplies.
I am going to set a boundary on working in the evenings. I couldn’t see what difference it would make if, while watching a good movie with my husband or chatting, I also answered some email questions and deleted hundreds of blog spam and updated my websites. Most of it was “no think” activity, so what did it harm? A lot, I think now. My mind won’t shut off when I shut off the computer to go to bed. My neck and back hurt terribly by then. And I feel disgruntled, like I haven’t had any free time at all that day.
We must convince ourselves that it’s not selfish to slow down and live at a sane pace, to build in a buffer zone or margin around activities so you can make a slow, smooth transition from one thing to another. What’s that old saying? “We’re supposed to be human beings, not human doings.”
It’s Up to You
No one can make the change for you. And frankly, many people in your life who are used to calling the shots and like all the work you accomplish won’t help you make changes. But make them you must. If you want to have a decent quality of life, you’ll have to step outside this current “hurry frantically” electronic culture of ours, and figure out what works for YOU to have a saner, happier life.
Take this month when you have some slower time (even if it’s only when waiting in line to mail packages) and think about how you want 2012 to be different. Wishing won’t make it so–but putting a stop to certain behaviors and starting other healthier habits, can.
Running on premium fuel instead of adrenaline will make you more productive, less stressed, and be better for your health. Saner writers are happier, more productive writers. And doesn’t that sound appealing?
May 30, 2011
I’ve been thinking about these questions this week as I’ve journaled and worked through the book Writing For Emotional Balance: A Guided Journal To Help You Manage Overwhelming Emotions. I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I was astounded at the relief (and practical help) I found simply through journaling.
I use the Life Journal software, password protected, and I found it so helpful, coupled with the exercises in the book. Writing means a lot to me for many reasons: a way to heal, a way to make a living, a way to connect with readers, and a lot of fun.
So I have this question for you:
What does writing mean to you?
To kickstart your thinking, here are some famous writers’ opinions. Ray Bradbury is quoted as saying: “Writing is survival… Not to write, for many of us, is to die. I have learned, on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flux in a wallow. An hour’s writing is tonic. I’m on my feet, running in circles, and yelling for a clean pair of spats.”
What does writing mean to you?
Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, said: “Writing is a matter of necessity and that you write to save your life is really true and so far it’s been a very sturdy ladder out of the pit.” She sees writing as a safe and strong and dependable way out of a pit.
Again: What does writing mean to you?
May 18, 2011
I heard a sermon recently about life being filled with “fillers” and “drainers.” The pastor was talking about people, of course.
Fillers are people who know how to encourage you and build you up. Drainers are in your life because they need encouragement and help; however, they don’t have time for you if you need something in return. (You know the type. They think a “give and take” relationship means, “You give, and I take.”)
A rare person is both a filler and a drainer in your life, and you’re blessed if you have a person or two like that in your family or circle of friends.
If we narrow the “fillers and drainers” idea down to writers, I think you will find the idea holds true there as well. You will meet filler writers who are great encouragers for you, who help keep your self-esteem intact through the tough times of rejection, writer’s block, poor sales and negative reviews.
And you’ll meet drainer writers, those who nail you in the restroom at the writer’s conference and want you to give a free critique, then introduce them to your agent or editor.
Occasionally you will meet a treasure: a writer who is both filler and drainer. When you do, treat this priceless person well, and do all you can to sustain the relationship(s).
It’s Your Choice
What kind of writer are you? You may not know other writers yet, so you might not be sure. But you’ll eventually meet writers at conferences, retreats, local writer gatherings or book store signings and readings. In the writing relationships you enter, strive to be a filler as well as a drainer.
If you’re unpublished or newly published, you might think you have nothing to offer. Not true! You don’t have to be published to be an encourager, an uplifter, or a good listening ear. Publishing advice isn’t the only thing other writers need. In fact, I would guess (from my experience) that it’s not even near the top of the list. (That’s why my blog is focused on the emotional issues of writing rather than how to plot or build characters or write a winning query.)
Do a Self-Check
After you attend your next writing event (large or small) ask yourself: “Was I filler or a drainer today?” Did you make encouraging comments as well as ask for help? Did you give as well as take? If you can find that kind of balance, you’ll be able to build writing relationships that will last a lifetime.
April 18, 2011
Creativity is a mysterious concept to most of us. We don’t really understand what it is, where it comes from, why it leaves us, and how to make it “work” consistently. We give it a lot of power because of this.
However, says the author of The Soul Tells a Story, “if I know from experience that inspiration arrives under certain conditions, I will make sure to re-create the conditions that invited it initially. Thus my early experience comes to determine how it is I will work.”
After our vacation took an unexpected turn, I’ve had more time to reflect this week than the past five years combined. For four blissful days, I had no Internet connection, nowhere we had to be, plenty of books to read, places to walk, and time to think. I hadn’t really realized what an incredible luxury this is in the fast-paced world in which we live.
How Things Have Changed…
Because of marketing demands the last five years–both online and elsewhere–the writing life has been a bit frantic. I don’t know about you, but frenetic activity is not conducive to coaxing out my creativity. That much I already knew. But I hadn’t given much concentrated thought to what things did work for me.
Each writer is different. I know writers who must be surrounded by noise and people or loud music in order to write. I am just the opposite, preferring quiet and solitude when I can get it.
If you’re not sure what conditions are best for you, think back to when you started writing. How did you work best then? What conditions did you just naturally create for yourself? What are the non-negotiables you must have for your creativity to flourish?
Take a Self-Inventory
Here are some things to consider:
- Before writing, do you need some quiet time to think, meditate, or pray?
- Can you write at any time of day–or only at certain times?
- Can you write any place–or do you need your “office” to be the same each day?
- Can you write in tiny bits of time–or does your creativity absolutely require large chunks of time? Does it vary depending on the stage of your book?
- How much socializing do you need in order to be your most creative? (This includes time with writers and non-writers alike, time to “talk shop” and time to just have fun.)
- When you are stuck, does it help to read a book on craft (viewpoint, research, inspiration, etc.) to get your creativity flowing again?
- Does reading other writers’ books help you be more creative–or does it make you feel anxious as you compare yourself to them?
- Do you need a healthier diet or more sleep for your creativity to be at its peak? Or do you work best on short naps and skipping meals?
- What kind of critique at what point in your project is helpful? What kind is the kiss of death to your creativity? (When is your ego more fragile?)
- Do you work best with a deadline, or do deadlines make you freeze up? Do you do well with six-month deadlines but choke on series deadlines set every two months?
- Can you be creative when dealing with emotional upset? Do you need to solve family problems before you can settle down to write?
Take Time to Know Yourself
As we’ve said before, just because conditions aren’t perfect doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. We’ve all had to produce work under some appalling conditions. But if you have a choice, it’s lovely to set up your life and home and schedule and diet and social life so that it most benefits YOU and your creativity. (And you probably have more choices than you think.)
Take time to answer the above questions. If you’ve been writing a long time, you may have forgotten what conditions kick started your writing in the first place.
I started writing when my oldest three kids were babies and toddlers. We had a farm in Iowa, lots of pets, big vegetable gardens, no Internet, few neighbors, lots of room inside the farmhouse and outside, lots of quiet and fresh air. It can’t have been as ideal as my memory makes it out to be, but it was very conducive to thinking and pondering and reading and writing.
It also bears almost no resemblance to my life today–although I’m planning and plotting ways to bring back some of those elements into my daily life. I loved having my children around me. I’m happiest now when I’ve had plenty of contact with my three grandchildren. I loved living in the country then; now we live in town, but next door to a park and greenbelt, so it is much the same if I just got outside more and enjoyed the fresh air. I’d like to have a vegetable garden again, but I’ll skip the pets.
The biggest change I see is having the Internet. I’m an introvert–preferring solitude and quiet when it’s time to write. Being online for any length of time is agitating to me, for some odd reason (even though I view very benign websites!) Afterwards, I find it hard to settle down and write.
I’ve been staying offline until noon recently, and it’s been helpful. After having five days of “no Internet access” on this trip and seeing how much more creative and productive I’ve been, I’m thinking of pushing back the Internet time to 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. only. [This isn't some rule I'm advocating for all of you. This is just a case of getting to know myself--what helps me and what hinders my own creativity.]
I’ve also noticed how much better I’m sleeping. Being offline in the evenings is a big help there too. It’s so tempting to deal with email while watching TV in the evening, or check the blog comments, or see what the kids have posted to Facebook (usually grandkid pictures).
But when I get home, I think I’ll make the Internet off limits after 5 p.m. and see if I sleep better there too. I may have to close the door to my office and pretend that I punched out on a time clock. Most people who work at home have trouble quitting at supper time and not going back to the office at night. It’s a habit I’m going to try hard to break.
Now It’s Your Turn
What about you? What things do you suspect would help you coax your creativity out of hiding on a more regular basis? What changes are the hardest to make? What one change could you make today?
April 11, 2011
“Crazymakers like drama,” says Julia Cameron in her classic book for writers, The Artist’s Way. “If they can swing it, they [the crazymakers] are the star. Everyone around them functions as supporting cast, picking up their cues, their entrances and exits, from the crazymaker’s (crazy) whims.”
You may have a quiet weekend of reading and writing planned, but then voila! A crazymaker shows up. It might be someone you thought was banned from your life for good. It might be someone no one else suspects is your crazymaker. They might rage and scream–or knife you in the back while smiling in the traditional passive-aggressive style.
“Whether they appear as your overbearing mother, your manic boss, your needy friend, or your stubborn spouse,” says Cameron, “the crazymakers in your life share certain destructive patterns that make them poisonous for any sustained creative work.”
Enough is Enough
Sometimes you get blind-sided by crazymaking behavior. It can be shocking and look ludicrous. It turns your schedule upside down, destroys any plans you might have, nearly always costs you time and/or money, is draining with its drama, and–if they’re really good–the crazymaker can blame you for the whole problem they created.
I’ve had more than my share of crazymakers to deal with in life. (I suppose everyone feels like that!) Anyway, it happened to me again recently, and I was tickled by my reaction. I recognized the game, called a spade a spade, and was astounded to see the problem go away. It didn’t cost me any sleep, and the crazymaker found someone else to harrass.
A Dance by Any Other Name…
Julia Cameron always said, “If you are involved in a tortured tango with a crazymaker, stop dancing to his/her tune.” Yes, that’s easier said than done–but it CAN be done! I was thrilled to see that if I stepped back and didn’t play the game, it stopped. And beyond that, I got some writing done!
Maybe there are some nut cases in your own life that need to be banished for the sake of your creativity. If so, deal with it as soon as possible. You’ll be soooo glad you did!
March 9, 2011
And when the difficulties pour on for days on end, our emotions get on overload, making it difficult to write. Sometimes it’s a chronic issue that disrupts the writing schedule. Sometimes the event comes out of the blue.
It can knock you for a loop.
Back in Balance
If your emotions are doing the roller-coaster thing on you today, and inner turmoil keeps you from writing, I recommend both the Writing for Emotional Balance book and website. The exercises and explanations in the book (by Beth Jacobs) were so helpful to me years ago and several times since then. According to her website:
Backing Off and Calming Down
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.
November 15, 2010
Symptoms of the “shoulds” include:
- You should write first thing in the morning.
- You should write daily.
- You should keep a journal.
- You should write down your dreams every morning.
- You should have a room of your own and be organized!
- You should write for publication.
What if some of the “shoulds” just go against your grain? Are you not a real writer then? What if you write best after 10 p.m. instead of first thing in the morning? What if you start journals repeatedly and never last more than three days? What if you can’t remember your dreams? What if an organized office makes you freeze and you secretly prefer writing in chaos?
Are you a REAL writer then? YES!
What Am I Exactly?
If you struggle with your identity as a writer–if you don’t seem to fit the mold no matter how you’ve tried–you would love the book I found over the weekend. It’s called The Write Type: Discover Your True Writer’s Identity and Create a Customized Writing Plan by Karen E. Peterson, who wrote the best book on writer’s block I ever read.
This book takes you through exercises to find the real writer who lives inside you. You’ll explore the ten components that make up a writer’s “type.” They include such things as tolerance for solitude, best time of day to write, amount of time, need for variety, level of energy, and level of commitment. Finding your own personal combination of traits helps you build a writer’s life where you can be your most productive and creative.
Free to Be Me
To be honest, the exercises with switching hands (right brain/left brain) didn’t help me as much as the discussions about each trait. I could usually identify my inner preferences quite easily through the discussion. It gave me freedom to be myself as a writer. It also helped me pinpoint a few areas where I believed some “shoulds” that didn’t work for me, where I was trying to force this square peg writer into a round hole and could stop!
We’re all different–no surprise!–but we published writers are sometimes too quick to pass along our own personal experience in the form of “shoulds.” You should write first thing in the morning should actually be stated, It works well for ME to write first thing in the morning, so you might try that.
What About You?
Have you come up against traits of “real writers” that just don’t seem to fit you? Do you like to flit from one unfinished project to another instead of sticking to one story until it’s finished and submitted? Do you need noise around you and get the heebie jeebies when it’s too quiet?
If you have time, leave a comment concerning one or two areas where you have struggled in the past with a “real writer” trait. Let’s set ourselves free from the tyranny of the shoulds!
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.
July 7, 2010
Do you think about what you’re thinking about?
Controlling Toxic Thoughts
I’ve been reading a lot lately about current brain research and the huge impact our thoughts have on our creativity, our health, and how we use our gifts. I highly recommend a couple of fascinating books by Dr. Caroline Leaf called Who Switched Off My Brain? (Controlling Toxic Thoughts and Emotions) and The Gift in You (Thomas Nelson Publishers). I couldn’t put either one down.
But Then What?
Let’s say you’re already convinced that your thoughts are critically important. Perhaps you’ve believed for a long time that as a man thinks, so does he become. Maybe you’ve even noticed that you think some pretty rotten and discouraging thoughts from time to time!
Is it enough to just stop thinking those negative thoughts? I don’t know-but I doubt that it’s possible. Even if it were, a totally blank mind isn’t much help to a writer.
Truth Wins Out
Studies have shown that you need to replace the negative thoughts with positive ones, but it does no good to lie to yourself. You could stop telling yourself, “I’m such a rotten writer” and start saying instead, “I’m the best writer in the country!” But you’d know inside that (a) it’s not true, and (b) you don’t believe it. It wouldn’t change anything.
The goal is not to replace a wrong thought with a silly or happy thought. You replace them with affirmative, true, real thoughts.
And that’s where Eric Maisel’s Write Mind comes in. [The subtitle is 299 Things Writers Should Never Say to Themselves (and What They Should Say Instead).] As he asserts, “You want to write more often and more deeply… To meet these goals, you must improve how you communicate with yourself.”
Some of his “right mind/write mind” ideas are humorous, but there’s a lot of truth in them too. “My hope is that you can learn to think right,” Maisel says. “I hope you can learn to say, ‘I wrote an awful first novel and now I’m starting on my second novel’ instead of, ‘I wrote an awful first novel and that proves I’m an idiot.’”
Listen to Yourself
When you’re struggling to write or deal with disappointing writing news, what kinds of things do you say to yourself? Is there something else you could tell yourself that would lift you up instead of push you deeper into a depression? For starters, let me give you a few of Maisel’s 299 suggestions. I hope you will then either buy his little book or make your own personalized list.
- Wrong Mind: “I need what I am writing to be loved.”
- Right Mind: “I need what I am writing to be strong.”
- Wrong Mind: “Somebody has the answer and if I take enough writing workshops I am sure to happen upon the answer.”
- Right Mind: “I learn to write by writing and I learn to market by marketing.”
- Wrong Mind: “I can’t describe things.”
- Right Mind: “I should practice describing things.”
- Wrong Mind: “I haven’t written for six months. That must mean that I will never write again.”
- Right Mind: “I am very ready to write after six months of not writing.”
How’s YOUR Mind Today?
Learn to distinguish your right thinking from your wrong-injurious thinking. You can be your own worst enemy here-or your own best friend. It’s your choice.
If you’re feeling very brave, leave a comment below with one of your “wrong mind” statements and then a better “right mind” statement you intend to tell yourself from now on!Newer Posts »