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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
October 1, 2010
Two weeks ago I was supposed to meet with six writers at an SCBWI conference to discuss manuscripts I had critiqued for them. I was unable to be at the conference, so I mailed their manuscripts and did phone conferences instead.
(FYI: I missed the conference for the best of reasons. My middle daughter flew home that weekend from her third long deployment in Iraq. We went to Phoenix to meet her plane. Hallelujah!)
The Things We Say!
Anyway, listening to the writers during the conference calls, I was struck vividly by the differences in their words. Some sounded like they could write “Murphy’s Laws for Writers”: everything was negative, they just “knew” that they wouldn’t sell anything anymore, “everyone” said you couldn’t publish unless you were a “big name,” etc.
On the other hand, about half were the most positive people I’d talked to in a long time. They knew the economy was challenging right now, but they were buckling down, writing more, and finding unusual markets for their work. They found silver linings for the dark clouds, sounded a lot happier, and were sure enjoying their writing more.
Surprisingly, each group had newbie writers AND much published writers. That wasn’t a factor in the attitudes. Then what was?
Power Thoughts for Writers
I think I found the answer when I started reading Joyce Meyer’s new book called Power Thoughts: 12 Strategies to Win the Battle of the Mind. (I highly recommend it.) I’ve done many past posts on retraining your brain, but I’m going to push it again. What we allow ourselves to think and believe is critical.
On Wednesday I asked you to leave a note about how the 100-Day Challenge was coming along, and I got some great responses (see below). I think they’re terrific examples of changing the thoughts-feelings-behavior cycle. Thanks to each of you who left a comment and shared great ideas.
Writers Who Are Changing
These comments came in Wednesday–you’ll find them encouraging in your “bit by bit” changes. I know I did! Each one had to start by changing her thinking.
- Deanna: I’m on the way. Determined my goals, strengths, and obstacles. Created a timeline worksheet and a master task list. Posted the “Seven Essential Habits” near my desk. Completed a couple of twenty-minute tasks. Now to stick with it! [Wow! KH]
- Ally M: Here’s my update. I’ve got a long list and my large goals/projects aren’t too clear but my list is getting done. I’ve only listed items which take no more than 30 minutes to do. If I do find a listed item that takes longer I cross it off my list & break it down into smaller pieces. I plan to work on my goals/projects this weekend. [I had to do the same "second breakdown" myself. KH]
- Vijaya: Yes, every day I am able to work on my novel. I missed a couple of days because I was mucho sick, but that’s life. At least the kids and pets were taken care of and they are far more important than any novel. [Very true! KH]
- Andrea: I’ve been keeping a daily record for my fifteen minutes of daily writing. The first day I wrote “Wrote, time not measured, too many interruptions from children,” can you hear my lack of enthusiasm? As I continued to give it my best shot I wrote things like ‘I think I wrote,’ to ‘starting to adjust to writing in a busy and loud environment,’ to ‘getting lots done.’ [What a change in your thought patterns! Great! KH] The comment I recorded that really showed progress was the one that said, “Wow. Not so much writers block, everything is advancing faster, the quality and quantity is remarkable and I can focus while my children make the legs of my chair a May-pole!” I have not lost anything from sparing fifteen minutes (or so) each day, I have gained – in fact, I gained more than I thought I ever would! [Fantastic! KH]
- Yvette: “Every day can be a successful day.” Yeah. I’m totally going to print that out in three-inch letters and wallpaper the wall beside my desk with that phrase! (Can’t hurt for the rest of my family to be reminded either!) As far as my challenge, if I can finish a scene, I’m successful. If I keep going and finish a *chapter*, I’m golden! So far, so good. [Wallpaper the wall--love it! KH]
- Laura: So far I’m loving “chunking down” in the 100-day challenge. Instead of putting big tasks on my to-do list like “research X” or “edit Y” I write “research X for 30 minutes”. I now feel like I’ve accomplished my goal for the day because I’m not writing down a big goal that takes a lot of time to complete as a daily task. [Yes! We have ways of discouraging ourselves--this turns it all around! KH]
- Trudy: Kristi, how do you make short enough tasks to do in only 20 minutes? I struggle with this, because I’m too much of a perfectionist, I guess. I like to complete a task, not feel like I’ve left it undone. [I struggle with this too! KH] For example, my task was to find a market for a particular devotion. By the time I check out the market guide, find some fits, look online for more information, and rule out some markets, I was well over the time and able to add to my task list. Do I need to narrow down my tasks even more or am I just slow? [You're not any slower than I am. Yesterday finding two markets for a book manuscript and addressing envelopes, etc. took me two hours-or six of my 20-min slots. I guess we could give ourselves a BIG REWARD on those days! Want to do chocolate and a chick flick with me? KH]
- PatriciaW: 100-Day Challenge – Wrote 1200 words last night. Planned for 20 min; wrote for 45. Tends to happen that way. But I’m planning on the 20 min, 5 nights a week to finish my wip by January. Then multiple 20 min intervals on weekends to work on freelance stuff. I’m enjoying this part. A little hung up on the “hidden assets” though. [Great progress, Patricia! Sometimes it takes a writer friend to know your hidden assets, I've found. KH]
- Beth Mac: That’s so true. Large is overwhelming. Small consistencies are better. I love SparkPeople, by the way. Thanks to their bite-sized exercises on Youtube, my jeans now fit much better after two months of small consistencies. A war is won in the small battles, I think. [Beth, truer words were never spoken! KH]
THANK YOU to all who shared by the time I wrote this post. I love surrounding myself with such positive, encouraging writers!
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.
July 9, 2010
Two of my daughters were in Italy this spring, and (knowing I was a fan of the movie “While You Were Sleeping”), they bought me a snow globe from Florence, Italy.
It sits on my writing desk, and when I’m mulling something over, I shake it up and watch it snow all over Florence Cathedral. Little did I know it would become a catalyst to help me settle down and write.
Get in Your Write Mind
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have trouble settling down at my desk to work. My thoughts resemble corn popping. Should I work on this part of the revision or that? Should I do a bit more research on the setting or just get to the writing? Should I blog or am I just trying to avoid writing?
As Maisel says, “When you shake up a snow globe, first the snow swirls chaotically, then it begins to settle nicely, and then all is quiet again.”
He contends that many of us use those “wrong mind” thoughts to stir ourselves up, the equivalent of shaking the snow globe. Our wrong negative thoughts create inner chaos and worry. We can’t sit still then and get to work.
He suggested using a snow globe (or just the image of one) to give yourself a visual way to picture the chaos, then the settling, and then the quiet. I tried it while repeating some of my own “write mind” positive comments. As the snow settled, so did my thoughts.
Make the Substitution
When you’re churning your mind (the snow globe shaking stage), you’re telling yourself things like “My mind is so noisy that I can’t think straight” and “I must be ADHD because my mind won’t focus more than thirty seconds” or “I’m a mental wreck, so how can I write?”
Instead, tell yourself that you can quiet your mind. You can focus. You can think just fine. Use the “Write Mind” thoughts in Maisel’s little book (choose from 299 of them!) Or make up your own. (I personally use a lot of Scripture.)
There’s no need to continue to suffer from a chaotic mind. You might be all shook up right now, but sit tight–and watch your mind settle along with the snow. Take charge of your own thinking–it will change your life.
How about you? Do you have any visuals you use to settle down and get to work? I love hearing about other writers’ rituals to get started. Share if you have one that works for you!