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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!
November 20, 2012
Even if you’re not participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I thought you might enjoy snippets of the pep talks that are emailed to writers to help them keep going.
A Pep Talk from Kate DiCamillo was about a guy at her day job who ridiculed her early writing efforts, but she fought back–by writing. (I really identified with her, having written to prove I could to everyone who told me to get a “real job.”) Her letter included:
It is a truly excellent to have someone to believe in you and your ability to write.
But I think it is just as helpful to have people who don’t believe in you, people who mock you, people who doubt you, people who enrage you. Fortunately, there is never a shortage of this type of person in the world.
So as you enter this month of writing, write for yourself. Write for the story. And write, also, for all of the people who doubt you. Write for all of those people who are not brave enough to try to do this grand and wondrous thing themselves. Let them motivate you.
The following is part of a Pep Talk from Lindsey, who ran into an emergency situation at the beginning of the month and was tempted to quit. It applies to any writer who has run into a life situation that has derailed them.
For those of you who have contemplated abandoning your novel—or already have—I invite you to sit down, look at your novel-in-progress, and envision a November without the rest of the story you’ve started. Imagine your laundry is folded, your pillow creased from adequate use, dinner is cooked, socks are matching, your shoes are shined… but no novel.
Here’s part of a message from Lani Diane Rich on “Having a Dream vs. Realizing a Dream”–and it might encourage you to try NaNoWriMo next year!
National Novel Writing Month changed my life. Because of NaNoWriMo, I became the first previously unpublished writer to get a book deal with a major New York publisher. Because of NaNoWriMo, I started taking myself seriously as a writer, and now I get to live my passion. I write, I teach writing, and I talk about writing—that’s my day job. But I honestly don’t know if I’d be where I am now if not for NaNoWriMo.
Do you have a really mean internal editor and critic? Then you’ll like what Karen Russell had to say about that…
Perhaps you, too, have a coach of the interior like mine—bald and cruel, shaking his sweaty pate at your sloth, ridiculing your sentences, professionally contemptuous. Extremely foul-mouthed. A definite misogynist. A voice that reads over your shoulder and snorts with derision at your characters’ dialogue. A voice in cahoots with every other voice that has ever criticized your efforts and ambitions and haircut. He pretends to be all kinds of things: the Voice of Reason, the Voice of Tough Love. But he is a tyrant. He is the enemy of fiction writing. His “pep talks” are actually spells of paralysis, designed to rob you of all confidence and happiness. In order to write your novel, you must get rid of this sadist. Do whatever it takes to shut him up. Chloroform him; drag him by his white Reebox behind the dugout; bury his shrill, censorious whistle. Then return to your green, blank, mercifully silent playing field, and write.
Time to Write!
Try to remember, when you hit periods of distress and discouragement with your writing, that it’s only part of being a working writer. Take the advice above and push on. You’ll be glad that you did!
October 23, 2012
Writing students, those I critique, and people in my writing workshops will sometimes question whether it is ethical to encourage fledgling writers.
Because the path to publication isn’t easy, and they will experience a lot of rejection along the way, and the “odds” are stacked against them. That’s all true.
So why encourage new writers to persevere?
I do it because they all honestly have a chance. Of course, some students turn out to be sprinters only. They write a bit, give it their all, get tired, and quit. Some, though, turn out to be marathon runners, in it for the long haul. They experience the pain of rejection and the exhaustion of the uphill climb as well–but they don’t quit. That is often the deciding factor.
Separating the Men from the Boys
Can writing teachers and workshop leaders predict who will eventually cross the finish line? I used to think so, but experience has taught me otherwise.
I am saddened by the talented writers who quit easily. I am even more often encouraged by the medium-talented writers who hang in there and get published. And even though students ask, I can’t predict, based on someone’s early writing, if they have that necessary stick-to-it-iveness to succeed in the writing life. Mostly it’s a character issue–not a talent issue.
As Ralph Keys says in The Writer’s Book of Hope: Getting from Frustration to Publication, I try to encourage all new writers, but that is not the same as praising mediocre work.
Those of you who have been my students or have paid for a critique know that I critique thoroughly. But you can give tough critiques–showing ways to improve the work–without being discouraging. You give “honest reassurance,” says John Gardner in On Becoming a Novelist.
The Biggest Writer Hurdle
The major difference I see between those who quit and those who are persistent is their “acceptance of rejection.” That may sound like a contradiction of terms, but it’s critical to your survival as a writer.
Accept the fact that you’ll get rejected. Often. All during your writing career. I’ve sold 42 books at this point, but I still get rejections. Rejected proposals, rejected books, rejections from people I’ve sold to before. It happens to all published writers. It’s part of the writing life AND IT’S NOT PERSONAL.
In Unstoppable Women: Achieve Any Breakthrough Goal in 30 Days, Cynthia Kersey talks about this rejection. (And it doesn’t just happen to writers.) She says, “Rejection comes with the territory when we’re selling anything, whether it’s a project, a product, an idea, or ourselves. Everyone isn’t going to ‘get it’ or be interested in what we’re offering. So what! When we accept that ‘no’ is a natural part of the process, we can easily move past each rejection until someone does say yes.”
Marathoner or sprinter–which one are you? Do your writing habits support your choice? If not, what changes do you need to make in your training in order to carry your writing over the finish line?
Make a list–and make one tiny change today.
October 9, 2012
I’m even more glad that they willingly share their soul-baring angst with us.
One of my favorite mystery writers is internationally bestselling author, Elizabeth George, writer of the Inspector Lynley books that have been made into Masterpiece Mystery movies. She writes “literary mysteries,” that excellent combination of fast-paced, intricately plotted whodunits and fully realized 3D characters in “you are right there” settings. The fact that they are set in England is the icing on the cake for me.
Lately I’ve been re-reading Elizabeth George’s excellent writing book, Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life. Throughout the book, she shares snippets from her work-in-progress journals.
In Her Own Words
At the time of this book’s writing, she had had thirteen novels published. (She has twenty-one now, if I counted right.) Keep that in mind as you read her journal entries (below) of her feelings about writing and the writing life.
“I’m trying to work for an hour each day. That’s all I can demand of myself…I became so incapacitated by fear that I was having trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I finally resorted to saying, ‘These are only words and I will not let words defeat me’ in order to get up and get to work. Thus I struggled to the end of the novel.”
“I have a love-hate relationship with the writing life. I wouldn’t wish to have any other kind of life…and on the other hand, I wish it were easier. And it never is…I would never have believed it would take such effort.”
If award-winning, mega-selling writers feel this way when creating fiction (and how I bless her for her honesty!), then it should come as no surprise if you and I also feel this way. Apparently it is common to those who strive to write fiction with excellence.
Successful career authors find ways to work with and work around these fears and insecurities. Let me share Elizabeth George’s words of wisdom. If it resonates with you as it does with me, you’ll want to buy her book.
“Every writer has to develop her own process: what works for her time and time again. Having no process is like having no craft…Having no process puts you at enormous risk because writing becomes a threat instead of a joy, something that you are terrified to begin each day because you are at the mercy of a Muse that you do not understand how to beckon. If I had no process and no craft to fall back on, I would be paralyzed with fear every morning and, frankly, I see no fun in that.”
She outlines her 14-step process in the book. It makes good sense to me, and it’s similar to the steps I often now follow when writing a novel.
We All Do It Differently
Each writer has his/her own way of doing things. What your process is like doesn’t really matter–if it works for you. However, do find out what kind of process produces your best work. How?
That’s one big value of keeping a novel-in-progress journal (notes to yourself about the novel and your feelings and the problems or successes you have with it). You have, when finished, a complete description of your writing process!
Analyze Your Notes
You’ll have concrete information. You’ll know how much planning you did, what order you worked on things, what time of day and what places produced the most writing…your process. You can then repeat what worked for you–and eliminate what didn’t.
You can also later read all those angst-filled passages and realize you survived those writing days just fine. It will help when they roll around again–when you start your next novel!
How about YOU? Do these journal entries ring any bells for you? Is this ever your experience?
July 10, 2012
“Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
I’ve been re-reading James Scott Bell’s excellent book The Art of War for Writers, and he says that “the biggest mental obstacle–in writing, in war, in life itself–is fear.”
I would agree 100%.
How do we fear writing?
Let me count the ways… Bell mentions several kinds of fear that plague writers. Do you find yourself in this list? Do you have additional fears?
- not being good enough
- not getting published
- getting published but not selling
- getting published once but never again
- getting stomped by critics
- getting stomped by family members
- wasting your time
The Quality of Fearlessness
Bell wrote about the young Teddy Roosevelt who was a sick, frail, fearful child–and what changed him into the fearless leader of history. Basically, he learned the old adage of “fake it till you make it” or “act as if.” Bell says that fearful writers become fearless writers in the same way.
Sure, you will set goals and get prepared. And (if you’re like me) you’ll pray for help. But in the end you will need to act as if you’re a successful, fearless writer until (over time) your feelings catch up with your behavior and you actually become one.
When fear in some form hits you today, what immediate action step could you take in the face of that fear? How would a professional, successful writer deal with that fear?
What is one way you can channel that fear into energy for your writing?
Be fearless today and, as battle buddies, share one tip you’ve used successfully to win the war on the many fears of writing.
December 9, 2011
However, you need to take periodic breaks. And this weekend when you do, check out the articles below for motivation, information, and a couple of important warnings.
Keys to More Success
- It’s not your imagination. Sitting is Killing You–and this graphic is startling. Read the graphic to the bottom–and then you might want to stand up and be counted!
- Are you running out of steam on your assignments, your short stories, or your book (or any of your goals)? If so, try Motivation Refueled: 12 Ways to Find It if You Lose it Along the Way
- Want to know what some of those promises made by self-publishers really mean? Check this out: SELF-PUBLISHERS AND PIRANHAS
- The Difference Between Trying and Doing is a good reminder to all of us who are replacing “writing” with “trying to write.” We might want to re-think how we view this.
Give Me a Hand
If you’ve found helpful articles and blog posts recently that you think other writers would love to read, please leave a comment below and share it. (That includes if you wrote it yourself!) The more we can encourage each other, the better!
October 28, 2011
Here are some great articles to read and consider if you hope to make the dream of a writing life into a reality.
“Are You Living Your Own Life or Someone Else’s?” If we are not careful, we can unconsciously be following someone else’s agenda for our lives. This may be your first step toward achieving the writing life of your dreams.
“Novelists: Stop Trying to Brand Yourselves” is a refreshing and hopeful post for fiction writers. You’ll breathe a sigh of relief with this one.
“The Power of Incremental Change Over Time” Most people underestimate this. They think they have to take massive action to achieve anything significant.
“4 Reasons It’s Easier Than Ever to Be an Author” “When I started writing, it also seemed like everyone else was in control. I prepared a book proposal, then waited for a publisher to offer me a contract. I wrote the manuscript, then waited for booksellers to order the book. I published the book, the waited for the media to book me.” Not anymore, says this author, former publisher, and former editor.
“The Writing Journey: Author Beware” is one agent’s warning about using self-publishers and what to look for in the way of scams and unethical practices. She makes a good case for having an agent, but as you may know, landing an agent isn’t necessarily easy. You could do what I do: make an agreement with an agent to look over your contracts for a flat fee with an eye to marking questionable phrasing and things you could negotiate for.
“Write with Flow Workshop” is added here because I happen to use the Fractal Method of organization and I love it. Whether you sign up for the workshop or not, the article is a good read. Enrollment ends on Oct. 30.
October 12, 2011
“Life is difficult,” wrote M. Scott Peck in his famous book The Road Less Traveled. “This … is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it… Once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
I’d like to amend Peck’s quote to say that “the writing life is difficult.” And once that truth is accepted, “the fact that it is difficult no longer matters.”
I imagine we all start out on the writing journey with a fantasy of what the writing life will be like. I know I did thirty years ago–and it’s been a fantasy that I clung to tenaciously for far too many years.
My own fantasy involved uninterrupted hours every day to write (after first journaling and then doing some creative writing exercises to ensure the writing would simply “flow”.) My fantasy included the books selling themselves without my help. I expected to reach a time when I’d never have to write anything without having a (lucrative) contract in hand. I also dreamed of writing by longhand in the fragrant garden of a thatched-roof English cottage. Sad to say, the cottage part was the only thing I recognized as pure fantasy. I figured everything else was just a matter of time.
Fast forward thirty years and forty published books later…
I love my office in Texas, but it’s a far cry from a thatched-roof cottage. And unless you write from Walden’s Pond, I don’t see how anyone manages to have uninterrupted hours every day to write. Juggling my roles as wife, mother, Nana, daughter, sister, friend, writer and ministry leader means fighting for writing time daily. Each role, at one time or another, has meant dealing with loss, conflict, disappointment, and/or illness-big time and energy eaters. And because of the changes within the publishing industry–in large part due to the economy and online social marketing demands–there’s no such thing anymore as an author who doesn’t help market their work.
It No Longer Matters
So where’s the silver lining around this black cloud? Simply this. Clinging to my fantasy life of a writer meant that every time reality intruded, I was disappointed or shocked or disillusioned–and tempted to quit. Lots of angst and wasted energy. As long as I was convinced that the writing life could be simple and require little work, I was irritated with reality. I made silent demands that this imperfect writing life go away!
- Truth #1: The writing life will always be difficult.
- Truth #2: It doesn’t really matter.
- Truth #3: All things worth having (family, good health, writing life) are difficult sometimes.
- Truth #4: We can do difficult things!
Don’t miss the key point of the blog today. This is not a “downer” message. It’s a truth message–which will set you free. For me, it’s like having kids. Raising a family was the most difficult, time-consuming, challenging thing I’ve done in the last thirty-five years. It has also been the most rewarding, most fun, most gratifying thing I’ve ever done. It’s the same with the writing life. It’s been difficult, but I can’t imagine a career more rewarding than this. After many years, it does get easier--but I would never say it’s easy.
It’s okay to give up the fantasy that someday your writing life will be easy and smooth and not require you to grow or struggle anymore. You really don’t need the fantasy to keep you moving forward. “The fact that it is difficult no longer matters.”
That being the case, what fantasy about the writing life do you suspect you need to let go of?
October 3, 2011
Critiques are very valuable, but in the end, you have to be the judge of your own stories. You have to believe in your own writing. And trust me, negative critiques come to everyone.
I was reminded of such a case when my granddaughter was here overnight recently and wanted to watch two Narnia movies we have on DVD. I was pulled into the magic of the stories again right along with her. I love C.S. Lewis‘ books, both his adult works and those for children.
Going Beyond Criticism
He’s probably most famous among children’s writers for his Chronicles of Narnia books (and now movies). Surely his books were well received from the beginning, right? No–his critique partner (none other than J.R.R. Tolkien of The Lord of the Rings fame) didn’t like it.
From C.S. Lewis Through the Shadowlands: The Story of His Life with Joy Davidman: “When Jack [C.S. Lewis] had completed his story about four children who discover a magic wardrobe and, through it, find a way into the land of Narnia, he showed it to Tolkien, who was unimpressed. Feeling, perhaps, that Jack had aimed rather more at achieving an effect than at creating an Other World of the kind he was writing about in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien told him that ‘It really won’t do, you know!’ Jack was discouraged and put the book to one side for a while before returning to it and rewriting the first few chapters. However, he still felt uncertain about whether it was any good or not, and decided to ask the advice of someone else.”
Thankfully the second person he asked was more enthusiastic. Jack then went on to complete this book, which became the first Narnia book: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
What about you? Do you have a story that still resonates with you–but you put it away because someone didn’t care for it? I do. And I’ve dug out both unfinished novels to look at again.
While it’s good to get outside feedback, don’t let negative feedback be the deciding factor. If you do, you just might deprive the world of stories that will inspire for generations.
September 28, 2011
“Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality…Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
~~Ralph Waldo Emersonson
Where do you get this enthusiasm? It comes from having passion for your writing.
How does a writer act who is passionate about his writing? He can’t wait to get up in the morning and get started. He is eager and energetic. This comes from loving what you do, and doing what you were born to do or feel called to do. Feeling this passion for your writing keeps you going. Quitting is no longer an option. When you’re passionate about your writing, perseverance is a given.
This brings us to two main questions:
- How do you develop passion for the most important areas of your life?
- How do you maintain that passion during the inevitable tough times?
First: Find It
Are you doing what you really want to do in your writing career? Are you doing it at least part of the time? (I know that for most of my writing life, it was half and half. Half the time I was writing what I really wanted to write–fiction usually–whether it sold or not. The other half of my writing time went to work-for-hire projects, teaching, speaking or whatever brought guaranteed income.) Ask yourself: Am I truly doing what I want to do?
If you’re not skilled enough to do the work you’d love to do, make time to educate yourself so you are. While maintaining your current job (either outside the home and/or raising children), do whatever it takes to prepare for your dream writing jobs. It’s very difficult to create passion for doing something you don’t want to do or a job you are “settling for” because you don’t feel skilled enough to do what you’d really love to do.
Do whatever you need to do to overcome those lying voices in your head that say you’ll never be good enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not whatever enough. Read inspirational books, read author biographies about how they got started and grew as writers, and say “no” to whatever is eating the time you need to study and read and write.
Second: Maintain It
Passion for your writing makes your days fly by (in a good way!). It helps you get more done in less time. That being true, it deserves whatever time you need to keep your writing passion alive. If your passion for writing dies, then writing just becomes another drudge job.
So how can you maintain passion and enthusiasm every day? First–and maybe most obvious–is to spend more time actually doing what you love to do. What is your pet writing project, the one that may never sell but you love it? Spend more time each day working on it. Even if it’s only an extra fifteen minutes or half an hour, it will remind you why you love to write.
Another key to maintaining passion for all your work is to reconnect with the purpose underlying everything you do. For example, I don’t enjoy running until it’s over and I’m in the shower. But I run my miles in the morning because the weight-bearing exercise is critical to staying “recovered” from my osteoporosis, which means my bones stay strong, which means I can still upright at the computer (hopefully) for decades to come and still have energy at the end of the day for my grandkids.
The same goes for giving up sugar finally four months ago. For a gal whose blood type is Hershey’s, that was a big deal for me. But more and more, sugar was making me sick and sluggish and sleepy. It was affecting my work–both the output and how I felt during work time. I don’t miss the sweets now, but during the first thirty days I might have mugged you for your candy bar.
What does that have to do with writing? It’s about maintaining passion. I don’t feel passionate about anything–including writing–if I don’t feel well. And by getting in touch with the “why” underlying the things I don’t like to do, it is a lot easier to get enthusiastic about it.
Tricks of the Trade
I know I’m not alone in trying to find and maintain passion for my writing. Please share some tips for how YOU maintain your writing enthusiasm in these fluctuating times!Newer Posts »