Writing

Don’t Consider What You’re Thinking

All right. So, earlier I had a post that discussed how we determine our own experience, not outside forces, and today’s post considers something related: how our thoughts can determine us, if we let them.

Are you confused? First I tell you to think yourself happy, and now I’m telling you that’s dangerous?

Admittedly, the idea confused me a little too, until I thought about it more. The idea here is very Descartian. “I think, therefore I am.” And that can be the danger. If we think everything we write is terrible, that we’ll never succeed, that there are so many writers better than us, etc, etc, and worse, if we believe those thoughts, that we give them the power to be true. Likewise, if we think and believe we’re the best writer ever, we can do no wrong, publishers will be knocking down our doors and regretting every last one of those rejection letters, we’re likewise in trouble (and probably setting ourselves up for disappointment or a reality check.)

As writers, it’s our job to think about things and capture those thoughts and imaginings in words. We make our thoughts and dreams real all the time by creating our own worlds, people, and events. So therefore, maybe it’s little surprise that we run the risk of doing the same in our real lives if we believe random thoughts that pass through our head.

Our minds are constantly whirring away, reflecting on experiences, input from our senses. It’s natural that if we get a lot of negative input on our writing — think a barrage of rejection letters, or worse, no responses at all – that we’re going to experience some negative thoughts about our writing. The same can be true if you get rave reviews, or your critique partners adore the latest book: we may be more inclined to think, “gee, I’m pretty good at this writing thing.”

But really, what’s the difference between the negative and positive thoughts? Especially ones that are on opposite ends of the spectrum? Not a heck of a lot, since they’re just thoughts, just ideas. And so long as we let them flow through with perhaps a bit of reflection but nothing more, they do no harm. The harm comes when we seize and hold onto a particular thought, trapping it, wriggling and squirming to continue on its little thought-path down Idea River that we get a problem. Because if we make it tangible, it can have very tangible results.

Did you seize on a negative thought? One that told you there were many more writers more successful than you? Your scribbles will never amount to anything? You’ve spent too long trying to get published – it’s time to move on? What is the result? Well, maybe you become negative, focusing on that thought, and  give up. You stop submitting your writing, don’t attend conferences, you ignore anything that could contradict that negative thought, and eventually you miss opportunities, close doors, and give up writing entirely.

Very well, you suggest. But what if the thought wasn’t so negative? What if you think you’re writing is really good, much better than so-and-so. Your grammar is perfect. Your style a delight. Everyone will love every word you write. Still a problem. First, because it seems like your head may be swelling to such a size that you’ll be impossible to live with. Second, because this business is always subjective: someone may love your writing, but not everyone will. Third, and worst, is that if you think you’re the best you can be, what will keep you moving forward? What will keep you improving and honing your craft?

So, let the thoughts pass by in Idea River, but let them keep floating. Some will be pleasant, some won’t be, but what’s important is your writing. Don’t let anything – especially yourself and your own thoughts – distract you from that fact.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

The Journey to Publication, Writing

How Long is Too Long: The Illusion of Time in the Journey to Publication

I am always running out of time. It doesn’t seem to matter what I need to do, I never have enough time to do it. I’ve told my husband that we have so many things on our “to-do” list that if the length of the list determines the length of our lives, we can never die, because we can never possibly get everything done.

But time also affects my relationship to my writing. I wonder, why do I only have eight specified hours of time for writing per week, when the baby is being babysat? How long will it take me to finish revisions? How long will it take me to write a first draft of the next book? Can I do it faster, in less time? And of course, how long will it be before I’m published?

Time seems endless and sometimes cruel. It continues to march on, whether we try to stop it, whether we try to focus and savor every minute, or wait impatiently for the designated hour to approach. And as months pass too quickly, and years begin to do the same, time seems to be shifting away like sand through fingertips. I run out of time as I frantically try to chase after it, wishing I could hold back the hands of the clock, slow down the ticking, just get a few more hours each day. I wish for shortcuts, for secret paths to cut through the necessity of waiting, watching as more time escapes.

But here’s the thing. Time doesn’t care. It doesn’t care that we don’t have enough hours in the day to get everything we want done. And it doesn’t care how many years, how many books, it takes us to be published. It just is. Or, as some may suggest, time isn’t anything at all, other than something humans have created to divvy up our days, months, and years.

So if we accept that time is only a tool, an artificial creation by man, than that means it’s foolish to let it control us: we use tools, not the other way around. So therefore, time is useful to writing in remembering deadlines, in measuring your productivity if that’s important to you, in establishing internal time within the plots of your books. But time is otherwise meaningless to our writing. And it could hurt it.

Why do you write? Do you write because you have nothing better to do? Do you write because you decided to write for three hours a day, seven days a week, and because you’ll be published in three and a half years from the day you first started writing? Of course not. You have no idea when “The Call” will come, other than working with perseverance and consistency, and a belief that it will come, but when isn’t up to you, and doesn’t particularly matter to your writing.

What matters is getting one word after another onto the page. What matters is writing, hour after hour, day after day, year after year. And you write not to pass the time, but because your writing is important, because each time you write, you’re a bit outside of time. You decide and determine the time within your plots, you determine how quickly or how slowly you write, and your writing will exist after you, too.

So, as you write, don’t let the clock mock you, don’t let the calendar pages or the changing number of the year depress you. Use the clock so you remember to eat, remember to pick up your child from school. You will be published. When is uncertain, but you can’t let it worry you. For some it will take longer than others, and worrying about which group you fall into will only stilt your writing. What is certain is that in your writing, you always have enough time, you can freeze and start the clock whenever you choose, and you always remember that you control time, not the other way around.

What is time to you? How does it frustrate or help you? Let me know. Otherwise, thanks for reading, and have a great week.

The Journey to Publication, Writing

Getting Off the Writers’ Emotional Rollercoaster

Have you bought a lottery ticket lately?

As I mentioned before, I wanted to do a series of blogs related to Laraine Herring’s wonderful The Writing Warrior. Today, I want to think about the following quote:

“If you understand that suffering arises when we want our current experience to be something other than what it is, you’ll see how much we, and not events, bring about our suffering.”

(from: L. Herring, The Writing Warrior, p60)

Let’s go back to my first question: have you bought a lottery ticket lately? Why? What do you think it will bring you? How will it change your life? Will you finally be able to pay off those bills, you won’t have to scrimp and save so much, money won’t be a worry anymore, you’ll be able to buy some of the things you could only dream about before, you’ll help others, you’ll … And on it goes.

The problem is, even if you win, your life will not be perfect. Oh, I’m not saying winning would be terrible (there are others who may suggest that), but what I am saying is that some problems may disappear, but others will replace them, because what we worry about, the problems in our lives and how we suffer are rarely directly caused by exterior causes. Our experience of our lives is what we make it.

The same is true in our writing. While so many of us dream about “The Call,” and how suddenly our lives will be wonderful – even if we accept that there will still be rejection, that one great deal doesn’t make a career, that sometimes things fall off track. We all, myself included, still think that it will at least be better than where we are now. But, like that winning lottery ticket, some problems may be solved, but other new ones will appear, many of which will be of our own making.

By the same token, if our satisfaction and experience is largely internal, we can make our lives better all by ourselves. For writing, we can know that we are learning, writing, and becoming the best writers we can be. We are moving towards goals of things like publication, but they aren’t the be-all, end-all of our existence: the writing matters, not just the publication. Judging our progress in the path our writing careers take is less about comparing ourselves to other writers or outward markers like securing an agent, gaining a publishing contract, making a million dollars, etc, and more about becoming better at what we do all the time, and loving what we do.

Again, like the lottery ticket, I’m not suggesting you don’t buy one. By all means, you should be getting out there and submitting, querying, working towards goals of publication if that’s what you want: it’s what I’m doing. I likewise don’t think your dreams and goals are likely to materialize into reality without hard work. But in the meantime, in the hard times when you’ve received rejection after rejection, when it seems like no one likes your writing, when you wonder if you’re just pretending to be a writer, when you’re thinking of giving it all up and all of the other negative internal conversations we have with ourselves, you can know none of it is necessary. You can be satisfied with writing for writing’s sake. You can be happy that you’re doing the best you can, and striving to do better. And while you still want to go further, it will happen, it will come someday, but when or how is less relevant that controlling what you can, like the consistency and quality of your writing.

So, have you bought a lottery ticket lately? Entered a major writing contest? Great. I wish you all the luck, and hope it turns out how you want. But even if it doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world, and you ca still be satisfied and happy with your life and your writing.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

The Journey to Publication, Writing

Writing Books Pt2: Books on writing and the artist’s life

Welcome back and good morning as I tell you about some of my favorite books. I confess there was some appeal to breaking last week’s post on my favorite writing books into two parts because this is probably my favorite category, so it gives me a bit more space to chat about them. Again, I have no affiliation with these books or authors other than admiration.

So, why is this my favorite category? Because these are books that I come back to, again and again, when I need encouragement, when I need to think clearly, when I just need someone else’s voice in my head about writing and about what it means to be a writer (especially if my own inner dialogue is a bit less than positive). These books have helped me get over writing slumps, and make my writing stronger and better. And since I can only hope they’ll do the same for you, here they are, ready to be shared.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

This book gained its place on my shelves because it doesn’t allow excuses for not writing, for not creating, for not doing what you both need and want to do (even if yo don’t feel  like it).  This book will give you a good butt-kicking and make you look at your reasons for not creating, for not accomplishing the most and the best you can, and it can do it again and again every time you open it up. And don’t we all need that every now and then? If you click on the book cover, it will take you to Steven Pressfield’s website, and you can learn more there.

The Writing Warrior by Laraine Herring

There is more to this book than a very pretty cover. 🙂 This book will make you think about your writing process, and in some ways about the entire way you process life, from the moment you wake up to the time you go to sleep, and how that all fits into your writing life (or perhaps should).  Ms. Herring provides exercises at the end of each section that vary from adopting a variety of shaking exercises to clear the mind, morning writing sprints, to an examination of the many illusions we, as writers and artists alike, cling to. My favorite section, and one which I both return to often for encouragement, and which my coming blogs will be related to, is: “Part Three: Dissolving Your Illusions,” particularly looking at “The Writer’s Wheel of Suffering.” If you’ve found yourself on the emotional rollar-coaster that being a writer can lead to – and your work is suffering for it – I highly recommend checking out this book. It’s one of the best I’ve found for not only telling you to get on with your work, no excuses, but also makes you think about those excuses and the reasons behind them more closely in order to hopefully dissolve them. Click on the book to link to the author’s website, and learn more from her directly.

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

You may have noticed the absence of an author website to accompany this book, and that’s because it was first published in 1934, and was as useful and applicable then as it is today. Whether you’ve been writing for years, or you’re just starting out, as the book jacket promises, this isn’t just another book on writing technique, plotting, conflict, etc. This is a book on what it means, and what it takes to be a writer. It doesn’t promise things will always be easy – quite the opposite, in fact. But it does provide encouragement, a friendly though straight-forward set of advice to keep writing and to succeed, as well as advice and techniques for being the best writer you can. This is yet another book to return to, again and again, especially since it’s a quick read to give you a quick pick-me-up (or kick in the pants, whichever view you prefer). The book jacket should link to a Wikipedia note on Dorthea Brande, but give the title or her name a quick search and you’ll quickly come across other entries. It just didn’t seem fair to link this proud book with only places where it can be purchased, or where others can only now discuss it. Either way, enjoy.

So, I hope you enjoyed this week and the entries for my favorite books on writing and the artist’s life. I have read others, but these are sitting on the shelf beside me, which is why I make mention of them. Are there some I really need to add? What books do you return to again and again, especially when the going gets tough? Thanks for reading, and have a great week.