Fight the Self-Doubt and Fear

Last night I considered how since becoming a mother, I think I may be becoming a better human being … but a more neurotic writer. And I think I know why.

See, I’ve found the the truth in the notion that you don’t truly understand fear until you become a parent. At this point, if I started worrying thinking about it, I could get sucked into a vortex of mind-shattering “what-if” terrors about the kidlet. The many things I can’t protect her from. The even more perhaps I shouldn’t. What I do right, what I do wrong, etc, etc.

But I can’t go down that path, because that’s the road to crazy town.

And yet, some residue of that fear, of those worries remains, unattached and orphaned energy looking for a home … like, say my writing. And so before, where I prided myself on productivity and rarely found myself ever close to dreaded writers’ block, now it has become a real danger. I worry about how much – or how little – I’m producing. The quality. If I’m improving. If I’m doing the right things to promote my work, to keep growing, if I can ever truly achieve my potential, or if I will be left a dreamer without a dream.

And then you look up and realize, wow! Looks a lot like crazy town anyway, doesn’t it?

Perhaps you are one of those writers or artists who isn’t plagued by self-doubt. If you are, I congratulate you – and seriously urge you to write a “how to” manual for the rest of us out there! Because from what I’ve seen and heard, that self-doubt comes with the job. I suspect it’s because we’re largely self-driven, and the product we produce is so personal that judgment and reception of it is likewise so subjective, how can one ever say for certain what is “good” or “bad”? We’re left to ourselves to create that assessment of our own work. Perhaps too it’s because we’re so used to playing with “what if” that naturally it attacks us when we’re not looking. What if the badguys are just behind the hero … or what if I’ve wasted a year on this manuscript that will never amount to anything?

Good news: I have a couple of solutions for you to rid yourself of those dreaded twins, self-doubt and fear. They’re not perfect, and I assure you, I’m working on these methods myself. Consider it a work in progress.

  1. Ignore the buggers until they wither away. Yes, not easy. Especially when you hear exactly the wrong thing as you’re hip deep in the latest work that “will never sell” because “it’s out.” But the more energy we give fear especially, the stronger it becomes, and potentially, the more paralyzing.
  2. Let fear feed you, instead of eat you. Fear can destroy us because of its internal nature. And not all fear is bad – fearing jumping in front of a semi-truck is a healthy reaction likely to keep me less road-pizza-like. But sometimes, perhaps the solution is to embrace the fear, and attack it. Especially when it comes to our art. Is there something you want to say / create / write? Is it too personal / too hard / too damned scary? Then maybe it’s exactly what you need to say, because if it resonates that deeply with you, isn’t it likely to resonate with someone else?
  3. Improve the positive nature of your self-talk. The clue to self-doubt is in the name: it originates with ourselves, and therein lies the cure, too. Please believe me when I assure you I’m not being facetious, nor do I wish to trivialize what is a serious concern for some people. And yes, sometimes we need help with our self-doubt. But at least part of that needs to come from inside, from editing that nasty little voice in our heads that tells us we’re not good enough. My favorite advice is that we never tell ourselves anything we wouldn’t say to our best friend. So indeed, perhaps we need to improve – but there’s a better and more constructive way to phrase that other than “you suck,” don’t you think? 😉
  4. Hear that worried voice in your head, consider, then dismiss. Sometimes we worry for a reason. But, if you’re a “worrier” like me, than there are lots of times that we just worry cause, well, I’m not sure really. Boredom? A desire to feel miserable? But even I know that worrying never did anyone any good. Instead, get up and make a plan to combat that worry. DO something, since just worrying about isn’t doing anything.

So, that’s my two cents for the week. 😉 What do you do to combat fear and self-doubt?

Thanks for reading, and wishing you a great week free of self-doubt and fear. 🙂

Gardeners and Architects

Flowers in my garden - a good place to run away to.
Flowers in my garden – a good place to run away to.

I have been reading Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer, and what really struck me was a question posed to George R.R. Martin who talked about Gardeners and Architects. And while Mr. Martin doesn’t believe there are many writers who are purely “Architect” or “Gardener”, here’s his explanation of the terms:

“Architects do plan everything ahead of time, just as a reach architect does, building a house. An architect builds a house, and he knows how many rooms it’s going to be, and how many square feet in each room, and where the pipes are, what the roof is going to be made of, the dimensions of everything, even where the plugs are going to be in the walls. He knows everything before a nail is driven, before the foundation is dug, and before all of the blueprints are proofed. There are writers who work that way.

“The Gardener just sort of digs a hole and plants a seed, and then he waters it with his blood and sweat before waiting to see what will come up. It’s not totally random, because obviously the Gardener knows what he’s planted: he knows whether it’s an oak tree or a pumpkin. If he’s not taken totally by surprise by further inspiration, he has a general idea of what he’s doing.” [- George R. R. Martin, source: Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer (2013), p288]

And I realized, of course, that while not a pure Gardener, I’m certainly more Gardener than Architect. And yes, perhaps I am drawn to the terms because of my own love of actual gardening. And the analogy works to consider it that way, too. I might plan what I’m going to plan where in my garden – and I do select the plants – but sometimes there is unexpected beauty … or what I thought was a great plant turns out to be a weed.

I’m reminded by a song by Karine Polwart from her Scribbled in Chalk album (which is gorgeous, if you haven’t heard it):

The lyrics for “Take Its Own Time” go:

You ceased to mow the lawn ten years ago
You just wanted to see how your garden would grow
You abandoned the pruning shears and welcomed each weed
You permitted the soil to select its own seed

But it would be unfair to assume you don’t care
For you pay great attention to all that goes there
But you simply abstain from a plan or design
You just let it all hang out and take its own time
You just let it all hang out and take its own time

And you follow a thread in a book that you’ve read
Or in something that someone you heard somewhere said
You say, “It’s all connected, it’s all intertwined
If you let it all hang out and take its own time …

And I wonder, while I consider that this is often how my front garden looks and my gardening style, that this may also be my writing style.

What about you? Gardener or Architect?

Thanks for reading, and have a great week. 🙂

Stumped … or not?

Today is the first day this year that I’ve tried to work on my current WIP. It hasn’t gone well. I’m not sure if this is just me, or if it means its time to abandon the project. I’m feeling rather philosophical about the whole thing since, after all, that makes it so much easier to philosophize instead of just write.

I am considering new directions. I feel overwhelmed by too much information looking through various craft books, writing books, etc. Because of course, they are written for the general “writer,” whoever the heck that is. And they try in earnest to be helpful – and perhaps they would be were I in a different frame of mind – but of course, it’s useless to look for answers only I have.

The book feels stalled. Perhaps because I have taken such a long break from it, leaving my imagination / subconscious still off on holiday. Perhaps it is because I really don’t like zombies, so writing a book about them was a bit of a foolish notion. Perhaps it is fear.

No, I think instead it’s the crushing nature of expectation and ambition. See, I’m a worrier. And if I start thinking about all the things I “should” and “ought” to be doing instead of just getting over myself and writing, I can darn near suffocate myself with invisible foes. Worrying about if I’m writing what is “marketable” or “saleable” is, to some extent, a fool’s venture, especially so early in the first draft. I don’t even have a story at all – how on earth could it ever be marketable? It’s like expecting a baby to do my taxes.

So, I have a new plan. Perhaps I will try and play more. Instead of just doing writing exercises and creating reams of new worlds that I don’t especially feel like getting more than a 1000 words into, why not go diving into my own WIP? After all, if I’m looking at the potential of abandoning and tossing the whole thing anyway, where’s the harm? Best case scenario: I end up with something that can be salvaged in future drafts and the book is completed. Worst case scenario: instead of lots of pieces of flash fiction laying all over the place (and cluttering up my file directory since I can’t bear to delete them – it’s like killing puppies!), I instead have further messed up an already messed up story, and the whole thing may RIP.

Yes, this is completely against my usual method. But seeing as the usual isn’t working, guess it’s time to play. 😉 Wish me luck. I’m off to mess around.

Thanks for reading, and hope you’re having a fantastic week.

Griefstruck Rider: A Flash Fiction Challenge

Okay, so as per my promise to you (and myself) I did the challenge, and this is the result. Please forgive the roughness. And you know, I think this might actually have potential to play with it some more. Hope you enjoy. 🙂

Griefstruck Rider

The wind whistled through my hair as I gunned the bike and whipped down the deserted Nevada highway through ribbons of setting sun. My eyes stung, but it was just the desert wind. Definitely the wind.

It had nothing to do with what I’d left behind. Camryn, laying there, bloodied, broken.

I shook my head, and leaned over the bike, the odometer rising, the bike engine emitting a high whine.

I wouldn’t think about what had happened. About him. Occupational hazard, that’s all it was. When you went around chasing dragons, sometimes they turned around and bit you. Or cooked and chewed on you, if you were particularly unlucky.

Fortunately for Camryn, it had been quick. At least, I had to think so. If I’d gotten there sooner …

The highway blurred in front of me. Crap. I slowed the bike, and pulled over to the side. Killing the engine brought stark silence rushing into my ears until I could hear my own heartbeat, harsh breath, and a lonely coyote in the distance, the howl long and mournful.

My hands shook as I pulled the helmet off, releasing ribbons of pale hair, still splattered with blood. Too red to be anything but human. If only it were mine.

Damn it, Camryn. Why didn’t you listen to me? Why the hell hadn’t you waited for me? That thing was too old, too strong for you.

I scrubbed my eyes, and stared at the setting sun until my eyes stung for a different reason. It was over. Camryn was dead. I was not. There were still dragons hiding in this world, and it was my job to kill them.

Far ahead, I imagined I could see the dull halo that meant Vegas. And work. Something to lose myself in until like the others before him, Camryn was just one of those dull aches you get on lonely nights.

Replacing my helmet, I turned the ignition on the bike.

Nothing.

I tried again, same result. Wind ruffled my hair, but the coyote had fallen silent. I leaned back and glared at the bike, willing the blasted thing to start. It ignored me.

I tried again and was getting ready to try a third time accompanied by ever more colorful vocabulary when I heard the car engine. Coming on fast. I climbed off the bike. Headlights angled along the asphalt, accompanied by a warm breeze and a scent.  Spicy and warm, like melted chocolate or s’mors around the campfire.

I grabbed for the hilt of my sword strapped to the bike, hand shaking. I tried to close my nostrils, to will my body to ignore the scent. But my body was softening, mellowing, languid warmth pooling in my center.

The car was close now, would be on me in under a second.

No! I wasn’t some idiot kid out on her first hunt. I gave my head a shake, tightened a sweating palm on the hilt.

The car slid onto the shoulder and ground to a stop, the engine purring, headlights blinding me. They went dark, and the door opened with the kind of click that meant the car was expensive.  Footsteps ground in the gravel, and I blinked light-blind eyes at the large, shadowy figure unfolding itself from the car, then crunching towards me.

Again the scent of him curled in through my nostrils and around my brain, melting it to a gooey mess and making the urge to sigh near-on irresistible.

I clamped my lips shut, and slid my sword free with a soft whisper of steel. I wasn’t the sighing type.

“You’re the one they call Wyrm Damned, aren’t you?” he asked, his voice as rich as his scent and making my insides tingle.

“I prefer Wynn,” I said, a wobble in my tone  I hadn’t anticipated. Blinking at him, I adjusted my stance, letting him see the sword. My eyes cleared, showing me Mr. Tall, Broad, and Too-damned-good-looking-to-be-human. His green eyes met mine, and not a flicker of his gaze suggested he noticed or gave a crap about my sword. Again his scent tingled my innards. That strong meant he was old. Real old, like older than me, probably outclassing me by a good century or so.

“Well, ‘Wynn,’ you are one difficult lady to track down,” he said, something in his voice reminding me of home, a slight lilt buried deep beneath the flat American accent. He stopped, crossing his arms over a muscular chest undisguised by the blue button-down shirt.

“I try.”

I couldn’t seem to stop staring at him. His hair was gold. Not like blond that you call gold, but honest to goodness gold, like shiny coins and necklaces. The warmth in my belly didn’t want to diminish, despite the icy uneasiness trickling down my spine. His hair was gold. There couldn’t be that many dragons with gold hair, could there?

And why, of all dragons, had this one come looking for me?

Now here I was, bike dead, out in the middle of nowhere, alone, and likely out-classed. I was running out of options that didn’t leave me toasted and chewed.

“Well, Wynn the Wyrm Damned, I have a proposition for you.”

“Really?” I snuck a look behind me and again considered the chances if I ran. This wasn’t one of those dragons that wanted to talk to their dinner, was he?

“Yeah, really,” he mimicked. “How about you make the slaying more of a part-time gig and become my Queen?”

Maybe it was the kind of day it’d been, or maybe it was the utter ridiculousness of his offer. I stared at him a moment before bursting into laughter. Kept laughing until I clutched an aching stomach and tears ran down my cheeks.

If I was going to die, this time I’d go out laughing.

Thanks for reading, and hope you have a great week. 🙂

New Year Writing: Step 1

So it’s snowing here … again. But the sun is shining, and today I am determined to really get started on writing for the year. Yet I still want to be a bit gentle with myself.

Here’s what I plan to do today:

Play.

Yep, you heard me. But the difference is that I’m going to try and play with words. Over at Chuck Wendig’s thought-provoking blog, he offered up a challenge of the random story generator starting with a title … and then to write 1000 words about it. [Here’s the link if you want to play along.]

So, that’s my first step, and what may even amount to the beginning of a resolution: More play, and more actually trying things instead of just saying “when I get to it.” You see, I’ve looked at lots of this kind of challenge and exercise and even saved them for later … but I didn’t actually do anything with them. Not really. And now, look at that – my first 2014 resolution seems to have crept up on me despite my best efforts:

2014 Resolution #1: Make more time for playing with words, and actually do the challenges and experiment with words.

So, I better head off and actually get to that writing thing. 😉

What about you? Have you set a boatload of resolutions this year? Are you against resolutions? Or like me, are you just adjusting to this year a bit slower than usual?

Thanks for reading, and wishing you a fan-tabulous week. 🙂

Starting the New Year … Slowly

I’ve been having a bit of a hard time getting into the swing of 2014. Fatigue from a very busy December (are there such things as quiet Decembers?), coupled with long dark days as we enter January leaves me feeling a bit burned out. So, I’m trying something a bit different. Instead of chastising myself for not being productive enough and cracking the whip, I’m allowing myself a bit of breathing room and easing more slowly into the year.

Here’s the plan:

  1. Take a bit of time to actually have fun. This is something that I’m not very good at (coupled with relaxing especially), so I’ve been allowing myself to indulge my imagination, especially with other activities, like miniatures.
  2. Remember to play. It can be easy to forget that the reason I’m a writer is because I genuinely love writing … which is not how it’s feeling right now. So, I want to allow myself to play and not limit my own creativity. Yes, letting my imagination out of the box might be scary, but it might (hopefully) lead to some fantastic new arenas.
  3. Craft and research books. Christmas brought me some lovely new craft and writing books, like The Writer’s Lab and Wonderbook, which I’m finally ready to look at and start experimenting. Again, hoping to open up some creative pathways and get the writing juices going (in a less gross fashion as that description suggests!)
  4. Give myself permission to extend my holiday a bit, and take some of the pressure off. Yes, I’m starting back at writing, but I’m also trying not to push myself quite as strenuously as I often do at this time of year because, frankly, I don’t think I can. So yes, as you can tell by things like this blog post appearing on Wednesday rather than Monday, things are more loosey-goosey than I favor, but c’est la vie for now.

So what about you? Are you diving into 2014 full of enthusiasm? Or taking things a bit slower? Any advice and wisdom to share? 🙂

Thanks for reading, and hope you have a fabulous day – and that winter starts to ease off a bit! Happy New Year, and all the best to everyone out there.