Digging Deep for Courage

As I mentioned earlier, after finishing the monumental rewrite (nope, haven’t run out of hyperbole yet), I did find myself discouraged and down. And as I dug myself out of it with the bright light of a new story idea, I began to think of courage. Which led me to Justin Timberlake.

Yes, really.

Hold on, don’t run away. What I started thinking about was his courage. Now, I’m old enough to remember N’Sync, and as I got older, it felt almost a responsibility to discard what had been acceptable in high school for more “grown up” alternatives. And I remember watching some concert that was predominantly rock – it may have been a new year’s special – and one of Justin Timberlake’s first appearances as a solo artist. After heavy rock bands and full accompaniment, he came onto the stage only with a keyboard and alone, and started to sing. The audience at the event shrieked and booed him. People even booed him. They threw things at him, like drinks. And despite it all, he continued to play, until finally, either the song was over, or he left for his own safety. At the time, I was rather amused.

Today, I can only admire that kind of courage and tenacity. Because look at what it’s gained him? Today, he has a very successful career spanning not only music but also movies. In fact, I really like the characters he plays in movies, and he strikes me as a good or nice person (or maybe that’s just his image, but that’s what comes across).

And today, I admire him for his courage.

As we choose to embark on a career of creativity and art, whether it’s writing, painting, acting, singing, whatever, we face a pretty steep battle. And perhaps more so than when you pursue a more mainstream career, criticism can come fast and furious. It’s easy to doubt your ability, to doubt your dreams, or wonder if maybe you’re heading down the wrong path. Sometimes, it’s easier to give up than keep fighting, because it can feel like a battle, to keep creating, to stay positive despite all odds, despite the number of rejections, despite the light of hope quickly smothered by yet more rejection. But I’ve never actually had anyone throw something at me and endured the kind of attack Timberlake did. And yet he still kept singing.

I have to admire him for that kind of courage, and where he is somehow seems more deserved. And yes, I am very likely simplifying an exhausting journey of his career – which will continue to evolve and change throughout his lifetime as it does for all of us. So if I’m wrong about some of the facts, my sincere apologies, and instead, may we just admire that idea of courage if nothing else.

And above all else, keep singing your song, keep painting your vision, and keep writing your words. You’re an artist. That’s your job.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading, and hope you have a courage-filled week. 🙂

It’s a Mad World – In the Real and Fictional World

Last week I finished the rough draft of my latest WIP; it’s a total mess. Today was a doctor’s appointment for the kidlet, meaning I had to drive into town, braving the idiots on the road who clearly place a higher value on their own time – and lives – above all else. Then I check out Yahoo news and there are articles about a school selling an art text book for $180 that has no pictures, and the now-defunct company, Zellers, looking for a new home for their mascot, Zeddy. Oh, and don’t forget the woman who was arrested in Texas for letting her kids play outside.

Lego store in the Disney Marketplace in Orlando, Florida – taken by me, August 2010 – art imitates life?

Looking at this, just how bad can my fictional world be? Or, how confused and bizarre does it have to be if art imitates life?

Oh, sure, in my initial revision notes I have questions like: “define her species here,” and “assume by this point that hero is completely unlike what he was supposed to be at the outset.” But at least I can change and revise – and make that world have an order and logic.

The real world doesn’t seem to want to play by those rules. Or maybe we just take too great an interest in the surreal and the bizarre – which means this is what we make note of, what makes it into top news, why people report on it in the first place.

Which leads back to fiction: do we have a need to find order in fiction? If we’re writers, to create that order? Are we searching for it in our reading? Should art reflect life, or does it have to be something else, possibly something better?

I wonder if perhaps this depends on where you are in your life and what you read. I love happy endings and romance because I’m not entirely convinced that happens in real life. I don’t want to read about horrible things continuing to happen to people until they finally succumb because I can turn on the news or read a newspaper to hear about that – and unfortunately, those people can’t be saved in revision.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading. Have a great week.

Resistance is Futile! : Breaking Through Internal Resistance

As I’ve been getting back into the writing groove this year, I’ve found myself floundering a bit when I found I was unable to focus on any one thing or any one project. I think most of us can recognize that this is a kind of resistance we all face in our creativity, a resistance to create, to try something new, and sometimes, to continue on with work that we’ve already begun.

For me, I know that I’ve still been having quite mixed feelings about the new year, and about where it is I want to go, and where I think I’m headed (unfortunately, not the same place). And it’s also these sorts of thoughts that keep me from doing what’s the most important: writing. Because whether I’m the most successful at why I do, or still struggling to find my place, at all stages I’m useless unless I’m actually producing my product, which in this case is a new manuscript, new writing, new words.

So, I’m back to work, and deciding resistance is futile, because I won’t let it stop me. And you know what? Today, it really hasn’t been. Last night I forced myself to ignore all the voices in my head telling me I wasn’t writing the right thing, perhaps I should just abandon the projects I’m working on, nothing is what I want, it’s all too much work, etc, etc, etc. Instead, I thought of just one project and tried to identify: what is it that’s stopping me? Why have I been struggling with getting work done?

I realized that it was fear. Indeed, fear usually prevents us from doing what we want to do. And sure, it can be great when some part of our brain says “jump off the cliff” – since jumping off the cliff is risky, and so our fear protects us. Unfortunately, it also likes protecting us from things we need to do, and need to accept into our lives, like change, evolution. In my particular case, I decided that what I wanted to do was embrace my fear, and in fact, incorporate it into my writing, use it as a central theme and idea – and indeed, prove that it can and will be overcome.

So, how are you projects coming this year? Is fear trying to hold you back? What fears do you have? How do you plan to combat them?

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

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.

Making the Most of Your Time, or Different Ways to Measure Productivity

This blog comes after a week that just blew past, making me wonder – where’d the week go? We’ve all had these weeks where perhaps we were sick or distracted, possibly focused on something else, or else feeling like the whole world was in fast-forward while we’re stuck in reverse. Sure, technically you probably got things done (I mean, you were awake and moving around during the days, so you had to have done something, right?) And yet, your word count is 0 or lower than you’d like, leaving your ego feeling about the same.  You end the week thinking: did I do ANYTHING useful?

Of course you did. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of how you measure it.

Let’s start with the word count. For me, this is generally how I measure my productivity and forward-progress, which may or may not be the best idea. For starters, what “counts”? By which I mean, sure, you wrote two blogs, made notes on plot or character, did some critiques for a partner, rewrites, but possibly only one real chapter on the current WIP. I often only count the work on the current WIP, and I know I’m not alone in this, but is that fair? Really, at the end of the fictional week described, blogs do add into word count, and work like rewrites and background notes – while harder to quantify – are certainly work that brings you forward in progress of either the current WIP, or a future one.

The same goes for if you’re a different kind of artist or creator: just because you don’t have a new, and fabulously complete new something (insert painting, sketch, piece of furniture, etc) it doesn’t mean you accomplished nothing. Have you started? Have you been inspired? Have you been trying to get inspired? Have you been cherishing or feeding your muse?

Here’s what I’m really getting at: creativity can sometimes be difficult to measure, and just because we have weeks where we get less than we wanted done (or it can feel like nothing) there are times when we’re just being harder on ourselves than necessary. If you haven’t done anything to feed or recharge your muse and yourself, how can you expect the poor thing (and you) to keep producing at an endless pace? What can you do to change the situation? If you haven’t been working on whatever the focus of your work generally is (ie: word count on the latest WIP, etc) what have you been doing? Why isn’t what you have been doing allowed to “count”?

It’s very easy to compare ourselves to other writers / artists producing at a far faster pace than we have (or so we imagine) or to get bogged down in what we SHOULD have accomplished or be doing, rather than what we HAVE accomplished or been doing. Sometimes we can even compare ourselves to our own past and find we’re lacking, which probably isn’t any more fair. All we can do is the best we can for right now – putting in as much effort as we can, on whatever we can – and live in the present of what we are doing and accomplishing. Sure, we can make goals for the future (like next week I really will be more productive writing-wise) but really, it’s only the present that truly counts. There probably was a reason why you weren’t writing or producing “at acceptable levels” this past week, and those reasons may be perfectly correct, or even part of your process.

And sometimes, maybe we just need to be a little less hard on ourselves. What have I achieved already this year? Quite a bit more than last year, perhaps? Where do my priorities lie right now? Am I working towards and within them? Don’t lower the bar: just allow a bit more flexibility on what’s acceptable.

Have you had less than productive weeks / months / whatever? Are you someone who accepts them, or beats yourself up? What works better for you? Please comment below.