Stop and Have Some Fun: Avoiding Burnout and Unnecessary Stress

2014-03-22 22.39.37So I have a not-so-secret secret for you: too much nose to the grindstone with zero fun makes you crazy.

Yes, I know, not exactly genius. But you’d think it was. I’ve been pushing really hard to get a book ready in time for conference. Like crazy-time pushing, meaning I didn’t even take the weekend off. Every day meant thousands of words, either writing them, deleting them, or a bit of both. Which is fine, for a little while. But as my mind narrowed too much on the story, and all I could see were the two remaining chapters that weren’t working, what it translated to was me seeing the entire manuscript as not working.

Seriously, on Friday last week I almost would have printed out the entire manuscript just to start it on fire. This is not a healthy approach to my work.

So I took the weekend off. And I stewed on Friday and Saturday, felt generally miserable even as I started to play up in the craft room (I’ll post on my other blog, Craft Room Chronicles, what I was up to). And then Saturday night I decided yet again not to work, even on the critiques I owe my partners (Friday night is critique night in my world). Instead I watched the first Harry Potter movie, with all of those actors so young, just kids, and the beautiful sets that beg you to recreate them in miniature.

And suddenly I felt a lot better. The rest of the nonsense I’d been worrying about, all sorts of things I have absolutely no control over, that evaporated. Today I could go back to writing, and while completing a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, I could actually see maybe the book was, gasp, not terrible!

So again with my not-so-genius advice, which I’m ashamed to say both my husband and best friend advised (and I duly ignored and denied). Take a break. Have some fun. Your brain and mental outlook will thank you. It’s a bright beautiful world out there, and sometimes we just need a change of perspective. 🙂

Ever have that moment, where you’re just too stuck in what you’re doing to know when you need to step away?

Thanks for reading, and hope you have a great week. Happy writing!

Crap, Crap, Everywhere: How to Find Perspective When You Think the Pages Stink

Yep, I’m still in revisions. And this post is late today (sorry about that!).

I’m at the point where it feels like revisions will never, ever end and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It was turned off last Tuesday. Or maybe back in December …

Anyhoo, I’ve been going through my pages making notes for yet another round of revisions, and frankly, things are worse than I thought. And when that sort of thing happens – especially when you’ve been working on the same piece for too darned long – it can lead to a slippery “everything sucks” path. Yes, I’ve been there. Many of us have been.

So, how to avoid that slippery-nastiness and stay high and dry on your quest for an awesome rewrite? Here are my five tips to find perspective:

  1. Have someone else look at it.  Sometimes, we’ve read our own words so often that they literally blur before our eyes. That’s where critique partners and groups come in. Polish the pages as well as you can fairly quickly, then send them out.  This gives you distance and time away while they’re in someone else’s hands, and when you get back, you may find out things aren’t as bad as you thought.
  2. Step away from the pages … Yes, I mean you. Leave them the heck alone! Other times, leave the darned thing alone for a little while. If you’re stuck on a particular scene or chapter, beating your head against the same wall day after day will give you a headache. Instead, leave it be and let your sub-conscious stew on things for a day or two, maybe longer. Who knows what it will come up with (though I’m hoping for something awesome.)
  3. Work on something else. Like the first two sections, this is to give you some distance away from the stories, away from the same words you’ve looked at too many times, poked and prodded to no avail. Instead, work on something else – another novel, plotting, flash fiction, maybe non-writing – anything to get your mind flowing out of the stuck-in-peanut-butter section, and towards something more positive and productive.
  4. Remember to highlight the positive as well as negative. If you critique for others, I certainly hope you don’t just point out everything you don’t like about a piece, since that’s a big downer. So remember to point out the bits that you do like, too, and give yourself the same kind of critique you give others.  Remind yourself what is working… and hopefully those sections can survive the revision and get even stronger.
  5. Be nice to you. Yes, let out the annoying inner-editor, but don’t get flayed alive. There will be parts that will suck. A lot. But it can get better, too. You will become a better writer. The scenes will get stronger. So while you’re making note of problems, suggest possible solutions to yourself – just as you would to a critique partner – and try to make your rewrites easier and less painful.

So, was that helpful? How do you make it through revisions, especially a tough revision? Have I missed anything important?

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Thanks for reading, and have a great week. As for me, back to work!

Are You A Control Freak? How to move past the Illusion of Control

I am a control freak. It’s why I don’t like getting drunk, I follow the rules, and I expect others to as well. It’s why I love order and discipline in the world, even while I’d rather sometimes that it was my rules everyone followed. And it is why I have my very own “bwahahahaha” evil villain laugh on the off-chance I become supreme ruler of the world: I’m prepared.

But, I am also a writer and someone who loves the sometimes random, unexpected places creativity can take us. It’s why I love dying silk and hand-painting wool, because despite what our desires may have been, we sometimes get something else entirely, and it is still beautiful, perhaps more so because it is unexpected, unplanned. It’s this same creativity and freedom that I love in my writing (sometimes), when the characters and the plot take you somewhere you hadn’t planned on, but it’s so much better.

That, of course, is the catch: how much do you get to control, and how much should you even try?

The simple answer is that control is a complete illusion. I can control nothing but myself and my own reactions, and sometimes even those seem to have a life of my own. To attempt to control anyone else –  their reactions, their emotions, their actions – this is an illusion that’s going to make us all miserable.

How does this apply to our art? Well, sometimes when we create something, we get caught up in the idea of wanting to convey something so precisely, so perfectly – like the scent of a flower, or the feel of a place – that we want to hammer that exact reaction and emotion we have into our readers or outside viewers. This, of course, is an impossibility, and the sooner we let it go, the better.

Yet again, this comes back to our creation of reality. What I see as a peach rose touched with the blush of pink on the tips of the petals may to someone else appear more orange, or more pink, or perhaps they don’t see the beauty of roses at all because it reminds them of an aunt who they always despised. The laugh we hear in our heads, the way some things constrict our chest with fear, these are out of our own experiences, our own memories, our own selves: no one else will ever, nor can ever, experience or see them quite the same.

So where does that leave a control freak like me, and perhaps you?

Recognize the limits of your control, and let the rest go (yes, even if it’s really, really hard). Describe how it felt to you, how it sounds to you, and be as specific and clear as you can be without going overboard, and let it be, knowing that everyone else will understand it, hear it, feel it in their own way. Give them the freedom to do so, rather than trying to force anything onto them: after all, would you want to be controlled by someone else, be subjected to the discomfort of confinement? Of course not.

Practice your “bwahahahaha’s,” control the exact degree of temperature in your house, and the way the tablecloth lays on the tablecloth, but as to controlling people, just let it go. Everyone has a unique and precious perspective, and even a control freak wouldn’t want to squash that, would they?

So, are you a control freak? What areas of your life must you exact control, and in which do you value freedom and randomness? Do comment below.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

Is Resistance to Change Standing in Your Way?

I’ve been thinking about the idea that we are all responsible for our own experience and creation of reality again. (For a previous blog outlining the principles, please see: It’s All in the Perspective.) It led me to start considering how, for the most part, we all fear change to lesser or greater degrees. And the fact is, change is hard. It’s much easier to stick with something you’re familiar with, to what you know is tried and true, to follow the same path you’ve already broken that’s so familiar you could keep walking with your eyes closed.

The catch is, resisting change for too long creates stagnation. The same way the water in a bucket sitting on the deck all summer will eventually get green and slimy, so too do our minds and lives when we continue to resist change – especially when it means saying goodbye to opportunity.

I’ve always thought it was a silly idea that anyone could be afraid of success, until you realize that promotion can actually be very bad for your health in terms of the stress it creates in your life (here’s a link from the Daily Mail UK: “Promotion at work can increase stress and be bad for your health” – or try searching “job promotion” and “stress” for lots of others). Because while promotion is generally seen as a great thing (probably more money, high status position, progress in your career, etc), it also means leaping off of the path you’ve known and been familiar with for so long, out of your current position, and venturing somewhere you haven’t been before. You may wonder if you actually deserve the promotion, if you really wanted it, if you can handle it, if it’s worth it, etc, etc.

Here’s where creating your own reality becomes really important: It’s up to YOU to decide if promotion or any change is a good or bad thing.

Sounds simple, huh, when you’re not sweating over imminent potential change and all it’s ramifications? If you haven’t considered it before – or if you’d much rather brood and stay gloomy and Eeyore like – than it will be exceptionally hard. However, if you look at it and realize that what you have before you is an opportunity, than things start to look brighter.

I will use – particularly as it’s foremost in my mind right now – my husband’s situation. He’s received what is essentially a promotion, but it means he’ll be leaving a job he does very well and has done for 9+ years for something similar in the same company, but which not only has he never done, but which is a new expansion for the company. The company vehicle will be gone, and he faces having to go in to negotiate for some time of pay adjustment, including what the equivalency will be for a new vehicle. The stress of starting this new position, having to buy an new car, leaving what he’s familiar with, he’s about ready to toss the whole thing.

But, it’s all in the perspective.

Instead, he has the opportunity to do something new – which is what he’s been looking for, so he will no longer be bored in his current position. He gets to buy a new car. There’s a good chance of more money. He’s helping to create a new position, which means he doesn’t have to fill anyone else’s shoes. This is a stepping stone for further advancement, and an opportunity for the company to see how he works and the quality of his work up close, since he’s usually in the field.

All right. Long story short, my point is this: change is hard – I’ll be the first to admit I’m usually quite resistant to it, and massive change takes time to adjust to – it’s taken me over a year to finally be used to the idea that I’m a mom. BUT, as humans we need change in our lives, and change is the only way we’ll ever be able to keep moving forward to reach our dreams.

So remember: it’s all in the perspective. Change can be a fantastic opportunity and a stepping stone to further success, so long as you recognize it as such. Look for the positive side, and try not to get bogged down in the fear and uncertainty that is, quite frankly, easier. Every change is an opportunity to grow, to change, and to make sure you don’t go stagnant with slime growing over you. 🙂

Have a great week, and thanks for reading.

It’s All in the Perspective: Considering Your Personal POV and Journaling

I’ll start by saying that I’m not discussing matters of POV shift and usage IN your writing, but rather, the effect your personal POV has ON your writing. And a great way to monitor and track your own POV is through journal entries where you can view them with some objectivity and distance.

Yes, I suppose I’m still going on about the new year, but my own ambivalence led me to consider past journal entries, and what I found both amused and surprised me. Because I found I was experiencing the same things in my life, the same struggles, even though my life now is considerably different than in those previous years. What I think this tells me – and you – is that sometimes the most important perspective we have to beware of is our own, because it’s the same excuses, the same feelings of inadequacy, the same fears that can hold us back from creating the best things we can, from becoming the best people we can be.

I’ve been writing about resistance and how to overcome it, and I think a huge part of that always must come back to the idea that we create our own reality and our own experience of reality. Sometimes we get so caught up in the present (not such a bad thing), that it becomes difficult for us to get perspective and decide whether what we “know” is indeed fact, or perhaps a result of our own perspective.

Writing in a journal often happens when you’re swinging on either a high or a major low (at least for me, since I’ve never been able to keep up with daily journaling – if you are, power to you for it). Looking back on past entries, you’ll probably quickly start to see patterns if you can avoid getting sucked into the experience of that past day. For example, when I look back on past journal entries, it’s clear evidence that I’m falling into the same traps for writing bad habits and emotional swings. Are you doing the same thing?

Every year I seem frustrated by my lack of progress the previous year – I can never achieve enough to be satisfied, it would seem, so perhaps I’ve set impossible goals.  I continue to see time slipping away from me, and feel I’m living in some kind of limbo – but rather than waiting years more for what’s after that limbo, why not see that perhaps that IS my experience of life? Indeed, I may want more – and by all means, goal-setting, future-planning, these are all essential, but what about living in the present? What about experiencing and appreciating the life that IS?

Journal or diary entries are a great way to judge how you’re feeling at a particular time, and to also watch for habits and tendencies. How do you feel when you start the first draft of a WIP? How long before you start to droop, around what word count or number of days writing? At what point do you think the whole piece is crap and want to throw it all away? And finally (yes, I’m skipping a few steps), at what point do you come back to the beginning and think the WIP is worthwhile, and actually, it’s pretty good?

This can be extremely helpful when you’re in the low point of the emotional rollercoaster that often accompanies a WIP. If you know where you are (ie: a high point or a low) you can moderate your response and anticipate what will likely come next. Mostly, you can get over the over-emotional crap, and just get on with what’s important: the creation and your writing. Because after all, that’s what really matters, right?

And hey, if the retrospective doesn’t help your writing, at the very least you can look at a past rotten day and think at least you survived that and you’re not experiencing it today.

Thanks for reading, have a great week, and hoping today will earn a “wonderful day” journal entry. J