Cages

A pig face looking frankly at you and telling you that you don’t belong in a cage!

How often have you experienced the kind of overwhelm that comes from feeling that there are so many things you “should” be doing, and that list is so long, you end up paralyzed and end up doing nothing?

I recently finished reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle. She talks about how the cages that society creates for us leave us trapped and stifled, often trying to live definitions of ourselves that come from outside of ourselves. (This is definitely paraphrasing. Go read the book yourself to see what I’m trying to get at. )

Anyway, today after reading something from a friend who’s definitely feeling that overwhelm, it made me think: how many of those cages, especially as writers, are we creating for ourselves?

I mean, yes, there are definitely things that we have to do as writers – write books or write something for other people to read being, likely, the number one thing. But other than that, it feels like so many of the definitions of things we “must” and “should” do is a proscribed list that if we actually obeyed it, we’d have no time whatsoever for a life outside of work… and probably no time to write either.

I do wonder if this is perhaps worse among female author-preneurs, or if it’s prevalent everywhere, but if you’re a writer looking to publish and sell your books, you’ve probably heard of some of the things I mean.

  • You have to be on every social media account that has and will ever be (come on, aren’t you signed up yet for the one that won’t exist until 2023??)
  • You should be active on all of those social media accounts too (but be fresh! Just be you! Keep it real… as you force yourself to follow all of this advice.)
  • You must be constantly building relationships with every person out there (forget actual relationships … or, like, family. Nope. No time for that if you’re doing what you “should” be doing.)
  • Make sure you’re making ads for all of those social media accounts, sell, sell, sell, … but gentle sell, not spam sell.
  • Plus make sure you’ve got ads running on all the platforms (because if you’re making less than $2k a month, you’re a failure!)
  • Have you spent thousands of dollars on classes that promise you THIS is the right answer to make you a millionaire and selling millions of a books a day? (Come on, you didn’t think you actually had time to do things, like, write, did you? And wave to your family through your office doors… if you still have one.)

On and on it goes, and you know what? I’m going to stop, because it’s stressing me out.

And it’s driving me nuts. All of it. And I know it’s driving lots of other authors nuts too.

You want to know the real secret?

There is NO secret.

Nope. Sad, isn’t it? Yep, I was looking for it too… along with possibly the drafting or editing fairies that help get books done when things aren’t going well. But, they don’t exist any more than the perfect formula to sell all those books – no matter how much that workshop costs. Game the system? Sure, you can follow those examples, buy up case loads of your own book and “buy” your way onto the lists. You CAN do a lot of things. But what works for Lizzy P. Author may not work the same for you.

You’re not her.

You’re YOU.

And yes, let me pause and insert here that not all advice is bad advice. Do I take workshops, try to keep learning, try to keep improving in both my writing craft and the business side of my career? Absolutely. Is there lots of great advice and information out there? Yep. That too. Are there many things we can do to tweak our marketing / get better at the business / get better at our craft? Yes, indeed, and there are a few specific ones on my list all the time.

My objection comes when all that advice, when all the things you “should do” stretch into the bars of a cage. When you’re so hemmed in by all those “shoulds” that you feel like you can’t breathe, let alone write the next word, the next sentence, or hardest of all, the next book.

I’ve been there. I fall into that cage every so often. Was there yesterday, as a matter a fact, when all my emails seemed to be screaming at me to “just do this to double your sales” or “just keep up this to guarantee search engine results” and so on. These were legit blogs I follow too, because I usually appreciate their advice. It got me so depressed, I did the bare minimum of words, but tried nothing else, too exhausted by all the “shoulds” that I had to focus on the “could.”

That’s what I usually come back to. What could or CAN I do? What do I WANT to do? And what do I really NEED?

Yesterday, I needed to recharge so I don’t get burned out. I needed to remember there is more to my life than writing.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: sometimes we get terrific advice, but we need to be wise enough to recognize when it isn’t the right advice for us. Perhaps it won’t ever be right, perhaps it just isn’t right because of where we are financially / personally / emotionally / whatever. But it’s up to you to stand up for YOU. To recognize that feeling when your chest tightens, your shoulders tense, and the whole world is demanding more and more, or something is telling you that it just isn’t right for you… just tell that advice “no.” (You’re welcome to use stronger language and swears. Swears are fun. 🙂 I’m just trying to be polite.) 😉

Sometimes maybe you’ll need to sit with that feeling for a little while, think about where that resistance to the advice or next “should” is coming from. Maybe it’s child-you deep inside that’s stubbornly insisting “No, I don’t wanna!” And sometimes you need to tell child-you inside that it’s okay, we can still do scary things that will just make us stronger. So sometimes you try some of those things. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

But you pick and choose which of those things you try. Ignore the others. Cut down on the blogs and other input you take in that feeds into that stress and fills your head with Shoulds. Connect with people in your field and outside of it, people who care about you, that can help pull you back from the madness of trying to do all the things all the time. You don’t let the Should-Army flatten you down and stop you from doing what you need to do.

And if you’re a writer, you need to write.

You’ll do that too at your own pace, in your own way. You’ll find ways to reclaim and hold tight to the joy of pure creation that is the work, that is writing, because there are days when it won’t feel that way. But you, you will write.

Because you are a writer. And you are free.

Just Keep Swimming: Finding Encouragement Everywhere

As the parent of a small child, my husband and I have found that a larger and larger percentage of our movies start with a rather distinctive castle. And we tend to watch the same movies over and over and over again.

But as a writer – and one who’s been feeling a bit down these past few weeks – I’ve also enjoyed dissecting these same movies and finding both really clever plotting and character development, along with personal encouragement.

Take Finding Nemo (one of the kidlet’s current favorites), where one of the repeated and thematic lines is “Just Keep Swimming.”

You know how I interpret the line:

  • Just keep swimming when things are dark. When you’re scared. And when you have no idea what else you can or should do.
  • Just keep swimming when the world around you seem to be falling in, nothing is going right, and frankly, doom could well be around the next corner.
  • Just keep swimming because it’s the only thing you can do. And it’s the only thing YOU can absolutely control, even as the rest of the world spirals away in free-fall.
  • Just keep swimming when you don’t know where you’re going. When you don’t know where you are, or if anything you do makes any difference.

In a writing career – and in life overall – things aren’t always easy, and sometimes you’re left alone in the darkness, in the bottom of a pit you carved out without noticing. All the decisions you make seem to be wrong, or they don’t seem to be getting you where you want to be.

All you can do is keep going. Believe in the fact that this is just one dark spot, and if you keep moving forward – keep swimming – you’ll find your way out. Things will get better. You can’t control what happens in the world around you, but you can control your own actions: if you don’t give up, don’t surrender, keep moving forward, of course you’ll get where you need to be, right?

Or at the very least, you’ll no longer be where you were.

Whether it means you’re thigh-stuck in revision-gook, in a low-spot personally, or just feeling a bit stuck in a rut, keep moving forward. You’ll get there.

What do you think? Or have I just been watching WAY too many kids movies? 😉

Thanks for reading. Have a great week. 🙂

Tangible Productivity Markers for a New Year

Do you have a new calendar yet? Have you written out goals and plans on it? Or do you let the days pass as they will?

As we begin a new year, I’ve been thinking more about using time instead of chasing after it all the time. Instead of having a bit of a loosey-goosey idea of when I want to achieve things, I think I’m going to try for more tangible dates and times. Why would this work for me? Because I work well with a deadline.

I’ve heard of others who write everything down on a calendar. I’m far from that place now. My desk calendar is usually too small to write anything more than a few letters beside each date. But, I do like my log book, where I write down how many words I’ve achieved each day, what I’ve accomplished.

Taking it one step further would be placing a date more firmly on those objectives. This year, I want to write at least two complete novels. That means it takes me usually about two months for the first draft, and pushing hard, I can do the next draft(s) in four months using my new plan. If I switch back and forth between two novels, giving each time to rest, that means I should be able to achieve my goal, right?

That’s the first part. So I can write that down in my goals, on a calendar. I think the second part is perhaps assessment at various points throughout the year. It’s June, the halfway point: what have you achieved thus far? Word count? Novels? Plans? Goals checked off? Where do you still need to go?

The next part that I’ve been considering is watching the calendar not only for what I need to achieve, but for what I have all ready achieved. Essentially, how can I reward myself? Pat myself on the back – even if I haven’t completed as much as I need to? Because here’s the thing: especially while you work for yourself, who else is going to tell you you’re doing a good job? I think the next part of the plan would be to insert rewards for some of the achievements. Have I met my goals by June? I can specify which goals or what number, and that means I’ve earned a reward, like buying myself a new outfit, or dinner out, something like that (seeing as fun isn’t actually against the law … so far as I know).

Yes, fine, it may sound a bit Pavlovian, but those dogs still hoped for the treat when the bell rang, didn’t they? Why shouldn’t I work just as hard and hope for a treat myself? If it helps me reach my goals, I’m all for it. What about you?

Thanks for reading. Have a great week, and happy writing!

Crisis and Catharsis: Or, Just Keep Writing, You’re On Your Way

It’s been a heck of a wonky-week. I’ve been reading new craft books, and testing out a new potential CP. CP looks terrific, but both the books and the CP delievered the news (unintentionally, both of them) that what I was taking for subtly is just lack of clarity. Oh, and the plotting isn’t working either because apparently I’ve been doing it all wrong (that I figured out myself after the craft book).

In the end, what this means is that I’ll be able to improve my writing on both a micro and macro level. What it means right now is that I feel pretty down on myself. I mean, really, how didn’t I see this before? What was I thinking? How could I have been so stupid? I must be the worst writer, ever.

Those questions, though, are useless. As they are whenever the evil-voice inside our heads starts beating us up. Because this is just a test, just another step on our journey. And the kind of things we say to ourselves – we would never say such terrible things to another loving being, so why the heck do we put up with saying them to ourselves?

Since it was the crisis portion of plotting I finally realized I was mishandling, it also occurred to me that it was what I was facing in my writing-life, too. But the crisis isn’t the end of everything; just the end of one thing. A mini-apocalypse, if you will, out of which you emerge stronger and changed, headed towards the climax. Because my life (and yours) is not a novel, it means there will be more than one crisis that we’ll face throughout our lives. It will hit us, whack us down like a two-by-four to the face, and it’s our job to shake it off, stand up, and keep on going. Because there’s something better ahead. Because the crisis is just one signpost on a much longer road. The view is blurry ahead, but if we keep putting one foot in front of the other, we’ll get there.

And don’t worry – the bruises will heal.

Take care, happy writing, and hopefully you duck before the two-by-four gets you. Thanks for reading.

Check the Sign-posts: How Far Have You Come? 10 Tips for Progress Measurement

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved checking the road signs telling you how far you are from wherever you’re going. Especially when it was a really long drive (here in Canada, most places are a “really long drive” … or maybe those are just my vacations), it’s a half-sign of success when the place you’re headed even shows up on the sign: it means a) you’re on the right road, and b) you can now steadily track sign-to-sign as you continue to get closer.

I think in the rest of our lives – especially as we move towards personal goals – we can do the same thing: check the sign-posts. The problem is that you have to create the signs before you can read them. So, here are my 10 Tips for Progress Measurement – customizable (hopefully) for whatever your goals are.

1. Start at the top. We may all “follow our own paths,” but that doesn’t mean we can’t peek at what someone else has done before us. Find someone(s) who have achieved the goals you want, and via either biographies or simple interviews, discover what steps they took, how they achieved these goals. Your journey may turn our differently, if may be harder or easier than theirs, but they will likely be able to offer tips and steps so you can start to make your “map” to success.

2. Do your homework. Next, start to find more generalized “steps” to what you want to achieve. Do you want to get your book published? What are the steps you need to take to accomplish that? Are their supplemental or added steps you may want to take (like workshops, better honing your craft, conferences, contests, etc)? The library, the internet, other people aiming for the same goal are good resources.

3. Take time for honest self-assessment. Most long-term goals aren’t going to happen overnight (hence the “long” part). Are you really in it until the end? How badly do you want it? This may be the time to craft reasons to yourself why you’re undertaking this goal and why you must succeed that you can reflect on throughout the journey. (See my post on doing just that at: Remembering Why We Persevere: What are your reasons?

4. Write down your goal. This makes it easier to go back to. Articulate precisely and carefully what you want, how you want it, perhaps even a brief statement of how you intend to achieve this. Perhaps your overall goal (like getting published) is actually made up of smaller goals (write book, query agents, sign with an agent, query publishers, etc). The more you break it down, the easier it will be to assess how far you’ve come, and where you need to go.

5. Create your first draft “map” or business plan. You don’t need to have quite all the information yet and this “map” needs to be updated and change as the situation, nuances of your goal and knowledge change, and you learn more from others. Use the steps you’ve gleaned from steps 1 to 3 to create this first draft. Just write it all down – making it pretty and editing comes later.

6. Set a timeline. While it may be impossible to know just how long the journey will be, there are some things you can control. For example, how long are you going to give yourself? Be honest: are you willing to continue with this goal for potentially years into the future? That may be how long it will take. Or, is there a cut-off point? What “points” on your map can be given a timeline? For example, if you’re going to query agents, how many? Over what period? How many manuscripts will you create per year? That sort of thing. The more you ground your plan in actual time, the more it becomes ground into actuality.

7.  Refine your plan. Go back to your plan again, and look at the particular points; are any one of the goals on its own too large to simply accomplish? What steps will you need to accomplish each point? Make yourself as clear a map as: “turn right, turn left, straight ahead 3km, then right again, you’ve arrived.” Insert your timelines into these steps. Your “map” should be getting more refined. But remember, while it’s draft 1 or draft 50, it can remain flexible and you can update and change when you need to – just so long as it keeps guiding you in the direction you want to go.

8. Start on the path up the mountainside, towards your goal. Have you packed everything you need? Is your map clear and precise enough to keep you heading straight to the top? If not, go back to the previous steps again; there’s no shame in checking the map or deciding which points are important to watch out for. In fact, checking the map will keep you from getting lost. If you’re all ready, off you go! (See last week’s post on Mountain Climbing in a Fog for what I’m talking about with this mountain-business.)

9. Assess progress and the path ahead. Remember to look back and ahead at the sign-posts. It’s almost as easy to miss our progress as it is to under or overestimate what lays ahead. So, keep your “map” close, referring to it, checking off and celebrating what you’ve achieved while moving on to new points, all towards your overall goal. Watch out for and maintain your deadlines: you’re getting there, step by step. (For more on this, check out: Persevering and Goal Setting, Pts 1 and 2.)

10. Don’t give up. If you never give up, eventually you will succeed. This is something I firmly believe (and have to) and which can help your persevere. If you give up, you can NEVER succeed. If things seem unattainable, perhaps you need to reassess your plan again, and check back on the reasons you set out on this goal in the first place. Have the reasons changed? Has the end-goal changed? Have outside conditions changed? Alter and refine your plan to reflect any of these changes, and get back on that path: you’ll make it, and you’re so much closer to the top that you know!

So, that’s it: how to create your signposts. Does it work for you? Have I missed any steps?

Thank you, as always, for reading. Have a great week, and all the success in your mountain-climbing: I’ll see you at the top! 😉

Mountain Climbing in a Fog: How Do We Measure Progress?

We all have end goals, some small, some, well,  mountainous. Some goals – and their attainment – is easy to measure and see. Others less so, especially if success is something measured in our heads. That makes some of these goals like mountain-climbing in the fog: we have no way of knowing where we are on our journey, if we’re at the foot of the mountain or inches from the top. But we just have to have faith and keep climbing anyway.

Mountain from BC holiday, Aug 2010
Mountain from BC holiday, Aug 2010; photo taken by me.

Sounds “easy,” huh? 😉

My husband has a new position in the company he works for which is relatively new, and which some days, he feels wholly unequal to. He knows where he wants to go, what he wants to achieve, and while I’m certain he has made progress towards those goals, he isn’t so sure. For him, I’ve found that sometimes he questions his own abilities and qualifications, often under-estimating them. And really, I think this is something a lot of us do, no matter what field we work in. When something really matters, we want to put our very best into it – whether that’s our writing, our office jobs, our relationships, whatever. Sometimes it feels we’re not equal to the task – especially when you hit tough terrain on that mountain. All we can continue to do is value and yet continue to improve our skills, abilities, and selves – perhaps sometimes just our confidence – to make ourselves capable and earn success.

The thing with amorphous goals is that it’s very difficult to see the signposts on the journey upwards. At least, not on the way up. Maybe we’ve drawn a map, and we know we’re fulfilling each point – like publishing, with querying, agents, more manuscripts complete, etc.  Equally frustrating is the old adage that no one’s journey is the same: a maddening adage because it’s so true. We have to set our sights on a mountaintop we more imagine than see; perhaps we don’t even know how tall the mountain – or how long the journey – will be. It’s probably better we don’t. Then we pack up everything we’ll need to get there: every skill and wit we possess; faith that the goal is attainable; friends and loved ones to help us on the way; education material to keep improving the materials we’re working with; and a touch of sheer orneriness to keep us going even when many others would have given up.

Then onward we head, up our mountain, towards our goals, towards our dreams and the promises we make to ourselves.

Sometimes the journey will be shorter than we expected; maybe we picked a short mountain, or maybe we started half-way up. Other times, things will get hard; the top wouldn’t be so special if they weren’t. But we’ll promise ourselves to keep on climbing, keep on reaching, no matter what. And hopefully, when we reach the top, the fog will clear if only for an instant so we can look back at the path we’ve come from and at the vista of our success … or maybe we’ll realize we’ve only reached a partial summit of a bigger mountain, a bigger journey, that we’ve only just begun.

Cheers to all the “mountain climbers” out there – may you keep on climbing, and may you enjoy the view when you get to the top.

Next week, I’ll look at how we can establish particular “markers” to measure (or guess) how far we’ve come.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

Retrospective: What a Difference a Year Makes

Today is my daughter’s first birthday. Yipee! We all survived the first year of parenthood, and she’s had quite the impact on my life. From squalling infant to little critter that tries to talk and is getting close to walking, it’s hard to imagine that we’d only just met her last year this time.

Significant events like birthdays are an easy way to glance back at a year or a period of time and see how far you’ve come, how you’ve changed, but it doesn’t have to be a birthday. Where were you last year on this date? What were you doing? What has changed in your life since then? In previous posts I’ve touched on this when I’ve been looking back at journal entries, but I also keep a log book to record what I’ve accomplished, to-do lists, that sort of thing, which makes it easier to look back at my writing progress.

Where was I last year? Well, the hospital still, since the baby had just been born. But in the previous year I can look back and see that in 2010 I was at work on a particular manuscript and even working on the weekend to make up for a poor week of writing. Keeping records like this gives me a better idea of how long it takes me to complete a manuscript – even those times you’d rather not know, since technically from percolation of the original idea, initial notes, all the way to final, polished manuscript can have required a heck of a lot more time than you’d care to consider.

Why should we occasionally look back? Well, I think that we’re products of our experiences. It’s helpful sometimes to see what you were capable of (if, say, you were on a really productive streak that makes the current measly word counts pale in comparison). On the other hand, you could also see that you’ve perhaps become much more disciplined, that your productivity is up, as well as your professionalism.

Whatever the case, a year does make a difference, no matter how fast they flash by. Because even if we sometimes don’t realize we’ve accomplished anything in a year, we’ve lived to lesser or greater degrees, and we’ll never be the same again.

So, where were you last year? Do you feel like you’re in the same place, or have things drastically changed?

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.