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

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

Books on Writing: Some go-to greats

Source: acobox.com, by Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA source Wikimedia license CC

As with most writers, I’m also a reader, which is why I probably am just as likely to buy a book about writing and the writing life as a work of fiction. This week, I wanted to share some of my favorite go-to writing books, especially the ones I return to again and again when I need a pick-me-up, or sometimes just a reminder of why it is writing is important. In the weeks following, I’ll be looking at some ideas from one book in particular in a series of blogs. Just to be clear, these are simply my opinions, which haven’t been solicited, but I find I’m always interested in other writer’s sources, techniques, and work life, so I’m sharing mine with you.

But, enough preamble. Let’s get to the books!

Books on technique and particular writing needs (this category became a bit of a catchall, for which I apologize:

  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass (and Writing the Breakout Novel workbook)

The first of Donald Maass’ very successful books, like the follow-up (The Fire in Fiction), it aims to help you fix the problems that may be getting you rejected, and to help you produce the best book you can. I find the workbook especially helpful, since it’s a lot like a workshop (or several workshops) in a book, and can be used on its own, or for some stubborn scenes or chapters when nothing else works.

  • The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass

Why this book? It’s inspiring, makes you think about your reasons for being a writer, and suggests ways to make your writing better. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if I’ve ever completely finished it, because I often hit a section that has me running to the computer to write, abandoning the book!

  • Break into Fiction by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love

Another interesting book with tips and guides to what worked for these authors and others, and again, ways to make your own writing shine. (As you might be able to tell, I’m often searching for different options, some which work better for some manuscripts than others and vice versa.)

  • The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines:  Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Cara LaFever, and Sue Viders

Perhaps one of my favorite plotting tools since I discovered it. This is especially useful when you’re just starting to flesh out your story, searching for inherent conflicts, what direction the plot may go, etc. Very interesting and fun to use, and just read.

  • Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D.

Another great plotting book. This book proposes to break down all the different types of plots, and then divides them into the Act structure, with questions as prompts to fill in “what happens now” – at least, that’s how I use it. 🙂

  • Breathing Life into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon, Ph. D.

Pretty interesting book, helpful for fleshing out characters, and sometimes for working out the issue if you’re worried characters are coming across as flat, or in character and plot development to help you understand GMC (goals, motivation, and conflict).

  • The Element Encyclopedia of Birthdays by Theresa Cheung

Nope, not technically a writing book, and I confess, my husband and I purchased it on impulse a few years ago. BUT, it has been fun not only to look up friends and family, but also assign specific birthdays for your character, and essentially look up their horoscope and reading, based on the date of birth. It can help flesh out a character (and again, lots of fun!).

  • The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease

Another not-technically-a-writing book, but a very fascinating one just to read. It’s helpful in writing to remind you to watch the body language of characters, and how mood, emotions, character, relationships, etc can be conveyed through a way of holding one’s arms, feet, etc.

Writing Productivity:

  • Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt

Just as the title suggests, this is an actual plan (with a full plan to full in, and calender of actions, etc) to complete a first draft in a month. It’s also helpful for helping speed up your writing or boost your productivity, even if you don’t have the time (or inclination) to get an entire book done in a month. I find the method of planning and plotting interesting, and something I’ve incorporated into my own writing.

Because this post is getting quite long, I’ve decided to divide it into two. Next week: books on the writing and artist way of life – may favorite category. But meanwhile, have I forgotten some books here? Any that you find it difficult to live without? Please, leave a comment and let me know (my husband will forgive a few extra books on the shelves – it’s Christmas soon anyway. :)) Thanks for reading, and have a great week.