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.

Back Again, Reflecting and Moving Forward

Did you know that I started this blog way back in 2010? Nope, me neither. I’ve just finished going through all of those posts weeding out things from when I was a super-clueless baby-writer…although I’ve also found some advice that I still believe (like being good to other people and author karma, along with writing strength-training) along with advice that my past self was either trying to tell me, or maybe I needed to hear now.

So…I also find that I haven’t been any more regular with my posts than I am now. Or rather, I used to be much more regular with the posts early on, but I’ve taken a tumble or two off the cliff and, for example, this is the first post I’ve done for 2019 (oops!)

I find retrospective interesting in what it tells us about where we’re been, and in many ways, where we’re headed too, sometimes for better AND worse. What’s changed for me since 2010?

  • I now have two children, both lovely daughters who are creative and wonderful (except when they’re bickering, because ugh!)
  • I’ve published FOUR books. Yes, I can hardly believe that either. Back in 2010, Indie Publishing definitely wasn’t on my radar, and even when it finally got there, I always wanted to go traditional first, then maybe indie to become hybrid (and not just because going hybrid sounds a bit like some kind of super-cool werewolf-shifter.) 😉
  • Back in 2010 I’d only been part of RWA (Romance Writers’ of America) for two years, and just attended my first Conference. Since then, I’ve attended almost one a year since 2014, and every second year before that. I’ve become part of now only an RWA chapter, but I’m currently chapter president, which is something I’d never have dreamed of back then, especially the benefit of all the connections and friends I’ve since made in the industry.
  • I’ve had the opportunity in recent years to begin to pay back some of that author karma I talked about way-back-when. I’m still a little fish, but what I didn’t realize back then is that little fish can still make waves, still make a difference, and that’s what I try to do.

What hasn’t changed all that much?

  • I still believe in magic, and I want to believe that there’s more in the world than meets the eye. I’ve expanded my personal definition of magic though, as I also try to see – and appreciate – the magic in the everyday world that all too often dismissed or forgetten.
  • I am still probably more stubborn than is actually healthy for me. When I was looking up tags for this article, perseverance is one of my most used tags, and for good reason. I wrote my stories and this blog even when no one was reading (it is entirely likely that no one is reading this one either, but let’s just keep that between you and me, hmm?) Perseverance and tenacity have kept me going when I have done revision after revision. When I almost completely rewrote my first book in edit to get it into the kind of shape I could put out there for public consumption.
  • Conference is still one of my favorite events of the year, it still exhausts me, but I still try to make the most out of every day, every experience, no matter what. This means that even when things go wrong (as things inevitably try to do) I still keep the mindset to enjoy myself, to not let myself get down. I’d love to say I can maintain this same mindset in all areas of my life, but that’s not so easy. Which leads to the next point…
  • I am still a work in progress. And that’s okay. I’m not perfect, I never will be, but that won’t hold me back from continuing to grow and improve (or at least, I try to make sure it doesn’t.) 🙂
  • I will still promise to try to blog regularly…and there is every likelihood I will try but possibly fail. 😉

Now this comes to you, since it’s rude if I do all the talking. If you look back – to 2010, further or perhaps closer in your past – how have you grown, changed and evolved? Are you reading? If you are, come on, keep me company and leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

Affirmations for Writers

Last week I was talking about how to climb out of the whirling toilet-bowl of despair, and I suggested making yourself some affirmations. Personally, I found this kind of hard, since it felt a bit corny to me. But, I did come up with – and find – some. To get you started – and share some positive energy – here are some affirmations that maybe will help you, too. Enjoy.

“If you don’t do it this year, you’ll just be one year older when you do.” – Warren Miller

“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” – Max Depree

“The greatest rewards in life go to the risk takers.” – James McCormick

“Separate yourself from the road you’re on. The pitfalls are part of the road – NOT you.” – unknown

Today is the day you succeed. No one can tell your stories better than you.

Everyday, and with every word, you become a stronger, better writer.

If it was easy, everyone would be a writer.

I am a talented writer.

I guide my own destiny, and I’m accountable for the results of my decisions and actions. I reinforce my successes and correct for errors. – from Shad Helmstetter*

I don’t wait for inspiration. Work inspires inspiration. If I succeed, I keep working. If I fail, I keep working. Whether I feel interested or bored, energized or tired, encouraged or discouraged, I keep working. – from Shad Helstetter*

I do not pre­sume that my audi­ence will under­stand me, so I make sure to write as clearly as possible. – from Deb Gallardo’s website**

Some great links for writer affirmations:

Margie Lawson.com – Favorite Quotes

*Author page for Olivia Salter – Writer’s Affirmations

**From Deb Gallardo’s page, The Writing Life: Writers’ Affirmations

The Affirmation Spot: 60 Affirmations for Authors, Writers, and Poets

 

Any that you’d like to share? Some that work for you? Please comment below.

Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed, and have a great week!

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.

Are You a Writer? Who is that?

I confess I hold a very negative stereotype in my mind about the artist as a kind of froufrou nutball in a beret who does ‘art for art’s sake,’ but can’t particularly be bothered about real life, other people, or existence outside of the art. It’s part of why it’s taken me a long time to finally accept that I am an artist, both with my writing and other art projects that I create. A silly stereotype held me back and sometimes made me doubt my art because I didn’t want to be “like that.”

But stereotypes – even if we don’t consciously consider them – can likewise creep into what we believe a writer is, and therefore what we think we need to become or be. What do you think a writer is? Who is he or she? What kind of life do they lead? How will you need to adjust who you are to become that writer person? Will you?

William Faulkner said: “Don’t be a writer. Be writing.”

It could lead to questions about what or who he thought the writer was. Or maybe he was just getting at the fact that to write, we don’t need to fit some bizarre or caricature we’ve created. The actual writing is what’s important, nothing else.

I think we can also invest too much time and effort into becoming an idea of something because that’s also how we think we can gain success. Have you met your favorite author? Have you heard someone talk about the “writer’s identity” or “writer suit” you have to create? “Author branding” perhaps?

Even as I think that I just focus on the writing, I know that isn’t always true, and I doubt it is for a lot of other writers too. Consciously or unconsciously I think we in some ways emulate those we admire or what we want to become, hoping to likewise emulate their success and other attributes we admire. As we study marketing and the ideas of author branding, we know we need to consider our attire when in public like at conferences, our website, presentation of everything that goes out about us so make a good impression, to sell ourselves as a successful “writer” image.

The part that sometimes seems to go the wayside is the writing part. No matter how slick the outside package, what difference does it make if the writing just isn’t there? If you don’t write, can you still be a writer? Writing is an act of doing and being: you need both, don’t you? Why is it that you write anyway?

Are you a writer? Who is that? I think whoever you think it is will become and be who you will be as a writer, who you are as a writer. But I think we also need to be cautious of forming a very concrete, definite idea of who or what a writer is. Mostly, we probably can’t worry about it too much – especially if that distracts us from our writing. Because the thing is, if you and I are both writers, it doesn’t mean we’re the same. Perhaps we write different genres, have different publication routes or plans, different regimens, all sorts of differences that are cemented in who we are as people, not just writers, if we can even separate the two. What has to stay foremost is the writing, however we do it, whenever we do it, we just need to keep doing it, we just have to keep writing, come lousy first drafts, oodles of revisions, early success or late.

So, put on your beret if that’s who you are as a writer, or maybe you prefer a clown’s wig, or maybe comfy pajamas. But whatever the case, just get to writing too, hmm?

Who do you think a writer is? Who are you as a writer? Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

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.

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.

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.