Category Archives: Writing as An Emotional Outlet

Writer Care 101 – Don’t torture yourself

Quick, describe a writer! I’ll wait, like, ten whole seconds for you to think of one.

. . .

Okay, got it? Now let me guess:

They’re a brooding loner in disheveled, dark clothing that reeks of chain-cigarettes and sadness. They’re crouched over a computer in a dimly lit, smoke-filled room, alone, sipping at another whiskey as they write their demons onto the page. They’ve been awake much too long, but sleep is an evasive beauty because there are deadlines to meet. And even if there aren’t, there are. The deadlines live inside them, monsters kept at bay only by copious amounts of coffee drunk by the pot. Their family is widowed, and their friends mourn, but one day they hope the writer will emerge and join them again.They’re writing about humanity and how people relate, don’t you know. It’s deep, important work and no one really understands their genius. They’re a martyr suffering for their art, and the long night isn’t over yet.

Oh, and it’s 8 o’clock in the morning.

writerstereotype
The creature has also become self-aware.

But of course that’s a stereotype and no one *ahem* would ever live up to it.
And maybe there is some truth behind the fact that artist-types are driven to create, and have a higher correlation with mental illness, but we don’t have to romanticize insufficient self-care to take pride in the work we do.

Please, take care of yourself. The art isn’t more important than you; no one else believes that. Your friends and family love you. They want to see you. Isolating to write can help you focus, but come out now and then to connect with the world. Drink your water. Get some sleep. Make a schedule. See appropriate doctors and therapists if you have the need and the means. Take your medicine. Get your chores done so you can focus on writing. Get your writing done so you can spend time on what’s important to you.

Eat the damn kale if you want.

selfcare
Being in pain and over-tired and stressed constantly doesn’t necessarily make the story better, and it’s not worth the human cost even if it did. If you’re working on writing as a career, consider it a second job. You’d get sleep and eat and prepare and set aside time for your Breadjob, right?

Having a regular writing schedule and maintaining your health the best way you can, whatever that means for your specific needs, creates stability, which can help your writing career in the long-term, because it helps you maintain yourself and balance your life.

The best we can do, is to do what we can with what we have. Things will happen. There will be times when things creep up, and things are thrown off. Maybe we or someone we care for gets injured or physically ill. Maybe there’s a flare-up of mental illness, or common stressors from Breadjobs and relationships. There will be things that will try to throw you off, and by taking care of yourself, you’ll be able to weather them easier.

Most editors and publishers are human with things like ‘feelings’ and ‘empathy’. Scientists are still looking into whether or not there are facts to back that statement up, but in the spirit of unbridled optimism I’m going to believe it’s true.

You’ve taken care of yourself so far, right? That’s helped you meet your deadlines, and you’ve progressed as you’ve liked? But things happen. You’ve given yourself the best chance you could to weather this so far, so you’ll be more likely to handle it and still keep your obligations.

And if you can’t because of conflicts, or you need to prioritize yourself now so that you have a future later, most people will understand and work with you. You’re doing your best, and taking care of yourself, and they’re sure to have seen that.

Granted, even some Breadjobs won’t see it that way, but the rant against differing value systems within a capitalistic structure is for another day. Breadjob or Writing Deadline, you gave yourself the best chance and are doing what you can with the situation as it is.

Life’s hard enough. Torture your characters instead.

…now if you excuse me, my pot of coffee is ready.

The Highs and Lows of Life

A Guest Post by Frog Jones

My name is Frog, and I am an addict.

To begin with, I am a full-time public defender. In the course of that job, I spend roughly fifty hours a week wrist-Mason County Courthouse
deep in legal briefs and heroin addicts. When I am practicing as an attorney, I owe it to my clients to be the best attorney I can be. When years in prison are on the line, it’s my job to make absolutely sure that the State gets it right. So when I am working as an attorney, I cannot be anything but an attorney.

When I stand in front of a jury, it’s a rush. I love it, and the whole world melts away into nothing but me, and my voice, and my will. A well-done closing carries you and your jury into a rhetorical ecstasy, and I chase that high on every trial I do.

I am an addict.

I am also involved with the Mason County Drug Court. Here, I’m not just an attorney; I am a part of a therapeutic team. When I’m serving on the Drug Court, or serving as legal counsel for the Drug Court foundation, I owe it to the addicts who are actually struggling to improve their lives to be the best Drug Court team member I can be. So I volunteer for the Foundation, giving extra of my time to make sure that the program has the resources it needs to help those people. And I get to watch people improve from their addictions. Do you know what it feels like to watch a drug addict hit one year clean and sober, get a job, and get to spend time with their child for the first time in six years? Knowing I’m a part of something like that is a glorious feeling, and I chase that high with every participant that comes into the program.

I am an addict.

Foundation LogoI am the Chairman of the Board for the Mason County HOST program. Seems pretty technical, but what it means is I volunteer to organize and lead a team of people who are devoted to housing the homeless teenagers in Mason County. This organization has two employees, three community grants, and a Memorandum of Understanding with the County, and is responsible for a budget of roughly $160,000 per year. And as a result, the homeless teenagers who make their way into this program all graduate high school. 70% of them move on to post-secondary education. These numbers are so good that the federal HUD program has inspected us to figure out what we are doing right.

Imagine what it’s like to sit at a high school graduation, and watch ten to fifteen kids walk that aisle. Kids whose drug addicted parents had ejected them from the house, or beaten them until they left, or took other liberties that forced their exit. Kids who were trying to live in a tent, on the streets, and not getting food stamps because you have to be an adult to qualify. Imagine watching these kids graduate, knowing that they’re off to college and putting together an actual life for themselves. And knowing that you had a hand in it. It is a high that I cannot begin to describe, and I chase it with a passion.

I am an addict.

And in the midst of all this, I write. I write short stories. I write novels. Some of them get published, some don’t. But I sit in front of the keyboard, and I create stories that I would want to read. And there’s no high. Presumably there could be. I imagine that the moment I accept a Hugo, or a Nebula, or some other distinction of high honor that there will be a high. This, however, is not likely to happen in the near future. So there is no such thing, for me, as a writer’s high.

You see, all those highs? There are lows to go with them. Losing a jury trial where my client may very well be innocent is devastating. Watching a Drug Court Graduate relapse, overdose, and die wrecks me. And hearing that one of our former students in the HOST program has gotten into a car accident because they were driving drunk, and died? Absolutely depressing.

And I write. I write because it isn’t a high, and it isn’t a low. I write because it is an escape. This is not to say that I write only when I feel like it; I can’t produce like that. I force myself to write whether I feel like it or not, because it allows me to get away from my life. It allows me to leave the highs, and the lows, behind. I write not to chase the high, but because I can find my stability. I write because it is before the keyboard that I can find peace.

The question of the month here is how to strike a balance between my writing and my life. For me, this is an improper question. There is no balance to my life without the writing.

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t practical issues. It has to be scheduled. It has to be pre-planned. The schedule must be followed. But that’s not because I need the money, not because I need to make a deadline, and not because I have to prove something about myself. The schedule must be followed because, without the stability that creating my art provides, my life will spiral out of control. Writing is the thing that provides balance to everything else.

Because I am an addict.

Frog Jones:

Frog Jones writes with his wife, Esther. After a ten-year vow to never show each other a word they had written, they eventually broke down and wrote a novel together. Together, they have published the Gift of Grace series from Sky Warrior Books, as well as short stories in anthologies such as How Beer Saved the World, First Contact Café, and Tales from an Alien Campfire, as well as many more. The Joneses live on the Puget Sound in the State of Washington with Oxeye, who is twenty-five pounds of pure bunny. Frog’s works can be found at http://www.jonestales.com, and he also appears on the Three Unwise Men podcast at http://3unwisemen.com.

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Have Counselor, Will Write

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

Just last month, I was lying in the same-day surgery wing of the hospital prepping for knee surgery when the pre-op nurse asked what kind of work I do. I smiled as I took the marker and dutifully wrote “Yes, please,” on my right knee, a protective measure against the surgeon working on the wrong leg, and answered, “I’m a mom and a writer.” Over the next hour we talked more about what I do for a living. Finally, she shook her head, and asked, “How do you do it?”

“I have a fantastic counselor,” I said.

She broke out laughing.

It is true though. Life is chaos. That is a given fact for pretty much everyone. It is a big mess of trials, failures, joy and heartache that all mesh into one big ball of fun.

Once upon a time, in a land known as Seattle, I quit my full time job as a business analyst to write. I’d wake up in the morning, kiss my husband send him off to work, and then sit down at my computer and……twiddle my thumbs. I had all the time to write, and struggled to write a single word. It honestly took my friend giving me a random writing prompt before I wrote my first short story Curse of the Light Switches. Believe me, it was totally and completely pathetic. But it was what I needed to kick my imagination gears into motion. Over the next two years, I wrote and edited seven drafts of my first ever epic fantasy novel. Thinking the project finished and a work of art, I started submitting to agents. The mail box remained empty for months. The few responses I did receive were form letters. The greatest rejection stated that while I was a talented storyteller, I was not a fit for their publishing firm.

Then, after seven years of fertility issues, we invented the child. Not just any child, but a little girl who rolled over in the hospital three days after birth and has never stopped moving. She was our little miracle, but the moment she came into existence my motivation and ability to write drastically dropped faster than an Olympic skier racing down a bunny hill. Two months after our daughter was born we moved from Seattle to Utah so that she could grow up near her half-brothers. A short twenty months later I had a son after four and a half months of bed rest. When he was ten months old, I informed the doctor that I wanted to have one more child, but that they had to be farther apart. Either I was a totally suck-tastic mother or my children were literally more than I could handle. The doctor informed me in return….Guess what? You are already pregnant.

Three kids in three and a half years. Try writing anything through that and I’ll personally bake you a cake.

I attempted to salvage my feeble writing career by attending a myriad of local writing conferences and by joining two different critique groups. Their feedback was invaluable. But as I read their stories and compared them to mine, I wanted to cry. However, I’m the type of person who is just too stubborn to give up. I hung in there, submitted crap, and took the feedback as my saving grace and ran with it.

Our chaotic life then spiraled out of control. I ruptured a disc in my back that required major surgery. What writing I did attempt felt like crap, and I felt like the grand prize winner of the Worst Mother of the Year award. On top of that, my husband had a bad reaction to medication, sending him into six months of suicidal tendencies.

That is when I met Bonnie (a.k.a. the most incredible counselor in the universe). She was exactly what I needed in a counselor—long almost black hair, bangles up the arms, at least four necklaces, ripped leather pants, camouflage shirt, combat boots, and a bike jacket. Bonnie became my counseling version of the fairy godmother. She helped me learn what I could control, what I couldn’t, and how to see the difference.

Then in 2014 my littlest son hit me in the head with a car seat, giving me a concussion and one of the greatest miracles of my life. Because of my concussion the doctors did several MRIs and identified “three white matter brain lesions in non-MS typical locations.” This simply means… I’m a writer in transition to superhero glory.

I wish.

At the same time all three of my kids were diagnosed with special needs—running from ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Moderate-functioning Autism, aggressive tendencies, and developmental delays. My kids are pretty much creative geniuses that learn uniquely and see the world in remarkable ways while not grasping social expectations. The truth behind the difficult paths I traveled hit me when I made Bonnie cry. (There’s no crying in therapy! Oh wait….yes, there is. Just not usually from your counselor.)

So how do I balance life and writing in this chaos? I don’t. Thanks to those tiny aliens in my noggin’, the three precious miracle children in my life, a very supportive husband, and my genius counselor, I’ve had to learn to let go. Instead I wing it. Personally, I can’t write at night. I cherish my sleep way too much. And I already get up at oh-dark-thirty thanks to my autistic son who doesn’t require anywhere near a decent amount of sleep. So instead, for four days a week in the precious two hours that all three kids are in special needs classes, I attempt to write. Just like in college, I still tend to work best under pressure, so I set deadlines and goals to keep me motivated (and yes, chocolate and caffeine are often involved). Then there’s my amazing husband who will stay home with the kids and send me off to the library to work when I require a much needed sanity break. (Back off ladies, he’s mine!)

Through it all I’ve written two novels, unpublished to date, but they will be published someday. I’ve had a piece published in a magazine about what it is like being a stepmom. Another piece won first place in an online writing contest and was included in an anthology on being a mommy writer. My third essay came out last year on the trials my husband and I experienced going through fertility issues. And my first ever short story was published this last Christmas to help raise money for Primary Children’s Hospital.

Yes, my life is still a ball of intense chaos, but I love it. It is not easy. But the fight is worth it. And thanks to a brilliant counselor, I’ve had to learn that if I want to survive, if I want to thrive, I must do something that takes care of me—and that something is writing. I’m worth it.

 

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. Most of her time is spent between raising three overly brilliant and stinkin’ cute children, playing video games with her stepsons, and the rare peaceful moment with her husband. When opportunity provides she escapes to the alternate dimension to write fantasy & magical realism novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.

Writing is Life

A Guest Post from Scott Lee

I pulled in to the house, just back from my third time attending the Superstars Writing Seminar. I had spent the ride home rehearsing the arguments I would present to my wife as to why I should pull out the credit card and immediately pay for Superstars 2017. After all, the price was the lowest it would ever be, it was set to go up in the morning, and we had a rough idea that our tax return was going to be pretty sweet… Argument in the bag, right? In. The. Bag.

Then I noticed that our little car wasn’t in the drive way. Huh. Becca wasn’t home. Perhaps I would end up waiting awhile before delivering my winning Superstars argument. Or then again, Becca wasn’t home…but no, I’ve lived enough to recognize that thought as a trap.

So, I walk into the house, playing it cool, calm and confident. I had an argument to make.

***

So here I am. Blogging. About writing. And life. And balance. Feeling that I owe you, dear reader, some modicum of advice, insight or wisdom. So here goes.

As I’ve thought about this over the past few weeks I knew pretty quickly that the story I started the blog out with—I’ll finish it later, don’t worry—would have to be included somehow. It is too ironic not to be, and it embodies what thoughts I’ve managed to gather.

First off, I find that framing the question as finding balance between life and writing, writing and real life, or between art and life—creates a false dichotomy. When I considered opening with this point, I had to ask myself if I wasn’t nitpicking. Was I just giving way to personal prejudice against any dichotomy? Everyone talks about writing this way. But I don’t think I’m just picking nits. We can talk about balancing priorities in life, we can talk about where writing fits in our lives, but as long as we split life from writing, even subconsciously, we’re self-sabotaging.

My job doesn’t define me. I am a teacher, but it’s a single facet of who I am not the sum of my identity. Even so, I don’t separate my role as a teacher from my life. It’s not something I go and do when I’m not living. And my role as a writer is no different. If you allow yourself to separate your writing from your “life,” then you make any pursuit of writing time, let alone balance, much harder.

Furthermore, in my experience, most writers are likely to experience things in exactly the opposite direction. It is writing that feels most like life. If we adopt a mental stance where we’re saying that isn’t true, suddenly we’re trying to find time for and balance with, a triviality. Good luck with that.

Second, in practical experience I’ve most often found “balance” by being a binge writer. My typical day didn’t include writing at all. And then when the muse struck in the form of some deadline, I became a zombie with an IV drip of caffeine who taught school and was hubby/daddy during the hours in a day that a sane person was awake, and, during the late night and early morning hours, I wrote like mad in order to get the paper done while the house was quiet. I wrote my grad school papers, my published short story, and my published short story collection/thesis, in this fashion. By the way, 16-19 hours of work/family followed by 5-8 hours of writing, is not balance, it’s insanity. But when I had to, I got writing done, and that seemed like enough. Not an approach I recommend.

I began to make headway a few years ago, when we went on our 10th anniversary vacation. We picked a destination vacation rather than a running-around-seeing-things vacation, and our schedule was determined almost entirely by my writing. I got up in the morning a bit before Becca and wrote my morning pages—three pages, long hand—a daily journaling/meditation exercise I encountered through Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way books. Then, later, we made our way down to the public library where I’d get a guest pass and a computer and write while Rebecca patiently read whatever caught her eye. I never wrote for more than an hour and a half in a sitting, and most days I wrote for just at an hour, if not a little less. In those five days I wrote well over 10,000 words of new fiction. Not the most I’d ever put together over five days, but I did it without a deadline, without having to try to kill myself in the process, and without suddenly achieving the miraculous hours and hours of writing time I had been subconsciously waiting for before I could “get serious.”

The point isn’t go take a long vacation to Telluride, Colorado without any kids, it’s that in less than two hours-a-day, I put out one of the best steady chunks of words I ever had, and at the end of the process I was neither dead, high on caffeine, delirious, nor stressed out of my mind. I did it as a small part of my ordinary life.

When I got home I had to admit to myself—for the first time, although it seems painfully obvious in retrospect—that I could in fact find balance. Make time to write without killing myself. And I started doing so.

I would love to tell you that I immediately became incredibly disciplined and dove into writing what is now my bestselling novel an hour or less at a time over the next few months. That’s not what happened. My life wasn’t transformed. Nor was my writing. But I wrote more than I ever had, with greater regularity, greater ease, and less stress. And I produced more than I’d ever produced on any single project before.

So here’s my two tiny bits of wisdom: (1) You don’t need a ton of time. Just because Kerouac supposedly wrote On the Road as a highly caffeinated high speed physical endurance test doesn’t mean you have to somehow trade life for writing time. You don’t. Make writing time a part of your life. Make it routine, work-a-day, consistent. Don’t bargain for hours, days, weeks, months, or a year’s sabbatical with your work or your family. Bargain with yourself for an hour or so at a shot, or when you get really smart for any tiny snatch of free time. Make writing life. And you will discover more time and more peace than seems possible if you haven’t done it yet.

(2) Writing isn’t separate from life. In Neil Gaiman’s excellent “Make Good Art” commencement speech, he suggests that the response to negative experiences in life ought to be make good art. I often hear people simplify this to “When life happens to you, make good art!” I know what they mean, but it makes me sad. Because it’s wrong. Art isn’t the counter to life. It’s the ultimate expression of life, and its beauty, tragedy, and value. Art—or writing—isn’t just a record of life, it is the most positive and life affirming of human of acts—the act of creation. So don’t pit your writing against your life. Because the minute you pit anything against your life instead of embracing it as part of your life and making it essential, it will lose. Every. Single. Time.

Now I promised you the rest of the story…

***

My wife was waiting for me back in our room. I felt something coming, kind of the way the lady tied to the tracks in a classic melodrama must feel something coming.

“Hi Becca,” I said. “What happened to the car?”

“Well,” she said, “about that. I was driving on the other side of town today and every warning light on the dashboard came on at once. So I took it to the Toyota dealer. They say the transmission is shot. It’s going to be $5000 dollars to replace it.”

I asked about Superstars 2017 anyway. Why? Because writing is part of my life. An essential part. My wife knows and supports this. We talked about it. I didn’t apologize for asking, and she didn’t yell at me for being stupid, selfish or ridiculous or impractical.

I haven’t paid for Superstars 2017…yet. And I won’t for a while. Seems we need that big tax return elsewhere. I didn’t insist on paying for Superstars immediately, or get down about not being able to. Instead, we made plans for exactly how to pay for it later.

I’ll pay for my car now, because that’s part of my life, and I invest in it. I’ll go to Superstars next year, because writing is part of my life, and I invest in it. In the mean time I’ve had a few hours here and there, and I’m about finished with draft one of a new short story. I’ve loved writing it. I haven’t had a lot of time, but I’m getting it done, and every minute so far has been pure pleasure.

 

Scott Lee:

Scott Lee is a strange individual who chose teaching and writing as his two primary careers. Obviously he has no desire to make any money, and on that count has largely succeeded. He has, however, written much poetry, some individual short stories, published a short story collection entitled Singular Visions, directed 15 plays, and fathered several human children to go along with his less material offspring. He has thoroughly succeeded, in his own humble opinion, at living a worthy and interesting life.