Category Archives: Giving Yourself a Break

Reframing Failure

A few years back, I had a conversation about horses that changed how I viewed my writing career. A dear friend of mine was telling me a story about when she was teaching her son how to ride a horse. She had grown up on a West Texas ranch and wanted to pass that legacy on to the next generation. One day he was thrown by the animal and landed hard. My friend went to her son to ensure that he hadn’t been seriously hurt. Once she had confirmed that he would be okay, she stood over him in the dust and heat of the Texan summer. Her boy was on the verge of tears, but she didn’t try to sooth him. Instead, she told him that he needed to choose if he really wanted to know how to ride. If he didn’t, he could sit and cry, and that would be fine. But “cowboys don’t cry,” and if he really wanted that life he would need to show her how tough he really was. He’d need to stand up and go show that animal that he wasn’t afraid of it. He needed to take back his power, right now or not at all.

There’s a reason that the phrase “get back in the saddle” is a cliché for starting again after a failure. If you’ve never ridden a horse, you can’t know what it feels like to have a thousand pounds of animal underneath you. To feel the shifting of muscle and sway of the saddle as your mount walks. Or know the sensation of speed and power as the horse runs. As a rider, you are only in control as much as the mount’s training or your own skill allows you to be. All the while, you are aware that falling or being thrown can be a bone breaking, paralyzing, or mortal experience. For new riders, it’s frightening. And for good reason.

Most humans are programmed to avoid painful situations. Sometimes it’s something we’ve already experienced, and others it is simply the anticipation of harm that warns us away. While this instinct helps us survive, it doesn’t allow us to grow. We only develop as individuals if we are challenged, pushed to leave our comfort zones, and are forced to adapt. In doing so, however, we risk mental, emotional, or physical hardship. And no one gets through life unscathed.

Little did my friend know that when she told me that story, I was struggling with my own fall, just of a less literal nature. I had recently been rejected by an agent that I had queried a few weeks before. It wasn’t even a personalized rejection, but rather a form letter that was addressed to “Dear Author”. I was embarrassed, angry with myself, and ashamed of my failure. I was still lying in the dirt, hurt and wallowing. However, I needed to make a decision.

I wasn’t considering quitting writing. Storytelling was and still is my passion. I had been warned that rejection letters were inevitable and that I would need to develop a thick skin to being told “thank you, but no.” However, rejection letters have a powerful effect on us writers because they feed the part of our brain teeming with doubt. I was trying to decide what that particular rejection meant for me and my story. Did I still believe in these characters? Did I still believe that the work represented the best of my skills? Was the problem something in my query letter or my manuscript? I didn’t know and so was paralyzed by indecision.

My friend’s story reminded me that I was letting the letter have power over my actions and needed to show it, and myself, that I wasn’t afraid of it anymore.

And so, I decided to reframe my problem. Quite literally. I went to the store and spent about five dollars on a plain, black, plastic picture frame. I printed out the first page of the rejection and hung it on the wall in my office. I stepped back, looked at my framed failure, and told myself aloud that this was a step in the process. I would fail again. I would succeed. I’d hang each on my wall because I owned them, they did not own me.

In the years since, I’ve added many more black frames to my wall. However, I’ve also added a few silver frames, my wins. There aren’t many silvers in comparison to the blacks, but they would not exist at all had I not decided to move past my fear and self-pity to keep pushing myself to grow. Each time I look at that wall, I am reminded of what those failures taught me, and that I have persevered. Despite the failures, I am still writing, still submitting, and still growing. With enough hard work and determination, I will have my writing career. I just need to keep dusting myself off after each and every failure and choosing what I really want.

Monkey-throwing Wrenches

There’s proverb in the May household:

Don’t worry about monkeys throwing wrenches into your plans. Worry about the wrenches throwing monkeys into your plans.

There is logic behind this. You see, any monkey can throw a wrench and since a wrench is normally an inanimate object there’s only so much damage it’s capable of doing after its been hurled. However, if particularly talented and determined wrench were to throw a monkey…well there’s no limit to the damage a distressed airborne monkey can do.

This year there have been many wrenches, some old and some new, and one surprisingly troublesome monkey. At the start of the year my sole goal was to start dictating. I had set aside the summer to train the software and my brain. The rest of the year I planned on spending cleaning up both novel manuscripts and editing any stories I happened to sell. The latter happened easily enough (yay sales!) but because of the fatigue and pain from my quickly escalating osteoarthritis I didn’t get much done on the former until recently (yay acupuncture!).

My biggest revelation this year is that I can’t expect my body to cooperate 100% of the time. I can still set big goals but I have to give myself more leniency. If the airborne monkey of osteoarthritis causes more pain and fatigue than I’m prepared for, then I need to give myself permission to postpone the deadlines I set for myself so I can take the time I need to recuperate. There’s definitely a big learning curve with arthritis. That’s for sure.

I look forward to taking this new knowledge with me into next year. Only time will tell how much trouble the wrenches and monkeys cause and how much they’ll let me accomplish.

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.

March Wrap Up – Nathan’s Top 10 Take Aways

This month on the Fictorians, we’ve thoroughly explored the many aspects of balancing our writing with the myriad of other responsibilities we have in life. I lead this month by insisting that we all have to choose how we spend our time. I have the words “70 hours” written on my bathroom mirror to remind myself that I have plenty of time outside sleep and my job. It’s up to me to choose how I spend it. And I still stand by all of that.
However, the stories and experiences of my fellow Fictorians and our wonderful guest posters have helped me realize a few things about my own work-life balance. It’s not perfect, nor does it need to be! Instead of repeating their words, I’ll simply share my top ten favorite posts for the month. Do they line up with yours?

  1. I found out the secret of Gama Martinez’s awesome prolificness! The man keeps up with one of the most aggressive release schedules I know of by writing his books 10 – 15 minutes at a time when necessary, capturing every opportunity he can to do what he loves.
  2. Ace Jordyn reminded me that you don’t need to write every day to be a writer. We all have our own rhythms. Do what works for you!
  3. Kate Corcino told us about some pretty intense points in her life, how she struggled to find time to write, and those times when writing wasn’t the most important thing she had to deal with. Writing’s a marathon, not a sprint.
  4. David Heyman talked about the struggle to have your cake and eat it too. Sometimes, however, you must give up a slice to make time for your novels. It’s essential to remember that you need to take that slice out of your own portion of your time, not out of the work that pays the bills or the family that loves and supports you.
  5. No one is busier than a new momma, but Joy Dawn Johnson let us peak into her crazy, distraction filled world. And yet, she still gets work done. The trick? No matter what distractions arise, always come back to the keyboard.
  6. Speaking of distractions, there are some things that come up that we have to attend to, while others can be ignored. At least for a while. Emily Godhand talked about how to tell the difference and knowing when to remove or ignore the ones that are keeping us from getting writing done.
  7. I’ve been obsessing about making my writing a business so much over the past couple years that I’ve lost sight of the need to let the artist run the show sometimes. Like Sean Golden, I’ve recently found that my best work has been done when I’m not worried about making a sale, but rather focus on writing a good story.
  8. Nancy Green reminded us that you can’t have “it” all; you just have to decide what “it” actually is.
  9. Jen Greyson talked about the difference between balance and equilibrium. After all, it doesn’t matter if the scales are even, so long as you can be happy with where they lay.
  10. Holly Roberds’ post reminded me that you can’t be a slave to your work. Sometimes you just need to cut yourself a break and give yourself permission to do something other than writing. Seriously! It’s healthier that way.

And those lessons only represent about one third of all the insightful posts we’ve seen this month! Did you catch them all? Which were your favorites? Unfortunately the month is almost done and we need to be moving on to a new theme, but please come back for April’s topic. I promise you’ll love what Anne has in store!