If it isn’t working …

If it isn’t working, change it.

This axiom can apply to a lot of things in our personal and writing life.

While reflecting on this year, I realized that I made changes in two significant areas of my life. Things weren’t working in a bad, horrible way, but in ways which didn’t allow me to be as productive and healthy as I could be.

On the personal side, we all know that we can’t change anyone else. We can only change ourselves. That’s because the desire to change has to come from within to be realized and to be sustainable. This past year, more than ever before, I had to create boundaries and acknowledge my physical limitations. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and although I have never worn it on my sleeve, I learned that I must own it and not deny how it affects my life.

Publicly admitting that I have CFS feels risky. What if a publisher learns of my illness and isn’t sure I can handle the stress and time commitment of a writing career? Truth is, I know others with this illness and their writing careers are doing well. How do they do it? Time management. Cutting out extraneous activities, and the emotional and physical stressors imposed by other people. They focus by choosing to do what is important (writing) and sticking to it. This also includes self-care.

Mind you, this is what we all need to be doing. The A-type personality of doing all things and being all things to everyone burns most of us out. This is why I’m speaking out. It’s not for fear of a publisher rejecting me but to let other writers know that it’s okay to be who we are (health and other issues) and that we don’t have to live up to the schedules and productivity of superstars who have made it big in the industry. Hey, being on best seller lists, writing all the time, and being appreciated by a large readership is still my goal, but I don’t stress about it anymore. I just work toward it one bit at a time.

So, on the personal side, I became much more accepting of who I am and in applying self-care. The cool thing is, is that by doing this, I’ve become more productive, have grown as a writer, and was a finalist for the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association’s Aurora Award. How cool is that?

The writing life can be lonely and sometimes it’s good to have another writer or group to discuss story issues. Realizing my need for such a group got me talking about this with other writers. This brought about the second great change in my life – the creation of a developmental writing group.

I still belong to a critique group and a speculative fiction group which has skills sessions and critiques. The camaraderie within these groups is great as is the learning but they weren’t exactly what I wanted at this time. I wanted to learn how to write mysteries and to be in a group that supported story development, not critiquing.

Four of us got together and found a mentor. Once a month, we share what we’ve been working on, and ask for feedback and brainstorming on specific problems. We’ve all become better at outlining and as a result, our stories are much better for it. The wonderful thing about this group is that it is supportive and positive. We each get a half hour to talk about what we want, whether it’s about an outline, story structure, a piece of our writing or whatever questions are running through our heads. The others respond, share their insights and at the end, we check to make sure the person’s concerns were addressed. We leave inspired, energised and most importantly, happy that we’ve had a good place in which to talk about specific writing issues as we develop and plot our stories.

Change comes in many forms, both personal and professional but only after we’ve been honest with ourselves can we create the type of environment and support we need to become more productive and successful.

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