Category Archives: Being Gentle With Yourself

Finding Momentum When It’s Gone

I work on one big project at a time. The art of juggling two or three big projects at once is lost on me, as all the projects start to blend together in a weird, self-referencing word-soup. That means my writing process is a one-step-at-a-time deal. For a few weeks, I will do nothing but planning, plotting, and outlining. Then, for a few months, all I’m doing is writing. And then for up to year after that, I’m editing.

After I’ve been editing my work for so long, I’m often intimidated when I think of going back to writing. I’m worried I haven’t learned anything, or that I won’t apply what I’ve learned when I edited. I’m worried the flow and creativity has been stilted by too much editing work. I’m afraid I’ve lost my voice. I’m concerned I’m too focused on what will sell instead of what it is I’ve got to say.

It’s taken some time for me to learn how to get back into writing after time away. The “just sit down and write” advice doesn’t always cut it. You can plan your time down to the minute and regiment yourself to your schedule, and that works for a lot of people. Most people. But that doesn’t take care of the lack of confidence or the worries, and making myself sit in a chair and stare at a screen doesn’t help me find the heart of why I’m writing.

Over the years, I’ve learned the painful lesson that inspiration is incredibly important to my writing and my creative identity. It is true that, many times, you’ll have to write when the muse isn’t slinking around your shoulders and whispering in your ear. However, I think it’s easy to become distracted working that way – distracted from your core, from the reason you wanted to write in the first place. Viewing writing as a job, as work, is allowing it one step closer to becoming your job instead of your vocation, and divorcing it from passion altogether. In the day to day, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia. I’ve found it’s vital to be able to stop and ask myself what I’m looking to accomplish with the project in the first place. What am I trying to communicate?

Those answers don’t always come immediately. I often have to search for them. This is how:

  1. Journal
  2. Go to a natural history museum or cultural center
  3. Watch a documentary or two about subjects that I know very little about.
  4. Go for a hike/ go camping. Don’t allow myself my phone or any digital tethers
  5. Allow myself to daydream. Allow myself to forget my schedule and my to-do list
  6. Use my hands to make. Bake. Work on a motorcycle. Throw a pot on a wheel. Learn glassblowing. Draw. Make. Learn. Do. And let the mind wander

*Bring journal or a notebook when doing 2-6

These things have helped me focus back on my voice, consider my point of view, helped me remember what is important, and reminded me of our connection points as humans and therefore what we can all relate to on a primal and emotional level. I find allowing my mind to wander on these subjects through art, journaling, and being a student of life and nature itself helps focus my mind and prepare it for creativity and communication.

I mean, I get it. I sound like a neo-hippy. Check that language, man. Connection, point of view, creation, daydream, communication. All I’m missing are some essential oils to drip all over this blog post and some vegan gluten-free cookies for you, my awesome readers.

I acknowledge that most people can just put ass-in-seat and write, treating it like a job. Set a timer. Schedule writing time. Have strict daily, weekly, and monthly goals. These are all fantastic strategies to get you back on track with writing after a long break.

But if you happen to be somewhat like me, you need reflection. You need to ask yourself questions about not only your story, but why you’re writing it. And then you need time to think through the answers. Our culture has made it easy to become very busy very fast – to work through a to-do list everyday, go to bed, wake up, and repeat. But if you’re finding that you need less structure, more time – prioritize that. Prioritize time. Loosen your daily schedule. Allow four hours of writing time instead of two, knowing that some of those four hours may be you taking a walk, sitting outside, listening to music, thinking. Sometimes a few of those all at once. I think you’ll be surprised to find how much inspiration follows you on those walks and mind-walks, and soon, you’ll be back in your seat and writing, refreshed, collected, and ready.

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.

What “Rejection” Really Means

A Guest Post by David Farland

For the last few weeks I’ve been scurrying to finish up judging on a large contest. I’ve had to “reject” thousands of stories. I hate the word “reject,” because it doesn’t really express what I want to say.

Very often I will read the opening to a story and it is obviously the first work of a very young writer. It may have a multitude of problems—from simple typos, to a lack of understanding as to how to set a scene, to clunky dialog. I know that I can’t accept the story for publication, but at the same time, I wish that I could shout some encouragement to the budding writer, much the way that my mentor Algis Budrys did to a young Stephen King.

I think that people need encouragement. It may be the only thing that will spur a young writer to greater effort.

So what does the word “rejection” mean to you as a writer? I think it’s simply: “Try harder.”

A lot of fine works get rejected. The bestselling works in nearly every genre experienced rejection. Lord of the Rings was rejected by several American publishers. Dune was rejected by all of them. Gone with the Wind made its rounds through every major publisher. Harry Potter was rejected by all of the biggest houses, and Twilight was rejected by a dozen agents before it got picked up—yet all of these novels became the bestsellers in their fields.

So does that mean that these were all bad novels? Of course not. It means that the author didn’t find an editor with a matching taste, a matching vision, right at the first.

Very often when I read a manuscript that is close to being publishable, I think, It’s a shame that the author didn’t try a little harder to . . . That’s what “rejected” means to me.

I was talking to international bestselling author Laurell K. Hamilton last week, and asked her to confirm a rumor that I’d heard. With her first novel, she received over 200 rejections before she made a sale. She said, “When people tell me that they’ve been rejected five or ten or twenty times, I just tell them that ‘I don’t want to hear about it.’”

Laurell has the perfect attitude toward rejection. Try harder.

davidfarland_storydoctor

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.