Category Archives: Being Gentle With Yourself

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!

The Eternal Struggle

Writers (and creative people in general) face a unique set of challenges in a society that generally doesn’t value what we do.

A few months back, I was at a party with my wife, hanging out, busily meeting people, chatting, etc. We were about a month into our stay in New Zealand. I happened to meet a woman and soon established that she was from Colorado, married to a New Zealander.

She asked me, “What do you do for work?”

“I’m a writer,” I said, having already established with several people at the party that I have five books in print and have been freelance writing for about sixteen years.

“So you don’t, then,” she said flippantly.

I then excused myself in favor of more intelligent conversation.

This stranger’s attitude is bad enough, but it’s even worse if it comes from a writer’s family, and the closer the family member is, the more painful the attitude. You can put up with Uncle Earl at family reunions asking you when you’re going to get a job, but when it’s your mother asking you when you’re going to stop drawing “those funny books,” or your significant other whining about having so little time to spend with him/her and that you’d rather be alone doing that weird thing you do, that’s when it chafes your skin away and ultimately grinds all the way to the bone.

When there are so many out there for whom the above is a daily battle, I know I’m fortunate to have a significant other who loves the fact that I’m a writer. She loves that I can do what I do (and I used that ability shamelessly to woo her). She whole-heartedly believes it to be a worthy endeavor, deserving of the same monetary respect we routinely pay to plumbers, mechanics, lawyers, doctors, etc., even though she cannot fathom how I put up with the rejection, uncertainty, and angst associated with it.

But she has this strange, unfathomable quirk that she likes hanging out with me. And ditto my stepdaughter. It’s like they think I should have meals with them. Or go places with them. Or take them to school. It’s like they can’t tell when I’m in the depths of the Zone, that elusive, mythical place where the magic happens, that place that’s so fragile a simple knock on the door makes it evaporate like the barest morning dew, leaving the writer clenching his fists in frustration.

“What is it?”

“Um…”

“Is there blood?”

“Well, no, but…”

“Is there a fire?”

“No, but…”

“Then why for hast thou knocked upon this portal?”

“There’s a spider.”

Sigh.

This was a constant struggle when the girlfriend became the cohabitating partner a few years back. Writers are a special kind of introvert, in that their very profession demands that they spend great swaths of time alone. These swaths of time are in direct conflict with the time required to maintain the bonds of love. Tons of difficult conversations later, we have reached a détente, and the bottom line, despite endless whinging on my part, is that the problem is not intrusions or distractions or interruptions.

The problem is always me. More on that in a minute.

It’s too easy for that infinitely fragile creative butterfly that we imagine is within us to be crushed or driven away by a knock on the door, a text, a phone call, a clearing of the throat; so even when your significant other is amazing and supportive, wants your to feel fulfilled, wants you to reside forevermore in the afterglow of creation like you’ve just had cosmically awesome sex, you push for more room for our art. It’s art, dammit!

One of the worst feelings in the world is when you’re in the rush of creation, and you know it’s gold, and you can feel your fingers brushing through the river of the divine–and someone comes into your space and requests your attention. A knock. A text. A phone call. A clearing of the throat. Flow: destroyed. Muse: fled.

And they have no idea what they just did to you.

I was in a seminar a couple of years ago listening to a panel discussion on productivity for writers. At the time, the difficult discussions mentioned above were ongoing. One of the panelists was a successful, best-selling novelist who’s been writing fiction full-time for over twenty years. He mentioned that work interruptions were still a point of contention between him and his wife. “Well, surely you have time to run this errand for me. It’s not like you keep set hours or have a boss who’ll fire you.”

Hope that my own struggles would ever be resolved began to evaporate.

After such discussions with my family, there is one thing, however, that I keep coming back to in my own reflections.

Boundaries. Staking out a little patch of creative space, internally or externally. A room. An office. A table at your favorite coffee shop. When you’re in that space, you’re working, the same as if you were on the production line at the factory. And you must defend those boundaries with fire and swords because the biggest enemy who will assail those walls is you.

This can be a difficult thing to do. Who likes telling their children ‘no’? How do you tell your friends that you can’t go out because you’ve got a writing schedule? How do you tell your partner who’s had a rough day that they can’t just barge in and start venting?

Once you’ve established your boundaries, those who truly support you will honor them. Those who don’t honor those boundaries don’t truly support you, a circumstance that might require more drastic measures (but that’s a topic for another time).

But here’s the really hard part. (What, you mean this writing thing isn’t difficult enough?? Screw this! I’m gonna be a janitor! I need a raise!)

The problem, as I said above, is not them. It’s not outsiders horning in on your creative time. A writer’s worst enemy, worst time-destroyer, worst butterfly-slaughterer, is always himself.

Yeah, you can run that errand. Yeah, you can pick the kids up from the pool on that Saturday afternoon. Yeah, you can go to the recital. Yeah, we can see that movie because we haven’t had a night out in weeks. Yeah, you can come and kill that spider. Yeah, you can surf social media, or check email, or obsess about your sales numbers, or spend hours marketing to blogs who have all of twenty regular readers, or braid your beard, or weave pocket lint into a picture frame, or shave the cat, or…

Any of these things is easier that sitting down to write.

So what then is the answer?

There ain’t one, kids.

Except to sit down and write anyway. Find the reason. Find the space. Make your peace with the struggle.

About the Author: Travis Heermann

Heermann-6Spirit_cover_smallTravis Heermann’s latest novel Spirit of the Ronin, was published in June, 2015.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Death Wind (co-authored with Jim Pinto), The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including content for the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and EVE Online.

He lives in New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and more Middle Earth souvenirs than is reasonable.

You can find him on…

Twitter
Facebook
Wattpad
Goodreads
Blog
Website


Slave to Your Work

A Guest Post by Holly Roberds

The problem with self-directed work, whether you are a writer, freelancer, or artist trying to make living or even just a mark, is you never know whether or not you are doing the things to put you on the path to life you want. You try to measure your progress, write more stories, submit more work, but sometimes your efforts never feel like they are enough. While working on your writing career can be a joy, it can also turn you into its slave.

I came upon this revelation after working a twelve hour day at a temp job. Up at five am, I managed an hour’s worth of editing time. Then at lunch, I squeezed in an hour of freelance work, and snuck in more editing throughout the day until I rounded up the edits at thirty pages for the day. I have never accomplished so much in one little day. Thirty pages of edits is an amazing accomplishment for me on days I didn’t have other obligations, so this was monumentally awesome!

Except, it wasn’t. Instead of feeling proud of my uber-productive day, I was absolutely miserable. Not because I felt overworked. Oh no. I was miserable because I internally bemoaned, “I didn’t do enough today! Maybe I should stay up a couple more hours and try to pack in more writing and edits.”

This is when I recognized something was very wrong. I could no longer hang out with friends, family members, or even take the time to sit down and watch a movie without the wormy guilt incessantly tugging me back to work. The ugly and demanding voice, I’d grown used to, chided that if I could get so much done on a busy day then my output should be triple on my days off. Then again, I looked over at my boyfriend who thoughtfully chewed dinner and patiently listened to my struggles. I’d rather not dump kerosene on my relationship with him or the rest my friends and family before switching on the flamethrower.

Something was broken inside me.

My off-button.

I had graduated beyond the initial stages of waffling, enough to finish stories that were of palatable quality. I was shooting short stories into the dark, unforgiving abyss of pro-markets, and gaining massive ground on my novel. Heck, I’d even scored my first publication. It was a good year for me! So why did I feel like no matter what I did, it wasn’t even close to being good enough? So what if I could fit in six hours of writing a week? Twelve hours was better, thirty would be ideal! As a freelancer, with almost total dominion over my schedule, this should be easy right?

Wrong. The more I worked, the more I wrote, the hungrier I got. Eventually I started to feel like a starving wolf, ribs poking out, maw dripping with saliva, so hungry I might start gnawing on my own legs.

I decided to handle this problem like any writer attacks a problem. I researched the ba-geezus out how to feel satisfied with the work I was doing. Most articles target writers who have trouble starting and continuing writing, I couldn’t find any that said to cool my jets. I decided to start to reading books on mindfulness, gratitude, and anything to help me enjoy life and my journey to becoming a better more productive writer without killing myself.

I spoke with friends about my problem. It helped me stay accountable. They were also more likely to notice that glazed look of panic in my eye when I wasn’t working before giving me a sound smack. Thankfully, my friends are supportive and encouraging. They shared they thought I worked harder than most people they knew. That they were already proud of my accomplishments and dedication, so I should be too. Also, they ordered me to (for the love of god!) relax.

The biggest wake-up call occurred during a conversation with a friend who was a freelancer as well as a professional writer.

With a sigh I explained, “Every second of every day, I am scrutinizing if I’m doing enough. Am I putting my energy in the right place? The place that is going to get me closer to my concrete goals?”

Namely that big beautiful publishing deal complete with a novel on the shelf and my name on it.

I paused, then asked him, “Do you know what I’m talking about?”

With a deep, tired sigh, he said, “Yes. Yes, I do. I’ve felt that way.”

Under the assumption this was all just a phase I had to get through, I asked, hopeful, “Really? How long did you feel it?”

“I feel it now, and I have felt exactly what you are describing every day since I started writing and freelancing. The ‘I should be doing more,’ ‘the things I’m doing aren’t enough,’ even if I am loaded up.”

Alarm flooded my brain and body. Sixteen years. He had been writing and freelancing for sixteen years, enduring this soul crushing guilt of never feeling he was doing enough.

No! My internal voice cried. We are not doing this! That is far too long to feel bad. My writing is a pleasure of my life, not my master.

As a writer You are completely self-directed and that is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. The pressure can suck the enjoyment out of writing, and even life. Don’t let it.

I have had to take several steps back and deliberately make goals with a cut-off point. For example, I would endeavor to write two hours on a given day, but found I was sometimes only able to fit in one hour. Normally, this would send me into a dark cloud of regret, and I’d turn on myself like a punching bag. I’d have to do better the next day to make up for it.

Now, I will put as much deliberate effort into congratulating myself for taking one more step on my journey. I will even say it aloud. “I am doing enough.” “I have done good work today.” Because, personally, I love drilling new age hoo-doo affirmations in my brain, but I’m sure you can find your own style for self-congratulations.

Where I used to pour all my time into constructing plans and concrete writing goals, I now spend equal time planning my ‘do nothing time,’ to free myself of the eternal ‘I could be writing right now’ syndrome. There are times in the week or day where no work is allowed.

Disclaimer: this advice is not for the so called writers who never actually write anything. This is for the people who make progress, whether slow or at careening speeds who can identify with the lack of satisfaction shared here. I invoke the popular adage, “Slow progress is still progress.” Even when we writers get on a role, we can still feel the exact (if not exaggerated) despair and frustration as someone who is doing nothing.

As writers, we know what we have to do. Write more and submit more. So I made a writing/editing plan and I still make concrete goals for writing every month, but the difference is I have decided to put all my faith into the process I built. Sometimes I overshoot word count goals, and there are weeks where my process stands stock-still. Either way, when I’m supposed to be in relax mode I consciously divert my attention from the demons who demand more from me to stay in the moment as much as possible.

Don’t let your writing aspirations dig a bottomless hole in your soul at the expense of the rest of your life and happiness. So if you have written today, submitted something, or devised a grand plot idea on a napkin, let me just tell you, “You are doing a good job!” Better yet. Get in the habit of telling yourself.

 

Holly Roberds:

Holly Roberds lives a strange bohemian lifestyle in Broomfield, CO. She holds down five jobs at any one time which include working for a private investigator, as a freelance writer, writing coach, as well as numerous other alternating positions. Since she is her own boss, Holly has gobbled up countless books, articles, and studies on self-discipline, and effective work strategies. Holly writes science fiction romance, some occasional bizarro short stories, and co-authored the Writers of the Future’s ongoing blog on the craft of writing.

How to Keep Your Writing on Track When Your Life Goes Off the Rails

A Guest Post by Kary English

2015 was one of the worst years of my life. As dramatic as it sounds when I type it now, the truth is that I lost six months of productivity because there was just too much to deal with and still be able to write. Let me give you a run down of the series of calamities I had to deal with.

I endured the wrath of the internet for six to eight months while the Hugo kerfuffle played out.

My best friend of more than 10 years succumbed to cancer. I had to leave a writing workshop mid-week because we’d been trying to squeeze in a final trip together and her doctors said “Go now.”

A family member slipped far enough into Alzheimer’s that she no longer knows us.

My son’s school was rocked by a shooting threat.

My husband had to take a pay cut, and then our landlord chose a major holiday to tell us that we had to leave our home of more than 10 years. Combined with the high rents in the town where we live, that meant uprooting my son from a school he loves, leaving all of our friends and travelling more than 200 miles to find a place we could afford.

Now that I’m through it, that I’ve survived it, it doesn’t seem as bad. But at the time it was completely overwhelming. Luckily, it taught me a lot and when Nathan asked me to guest post, I decided to share the lessons I’ve learned about how to keep your writing on track when your life goes off the rails.

 1) Be gentle with yourself

Self-doubt, impostor anxiety, survivor guilt, perfectionism, procrastination, distraction, denial. I can usually make three-of-a-kind or better from that list, and that’s on a good day. Add in a major life upheaval like the ones I was facing and the result was overwhelming.

Be gentle with yourself. Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t mean you’re weak, lazy or a failure. Beating yourself up if your productivity suffers only makes you feel worse, so let me repeat this again: be gentle with yourself.

If you’re grieving, give yourself permission to grieve. If you’re exhausted, give yourself permission to rest and recover. If you’re stressed and overwhelmed, give yourself permission to relax, do nothing and take care of yourself first for awhile. If you need help with something, give yourself permission to ask for it and accept it when it’s offered.

2) Get outside

Many writers are introverts, so when life gets bumpy, it’s tempting to hide out from the world until things get better. Don’t pressure yourself to socialize if you’re not up to it, but try to get some fresh air and sunlight even if it’s just a walk by yourself. I’m lucky enough to have a beach and a nature preserve within walking distance, and regular visits are not only good for my mental state, they’re good for my productivity, too.

3) Compartmentalize as hard as you can

When life gets chaotic, I need two things to keep working: time and focus. That sounds easy, but when life goes off the rails it’s almost impossible to get both together. Your solution may be different, but I cope best through vicious compartmentalization. I block off a section of time, turn off my phone and my internet, and for the space of that time, even if it’s only half an hour, I focus on my writing.

Sometimes I can accomplish this in my own home and sometimes I can’t. When I’m at home, I’m a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend in addition to being a writer, and sometimes those roles conflict. When I’m at home, my name isn’t Kary English; it’s “Mom-can-I” or “Honey-where-did-I-put.” If things have been chaotic, there’s probably a mountain of laundry and other tasks that beckon with whispers (or shouts) of guilt and procrastination. So sometimes the solution is to go elsewhere–a coffee shop, my car down at the beach, or even a week in a hotel when I can afford it.

When I’m not at home I can let those other roles drop away for a little while and be just a writer.

4) Take a break if you need it

Sometimes the words won’t come no matter what you do. If that happens, it’s OK to take a break from writing. If you have to take a break, plan it. Make it explicit by telling yourself that you’re taking a break, and it’s OK not to write. Set a date to re-evaluate your situation and mark it on your calendar whether it’s a week, two weeks, a month or longer.

If you’re like me, not writing makes you feel guilty even when you have a crisis to deal with, and taking time to write makes you feel guilty for not dealing with the crisis. Making the break official relieves the guilt and lets you focus your full attention on the crisis. The check-in date is there to remind you that you haven’t quit; this is just a break.

If you find yourself feeling guilty about taking a break, go back to #1: Be gentle with yourself.

5) This too shall pass

No matter how bad something seems, it will end, things will stabilize and your ability to produce will return. Believe that, and trust in it.

2015 was pretty awful, but 2016? 2016 is going to be an amazing year.

Kary English:

Kary English grew up in the snowy Midwest where she avoided siblings and frostbite by reading book after book in a warm corner behind a recliner chair. Today, Kary still spends most of her time with her head in the clouds and her nose in a book. To the great relief of her parents, she seems to be making a living at it.
Kary is a Hugo and Campbell nominee, Amazon bestseller and Writers of the Future winner whose work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Grantville Gazette’s Universe Annex, Writers of the Future, Vol. 31 and Galaxy’s Edge.