On Stepping Back

via Death to Stock Photo
via Death to Stock Photo

You know those movie montages* where the girl breaks up with her boyfriend** and starts reinventing herself? Going dancing, taking classes, visiting new places, making new friends? That’s how I feel after (finally) making the decision to take a break from writing fiction.

Since my writing break started, I’ve noticed how much more mental energy I have every day. I’ve started paying attention to interests I had been ignoring for a long time. I’ve been journaling regularly and started doing yoga this week. I’m reading a biography I got for my birthday and remembered how much I LOVED reading biographies as a kid. My stress and anxiety levels have gone way down. I don’t feel *as* guilty about not writing as I used to. I feel so much lighter and freer than I did before.

Stepping back from writing is still scary sometimes, especially because it seems like EVERYONE on the internet tells you to never give up, to always keep pushing, to never give up on your dreams. Well, honestly I was pushing myself into a brick wall repeatedly, and that shit is EXHAUSTING. So even though I sometimes wonder “What am I doing, I have no idea!” I know it’s really the best option for me right now. (Shout out to Meg Kissack from That Hummingbird Life for a super uplifting conversation on Twitter that helped reinforce that this decision was the right one for me!)

I realize it’s a little ironic to write about not writing, but I think reevaluating your dreams and seeing if they’re really working for you is important, and isn’t discussed enough online. So if you feel like you’ve been hitting the same obstacle over and over again, maybe it’s time to step back. You can always come back to it whenever you’re ready.

 

*Is there a movie where this happens? I feel like I’ve seen it before, but the name is totally escaping me right now…

**All breakups mentioned in this post are metaphorical. Teddy and I are still doing great, in case you were wondering.

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What Leslie Knope and I have in Common

Ummm, it’s not the hat.

Do you ever try to match yourself or people you know to your favorite characters on TV? Teddy and I do it all the time, but I think our closest “matches” are Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt. This is me:

Ben Leslie2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this is Teddy:

ben gif2 ben gif3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I didn’t know better, I’d think the writers had eavesdropped on actual conversations we’ve had.

 

I’d never watched Parks & Rec consistently until last fall, when Teddy and I binge-watched seasons 1-6. (I still haven’t watched the last season because last seasons make me sad. If I haven’t watched it, it’s not over, right?)

 

At the time, I was feeling pretty crummy about myself. I had finished the rough draft for a novel, but I had no idea where to go from there, and I had the sinking feeling that it might be fatally flawed. I was left without a project. So I guiltily watched too much Parks & Rec, and then I noticed something. Leslie and I are a lot alike when it comes to work.

 

Leslie loves working. All she does is work work work — on vacations, on her days off, when she’s sick. Always working. When she can’t work, she makes up new subcommittees and community projects and runs them all herself. If Leslie doesn’t have a government project to do, she spirals into a lovable, super caffeinated tornado.

 

I do the same thing when it comes to my creative projects. Even if I’m not directly working on them, I’m thinking about them. I love projects, and I always want to be working on (at least) one. And if I don’t have a project, I get stressed and irritable. (Sorry, Teddy!) I’d love to be working on a creative project right now, I just can’t swing it. It’s felt like I’ve been running into one brick wall after another. I was thinking about it recently and I realized that in the past year I:

 

  1. was diagnosed with PCOS
  2. made drastic lifestyle changes
  3. lost 45 pounds (woohoo!)
  4. had to change my birth control because it wasn’t doing its job (not in a pregnancy scare way, but in a “my period started a week early AGAIN?!” way).
  5. had gallbladder problems which means I’m getting my gallbladder out in April

 

That’s a looooot to handle. And I realized recently that writing a novel sounds totally exhausting and not fun right now. The thought of seeking publication/ marketing sounds like self-imposed torture. (Just like Leslie, I have the tendency to be a *smidge* hyperbolic.) I just do not have the creative energy to pursue that at this stage of my life.

 

It’s honestly terrifying to type out those words. I know there are lots of people who might be rolling their eyes at this post and saying, “Really? That’s what’s stopping her? She just couldn’t cut it, I guess.” I also didn’t want to admit to myself that writing wasn’t working for me. Haven’t I wanted to be an author since I was 12? I’ve literally been working toward this dream for over a decade. Does this mean I’m a failure, or worse, that I’m giving up on my dream? What do I do now?

 

I don’t know the answer to the last question, but for right now I’m trying to show myself grace. I’m still writing down random story ideas and journaling. I’m trying to read about other interests/ think of new things I’d like to try. And Teddy has told me 1500 times that even if I stop writing now, I can always come back to it. I’m *finally* starting to sort of believe him.

 

I keep thinking about the recall vote that kicked Leslie off of city council. That setback didn’t stop Leslie Knope, and this won’t stop me either.

 

Note: If you are working on a novel or other big project, this post is NOT intended to discourage you! This post is talking about how writing isn’t working for me right now. I’ll be the first to cheer you on from the sidelines! Go get ‘em, tiger!

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Coffee Talk: Roadblocks

RoadBlocks

 

 

If we were on a coffee date, I’d tell you that it’s been just over a month since I finished the first draft of my big novel project, and I am stuck.

 

I thought I might start working on a new novel project, but I couldn’t seem to make the story and characters come together. I thought maybe they just needed more time on the backburner, so I shelved that project and started to work on a second draft of my original project. There were some backstory elements that needed work, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the pieces to fit. Nothing I was doing seemed to be working, and soon I was beyond frustrated and mentally exhausted. It felt like I was trying to punch through a brick wall with my bare hands.

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On Sharing Your Work: The 7/7/7 Challenge

When Jean Thomas (aka @mizwriterlady) challenged me to the 7/7/7 challenge, I was a little hesitant. (So hesitant that I hardcore procrastinated on actually publishing this post.) I love talking about the creative process, but I actually tend to keep my actual rough draft under wraps. I’m not sure why I play it so close to the chest with my rough drafts — maybe because there’s no context and I’m worried that it will be completely terrible? So while I don’t think I’ll be posting whole chapters of my rough draft anytime soon (trust me, it’s for your own good), I do think it’ll be good to loosen up a bit and show a little more behind-the-scenes action.

 

Also, side note, I’ve been thinking about putting up a portfolio with some of my college essays and other writing, but I’m not really sure how to go about that. If I figure it out, I’ll let you know!

 

And without further ado, here are my 7 lines from page 7 of my (now finished) first draft:

 

Tarand walked beside me with his bow over his shoulders. “Don’t pay any attention to Aladar, m’lady. He knows you’re right… but you know how he feels about manticores.”

“I know, Tarand.” We stopped and waited for Aladar to catch up with us. “I hate hanging back because of the Oleficis as much as he does. But I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”

The walk back to the horses was silent, each of us dwelling on our own thoughts. Retracing our steps was bitter for all three of us — after all, we weren’t accustomed to having to turn away. But we’d been forced to do it more and more often lately.

 

How do you feel about posting your rough drafts online? I don’t mind it in a workshop or class, but for some reason posting it online makes me suuuper nervous! I’d love to hear what you think!

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Five Things I Learned Writing My First Draft

Five Things I Learned

Photo courtesy of Death to Stock

 

If you’ve ever read Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds, you’ve probably seen his “Five Things I Learned while Writing…” series, where different authors list five things they learned while writing/ publishing their latest book. (If you haven’t read any, this is one of my favorites.)

 

I love those posts, and while my novel is nowhere near publication, I did finish the first draft, which is a HUGE deal considering how many novel fragments I have scattered in old notebooks. So I thought I’d write about the five things I learned writing my first draft:

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7 Ways to Deal with Creative Self-Doubt

7 ways to deal with creative self-doubt

 

We’ve all been there, right? You’re hard at work on a project, going full steam ahead, and then all of a sudden you think, “This is the worst book/ painting/ song/ statue in the history of the world, and everyone will see it and laugh at it, or even worse, at ME.” Those kinds of thoughts can really do a number on your self esteem.

 

So what do you do when self doubt is hanging around like your own personal storm cloud? My first instinct is to watch too many Food Network competition shows and eat a lot of ice cream, but that’s probably not the most helpful option. I’ve been experimenting with self-doubt coping techniques lately, so here’s what’s been working for me so far:

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Paper Trails: Focusing on the Bones of Your Story

Bones of Your Story
Original Photo from Death to Stock Photo

 

I’ve been chipping away at my work in process, but right around the 37,000 word mark, I had this uneasy feeling that wouldn’t go away. I tried to ignore it, assuming that it’s just my doubts popping up — “Hey, this is terrible. It’ll never be good enough. You should really stop now. Blah blah blah.”

 

But then I realized how much I didn’t know when it comes to my story. I have the plot line and I know my characters (ish), but I skipped a lot of worldbuilding. This might sound counterintuitive for someone writing fantasy, but in the past I’d get SO BORED if I spent ages planning I’d bail on my idea completely. So this time around, as soon as I figured out the basic plot (or the “bones” of the story, if you watch those house-flipping shows), I decided to jump in.

 

While I worked on plot and dialogue and character development, the story-world was simmering on the back burner, and it started expanding in huge and unexpected ways. This was both cool and terrifying, because I was planning on a simple fantasy story, and suddenly it became this potentially huge behemoth. I felt way over my head.

 

Luckily, before I could get really panicked, Chuck Wendig tweeted about learning to write through failure and it was literally exactly what I needed to hear. My favorite tweet was: “Fail fast. Fail with glee. Fail better. Fail upwards. Build a ladder out of trying things and getting shit wrong.” So that’s what I’m trying to do.

 

At this point, I’m bound and determined to finish my first draft (ignoring the problems I know I’ll have to fix later). Right now I’m trying to look at my story like those house flippers on TV: if a story has good bones, you can tear out all the carpet and knock down some walls, and maybe even gut the bathroom later. And then you’ll be able to focus on making the story “pretty,” instead of trying to hide the tacky paint color the previous owner picked. The only bad thing about this metaphor is that I can’t be too mad at the previous owner since in this case, the previous owner is me muddling things up during the first draft. Oops.

 

Does the house-flipping metaphor make sense for you? Or is it too much of a stretch?

 

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Hustling vs. The Slow Burn

 

Kirby Cove, CA

 

Are you a hustler? I’m sure you’ve seen all the handwritten notes on Instagram that tell you to hustle, hustle, hustle to get where you want to go. I totally agree that there are times you have to hustle your booty (to meet a deadline, to get the last cupcake, to finish last-minute packing…), but most of the time, I’m not a hustler.

 

When I was in college, I disliked small daily projects, and hated busy work with a passion. I would much rather write a ten page paper than tweet about the book we’re reading (yes, one of my professors made us do that) or do a dumb worksheet. Some of my classmates thought I was crazy, but I loved having a month or two to really dig into a big project.

 

Ironically, now my job is full of small daily projects, but I still feel the same way about my creative work. For a while, I tried to stick to a really strict blogging schedule while writing at least 350 words a day. But when I started feeling burned out, I realized that wasn’t working for me.

 

So I cut myself some slack. I try to post here three times a week, but sometimes I only post once or twice. I try to write 350 words of my story every week day (sometimes I write a lot, other times I can barely hit 200 words). I’m trying to keep up a slow burn, instead of a constant hustle.

 

I can only imagine how tricky it is if you work in a creative business! I see some people on Instagram or Twitter talking about how they’re hustling (for the 10th picture/ tweet in a row) or talking about how they really need a rest but they’re pushing through it. I secretly think those people need a nap and a cookie.

 

I wonder if being a hustler is more about personality types — I know people who hustle all the time, and they love it. What do you think?

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Dealing with Writer’s Block

Tonks doesn't know what writer's block is, but she thinks that if you're not going to tap on your magic glowing box, you might as well pet her.
Tonks doesn’t know what writer’s block is, but she thinks that if you’re not going to tap on your magic glowing box, you might as well pet her.

 

Ugh. Writer’s block. Out of all the things writers talk about, writer’s block may be the most-discussed topic. Some authors swear up and down that writer’s block doesn’t exist. (Seriously: Google “writer’s block isn’t real” and you’ll get about 2,320,000 results.) Those writers insist that you just need to power through it and keep writing anyway. Sometimes that method works — like when I’m tempted to scroll through Instagram instead of write. But there are days when the words just aren’t coming, and all my ideas seem terrible. People can argue about whether writer’s block is a “real thing” or not, but that doesn’t help me much when I’m stuck.

 

I tend to agree with Ray Bradbury’s idea that writer’s block is caused by writing about the wrong thing.

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On Getting Started

Insecurity quote
Photo via Noel Shiveley and Alex McDonell

 

Last week I mentioned that I reached a milestone in my novel and I was honestly shocked. It took me soo long to get the nerve up to take the plunge and start writing, and when I finally started it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

 

I feel kind of weird about giving advice for starting a novel/ big creative project — like a college freshman trying to advise the wee high school students — but I was too scared to start for a really long time, which is a little different than the stories you usually hear.

 

I’ve read several authors who talk about the failed novel(s) moldering on an external hard drive somewhere, and how they had to write a bunch of crappy novels before they wrote a good one. I… didn’t do that. I have notebooks full of character descriptions, plot outlines, and even some snippets of writing, but they were all abandoned before I really wrote anything. (They were all terrible, so it isn’t really a bad thing.) But it was super intimidating to start a novel knowing that I had tried and failed (abysmally) so many times before.

 

So I waited. I changed my plot outline about 5,000 times. (Seriously, anyone who was in my creative writing class where I wrote the first scene would hardly recognize it now.) I read blog posts about world building. I made a ton of secret Pinterest boards, with everything from characters to setting ideas. But by far the thing that helped me the most was reading different authors’ blogs.

 

No matter what kind of project you’re working on, there’s probably a blogger who’s doing it too. Which is great. Gradually I found a bunch of blogs that would give sort-of pep talks: Just go ahead and start. Don’t listen to your inner critic. It’s ok if the first draft is terrible — as long as it’s on the page. At the time I felt overwhelmed by the call to arms, but I really needed every single kick in the pants I read to get me up and moving.

 

Some links that were helpful when I needed a push to start writing:

 

Cassandra’s 12 Ways to Start Writing Again

 

If you haven’t read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, you need to beg/borrow/steal a copy today. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, take Abbigail’s.

 

Chuck Wendig’s:

 

Ashley Brooks’:

Do you draw/ paint/ sculpt/ scrapbook? A Beautiful Mess is always an encouraging place to look for new project ideas, and Elsie Larson’s 10 Reasons to Give Scrapbooking a Chance is particularly encouraging

 

One of my favorite places for writing advice is newsletters — Ashley Brooks’, Austin Kleon’s, Amber from Mr. Thomas & Me are some of my favorites. I look forward to the days they’ll show up in my inbox.

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