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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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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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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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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Input/ Output

Have you ever heard of having creative input and output days? I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately– especially since I’ve been trying to remember where I first read about them. It’s really bugging me that I can’t think of it, but I am still really excited by the idea! The past two weeks have definitely been more focused on input more than output, and while I love inspiration days, I think I’ve gotten a little stuck. I totally agree with Abbigail in her post about why she writes — when I haven’t been writing or “outputting” enough I feel mentally sluggish and frustrated, so I’m hoping that next week will be more focused on output.

 

Input Day

 

1. Emily Henderson’s Materials Girl #5: I’ve been reading Style by Emily Henderson religiously so I can soak up all the interior design advice I can, since decorating isn’t exactly my strong suit. I’m basically going to do my best to copy her entire house in my new apartment. But not in a weird way, obviously. I thought the mix of colors and pattern in her latest Materials Girl post seems like a grown-up, livable version of my wedding colors, which I kind of love.

2. Lettering Set by Noel Shiveley and Alex McDonell, via Kelly Purkey’s Five on Friday: I think I need this quote written above my desk or tattooed on my forehead. It’s something I need to hear every time I start over analyzing my writing, work, life choices, outfit…

3. SMP Living’s Behind the Scenes with Britt Bass Turner: I loved everything about this post– I love Britt Bass Turner’s art and reading her thoughts on her art and career was really encouraging and inspiring. If I lived in Atlanta I would definitely sign up for the next Studio Session!

4. The EveryGirl’s Rebecca Atwood Career Profile: Another really inspiring career profile, but this time with textile designer Rebecca Atwood. I have a whole new appreciation whenever I walk into a store and see how much work went into the textiles for upholstery, towels, clothing, etc. I’m definitely inspired to play with pattern and colors, both in clothing and decorating.

5. The Effortless Chic’s California Dreaming: It’s so funny to me how much pink there is in this photoset, because I don’t wear much pink. But I LOVE that pink backdrop! I also really like her sweater and the reasons she loves LA. It definitely makes me think of all my favorite places in my hometown, and inspires me to do more exploring in Houston.

6. 100 Layer Cakelet’s Lucy Roux’s Favorite Things First Birthday: Is it weird that I’m a little jealous of this birthday party? It’s so darn cute, and I love that the theme was based on her favorite things. I also LOVE the calligraphy and the illustrations used to decorate the cookies. So. Cute.

7. Design Love Fest’s Dress Your Tech: I’m pretty sure that the Dress Your Tech series is the coolest idea. I think it’s so great that Bri posts desktop backgrounds by different illustrators and graphic designers every week. I love this desktop background by Elizabeth Doyle, and it’s making my desk top extra pretty.

8. The Tomkat Studio’s Calligraphy Eat Cake Balloons: So the pink balloons + calligraphy are so cute that I couldn’t resist including them. I’m not sure if it’s a reference to Julia Child’s famous quote about cake, but I like to think it is.

9. The Vanilla Bean Blog’s Buttermilk Cake with Blood Orange Frosting: There are so many great things about this post! The cake recipe looks delicious, and since it’s blood orange season and they’re Teddy’s favorite, I think I’ll definitely have to make this soon. Also, Sarah announced that she’s writing a cookbook, which is so exciting! And I loved that she mentioned the Nancy Drew/ Narnia/ Sweet Valley mashup stories she wrote in middle school, because that sounds a lot like the stories I’d write when I was 11 or 12, and I would have definitely loved her stories back then.

10. Have you ever seen The IT Crowd? It’s a hilarious British TV show (that’s on Netflix, in case you’re curious). Moss is my favorite character, and this is one of my favorite quotes. Sometimes you have to rely on your weirdness and sweet sense of style.

 

Most of these aren’t writing-related, but I’m just going with it. Here’s to having a good balance of input and output days!

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Why I’m Not Doing NaNoWriMo

Wolfman's Books by Kyle J. Glenn
Wolfman’s Books by Kyle J. Glenn

 

I know, I’m a writer not doing National Novel Writing Month? It’s practically an unofficial writer requirement at this point, but I have mixed feelings about it. I think it’s great if it excites you and gives you the chutzpah to get cracking on your novel. But from all the guides to “surviving NaNoWriMo” and vague sense of panic currently flooding my Tumblr dashboard, I don’t think I’m the only one who finds NaNoWriMo more stressful than inspiring. Personally I don’t want my writing process to feel like a Terminator apocalypse that I have to survive. I think November is a pretty crummy time to enter a voluntary literary house arrest — who wants to be a sleep-deprived zombie for Thanksgiving and Christmas? I miss the writing projects from undergrad, but I’m still so happy that I don’t have deadlines that I’m not willing to give myself a crazy one now.

 

Narcissism and Self-Loathing
Ted McCagg’s “Writers Explained” is pretty much perfect.

 

The more I thought about the crazy deadline and how (woefully) unprepared I would be to start a novel on November 1, the less and less I wanted to start the project at all. (Plus Teddy was completely horrified when I mentioned it to him, and since he’s my resident sounding board and first reader I figured I should pay attention.) I decided that the timing wasn’t great for me, so why not use the NaNoWriMo start date as an inspiration for my own personal goal? The other day my friend Erin reblogged this simple plan that only requires you to write 350 words a day for 260 days out of the year, so I decided to set my own (manageable) goals for next month: I’m hoping to write 5 scenes over that month, and if I’m really prolific, maybe 10. That seems so piddly compared to 50,000 words, but honestly I’m totally fine with that! I really want to set up a writing routine that works for me all year.

 

I definitely don’t want to crush anyone’s NaNoWriMo hopes and dreams – if you’re excited for it, go for it! But if you’re anything like me and you’re worried about stressing yourself out so much that writing becomes a chore, or beating yourself up if you don’t make it to 50,000 words, set your own goals. Get what you want out of NaNoWriMo, and you’ll succeed whether you make it to 2,000 or 50,000 words.

 

Whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or not, here are some links for various writing resources that might be helpful:

  • How to write quickly… good resource for anyone doing NaNoWriMo, or anyone who has to beat a deadline.
  • The Elephant Technique… this blew my mind, and might be one of the best (and simplest) writing tips I’ve read. Unless you’re writing a story about elephants, in which case you might want to make it the “Platypus Technique.” Also a guide to NaNo/ novel Prep.
  • If thinking about writing dialogue stresses you out (I can’t be the only one, right?), this list of resources should help calm you down.
  • Honestly Fix Your Writing Habits  and Clever Girl Helps are both chock-full of helpful information. Austin Kleon’s Tumblr is pretty awesome too.
  • Ten Things I’d Like to Say to Young Writers. Again, Chuck Wendig is not exactly safe for work – or your grandma – but he’s not screwing around when it comes to writing advice. This is also a really good kick in the pants for when your enthusiasm starts to (inevitably) fade.
  • This quote is so good that I accidentally reblogged it twice within a month on my writing Tumblr. I also have an “Authors Talking Shop” tag with quotes from various artists, authors, etc. about the creative process.
  • Can I go to this Writer’s Retreat?

 

Go nuts, you crazy kids! Are you planning on doing NaNoWriMo this year? Do you think I’m a wimp for not doing it? If you’re not, do you have any other writing goals you’re working towards? I’d love to hear!

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Back to School

By this time in August I’m usually in Georgia with my college roommate, going to Target for school supply shopping, and wearing sweaters in anticipation of September. But since I walked across a big stage in May, I’m not going back to school for the first time in my life, and it’s a weird feeling. My sense of time is pretty wonky at the best of times, but it’s especially bad this year. I moved in with a new (and permanent) roommate in July and the heat index has been 100+ for most of this week, I keep forgetting that the first of September is next Monday. When did that happen? Where did summer go?

Technically summer will still be with me for a while—at least if melting whenever you walk outside counts as summer. But while my new driver’s license might say “Texas,” my brain still says “Virginia and Georgia,” so I’m craving the hints that fall is coming. The chilly evenings, new notebooks, new class schedule, the very first Pumpkin spice latte of the year, and maybe a new sweater because it’s almost September, and September means sweater weather.

I could get away with wearing a sweater in August in Georgia (I’m perpetually cold, so that usually saves me from getting heat stroke), but Texas heat is not so forgiving, making sweater shopping pretty unappealing. But I’d been on the lookout for a cognac bag since I saw the Madewell Tote on Kendi Everyday. I was looking for something roomy with a crossbody strap but didn’t have any luck until a random trip to Target— and at roughly 1/5 the price of the Madewell tote I couldn’t say no. It doesn’t hurt that it feels “writerly” to me. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who needs a little help to get in the writing mood?)

Bags collage1

Now that I have my “writing” bag, I’m all set to “go back to school” – or at least start writing regularly again. I’ve been on a semi-planned hiatus this summer since I finished up my senior thesis in May, but now I’m itching to get writing again. I can pick what I read and write about now, which is exhilarating and daunting at the same time. So let’s go out there and study (or write, or paint, etc). But let me grab my purse first.

Note about the product photos: I’m not sure why, but the lighting for the Target product photo is just awful. Don’t be scared– in person it’s not shiny at all and is a nice brown cognac color.

Madewell Transport Tote
Madewell Mini Transport Crossbody
Merona Tote in Cognac

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