Writing In Disguise

If you struggle with "page fright" this might be your solution.

Last month I began writing and self-publishing under a pseudonym. I had thought about it for a long time, but… I’ll be honest, I wanted recognition for my writing, darn it!

As I was getting closer to completing my novella it became increasing clear that I had issues about publishing it under my own name. Unlike Dharma and Desire, my first book, this little novella is not entirely fiction. I guess you could call it a highly fictionalized memoir. And though I doubt anyone would be shocked and appalled by the content, it still made me uncomfortable.

You may or may not know that I got my start writing erotic romance and I’ve been published in a few anthologies. I stopped writing in that genre because I moved into more spiritual/visionary romance. Not to mention there is very little money to be made in anthologies!

But I’d heard that one can actually make decent pocket change selling kindle short stories. (Caveat: you must be prolific.)

Since I’m sooooo sick of not making any money on my writing, I wanted to give it a try. It was my desire for cold hard cash, along with cold feet about my novella, that motivated me to adopt a pen name.

The results have been incredibly liberating. In fact, I am kicking myself for not doing this a LONG time ago. I have written and published more in the past month under my pen name than I write and publish in a year as myself. The best part is that my novella is flowing free once again.

The only downside is that I have to build an entirely new platform and find new readers. Also, publishing kindle short stories is a long game. You need a lot of work out there before you’ll start seeing any money.

But to me, the benefits outweigh the cons. The top three benefits being:

1. Pen names allow you explore your various writing voices.

2. Without fear of backlash or judgement, you can be more authentic.

3. It takes some of the pressure off being perfect. If it’s a huge flop and everyone hates it… who cares! No one knows it was you. (And yet you still receive the benefit of learning from your mistakes.)

So, I invite anyone who struggles with fear around their writing to consider adopting a pen name. Do an experiment and write one short story as someone else. Write it with the knowledge that no one will ever know you penned it.

See what comes out. It may surprise you. And who knows… maybe it can even buy you a cup coffee. Eventually.

Do you write under a pen name? If so, how has it helped you as a writer?

Available To Inspiration

The shoulds are stifling. They are stinky. And half the time we don’t even know we’re sitting in them!

I may be a free-wheelin’ pantser with an aversion to plotting, but I still like to plan. “I’m going to write this e-book by then! I’m going to work on chapter four of this novel the entire weekend! I’m going to sit my butt in this chair and get THIS part DONE.”

But I’m coming to realize that this isn’t necessarily how creativity works. Inspiration doesn’t like to be confined. Sometimes planning can become a prison.

We tell ourselves that this is the way it should work. That we should sit down and bang it out. And by God, I am in charge of what “it” is!

I truly believe that as a writer, as any kind of artist, we are channel for something bigger. While it’s important to be committed to our projects, I think we also need to remember that we are here to midwife creation, not to dictate what that creation will look like.

Similar to the importance of changing the way we think about our crappy first drafts, this is all about a simple shift of attitude.

It’s about saying:

I’m going to show up for what wants to be expressed, instead of sitting down in a pile of shoulds.

The shoulds are stifling. They are stinky. And half the time we don’t even know we’re sitting in them! Yet we wonder why we’re so uncomfortable and the words don’t seem to flow.

The more I release the shoulds, the freer I am to write awesome, inspired words. The more I release the shoulds, the more available I am to inspiration. The muse can’t communicate with us if we have our fingers in our ears.

I love being surprised by my creations. Whether it is an awesome scene for my current WIP, a poem, a bit of flash fiction, or something else entirely (its purpose I may not yet understand,) the surprise factor only happens when I get out of my own way, stop should-ing myself, and let my muse speak.

If you’re feeling stuck, give it a try. Let go of the well intended plans, the stinky, stifling shoulds, and allow yourself to be the channel that you are.

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The Real Problem With Your Crappy First Draft

The problem isn't the problem...

Inspiration strikes. You have a brilliant idea for a book. You sit down and start to write. The words, sentences, and chapters flow in perfect order. Everything falls into place with ease and grace. Weeks pass, maybe months, until finally in a moment of glorious triumph you type the words “the end.” Ta-da! There it is. A perfectly plotted, crafted, and polished novel.

Yeah. Right.

In reality, the process looks little like that. It’s more like this:

Writing a novel is like wrestling an octopus into a mayonnaise jar. – Patti Hill

It’s a struggle to get that first draft finished. Granted, I’m a panster not a plotter. Maybe it’s easier with an outline. But whatever your approach, it’s not an easy task.

I’m nearly finished with my first draft of my second book, Raven In Gray. I’ve spent the last six months mustering the courage to face the page, vacillating wildly between “this is amazing,” and “this is the worst thing I’ve ever created,” and most of all, wondering how I will ever turn this pile of poop into something I can publish.

But I’m getting it done. In fact, I have never written a first draft of anything so quickly. (My first book took 7 years to write.) I honestly surprised myself with my level of productivity and my ability to stick to my goals.

How did I do it? Well, I discovered a little secret. It’s this: My first draft is crap. And so is yours.

Actually, that’s only the first part of the secret. The second part is this: the real problem with your crappy first draft isn’t your crappy first draft, it’s the way you feel about your crappy first draft.

The problem isn't the problem

My entire writing life I have paralyzed myself by judging my early drafts as not good enough. When I finally accepted that it wasn’t supposed to be good (yet,) it was like flipping a switch – from paralyzed to free.

We sit there in front of our computers, doing really hard work – shoveling words onto the page, and we don’t give ourselves any credit. Instead, we cry that it’s all crap. Yes. It is crap. But don’t forget that crap is fertilizer. It provides the necessary conditions from which something beautiful can grow.

I’ve heard from many frustrated young writers, wondering why they can’t finish a story. I honestly believe that at the root of story-abandonment lies judgment of ourselves and our words. We don’t even give ourselves a chance. We see our crappy first draft and declare it over before it’s begun.

Please. Trust me on this one. The sooner you accept that the only problem with your crappy first draft is your own expectations and judgements about it, the sooner you will be able to transform that pile of stinky fertilizer into a glorious creation.

So your book isn’t so great yet. That’s okay. It’s not supposed to be great yet. Just keep going.

When Writing Becomes Misery

Step back and get some perspective.

You gather your wits, strength, and courage about you. You’re going to need them. You check your equipment. You make sure you have everything you need – could possibly need. Then you check it all again. You say a quick prayer that you’ll be guided on this perilous mission. Your breath quickens at the thought of what lies ahead, the significance of this task, and what will happen if you fail. You shudder and your body constricts. You must not fail. But you can’t think about that now. No, you can only focus on the moment at hand. This moment. When you bow your head and brace yourself… you’re going in.

Since this is a writing blog, you probably know I’m talking about writing. But it doesn’t sound like it, does it? Sounds a bit like we’re diving into a live volcano to extract a nuclear detonator. Or something along those lines.

But that’s exactly what writing feels like sometimes. (If it doesn’t feel that way to you, um, good for you and please move along.) It’s almost ridiculous how difficult the simple task of sitting down before a computer and tapping at little buttons can feel.

When it gets to that point, when writing a book feels as heavy as saving the world from certain doom, it’s time to step back and get some perspective. I have to do this on a regular basis. Here’s how…

Bring in childlike curiosity and joy

Think back to the way you wrote as a kid or teen. Back in the days when you thought writing was awesome and easy and everything you wrote was the greatest thing ever created. Now, go and actually write a short little ditty from that place. For me, it would obviously be a ridiculous, unrealistic love story in which the hero shows up and saves me from… well, everything.

Then, bring that enthusiasm back with you into your heavyweight work-in-progress. What would the child version of you say about this story? What would they like to see happen?

Grown ups are too serious. Make it fun again.

Release the expectations

We struggle most when we put pressure on ourselves. It’s understandable. We want people to fall in love with our work. To cheer us, validate us, and throw money at us as we dive into another volcano to pull out another story. But that might not happen. People might boo us instead. Or not even read a word.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic (so good!) she writes that how others react to our art is none of our concern. Our only job is to create it, birth it, then do it all again.

You’ll have critics and you’ll have fans. In the end, it doesn’t matter what either of them have to say. It’s all subjective anyway.

The only difference between a flower and a weed is judgement. ~ Wayne Dyer.

Nurture your garden. Write the story that’s beautiful to you.

Change your attitude

This is a hard one for me. It’s also very effective when I manage it.

If you’re feeling miserable about your creative process, find a way to be grateful for it instead. Take a walk in nature and think about the art you have been inspired to create. Not everyone receives this gift. Many are too busy to hear the whispers of creativity, or they have simply shut themselves off to any possibility that they can create.

But not you. You are open to inspiration. You are birthing something into this world that will last forever. That’s a gift. If you can see your creativity as that, it takes on a different vibe.

We’ve all been conditioned to believe that the creative process is a burden. That an artist’s life is suffering. It is true that it can be hard at times. But if that’s all we focus on, that’s all we’re going to experience.


So what about you? How do you turn the creative process into something enjoyable after it’s become something heavy?

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When Comparison Strikes

No, I don't teach Victorian literature. And I'm okay with that.

No, I don’t teach Victorian literature. And I’m okay with that.

The other day I found myself at a social gathering. We all know how much I love those. Actually, this particular gathering was small and consisted of friends. When the one new face in the crowd was introduced as a fellow author, I was excited to connect. I talked a bit about my book and how exciting it was to finally have my first novel out there in the world (after 7 long years of struggle.)

“What about you? What do you write?” I asked.

“I teach Victorian literature at Stanford.” Cue awe, envy, and comparison. “I just released a book, too. It also took me 7 years! It’s a critical analysis of Victorian poetry. Right now I’m working on a book about narrative.”

“Oh.” A tumbleweed tumbled past. (You have no idea how bad the drought is in California.)

Another woman jumped into the conversation. “Athena, did you bring me a copy of your book?”

My book found its way around the table, pausing for a few moments in every pair of hands. As Lady Professor flipped through it, reading here and there, I had to resist the urge to snatch it from her fingers. Speaking of narrative, the particular narrative going through my head at that time was pretty dismal. The comparisons had launched themselves into full flight.

I’m nothing compared to her.
Stanford. Seriously? I think she’s younger than me.
What does a book “about narrative” mean anyway?
Oh God, I’m a total fraud!

As the evening progressed, and in the days following, I got a handle on those comparisons by remembering three simple things…

1. Only we can tell our story.

So what if someone else does this or that, has a fancy title, or has written a thousand best sellers? We are on our own journey and it would serve us to remember that. Often. No, I can’t teach Victorian poetry (reading it is challenging enough, thanks.) But I’m pretty sure she couldn’t have written Dharma and Desire, either.

“Your writing voice is the deepest possible reflection of who you are. The job of your voice is not to seduce or flatter or make well-shaped sentences. In your voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul.”
-Meg Rosoff

Our mind, hearts, and souls are our own. No comparison is possible.

2. We tend to compare our behind-the-scenes to other’s highlight reels.

How do I know what this woman’s struggles are? Maybe she wants, more than anything, to write a formula romance novel. Or an erotic novel. Or a sci-fi novel. But she’s terrified. Who knows? We tend to presume that everyone else has it amazing. That other authors have it easier. It’s just not true.

3. You’re only in competition with yourself.

I wrote a novel. Period. No, it’s not high-brow literature, but I wrote it. And I continue to improve my writing all the time.

And if you’re reading this, comparing yourself to me, thinking “I haven’t written a novel,”… so what if I wrote a novel? You’re writing and that is more than many will ever attempt. You are moving toward your goals. That’s what’s important.

If you’re anything like me, you have a hard time recognizing how far you’ve come. But I’m willing to bet if you really look at it, your writing has grown by leaps and bounds. You’ve accomplished a lot. Honor your achievements.

I’m pretty sure the greats out there (authors, leaders, teachers, etc) don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how they measure up to someone else. They are too busy focusing on helping others while being the best they can be.

 

When it comes down to it, Lady Professor and I probably have more in common than I realize. We’re both writers. We both want to share our minds, hearts, and souls with the world.

It’s okay — actually, it’s pretty damn cool that we do it in different ways.

Shouldn’t You Be Writing? The Real Reason Writers Avoid The Blank Page

"All writing problems are psychological problems." ~ Erica Jong

“All writing problems are psychological problems.” ~ Erica Jong

We writers are an imaginative, intelligent bunch. But instead of using our super-powers to finish writing the most kick-ass story ever, we often apply our cunning to the art of avoidance. We can always find an excuse. Pinterest “research.” Social media promoting. Cleaning the house. The quest to find the perfect pen. Personally, I’m partial to whittling away hours at a time making spiffy teasers and graphics like these:

raven in gray teaser

Dharma and Desire Teaser

Raven in Gray

 

 

 

 

 

 

And by the way, you can hire me to make spiffy graphics and teasers for you, too! Please, PLEASE give me something else to do besides facing the page.

We all do it. Anything to avoid doing the words. Sometimes our avoidance tactics are not even conscious. We rationalize our excuses, convincing ourselves that they’re real. If we’re so intelligent, why do we do that?

Because we aren’t even aware WHY we are running away. 

When it comes down to it, there’s only one reason. Fear. Big fat, stinking, slinky, fear.

Writers block is a misnomer. What is called writers block is almost always ordinary fear. ~ Tom Wolfe

We already talked about how scary it is to be honest and authentic in our writing. But the fear of exposure is only one of many fears.

Maybe we also fear…

We won’t be able to finish the book.

We aren’t good enough. We aren’t a “real writer.”

Nobody will want to read what we write.

We’ll go broke if we devote ourselves to our writing.

Complete failure.

Total success. (Yes, that can be scary too.)

We’ll find things deep inside that we don’t want to see.

And a dozen other things that are personal to us.

So now that we understand that fear is always beneath our avoidance, how can we conquer it? Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news… but we can’t. We can only develop a new relationship with our fear.

Don’t underestimate the power of recognizing your fears.

When our fears are unconscious we get ants in the pants, and do everything in our power to escape that feeling. Once we recognize our fear, name it, and claim power over it (it’s just an emotion after all,) we can pull up our big-girl panties (or big-boy boxers,) sit down and write despite the ants in our pants. 

In order to gain more consciousness around our fears, I recommend writing them out – along with the worst case scenario should our fears come true. Be imaginative and overly dramatic about it. This will give you awareness of your fears as well as help you see that perhaps some of them aren’t even valid (or at least, they are blown out of proportion.)

Remember, courage doesn’t equal fearlessness.

We can face the page, filled to the brim with fear, and still do the words. We all have similar fears. We are all scared we aren’t good enough. But do you want to know what makes a “real writer”? The act of writing despite fears.

So pull up those panties or boxers, recognize the monsters in the closet, and do the words anyway. Your story needs you.

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