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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Your Authentic Voice

Who are you when you're writing?
I talk about it often. Every writer has their own unique story, and it’s through embracing and expressing our authentic voice that we will find success. But what exactly does all of that mean?

(I understand that in many circles “authentic” has become a buzzword. Yet I continue using it in the context of writing, because I know that beneath its overuse, its essence remains untarnished.)

Some say that our authentic voice is not to be found, but rather, developed. Some say our authentic voice equals our world view. Some say our authentic voice emerges from the subconscious.

Yes, yes, and yes. But that’s not all.

I was chatting with my teaching partner, Debbie Anne, who writes beautiful, raw, evocative prose and poetry. As we discussed the subject, she mused “how do we know if we are really writing from our authentic voice?”

Well, the answer we agreed upon is this:

We don’t have just one authentic voice. We have many.

We are multifaceted human beings with a plethora of personalities inside of us. I know it sounds a bit Sybil, but it’s actually very healing and empowering to understand the different archetypal aspects of our own nature. Most of us operate unconsciously from one or two primary parts (usually, wounded ones.) Once we are aware of this, we can make a conscious choice to act from a different place.

I think writers are especially prone to well-developed “inner-aspects.” As F. Scott Fitzgerald said…

Writer’s aren’t exactly people. They’re a whole lot of people trying to be one person.

I’m not just a writer and a wife. I also have a playful and sensitive inner child. I have a dark, depressed goth girl inside (with awesome clothes.) I have a hippie. A wise witch. A snob. A temptress. A healer. The list goes on and on. (And mine will be different than yours.)

Before I became a coach and learned this inner aspect model of the psyche, I thought there was something wrong with me. I couldn’t figure out who, among all these Athenas, I really was! Now I get it. I’m all of them. No one part of me is more authentic than another. They all have their place. Even the super shadowy aspects I, um, decided not to list above.

So, if we have multiple authentic parts of our personality deep inside, doesn’t that also mean we have multiple authentic voices in our writing? I think so.

Ask yourself this question: who am I when I am writing?

Chances are your answer will be different depending on what you are writing. You aren’t the same person writing a blog post as you are when you’re working on your book. Or even a poem.

There are many voices inside of you that want to be heard. And you can identify their level of authenticity by the way you feel when they are expressing. When you slip into that deep, beautiful, space where the words carry you away, you are touching truth.

Many writers will advise you to pick a voice and stick with it in order to establish yourself in your genre. But I say don’t be afraid to experiment with different voices to find which ones feel the best. (Or have the most to say.) If you’re concerned about writing from multiple voices, consider having more than one website and using a pen name.

You will also find that your voices change over time. What was authentic for you today will not be true for you in ten years. It’s an ever-evolving process. Let that fact loosen your grip on doing it right.

Exercise To Help You Find Your Voice(s): 

List all the aspects of your personality that you can think of – even the ones you’d rather not look at (especially those.) Then let each one express themselves in writing. Don’t judge and don’t censor.

In closing I’d just like to say that all of this is a bit like trying to analyze every brushstroke in an abstract masterpiece by Picasso. In truth, your voice(s) are fluid and work together (a bit like a small chorus of your inner aspects.) But sometimes deconstruction is helpful.

5 Senses Per Scene

Draw them in with unexpected sensory details.

Ah, October. The changing of the leaves, the crackling of a cozy fire, the smell of rain on pavement, a wool scarf around your neck and the taste of pumpkin-spice.

October is so vivid. Evocative. Rich. (Thanks, handy Thesaurus!) Since today is the 1st, I decided it was the perfect time to share a little technique I use to bring more vividness to my writing.

First, the reason why I use this technique…

Like all writers, I have strengths and weaknesses. When I crank out a first draft, they make themselves pretty evident. I love writing dialogue and I think I’m pretty good at it. (I wrote screenplays long before I ever wrote short stories and novels.) Because of this, my first drafts end up with huge chunks of nothing but dialogue. Not much action or sensory details. Not so great.

Maybe you’re already good at drawing your reader in through their senses, but I needed some help with that. So I developed the 5 senses per scene technique.

It’s pretty simple. In each scene I make sure each sense is covered: sight, taste, smell, touch, and sound. (By the way, when I say scene I’m talking at least 1,000 words. It can be a bit of an overkill to hit each and every sense in super short scenes.) It doesn’t need to be excessive. Too many little details gets boring really fast. But little sensory details dropped here and there are delicious. (And I do mean here and there. Don’t chunk them all together as I did in my opening line about October. That was just for emphasis.)

So is that it? Nope.

There’s a trick to packing the most punch with sensory details: do it in an unexpected way.

Yes, of course she sees the hunger in his eyes. How about she also sees a robin hunting for a worm. Or a loose dog at the end of the street. Or a scrap of a blouse hanging from a dead rosebush.

Sure, she could smell the hero’s cologne. But maybe she smells the faintest hint of chlorine in his hair instead. Or the mouthwatering (or nauseating) curry from her neighbors dinner.

You probably get the idea.

Of course you must maintain an editing eye with this technique. Ideally each sound, smell, taste etc. is something that adds to the story.

Since I adopted this practice I feel my writing is far more evocative, vivid, and real. We notice little details in real life. We should notice them in our writing too.

My author friend M.K. Darcy is exceptionally skilled in this area. He puts it wisely and well:

Don’t just use the five senses: use them in unexpected ways. One well-chosen sensory detail can make an entire scene, and it doesn’t have to be blatant. It can be very nuanced.
This is one of the reasons I’m constantly practicing mindfulness. Woven inside simple and everyday details are an entire world of context that, in writing, can be used both literally and symbolically.
But you have to pay attention.

The Power of You. Why I’m Writing My Book In Second Person.

Unleash magic with this underused narrative.

Unleash magic with this underused narrative.

It’s safe to say that the majority of fiction is written in either first person narrative (I lit the cigarette,) or third person narrative (He/She lit the cigarette.) The second person point of view, where the protagonist is referred to by the second person pronoun, you, is the overlooked middle child of narratives.

Well, I happen to be writing my second novel in second person. I absolutely love that sad, neglected middle child, and I’d like to share why.

But first of all, why is it so uncommon?

The truth is, it’s kind of jarring. I remember the first time I picked up a book in second person. I didn’t get far before I swore off the stuff for life. Now that I’m older I understand why I found it so offensive. (Aside from the fact, that like most readers, I simply wasn’t used to it.) I couldn’t relate to the protagonist. I don’t remember the book, but I remember that everything about the character was everything I was not. So, trying to place myself in his shoes was plain uncomfortable!

As an author, this means writing a book in second person limits our audience. But we shouldn’t be writing for the masses anyway, right? (One of the few writing rules I agree with.)

And when a reader does relate to the character… watch out. A book in second person will draw them in far, far deeper than anything in first or third narrative ever could.

I have had that experience as a reader. And it’s why I want to provide it as an author.

I first read Bride Stripped Bare, the bestseller by Nikki Gemmel, when she was still writing as Anonymous. It’s written in second person, and though I found its unusual style a bit off-putting at first, it moved me deeply. When her next book With My Body was released, I didn’t hesitate. Again, it is written in second person, with a protagonist I can relate to. Well, I sobbed for days when I finished that book two years ago, and I sobbed when I finished it for the second time last night.

I’m now a faithful fan. I will buy everything she writes. I sure as hell want readers to say that of me, and I bet you do too.

So why not try the second person approach? Have a playdate with that sad, neglected middle child of narratives and see how you get along.

If you do, here’s few things to keep in mind:

  1. Make your character someone your reader can relate to. Second person narrative requires a strong suspension of disbelief in your reader, therefore it works best in stories that are grounded in reality. (I’m willing to be proven wrong.)
  2. If you are using second person point of view, stay in second person point of view. This is one of the downsides of second person. You can’t jump around as easily as you can with third person.
  3. Ease your reader into it. The pronoun you is shocking enough. Give them a chance to get acclimated to who “you” are before dropping danger in their path.

Second person narrative is a bit like hypnosis. We’re telling our reader exactly how we want them to feel. And when used effectively, it’s absolute magic.

 

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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Writing On The Edge. How Courageous Writers Make Successful Writers.

Fear is your guide, not your enemy.

Writing is scary.

It’s true. Only writers get this. Try to explain to a normie that you haven’t finished your novel because you are afraid, and you’ll only receive a blank stare of confusion, or worse, judgement.

But why exactly is writing so terrifying? From the book, The Courage to Write:

Even though novelists and short story writers ostensibly deal in fantasy, they are the most self-exposed authors of all. Fiction writers are judged by the emotional authenticity of their work. To create authentic feelings in their characters, they must first call up their own.

It’s that word: authenticity.

And that’s the crux of it. All famous authors have said it in their own way. You must be honest. You must be real. If you aren’t, your work will suffer.

“The only writers I respect,” said Henry Miller, “are those who have put themselves completely into their work. Not those who use skillful hands to do something. This isn’t writing, in my opinion. A man who can dash off a book, let’s say, and say it’s a good novel, a best seller, even of some value, but it isn’t representative completely of him, of his personality, then there’s something wrong there. This man is a fraud in a way, to me. All he put into his book was his skill. And that’s nothing. I prefer a man who is unskillful, who is an awkward writer, but who has something to say, who is dealing himself one time on every page.”

So many of us are afraid we aren’t good enough, skilled enough. So we obsess over rules and how-to’s and paralyze ourselves with the rigidity of doing it right. Often this is only a tactic our fear uses to distract us from writing the deep, scary, truth.

There is a woman in my writing group who desperately wants to be a better writer. When she shares her stories, they inevitably fall flat. She’s good with grammar, plot structure, and description. But there is something missing: truth. There’s no honesty in her stories. There is no risk.

The risk is what rivets readers.

They sense that not only are these characters in some sort of danger (physical, psychological, or otherwise) but the author is, too. Readers want to see the truth laid bare in all it’s humiliating glory. Why? Because it resonates as truth. And that makes them feel connected. It makes them feel better about their own truth. It makes them feel they are not alone.

This type of writing takes guts. There’s no magic cure for writing fear (though I’ll be focusing on how to face it for the rest of September.) As a successful writer, self-exposure is not just an occupational hazard. It’s a requirement. Make peace with this fact as best you can.

Remember that fear is your guide, not your enemy.

“When you stiffen,” said Toni Morrison of anxious moments while writing a novel, “you know that whatever you stiffen about is very important. The stuff is important, the fear itself is information.”

When you feel the fear, celebrate it instead of cursing it. Instead of running away. Be glad you feel it. It means you are doing something more important than following rules: you’re writing with authenticity.

And that’s a good thing. All those famous authors can’t be wrong.

 

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