On The Importance of Confidence in Yourself–and Your Writing

On my writing retreat last weekend, I reread my novel. Yeah, that’s right. The one I told everyone how terrible it was. How it needed major surgery. How it had plot holes so big you could drive a truck through them. How the characters were undeveloped.

In re-reading it I found that all of the above was true–to a certain degree.  But overall, the draft had a lot going for it–engaging characters, a great setting, a fun conflict (if conflicts can be considered fun).  And the writing was solid, mostly, even though I wrote much of it quite quickly.

The book wasn’t bad, but my attitude was.  I had been busy telling myself it was a piece of crap, that it was terrible and hopeless and going to be impossible to rewrite.  And that, in turn, made me feel terrible and hopeless and like I was worth nothing more than, well, a piece of crap. Because as goes my writing, so goes my life.  I’m happiest–and most confident–when I’m deep in the middle of writing a story.  And having confidence in my writing is a huge part of sustaining a regular writing practice.

So how did I manage to so spectacularly lose it? I’m not really sure, but I think it has to do with not being actively engaged in writing a novel.  I am always writing something, even if it’s just journal pages, but when I’m not working on a story of some kind, I lose faith in myself.  Of course, one needs to take a break sometimes.  And that’s what I thought I was doing. Instead, I was berating myself for the terrible work I’d done.

But, as is so often the case, the opposite of lack of confidence is not good either. This is when you are so puffed up about your work that you can’t take constructive criticism from anybody, or make good decisions about it yourself. Because you are so sure that it is all perfect! Sometimes writers mistake the experience of writing for the end result. In other words, just because the words flowed easily and you had a blast writing it doesn’t mean that it’s perfect at the end.  I’ve not yet seen a first draft that couldn’t stand some tinkering.

But I see far fewer cases of that than I do instances of writers lacking confidence in themselves. Years ago, when my kids were little they’d get worried if I was going to go complain to a teacher of a school principal about something, not wanting me to rock the boat.  I’d say, “If your mother isn’t going to stand up for you, who is?” I hope it taught them something about standing up for what was theirs.  And that’s how I feel about writing. We’ve got to learn to stand up for our work–without getting too egotistical about it.

Me included.

How’s your writing going? Do you have confidence in it?

EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) For Writers

As writers, we don’t have a lot of tools.  A computer, pen and paper.  Oh we can buy all sorts of software and hardware to support us, but basically all we really need is something to write with and a scrap of paper.  Not like, say, a contractor, or a graphic designer, or a landscaper.

I’m always envious of professions that require a lot of tools, because if I had tools, then I’d have an excuse.  As in, Oh my hoe needs sharpening so I’ve got to take a break from weeding. Or,  Damn, don’t have the right color! Guess I’ll have to go to the art supply store after lunch.  But alas, the tools of my trade are readily and cheaply available in every home.

However. One thing we writers can avail ourselves of are mental tools. Because writing is a mental game above all else. We basically make shit up out of thin air and then put it on paper. If that’s not mental, I don’t know what is. But the same brain that can weave intricate plots can also trick us into getting blocked. Into worrying about the quality of the words we’re putting on the page. Into convincing ourselves that its more important to mop the kitchen floor than write.  And so I’m all about the mental tools we can use.

Enter EFT, or the Emotional Freedom Technique, also sometimes known as tapping.  It is an “energy” technique that anybody can learn in a couple of seconds and then use to deal with all kinds of things.  Literally.  Gary Craig, the founder of EFT, says, “Try it on anything.”  And by this he means anything ranging from physical to mental to emotional pain.  (His site is an excellent place to begin.) I’ve known people who use it to control chronic pain, and my own coach used it to heal from extreme anxiety and depression over a traumatic experience when nothing else helped.

What is it? I think of it as similar to acupuncture, in which you are activating the meridians of the body through pressure. In the case of EFT, a simple routine of tapping certain points while you state the issue you’re dealing with.  There’s a diagram of tapping points here (scroll down to headline EFT Tapping Points) or here.  You can start out with the negative side of the issue and flow it into the positive, or just keep repeating the negative bits. Don’t get too hung up on the mechanics–how long to tap on each point, or if you’re doing it correctly. Just do it. You might find yourself yawning or burping as things release.

How to use it for writing? There’s a variety of ways.  But here are just a few:

–When you are blocked.  Start tapping: “Even though I don’t know what to write next, I still love and respect myself.” That love and respect myself bit is the basic, starting point script. But you don’t have to say that. You can just go off on the negative: “God, here I am again. I don’t know where to go in my writing. It’s been weeks and I haven’t written a word. I can’t call myself a writer. This is ridiculous.” Tap and talk out all your frustrations.  At some point you might start to feel better and then you can do a “maybe” bridge into the positive. “Maybe I don’t know what to write next because I haven’t taken the time to properly plan.  Maybe I’m just convincing myself I’m blocked and a failure because I’m scared.” And then on into the positive.  You might find more things to tap about. If som have at it.

–When you want insight into your plot or characters, or any aspect of your book. Talk it out while you’re tapping. Keep a notebook nearby so you can record the inspirations you’ll get.

–When you are nervous about some aspect of your writing career.  Maybe you’re teaching a workshop, or doing a signing or a reading and you’re scared.  Maybe you’re launching a book. Tap away, baby!

–When you’re procrastinating.  You really need to get that project done, but you don’t want to. Tap on it!

These are just a few suggestions.  You can see how flexible the system is.  And, while you can hire a tapping coach or take classes or certifications, none of that is necessary. You can start immediately, on your own, and in minutes have results.  How does it work? Damned if I know.  It’s like acupuncture–I don’t get exactly how that works, either, but I know it does!

Have you tried EFT for writing? Or do you have other favorite techniques? Leave a comment!

And don’t forget I’m currently offering free 15-minute connection calls. Let’s chat about writing. Click here to be taken to my scheduling page.

Photo credit: bloodylery.

 

I recommend you spend time asking the Google about EFT. There’s a ton of stuff out there.  And if it all seems mysterious and slightly off-putting, keep an open mind. Aren’t you will to do just about anything that will help you improve your writing and get you to the page more often? Of course you are. So try it. And leave a comment about how it worked for you.

The Number One Difference Between the Pro Writer and the Amateur

The other day I wrote a post about how writing has become a bit of a slog for me lately. One of my clients (Hi, Mitch!) asked me about it, saying, “You’re a professional. That’s not supposed to happen to you.”

He was kidding. I think.  But it brings up an excellent point.

Because, as I explained to him, there’s one big difference between the professional and the amateur writer.

The amateur gets distracted by Christmas and grandchildren and snow (we are currently on snowstorm #2) and allows all those things to lead her away from the computer.

The professional gets distracted by Christmas and grandchildren and snow and figures out how to get the words in anyway.

If you were a brain surgeon, would you let Christmas shopping lead you away from the operating room?

If you were an attorney, would you let snow keep you from the courtroom?

If you were president would you let your business keep you away from intelligence briefings?

Scratch that last one; bad example.

But all kidding aside, you get my point.  None of the other professionals let themselves get distracted and neither should you.

I think my client’s statement is a common misconception.  There’s this idea that the other writer–the bestselling novelist, the memoirist whose book got made into a movie, the essayist who just got a collection published–has it all dialed in.  That she sits down at her computer every morning and the words flow and nobody bugs her until her daily word count is done.  And the corollary to it is the belief that someday when you’re a professional writer, this is how your life will be.  Once you turn pro, your writing will be easy every time you sit down to do it.  Your life will be distraction-free. All that, and you’ll be making the big bucks, too.

I know about this fantasy because I have it, too. For some reason, mine tends to coalesce around English female novelists. I imagine them in their little cottage in the Cotswalds, snow falling outside while a fire roars inside. And as the fire roars, so does the author, banging out novel after novel that all are so perfect they barely need editing as they roll off her fingers.

Yeah, right.

That same author probably had to light the fire because the ancient heater in the funky old cottage went out and not only that but she had to mush through the snow to chop the wood. And every time she just gets into the flow of the writing, her uncle who lives next door appears with his latest drama.  And no matter what she does she can’t get the scene right.

But you know what she does? She shows up anyway.  Distractions happen to all of us, every single one. You can and should do your best to minimize them but they are still going to happen. Keep writing anyway.

Because writing well is the best revenge for every single damn thing in the world.

PS. Keep an eye on this space because my aforementioned client Mitch, is about to publish his first book and he’ll be telling you all about it in a guest post soon.

PPS. Mitch came to me after he had completed a very rough draft and we’ve worked together through the rewriting, the polishing and all the prep work he had to do for publishing.  If you need help with any aspect of your writing, check out my coaching. I’m totally revamping my coaching packages and fees for the new year, so now is a great time to get in at the old prices!

What it Takes to Be a Writer: Part One

asok_project365_mydesk_1059218_hWherein I talk about what it takes to be a writer, in my humble opinion, anyway.  To finish a book project, or even an article or short story.  To get the book out in the world, either into the hands of an agent and editor, or publish it yourself, which is a whole other enterprise. To hit the bestseller list. To rinse and repeat, which you’re going to need to do to build a career as a writer. What it takes to accomplish whatever your dream is.

Fresh off teaching a recent workshop in France, I’ve been pondering this.  Working with writers, listening to their hopes and frustrations opens my eyes over and over again, because their concerns echo mine in my own writing practice.  We are all gloriously different, right? And, at heart, we are also all very much alike.  To that end, here are two arenas in which many frustrations lie:

  1. Mindset
  2. Butt in chair

Let’s look at mindset,  otherwise known as the way you think, first.  It is easy to groan about this, to hold up your hands and say “Don’t tell me I am what I think!” But the cold, hard truth of the matter is that it’s true. If you think you can do it, you will be able to. But if you don’t think you can, you won’t. Sigh. You really do need to master your mindset about your writing.

But here’s a lot of the reason why—because after thinking about it, you need to do it. I know. Duh. But if you’re busy telling yourself that you can’t do it, you won’t. It’ll be too much pressure. You’ll get bored and wander away, take up archery or long-distance swimming or bird-watching.  Thoughts wear grooves in your brain and if you keep thinking you can’t, then your brain will believe you. And you won’t take time to write, because, well, you’re convinced you can’t. Or that you’re a bad writer. Or that the odds are stacked against you.

I follow a young woman named Jennifer Blanchard.  She is always ranting fervently about mindset and how important it is, how one must write down their goals every day, or at least re-read their goals. Etc., etc.  Part of me loves this stuff. Loves it. And part of me—the part that actually has to take the action—rolls my eyes at it.  But the thing is, everything she says about mindset is true.  You gotta get your brain in the right place to be a writer.  And that means doing whatever it takes, be that rereading your goals every day or monitoring those pesky negative thoughts.

Most of all it means you have to believe you can do it. Because if you don’t believe, you won’t make the time for it.  You’ll read knitting blogs (like I do when I get blocked), instead. Or you’ll decide the kitchen floor needs mopping. Or the cat’s nails need trimming. And the thing is—you won’t even realize why you’re indulging in these procrastination activities. You’ll convince yourself that it’s because there’s that spot of dirt, right there on the floor where everyone can see it.  Or that you absolutely must read that blog because you have to figure out where you went wrong on the sweater you’re knitting.  Or that the cat pulled up a thread on your gorgeous slipcover. Like that.

What’s the antidote to this? In truth, a lot of it is in taking action, which I’ll get to in a moment. Because the more you write, the easier it becomes and the easier it becomes, the more you’ll believe you can do it. Yeah, there is definitely an endless loop going on here.  But here are a couple other hints about mindset:

  1. Visualization has scientifically been proven to help. Not visualizing the moment you stand at the podium and accept your Nobel Prize for Literature, but visualizing yourself actually sitting at the computer writing. Thinking about how it feels as the words flow and your fingers range across the page.

Here’s an article that gives a good rundown on how to do it, and here’s one from Psychology Today on its benefits.

  1. Meditation and positive thinking. Activities that go hand in hand with visualization are meditation (you knew I was going there) because it quiets the damn monkeys in the brain enough to allow you to think positive thoughts about your writing, and affirmations. Yeah, I know. Dopey. I get it. But you can use them in the most casual of ways, as in when you’re thinking how you just can’t seem to get the scene right instead of berating yourself for being an idiot who can’t write, turn it around and tell yourself you know the story and you can figure out the scene. Just tell yourself that the rest of the day. C’mon, you’re a storyteller, right? So tell yourself a positive story. That’s all an affirmation is, in truth. You’re going to be telling yourself something all day anyway, it might as well be something positive.

As for meditation, just try it. Really. It is ten or fifteen minutes out of your day, and if it helps you become a better writer, isn’t that time well spent? I highly recommend downloading the Insight Timerfor your phone and using it. You can set interval bells so that the fifteen minutes doesn’t seem to stretch to fifteen hours, and there’s all kinds of cool ambient sounds you can meditate to, as well as a selection of guided meditations to try. Plus, it’s like social media for meditators. You can create a profile and interact with others all over the world.

Okay, so, alas, one cannot sit in one’s recliner and meditate and visualize and think positive thoughts all day and become a writer.  Would that we could. So I’ll discuss part two of the topic of what it takes in a blog post slated for Wednesday.

Until then, happy mind-setting. Or meditating. Or whatever.

And do tell what you think it takes to be a writer.

The Writing Reframe: Ditch Your Eeyore Statements

EeyoreI’m working on a book with an awesome client and we have the best conversations as the book flows out.  We talk about a lot of spiritual and universal principles as she tells me her story.  One anecdote she told me last week has stayed with me. There was a time when she was confused as to where to go next in life and business, and walked around saying this exact thing to herself, and anybody who would listen. Until one day it occurred to her to reframe that story and instead talk about how she knew exactly where she was going and what to do next. And, ultimately, a mega-successful business was born.

Now the idea that you get what you think about isn’t exactly new news.  But sometimes I you have to be hit over the head with a concept numerous times before you really get it.  So I’ve started to watch how often I lament over my writing, saying things like:

It’s so hard.

The publishing world is so slow and elitist.

I can’t figure out where my story is going.

That character’s motivation doesn’t make sense.

I can’t write every day.

And so on. Eeyore statements. (You remember Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, don’t you? He’s the gloomy old donkey whose head is always hanging down.) I’m sure you can add a few of your own.  So lately I’m trying to catch myself at these and turn them around. The trick is, of course, you have to become aware of them. For me many of us, this attitude is so ingrained we don’t even realize we’re thinking/saying them.

Even if it doesn’t make a whit of difference in the ultimate scheme of things, and I’m convinced it does, looking on the bright side will make you a happier writer.  (Because who needs all that negativity?) And if you’re a happier writer, you’re happier in all areas of life, right? Right.

What are your favorite Eeyore statements? Please share in the comments.

And remember, there’s still one spot left in the France retreat! We had a last-minute cancellation. And by the way, flights to Europe may be cheaper than you think–so if you’re at all interested, check it out.

 

The Glorious Avidity of the Beginner’s Mind

A giant Sitka Spruce
A giant Sitka Spruce

“In the beginning mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Suzuki Roshi

I don’t know about you, but I consider myself an expert. Yep, I sure do.  Because I’ve been writing novels for a gazillion years and teaching fiction writing for half that time. I’ve studied long enough to have earned an MFA and blogged long enough to remember when WordPress barely existed. So, yes indeedy. Expert here.

You’re probably an expert, too.  Maybe in writing—you’ve probably been at it for a while, too. Or maybe in other areas of your work and life.  By the time you reach a certain age, you’re a bona fide expert.  That means you and I know a lot.

It also means we have a lot of preconceptions.  Maybe a mind that is a tiny bit closed to challenges to our knowledge.  A brain shut tight to new ideas, to an expansive openness that lets the light in.  And we may not even notice, being so very busy in our expertness.

I was reminded of all this last week when I taught a group of beginners (or raw recruits as I liked to call them). Out of a group of eight, seven came to the novel-writing workshop with no prior experience writing full-length fiction.  They had ideas, but some were vague.  They knew nothing about plotters and pantsers and plot points and character dossiers or how to write a scene or structure a novel.  By the end of our three days together, they walked out with a plot and characters firmly in mind, close to being ready to write.vertigo-dizzy-dizziness-321395-h

I attribute this readiness not to me, but to them—and their marvelous beginner minds.  They soaked up ideas like the moss on my sidewalk soaks up water during rainy Oregon winters. Their beginner minds filled up with knowledge and ideas at an astounding pace and they inspired me—and this post—along the way.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with attaining expert status.  There’s the whole 10,000 hours thing espoused by Malcolm Gladwell , who claims you need to practice a thing that many hours to be considered an expert.  Do a quick spin around the interwebs and you’ll find all kinds of references to mavens and experts and specialists and professionals.  And they are all good. We need their knowledge and expertise.  But there’s something amazingly wonderful about approaching one’s work with a beginner’s mind, as I witnessed last week.

Following are some ideas for maintaining a beginner’s mind. But also go read this lovely article about it from a Buddhist abbess.

Be open.  I know, duh.  But how often to you find yourself listening to another person and eagerly pondering what you’re going to say in reply? Or getting defensive and upset about their words? Yeah, me, too.  So, for instance, if a writing friend is going on about how great it is to write without an outline and you fervently believe the opposite, try just being a tiny bit open to his point of view.

Be willing to admit you’re not always right.  Often we desire to be right more than anything. I’m not sure why this is—perhaps it gives us a sense of power or security in the world.  But it can be detrimental, too. Though my husband and I like to joke that I’m always right, I can think of some times when I’ve been very, very wrong. A willingness to admit it would have saved me tons of grief.

Be willing to admit you don’t know everything.  There are all kinds of literary terms whose meaning I don’t get. Okay, I admitted it.  And I still sometimes get confused about omniscient viewpoint.  And don’t even get me started on math—my son, the mathematician has explained prime numbers to me at least five times. I still don’t understand them.  And that’s okay.

But don’t close your mind just because you don’t know.  Don’t let not knowing keep you from being curious.  I could probably stand to learn Excel, for instance, an app I’ve told myself repeatedly I can’t master.  With an attitude like that, it’s likely I never will.

So the not knowing thing cuts both ways.

Approach life and writing with a sense of adventure.  Every time I’ve said to myself, “Life’s an adventure,” it has turned out to be.  You can’t have an adventure with a closed mind, you just can’t. And life and writing are ever so much more fun when you’re adventurous.

Okay, those are my thoughts. And now I’m going to go apply a beginner’s mind to looking at my WIP (work in progress for those with beginner’s minds).  I invite you to come on over to the blog (        )  to comment on how you cultivate beginner’s mind.

Photos: top by me, lower right by woodleywonderworks.

Why Resistance to Your Writing is Sometimes Good

Burning Writing Of An Dark-Illuminated Paper Sheet

Here is one thing I have learned for certain in the gazillion years I’ve been writing: that resistance always has meaning.

Always, always, always.

It is up to you to figure out what that meaning might be.  But here’s the deal: once you do figure it out, then you can explore it.  And get over it.  You’ll understand more about how you approach your writing, and also your current writing project.  As far as I’m concerned, that covers pretty much everything.  So let’s look at both these categories.

How You Approach Your Writing

Your very own wonderful little self longs for expression.  And I’d venture a guess that for just about anybody reading this newsletter, that wonderful little self longs for expression through writing.  But sometimes that same wonderful self does things that are counter to that longing of expression.  Like procrastination, for example.  Or being a perfectionist.  Or being harshly self-critical. Or being all loosey-goosey and not discerning enough. (Sending out a first draft, anyone?)

You know which one is your own personal favorite form of resistance.  Mine is procrastination, and I’m very good at it.  I can even convince myself that what I’m doing when I’m not writing is critical to my well-being.  I can surf the internet and the whole time convince myself it is crucial to research for my novel. I can scroll through my phone and convince myself I’m doing social media (when really I’m looking at cool photos on Instagram).  And so on.  Insert your favorite distractions above.

But because I know this is my form of resistance, that this is likely how I’m going to approach my writing when things get tough, I also can call myself on it.  And the funny thing is, because I understand how I resist writing, I can also see how I resist other things in my life.  Like exercise.  Or gardening. Or cleaning the house.

It is important to not get all judgy on yourself.  At first, just observe.  Watch what you do and how you react and think of how interesting it all is, how clever a brain you have atop your body.  Next time, realize you’re doing it again.  And carry on.  After this happens enough, the observation of it will stop you—because you’ll grow weary of observing this pattern over and over again.  Trust me, watching oneself sputter and flail about does get boring pretty quickly.

 Your Writing Project

 The other aspect to resistance is your WIP (work in progress).   You may hit upon a scene or a chapter or a segment of it that you start to avoid.  You can be writing merrily along and suddenly something just isn’t working.   You marshal your forces.  You attempt to carry on as usual.  You forge ahead.

But nothing works.  The words fall flat on the page, the dialogue sounds wooden, the scene just won’t come together.

Okay, remember: resistance always has meaning.    writing-1560276

And in this case, something is wrong.  Here’s a handy checklist to divine what it might be:

Your setting.  Most often, this is it for me.  Maybe the scene is currently set inside and needs to be outside, or vice-versa.  Maybe you’ve set too many scenes in the same place.   I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changes the location of the scene and suddenly it comes alive.

 Your characters.  Are the correct ones in the scene?  Does your character need to confide in her best friend or her mother? Or maybe an old woman sitting on the park bench? Play around with the characters in the scene to see if you can’t get it going again.

Their motivation or backstory.  Perhaps you think your heroine is motivated by greed—but when you take the time to dig deeper you realize it’s the opposite.  Maybe you think your antagonist is a cranky jerk because his father died when he was young, but really, it was his mother who passed.  Etc.

The placement.  Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the scene, but where you’ve got it set in the plot isn’t working.  This is harder to figure out until you’ve finished a full draft, but worth considering.

These are just a few suggestions—I recommend looking at every aspect of the story until you figure out what’s going on.  And for my money, the best way to figure things out is to write about it.  I like to call this writing around, and I probably write about three to five times as many pages in writing around as I do in my current WIP.  It is how I figure out everything.

So, there you have it—proof that your resistance is a good thing.  The catch is, you have to deal with it.  But that’s much better than giving up writing for a week or a month or a year.

What are your favorite strategies for dealing with resistance? Please comment below.

Photos from freeimages.

From The Archives: Love Yourself, Love Your Writing

Here's one from the archives for you:

We're awfully hard on ourselves, our own worst enemies.   At least I am!  And I suspect I'm not  Heart_light_blackground_518497_hso different from other creatives: I'm judgmental of myself –hyper critical at the best of times.  My thoughts run all over:

  • That thing I just said?  How idiotic!
  • What a lump for not speaking up.
  • Oh god, I look bad today!

And when it comes to my writing, it's even worse, because the voices are so insidious and ingrained.  It is such a familiar thought pattern that sometimes I don't even notice it.  When I do, it runs something like this:

  • This work isn't good enough.
  • Is that the right word? You idiot, that's not the right word.
  • They're not going to like it.
  • It's not good enough to sell.

And so on and so forth.  I'm sure you can add some of your own to the list!  (And let me be perfectly clear here–there is a difference between unloving critical thoughts and loving critical thoughts–the latter help us hone our skills, rewrite until the work shines, and strive for excellence.)

Do you know anybody who is as openly judgmental and critical as the voice in your head?  I don't.  If I spent all day every day with someone as condemning  as the voice in my head, I'd be physically withered at the end of the day.  And yet, that's exactly what's happening in our brains.

The solution?  Try turning love on it.  Warning: this is not easy.  And if you're successful at it, the practice will change your life.  Also, it's a process–you have to keep going back at it over and over again.  You have to consistently apply it to your life and your writing.

So herewith is a process to apply to self-judgment:

1.  Become aware.  Pay attention to those nasty little comments flinging about your brain.

2.  Fight back.  Sometimes called denials, this is when instead of cowering under the onslaught of all those vicious words, you make a stand and refuse to accept them.  Mentally uttering "That thought I do not want" (a Course in Miracles saying) is one way to do this.

3.  Form a new thought.  And then love bomb your brain with it, constantly, all day, and especially every time the old thought comes up.  Maybe something like:

  • I am powerful.  (My writing is powerful.)
  • I am enough.  (My writing is enough.)
  • I am a creator.
  • Whatever thought works for your individual circumstance.

The idea being to let thoughts like these become the constant soundtrack running in the background.  I know it's woo-woo, and it's ever so much more pleasant to think this way than the other.

4. It might get worse before it gets better.  Because old negative thoughts don't go without a fight.  And one way they fight is to get stronger when they fear being eradicated. But don't fall for their devious plan.

5.  Stick with it.  As I said, this process takes time.  Those fearful thoughts didn't get there overnight.  They lodged in your brain over a lifetime. 

 What do you think?  Willing to give it a try?  Or do you have another technique for quieting that voice?  Please comment.

 Photo by Victory to the People.

What Effect Do Your Surroundings Have On Your Writing?

"Started treating my office like it was a real room that was worthy of my best treasures, not the 'spare room made into an office.'"  Danielle LaPorte, from a post titled "28 of the Best Things I Ever Did–From the Bedroom to my Business."

DeskinthewildWhen I first started writing, many years ago, my "office" was a desk shoved up against a corner of our bedroom.   The desk came from my father's printing plant, and it was huge and weighed a ton. (My husband hated it for that reason, and also because whenever I wanted to move it, it had to be disassembled.  It finally got taken apart one too many times, and died.)

I also sometime wrote at the kitchen counter, with small children swarming around me, asking for food or begging for my attention.  

Finally, when we put an addition on our house, I progressed to my own office.  It was downstairs with a view of the backyard and I loved it.  I filled it with a mismatch of furniture, anything I could scrounge, and tons of bookshelves, of course.  

Then, when my children moved out, I transferred my office to my daughter's former upstairs bedroom.  And there I've been for the past many years.  After my mother died six years ago and I inherited some money, I decided to invest in a proper office suite of furniture.  And so I went to Ikea and filled my room with a grouping that looked very official, very heavy, very dark.  I chose a huge desk with a curved front that had room for my computer, my printer and piles.  Lots of piles.  I also chose a file cabinet and glass-fronted cabinets to match.  You can see photos of it on this old blog post.  (As far as I can tell, Ikea doesn't even make this set of furniture anymore.) I loved it for awhile.  For quite awhile.

And then I decided I wanted to move back downstairs.  The thought was daunting–carrying all that heavy furniture down our narrow staircase! But I persevered.  Because I wanted to be more in the center of things.  To be able to start dinner and run back to write a few words while things simmered.  To be able to watch grandchildren and write a few words while they napped.  I started packing things up, but the project stalled and I ended up working in my upstairs office with stacks of boxes filling most of it.

Enter summer.  Gorgeous, soft Oregon mornings with the temperature hovering just above 60 degrees.  I took to carrying my computer out to the table on the back deck early every morning and doing my writing there.  Which was when I realized that I didn't need a huge desk with tons of area to pile things on.  It was actually a detriment to my process, because it started to overwhelm me. And so a whole new idea for my office was born. All I really needed was a good old-fashioned writing desk. At the same time, I started reading a favorite blogger's account of her time in Stockholm and fell in love with the look of the apartment she stayed in.

Out with the dark, heavy black office furniture! In with a light, white and natural wood look! At least in my vision.  I happened to have coffee with my friend Leigh, who has a business restoring old furniture and, on a whim, asked her if she had a writing desk.  Guess what? She did! And not only that, it was painted a lovely delicate light yellow, which went along with the look I had in mind.  

So we spent this weekend moving furniture.  We're still not finished–our living room looks like a thrift store as we sort through hundreds of old CDs, and figure out where extra boxes and pieces of furniture goes.  There are quite a few photos of the process on my Instagram. And you can see the photo of my writing area above.  But so far, I love it.  The room is bright and light and I love not working on my little yellow writing desk.  I feel lighter and brighter! And now I realize how that Ikea suite never truly suited me.  As my daughter said, "I never heard you say how much you loved it." True dat.

I expect to write wonderful novels and blog posts and offer classes and all kinds of good things from this space, because it makes me happy just to be in here.  (Oh, I almost forgot–I engineered it so I have a separate space for art projects, too.  Woot!)  And all this leads me to ask–what is your writing space like? Is it feeding your soul, and making you happy?  Or does it drag you down every time you walk in?  Is there something you can do to make it work better for you?

Writing Mindset: Art or Business?

Keyboard_controls_writing_238875_lHere's how an author's career used to look: said author would get her first book accepted by a big New York publisher, and said publisher would tell said author not to worry about a thing, marketing-wise.   The happy author would be given a schedule for a tour and appearances and told to focus on what she does best–writing the next book.

Here's how an author's career looks now: said author's book may or may not be published by a big New York publisher.  More likely, his book was put out by a small press, or maybe he published it himself.   And said author knows that his publishers will do little, if anything, to market her work. He'll be calling bookstores, arranging guest posts, tracking down book reviewers himself.  Writing the next book?  That's something that will have to wait.

My first example is, clearly, art.

The second, business.

Two aspects of a writing career that exist side by side.  And more and more these days, we hear how authors need to master both. Gone are the days when we writers could lavish all our time on the first aspect.   This tends to upset us.  We mutter dark invectives about having to focus on the business side of our careers.  We begrudge time spent away from our writing.  

And yeah, I get it.  Every once in awhile I like to fantasize about having nothing to do but work on my novels.  And then I realize I'd hate that.  I like being on social media. (At least most sites.  You can take Facebook and shove it as far as I'm concerned.) I love working with my clients. (Please don't tell them, but I learn as much from them as they learn from me.)  I don't love cold-calling bookstores or seeking out reviewers, but hey, if it keeps me from working a real job, I'll deal.

And that's just it.  In this brave new world of publishing that shifts daily, we really do have to master both the art and business sides of writing.  I wish I had better news for you, but there it is.  I may not have the news you want to hear, but I do have suggestions for how to make it as painless as possible. Here goes:

1. Always put your writing first.  It's the basis of everything and if you're not doing it, you ultimately will not have a career because you won't have anything to market.  So do the work, then worry about putting it out in the world.  I mean this in a couple of ways:

a. Write your book before you worry about contacting an agent.

b. Put your writing before your marketing efforts on a daily basis. (For me, this means writing first thing in the morning.  Then I feel good about what I've accomplished all day long and that gives me energy to do the crap I hate.)

2. Realize that business is not a dirty word.  When we whisper the "b" word as if it were tainted, we do ourselves and our work a disservice.  Remember, people exist in the world who actually think business–and the dreaded "m" word (marketing)–are fun. You and I may not fall into that category, but realize that business can be every bit as creative as putting words together on the page.

3. Know that the situation is not going to change soon.  Don't waste your energy wishing you didn't have to master social media, or figuring out techie tools, or mastering marketing.  Don't spend time longing for the old days, described above.  Because they aren't coming back.  As I used to tell my kids when they complained about doing something, "With all the energy you've wasted kvetching about it, you could have been done by now."

4.  Get help.  Everyone can benefit from coaching, whether its for your writing or your marketing efforts.  If you're struggling, get help!  There are tons of wonderful teachers out there who can help you master the skills you don't yet have.

5. Do it with everything you've got.  You throw yourself at the page every day, right?  You express your deepest feelings and fears and truths, right?  Use the same mindset for the business side of things. Throw yourself at it, and give it everything you've got.  Approach it with the reverence you give your writing and you will do just fine.  More than that, you'll do great.

How do you reconcile the business and art side of your career?

(By the way, I have an email conversation with J.D. Frost to thank for the topic of this article. Thanks, J.D.!)