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.

What Your Inner Critic Wants You to Know

Gnome_tedsblog_creepy_584432_hI wrote a guest post for Jessica Baverstock at Creativity's Workshop  on the writer's Inner GPS, our internal guidance system that is never wrong and can help us greatly with our writing.  (You can go read it now, I'll wait.)

And because of that, I started thinking a lot about the Inner Critic, which is the antithesis of the Inner GPS.  And because I was thinking about the Inner Critic, mine (a gnome-like imp named Patrick who is dressed all in green), popped up with a few things to say.  Inner Critics are vocal that way.

Here is what Patrick had to say about what your inner critic wants you to know:

1.  We love to make a lot of noise.  We can't help it, making noise is our nature.  And most often you'd probably think of it as discordant noise.  That's because we're the aggregation of years of the negative messages you've received–the teacher who made red marks all over your paper, your cranky grandma, your alcoholic father who raged at you, your bitter aunt. 

2.  We also like to lie.  We tell you that what you're writing is a stinky, steaming pile of crap when really its a deep lyrical essay.  We say that your house is a mess and your family hates you for it when really they are so, so happy that you are at your desk writing.  We tell you that you are stupid, fat, ugly, no good down to your very soul, when really you are a beautiful, spirited child of the universe.

3.  We can be tamed.  It takes consistent effort, but we can be trained to be quiet.  We don't like it (see #1), but it's the truth.  We can be tamed with this process: acknowledge the negative thought we offer, release it, and replace it with a positive thought.  The thing we actually love about this process is that you really have to do it over and over again and many of you get bored and quit. And then we can run wild and free again.

4.  We accept negotiations.  Maybe you can give us something to do while you're busy writing the first draft and then call us in for the editing rounds?  Perhaps you can send us off to practice yelling and screaming elsewhere until you're ready to do a grammar and spell check?  Think about what how we could help you and then pitch us a deal.  We might just agree.

5.  We are not the boss of you.  We like to make you think we are.  It's so very easy to convince you that such is the case.  A snide comment here, a negative remark there, and before you know it, you've slunk away from your desk before you've even written word one.  The other Inner Critics will probably hate me for this, but here's a little tip: when all else fails, we respond well to war being waged on us.   Stop slinking away, turn and face us and yell, "Shut the f@#$ up, you measly, slimy son of an old shoe!"  And then we'll do exactly that.

What does your Inner Critic want you to know?

Photo by TedsBlog.

What Holds You Up?

What Holds You Up?
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I got the best horoscope ever this morning.  Here it is:

Become independent from the things that are holding you back, without abandoning the reliable things that  hold you up.

This seems more like advice for living than a horoscope, and it starting me thinking.  First, what are the things that hold me back?  Here are a few:

1.  Fear.  Isn't this the bottom line of what holds us all back?

2.  Time.  Or my perception that I don't have enough.

3.  Doubt.  All those times I lose my nerve….

4.  Guilt.  A useless emotion.

5.  Hesitancy.  Sometimes I dither when I should just do something.

As for those reliable things that prop me up, let's consider:

1.  People I love.  Ah, friends and family.  Love them even when they are pulling me away from my work.

2.  Writing.  Plain and simple.

3. Time to myself first thing in the morning.  I hate, hate, hate when I don't have time to write in my journal, ponder life, think how I want my day to go. 

4.  Creative hobbies.  Like painting, knitting, and quilting.  (Okay, I haven't yet actually done that last one, but a friend has promised to teach me.)

5.  Walking.  I've been walking for years and it is still one of the best ways to spend time I know.

6.  Being non-judgmental.  I work on this every damn day because I'm not good at it.  But I love when I can effect a curious, open attitude instead of snapping to judgment.

I'm sure I've forgotten things from both lists, so I might add to them as I go.  What about you?  What holds you back?  What props you up?

Back to the Basics, Or Not

Book_research_information_237974_l Writers can always benefit by going back to the basics, right?  Or not?  And more to the point, if you've been writing for awhile, have you tried going back to the basics recently?  It is not that easy.

Going back to the basics seems like a good idea.  You get the desire to strip it down, make things simple, relearn from the beginning again.  Except you are no longer the person that you were when you started out so very long ago.  And it is hard to fit your expanded self into that smaller box.

What is called for is a framework.

I went to high school during the heyday of the Open Classroom movement.  Education wasn't working and a new approach was needed.  So, no, it wasn't back to the basics, it was the opposite–a very free and easy approach where students directed their learning to a large extent.

Consequently, I became quite the free thinker.  But to this day, I have huge gaps in my education, particularly when it comes to reading the classics.  (Ironic, no? Considering as how I am a writer.)  Oh, I read some of them on my own, but when it comes to classics, reading in an educational setting is much better.  I needed a framework.  And finally I found it when I started working toward my MFA.  (I won't call it studying, because it was so much fun.  Two years devoted mostly to writing and reading.  Heaven.)

Once I had the framework of writing an essay about my reading, with mentors responding to those essays, I could dip back into some of the classics that I had missed.

What got me thinking about all of this is knitting.  I'm an off and on knitter and a terrible finisher.  I love starting a new knitting project more than anything–choosing the yarn, casting on, seeing the work start to grow!  But then I get bored and set it aside.

Lately, though, I've realized that perhaps I get bored because I don't know enough about what I'm doing.  Despite the fact I've been knitting since I was a wee child, there's lots I don't know about it.  I was taught by the odd 4H leader here, my aunt there.  Much like my high school education, there was never a consistent framework for it.

This weekend I found the framework, a book called Fearless Knitting, written by a technical writer, bless her heart, who knows how to translate confusing information into plain English.  The author, Jennifer Seiffert, had the bright idea to take a line of traditional knitting instruction, then not only explain what it means, but why you are supposed to do that.  Brilliant.  Each explanation illustrates a larger technique and you make a square to well and truly learn how to do it.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if there could be such a framework for writing?  An explanation of not only the how, but the why?  Alas, I don't think it is possible, because the craft of writing is much more amorphous than the craft of knitting.  Many of the why explanations would be something along the lines of, because you want to entertain the reader.  Or, because you want to create an emotional response in the reader.

Or am I wrong?  Can you think of any aspects of writing that could be explained in a succinct why explanation?  What does going back to the basics in writing mean to you?  Practicing writing exercises?  Reading or re-reading books about writing?  Are there any basics you'd like explanations of?  Comment away.

Friday Question

Friday is often a busy day for me.  For whatever reason, lately my entire afternoon has been taken up withDesi-question-mark-817928-l appointments.  And I just about always go out to dinner with family and friends on Friday night, because, I'll be honest, by Friday I really want a glass of wine.

And, for whatever reason again, I have committed to writing a blog post every weekday, Monday through Friday.  Most days it is not a problem.  But often I get to Friday and feel rushed and end up wanting to post something short-ish but not knowing exactly what to write.

And then it occurred to me that others have solved this problem already.  Some do a Friday quote.  Others do a guest post on Fridays.  Or post a funny picture.  Or something…

So here's the deal.  I'm asking you, my wonderful readers, for ideas of something short yet useful to you, that I could post on Fridays.  A photo?  A quote? (I've got tons of those saved up in random places.) A question pertaining to writing or creativity?  A prompt? A guest post? Favorite link of the week?  An idea for a creative project?

Gee, I have more ideas for this than I thought–that's what happens when you start writing stuff down.  But I want to know what would be useful to you, so have it and comment away.  Give me a new idea or vote for one of the ones I already mentioned.

Photo by desi.Italy, used under Creative Commons 2.5 license. 

Turning Your Head Around

No, I'm not going to talk about the Linda Blair move from The Exorcist.

This post is about changing your mindset.  (I wrote a post earlier this week about the success mindset, and this is yet different from that, too.)  Specifically, changing your mindset when you are working on something that is hard.

Yesterday, I was hard at work on a project, hard being the operative word, and I was cranky.  The piece was complicated and it required deep concentration and a lot of thought.  The deeper I got into, the crankier I got and I soon I was whining up a storm.  Which, of course, only made everything more difficult.  But ultimately, it was me that was making it more difficult, because I was psyching myself out about how hard it was.

Duh.

So I stopped myself and my chattering brain for a moment and took stock.  I had already:

  • Put together all the research I needed
  • Gotten clear on the audience
  • Developed a loose outline

So what was the problem?  I needed to change my mindset.  Instead of bitching and moaning about the project, I needed to generate some enthusiasm.  And here's how I did that:

Remember the Vision

I asked myself, why was I doing this in the first place?  For love, money, prestige, career enhancement? The why doesn't matter so much as re-connecting to it.  If it is a project you are doing strictly for the money, envision depositing your fee in your checking account, or seeing a payment coming through on Paypal.  If it is for love, remind yourself what it is about the project that attracted you to it in the first place.  

Get Really Clear

All success starts with clarity.  You need to know where you're going before you get there.  If you get very clear on the parameters of the project, you'll have a much easier time.  As I've mentioned before, when something isn't working, there's a reason.  You may need more clarity.  Go back and look at your outline, or write one up if you haven't already.

Focus

Maybe you are struggling because your mindset is diluted and vague.  I'm a complete and total email and internet whore, but even I have to once in awhile shut down all inboxes and websites in order just to concentrate on the task at hand.  It is amazing how much minor distractions can pull at us and make us feel antsy and unhappy.  

Think About the Who

In fiction, it is the characters who matter.  In life, it is other people.  Sometimes it helps me to remember that.  So if I'm bogged down in a project, I think about the people I'm doing it for, how I'm helping them, how happy they are going to be to get this information, and so on.  If that doesn't work, because, say, I hate the people I'm doing the project for (rare, as I'm sort of a people whore also), then I think about the people in my life that I love, and remember that if I buckle down and get the project done I can go spend time with them.

Usually, I find that I can change my mindset by really thinking about one of these things.  What about you?  How do you change your mindset when it isn't working?

(And remember, if you try and try to change your mindset but don't seem to be able to, maybe you need the help of a coach.  Email me for more information.)

PS–I tried and tried to find a photo of Linda Blair with her head turning around to illustrate this post, but to no avail.

The Mindset of Success

This morning I was writing about a character.  Her arc is to go from being what she considers to be a Frustration_cranesbeach_ipswich_1173445_l failure, to suddenly experiencing great success.  So as I was tracing this movement, I started thinking about how to show what her failure looked like and felt like to her, and then what her success would look like and feel like also.

As always, writing is life and life is writing. The thought occurred to me that this is a good exercise to do for anyone who wants more success in their life.  What makes you feel successful?  How do you feel inside when you are successful?  How do you behave?  What actions do you take? What are the outer trappings of your success? 

Conversely, how does failure make you feel? How do you act and present yourself when you feel beaten down and discouraged?  What does failure look like in your world?

I have some ideas that are not yet fully formed about this topic.  A vague starting point:

Successful people hold themselves well, stand up straight, meet your eyes and have a firm handshake.  Duh.  Beyond that, there's a sparkle in their eye, a zest for life that shows in the way they dress and walk.  They don't hesitate–in any situation, they take action.  Outwardly, they care for themselves and their surroundings well.

Failures slump over and their eyes are dead.  They meander through their days instead of walking purposefully.  Nothing much excites them so they spend a lot of time idly flipping through web pages that don't really interest them on the internet.  Their surroundings are shabby and they don't much care.

What else?  What am I missing?  I want to know because this information bears on my character, but I also think it bears on all of us.  What does success look like to you?  To me success means getting a novel published and no matter what else I accomplish (and I have plenty of unrelated goals, such as write an Ebook and start a coaching program), until I publish a novel I'll not feel fully successful.  What does that say about me? 

The more I think about it, the more this topic of inner and outer success interests me.  I think it is worthy of thought and writing about to explore how you really feel about it.  Because once you know what success looks like for you, you can begin to take steps to achieve it.  Probably I'll be doing lots of writing about it through the creation of this new character, which will have a bearing on my own life.

So let me know what your thoughts are about success.  What will make you finally feel successful?  Or maybe you already do–and if so, what contributes to that feeling?  I'm all ears. 

***The awesome photo is from sandcastlematt, found on Everystockphoto, used under Creative Commons 2.5 license.

Book Review: Second Sight

Second Sight                        Book Cover

by Judith Orloff 

Three Rivers Press, 1996, 2010

I was offered the chance to review Second Sight and leapt at the chance because of the subject matter- intuition.  I'm always curious about intuition and looking for new ways to access it.  Reading this book got me jazzed about working with dreams and re-charged my meditation practice.

The author, Judith Orloff, came out of the intuitive closet to first write Second Sight in 1996.  Seeing as how she is a practicing psychiatrist and has been on the staff of the UCLA Medical Center for years, this was a courageous act.  At the time, many people linked the faintest whiff of intuition with tacky psychics you access on 800 numbers.  Lots has changed since then–lots and lots–and so Orloff felt compelled to bring the book out in a new edition with a new foreword.

Judith-portrait I'm glad she did, because I missed it the first time around and I really loved this book.  It is part memoir and part guide to encourage more intuition in your life. The first section of the book tells the story of her life, beginning with an amazing near-death experience that she had as a teenager.  This only added more confusion to her rebellious life.  The daughter of two prominent LA physicians, Orloff had been having visions, dreams and premonitions since she was a young child.

When Orloff told her mother of her visions, she was told in return that she needed to grow a thicker skin, or any of several similar comments common to the time.  So Orloff tried to ignore her intuitive gifts and buried herself in a life with a strict allegiance to science, becoming a psychiatrist. 

And then one day Orloff ignored what her inner voice was telling her about a patient–and that patient tried to take her own life.  Had Orloff listened to her intuition, she would have realized the serious state of her patient's mental health, and perhaps have been able to circumvent the suicide attempt (luckily, the patient survived).  This experience sent Dr. Orloff into a tailspin during which she reconsidered how she had turned away from her intuitive gifts, and from this point on, she learned not only to improve them, but how to use them in her practice.

The second half of the book offers a guide to how readers can start to use their intuition, too.  She writes about dreams, including psychological, guidance, precognitive, and healing dreams, and explains how to keep a dream journal.  This chapter got me interested in writing down my own dreams again.  I've been of the opinion lately that I can't remember my dreams, which is in a way a form of laziness. Instead of lying still upon awakening to remember my dreams, and then taking the time to write them down, I hop out of bed, eager to get to my cup of coffee.

In her chapter on intuition in everyday life, she writes about synchronicity, deja vu, and intuitive empathy.  Orloff offers ways the reader can encourage their own empathy through meditation, setting up an altar, and the power of ritual.  As she says about meditation, "Intuition flourishes when you give it a space to grow.  Meditation can provide this."  Her enthusiasm for mediation has, as mentioned above, pushed me to return to it with renewed vigor. 

I truly believe that writers benefit every day in a variety of ways from accessing their intuition, and this book gave me fresh insights into how I can access my intuition and use it in service of my creativity. If you want to be an abundant writer, you'll want to be in close touch with your intuition. You can read the post I wrote specifically about using intution in writing, inspired by my reading of Second Sight, here.

Today is a big day, with the re-release of Second Sight being celebrated with gusto on Orloff's site, so see below for info on how to take advantage of this.

GET your copy of Second Sight ON MARCH 1st and
receive 80+ GIfts from amazing teachers such as Dr. Joan Borysenko, Rev.
Michael Beckwith, and Deepak Chopra, and Shirley MacLaine at http://www.drjudithorloff.com/second-sight-promotion/

Stepping Up

Stop the presses for this news flash.Turin_torino_antmoose_968007_l

I've been watching TV.

Specifically, the Olympics.  I often write about what a time waster watching TV is and I truly don't watch much of it myself, except, for reasons inexplicable to me, American Idol.  But one thing I love is the Olympics, specifically, the winter Olympics.  So I've been finishing my work in time to sit in front of the TV every night.  (Okay, sometimes I take my computer with me to sit in front of the TV, but still.)

Last night, I was struck by two different athletes and what their efforts represented to me on a larger scale.  And, of course, as with all things, I saw an immediate relationship to writing.  Because, well, when you are a writer, everything relates to writing.  So, today, I'm going to write about my first observation.  The second will be covered in a post tomorrow. So here goes:

Stepping Up to the Plate

At the 2006 Torino Olympics, Bode Miller was an ass.  He stayed up all night partying, talked trash, didn't really seem to take the whole thing seriously.  He had a sense of entitlement, as if he were the anointed one.  Bode fell victim to hubris, otherwise known as, pride goeth before a fall.  Because he bombed out and didn't do nearly as well and predicted. Going in, they said he might win up to five golds.  He won none.

Flash forward four years and Bode is a changed man.  He's been training hard, speaks humbly in interviews.  He seems to get how amazing and cool it is that he's at the Olympics this time.  This is a man who, for whatever reasons, has been given a second chance and he knows it.   And this Olympics, he's a winner.  First he won bronze, then silver, and last night, a gold medal for the men's combined skiing.

I think he's an example of what happens when we put all our crap aside and step it up.  Instead of letting fear rule us, we meditate for a few minutes before our writing session, so that we can bring our full selves to the page.  We take the chance on a speaking engagement, even though we're afraid of talking in public, or we go back and edit our novel one more time because we know in our hearts that we really need to.

Stepping up to the plate is doing whatever it takes.  When I was at my first residency while studying for my MFA, we had an assignment to write a poem based on one of the pieces of art we'd seen on a visit to the museum.  I'd written a rough draft of a poem that was okay, but not quite there yet.  I mentioned my struggles to the program head, Sena Jeter Naslund, and she said to me, in her charming southern way, "Why, Charlotte, why don't you just go work on it some more, then?"

Oh.

So, while everyone else went off to lunch, I went to the computer lab and worked on it some more.  And it turned out to be one of the poems which was read in public as a successful example.  I'll never forget that the poetry mentor wrote on it, "This is a poem!"

Stepping up to the plate is that simple and that hard.

**Photo courtesy of antmoose, via Flickr and Everystockphoto.

Using Intution In Your Writing

I'm reading a book that I'm going to review here as part of a blog tour for the author.  The book is called Second Sight, by Judith Orloff, and it is a memoir/self-help book.  I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here, because the review isn't slated until March 1st.  I'll be writing much more about it then, but I wanted to discuss one aspect of the book today.

That aspect is intuition.Brain01

Judith Orloff, you see, is an intuitive psychiatrist.  She's no slouch, either.  She's been in private practice forever and is faculty at UCLA.  She's one of the towering figures in the area of uniting intuition and traditional medicine.  I wanted to read the book because I was interested in learning new ways to utilize intuition in my writing.

How much do you use intuition in your writing?

If you'd asked me that last week, I would have answered, a ton.  Because I believe strongly that establishing a regular practice of connection–one form of intuition–is the bedrock of all writing and creativity.  But after reading and copying one of Orloff's techniques yesterday, I think I've been missing out.

Orloff talks about remote viewing, which is essentially tuning into someone or something far away.  I could go on and on about some of the fascinating stories she tells, but I will save that for the actual review. (Brief aside: my Welsh friend Derek and I experimented with remote viewing just for the fun of it, sending photos back and forth and trying to hone in on what they contained.  The results were sometimes astoundingly accurate.)  She used remote viewing to try to tune into her patients and so forth.

I decided to play around with the process  she used, and after wasting spending a few minutes attempting to tune into friends near and far, I applied the process to the characters I'm working with in a new novel project.

Note how I call it a new novel project?  I'm not convinced it is going to be a novel yet, so I'm referring to it by a euphemism.  "Novel project" sounds a bit less certain than novel.  Anyway, I don't know much about my characters yet.  And I need to.  So I did a bit of remote viewing on them.  (I'm actually not sure if you can remote view characters who don't actually exist, but you get the point.)

Wow.  The results were amazing.  A stream of new information appeared, all of it relevant and useful.  I tried it again this morning, and yet more came through.  So I thought I'd share the process with you.  And let me be clear that this is my take on what Orloff described, as I've not yet gotten to the part where she explains how to do it.

1.  Get comfy, have pen and paper handy, and close your eyes.

2.  Take a few deep centering breaths to quiet your mind.

3.  Repeat the name of the character to yourself, or ask a question pertaining to your writing.

4.  Pay close attention to what comes up.  It might be visual images or words.

5.  Be patient, it can sometimes take awhile.  Sitting with the question or name is key.

6.  Open your eyes and make notes about what you got.

That's it, that's all you have to do.  It is not woo-woo in the least, just a simple process to utilize intuition to access information about your writing.  So give it a try and let me know what happens.

How else do you use intuition in your writing?  I'd love to hear about it.