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BackSpacing: Pulling myself up by my bra straps

Life Stuff, Writing

No Tool Time Tuesday this week. We’ll get back into it next week!

BackSpacing posts will be personal posts, just as a warning. Consider it me going, “Whoa. Backspace. Let’s figure some stuff out.”

I have been very bad about writing lately. I keep putting it off or finding other things to do that are “more important.” They’re not really more important, of course. They’re just a convenient excuse. But this is also why the blog has gotten off track.

Last year, I spent most of the year in a different state being one of the primary caregivers for my grandmother, who’d broken her neck the November before. Being a caregiver is a lot harder than you realize when you sign up. Not necessarily physically harder (though sometimes that), but definitely psychologically harder.

I spent two to three weeks of every month with her. I wouldn’t change that decision if I had to do it again. I would make the exact same choice. It was absolutely worth it. But the consequence of being away that long is that much of my life at home fell away. Drifted. My relationship with my husband is rock solid, so it wasn’t that. But it was more that my socialness suffered while I was away. And my ability to be social, the energy it takes for me to do that, suffered.

Generally, I’m a very outgoing and social person. But after last year, I found I had fewer spoons for socialness. (If you’re unfamiliar with Spoon Theory, check it out. It’s a very clever way of explaining energy.) My grandmother passed away just before Christmas and so this year has been about rebuilding my life here at home.

What does this have to do with my writing? Well, I’ve found that in times of high stress, I have a lot of trouble focusing on getting words on the page. I have little motivation to do it. And that makes getting anything done very difficult.

National Novel Writing Month is coming up. (We’re prepping at The Writing Tribe, if you want to join us!) So I need to get my crap together. This year I’ve decided that I’m going to be doing short stories, rather than a novel. My reasoning is that I need some quick wins. I have a number of novel projects in varying stages of completeness; I don’t need another novel right now.

What I do need is something that gives me a sense of accomplishment. Writing a series of short stories totally 50,000 words will also give me several pieces that I can submit to markets right away. I can get some wins under my belt. Because forward progress always creates motivation. I am in dire need of both right now.

So I’m planning my stories for NaNo and hoping for a few wins! How are you getting ready for Nano?

No, Virginia, There’s No Such Thing as Writer’s Block

Craft of Writing, Writing

Ten years ago, I’d have fought you if you’d told me writer’s block didn’t exist. I would have told you that you were crazy, that of course it existed! Because I experienced it and how dare you tell me I’m a literary hypochondriac!

Now, I realize that people who told me that then — and lit fires of guilt in my heart — were right. Writer’s block doesn’t exist. Now, that isn’t to say that a writer won’t have trouble getting words on a page. Of course, some days are worse (sometimes a lot worse) than others. But there is no real block. There’s not some outside force that is taking away our ability to write. It’s not like there is poison on our keyboards that will kill us when we sit down to type.

I’ve found that “block” is generally one of two things: avoidance or apathy. They can show up together, but it’s usually at least one or the other.

Avoidance

I find that this usually happens when I feel pressured or when I feel guilty or sometimes when I’m afraid I’m going to write crap.

Often the pressure and the guilt are tied together and both relate to when I’ve slacked off or dropped the ball on my writing goals. I feel pressure, mostly internally, but sometimes a perceived external pressure too, because I’m “behind.” It’s like I feel that other people are judging me for being a writer who doesn’t write.

And then there’s the overcompensating for the guilt: I didn’t write yesterday, for whatever reason, and now I have to write twice as much today to get “caught up.”

And, of course, then I feel crappy, because obviously I’m failing as a writer, so guilt starts really eating at me.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I handle guilt and procrastination pressure in the most efficient way.

I stop doing everything.

Because I’ve found that helps with “feeling behind.” *nods* Really. It does. *cough*

As I’m sure you know, it doesn’t help at all. But that stopping is the writer’s block. It’s the avoidance of doing what I need to be doing because of emotions — guilt, fear, pressure.

Apathy

Apathy often goes hand-in-hand with avoidance, but rather than being about my emotions, this one is about the work itself.

Apathy happens when I have absolutely no interest in or excitement for what I’m writing. Have you had that happen? You just put off doing your writing because you’re just not that into it. “It’s not you,” I tell the story. “It’s me. I’m just not that into you.”

Apathy can also happen as a result of outside things. Perhaps you got a rejection letter, or someone close to you gave you bad criticism on something you wrote, an idea you had, or even just the thought that you could possibly be a writer (I hate it when writers have people like this in their families 🙁 ).

So it becomes infinitely easier to not write.

How to get out of the “writer’s block” rut

We all hate this answer, but the best way to get out of the rut is to write. Even if you just open a screen and start writing about how you don’t feel like writing or about how you feel you have writer’s block. The act of actually writing will get you going. Eventually, you’ll be able to shift to something you’re supposed to be working on. But even if you don’t shift today, getting into the habit of doing the writing is a good portion of the writer’s block battle in itself.

Here’s the other important bit here: When you’re writing, give yourself permission to suck.

Go into the writing with the idea that whatever comes out at the other end could very well be the most awful, horrendous, gross piece of writing to ever exist in the history of humanity.

And that that’s perfectly okay.

I find that once I’ve given myself permission not to write the Great American Novel in the first draft, my words come much more easily.

When you're #amwriting, give yourself permission to suck. #writetip #writerslife Click To Tweet

Strike apathy out by throwing a curve ball

Basically, be mean to your characters. Here are two questions that are great at getting you out of a boring story:

What is the worst thing that can happen to your character, from their perspective?

And I mean the worst, barring death (unless that’s a thing that characters can come back from in your story 🙂 ). Is it the death of their partner? Is it losing their job? Is it finding that the treasure at the end of their quest is really just a stone?

Whatever it is, from the character’s persepective, that is the worst thing that can happen, make it happen. Then see how exciting the story becomes!

What is something that your character would never do or want to do?

Perhaps betraying their best friend is something they’d never want to do. Maybe stealing or lying is outside their moral code. Maybe it’s something as simple as going on an adventure that’s completely outside of the character’s normal mindset.

Once you’ve got the thing they’d most likely never do, figure out a way to make them have to do it. Put them between a rock and a hard place such that they must choose to do that thing that is abhorrent to them. You’ll be amazed at how more interested in your story you’ll be (and, of course, you’re reader will be once it’s published!).

In the end, I’ve discovered that writer’s block is really the act of avoiding writing. Writing is simply putting words on paper (or a screen). And I don’t need a muse or brilliant words in order to do that. It’s okay if I write utter tripe. So instead of just staring at the screen or, worse, avoiding the screen altogether, I’ll put tripe on the screen.

Remember: You can fix anything you write. But you can’t fix a blank page.

Remember: You can fix anything you write. But you can't fix a blank page. #amwriting Click To Tweet

How do you handle the urge to avoid your screen? Any tips on battling that thing that people call “writer’s block”? Drop them in the comments below!

 

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

Do You Only Make Your Target Word Count During NaNoWriMo?

Craft of Writing, Writing

Motivation and Procrastination

Some writers have the drive to write even when they’re not at the computer (or the notepad). For some, they’ll ignore most of the rest of their life in order to get their words done. I’m not really like that. When I’m not writing, I forget that I like to write. This is especially problematic for me when I’m in editorial mode for clients, because it’s more challenging to get back into creative mode, which causes me to forget for even longer that I like writing.

My Struggle with BICHOK

As an editor, I advise my writerly clients to get their Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. You’ve probably heard that or something similar, if you frequent any sort of writer groups, whether in real life or on Facebook or some other social platform.

As a writer, I struggle with this myself. For some reason, I put off writing, as if it’s a chore like doing the dishes (which I also put off! lol). It’s really not until I’m in my chair and actually in the midst of belting out words that I realize how much I missed it and wonder why I waited so long to get back into the chair. And you’d think that when I make this revelation that the next time I have a plan to sit down to write, I’ll remember it and be excited. But no, I still think it’s doing the dishes. *sigh*

My Most Productive Writing Time Period

I was lucky enough to be able to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree at Seton Hill University. During this program, students have a required page count that they are responsible to write each month. This number is decided on in conjunction with the student’s mentor for the semester, so it’s not arbitrary and the student has input in the decision. The common amount is 30 pages per month. There is also a critique group of, usually, two other students to whom a student sends these pages as well. So, at the least, you have three people every month who are waiting for your words.

As you might imagine, the years I was in that program were the most productive of my writing life.

If You’re Like Me…

…you do much better when you know someone is waiting for your work. I think this is a common issue for writers. It’s easy to push our writing off in favor of doing something with the kids, binge watching a few more episodes of Supernatural, reading the new Stephen King book, playing Halo, doing game night with friends, or even *gasp* doing the dishes. Sometimes it seems like we’ll do anything else aside from writing. Even when we know how much we like to do it.

But when there’s someone who’s looking over your shoulder, watching your progress…

Well, that changes everything.

A Tool to Help — AAMP

AAMP is the Author Accountability Mastermind Program. It’s designed to help you by giving you someone else to be accountable to. Essentially, you have your own personal cheerleading drill sergeant. 🙂

Why I created AAMP

At the beginning of the year, I joined the Single Malt Mastermind, which is helmed by Matthew Kimberley, who’s a fantastic sales and marketing instructor in the entrepreneurial space. While I was somewhat skeptical as to whether it would be useful for me, I was happily surprised. Having someone who watched what I was doing, even if he wasn’t directly involved at all, helped in making me much more productive. Knowing I had to write that email at the end of every week helped me keep my head in the game.

How does AAMP work?

AAMP is modeled on Matthew’s program, but structured a little differently and tailored for writers. There are two versions. A semi-automated version and a more personalized version. Whichever version you choose, you will receive an e-mail each Friday with writing tips, tricks, and/or advice. Then, depending on whether you’re a RockStar or a MegaStar, you’ll fill out a survey or reply to the e-mail directly.

RockStars will know that I’m reviewing the survey responses and I send out e-mails randomly to members for encouragement, help, or just to touch base. RockStars won’t get a personal response every week, but may get one any week.

Megastars have a slightly different path. They don’t fill out a survey. Instead, they reply directly to the e-mail and answer three questions. In the early part of the next week, I sent MegaStars — all MegaStars — a personal response.

Whichever version of AAMP you choose, I’m there, keeping tabs, checking in, and cheering you on!

When you can get access to AAMP

AAMP officially launches on August 1. That’s right. Just one week from tomorrow! There will be membership bonuses and a discount for everyone who signs up on Opening Day!

Want to make sure you’re in the loop?

Feeling Like a Writing Failure? 5 Tips to Overcome That Mindset

Writing

So much about having a writing career, whether it’s your main career or a supplemental career, can seem as if it’s about failure. Not finishing stories, rejection, years of writing without finding commercial success. It can be difficult to remain committed, enthusiastic.

Yes, a career in writing can be difficult. But so much of it is about mindset. It’s about how you frame the things that happen.

Last week, we talked about achieving goals. But what happens when you don’t achieve the goal? How do you manage when the story idea you thought was awesome turns out not to work as well as you’d expected? Or how do you keep writing when that short story has been rejected for the 28th time?

In an industry that is marked by hard work — yes, writing is hard — and rejection, how do we take those “failures” and keep going?

Framing, Reframing, and Mindset

The first thing I try to do is reframe my “failure.” You might notice I keep putting that word in quotes. It’s because I’ve discovered that failure isn’t concrete. It isn’t universal. I get to decide what is a success and what is a failure. If I decide that something isn’t a failure, then guess what? It isn’t.

My favorite thing to de-failure is rejections.

Wait, what?

I know, that sounds weird, right? How can a rejection not be a failure? I could tell you that it’s because not all rejection is about the work. Sometimes agents or editors will reject because they just contracted a similar piece. Or because they have enough of that genre. Or maybe just because they’re feeling overloaded and don’t want to take anything new on unless it *really* grabs them. None of that is an indictment on the work.

I could tell you those things. But really, it’s because when I finally started sending my work out, I decided that there are a certain number of rejections between me and the acceptance. And every time I get one, that’s another one out of the way. I get to mark it off the list. So, in this case, rejection is actually success.

I’m very good at mind games on myself! 🙂

And why not? So much of writing is perseverance. If I have a chance to choose whether something is positive or negative, how does it serve me to choose the negative, the thing that hurts my feelings and makes me sad or upset? I suppose if I responded to negative with renewed vigor in that “I’ll show you!” sort of way, choosing the negative would serve me. And for some people, that’s an awesome way to do things! For me, though, the negative is truly that. It can freeze me in my tracks. So why should I choose to do that to myself?

Instead, I choose the positive and use that to create momentum for my life. There are so many instances where we can choose the positive spin rather than the negative spin, but we tend to default to the negative. I don’t know whether that’s because we’re human or because of the way we’re socialized. Regardless, we don’t have to do that in our writing!

Mindset isn’t just about playing these mind games with yourself, though. What happens when you don’t reach a goal, like a daily word count? Say you’ve decided that you’re writing 500 words per day. And then you miss a day. Not for a valid reason, but just because you decided not to write that day.

Are you the type of person who then decides not to write the next day too, because you’re already behind and so what’s the point? Are you the type that will beat yourself up for missing so much that you make yourself too miserable to write the next day? Do you make legitimate-sounding excuses for why you didn’t write (which, in turn, makes it easier to make excuses in the future for not writing)?

As you might imagine, none of those are particularly productive. What can you do instead?

5 Tips for Overcoming Failure

Forgive yourself

Getting rejected or struggling with a story — or any other thing that you feel didn’t happen the way you felt it should have — is not a reflection of your worth. Forgive yourself. It’s very important not to spend a lot of time reprimanding yourself or feeling bad for missing your goal. All you do is make yourself miserable and then how much good work will you get done? Not much, more likely.
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Why be defeated twice, once by our mistakes and again by our attitude toward them?
~~ Lowell L. Bennion

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Assess why you didn’t make your goal

One of the first steps to fixing a problem is to figure out what went wrong. So what went wrong? Did you not have enough time to write? Or did you not manage your day well enough to get your writing done? Were you just being lazy? Were you too stressed out to write? Be really honest with yourself here. If you were just being lazy, then admit that. No one else is going to judge you and you’ve already forgiven yourself. So be honest with yourself about the real reason, because knowing that is the only way you’re going to be able to address it.

Brainstorm ways to avoid whatever problem caused you not to make your goal

This can be something as simple as putting aside fifteen minutes at a set time each day to write. Or something more complex, such as creating a punishment if you don’t do your writing. Perhaps every time you don’t write, you must donate $5 to a charity, cause, or organization you would never support. If you’re not writing because you’re stuck, consider working on a different project. Or creating a big brain dump of all the things you *could* do in your stuck story.

Make a list of all the things you’ve brainstormed here. They’re all tools in your writers’ toolbox.

Hang out with writers

Writing is solitary. Even when we collaborate, the actual writing is solitary. If you’re in a rut, go find your tribe. Let the enthusiasm and excitement of other writers rub off on you! You might go to a writers conference, a Meetup group in your area, or even just find a Facebook group for writers. Let your tribe invigorate you!

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BICHOK – Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard

Sit your butt down and start writing. Even if you’re writing, “I hate writing” over and over again. Even if you’re writing about how you’re having trouble writing. It doesn’t matter. Just get back on that damn bike and pedal!

What are ways that you come back from failure? Share with me below!

10 Tips for Killing Off Impostor Syndrome

Writing

What I’m Listening To: “At Last” by Etta James found on The Chess Box

Something Cool: I’m binge-watching Timeless this week, which is feeding both the specfic chick and the historian in me!

~~

I’m working on some big stuff that I hope will be helpful to writers, especially new folks who are taking up the pen. (I’ll tell you all about it when it’s closer to being done!) I’m really excited about everything, but on some days I struggle. That stupid voice in my head that tries to undermine me starts up:

What makes you think you can teach people?

No one wants to hear what you have to say.

It’s only a matter of time before they figure out that you’re a fraud.

Any of these questions sound familiar? Judging from what I’ve heard from other creatives, this is a common, common voice. (Maybe we all have the same one?) I find that when I listen to this voice, I freeze. I have a lot of trouble moving forward, because the little whispers in my ear cause me to second guess myself. I’ve been doing some reading about how to handle Impostor Syndrome (what a dramatic name!) and I’m going to share ten things that I’ve discovered that help.

1. Be transparent

Sunlight cleanses. Impostor Syndrome thrives in the dark, like so many other things that like to hit our self esteem. So be open about it. When you share a problem with other people, it usually turns out to be a smaller problem than it originally seemed. I think Impostor Syndrome is exactly like that. I’ve found that one of the fastest ways to stop feeling fake is to tell someone I’m feeling that way. Or you can, yknow, write a blog post about it 😉

2. Focus on providing value

Impostor Syndrome thrives because we’re focused on ourselves. If we shift the focus and provide something of value to others, it’s much more difficult for us to believe that we’re frauds. This is because someone found value in something we did or gave. That, in itself, is un-impostor behavior!

3. Stop shooting for perfection

It’s really common to have been brought up to strive for perfection. I hear it from my coaching clients and I hear it in greater media. But this is a terrible idea. Perfection is unattainable, so when we strive for it, we are automatically setting ourselves up to fail. And when we inevitably do fail to be perfect, it only reinforces those feelings of being a fraud.

Instead of striving for perfection, strive for progress.

4. Remember that making a mistake or being wrong doesn’t make you a fraud

We all make mistakes. We are all wrong sometimes. That’s because we are all human. This goes back to the whole perfection thing, too. You can’t never be wrong or never make a mistake. So don’t put more emphasis on those things than they deserve. Rather than thinking of them as proof of your fraud, think of them as a stunning opportunity to become more awesome!

5. Accept responsibility for your success

So often, we pooh-pooh someone when they compliment us.

“Oh, that was nothing. Anyone could do it.”
Or…
“It’s just part of my job.”
Or…
“I could have done better if…”

Sound familiar? Yet when someone points out mistakes or failures, we’re often quick to berate ourselves. But it’s really important that we accept as much responsibility for our successes. They are as much ours as the failures and we deserve that self-pat on the back.

Own your victory.

6. Change your words

It may sound all woo, but words really do affect our thinking. There’s a big difference between “I don’t want” and “I want.” They create different expectations in your head. One is a negative expectation and the other is a positive. When things are always phrased in the negative, that ends up being the overriding vibe that you come away with.

Instead of saying, “I don’t want to be a failure,” try saying, “I want to be a success.” Even just looking at the words, there is an anxious, unsettled feeling when reading the first sentence. At least for me. So try recasting your words in a positive light. Instead of “I could have done more” try, “I did a good job.”

7. Value internal validation more than external validation

This one is really hard. Especially for those of us who suffer from or have suffered from low self esteem in our lives. This is one of those things that is often an ongoing work in progress for people, myself included. Here are the steps to dealing with this, as I see it.

First, I have to figure out what my life value is. What do I see as good, positive, and worthwhile action? Then, I measure myself by that, rather than by some metric that someone else might have that I have no control over (or, really, knowledge of). This can be hard, because we all like a pat on the back or a “good job!” And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting and enjoying those. I think where some of us run aground is that we believe that the only worth we can derive is from those things. That our opinion isn’t as valid as someone else’s.

But the truth is that we can derive worth from ourselves. We can judge ourselves worthy and pat ourselves on the back.

We just have to remember that.

8. Take action — act even if you’re not quite ready

Ever felt frozen in place because you just don’t think you’re good enough? What often breaks me out of this is actually doing something. Getting off my butt and taking action toward my goal, whatever it is. It’s the equivalent of just holding your nose and jumping in the pool.

High achievers know that action = motivation. It’s like a perpetual motion machine. The more you do — and succeed at — the more you’re motivated to do things.

Maybe the “act even if you’re not quite ready” made you raise your eyebrows. Or maybe it freaked you right the heck out. But so many of us use the excuse of “getting ready” as a way to put off acting. It’s usually out of fear (that the narrator in our head saying those terrible things about us is right). How many times have you put off doing something because you needed to “tweak” it or “fix” it? Or put something off because you felt like everything needed to be perfect in order to act? Put off writing because you only had 20 minutes and that’s enough time to write? Missed that submission call because your story wasn’t perfect yet?
All of these are just excuses not to act. When we get out of the habit of looking for reasons why we can’t and in stead just focus on doing, we don’t give that voice in our heads enough time to talk us out of it.

9. Raise the bar

This might seem counter-intuitive. If we’re afraid to do the easy thing — because our nasty voice tells us we can’t — how could we possibly get ourselves to do the harder thing?

I know, right? Sounds crazy. But here’s the thing — when we set the bar too low, when we do reach it, we can discount it, like it was no big deal. We are more inclined to ignore it as a success, because it was so easy. Instead, raise the bar. Writing short stories because you don’t think you can write a novel? Commit to writing a page every day on the novel in your heart. You’re sending out your book manuscript? Send it to your dream agents/editors first, then move down the line if you get rejected. Raise the bar.

Now, will you always hit that goal? Nah. Sometimes you’ll miss. But even when you miss, you’ll likely hit a lower bar, which is still a win. But when you do make it? Lawd, watch out! 🙂

But even if you fail in a fiery display of suckitude, that leads us to…

10. View failure as a win

Wait. What? How does that even work?

Here’s the thing: when we succeed, yes we’ve gotten what we wanted, we’ve achieved something we set out to achieve. And those are wins! But when we fail, we get a whole different, but equally valuable set of data.

First, you can’t fail if you don’t try. That’s an old one, right? But it’s true. Failing means you did something. You acted. And that’s more than most people do, so that’s a huge win.

Second, when you fail, you learn something. It might be things about what you’re trying to accomplish that you can apply to the next attempt. It might be something about yourself that is either holding you back from succeeding or something you need to develop more strongly to help you succeed. It might be how you view the world or your tasks. You might identify something in how you work that you can improve. You might realize that you need help in some aspect and reach out to find it. Regardless, those are things you might not learn by succeeding. But you will learn many of them by failing.

Third, failing can give us the impetus to succeed. “My story isn’t right for you? Well, you just wait! You’re going to see my name in SF&F next year!” (Okay, don’t actually send that to someone; that’s what could be in your head 😉 ) Failure can be used as a motivational tool.

Don’t be afraid of failing; it’s how we improve.

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There they are! Ten ways to deal with Impostor Syndrome.

We often learn in life that we have no control over a lot of things. And while there are things we don’t have control over, we do have total control over our choices. And we can choose how to deal with our Impostor Syndrome; we can choose how we view failure and success; we can choose what words we use to talk to or about ourselves. Those things are choices that we make every day. Once we get into the habit of choosing differently, the world can change.

Ask your self this: If I have the choice to feel good or to feel crappy, why should I choose to feel crappy?

Do you struggle with Impostor Syndrome? How do you handle it? Have you used any of the above strategies? How have they worked for you?

 

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.