What’s Your Drug of Choice?

Writing is my heroin. I am unquestionably a happier more productive human being when I write regularly.

I didn’t know this about myself for a long time. I remember distinctly, having a series of very bad days. I was constantly grumpy, everything seemed to be going wrong, the world was falling apart around me, and I didn’t know why. It dawned on me that I hadn’t written in a few days. Up until then, I’d been writing daily as I was working on an epic novel. I had pitched it to an agent who had asked for the first three chapters. I figured I’d better get the thing done in case she asked for more. (She didn’t, but she did give wonderful feedback. It was a terrible novel).

Once the draft was done, I stopped writing. I hadn’t realized how much the writing, the satisfaction of achieving my daily word-count, had affected my mood.

I needed to make writing a habit the way it had been. But once you stop something, it’s hard to start up again. (Look at me talking physics!)

There are ways we can make writing a habit. Scheduling regular time is the most obvious step. But just because we have the time scheduled, doesn’t mean we will spend it writing.

I’m going to recomend a great book on habits and how we form them, called “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business” by Charles Duhigg. It is a fascinating read on how we form habits and the studies that have been done.

One of the things Charles Duhigg talks about is the cue – action – reward cycle that is the basis for forming habits. We have some kind of cue that inspires action and when we perform that action, we get a reward. So, in our case, as writers, the cue might be sitting down at the computer, using our favorite pen, having our cup of coffee in our favorite coffee mug. We associate that cue with writing. Favorite pen in hand? Must write. Favorite coffee mug? Time to write. The reward for our writing comes from the satisfaction of achieving your writing goal, achieving a word-count, having written an exciting scene, whatever it is that makes you feel satisfied at the end of your writing session.

The reward is great, but it isn’t enough to make this cycle a true habit. The habit forms when we see the cue and anticipate the reward, we want the reward, we crave it and we will do whatever we need to do to satisfy that craving.

If you’ve ever had an addiction, on a diet, pregnant (or live with someone who is), you understand cravings. The example Duhigg gives is the box of donuts. Until you’ve had your first donut, you don’t know that that box contains oh so sweet and sugary carbs. But once you’ve had that first donut, you know. And every time you see that box, your brain anticipates that sugary goodness. If you deny yourself that reward, your brain releases a chemical that makes you sad, almost depressed, until you satisfy that craving.

If the key to making writing a habit is a reward you will crave, how do we come up with a suitable reward?

These kinds of rewards are very individualized. I’m going to recomend another book here, which covers this far more than I ever could, and has been a great help to me. “Motivate Your Writing!: Using Motivational Psychology to Energize Your Writing Life” by Stephen P. Kelner Jr.  It is an indepth look at what drives us emotionally, what rewards suit certain personality types, and how we can use those to get us sitting down to write.

For example, one motivation type is Influence. This means that when readers and fans respond positively to your work, you have incentive to keep writing. Those fan letters or tweets or comments that you made a positive impact on them remind you that you are succeeding in your writing.

If you find your motivation, you will find the reward you crave. Satisfy that craving often and make writing a habit. Make it your addiction, your drug of choice!

What will your motivation, your reward, be?

Putting Yourself First

Priorities

 

In Martha Stout’s book “The Sociopath Next Door“, she opens up her introduction with the following: “Imagine–if you can–not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members.”

I remember reading that and thinking, “What’s the problem? That would be heavenly!” No, I don’t really want to be a sociopath without a conscience, not caring what happens to others, willing to walk-over and destroy everyone around me to get what I want.

I do think there is some merit to taking time for yourself and what you care about, without the guilt of always being concerned about others to the point where you put everyone else’s needs before your own.

In a way that’s a controversial thought, in a way it isn’t. Certainly Oprah started the “Me” movement decades ago, which is all about looking after what “I” need, what “I” want, so what I’m saying isn’t new. At the same time, there is still so much pressure, so much guilt put on us, especially on women, still, to look after everyone else, to put our needs second, that when someone calls, asks for help, asks a favour, we are supposed to, we are required to, drop what we’re doing to respond.

In the workshops I lead, this question comes up all the time: How can I put myself first? I often think there is an expectation that I will have a pat answer, a trick or tip on how to make other people respect boundaries or to not need so much. I always respond with another question:

Why do think you are unworthy of being first?

Conversely, What makes you worthy of being first?

Why shouldn’t you be first?

I know, I know, society makes us feel guilty if we make ourselves a priority. And that guilt is not easy to dispel. So let’s take that guilt into account as we work this out.

Think about the time you spend writing, looking after yourself and your needs. What do you get out of that time? More energy? Happiness? Experience? You’ve learned something new? You’re healthier? What else?

Take all that you have gained and think about how much that helps you grow as a person. When we grow as people, when we are happier, healthier, more knowledgeable, we have more to offer those around us, those who depend on us.

So, no, I’m not saying you should put yourself first always and to not care about the well-being of others all the time. I’m saying to do it enough that you can grow as a person, be happy with who you are, and have more to offer.

We’ve all heard it: If you don’t look after yourself, no one will. It’s true. Have you heard this? If we don’t put ourselves first, we are teaching others that we are not worthy of being first. Others treat us the way we teach them to treat us.

Join the conversation! What makes you worthy of being first? What do you gain from putting yourself first, looking after your needs, your goals? What will you commit to doing this week to put yourself and your goals first?

 

Finding the Joy in Writing (Part 3)

Editing!

I’ve lost count of the number of writers who have said they loathe the editing process. I have a feeling a lot of this dislike for editing comes from our Inner Saboteur who continually ridicules us for not having perfect first drafts, convincing us that real writers don’t edit. Well, I hate to break it to you, but every writer edits their work. They may not enjoy it, but they do it.

I once read in a book on writing (I don’t remember which one, it was a long time ago), that said that no writer enjoys the editing process.

I do.

I love it.

There are times I enjoy it more than the first draft/creative exploration process of getting the words down on the page for the first time. And I know that I’m not the only one who enjoys editing. I have met a handful of other writers who love it too.

I want to share my thought process for drafting and editing, and the differences between the two. This isn’t the only way to enjoy editing.

The first draft: This is can include the outline, but essentially it is when we first have that enthusiasm for a story and get it onto the page. For me, this is very much an exploratory stage, getting to know the characters, the world, the plot, etc. This is when I get to immerse myself most in the story. It is new. It is shiney. It is mine. No one gets to see it yet. This is also usually a complete disaster with plot holes (even with outlining), and the most awkward sentences ever written. This is where I get to liberally spend my wordage expense account. I often find that as enjoyable as this stage is, it takes a lot out of me emotionally and mentally, in a very good way. This is often when I get that writer’s high as I’m writing. I get giddy after about an hour, and said giddiness can last a good 24 hours after. This is when I feel most productive as a writer because there are tangible results. An extra 1,000 or 2,000 words written.

Editing: I’m not talking specifically about fixing grammatical errors or typos here. I usually reserve that for the final polish. Editing for me often involves revising major chunks of the manuscript, filling in those plot holes, etc. The reason I love editing so much is simply this: when I edit, that’s when I get to develop and see the growth in my use of the craft of writing. This is where I get to play with the words, the sentences, to make each one say exactly what I want it to say in the most powerful way possible. Editing is where I get to really see the story take its true form, in all its beauty. This is where I get to take that rough piece of art and make it into a masterpiece. The structure, the core of it is all there. My creative self has done her job in coming up with a spectacular base. Now it is the true craftsman self that gets to truly bring it to life.

Did I always enjoy editing? Hardly. I have a few manuscripts in my drawer that are very polished first drafts. I thought that’s what editing was. But then I was challenged as I learned more about writing, to really dig and find the beauty in the story and bring it out. My first thought wasn’t that I didn’t like it (though I wan’t crazy about it), but that I wasn’t capable of it. It didn’t take long for me to discover I did have the tools to make my writing even better. When I realized that, I embraced the process.

What do you dislike about editing? What do you love about it?

The Importance of Caring for Yourself

I am taking a break this week from my series on Finding the Joy in Writing, to talk about Self-Care.

I have been reminded on more than one occassion in the last couple of weeks, of the tragedy and invisitilty that is mental health.

Having depression or some other form of mental illness is common among us creative types. Sometimes we can cope, other times we can’t. And when we can’t, most people don’t understand because it isn’t something that has a physical symptom. We are not on crutches or breaking out with boils on our face, or coughing and sneezing. And so we often suffer in silence.

The world around us, and even those who love us most, often don’t see the blackness and the turmoil and noise crowding our thoughts, they don’t feel our absolute hopelessness. And because of that noise and turmoil, we don’t see that there is hope.

If it is a mental health issue, burnout, or stress, I urge you to take care of yourself. Talk to someone about it. Someone who will listen without judgement, someone who can help shine that light of hope for you. Do something to make yourself feel good, if it is a massage, getting your hair done, reading a book, or taking a long bath or shower. Delegate your work-load until it is at a manageable level. Society demands that we do everything. We don’t have to. If you can’t do more than one thing at a time right now, that is OK. There is nothing wrong with you. I promise you.

As someone with depression, I have felt that hopelessness. I know the turmoil and the noise. I also know that with the right support, there is always a solution, there is always hope. It may not feel like it for a long time, and it may not be the most ideal at first, but you will be glad you hung on for a while longer to find out.

Take care of yourself. Find someone to talk to. Pamper yourself. Do something that brings you joy. And know that you are surrounded by love.

Finding the Joy in Writing (Part 2)

The more we learn about the craft of writing, the more paranoid we become, worried that we are not going to get the wording just right. When we worry, we’re not enjoying the writing.’

I’ll talk about how this relates to the editing process in a later post. For today, I want to focus on the drafting process.

Everyone’s writing process differs. If you’re like me, you like to get everything down first, edit later. Some people edit as they go. Some people write a chapter or scene, edit it, then carry on. In all of these variaitions, at some point, the words need to get put on the page first.  It is when we are getting the words on the page that we can find the joy in writing.

How?

By extravagantly spending your word coinage.

You see, unlike our actual bank accounts, we can’t overspend our word coinage. That means there are no word limits when we are drafting. It doesn’t matter if you’re aiming for a 800 word flash piece or a 150,00 epic novel. Don’t be afraid to write down everything that comes to mind — description, conversation — everything that is relevant to the story. If you can’t come up with the exact perfect word at the moment, write down placeholders (make sure you note them so you can fix it when you edit).

When you feel free to play with the words, when you are free of word limits and restrictions, your creative self will relax and the creativity will flow. And isn’t writing more enjoyable when the words flow?

When we let the words flow, we are immersed in the story and the outside worries of what others will think, if it is publishable, if it is marketable, will fade.

When we are generous with our word coinage, we are more comfortable with allowing more of the necessary emotion into the story.

I’ll ask again, isn’t it more enjoyable then?

When you’ve finished getting the words down, you can edit to get the words just right and to take out unnecessary words.

Author Challenge:

How thrifty have you been with your word coinage account? Loosen up the purse strings and let the words flow. What difference does that make to writing the next scene or chapter in your Work in Progress?

Finding the Joy in Writing (Part 1)

I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying that writers love to have written, not to write. We all know people who say they are writers, talk up a good game but haven’t written anything yet, or in a long time. Many people want the life of a writer, but not to sit down and write. Who wants to sit alone at a computer staring at the screen for hours, day in and day out? Well, it sounds rather ideal, but we all know how difficult it is to do it, to keep our butt in the chair, and put down those creative ideas.

What would help, we all say it, would be if writing was fun the way it was when we started writing.

For most of us, writing loses it’s charm when we start learing just how much we’re doing wrong. This usually happens when we start to get feedback, take a writing class or two, or even when those first rejections come in. Our desire to improve as writers takes away the joy of writing which is why we wrote to begin with.

This series of blog posts will focus on a few different areas that give us joy in writing.

The first is the characters.

I love hanging out with the characters in the novels I write. They often become my best friends.

As a child, though I made up stories all the time, I never had any imaginary friends. Well, I did have one, but she didn’t really serve any purpose other than just for the sake of having an imaginary friend, so I dropped her at the city bus stop one day after school and sent her off to Ontario. I’m sure she’s thriving there. I don’t know. We never stayed in touch.

The characters in my novels, however, I like to keep them around. So what makes them different? For starters, they’re usually the ones that have approached me to tell their story. I take the time to get to know them both as I write and as I edit. Sometimes they’re honest from the start, sometimes I catch them holding back.

One character, Melanie, of a novel that will never likely see the light of day, by choice, hounded me for months to tell her story. I didn’t like her at the start. She was crass, rude, had the foulest mouth, and had a very different moral compass to me. As I got to know her, hear all that she had been through, to make her the way she was, I found I liked her a lot. Every chance I had, whether it was a pause in a busy work day, doing the dishes, or going to a movie, I took the time to get to know her, see how she reacted, asked her what she thought in those situations.

Does this make me crazy? Well, maybe. But what it also does, is give me greater understanding of the characters I’m writing about, making them three-dimensional. It also helps me to know the best way to move the story along. But best of all, it helps me immerse myself in the world I am creating.

Most of us started telling stories as children because we loved being in imaginary worlds. When we worry so much about the technicalities and the business end of writing, we lose sight of the creative aspect of writing. Spending time socially with the characters helps restore what we loved most about books and about writing.

Author challenge:

Take your characters on a date. Invite them to a movie or to dinner. Ask them to keep you company while you’re doing the dishes or cleaning the house. What are they like when you get to know them outside of the struggles of the plot?

It Makes a Difference

Why does it feel like such a chore to sit down and actually write?  It’s that sense of dread that often leads to procrastination.

What if you actually enjoyed the writing process? Yes, it is possible!

It starts with the love of the story you’re writing, and a love of the characters. A curiosity  and willingness to explore the world and the adventure. And a great sense of mischief, to put our charachers in all kinds of trouble.

But to actually love the process of writing takes something else too. It isn’t complicated. I think the fabulous author David Morrell, author of Rambo among many other New York Times’ Bestsellers said it best. I attended a workshop of his back in 2008. He reminded us that not everything we write is going to sell. So to keep that love of the book or story, and the process of writing we need to make a list of the following:

  • Why the project is important to us.
  • What is the theme? What are we trying to say with it?
  • What do you, personally, want to get out of writing it? Maybe you want to work on your description, or character arc, or prove to yourself that you can write a certain amount in a given time-frame.
  • What do you want to professionally, get out of writing it? Maybe this is the one that you will send to Asimov’s or Analog, or submit to agents.
  • I’m also going to add in here, add to this list the reasons you write. Why you chose to become a writer, what or who inspired you to become a writer, and what you enjoy about it.

Keep this list handy, because there are going to be times, many times, when writing just isn’t fun, especially when you’re waiting for a response from a publisher or agent, or those rejections start piling up.

 

What’s Stopping You. . . Part 2

We are now well into September, and our routines are, if not settled, then nearly so. Do you still find you’re unable to take those small steps towards achieving your goals? Maybe you just don’t feel like you have the energy to get started after a long day, and need to use your weekends to recuperate. What if you’ve already taken the time to look at and re-evaluate the problem and what you need to fix to keep moving forward and you still can’t see your way forward?

Take a closer look at the situation, the project, and the overall outcome you are hoping for. What is it about the projject that keeps needing to be fixed? Are you tired of it? Is this the project that is going to give you the outcome you desire? Is it worth your time to continue on it? What is it you are really protesting? Is it a wrong step, or would a different project be better for you and get you to your desired outcome?

I encountered this situation this past week. I’ve been working on a project for the last year. Several times I’ve thought I was well on my way to completion and then I’d get stuck. I’d look back at it, figure out where I went wrong, go back to that point and start fresh, only to get stuck again. This happened several times. It got to the point where I dreaded going back to it. and yet I felt the pressure to continue, to finish, because I don’t believe in abandonning projects just becasue it isn’t working out once or twice. But after a year of struggling, I started paying attention to what my mind and body were protesting. The real protest was that this was not the right project for me. I finally decided to set that project aside for now or indefinitely and to work on a new project. I don’t quite know what that will be, but I’m looking forward to it.

Once I made that decision, I felt relief and joy. I knew I’d listened to myself and know what is right for me. And now, for the first time in a few years, I am excited to be working on a new project. It is in the same field and with the goal of the same end result, it is just a different way of getting there.

What is really stopping you from moving forward?

Good News Monday is back!

With everyone settling into the fall/winter routine, it’s time to start the week off with good news! Big or small, let’s celebrate together!

My good news for this Monday: My 16 year old niece declared that I had swag 😀

What’s your good news this Monday?

What’s stopping you from moving forward?

It’s that time of year again: The beginning of the school year. Even if you don’t have kids in school or are not a University student yourself, or work in the academic field, September is always the mark of a new year. Fall is in the air and day trips to the beach are numbered.

How does this time of the year make you feel? Is it tough to get back into a routine? Do you find yourself disorganized and maybe a little harried? Are you putting your goals and dreams aside because you don’t have the time to focus?

The beginning of September is a lot busier than the summer, and often requires a lot of our energy that needs to be focused in areas where we haven’t focused it on in a while. Does this mean you need to put your goals and dreams on hold? The longer we spend away from our goals and dreams, the more difficult it becomes to get back to them.

What’s stopping you from moving forward on your goals and dreams? Is it the feeling that you don’t have energy? Do you feel like you don’t have the time? Did you take the summer off from it thinking you would get back to it in September and now you think that because you’ve taken so much time away from it, there is no point in going back to it?

All of these thoughts are from what I like to call our Inner Saboteur., that voice of self-doubt that doees whatever it can to keep you from moving forward on your dreams and goals.

What if you were to take a few minutes a day for yourself and your dreams? What if you work on something related to your goals, maybe a side project that will help you achieve the end product?

What do I mean by a side project? As a writer, I might not have the energy or time to spend a few hours a day on writing, but I can do some research on the subject matter, or agents and editors. As a woodworker, maybe I don’t have the time it takes right now to make my masterpiece, but I can research material I might want to use and discover new techniques to the trade. If the goal is to take an exotic trip somewhere, maybe I could start with looking up locations, deciding what activities most interest me and which locations best suit those. Maybe I could set the budget for such a trip and start figuring out how I’m going to pay for it.

There are always small steps that can be taken even when your energy is at an all time low. If you take these small steps, you will feel your energy for that project grow and be ready to go in full when you do settle into your routine.

So what’s stopping you from moving forward on your goals? What step will you take to move forward?