Writer’s Weekend Edition – You’re Still You

qt-knost-broken-world

Today’s post will be a short one. I really only have one thing I want to tell you:

You’re still you.

Maybe you’re feeling like the world has gone mad; or maybe it seems like it’s always been mad, but you’re only noticing now, and it’s like waking up to find out that your bad dream wasn’t a dream at all.

What’s happening isn’t normal, but you’re still you.

Maybe you’re feeling disappointed about the way 2016 turned out for your personally. Maybe you didn’t meet your goals. Maybe your heart was broken. Maybe you lost your way.

I know it hurts, but you’re still you.

Maybe you are feeling doubtful or guilty about your creative endeavors. Maybe you’re worried that they are an indulgence, or that they don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Maybe you’re second guessing yourself.

I understand your fear, but you’re still you.

No matter what happens around you, no matter what people say, no matter how many setbacks you experience – You’re. Still. You. You are who you’ve always been and you’re always growing into the person you’re meant to be. What happens around you can touch you and influence you and affect your emotions, but it can’t change who you are unless you let it. All those forces exist outside of you. They aren’t really part of who you are in your heart, and  your heart is where your stories come from.

It’s okay to take time to grieve. It’s okay to give yourself space to worry and question and process all the change in your life. And, it’s okay to step back for a minute and just let it all wash over you. Just remember, always remember, that you are still you. Your stories are still your stories. Your voice is still your voice. That hasn’t changed. That will never change. And, that is your greatest strength and your most brilliant light. So, be you, be strong, and shine your light in the darkness. We need it more than ever.

xo

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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On Creative Drought Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links Jul 31

Even a withered stalk can generate a beautiful flower.

Even a withered stalk can generate a beautiful flower.

While our situation is not as severe as the one in California or many others around the world, this summer has been one of the driest in recent history for our little north-of-Boston town. Water bans are in effect all across the region, causing lawns to wither and crisp under the cruel and oppressive rays of the sun. Garden plants and flowers wilt and fade during the day, recovering as best they can in the slightly cooler and blessedly darker overnight hours. Rooted in the ground, the parched plants have no escape from the heat or the searing touch of the sun’s rays. They can only endure in silence and hope to survive long enough to feel the life-giving caress of a good, soaking rain.

For weeks now, we have been watching the weather reports for any signs of precipitation. On a few occasions, the meteorologists have forecast rain, but it seems like our tiny town has some kind of forcefield around it. Again and again, our hearts are lifted by the promise of rain, but more often than not, the storm detours around us, or the drops evaporate before reaching the ground. Even last weekend, when towns on all sides were ravaged by impressive thunderstorms, we had only a brief shower that barely managed to properly wet the dry earth before rushing out to sea.

I feel for the plants. I can imagine how they pine for a long, slow drink of water. I can imagine this because I have been feeling the same way about my creative work lately. Summer arrived at my doorstep with a flurry of client projects, and while I’m always grateful to be gainfully employed, keeping up with the deadlines has meant putting aside not only my Big Picture creative projects, but all of my daily creative and self-care routines as well.

My morning pages practice has dwindled to only a few pages every couple of weeks. I have only done yoga (a practice which provides me with time and headspace for nurturing random thoughts and writing ideas) a half dozen times in the last four or five months. My pleasure reading has been slow to the point of having to sometimes back-track when I return to a book because it’s been so long since my last read that I’ve forgotten what was happening in the story.

Each of us faces period of creative drought. Whether we’re overwhelmed with work, dealing with a personal crisis, or have had our creative time usurped by the family and social obligations of summer, there will be days (or weeks, or months) when we simply can’t make the time we’d like to nurture our creative projects. Though I’m in the middle of such a period, and – I won’t lie – am feeling a little cranky about it, I can still step back and offer a little encouragement to others who might be going through a similar experience right now:

  • Number One: This too shall pass. Yes, I know it’s a bit trite, but it’s also true. Whatever is taking up your time and keeping you from your creative endeavors will eventually move on and out of your life. You will get back to your projects and your dreams. You might have to be patient for a while, but that’s not such a bad thing. Just try to roll with it.
  • Number Two: Even in times of creative drought, you can create. While I have been feeling frustrated and put out by my inability to make time for my usual creative pursuits, I am trying to remember that there are tiny creative acts that only take a few minutes. I may not have large chunks of time to write on a story or tackle the complex task of organizing source materials for a larger work, but I can pen one or two lines or edit a photo for Instagram or doodle in the margin of my notebook. Those may not be impressive accomplishments, but something is better than nothing.
Despite it's diminutive size, our smallest tomato plant is yielding the most robust crop of the season.

Despite it’s diminutive size, our smallest tomato plant is yielding the most robust crop of the season.

We must remember that we are not the drought. The drought is just an external circumstance, not a reflection of our creative spark or spirit. Even if we are unable to engage in the external act of creation, the source of our creativity is alive and well – hunkered down beneath the cracked earth, just waiting until the rains some so it can burst forth and blossom.

Just you wait and see.

_jamie sig

 

 


My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

CRAFT

PUBLISHING & MARKETING

INSPIRATION

THE WRITING LIFE

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Finally, a quote for the week:

I’m stealing borrowing this week’s quote from the lovely and delightful Sara Foley, who borrowed it in turn from Raising Ecstasy:

pin vonnegut edge

Here’s to getting close to the edge, weathering the droughts, and always being ready to emerge from underground when the rains finally come.
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Writer’s Block Cause 4 (and Big Hope): Your Vision

Epiphanies are not common, but I recently had two whoppers about the writing experience. One sidled up between the lines of Ann Patchett’s book, The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life. The other coalesced while I listened to Jen Louden’s wonderful Shero’s Journey class. The one-two punch of these realizations is still settling in, but I couldn’t wait to share them. 

Writing is a big deal. It carries a certain responsibility. Unlike speech, which hangs in the air for only a moment, the written word can long outlive its creator. The written word can be shared from person-to-person – pushing the writer’s thoughts and ideas far outside her immediate realm of influence. So, when we writers put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, we want to get it right … whatever “right” is.

And therein lies the problem.

Our vision for our work – our story, poem, or novel – can play a huge role in holding us back. Though it may be the thing that inspires us, it can also leave us feeling unworthy, incapable, small. The fear of failure that we talked about in the first post of this series attacks us from the outside with blatant negativity. No one wants to be rejected or ridiculed, but at least those demons are easily identified. They can be fought head on.

Fighting your vision is like fighting yourself. You cherish your opponent so much it hurts. The only feeling I can liken it to is the feeling of an expectant mother who is elated about the birth of her child, but at the same time paralyzed by a fear that she will not be a good mother.

In her book The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life, Ann Patchett writes about how she creates a novel in her head before ever writing a word. She describes this unwritten book as a butterfly companion that moves with her through her days:

This book, of which I have not yet written one word, is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see. 

The metaphor turns dark as Patchett explains what she must do to put the novel down on paper:

… I reach into the air and pluck the butterfly up. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it.

This is how our vision keeps us from writing our stories. It is more than a fear of being unable to capture the essence of the thing. It is a deep inner knowing that the process of writing a story will destroy that essence – the vision we have of it in our heads. Patchett says that the book she writes is “the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled.” She has betrayed her story. She has killed the thing so that she might see how it works and show it to others.

And here is where, for me, Jen Louden picks up the story.

In her Shero’s Journey class, Jen speaks about self-trust and self-betrayal. She talks about how we strive to achieve the one, but will always fall prey to the other. It’s human nature. We will make promises to ourselves, and we will break those promises. We will set goals and fall short. And that’s okay.

The important thing is to keep moving forward. Jen sees the cycle – which I believe applies to writing as well as to life – as making a promise, betraying yourself, forgiving yourself, beginning again. Most of us are probably already well versed in the promising and betraying parts of the process. (I know I am.) But how well do we even acknowledge the need for forgiveness and new beginnings?

If you have a beautiful story inside you, and you are afraid to commit it to paper or screen because you know to do so will mean maiming or outright killing your vision, remember this: you are the only one who can tell your story. You are the only one who has the vision to see its beauty. Without your sacrifice, the world will never be able to share in that beauty.

If a story were a living, breathing creature, I would never condone its murder for the purpose of letting others see it. But a story is not alive in that way. In fact, one might argue that a story must be killed in order to truly live. Think of your writing as the alchemy that transforms the idea of a story (which only you can enjoy) into a “living story” that can entertain, teach, and inspire others. The writing, then, is a kind of birth at least as much as it is a death. Without that transformation, the story will simply dissipate into nothingness. It will never make its way into the world as something of substance, a force that can move people to see the world and themselves in new ways. Without your sacrifice and labors, its spark will be extinguished, its light and color snuffed out.

Sure, its brilliance may be diminished in the process of being written. It may seem crippled to you – you who have seen it in all its original and pristine glory – but even crippled, it will have a new life and freedom. It will no longer be imprisoned inside your head. It will have the ability to go out into the world – touching minds and hearts, making a difference.

And, isn’t that why we write in the first place?

Tell me, is your vision holding you back? Are you willing to make the sacrifice to bring your story to life?
 
This is the fourth (and last!) post in a series about the causes of that fictitious condition known as writer’s block. In previous entries we talked about fear, finding the time to write and getting started. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who feels they have suffered from this inability to put words down. I just believe that if we can uncover and face the root causes of this uniquely literary affliction, we can slay the writer’s block dragon and get back to the work at hand. Who’s with me?
 

P.S. I highly recommend both Ann Patchett’s book Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Lifeand Jen Louden’s class Shero’s Journeyand – no – those are not affiliate links. I just love both enough to share them. 🙂

 

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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Image Credit: Curious Expeditions

Writer’s Block Cause 3: Not knowing where to start

Sometimes, even if we have overcome our fear and found the time, it’s difficult to get the pen moving across the page or our fingertips tapping on the keyboard. Though we have summoned the courage and carved out the hour, we may simply not know where to begin. Despite slaying some of our demons, we find ourselves once again paralyzed by writer’s block, only this time the culprit grinning at us from the blank page is confusion.

The beginning of a project can make you feel like you’re standing at the foot of a very large and very intimidating mountain. Worse, as you contemplate the task before you, that imposing edifice seems to rise up out of the earth, stretching higher and higher above you, sending small avalanches of stones skittering and sliding in your direction. The longer you wait, the bigger the challenge becomes, until you may as well be trying to climb to the moon.

It’s not that bad. I promise.

Here are a few tips to help you cut that mountain down to size (or, at least get your feet moving up the first slope):

Break it down: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Not that I’d want to eat an elephant. At all. But, it’s a well-known analogy that also applies to any project. It’s not enough for you to block out time to “work on your novel.” You need to get specific about what you will do: work on an outline, do a character sketch of the heroine’s older sister, write the first scene of chapter three, edit chapter ten. Breaking the Big Thing down into smaller bites makes it a lot more palatable (and less scary). This was never better said than by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. (A book I highly recommend for writers of all kinds.)

Have a plan: Of course, to break things down, you need to understand the component parts of your project. This is what makes it possible to develop a good plan. Do you have a process for writing a story, a blog post, a novel? How do you break things down? If you’re not sure, get sure. Figure out how you get from start to finish. For a blog post, it might involve brainstorming, mind mapping, research, a first draft and a couple rounds of edits. For a more complex project – like a novel – you’ll have more steps. I am a fan of Larry Brooks’ Storyfix planning process for fiction writing. Good stuff.

Though the artist in you might rail against the idea of process, there is something empowering about knowing where you’re going. Give yourself the gift of a roadmap for your creative journey. Just because you are making a plan doesn’t mean it won’t be an adventure.

Start in the middle: They say that starting is the hardest part, and they are right. The first word, the first sentence, the first paragraph – these are often the most daunting tasks in a writing project. How do we get the ball rolling? What brilliant line will hook our readers into reading the rest of the piece? Why, oh, why can’t we think of a single opening statement? Relax. Forget about it. It’s true that your finished piece will need a first line, but that doesn’t mean you have to start there. Start in the middle. Just start writing anything – whatever comes easily. The important thing is to build up some momentum – give yourself that jumpstart and then keep going. You’ll eventually circle back to the beginning … when you’re ready.

Remember that nothing is written in stone: One of the most beautiful things about writing is the iterative nature of the process. In truth, most of our writing is never done – we simply set it free when we reach a random point of satisfaction. The first draft is only the beginning. It’s not meant to be perfect. No one else ever has to see it. You will get a second chance, and a third, and a fourth, and … you get the idea. The first draft should be crap. That’s what first drafts are for. Revel in the realization that you have the freedom to go ahead and make a mess of things. Breathe a sigh of relief and just play. Get some words down. Give yourself something to work with. That is the writer’s first job.

Bonus: remember self-care: Creative juices don’t flow well when you’re all tied up in knots. Give yourself the gift of some TLC. Give yourself some love. Give yourself a break. Sometimes, the wisest thing you can do is walk away … for a little while. Go for a walk. Clear your head. Give your mind something else to chew on for a while. I guarantee that if you can give your creative muse the room to stretch and breathe, she’ll come back to you with the solution to your problem. I get most of my best ideas while I’m driving, doing yoga, or taking a shower. Don’t try to force things. Take care of your need for reflection, fun, play … whatever gets you going. It’ll help put you in the right frame of mind for developing your plan, breaking down your Big Project, and getting started with enthusiasm and joy.

So, how about you? What are you going to start today? How are you going to start? Tell us and then get going and get it going! 

This is the third post in a series about the causes of that fictitious condition known as writer’s block. In the previous entry, we talked about finding the time to write and in the first we tackled the topic of fear. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who feels they have suffered from this inability to put words down. I just believe that if we can uncover and face the root causes of this uniquely literary affliction, we can slay the writer’s block dragon and get back to the work at hand. Who’s with me?

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image Credit: gigi 62

Writer’s Block Cause 1: Fear

You’re a writer on a deadline. You know you should be cranking on your assignment, but instead you’re staring at a blank page with your mouth open, your heart pounding, and your mind doing its best impression of a black hole. You have no good ideas. You can’t string together a single sentence. The lifeless forms of impotent words are strewn around you like so much literary roadkill. You’re suddenly sure that everything you’ve ever written is crap. The void of the stark white and oh-so-empty page starts to give you a bad case of vertigo.

Writer’s block – the kryptonite we dare not name. 

Whether writing is how you make your living or how you feed your passion, there are few things more terrifying to a writer than sitting down and finding the words have stopped flowing. But what causes this sudden paralysis? It’s not a virus or a temporary gene mutation. It’s not hereditary or influenced by environmental factors. In fact, there is no clinical proof that writer’s block exists, and yet writers routinely claim their muses are held hostage in its grip.

What if writer’s block is simply a convenient name for a collection of common roadblocks that keep writers from writing? What if, instead of fearing this mysterious affliction, you could break it down to its most basic elements and wrest yourself from its control? I believe that’s not only a possibility, but also our obligation. As writers, we have a responsibility to create. We don’t have time to waste with fabricated demons.

Writer’s Block Cause #1: Fear

Yes, it’s that obvious.

Writer’s block isn’t about some external force sucking your ideas and talent away. Writer’s block is about your own fear taking over your nervous system and depleting your confidence to the point of paralysis. It’s about attempting to avoid pain and disappointment by eliminating risk. Putting your thoughts out into the world requires courage and conviction. When your fears inspire a case of vicious self-doubt and second-guessing, it’s no wonder you end up feeling sapped of creative juices.

The bad news:

You have every right to be afraid. Your fears are not unfounded or irrational.

The most common fear – fear of failure – is totally justified. There’s every chance you might fail. You might find that you don’t have the chops to deliver a particular assignment. You might come under fire for “doing it wrong.” You might find yourself suffering the slings and arrows of self-appointed critics. You might have to endure public exposure or ridicule. Worst of all, you might be awoken one night by the initial tremors of your writing dream’s death throes.

There are so many things that can trigger our fear. Apart from the human impulse to imagine the worst case scenario, writers have a particular aptitude for self-flagellation via comparison. We read the brilliant work of someone else and start to wonder why we even bother. We dread putting our own work out into the world for fear that someone else will make the same comparison and find our efforts wanting. The world is full of heartless assassins who won’t hesitate to put a bullet in our writing.

The good news:

The good news is that your fear comes from love. You love writing. You love story. You love your craft. Your fear mirrors the depth and intensity of your love. No wonder it’s powerful enough to strike you dumb! Your fear is just a normal reaction to your desire to protect something you care about. It’s not unusual for a stressful situation to send even the most rational of us into that fight-or-flight space. And what could be more stressful than risking the survival of something that is such a big part of who we are? Bring on the lizard brain and forget about sticking your neck out. Give in to writer’s block and keep your tender dreams alive, right?

Wrong.

Now What?

You’ve identified and acknowledged your fear. You understand that it’s holding you back. What’re you going to do about it? Fear is a pretty tenacious emotion. It’s not impressed by logic. You aren’t going to argue your way out of this one. Instead, let’s try a story.

When you start to feel the waves of doubt and fear creeping up from your heart into your brain and then down to your fingertips where they rest motionless on the keyboard, tell yourself the story of your journey as a writer. Start with gently reminding yourself that it is a journey. No one wakes up one morning a fully formed writer. The transformation from aspiring writer to accomplished writer requires traveling a usually long and almost always twisting road. Your writer self needs to grow and learn and evolve, just like you do. Be gentle with her. Don’t expect her to be a master craftsman the first time out.

Remember that you are the hero of your story. Guess what – the hero never has it easy. If you’re going to have your happy ending, you’re going to have to go through some stuff. Some of it will be good, some of it not so good. You will be challenged. You will fall down and have to get back up. You will face demons and dragons and bad guys. You will lose your way and find it again. Each time you get derailed or discouraged, remember that this is just part of what it means to be a hero. These are the experiences that will prepare you for later victory.

Accept where you are in your journey. Celebrate your triumphs and embrace your failures.  Know that you must experience both to become the writer you’re meant to be. Count each elated high and each desperate low as equally valuable notches on your literary belt. Remember that your fear comes from love and is a completely normal reaction to the stress of potential failure. Feel the fear and write anyway. Savor the lessons learned at least as much as the outcome of your efforts. You may never fully eradicate your fear, but you will at least learn to live with it and – more importantly – write through it.

How does your fear keep you from writing? What are your biggest fears? How do you push past them? 

This is the first post in a series about the causes of that fictitious condition known as writer’s block. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who feels they have suffered from this inability to put words down. I just believe that if we can uncover and face the root causes of this uniquely literary affliction, we can slay the writer’s block dragon and get back to the work at hand. Who’s with me?


Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image Credit: Darren Hestor