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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: writing anxiety, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 19 of 19
1. Help is Here: Eliminating Author Anxiety

You’re in for a treat this week!

I found some blog posts by agents and former agents that will lower your blood pressure, reduce your writing anxiety, make you more optimistic–and maybe even make you laugh.

We are bombarded with the bad news about publishing to the point that some days we want to throw up our hands in despair, acknowledge that the future of books is dead, and apply for a job at the nearest fast food chain. Well, don’t do that just yet.

By the time you read these articles, I guarantee a lift in your writing spirits.

Kill Anxiety!

To start you off right, read agent Wendy Lawton’s trio of anxiety-reducing articles. You’ll love them!

Now that you’re more relaxed about all aspects of your writing, read Rachelle Gardner’s “6 Reasons for Writers to be Optimistic.”

And to end your reading with a chuckle, read Nathan Bradford’s “Why Are So Many Literary Writers Technophobic?”

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2. Lies in Disguise: Changing Your Beliefs to Destroy Writer’s Block

“But I don’t want to fail again.”

I’ve said it to myself often enough. Students over the years have said that to me countless times. That fear of failure often happens when  it is time to set goals or start a new project.

“It is wise to make a plan,” says creativity coach, Eric Maisel, author of Coaching the Artist Within. “However, since we make so many resolutions and break them, set so many goals and fall short of realizing them, and create so many plans without following through on them, we become reluctant to plan. We prefer not to plan so as not to disappoint ourselves one more time.”

I’m at that point this week, looking at two novels I worked on last year that I simply couldn’t make “work.” I started them over several times, trying different angles, but no luck. I still like the ideas a lot, but I find myself leery of making one more stab at them. I’m afraid of wasting my writing time and having nothing to show for it. I’m more than leery. I’m stuck.

One of Maisel’s solutions is to make a simple plan. He says to leave out the complexities that just make things harder. His idea of a simple plan is: I will try to write every day. (No rules or details, no set number of pages, no word count, etc.) Or even better, I plan to write today. But is that enough? Not for me.

A Simple Plan

A simple plan is well and good, but getting started is still the hardest part (for me anyway) when facing a project where fear of failure is high. (It doesn’t have to be writing the Great American Novel either. It can simply be a project I’ve “failed” on before.)

We want to change an action here—get started and keep going. It’s often not as simple as “just do it!” though. We have to back up and change the fearful emotion that drives the writer’s block and procrastination. And to do that we have to back up and change the thought that creates the emotion.

Sometimes changing your thoughts is enough to get you going. But repeating “thoughts” or “affirmations” that some articles suggest (like “I am the country’s best writer, and agents are fighting to represent me”) are just absurd to me. My brain, anyway, kicks something like that right back out. I simply don’t believe it. If I did, I wouldn’t be stuck.

What’s the Answer?

We need to back up one additional step. Your automatic thoughts come from your beliefs about yourself as a writer. The beliefs need to change before you will think healthy thoughts, that flow into healthy writing emotions, and then produce good actions (writing). I think beliefs need to be true, though, for them to be of immediate use to you.

If you are believing a pack of lies (like “I’ll never write any better” and “You have to know someone in publishing to sell a novel”) then start with the lies you are believing and replace them with truth. One good source for this is another of Maisel’s books, Write Mind: 299 Things Writers Should Never Say to Themselves (and What They Should Say Instead).

The Proc

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3. Friday Follow-Up

stressWednesday’s blog entitled “Unhappiness: A Positive Sign” sparked more private email than usual! Glad it got you to thinking about this.

The tension you feel at the beginning of a project–that itch to “go for it!”–seems like a positive sign to me. So what is the “unhappy” part those authors were talking about in their book Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path? And, emailers asked me, why did I feel that tension after selling forty books?

Ignorance Was Bliss

During my student work for ICL, I told three of my class assignments. It was fun! I expected to sell them and kept submitting till I did. Thankfully, there was no Internet in those days, and I didn’t know any other writers who told me I couldn’t make a living at this.

I was naive, yes, but it helped! I just assumed that if I worked hard at the writing, I could have a paying career doing it. I saw setbacks and rejections as part of the process on the way to getting what I wanted. (And yes, it had to pay to make up for me not teaching anymore in the public schools.)

What’s Changed?

To answer one man’s email question, I think my excitement at the beginning is now tempered with reality. I’m not the naive writer I was at the beginning–and to be honest, I miss that phase at some points.

At this stage of my writing career, I realize that starting a new project IS exciting–but it brings other things along with the excitement:

  • hard work, neck cramps, and back aches
  • risks that may not pay off
  • loneliness as I get closer to the deadline
  • letting go of lunches, grandkid overnights, and other fun temporarily
  • having the project misunderstood and/or criticized

But is this bad? NO!! It’s good to know this!

Now I have no surprises that derail me. I’m not shocked when I get bogged down in the middle. I’m not greatly disappointed by having to give up some social things so that I can get enough rest and write in the morning. I don’t expect everyone to be as excited by my idea as I am.

I know the harder aspects are just part and parcel of the writing life. You acknowledge them when they happen and move on. They’re no longer a big deal–and to me, that’s a very good thing.

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4. Finding Margin

solitudeThe last two posts, I talked about overload, how it happened, and the effect on writers’ lives. Although certain Type A personalities seem to thrive on overloaded lives, most writers don’t.

Our best ideas - and energy to write about them - require some peace and quiet, some “down” time. To get that, we must rebuild margin into our lives.

Defining Margin

What exactly is margin? According to Richard Swenson M.D. author of Margin, “Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is something held in reserve for unanticipated situations. It is the space between breathing freely and suffocating. Margin is the opposite of overload.”

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

You might wonder at what point you became overloaded. It’s not always easy to see when it happens. We don’t have a shut off valve that clicks like when we put gasoline into our cars. Stop! Overload! Usually we don’t know that we are overextended until we feel the pain and frustration.

We would be smart to only commit 80% of our time and energy. Instead, we underestimate the demands on our life. We make promises and commit way more than 100% of our time and energy. Consequently, we have no margin left.

A Simple Formula

What exactly is margin? The formula for margin is straightforward: power - load = margin.

Your power is made up of things like your energy, your skills, how much time you have, your training, your finances, and social support.

Your load is what you carry and is made up of things like your job, problems you have, your commitments and obligations, expectations of others, expectations of yourself, your debt, your deadlines, and personal conflicts.

If your load is greater than your power, you have overload. This is not healthy, but it is where most people in our country live. If you stay in this overloaded state for a good length of time, you get burnout. (And burned out writers don’t write. I know–I’ve been there.)

The Answer

So how do we increase margin? You can do it in one of two ways. You can increase your power - or you can decrease your load. If you’re smart, you’ll do both.

Many of us feel nostalgic for the charm of a slower life. Few of us miss things like outhouses or milking cows or having no running water. Usually what we long for is margin. When there was no electricity, people played table games and went to bed early, and few suffered sleep deprivation. Few people used daily planners or had watches with alarms, let alone computers that beeped with e-mail messages and tweets. People had time to read–and to think–and to write. It happened in the margins of their lives.

Progress devoured the margin. We want it back. And I firmly believe that writers must have it back. Next week we will talk about ways to do just that.

PLEASE SHARE: What do you think so far about this week’s discussion of margin and overload? Do you identify? What does that mean to you as a writer?

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5. Pacifiers or Catalysts: Your Choice

I’ve noticed one amazing thing about myself and other writers who claim to want to write more than anything else. Something odd takes over, and we fill the free time of our lives with all kinds of non-writing activities. We reach for things that make us feel good, that quell any anxiety we might be feeling, or at least keep us occupied.

What fills our lives–what quells our anxiety–can be either positive or negative. The activity we choose can be either a pacifier or a catalyst.

What’s the Outcome?

Activities that fall under the heading of “pacifiers” are things like mindless TV viewing, complaining about the sad state of publishing to all your writing friends, eating mass amounts of comfort food, surfing the Net, playing video games, or shopping till you drop.

Nothing good (for your writing career) comes from any of those activities. They serve simply as pacifiers, something to make the whining, fretful baby in us be quiet. But are we then any closer to our writing goals? No, not at all. We’ve simply passed some time–writing time that we can’t get back.

Positive Time Fillers

What if you’re tired of your non-writing rut, but you can’t seem to crawl out of it either? What can you fill your free time with instead of a pacifier activity? Why not try a catalyst instead? A catalyst is a springboard for change, something that nudges you in a better direction. The next time you feel anxious about your writing and you want to fill your time with something to soothe the fear, why not try a positive change agent?

Activities that fall into the catalyst category might include:

  • watching an inspiring movie about an “overcomer”
  • spending time with a writing mentor or coach
  • reading an inspirational book or self-help writing book
  • listening to motivational tapes
  • reading a biography or watching a documentary about someone you admire (especially another writer)
  • reading a current copy of The Writer or Writer’s Digest
  • attending a writing conference, retreat or workshop

Think Ahead–Then Choose

We all feel anxious sometimes to the point of being stuck. That’s okay. Just be aware that there are activities that only pacify the fear (and waste your time)–but there are also enjoyable activities that can act as catalysts to get you writing. Choose the activity that is going to propel you forward, not help you stagnate even further.

We all have our favorite catalysts. Mine include reading inspirational writing books or writing articles I’ve saved over the years, Skyping with another author about writing issues, or watching a movie about authors (like Becoming Jane, Cross Creek,

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6. Unleash the Writer Within

I wish I’d had this writing book thirty years ago when I started out. I would have avoided some pitfalls and loooong detours that have taken years to correct.

If you want a writing mentor, you need look no further than Cec Murphey’s Unleash the Writer Within. The subtitle calls it ”the essential writers’ companion.”

I would have to agree.

What’s Different About This Book?

It’s honest, it’s transparent, and it comes from the heart. It also made me laugh on more than one occasion because the author had the guts to say some things that need to be said about the writing life, how we market, and so many other topics dear to a writer’s heart.

Before you get stressed out and caught up in all the things “they say” you have to do and be and write about to be successful, I urge you to get a copy of this book. It will help you discover your own personal voice and style so you sound authentic. It will show you how to actually make friends with your inner critic and writer’s block–and eliminate them. And the author deals so honestly with a writer’s fears–and how to use them and learn from them to grow as a writer.

Who Is This Man?

So who is Cecil Murphey? Why should you listen to his advice? Well, he’s a New York Times’ best-selling author who’s written or co-written more than 120 fiction and nonfiction books, including the runaway bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper) and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. His books have sold millions of copies and have been translated into more than 40 languages.

Just to give you a taste of the book, below are some quotes from Unleash the Writer Within by Cecil Murphey:

  • “Too many want-to-be-successful authors get the idea that you must write in a certain way to succeed.”
  • “Your most honest writing becomes your best writing.”
  • “I don’t advocate rigid self-discipline. I tried that. For years, I held to tight schedules, refused to allow deviations, and castigated myself when I failed. I’ve since learned that true self-discipline flows out of gentleness and self-respect.”
  • “How would it affect your writing if you weren’t constantly looking at your faults but focusing on what you can do?”
  • “You write best what you know best. The better you know yourself, the higher the quality of your work.”
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7. I Heard You!

giveA few weeks ago in “Find a Need and Fill It” I asked for your input concerning the topics you find most helpful in this blog.

Thank you all for the responses! It’s been very helpful. The requests fell into three main categories. Since I blog on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, that made it easy for me. From now on, this will be my general blogging schedule so that I can cover each topic area regularly.

What You Can Expect

Monday = Inner Motivation (includes:)

  • fears–all kinds!
  • discipline
  • focus
  • goals
  • rejection
  • lack of motivation
  • encouragement
  • a writer’s dream life
  • procrastination
  • working with our “inner editor”
  • enjoying writing more
  • perseverance
  • creative inspiration
  • writer’s block

Wednesday = Outer Challenges (includes:)

  • setting boundaries
  • time management
  • distractions
  • discipline
  • writing schedules
  • goal setting
  • balancing writing with chaos in life
  • balancing day jobs with writing
  • our writing needs (vs. “their” needs)
  • self-defeating behaviors

Friday = Tips ‘n’ Tricks of the Trade (includes:)

  • specific genre help
  • writing books I’ve found helpful
  • blogs I find useful
  • classes I’ve taken
  • voice (writer’s and character’s)
  • critique groups
  • conferences
  • working with publishers
  • marketing–all kinds
  • considering the audience when writing
  • dealing with publishers who don’t respond
  • finding good markets
  • developing depth in writing
  • selling “unique” pieces instead of jumping on the bandwagon

Thanks for Your Input

All your feedback has been immensely helpful in organizing future blog posts and making sure I cover topics you want to hear about and find useful. If I missed anything on these lists, feel free to let me know!

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8. Write What You Know?

knowIs the advice “write what you know” valid? Yes, definitely. And no, not always.

It’s confusing advice!

Practical Knowledge

“Write what you know” makes sense when you’re ignorant in some area. For example, I know nothing about vampires, have never read a vampire book, can’t understand the whole vampire movie thing, and can’t for the life of me figure out why a blood-sucking boyfriend would be romantic. It’s just me.

This is the point though: I don’t know about vampires, and I have no business sitting down today to write a vampire novel. It would be so full of ridiculous ideas and mistakes that it would be laughable. I don’t care to look that foolish.

Use Yourself

On the other hand, says Ursula K. Le Guin in “Make your fiction truthful” (The Writer, July, 2010), “Write what you know doesn’t mean you have to know a lot. It just tells you to take what you have, take who you are, and use it. Don’t try to use secondhand feeling: use yourself.” So, does ”write what you know” mean “write exclusively about your personal experiences”?

No, I don’t think so. What you “know” can come from your personal experience–that’s true. But it also comes from other people’s experiences, from books you’ve read and movies that moved you, from research and travel–all blended together when you use your imagination.

The Best of Both Worlds

I believe in “write what you know,” but I’ve also had eleven mysteries published. I will swear to you that I’ve never stolen, kidnapped, set a place on fire, or blackmailed anyone, but I’ve written about it.

However, I made aspects of those stories familiar too. I set those mysteries in the midwest, where I lived all my life. Five are set in real places I’d visited many times. I used many people I knew for my characters. I developed themes that were coming true in my own life or my children’s lives. The character growth and change was real–and it was often me.

Get to Know Yourself

Le Guin says it this way: “If you take it in its deepest meaning, ‘write about what you know’ means write from your heart, from your own real being, your own thoughts and emotions…If you don’t know who you are and what you know, if you haven’t worked to find out what you yourself truly feel and think, then your work will probably be imitation work, borrowed from other writers.” (I hope you’ll get a copy of The Writer and read her entire article.)

You may not think you know much or have had enough interesting experiences, but you’d be wrong. If you have my Writer’s First Aid book, read the chapter on “Getting to Know You…” Take the lengthy survey about your life andwfasideview keep the information in a writer’s notebook.

The answers to that survey will unearth enough information about YOU to last you a writer’s lifetime.

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9. Perks of Creative Obsessions

ideaI received a lot of email about “Obsessed? Absolutely” based on Brainstorm by Eric Maisel. I want to write more about it this week, plus the 30-day “Creative Obsession Challenge” I’m planning with a writer friend in August.

I also want to clarify that this obsessing is more than just heavily thinking about something; it’s about turning that obsession brainstorm into actually creating.

From Thinking to Writing

I’m 2/3 of the way through Maisel’s book, which I am finding intriguing. We all obsess about things or events or people. It seems to be the humanbrainstorm default position. However, the idea of turning that wasted obsessing into creative obsession that moves the writing forward excites me.

I like his tips on spotting negative obsessions, as well as preventing your creative obsession from sliding into something negative. His ideas of how to work this creative obsessing time into an already full life were good and echoed many of the things we’ve discussed on this blog.

FYI

While I want to share a lot of Maisel’s ideas, my concern is that I don’t plagiarize his book here. For example, I’d like to give you his ten steps from Chapter Eleven on “Your Productive Obsession Checklist,” but I shouldn’t. You’ll need to buy his book for that.

However, a friend of mine who was involved with the research Maisel did for Brainstorm sent me a link to a lengthy interview with the author. This gives a good overview of the book and its ideas. I hope you’ll read it.

To whet your appetite for exploring this “creative obsession” idea on your own, I will quote from some of the people who took his 30-Day Challenge.  There were many ups and downs throughout the month as people bit into their creative obsessions and held on for the ride. But reading their final reports made me say, “I want that too!”

Productive Changes

For example, at the end of the month of “creatively obsessing,” here’s what some people were saying:

  • Jerry: The thing that surprised me the most was how happy I have been this month…It made me realize that I’m the one who makes up the rules that I live by, so it helped me break out of some old habits.
  • Alice: I recognized the difference between my negative obsessive thoughts and my productive obsessive thoughts. The negative thoughts just walk circles in my head, and nothing else happens…The productive obsessive thoughts push me into motion. They excite and ene

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10. Pitch It to Yourself!

pitchYou meet an editor or agent in an elevator or the banquet line. They turn to you and ask, “What’s your book about? Why are you the person to write it?”

Which One Is You?

Do you give a confident 30-second talk summarizing your book’s main points and why you’re the only one who could do the project justice?

OR

Do you say, “You know, that’s a good question. I’m a lousy writer! Who do I think I am anyway, masquerading as a writer? It’s a dumb book idea.”

Of course you don’t spout that second example!

And yet, many writers do that very thing to themselves every day. That evil little voice in your head or over your shoulder whispers, “That’s a stupid idea” or “That’s been done before–and a lot better” or “You’re never going to finish that story.” And like agreeable little twits, we nod and tell ourselves, “This is a dumb idea. I’m never going to finish this. This concept was done last year–and a whole lot better!”

Then, discouraged for another day, we head for the ice cream.

Pitch It to Yourself!

The name “elevator pitch” means a short speech you have ready for that opportune moment when you can market yourself or your book idea to someone that might buy it. Every day–even many times a day–you need to pitch your writing project and yourself TO YOURSELF.

How are you going to sell your story idea to yourself? What elevator pitch can you give to yourself when you’re surprised, not by an agent or editor in the elevator, but by your own nagging questions?

  • When “voice in the head” says, “This is just too hard!”
  • You say, “I have done many hard things in my life. I can do one more difficult thing.”
  •  
  • When “voice in the head” says, “There’s too much going on in your life for you to write now”
  • You say, “Writing is at the top of my To-Do list because it’s important!”
  •  
  • When “voice in the head” says, “Editors and agents scare me!”
  • You say, “Even when I feel anxious, I can act like a professional.”
  •  
  • When “voice in the head” says, “I can’t write because I can’t tolerate rejections”
  • You say, “NOT writing is the only rejection that matters. It’s a rejection of my dreams. I can write a little each day.”

Write Your Own Now

Take a few moments today and write at least three elevator pitches of your own, counter-acting the voice in your head. Write the pitches on cards and tape them to your computer. When the “voice” badgers you the next time, read one of your cards OUT LOUD. Several times.

And if you’re feeling very brave, add an elevator pitch in the comments section (up to three pitches) that you can begin pitching to yourself today!

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11. Regain the Passion

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re half-way through a short story revision, or the rough draft of your novel, or the research for a biography—and without warning, you lose your desire for the project. The passion evaporates.

You feel lethargic, sad, and brain dead (or least oxygen deprived). You put your writing away for a few days, hoping it’s hormonal or a phase of the moon or post-holiday blues.

However, when you dig it out again, it’s even worse. It doesn’t grab you. You’re sure it won’t grab anyone else either! It’s boring. It goes back in the drawer.

Does Time Heal all Drafts?

Unfortunately, over the next few weeks, the situation worsens. Lethargy turns to apathy. Boredom turns to dislike. You face the fact that, for some reason, you’ve lost your burning desire to write this story—or maybe even write anything at all.

And without the passion, why bother to endure the long hours, the potential rejection of your work, and the low pay? Once it’s lost, how do you recapture your passion for writing?

What is Passion?

The question is summed up well by Hal Zina Bennett in Write from the Heart: “How do authors connect with that passion, bordering on obsession, that drives them to finish even the most ambitious writing projects in spite of seemingly insurmountable handicaps? What is the secret creative energy that the world’s best writers can apparently zap into action the moment their fingers touch their keyboards?”

Some say this passion is tied to how meaningful the writer feels his work is. He feels passion when what he is sharing is deeply meaningful. He may lose his passion when his writing turns into what will sell, what the markets dictate are current trends, and what pays the most money.

Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts says, “The most salient difference between the regularly blocked artist and the regularly productive artist may not be the greater talent of the latter, but the fact that the productive artist possesses and retains his missionary zeal.”

Most writers would agree that a passion for writing involves enthusiasm, excitement, drive, and a deep love for your work. This passion makes writing a joyous occupation. It makes time fly while “real life” is shoved to the far comers of the mind. It’s being in the flow, enraptured in the present moment. For some, it’s being aware that they’re writers twenty-four hours a day.

Why Does Passion Dissipate?

Passion can spring a leak after too many rejection slips, too many critical comments from spouses or reviewers or critique partners, and too many crises to handle in your personal life.

Passion can also die when you repeat yourself in your work instead of exploring new avenues of writing.

Lack of passion can be caused by chronic fatigue. “Fatigue and the accompanying blockage also come with living the sort of marginal life that artists so often live,” says Eric Maisel. “The effort required to put food on the table, to deal with an illness without benefit of a hospital plan, to pay the rent, to get a toothache treated, to attend

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12. Regain the Passion (Part 2)

(Read Regain the Passion–Part 1 first.)

So…when does passion flourish? Under what conditions?

First, a writer’s passion is generally at its highest point when life is going well. (Big surprise!) When relationships are smooth, health is good, there’s enough money to pay the bills, the writer is following a healthy diet and getting sufficient sleep: these are the optimal conditions.

Whatever is draining your passion needs to be attended to, thoroughly and persistently. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always bring back the passion. It simply sets the stage, giving yourself the optimal environment for your resurrected passion to grow.

Habits of a Passionate Writer

How do you recognize passion for writing? Yes, it’s a feeling, but it’s so much more. Each writer will exhibit certain habits when she is being passionate about her writing. These habits are individual and personal–and present in your life whether you feel passion or not. Take a moment to make a list of habits that (to you) marks a writer as passionate.

To me personally, a passionate writer:

A. writes, almost daily.
B. listens, observes and thinks—alert to her surroundings.
C. carries a notebook everywhere to jot down impressions, descriptions and ideas.
D. journals—daily, if possible.
E. is focused—begins and continues her writing with energy.
F. reads other good children’s books, both current and classics.
G. keeps up with professional reading.
H. shares her enthusiasm at conferences and workshops (but doesn’t over-schedule such events so they don’t interfere with writing).
I. leads a more secluded life than the average person, in order to nurture and explore her talent.
J. is physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually healthy.
K. is a 24-hour-a-day writer. Even when washing dishes or cutting grass, the passionate writer’s work is close at hand, on the edges of her mind. Everything she does is writing-related and life-related, so that her work and her life are inseparable.

Those are just my own personal ideas. Everyone is different. On Friday we’ll talk about practical ways to get the passion back. Before that, leave me a comment and tell me what a writer’s passion means to you.

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13. Regain the Passion (Part 3)

(First read “Regain the Passion” Part 1 and Part 2.)

How to Regain Lost Passion

If you were passionate about your writing in the past, but haven’t felt that way for a long time, there is a definite sadness mixed in with the lethargy. It feels like falling out of love, and in a very real sense, it is.

Can you stir up the fires of passion for your writing? Can you fall in love with writing and your work again, when all seems dry as dust and just as tasteless?

Yes!

Surprising Sources

Years ago, I struggled with this question, slowly becoming afraid that the boredom and apathy were permanent. I tried to muster some enthusiasm for my book-in-progress, whose deadline was fast approaching, but to no avail. It wasn’t the book manuscript itself. I knew it was finely plotted, with well placed clues and plenty of tension. The problem wasn’t in the manuscript—it was in me.

I found the answer to the problem one cold, snowy morning, and it came from the most unlikely source: my dog. We’d had freezing conditions for several days, cutting short my walks with Rhett (my black Lab.) I chained him outside for the day, then hurried back indoors. Playtime was cut short—it was just too cold and windy for me.

I paid little attention to Rhett during that week, although I’d loved him passionately since bringing him home from the pound ten months earlier. As the frigid week wore on, and the weather stayed miserable, I began to resent having a dog. I hated going out in the weather to his snug dog house, carrying water often because his dish froze over. I became apathetic about Rhett—he was getting to be more trouble than he was worth.

The Turn-Around

Then one day the sun came out, melted the snow, and temperatures soared. I put Rhett on his leash and took an hour-long walk, complete with Puppy Biscuit rewards for correct sitting, heeling and staying.

When we got home, I chained him outside near his food and water, then stayed to play. I petted, I stroked, I laughed, I cooed. (If you’ve never been a dog owner, you may need to gag here.) Anyone watching me that morning could see I had regained my passion for owning a dog.

Simple Formula

I’m sure you see the parallels. Regaining passion for your work-in-progress can be accomplished the same way:
A. Pay attention to your work. Think about it when you’re not at your desk. Mull over your theme. Ponder plot points. Have mental conversations with your characters.
B. Take care of your work. Feed it with quotes and good resource books. Do in-depth research and interviews. Immerse yourself in your subject matter.
C. Spend time with your work. Daily, if possible. If you want passion to ignite in anything (a relationship, your work, a hobby) you must spend consistent—and sufficient—time with it. We understand this principle in romantic relationships, but it’s just as true with your writing.

Don’t Settle

Part of the enjoyment of being a writer is the pure passion and pleasure of setting words on paper. Don’t settle for ho-hum, apathetic work. Instead take

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14. Unhappiness: a Positive Sign

unhappyHave you ever considered the fact that unhappiness is the first step along the writer’s path?

“Toddlers are bursting with the anxiety and helplessness of having feelings that they can’t get anybody around them to understand. They don’t even have the right words in their heads yet - it’s all emotion and frustration. That’s also an accurate description of writers in step one.” This is how Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott describe the first of their Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: the journey from frustration to fulfillment. [I highly recommend this book, by the way.]

This unhappiness may feel like an itchy feeling under your skin. It may feel like an urge to change something. Call it restlessness or discontent or creative tension. “Unhappiness,” say the authors, “to one degree or another, is where all creativity begins.”

Message in the Misery

If you’re starting to feel that itch to change something in your life, you’re moving into Step One. Maybe you don’t feel unhappy exactly. Maybe you’re just restless. But if this tension is trying to tell you that you’re a writer who should be writing, it can very quickly turn into discomfort and then misery if you don’t pay attention to it.

Even published writers in a long-time career can feel this unhappiness or tension when it’s time to make a change. “Every important turn on my writer’s path has been preceded by unhappiness,” Nancy Pickard admits. “The more major the turn, the worse the misery.” (I can certainly identify with that! I get bored first, then I itch to try something new or more difficult or different, and then I get fed up with whatever I’m currently doing.)

If you’ve been writing for a long time, this unhappy first step on the writer’s path may have more specific origins. It might be the misery of being in a day job you’d give anything to quit so you could write full-time. It might be the misery of a writer’s block that just won’t budge - perhaps for months. It might be the misery of when your proposal has been rejected by a dozen editors or agents-and your spouse has told you to get “a real job.”

What About You?

There are many signs, according to these authors, that you are in the first step along the writer’s path (the first of seven). Can you identify here? What does the beginning of a project - or the beginning of a writer’s life - feel like to you?

I had always assumed that the beginning (for other writers) was a time of great excitement, a happy eager time. I was glad to find that I wasn’t the only one who felt just the opposite!

How about YOU? How do YOU know when it’s time to get creative?

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15.

The Play's the Thing - Even If No Words are Spoken by Anyone
by Eleanor Tylbor


To say that Austrian playwright, Peter Handke is a man of few words is truly an understatement.

In fact he has written a play entitled, "The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other" to be performed at the National Theatre from March 31 to April 12 for 30 performances. What makes his play "special" is that not one word will be spoken by the actors.

For 1 hour and 40 minutes, 450 characters will be silent.

According to a blurb on the National Theatre site:

http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/thehour


The play is best described: "For a moment, a bright, empty town square. And then a figure darts across, and another and another – businesspeople, roller-bladers, a cowboy, several street-sweepers, a halfdressed bride, a film crew, a line of old men, a tourist, a beauty in a mirrored dress, Abraham and Isaac, a family of refugees, a fool – more and more people, the bizarre and the humdrum, fleetingly connected by proximity alone."

The idea apparently came to Handke as he sat at a cafe on an Italian piazza watching strangers come and go. Even if not a word is spoken, the play is not sound-less. The silence is punctuated by snatches of music, the occasional scream and the recorded sounds of an aeroplane or workmen drilling.

A National Theatre spokeswoman said: "It is a great piece of work, challenging and something that we should be doing. Tickets are selling well - not like hotcakes, but they are doing well. It is appealing to younger people. We think our more traditional audiences will wait until the reviews."

If this is a success, I shall re-read and re-edit my plays with the possibility of eliminating the dialogue. Perhaps I'll re-name the wedding play, "Make Me a Wedding and Let's Keep It Between Ourselves." Given that it's a comedy, there will be lots of body language and gesturing. Since my play has a mere 9 characters, it shouldn't be too difficult to fill the various roles.

If anyone attends this play, please pass on your impressions and review.


Writers & Friends
www.jrslater.com/forum

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16. Need a Break? Make It Productive!

restEven the most dedicated writers need a break sometimes. The brain gives out (often on Fridays), or the back and neck scream for relief. Sure, you can always read more email or surf the web or watch a re-run.

On the other hand, says Arthur Plotnik in a February, 2010 article in The Writer, “Take a productive break from writing.”

His definition of such a productive break includes “activities that can bolster my writing even as they give respite from its grind…A boost [to my writing] in quality or quantity is my criterion for ‘positive’ avoidances.”

Good for Your Writing

Time-wasting breaks produce guilt for not writing, leaving us feeling disgruntled at the end of the day. On the other hand, a break taken to bolster our writing skills is both refreshing and growth-producing. And guilt free!

Read Plotnik’s entire article for many more unusual ideas. (He’s the author of Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style and is on The Writer’s editorial board.) Here are just a few of his suggestions to whet your appetite for the next time you just have to get away from your desk:

  • Talk a walk in your neighborhood as if seeing it for the first time. In your pocket notebook, jot down images and sensory perceptions and things you overhear and character descriptions.
  • Visit a botanical garden, aquarium, museum, zoo, etc. where things are displayed and labeled. Collect metaphors based on the things you see, such as “a roommate like a stinkhorn fungus.” (Plotnick)
  • Wander through your local library’s exhibits, and look through community bulletin boards and local history collections for ideas.
  • Watch a “dopey adolescent sitcom” to update one’s YA-dialogue skills.
  • Play an instrument or do a drawing.
  • Build your inventory of character names from a directory.
  • Spend time with someone in an interesting occupation, absorbing the details of a job one of your characters might perform.

Or do like me-and catch up on reading inspiring magazines like The Writer!

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17. Rejection Recovery

rejectionRejection is part of the writing life. Writers have always struggled not to take rejection personally. Unless you’re super human, it deals a blow to one’s self-esteem.

“To be a writer is to be rejected. I’m not kidding,” says Rachel Ballon, Ph.D., author of The Writer’s Portable Therapist. “Those writers who stop writing the first time they’re rejected can’t call themselves writers because rejection is part and parcel of the writing game. It isn’t what happens to you IF you’re rejected, it’s what you do or don’t do WHEN you’re rejected.”

You Can Recover

I get concerned when my writer friends and students get so beaten down by a rejection. (And with our struggling economy lately, rejections are happening more frequently.) Rejections do hurt, and the disappointment can be huge. All the “don’t take it personally” lectures don’t help much then. You need more, especially in the initial stages when the rejection is new and raw.

“Expect rejection and disappointments with the knowledge that you’ll recover from them,” says Ballon. “Be just as prepared for rejection as you’re prepared for an earthquake in California or a hurricane in Florida.”

Plan Ahead

I never thought of that before: prepare for rejection. It makes sense though!

Most of my family members live in Florida now, and when a tropical storm is building to hurricane status, they go into motion like a well oiled machine. Buy batteries and food staples. Nail plywood over windows. Make sure generator works. Stock up on drinkable water. They don’t just sit back and hope the hurricane veers off and misses them. They know that the likelihood of being hit by a hurricane is low, but definitely possible. Being prepared has saved their lives and property more than once. And their plans for recovery and clean-up go into effect as soon as the storm passes.

The likelihood of writers being rejected is about 100%–much worse odds than destruction from an earthquake or hurricane. But how many of us have a plan for recovering from that particular professional “disaster”? Not many, I’m guessing. But we should have. We know it’s coming from time to time. And I wonder if we wouldn’t respond better if we planned for it.

Strategy

How do you plan for the day-perhaps after months of hopeful waiting or interested nibbles-when your story or novel or proposal is rejected? How can you prepare for it? Well, what makes you feel better when you’ve been rejected by someone in your personal life?

  • A hot bath and a good novel?
  • A phone call to your best friend?
  • A candy bar or Starbucks coffee?
  • Hanging out with people who do love you?
  • Going for a hard sweaty run or bike ride?
  • Journaling?
  • Curling up with a “feel good” movie or chick flick?

Chances are, those same things will help you through a manuscript rejection. They can be the solace for your bruised soul.

Plan Ahead-Work Your Plan

I think I’m going to make a list on a card called “Rejection Recovery Strategies” and tack it to my bulletin board. And the next time a book or prop

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18. A Walking Idea Factory

walkingSome days I feel about as creative as a cement block. Most of us know, however, that we can’t wait to feel creative before we write.

Writers who wait for inspiration before they decide to write are generally known as hobbyists. Working writers-those actively writing and growing in their craft-must write whether the muse is “in” or not.

“Which means, essentially,” James Scott Bell says, “you have to become a walking idea factory.” And he really does mean walking. He said he gets a lot of his ideas for his current work-in-progress when walking. I know other writers who’ve said the same thing.

Dragging My Heels

I love to walk-but I have usually balked at this kind of “work while you walk” advice. After working at my desk, I want a break. And mulling over my novel while taking a walk doesn’t do a darned thing to refresh me. My brain is too tired. When I walk, I want to listen to a book on tape, something Jane Austen-y that I know will feed my soul. Thinking about my own novel just feels like more work to me.

But…that’s not what Bell recommends! In his The Art of War for Writers, he says that after a writing session, “I try to take an hour walk every day and listen to an audio book.” Inevitably his muse or imagination (what he calls “the boys in the basement”) sends up ideas for his work-in-progress while he’s listening to his audio book for relaxation. When that happens, he stops, makes a note in the pocket notebook he carries, then goes back to his audio book and walks some more.

He calls this his system for “being creative without thinking about it. That way you can be ‘working’ on your idea even when you’re not working on it.”

Then What?

For several days I tried Bell’s system. I hadn’t expected it to work-but it did! While walking and listening to Pride and Prejudice on my MP3 player, my brain released a good number of ideas-things that I could later develop (a secondary character’s flaw, a plot twist that would also show the book’s theme, a better setting for the climax scene). I have to admit that I was very surprised how well this worked.

If you want to try it, here are Bell’s steps for becoming a walking idea factory.

  • Focus fully on your book or story idea during your writing time.
  • Take a walk and relax, then capture the ideas that pop up during your walk.
  • Back home, immediately put your recorded bits in a computer file. Expand on them, brainstorm the ideas, follow rabbit trails. Do that with each idea that popped up on your walk.
  • Let the ideas cool for a day and then come back to them for assessment.
  • Decide which ideas to keep and use in your current work. Set the others aside for another project.

Bell says if you get used to thinking this way, your creativity will explode!

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19. Am I a REAL Writer?

writerMore than one person emailed the question: “How can I know I’m a real writer?” or “How can you know if you’re ‘called’ to be a writer?”

Since I have seven bookcases of writing books, it wasn’t hard to find a lot of opinions from published writers. Most of them gave lists of character qualities you needed to be named a “real writer.” Among the traits listed (desire, discipline, patience, willingness to learn, etc.) was something I hadn’t thought of. But this one trait could be a deciding factor.

What Is It?

It’s called having a “long-term view.” Don’t think: “Do I have a book inside me?” Think instead: “Do I have a writer inside me?” Sometimes it’s hard to tell! We certainly can’t rely on our feelings to tell us, since they fluctuate so much from day to day.

What would a “writer inside” look like? I don’t know for sure. Some agree with the writer George Bernau: “I decided that I would continue to write as long as I lived, even if I never sold one thing, because that was what I wanted out of my life.”

I can agree with that, I think. Even if I never sold another thing, I believe I would continue to write: newsletters, journals, some stories, some articles, things for my family. I might not keep trying to write “for the markets,” but I don’t think I could stop writing in some form or another, even if I tried.

Stick-To-It-Iveness

Others would agree with Harlan Ellison that the “long-term view” is more a mind-set, something you can choose instead of something that has chosen you. He said, after reading a book he didn’t like, that “If someone who writes that badly can become a writer, then even the dippiest of us can become a writer, baboons can become writers, sludge and amoeba can become writers. The trick is not in becoming a writer, it is in staying a writer. Day after week after month after year. Staying in there for the long haul.”

So the answer to the question of “Am I a REAL Writer?” seems to be that you are–if you don’t quit. You are if you stay in the writing game for the long haul.

What a Real Writer Isn’t

When I was searching for the answer to that question, I looked in several books. None of the well known authors said REAL writers sell books or REAL writers win awards or REAL writers make a lot of money or REAL writers have agents.

No. The consensus of opinion was this: Writers write–and keep on writing. You’ll know you’re a REAL writer if that’s what you do.

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