Pre-Writing Conference Anxiety and Me

Airport

I’m going to my first writer’s conference since I had to quit the day job due to my chronic health issues. It will be my first time traveling alone since that auspicious event as well. And I’m somewhat nervous.

I used to travel a lot for work. And I used to attend conferences all the time. I’m no stranger to airports and sleeping in strange hotels. I am an introverted extrovert. Or is that extraverted introvert? Either way, I enjoy being around people and can handle the buzz of the masses for a few days with grace and aplomb. Or at least, I used to.

Why am I nervous? I’m nervous because I will be navigating the airports by myself . I move slower than I used to. I can’t managing being on my feet for long periods of time anymore. And if my February vacation taught me anything, it’s that the lines are longer and slower than the last time I travelled alone. I’m going to need to give myself more time to make it through the security check and then wind my way to whichever terminal my gate happens to be at. I’ll need to stop and rest along the way.

My stress level is going to be elevated, which is something that triggers the pain and fatigue in my body. I’ve already started making checklists of checklists I’ll need to have with me. Already plan to have them in Evernote and printed out. Cuz it will be just my luck that my phone dies at any point along this journey in July. And I’m not planning on my bringing my laptop. Maybe my iPad and a keyboard. But my laptop is too damn heavy for me to lug around by myself.

It’s going to be hot and humid in Orlando. No, it’s going to be OHMYFUCKINGGODWHYDOESANYONEGOTOFLORIDAINTHESUMMERIAMGOINGTODIE hot and humid in Orlando. This means using my down time to remain cool and comfortable in my hotel room. Maybe at the hotel bar. Definitely not anywhere outside. I love Disney World from the one brief trip I had there during a work trip about ten years ago. I’m so very sad I will through necessity need to skip all the park stuff and will be held hostage by the conditioned air. Heat aggravates my health condition. Humidity nearly kills me. My friends will be having great fun with Mickey while I…won’t be.

I may need to skip sessions or events like the RITA and Golden Heart awards ceremony. Not because I can’t afford a new outfit (which I can’t), but because if I’m going to make the most out of the conference, I need to save my spoons for workshops and fangirling people like Farrah Rochon, Erica Monroe, Kristine Wyllys, Kimberly Fisk (who is also going to be my awesome roommate), and everyone else I read and stalk follow on Twitter. If a morning is difficult, I’ll have to make the difficult decision to skip workshops or meet ups. If a migraine is coming on, I’ll need to hide in my room for a while. If the fibromyalgia is being a PITA, I’ll need make sure I don’t flare so badly I am in my room for the rest of the conference.

Which means I’ll need to pace myself. And not commit to too much ahead of time. And give myself permission to find a dark corner to sit and cry in when my energy flags and I become very upset with my health. My body and I have this epic love hate thing going on and I’m not too proud to say my body mostly wins. Living with chronic health issues can almost break me, especially when it means I can’t do what I want to do. It’s like I’m the unpopular kid at school crying into her ice-cream because all the other kids got invited to Susie’s birthday party except for me. Okay, it’s not quite that junior high. But it is frustrating.

So, I’m nervous. Sometimes at night I’ll whisper into my pillow just how terrified I am about this trip in July. I’m excited, don’t get me wrong. I love my fellow romance writers and spending time with them in person is just about the best thing in the world. But I’m also terrified that my body is going to fall apart and I’ll have the most expensive health flare ever. Expensive in that I paid good money to go to HELLA HOT ORLANDO in order to have it.

I’ll be okay. No, I’ll be better than okay. There are going to be people at this conference who get it. They understand living with chronic pain and fatigue and the choices that must be made every hour of every day. If I need to breakdown, I know there will be people there who understand and will help me to my room, or lend me a shoulder. It’s a sisterhood within a sisterhood. And that’s what we do, we’re there for each other.

And no, this won’t be like the last time or five I have been to this writing conference. I’m trying to look at this as though I’m a newbie writer attending for the first time. My experience may just be that different. And I need that to be okay.

 

Photo by Hernán Piñera via Flickr, cc Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0

Dancing in the Rain

Sometimes my life feeds something within the story I’m writing.

I don’t try to put snippets of my life in my stories. I write fiction, not memoirs. But as my writing is an extension of who I am, my life and my experiences feed the fiction.

An example. Today was cold and windy and the air felt like a storm was brewing. I looked out the picture window in my kitchen searching the sky for any signs of impending rain. I had a dog to walk and errands to run and both of these activities would be easier to do when it wasn’t raining.

And it struck me, as I searched the sky, that once upon a time I used to love storms. I would stand on the hill of our former house, the hill that looked out over the western skies, and would dance in the rain. Wild dances, with my head faced up to receive the rain and it poured down. I especially loved thunderstorms, the way the electricity in the air would dance across my skin as I in turn danced beneath the lightening and the thunder.

I  haven’t done that in a very long time, and today as I looked out my picture window, cursing the thought of rain, I wondered why. Why don’t I dance beneath the rain any more? Is it because I’m 46 instead of 26? Because I’m more self conscious? Or is it because as my health has become a slave to weather patterns I no longer feel affinity with the coming storms?

Whatever the reason, I no longer dance in the rain. And neither does Hope, the heroine of my current story. She, like me, used to dance in the rain. She used to live for the feeling of electricity skimming across her skin. Used to life her face to the rain. Used to be the raging storm.  But she isn’t any more. Her life is more…complicated.

And it’s important for the story that she realize this about herself. Realize that she no longer dances in the rain. I didn’t know this until I had my own melancholy realization. My life fed my story. My subconscious worked out a story problem and used my own life to do so.

Introducing My Good Friend Fear

Haunted Trees

As I have stated in an earlier post, I am a writing course junky. I have taken far too many writing courses, actually.

I’m trying to get my writing groove back after the world altering events of the last four months and I’m proud of myself. I haven’t purchased another writing course! Instead I’m procrastinating filling the well by revisiting some meaningful courses I’ve taken in the past.

Years and years ago I took a course from author and teacher Bob Mayer titled Warrior-Writer Overview: How to Go from Writer to Author, Creatively and in Business. Bob is a former military man with a long and varied career that includes time in Special Forces. He has more than 40 books published and teaches novel writing. I don’t know if he teaches this course anymore. I do know that the course kicked my ass when I first took it. And it’s kicking my ass again.

I’m revisiting the second lesson and the thing that has struck me most so far is fear. Right now I’m supposed to be writing out goals. Instead, I’m circling the exercise, an oily feeling deep in my gut. Bob states that anything that causes anger or causes us to be upset is something that we need to look at because anger is a sign that change is needed. That oily feeling, it’s not anger, but it is upsetting. I thought I had banished this fear to the ends of the earth. Instead, it crawled out of the ooze and is attempting to freak me out. All it took was one little exercise to resurrect it.

I talked to a friend last night and we talked about fear. Fear can be a good thing. Fear can keep you from injury or from doing something stupid. Fear can also keep you from doing something risky that will benefit you in the end. Fear can be your ally or it can be your enemy. Today, fear is the enemy. I’m learning, again, to push through it. To identify it and to see it for what it is – a stumbling block that will keep me from truly attempting my dreams.

A few years ago I was part of a writer’s loop where we had little exercises where we were to write about something that was going on in the moment. I was going through some soul searching about my life, my job, my career, my goals and I was honest about where I was at in that particular moment. Funny, eleven years later and I’m struggling with some of the same fear.

In this moment I am surround by my demons. A gut-wrenching, stomach-twisting, brain-paralyzing fear that I will never write. That I will never finish. That I will never accomplish my dream. That my passion is misplaced. That it’s all an illusion created by a dissatisfied soul. That I am lazy. That I am rebelling against the better angels of my nature. That 9-to-5 is what I am born to do. All I am born to do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

In this moment I stare at the sunflowers I have positioned to the right of my computer at work. In this shades-of-grey cubicle, they offer sunshine and whisper to me incoherent words of hope. I stare at them and I am grounded, if only for a little while. Until the demons start to seduce me again.

In this moment I crave silence in my soul. So I can hear my thoughts. So I can find my voice again and speak. So I can have peace. So I can know that peace does exist and isn’t a wistful wish tossed up to a falling star.

In this moment I hear the clack of keyboards, of good, dutiful worker drones pushing through their call lists, connecting with applicants who desire higher education. I hear muted conversations and nasal cackles. I feel alone in the middle of business and not a little lost. I want to jump up from my cubicle and yell and convince someone that there’s more than these glass walls and shades-of-grey cubes and pointless conversations trying to sell the idea of knowledge. I want to toss my project lists to the four winds and dance on my manager’s grave. I want to shuck this life of expectations and conformity and politics and perceptions.

At the same time, i feel naive in this want because no matter where I go or what I do, the world is made up of shades of grey and politics and perceptions. Visionaries are lost by those who are afraid of different. 9-to-5 means shackles but it also means regular pay. Security in exchange for freedom. I’m torn. I’m tired. I’m afraid.

So where do we go from here? I stop talking about change and I start enacting change, that’s what. The next exercise I have in this course is to create and claim some goals. I’m going to do that. And post them here. Fear has a way of keeping us from making time to pursue our dreams. Goals have a way of creating concrete ways to move through the fear and toward our dreams. So even though I’m torn, tired and afraid with my writing I’m not going to let fear win. Not this time.

Thanks, Bob, for this course. And to think I almost didn’t sign up. That would have been a tragedy!

Photo by Dan Zen via Flickr (cc by 2.0)

Self-Care While The World Burns

Sunset

The title sounds a bit melodramatic. For some the past election and current political environment is invigorating. Self-affirming even. For others, such as myself, it feels as though we have entered an alternate reality where the world is burning all around us.

It’s no secret that I have chronic health issues. I deal with pain. Every. Damn. Day. I am also am prone to depression. Both of these health conditions become worse with stress, especially stressful situations that do not seem to have an end in sight. With a POTUS , Cabinet, and Congress who appear to be hell-bent on destroying every civil liberty we the people enjoy in this country, life is beyond stressful.

I’ll be honest, I have had to up all my meds just to deal with the increases in pain AND depressive symptomatology. I’m not alone. All over Twitter and blogs I hear other people stating the same thing. And it feels like it’s going to get worse long before it gets better.

So how do we take care of ourselves when the world is burning?

  • Surround yourself every day with beauty. For me that’s flowers and art and good quality yarn and tea. And stories.
  • Spend some time in nature. In Japan there is a practice called shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Studies in Japan and elsewhere have shown that spending regular time in nature actually boosts the immune system.
  • Find your safe people. Safe people are the people we can turn to when we need to just be. Or need to rant. Or need to be vulnerable. They love and support us free of judgement or recrimination.
  • Listen to your body. There will be days you need to turn off social media and the news and huddle away from the world. There will be days you  need to allow yourself extra rest. There will be days you need to up your meds or see your doctor or therapist. It’s okay. Listen to your body so you can give it what it needs.
  • Move your body. This sort of goes with spending time in nature. Our bodies are meant to move, so every day try to do some movement. Walk, yoga, Pilates, cardio, dancing. It’s all good. Do what works for you and your body today.
  • Drink your water. Hydration is another necessity for our bodies. I tend to trigger migraines if I’m low on hydration so I carry around a water bottle where ever I go.
  • Eat healthy food. I’m not going to tell you what is healthy. We all have different dietary constraints and requirements. Just please, make sure you eat something. Please, for me.
  • Volunteer. I have volunteered my time at many places and I always leave with a change in perspective. Volunteering can help us explore our empathy and compassion in a controlled environment. And giving back helps to ground us.
  • Say no. Oh, this is a difficult one. I’ve had to learn to say no to things that are going to trigger me, or to things that will overload my day. Or things that I would only do because I feel obligated. Saying no has been so very important for the management of my health and well-being.
  • Say yes. Saying yes to things that will bring me joy and create wonder in my life has been equally as difficult, but just as rewarding.

The list could go on. You will need to fill in the blanks with those things that bring you joy and nurture your soul. Maybe it’s traveling, or going to a museum. Maybe it’s eating amazing food while surrounded by good friends. Maybe it’s watching the sun as it starts its low descent in the evening.

This is the joy of self-care. We are all unique individuals and aside from keeping our bodies moving and nourished, we all get to define what self care looks like.

Photo by Sunny  (cc by 2.0)

NaNoWriMo 2016

NaNoWriMo Story Prep

I figured since I’m not currently working, and since I have a story burning up my neurons, I’m going to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. I came late to this decision so I had to get my ass going on character interviews and plot points and all those pesky things. And…this will be my first year attempting to plot before writing word one.

I’m a bit of a pantser. No, I’m most comfortable pantsing my way through a story. Which makes revisions hellish. And finishing a story sometimes impossible without going back to the beginning and throwing most of what I’ve written away. I want to build a career out of novel writing so this year I decided to try a plotting method. I’ve done a lot of reading on   various types of novel writing techniques. I’ve taken courses. Lots of courses. Or I’ve purchased and started them. I don’t finish because something inside me rebels at the thought of plotting.

This goes back to the first story I tried to write. Emphasis on the try as it was a hot mess for many reasons. I was so excited to try my hand at writing that I told EVERYONE about it. I basically plotted it during impromptu conversations and at a point I knew all the nuances that made the story. And then didn’t have any drive to actually finish writing it.

At that point I figured that the first draft of a story must be about discovery. It was like I needed to discover the story as I wrote it or all motivation was gone. So I would write that shitty first draft and have a story that needed help. Lots of help. Sometimes total rewriting from the ground up. I tried plotting in different ways several times after that first story, but nothing clicked with me. It was like my brain shut down and my ability to actually apply anything about plotting I had learned didn’t exist.

About five years ago I learned about Candace Haven’s FAST DRAFT technique. It was a revelation that allowed me to write without a lot of pre-plotting. And made me get out of my own head. In fact, I’ll be using the fast draft technique during NaNoWriMo to get this story idea out of my head and onto the page. I’m also loosely using Susan Bischoff’s plotting techniques from her new book The Story Toolkit.

I’ve taken a lot of writing courses over the years. Some I’ve even applied. I figure life is all about learning and growing. And in order to grow as a writer, I need to spend time learning more about the craft of writing. NaNoWriMo offers me a chance to try a new technique. It’s only for thirty days. The pressure is off. And right now I’m not writing for contract so my deadlines are my own. Having the structure of NaNo helps me build my internal motivation muscles.

This story is for me. And I’m going to share my journey online, another thing I’ve never done before. I’m going to try to post an update every day. They may be brief, but it’s important to me to be active here.

I’m also active on Twitter, and will be tweeting about my progress, among other things!

Let NaNoWriMo 2016 commence! And happy writing!

Climbing the Mountain

It’s been difficult for me to accomplish any writing as of late. My languishing blog included. I even thought about discontinuing my blog a time or ten. Why pay for a domain name when I’m no closer to being published than I was 16 years ago when I started writing?

mt-hood

It’s beautiful, but still one helluva mountain to climb

I have felt like this dream of being a multi-published author and actually making a living from the sales of my craft is like climbing Mount Doom. Or driving up to see Mount Hood in a car with no gas. The raw majestic beauty is there, right in front of me, but I don’t seem to be making any progress toward the summit.

In the middle of my writing crisis (pity party), after consuming much chocolate and wine, I came to the realization that I have a blog now because writing is a journey. Why not use my blog to share that journey in all its messy glory?

The blog has been dusted off and while I’m looking into template and web hosting options, I’ve decided to use my blog not to try to inspire others, but to inspire myself. And to share my journey. And to keeping myself honest.

To that end, I’ll be posting some of the exercises I’m doing for a writing course. And I’ll be rejoining Kait Nolan’s Round of Words in 80 Days. Which requires posting here. Which builds in a small level of accountability.

Writing is hard. Learning craft is hard. Finding the motivation in the face of that damn mountain is…so incredibly difficult. And exhilarating. And terrifying. And rewarding. And that’s what keeps me going on this crazy journey.

I have written my way through depression, job loss, health issues, chronic pain, creative drought, self-doubt. I’ve climbed my way out of a hole of writer’s block. I’ve written THE END. I’ve stared at the blank page and made it my bitch.

I am a writer.

No apologies. No justification. I just am.

J. R. Ward, Writing Courses, and Mentorship

First, I must have a total fangirl moment. The incomparable J. R. Ward responded to one of my tweets with just the words I needed to hear to pull myself off the brink of panic and despair. Like, seriously. I’m printing these out and putting them on my laptop so I can remember this always. Because one of the things that makes writing difficult for me is that sense that I’m not good enough. Yes, it’s all tied to my inner demon bitch. But it can be paralyzing and cause anxiety attacks.

JRWARD tweets

J. R. Ward is one of my writing heroes. While I don’t want to be her, because I want to be myself, I would love to be able to write stories that are as emotionally compelling as her stories. And I get there’s no magic bullet or formula for writing. It’s hard work, y’all. Beautiful and sweaty and challenging and rewarding and soul crushing and spirit filling work. But it’s still work. And sometimes it’s lonely and more soul crushing than it is spirit filling. In those moments, words like J. R.’s, they matter. They matter a lot.

And it makes me want to be the kind of writer who is willing to pass on the love, you know? Even if I never publish. Even if my writing becomes something that is just for me. I want to be able to pass on hope and encouragement. And where it’s valid, my writing journey. You never know who may need that kind word while they are in their own dark place.

Speaking of writing journeys, I did something I told myself I wasn’t going to do. I purchased yet another writing course. I say “yet another” because I have purchased probably thousands of dollars worth of courses, books, conferences, etc., over the years. And most of the things I buy, except for the conferences, sit on my shelf or my computer and languish. It’s not that I don’t want to learn, I do. It’s that, well, let me start with the first course I purchased.

In 2008 I purchased the beta version of Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways writing course. It’s an excellent course that I never made past the first four months because my life imploded. Then I lost my job in a company downsize. Then I found a new job almost right away. Well, the why’s aren’t important, but this started a trend of purchasing writing courses and not actually finishing them.

I finally realized I’m a knowledge junky and use the act of learning and acquiring knowledge to procrastinate. I procrastinate because I’m afraid my writing will never measure up. Or that I can’t really spin a tale. My dream is safe as long as it’s simply a dream. It all comes back to that inner demon bitch, doesn’t it?

Last year a thread of an idea wove its way through my mind. It’s a good idea. There’s merit to the story, on the surface a simple story, but depths that round everything out and make it interesting. Life is full of deceptively simple stories. I think that’s why this one grabbed at me like it did. But I couldn’t write. I had snippets of scenes, a story idea, but nothing deeper. Nothing more. So I did what I never do. I grabbed a journal and starting writing all the information as it came to be. Nothing is ordered. The journal is a mess. But there are the bones of something there. I just need to excavate and put them together.

How does this lead back to purchasing another writing course? Well, this mad and haphazard way I have of slapping the story ideas together showed me I needed to try something new to capture the gist of the story while it’s in that embryonic stage. Pantsing things completely isn’t working for me anymore. But what to do? And where would I find the “expert” advice I felt I needed?

Enter the advertisement that has been hounding me online for the last six months. James Patterson is teaching his brand of writing over at www.masterclass.com. I’ve seen the ad on Facebook and popping up every damn where for a while. It looked interesting, but Mr. Patterson doesn’t write in the genre I write, and he’s like uber successful. What could I learn from him? Plus, yet ANOTHER course on writing.

Well, I caved. Why? Writing and social media for authors guru Kristen Lamb took his class and blogged about it. And I read and reread her post. Then went to check out the course information. And finally decided, what the hell. He’s uber successful. And success isn’t out of my reach. And mentorship comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Which brings me back full circle to my fangirl tweet to J. R. Ward. Did her tweet promise me mentorship? No, lord no!  We are so not BFFs because she took the time to reply. And only in my dreams will we sit over coffee and talk about the craft and business of writing amazing stories. However, her general encouragement is a form a mentorship. As is her willingness to share some of her process and journey with authors. If you don’t believe me, go get a copy of her The Black Dagger Brotherhood: An Insider’s Guide and read it. She is one generous lady.

In addition, I get to read her books both as entertainment and to see what works for me as a writer, what sings. And maybe I can apply what I find to my own writing. If it fits. I may never sit down and have a serious discussion with Ms. Ward regarding writing. I may never meet her in person outside of book signings and writing conferences. And I highly doubt I will ever meet James Patterson at either. Though never say never.

That doesn’t mean I can’t count these two others, along with a plethora of others (I’m looking at you, Patti O’Shea) , as sort of mentors. As guides along my journey. Their guidance is indirect. Subtle. Definitely not a formal mentorship affair. And 100% on me. I have to do the work. I have to apply what I learn to my own writing. I have to find what works for me. I have to apply that guidance to my writing, while keeping my writing something completely my own.