Author: nr lines

Unpublished author, devoted Browncoat, fan of Rush, the Vancouver Canucks, and happy endings. And unabashed fangirl.

Anxiety, Writing, And Me

My last post was about my inner demon bitch and how she tries, and often succeeds, to derail my writing progress. And life progress, if I’m honest. Today’s post is a follow up to that. I apologize for the length of this post. It started longer. See, I’m attempting to learn brevity. ­čśä

I know I’m not alone in feeling almost paralyzed by doubt. The therapist in me wants to send myself to therapy for some DBT or for some talk therapy. I have done both in the past and found the DBT route to be more helpful. Why? Because life is full of dialectics and because I believe the key to overcoming almost anything is rooted in mindfulness.

I love this definition of dialectics:

Dialectics, in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, refers to the process of investigating and synthesizing apparently opposing or contradictory ideas. (online source)

Opposing or contradictory ideas. How novel. ┬áHow true. A current dialectic that I’m processing is this: Writing makes me anxious, and I love to write.

I had to put this into words to really understand what has been blocking me. To understand this dialectic between anxiety and a propelling need to move forward with writing, I need to understand where the anxiety is coming from. Which means I need to make friends with this anxious energy. Friends, you say? Are you mad?

Don’t drag out the straight jacket just yet. Let me explain. Anxiety has a purpose.

However, even though anxiety and fear may feel unpleasant or uncomfortable, they are in no way negative. They actually serve a very important purpose, and it would be very hard to get by in life without these emotions.

Anxiety and fear are natural human emotions. They are our body’s alarm system. They occur in response to situations where we may be in danger or at-risk for some kind of harm. Fear is an emotion that is experienced when we are actually in a dangerous situation, whereas anxiety is an emotion that occurs when we expect or anticipate that something unpleasant may happen. (online source/ emphasis mine)

Did you read that? Anxiety is an emotion. Anxiety occurs when there is an expectation or anticipation of something unpleasant. I used to get anxious before oral presentations in college. I had to stand at a podium in front of 100 of my closest friends and string words together in a coherent manner. My hands would shake, my neck would become drenched with sweat. My voice would wobble. It was torture. Until I looked up from my notes one day and realized no one was laughing at me. No one was having side conversations and ignoring me. They laughed at my attempts at jokes, and looked almost captive when I provided a story to drive a point home.

Slowly, I stopped being anxious when in front of a crowd. I could verbally communicate and communicate well. I started to enjoy these presentations, which eventually gave me the motivation and courage to try my hand at training. To this day I get a rush with public speaking of any kind. And the impact of the stories I would weave into my presentations to make information more accessible ignited a passion for storytelling.  But, not only did I have to have enough successes, I also had to understand what was feeding the anxiety.

For public speaking, it was a fear of being judged unworthy or not good enough, which was a judgement I lived under throughout my childhood. I was not a popular child in K-12. I was shy and awkward. I was the poor white girl going to school in a district of higher middle class white kids. And kids can be cruel to anyone who is different. I was very different. I lived in my head. I kept to the outside. I didn’t have the right clothes or the right anything to be considered worthy. And when I did make friends, I lived in fear that someone would tell them about my unworthiness and I would be left alone.

That same childhood gave me a love for stories. I read to escape. I read to experience. I read because I could relate to the characters. And when I immersed myself in these worlds, I wasn’t awkward or weird or unworthy.

I also learned the gift of inner strength. And self-advocation. If no one else was going to be there for me, I was damn well going to learn how to be there for myself. I also learned empathy. There are many gifts I was able to carve out of those experiences.

When I realized that my fear of public speaking was rooted in the same fear I had of humiliation and failure to fit in, I was able to do something with that anxiety. I was able to determine if there really was a threat that was amping up the anxiety, or if it was old fear responses that were no longer adaptive. It took time and some therapy, but I was able to make friends with my anxiety, and when it was a response to a non-threat, I was able to thank the anxiety for looking out for me and reassure it that I was okay. I was really, truly okay.

This is what I’m currently doing with my inner demon bitch. She’s there, amping up the anxiety around my writing skills. I’ve taken courses. I’ve read books. I’ve listened to advice. I’ve some written book length stories. I’ve started and stopped even more. Everytime I try to incorporate advice, I end up treating my writing like my master’s thesis and I freeze. What if I can’t write a compelling character arc? What if my issues with the sagging middle are because I don’t have enough plot? Why can’t I seem to plot out a book anyway? Is something wrong with me? Do I have a passion but no talent? Am I wasting my time? Dear fluffy lord, is my desire for something I cannot have?

What do my fears have in common? They all seem derived from the question, am I good enough. I wasn’t a natural public speaker. This took time and practice and learning from others. I may be a natural storyteller but crafting an actual publishable story, for me that may take a learning curve over time. And I won’t know until I get the words on the page and get the feedback from trusted people who know their shit. And can communicate their critiques in a compassionate and affirming way.

I know I can learn. I know I can work hard to master something when I’m invested in the process. I know these truths about myself. I also know that to become proficient, even excellent at something, I have to practice. And analyze. And fail. And figure out where I went wrong. And get up and start again with that new knowledge.

This is what I mean by making friends with my anxiety. It has a purpose. It wants to protect me. In the case of writing, it can’t protect me, because to protect me means never actually writing. Never putting my work out there. Never striving toward my passion and my dream. At the same time, that anxiety about not being good enough, it can also be reframed to push me to do my best and to continue to learn and hone my skills. It doesn’t need to be debilitating.

Mindfulness comes in when i allow myself to feel anxious, allow my body to have it’s response, and I don’t judge it or push it away. This allows me to feel my Feels and to begin to understand my thoughts. And to let these thoughts go. More on mindfulness in my next post.

I can be anxious about my writing and I can have a deep passion for writing. These two things can exist at the same time. They can even work together, if I can give them the time and space to learn to play nice together.

My Dirty Little Secret

It appears I rather suck at blogging. It’s not the blogging I suck at, actually, it’s the committing of time to get posts out into the world. One would think that right now that wouldn’t be an issue. I’m not currently working, nor am I setting aside time to search for a job. I’m in the process of trying to beat a chronic illness into recession, but other than that, my days are mine. Easy, right?

Nope. Not even a little bit. Why, you ask? I’m insecure.

I don’t speak for any other writer out there, but I’m a mess of insecurity. My inner editor isn’t just an editor. She’s a freaking demon sent from the bowels of hell to rip me to shreds. She delights in challenging my every move. Oh, she’s a smart one, this demon of mine. She must play chess with the devil, she’s such a good strategist.

She’s been my dirty little secret for years. I talk a good game. I know all the right words, all the right motions. I sit down and I can pound out a thousand words and think I’m pretty hot shit, the words are that good. Then she comes along with her red pen and slashes through everything. Every. Single. Word. She reminds me that I’m not good enough to lick the floor after any of my fiction writing idols have walked upon it. Sometimes I push back, click undo, and all those red strike-throughs disappear. And I read those words again and while I no longer think I’m hot shit, I do think there’s a definite kernel of awesome shining in there. I live for those days. God, it feels so good to kick her ass back to whatever slime pit she emerged from and dance around the room, whooping up a war cry that causes the dog to run and hide beneath the bed.

Most days I slowly close the laptop and slink away to my corner to think about what I’ve done. I feel bad and lonely and scared that no one else has a demon riding their shoulders. That I’m the only one who has to fight every day against the insecurity that, if allowed, would render me paralyzed. I was a psychologist, I know that part of what I feel is anxiety and that there’s a way to channel this anxiety into something creative. That with success, sitting down and putting those words on the page will be a little easier. Oh, I may always have to fight this demon, but I will retain more of my personal power rather than letting it slip away.

This weekend I thought about my current story. I’m doing a lot of character mining and getting to know just who the leads are. I’m also trying to figure out some plot points. I don’t do well with plotting. When I try, I feel stupid and I throw my hands in the air and rant and cry and wonder why on earth others can map out their stories so they can write more efficiently. I’ve made some peace with this, but with every book, I do try to figure out the beginning and the end. Hence the plot points.

A little voice inside kept telling me to just sit down. Just write. It’s all there rolling around in my brain. It won’t be a book until I write it.

And every time I opened the laptop or took out a notebook and pen, I froze. I could see my demon dancing in front of me, making faces, pointing and laughing. Who am I to try to write this book? All the others, they weren’t fit to show a single soul let alone try to sell. What makes me think this one will be any different. Dreamer. Loser.

I didn’t write this weekend. Due to my schedule, I won’t be writing more than scribbles in my notebook today. But you bet your ass I’ll be writing tomorrow. Why? What changed?

That little conniving demon actually served up something that hit home. I’m a dreamer. I gave up dreaming a few years ago, or thought I did. That’s a post for another day. What matters right now is that I believe once a dreamer, always a dreamer. I just put my dreaming on hiatus.

I’m a dreamer, and I am dreaming up this story about two people who find hope and love and acceptance. I dream this because this is what I want to live – a life of hope and love and acceptance. I think the world needs a whole heck of a lot more of these elements. I may not be able to change the world in which I live in big broad strokes, but I can definitely weave a tale that perhaps will touch others and let them live a moment where they see hope and love and acceptance coalesce. And maybe they will see themselves in the story. And if they do, maybe they will allow their inner dreamer out to play in the world.

And just maybe if there are enough stories about hope and love and acceptance, with enough dreamers reading them, this will spill out into the world, making it a better place. A place where we can banish our inner demons and laugh and dream and hope and love together.

#ROW80 – Failure and Being Kind to Yourself

It’s been three days since I started ROW80 and already I see my goals my need changing. I’ve written two out of three days, which is good. But I’ve only managed about 500 words per day which is 1000 words shy of my goal of 1000 words per day.

I tend to beat myself up over goals which is one reason that during my hiatus from fiction writing I didn’t make any writing goals. I wrote as I felt lead. I have little vignettes and scenes that run the gamut of emotions: humour, angst, passion, anger, lust, tenderness. Some of these are the best scenes I’ve ever written. Why? Because I just let them happen. I didn’t have an agenda. I didn’t have any finish-by-this-date goals and I had no intention of publishing anything during that time. It was all for me. For fun. I’m a writer. Whether anyone else sees my words or not doesn’t change that one fact. Writers write.

ROW80 is part of my personal therapy. As someone who has been a therapist, I know the importance of attainable goals, especially when one is attempting to change behavior patterns or ways of thinking that are no longer useful, or perhaps even harmful. We need to feel a level of success in order to continue moving forward on our quest for self-improvement and healing. What I like about ROW80 is that no one is there to stand in judgement if the goals I set for myself were too lofty or perhaps not even the right goals for right now. I can attempt to meet the mark I set for myself and if I fail, I get to determine the cause for that failure and adjust my goals as needed. Or not. Maybe that goal is a stretch goal and maybe I need it there to push me. Sometimes stretch goals are very, very good. Sometimes they can be detrimental.

Right now, because I’m a recovering perfectionist and because I just got the joy of writing fiction back in my life, I am going to drop my word count per writing session goal to 500 words per day. If I do better than that, excellent! If I only make 500 words, still excellent.

Every writer is on his or her own journey. The support we get from each other along the way is invaluable. The support and self-care we give ourselves is even more important. But we need to be honest with ourselves. If we aren’t honest about why we are doing, or not doing, then it’s too easy to fall into the trap of never doing. Or the trap of burning out. I know. I had to quit my job due to burnout because I forgot just how very important self-care is to my well-being. Sure, I was the best process engineer I could be (yes, that is correct. I was a process engineer and systems trainer after I left the world of psychotherapy). But at what cost?

It wasn’t until my health became bad enough that I couldn’t work that I paused and started to consider what I need to be healthy and happy. And what my family needs. I’m still in recovery. It took years for me to get to this place, it may take a while for me to swim out. I’m okay with that. Now. Just as I’m okay with the fact that I may have to exercise my writing brain some more before I can swing 1000+ words per day. And that this draft will likely┬ábe that shitty first draft writers talk about. I may have to learn to plot in different ways. I may need to relearn some of the craft I knew inside out and backwards before. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is not trying.

So that’s my update. My goals are changing and I feel good about the progress I’ve made thus far. I hope you feel just as good about your progress, as well.

#ROW80 2015 Round 1 Goals – Jumping In

Author Kait Nolan is an amazing and generous woman, and is the mother of the ROW80 movement. What is #ROW80? Well, if you follow the link above you will find all the information you need, but in a nutshell, #ROW80 is Kait’s answer to NaNoWriMo. Instead of setting aside one month to shove live aside and write a 50,000 work first draft of a novel, you take 80 days to write toward your goal, be it writing a first draft, revising a novel, making consistent progress on your work in progress (WIP). All without having to check out of real life in order to get the job done.

I actually did a challenge like this several years ago, one that was sponsored by Shiloh Walker, if I remember correctly. The challenge was 70 Days of Sweat, and the goal was to write 75,000 to 100,000 words over 70 days. When I did the math, this meant writing about 1000 to 1500 words a day. Totally doable! At the time I was working 50+ hours per week, was deep into renovations on the house (no kitchen, people, no kitchen!), and was trying to start up a coaching practice. We don’t talk about that start up, and the renovations – let’s just say we are much closer to being renovation free. But the 70 Days of Sweat? That was a sweet success!

So, as I start 2015, I decided to do something I had been talking about doing for the last four years and step up for the current round of ROW80.

Here are my goals:

  1. Write five out of seven days.
  2. Write an average of 1100 words a day. I’ve done this before using #1k1h sprints and I think I can do this while plotting. I’m a pantser trying to find a way of plotting that works for me so we’ll see if this is a realistic goal.
  3. Read one craft book.
  4. Blog here three days a week. With the ROW80 check-in days, that means only one other post. If I post more, bonus!

Those are my goals. I’m not working at the moment but am dealing with some intense health issues so we’ll see how this goes. I love that this is flexible and it’s about my writing goals, not anyone else’s. If I have to massage my goals, then I can. No questions asked. Thanks, Kait, for not only starting this, but sticking with it and being such an awesome influencer and inspiration along the way!

I Am A Writer

I am a writer.

These are words I need to tell myself over and over again because almost everyone around me views my writing as this cute little hobby. Why? Because after ten years of writing fiction and various blogs I 1) not a single sentence from my fiction has been published and 2) I have never been able to gain a strong following on these various blogs.

Which begs the question, why am I starting another blog now?

Last year after almost four years of extreme writers block my mind was suddenly filled with stories. I let go of the goal to publish and suddenly the stories started to flow. Funny how something like the dream of making a living writing fiction can start to cause anxiety and doubt, which in turn causes the creative flow to dry up. It’s like a dam was built in my mind and all that creative energy was caught behind that dam, allowed to trickle out in short spurts or painstaking drips. It was, in a word, torture. I knew I could write. I knew I could tell stories. Maybe not well, but I was working on refining my craft so that each story, each revision produced something better than the one before. And I loved the process. Loved it! So to have it seized and locked away was torture.

When I let go of the pressure of publication and when I started journaling for myself, the stories started to flow again. Not quickly at first. And not fully formed like they had before. It’s different now, but the creativity, it’s there. So I started writing again. Pulled out my craft books and dove back into learning. And I told myself it was time to announce to the world that I am a writer.

Sure, I hope to publish. In fact, since I’m unable to work at the moment I kinda hope I can actually turn this love into something that can supplement our family income. But I also want to write for the love of telling a story. What I’ve learned over the past four years is that without the love of telling the story the story falls flat and the process becomes tedious. At least it does for me.

So this year I come fully out from behind my excuses and fears and declare that I am a writer and this is a blog about my journey.