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.

 

 

When Health Fights the Story

What it's like to walk around in a fibro fog. Barely able to see ahead of me.

Original image via Flickr WANA Commons courtesy of Celine Jeanjean

The writing, she is not going well.

I know why. The weather is changing and my fibromyalgia is fighting me every step of the way. How do I cope? Honestly, there are days I don’t cope. On those days I can be found curled up in ball either reading books or watching movies in an effort to forget the pain. Or my mind is so fogged that I can’t remember what I did a minute ago let alone where the story is currently going.

I’m pulled so far out of the story that it takes me rereading my notes and what I’ve previously written in order to jump-start my writing momentum. And this happens more often than I wish.

This last week has been full of bad fibro days. My hands hurt so badly I can’t type. My body aches worse than the flu, with sharp knife like pains stabbing at the base of my neck. My vision is our of focus and my brain; forget any help from that corner. My brain is so wrapped in cotton balls that it’s amazing I can tease out enough brain power to get Velcro Dog to the dog park for his daily jaunt.

It’s days and weeks like this that can plunge me into a grey funk where I question whether I’m ever going to be able to do any productive ever again.

In the past, when I worked a day job as a project manager, I would fight the fibromyalgia. I had deadlines and people depending on me. The projects I was assigned to were important for the company. I couldn’t be the squeaky wheel. Or worse, the locked wheel that could turn no longer. So I pushed and I did half-assed work (that, incidentally, others thought was great. I wonder what the learning here is?). I would come home so exhausted and in such pain that I would collapse on the couch or on the bed and not move again for hours. Weekends were about allowing myself to sink into fatigue. I was no use, no help. At work, I was productive, but just barely. At home, I was a paralyzed zombie.

This is why I quit the day job a year ago. And why the writing has only been barely productive. I’ve also been in creative recovery. I had to find the joy in the story once again. And I found it. It’s a good story, if a basic one. But there is beauty in simplicity, and this story, she is beautiful.

If only I could write it. Every day. Stay connected to the rhythm and the prose. I do so much better when I’m able to remain rooted to my story. So much better.

What’s a girl to do when she really can’t sit, or lay, down to write? She beats herself up. Which is the opposite of productive. It’s so destructive, it can destroy that fragile bud of confidence that’s growing out of repaired and replenished soil. Negativity is the salt that destroys the earth. I refuse to be my own salt.

Last night I had insomnia, another symptom of fibromyalgia. I wrote for a bit, because I was up and the computer was on. The words were a hot mess, but they were on the page. And this is the shitty first draft so get over it already, girl. Just get over it.

After I wrote my hot mess, I started sorting through a box of old papers from college. I’m attempting to declutter the house so it’s less of a giant to clean and organize. This box has been sitting in the office for years, just gathering dust. I was almost manic in glancing through the notes and tossing. Glance and toss. Glance and toss. Glance and, whoa, now this is interesting. I found some notes from a psych course I had taken to earn my M.A. in Psychology. The notes were around self-care. I had written in big bold letters, “BE KIND TO YOURSELF!” Even then I knew I was my own worst enemy.

What does it mean to be kind to myself AND still be a productive writer, keeper of the house, and slave to the dog? Especially on the not so great days.

I don’t know. Not 100%. I know attitude is key. And that there must be tools out there that will help me write when my arms and hands just won’t cooperate. I know that I can research on those days, or read and edit. I can email or message friends and let them know what’s going on. I can look for something joyous to bring me laughter. I can fill the well instead of depleting it.

I don’t have a solid plan other than to make a list of things to try, and evaluate what works and what doesn’t. Experimentation, life at it’s best.

And I know that I need to incorporate mindfulness now more than ever. Acknowledge what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling without judgement. And just let the thoughts go. Or counter the negative thoughts with the truth. Which means knowing what is true. Living in the moment. Just. This. Moment. The past is done. The future, it’s not written and definitely not guaranteed. Now is what I have. So take things one moment at a time.

Today may not be a great day to contribute to the story. That doesn’t mean I’m a failure. Or that this story will never be written. It means I accept today for what it is and fill it with things that I can accomplish. That I enjoy. That will make tomorrow’s return to the story all the better.

The story, she may not be going so well. But I am.

The Mystery of Voice

Once upon a time I attempted to figure out the mystery of voice. I had been in and out of writer’s groups and conferences and reference materials and I stumbled on the notion of voice. My writing voice. What was it? What genre did it fit best within? How could I be true to my voice while continuing to grow as a writer?

I turned to an author and teacher who I admired and enrolled in a six week online course on discovering voice. A friend had previously taken this course and raved at how it helped her determine her voice, which helped to determine the direction her writing would take. I wanted that confidence so I signed up for the next offering and learned…not a lot.

That’s not quite true. I learned that my voice has a poetic cadence. I learned that I cannot mimic someone else’s writing voice to save my life. Which is probably a good thing. I learned that I was confused about voice and how several of the exercises related to a writer’s storytelling voice. I felt rather slow. I hate feeling like I just can’t get something.

Upon finishing the course, all the attendees were invited to a private email loop for all the writers who had ever taken the course. There were continuing exercises and discussion related to writing voice. I participated in several. It wasn’t earth shattering, but it was nice to have little exercises where I could write and be myself. It was also a great place for some ego boosting. Come on, you all know that there are points in time when we need a good ego boost. We are feeling low and discouraged and we need a reminder of what is true. This group did that. The author/teacher disbanded the group a year later. I miss it every day.

I was cleaning up email the other day and I found all the emails I had kept from both the course and the group. I read through them all, wondering if years later I could finally grasp that elusive concept of voice. I know I don’t have it all, but right now, voice is the feel of the writing. The word choices. The cadence. The rhythm. It’s how we tell our stories. I’m an intuitive person. I intuitively make my word choices. I can’t tell you why I make any one choice over another. I just…do.

Below are two exercises from this exploration of voice experience. The first is a timed writing about the topic of a first kiss.  I had five minutes to write, and I fictionalized my very first kiss experience. I wrote it more like an memoir than a story.

Todd was tall and gangly, with a greasy face, an eager smile and a shock of red hair that amused me. I was sixteen when we met at my cousin’s house, visiting my relatives in Victoria, and Todd intrigued me. I had not had a boyfriend. I was blissfully unencumbered and loving life as a woman who did what she pleased when she pleased. Okay, as a teen who finally had the keys to her father’s car.
Over dinner, Todd shyly flirted. His attempts were almost laughable, but I was feeling generous and he was trying. He listened to my young feminist self talk about why it was stupid for women to shave and why we were the smarter, more intelligent sex. He laughed at my jokes and he wasn’t scared away when I announced that I was going to run the country some day. Looking back, I think he was either in shell shock or saw me for the mark I was. I was so sure of myself, so certain that I could control any male who came near me. I knew they all wanted one thing. sex, and I was in control now of when and how I would give that. Or if I would. I was sixteen and I was free. Or so I thought.
We went walking after dinner, down the dark, treelined road. The moon wasn’t up and the stars were wild pin pricks in the sky. Todd’s arm settled on my shoulders and I felt powerful. So I stopped and looked at him and asked him if he wanted to kiss me. Like an eager puppy, his eyes widened and his hand shook, almost violently. I walked my fingers up his chest in the way I had seen the Femme Fatals in the movies dance their hands across the chest of the man they were about to ensnare. My hand curved around his neck, tugged at the hair at his nape and my smile deepened as his breathing caught. On tiptoe, I settled my lips on his and kissed him, my tongue gently caressing his lips, my mouth exerting a little pressure. I thought I was working magic. The rise in his jeans told me I was working something.
Then, before his arms could come to life and touch me, before he could use his mouth on mine, I pulled away and started walking again.

There is more to that story. Pieces of the tale colored with anger, violence, and shame. Still, as I read this snippet, I see my earnest, over-confident self. I can feel that night. I can also sense that things are about to turn very, very wrong. I don’t know what the writing of this says about my voice.

This second exercise was one of the impromptu ones that were tossed out on the voice class alumni loop. It’s a timed writing, again. I don’t remember how long we were to write. We were to answer the questions “What in this moment what frightens you?” and “What in this moment excites you?” I remember at the time of the writing that there was nothing that excited me. I was plagued with doubt. When it comes to my passions, I’m often plagued with doubt. It’s a theme in my life I’m working on. I want to change my narrative and live in hope and joy. But on this day I didn’t feel like it was ever going to happen. I was never going to be big enough to live my big dreams.

When I shared my fears I wasn’t expecting feedback. I wasn’t expecting anything. In fact, I regretted hitting send once I wrote it.

What happened was something that spoke to that terrified writer within me. I have these snippets printed out and pasted them by my computer. These have pulled me through whenever I’m too much in my head. The last one, that’s the one I read to myself most often.
I can’t help with the security angle, but I can assure you that you are most certainly a writer, and all you have to do is let it fly. Wonderful post.
I echo Barbara’s sentiment — you are a writer! Reading your post, I heard the keys click beneath fingers, the low conversational buzz. You brought me into your world which is the hallmark of a writer, isn’t it?
What a cool post you did on Barbara’s loop!  I just read it.  With every word you used to question whether you’re a writer, you actually *proved* you’re a writer.  Powerful stuff.  Way to go!
Whoo-wee, girl!  That’s a lowdown secret sly and fancy voice thang you got goin’ on!  That’s one of my rewards! Your voice — I want more of that! I often think others can describe our voice(s) more accurately than we do ourselves.  So sure, use my description as you see fit!  I’d love to know I helped you get a deal, sell a mss., launch a career.  Or just blather.  Not that I believe you blather.  You got that lowdown secret sly and fancy voice thang!
I agree. I think we need to rely on others to describe our voices more accurately than we can ourselves. Lowdown secret sly and fancy voice thang. Never in a million years would have used those words to describe my writing voice. But dayum! I read those words and something inside me loosens and I know with everything that is within me that I can be big enough to live me dreams. Hell, I AM big enough. So what if I can’t pinpoint my writing voice. The point is that I write. And that I’m true to myself. Isn’t that the point for all of us?

When Books Attack

I was procrastinating purging my bookshelves this weekend, in an attempt to make room for new books. Unlike the TARDIS, my bookshelves are not bigger on the inside. I wish I had infinite space for books. I kinda do on my e-reader, and ebooks are one of the sweetest inventions of mankind. But sometimes I want to hold a book in my hands, feel the heft, smell the pages, pet the cover. Sometimes only a paper book will do. And sometimes in my quest to support my fellow writers, I end up buying the Kindle version, the epub version, and all that is left is to purchase the paper version. (I’m looking at you, Carolyn Crane,  Patti O’Shea, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jill Barnett,  Susan Kay Law, Jill Shalvis, Kristin Hannah, the late Vince Flynn, Seanan McGuire, Marjorie M. Liu, just to name a few).

I don’t live in the TARDIS, or in a library, and my husband refuses to add more bookshelves to the house so I can live in a library. This means finite space. And finite space means difficult choices about which books to keep and which books I need to let back into the wild, trusting they will find their way to kind and loving homes. And I put off making these decisions until my husband bitches about the piles of books around the house I absolutely must.

When Hubs brings up the piles of books I know he’s quickly reaching a breaking point. He has a desire for order and items out of place are not, ahem, order. No matter how artistically I arrange these piles, to him the books are not in their right place. The right place would be neatly placed on a bookshelf. A bookshelf that is not stuffed for overflowing with the written word, mind you. A neat and tidy and aesthetically pleasing bookshelf.

I have a lot going against me here. I’m tidy, but I’m okay with some clutter. I like a home that is lived in and cozy, and horizontal surfaces that are completely free and clear from stuff makes me shudder. A minimalist I am not. I have made peace with this. Hubs is trying to make peace with this. It’s actually cute to watch him try. And because he tries so hard, I try to meet him halfway. When he tells me he notices the clutter, I try to do something about said clutter. In this case, organize and purge some books.

I had a system where if I had purchased a book and hadn’t read it come book purge time, the book would automatically go to GoodWill or be gifted to a friend who might enjoy it. Then I started collecting auto buy authors like my nephews collect Pokémon cards and the one year rule no longer fit. While I try to read books as soon as I get them, sometimes I purchase a crap ton of books at one time. Sometimes I purchase a book on release day to give the author that NYT bestseller list boost, but I’m not in the mood to read the book immediately. So the book sits and I may not pick it up for some time. Then there are the books where I read the ebook but didn’t read the paper book but want to keep the paper book because what if my Nook breaks and I’m unable to get a new one and I want to reread the book? Or the zombie apocalypse is upon us and I can no longer charge my Nook? Or I just want to hold a paper book and read for no reason other than just because?

Can you tell I’m excellent at justifying book purchases? Yeah, Hubs noticed this as well.

With books reproducing at a significant rate, I had to do something drastic. First, I had to admit I have a wee bit of a problem when it comes to the compulsive need to own books, sometimes multiple copies of a book. Bookaholics Anonymous may be in my future. In the mean time, I decided to get real and hold an intervention for myself and asked myself the following questions about each of the over 1500 fiction novels I own:

  1. What were the chances I would read the book for the first time (if never read) or reread the book in the future?
  2. If chances were slim, I asked the following to ensure I wasn’t going to do something I would regret:
    • Would the library have the book if I had the yen to read it in the future?
    • Was the book autographed to me by the author?
    • Was the book part of a series where I was keeping the rest of the books?
    • Did I already own the electronic version of the book?

Books that fell into the very slim chance of reading/rereading categories were set aside. Books that were set aside were reviewed against the additional criteria. Simply by purging the books that weren’t part of a series that I wasn’t likely to read/reread in the future, I was able to minimize the piles so there was only one by my nightstand AND clear a shelf for future purchases. Of course, some of the books I purged were hardcovers where I plan to replace with paperbacks because everyone knows paperbacks take up less room. There are only ten in this category, thank goodness!

I have a problem. I love books. I collect them like other women collect shoes. Or how my nephews collect Pokémon cards. I’m okay with that.

I Have Art Inside Me, Dammit!

I have wanted to be many things in my life. A songstress, a teacher, a psychologist, a life coach, a surgeon, an anthropologist, a writer (published and making more money than Nora Roberts. Dream big, right?), a trainer, a photographer, an artist. I became a few of these and other things along the way. Things I fell into rather than made conscious career choices regarding. I rather let life happen to me. And fear. This post is as much about fear as it is art.

When I was a young girl I had a fascination with photography. I watched my dad lug around his huge ass camera and flash set up and saw his face as he framed those perfect-to-him shots. He was rather good. This was long before digital photography and photoshop and I listened to him talk about shutter speed and f-stops and many other things that my younger mind didn’t completely take in. But I knew, I knew in my bones I wanted to be a photographer. So he gave me an old point and shoot and let me go at it. And many rolls of film later I realized I needed to learn more about what made a good shot and how to actually frame up a picture. And maybe how to process my own film. Which would take money we didn’t have. So I set my inner photographer aside until I was older and had money.

I did the same thing with other forms of artistic expression. There was only so far I could go on my own with how to books, and later the internet. I’m an experiential learner who requires a bit of a hands on approach. I’m also afraid of failing. Put these two things together and you get the perfect formula for procrastination.

I do the same thing with writing. I have books in me, but all the online courses on writing and all the how to books don’t make a lick of sense to me when I actually proceed to write. I don’t know if it’s the fear of failing or if it’s how I’m wired or something else. I suspect it’s a combination of things.

For a long time I wrote and never showed a soul. Not even my good friend and amazing author Farrah Rochon. We were both writing and trying to figure out the path to publication and when we both had day jobs we would email all day long about writing. Even have writing challenges. It was the most fun. I miss those days. Farrah went on to become published and is no longer working that day job. My hat is ever off to you, my friend.

Farrah eventually did see a few chapters of a novel I wrote. But never an entire novel. And nothing in recent years. I haven’t had it in me to allow anyone to read what I’ve written. Why? Failure. Perfectionism. Because if it remains unread on my laptop then it’s forever art at it’s purest and not something someone can smash away at with their verbal hammers.

This is not a new sentiment. I was bullied a lot from grade three until I graduated high school for being weird. I was the poor kid in an upwardly mobile neighborhood. I lived in my head and was awkward socially. My favorite pastimes were reading, making shit up, and wandering around in the woods looking for enchantments I knew weren’t real. I knew I was weird. I didn’t need people helpfully pointing that out all the time.

Of all my favorite things, I was acknowledged the most for making shit up. I won awards for my creative writing and just when I started to feel really good about myself and my strangeness, someone would say or do something that sent the very clear message that I was never ever going to fit in. I lived on this crazy precipice of giving all my detractors the finger and giving up pieces of myself in order to fit in. I sometimes wonder if I did give up my love to create and is there a way I can ever get that back.

There is art in me. There are stories. I see them sometimes bubbling below the surface of my consciousness. I have actually completed projects so that should tell me something, right? Yet every time I sit down to write I feel like a fraud and I question my right to create. Who am I to think I could ever tell a story that others would want to read and would actually resonate with them?

Then I remind myself of the single word of advice someone ever gave me: write the story of your heart. Figure the rest out later.

This may not be the best path to a career in commercial fiction, but it is the mantra of my soul when I sit down to write. Someday I’ll be brave enough to share my words with the world. Just not today.

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. 😄

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.  How 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.