Tools to conquer self doubt
If you've put a book out there for the world to read and critique, you've experienced that sick feeling and sinking despair when someone tells you they didn't like it, but you've also experienced the complete and utter elation when someone tells you it was marvelous, moved them and made them think about things in a different light.
Working front line in customer service has taught me to take negativity on the chin, yet all the praise in the world doesn't stop the nagging doubt and upset from that one rude customer eating away at you. It's taken me a long time to realise this, but this high and low yo-yo is a part of life and the fact that the lows can still weave themselves inward to hurt and wound means there's still some work to be done in conquering my self doubt.
Make no mistake, everyone has their demons, but some people are just better at hiding their problems than others. So the lesson here is don't be self conscious about your own short comings and perceived failings within your writing life because everybody has something going on in their life that they feel helpless about.
In the context of your writing life, just be a writer. Just be someone who writes. Don't step up to the title of author until you feel strong enough to take the good with the ugly. Write for enjoyment. Write for fun. Write because you love words and characters and plots. Don't set yourself up for a fall by claiming prematurely that you're the next big romance novelist.
When people get your writing, bottle that feeling and remind yourself when negativity strikes.
Even if you're working on a manuscript, have other avenues in your writing like a blog. I blog two to three times a week and spend a great deal of time promoting my non fiction work online. Getting daily praise from these little pieces is a massive confidence boost that carries me and makes working on the bigger projects more fun. It stops the worrying that I can't do this and I'm not good enough to do this.
Following on with the prolific idea of having many writing projects in different genres and avenues, this is a very good way to take your mind off the obsession with only one manuscript. I like to think of it as splitting up my fear - because if you're really as good at writing as you think you are, you will excel with different pieces of work and the praise will be forthcoming.
Practicing Yoga and Pilates
Don't knock something until you've tried it...
I remember signing up to my first Yoga class and not really expecting any great impact to my mind and body. I was intrigued, but not convinced.
There are many types of Yoga and Pilates and I have no idea which I practice. For some people that's important, but I'm just a novice trying to put some calm back into my day.
What Yoga and Pilates does for you is slow everything down through breathing control and holding poses that stretch out your body. We crash and bang through Life, some days barely knowing where the hours disappear to because we're so preoccupied with all the things we must get done to ensure the day is a success. Add to that a mind that won't shut down and a bad back from hunching and crunching at a computer for hours on end... Does this sound like you?
On a good day I'll practice for an hour, but even 15 minutes can be beneficial. When you start to concentrate on your breathing and on your stretching, it pulls you into the present moment and holds you there. I find myself calming down as my mind and body get re-acquainted with each other. I make better decisions and I start listening to myself. That sounds weird, but the constant noise of Life naturally bombards and influences our choices and reactions to things and wants get easily confused with needs.
I often wondered what it meant to "centre yourself" and what that state would feel like. Practicing Yoga and Pilates regularly will help you get there and it's pretty great for energising your mind right before a writing session.
I read a great post on how to avoid getting drawn into activity with no positive outcome and it reminded me of the workplace and how sometimes I used to come away from meetings about meetings and wonder what the point of the meeting actually was.
Of course, it wasn't always easy to establish at first whether any value was being added, so you ride along on the wave of collaboration and innovation and enthuse with everyone around the table, but that's the important question you have to ask yourself - not just in your professional life, but also in your writing life - is this discussion / activity adding any value to the overall goals of the project?
The point at the end of the article was very useful to decipher the answer - knowing the difference between a direct request to follow through on and leaving the suggestions to one side.
Applying this to your writing life then, the obvious distraction (especially if you're freelancing from your home office) is the tele - and I'm as guilty as the next! Seriously though, does it add value to the writing work you're doing at the moment? If not, have the discipline to switch it off.
Also, being my own worst enemy, I'm terrible for making lists of things I could do to improve my website, my blog, advertising, marketing, writing ideas... Whilst these lists are all well and good and harmless in themselves, if I haven't defined any clear targets to get me to the point I want to be at, this is unproductive activity.
I've been putting this theory to the test for the past week. Getting back into my studies, I was studying a certain way but it was long winded and time consuming (and not adding any extra value), so I've revised what I'm doing and now it's much more effective. I don't feel I'm missing out and I'm moving through the modules a lot faster.
Don't be afraid to review how you're working and have the courage it strip it back.
Writing around the day job
I'm once again juggling full time employment with my writing so, following on from my Useful Hours post, here are three ways to maximise the small windows of opportunity that appear every day - those little moments we probably don't think to make use of.
Firstly, you have to make writing a priority during that small space of time. If, like me, you're constantly thinking about creative things, hopefully you've identified when you can slot in some writing into a hectic day and you're already thinking about what you're going to do during that time. Note: this thinking can be done whilst brushing your teeth!
Secondly, put your writer's hat on straight away and don't waste the time. If it helps to focus you, set a timer. I believe everything we write finds a value and purpose at some point. It might seem worthless when you come back to review it the next day and you might be tempted to discard it, but three weeks from now it could be really really useful.
The last point I want to make today is use the goings on in every day life to help you develop your writing through that beautiful thing observation. It's too easy to bundle and bash through the days, weeks, months, years and never take the time to just sit, listen and watch. You'll never be able to create believable characters and worlds if you don't take note of the one you live in. Is that why people choose to write Fantasy?
I'm always grumbling I don't have enough time during the working week to do all the writing things I want to squeeze around the day job - and if I do manage to touch on them, they always feel rushed and somehow incomplete.
This blog post is as much for me as it is for you, as I currently only do one out of five of the following to try and claw some hours back:
1) Watch less tele
I never used to struggle with this, but with so many channels I've become more and more an addict.
2) Get up earlier in the mornings
I do this! Score! Even just an hour makes all the difference. If like me you wake up just before the alarm goes off, try to focus your mind on what you want to achieve over the next hour before you climb out of bed.
3) Be organised
ie. get prepared for the next working day by doing everything the night before. I'm hopeless, I leave it all to the morning and then rush around like a crazed person.
Again, I'm rubbish. I live by the saying "if you want something done properly, do it yourself". I guess my advice on this one would be to separate out the less important stuff and give it to someone else to worry about.
5) Wants Vs Needs
My To Do lists turn into everything I've ever wanted to achieve / buy / do (OK, not quite as bad as that but still...) so only run the errands on the chores that are absolutely essential. If something can wait, let it.
Try some of the above this coming week and see how you fare.
After my last post on simplifying (I want to say life but that sounds monumental and scary, so we'll settle with things), I thought it best to give some advice on how to become more self motivated to get the simplifying done.
First and foremost, you've got to stay focused on one thing at a time, and while you're focusing on that, stick with it and don't do anything else.
This leads nicely into my second bit of advice to be careful with how you reward yourself. It's OK to promise yourself something once you're finished, but don't start thinking more about the reward than the actual task itself. Kind of defeats the whole object really.
Think about what you're going to achieve from the job / chore / task. Use that positive thought to spur you on.
Take pride in what you're doing and do it to the best of your ability. It will make you feel good about yourself, I promise!
And finally, spend the time on the things you enjoy. I keep saying this, but it is so important. If I do a day of chores and don't do any writing, that's a wasted day to me and I feel really downbeat. Even just an hour of writing slotted in somewhere would make all the difference to my mood.
I get worse as I get older, leaving everything to the very last minute so I go into blind panic mode and rush around like a crazed crazy person. I never used to be like this - and I'd like to say I do it for the adrenalin rush that fuels me to make the outcome bigger and better than before, but I don't even get that out of it. All I end up with is a muddled brain and no sense of achievement whatsoever, other than the fact I scraped through by the skin of my teeth.
I've got to stop it... and here's how:
At the end of the day, to do anything well, you've got to be disciplined - and a little bit selfish.
Motivation in the New Year
One of my all time favourite motivational writing quotes is this from Stephen King in his book On Writing: "... But if you don't want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well - settle back into competency and be grateful you have even that much to fall back on."
This is quite literally a kick up the butt and does make me take a stock check.
One of the first things you need to stick to your writing guns is a writing notebook - or these days a tablet - that you carry everywhere with you. Don't just use it for flashes of brilliance, but start a daily writing habit in it or on it, whether that be during your morning commute, in your lunch break, or in the evenings before going to bed. The point is to try and write something everyday...
But you all know that, so now I'm going to introduce you to something completely different because in order to get into writing daily, you need to be in the right frame of mind and that means being kind to your body and mind.
Try this recipe to increase productivity over the next week
There is some top advice contained in this article but, as with anything, it takes real discipline, so if you're serious about your New Year's writing resolutions, give it a go.
Your writing targets for 2014
Happy New Year to one and all!! Hope you had fun over the festive period.
I get very excited about New Years - all of the possibilities and plans, fresh starts, new goals, lots of things to look forward to already....
Having returned to full time employment in November after almost a two year break, I quickly realised I would have to work extra, extra hard again to stay on track with my writing projects. I went from having lots of time, to having none at all - and when there was an hour or so sitting there to be snatched, the thought of revving up my brain for some novel writing didn't seem in the least bit appealing.
Over my Christmas holiday, I dug out some old notes on writing targets and motivation just to give myself a jolt in enthusiasm's direction. It's really easy to know where you want to be with your writing, but actually getting there is a different story. You need to break the big goal down into little achievable chunks. The achievable bit is very important, otherwise you'll soon become despondent and the resolution will be over before it's even begun.
What is your writing priority this year? Last year I wanted to regularly publish to my blog/s and build up a series per topic I could then tweet out daily to help my fellow writers. I'm pleased to say I've achieved this, so now it's back to my fiction writing in 2014.
This is where I get stuck though because I have about three fiction projects on the go. If I'm going to be successful, I have to pick one and run with it, and the others will have to wait. Experience has taught me you can't write three different fiction stories simultaneously - even if each one grips me in very different ways. So, the next step is to set a realistic plan (and I'm talking breaking it down into daily, weekly and monthly chunks) for the year to help you achieve the overall goal and make sure those little targets are completely in your control and don't rely on outside forces like Editors or Publishers.
The final step is to keep track of your progress and evaluate at the end of each month (or week if you think that will be more beneficial) how well you're doing. Also, keep a check on whether meeting your little goals is getting you closer to your overall goal. Don't be afraid to revise your targets if things aren't panning out the way you want or expect. It doesn't mean you've failed, it just means you've veered a little off course.
In my next post I'll have some motivational ideas for you to help you stick to your guns.
Blogging is an amazing concept so here I am giving it a whirl. You'll get words. You'll get pics. Sometimes a vid or two. You'll get tongue in cheek, the odd humble opinion and an honest insight into my travels and writing life. Maybe even a few gems along the way. I'll be musing on home turf as I see more and more of the UK and sharing my experiences further afield on holidays and adventurous trips across the globe.