Give Yourself Over

Give yourself over. That is what you must do each time you pick up a pen or sit down in front of your computer.

Give yourself over to all the words, images, ideas ready to pour out of yourself and onto the page, the screen. Step aside, make way. Don’t stop yourself before you even get started.

But it is hard to find that mental place where your mind is alight with possibilities and creativity practically pulses through your fingertips.

Not all of us can reach this place on a consistent basis. Dean Wesley Smith in Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Rewriting Part 2 says professional writers have taught themselves to access this mindset whenever they need to. But for the rest of us mere mortals, it can be a challenge to write while contending with everyday distractions.

While I was traveling, I didn’t write. It’s not that I didn’t have time, not exactly. I could have stayed in the bedroom a little bit longer each morning to write or “take a nap” in the afternoons when we didn’t have any other plans. But staying in my in-laws’ house added a self-consciousness to the act of writing that’s not present when I sneak away to the coffee shop or library.

I even went to a coffee shop on two separate occasions while we were traveling – ostensibly to write. But the words would not come. I was too busy worrying about getting back to the house, all the errands and activities still needing to be done. In short, I wasn’t writing on my own terms.

But as one week turned into two, two weeks into two-and-a-half, I was desperate to get back to work, to immerse myself in my WIPs. I even came up with a new short story idea. But I still didn’t write. Even in the airport and on the plane ride home, I did not put pen to paper because I was too exhausted by the whole trip.

A good night’s rest in my own bed did the trick. A return to routine and a burning desire to make up for lost time had the words coming fast and strong.

I found that creative space in my mind quickly, now that I had the chance. But it was more out of necessity, since it had been so long, than any ability to access this part of myself at will.

Even times when I’m writing on a consistent or at least semi-consistent basis, I can’t always rely on my momentum to keep me going. Instead, I have to reread my previous work or write blog posts like this one to prime the pump, so to speak, before launching into any “new” writing.

Some people swear by taking showers or regular exercise, or even meditation. There are whole books out there on how to find and harness inspiration, as if it’s some light switch we can turn off and on.

But for me, it always comes down to giving myself permission to write. Shucking the self-consciousness for at least a few hours so that the words come more easily.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve come a long way from where I was when I first started writing on a regular basis. I’ve gotten better. But I do feel like I’ve regressed a bit after this trip. And now I’m trying to make my way back to where I was before.

I need to give myself over to writing. But typing it is easier than doing it.
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Family Vaction or Why I’m Still in the Closet When It Comes to My In-Laws

Tomorrow we leave for a two-and-a-half week vacation of sorts, which includes two weddings, a trip to the beach, and visits with college friends. It will be fun and exhausting, and there’s an excellent chance I won’t get anything done.

But I’m still looking forward to the trip. Even though I need to make some tough decisions as to which books to pack. Frankly some books are simply better on a plane versus on the beach. Or read on the couch in front of in-laws instead of before bed at night.

And of course any time spent with extended family can lead to awkwardness as to just what do I do all day. Now that I have two stories forthcoming from Eclectic Flash, the temptation is there to finally say I’m a writer.

But here be monsters.

Why? Well, for starters, They May Not Value Writing. I have evidence that could go either way here. If they aren’t big readers or value only extrinsic measures of success, they just aren’t going to get it. But I am a member of the family, they are generous people, and they respect me. So maybe they’d respect the writing too.

They Also Have No Clue Just How Difficult Writing Can Be. And this goes for a healthy chunk of all non-writers. So much thought goes into word placement, structure, characterization… The more I learn about writing, the trickier it is to get words down on the page that I’m satisfied with.

Because they don’t understand how hard writing is, They Will Ask Me Why I’m Not Published Yet. You know, as in what really counts when you are a writer – a book deal. Short stories are, well, short, and no one is making millions on them. Publishing is a molasses-slow process, just as writing something worth publishing takes a looong time. They won’t understand milestones like getting a CP, or querying that first agent, or getting a full request. They just want to see a book.

And there’s the whole They Will Want To Talk To Me About My Writing Projects. They might ask out of courtesy or maybe they are genuinely interested. Which is great. I can appreciate that, even though I don’t like talking about my work until it’s far enough along that I’m comfortable sharing it with others. Ideas are just that, and until they get to the page, I don’t have a strong sense of how things will turn out. A careless word by someone else can destroy a story before it even starts. Plus, can you imagine me discussing the finer points of love scenes in my historical romance with my father-in-law? Neither can I.

But I guess it all comes down to the fact that They Will Stop Thinking I’m A Mystery And Start Seeing Me As A Dreamer With No Prospects. In some sense, the question of what I do – do I stay at home all day? Do I volunteer? Do I watch soap operas? Do I secretly want to have babies and be a stay-at-home mom? – protects me and keeps them from knowing the truth. Rejection is writing’s constant companion. I don’t need someone telling me writing is impossible, that I’m a dreamer for even trying it. I already know that. But I do it anyway, and that can be hard for some people to understand.

So yeah. Not telling them. Yet.

My husband and I discussed the best time to tell them the truth. And we decided that a professional short story sale or an agent would necessitate telling folks about me writing and all that. You know, which ever came first.

(cough) yeah, right (cough).

But for now I’m optimistic that one day I will be able to share this part of my life with them. I am a dreamer. Or a masochist. It’s hard to tell some days.

***
Because of all the travel, blog posting and commenting may be spotty, but I wish you all happy writing! I’ll be back for sure by the second half of the month.
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Identity and In-Laws

My in-laws are visiting for a week starting today. Lovely people. Honest. We get along for the most part and although we’re not best buds, I know I can count on my husband’s parents for anything.

So what’s the problem? They don’t know I write. As far as they’re concerned, I fritter away my time while my husband works. Quite a reversal for an educated woman who had clearly achieved some measure of professional success in another life. Do they think I’m lazy? Unmotivated? Depressed? It’s hard to say since it never comes up except in oblique, sideways references.

I’ve run into this issue with friends and acquaintances as well. There are some people I just don’t know well enough to tell them about my creative aspirations. If I meet someone at happy hour, I’m not going to launch into my plans for the umpteenth revision of my WIP. I’m sorry but I don’t trust my dreams and hopes with just anyone. (There’s a great post at Diary of a Virgin Novelist that also talks about this issue).

Even close friends of mine don’t know. If I fail, I want my failures to be as private as possible in this day and age. I’m still insecure with my progress. I keep thinking it will be a lot easier to tell people what I do once I have publication credits to point them to. (Agent Nathan Bransford calls this the “if only game”). Without evidence, I feel like a cheat. A wannabe. I feel the whisper of failure.

So I don’t talk about writing. I don’t talk about the one thing that has shaped my life into what it is today. I keep it all bottled up inside. When people do inevitably ask me what I do, I play the fool, cultivating the image that I’m just some pampered housewife taking her time figuring out what gives her life meaning besides cooking, cleaning, and laundry. This way, my deep dark secret is safe. But at the same time, I’ve discounted my intelligence, my abilities, my determination. People don’t take me seriously. And I’m accustomed to being taken seriously. It’s quite a reversal, and I’m still trying to cope with it.

I feel like my interaction with people who don’t know I write are monochromatic, one-note, absent of vibrancy and meaning, because I’m holding some much of myself back because of vague notions of pride, fear, and self-preservation. It’s not something I necessarily enjoy. I’ve gotten better about it. I’ve let a person here and there in on the big secret with no obvious ramifications. I felt a bit more entitled to the idea of being a writer after attending my first writing conference. And then of course, I always have my colleagues from my writing groups to help put things in perspective.

But there’s something about the in-laws that makes everything worse. They don’t know. They won’t ask. And I just end up feeling awkward about the whole thing. Even if I do succeed someday in getting published, I’m not sure if they’re the type of people who would understand my decision to write when more practical, prudent paths are available to me.

But what’s important is my husband understands. He understood my desire to write before I ever articulated it. I’m thankful for that everyday I get to play with words. And usually that’s enough.
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