When You Face Resistance as a Writer

Does anyone else ever feel like all hell breaks loose once you set a goal?

Recently I determined to spend a minimum of two hours each day on my novel. Since then my computer broke down and I was required to order a new one. We had “smoke week” here on the coast from the fires in the western states and this agitated me to the point where we needed to get a purifier. Some rearranging happened in our house which took up a lot more time than I expected. My husband became sick, so I tried to “nurse” him. I became sick, twice, and required a doctor’s visit. Family issues cropped up. In the middle we had the awaited “Throne Speech” and the looming threat of a federal election in Canada. And of course there was no end of strife south of the border, as I followed the news and political developments.

I also became aware that my other “work” interferes with my creative process. I am now working on a way to resolve this.

Upheavals in our lives and unsettled business constantly rob us of creative energy.

Some years ago I learned to give credit to the “stressors” in my life. Not surprisingly, I didn’t even know that certain things caused me stress. I ignored and minimized other stressors and this resulted in a kind of cognitive dissonance.

We’ve often heard the saying, The truth will set you free. It is a quote from Jesus Christ. It is remarkable how helpful a good, honest look at our situation can be.

We’ve also heard, “The trouble with being deceived is that you don’t know you are deceived.” We can’t deal with a situation when we don’t understand it. There are times of seeking and then there are times when all we can do is wait for the light.

In my case, my light came through a friend, some years ago, who loaned me a book on stress. I think it was called Pressure Points: How to Deal With Stress, by Don Osgood. Osgood talks about the fact that acknowledging stressors can be a significant key to overcoming stress. I highly recommend his book.

When I give proper credit to the stressors that impair my productivity, I actually have more peace. There are things that make it difficult to clear space in my head for writing. It is as though, by giving them a nod, they settle down.

Naming the problem has a way of reducing its power over us. Even positive stressors like a wedding in the family, or a vacation, or the Christmas Season can drain our resources.

When my children were young I learned to immediately acknowledge their distress. This made them feel cared for and removed the need for whining and nagging.

In my work with mentally challenged adults I took a Behavior Modification course which taught me that if I failed to be consistent in one instance, I could lose years of progress made with a client. I practiced consistency with my children and this made them feel secure.

We all need consistent validation and reassurance. We need to feel secure.

Since we don’t want others to minimize or ignore our needs, we should not be ignoring or minimizing them either. I find that at times I have to picture myself as the “other” in, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We are often kinder to others than we are to ourselves.

Don’t ignore. Don’t minimize. Life is what it is. Acknowledge and work your way through it. Have a little faith that you will find yourself in a place beyond this that may be better.

Many times we don’t understand the seasons in our lives. Certain periods are characterized by unique circumstances. One season passes and we find ourselves in a new place, which requires adjustment. It may be retirement, or an addition to the family, or a child leaving home. The best we can do is be “faithful” and consistently apply ourselves to the next thing that requires doing in our setting.

I read a hopeful blog this morning at Another Slice, entitled Follow the Sun. I look for encouragement wherever I can find it. There is light at the end of the tunnel, I remind myself. There is a way and we will find it by persisting in the face of resistance.

Persistence may look different than we imagined. It may mean first taking care of things that get in the way and then returning to our writing. Think of this as a pause, not a stop. Or it may mean acknowledging and then ignoring them, so that we can write.

I heard a touching story that encouraged me in a strange way. We are living in challenging times and things can get worse. What if they do? How will we manage? Things may get worse before they get better. Some things will not get better this side of eternity. I think of this when my doctor says the word “degenerative.”

The story I heard was of a man who was in a concentration camp. Each morning the men in the barracks rose before sunrise and walked miles in every kind of weather to the place where they put in a long day of back-breaking labor. He and his comrades received almost no nourishment and many succumbed. The man noticed that when the guards saw someone stumbling and failing, the person was shot on the spot. Realizing this, he knew that if he wanted to survive he needed to appear strong and capable. He decided that each morning he would get up and shave. He was a survivor who lived to tell his story.

Each day we have to do the equivalent of shaving–the thing that tells us we are strong enough for what this day may bring. I may not be able to control what happens in my life, but I can maintain my dignity in my trial. This will serve me well in accomplishing my goal.

It’s Not Who You Are

We can choose to be identified by our past or we can have faith to move beyond it.

As I commit myself to working on my novel again, I am having to deal with demons of the past. “You won’t follow through.” “You’ve failed before.” “What makes you think you can do it this time?”

If you’ve ever tried to change a pattern in your life, you will have run into similar taunts and fears. But there are numerous testimonials to the contrary, examples of how people prevailed against odds. You can be one of those people.

I have a large bookshelf and sometimes I look at my books and ask why my novel is not yet published. What am I missing that the other published authors have?

First of all, my worth is not defined by whether I am a published author or not. Secondly, my life is not over yet and the potential for publication is still there. I just have to persevere and acquire a few skills. This may still add up to publication. I will also have to do the hard work.

Doing the hard work is probably the most important part.

I once surprised a lot of people who never gave any thought to my capabilities. You see, I attended college when I was young, but I didn’t graduate. In fact, I dropped out of two classes during my final year in college.

Then I went back to college after our children left home. I had no confidence in my ability. A friend was working to finish her degree and my attitude was, “Good for her.” But I could never do that.

The truth is that I again dropped out of two classes. History was repeating itself. But the following year something changed and for two years I took a full course load, even more than a full course load, and I graduated with my degree, with highest honors.

That voice you hear in your head, telling you that you will fail, don’t listen to it. It does not know you. It does not acknowledge all of your capabilities.

We all have an accuser that tries to keep us from getting up and trying again, trying harder, and succeeding.

The first year I took a full coarse load in college I was extremely stressed but I set a daily goal of how much reading I needed to do. I scheduled a time to work on my assignments. I attended classes faithfully. All of these added up to eventually completing my degree.

That year our school went on our annual weekend retreat and while there I climbed a small mountain. It was challenging. I didn’t know if I could make it. But I did. Whenever I didn’t know if I could succeed in my studies, I reminded myself that if I was able to climb that mountain, I could do this.

Look at a success in your life. Remind yourself of your ability. Persevere. Prevail. Don’t allow that voice in your head to define you. It’s not who you are.

What I learned from the NaNoWriMo process

The first two weeks of National November Write Month went better than expected. I managed to keep up with my target word count, more or less, or at least catch up. But then we ran into a bit of a crisis at work and my job had to take priority, with extra hours and more responsibility. Life happens.

I was in an educational program once where I had four hours of classes a day and a lot of reading to do. I don’t read very fast, and I underline and make notes at the back of my book. That’s what those nice empty white pages are for, in case you didn’t know. It’s great to go back and find the highlights of your reading at a glance.

But what I was going to say is that I had to pace myself. When I started the program I didn’t think I had the health or the energy for it. But I learned that if I devoted five hours a day to reading I managed to stay caught up. And there was no getting behind, with that amount of material to cover. After I finished my reading I would work on my papers and presentations.

With NaNoWriMo, I tried to use the same systematic approach. I had a target of 1500 words a day. Some days I was not able to do as much, but I could not allow myself to get far behind. On weekends I would catch up.

I tried not to do a lot of editing. The idea was to get words on a page.

I would have liked to be able to continue, but I value my health more than sticking with a pre-determined plan. One thing I have learned over time is that my life goes better if I pace myself instead of acting like I am super-human. So I looked at the NaNoWriMo project and said, yes, I can put this on hold for now.

The two weeks I spent on it were a lot of fun. While I was driving or cleaning or cooking I would think about my plot, what I was going to add, where I was going, what my characters needed to do, how I planned to put it all together. Then when I’d sit down I had material in my mind to work with. I eagerly anticipated getting at it.

So now I have a 20,000 word start on a new novel. If I do another two week sprint, I’ll just about be at my goal of 50,000 words. December will be a very busy month, so I don’t have high expectations, but I think I will pick it up again in January. If anyone who is reading this has ever accepted the NoNaWriMo challenge, I would love to hear of your experience.

NaNoWrMo

I’ve heard about it. National November Writing Month. Write a novel in a month.

Here is a synopsis from the NaNoWrMo website:

NaNoWriMo is all about using the magical power of deadlines to tell your story. Give someone a goal and a goal-minded community and miracles are bound to happen. Pies will be eaten at amazing rates. Alfalfa will be harvested like never before. And novels will be written in a month.
Part of the reason we organize NaNoWriMo is just to get a book written. We love the fringe benefits accrued to novelists. For one month out of the year, we can stew and storm, and make a huge mess of our apartments and drink lots of coffee at odd hours. And we can do all of these things loudly, in front of people. As satisfying as it is to reach deep within yourself and pull out an unexpectedly passable work of art, it is equally (if not more) satisfying to be able to dramatize the process at social gatherings.

But that artsy drama window is woefully short. The other reason we do NaNoWriMo is because the glow from making big, messy art, and watching others make big, messy art, lasts for a long, long time. The act of sustained creation does bizarre, wonderful things to you. It changes the way you read. And changes, a little bit, your sense of self. We like that.

Doesn’t that sound exciting? Doesn’t it tempt you? Well, crazy as it sounds, I’ve decided to give it a go. I’m sure I’ll learn something about writing during the process. I also want to see if I can do it. After all, Barbara Cartland wrote two novels a month for many years, although I think she dictated them. Trust me, I have no intentions of writing over 700 books.

So, here goes. I’ve signed up. It’s free. I plan to have fun doing it. Anyone care to join me?

A look at blog titles and focus

Michael Hyatt just drew my attention to a couple of important issues for bloggers in his articles, Why I Stopped Reading Your Blogs, and Do You Make These 10 Mistakes When You Blog?

Two things that stood out for me relating to blogging were

  • the importance of catchy headlines, and
  • the need for focus.

    Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


    Hyatt suggests putting as much time into choosing a title for your blog as you invest in writing it. Well, I admit I don’t and probably won’t do that. There is just something in me that resists putting a disproportionate amount of time into a six word title.

    But I’ve realized recently that it is not enough for blogs to merely reflect their content in their titles, like news articles. Blogs are like storefronts. The more interesting the display the more likely people will be drawn in.

    If we are just reporting news, we can get away with a title that is just a summary. But if we are writing a feature article we are competing for attention and need to be creative. My articles on this site fall somewhere in between and this may be why I don’t feel compelled to wow people with my headlines. My blog is more of a resource and, as my husband pointed out, people need to find key words in my title. So, I probably won’t write something as attention getting as “You Got Me at Hello.”

    Hyatt also nailed a problem I have with one of my blogs. My blog Writing for Life lacks focus. Referring to blogs like mine, Hyatt says he gets “lost in the forest of [our] eclectic interests.” Ouch!

    Image courtesy of Feelart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Image courtesy of Feelart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    I know it’s true. I feel it myself and I’ve known it for sometime. Now, to figure out what to do about it.

    Believe it or not, we all love blogs where we know exactly what to expect. We keep returning to them, like a faithful friend. You know the kind of blogs I am talking about. They may be blogs on knitting, or traveling, or jumping for joy, and it sounds very narrow, but this is what we want.

    The best comparison I can think of is the dining out experience. I may want Chinese, or Mexican, or Italian, but I don’t want everything served at one place. I have a special Pho place where I like to go for soup. There is a Thai restaurant where I get my favorite–Chicken Rama in Peanut Sauce.

    We like specialty shops and brand names that define a product. And our readers, surprisingly, want consistency and predictability.

    I have a few focused blogs and I notice that, even as a writer, there is a security in knowing what goes where. Although I really like the freedom of “sharing the journey,” I admit that I hesitate to write, because I keep on asking myself, “Why this?”

    I can see I need to do a little soul searching. Maybe I can find a single theme that will represent what I want to share on my currently eclectic blog. Or I may need to lay out my “wide-ranging, broad-based, extensive, comprehensive, encyclopedic; varied, diverse, catholic, all-embracing, multifaceted, multifarious, heterogeneous, miscellaneous, assorted” (Thesaurus) interests and pick a couple and create a few specific spaces.

  • OCW Conference

    I promised to report on my experience at the OCW Conference. Initially the goal was to find an editor who would want my novel. As the date approached I saw that I would not complete editing my novel in time.

    I did a lot of the hard work, as I had intended. But something was missing. At the conference I found out what it was.

    I did not show my novel to anyone nor did I pitch it. But I consulted with my coach and a mentor. What I learned was very helpful.

    I learned, first of all, that I am writing “women’s fiction,” not a “romance,” as I had thought. In women’s fiction it is the story and issues of the heroine that drive the book, not the romance.

    For me coming to this understanding was huge. It meant I now understood why I could not accept some of the recommendations of my critique partner. It is alright for me to do the things I want to do, and feel I need to do.

    I also dug deeper, with the help of my coach, and refined the underlying message of my book. I now have greater clarity about how to proceed with my writing.

    Several people encouraged me to stay with my novel. One author remembered my characters from the time I shared my story with her last year and she is particularly waiting for me to finish the book.

    At the conference I found something I needed and for which I did not even know I was looking. Now I can’t wait to see what my book will look like by the time the next OCW Conference rolls around.

    Happy landing

    I am awake at 4:00 a.m. and not able to fall back asleep. This happens fairly regularly. It is a great time for reading, and sometimes writing.

    Speaking of reading, one of the best books I have ever read is People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others and Resolve Conflict, by Robert Bolton, Ph.D. This is a book you will wish you had come across earlier.

    The book reminded me of how, at times, I desperately want to help people and yet everyone has to determine to make positive changes of their own will. I can be accepting, listen reflectively, help with problem solving, and even confront, but a lasting, positive change requires that a person is internally motivated to take action.

    I recently saw someone on a downward trajectory, heading to crash and burn. I recognized the signs because I’ve been there, figuratively speaking. We all have resilience and insight and if we catch ourselves in time, sometimes we can pull ourselves out of a fatal spiral.

    In flight language, a “death spiral,” happens when a pilot, “loses the ability to judge the orientation of his aircraft due to the brain’s misperception of spatial cues” (Wikipedia). He loses his sense of equilibrium and fails to recognize or respond to instrument readings which, if heeded, could correct his course.

    This kind of spiral can occur when visibility is reduced, as while flying at night or during a storm, but it can also happen when conditions appear good. I experienced it once when I was with a new pilot flying in clear skies.

    As a writer, I can be flying along, thinking I am doing fine, when unexpectedly I find myself losing altitude and beginning to spin. Usually I’ve taken on too much, sometimes I’ve encountered a road block, or I’ve received some backlash for something I’ve said or done. I begin to feel fatigued and discouraged and start to behave irrationally.

    When I experience a heightened sense of anxiety and a lowered tolerance of small irritants, when I avoid routine duties and responsibilities, and feel controlled by an obsession, be it a deadline or a conflict or crisis, I am beginning to spiral. These signs are like lights flashing on an instrument panel. If I don’t take corrective action I will put myself, and possibly others, at risk.

    A wise professor once reprimanded a student who handed in a superb paper because he knew the student had not slept or eaten properly and had skipped classes and shirked responsibilities to get the paper done. The instructor saw the importance of maintaining a consistent and healthy lifestyle. He was wanted to encourage the student along a path that he knew would be sustainable in the long term.

    As writers we can lose sight of the big picture and become fixated. When this happens we need to take a step back and think of where we will end up if we continue on our current trajectory.

    I find it necessary to keep reminding myself of my values so that I can orient myself and adjust my course for a safe flight and a happy landing. I need to stay tuned to my “instrument panel.”

    On time management and self-discipline

    Has it come to this? Why of course! And we always knew it would, one day.

    Joking aside, I was reading Sally Stuart’s Guide to Publishing a few days ago and became motivated to make some changes. It happened because I recognized who I am as a writer and what I want to accomplish. In her book she outlines types of writers as those who:

    • are totally committed to writing and would have to write no matter what (even if never published)
    • work at a full-time job while writing (always their first love) is on the side
    • write because they believe it will provide wealth or fame
    • write a lot and get excited about several projects at once, but seldom finish anything
    • spend their life (or at least their writing life) writing one story or experience
    • are obsessed with a single idea that is written and rewritten
    • write, submit, and sell, year in and year out (p. 130)

    I know writers in most of these categories. I asked myself which one best described me and realized in that moment what I wanted. The category you or I find ourselves in does not have to be our destiny.

    So, I am making some decisions. As she suggests, I am making time to write. I am informing friends and family of when I will and will not be available. I am setting goals, breaking them down into manageable pieces and making use of my calendar and to-do list. I am identifying time wasters and setting boundaries around my quality working time.

    Knowing who you are and exactly what it is you want can be extremely motivating. In the next few weeks this blog will reflect some of the changes I will be making. Happy writing!