On Getting Over Creative Angst

Creatives have to take their art seriously, or no one else will. If what we’re making/writing/singing isn’t important enough to take it seriously, then why not just get the laundry done and stop messing around? After all, we’re all grown-ups here.

The irony is that taking our art too seriously also ensures that no one else will. Plus, it will be boring and un-fun to create, and we will wonder why we started all of this mess in the first place.

The trick is to take the work seriously enough that we give it space in our lives, that we bleed and sweat for it if that’s what it takes, but not so seriously that we become miserable people who can’t tell a good joke. Because art, like life, is worth working for, but it also needs a little levity to keep it from becoming insufferable.

A good way to keep from taking our art (and life) too seriously is to gain a little perspective. I don’t know how you recalibrate when you’re feeling stuck or stuck-up or struck down, but I just saw this photo my husband took in West Africa, and, yeah that did it for me.

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I get to write because I have food to eat, clothes to wear, and I live in relative safety. I get to create. It’s a wonderful, luxurious privilege I did nothing to deserve. This is what I will tell myself as I sit down to edit my manuscript.

A Soft Answer

So much of life is about getting down to business, doing the work, not waiting for inspiration in order to accomplish tasks, etc, etc. This is true in our jobs and in our parenting.

Also? Our creative pursuits won’t find expression if we don’t commit to them. We know we have to Just Do It.

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But sometimes you “need” to do something, and you feel overwhelmed by the thought of doing it–as in you actually cannot make yourself start the thing in the first place. Even though you know the sinking feeling is only your weak mind keeping you from being disciplined. It’s Resistance, you tell yourself, as if naming it will pull out its eye teeth or something.

I’m a Christian, not a Buddhist. But I like what this guy has to say about gently accomplishing the thing you really want to get done in a day. Just that thing and nothing more. Just that thing, while breathing and letting yourself find joy in the moment you’re doing it. Just that thing, while not being driven by anxiety and dread.

So will I work on novel edits today? Will I smile at Resistance instead of trying to trick or outrun it?

Could be. Yeah, maybe I will.

 

*photo by my creative, procrastinating son

Come On In

I’m still tinkering with my website since it’s pretty new. And, yes, I mean tinkering. Like an old man in a shop, bent over tools he doesn’t actually use.

Since returning from the writer’s conference, I’ve spent a bazillion brain cells adding to my ‘About’ page because, well, this is What You Do. It’s scary since I love a certain amount of anonymity. On the other hand, people want to know things about other people. I want to know things about you, though we may never meet.

Since the ‘About’ page is static on my website (doesn’t go to anyone’s inbox), I thought I’d add a link here in case you want to check it out. Take this as permission to snoop in my bathroom cabinet.

On Surviving ‘Big Opportunities’ Part Deux

I’m back from the ACFW conference. After going to bed at 9 p.m. for the last two nights, I feel like I might be getting back to normal (it’s a process that involves a little crying here and there). The conference was rewarding, but it pushed this introvert fairly far as I shook hands, flashed my lanyard, and explained what my novel is about to people waiting to tell me about theirs. Each night I fell asleep with my mouth open, Golden Girls blaring on the hotel TV, while other conferees partied and swapped business cards.

Some takeaways: be prepared that your best laid plans might not be the ones you stick with, and that’s okay. Be nice to people, just because, and let them be nice to you. Don’t keep eating the spicy dessert because you can’t think of anything to say to the table full of strangers.

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More takeaways: my novel is interesting to agents. I will have to write a proposal. It’s good to be humble, but it’s also good to put yourself out there. Just because you want to keep “creative control” doesn’t mean you can’t compromise in order to get some help. Everyone defaults to Facebook when it comes to social media and building a brand except for one person, and she said YouTube was better. I’m trying to decide which of those I find more horrifying.

Final takeaways: my teenagers got taller in four days. God is good to me. I really, really like my own bed.

Choosing Which Stories to Tell (And Which Ones to Leave)

As a writer, I can tell my own story, but what if I want to write about someone else’s life, and they don’t want me to? Is that okay?

Recently, I attended a talk by author Ann Patchett where she discussed both her fiction and non-fiction works. She said her friends and family never really “discovered” themselves in her novels, though their shadows haunted her literary landscape. But in her non-fiction? Hoo, boy. People saw themselves, alright. And some of them got mad.

Patchett had to decide how much to tell when she wrote about real people, had to weigh the cost of telling the truth as she saw it. In the end, she’d decided to write no holds barred, and it cost her some relationships.

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Me? I’m not sure it’s okay to write about someone who’s still living without asking permission first. Even if their life affected mine. Even if I I know big things. (There are exceptions. Another topic for another day).

We need more truth in this world, not less. But truth seasoned with love and, often, restraint.

Stories are powerful, and they can be true even when they aren’t. In my novels, I can call things like I see them. I can tell a true story in a way that keeps hurt feelings out of the mix. I can be honest without burning the town down.

This is important because, in the end, writing isn’t ultimate for me. It can’t take the place of flesh and blood people, and it’s often not worth hurting others for. So I’ve decided if I really need to say something sensitive, I’ll put it in the mouth of someone I (kind-of, maybe) made up.

 

Walking the Line

We live in chaotic times.

When it comes to reading fiction, do stressed-out people want an escape from reality to ease their minds? Do they want to see themselves represented on the page? vicariously live out the worst case scenario? fly to fairyland?

Many writers try to tap in to the zeitgeist to give readers what they want. And that’s good if it means they want to use their writing to help people. Or, you know, write books that’ll actually get read.

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The problem is, by the time they find out (and write) “what readers want,” those same readers want something different.

Artists walk the line between understanding readers’ desires and staying true to the stories they need to tell. These aren’t always at odds with one another, but sometimes they are.

So, when push comes to shove, what’s a writer to choose?

Well, you hear different things. But, at the end of the day, I believe writers tell the best stories when they go with their gut. Which is to say, I won’t be writing about zombies or post-Apocalyptic worlds any time soon, not because those kinds of stories are beneath me, but because I’m just not interested in them.

And if I’m not interested in my stories, how can I expect anyone else to be?

What do you think? Should writers be concerned, first and foremost, with what they think readers want?

The Novelist

If everything is story (and I believe it is), how do we make sense of the thousands of narratives we encounter?

When my hairstylist tells me about a teacher she knows whose son was killed in a school shooting, that’s a story. But what does it mean?

How I explain stories to myself reveals a lot about me. What you do with the stories in your world says something about you, too.

To wit:

Are we all living in a giant, super-complex novel with thousands of tiny subplots? Are all the little stories part of one grand narrative? Or are they disconnected snippets that lead to nowhere?

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If they’re connected, then someone, somewhere, is the Novelist, and we are mere characters. Which means, of course, that while our lives feel extremely important to us, they can’t be the Ultimate Meaning of the Universe. They are part of a bigger story.

Furthermore, if there is a Novelist writing our lives, we characters won’t understand or accept everything that goes down in our worlds because we aren’t as in charge as we’d like to believe. Which sounds positively unAmerican, I know.

Of course, if our stories are disconnected and random, they only have the meaning we assign to them–nothing more.

What say you?

Do you chafe at the idea that Someone might be writing your story? Your neighbor’s story? If there is a Novelist, are we characters responsible for what we do? Are we to blame when we do bad things?

Do you blame characters in the books you read?

 

 

 

From 40 Years Old, With Love

Two of my kids are enrolled in high school and college at the same time. This wasn’t a thing when I was in school, but it’s all the rage now. Since my oldest only has a driver’s permit, he can’t take his younger brother to their college campus without a licensed driver (read: mom) in the car.

So here I sit on a blue chair in a recently painted hallway, watching college students act bored before class. I feel one million years older than they are and, yet, I’m surprised when they ignore me and my laptop. Because, seriously, I’m as cool as they are, and maybe even cooler. I dress cute, and I dye my hair, so they can’t know how much gray I have.

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But then I catch a glimpse of myself in the window and, yes, okay…

I’m working through edits of my novel, a chapter at a time, while I wait for my sons to get out of class. I may not be young (Are the 80’s back? because that’s what it looks like from this chair), but I know what to do with my time. I know how to be productive.

How many of these kids have no idea what they’re doing in school or life? Which, fine. They have time to figure it out.

But if this saggy face is the price I had to pay for finally figuring out what I want to do when I grow up, and how to do it, I’ll take it.

Yes, my nonchalant kiddies, I’ll take it.

And I hope the same happiness for you, someday.

The End of the Beginning (or the Beginning of the End)

Last night, I finished the first draft of my current novel. After I typed the last words, I hit save, closed my laptop, and stared at my closet doors.

From my writing perch, AKA my bed, I thought about all the hours I’d spent creating this story. It was six months of good/hard//exhausting.

And now it’s time to leave story world and become Ruthless Editor.

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I wanted to do something to celebrate getting over this big hurdle, but I didn’t want to get out of my pajama pants, so I told my husband and kids to get ice cream and live it up without me.

How did I celebrate? By watching an Alfred Hitchcock Hour on YouTube by myself.

And now, to kill my darlings.

Pushing Through Creative Fatigue

My brain is dead-tired as I finish up the last few chapters of my current novel, but my body feels pretty normal. These days, I crave mental breaks that don’t necessarily have anything to do with sleep.

In a recent post, writer and coach Lauren Sapala reminded fellow creatives that sometimes the best way to practice self care isn’t to sleep but to do something different. For many of us, the world of ideas is an exhausting place to live, but going to bed earlier doesn’t necessarily fix things.

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This is true for me, and I’ve taken to watching old television shows on YouTube and reading British fiction, especially at night. Sapala’s post was a reminder that there’s a good reason I feel like I need to do these things more often right now.

It’s called creative fatigue, and I’m trying to rest by immersing myself in other worlds.

Thinking about it like this (sort-of) lessens the guilt I feel when I tune in to Boris Karloff’s deliciously cheesy Thriller series after my husband has fallen asleep for the night. Besides, I know that as soon as my novel is complete I’ll be out like a light, again.