The Artist’s Way: Week 3 Check-In

Welcome to Week 3 of my ongoing series on The Artist’s Way with Erin @ Flappers and Philosophers! In case you missed it, here is my intro post, explaining what the project is, why we’re doing it, and what you can expect.

The short version is, Erin and I are both going through The Artist’s Way, a 12-week course in self-discovery and creative recovery. Throughout the next three months, we’ll be sharing weekly updates on how it’s going, what we’ve learned, and how this process has affected our creative lives.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Week 3 was a mixed bag for me, honestly.

The theme of Recovering a Sense of Power seemed to fall a little flat in my life. That being said, I tried to keep in mind the idea that “growth occurs in spurts.” Just because I’m doing The Artist’s Way doesn’t mean I’m going to be experiencing Huge Changes right away.

Things definitely started to pick up a little later in the week; I had a three-day weekend away from work to catch up on writing and generally just get myself together. This week, I started to focus on crafting a morning routine that’s geared toward not just productivity, but taking care of myself. I start by drinking water first thing, and I’m trying to get in at least some yoga and meditation before I do anything else. So far I think it’s really helping my state of mind, and I like the feeling that I’m building healthy habits.

Week 3: The Check-In

How many days this week did you do your morning pages? How was the experience for you?

I did morning pages all 7 days this week! Once again, I felt like I was repeating myself a lot. This week’s writing seemed to focus around my obsessive need to feel productive, and the accompanying guilt complex that keeps me from really letting go and treating myself to moments of nurturing.

Did you do your artist date this week? What did you do? How did it feel?

On Wednesday, I did a sort of artist date at home. Instead of making myself go out and do something adventurous, I decided to indulge my inner child a little bit. I spent almost two hours coloring and listening to music. I also did this 10-minute face mask I found at the grocery store. Even though it felt weird to do this kind of deep, purposeful self-care, I know it sends a signal to my brain that I am important and deserving of nice things.

Were there any other issues that you consider significant for your recovery? Did you experience any synchronicity this week? Describe them.

At first, when I read this question in the check-in section of Week 3, I wasn’t sure that I did experience any synchronicity. I’m…honestly not great at paying attention to signs from the Universe (just like I’m not really all that good at believing in Source Energy/God/whatever you want to call it). As I thought about it, I realized that my synchronicity happened later in the week. I went to coffee with a good friend and coworker (whom I’ve convinced to do the Artist’s Way!) and while we were talking I had a small breakthrough with my WIP.

Because I’m such a Type A person, I’ve generally always been a planner when it comes to writing. I like to have a solid, detailed outline before I get started, and I generally write each scene in the order it will appear in the book itself. I realized that I don’t need to write this story in order though.

I just need to write the pieces for now; Future Me can worry about putting the pieces together. Right now I just need to focus on showing up to the page.

Have you ever participated in The Artist’s Way? How was your week? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for stopping by!

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The Artist’s Way: Week 2 Check-In

Welcome to Week 2 of my ongoing series on The Artist’s Way with Erin @ Flappers and Philosophers!

In case you missed it, here is my intro post, explaining what the project is, why we’re doing it, and what you can expect. The short version is, Erin and I are both going through The Artist’s Way, a 12-week course in self-discovery and creative recovery. Throughout the next three months, we’ll be sharing weekly updates on how it’s going, what we’ve learned, and how this process has affected our creative lives.

Week 2: Recovering a Sense of Identity

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Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

“You may find yourself drawing new boundaries and staking out new territories as your personal needs, desires, and interests announce themselves.”

Overall, this week was about settling in for me. This week’s theme focuses on identifying people in your life who are helpful vs. harmful to your creative recovery and developing a sense of open-mindedness to the universe. I started working through some of my major issues when it comes to my current WIP as well as some deeper issues that are blocking my creativity.

The most exciting thing that happened in my creative life this week is that I finally started writing toward a draft of my WIP. I sorted through a lot of my qualms, as well as decided on a course of action and POV. Mostly, though, the triumph is that I actually wrote 1500 words this week, which is much better than nothing.

Week 2: The Check-In

1. How many days this week did you do your morning pages? How was the experience for you?

I did morning pages seven days this week, although I did fall slightly short of three pages a few times. At first, it felt like a chore to wake up and sit down at my desk and purge my brain. By the end of the week, though, I definitely started to feel like I’m getting into a groove. The pages give me a chance to assess and work through issues that I can’t really access at any other time or in another medium. I did feel like I was repeating myself a lot, and I noticed that my issues seem to fall into the same category: I need to learn how to fight for myself/my art, but I don’t know how.

2. Did you do your artist date this week? What did you do? How did it feel?

On Tuesday, I went to my favorite coffee shop again. This time, I used the time for myself to work on my writing. While I initially planned to go through and revise a novel I finished writing last year, I came to the conclusion that I more or less need to re-write the same story in a completely different way. I had a really nice time actively investing in my writing. I do still hope to take more unproductive artist dates as the weeks go on.

3. Were there any other issues this week that you consider significant for your recovery? Describe them.

I wrote about my God concept in the morning pages, which was definitely an important breakthrough, and something I’m going to keep talking about as the weeks wear on.

In keeping track of the time spent on various activities this week, I realized that I might actually spend too much time reading. It’s not that I don’t love reading…but I think I’m filling the well with too much of other people’s words and not enough of my own.

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Have you ever participated in The Artist’s Way? How was your week? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for stopping by!

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On Revision: What do you do when you’ve laid a bad egg?

This is the fourth post in a series of posts on writing—my journey as a writer, what writing means to me, and what I’m working on now. To see other posts, check here.

“The only kind of writing is rewriting.” —Ernest Hemingway

If there’s one quote that incites my writer’s guilt complex, it’s this idea that writing is rewriting.

(Or so we’re told.) Most of us know that a rough draft is just that—rough, not to be seen by other eyes until it’s been cleaned up. No one ever stops at the rough draft, or even the “first draft”. As young writers, we’re told that the best way to become a better writer—aside from just writing more, every day if possible—is to keep revising our own material.

It’s no secret that I hate revisions.

I hate them with a fiery passion, mostly because I’ve never figured out how to successfully revise without wanting to light myself on fire in the process. Revising signals Depression Brain to lump on a healthy dose of Self-Doubt in the extreme. Once I reach that state, I’m not motivated to work on the story whatsoever. I usually ignore it for a couple of days, which only makes me feel more guilty for not writing, before I admit that I’m just not feeling the story anymore.

I’ve done this process of halfway revising, only to ultimately give up, more times than I can count. Each time, I’m stunted for weeks or even months afterward. Each time, I feel more and more like a fake writer. After all, if I was a Real Writer, I’d be able to revise my own stories, right?

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I “rescued” this book from being sent back to the publisher and I’m so glad I did.

Then I read Mark Edmundson’s Why Write, a long-form essay in which he discusses the good, the bad, and the ugly of writing. For the first time in my life, I read someone who countered the idea that revision is absolutely, always necessary. There are times, Edmundson argues, when the best thing to do with a piece of writing is let it go.

Sometimes the best thing to do when you’ve laid a bad egg is simply to walk away from the nest. Get gone. Throw the darned thing out and start something new. You can advance by leaping from endeavor to endeavor, as well as by trying to repair the broken-down model that’s on blocks in the driveway.

When I first read this passage, I’m pretty sure tears came to my eyes. For the first time, I felt completely and totally okay with who I was as a writer—a person who needed to let go and move forward.

The fact of the matter is, revision is an important skill to have as a writer. Nothing comes out perfect the first time, no matter how long you’ve been writing. Revision is a skill I do want to acquire, eventually.

At the same time, I have to acknowledge my relative age as a writer. I talk like I’ve been writing for 15 years, and I have, but that’s small potatoes compared to most successful, bestselling authors. I have a long ways to go before I’m writing at that level. I have decades ahead of me when it comes to growing as a writer.

The best way for me to grow as a writer isn’t necessarily as simple as I once thought.

Sure, I could invest years of my life in an attempt to revise the same few novels I’ve had under my belt so far. Or, alternatively, I could let go and see what comes next.

Maybe there isn’t anything shameful about having trunk novels; maybe they’re just sign posts along the way of my growth as a writer. Maybe it’s true that any writing is a good thing as long as it’s moving me forward. Maybe my trunk novels don’t have to define who I will become, but rather can represent a small part of who I was at one point in time.

Maybe the best thing to do when you’ve laid a bad egg is let it go.

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How do you feel about revisions? Got any tricks to share? Want to be writing buddies? Let’s chat in the comments!

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the most harmful writing advice I’ve ever received

This is the second in a series of discussion posts about my writing life. If you want to follow along, check here!

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connect with me on instagram! (@lady.gets.lit)

For some reason, as long as I can remember, people I hardly know have felt the need to advise me on my writing career.

I know, deep down, that most of these people mean well. They ask questions and make suggestions because, on some level, they care about my success. Many people I meet are also readers, so they’re fascinated by the other side of the coin. Still, whether it’s because they think I don’t know what I’m doing, or they thing writing isn’t a real career until you’re making loads of money, people always seem to have something to say.

I recently read this post by Elizabeth @ Redgal Musings, and it made me laugh tears of frustration from being put in similar situations. I started to realize that I’m not alone in being annoyed by my parents’ neighbor who leans over the fence and asks if I’m published yet. I was inspired to compile a list of some of the more frequent—and often harmful—advice I’ve received over the years.

“Write what you know.”

As a kid, I really struggled with math.* Fortunately for me, my dad happens to be an annoyingly brilliant electrical engineer** who was perfectly willing and able to walk me through math problems. He always started by having me read the word problem and then write down what I knew.

“Write what you know” is probably one of the most ubiquitous pieces of writing advice out there. It’s the reason personal memoirs is an exploding market*** and shows why #OwnVoices books exist in the first place: people writing about their own experiences, what they already know about the world. Don’t get me wrong—I seek out #OwnVoices stories because I trust the validity of the diverse representation, and because there’s a level of passion that goes into writing about your own experiences. But “write what you know” is so oversimplified.

Here’s why I think “write what you know” is harmful, at least for me: it encourages me to stay inside the bubble of my life experience, limiting the kinds of ideas I allow myself to even attempt to write. Trying to stick to what I know takes all the fun out of imagining what it would be like to be someone else…which if I’m honest is half the reason I started writing in the first place.

*Especially those dreaded word problems. Ugh.
**whose favorite class in college was differential equations. I don’t even know what those are.
***hell, anyone can write a book these days, as long as they’re already famous and/or they have a compelling life story.

“Why don’t you just get a degree in Creative Writing?”

I’m going to tell you a little secret: when I was in high school, I was convinced I’d never go to college at all. By the time I was 15, I was dead set on graduating high school and moving as far away as I could think of without leaving the country: New York City. I was already halfway through my first novel so I didn’t need anyone to teach me how to write. What did I need a degree for? It’s not like you need a degree to write novels!

Spoiler Alert: I ended up going to New York. But I ended up going to college first. I got my B.A. in English and Women’s Studies* and I have absolutely zero regrets. Here’s why: I loved getting my degree. I loved taking literature courses and reading obscure books no one had ever heard of. I loved taking a wide range of social science courses and learning how to think radically outside the box I grew up in. And while I took two creative writing courses in undergrad, I didn’t really love taking those classes.

I’ve never been one who believes writing can be taught; I think it’s just something you do over and over and over again until you suck slightly less than you did when you started. Still, having people question my choice of degree year in and year out, sometimes it stings. Sometimes I start to question myself.

*I can’t believe I graduated almost 7 years ago

“You should just self-publish! Everyone’s doing it, and look how successful they are!”

Here’s the thing, and I’m not trying to be an asshole*: I don’t want to self-publish.

I want to traditionally publish in part because that’s been my dream as long as I can remember, but it’s more than that. I don’t want to have to do 100% of my own marketing, find someone to do cover art, spam people’s twitter feed with self-promo, etc. etc. I don’t want to run my own business, which is what you have to do to self-publish successfully…and I don’t think I would be successful as a self-published author.

I know that people mean well, but I don’t think they realize that I’ve thought this thing through. Self-publishing is great—for some people, not for me.

*Although I’m probably coming off that way anyway, who are we kidding?

“You have to be able to self-edit to really make it as a writer.”

Okay, so this one might be partially true. If all I can do is slap a bunch of word vomit into Scrivener and call it a day, I can’t expect to just be handed a book deal. I have to do the grunt work of editing too.

My issue with this bit of advice is that editing for the sake of editing hasn’t really helped me. Every time I’ve tried to knuckle down and really edit my own work, I’ve ended up more discouraged and less enthused about the story to begin with. Sometimes, it’s enough to just leave a draft in the metaphorical writer’s truck.*

*More on this in a couple weeks…

“You can’t just write about your own experiences and call it fiction. You have to make things up!”

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: but Lady, didn’t you just say that you hate when people tell you to write what you know? Yes. Yes I did. But the opposite—writing only ever outside of your own experience—doesn’t work for me either.

A long time ago, I had a very unhealthy romance with an aspiring poet who thought he knew everything there was to know about writing* and that it was his job to tell me about it. In fact, he was the first person who told me to get a creative writing degree (because that’s what he was doing). He was also the first person who implied that it didn’t count as fiction if I was writing about things that had happened to me.

Here’s the thing: realistic fiction has to be based at least partly on what the writer intimately knows, on what her views of the world are. Granted, I can’t very well write my own autobiography and call it fiction. But I also can’t write your biography—at least, not without doing some serious research. In order to write realistic fiction, I have to find a balance between writing from experience and thinking outside the box.

*despite the fact that he almost never read anything. No, seriously. He was a writer, who didn’t like reading.

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What’s the weirdest bit of harmful advice you’ve ever received about your choice of career? Do you think creative writing can be taught? Do you prefer to write more about your experiences, or make things up completely? I’d love to know your thoughts!