Coffee Dates: Frustrations

Good Morning, Creatives!

Tomorrow’s the weekend! Anyone have any plans? Writing, adventuring, or just sleeping? (I’m mostly planning on sleeping, if at all possible.)

Since I need sleep (and I always do) this week’s question is about frustration. Which part of your writing journey frustrates you the most? What gets you really heated and annoyed with it for interrupting your story’s flow?

My Process

Writing can be so, so frustrating, and it’s never more frustrating for me than when I know I have limited time, I know I have a pile of work to get finished, and all I can do is stare at a blank screen or pound out wooden words that I can’t enjoy or savor at all.

I’m sure I’m not the only one in this, right?

If I’m honest, these moments crop up because my body and my brain need REST, and I am not very good at resting. I like to have my to-do list, finish my to-do list, and get a bit extra done for luck. Anyone with me in this?

My Struggles Within That

I cannot convince my poor tired brain to cooperate without taking proper care of it. Which irritates me. It makes sense, of course, and I know it makes sense, but I would rather it didn’t make sense and I was able to force out a few thousand words whenever I felt like it.

Because I am impatient.

So, instead, when I start staring blankly at a screen, I am learning to take a pause, take a minute, and just rest. Read a good book, lie back and close my eyes, or just stare out the window for a while.

Someday, I’ll convince myself to do this on a regular basis.

Your Thoughts

What is one of your biggest frustrations while you’re writing? What steps have you taken/would you like to take to counter that frustration? Tell me about it in the comments!

A Writer’s Life: Joy

Writer, what makes you joyful? Like, singing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs joyful? So joyful that you just want to put on some crazy music and dance in your kitchen?

Do you know?

I actually had to think pretty hard to figure out what it was that made me that joyful. Spending quality time with people I love, flowers, music, moments when I am working on something I know is part of my soul and my purpose, fixing a plot hole, discovering a character; all of these are things that spark that kind of joy for me. And that kind of joy feeds my creativity and gives me the energy to do what I love with my whole heart.

So what about the moments when joy is hard to find and nothing seems to be going right?

Joy

Embracing joy is a necessary part of life. Without it, daily chores, schedules, and meetings become a drudge and nothing is life-giving anymore.

But it has taken me a long time to understand the rather nebulous idea of ‘joy’.

Because we’re supposed to have joy in every circumstance and season of our life, right? But for me, it’s always been hard to feel joyful when I am sucked down with too much work, broke, and struggling to find a job to add more onto my workload just so I can pay bills. It was hard to be joyful in the midst of a nasty breakup. It was hard to be joyful in the midst of a creative desert and a toxic workplace.

Joy sparks creativity. Without it, you may find your ideas withering to ash and your brilliant brain switching from explorer to autopilot.

If joy is so important, especially to creativity, how are we supposed to write when joy seems unattainable?

How To Make It Happen

Unfortunately, if joy is connected to circumstances and is, in fact, that fuzzy happy feeling curled just beneath your heart, it’s going to come and go, and more often than not, it’s going to go.

A little discouraging, right?

Unless you step back and realize that joy is not always going to be a feeling. Sometimes, yes, joy is a feeling and a very nice one. But sometimes—the bad times—joy is and will always be a choice. A choice to see the good where the bad is trying to blot it out. A choice to love what you do when you only have an hour or two a day—or week—to do it. A choice to focus on what is good in your life and to walk through the bad without drowning in it.

And yes, I realize that it’s very hard to do. I am still learning myself, and there are days that I crash and burn.

But somehow, I have always managed to pick myself up again. I do it with two truths, three tricks, and one spark of gratitude.

Truth #1

When life is rough, schedules are overloaded, and you are overwhelmed, joy becomes more of a choice than a feeling. And sometimes, that choice means smiling with gritted teeth and snapping a list of all the things you are thankful for instead of everything wrong in your life.

It’s not pretty. It’s not flowers and roses. Sometimes it’s crying on the bathroom floor until you’re ready to breathe again, smiling, and find five things to be grateful for amidst the mess—even if those five things are toilet paper, food in your fridge, that you have space to cry, books, and a story that you still love despite the way it’s driving you crazy.

Truth #2

You can’t find joy when you’re living on autopilot. I am the worst at this. When things are rough, I hit autopilot hard, and the goals I have consist solely of getting through the day and moving on to tomorrow.

And sometimes, that’s just life.

In the midst of a breakup, a bad situation at work, or a period of grief, sometimes autopilot is the best we can do, and—for a time—it’s the best thing for us.

But it’s hard to find joy on autopilot, and it’s even harder to be creative and embrace your stories there. Eventually, you’ve got to flick off the autopilot and start living again.

Three Tricks

  1. Find what you love. Find something that soothes your soul when everything else is going haywire. When I was struggling in a job environment that zapped my joy and energy and left me crying on the drive home, I did yoga. Obsessively. That hour before I went to work became the time when I chose joy and filled myself up for the day ahead. It centered me, reminded me that I had a life outside of this job and that I had some control over myself. Getting up that much earlier was hard, of course, but it helped me choose joy instead of discouragement.
  2. Appreciate what you have. Practice gratitude. Yes, there are hard things, and yes, your time is limited for what you love, but there will always be things to be grateful for. Make a list. Have a journal with pages of pages that begin with simply, ‘tell me something good.’ Choose gratitude instead of complaining.
  3. Get out of the rut. If a job is toxic, start looking for something else. If a relationship is destroying you, seek counseling and considering ending it. If things just need to be the way they are right now, then switch up your other routines a bit. Go for a walk after dinner. Meet a friend for lunch. Get up a little early to write or do yoga. 

One Spark Of Gratitude

Writer, you are alive. You have the world ahead of you, your life at your feet, and you are not alone.

So be thankful. Make lists, come up with something to be thankful for every time you have a cup of coffee or start your car, or just tell someone in your life how much their support and love mean to you.

Find something. Something that you love, something that is beautiful and meaningful about today. Something that you can be thankful for and find joy in. Embrace it. Pause for just a minute to enjoy it.

Then pause again, in the midst of your rushed writing session. Take a minute to appreciate that you, you, get to write this story. You have the opportunity to expand your imagination and put it to good use. You are a writer.

Be thankful for that.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

What is joyful in your life right now? What are you struggling to find joy in? Tell me about it in the comments, and stay tuned for next week, when we will be discussing discouragement and how it affects a writer’s ability to actually write.

Fighting Goliath

On Saturday, my writing group came to my house.

Coming to my house is an adventure in itself. I’ve mentioned frequently that I live in the middle of nowhere, right? So, sometimes even Google Maps has a hard time leading people up my driveway.

Two of my imagination buddies got lost.

Then they called me.

Then their cellphones lost service, and I had to decide if I was going to mount an expedition to rescue them or trust that they would figure it out on their own.

Shockingly, considering the maze of dirt roads, back lanes, and dead ends leading to my house, they made it on their own.

I’m assuming they all made it home safely afterward, but as no one has confirmed this for me, I can’t actually be sure.

Besides living in the middle of nowhere, I also live in a very, very small house. So, Gloria, thank you for volunteering to sit on the floor and not complaining about the plants that were practically in your lap the whole time.

You’re a trooper.

Despite the cramped quarters and the long drive and my cat being super awkward and staring at people in a weird way, we had a marvelous time. We all got a chance to read everyone’s books, make comments, fangirl a little bit over our favorite characters, and offer a bit of constructive criticism. We met old friends, made new friends, and all got a bit of a better look at the stories we have.

I can’t speak for the rest of them, but I certainly broke through a block that’s been bugging me for weeks.

It was about time.

Besides doing critique work, we had plenty of time to just sit back and talk. About life, about jobs, about our writing. And about our fears in entering the publishing world. Sometimes wanting to be an author and trying to break into the world of agents, publishers, and critics feels impossibly hard. It’s a long, long slog, and it’s not something that is ever going to come easily. In the end, we decided it feels like fighting Goliath.

Which, for a group of mostly introverts that are definitely not the battling types, is very intimidating.

But, really, that’s the point of our writing group. Because who wants to fight Goliath alone? We come together to offer support, give encouragement, and keep the others fighting when it feels impossible. And the harder it gets, the more we have to hold each other up and remember that the goal is worth the fight.

Honestly, there is no one else in the world that I would rather face Goliath with than my imagination buddies.

Do you have an imagination buddy? Tell me about them in the comments, or simply introduce yourself if you’d like one! I’m always excited to befriend a new writer!

Coffee Dates: Genre

Good Morning, Creatives!

Who else needs coffee today? I do. I need a caffeine drip into my veins just to keep me going. Too much coffee (or black tea) knocks out my creativity, but so does falling asleep at my desk.

There’s a balance to this, right? There’s got to be a balance.

Balance (in our writing) is the theme of this week’s question, because this week, we are talking about genres! What genre do you write in? Have you been able to keep your books to one or maybe two genres? Or do some of your stories get away from you and end up a little unbalanced?

My Process

I love writing in so many different genres. I have a biography under my belt, non-fiction articles, five full-length fantasy novels, and a scattering of children’s fiction and short stories in way too many genres to count. Some of them are so undefined that I haven’t bothered even trying to put a label on them.

Still, in the end, my heart always comes back to fantasy. There’s something about the creativity and the whimsical side to it that pulls me along. I love it for the mystery and discovery in it, and no matter what I write, that will always be my first love.

My Struggles Within That

Keeping my brain focused! Genres are hard, and at some point (if you’re pitching to an agent or a publisher) you do want to be able to define them with one or two simple phrases. Having a list of ten genres that you hit in the same book could very well get you a hard pass from anyone you pitch to… so I try to keep my ideas sorted into the right baskets. As far as I can, anyway.

Your Thoughts

What genres do you love to write in? What gets you excited and passionate and eager to explore the places you’re writing about, even when it’s not your ‘typical’ writing time? Tell me about it in the comments!

A Writer’s Life: Comparison

Have you ever heard the saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy”?

If so, you’re not the only one. I’ve heard that saying a hundred different places, and it always rings true. However, I would like to take it a step further and say that comparison is the thief of creativity.

Our stories are very special pieces of our hearts. When we’re focused and happy, they flow right from our souls, and they occupy their own spot in our hearts. But, if we’re more focused on someone else’s story and whether it’s better—or worse—than our own, we’re neglecting the story we’ve been entrusted with—and the characters that belong to us are the ones to suffer for it.

Comparison

Comparison is hard to catch in the beginning. I mean, who hasn’t read an amazing book—published or unpublished—and thought, “Wow! I wish I could write like that.”

In some ways, this thought—if directed properly—can be a good thing. It can be an inspiration to work harder, to develop our stories and take them to a new level.

The trouble comes when we let it grow past that point.

Comparison happens when you’re focused on competing instead of collaborating.

Once it becomes a competition—a desire to do better than the other person or the crushing realization that you’ll never ‘write like they do’—it becomes toxic. The kind of toxic that will kill your story, drain your creativity, and leave you defeated and jealous. Never a good state to find yourself in.

How To Make It Happen

Fortunately, as with all the other thoughts in our head, we can choose not to let comparison or jealousy take root. Once it has taken root, it’s much harder to get rid of, of course, but we still have the power to dig it out of our minds and choose another approach.

When I have trouble with this, I root it out with two truths, three tricks, and a moment of humility.

Truth #1

You are not in competition. Writing doesn’t work like that. As many writers as there are in the world, there are more readers. And readers who are looking for new material. A book can only be read so many times before its readers start searching for a new adventure that is similar to the one they loved so much—maybe yours.

Truth #2

You’re not supposed to ‘write like they do’. Why should you? You’re not them!

Writer, you have your own unique style. A story no one else is going to tell. A way of communicating that is only yours. Why would you damage that and risk marring it by trying to be someone else? We already have one of them. Now we need one of you.

Three Tricks

  1. Worry less about the results and more about being the best you can be. Growing as a person and a writer takes time. You can’t rush it, and you can’t skip past it. The only way to grow is by solid hard work and dedication to your craft. Comparing yourself to someone else won’t help you grow—it may even hold you back—and your journey is long enough. Dump what doesn’t drive you forward, and you’ll find the journey much easier.
  2. Embrace your story—without undermining someone else’s. Find what you love about your own characters, your plot, and your dialogue. Embrace it. Revel in it. Then learn to appreciate what others have without holding it up besides your own work to see how they compare.
  3. Find what’s beautiful in your story—and what needs a little watering. We all have places we can grow, and if you’re busy working on your own weaknesses and strengthening your own story, you won’t have time to worry about what someone else is writing—and you’ll also find a lot of joy in your own work at the same time!

A Moment Of Humility

It took me years to realize that having humility didn’t mean thinking less of myself. It didn’t mean believing that everyone was better than I was or that I had much less chance of succeeding than they did.

What I should have realized all along was that humility meant being able to rejoice in their success and to applaud their beauty without questioning my own.

Maybe their story does blow you away. Maybe their characters do enchant you. Maybe their grasp of ambiance or prose takes your breath away. Rejoice in that. Tell them. Believe me, everyone is struggling in their own way and everyone needs the boost of an honest compliment now and then.

Then take a step back and realize that you have your own gifts to offer, your own stories to craft. Their success does not threaten your own. So stay in your lane, keep your stories close to your heart, and don’t be afraid to celebrate with someone else. It costs nothing to rejoice with someone who needs it.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

How do you block our comparison in your own writing journey? Tell me about it in the comments! And stay tuned for next week, when we will be discussing joy and how to find it in the midst of a crushing schedule.

A Late Night Visitor

Have I ever mentioned that I live in the middle of nowhere?

Because I live in the middle of nowhere.

My little house is smack in the middle of the woods, and it takes me thirty minutes of driving to find Walmart, fill my car up with gas, or get to the library. And if I want to see a movie, sit in a coffee shop, or go to work, it’s more like forty-five minutes of driving. Without traffic.

I love it.

I live on a dirt road in a neighborhood that I’m fairly certain has more cows than people in it, surrounded by fields and red barns and pine trees. I wouldn’t leave it for the world.

But sometimes, just sometimes mind, living so far out is a little scary.

Like this last week. I was in my living room, it was dark outside, and I was finishing a few sprints with my writing gals.

I love writing sprints. They get me working.

Anyway, it was late and I had run out of creativity and energy and inspiration and all that other good stuff and was headed for bed when I heard my trash can get knocked over.

My trash can is right out my front door. My sliding glass front door.

So, naturally, I jumped up, whipped open the door, and yelled at whatever it was to get out of here. Because naturally, it would be a raccoon or the neighbor’s dogs, right?

Right?

Guess what? It wasn’t the neighbor’s dogs. Whatever ran away at the sound of my very heroic—and ill-planned—shout was big.

Very big.

It was at that moment that I remembered we had a bear that circles our valley. And bears can smell trash up to a mile off.

And my trash was very smelly.

Needless to say, I went back inside very quickly and called my parents. They live next door, and they have a gun. For which I am very thankful. In several minutes, we had a whole troop at my house. Two of my brothers came with our truck to haul away the trash that was tempting the bear, only to get trapped in the truck when the said bear appeared in my driveway, and my father followed them in his car with the gun.

No bears were shot that night. Just so you know.

We honked the horn and I screamed a bit—to scare him off obviously, I totally wasn’t freaking out—and that, combined with the headlights and a good number of loud human voices chased him away.

He still hasn’t come back.

I’m grateful for that.

Normally I love having wildlife in my yard. I get squirrels, deer, turkeys, and so many birds that my cat is constantly glued to the windows. But I draw the line at bears.

Mostly because, once, I had a bear inside my house.

I’ll have tell you about that story another time.

Have you ever had encounters with wildlife that just about scared the pants off you? Tell me about them in the comments!

Coffee Dates: Characters

Good Morning, Creatives!

You made it through the week! Congratulations, you’ve done amazingly well! *Throws glitter and confetti in celebration.*

Seriously though, congratulations for making it through another week and holding onto your commitments as a writer. The world needs writers, and it especially needs writers who are passionate about their stories and about characters. Which leads to my question for this week . . . how do you get to know your characters? How do you come up with them? Do you meet them in the street? In daydreams? Or are they only there to people your amazing worlds?

My Process

I am terribly picky about my characters. Horribly. I like them to live and breathe, and I detest wooden statues. When I first began writing, I would sit down and do long questionnaires for my characters and know all about their little peculiarities.

Now . . . now I like to get to know them the way I get to know my friends. With time.

My Struggles Within That

I can’t come up with characters quickly! They need time to emerge and bloom a bit, and if I don’t give them that time, they end up flat and belligerent. Also, it’s far too easy for a new character who was in no way planned to waltz in and steal my heart and way too much of my attention.

Your Thoughts

How do you get to know and develop your characters? Do they come to you fully formed, names and all, or do you have to build them bit by bit? Tell me about it in the comments!