Why Bother?

“The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.” – Henry Ford

Some days if I watch the news (which I rarely do) or read the paper (which I also rarely do) or hear from friends on either end of the political spectrum and all points in between, about the things happening in the world, I sink into depression about my own writing. As you know, I write mostly memoir. Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, the memoir I’m currently shopping to independent publishers, recounts my journey from mentally unstable couch potato to somewhat less mentally unstable marathoner.

Before that book, I spent a decade writing a memoir (still unpublished) about the last year of my father’s life. I’ve also written about my relationship with my mother and about an unusual situation in which a man lived on our sofa for two years when I was a child. My drawer of unpublished manuscripts also includes three novels, all romance-ish, but none involving topics of great importance. So when I learn of things happening in the “real” world, I sit at my desk and wonder why I bother. With chronic depression and extreme anxiety, becoming too involved does not suit my mental health. I’m not going to take up political writing or letters to the editor. Is my writing a waste of time?

But it dawned on me that, if nothing else, writing helps me heal my own world. I’m transformed when I connect with another person through words on a page. In writing all those books, the reading I’ve done and the writing itself, has made me a better person. It has given me a sense of purpose when I felt I had none. It’s given me a voice, forced me to think carefully about how I feel about certain subjects, and introduced me to worlds I would otherwise not know.

Hopefully, when the running book comes to fruition, it will also help others. As my friend, author Pat Snyder put it when I asked her why a publisher might want to publish my book, “You so believe in the healing power of running that you will bring to book promotion the same perseverance you showed in running those marathons.” That’s my intention.

But more importantly, this same theme is true of writing. I so believe in the healing power of writing that I will bring to my teaching and my publishing the same perseverance I have showed in continuing to write for twenty years with only limited success. It’s not always about the product.

So if you’re out there wondering if anything you are doing on the page will make a difference, ask yourself if it makes a difference to you. Yes, perhaps, like me, you hope to influence some people or to make a change in the world or at least entertain people and distract them for a bit. But more importantly, is writing saving your life the way it has saved mine? I’m pretty sure I know the answer.

Exuberant Imperfection

“The world is a lot more fun when you approach it with an exuberant imperfection.”  – Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo founder and author of No Plot? No Problem!

It’s day two of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) and I’m 1,704 words into the requisite 50,000 required during the thirty days of November. That number of words puts me a little behind, but the day’s not over and several write-ins are scheduled in the upcoming days which are guaranteed to boost my word count.

During NaNoWriMo, fellow wrimos (that’s what people who attempt the NaNoWriMo challenge call themselves) gather in a predetermined location to work seperately on their projects all at the same time. Tommorrow’s write-in will be held in a conference room in an office building. Sunday’s write-in is at a Panera restaurant community room. On Monday I’ll host a write-in at Colin’s, a locally-owned coffeeshop near my house. Other write-ins are scheduled throughout the month. If you live in central Ohio and are participating in NaNoWriMo, you can find the calendar here.

During five prior Novembers, I have written two memoirs and two novels (I wrote one of these novels twice) with the help of NaNoWriMo. I have not yet published any of these projects. They are in varying stages of doneness. My first NaNo project, the memoir about my father and I playing golf the last summer of his life, is the oldest and most complete book. Another author might have finished it years ago, but I am slow and perfectionistic. That’s part of why I adore NaNoWriMo. There is no time during November for the inner critic to take hold – at least, not if you want to win.

I am encouraged by visiting the Published NaNoWriMo Novels page. Scrolling the list, I see one hundred eighteen books created during NaNoWriMo that went on to be published, many by well-known publishing companies. I recognize several titles including Water for Elephants and The Night Circus. NaNoWriMo is a welcome, supportive structure in which to write. For me, it’s also a great adventure and a chance to reunite with friends I only see once a year. As a bonus, I get some work done!

How do you plan to get your writing work done this month? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

It’s Anxiety and There’s A Solution!

It’s Anxiety and There’s A Solution!

“Love is the spirit that motivates the artist’s journey.” – Eric Maisel

As anyone who reads my blog or receives the newsletter knows, I suffer from various forms of malaise that might be called “writer’s block.” As soon as I read the title Mastering Creative Anxiety, I knew this book would help. I ordered the book and began using the lessons immediately.

Why this book? First, the title alone properly identified the problem. According to creativity coach, Eric Maisel, I don’t actually have a block. What I have is anxiety around creating. I also grow anxious around some non-writing activities, but this was the first time I’d named what went on in my head when I sat down to write as anxiety.

Second, the book is practical. It offers twenty-two specific tools and examples of how to use them. I appreciate that Maisel gets to the solution quickly so I’m not muddling around. I already know I’ve got a problem. I want to know what to do about it.

Third, Maisel’s tone and strategies are both firm and kind. There’s no shame in this book and no slacking either. Gently, yet clearly, he explains that success depends on applying the suggestions.

Fourth, and possibly most important, Maisel addresses all the different aspects of the creative life and the appropriate tool for that stage in the process. One day I’m tackling the rough draft. One or two tools (including a technique very similar to writing practice) works for that. Another day I’m in the revision process. A different tool helps there. In the promotion process, still another method is offered. Realistically, the book approaches different aspects of creativity in different ways.

The jury is still out, of course. I am working on, but have not yet finished the current revisions nor once again taken up promotion which I set aside awhile back. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, do you recognize anxiety in your process? If so, what techniques work for you in the various stages of the writing life? I’d love to hear about it.

The True Secret of Writing

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

Wouldn’t it be nice to discover the actual, honest to goodness, true secret of writing? Natalie Goldberg even teaches a workshop by that title. I attended it and while I found it extremely helpful, it wasn’t a total fix. I’m not sure there is a secret. See, writing is a moving target. Each time I come up with a plan, it works for a while then stops. Today’s solution is tomorrow’s waste of time.

Right now, it’s working if I focus on quantity, not quality. I gave the book about my father and I (working title MEMORIAL) to a literary consultant. She gave it back covered in questions. Three hundred and nine questions to be precise. If I thought about all 309 questions at once, I would scream. Instead, I’m allowing myself to work one question at a time. If I finish three questions in a session, that’s huge. And I don’t worry about the quality of what I’m writing. It’s all about quantity. For now, this is working. When it stops working or when I finish question 309, I’ll come up with another strategy.

What’s working for you right now? I’d love to hear about it.