Trudging Through Sludge

It creeps under doorways, rises through vents, incorporating everything and everyone in its path, zapping them of energy, physical and mental. It’s a destroyer of focus and productivity, causing its victims to write at a snail’s pace, stare at blank screens, and abandon projects. I call it the Sludge, and I’ve been trying to wade through it for ages now.

Sludge

I briefly escaped it when I traveled across the country to write in a cabin with a bunch of other writers (several of whom were also traveling to escape the Sludge.) I hoped that maybe while I was away, the Sludge would get bored and move somewhere else. But no, it had waited patiently back at home, and was there to greet me again when I returned.

I tried to convince it to go with threats of Camp NaNoWriMo word counts, but it laughed in my face and gave me the flu. It knows I can’t write when I have the flu. Then the dreaded Spring Break arrived and the two teamed up. There’s no wading through a combo of Sludge and Spring Break—what was originally the thickness of molasses hardened into clay. I’ve written very, very little during the last three weeks.

There’s a trick to fighting the Sludge though, if you’re patient. You know how in old movies, the protagonist would fall into quick sand, and the more they struggled, the deeper they would sink? Eventually they would realize that if they stopped struggling, they’d float back up to the top where they could reach a vine or outstretched hand that would bring them back to safety. The Sludge is kind of like that. The more you stress about how little you’re writing, the harder it becomes to write, until eventually, you’re not writing at all.

I’ve found that I do better if I stop thinking about it much. If I just ride along on the surface of the Sludge and let it carry me to wherever it’s trying to go, it will eventually float me to a branch that I can use to pull myself out. I stop worrying about word counts, and just ask myself if I’ve written at all that day. Or heck, if I’ve even opened up my document and looked at it, if I’ve thought about it at all while showering or doing the dishes—if I haven’t abandoned it completely, that’s good enough for now. And eventually, if I keep at it in just such a way, the Sludge will slink away for a while and let me get back to work.

Have you ever been taken over by the Sludge? How did you handle it? Or, if you’re currently trudging through it, I hope this has helped you to know you’re not alone, and eventually, you’ll find your way back out.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

The World is Wide Enough: Rethinking the “-er” and the “-est”

 

April TTOF

We are all storytellers here, and today’s post is about my most recent experiences with one specific form of storytelling: live theater.

Due to ridiculous good fortune and a particularly skilled friend, I found myself in possession of a (reasonably priced!) ticket to see one of the very first performances of Hamilton in San Francisco. It’s still hard for me to put into words how perfect it was–the staging, the acting, the music, the story itself. I found myself thinking, “That may be the best performance I’ve seen. Of anything. Ever.”

What could possibly follow an experience like that? Would everything pale in comparison? Perhaps I should give up on theater, because what could ever hope to compete?

Luckily, my kids had already been cast in a children’s production of Once On This Island, and there was more theater in my immediate future. As I write this, we’re twenty-four hours from closing night, and I still haven’t made it through the final number without tearing up. It’s a beautiful show.

As I reflect on these two very different productions, I’ve also been thinking of a conversation I had recently with a wise grandmother. She told me of how she’s seeking to eliminate “the ‘-er’ and ‘-est'” from her conversations with her grandkids and even from her own thoughts. Rather than asking them, “What was the best part of the trip?” she asks, “What did you love about the trip?” Rather than evaluating her staff in terms of who is better at their job, she considers what strengths each of her employees brings to the workplace.

There is certainly a place for comparison and even ranking in certain facets of life, but ever since that conversation, I’ve been increasingly aware of how limited the need actually is. When anything is placed as superior, in terms of relationships or experiences or works of art, by necessity, something also becomes inferior.

Here’s what I propose:

What if we eliminate the comparison and ranking from our lives as much as we possibly can? Easier said than done, of course, but how powerful would it be to look at our experiences–and our work–in terms of what we love and what we learn? To approach our storytelling with a respect for and awareness of all the stories that have come before and all that will follow–but without worrying how ours will rank among them? To recognize that the world is truly wide enough for us all? Would we then tell our stories for more pure reasons, rather than for purposes of a bigger advance, a potential award that designates our work as “better”, a secret (or not-so-secret) desire to earn the rank of “bestsesller”?

Tomorrow night, I will watch from the wings as forty bright, beautiful children sing these words with strong voices and hopeful hearts:

Life is why
We tell the story
Pain is why
We tell the story
Love is why
We tell the story
Grief is why
We tell the story
Hope is why
We tell the story
Faith is why
We tell the story
You are why
We tell the story

~ “Why We Tell The Story”, Once On This Island

Nourish yourself and your story, then, my friends, without any worry of whether it is best or better in comparison to everything else out there or even than what you’ve written before. Put your whole self into your story, and when you’ve done that, again and again, let it be enough.

And it will be.


profile-picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (out now!) and PAPER CHAINS (coming fall 2017) from HarperCollins. She loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

 

Writer, Care For Thyself

I’ve almost written this post dozens of times. Really, I’ve written it several times then read it through and deleted because, well, because I don’t really open myself up to people easily. I have about half a dozen close friends who get to know things that are really real about me, and most everyone else gets some guarded version.

But this is an issue I’ve been talking about with my kids, something I’ve told them I want to be open about because there could be genetic markers in me that will pass on to them. And I decided I wanted to tell you, dear reader, about it now because while we aren’t related, there are propensities within living and experiencing a creative life that tend to bring issues that may lie dormant to the surface, and when we pretend they don’t, people end up in bad places or worse.

It’s been a little over a year since I had two doctors confirm my suspicions that depression, a pestering presence that had come and gone from my life like an invisible Rumpelstiltskin, was indeed back, and that even though I’d named it, this pesky jerk wasn’t going to stamp its foot and fall through the floor and out of my life.

Since then, I’ve paid close attention to my mood, my progress, my ability to work and laugh and deal with complicated things. I know that I need to be very mindful of sleep – that fatigue is probably my most dangerous trigger. I know that medication has helped but not cured me. And recently, I learned that out-of-whack hormones can pull my personal Rumpelstiltskin up out of the floor and place him loudly in my headspace with speed not possible in any fairy tale version.

I actually have writing to thank for my realization that I needed help. I was sitting at a critique partner’s house with my writing group and we were brainstorming ways to show that a character has depression without being cliché. We started naming things and when I was driving home that night, the conversation continued to replay in my mind, bringing with it the realization that everything we mentioned I’d experienced, often and recently.

Love always wins

Like the character we were creating, the thing that I learned the most, and that is particularly pertinent to readers of TTOF and all aspiring writers is that depression isn’t just feeling sad. It isn’t just wanting to stay in bed. It isn’t just dark rooms and Netflix. It has moments of that, of course, but it also has moments of trudging through what needs to be done because it needs to be done. It’s moments of still putting fingers on the keyboard because I told my critique group that I’d send pages. It’s celebrating that I wrote 100 words in a day and understanding that THAT progress came at great effort, took nearly two hours, and deserves to be acknowledged.

Since my diagnosis, I have had two very dear friends come face to face with their own mental complications.  Each of theirs manifests differently than mine (anxiety for both them), but being a little dysfunctional together has taught each of us how to be a little more patient, tolerant, and understanding.

But not all writers have mental health issues. Some have physical health issues, sometimes that become more pronounced as hours of sitting in front of the screen lead to the discovery that all of a treat was eaten in that sitting or that nothing was eaten all day. Sometimes just the unpredictability of the writing world can throw a person off balance and while dealing with little bits of stress is something most of us are good at, none of us are immune to the unpredictable whirlwinds of writing, and none of us can escape this force of energy unscathed.

Whether you have been diagnosed, suspect there may be a need to reach out, or are simply navigating this world and creative endeavor to the best of your ability, it is essential that writers take time to care for themselves. I know several writers who achieve clarity of mind and perspective through running, others who have adopted yoga or meditation, some who take a break from writing to engage in another creative practice, and still others who go through self-care rituals ranging from pedicures to massages to energy work.

The thing that we have to remember is that when we are writing, we are pouring a little bit of ourselves into our work. In order to share what we have with others, we need to make sure that we have fixed the holes in our metaphorical vessel that inevitably come from daily living and that we are finding a way to continue to refill that vessel. Additionally, when you do realize there are fissures and cracks creeping into and along our mind, our self, our well-being, please please please remember that it takes broken things a long time to heal, and that healed doesn’t always mean better.

Finally, if you like me have a — ahem — streak of stubbornness that makes you think you can heal yourself, go ahead and give it a shot. But give yourself a time frame, a point at which you will get help. And tell someone. Peer pressure can be bad, but it can also be good. Find that friend, that family member, that confidant who you can talk to, be honest with, and when they ask how you are doing, don’t say fine if you aren’t fine.

Because the straws of stories within you can only be turned to gold by you.

How do you care for yourself? 

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profileTasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.

13 Ways to Get OUT of Your Writerly Funk

FUNKSometimes we have a retreat, and we want to write ALLLLLLL the words ALLLLL day, but we get there, and… our brains don’t cooperate.

Sometimes we’re trying to finish a project over several months time, and it’s just not…happening.

 

Here are few tips to help you reset and start writing again:

1. Take a break. I know there are a TON of writers who say you have to write every day. You do not have to write every day. And most importantly, you need to not feel guilty about taking breaks. (If you’re at a retreat, don’t be afraid to step away from the computer for a while).

2. Remember that publishing is not personal. Sometimes passes (the nice way to say rejections) can get you down, but you HAVE to keep in mind that it’s the RIGHT project, in front of the RIGHT person, at the RIGHT time. That’s a lot of things that have to fall into place for a YES. Move forward. Prove them wrong.

3. Sometimes we have this precious chunk of time – a couple hours with a babysitter, or away from work, or at a writing retreat, and the words just aren’t coming. Remember there are a TON of non-writing things you can do to move your MS forward. Character sketches, character and setting pictures, storyboards, use a pacing or plotting tool to set up where your story is going next… Just because you’re not putting WORDS into your story, doesn’t mean you’re not putting WORK into your story.

4. Pick ONE thing you know is coming up in your story, and write that – even if it doesn’t come next, which brings me to…

5. Don’t be afraid to write out of order. Now, if you write the ending early on, chances are you’ll have to redo it when you get there, but it gives you SOMETHING to write. Sometimes writing ANYTHING will lubricate that sticky brain.

6. THEATER EXERCISES! Look up breathing, and characterization exercises. Getting into your character’s head can be a brilliant way to unlock those words, which leads me to…

7. Write something unrelated from your MC’s point of view. Maybe an essay on their thoughts after the end of the novel. Maybe an essay or their thoughts on one of the things you’ve put in your story to torture them.

8. Ask yourself, Did I make this big enough? The plot, the plot points, my main character – will be people be rooting for this to work out? Is there something else I can do?

9. Set the mood: Gum, snacks, drinks, music, smells… Maybe go a step further and pick stuff your MC would like.

10. Prep before your writing time. Try to think ahead…

11. Set a timer – YOU HAVE TO WRITE ANYTHING FOR XX MINUTES, and then you can break.

12. MOVE YOUR BODY. I promise that moving your body, lubricates your mind. Yoga, walking, stretching, running, swimming, biking… Bonus if it’s something your MC would like too 😉

13. DON’T PANIC. Finding yourself in a funk happens to everyone 🙂

HAPPY WRITING!!

~ Jolene

17361785_1313033622107898_5983686946276267719_nJolene Perry writes YA fiction for AW Teen and Simon Pulse. She writes about writing on BEEN WRITING? And you can stalk her on her website HERE. She’s also the vice-chair for the LDStorymakers Conference. YOU SHOULD COME…. Join the Tribe…

 

 

Focus

I have a slight (okay, huge) problem with staying focused on tasks that I don’t want to do. Sometimes it’s because I find a task boring–like housework. Or it’s repetitive, or I don’t see the point, or . . . I love it, and I find it interesting, and I want to do it, buuuuuuuut it’s hard.

Writing, you guys. Writing is hard. I love writing, but it’s hard. So hard. It is, I might even  go so far as to say, quite difficult.

Whenever I get stuck for words, or I’m not quite sure how I want to go about writing the next scene, that’s it, my brain’s like “this is HARD,” and I’m off clicking on social media, checking my texts, getting up to grab a snack I don’t need, etc. But I’ve been trying a few things to help with this problem, and I thought I’d share them with you in case you have a similar issue.

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1. Meditation

Meditation is basically just training your brain to focus, and you don’t have to do it for very long each day. I’ve been using an app called Headspace to help me out. It does require a subscription to be able to use all of it, but the Take-Ten (10 minute) beginner/training sessions are free. There are also other apps out there–a quick search in your app store will bring up many. But you don’t even need an app for the basics. Just find a quiet, comfortable spot (sitting, preferably, so you don’t get too relaxed and fall asleep) and focus on your breathing. Count your breaths in your head, if that helps. And whenever you notice that your mind is wandering (and it will), just gently acknowledge that and bring it back to focus on your breaths again. I try to do this before I sit down to write, and it really helps a lot.

2. Physical Activity

Again, it doesn’t take much. A brisk walk or some yoga, or even just dropping to the floor and doing a few pushups can help get the blood flowing to your brain and increase your ability to concentrate. I will often do some stretches or pushups between writing sprints.

3. Less Caffeine

Wait . . . WHAT?!

Yes, I know. I’m a writer. Don’t writer’s practically bleed caffeine? I used to, but I just can’t do it anymore. Too much caffeine sends my brain into hyper drive, and makes it more difficult for me to reign it in. I do need some in the morning, however, to jumpstart my day. so I’ve started making my morning cup with one scoop of caffeinated grounds, and one scoop of decaf. That combo is perfect for me. You might need to do some adjusting to figure out the right balance for you.

4. Set up a Permanent Writing Space

. . . and be consistent about writing there. I’ve had a writing desk set up for quite a while, actually, but the couch is so comfy, you know? And so, until recently, I rarely ever wrote at my desk, preferring my laptop, a cozy blanket, and my sofa. It’s no wonder writing often made me sleepy. As soon as I lost focus, I’d often opt for a nap (and no, this has nothing to do with the reduction in caffeine–couches just make me want to nap no matter what, so don’t even go there.) Not only that, but the living room is where we watch TV and play games, and mine’s connected to an open kitchen where I can see all the dishes that are piling up, not to mention mail and papers and . . . you see what I’m getting at? It’s distracting because it’s associated with many different things, and they’re all competing for my attention.  My writing desk, however, is tucked away in this weird little nook in the hallway that the builders thought needed to be there for some reason, and it’s away from the chaos of the rest of the house. Everything on and around my desk reminds me either of my writing, or the things that have inspired my writing (like my T.A.R.D.I.S. and my Mulder and Scully Pop figurines.) If I consistently choose to write at my desk, my brain will associate that spot with writing only. And so far, it’s working really well.

So those are the main things that have helped me focus and stay on task as a writer. I hope you find them helpful too, and if you happen to have any other tips, I’d love it if you’d share them in the comments.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Protecting Your Mental and Emotional Health

Writing careers have ups and downs. The downs often feel like plunging into a dark abyss, while the ups are tiny anthills, few and far between. 2016 was not my favorite year for writing. (It was also not my favorite year for a bunch of other reasons, but I digress). My goal of selling another manuscript did not happen, though plenty of rejections did. I didn’t finish even a rough draft of the shiny new story idea that seemed so promising.

I failed.

Cue the tragic violins, the self-loathing and despair. Writing sucks and I suck and I quit everything, the end.

When fellow contributor Emily R. King emailed a few weeks back to ask about our writing highs of the year, I didn’t reply because I was embarrassed. I talked myself into believing that I hadn’t done a single productive thing the entire year.

But it isn’t true. I was so busy beating myself up mentally that I forgot about the stuff I did accomplish: I finished and revised a totally separate manuscript. I revised another, older manuscript that was close to my heart. And I completed a month-long marketing campaign for the paperback release of my novel that was way, WAY out of my comfort zone–and I didn’t die!

protecting-health-pic

We take this writing gig so seriously, take it to heart so deeply. It’s hard to separate it as just a job because the act of creation is so personal. And it’s easy to focus on our perceived failures for the very same reason.

Depression casts a long shadow over this profession. So many of my writing friends struggle with it. My own diagnosis in 2015 made me realize how critical it is to seek help. Treatment drastically improved my quality of life. In some cases it may even save a life.

But there are other threats to our emotional and mental well-being. They can take many forms, chipping away at our most vulnerable defenses. Every day I wrestle with three in particular: jealousy, isolation, and the fiction of failure.

Jealousy

The green-eyed monster ate me up in 2016, I’m ashamed to say. It is a foul, drooling, greedy beast. It skews reality, comparing the worst of ourselves with the best of everyone else. And then that word, that evil little word, becomes a daily mantra: fair. It’s not fair. It feeds on all the genuine happiness you feel for your friends’—and strangers’—successes, and twists it into something ugly but all too human.

Social media has made it possible for us to feel envy 24/7. All that good news, just a click away! But there is an easy fix. Take a break. Turn it off, even just for a day or two. When I do this I feel an immediate sense of freedom and peace, allowing a calmer, more rational perspective to prevail.

Isolation

By and large, we writers are an introverted lot. Our profession involves sitting alone in front of a keyboard for hours at a time, and we like it that way. But when we emerge from the fog of writing, we need a support system: people who ground us, who love us, who keep us sane so our writing can come from a healthy and productive place.

Whether it’s a spouse, a writing group, a parent, a neighbor, or even an online forum, there is no substitute for someone who will be there to listen and support us no matter what. They remind us that our writing, at its glorious best and moldering worst, is not us.

The Fiction of Failure

Deep inside my mind is a cruel, clever voice that insults me every waking hour of the day. Sometimes it whispers. More often it shouts, drowning out all rational thought. One of its favorite topics is the many and varied ways that I’ve failed at writing. But it’s just as happy to bring up regrets, fears, personal appearance, and pretty much any inadequacy real or imagined.

If we have no defenses in place to counteract this voice, pretty soon we start to believe it.

We can arm ourselves with ammunition against the lies. Compliments that others have paid. Milestones we’ve achieved. Strengths we possess. Write them down if necessary—maybe a sticky note on the computer, or a giant poster on the wall. Yes, the voice is crafty. Yes, it has a gift with words.

But so do we.

Above all, we must be kind to ourselves. Goals are guidelines. They are not measuring sticks to tally up all our shortcomings—and they are not weapons to beat ourselves over the head with. Best of all, they are not set in stone, but can be altered to suit the changing circumstances of our writing lives.
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Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.

The End and the New Beginning

You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” – Ray Bradbury

“Rejected pieces aren’t failures; unwritten pieces are.” – Greg Daugherty

“It’s okay.” -Me

Well it’s December which means the year is nearly over. For some that brings about panic as they try to get done all they set out to do this year. For others however this is a sigh of relief. I fall into the latter category.

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This year challenged me in a writerly sense (shut up, it’s a word). From my job description changing which deprived me of the normal hours of writing to a mental health crisis that left me devoid of any intention of crawling into my usual safe space of ink and words.

Also at the beginning of the year I was offered a deal to have my book published by a small press. All was looking good and then…well, nothing happened. But to be honest if I had signed a contract there’s no way I would have the book ready.

Writers get used to rejection and heartaches. It’s part of the job requirements. So I decided to take these setbacks and see what I could learn from them.

I learned how to make better use of my time. Spare moments are now my best time to write. Taking notes at a stop light, a few paragraphs at lunch, anywhere and anytime.

I learned to keep writing. Art and writing helped my daughter and me get through her mental health episode. Sharing creativity brought us even closer, and we learned how to speak through our collective creativity no matter how difficult the conversation may be.

Finally I learned that I can forge my own destiny. So much of my time and energy had been placed in the idea of being traditionally published that I was blinded to other avenues to get my story out. From what I heard from agents and publishers they really enjoyed it but had no idea how to sell it. So why can’t I just worry about that part? If I can survive this year then being passionate about my writing and figuring out sales should be easier.

Those are just a few things I’ve learned from this year. Have you learned anything about yourself? Just remember it’s okay. You’ll be okay.
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Matt Williams is an avid reader, a collector of many pens, an ever improving father of two, and an all-around fanboy. When he’s not wrestling with cats or a long commute you can find him hunkered down writing something imaginative. He’s working on publishing his first book Beyond Here, a middle grade story involving a coma and a singing flower with a bent stem sometime in 2016, along with a few projects with his other daughter.