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The Write Life: Writing in Community

I’ve recently been focused on mental health, and since I write all the time, how mental health relates to—and sometimes hinders—writing. While I’ve discussed many methods I use to maintain productivity and focus (and will be doing so again in a workshop on June 12), and ways to repackage and reevaluate my goals to keep my outlook positive, one thing I haven’t talked much about is community.

Writing is most often a solo pursuit. Unless you’re working with a co-author, writers spend a lot of time engaged in the solitary activity of translating thoughts into words. (And even if you do work with a co-author, your process still might involve a lot of independent writing.) Writers can spend a lot of time thinking, writing, and revising without input from anyone else—let alone input from colleagues who understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, or how to do it better.

Without that outside input—without a community of other people who “get” it—writing can be very lonely.

Which is one reason I rely on and love creative writing communities. (And, okay, may be one reason I wind up running far too many of them, too.)

While the big communities of hundreds of people can be great for pooling resources and finding out what’s going on in publishing or best practices for querying, self-publishing, or any other writing topic, it’s easy to get lost in all those posts and walk away with knowledge but no connection. So, the type of community I think is most helpful from a writing and mental health perspective is a small community in which you’re expected to get to know and interact with other writers on a more personal level.

The community that’s been the best for me is my local, in-person writing group Central Florida Inklings. Pre-pandemic, we met once a week at Starbucks for two to three hours of writing. Being in person and having a flexible routine meant there was a lot of cross-chatter and friendship. During the pandemic, we switched to an online format, which thinned our ranks a bit as some writers need the in-person push and others had to increase their self-care, but it also allowed me to increase the number of weekly meetings. We currently have four regular meeting times with sporadic others, providing consistent check-ins with other writers.

We talk about our current writing (and publishing) struggles, assist with brainstorming, and offer much needed support and confidence boosting. Being around and having access to other people who understand how it feels when I can’t get a sentence right, or who can offer a new resource for inspiration helps keep me writing on tough days. And having that nearly daily writing session set up in advance? There’s no question about when I’ll write because I need to show up for my community.

We had an in-person gathering last month, which was the first time we’ve been together since last August. Being face to face with these writers and friends eased my heart and bolstered my mental health. We, uh, didn’t actually do much writing, but being with my community again helped in a different way, and the next time we’re together, I’m sure we’ll all write more.

If you’ve been struggling to write in isolation—or if you’ve been moderately successful but are not yet where you want to be—I recommend finding a writing group. You can check out the big communities on Facebook or Twitter and see who you gel with, or just look around your writer friends and see if you can pull together a support group. Whatever you do, find some writer friends! It just might change your writing life. (I know it changed mine.)

 

 

If you haven’t seen it elsewhere, I started a podcast! My writing partner KL! and I are hosting a podcast about writing and inspiration called Story Kernels. In each episode, we take a writing prompt and develop it into a story, walking you through the process of creation (and working in collaboration). New episodes upload on Thursdays throughout the summer.

You can catch episodes on our website, Patreon, or by subscribing on your favorite podcatcher.

 

 

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

Reconnect with Your Writing Life (Workshop)

Whether pandemic, politics, or other difficulties have drained your energy and flattened your mental health, it can be difficult to create when you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or another problem that messes with your executive function.

I have absolutely been there. In 2012 I was diagnosed with situational depression, a decline I could graph in relation to my writing output. I wrote sporadically while I sought help and treatment, and as I began to feel better, wanted to reconnect to my writing life. But I was so far out of practice, I had lost my confidence, I had changed as a writer, and my mental health still kind of sucked. So, I couldn’t just dive back in. I had to figure out a new way to write, find strategies to “trick” myself into letting go, and most importantly—I had to figure out how to focus on writing and not run away!

If you’ve been struggling to reconnect to your writing life, join me for a workshop where I teach the practices and exercises I used to get back to writing, and share my secrets for reconnecting to your abandoned writing project. I’ve continued using these practices as I deal with anxiety and PTSD, so they’re not just to get you started, they’ll keep you going, too!

Start reconnecting with your writing life:
Sunday, June 12
1–3pm Eastern Time
Click here to register.

Get your ticket for this virtual workshop and don’t let your mental health detract from your writing life any longer.

A portion of every ticket goes to support the writing group Central Florida Inklings, who host this and other writing workshops.

The Write Life: Redefining a Failure

Sometimes there is no sugar-coating life, and our best-laid plans crumble into failure. That’s what happened to me this past April after signing up for a writing boot camp at SavvyAuthors called One Scene a Day. I started the month with the best intentions of shoving my way through a huge chunk of my novel, or at least participating in the daily check-ins, and weekly lessons and activities.

On April 1st, I replied to the welcome post, stated my intentions, and did my best to keep up with the daily writing.

Uh, by April 3rd I was struggling to get into my novel and rethinking where I could start and how I could do this—but I was still definitely going to do it!!

And by April 7th I had totally abandoned the check-ins, though I made plans with a friend to send her what I’d written each day. I also finally found a way into my novel (by skipping Chapter 1 entirely).

And then I was distracted by Flights of Foundry and stopped pretending I was going to do that boot camp because I had already fallen far enough behind to understand not that I was a failure, but that this wasn’t a good way for me to work.

Many times when we attempt a routine or schedule as a creative and it fails, we assume there’s something wrong with us and we turn that frustration inward, blaming ourselves. We can walk away with the wrong message, thinking that our failure means we’ll never be able to write a novel or live a creative life or be successful. But a failure at a specific creative process doesn’t mean a failure in creativity, it means that process doesn’t work for you. Speed drafting DOES NOT work for me. I knew that from participating in NaNoWriMo, but thought the structure of this workshop would allow enough breathing space that I could do it. Instead, I learned something else about myself:

It takes me a lot of time to get into a project.

So, starting with Chapter 1 wasn’t working for me. And then expecting myself to sprint through Chapter 2 was also not working for me. You know what is working for me? Writing 100 words or so every day. I’m still in Chapter 2, but I have a start now, and I’ve reconfigured the arrangement with my friend to send her my writing for the week (rather than day by day). When I get into the draft and can go faster, we’ll increase the number of check-ins per week, but for now I’m accepting where I am, redefining this “failure,” and making adjustments to my process so that I can make progress without feeling frustrated.

The key to having a writing life is figuring out what works for you and not comparing yourself to anyone else.

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Speaking of workshops and writing, I’m teaching a free virtual workshop later this month called Write Time Travel Fiction. If you’re interested in writing about time travel, I’ll be exploring both the hand-wavey and theoretical science that sends your characters into the timestream and how you can use time travel to tell a story. You can register (again for FREE) at OCLS. (No library card is needed, just leave that bit blank.)

 

 

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

The Write Life: Finding Focus

My writing life has been very scattered of late. While I still have writing time planned daily and I haven’t broken my streak (still at least 250 words a day every day, just like the last several years), what I’ve been working on has been haphazard. After I finished my last writing project in early March, I’ve been struggling to focus on the next project.

  • I’ve started an outline and draft for another writing workshop.
  • I’ve revisited my next novel outline and taken a few notes on what threads I may need to reevaluate as I draft.
  • I’ve dawdled with a new short story.
  • And I’ve drafted the beginnings of a few new blog posts.

But I’ve had a lot of difficulty sticking with anything. (Or finishing anything, as you might have noticed how many times I said “started” or “beginning” in that list.)

The end of last year and beginning of this year has been really rough on my mental health. I’m starting to come out of the worst of it and am reassessing my schedules and routines to find better ways to ground and care for myself. (Sleep. Sleep has been a BIG problem.) But it’s difficult to focus on writing when my mental health is so out of whack. (Not to mention that the lack of sleep finally caught up with me and I’m sick for the first time in two years.)

A writing life is about a lot more than ideas in the brainpan and words on the page. It encompasses a whole lot of other things—priorities, time management, mental and physical health. When one of those things is out of whack, it’s hard to have a bountiful and satisfying writing life. I mean, the mechanical side is there—I’m putting words on the page every day—but the focus to finish and the confidence to keep going through a hiccup? Those are the things I’m struggling with.

When I’m experiencing this kind of struggle, I allow myself a little grace, focusing on just 250 words per day and not pushing beyond that. I also release my grip on “what counts” as writing and am more likely to include stream-of-conscious brainstorming, notes, and questions. (Hey, all those words eventually get me to the finished story, so why not count them?) The last thing I do—and the thing that often helps the most during these times of struggle—is I follow my attention.

If I want to capture the ideas for a presentation on writing time travel fiction (slotted for May with the Orange County Public Library, register here for the virtual workshop), I work on that instead of the project I’m “supposed” to be working on. That allows me to capture some of the excess thoughts cluttering my head and reduces the number of things distracting me. Hopefully I only need to do this for a day or two, and then I can resume my regularly scheduled writing. (But sometimes it takes more time to get a brain back on track.)

These little “vacations” are what I do instead of taking a break from my words, but for anyone not chaining together a consecutive streak of thousands of days of writing—a break is probably a really good idea!

Mostly this month I’ve been working on ways to bring my physical and mental health in line, including drinking more water, making more time for mindfulness, and doing my very best to accept that some days any effort is my best effort.

What have you been doing to care for yourself in your writing life?

 

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

The Write Life: Time for a Break

Sometimes you just have to admit you’ve reached the end of your rope. Which is where I am right now (and why this post is much shorter than usual). I’ve been pushing myself through deadlines, frustrations, responsibilities, dropped balls, anxiety attacks, creative blocks, and every kind of doubt known to writers. It’s not healthy! And I need a break from all that.

Rather than continue to push myself and draft a lackluster post that makes little sense, I’m taking a break and I invite you to do the same.

If you’d like a suggestion for what to do with your new-found break time, I recommend taking a walk. A couple weekends ago I wandered around a local cemetery (as any good vampire-steampunk should do on occasion) and took pictures of the water features. What might you find when you go exploring?

 

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

The Write Life: Writing from a Dry Well

Woof. As far as months go, this one has been stressful.

I’d like to claim it was good stress, the kind that causes me to dig deep and get things done, but mostly it was the kind that drains my energy and leaves writing time as struggle time.

Boats on a dry river.

Photo by Chester Ho on Unsplash

Other responsibilities, lots of piling work, emotional decisions, health concerns, invitations to socialize, and an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion all left me with a case of creative burnout. I struggled to translate thoughts into words. I felt like I didn’t have the time to devote to complicated projects. I was easily distracted and found making narrative decisions a challenge. Some days I looked at the open document and just sighed heavily and felt a gigantic “no” welling in my chest.

Those are tough feelings to carry as a creative, especially one working on their seventh consecutive year of daily writing!

But I am still working on that streak, so I was able to write, despite drawing from a creative well that felt scraped clean.

  • One of my tried-and-true methods of writing when I’m feeling drained is to work on something easier. “Easier” for me often means blog and Patreon posts or other nonfiction writing. Sometimes it also means planning a novel, rather than drafting one. (Writing a synopsis that can meander and have terrible ideas is a lot easier than crafting scenes that have to connect.)

    Frequently if I can get 10 or 20 minutes of the easier project done, I’ll feel warmed up enough to tackle the more complicated project, or I’ll have hit a word count that makes me feel comfortable spending time on a project that involves thought more than words. (This is the trade-off for having yearly and monthly word count goals, by the way.)

  • Another method that frequently works is to grab a writing prompt and start something new. A writing prompt is a fresh start with no baggage. That level of freedom can be easier to interact with than a project I’ve been contemplating or working on for a long time. Sometimes those doors opening to an empty space feel more inviting than a half-decorated room, and it’s easier to put pen to page and draft some words to warm up for the day.

    I admit, when I first started using prompts this way, I struggled with feeling like I was wasting my time because not all of those starts turn into finished stories. It required a shift in my thinking to allow myself room for creative play and to accept that sometimes what I need is free range across a blank page with no expectations—including no expectations of producing finished work. (That said, I have turned at least one prompt into a finished story in the last year, and there are a few others I’m still thinking about, so that’s not a waste at all!)

  • Writing long-hand instead of working on my computer is another way of freeing myself. My computer is where so many of my responsibilities live, so sometimes it’s distracting to use as my main writing tool. (That’s also why I try to do tasks in specific locations—editing at my desk, writing in my bedroom, etc.) Switching my writing tool can unlock the part of my brain held captive by my exhaustion and other responsibilities. A notebook, or sometimes my iPad, can offer a different view on what writing looks like and provide the fresh water I need to refill my creative cup.

It’s been a struggle to write daily this month with everything else going on, but day by day I’ve been getting it done by using one of these tools when things got a little tough and I needed to rely on something more than my own stubbornness.

 

 

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

The Write Life: Writing Without a Block

Writer’s block is the bane of writers. And even though some people claim it doesn’t exist, it is totally real. It shows up in the wake of poor mental health, exhaustion, overwhelm, doubt, and a hundred other things that can distract and deplete our creative energies and focus.

If you’ve ever stared at a page and didn’t know how to start…

If you’ve ever been unable to decide what a character should do next (or written six versions of what could come next and still aren’t happy)…

If you’ve ever flipped through prompt after prompt with nothing inspiring you…

If you’ve ever deleted everything you wrote immediately after a writing session…

…then you’ve experienced writer’s block.

There is no one, overarching solution to writer’s block. Each kind of writer’s block needs to be treated in a different way, and each writer will respond differently to the possible solutions.

These days, though, I’ve largely been writing without a block, so perhaps I’ve discovered a shield that prevents writer’s block from moving in and taking over. For me, it’s being a daily writer.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

This shield didn’t develop overnight, but in the last six years of writing daily, I’ve gained more confidence in my ability to consistently produce. Because I practice writing every day and constantly reconnect with my creativity (and force myself to connect with my creativity), I have confidence that I know how to use those skills at the drop of a hat and that I can use those skills. A lot of the creative doubt around the question can I? has been alleviated because of that daily habit. (Do I still have doubts about success? Absolutely! Boy howdy, do I.)

The daily practice also has given me more experience figuring out what inspires me and what to do with inspiration. When I’m feeling creatively dry, I have a larger, more specialized well from which to draw new energy and more strategies for combining and developing ideas into stories.

I still experience creative blocks—an inability to decide what comes next, feeling lackluster about creation, not knowing where to start—but because I’m forming a chain of days of writing, I’m more likely to try, even if I’m feeling very meh about the creative process as a whole. Also, because I write daily, I usually have multiple projects to consider, so I can spend time away from a blocked project and make progress on something else. Being able to switch tasks means the writer’s block never takes control, and I’m able to work through the problem while it’s small rather than scrambling when it’s overwhelming.

Exhaustion is the one thing being a daily writer can’t cure—and in some cases it can create exhaustion and creative burnout more easily. But I can still take a break by writing less to maintain my habit and let myself rest and refuel. Overall, daily writing has helped my creative process and production, and I experience writer’s block much less frequently than I did when I was writing sporadically.

Is writing daily right for you? It may not be, but if you look through the list of benefits, you may figure out how to develop a writer’s block shield for yourself and be as well-equipped as I am while honoring your own creative process.

 

 

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

The Write Life: The Mountain Is So Tall

When you’re starting out in a writing career, it’s easy to look and see what’s at the top of the mountain. Publication! That goal is easy to see, and the path to that goal is easy to figure out: write a book, get an agent, get published. So, you start walking that path by working on a book.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Writing a book isn’t easy, and you knew it wasn’t easy, and that’s okay. This is the first step to the long-term goal and even this is a long-term goal because it can take a long time to write a book. Or rewrite a book. Or rewrite a book again. (And again.) But that’s okay, it’s all okay, because you knew what you were getting into.

But then you’ve got a book, and it’s good, so you start querying agents. And there’s not a problem with the book, there’s a problem with the timing, specifically in that the market isn’t ripe to support your book. Which means you’ll need to write a different book to get an agent. But you can still do something with this current book because self-publishing is an option.

Now the path up the mountain includes writing a new novel to get an agent and self-publishing a book. You’ll need to write (and rewrite) the next book. You’ll need to learn more about self-publishing, including the technical aspects of putting the files together and marketing a book. But it’s okay, you can do this. You already had an idea for another book and have some resources to tap about self-publishing. You knew the path up the mountain wasn’t necessarily straight and there would be deviations along the way, that’s fine. It’s fine.

But now that you’ve started up the mountain, it’s harder to see the top because you’re on the mountain. The easiest things to see are the path ahead of you and that it’s much farther to the top than it looked from the bottom. The mountain is so tall, and it’s going to take longer to reach the top than you thought it would.

 

This is the analogy I used recently to describe how I was feeling to my therapist. The mountain is just so tall, and right now I’m feeling overwhelmed and tired. Those are hard feelings to manage in a creative career because there is so much pressure to keep creating. I feel like I don’t have time to be overwhelmed or tired, and I have to keep going. If I crawl, I’m still making progress, right?

Ha. I’m fairly certain my therapist doesn’t think that’s the healthiest mind set. She frequently reminds me that I have to make room for self-care, which, for a writer, that includes refueling the creative well and leaving time for my brain to rest and cogitate on new ideas. It might mean not writing for a while, or not writing the thing I’m “supposed” to write. Even though I know this, and even though I repeat these reminders to myself, it’s hard to remember because the mountain is just so tall.

 

 

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

The Write Life: Escaping September

September was another long, weird month that seemed to drag so much more than the summer. (I’m still constantly thinking it’s the end of July or August.) But the slog of September also brought my usual escape from the stress and frustration of the year: DragonCon.

DragonCon was of course a virtual experience for 2020, and despite attending several successful virtual conventions earlier in the year, I was a little worried about what it would be like. Others have done the work experimenting with formats and troubleshooting technology, and attending social events virtually is now a well-rehearsed skillset, so I wasn’t concerned about them pulling off DragonCon. I was concerned about whether or not it would feel like DragonCon.

DragonCon is a special brand of weird. It’s wandering the lobbies of the Marriott and Hilton and freezing in place while a conga line of Deadpools circles. It’s hugging friends, celebrities, and strangers you’ve been queueing with for an hour. It’s admiring the growing shrine to FedEx Jon on the walkway to the food court and celebrating when you find an enamel pin of the Marriott carpet tucked inside a planter. It’s following up a season recap panel for your favorite show with one about queerness in Batman or how artificial intelligence in science fiction traces back to Frankenstein.

It is being surrounded by nerds celebrating being nerds in a thousand different ways.

And I was concerned it wouldn’t fully translate to an online format.

(I was also concerned about my waning tolerance for video meetings, but that’s a secondary issue.)

My friends and I banded together for group chats during live panels, met for the parade Saturday morning (a mix of submitted footage/photos and parade video from previous years), and even had “lunch” together for a final hurrah on Monday. We had spontaneous video chats with whomever was available, catching up on what panels we went to and which ones were worth watching later (virtual convention means you can rewatch some of the content!), and we introduced each other to new shows and memes. We talked until bedtime every night and were frequently the first people we communicated with in the morning—not unlike con at all.

I watched panels about steampunk, Victorian death customs, and the pyramids of Giza. I moderated a season recap panel about The Umbrella Academy. I watched Q&As with present and past guests like John Romita Jr., Richard Dean Anderson, and Carrie Fisher. I stumbled into unexpectedly hilarious panels like Bar’d Talk, which was a combination of Whose Line and Shakespeare. I shared stories and photos from past DragonCons with my friends (I’ve been going since 2003, I have a lot to share). And I got to step away from the stress of 2020 for a weekend and just… breathe.

Maybe I had to work a little harder this year to feel immersed in DragonCon—I certainly exercised my imagination every time my friends and I joked about saving each other seats in panels or going to the food court when breaking for lunch—but I still got to celebrate being a nerd with other nerds. When it comes to DragonCon, that’s all I really need.

(Well, that and the name of that Peter B. Parker cosplayer from 2019. I really should have proposed marriage.)

 

 

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.

The Write Life: Quarantined April

The second month in quarantine slowly felt more and more normal as new routines settled into habits and new habits became familiar. Some changes, actually, are welcome and have provided more structure to my day and made me more productive. Whereas March saw my motivation and productivity slowly folding like a flan in a cupboard, April built up to impressive amounts of writing (over 25,000 words) and finally getting back to editing projects. (Which, by the way, thank you to everyone sitting static in the queue for most of the month. Your patience has been key to maintaining my mental health.)

One thing that has helped a lot is that six-days a week I run virtual write-ins for Central Florida Inklings. Inklings used to be my face-to-face writing group that met once a week, but since shifting to an online format, I started offering weekday write-ins. We’ve got a couple times that are stable, but the other times shift, allowing different members to participate and allowing me to have a little variation day to day and week to week, which is, let me tell you, something I desperately needed. Working from home—as I’m sure many of you have noticed—has a sameness that can be devastating. It’s all too easy to forget what day it is when there’s so little variation in your life or schedule. But these write-ins have made me work a little harder to remember the day of the week, and that in turn has helped me stay present and active.

Another improvement to quarantine life is that I purchased some noise-cancelling headphones. It’s now much easier for me to get a quiet slice of time to write and edit, and I can listen to some bops whenever I like. (There may have been a marked increase in Dance Party Writing Breaks over the last two weeks.) I’m still searching out the perfect playlist for writing, but for now, being able to dull the random noises around me is working wonderfully.

While many states and cities are planning to open quarantine within the next month, I’m planning to stay isolated through the end of May. As I’ve said before, quarantine life is a lot like my regular life, so staying isolated to keep my household healthy isn’t much of a burden. But, uh, I may have to venture out for tacos or to stand in a library or bookstore. (Browsing my home bookshelves is just not the same.)

 

 

For full access to The Write Life, sign up on Patreon for $1 or more per month. You’ll also receive a personalized thank you in a future edition of The Write Life.