An Optimist, a Pessimist, and a Realist Walk into a Bar …

The Optimist says, “Bartender, give me a double. I’m having a great day.”
The Pessimist says, “Bartender, make mine a double. I’m having an awful day.”
The Realist says, “Bartender, I’ll take a double. I …”

OH! Wait! This isn’t a joke. This is the condition of my life. My creative life. Specifically, my writing life. (Clearly I’m not a comedienne.)

The Optimist and the Pessimist are at war inside of me.

When I sat down earlier this week to write, I was upbeat, encouraged, and maybe a little over the top. Syrupy. As the week wore on I understood the struggle within. I could feel the doubt swell and expand in my chest as the Pessimist attempted to escape.

Doubt came in the form of distractions. I found myself looking for things to do other than working on my novel. Sure I wrote. Letters I’ve been putting off. Thank you cards so they would be timely. Blog posts for future dates; lined up and ready to go. I also felt the call of the TV and housework (which I hate) and new fiction to read. Anything other than sitting down to write the novel.

That’s when I knew that I wasn’t being real, not even with myself, about where I am in the writing process.

The Pessimist’s POV

Frowny

Frowny (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Pessimist says, “You can’t. You won’t. Why bother?”

She looks at my triumphs, my attempts; and laughs at my naïveté. Not a sweet laugh that says you’re-adorably-clueless. It’s a harsh edgy laugh that says what-are-you-thinking?

She’s not very nice to me or to anyone else for that matter. She prefers to be alone wallowing in what she considers an obvious delusion of success. She thinks she’s doing me a favor by criticizing my dream and my ability (or what she would call “lack of ability”).

The Pessimist says, “You’re not as good as so-and-so.” She tells me that progress is slow. She says I-told-you-so often. She makes me feel small.

She claims to see my writing world for what it is:  A Farce.

Smile! Welcome Back =]

Smile! Welcome Back =] (Photo credit: blentley)

The Optimist’s Outlook

The Optimist says, “You can. You will. Why not? Don’t listen to her.” And I want to believe her. She smiles a lot and whispers encouraging words.

She paints pictures of my success. She says, “Imagine being a sought after author or making the best sellers’ list.” She tells me I’m right on track. She lifts me up.

The Optimist says, “You’re as good, if not better than, what’s-her-name.”

She says to anyone who will listen:  see-this-woman-right-here-she’s-a-writer. She praises me for sticking with it. She rewards me with words of kindness. I like the Optimist.

She tells me to hold my head high and claim my writing for what it is:  A Gift.

Exactly the Same and Completely Different

Are you with me? Can you relate to my creative struggle? Whether you’re a painter or wordsmith or photographer or a creative in general, we are all faced with this internal battle.

Two opposing beliefs waging war and wreaking havoc on our confidence … Maybe you name the warring factions differently:  inner cheerleader and skeptic; critic and dreamer; naysayer and yes-man; or the voices in my head.

The war is always going on.

Both the Optimist and the Pessimist want the same thing:  to be in charge. But only one can rule the body and mind at any given time.

I argue that they are the same … Their differences limited to their perspectives; their approaches.

The Pessimist believes she’s being honest with me; telling me what I need to hear. The Optimist knows she’s selling me hope; telling me what I want to hear.

They’re both liars … so accept the fundamental truths they offer and move on. If the Pessimist says, “You can’t link two phrases together,” and the Optimist says, “You’re the best writer in the world,” know that the truth lies some where in between.

Neither one wants to do the hard work of writing. The Optimist is content to visualize the result. The Pessimist dismisses the possibilities.

The Realist Within

What’s the what?

The Pessimist + The Optimist = The Realist

Both the Optimist and the Pessimist live within me. I realize I need them both. True art and creation come from adversity, friction, conflict. Right?

The Pessimist keeps me grounded (sometimes buried). She reminds me to consider what can’t be. The Optimist is the one who dares to believe (sometimes blindly). She reminds me of what can be.

Their fight for control is my creative friction.

Finding balance between the Optimist and the Pessimist is where I need to be in the writing process.

Now I see that together, they give way to the Realist. The Realist sees what the Pessimist misses through negativity and the Optimist overlooks with positivity. The Realist is the negotiator.

She defines my writing as no one else can:  A Complicated Joy.

The War Within will come to end … we will come to a peace agreement … that is until the next time.

Writing: Failing Forward

“I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.” ~ Benjamin Franklin 

I failed to complete my writing goals for this week. They weren’t overwhelming or outside of my grasp.

I committed to my writing partner that I would:

  1. Finish a scene that is labeled Back-to-School Blues.
  2. Continue working on scenes that are labeled Counselor Visits.
  3. Jot 1500 words by doing the first two bullets.

Not one was accomplished. But it’s okay, because my failure this week gave way to success in a different area of the writing process.

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Things are starting to fall into place. I finally know where my story begins and where it will end because I have my villain. My characters can move forward with purpose.

Knowing their purpose allowed me to do something that I haven’t been able to do since I made the decision to sit down and write. I was able to plan.

I spent my writing time this week planning out the story. For the sections I already have written, I was able to determine the order they should go. I created an outline and started moving scenes around in Scrivener. I know changes that need to happen within most of the scenes for them to connect within this order.

I was able to see what’s missing. I identified scenes that I need to write for the story to make sense and move from the beginning to the end. I can see where I’m going.

“Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street.” ~ Zig Ziglar

Isn’t that exciting? To have direction when I was wandering aimlessly before waiting for the story to start? To have answers to questions that have been with me since I started?

I am just over 30,000 words and now I feel like it will flow easily because I have a plan. A short term plan because something could happen during my next writing time that could change everything.

Or maybe I just need a plan so I can not follow it and feel like I’m breaking the rules. You never know. But I am optimistic.

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”  ~Truman Capote

I am so thankful that I failed this week. I am glad that I fell short in my writing. I have a sense of accomplishment that I wasn’t expecting. I’ve learned quite a bit about what it will take to finish this novel.

I dare you to fail forward in your writing. Know that it’s okay when things don’t go according to plan; when the plan reveals itself differently. Remember, you’ll end up exactly where you’re supposed to when you’re supposed to …

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal:  it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~ Winston Churchill

Now I am off to my accountability call to tell my writing partner the great news:  I failed!

Writer’s Block: Take Another Step, Add a New Character

The process of writing has been slow. I committed to my writing partner that I would produce 1500 new words last week. With two and a half days left in the accountability week, I was sweating proverbial bullets.

My small start moved me forward. And for that I am grateful. I am glad that I have the desire to create new words for my novel.

Changing venue helped but I needed to take another step. Increase my stride. Move at a faster pace.

Cover of "Immediate Fiction: A Complete W...

Cover via Amazon

One of my writing rescues is Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver. He states this:

“There are more conflict and more scenes, but what account for them? One thing and one thing only:  MORE CHARACTERS. More characters, who are more trouble, more scenes, more pages. Believe it or not that’s all there is to it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It takes work, but it’s that simple … Additional characters cause more trouble, forcing the other characters to act and reveal more of themselves. The novel is longer because the problem is bigger, the conflict more complicated and longer running. That larger, longer conflict is created by the presence of more characters. In terms of story elements, more characters are the difference between the short story and the novel.”

I wasn’t adding characters for length. My story line has so many possibilities that length isn’t an issue, unless you’re describing what I need to leave out because it’s getting too long.

New characters are energizing. Adding one new (unplanned, surprise) character reinvigorated me and reconnected me to the story I was worried had gone stale.

Introducing a new character created unexpected conflicts; unnamed environments; and undefined characteristics. The “un’s” need words to make them something.

I was able to explore the conflicts to see how they moved the plot along. I experimented with the environments to test out images. I was able to bring evolution to a character idea until the person was real for me.

This new character and her interactions with my existing characters have made writing this story fun again. It has created momentum … Surprisingly, this new character didn’t just help me write the 1500 words I’d listed as my goal but I was able to write double that number because of the conflict she represents.

I finally have my villain, my antagonist. Now my story is moving!

You don’t have to be stuck. If changing venue didn’t help … take another step and add a new character … I’d love to hear how this works out for you.

Writer’s Block: Start Small, Change Venue

My writing partner and I have a weekly accountability call. Every Thursday night we talk about what we’ve accomplished in the previous week and what our goals are for the week to come.

Before I left for vacation I promised her that I would write one new scene. Maybe 500 words. That’s it. A small commitment to get me back into writing the novel after a long break from it.

Five days into a new accountability week (and the distractions of vacation) I hadn’t put down one word toward the scene I set as my goal.

As I sat on the plane heading West I tried again to read through my manuscript only to find it made me sleepy. That’s not necessarily a commentary on the quality of the story as much as it could be a reflection on traveling in recycled air.

I closed my eyes intent of taking a nap. But that’s when insight came. I was so excited. I pulled out my notebook and pen scribing 175 words. A small step forward.

Then 2 days later sitting in my hotel room while my family slept another 150 words flowed. Renewed inspiration when I least expected it. A small move in the right direction.

All I can think of is finishing this scene to see how it changes the story. I keep thinking about where I left off and wondering, “What’s next?”

Since returning I’ve finished reading through my manuscript (without falling asleep). New story are lines spinning around in my mind. A small spider web of thoughts has started to form.

Two weeks away from home, my sofa, and writing at night after the boys are in bed. I added 800 new words. It sounds small but it serves as a new beginning especially when 0 words were added in a two-month time frame.

My point, in sharing this breakthrough, is that one way to move forward, move past the block, is to change venue. You don’t have to take a trip like I did. Start small. Sit in a different seat at the table. Go to a coffee shop. Pick a different time of day. Does the change in scenery change your perspective in your writing?

Being outside of my regular writing routine was wonderful, because it provided a small flash of creative light that I may not have experienced otherwise.

Lucky Me … the Lucky Meme

Forgive me because I feel like I need to provide some background.

I decided almost a year ago to write a novel. Finally.

I was so optimistic. August 31, 2012 was my projected end date. The goal was 90,000 words. My reasoning:  if NaNoWriMo participants could produce 50,000 words in 30 days, surely I could achieve my word count goal in one year.

It didn’t matter that I hadn’t written creatively in years. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have training or education in the discipline of writing. All I had was an idea and a desire, which should be more than enough for a writer to get started.

Shortly after beginning, I decided that I needed an accountability partner. I have two writing partners that encourage me. I’ve allowed them to read segments of my novel in progress, which at times could be called a novel interrupted. However, the idea of letting others read what I’ve scratched out makes me nauseous.

But I am about forward motion. Momentum. I am game …

Here’s what’s required:

  • Go to the 7th or 77th page of your work in progress.
  • Go to the 7th line of the page.
  • Copy the next 7 sentences or paragraphs. Remember, they must be as they are typed.
  • Tag 7 authors.
  • Let them know they’re it.

Here’s me … taking a leap … an excerpt of my novel. I am not brave enough for seven paragraphs. Not yet. The working title, based on the initial idea and summary:  Momma’s Heels, which has morphed into so much more than I expected.

“The summer where she could rid herself of this stupid nickname and take on her given name, which is very grown up. Being treated as a grown up is her definition of happiness. But as the summer comes to a close she can feel that happiness has been absent from the season.

For a long time now she’s hated being called Baby Girl, but no one would listen to her requests to be called Chloe. Baby Girl started out as a term of endearment; a way to convey how special she is because it had taken her parents so long to conceive a little girl. Because she’s the only daughter in a family of five children. Unfortunately, Chloe considers being dubbed ‘Baby Girl’ as an eternal marker of youth that she doesn’t want.”

I appreciate fellow blogger and author:  Whitney of A Serendipitous Happenstance  for helping me take this leap in sharing my work with a broader audience, even if only a small snapshot. Her excerpt for her novel, Rain, will have you hooked and wanting more. Don’t miss your chance. Check it out.

Tag you’re it:

Creative Writing is Child’s Play

Children aren’t limited by convention. They haven’t discovered or embraced the rules. They don’t know to filter or sensor what they say. We can learn a lot from them.

Last week I asked for advice about picking up a story that I’d let sit too long. I received some wonderful tips. I’ve incorporated some into my personal writing process.

However, nothing prepared me for the creative writing exercise that took place two days ago.

While trapped in the car on a road trip, each of my boys decided they were going to write a story. “Maybe we can get our stories published Mom.” Does a writer’s heart good to hear.

Writing approaches are as varied as there are authors or writers. Some outline, develop character, and research first, creating a specific plan to reach the desired end of their project. Others just write to see what comes out.

My boys operate on opposite sides of the spectrum in planning and going with the flow. My oldest wants to map out his goal while the youngest just tells his story. Both boys offered me valuable writing lessons.

I find it difficult to assign names to people, places, and things. But my oldest made it seem easy. In order to start his story, he wanted to create a list of character names to work from. My first thought was to use the names generator in Scrivener, but he just wanted to make them up. He came up with boys’ names and I was charged with girls’ names.

Boys:

    • Mooea
    • Yeeoow
    • Noowaau
    • Nugy
    • Abluy

I can’t pronounce these names. He seems to like vowels more than consonants so I said, “You should pick names that people can pronounce.” Way to kill creativity, right?

His response was awesome. “I can name them whatever I want. Besides, they’re aliens.”

But he altered his course because the final names he added were:  Beetle and Storm, still fun but not as “out there” as the above.

I should have kept my mouth shut and let him create. He taught me that I don’t need to overthink my choices, especially not in the first draft.

The girls’ names were less creative as they were my task but I like some of them. So with his permission some of his characters my find their way into my novel.

Girls:

    • Sierra
    • Marsha
    • Feather
    • Blondie
    • Francie
    • Willow
    • Smudge

His final step in our playful session was to describe the story and give it a title. It’s an alien ghost story called:  Spirit Kingdom. Cool, right?

Why do I make writing so hard?

Another challenge for me is deciding where the story begins. My youngest doesn’t have this challenge. He handed me a pencil and said, “I need you to write down my story.” Here’s what he told me:

“This is a story about a boy named Noah, who finds a pair of magical shoes.

When he’s bad, bad things happen. So he needs to learn a lesson. He has to be nice or the leaves will fall.

Noah went to bed. While he was asleep a witch named, Will, touched the shoes with his wand. He put a spell on the shoes.

Noah woke up the next day and put on his shoes. The shoes made him dance all day.

‘Oh no, my shoes,’ he said because they need repair.”

It’s a great start to a story that I would read. The premise is simple, yet a lot could happen if he were to pursue it.

He taught me to just let the words flow. You can edit and change them later. It’s more important to just get the story out of your head and on paper, which I should already know. (Just as a side note, he cried when his paper crumpled in his backpack because he thought this would hinder publishing.)

Children create stories as a way of life. It’s their way of viewing and relating to the world around them. It’s how they play and interact with one another. I love listening to them play made up games but it never occurred to me until this happened that good writing is like children playing make believe.

No matter what your writing approach you can write with childlike abandon. Spend some time playing make believe and let me know if it has a positive influence on your writing.

Writing: I Can’t Believe I Wrote This!

Am I bored with my own story? I created the characters, the worlds they live in, and the things they do, but I’ve been stuck at 26,300 words of my novel for about 2 months now.

I’ve been ignoring my manuscript because I am mildly obsessed, okay I can’t lie, I am completely obsessed with blogging. It’s a fun distraction. And, as I’ve said before blogging allows you to write and you have a finished product at the end.

Usually, reading through the words I’ve already written (good, bad, or indifferent), helps me reconnect with the story and find new inspiration. It allows me to rewrite and edit what’s there which can take the story in new directions.

The most recent attempts to read through my own words have found me abandoning the task quickly. Only making it through the first 10-20 pages before I give up and find something else to do.

Writing is an emotional business. It’s a love-hate relationship.

I found great advice in How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card:

The Writer’s Image. Writers have to simultaneously believe the following two things:

1. The story I am now working on is the greatest work of genius ever written in English.

2. The story I am now working on is worthless drivel.

It’s best if you believe both these things simultaneously … Of course, believing two contradictory facts at the same time is sometimes referred to as madness – but that, too, can be an asset to a writer.

When I am most unkind to myself about writing, these words (along with those of my loving and supportive husband as well as my writing partners) come to mind and encourage me through the rough patch.

But I find myself riding the pendulum of indecision right now. Swinging between these two extremes of loving my work and hating my work and waiting to be centered and still.

I am riddled with doubt about my skill to bring life to my cast of characters so there is identification with readers (including me). I am gripped with fear by the thought that I will leave behind a great story that needs and wants telling. Yet, I am hopeful for having a renewed energy and sharpened creative skills to finish well even though the break seems to be dragging longer and longer.

Fellow authors, if there is any advice you can give me about picking up where I left off and moving forward, please pass it on.

Because one thing I know to be true:  I haven’t abandoned this story and its characters won’t let me go!

Writer’s Block: A Breakthrough in Progress

When I started blogging I thought I would write about writing more frequently than I have. I guess I don’t have a lot to say about writing.

One benefit of blogging is that I am writing almost daily. I realize writing comes a little easier when it happens frequently at least for me.

Blogging allows me to write in burst and have a completed story at the end. I like finished projects that are ready to share.

This is different than novel writing where I have a burst which is immediately followed by a block. I walk away from these writing bursts with more questions than answers, especially because I am following the story instead of leading it.

Blocks force me to turn to my writing resources looking for motivation:  books, online articles, events, bookstores, and my writing partners.

My hope? To better understand the writing process. But sometimes that’s not enough.

I am reading a book, Imagine:  How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer, which breaks down the creative process. This work of non-fiction intrigued me because I thought if I could just figure out the process of creativity and what it means to be creative, then I could figure out how to write.

Creativity is the header and writing is the subcategory. So, if I understood creativity than maybe writing the novel would come a little easier.

One of my favorite lines from the book, so far is, “The first stage is the impasse: Before there can be a breakthrough, there has to be a block.”

I’ve shared this quote with my writing partners. It’s a good reminder and it takes the pressure off. It gives me permission not worry about putting words down. It tells the story that no matter what I do there will be a block and I should just go with it.

So my focus today is not on the block but the pending breakthrough. Just around the corner waiting for me are the answers to the questions, the decisions on direction, or the epiphany about how to finish.

Writer’s block is part of the journey and I am learning to be grateful for it.

Writing: A Writer’s Plight

To Write or Not to Write? That is the question. Let me put it in perspective for you … Asking this question is like asking:  Live a great life or live a mediocre life?

Wait! Scratch that! It isn’t dramatic enough. Where’s the conflict? Where’s the hook? Rewrite:

To Write or Not to Write? That is the question. It’s like asking live or die? Do I want to live? Or, do I want to die?

Still needs work … probably because I’m sampling a famous line. Right?

But, putting words down on paper, for me, is life, each word a breath. Breathing isn’t something I have to think about. It just happens naturally. Writing comes naturally enough (in the sense that I have lots of nothing to say) but I have to think about it. Thinking about words is tiring and exhilarating.

Anyway, back to the question. I choose life over death. So, right or wrong; I choose WRITE! It’s like distinguishing between good and evil. Who wins? Good always triumphs. And I want to save the world. You see I have a small superhero complex. Shh … don’t tell anyone. My cape is tucked into my tights (not comfortable) and my secret identity is in place to protect those I love.

But I digress …

Words are my journey and along the way I wonder, right or left? Moment by moment, day by day, I am presented with this decision. Today, I’ll go WRITE but tomorrow I may go left, just to observe the wonders of the world before getting back on the right path, the writing path.

Shakespeare had the right idea (of course, he’s one of the greats) with “… to be or not to be …” As I pursue my life long dream, I find myself standing at the corner of “to be” and “not to be”. A writer that is … And I can’t decide which direction to go … Why? Simply put:  FEAR. Fear of failure mostly but fear of success too. Fear of being judged for something as personal as writing.

Especially since, I struggle with failed attempts at being witty. I struggle with using clichés to tell my stories. I struggle with basic grammar, punctuation, and word choice. I haven’t a clue about dialogue (especially when the best conversations I have happen in my head). I’m still trying to figure out show vs. tell, where the story starts and ends, and if I like my own voice. There’s so much to know and do.

I’ve come to the realization that I am a better verbal storyteller than I am a writer.

Writing is hard work. And I’m not good at it but still it haunts me. It won’t let me go any more than I can let go of it. I keep at it hoping something will change. Just short of insanity. You’ve heard the definition of insanity, haven’t you? But in my defense, writing is something that you can keep doing over and over again and get a different result. Right?

So I have to wonder … Should growing up and being good at a profession that I have fallen into rather than the one that chose me remain an obstacle? Should my inadequacies define me? Should fear win out?

Of course not!

Today, I am a bad writer.

Tomorrow I’ll be a better writer.

One day I’ll be a good writer.

So to my fellow dreamers, aspiring writers, and [insert other kindred label here], don’t let your hang ups stop you from choosing life. Choose “to be” whatever you’ve always wanted.