The Butt of a Writer

Leslie 1  Hey, fellow Writerly Women! We've been talking a lot about the art of writing, which is one of my favorite topics in LIFE. But after a recent conversation with former client and still amazing friend Leslie, I realized we might need to pause to discuss another subject that isn't as much fun for us writers to consider.

She and I were talking about the way ideas were popping up for her and how she wanted to run with them, and I said, "You really have the mind of a writer."

Immediately, in her usual quick-witted way, she said, "Yeah, but what I really need is the butt of a writer!"

You know exactly what she's talking about, right?

You go to a conference or workshop and come back so fired up to do all the things. You may even do them for a week ... and then the glow wears off and pretty soon you're having guilt attacks because you haven't written a word in thirty days.

You set up a rhythm for yourself and it's working so well -- and then one of your kids gets sick or you get sick or your boss gets sick and suddenly you can't find that piece of paper where you wrote down your new routine.

It doesn't even have to be as big a deal as that. You don't need a tornado hitting your town or your finger developing debilitating arthritis or your best friend losing her house in a storm to throw you off. Your writing routine can be swept aside by really positive things. A whole new slew of fresh ideas. The sudden urge to start a club for girls. The undeniable nudge to fire up a work-out program for yourself. That's all great stuff. But it isn't writing.

Basically, we writers simply have to sit down and, well, WRITE. Was it Elizabeth George who said the best writers are the ones who have put in the most time on their -- okay, so she didn't say derrieres, but I'm going to! Step one, fanny in the chair. Step two, stay there long enough to get into the zone, and after that, you don't WANT to get up. (Unless one of your dogs stares at you and you realize she hasn't been outside in about six hours and if you don't take care of that you will have Lake Erie by the front door. Ask me how I know that). Genny by Tina

  I don't want to preach at you and tell you how to develop the D word (Discipline, okay?) We all have our own ways of doing that. The point is to HAVE a way, so that when the temptation to chuck it and do a Call the Midwife marathon on NetFlix (my chief means of escape) or you realize life has pushed you off the writing wagon  -- you can pick yourself up, dust off those bun buns off and get them back into the seat in front of your keyboard.

I will give you some, let's call them, as Captain Jack Sparrow says, "guidelines" that you may be able to use to create your own Writer's Butt. 

  • Don't wait to be inspired before you write. My experience has taught me that (a) if you do that you won't get a dang thing done and (b) the inspiration comes AS you sit yourself down and start doing the thing.
  • Be sure that whatever writing rhythm you set up for yourself is reasonable and doable. If you're not a morning person, don't tell yourself you're going to get up at 5:00 a.m. five days a week to work on your novel. You'll hate it. If 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. is your I-abhor-this-time-of-day hour (we all have one), forget thinking you're going to sit down and be creative then. You aren't.
  • Plan, at least mentally, what you're going to write before you approach your set-aside time. Compose that next paragraph in your head. Plan the scene in your mind. Take a walk -- let the chapter take shape in your brain -- and THEN start typing. If you sit down with no plan, you'll spend the whole time figuring out how to get started. No wonder you don't want to write!
  • Do NOT be shy about letting other people know THIS IS YOUR WRITING TIME! There is nothing selfish, self-indulgent or irresponsible about it. If you feel called to write -- as I know all of you do -- you aren't meeting your commitment to God if you don't do it. Bottom line.

Most of the time when we procrastinate, it's because we're afraid to fail. But the only way you CAN fail is not to start at all. Will you write rubbish now and then? Of course you will. Who among us does not? But if that rubbish isn't down there, you can't fix it -- you can't let it show you what you REALLY want to put into words. Fear not, ladies. There is no fear in creating -- just as there is no crying in baseball.

 I would LOVE to hear how we all stay on task, or get those cute little behinds back into the chair.   What are your tricks? What works for you? Who knows, it might give someone else an idea -- whether it's to reward yourself with Lily's chocolate every 1,000 words (Lily's is sweetened with Stevia, which eliminates all guilt, just in case you happen to feel any) or to first imagine yourself winning the Nobel Prize for literature or to actually get up at 5:00 a.m. and write for an hour five days a week so you know it's done before the rest of the day begins. Tell us how you do it.

Most of all, you have our encouragement and support. This is not an easy gig, and anyone who says it clearly hasn't written a book -- a short story - an article -- a letter to their mom. It's complex and demanding. No wonder we need all the help we can get to develop the Butt of a Writer.

 

Blessings,

Nancy Rue    P.S. Tomorrow I'm having an itty bitty surgery in an itty bitty joint on my right index finger. I just read the post-op instructions that say not to do anything with that finger for two weeks. How is that possible? I'll post again when I figure out how to type only with my left hand! Yikes!


Unexpected Discoveries

10302295Hey, Writerly Women!

I once wrote a book called Unexpected Dismounts, the title of which came from a motorcycle class I was in (a class I didn't finish!). The instructor said we should always wear helmets and protective clothing in case of unexpected dismounts. Meaning, when you dump the thing without planning to -- which I did twice in the first half hour -- which explains why I counseled myself out. I was a danger to myself and others.

In the case of motorcycle riding, such a departure is never a good thing. But in writing, I think it absolutely can be. SKELI is a case in point, and if you haven't read her comments on the last post, you really should, by all means. I can't do her wording justice (the woman writes like she's spreading butter on hot toast; it's amazing), but she talks about being on a walk or a ride and seeing one of her characters out and about, doing something unplanned for (and usually on a horse ...) Back to the manuscript she goes to capture that.

If you haven't had the experience of a character suddenly darting away from you to do his or her own thing, you will if you keep writing long enough. And if you allow it to happen.

Even I, the ultimate planner, have learned to go with it when a protagonist does something I sure didn't tell her to do, or a new character appears and says, "I need to be in this story."

The first time it happened to me, I was writing the first book in the Christian Heritage Series, which is historical fiction for middle grade readers.   1936124This was early on in my career, and I was happily writing away, following my meticulous outline, when suddenly an Indian squaw (forgive my political incorrectness) showed up on my computer screen. Josiah, my main character, didn't know who she was, and frankly neither did I. I sat back in my chair and said, out loud, "Well, hello, you. Where did you come from?" She didn't answer. She just did what she was going to do in the story without saying a word. Actually she never utter a syllable; she didn't speak English. But her presence enriched the story beyond what I had imagined of. And, to echo Han Solo, I had imagined quite a bit.

After that, when somebody walked onto the page or did something "out of character" and it worked, I knew (a) to see where he or she led me and (b) that the magic was happening. You know, that indefinable thing that whispers into your story and makes it real.

I'm not saying we should sit around waiting for such people to appear. Nor, I think, is it a good idea to write reams of a character flailing around with no clear direction. We really do have to give these people a firm start -- in my experience. They'll find their freedom in the wise limitations you set. 

But when it happens -- and, again, it will -- why not go exploring? Why not observe and ask questions and indulge your curiosity? Why not trust in the mystery of being a creative person?

If you'd like to join the conversation -- and please do -- I LOVE your comments and the way you interact with each other -- will you tell us about a time when the magic of independent characters happened for you? I'll go first ...

Just this week as I've been pouring myself into my current work in progress, a judge, who is a very minor character I hadn't fleshed out at all, glared at me from the bench and said, Will you please let me say my piece? I am, after all, the freakin' JUDGE! I swallowed and said meekly, "Of course, your honor." What he had to say fixed a plot problem I'd been snagged on ever since I started this project. Oh, and I also discovered he has a ponytail. Who knew?

Can't wait to hear from you.

Blessings,

Nancy Rue


Time to Register!

YWW-feature-photo-2-2048x1365Hey, Writerly Women!

Registration is now open for the Young Women Writers Retreat at Glen Eyrie in Colorado Springs, April 17-19. If you're a writer -- or an aspiring one -- between the ages of 18 and 39, this event could very possibly be for you. If you fall outside of that age range, I hope you'll pass the word along to anyone you know who does.

This will be our fourth and final year -- at least with me leading it -- and my intention is for this to be particularly ... what's the word?  Significant. Yes. Our theme is "Enter the Mystery." We'll focus on how to tap into the mystical reality of our creativity and how to express that on the page.

For more information and to register, simply click here. Of course if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.

AND, if you've been to this YWW retreat in the past and you'd like to share your experience in a comment, absolutely feel free.

Can't wait to see you there!

 

Blessings,

Nancy Rue 


The Box of Lives

Box of LivesHey, my fellow Writerly Women! It delights me that you're reframing those questions that may have been keeping you from moving forward. Thanks for sharing, really. And move forward we must. Do the next thing. Be led to knowing what that next thing is. That's what we do, yes?

Actually, knowing what to do next, or even first, can sometimes be paralyzing. That's why, in my view, it's important to have a process, not just for writing as a whole -- as in, do you peel off layers or keep yanking at that drawer the potato masher is stuck in until it comes loose (I'll always love that image, GLORIA!). I find I need a process for each part of unfolding a story or a non-fiction piece. Building a plot takes a different approach than developing characters, and creating setting requires still another method, as does enriching theme.  Do you find that to be true? If you haven't thought about it, now's a great time to ponder that some.

So how about we start with characters? I personally discover my people first -- especially my protagonist and main antagonist -- determining what they need to learn, which then determines what will happen to get them there. Whether the folks in your work meet you at the starting line or further down the track, you do have to figure them out sometime, so hopefully this will be helpful to you.

There are about as many ways to shape your people as there are writers doing it. Diane Setterfield, who is fast becoming one of my favorite authors, writes in her awesome book The Thirteenth Tale about a young biographer and tells of her process for bringing the people to life on the page:

    For all my biographical projects I have kept a box of lives. A box of index cards containing the details ... of all the significant people in the life of my subject. I never quite know what to make of my boxes of lives. Depending on my mood they either strike me as a memorial to gladden the dead ("Look!" I imagine them saying as they peer through the glass at me. "She's writing us down on her cards! And to think we've been dead two hundred years!"), or, when the glass is very dark and I feel quite stranded and alone this side of it, they seem like little cardboard tombstones, inanimate and cold, and the box itself is as dead as the cemetery. " Thirteenth tale

First of all, you can see why I love her writing. So. Much. And why I might be tempted to adopt this approach just to see ...

Character developmentAnd yet my way is perfect for me. I set up a section in my binder for Characters, and each one has a picture I've selected from a magazine or on line (if I come to your home, do NOT give me access to your periodicals because it's almost compulsive for me to rip things out of them) and a full character analysis I can easily refer to as I write. Because I start each one of those with the person's backstory, their lives often tell me how the plot may twist and turn. We as real people aren't born with plots -- just natures. What happens to us and because of us tends to be shaped by who we are -- and vice versa, which is a plot in itself. 

But I digress ...

Again, not everyone would love doing that. In fact, I was going to teach at a writing camp once (it didn't pan out) and the young assistant assigned to me told me flat out, "I am so sick of doing character analyses. That is not how true artists write." I had to bite my tongue so I wouldn't ask how many books SHE had published, (a) because that would have been ugly and (b) she had a point, for her. That is not how the true HER writes.

So what are our options for making people up?

From working with writers for so many years, I've seen all kinds of methods --

    * Journalling and spiral journalling ( See our post from last year for more information on that. )

    * Hanging out with a character and making notes (one of my former clients smokes a cigarette with her protagonist; not physically healthy but she gets great results)

    *  Getting really creative and doing drawings or making figures. (When I wrote the Christian Heritage Series, Marijean's American Girl dolls were often in my office)

    * Creating a spread sheet (writer friend BRENDA does this; makes me break out in hives, but it works for her)

    * Using a program like Scrivener (author ANGELA HUNT swears by it; again, this makes me want to curl up into a fetal position, but she looks at my binder with all the stuff sticking out of it and turns pale)

And if you're a pantser? I'm in awe. I truly am. How the Sam Hill do you DO that? I know it happens and happens successfully. Far be it from me to discourage you. I will offer this, though. According to Donald Maass, the pantsers allow themselves the freedom to explore endlessly and make amazing discoveries, while the planners, if we're not careful, may somewhat limit ourselves from new ideas. He does warn that it usually takes the pantsers twice as long to get there, and they run the risk of abandoning the whole thing before they do! So maybe a little bit of planning might help?

Here's what I would love for us to do. Let's each come up with an image or metaphor for the way we approach character development, making it as visual as we can. I'll start:

It is like getting a glimpse of that intriguing person across the room at a delicious cocktail party full of sparkling, fascinating people. This one draws me in above all others. I make my way over to her, a glass of good wine in hand to offer her. I find something to comment on -- her brilliant laugh, her stilettos, her way of observing the crowd -- and she is at once comfortable with me. I begin to draw her out, and before you know it, we have found a settee in the corner and we are leaning toward each other as she talks and I listen. With my whole body. My head and my senses are teeming with her, and I know that as soon as I leave the party, I will pull out a fresh journal that somehow reminds me of her, and I will begin to make notes. In the margin I jot down the next time we'll see each other. Because we will. 

Cocktail party

All right, ladies. Show us what you're workin' with. Who knows? You may find out that you inspire someone here who's floundering in a pool of sinking characters who simply need to be revived.  Can't wait to hear.

 

Blessings,

Nancy Rue

 

 

 


When Answers Lead to Questions

Head mistress nancyHHello, my fellow Writerly Women. Today we're welcoming Skeli and Cathy who chimed in with the rest of us this week with their comments. And speaking of comments, I LOVE that you're responding to each other and offering encouragement. That's the mark of a true community, and I couldn't have created that by waving a wand. You did it.

I think I just threw in that thing about the wand so it would look like I had a reason for using this picture of me as the acting headmistress of Hogwarts, Tennessee Satellite Campus. Seriously, is that not an amazing costume my daughter made for me for my granddaughter's Harry Potter Experience birthday party? It screamed for a British accent (all that watching of Father Brown and Call the Midwife paid off), which I spoke in all day as I was sorting children into houses and keeping the magical creatures at bay. 

All right, then, back to the topic at hand. You are a wonderful body of talented women, and I'm blessed to be in your company. The other thing I love about your comments was that in genuinely trying to answer last week's question, you came up with even more questions. That is the creative process. For instance:

After receiving two rejections almost at once, PAM wants to know why we keep doing this to ourselves.

COLLEEN is surprised by both her new genre and her new process (less planning) and seems to be struggling with: Is this okay? Is this what I should be doing?

JENNIFER is still asking, Who the Sam Hill IS my audience? Christians already know Jesus is the real hero, not us, and non-Christians don't want to hear that. (MY question is "Lamentations, Jennifer? Really? You're a braver woman than I am!")

NATASHA's query: Why can't I write the book I really have a passion for? Why do I want to write the fun thing that doesn't actually matter maybe?

 CATHY, our former writing teacher, besides asking Where DOES the comma go this week? is dealing with how to write without rules when she's been The Enforcer for so many years.

SKELI had an answer that I don't think she realized addresses just about everybody's question. She recommended a story to Jennifer, saying it might help her see how she can pull off what she wants to do. Thanks for that, Skel'. It's been my experience that:

    * For every writing wrestling match you're engaged in, some other author has been in that ring before you.

         Rosamunde Pilcher, marvelous English author of Winter Solstice Winter Solstice
and other amazing novels, had her agent in for dinner one night (before she became hugely successful). He was talking about several of his authors doing book tours and making t.v. appearances, and Rosamunde's grown children said, "Why doesn't our mum get that?" He said, essentially, "When she writes a book worthy of that kind of attention, she'll get it." At age 60, instead of being offended, she took it as a challenge. The rest of her novels have been smashing hits, beloved by millions of us, myself included. My point is that if we're experiencing rejection or lack of support from our agents and publishers, we might well use that as impetus to go bigger, go deeper, go farther -- and not settle.

      Flannery O'Connor (who I have to admit I can't read, though I respect her talent) had a deep passion for revealing God in the underbelly of life -- in dark, crazy places most of us don't like to think about. I don't know that she defined her audience as I've suggested we do, but she knew they were out there, so she just wrote the dang books and stories and let them fall where they would. I'm not sure there has been anyone writing like her before or since.

    Janet Evanovich, famous for her Stephanie Plum series (the last 17 of which debuted at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list), started off writing short contemporary romance novels under the pen name Steffie Hall. She was making a decent living, but when she realized she was having to put her current protagonist's name on a sticky note on her computer screen so she could remember it, she knew she was bored. So she came up with a totally fun, over the top concept: Stephanie Plum, a former lingerie buyer from Trenton, Janet Ebecomes a bounty hunter to make ends meet after losing her job. Her books are hilarious. (My husband read several of them and guffawed out loud all the way through.) Now and then it MATTERS that we have something fall-on-the-floor-laughing funny to remove us from all that nastiness we can't do anything about. Give me some Christopher Moore on a bad day and I'm good to go.

    In Dar Williams' song, "What Do You Hear In These Sounds?", she sings about her positive experience working with a therapist. My favorite line is:  "When I hit a rut, she says to try the other parent." It comes to mind now because, again, it's been my experience that when we can't get the answer to that writing question, we usually need to ask a different question. Maybe it could go something like this:

    JENNIFER: Are there Christians who don't get that Jesus is the hero? That God is doing a fantastic job so we don't have to?

    COLLEEN: Who are the non-fiction writers I love the most? What's their process? 

    NATASHA: What am I learning as I write this simply fun piece of pure joy? Could it be that I'll use those skills later on, when I get back to Passion Book?        

      CATHY: What's my favorite part of writing? Just because I'm good at grammar, does that mean I have to focus on it? What would happen if I made some really brazen mechanical errors?

    Me? I was struggling with the spiritual aspect of my novel, which is, actually, the heart and soul of the thing in a largely unspoken way. What if I turn off my loyal Christian readers? What if my more conservative friends think I've become so open-minded my brains are going to fall out? My question became a prayer, which led to more questions that in my soul I think came from God:

    Is it Christian readers you want to reach?

Is it time for you to express how faith has come to you -- which is not the traditional pray-the-sinners-prayer route?

Universal ChristAre you brave enough to express your Richard-Rohr-like belief in a Universal Christ?

If you're not going to be authentic, what on earth is the point?

Sometimes I guess the new questions ARE the answers: No. Yes. Yes. There isn't one. 

So maybe this week, you could do these two things:

    1. Ask a new question related to your struggle.

    2. See if the question itself becomes your answer. 

I don't know about the rest of you, but I can't WAIT to hear what happens. Thank you for being here, my friends.

 

Blessings,

Nancy Rue


What Makes It Matter?

Writing at Walden POnd  Hello, my fellow writerly women. In only two weeks we have become a community, and I just find that to be awesome and inspiring and a God-thing. Thank you for being here.

Your responses to the last post on SHAME vs. SMART (if you haven't read that, do go back and give it a skim) were exactly what we all needed (or at least I did). COLLEEN shared a marvelous Spanish phrase -- creerme el cuento -- believe in myself. Step One in the shedding of shame, yes? LILY is keeping her creative juices flowing in other areas while she figures out the next steps in her novel, remembering that she is still growing. Step Two, I think. Lily and me
PAM is writing for her readers, which keeps her from looking anxiously at all the people she can't reach. I did a post on audience in the past, and I think I'll freshen that up sometime soon.   As for AMALIE, who writes comments that rival most of what I put in my professional writing (!) -- she struggles with the notion that she isn't ready to write what she wants to, that she is somehow a fraud, which is paralyzing. I'm going to do a whole post on the Imposter Syndrome.  And our witty EMII is going to try instead of cry. Step Three. Thank you for being real with us.

Step Four in Still Mastering All the Right Things (I'm basically making these steps up as I go along!) is probably the most important one. Once we've started believing in ourselves and we're keeping the creativity going in our lives as a whole and we stop crying and start trying, we have to answer this question about our writing:

Why the Sam Hill does it matter?

Before you start to freak out and immediately jump to, "What if it doesn't? Come to think it, I don't think it does! I've been wasting my time. OHMYGOSH!!!" Before you go there, go here: it DOES matter or you wouldn't be doing it.

I mean, think about it. Would you do the following if it didn't mean something?

    * sit in front of a screen and make stuff up and then delete half of it and come back and do the same thing the next day? And the next?

   Hannah writing * write page after page, not knowing if another human being is ever going to read it?

   *  spend money you could use for a new wardrobe or a down payment on a BMW to go to a week long writing intensive or a big time writers conference just to give yourself another fraction of a chance?

  * pace the floor all night because you're so scared to show your manuscript baby to a perfect stranger who might say it's ugly?

  * get yet another rejection of that same baby and turn right around and send it to yet another agent?

Okay, maybe you'd do all of that because you were nuts, but I don't think you are. I believe you -- and I -- do it because what we're writing is in some way important. I also believe it has to have that significance on two levels.

    (1) Significant to you, individually, as a woman. I'm writing The Footnotes Collection because I'm recovering from the same addiction, if you will, that my four protagonists are. I want to be able to express the pain and the healing in several different ways, just to see how real, how authentic, how essential it is. That matters to ME.

    (2) Significant to the people you're specifically writing it for. Not, as PAM pointed out, for everybody, but for your readers. I want to touch women who have everything society says they should have and are still miserable. And I want those women to gain some sense of the Divine, even if they've never believed or have been wounded by the believers in their original faith. I want them to ask, "What if there's something more -- something bigger than me -- a higher power? What if I lived as if there were?" That matters to THEM.

How do you know if you have that "This matters!" energy in your work? Here's my suggestion: do what I just did. Write two paragraphs, one explaining how your project matters to YOU, and the second defining how it matters to your AUDIENCE. If you experience any of these things, the passion is there:

    * you typed faster as you wrote, until your fingers could barely keep up with your thoughts

    * you sat up straighter and leaned closer to the screen

    * your pulse and breathing picked up Andrea

    * when you were finished you pressed your palms together and said, "Yes!

   * and now you want to go immediately to your manuscript and write some more.

It would be exceedingly cool if you shared those two paragraphs with us -- or at least the jist (or is it gist?) Can there be anything more inspiring than to know that we are all writing something that can potentially make a difference? Down the line we'll talk about how to write like it matters and how to get it out to the people it matters TO. For now, let's just make sure that it does.

Blessings,

Nancy Rue 
   


S.H.A.M.E. vs. S.M.A.R.T

Me as GandolfHey, fellow writerly women! We have added JENNIFER, NATASHA, COLLEEN and EMII -- at least they're our newest commenters. We are officially a creative body, so it seems appropriate to start today's post with a story. It's non-fiction, autobiographical, and I'll try really hard not to embroider or self deprecate. Too much.

Okay, so last September I participated in a week-long Break Out Novel Intensive (BONI) with Donald Maass and his teaching staff. If you ever have the opportunity to attend one, or even one of his weekend gigs, do it. When I did this back in 2006, it changed the way I wrote forever. Because my retirement from one-on-one mentoring was on the horizon last fall and I was chomping (or is it "champing," horse people?) to get back to full-time writing, I thought it would be a good idea to take a refresher course.

Who am I kidding? I wanted to see if I have the chops for the general market, having had all of my books published in the Christian world. I know what I'm doing, right? If I'm honest (and I'm really trying to be), I was looking for strokes.

I got some --  "some" being the operative word. Each of us had the opportunity to submit a synopsis of our work in progress as well as a number of pages for critique by each of the four staff people. I valued all of their opinions, yet I was most anxious to have my one-on-one with Don because he has been my mentor (unbeknownst to him!) for 13 years. Our meeting wasn't scheduled until Day 5, and by that time, I had a ton of ideas for revisions to what was then a 400-page manuscript that wasn't even close to being finished. But I decided not to go in there babbling about all of that. I only had 25 minutes, and I wanted to hear everything he had to say.

What was I thinking?

It started off great, actually. He said my 50 pages reminded him of a play by Neil Simon (one of my favorite playwrights). He said it was reminiscent of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," a t.v. show he loves. And then he looked me straight in the eye and said, "And I was completely confused."    I actually laughed right out loud. The man's comic timing is impeccable. Seriously, all week during our lectures I kept thinking that if the New York literary agent thing ever dried up on him, he could totally make it doing stand-up.

Then he got serious. My protagonist, he told me, starts off too weak -- not the way she's written but the way she is. I did that intentionally, but he thought that was a bad choice. In case you haven't picked up on it, Donald Maass is not warm and fuzzy when it comes to giving feedback. Just sayin'. Then he went on to say that the story needs to be bigger. "I want you to think Jodi Piccoult big," he said. "Keep asking yourself, 'so what?' Because right now, that's what I'm asking myself as I read your synopsis."

oh.

Truly, I was still laughing. Not that many people can keep you in stitches at the same time they're tearing you apart. It's a gift.

Mind you, that wasn't all he gave me. He told me the writing was GOOD. He said I had a strong commercial fiction voice, that the reader is in good hands with me. He liked the humor and the surprises and the fact that my protagonist's writing critique group helps her investigate a murder. But do you think THAT is what I took back to my hotel room with me?

If you've answered "yes," I have been fooling you for years. If you answered "no,"  you are right on. I didn't cry. (That might have made me feel better). I didn't throw things around the room and curse him for being an unfeeling cad. (He isn't.) I actually sat down, looked at my stuff and went, "Well du-uh! I KNEW that! Dang it, I KNEW ALL of that. What have I been thinking for 400 freakin' pages?!"

I set everything aside because clearly I was in no shape to start making revisions at that moment, and it was too early for a glass of wine. So I turned to the literature I'm using in recovery from workaholism -- and there it was. Exactly what I needed. The writer said she was constantly being challenged by S.H.A.M.E. Here's the best part:

S.H.A.M.E. = SHOULD HAVE ALREADY MASTERED EVERYTHING

If I laughed out loud in my interview with Don Maass, I absolutely guffawed when I read that. Since no one that I know of has been reading my journals or my mind, this person was voicing what many if not MOST of us believe at some point in our careers: we should have already mastered everything. 

And you know the deeper level of that for me? There are people who think I actually HAVE. That marvelous drawing at the top of the post (by our own GLORIA) is her rendition of me as Gandalf. You know -- the wise one? The one everybody turns to for answers and guidance and uncanny insights? I've always genuinely dismissed that, but when I was sitting there reeling from my mentor's feedback, I realized I had  believed I SHOULD be that person when it came to writing fiction. With Gloria

And I'm so not.

None of us is.

But that's only part of the story. Not long after I got home I was journaling about that rendition of the concept of shame, and I decided I needed to come up with its opposite, its antidote. Here's what came to me:

S.M.A.R.T. = STILL MASTERING ALL THE RIGHT THINGS

It's the -ing that makes all the difference. Still learnING. Still experimentING.  Still stretchING. Still growING as a novelist. And as a person.

Also, do you see the word "should" in there? Yeah, there are no "shoulds" in creativity. Otherwise, we might as well all just bag it right now. And I don't want any of us to give it up. You wouldn't be here if you didn't have talent, a gift, a calling. Nor would you be reading this if you had it all figured out.  You'd be signing your multi-million dollar contract. Although not even the best selling authors have mastered it all, and they would be the first to tell you that.

Now, let me be clear: Don Maass was not trying to shame me. I took care of that all by my sweet self. In fact, his last words to me on Sunday at the end of the intensive were "Think big." So thinking big is that right thing I'm working on mastering.

What about you, writerly women? Will you tell us what you (mistakenly) think you should already have mastered as a writer? And will you also tell us what next right thing you're mastering as we speak? We will help you toss out the "shoulds" and celebrate your "ings" with you. Can't wait to hear.

Blessings,

Nancy Rue

 

   


I'm So Jazzed!

Sarah at GlenHello, my writerly women. I'm planning to post just once a week, but I couldn't resist responding to YOUR responses to our new start. I AM JAZZED! The writing life CAN be isolating, and to allow it to be is dangerous to our creativity -- not to mention our sanity (which is precarious at best anyway, right?) So ...

Welcome SARAH (pictured here!), AMANDA, AMALIE, KATHLEEN, MT, PAM and whoever else visited but didn't comment (which is perfectly fine, but we would love to hear from you, yes?) I can't tell you how glad I am that you're here. I'll post on Tuesday, January 14, but here's a teaser. The topic will be:

S.H.A.M.E.

VS.

S.M.A.R.T.

 

Can't wait!

Blessings, Nancy Rue