Hey, Writerly Women! I'm loving seeing the progress you're making in our Treatment Plans as evidenced by your comments. Colleen, Emii, Margie, Natasha, Pam and Skeli have all weighed in recently on seeing what it's like to do what you WANT instead of trying to WILL yourself to ________ (fill in the blank.) That has led you to --
- letting go of the notion of productivity
- discovering a new, more authentic story idea
- going for the "Juice" in every scene
- focusing on developing a website
If you haven't read the Treatment Plan #6 post, you might want to click here to check it out and join in the doing-what-you-want challenge. It's as freeing as it sounds. And if it sounds like cutting class to go have a hot chocolate, you're on the right track.
Of course, simply going for what your soul desires takes confidence in that desire as good and godly and right and all those things that tend to drive the bus. They're good drivers, no question, as long as we also allow what compels us and makes us want to get out of bed in the morning to take the wheel as well. Being able to say to yourself, "This is what I'm supposed to do on a soul level," takes a kind of certainty that isn't always easy to come by.
At least not alone.
Which brings me to the above picture.
Jim and I hit some speed bumps last week, as so many of us are experiencing right now in this CoVid Christmas season. We had to tell a dear friend who always joins us from out of town for the holidays that air travel wasn't safe for any of us and he'd have to say home. Alone. We realized several of the people we love will be celebrating solo this year. Some have become ill. Our spirits were sagging.
And then we received a box in the mail from Jim's mom (she's 95!) and sister containing two zany Santa hats, a Christmas lights necklace, a set of holiday stampers and a Christmas activity book for each of us. (How long has it been since YOU did dot-to-dots?) As if that weren't enough delight, we found out that the other two sisters and their spouses had also received such care packages. We all sent pictures and howled. Seriously, we are everyone of us in our sixties and seventies, yet we instantly became children in all the best ways and gained the perspective that usually only the youngest among us can attain in the face of crisis. Ten minutes before we opened the box, we didn't have faith in the joy the season usually brings. Ten minutes after, we were making hot toddies and baking ready-made dough cookies and planning a Feliz Navidad supper for Christmas Eve. How did it happen?
We borrowed some faith.
It IS possible to do that, you know. You probably think of it as "being encouraged", and you're not wrong. The word "encourage" comes from the Old French "encoragier", which means to make strong, to hearten. It's a passive as well as an active verb. You can both encourage and be encouraged. In this case, let's focus on the passive. If we don't have the courage, the strength, the heart for something, we can receive that from someone else. Contrary to the American principle of independence and self-reliance and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps (I don't even know what the heck those ARE ...), it is impossible for human beings to ALWAYS maintain confidence in their abilities or their choices or even what they think they hear their hearts telling them ALL BY THEMSELVES. We. Need. Each. Other.
That is not to say that we need to be seeking affirmation and permission at every turn. What is does say is that when we're DIScouraged -- when we feel stuck -- when we are riddled with self-doubt -- one of the many things we can do to be restored to balance is borrow some faith from someone who believes in us. Who has been where we are and knows whereof she speaks. Who can say, "You can totally do this. You've got it in you."
Here is what that does NOT mean:
* that you are a wimp and have to have someone else tell you're good all the time, or you can't write a word
* that you are needy and whiny and wallowing in self-doubt
* that you're a narcissist looking for constant approbation
This is what it DOES look like, and what I'm challenging you to incorporate into your Treatment Plan:
* Seek out at least one person who believes in your gifts AND knows what he or she is talking about (not necessarily your significant other who kind of has to tell you that you're great) Because only honest feedback is going to help you restore your flagging confidence, be sure you trust this person. Someone who is a blocked writer himself, or who is notoriously blunt, or who has a jealous nature may do your confidence more harm than good.
* Ask an honest, specific question, something you particularly need to know the answer to in order to move forward right now. "Is my protagonist sympathetic?" "Is my prose too esoteric?" "Does it sound like I'm talking down to my kid readers?" "Did you ever feel like totally giving up on a writing project even though you love it?" "Am I nuts to keep pursuing this?" Not, "Am I a good writer?" or "Do you think I'll ever get published?" The first one you already know. The second no one can answer.
* Accept the encouragement. If you've ever been around me for more than, like, ten minutes, you know that I am on a personal mission to get every woman to learn how to accept a dadgum compliment. When I tell someone she looks great or she's a delight to be around, nine times out of ten she'll come back with something like, "Thank you but I could stand to lose ten pounds" or "You haven't seen me with my kids at 4:00 p.m." Yeah, and why don't you take that gift I just gave you and rip it up in front of me? Why can't we receive genuine praise and authentic positive insights and the very real assurance that we are pretty dang awesome? Just believe it, for Pete's sake.
* Take it to heart (be heartened) and get back to it. Renewed faith leads to action.
#1. When I had my one-on-one with Donald Maass -- whose opinion I value very highly -- I asked him point blank, "Do I have the chops for the general market?" He said, "Yes, you have a good, strong commercial fiction voice. Just make the story bigger -- Jodi Piccoult big." That's what I'm doing.
#2. Recently I had a conversation with a dear friend who is opening a new literary agency in January and I asked him if I was too old for him to take me on as a client if he liked my new project. He said, "You are on my list of people to approach about signing on with me." He'll be hearing from me when the novel is done
Do I need to keep going back to these two guys and saying, "Did you mean that? Are you sure?" Uh, no. What they said is enough to keep me moving forward when I realize I'm stalling. That and my nine-year-old granddaughter who is writing a chapter book -- she really is -- and looks up every now and then and says, "I'm have ______ words now. How many do you have?" She is always impressed with my answer.
Be encouraged, insanely interesting writerly women. Your challenge this week is clear. In order to get you loosened up and free, will you post one specific question you'd like to ask a trusted someone who might be able to boost your confidence? Let the queries abound! Some of them I might even be able to respond to.
Because I believe in you.
P.S. Is my husband not ADORABLE?