Fighting Fear

Fear is one of our most primal emotions. If we let it, it can stand in the way of us accomplishing great things. At its worst, it can stop us from accomplishing anything at all. There is a lot of fear around being a writer, for me personally and for people in general. I think if there weren’t, a lot more people would be writing, rather than just talking about it. There’s a fear of failure, a fear of not being good enough, a fear of opening up and being vulnerable to the blank page – all of these are valid fears, but we can’t let them stand in the way of the creative process. Here are five things that I remind myself of in order to get the better of fear and do my best work writing.

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Photo by Melanie Wasser on Unsplash

  1. Nothing can be worse than nothing

There’s a quote that I have on my computer: “The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you did not write.” I summarize this to myself as “Nothing can be worse than nothing”. The blank page is terrifying, the blinking cursor a mocking bully – the sight of either often paralyze me with fear. What if what I write isn’t good? What if what I write is downright terrible?

The truth is, it might very well be. But I can fix what I’ve written – I can’t do anything to what I haven’t. There comes a time when you must have faith in your ability as an editor as much as your ability as a writer. That time might as well be now.

  1. I have been here before.

This thought can be terrifically frustrating at first, but it can also be reassuring if you sit with it long enough. You have looked this same fear in the eye before. It hasn’t changed. But you have. You’ve gone on and done things that maybe at one point in your life you didn’t think you were capable of doing. In the case of writing, you’ve written! You’ve gotten past this fear before and you can do it again. You might have to defeat it a hundred times, which is a drag, but every time you fight through it and put words on paper, you can have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve won once again and that defeating it is possible.

  1. This is where I am supposed to be right now.

A lot of my fear comes from thinking that I’m doing the wrong thing or that I’m going to screw up somehow and never be able to get back to the way things are supposed to be. One mantra that I find really helpful in assuaging those fears, both during my writing and just in general, is: this is where I am supposed to be right now. What this means to me is that I’m not meant to be doing anything else other than what I am engaged in in the moment. I’m not missing out on anything, or screwing anything up – it’s impossible for me to do that, because I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing. It’s not always easy to believe this, especially when what I’m doing or where I am isn’t something or someplace I like. But accepting that truth, that I am where I am and doing what I’m doing for a reason, helps alleviate a lot of pressure from my mind.

  1. Don’t feed the sharks

Think of your mind like an ocean. You’re sitting at the bottom of the ocean and above you is a coral reef, teeming with fish and other aquatic life. The fish represent all your thoughts. You can go up and swim with them, but in order to be mindful and present, it’s best to stay here on the bottom and just watch them flit about from one end of the coral reef to the other. On occasion, a shark may swim by. These sharks are the negative thoughts that disrupt your mind, thoughts like “I’m never going to be a good writer” and “It’s pointless to try, I’m just going to fail”. Just like we don’t go up and swim with the fish, don’t go up and swim with the sharks either! Don’t wrestle with them and certainly don’t feed them. Just let them swim past when they appear.

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Photo by Lubo Minar on Unsplash

  1. Success is possible

I’m not a natural optimist. But I’m working hard to change that. While I may not be ready to throw open my arms and declare “Everything will work out for the best! This is the best of all possible worlds!”, I do find that when combating fear, it’s important to remind myself that success IS possible. I may try and I may fail. That is true. But I may try and I may succeed. That is equally true. It’s important to remember too that success has variable definitions. Success today may mean sitting down and getting something, anything, down on paper. Success in the long-term may be something completely different, but that doesn’t diminish the success of the moment.

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Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

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Learned Patience

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Photo by Tyler Milligan on Unsplash

What no one tells you about pursuing your dreams is how much patience you’ll need to see them through. Perseverance, sure – people will talk about perseverance till they’re blue in the face and you could knock them over with a stiff breeze. But you could try as hard as you can twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred sixty-five days a year and get nothing more than burnt out, because what it really takes to succeed in your goals is patience.

Patience, learning to wait, learning to wait gracefully, has never been one of my strong suits. But it’s something I’m working on, day by day, just like my writing. Here are a few things that I’ve found help me when I’m growing impatient with the pace of my success:

  1. Distract yourself

You may not be able to get the results back from that latest writing contest any faster, or make your writing better by sheer force of will, but damn it, you can get your bathroom clean in one day and you can bake the most amazing batch of banana bread you’ve ever eaten and you can do a myriad of other small, but impressive tasks. Sometimes your brain is like an overactive puppy and it needs exercise and distraction.

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Photo by Simon Maage on Unsplash

  1. Gratitude

This has been a recent tool in my toolbox and to be completely honest with you, I’m not 100% sold on it – but I’ve been told by people whose job it is to know that over time, it really, really helps. Being impatient is partially a sign that you’re not taking stock of all the good things you currently have going for you. You want more, but have you even stopped to appreciate what you have? To cultivate patience, cultivate gratitude. I’m doing this by writing down a daily gratitude journal. Each day, I fill up exactly one page with a list of everything I’m grateful for. Sometimes they’re big things – the love of my family, that the sun comes up every day; sometimes they’re little things – that at least one thing made me smile yesterday, that dogs wag their tails when they’re happy. The point is to reflect on all the good things I do have instead of focus on the things that I don’t.

  1. Physical exercise

I don’t know about you all, but when I get impatient, I get frustrated. And when I get frustrated, I get affected physically – I start to squirm, all my muscles tense, sometimes I even feel like I’m about to cry. That’s why physical exercise can be a good kick in the pants for me to regain some composure. I don’t usually engage in anything too strenuous (a nice walk around the park does it for me most of the time) but I like to get my body up and moving.

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Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

  1. Talk it out

If you’re feeling impatient, talk to someone about it. Unload all your fears and frustrations, let it out and not only will you feel better for not keeping it bottled up inside, but you’ll often realize how ridiculous you sound all on your own. “I’m so frustrated I haven’t published a book yet!” Yeah, self, you’re 28 – you have plenty of time! Slow down, crazy head! “I’m so impatient to hear back from this agent!” Well, you can’t do anything about it, so why not do something more constructive with your energy instead? A friend might even have some great ideas of tasks you can put your back into while you wait.

  1. Meditation

I have a very loud mind. I’m a writer, after all. If my mind were quiet…well, I’d have nothing to say, now would I? Meditation and I have danced around each other for a long time. A long time. But I’ve finally gotten into a pretty consistent practice with it and I honestly can say I think it’s doing me some good. It’s not about emptying your mind of thoughts – that’s impossible. It’s about not chasing after the thoughts that go by. And isn’t that what patience is? Learning to let go of thoughts and desires and instead accept things as they are? Meditation is great practice for that. I personally use an app called “Headspace” and have been really enjoying it, but however or whatever works for you, I’d say give it a shot! We could all use a little more patience in our lives.

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Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

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Editing 101 – 5 Things You’ll Need

I’ve spent a lot of time on this site talking about the difficulties of writing – how hard it can be to sit down and consistently put pen to paper. But after the writing is done, there’s a whole other step that I wanted to take some time today to touch on: editing.

Now editing is the bane of many writers’ existence and for good reason. To sit down and purposefully dissect what you spent so much time assembling is not just a daunting task, but often feels counterproductive. Of course, editing is anything but – it’s the only way to improve at our craft and it’s the only way to truly make our writing the best it can be. But in order to do a really great job editing, there are a few things you need.

  1. Time

You’ll need time in a couple of different ways. First, you’ll need time away from your work. The best edits are done when there’s a bit of distance between you and the words and the only way to get that is to walk away from the manuscript for a while. This can be hard, especially when you feel like you’re on a roll, but trust me, it’s for the best. If you edit too soon after writing, one of two things may happen: (1 & Best Case). You’ll feel like everything you wrote is perfect just the way it is and barely needs to be touched. Viola! You’ve done it! (2 & Worst Case). You’ll feel like everything you wrote is unsalvageable crap and you need to throw it all away and start over again.

The truth is usually somewhere in between. Give yourself the time you need to figure that out.

But you’ll also need time because editing is not going to be a quick process, or at least it shouldn’t be. Editing is where the work of writing really happens and it can take two or three or twelve passes at a work before it’s truly done. Depending on the length of your story, that could mean days or months of editing work. Be patient with yourself. Put in the time now and you will not regret it in the end.

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Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

  1. Space

Just like it’s important for every writer to have dedicated writing space, I think it’s important to have dedicated editing space; a place you go when it’s time to whip out that red pen, whether that pen is literal or metaphorical for you. I’m also of the personal opinion that if you edit on the computer alone, you’re missing something from the process. Don’t be afraid to scribble yourself post it notes, flashcards, or spread out pages of story around you while you work if that’s what it takes. Just make sure you have the space!

  1. Multiple copies

I think most writers have learned this the hard way, so I’m putting this here so maybe someone else doesn’t have to. Never edit in the same file you wrote in. ALWAYS save a new file and perform all your edits there. Doing a new round of edits? Great! Save ANOTHER file. This will make it easier for you to really let loose with the cutting and reworking aspect of editing, when you know you always have your original you can fall back on if you hate what you’ve done. At certain stages of editing, I’ve even created brand new documents just for cut scenes. I almost never end up going back to those files, but to have them at the time feels awfully good.

 

  1. A strong voice

I mean this both literally and metaphorically. As a writer, having a strong voice is key during the editing process. You should know what the work is trying to say and how you want the story to sound in the end, that way you can work towards that. But you should also keep some water on hand, because your voice should get tired when you edit. If you’re not reading your work out loud at least once while you edit, it’s my opinion that you’re doing something very wrong. Reading aloud helps you hear what sentences are working and which aren’t, what dialogue comes off flat and what enriches character, where a metaphor captures a particular mood or image really well and where one derails the moment, and all kinds of other valuable things.  If you’ve never read your work out loud go back and do it now! I guarantee you’ll be surprised at what you hear!

  1. Someone else

In the end, there’s only so much editing of our own work we can do. Having someone else, whether it’s an independent freelance editor or a trusted friend, look at our work and give their feedback is a key step in the writing process. They will catch things that we won’t, that we can’t, because we’re just too close to the work, no matter how long we’ve let it sit for. It’s probably the scariest editing step to embark upon, but it’s also potentially the most rewarding. When someone else looks at our work, they find things that we can improve upon, it’s true, but they also see things that we’re doing well, things we haven’t noticed, but should appreciate! It’s one of the best feelings in the world.

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Gratitude – Writing Edition

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; a readiness to show appreciation for good things and to return good things to others. I’ve been tasked, over the next week, to think about gratitude on a daily basis and it occurred to me that there was no better place to start than to list some of the writing related things for which I am grateful. Now these are in no particular order, I’m not more grateful for number one than I am for number four, they’re simply listed as they came into my head. But I challenge my fellow writers out there to think about their life, specifically their writing and ask themselves: what am I grateful for?

  1. I’m grateful for libraries (and by extension, librarians)

Ever since I was a child, I have been in love with libraries. After all, libraries are where books live and with the help of friendly neighborhood librarians, I could access them all. No tome was ever out-of-bounds to me in any library, whether it was the large public affair downtown or the small, several shelf wide collection in my father’s study. Without libraries I should have never come to adore the written word as I have today and without librarians I wouldn’t have dipped my toe in a fifth of the amazing fantasy worlds I now know.

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Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

  1. I’m grateful for other writers

Whether they be world-famous or just getting started like me, other writers provide constant inspiration for me. They help encourage me to keep trying to perfect my art, offer praise and critique when necessary, and continually give me something to strive for. Some of my best friends over the years have been writers, as well as my biggest heroes. Writers have not just shaped my dreams, they’ve shaped the kind of person I am today.

  1. I’m grateful for my parents

Not once have my parents told me I couldn’t be a writer. Not once have they shown anything but support for my artistic endeavors, whatever shape they might take in the moment. They took a bookish young girl and told her that it was alright to be who she was, a gift I can never repay them for. Through actions and words, they’ve encouraged me to fight my demons and reach for the stars and be a writer, if that’s what I truly want to be.

  1. I’m grateful for my imagination

Sometimes it doesn’t always work when or how I want it to, but in the end my imagination is always there for me. It takes me on weird and wonderful adventures and encourages me to share them with others. My imagination makes me brave, makes me curious, makes me eager to engage with the world around me and it also makes sure that, as long as I am open to it, I’m never, ever bored.

  1. I’m grateful for language

What a gift to be able to communicate with people from across the world through a series of symbols and sounds! How miraculous to be able to twist and jumble and remix those symbols into patterns they’ve never taken on before to say something new, or something familiar and comforting, or something sweet, or something strange. Language, the ability to communicate, is something I should never take for granted.

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Photo by Bruno Martins on Unsplash

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Dreams Worth Fighting For

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Photo by Richard Lee on Unsplash

Dreams are what separate the hopeful from the hopeless. They are our last bastion against despair in an unkind and unfeeling world. It is my dream to one day become a published author and it’s this dream that keeps me going even when everything around me is telling me I’d be better off quitting. But lately, believing in my dream has been a struggle; it’s felt like an impossible dream, like it’s at the top of a very deep well and I’m at the very bottom of it.

If anyone else is feeling this way, I thought I’d pass along some of my favorite quotes about dreams and the importance of dreaming, quotes that always convince me that it’s worthwhile to keep looking up to those dreams and to keep trying to reach them, no matter how far away they might seem.

  1. Pope John XXIII

“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”

  1. Paulo Coelho

“Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life. There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure.”

  1. Langston Hughes

“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”

 

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Photo by Richard Lee on Unsplash

  1. E. Lawrence

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

  1. James Allen

“The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities.”

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“Murder is my favorite crime.”

An excellent examination of one of my favorite films. One day I hope to write something like it!

Meg'N Progress

Some films are like coming home; this home sits at the end of a dark, dank alley.

We know the characters so well, they become family; this family is host to a killer.

And the script is imprinted upon our memory until the dialogue drips from our lips without thought, for indeed, they have become our own thoughts.

One of these films for me is Laura (1944). Like the eponymous heroine, this elegantly crafted Film Noir leaves an indelible impression with every viewing. As summarized on its IMDb page: “A police detective falls in love with the woman whose murder he is investigating.”

Directed by one of the “Old Hollywood” greats, Otto Preminger, Laura is a classic ‘whodunit’? A beautiful dame has been killed, a gumshoe-with-gumption starts asking questions, skeletons rattle in their proverbial closets, and then the first act ends, and nothing is what it seemed.

Remember, spoilers…

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Taking a Break

Many of you noticed that last week I didn’t publish my customary Wednesday post. There’s a couple reasons for that. The main one was that Wednesday was July 4th, Independence Day for the United States of America (where I live), and a national holiday. I decided to honor that holiday by taking the time off, not just off my day job, but off from my writing work as well. I spent the time with family and thoroughly enjoyed stepping away from the keyboard for a spell.

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Photo by Ilham Rahmansyah on Unsplash

However, I also just thought it was time for a break. That’s right, I take breaks from writing and I highly encourage you all to do so as well. I’m not saying that you have carte blanche to stop writing every time it gets hard, but I am saying that I think it’s important to stop writing every once and awhile and take some time for yourself. Why? I’ll tell you.

  1. You need to live a life worth writing about.

If all you’re doing is writing twenty-four hours a day, you’re going to run out of things to say. Your imagination might be endless, but imagination needs reality to feed off of and reality can be hard to see from behind a blank page. It’s important to try, every once and awhile, to get outside of the writing and live a life worth writing about. Go out and meet some interesting people, see some amazing sights, do something you’ve never done before – then you can come back and write about it all.

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Photo by cellier S on Unsplash

  1. You need to let the words breathe.

Words are like fine wine. Many times they need to be decanted and left to breathe before they achieve true greatness. If you’ve just finished writing something, walk away. Don’t jump right into another project, don’t try to sit down and edit what you’ve just written, just walk away. Try engaging in some other activity for a while or simply relax and bask in the glory of a hard task well done – you’ve gotten words on paper, and that is no mean feat. There will be time for editing later, but for now, let the words be.

  1. You need to make time for reading.

If you’re writing all the time, you’re missing an important step in the creative writing process – reading. All the authors I’ve come across agree that if you want to become a great writer the first and most important step is to become a great, prolific, and lifelong reader. Reading widens your vocabulary, increases your brainpower and fuels that ever so important component, your imagination. Don’t neglect it!

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Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

  1. You need to avoid burnout.

All the above are different ways to say the same thing – you want to avoid burning out. It’s not the end of the world to step away from the writing desk if you feel yourself wearing thin; it’s called self-care. Know your limits and when you feel yourself approaching them, don’t push harder: go out and live your life, let the words breathe, take some time for reading, just do whatever it is you have to do to relax and avoid burnout. Recharge and come back to the writing later; it’ll still be there.

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Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

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When You Have to Write

On this blog I’ve spent a lot of time extolling the virtues of what I like to think of as ‘writing when you’re ready’. Not torturing yourself over the keyboard to get down word after word if they just aren’t coming, while not completely abandoning the project or idea of writing either. All that being said, there are times when one simply has to write – a deadline looms, a finished project is expected, and there can be no walking away from the keyboard or paper this time.

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Photo by Kevin on Unsplash

So, what is one to do when one must write but finds themselves with no appetite for it? How can you make this laborious and often painful undertaking any easier? Below are a few of my personal tips and tricks that I’ve used when I’ve found myself in just such a situation; they’ve helped me, maybe they can help you.

  1. Easily achievable goals

The first step is to make sure you set up a series of easily achievable goals for yourself. If the only goal you set up is ‘to be finished’, that’s going to feel nigh impossible almost from the get go. Instead set up goals like, ‘I will write fifty words’, then ‘I will write one hundred words’, and so on and so on until you’ve reached a finishing point. These smaller goals will seem much more within your grasp and not nearly so daunting, like levels in a video game.

  1. The carrot or carrots

Participation awards aren’t just for little children – they’re for everyone. Set up rewards for yourself when you finish each of your goals. Have the self-discipline to set limits on your goals and make sure the size of the reward matches the size of the goal accomplished (i.e. it does you no good to be on a deadline and write only fifty words then watch two hours of tv, does it?) but also make sure they are things that legitimately make you feel good.

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Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

  1. The stick or sticks

This goes hand in hand with step two above; you also have to have the self-discipline to deny yourself things you might want until the goals have been accomplished. Haven’t written the next hundred words? No Facebook for you. Hold yourself to the promises you make and you’ll be amazed at what you’re motivated to accomplish.

  1. Banish negative talk from the room

There may very well be a time and a place to be self-critical (perhaps a blog post on that later), but now is certainly not it. You’re going to need all your concentration and all your self-confidence to complete the hard task placed before you and that leaves no room for doubt or self-recriminations. If you feel yourself starting to chastise, for whatever reason, stop what you’re doing and refocus on the positive.

  1. Write with a friend

Don’t quite trust yourself? No shame in that, sometimes we all need someone to hold us accountable! Write with a friend, someone who also has a project pending, and feed off of each other’s hard work and motivation. Set your goals together and take your rewards together. If one of you starts to flag, encourage the other. You’re in this together!

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Hulk Keyboard Smash – Avoiding Writing Frustration

Have you ever wanted to pick up your keyboard and smash it over your own head because you were just so irritated with the whole concept of writing? Ever stared with loathing at your laptop and seriously considered chucking the thing across the room and into a wall because the words weren’t coming out the way you wanted them to? Ever scribbled out, torn up, crumpled up, or otherwise destroyed your written work out of sheer frustration?

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Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

We’ve all been there. Even the best writers hit the occasional wall or stumbling block (we’ve talked about writer’s block on this site before) and it can be hard to know what to do when sitting down to write fills you with anger rather than joy. The important thing to remember is that the majority of feelings are temporary, not permanent. The thing that is bringing you frustration now isn’t always going to elicit that response from you. If you enjoyed writing in the past, the overwhelming likelihood is that you’re going to enjoy writing again. Sometimes it just takes a little work, a little time, and some perspective.

 

If writing is turning you into the Hulk, try the tips below to regain some much-needed calm.

  1. Walk away from the keyboard.

You’re not doing yourself or anyone a favor by sitting there fuming. Get up, yes, physically get up from where you are sitting down to write, and walk. away. Go to an entirely different space in your house, in your neighborhood, in your town. Take a stroll through a nearby park or go for a quick walk around the block – just put some physical distance between yourself and the act of trying to write. You’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel and you’ll know when you’re ready to come back and give it another try.

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Photo by Zack Minor on Unsplash

  1. Talk over your frustrations with friends/family.

Find someone you can trust and unburden yourself to them. Get angry and rant if you need to. Curse. Just let it all out. Get someone else’s perspective on your current or recent work if you’re experiencing frustration over a particular passage or section of your writing. Ask for constructive feedback, but don’t discount the massive good that a little simple commiseration can do for you. Sometimes it’s just nice to know that your feelings are valid, heard, and appreciated by someone else. Once again, you’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel and you’ll know when you’ve said enough and when you’re ready to come back to the writing and give it another try.

 

  1. Read over old work.

Now this tip can be a little dangerous. If you’re in a particularly self-critical mood, or you’re feeling frustrated because it feels like none of the stuff you’re writing is good enough, you might want to give this one a miss. You risk opening up a whole editing can of worms where you rip apart your old stuff as well as your new stuff and end up twice as disheartened as when you started. But, if you’re simply feeling frustrated because you feel like you can’t write, or you’re looking for some validation that you can write well, it might be a good idea to look over some of your older, completed works and remind yourself that yes, you can do this and yes, you can do it well.

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Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

  1. Try writing something different.

So your current work in progress leaves you feeling like you want to kick puppies into the sun. First, try tip number one and walk away for a little while until you feel calmer. Then, when you do feel ready to come back, try working on something different. Let your WIPs marinate and move on to other things, if you have that option. It’s important to try to prove to yourself that not all writing is rage inducing, just some of it is, temporarily.

 

  1. Don’t beat yourself up.

You may notice that I include this tip on a lot of lists. I’ve noticed that writers fall into two main categories: the self-congratulatory or the self-flagellatory. Far more of us fall into the second category than the first, in my experience. I’d like to change that if I can. Life is short and writers are amazing chroniclers of its fleeting beauty. We also have one of the hardest jobs in the world. Writing is HARD. It’s hard to do at all, let alone to do it well, and being hard on oneself isn’t going to make it any easier. So if you are finding yourself getting irked at your work, don’t take it upon yourself as sign of some inner failing or proof that you were never meant to be a real writer or any nonsense like that. It’s just a sign that hey, this writing stuff is hard. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

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Publisher’s Circle: Sky Island Journal

It is a great privilege to present to you my flash fiction piece Bittersweet, published in Issue #5 of Sky Island Journal.

Please, read it (and the other fantastic pieces I am lucky enough to be published alongside) and let me know what you think! Click on the cover below to visit the journal.

Sky Island Journal_Issue 5_Cover

If you liked what you read, please consider following Sky Island Journal on the following platforms:

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