5 Things My Inner Critic Says and How I Shut Her Up

a face looking into a mirror with the caption, You are your biggest obstacleI always try to write, but sometimes my progress comes to a grinding halt. Usually this happens when I allow my inner critic too much volume in my head and she drowns out my inner cheerleader. She’s really a bitch. Here are the most common things she says, and how I shut her up.

  1. This is taking forever/I’m too slow.

This is a classic example of comparing to other people and is a major downer. Time is always relative, and everyone does things at their own pace. Sometimes I’m slow, and it seems like everyone else is just skipping through their books. But ultimately, I have to write at my own pace. I’ll get there when I get there. Each word is one step closer to the end. And at worst, I just say what they said on the Titanic: It’ll all be over soon.

  1. I’m not good enough (or this isn’t as good as the last thing I read/wrote)

Another comparison mistake and also a very subjective one. I often lament that I can’t write a twist ending like this person, or a love scene like that person, or imagine a dystopian/sci-fi/fantasy universe as well as those people. But you know what? I’m pretty fucking good at some other stuff. I can think of at least one thing I do well and concentrate on that. And really, just writing helps solve this problem. Not good at twists? Keep writing. Then write some more. The more I write, the better it gets. Eventually, I won’t have to worry about being good enough, because I’ll just have words on the page, typing like a boss. Next thing I know, I’m too busy writing them down to worry about whether or not they’re good enough. Besides, I can let someone else decide that.

  1. I don’t have enough experience

I look at the oeuvre of someone like Suzanne Collins or Stephen King and think, I could never do that. That’s a ton of books. How did they write all those books? I can’t do that. I don’t know anything about writing books. But the thing is, writing is experience. Everyone has to start at zero. Every lawyer has a first case, every doctor has a first patient. And every writer has a first word, first sentence, first paragraph, and first book. I just have to resist the urge to throw up my hands and give up because I don’t have years of experience and dozens of books under my belt. Ol’ Steve and Suzy had to start with one word at a time too. The only difference between them and me is that they’ve been doing it longer. Which means I still have my youth. So I guess I’m up on them for that.

  1. No one is reading my work (I.e. No one cares)

Lordy, this one gets me. It feels like I’ve been spinning my wheels, writing like crazy, and not a single damn person knows or cares. Okay, time to pack up the pity party. Stow the waterworks, and get back to writing. This is the reality check I give myself: Was that really why you started? To make people care about you? Since when is everything about you? You know those folks who stand outside supermarkets handing out flyers? How many times have you walked by them without taking one? Do you see them crying about it? No. They just keep on sharing with the next person, and the next, and the next, until someone takes one. Then they go on to the next person. Eventually, they are out of flyers and have to reload. You need to do the same. Just keep putting words on the page, pages in the world. And sooner or later, someone will read it. Then someone else. And before you know it, I’m sharing! Additionally, there is something to be said for making my mistakes while no one is paying any attention. Hopefully, by the time people are paying attention, I’ll really have my shit together, and my writing will be seen by tons of people.

  1. This character sucks. My ideas suck. I’m not original.

This is the height of self-loathing. I’m really good at this one, and it requires a full on pep talk. For one, originality is a myth, and subjective. For two, ideas are just ideas. Two people could take the same idea and do something completely different with it. This is a wall that you throw up out of fear and nothing else. If you really think your idea/character sucks, at least see it through to the end. I’ve had to struggle through some really crappy points in my stories, and getting through to the other side is the hardest part. Many things can change in that time. And when it’s all on the page, I keep what works and chuck the rest. But there’s no point in abandoning my baby until I’ve finished it and seen it fully formed. Respect the process, respect the work, and respect yourself.

PHOTO CREDIT: https://pixabay.com/en/face-boy-head-confrontation-937887/

5 Ways to Build Your Fan Base

Rock Concert CrowdBuilding my fan base is probably one of the most annoying and difficult things to do. It also creates a fair amount of anxiety, because being popular isn’t something I’ve ever had much luck with. Nevertheless, it’s something that has to be done if anyone besides my friends are going to read my work. And even they get tired of my writing eventually. But below are the 5 ways I’m trying to be popular build my fan base.

  1. Write like crazy. Write, write, write. If I only ever wanted to write one book, there would be very little chance anyone at all will find that one book. And an even smaller chance that a lot of people will find it. Keep writing. Keep publishing. Keep putting my work into the world where more people are likely to bump into it. And then write some more.
  1. I got a website. I’m not going to go into the nuts and bolts of this since there are so many directions one can go in, but I did my best to set something up that was pleasing to the eye and easy to navigate. It isn’t fancy. It does reflect what I do. I even keep a blog there. I make sure to keep my website up to date and engaging and make sure people can contact me and find my writing either for free or for sale.
  1. Build my email contacts. I’m working on this one. It’s really fucking hard. I don’t know why, but sending people an email from a list feels, well, kinda sleazy. Like I’m selling Viagra or something. But the truth is, I sign up for newsletters that are totally (okay, mostly) legit. Why wouldn’t someone want to sign up for mine? This way, I have a direct line to my audience (which currently stands at a whopping 16 people) whenever I have something to say (which, let’s face it, is all the fucking time). I try to send emails regularly. Once every four months is not enough. People forget. There isn’t one right answer for how often you should send an email to your contact list, but it’s somewhere between once a week and once a month. Right now I try to send something every other week. Do what’s right for you, then do it religiously.
  1. Set up an author page on Facebook. This is a starting point and requires maintenance. I try to post something about once a day. It’s not groundbreaking or difficult, but results can be slow. This is the long game, folks. Not instant stardom, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see a ton of traffic for a while. I have about 100 likes on my page, and some of them I don’t even know. So I’ll take it.
  1. Talk to other authors. Especially those that write in a similar genre. Read their work. Let them read mine. The truth is, we’re all in this together, and the writer who doesn’t support other authors is in for a tough road indeed. But here’s where there is the chance for cross-pollination and synergy. Say you meet a writer, and you like them and hopefully their writing. You read their book. It’s great! Who are you going to tell? Your contacts and readers, of course. It’s not a quid pro quo kind of thing, but there’s probably a decent chance they’ll give you a shout out as well to their fan base. Additionally, it gives us contact with people who understand the joys and frustrations of being a writer, whom we can commiserate with, whether we need to celebrate or support. Either way, you’re finding more work that inspires you, and hopefully will spur you to keep writing, which takes us back to #1 and starts the cycle all over again.

Photo Credit: https://burst.shopify.com/photos/rock-concert-crowd

5 Ways to Make Your Protagonist Better

woman holding plaid scarf in front of her faceThere are certain characters that leap off the page and others that just kind of mosey from it, only to be forgotten moments later. Obviously, having a memorable and dynamic protagonist is one key to a great story, so, as you wade into their lives, here are some strategies for making that protagonist leap:

  1. Get to know her.

This person should literally talk to you. You should have the sound of her voice in her head. You should be able to talk about her as if you are childhood chums, and you’ve known her your whole life. Think about her past before this story. Not just the big stuff, but the little stuff too. Has she always lived here? What is her favorite thing she’s ever done or seen? Who are her heroes? What is her favorite color? Her favorite movie? TV show? Book? These are all things that will most likely not be in your story, but they will shape who she is and affect her reactions to things. Make her clear as day.

  1. Give her a clear goal.

What does she want? If you find yourself stuttering something like “well she just wants to find love but she also really wants cake and is sort of annoyed by her mother” (whoops, that’s my life), that’s not clear. Nor are those goals. (Sidenote: NOT getting that goal should also have a clear consequence so we know how important it is) She wants to marry the prince is a clear goal. She’s searching for the best cake in the world is clear. She wants to reconcile with her mother, who is on her death bed, is a clear goal.

  1. Give her a flaw.

As we all know, nobody’s perfect. And your heroine can’t be either. Now I know, (for those of you who do, in fact, have female protagonists) that you want your gal to be strong, empowered, and in control of her destiny. But the truth is, people who are perfect are boring. They have no conflict in their lives, and stories with no conflict are boring. In reality, even empowered women have flaws. Maybe they have a secret shame, or maybe they are so powerful, they lack empathy for a certain person. Maybe they are too tough to recognize the power in vulnerability. Maybe they have a self-esteem problem. And sometimes, strengths can double as weaknesses. Example: Loyalty. She will always 100% have your back, but she may also be blinded to the facts, or take that loyalty too far and beat up some jerk who said something mean.

  1. Tell us what she loves. Better yet, show us.

Everybody loves something, and we need to see it. This is how we start to learn what makes your character tick. And as with everything, make it as precise as possible. Rather than a character that loves cats, which cat? A specific object or being makes it personal and relatable. We may not all have a cat we love, but we all love something, so we can get on board with your character right away.

  1. Make her active.

This is a pitfall many writers experience, particularly if their character is shy. Instead of being someone who does things, they’re someone that things happen to. It is critical that your character is proactive, rather than reactive. She needs to decide to do something, then go do it. Having other characters decide and thrust their will upon her makes her weak and uninteresting, and it will feel like she is standing still while the story moves around her. Make her move, or your story will stand still anyway.

PHOTO CREDIT: https://unsplash.com/search/woman?photo=Z3IrYTlf_WY

5 Reasons to Read 7 Essential Writing Tools by Marni Freedman

The cover of the book, 7 Essential Writing ToolsI recently read the book, 7 ESSENTIAL WRITING TOOLS THAT WILL ABSOLUTELY MAKE YOUR WRITING BETTER AND ENLIVEN YOUR SOUL. Or for brevity’s sake: 7 Essential Writing Tools. Full disclosure: the author, Marni Freedman, is a friend and writing coach that I have known for years. However, she didn’t pressure me (or even ask me) to buy her book. I paid full price for it on Amazon, without her knowledge. I just wanted to check it out. And here are the 5 reasons you need it.

  1. There are only 7 of them!

Everyone knows my affinity for lists. Well, 5 may be my favorite number, but 7 is a close second place (See? I even number my numbers!) I like seven because it feels good, was John Elway’s number, and because it’s a lucky number. And with only 7 Tools, it’s easy to keep track of them, implement them, review them, and remember them. It’s not a complicated system, just a list. In fact, I’m pretty sure she wrote this book with 7 tools just for me.

2. It will enliven your soul.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical. A book on writing that will enliven your soul? Come on! I said, rolling my eyes. But the truth was that as I flipped from one page to the next, I felt my inner critic melt away and slink off into a corner. I felt my inner sun push the clouds away and remembered that inspiration always lies within, whether I’m tapping into it or letting it lie dormant. I felt truly inspired and supported, and everything felt so doable. It’s not a bunch of gobbledygook of complicated plans that you must follow without fail. It’s flexible. It’s human. It’s introspective. And it’s all possible.

3. It’s fun.

Marni writes in a fun style, and I can hear her voice in every sentence, followed by her laughing at the adventure that is writing. I hear her playfulness and her supportiveness, and I want to get to the next page and see what fun story she’s going to tell next. I particularly like the stories of her son Ben, who reminds us all that imagination is not to be trifled with and is the most magical and natural thing in the world.

4. The tools are actually useful.

Yes, really. In the first hour of reading, a light bulb came on in my head. In the second hour, I grabbed my notebook to jot down some new goals and ideas. Every hour of reading turned on a new light, until the inside of my head and soul looked like the Vegas Strip. It’s easy to take notes, follow along, record your progress, and backtrack if necessary. The beauty of the tools is that they set you up to succeed, not fail. They’re also not an end, but a process that is ever-changing and developing, so these tools can be recycled no matter how many times you’ve used them, how experienced you are, or how old you are.

5. It feels like a hug on paper.

Marni is one of the most supportive and understanding people on this planet, with a real knack for getting people to open up. She is ever patient and gentle, even during moments of tough love. You may not ever get the benefit of knowing her personally, but you can still reap the benefits here. You can feel her encouragement leaping off every page, urging you to be your best self, and forgiving you if you fall short. It really feels like a hug on every page, reminding you that what you have to share with the world is special and unique, whether you are writing a memoir, a dystopian fantasy, or a textbook. She gets it, and she gets you.

 

5 Ways to Reframe Your Writing Goals

looking down from a very high and scary place1) Old Goal: Submit Work

New Goal: Get Rejected

We’ve all seen the contests and call for submissions. They look so attractive, with money or exposure or cache attached to them. You might think of all the other writers who are also submitting their work and freeze up. I’ll never get in, you might say. My work isn’t good enough, you might cry. Well, that may be true. So prove it. I dare you to prove that you aren’t good enough. That you’ll never get accepted. I fucking dare you to prove it so hard. Show me I’m wrong. Collect as many rejections from as many different places as possible. Get letters from agents, editors, magazines, publishers, contests, residencies, freelance jobs, and any other place that will reject you. Collect as many letters every month as you possibly can. Because the truth is, you might (and probably will) get rejected from many of them. But, just like no one can hit a home run every time, no one can strike out every time, either. Sooner or later, while I’m eating crow reading your rejection letters, you’re getting lucky and making contact with the ball. It might just be a single to get you on base, but at least you’re not still on the bench. Added bonus: you will have written more stuff, and most likely written better and better stuff, which improves the chances of getting accepted. See how you did that? You’re welcome.

But, just like no one can hit a home run every time, no one can strike out every time, either. Sooner or later, while I’m eating crow reading your rejection letters, you’re getting lucky and making contact with the ball. It might just be a single to get you on base, but at least you’re not still on the bench. Added bonus: you will have written more stuff, and most likely written better and better stuff, which improves the chances of getting accepted. See how you did that? You’re welcome.

2) Old Goal: Finish a Book/Story/Whatever

New Goal: Build a Pipeline

Stop thinking of your book as your magnum opus (that’s “big work” for anyone who doesn’t drink wine or speak Latin). Thinking of your book as something that needs to make a difference and be big and important is a sure fire way to make it crash in a fiery ball of anxiety and fear, creating a massive crater of disgust when it hits Earth. Instead, think of your book as a stepping stone. As in, once I finish this, I can start another one. Then another, and another. Then it becomes a flow of books that lead to your other books, all available to eager readers. Bam. You have a pipeline. You’re welcome.

3) Old Goal: Sell Books

New Goal: Connect With Your Tribe

Many of us are trying to make a few bucks with our blood, sweat, and tear-stained pages. But putting pressure on ourselves to be merchants might be getting in the way of connecting. So find a new frame. No one likes a salesperson. So don’t sell. Share. Give. Listen. This is what we do with friends and people we connect with. This is what your goal should be. Find readers (and other writers) that you connect with. This is a more organic relationship than selling something to someone, and it lasts longer. I can buy a car from a guy, but I won’t remember him years later. If I buy a piece of art from someone I know, you bet I’ll be back again later. It’s the difference between a transaction and a meaningful experience. It lasts. You’re welcome.

4) Old Goal: Improve Writing

New Goal: Write Crap

We all want to be better. At everything. All the time. But the truth is, improvement takes time, and perfection is an imaginary thing. So don’t work toward that. Work toward creating a giant pile of pages with stupid shit written on them. Make it big enough for a bonfire. I read a study that divided a pottery class into two groups. Group A had to make one perfect/amazing piece to get an A. Group B had to make a number of pieces that would weigh a certain amount altogether. Who made the better work? Group B, of course. They weren’t concerned with quality, so they just kept at it, practicing more and more and more, all semester long. They weren’t getting in their own way, and as a result, naturally improved. Not every piece was amazing, but Babe Ruth didn’t hit a home run every time he was at bat. You won’t either, but the more you play, the more you’ll run the bases. You’re welcome.

5) Old Goal: Write Something Important

New Goal: Scare Myself.

Nothing good is ever easy, and vice versa. Writing something important or profound isn’t easy, and making an effort to do so is often unsuccessful. Instead of trying to be important, be real. Write something that delves deep into who you are and what you believe. Write about things that are deeply personal. Write something raw. I once wrote a piece about a homophobic character. It was excruciatingly difficult since I would never say the things this character said. But, at the end of it, I had written something that mattered to me, something that exposed a certain pity for those who hate. It was terrifying to read the words I had written for this character. This, of course, was a few drafts in, and this draft captured the essence of the story more fully than the previous drafts when I hadn’t wanted to ‘go there.’ Go there. At the very least, you will have written something that is important to you. You’re welcome.

Photo credit: http://nos.twnsnd.co/image/131559787216

5 Reasons I Love Lists

List with Pencil

Just 5 Things came about because I love lists. Five is a bit of a random number, but it’s a great one because it elegantly coincides with holding one hand up to count things. It’s more robust than three things, and less fussy than 10 (I personally hate top 10 lists in general). But I love lists and will continue to make them until the day I die (which hopefully won’t be anytime soon). Why do I love lists? Let me count the (five) ways:

  1. Organizing my thoughts. When I have a bunch of things swimming around in my head, making a list always helps me sort them out. I can see in one easy place what needs to be done, what can be grouped together, what is urgent, and what can be done later. I can decide if I want to do the group of errands, or the writing, or the fun. My brain doesn’t have to store the information because I wrote it down.
  1. Prioritizing. I can see what is urgent. Sometimes the most urgent thing is washing the dishes. Other times it’s getting groceries. But usually, it’s writing. It may be the third or fourth or eighth thing I write down, but I can do it first once I see how it stacks up to the rest of the list.
  1. They’re quick and easy. Making these lists takes all of five minutes (you see how I love the number five?). And they’re never done. I may make a list that has four things on it, then do a couple, then realize a couple of other things I forgot to write down and add them. I don’t have to make a new list if I don’t want to. But ultimately, I haven’t spent lots of time and trouble poring over what should be on the list. I just wrote it down and got started.
  1. They measure progress. There is no greater joy than seeing how a list changes from week to week. One week, I may write down “brainstorm novella idea.” The next week it becomes “outline novella.” Then it becomes “Write Chapter 1,” and before I know it, I’m writing down “edit first draft.” It feels good not to write the same thing over and over again, and when I find that happening, I take a hard look at my goals and motivations to see if this is something I truly want. If it is, I do that first, before anything else so I can write something new the next time. I call this eating the frog (doing the most difficult thing first), but I don’t remember where I got that expression. Eating the frog motivates me. I do it once, then move on to eating cake.
  1. Crossing things off. Okay, I lied. There is no greater joy than crossing things off the list. I love seeing a list of things with lines through them at the end of a day, weekend, or week. Or month or year for that matter. Each line is a small (or BIG!) victory, and a lesson in productivity. Sometimes I get to the end of a day that didn’t feel all that productive, and I take a look at the list. What felt like ‘doing nothing’ was watering the plants, writing a blog post, catching up on Game of Thrones, washing the dishes, buying a birthday card, paying bills, doing laundry, reading, showering, exercising, and taking the dog for a walk. We may not feel like we’re doing things a lot of the time, but lists can show us what we do so we can be proud of what we accomplish every day.

Photo Credit: https://stocksnap.io/photo/TVEUBLIOSK

5 Ways to Be Feisty

5-ways-to-be-feisty

They told me to write feisty since in real life I’m feisty. I also have plenty of sass, so it’s kind of a double whammy. Oddly enough, it’s not as easy as it sounds, but here’s how I do it:

      1.  Don’t GAF. As in, Don’t Give A Fuck. I don’t give a fuck if you like my advice, my writing, or me. Deal with it. I’ll move on, write more, and forget about everything except what I want to say.
      2. Have an opinion. You don’t have to agree with me. I don’t have to agree with you. But I’ll say what I think, move on, write more, and forget about everything except what I want to say.
      3. Don’t take shit so seriously. It’s not curing cancer, for God’s sake. It’s just writing.Twitter And it’s just a blog. It’s not War and Peace, or Dante’s Inferno. It’s just writing. So I’ll move on, write more, and forget about everything except what I want to say.
      4. Don’t try to change things. I don’t need to change anyone. I’m just writing to try to give people a shot in the arm when they need it and help them break through blocks. Maybe they’ll enjoy reading them. Maybe they’ll get through their issues. Maybe not. Either way, I’ll move on, write more, and forget about everything except what I want to say.
      5. Have a cocktail and relax. Something about bourbon helps loosen up my thoughts. It turns the editor in me off and lets the words just roll out. And sure, there’s most likely going to be some curse words in there to drive my point home. But I’m having fun, so who cares? I’ll just move on, write more, and forget about everything except what I want to say.

 

Photo Credit: Police Dog, Tess, 01/29/35 by Sam Hood. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales www.sl.nsw.gov.au