Five Stages of Editing a Novel

Editing a novel is a thick fucking task, there are no buts about it. Anyone who says it’s easy is an asshole and/or a liar. If you’re working on your first draft, here are the stages you’ll go through, complete with tears, laughter, madness, and despair.


1. Euphoria

Holy shit, I wrote a book! That’s what happens immediately after you type THE END, and it feels like fucking magic. Like you have lightning bolts coming out of your fingertips, and you are suddenly the figure in your imagination, churning out blessed words that people the world over will clamor to read, hear, and speak.

2. Panic

Holy shit, I wrote a book! This stage happens about five minutes after the first stage but lasts much longer. This is where you bite your lip as you stare at the literal REAM of paper you just printed out, and you ask yourself, nay, berate yourself for writing 86,000 words. Do I have to figure out where the glitches are? How will I ever find them? Why didn’t I just write a limerick instead? Woe is me! I’ll never finish! (Or if you’re especially dramatic and have a flair for languages, you might say “Dios mio!” And press the back of your wrist to your forehead, and possibly faint.). That’s how I roll.

3. Fear

There’s a good chance that you now treat that manuscript like it’s a rattlesnake, and boy is that rattle going. You don’t want to touch that stack of cellulose for anything in the world. It might burn you, or you may burn it, just out of spite and self-destruction. You put it in a corner of your house when you get tired of giving it a wide berth every time you walk into the house and turn on the television. It may grow into a ghost of sorts, haunting you in your sleep, and having strangers come over and stare at you wide-eyed, while they point hesitantly and say, “W-w-w-what’s that?”

4. The Ceremonial Eating of the FROG.

This is where you actually exorcise that fucking demon and pull it into the light, blow the dust off, and start reading. You have your trusty pen in hand to wipe away the drivel you wrote before, and you smile when you come across a piece that reminds you how much you enjoy writing. Alternately, you feel like a genius and a moron as you read what you wrote. You work through your manuscript like Indiana Jones hacks through the jungle (with a machete and roguish smile), and then you make those changes to the actual file like you’re seizing a flag at the top of Mount Everest. Good for you, you fucking baller. You mountain-climbing, jungle-thrashing, ghost-killing BOSS. You’ll continue to oscillate between steps 2, 3, and 4 for a while, so buckle up.

5. The Unburdening

You’ve gone through the stages multiple times, and you didn’t think you were ever going to make it. You probably missed someone’s birthday in there (hint: it was your own), and you can’t remember the names of the people living in your home with you, but you made it. You’ve grown a hump from hunching over both manuscript and keyboard, and you recoil from sunlight like a vampire. But you know what? You got through it. You’ve gone through all the stages and lived, just like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, or (for something a little less gruesome), Nicholas Cage in National Treasure. And you have your treasure, and it’s ready to go off on its own with a cute little backpack and a walking stick, and charm everyone it meets along the way, while you start the next book, because you can’t wait to repeat these five stages AGAIN.

Photo Credit: Stock Snap

How Meditation Can Help When Writing About Emotional Events

a person laying on the ground in sorrowAre you ever apprehensive before writing about a painful emotional scene in your memoir? Taking a deep dive into a difficult memory can often take us right back to that time as if we’re reliving the moment. Although this makes for great descriptive writing, when writing something troubling or traumatic, we can viscerally re-experience our sadness, fear, despair, and rage. Sometimes it leaves us reeling.

It’s important to keep the emotional body safe when diving into a more intense scene. How do we accomplish this task—telling our story, without feeling re-traumatized by the telling?

One of the best ways I’ve found is with meditation. It allows you to center yourself, focus on your breathing and enter a state of calm mind and body. Meditation helps shift the nervous system out of the fight or flight response that gets activated during trauma and stress. By doing a short meditation before and after writing an emotional scene, you create a safe space in which to write.

For an example of a meditation you can use, click the link or read the transcription below.


Close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breath, the simple rhythm of in and out, in and out. Feel the air entering and exiting your nose. Sense as each inhale and exhale becomes smoother and longer. Rest deeply in the pauses between your in-breath and out-breath. Notice, as your breath slows, your heart beats slower. As your heart softens, your mind becomes quiet and tranquil, like a calm lake on a windless day.

From this relaxed state of body and mind, envision a warm, golden light above the crown of your head. Imagine that light entering your body through the top of your head, bringing softness to your face. Feel the muscles of your forehead, eyes, cheeks, nose and jaw release and let go. Sense the warmth of the golden light moving down your neck and into your shoulders, rolling down your arms to the tips of your fingers. Become aware of the light filling the space in your chest, caressing your heart and creating a safe space to feel. Let the golden illumination shine down, pooling in your lower belly, then gently flowing down your legs, relaxing the muscles of your thighs, shins, and calves. As it reaches your feet, embrace complete relaxation. Float in a sea of comfort and peace.

Rest in this peaceful stillness with your eyes remaining gently closed. Then draw your inner gaze slightly inward and upward to the space just between and slightly above your eyebrows. Invite an image to form in your mind. An image of a place where you’ve felt entirely serene, safe and protected. Remember its colors, hear the sounds, notice the texture of the surface supporting you. Sense the temperature of the air around you, smell the aromas. Touch and feel your environment with your mind. Allow this place of secure refuge to fill you with a sense of protection and peace, knowing deep in your core that you are safe.

Connect this profound level of safety to a place deep in your heart. Allow this calming sense of protection to anchor you in a space of security as you begin to contemplate the emotional scene you’ll be writing. As memories or intense emotions arise, take special care to keep your body comfortable and relaxed, breathing slowly, in, out, in, out. Let this stable state of Being you’ve cultivated through this meditation be your foundation—a safe harbor to rest amidst any stormy emotions that emerge. When you feel ready to transcribe your memories into powerful words on the page, slowly open your eyes and begin to write.


After writing your scene, check back in with your body and mind. Notice any sensations or vibrations that may need soothing. If you feel activated in any way, close your eyes and repeat the body scan and meditation. Or you may simply focus on your breath until your mind, body, and heart feel at peace again.

Using these breathwork and meditation techniques can help you maintain a sense of equanimity and peaceful awareness when writing difficult emotional scenes. Once you’ve tried this meditation, please leave your comments and share your experience.


A photo of Kimberly JoyKimberly Joy writes to share messages that uplift and inspire. Her pieces encourage and provide new ways of perceiving the world and life’s experiences. Her background as a Physical Therapist, Restorative Yoga Teacher and Guided Meditation Specialist gives her a deep understanding of the mind-body connection. She loves to share this wisdom in hopes of assisting others on their journeys of health, healing, and inner peace. You can find more of her writing at


Photo Credit: Kimberly Joy and Žygimantas Dukauskas on Unsplash

Something Special

solo female piloting a helicopter“I thought you were going to do something more with your life.” He stops himself, this friend and classmate I haven’t seen in 20 years.  “I mean, I know you’re an amazing mum and done some cool things. But, you know, I thought you were one of the ones that were going somewhere special.”

He means it as a compliment. It hits me like a close-range shotgun shell in the chest. Because I believed what he believed about me when I was 16, too.

He’s a pilot for my nation’s airline, and we’ve just spent four hours going over how hard it was for him to get in that first officer seat. How he floundered in those formative years we shared in the back end of rural-ville. Both of us aching to get out of there, filled with ideas and notions that got us nowhere fast in an ag-centric town, lacking the role models to make the leap our deeper natures knew was possible. “Why don’t you grow up to write and paint and be closer to your higher self,” said no one.

We’re both drunk at this point, so I forgive him this low blow (not to mention there’s nothing like seeing a cute boy turned into a good-looking man without the painful in between). Next morning, after he leaves, and through my IPA of a headache, it hits me that I’m my own best role model. The work I’m doing now. The writing, the scribbling and filling composition books and pretty little journals is a solo journey. Belief in the art, in the making of the art, and that I am the right person for the job, for society, for my own sanity. It’s a tall order. Sustaining the belief that choosing words and creating stories that just won’t sit down in the bleachers of my brain is a necessary part of my journey.

Photo Credit:

My New Narrative by Danielle Baldwin

A group holding their hands in solidarity in the center of a circle“Hi, I’m Danielle. I work in new business and strategy,” I would say, balancing my tiny spear of Swedish meatballs in one hand while I extended the other at a networking event. The person I was introducing myself to would nod, acknowledging my role, recognizing the large company I worked for. We’d sip cheap red wine and talk about our industry. I felt confident in my place in the world and in my “story” as a corporate executive.

I never introduced myself as a writer. It was a subplot to the “story of Danielle,” written into casual conversations about hobbies, somewhere between “brussels sprouts connoisseur” and “die-hard dog person.”

Two weeks ago, I attended a small business expo. This was my first time introducing myself as a writer in a professional setting. I felt shaky, worried that as I uttered the words, someone might laugh. They might tilt their head, the way my dog Nala does when she hears a sound she doesn’t recognize. Would people recognize me as a writer when it was hard enough for me to recognize myself?

Fear pushed aside, I pulled my shoulders back and for several hours of networking, introduced myself as a writer. Generally speaking, I heard these three responses over the course of the event:

  1. “Ohhhhh, that’s interesting,” they’d say, eyes sweeping the horizon for an escape route, looking as though they’d just swallowed a live chicken. As we continued our conversation in halting phrases, one of their body parts would begin to bounce or twitch. They’d see “someone they know” at the farthest corner of the room, and were gone so fast I was surprised they didn’t leave smoke trails.
  2. “That’s so cool, I write, too! I’ve got a great idea for a book, it’s about this guy who’s a sloth keeper on a frozen planet…(fast forward several minutes) do you do any ghostwriting?” Their eyes bright and I’d smile, mentally taking inventory of my own partially edited manuscript, all my unwritten blogs posts, the deadline for an article, which I was now counting down in hours instead of days. Our conversation would pitter-patter back and forth, until they realized I was not going to write their book for them, and then they were off to refill their drink.
  3. “Interesting. What kind of writing do you do and what are you currently working on?” A book person, I’d think to myself, thank you, Jesus. I’d list the different types of freelance projects I have in the works and mention I’m in the process of editing my manuscript.

“What type of manuscript? Fiction?” they’d ask.

“No, memoir actually,” I’d say.

Here is where the conversation would hit a pivotal moment and I’d watch them curiously, knowing our casual chatter would abruptly end or shift to a deeper level of dialogue.

If it started with an awkward silence, then I knew the rest of the conversation was going to flop around like a dying fish on a dock. They would avoid asking me questions about my project or joke about how I’m neither old enough nor have the life experience to write a memoir. I’d laugh and ask them a question about their line of work, watching the worry lines between their eyebrows soften, and knew the conversation was not veering anywhere near writing again—not memoir, not freelance, not writing of any kind.

Those who were brave maintained eye contact and asked about the subject matter of my memoir. When I’d tell them it is a story about motherhood and my journey through the fertility process while losing my mom to cancer, I’d carefully watch their face, high-fiving them in my mind for hanging on for the ride. To the man (or woman), they’d smile, and I’d let out the breath I was holding in. Then we’d talk about the challenge they’d had having kids or about how hard it is when your parents are aging, or about writing, or something else entirely. These were the folks who asked me for my business card and gave me theirs in return.

This was a chance for me to learn how to tell my new narrative. Without fear. Without judgment. And while it may take me some time to get used to it, I like this new story, and I’m excited to tell it.


Photo by on Unsplash

Quiz: Should You Call Yourself a Writer?

A green sign that says Quiz TimeIt’s Time to Label It.

You heard me—today’s the day you call yourself a writer.

What’s that—you already do? Are you sure? Good thing I made you a quiz to find out if you really should call yourself a writer!

  1. You write:
    a) daily
    b) weekly
    c) monthly
    d) yearly
  2. You share your writing with:
    a) your family
    b) your friends
    c) your critique group
    d) no one
  3. You consider writing a:
    a) hobby
    b) passion
    c) chore
    d) all of the above
  4. You enjoy writing:
    a) true
    b) false
    c) all of the above
  5. When you’re at parties and people ask you what you do, you say, “I’m a writer”:
    a) first
    b) last
    c) not at all

Okay, save your answers because now I’m going to tell you a story.

When I was a little girl, I loved arts and crafts: play-doh and coloring books, beads and lanyards. I took art classes all through school. Spent my weekends learning to draw. I went to college for film and animation. And I landed my first job as a puppet fabricator for stop-motion animation. But still, I didn’t consider myself an artist.

Sure, I made art all day. I painted and sculpted, molded and casted, sewed and glued. But I wasn’t an artist! It wasn’t my vision. It was a skillset I had built and implemented. So what if I was passionate about it? So what if I worked my butt off to get there? If I were a real artist, my work would be in a gallery. I would have art shows. I would go through blue phases and red phases. I wouldn’t just make things—right?

It was when I voiced that line of thinking to a friend, who looked at me with raised eyebrows and said, “Melissa, you are an artist,” that I finally realized I was selling myself short. I had the experience, the passion, and even the job to back it up, but still, I felt undeserving of the label.

Is this starting to sound familiar? Good, then you’re ready for the real quiz question:

When will you be good enough for the label?

a) right now
b) right now
c) right now
d) all of the above

If you haven’t guessed it already, no matter how you answered the quiz questions, you pass. You are allowed to call yourself a writer. No, not allowed—entitled. You deserve it. Whether you’re on your first draft or your final manuscript. Whether you have an agent or a published book. Whether you write in a notebook that remains locked away in a drawer for three hundred sixty-four days of the year or type away on your computer daily.

You. Are. A. Writer.

And you don’t need a quiz or a friend or a publisher to validate that. You just need to own it!

Melissa Bloom is a writer, writing coach, and certified yoga instructor who is passionate about exploring the connection between productivity and wellness. As the founder and director of the Mindful Writer, Melissa has developed targeted writing tools and techniques that help people develop a sustainable writing practice to accomplish their writing goals without burning out. Melissa has a background in film, animation, and creative writing. She travels often, learns daily, and attends workshops, trainings, and conferences in a continued effort to hone the crafts of writing and living well.

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Writing Full Time—Living the Dream? By Danielle Baldwin, the Newest Feisty Writer

A Smith-Corona typewriter

When I was six, I spent every Sunday morning sitting at the kitchen table with my mom. She would hover over the New York Times crossword puzzle, pencil poised as the smoke from her Kent Kings pulled lazily into the air. Some days I’d help, pushing my cereal bowl to the side to man the thesaurus and dictionary to help her look up words. Other mornings, I would pound away on her portable blue Smith Corona typewriter, crafting a story about flying giraffes or kung fu fighting squirrels.  I knew from those early years, swimming around in the words, splashing them onto the page, that I wanted to be a writer.

It was a dream I pursued through high school and college, one fiction or poetry workshop after the next. But when graduation came, so did a flood of fear; that I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t make a living doing what I loved. So instead of pursuing a career in writing, I got a “real job.”

I never left writing completely. I would steal loving glances at it on weekends, working on my manuscript, a short story, or even flash fiction. We’d meet in coffee shops, lock ourselves away in my home office. I’d attend writing retreats and conferences so we could spend more time together. I dreamed of being a writer full time.

So, at the end of last year, when my boss told me that my position was being eliminated, I was more ecstatic than sad. I could spend every waking moment working on my manuscript. This was my chance to become the writer that I’d always wanted to be!

The first few days after the holidays as a “full-time writer” went well. I was focused, energetic and eager to get to the page every morning. But as the days passed, my resolve wavered. Some days I would sit down at my desk, and it was just like days of old—I felt inspired, creative, the words flowed. Other days, I felt like taking a jackhammer to my keyboard.

While I made progress on the manuscript, I was surprised at how hard it was to stay focused.  I found every excuse I could not to sit down and write—laundry or dishes, an errand to be run, a phone call to make. One day, my procrastination efforts were so extreme that I chose to steam clean my furniture instead of sitting down at my computer.  Before losing my job, I could always fall back on a long list of excuses as to why the writing “couldn’t” get done, most of which involved a lack of time or brain capacity to do it. But now? There were no more excuses, and yet, there were some days that I had nothing on the page.

I learned some valuable lessons. Creative work, or really any type of work that happens outside of a traditional corporate environment feels different. The pace of my days changed from having every minute accounted for in meetings or deadlines to relatively open and unscheduled. To feel like I was still accomplishing something, it was important for me to build in some structure: writing dates with friends, accountability partners to keep me on track, and joining a professionally led read and critique group where I have pages due every other week.

I learned to have more patience with myself. There are times to work through your writing, to keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on your keyboard, and there are times to step away. I had to listen to my inner writing guide and learn which was which—to balance my need for a break, knowing I would come back with fresh eyes, with the guilt of walking away from my project.

And this new life still has stress, but it’s a different type of stress that comes from starting a new type of career, building a business around writing, and failing at things so that I can learn and grow. It has taken more time to adjust than I had thought and I still have my days of fear and doubt, just as I did when I was twenty-two, but overall as I sit at the kitchen table every morning with my laptop and my coffee, I’m incredibly grateful.

The Author, a lovely brunette, smiling

After spending twenty years in the corporate world, Danielle is transitioning into a more creative life, which alternately exhilarates and terrifies her. She spends her days working within the San Diego writing community and is honored to be the president of the San Diego Memoir Writers Association. Danielle received her B.A. in Creative Writing from Vanderbilt University and is currently working on her revisions to her memoir and blogging at her site at daniellebbaldwin.

PHOTO CREDIT: and Danielle Baldwin


A box that says "Deposit fear, hurt ad worries here."“I have anxiety,” said every writer ever. I know, it’s pretty much a given. Writing and anxiety go together in a chicken-and-egg kind of way. I don’t know if one causes the other, but I do know that people who worry are master storytellers (like when you go over every permutation of “what if” on the broken record player inside your head).

I get really, really nervous about a lot of things (no duh, said everyone who ever met me). And I used to be extremely fearful of putting my writing out there. Not only was I afraid that people were going to judge my writing, I was afraid that they were going to judge me personally. “What kind of a person would write something like this?” the phantoms in my head would ask. But just because I’m writing about a character who’s obsessive-compulsive, that doesn’t mean that I’m counting the number of times I washed my hands today (just kidding, too many to count). And not that it should matter what people think of me anyway, but you know how it is when you worry. You just do. And while I still worry that people might judge my writing, I don’t worry anymore about them judging me. I stopped worrying about that after I wrote Awakenings: Eight Tales of Erotic Adventure from Two Amazing Worlds.

Yes, a person who worries incessantly about what other people think of him wrote a book of erotic fiction and put it up on Amazon. Frisky wizards, sexy aliens, that book has a little bit of everything in it. It’s crazy. It’s shocking and funny, too. And it was a blast to write. It doesn’t reflect on who I am as a person, except that I have a certain sense of humor. And do you know what happened when I released Awakenings?

Almost nothing. Now, I’m not talking about sales, though it’s probably no secret that I’m not a New York Times Best-Selling Author. I’m talking about personally. Even though I used a pen name, people knew. Of course, they knew, I told them! And those of them that read it liked it, or at least they said they did. People who weren’t into sexy stories knew about the content and just didn’t read it, and we even stayed friends! A few people on the internet seemed to like it, too. And that was it.

Let me give a little context here about the specific anxiety-story that I was telling myself. I was raised in a fundamentalist evangelical situation. I’m talking about the earth is 5000 years old, masturbation is a sin, being gay is a sin, premarital sex is a sin, playing Dungeons and Dragons is a sin, pretty much everything is a sin type of community. And I just knew they would find out what I wrote. I was waiting for a group of church elders to knock on my door one day and give me a come-to-Jesus talk (Lord knows it wouldn’t be the first time). But it never happened. No hate mail. Nothing. Maybe somewhere someone is praying for my soul, but if they are, I am unaware. And the feeling is liberating.

Awakenings came out a few years ago. I wrote erotic science-fiction and fantasy and no one judged me as a person, or if they did, they kept it to themselves! It was scary at first, but I’m over it now. And when I write stuff these days, I don’t worry about it anymore. Except, you know, that it might suck. But that’s a topic for another day. At least I’m not afraid to write what I feel like writing, and I think that’s important. You may not think it’s fun to write sexy stories like I do, but I’ll bet there’s something that you’ve been holding back. And you might be surprised that nothing really happens when you finally let it out.


Photo Credit:

“The Infamous They” Exposed

Piranhas swimming toward us with blue background.In a previous blog post, I mentioned, “The Infamous They,” and a friend asked me to elaborate on what exactly I meant. You’ve encountered Them anytime someone starts a sentence with, “You know what They say….”

And while They often say inspiring and wise tidbits of advice, that’s merely how They infiltrate your mind. Once They’re in, They have an altogether different sort of message.

At Their essence, They are the elusive, undefined body of judgers. The judgers who decide whether or not a passion is worth pursuing. Whether you should go big or go home. Whether you are on your way to success or failure.  

They infiltrate just as inspiration dwindles to a dull flicker. Just as you take that first step past your comfort zone. When your confidence, like the tide, retreats and exposes the foraging crabs of passion and fragmented shells of ideas not yet ready for human interaction.

They stand before the next incoming wave and dissect all that was uncovered. They keep you down when you’re on your way up.

Suddenly, questions arise:

“But what will They think?”

“What if They know I don’t really know what I’m doing?”

“They have already done what I want to do.”

Those insecurities spiral and weave around your dreams until all of it’s knotted together and you don’t know where to begin to untangle it all.

They become the critics none of us need or want. But somehow you value Their opinion more than your own. More than anyone you trust.

They are the bully telling you to “stay down” when you were born to fight. When all you want to do is keep fighting, even if it means getting beaten to a pulp. And yet, you don’t really want to be beaten.

So you listen. You listen because They know best. They know when you’re going to make a fool of yourself. When you’re wasting your time.


It’s when my friends bring up “The Infamous They” that suddenly a switch goes off in my head. When I can see Them outside of myself, and I know—one hundred percent, clearly, and truly—

They don’t exist.

They’re all in our heads.

Which means They don’t actually care either way what we do, how we do it, or how successful we become.

And yet, They come back again and again.

And sometimes They win.

If we don’t confront Them. If we don’t confide in those we trust and expose those judgers for what They really are, then all our passions and dreams stay improbable and impossible. Then we let Them win.

So when They start to take over your thoughts and make you question your stroke of inspiration, the book you’ve been writing for five years, the idea you thought was amazing, but now you’re not so sure—call Them out. Whether you phone your best friend and say, “They’re at it again,” so he or she can remind you that They hold no power over you. Or speak directly to Them and say, “You don’t decide when I’m done with something. I do.”

Voice the fears and release Them from your headspace.

Eventually, “The Infamous They” can become a tool by which you measure your doubt, your confidence, your trust in yourself. Once you recognize those fear indicators, once you see when and why that tide of confidence recedes, then you can begin to reverse-condition those thoughts and turn them into motivation to continue on your path to success—whatever that may mean for you, not Them.


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5 Steps to Taming the Writing Ego (When You Get Harsh Feedback)

Wrecking Ball hitting brick wallOn the one hand, as a writing coach and teacher, I ask students to go to their most vulnerable place, to reach deep down in their soul and risk everything they’ve got. Otherwise, their writing voice won’t sound authentic and most likely—they won’t get noticed.

As writers, we simply have to risk, and risk often.

On the other hand, I ask students to take said risk-filled material—in which they have possibly exposed themselves in a very personal way—and put it up for review.

It’s sort of an insane process.

Passionate, vulnerable, emotional writers + critique = not so great recipe.

In fact, this recipe often leads to shutting down, lack of listening (hearing the feedback) and sometimes meltdowns and tantrums. In my experience, no one wants to work with or be around a TTW. (Temperamental-Tantrum-Writer.)

The critique process has been going on for thousands of years and is vital to the writing process. You simply can’t know what you have communicated until you get out of your brain and hear how others are experiencing your material.

So how do you use the critique process without stomping your feet, going insane (or pretending you don’t care) so you can actually benefit from it?

I have five steps for you:

  1. Do your best to recognize when the ego is at play. You can train yourself to recognize when the ego is popping up. Just recognizing it is an important first step in taming the damn thing. (Ego thoughts can sound like: No, they are wrong, how could they say that to me? They just don’t get it. I am being attacked here. They are stupid. If only they read other pages, they would get it. This is unfair. I’m getting out of here.) When you recognize the ego taking over your brain just breathe in and out. That’s it.
  2. Recognize WHY you are receiving feedback. To get better. You are putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation to grow. That’s the bottom line.
  3. Switch hats. Today’s writer must wear many hats: the creator, the editor, the promoter, the marketer, etc. It’s vital to realize that when you are receiving feedback, you should not be in your creator-writer space. Put the editor hat on.
  4. Do the “Two Minute Rant, Take a Walk” method. Yep, it’s just what it sounds like.

⇒ If you are alone, rant to your pillow, or write out all of your angry thoughts. Get it all out. Get out the most childish tantrum-y thoughts you got. Then take a walk. Don’t respond. Take as much time as you possibly have before responding. You want to respond from your wisest self.

⇒ If you are in a group, it’s a little harder. You can rant inside your unhappy brain. But then, you might miss out on valuable feedback. When in a group, I suggest postponing the rant. Keep the editor’s hat on, don’t argue back no matter what and take notes. Even if you don’t agree: take notes. When you calm down, you will want to remember what was said.

  1. Let it go for a few days. Approach the material when you are fresh. Allow the critique to settle in. Don’t start writing thinking you will fix the problem in a few minutes. Often, you will need to come up with a new approach.

The good news: it does get easier! You do get acclimated to the process and stop taking it all so personally.


Lady Muck

Lady in apron standing in the doorway of a stone houseI’m a self-doubter. One voice inside says, “I’m good enough,” but the ones I hear most are the critics, flying in from 1979, ‘82, 87’, 95’. All those careless comments, words nobody meant anything by…

“I was just kidding.”

“God, you’re so sensitive.”

“You think too much.”

Worse are the comments I didn’t visibly react to, that nobody knew how deeply they embedded. Hooks, tugging at my self-esteem, whispering, “You’re no good/You’re not very smart/How are you going to change anything?/Just accept the way things are/It’s your own fault anyway/If you weren’t so [insert: picky, sensitive, whiny, pathetic, female], everything would be fine.”

Gigantically unaware of how everything affected me.

Suck it up.

These hooks mostly came from listening in on too many adult conversations I wasn’t equipped to process–a weakness of mine from age two on.

Warning: the following comments on repeat are guaranteed to disturb any young girl prone to taking adult commentary as gospel:

“God, who does she think she is?”

“Nothing worse than a jumped-up bitch who knows too much…thinks she’s something special.”

“Doesn’t she think she’s Lady Muck.”

That was a popular one in small town New Zealand, said of anyone who occasionally wanted to rest/tool around, eat chocolate, or, God forbid, read–while everyone else was working their butts off. Money must be earned. “Doesn’t get handed to ya’ on a silver platter.” Introspection, navel-gazing was for losers–lazy, dole bludging no-hopers.

I was secretly a bit of a no-hoper. Life in my family was about action–a good day involved productive activities like getting the thistles ripped, clearing a paddock, cutting the lawn and planting a 2,000 tree orchard. “Plenty of time to rest when you’re dead.”

We spent an inordinate amount of time over cups of tea, standing around the tractor munching on homemade chocolate crunch, sponge cake or gooey caramel square. No matter how much heavy labor we were doing, everyone was overweight.

Then there was, “Needs cutting down to size, that one,” and those that struck at the heart of my deeply unaccepted tendencies, “I could do that! God, what a bunch of crap.” Referring to any piece of art that wasn’t a painted facsimile of a pretty landscape.

I grew up understanding anything I was helplessly drawn to was wrong, especially art. Also, books that ripped chests wide open for the rain to pour in, where people wielded emotions like rage, ecstasy, and sadness like swollen rivers, but in a complex language that didn’t immediately make sense. God forbid if nothing really happened in the story. Most things I loved were too artistic, or just weird.

My trick was to leave. At 12, I spent a month in Hawaii, and I wrote. At 16, I moved to Brazil for a year, and I wrote–a diary filled with lust, pining, and a shameless lack of brevity. A painful, emotionally-penned journey, detailing my relationship with the host family, boys, girls, sugar (I had an hour to hour survival stash of chocolate hidden in my undie drawer and by my bed), and a meticulous effort to fit in. Listing in detail all the Brazilian men I wanted, and the women I wanted to become. To invade. To take over. To body snatch.

For a while, I felt pretty morphed. Triumphant even. From a shy, fearful, hardworking academic girl, I returned from Brazil with hair down my back and arse hanging out of a g-string bikini. I felt beautiful, and, apart from becoming a famous painter and writer, I just wanted to get laid. So I did. Quite a bit. My favorite parts were always the build-up, the chase. I better not tell you about the beach, the moment the first tongue touched my labia, and I nearly died with the sweet pain of it. [Aaah, what the hell: It was a hot night in Ferrugem, and this Carioca boy was intense and brown and surfed so much I don’t know how he stayed awake to be lying in the sand with me when the moon was peaking. I primarily felt courageous to be with him.]

Over time, I left more places because I didn’t know how to stay. What I kept looking for wasn’t anywhere. Emptiness, a shell, a fake brittle world. I bolted New Zealand for England, England for Scotland, then Spain, Portugal, Sweden, London, and back to Brazil. Somewhere I lost my words. My connection with myself, with others.

As you can guess, I finally stopped, realized I could only find truth and love by getting okay with myself, with accepting how things are, as they are. Lady Muck? Turns out the giant, dumb, lazy blonde faker I had myself pegged for is also a reasonably sweet, intelligent, empathetic, loveable human.

And it’s all grist, right? For writing. The hurts, the awful memories. The ones that still make you cringe with what you said, what he did, what she asked, what makes you burn 25 years later. Write it down. Kind of fun, eh? I never imagined at 20, when I thought I wanted to write but was too afraid to apply for the creative writing program at Vic, that describing someone’s tongue on my labia would be part of a larger, far more cringe-worthy body of work. I never guessed I’d be excited at the thought of trying this spoken word thing now. Labia. Labia, my labia. It’s gonna be fun to say that one out loud.


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