Turning the Negativity Train Around

Image by Ianqui Doodle

“Negativity is the enemy of creativity.”  —David Lynch

Everyone experiences negativity sometimes.  We have niggling self-doubt, depressed thoughts, frustrations or anger about all kinds of things in our lives.

The problem occurs when that little engine of negativity starts racing downhill like a train without brakes.  It’s gonna take out anything good in its tracks and be pretty dang hard to turn around once it gets going.

Including our creativity.

Unfortunately, writers (and other creatives) can develop the really bad habit of thinking negatively about themselves and their craft.  We say (or think) things like:

  • I’ll never write as well as Stephen King, so why bother?
  • My family will never support me in my writing/I’m taking time away from my family.
  • I can’t plot.
  • I’m too embarrassed to ever let anyone see my work.
  • My writing is always rejected.
  • I’ll never have enough time.
  • No agent will sign me.
  • The publishing industry sucks.

The problem with all this negativity is that, once you get going, it’s sooo hard to pull yourself out of it.  (Newton knew what he was talking about when he talked about the first law of motion, yo.)

The momentum of negativity zaps creativity and motivation right outta here.  If you go into a writing session, for instance, thinking that this manuscript is just going to be rejected like all your others, how much effort are you really going to put into it?

All this negativity usually falls into a few different categories:  negativity about your writing, negativity about the writing industry, and negativity about living up to expectations.  Depending where your negative train is headed makes all the difference in how you turn it around.

Negativity about your writing

When you feel that your writing stinks and will never get any better, just remember this:  every writer, no matter how famous now, started in the exact same place you are.  New York Times Bestsellers weren’t born with their names on the list. They had to go through the same process you do of dreaming up an idea, drafting it out, editing it, editing it some more, submitting it, getting rejected, submitting it some more.

It’s highly unlikely that their first book was published.  More probably, they have just as many awful manuscripts under their beds as you will have by the time you’re “make it.”

Something that may surprise you, too, is that even famous authors have negative thoughts. Maybe even more so. They have bad days or days when the writing doesn’t flow or when they just can’t get the right words on the page. They worry about whether the current manuscript will live up to the last one or whether fans will be disappointed.

The difference is, they don’t allow that negativity to keep them from making a living.

Negativity about the writing industry

There’s always something to complain about regarding the writing industry, and always someone happy to complain, just in case you don’t have enough negativity of your own.

The deal is this:  the writing industry is hard.  But so is becoming a doctor or a lawyer.  So is making it to upper management of a big corporation. So is owning your own business. So is being a parent. Sometimes so is just getting out of bed every day!

Anything worth doing is hard.

Instead of complaining about how hard something is, though, successful people study it, figure out how to work through the hard parts, and persevere through the tough times.  They become informed about what to expect, so they don’t focus only on the potential good parts and then get floored by the not-so-good parts.

Negativity about living up to expectations

Expectations, real or imagined, can produce a lot of negativity. Whether they are your outlandish expectations for yourself (I’ll sell my first book for six figures and a movie deal) or the expectations you believe others have for you (my wife expects me to become the next J. K. Rowling while never missing a minute of family time).

Goals are great, but setting your own expectations too high can make you feel defeated.  Rather than allowing yourself to grow as a writer, your expectations can set you up for failure when you experience the snail’s pace of the industry or repeated rejections as you’re starting out.

Feeling pressured by other’s expectations can bring guilt and fear into what should be a fun, creative part of your life. Sometimes that guilt involves making writing a priority when others feel they should be your priority.  And sometimes it’s about the fear of being judged by family and friends for what you write or what you think they expect of you as a writer.

Reversing that runaway train

There are lots of ways to turn around negativity.  Give some of these a try and see if you can put yourself in a more positive frame of mind, which is sure to help your creativity!

  • Keep a notebook (or a Pinterest board) of positive writing quotes, or quotes that just make you feel better about writing. Read them often, particularly when feeling down.
  • Read articles by or interviews with writers who have “made it.” They are often full of stories that will make you feel some camaraderie with others who have been right where you are and presevered.
  • When you feel yourself becoming consumed by a particular negative thought, ask yourself, “Can I be 100% certain this is true.?” I’m pretty sure that most famous writers didn’t start out thinking they would be famous writers.  You can’t be 100% certain that you’ll never write as well as Stephen King or J.R.R Tolkien.  Are you 100% certain you “don’t have time to write” (or are you really just choosing to spend your time on other things)?
  • Surround yourself with positive writers. If you find that your writing friends just fuel your negativity, it’s time to find different friends. A positive support group can make all the difference.
  • Set realistic expectations of yourself. Talk to other, more experienced writers, and ask them about their paths.  Knowing what to expect can help you feel more grounded in reality and less likely to put pressure on yourself. Share this information with family and friends who may have outlandish expectations. Talk about the truth of this career and ask them for the support you need from them.
  • One of Rock Your Writing’s philosophies is, “The only way out is through.” This mantra will get you through a lot of tough times and counteract much of your negative thinking  about your writing when it feels too hard or like it’s taking too long.
  • Use some of your negativity to fuel your writing. Who better to create a realistically frustrated character than someone who is experiencing frustration?
  • Build your skills.  You can improve your writing by taking courses, hiring a coach, joining a critique group, etc. Most of all, though, you can improve your writing by WRITING.   The more you write, not worrying about the end result, the better chance you have of publishing.

You’ll never be positive 100% of the time.   But whether you wallow or change tactics to beat those negative feelings determines whether you’re a positive writer or a negative one. And which of those writer personas you identify with plays a huge part in your ability to be successful.

Rock on!

~ Shannon McKelden

Say No to the Multitasking Mistake

multitasking
Photo courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ihavezlatathoughts/

We live in a world that is full of the drive to do more, more, more.  As writers, we suffer from this expectation maybe more than a lot of other people.

We are expected to write more, blog more, market more, be visible on social media more.  It is all Important, with a capital I.  Not doing all these things constitutes failure as a writer. Doesn’t it?

So a lot of us turn to multitasking.

What is Multitasking?

How many of you carry on multiple Twitter conversations while writing?  Or work on more than one book at once. (And by “at once” I mean at the same sitting, maybe even on separate screens.)

How many of you watch TV while working on copyedits or play solitaire while writing your rough draft?  Anyone ever burned dinner because you were sucked into some black hole of research?

The “busy-ness” of multitasking makes us feel like we’re getting a lot done.  If we’re honest about it, though, in most of the above cases, multitasking is really just another term for “unable to concentrate on what I’m supposed to be doing.”

So what exactly is multitasking?  Multitasking is doing more than one thing, side-by-side, which requires one’s attention to be given equally to each.  But since your brain cannot actually focus on two things simultaneously, what you are really doing is switching your attention back and forth between the two things.

Write a paragraph, answer an email, write another paragraph, answer another email. You’re not really working on both at the same time. You’re alternating between two separate things, each of which requires your brain’s undivided attention at the time of the doing.

Writers and Multitasking

Keep in mind that, by “multitasking,” I don’t mean doing different writerly things on different days or at separate times. As a working writer, or one trying to establish relationships with their Right Readers, for example, you may need to assign different tasks to different days.  Writing Monday through Thursday, bookkeeping on Fridays, marketing on weekends.

Alternatively, some writers divide their days into different types of tasks…writing in the mornings and answering emails and doing other business-related tasks in the afternoon.   None of these examples really falls into the category of multitasking because you are focusing on one task at a time.

Sometimes you have to make time for other tasks besides writing spur-of-the-moment. If you’re published, you’ve probably been deep into the first draft of a new book, only to get your editorial letter or your copy edits and have to completely shift gears.  There’s not much you can do about that…because you likely have a deadline.

How Multitasking Affects the Writing

When it comes to the effects of multitasking on the writing, these are the main issues:

  • Decreased productivity. While multitasking may make you feel busy, scientists estimate that productivity is actually decreased by 40% when you’re doing more than one thing concurrently.

Switching your focus to something other than the writing every couple of minutes has the same effect as if you saved your document and closed your program after a few paragraphs, only to need to wait for it to open again to work on it once more a few minutes later.

When you work on something else, then come back to the writing, you have to reboot your brain to get reacquainted with where you were before you can start again. If you’d just kept going, that “reboot” time could have been spent actually writing.

  • Loss of focus. If the words aren’t flowing easily, they certainly aren’t going to flow any better if you allow yourself to shift focus to something else instead, even for a few minutes. You’d be better off staring into space when things aren’t flowing, and letting your brain work out the problem, instead of giving it something completely different to do.
  • Increase in mistakes. Typos, skipping important information in a scene, calling a secondary character by the wrong name.  Sometimes, when you’ve switched tasks, your brain is still back on the other one, which can cause errors.  Another way mistakes can increase is by loss of continuity.  Copy editing while watching TV can cause you to skip sentences. Your focus is pulled away to the television, and when you come back, you don’t go quite back to where you ended, and you miss something.
  • Greater stress level. Yes, believe it or not, task-switching increases adrenaline in your system and actually increases your stress level! While working on your manuscript, your mind may be stressing out over what you might be missing on Facebook.
  • Decreased likelihood of finishing things…like your work in progress. Starting multiple stories and working on them all at once means it’s going to take longer to get these things completed…if they ever do get finished. (You’re liable to get bored with one or both and move on to yet another shiny pretty new things before ever completing any of it.) Multitasking produces activity, not accomplishment.

 

Multitasking Solutions

Are we ever going to be able to get rid of multitasking completely?   Probably not.

But if you’re struggling to get that chapter done, feeling like you’re never quite “in the zone,” wondering why you feel like you’re missing opportunities on Twitter or Facebook to communicate with your readers, finding yourself making mistakes…STOP. Take a look at  your work habits.

It could be that you’re never giving one task all of your attention for any length of time.

Here are a few solutions to making the mistake of multitasking.

  • De-socialize. Turn off email and social media notifications while working. Don’t answer the phone. No one is going to miss you for an hour or two. When you’ve completed your writing for the day, feel free to play on Twitter all you want, giving it all your attention instead of only half of it.
  • Save things for later. DVR your favorite shows if they come on during your writing time. The show will be just as good at another time. Bonus…you will likely pay more attention to the show AND be able to skip commercials.
  • Get rid of distractions. Delete Candy Crush or any other addiction from your phone or computer.  If it’s not there, you won’t be tempted to just “play one more level” between paragraphs. Change when you write.  If all your writing friends hit Twitter at 6 p.m., can you write before that, so you aren’t tempted to multitask?
  • Check into distraction-free writing tools that will help keep you focused.
  • Schedule your tasks and your downtime. Put a day without writing on your calendar, and take care of personal things on that day, or feel free to explore marketing or social media more in depth. Schedule a couple of hours of research time in the morning and then work on the scenes you were gathering research for in the afternoon.  Don’t research as you go.

With a bit of adjustment, you can disable the multitasking bug most of the time.  You’ll find that once you’re focusing better on one task at a time, you’ll accomplish more, faster, and better.

Last month when I wrote my blog post for Rock Your Writing, it took me nearly a week of evenings. This month it took me a few hours one evening, including research time.

Why the big difference?  Last month I wrote while watching TV each night. (And if you don’t think Sam and Dean can take your focus away from what you’re supposed to be doing, you’ve never watched Supernatural.)

This month I turned off the TV and concentrated on one thing, researching and writing my blog post. It took me a fifth of the time.

If that’s not proof of the evils of multitasking, I don’t know what is.

Where do you find multitasking tripping you up?  How do you solve the problem? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Rock Your Writing!

~Shannon McKelden

Postcard from the Year of Cruise.

I can’t believe it’s May already.

Five months into my Year of Cruise experiment, and I have to say — once you’re on board, time gets a little elastic.  But here’s what I’ve learned so far, almost halfway (!!) through the year…

I discovered Permaculture Principles.

Honestly, I was just trying to plan a damned organic garden.  It seemed like a nice, relaxing, “Year of Cruise” thing to do, right?  Besides, I love fresh grown tomatoes.

Then, strangely, it turned into an obsession.

I was studying sustainability and reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and muttering to my husband “dude, we could totally have a farm. And a cow!  Definitely a cow!”

Then, I discovered Permaculture.  In a nutshell, it’s a set of guiding principles, based on an observance of nature, that encourage ease, productivity, and creativity… with the least stress possible.

The principles are elegant.  They are intuitive.  And they are head-smack obvious.

I could wax rhapsodic about Permaculture for hours, so I’ll cut it off there… but it has changed my life, and it’s definitely changing how I look at both writing and promotion.

So there will be more on this, my pretties.  Oh yes.  There will be more.

Apparently, “no goals” does not equal “no productivity.”

I discovered my Muse is in love with Permaculture as well, and she’s been productive as hell. I finished the first book of my Urban Fantasy series, and I can say it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever written.  It feels the most “me.”

I also learned that I love teaching — which I knew, but didn’t know the extent.  I’m teaching more classes over at Savvy University.

I also unearthed that one of my missions in life is helping writers write more easily.  Whether that means getting unstuck, or managing their time/energy/psyches, or plotting their novels, or just having guidelines to editing… that’s what I love.  Creating frameworks and helping institute practices.  I’m a process girl, and a hippie, and I am going to let my freak flag fly long enough to teach some of the practical/woo-woo systems that let me do what I do.

So I’m going to publish a series of little ebooks that illustrate those systems:

Rock Your Plot.

Rock Your Revisions.

Rock Your Query.

Write Every Day.

I’ll let you guys know when they’re out, but they’re very close to ready.

Navel gazing brings epiphanies.  Who knew?

One of the hardest parts of the Year of Cruise has been the quiet investigation of my motivations.  It was humbling to discover that I knew more about my fictional characters’ goal, motivations and conflicts than I did about my own internal GMC.

It’s called “Working in the Soft” — and I’ve discovered that, especially for a creative, emotional, and ultimately cerebral craft such as ours, if I’m not exploring the subconscious landscape, I’m ultimately traveling blind through the “waking” world.

I discovered some real epiphanies around promotion, which I’m starting to sketch out into a workable “practical-woo-woo” system.

I’m calling it Be Yourself Out Loud, because ultimately, that seems to be the key.  I think that most writers look at promotion as looking at what others want, like a high school clique, and then trying to project that facade.

And like high school, instead of looking at who you are and what people would love about yourself — in short, giving yourself the recognition and appreciation you want — they keep forcing it and faking it, or running away and hiding.

It’s a lot easier to say “create an elevator pitch!” than it is to actually work on loving and appreciating ourselves and our work.  But ultimately, promotion has to come from that work in the soft.

In short, the Year of Cruise has been an exploration.

Not every day has been fun, but every day has shown me something valuable.  I’m looking forward to sharing more of it with you guys.

Last note:  Birthday Boy Special!

Not everything has gone smoothly in the Y.o.C.

For example, my laptop died a fiery, painful, blue-screened death.

The Boy, my soon-to-be-six-year-old-son, is going to have a birthday and wants a party with his school friends.

And I’ve got a creativity retreat coming up in July… my first time away from family, giving myself dedicated creative time, perhaps since The Boy was born.

However, all these things cost money.  About $1500 for the laptop, the party, the trip.

So I’m running an editing special to cover costs:  $1 per page for a high-level edit of your manuscript.  When I hit $1500, I’m closing it.  $50 will secure the rate if your manuscript isn’t quite ready.  Just email me.

Also, if you know anyone who would want to take advantage of this, please let them know!

Well, that’s it for me.  How is your writing year going?

 

 

2012: Embracing Apocalypse.

I have tried to write a blog post for the past month, but kept trailing off in little wispy curls of directionless prose.  I’ve been wrestling with something, but I haven’t been able to verbalize it.

Epiphanies have been strafing me like machine gun fire, and I have been ducking and covering and basically running around like a bipolar chicken.

On the plus side:

I’m not getting these epiphanies as a result of life changing loss or incredible pain.

The creative block I’d been suffering is turning over more quickly, and the insights I’m getting are a lot richer.

The stuff that I see heading towards me is incredibly exciting.

On the rough side:

I see a lot of changes.

Epiphanies, while valuable, are also normally a pain in the ass.

Not being blocked means actually doing the work, which has also traditionally been… well, laborious.

And I haven’t actively pursued “excitement” for about half a decade.

Why the blog’s been dark.

I had been wrestling with goals for this blog, and for my writing career.  I’m a freelance writer, teacher, editor.  I’ll say it:  income has been an issue.

So I was stressing, and plotting, and trying to figure out the most logical, efficient, effective way of achieving said goals, meeting my income needs, while simultaneously taking care of my son and myself in the most sane way possible.

And all of a sudden, I got a sort of sneaking premonition, a bunch of coincidences… and a smack on the head.

“Leap, and the net will appear.”

Ever heard that one?

Yeah, me too.  And I’ve gleefully believed it.  I’ve quit jobs to write full time. (A couple of times!)  I’ve lived the bohemian artist/frathouse life.

Then I had my son, and thought “well, yes, but leaping doesn’t actually apply to people who need to pay bills to take care of their kids.”

It’s the thing writers struggle with.  How do I find time to write, and promote, and work, and… and… and..?

But I don’t know how it happened, or when, but I realized: now is exactly the time I need to be leaping.

2012:  Screw goals.

I’m not planning goals in the traditional way this coming year.  No benchmarks. No milestones. No action plan.

Instead, I’m looking at what I want to feel like.  I don’t want to be stressed the way I have been.  I’m not going to be desperate.  Why?

Because I know the damned thing works out.

My life is my story.  Right now, I just got out of a pinch point and I’m heading for the midpoint: when the character (me) goes from passively reacting and figuring out what’s going on  to taking an active approach to the story goal.

This year, I’m going to be leaping.  For me, 2012 is going to be an experiment in extreme faith. I’ve got a checklist of stuff I want to do each month, like walking my talk, doing something new, and focusing on self-care and creativity, and fun.  Not in detail, mind you.  Just “this is what I want in this month.”

I’m going to be documenting this experiment on the blog in the coming year.  I may be absolutely nuts, but if anybody has ever said “follow your bliss” and “things will work out” — well, here’s the clinical trial, baby.

I am scared as hell.  But I am also going.

Anybody who’s up for a little trip — grab the handbasket.  Let’s do this thing.