As we’ve been discussing a lot here on the blog, ’tis the season for many things. Among these are lists of gift recommendations for the writer in your life (or for we writers to forward to our loved ones). Our own Michille and Jilly shared ideas and links to lists on other parts of the interwebs here and here. They contain writing-oriented games, fun writing tools, and caffeine delivery systems. I should add that Bourbon (or adult beverage of choice), chocolate, and fiction books should be priorities on your ‘what to buy for my writer’ list. But writers don’t just need things. Our care and feeding is complex, nuanced, and – as my husband would like you to know – exhausting.
So today, instead of discussing what others can give me during the holiday season, I’m focusing on gifts I can give myself for the entire year of 2018. It’s going to be a big year for several of us here at the blog, with book launches and marketing, more books to write and revise, and readers to cultivate. Now is a good time to take a deep breath, get a warm cup of something to hold in our hands, and think about the foundations we’ll need to pull off this stellar year. To help jump-start your own thought process, here’s my list.
Self-Confidence. Dorothy had to learn this in the Wizard of Oz. Many of our protagonists have to learn it as part of their journeys, or even as their ‘big life lesson’ in our stories. Writers know how important belief in oneself is. Without it, we won’t have the audacity to brain-dump words onto pages and chip and chisel and shape them for months or years with the belief that someday, someone else will want to read our stories. But that doesn’t stop us from second-guessing ourselves at every turn. Imposter syndrome. Writers block. Sophomore slump. These are catchy phrases that strike terror in writers’ hearts, but at the core of all of them is a lack of belief that we can really do this audacious thing. I’ve had to come to terms with my own lack of self-confidence over the past few months, as I found myself dreading, then resisting, sometimes even sabotaging the revisions on a novella and a novel.
Revisions aren’t a new and scary thing to me. I’ve done them in the past. I’ve even enjoyed them, in fact sometimes more than writing the initial story draft. But I’ve learned a lot over the past few years, and with knowledge comes the deeper understanding that I do not know All The Things. I will never know All The Things, because there are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a lifetime, and so many knowledge-absorbing cells in the brain. I didn’t find any magic bullet to resolve these shortcomings, but I did reach out writer friends/groups, and even signed up for a course to help me work through the fear and just ‘get my scary shit done’. It’s really helpful to repeat this two-word mantra when I feel the panic that the work will never be good enough rising: So what? So what if my book is never perfect (spoiler alert: it never will be!), or if my story isn’t beloved and celebrated the world over. I’m not going to tank our one shot at world peace or bring the satellites in space crashing down on our heads. It’s just a book. It’s my book; I love it; I want others to love it, but it’s just a damn book, so I need to get over myself and trust that I will do the work to the best of my own meager abilities.
Permission to Say NO. Meghan Trainor was onto something when she sang “My name is NO, my sign is NO, my number is NO. You need to let it go.” (Yes, that song will now be stuck on your head for the rest of the day. I’m sorry or you’re welcome.) This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed prioritizing our writing over and above other things on our lives, but let’s face it, many of us need to give ourselves a stern talking-to about this nearly every day. As someone whose kid is long out of the house and who loves reminding my husband that he is a grown-ass man capable of all sorts of amazing things like procuring food when I’m not near the kitchen, I think I’m quite good at this task. And yet…and yet I still get myself into fine messes on a regular basis.
For example, later this week, I need to have a very tough discussion with a lovely group of people who want to lock me into more day-job hours in the coming year. I’ve already said no circumspectly, then quietly. Now I’m going to have to say it forcefully. I’ve already started mentally bargaining with myself. ‘Well, maybe just half as many additional hours as they want to have. Or maybe at a higher rate so I earn more for my troubles. Or maybe I can…’ Yeah, I could go on like that all day. I could talk myself into saying yes in short order. It’s sticking to my NO guns that is a struggle. If you’re their with me, go listen to that song (even if you hate it!) and practice saying the word over and over again. Then give yourself permission to use it liberally.
Opportunities to Play. I’ve come to the sad realization that I’m currently that person who talks about doing certain things and never gets around to actually doing them. I want to get earn some belts in Krav Maga, but other than spending some months learning the basics, I’ve stalled. And then there’s that triathlon I keep threatening to run. I’ve stopped talking about these plans to anyone who will listen (pretty sure writing about them on the blog does not violate this new rule). It’s time to join a club or find a coach and just do this thing. I love the lead-up to and the recovery from physical challenges (I don’t really love them when I’m in them – think lots of tears, whining, and four-letter words). Those are a kind of play for me.
I’d like to extend this to my writing. With my current schedule, I tend to read a weeks’ worth of 8LW posts in one block of time, and I always feel wistful when I see Elizabeth’s Friday word challenges or read the other ladies’ short stories and vignettes. Remember this wacky challenge Kay turned us onto? I entered that contest and won a moleskin journal (name picked out of a hat, but still)! And got a great idea for a new first line for my own WIP at the time. I need to jump in on some of these, and I also need to play in my own story world, like the Victorian London universe I’m writing in right now. Sometimes when I’m writing a scene with a secondary character I love (and I love so many of these characters!), my mind wanders to his or her future story. It’s important to shut that down when I need to finish a scene or chapter of the WIP, but I’ve started writing up entire scene ideas for these supporting players. This isn’t just fodder for future books. It helps me build in character traits and deep-seeded motivations and reactions for characters, even when they are second or third or fourth bananas in the current story.
Writing is hard and grueling and some days downright heartbreaking. We need to balance that reality with some fun. Note to self for 2018: Play more. Lots more.
Professional Help. All kinds of professional help. Although the types I’m currently planning for 2018 are geared toward the writing goals. Solid beta readers (you know who you are and I love you!). A well-matched book coach. A tough and experienced editor. A patient web designer who will take the tangled mess I’ve made of my yet-to-be launched new website and unknot it, as opposed to insisting we have to start with a whole new ball of yarn. Having a team in place made up of smart people who can shore up my confidence and vision in the work, as well as those who do miraculous things that my brain just can’t grok (like websites and book covers), will help me turn down the stress level from 11 to something more like 8. I can work with 8.
These are the gifts I’m planning for myself this holiday season and into the new year. I know I won’t always be successful – it’s a journey and all that – but just having the list has empowered me. Tell us about some of your own gifts to self and see if it does the same for you! Then bring that list back here in a few weeks when we’ll be talking about our 2018 writing goals and our strategies for reaching them, because you know I couldn’t get through a discussion of the new year without mentioning #writinggoals!
Oh, I’d like all these things, too! And the sad (hopeful?) thing is that most of these things are things we can only give to ourselves. We might be able to get a gift certificate for a book editor (or a maid), but self-confidence? No matter how much other people are cheering for us, we have to dig deep and BELIEVE.
I think I’ve done a pretty good job with play over the last two years. I’m going to have to buckle down on the self-confidence and saying no to YouTube (-:.
It is terribly important to take care of oneself (even the airlines tell you to put on your oxygen mask first before you help someone else). Your list is a good one. Some of these issues I don’t have any trouble with, like saying No, for example. No is easy for me. I start with no. I come from a land of ice and No. But the professional help—yeah, I could use some advice on that one. I want to put a button on my web site and start a newsletter, and these tasks, while seemingly simple, have turned out to be a lot more challenging that I’d hoped for. Three hours the other day on the newsletter with almost nothing to show for it. Should I turn the whole mess over to a pro? I hate to do that. On the other hand, I hate to waste time like that. And then the existential question: did I actually waste the time?
I’m getting better at NO. I was a professional “yes-er” over the last two years (hence no work on the book, extremely stressed out, and lots of time spent at my kids’ school). The first few times I said no, it was hard, but now it’s much easier and I feel less guilty. In fact, sometimes I’m downright pleased with myself. LOL. After I explained a few times to my friends WHY I say no, they understand and actually don’t pester me to help anymore, which I like. That avoids the whole “no” conundrum entirely.
As for professional help, I say seek it out if it will take you longer to figure out how to do the task than to actually DO it. It’s painful sometimes to give that stuff over, but on the flip side, it’s time you can spend working on your next book, rather than spinning wheels on a newsletter you’re not having fun writing anyway. I’m sure you COULD figure out how to put a button on your website, but do you want to? If you like that sort of thing, then go for it. But if you haven’t yet put up the button because you’re dreading figuring out how, then by all means, farm it off to the professionals.