Who’s afraid of the Big, Blank Page?

Who’s afraid of the Big, Blank Page?

Sent by Angie Noll

Little Red Riding Hood might have been afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, but writers are often terrified of something far more innocuous… a simple piece of white paper (or blank screen).

There have been times in my writing life when crossing paths with Little Red’s wolf would have been preferable to the task of committing words and ideas to the page. I know I’m not the only one.

As new writers, the first thing we often do is make a pit stop at our local stationary store to indulge our inner writer with a basket of lovely writing goodies. Armed with our new, sparkly notebook and special, easy-flow writing pen in hand, we proceed to write up a storm.

Then, one day, we notice how much we’ve written, and we realise, ‘I am a writer!’ And with these four little words, everything changes. The next time we open our notebook, we find ourselves staring at the blank page, unable to write a thing. What happened?

Why is it so often easy, right at the beginning, to fill page after page, but once we become aware that we’re actually writing, that creativity freezes up and the words stop flowing? The same phenomenon happens when we start off writing casually, but once we decide to take it to the next level, we lose the delicious abandon we had before.

The answer lies in our innocence. When we’re still new to the process of writing, we don’t know yet that writing is one of those tasks that we purposefully engage in while simultaneously letting go of any form of control over the process; that it’s a balancing act between control and surrender.

It’s when we try to control the writing process that the blank page turns from a friendly wolf into a snarling beast and, unlike Little Red, (who seemed to lack all common sense), we run away from it, screaming, “I can’t write!”

Before we self-identify as a writer, we’re naturally able to control and surrender in the right proportions – because we have no expectations of ourselves. But once we label ourselves as writers, that natural ability seems to fly out the window as all attention is now myopically focused on controlling the writing process.

So it’s not really the blank page that sends us fleeing from our writing desk. It’s the unspoken series of expectations that we place upon ourselves, as writers, which we now have to live up to. And, we believe, we can only live up to them by painstakingly trying to control the writing process.

Now, suddenly, we are expected to produce something of worth, something that will satisfy everybody who reads it.

Now, suddenly, we expect our story, our article, our blog post, to be flawless from beginning to end.

Now, suddenly, we expect ourselves to churn out new, excellent and perfect writing at every single writing session, because if we don’t, we tell ourselves that we’re not real writers anymore.

With such an impossible list of expectations that we imagine real writers live up to, it’s no wonder that our creative spirit goes into hiding every time we pick up our pen (no matter how glitzy and cute it is.) If we could surrender to the process of writing, like we did before we labelled ourselves as writers, we would see the folly of our expectations.

We would remember that no piece of writing ever has to satisfy anyone except ourselves.

We would remember that no piece of writing is ever flawless.

We would remember that no piece of writing is ever perfect after the first draft. Or the second. Or the third. Possibly not even after the fourth, fifth or sixth drafts.

The next time you find yourself staring at the blank page too petrified to pen a word, remember the following:

  • Don’t compare yourself to anyone else – novice or professional. Ever.
  • Writing is a journey that the writer goes on. Every time you sit down to write something, it’s like going on a treasure hunt deep into your Self, excavating what’s there and pouring it out into some form of writing. Sometimes you’ll dig up rubbish, sometimes gold.
  • If you’re serious about writing, then be willing to write badly. Bad writing is your training wheels.
  • There is no right way to write. Only your way.

Speaking of the right way to write… If Little Red had used a bit of creativity and found her own path to her granny’s house, instead of using the one that everyone else used, the Big Bad Wolf probably wouldn’t have found her at all. He was just hanging around, knowing there would always be travellers that choose to stay on the straight and narrow path because they’re too afraid to explore what else is out there. Easy pickings for him.

So skip along on your writing journey in your own, unique way. Find a path with scenery that you can enjoy, pick some flowers along the way, and take your time. Don’t allow generalised expectations of what writer’s are supposed to be, or the excessive control that this inspires, distract you from your journey.

Happy Writing!

I’m an Intuitive Life coach originally from Johannesburg, South Africa. I combine life coaching with guidance that I receive from the Angels and my Guides. I work with people from all over the world via Skype, and am passionate about helping people move forward with their creative dreams. Other than my work, I’m passionate about writing and teaching people how to use their intuition. I’m also a regular Ashtanga yoga practitioner and meditator. I live with my two daughters and my partner, our dog, cat and guinea pigs in a happy but noisy (and rickety) little house at the edge of a cliff in Auckland, New Zealand.

 

 

Find Angie and her writing in these places:

AngieNoll.com —  Facebook — TUT.com

How becoming a writer helped me ‘grow up’

How becoming a writer helped me ‘grow up’

Sent by Sharon E. Anderson

Like most writers, I knew from a very young age that this was my calling. I knew the world didn’t make any sense and I had something to say about it. And like a child who dreams of being an astronaut or a ballet dancer, I soon found out that becoming an author wasn’t easy. It is difficult to put words on the page. Oh, I put a lot of words on the page, but they weren’t good words. They were seasoned with rhetoric and banal attempts to be wise and clever. It seemed that I knew my work was bad, and so I kept it private – for years.

When I finally grew brave enough, I joined a critique group and for the first time I was faced with pointed criticism of my work.

Sometimes, because I’m a real baby when it comes to stuff like this, it would take me a week to get over an especially heavy-handed critique. Just in time to make it to the next critique meeting.

But then, over the years, something shifted in me. I began going to conferences, taking classes here and there, and hearing the phrase, “Kill your babies.” It refers to those brilliant passages we write that don’t fit anywhere. We want them to, but they don’t serve the story and we have to let them go. I started to see that emotional distance is the first step in being able to receive and accept criticism on any level – from the lowly critique group, to an agent, to a publisher.

I finally figured out that even though it can be painful, there is much to be gained by reading an informative rejection letter, or a poignant professional review.

A few months ago something shifted again. I started writing non-fiction essays and strange as it may seem, I don’t feel like I have a lot invested in any critique I receive from my editors. Maybe it’s because I’m not creating the characters on the page. I don’t know, but I when I look over my edits from my non-fiction people as well as my fiction people, it’s just another job I get to do to make the piece fit. This is a good place to be. Less emotional. Less drama. More professional. It feels good. I guess you can say the baby has grown up!

Sharon Anderson writes paranormal romantic comedy novels, short stories, and non-fiction articles. Her short story, Stone God’s Wife won first place in a regional contest, and she’s been published in the online magazine, ParentMap.com. She lives in Skagit Valley with her amazing husband, two brilliant children, a sweetheart of a dog, two cats, a small grouping of fish, and a sketchy guinea pig.

 

Find Sharon and her work in these places:

SharonAnderson.com — Amazon.com — Amazon.ca — Goodreads — Facebook — Twitter

How a simple connection can spark a movement

How a simple connection can spark a movement

Sent by Shari Stauch

When I first decided to narrow my marketing focus to work with clients with whom I shared a passion – authors – I had no idea what that would look like as a business model. It turned out to be the best decision I could have ever made. I enjoyed the work; and clients enjoyed learning how to promote their words via author websites and social media, reaching out to reviewers and book clubs.

Business grew and as it did, the majority of my clientele happened to be women. As it grew more, this clientele further defined itself as a dynamic group of savvy women who, unbeknownst to each other, were exposing deeper issues in their writing, issues that would resonate with the masses…

One author began blogging about animal rights, another about parents dealing with the loss of a child. Another completed a novel that shines a light on the darkness of male-on-male sexual harassment in the workplace. One published a memoir about coming into her own freedom of expression through dance, something that had been denied her in childhood. Yet another is aiding in the charge to end sex trafficking. And the list goes on…

Not only was I loving my job, I was learning about so many important issues, and the influence these women were having, each in their own way striving to make our world better, just by speaking and writing and putting themselves out there.

Another of my long-standing clients, an amazing female author, Rosemary James, is co-founder of the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society in New Orleans. Attending her conference one year (the fabulous Words & Music: A Literary Feast in New Orleans), I was hooked. I’ve been to every conference since, soaking up the infused energy of the world’s greatest authors, editors and agents. Words & Music had become my shared passion, and so naturally I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, and encourage everyone who had an interest in words to attend.

And so I did. I suggested to several clients, including writers in Florida, California, Tennessee, New York and South Carolina, that they make the trip to New Orleans, both to support the great work Rosemary was doing for authors and to avail themselves of the opportunity to meet agents, editors, and some of the best writers producing work in this century. It would be a chance for them to network, but also to be inspired, so important for writers when writing is such a solitary art form.

When seven of them readily agreed to give it a go, I was excited for them. But that excitement quickly turned to anxiety. Would they have a good time? Would I be held accountable to make sure they had a good time? I had a lot to do there; would they feel less than cared for if I weren’t paying each enough attention? In short, what was I thinking?

Well, despite all my great experiences working with women, I greatly underestimated the power of women supporting women.

By the end of the first day, I’d introduced each to the others. By the end of the second day they were sharing schedules and drinks and comparing critiques. On the third day we had dinner together and the women dubbed themselves “Seven Strong” with a hearty toast… each vowing to connect through their writing in the days and weeks to come.

Since that conference, those proud members of the “Seven Strong” have forged bonds of steel. We enjoyed a retreat at one’s vacation home in Folly Beach, and another at one’s cabin in Tahoe. Many of us have attended conferences and festivals together from deep in Florida to way up in the Pacific Northwest. In between they spend time on the phone and by email, through lunches and road trips, to connect with each other, critique each other’s work, brainstorm their marketing efforts, and encourage and nurture each other as writers, as influencers, and as women.

I’m as proud as any mother hen could be, but I can’t take the credit… It’s really all about that power that surges through women when we’re helping each other. Women supporting women isn’t just a concept; we are a FORCE… and one to be reckoned with!

Creator of Where Writers Win, Shari Stauch has been involved in publishing, marketing, and PR for thirty years. She is the principal author of the WWW blog, and works with authors and publishers around the country, helping them market themselves and their work to find more readers and sell more books. Where Writers Win’s innovative Winner Circle offers access to vetted book reviewers, live and virtual book clubs, and other curated resources developed specifically for authors, publishers and book publicists.

 

Find Shari and her writing in these places:

Where Writers Win — Amazon.comAmazon.ca — Goodreads — Facebook — Twitter — Pinterest

A crash course in fearless writing

A crash course in fearless writing

Sent by William Kenower

If you’ve ever written and actually enjoyed the experience, if you’ve ever allowed yourself to become lost in the dream of the story you are telling so much that you temporarily forget what time it is, then you have written fearlessly. In fact, writing doesn’t really begin until we forget to be afraid. So the question isn’t whether you can write fearlessly, but whether you can do it on purpose. Here are the three best tools I know for writing fearlessly every day.

The only questions you should ever ask are: “What do I most want to say?” and “Have I said it?”

I ask these questions because I can actually answer them. I will never know anything better than I know what I am most interested in. I will never be able to pay attention to something for longer than that about which I am most curious. My curiosity is the engine that drives my creative vehicle. It is the source of all my excitement, my intelligence, and my surprise. It is also entirely unique to me. There is no one on earth who knows what I most want to say other than me.

And once I know what I want to say, once I know which story I want to tell, or which scene I want to write, only I can know if I have translated it accurately into words on the page. Whatever I most want to say exists in a realm knowable only to me. There isn’t one editor or teacher or critique group member who can tell me if I have accurately translated what I wanted to share because only I know what that is; these other people, however well-intentioned, can only tell me if they like or understand what I’ve written. That is all they actually know.

If I am ever asking some question other than these two, I am not really writing. I am trying to read other people’s minds.

  • If I am asking, “Is it any good?” I am really asking, “Will anyone else like it?”
  • Or if I’m asking, “Is there market for it?” I am really asking, “Will anyone else like it?”
  • And if I am asking, “Is it too literary? Is it not literary enough?” I am really just asking, “Will anyone else like it?”

What anyone else thinks of what I’m writing is none of my business – at least not while I’m writing. While I’m writing, what I think of what I’m writing is my business. I am always afraid when I believe I must answer questions that are unanswerable. And I am always fearless the moment I return to my curiosity to see where it is headed next.

Have Faith

I am defining “faith” as believing in something for which there is no evidence. This shouldn’t be so hard for a writer, really. Every day we sit at our desks and believe in something no one but us can see. In fact, while we’re writing, we believe more in the story we are telling than the chair in which we are sitting. We have to.

We have to believe that our hero wants to save the world even though our hero doesn’t exist anywhere but our imagination. We must believe a daughter yearns for her father’s attention even though neither the father nor the daughter is any more real than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

That’s our job – to believe in what only we can see.

The problem is that we would also like to share these stories with other people, and we have absolutely no evidence that this story – which only we can see – will be of interest to anyone. No one knows how many copies of a book will be sold or if it will win any awards. No one knows which reviewers will like it and which will not. It is a mystery to be answered within the sovereign imaginations of our readers.

The only evidence a writer has that his story is worth telling is that he’s interested in telling it. That’s it. That’s all Shakespeare got and that’s all Hemingway got and that’s all Amy Tan and Stephen King get. Your evidence that your story is worth your attention and worth sharing with others is that you think it’s cool, or funny, or scary, or profound. If that’s reason enough for you to write, if that’s reason enough to commit an hour or two a day to the same story for six months or a year or six years, then you have found the simple secret to all faith – that feeling good is evidence enough that something is worth doing and that life is worth living.

Contrast Is Your Friend

From a pure craft standpoint, contrast is invaluable. Just as a flashlight’s beam is distinct in a dark room and nearly invisible in a brightly lit room, so too is whatever we are trying to share with our readers most perceptible against its opposite. So if you want to write about peace, you must show war; if you want to show forgiveness, you must show judgment; if you want show acceptance, you must show rejection.

Likewise, often the best way to know what we like is when we encounter something we don’t like. If you read a novel and you hate the ending, instead of griping to your husband or writing group about what poor choices the author made, think about how you would have ended it. Your frustration is pointing you toward something you wish to explore, but which has remained unexplored. That discomfort will only grow until it is released on the page.

Finally, the guidance system upon which you so depend to write from day to day speaks entirely in the contrast between the effortlessness of the right word, and the effort of the almost-right word. It speaks in the contrast between the fearlessness of asking yourself what you are most interested in, and the discomfort we have named fear that always comes when we wonder what other people will think of what we write. We must have both experiences for our guidance system to work. Without what we call fear, we would have nothing to guide us back to what we love.

William Kenower is the author of Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion, a Featured Blogger for the Huffington Post Books section, and is the Editor-in-Chief of Author magazine, an online magazine for writers and dedicated readers. He writes a popular daily blog for the magazine about the intersection of writing and our daily lives, and has interviewed hundreds of writers of every genre. He also hosts the online radio program Author2Author where every week he and a different guest discuss the books we write and the lives we lead.

 

Find Bill and his writing in these other places, too:

WilliamKenower.com — Amazon.comAmazon.ca — Goodreads — Facebook — Twitter

Finding your lost Picasso

Finding your lost Picasso

Sent by Kim Klein

There will always be people who think that to be a genuine artist you need to have an MFA, or to be an actor or a musician of substance, you need to have attended Juilliard, or that to write, you must be an English major and frequent small, dark pubs. There are wine snobs, literary snobs, art snobs, and, let’s face it, just plain snobs.

But, the truth is we are all born creative beings; it is not just a luxury given to a chosen few.

As children, we sing, paint, write poetry, make sculptures, sand castles, mud pies, and culinary treats from our Easy Bake ovens and we believe, without a doubt, that every one of these brilliant creations is worthy of gifting and display.

Then, somewhere along the line something happens; we become the recipient of someone’s criticism. Self-doubt sets in. We then continue on to become our own worst critic.  We start to sing a little less loudly in the school choir, stop wearing our funky striped socks because no one else is wearing them, and quit the pottery class because our stuff just “isn’t good enough.” Our creative side slowly recedes for fear of ridicule, failure or disappointment.

When I was completing my Feng Shui training, we had to do a final thesis. I chose to do something about the importance of infusing our own chi (energy) into the art and items that surround us. I decided to make one piece of art per life area, using the colors, elements and energy that seemed applicable. But, since I couldn’t really paint, I thought I would try both collage and assemblage, using pieces of fabric, CDs, fake gemstones, chopsticks, metal objects — anything that was different and that seemed to work aesthetically. People loved my creations and I was able to place them in sushi restaurants, hair salons, yoga studios and coffee houses. To my surprise I even sold several pieces!

I found that part of what attracted people to my work was that it was imperfect and in that sense, it mirrored life itself.

I have always been a writer. I started as a young teen, writing lyrics to sing along with the three chords I knew on my Yamaha guitar. I then graduated to poetry and writing creative short stories. I wrote for myself. From my heart. It was cathartic, cleansing, and I wrote as if I was talking to my best friend.

I’ve gone on to write and publish a few more books and many articles and I always write exactly the way I talk. I worried that it might not be good enough, not enough fancy words, and then I thought of Hemmingway, who wrote simply and at about a 4th grade level. I even found spelling errors in some of my favorite novels, and I realized, this happens to everyone!

The best of the best still miss a word here or there. There was no perfect. And it doesn’t matter! Telling your story or creating your art is what matters.

Coming from the Japanese philosophy of Wabi Sabi, where beauty is found in all things impermanent and imperfect, we can learn to embrace and accept that “perfect” is what we already are.  With that acceptance, there is no chance of failing. We can sing a little off key, and it is okay.  We can set the table with mismatched dinnerware, and it is acceptable. We can live with our own changing bodies, faces and attitudes, and find beauty in all the different ages and stages.

When we look at life through Wabi Sabi colored glasses, everything becomes a work of art. Even us.

It was funny because using the Wabi Sabi protective shield gave my artwork a new validity when I claimed that I knew full well that my pieces were sometimes a bit off-center or that the cuts in the fabric had frayed ends, or that pieces that I placed on my canvases had a bit of rust, a scratch or even a hole in them. And it was completely accepted as Wabi Sabi beautiful.

Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder and we all get to choose how we view things. Drippings of glaze on a piece of pottery, the unpainted edges of a painting, the irregular curves of a ceramic bowl, a story that scares the wits out of you or one that makes you jump for joy – all of these things have an authenticity and life to them, what we call Wabi Sabi. We can rest knowing that the fallen soufflé we lovingly baked will still taste no less than absolutely delicious. Perfectionism can be boring and so overrated!

If you are having trouble letting go of fast and hard expectations and the judgments of others, I urge you to explore the philosophy of Wabi Sabi. Adopting this philosophy as my own, I know that I don’t have to have any degrees, formal training, or acceptance from the outside world to create, to live fully and to follow my passion. And guess what? Neither do you.

For me, writing is my favorite form of creative expression. It is my art, my mirror, my very own therapist, and sometimes a source of entertainment for others. I first started writing at the age of 13. I wrote lyrics to put to music to the three chords I had mastered on my newly acquired second hand Yamaha guitar. I attempted to be the next Joni Mitchell, but quickly realized I wasn’t the best singer, or musician.

It took me a little longer to realize that it was actually the writing, the words, that I loved so much, more so than the singing and guitar playing. Poetry became my next outlet. I went on to study creative writing and started winning a few awards. I was always writing something, articles for the newspaper, columns for local area magazines, and then came the love of blogging.

Find Kim and her writing in these places:

KimKleinHealthCoach.com — Amazon.comAmazon.ca — Google+ — Goodreads — Facebook — TwitterPinterest

Want more from Kim Klein? (I know I do!) Check out our conversation called, Overcoming the Need to be Perfect, over in the Expert Q+A area.

How to move from a discouraged to an empowered writer

How to move from a discouraged to an empowered writer

Sent by Michele Fogal

I believe the largest problem authors face today is not the changing publishing industry or how to use social media to market ourselves. It’s the same problem that it’s always been. Discouragement.

The fact is, when I’m discouraged about my writing, all progress grinds to a halt. It’s an age old problem for artists of all kinds, and the root of advice in every ‘Learn How To Write’ book. In my mind, it comes down to this:

The core of creative process that gets words on a page is learning how to empower yourself.

Every writing teacher has different solutions to this issue. Some talk about routine and schedule. For them, they can push through times of discouragement by holding themselves accountable to dates and times. For others, it’s finding an ideal reader or muse, or building a community that can be your accountabilibuddies.

Some writers believe in meditation. Others in self-talk. Others in journalling… Changing locations… Special pens… Finding ways to trick the mind… Bribes.

Some writers are competitive and can use that to motivate themselves through the rough patches.

What I feel was missing in my own writer’s education was mention of the root of discouragement itself. We all need to find ways to encourage and empower ourselves. For me, that means recognizing all writing books as possible tools, but most importantly, recognizing myself as the artist in charge.

Most solutions are offered up as the Holy Grail of writing tips. That’s because it was the author’s own key into empowerment. That doesn’t mean these keys will unlock your doors.

When I first got stuck as a writer, I tried all kinds of expert advice. Each time I would read a new Golden Rule, and not be able to make it work for me, I felt like a failure. It went something like this, “I’ll never be a real writer if I can’t XYZ the way Bestselling Author does it.”

It took me a long time to realize that I was in charge of my own creativity. A system of trial and error allows me to beta test the ideas of other artists. Some work for me, some don’t. Wasting energy on taking this to heart or using this to create more discouragement is simply unnecessary and counterproductive.

Now, I collage together a process that works for me. This continues to evolve over time and as my situation and needs change. That’s okay! There’s always more to learn and that can be a source of pleasure instead of recrimination.

When I let go of trying to use someone else’s keys to open up my own doors, I not only have a lot more success, I have a lot more fun.

Michele Fogal is a Love Story Novelist, in both Science Fiction & Male/Male romance, a mother, a story addict, an endless student and a drooling xenophile.

 

Find Michele and her writing in these places:

MicheleFogal.com — Amazon.comAmazon.ca — Goodreads — Facebook — Twitter — Pinterest

 

Click the image to learn even more empowerment tips from Michele in our conversation posted on YouTube.

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