Writing Reset: The Final Post

Or, why I’m stepping away from blogging

This summer I’ve been thinking long and hard about changes I want and need to make in my writing. Last weekend, after putting together a list of reader recommended books on craft and the writing life, I began reading Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro. The book is not on the list, but his book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles is, and when I was checking that the links were current, I found Turning Pro.

Turning Pro isn’t about whether we earn money. It’s about mindset. Attitude. Commitment. Real change—the kind of change that marks a difference between before and after. It’s about living the life we know we should regardless of what anyone else thinks.

Like The War of ArtTurning Pro is a short book but one that took several days to read because I found myself stopping after sections like this:

“Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead. The shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar. Its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.”

And this:

“In the shadow life … [we] pursue callings that take us nowhere and permit ourselves to be controlled by compulsions that we cannot understand (and are not aware of) and whose outcomes serve only to keep us caged, unconscious and going nowhere.”

And this:

“Ambition, I have come to believe, is the most primal and sacred fundament of our being. To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act upon that ambition is to turn our backs on ourselves and on the reason for our existence.”

And this:

“What happens when we turn pro is, we finally listen to that still, small voice inside our heads. At last we find the courage to identify the secret dream or love or bliss that we have known all along was our passion, our calling, our destiny.”

In the past week, I haven’t blogged here in part because every time I began, I kept thinking about Pressfield’s concept of shadow. Blogging is, for me, right now, a shadow activity. It hasn’t always been, but at this point in my life it is. I get ideas for shadow activities all the time. A couple of weeks ago, for example, it occurred to me to build on this summer series and put together a short ebook to offer to subscribers, something often recommended as a way to build email lists. I went so far as to think of a title and imagine the layout. Yes, I would enjoy the process, both the writing and the technical aspects. Yes, it would be a good way to attract more readers. But is it a good idea for me, right now? Unequivocally NO.

The inner journey I’ve taken this summer has led to an unexpected but perhaps inevitable conclusion: I keep finding ways to turn my back on my own ambitions. My ambitions aren’t about being on the best-seller list (as nice as that would be, it’s not what drives me) or getting a certain number of social media followers (if anything, I’m leaning more and more away from social media) or being known by other people as a certain kind of writer. Instead, they have to do with how I think of myself as a writer, the kinds of writing I devote myself to, and what I choose to feed my mind and heart every day. The “still, small voice” in my head identifies with clarity what I should be doing, what I should be writing. It paints for me a vivid picture of how to spend my days and emotion and energy. It’s time for me to listen.

To the readers who followed along this summer and offered your own experiences and ideas, thank you. I remain a devoted blog fan and reader and will continue to follow and support other writers’ posts. In no way do I want to imply that blogging is a shadow activity for everyone. When I first started blogging in 2010, it was very useful for me at the time, and has been at other points, as well. And, of course, for many writers, blogging is an integral part of their writing ambition or even their main writing calling or so much fun that it’s worth it. 🙂

I know I am stopping this series in the middle, but it has served its purpose and come to its end, and I’m very excited to move on to the next phase. (And, yes, a little scared, but that’s a good sign, right?)

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

Ramona Payne on working from home

Ramona M. Payne’s latest reflection fits perfectly with my own thoughts this summer and is just what I need today after a particularly challenging home-based working week. Head on over to her website to read her five easy rules for working and writing from home:

Rule 1 – Don’t do anything during your at-home workday that you would not do if you were in the office. This means that I seldom do chores during the day, unless it is tossing in a load first thing in the morning, or washing my dishes right after lunch. You wouldn’t bring your cute lace undies to work and fold them on your desk, so don’t do that during the work part of your day if you’re supposed to be writing or working. Read more

This post is part of the Summer Writing Reset blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

Writer Training

Page After PageYesterday’s list of 48 Books on Writing for Writers reminded me of one of my all-time favorites: Page After Page, by Heather Sellers. Several of her insights and ideas have shaped how I think about my own writing, especially her chapter on the energy required to be a writer, which she compares to training for a 5K race:

“Writing asks the exact same kind of preparation of us. You can’t expect it to go well if you haven’t prepared your body and your mind. You have to rest before you write. You have to be fed (stomach with protein, head with books). You have to be really ready to write. It’s not something we readily admit in our culture, that writing takes enormous focus and concentrated energy, and true stamina on a number of levels. I mean, there you are, sitting at your desk, looking out the window. Doesn’t look like hard work. Looks kind of lazy, in fact.” (p. 133)

She continues:

“You might not be writing as much as you want to because you have an unrealistic perception about how much energy it takes to produce good writing.”

This is a good reminder. I know that I write better and more often when I am taking care of myself, and it’s easier to follow good health habits, like these, when I remember that they help me to be more creative:

  • eating well (whole, real foods and lots of fruits and vegetables)
  • drinking plenty of water
  • getting at least minimal exercise, including daily morning walks
  • spending some time outdoors
  • keeping to a good sleep schedule
  • not filling my mind with a lot of junk information (whether from news or social media)
  • practicing daily meditation

Of course, the list will be different for everyone. Sleep and regular meals are especially important for me (both for energy and to prevent migraines), as is being careful about my online diet, which quickly diverts both my attention and energy in far-flung directions. As I look over the list, I realize I could do a better job with physical exercise and drinking more water.

What training program prepares you for your writing life?

This post is part of the Summer Writing Reset blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

48 Books on Writing for Writers

Thank you to everyone who has helped to add to this growing list. Please leave more ideas in the comments, and happy reading and writing!

The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction, by Charles Baxter

The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear, by Ralph Keyes

Creating Character Emotions: Writing Compelling, Fresh Approaches that Express your Characters’ True Feelings, by Ann Hood

Don’t Murder Your Mystery and Don’t Sabotage Your Submission, both by Chris Roerden

The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White

Elements of Writing Fiction: Characters & Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card

Elements Of Writing Fiction: Scene & Structure, by Jack M. Bickham

The Emotional Craft of Fiction, by by Donald Maass

Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True, by Elizabeth Berg

The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art, by Joyce Carol Oates

The Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maass

The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman

The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction, Volume 1: Building Blocks

Immediate Fiction, by Jerry Cleaver

Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke

The Lie that Tells a Truth, by John Dufresne

The Little Red Writing Book: For Writing Aficionados from all Walks of Life!, by Brandon Royal

Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, by Natalie Goldberg

On Writing, by Stephen King

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft, by Susan M. Tiberghien

Page after Page: Discover the Confidence & Passion You Need to Start Writing & Keep Writing (no matter what), by Heather Sellers

A Poetry Handbook, by Mary Oliver

Publish Your Nonfiction Book, by Sharlene Martin and Anthony Flacco

The Right to Write, by Julia Cameron

Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder

The Scene Book, by Sandra Scofield

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne & Dave King

Shut Up & Write!, by Judy Bridges

Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life, edited by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz

Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life, by Terry Brooks

Starting from Scratch, by Rita Mae Brown

Steering the Craft, by Ursula K. LeGuin

Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield

Wonderbook:The Illustrative Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, by Jeff VanderMeer

Words Are My Matter, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Writer’s Little Helper, by James V. Smith, Jr.

Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, by Hallie Ephron

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg

Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal, by Regina Brooks

The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard

Writing Picture Books, by Ann Whitford Paul

Writing Spiritual Books, by Hal Zina Bennett

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, by Donald Maass

Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process, by Peter Elbow

This post is part of the Summer Writing Reset blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

Who do you think you are?

Part of my Summer Writing Reset has involved blog clean-up and sorting through posts for topics that I need to revisit. The following is updated from 2012. Also see my post on this topic at Psychology Today. Header photo credit: Ned Potter via CC BY 2.0

Who do you think you are? It seems a simple question, but what if we add some emphasis and a couple of words at the beginning and end: Just who do you think you are, anyway?

“Just this morning I could feel that old ‘imposter syndrome’ lurking. There are so many brilliant people … doing such wonderful things that at times I feel totally overwhelmed by my lack of ability to contribute and feelings that what I can do is not good enough and will never measure up.” ~ Sue Luus

Having had the delight of meeting and spending some time with Sue, I am (but should not be) surprised at her self-doubts. Such fears cannot be glimpsed from the outside. In fact, my experience has been that often the very people who seem to others to be the most self-confident struggle mightily with fears of not measuring up and having “fooled” everyone. When they do admit to their inner demons, friends and co-workers might react with disbelief or even thinly concealed joy that “even she has problems, too.”

What is the Impostor Syndrome? According to Dr. Lee Anne Bell, those experiencing Impostor Syndrome “doubt their competence, downplay or dismiss their abilities, and subscribe to the disabling belief that they are impostors or fakes or frauds” (Lee Anne Bell, “The Gifted Woman as Impostor,” Advanced Development Journal 2, Jan., 1990, p. 55-64).

Here are some further readings for anyone who wants to learn more:

It’s easy to see what is bad about the Impostor Syndrome. At its most tragic, it can lead to unmitigated despair, even suicide. But is there another aspect to this common problem that might be more positive or even offer potential for growth?

In her article “The Gifted Woman as Impostor,” Bell suggests that the Impostor Syndrome may serve as a “critique and alternative vision” of traditional views of solitary success. She writes, “I now see a very positive impulse that underlies women’s discomfort with achievement.” Rather than a call to tattoo our awesomeness on our foreheads for all the world to see, our discomfort might be a nudge to redefine “the meanings of competence, success, and failure as terms that are embedded in connection and mutual support” (p. 63). In other words, the Impostor Syndrome is a symptom telling us that something needs to change. We can ask ourselves not just who we think we are, but who we want to be. Not just whether we want to succeed, but how we want to succeed in a way that is authentic, that has integrity, and that we can live with comfortably.

In a Forbes article from earlier this year, “The Upside of the Impostor Syndrome: Lessons from Women in Tech,” Tara-Nicholle Nelson writes of how feeling like an impostor may be a sign that we are finally aiming high enough, a growing pain that we can embrace rather than resist:

“Know that it’s coming, anticipate it, feel it – even lean into it and sit with it for awhile, instead of fighting it –  it will go away faster that way. But approach your new frontier with a clear plan of action, and then absolutely refuse to be moved, deterred, slowed down or stopped by any Imposter Syndrome symptoms that come.

In fact, do the opposite – build a note into your roadmap that reminds you that Imposter Syndrome symptoms are a signpost that you’re moving in the right direction: into a new, expansive realm of possibility.”

My own experience is informed by all of these views. I definitely can benefit from viewing myself and my work with more objectivity and compassion and placing less emphasis on others’ reactions and opinions (perceived or real). At the same time, I know that I feel the Impostor Syndrome when I engage in social media and other self-promotion strategies that leave me feeling unauthentic. Do I plow ahead anyway in an attempt to crush those self-doubts once and forever? Or do I use the discomfort as a guide to change my approach, to play by my own rules that allow me to feel more “me” and less “not me”? It’s a continual work in progress.

  • What is your experience with feeling an impostor?
  • How do you keep from being paralyzed by self-doubts?
  • Is the Impostor Syndrome ever a sign that you are on the right track or a call for personal change?

This post is part of the Summer Writing Reset blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.