Tag Archives: self-care

The Self-Critical Writer: A Cautionary Tale

I have an abusive inner voice.

Perhaps you have one, too. It says things like:

That idea sucks / this scene sucks / your plot sucks / your housework sucks / you suck.

Oh, and why can’t you work harder?

You can’t write consistently, so you’ll never be successful.

You’re not good enough to have a writing career / an editing career [even though I do, in fact, have a 15-year editing career and have published a novel and multiple short stories on my way to having a writing career].

You’re not doing enough.

You’re not enough.

 

I don’t know where this voice came from–nobody important in my life spoke or speaks to me like that, and my loved ones are all much kinder to me than I am to myself. I do know I’m far from the only person to struggle with such a voice–destructive self-criticism is pretty common among writers and other creative types. Like many creatives, I’m also a sensitive soul, which makes it that much worse.

The question is, my friends and fellow sufferers, what do we do about it? How do we silence it, or at least ignore it long enough to do what we want to do with our lives?

Many writers do manage to push on regardless. I used to know how. I’ve done it before. I’ve read books on the topic, and countless articles and blog posts, and some of them have helped. But this voice has been getting worse over the years, instead of better. I try to fight back, and sometimes it works for a bit, but it’s so hard and I’m so tired.

Right now, the voice is quieter, but I’m trying to write and there’s nothing there. I’ve been crushing the life out of my own creativity.

I don’t have any answers for you.

All I know is that this voice has held me down too long. I’m in an abusive relationship with my Inner Critic, but I deserve better. So I’m naming it, I’m opening my dark secret to you, in the hope that it will begin to lose its power.

I want to tell myself a new story about who I am.

I have a voice, too. It’s time to make myself heard.

 

Do you have a critical inner voice? What does it say to you? How do you break it of its power?

Advertisements

On Writing Despite the News

(Warning, politics ahead! This will not be a permanent shift for the blog, but just for tonight, humour me. I’ll try to keep it vague…)

Friends, I come to you tonight weary and wrung out. Like many of you, I’ve been struggling with the news for months, burnt out but unable to look away. Writing was impossible, pointless, indulgent. I started a mini-challenge and kept hoping things would subside. Instead, they’ve gotten worse…and worse…and worse.

I’m not even American, I’m Canadian. But whatever happens south of the border affects us deeply, so we tend to keep a close eye on American news.

Besides, yesterday we learned–beyond a shadow of a doubt–that we’re not immune to the forces sweeping this part of the world, much as we’d sometimes like to think we are.

I’m angry, I’m tired, I’m afraid. Writing seems impossible again.

But…

Words have power. Facts have power, but story has more. We’ve always known that, and we learned it again this election year, when one candidate was brought down by narratives that wouldn’t go away, and the other candidate tapped into the fears and frustrations of his audience and sold them a story they wanted to believe.

When I  write, it’s not a coincidence that I often write about young women who are learning how to be themselves and how to shed what is holding them back. I write about cooperation winning out over fear and hate. I write about people from opposite walks of life who grow to understand, and sometimes love, each other. I write about people who are not white and straight–both to take away the “otherness” for some readers and to give other readers someone who looks like them.

If I’ve done my job right, my readers don’t even notice half of what I just said. They don’t notice…but the story is inside them now, and so are the themes.

In times like these,  here are some reasons why I need to keep writing:

  • to process events
  • to exert a sense of control
  • to escape so I can recharge and keep fighting
  • to provide an escape for readers who need it
  • and–just maybe–to change the world, one reader at a time.

On Doing Things That Scare You

I did a scary thing yesterday.

To explain, I need to backtrack a little. See,  I’m part of a social/folk dance community, based around something called contra dance. The short version is “square dance meets swing dance”–there’s a “caller” who teaches the dance and then talks you through the moves, to live music. I’ve written about this several times before, but the easiest way to explain it is through video. An explanation in words is here, more explanation (including why I love it) is here, and a description that’s more about how it feels is here.

Anyway, I’ve been doing contra dance for six and a half years. It’s become one of my passions, I’ve made a ton of friends, and I’ve gone on multiple road trips for full weekends of dance.

It’s also taught me to do several scary things and push my comfort zone in several directions. After first learning to dance in the lady’s role, I then added the gentleman’s role, and now I do both all the time (sometimes both in the same dance, if my partner is amenable to switching back and forth). I’ve gotten better at small talk, which is helpful at my day job. I went to a conference for dance organizers and challenged my feelings of imposter-ness (imposter syndrome), and now I’m one of the organizers for my dance community, doing the newsletters and half the social media stuff.

And yesterday I called my first dance.

Okay, second dance. I did a callers’ workshop last spring, which was awesome, but I tried calling one dance during the workshop, and it confirmed my suspicion that calling was Really Scary and probably not for me (an introvert who hates public speaking).

Then I, uh, published a book and did two book launches and they were Really Scary, but I didn’t die and they were also kind of fun.

So I started thinking about this calling thing again. I started practicing a little bit–I had recordings of contra music (of course), and the “recipes” for the dances are available online, so it’s possible to practice at home. Someone in my dance community started organizing sessions where new callers could come and call for a small group of people. I went to one and didn’t call, and missed the next one, and the third was coming up fast.

This past Saturday night we had a dance evening. The next caller session was to be Sunday. The organizer of the sessions, someone who’s become a friend, said, “So are you calling tomorrow? There’s this really easy dance you could do…”

I looked at it. It didn’t look too scary. I went home and practiced overnight. On Sunday I walked into the session and my friend said “Hey, we need an easy dance right now, do you want to go next?”

So I did.

I taught the dance, going through the whole thing twice, and then the music started and away we went. My friend stood next to me, couched me through it, and rescued me when I got off track. Some of the dancers got lost, possibly because I wasn’t clear enough. But everyone seemed to have a good time. They even clapped when I was done.

And…turns out it was significantly less scary than I thought.

I might even do it again next month.

Or maybe I’ll look for something else that scares me, and tackle that…

 

What have you done that scared you? I’d love to hear your stories!

 

Lies I Told Myself About Writing

I’m really good at negative self-talk (thanks, Inner Critic). Here are some things I’ve told myself about my writing, that I now know not to be true because hello, I have a novel out.

Caveats: (1) I had an awesome co-author, so I didn’t do it all on my own; (2) we didn’t go the traditional publishing route, but published it ourselves through Turtleduck Press, with help from professionals and semi-pros. My Inner Critic would like to have a field day with those caveats, but they don’t negate the fact that there is now a novel out there in the world with my name on it, and people are even buying it.

And so, the list of lies:

  1. You don’t have the discipline to be a writer.
  2. Your wrists can’t take that much typing anymore. (They can. I just rack up the words a little slower these days.)
  3. You don’t know how to edit a novel. (I’m talking the big stuff, structural editing — I usually flail around and get tied up in knots. This time, somehow, I knew what needed to be done and I did it.)
  4. You don’t have the temperament to edit a novel.
  5. You’re too afraid of failure to ever put anything out there.
  6. You’re too addicted to the Internet to ever put anything out there.
  7. You’re not a good writer. (I’m still and always learning. That’s different.)
  8. Your writing process is fatally flawed.
  9. You can’t be a writer and have other interests / a life at the same time. (I don’t have kids. But I do work full-time, have a significant other, and have several other hobbies that  can be fairly time-intensive.)
  10. You can’t plan, write, edit, and publish a novel in a reasonable amount of time like real writers do. (It took nine months from the start of planning to when we published it. In retrospect, that wasn’t really enough time, but we did it.)
  11. You’re not a real writer.
  12. You’ll never be a real writer.

WELL ACTUALLY…I did it. And will do it again.

So can you.

Winter Blues at Turtleduck Press

I’m over at the Turtleduck Press blog this week, talking about the winter blues and how I’m fighting back this season.

To be honest, some days are still worse than others — today is on the worse side — but I hope my multipronged strategy is making a difference to my resilience overall.

Here’s a sneak peak:

This year hasn’t been too bad so far. For starters, we’re having a really mild winter with almost no snow. Amazing what that does for one’s state of mind. Don’t get me wrong, I like snow, especially the proper crunchy snow that I grew up with and Toronto so rarely gets, but months of it will drag one down. And the cold, and the dark, and the post-Christmas, post-New Year’s letdown…okay, winter is still tough even without snow.

I’m doing all the usual things — taking extra Vitamin D, using a full-spectrum lamp, exercising (dance and yoga, with some walking here and there), focusing on coziness (blankets, slippers, tea, soup, comfort reads).

This year I’ve also added a couple of new things.

Read the rest!

Twelve Years

I am walking through a city park, amid melting snow and the first hints of green, when the memory hits me.

Twelve years ago, give or take a few days, I am standing in a cemetery. Melting snow and mud, the first warm day after a long and brutal winter, and my father is being buried. Fragments from the funeral: a whole pew full of Lutheran pastors in their robes, come to pay tribute to one of their own; how my stepsister cried but I could not; standing at the front of the airy, wood-beamed church and saying a few words with my siblings, words I do not remember now.

He never hated winter. Much as he loved growing vegetables and going on long bike rides in the summer, he still took winter in stride. After my parents divorced, he would take me and my siblings cross-country skiing on the small-town golf course right behind his house – long flat stretches, gentle slopes, stands of leafless prairie trees, crisp white snow and blue shadows and the sky that deep, deep blue that I still think of as Alberta blue.

That winter, he was ill for only a few months before he died. We visited him in hospital, driving back and forth in the bitter cold. Winter has never been the same for me in all the years since. I hunker down, hibernate (as much as anyone with a full-time job outside the house can), and wait for spring. He would not have shared the sentiment, but he would have understood.

(I thought of him when Terry Pratchett passed away recently. My father never read Pratchett, but I think he would have appreciated the humour – incisive but warm, with an essential core of humanism. (He was, after all, a big Robin Williams fan…and boy, was it hard when Robin Williams lost his battle.) I just reread Small Gods, particularly appropriate because my father was a pastor. What is belief? What is the relationship between the structure of the church and its god? He would have loved these questions that Pratchett explores so thoughtfully, cloaked in the guise of humour.)

When he died, I was an adult and working, but still living at home with my mother, just a few years into the relationship with the person I would later marry. I think of him sometimes now that I live in a different city and province, married, homeowner, small press editor, dancer. So many things have happened in my life since he was buried, it’s strange to contemplate.

But there are similarities. I have a vegetable garden now; the taste of real carrots takes me back to childhood. My father and his second wife, my stepmother, had a weekend ritual of going to the coffee shop at the edge of their neighbourhood. My husband and I do the same. Then we walk through a cemetery, just as I used to do with my father as a toddler.

It’s not the same cemetery, nor the one where he is buried. But I’m not sure that matters.

Spring will come to all of them.

How to Beat the Winter Blues

Post-holiday blues, amirite? Vacation is over, spring is months away, and it’s far enough into the new year to realize that maybe you’re not going to nail all your resolutions. A popular myth holds that a Monday in January (no consensus as to which one) is the most depressing day of the year. So…what to do about it?

Actually, for me the worst time is late February or early March — still very much winter here in Toronto. I usually write a post on the late-winter blues. This year I’m writing early, in the hopes that by listing some of the strategies that are working now, I — and you — will be better armed to face the rest of the winter.

(If you’re looking for an update on the writing situation, it’s at the bottom of the post.)

Park in winter

The Obvious

Just to get the obvious tips out of the way, here are the 3 most common recommendations for fighting SAD:

  • take vitamin D
  • use full-spectrum lighting
  • stay active doing something you love

The Key

Here’s what I’m focusing on this year: embrace winter. Sounds simple, but for a solar-powered, cold-blooded heat-seeker like me, it takes practice. And it’s applicable to all sorts of areas…

Hibernation

Instead of hunkering down in your home and cursing the cold, what about focusing on the enjoyable parts of staying indoors? There’s no garden calling your name, no patio, no summer festivals, no rambling through farmers’ markets or down streets of little shops. You’re free to make the most of indoor activities, whether at home or otherwise. So why not let yourself enjoy TV binges, cooking or baking, reading, crafting, drinking copious amounts of hot liquids, and so on? (Or, if you’re ambitious, go to the movies, an art gallery, the library…) Soon enough you’ll be busy outside again.

Nesting

If you’re going to hibernate, though, you need a good place to do it. Now is the time to make your living room, bedroom, or home office a truly cozy place to hang out. For example, maybe you have a disaster area organizing project to tackle (um, that would be me!), to reclaim a space that hasn’t been serving a good purpose.

Or maybe you could let your inner decorator out to play. This winter, my partner and I had a lot of fun decorating the house for Christmas. It was our third Christmas since becoming homeowners, but last year we were away, and the year before we were still recovering from having gotten married! So this was the first year we had the time and energy to devote to dressing up the place.

Our efforts made the living room in particular feel SO cozy and welcoming, we just wanted to hang out there all the time. (New problem: now we don’t want to take down the Christmas decor! Sadly, most of it can’t pass for “winter seasonal”…though we will leave the bowl of pine cones, the pillar candles, and maybe the fake garland on the mantelpiece.)

Outdoor fun

“Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver” (“My country is not a country, it is winter”) — Gilles Vigneault, Québécois poet and singer-songwriter

Of course, you can’t stay indoors all the time. That’s where winter sports come in. I won’t linger on this one because you get the idea. Personally, I don’t downhill ski, snowboard, or skate, but I do love cross-country skiing and snowshoeing when I can. When that fails, there’s always going for a walk. As long as the weather is not truly crappy, it still feels good.

On that note, I’m practising gratitude. Sure, it’s winter, but the weather isn’t always terrible. When it snows, or when it’s cold but sunny, I try and take a moment to stop and enjoy it. If I have to shovel or spread salt, I make a point of being thankful that I’m taking care of (a) my house, and (b) the neighbourhood. Yes, it does take practice, but it really does help.

Winter fashion

Quick preamble: In the last few years, I’ve developed an interest in clothes that I never really had before. I was (and am) a geek who lives very much in my head. But I never knew how to dress in a way that would make me happy. Now I’m finally figuring it out (with fits and starts, of course), and, surprise, it’s actually fun! (Quick plug for Missus Smarty Pants here. And no, I’m not an affiliate or anything, just a happy customer.)

Anyway…I’m enjoying wearing things that only work in cold/cooler weather. Right now that includes the prettiest sweaters I can find, plus fleece-lined footless tights (best thing ever, I swear). When it’s a bit warmer I wear opaque nylons and riding boots. I’ve got skirts and dresses in heavier, winter fabrics and colours, and (mostly costume) jewellery to go with them. I can’t wear this stuff in summer, so I’m trying to remember to enjoy it now…and mix it up so I don’t get bored.

Caveat: I do not sacrifice warmth for style. If it’s more than a little below freezing, I’m ditching my cute pea jacket for my parka, my cute wool hat and gloves for a toque and puffy mittens, my riding boots for lined and grippy winter boots. I’ll be stylish when I get to my destination and shed layers, but until then, I’ll be snug and not miserably cold.

Anticipation

If all of the above fails, look ahead. Don’t think too hard about spring yet, that’s too far away. A better idea is to plan something special to look forward to — mid-February is a good time. No, I’m not talking about V-Day necessarily. Throw a party. Plan a girls’ night out, or a weekend away if you can swing it. Think up a special, out-of-the-ordinary outing, with someone else or on your own. It doesn’t have to be fancy or cost much (or anything at all, if you’re resourceful) — it just has to be something to draw you onward, through the cold and the dark towards the promise of spring.

Writing

As promised, here’s what’s going on with writing: nothing. Well, nothing on the surface, anyway. I’m reading more than usual, taking in “story” through movies and TV, tentatively poking through some books on writing. Went on a couple of Pinterest sprees, some of which were writing-related.

I still have no urge to actually write fiction…but then, it is winter. Gardens need time to rest; animals hibernate; trees look like they’re dead, until suddenly they’re not.

I’m trying to remember these things, and hope.

Your turn! What do you do to get through winter?