Are You Lost in Writing Fog?

 

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Pixabay

Panic at 3500 Feet

One bright morning, my husband and I flew in his little Maule MX-7 from our crooked, grass strip to his parent’s house sixty miles away. As we cruised toward the sun, a few cotton-ball clouds dotted the patchwork of fields below us, but the skies above were clear.

Ten minutes later, a solid white blanket cloaked the ground.

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Photo by Life Of Pix on Pexels.com

Fog is intimidating when you’re on the road, but it’s downright hair-raising from the air, especially for this white-knuckle flyer.

After vowing silently never to fly again, I pointed out the obvious to my husband. “We can’t land in this!”

“It’ll lift before we get there,” he said, his hands firmly on the control wheel.

We followed the straight line on the GPS screen until we reached the destination point — his father’s farm. We circled the area and searched for an opening in the clouds but found none.

Anxiety taunted me: What if the fog doesn’t lift for hours! The plane will run out of fuel!

We circled again. I prayed, HARD. After one more go-around, the summer sun burned a hole in the fleecy cover, and we were able to land.

Despite my doubts, my husband knew what he was doing. He had studied the forecast and knew the weather conditions – dew point, temperature, and wind – were improving.

How Are Your Writing Conditions?

Sometimes, even the most conscientious scribblers inadvertently create their own WRITING FOG — a hazy state of confusion and bewilderment. Momentum slows, and finishing — or starting – a project becomes a tricky prospect.

If this occurs while you’re working on a story, you can’t see where the plot is heading. Or maybe your theme becomes fuzzy.

You may encounter Writing Fog between projects: one work is complete, but your vision for the next is blurry. You become disoriented, panicky, uncertain of your goals. You’re afraid you’ve lost creative energy. You’re afraid of crashing.

What Causes Fogginess?

Lack of planning. When I was a homeschooling mom, I was a dedicated (compulsive) planner. I scheduled every thirty minutes of my day. If I didn’t, I couldn’t get the laundry done. Or the meals. Or anything.

But I reached a point where my ever-increasing To Do list was making me nervous. So, I swung to the opposite extreme and NEVER made a schedule. No plans, no calendars, no lists. This also had its problems, such as missed appointments, late bills, and a serious lack of focus.

Winging it with your writing will give you similar results. That’s not to say you must write a fifty-page outline before you draft your story. And it’s okay if you can’t envision exactly what your next project will be. But a little planning can prevent you from getting lost. Think of it as GPS for authors.

Over-thinking.

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Pixabay

This condition is a symptom of the never-ending, futile quest for Perfection. It’s a trap. A labyrinth of circular thoughts which leads right back to Start, or worse, to No-man’s-land. When you over-think, you edit beyond the point of practicality. Is revising your work for the thirty-ninth time really going to make a significant difference? Or are you simply stalling? Finish the thing already. Excessive analyzing stems from not trusting yourself, which leads to another pitfall…

Too much advice. I love my writing podcasts, blogs, vlogs, courses, books, and #writingtips. But they can be too much of a good thing. All the brilliant but conflicting voices become a jumble of blah, blah, blah, until I don’t know what to believe. One expert says to create extensive character profiles; another says to allow characters to grow organically. Who’s right? In the end, you should go with your gut.

Over-dependence on others’ advice makes you passive. Passivity leads straight into the pea-soup of self-doubt and indecision.

If you’re in a muddle, and you can’t see the next story, the next scene, or the next sentence, consider whether one of these three conditions is to blame. Here’s hoping the mist will clear and bring your thoughts back into focus.

 

Why You Should Compare Yourself to Others

When Comparison Hurts

This morning I read a post from a fellow blogger. It was succinct, engrossing, fairly long, and beautiful. I thought about it while struggling to write this post.

My thoughts don’t flow like this other author. His sentences are pithier, his images more vivid. He writes from the heart and pulls the reader in with emotional impact. And he does it quickly. He couldn’t have labored over the piece for days because it contains recent information. I picture him at his laptop, fingers flying, never looking up until the entire post is finished and published ten minutes later. And it’s brilliant.

This hurts a little. Why can’t I do that? I am exceedingly, excruciatingly, agonizingly slow.

Some will say, Don’t compare yourself to others. I know they mean well. And I get it: it’s hard to be grateful for your ’96 Dodge when your colleague drives a new Jaguar. And that two-bedroom apartment doesn’t seem as spiffy after you visit your relative’s mountainside mansion with the dolphin-shaped pool, guest house, and scenic view.

It’s hard to be proud of your own accomplishments when they seem

small

compared to others’.

But comparison isn’t the problem. Coveting is. And that’s a response I can choose to indulge or not.

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Only it’s not. COVETING is the thief of joy.

 

Comparison is Not a Thief — It’s a Teacher

Ira Glass, producer and host of “This American Life,” expressed the struggles of creative people in a video a few years ago, and an excerpt of his talk shows up periodically on writing sites. He offers encouragement to writers whose work doesn’t live up to their aspirations. (He was speaking off the cuff, if this transcription seems jerky. Listen to it in his voice here.)

“Nobody tells people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me…we get into it because we have good taste. But…THERE’S A GAP, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good…It’s trying to be good, but it’s not quit that good. But your TASTE, the thing that got you into the game, your taste is still killer. And your taste is still good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you…A lot of people never get past that phase. And a lot of people at that point, they QUIT. And the thing I would like to say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of YEARS where they had really good taste, and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short

The most important possible thing you could do is DO A LOT OF WORK. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline, so that every week or every month, you know you’re going to finish the story. BECAUSE IT’S ONLY BY ACTUALLY GOING THROUGH A VOLUME OF WORK THAT YOU ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO CATCH UP AND CLOSE THAT GAP. AND THE WORK YOU’RE MAKING WILL BE AS GOOD AS YOUR AMBITIONS.”

And this is why comparison is a good thing, because it forms our taste. When I read Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, it raises my standard. It improves my taste. And if I will analyze his exquisite writing, I may see the mechanism behind his lyrical prose and learn how to lift my own writing to new heights.

If I can humble myself and shun covetous self-pity when I read better authors, I will make progress. 

Maybe sometimes what we need is MORE comparison, not less.

 

 

 

Information Gluttony and Lack of Creativity Go Together

Recently, I’ve been struggling to write. I had the seed of a story that wouldn’t sprout. I brainstormed and jotted down some notes, but in the end, my setting was boring, my characters were clichéd, and my premise was just dumb.

I was stuck.

So I did what I usually do when I need inspiration: I scoured the web. I turned to my favorite writing blogs and podcasts — rich sources of encouragement and instruction over the last five years. I watched videos. I opened the newsletter emails I subscribe to. I pulled out my favorite books on crafting fiction and ordered new ones.

The muse was silent.

I doubled my efforts. Every spare minute, I read another article or listened to more of my favorite writing podcasts until I was steeped in information, as if I expected to fix my writing by osmosis.

But my mind was waterlogged by other writers’ advice. I was inadvertently drowning out my own voice.

Don’t misunderstand me: it’s helpful to draw from the well of others’ experiences; we all need teachers. I’m grateful for authors and editors who share their knowledge. What would I have done without them?

But if we rely too heavily on outside sources, if we never trust our own instincts, we may become stunted.

“We are most original when we are most ourselves.” Rebecca McClanahan

It’s harder to be myself when various voices are shouting the rules in my head — when I’ve consumed too much advice, too many rules, too many instructions.

At some point, I must stop procrastinating because I have enough information. I HAVE ENOUGH.

For me, creativity blooms with white space. Mental white space. So instead of taking in another brilliant podcast about plotting, I should take a walk instead. Or sit on the rock in front of my pond and let my imagination wonder.20150908_231813959_iOS

Even bite-size tweets and Pinterest memes add clutter to my mind like salty French fries add pounds. Too many articles and blog posts and podcasts lead to information gluttony. The resulting bloat doesn’t feed my creativity. It stifles it.

I need a mental environment where creativity can grow. Here are a few things that seem to help:

  • Information fasting. Limiting outside voices (podcasts, emails, blogs, articles, news).
  • “Brain-dumping” on 750words.com. When problems mount and anxiety overwhelms, it’s hard to concentrate. Pouring out my worries (often as prayers) helps unload these burdens.
  • Stay home. Take on fewer activities. Accept fewer invitations. Run fewer errands. Stilling my body stills my mind.
  • Solitude. This might mean waking early before anyone else (sometimes insomnia is a good thing). Or taking a long walk, which, yes, is not being still, but it feels like “cleansing movement.”
  • Knitting.More cleansing movement. When my hands are busy, my mind can rest.
  • Focusing on small things.

Nigel sitting up (Daniel's)

Like watching my tuxedo cat bathe himself. Nigel licks his paw and draws it over his face starting at his eyes, reaching further with each stroke until he has cleaned behind his ears. His sandpaper-tongue catches my skin as he considers my hand an extension of his body.

Focusing on one small action is the opposite of multi-tasking. It’s a luxury. It calms and clears the mind.

 

Photo by Daniel McLendon

I hope these practical suggestions will help someone else, too. In the last week I’ve realized how much my mindset also smothers my creativity, but that’s a post for another day.

 

The Cranky Cure: My Favorite Writing Podcasts

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I’ve never been called a stellar housekeeper. No doubt this is due to my high tolerance for disorder and dirt.

But I have my limits.

When I can scrawl my name in the dust on the hall table, I know it’s time to pull out the Pledge. But as I’m dusting, I’m thinking, I wish I were writing!

On these days, when I’m frustrated with the necessity of housework and other chores, I console myself by multitasking with a podcast about writing. I feel super productive (and less grumpy) as I simultaneously clean the house and learn how to clean up a manuscript.  And washing yesterday’s dishes is infinitely more entertaining while I’m listening to Brandon Sanderson discuss limited third person point of view.

Here are my favorite writing podcasts in no particular order:

1) Writing Excuses

Hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler. This is the first writing podcast I ever heard, and even in my literary ignorance, I knew I’d stumbled upon a treasure. The site has archived twelve seasons of episodes covering a slew of writing topics. And lucky for us, they continue to post a new program every Sunday.

2) The Creative Penn

Joanna Penn is the authority on self-publishing and becoming an author entrepreneur. Many of her podcasts focus on the business side of things, but a fair number also tackle creative and writing topics. I could listen to Joanna’s lovely British accent all day, and sometimes I do.

3) The Worried Writer

I found this one only a few months ago, but from the first episode, it became a favorite. Sarah Painter, aka, the Worried Writer, interviews authors about their writing processes and concerns. Her advice about overcoming fear-based procrastination and her encouraging, gentle Scottish voice have helped this anxious scribbler many times. New programs post on the first day of each month.

4) The Story Grid Podcast

Tim Grahl and editor Shawn Coyne, author of The Story Grid, discuss various details of novel writing as Shawn guides Tim from page one of his story to “The End.”

5) The Bestseller Experiment

These guys win first prize for Zany British Humor, or rather, humour. The Two Marks–Mark Stay and Mark Desvaux–interview big-name authors about the writing process and publishing.  Highly informative and entertaining. They will make you smile.

I’d love to hear about other good writing podcasts. If you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments.