Confessing My Creative Sins, Pt. 3 Recovery, Pt. 1

Smee: I’ve just had an apostrophe.

Hook: I think you mean an epiphany.

Smee: Lightning has just struck my brain.

Sometimes, my darlingest readers, lightning-esque is exactly how apostrophes happen. They’re pretty cramazing when they happen, but I must admit they do leave one somewhat stupefied with shock.

In Pt. 1 of my Confessions, I told of how I let the world determine the course of my life.

In Pt. 2, I told why I let the world determine the course of my life.

In Pt. 2.5, I delved deep and revealed the fear at the foundation of the whys.

As I thought ahead to today’s post, my mind supplied the working title “Pt. 3,” and I fully expected to write the drama, the tears, and the heartache that would go along with it.

But then, my lovelies, I had an apostrophe epiphany. And that’s what I’m going to tell you about today.

In the Beginning

Birthday in Germany With Kitchen Gift, age 3

In the beginning, I was two weeks shy of my 3rd birthday, and my parents and I moved from McKinney, Texas (where I was born), to Darmstadt, Germany.

At this point in the story, my listeners usually ask, “Was your dad military?”

Well, once-upon-a-time, he was. But that was back in the ’60s. We moved to Germany in 1980 — so, no, we weren’t a military family by this point.

“Oh, then your parents were missionaries?”

No. Not that, either. And here’s where I usually reveal the reason for our trans-Atlantic emigration…but this time, I want to wait a bit before I tell you. Bear with me.

Point of No Postponed Return

Originally, my parents intended to stay in Germany for 5 years. Sometime in Year 3, the three of us spent an afternoon at the “Woog,” a lake down the street from our apartment. As my parents watched me play, Daddy turned to Mama and asked, “If we left now, moved back to the States, what would you miss the most?”

Mama thought for a moment, then said, “The Autobahn.”

Read: German highway system with speed limits only in small, designated areas.

That little exchange took place in 1983. The subject of leaving Germany didn’t come up again until it was time for my parents to retire in 2007.

Growing Up “Multi-Kulti”

No, “multi-kulti” has nothing to do with cults. It’s a short form of the German word for “multi-cultural,” which is how I lived and breathed from age 3 until…well, until now, because multi-cultural is a permanent facet of who I am. But that is another story and shall be told another time.

The point is, I grew up in Germany. My parents enrolled me in German Kindergarten 6 months after we arrived. I learned German from my teacher, Frau Apfelrock (Mrs. Appleskirt [yes, really]), and from the other kids. When it came time to start 1st grade, I went to a German elementary school. My German high school career began with a change to a “Gymnasium” (ask me about that sometime) at the start of 7th grade, and it ended with my “Abitur” (ask later) during the last semester of 13th grade.

At age 19, I moved to Oklahoma to go to university. Then I got married. Graduated. Moved back to Germany to work fulltime with a small church. Had grand adventures. Learned. Had terrible heartaches. Grew. Moved back to Oklahoma at age 31. And so forth.

For now, consider that brief summary of my life as a backdrop. Playing itself out in the foreground, we have what I’ve blogged about over the last few weeks:

  • developing unhealthy beliefs about God and about my self
  • fearing that God and others would reject me for my art (painting and writing)
  • giving up my creativity in order to gain approval, to which I was (am?) addicted
  • consciously acknowledging my fears and determining to overcome them.

All of this against the backdrop of a multi-cultural, bi-lingual, trans-Atlantic, resource-filled life and lifestyle.

*sigh*

APOSTROPHE!!!

Bill Weger in My Fair Lady

And now that I’ve painted for you this picture of my life, I’ll tell you the punchline. The epiphany that knocked me flat as I wrote my Confessions and thought ahead to what was going to be “Part 3.”

Are you ready?

Here goes:

The reason my parents moved our entire life to Germany in 1980 was so that my dad could pursue his dream of becoming a fulltime opera singer.

Did you catch that?

Let me say it again:

My parents sacrificed an entire way of life, everything they had always known, in order to move to the other side of the world and pursue a creative dream.

Chills pass through my body from head to toe as I write that sentence.

*facepalm* *headdesk*

Um.

Am I an idiot?

Really having a hard time not calling myself stupid right now.

Bill Weger in Aida

People, are you hearing what I’m saying?! I grew up with parents who gave up EVERYTHING* for the sake of CREATIVITY!!! They might have been afraid of the unknown. They might have been afraid of the chaos of moving and setting up a new life in an alien culture — or, rather, in a culture in which they were the aliens. Sure, they were scared of that. I’ve heard them talk about it.

But they did it anyway.

And here’s what they were not afraid of. They were not afraid of others’ rejection. They chose the creative dream over the security of others’ approval.

I have lived with their example right in front of me my entire life.

And even though I have seen it and known it and acknowledged it, the magnitude of it did not hit me until last week.

Forest for The Trees

Of all humans, I’ve gotta be one of the blindest.

On the other hand, maybe this is synchronicity at work once more.

I’ve had my apostrophe at age 34. My parents — two incredibly cramazing people!!! — packed up their lives and struck out for creative adventure when they were 37 and 34.

It worked for them.

It’s gonna work for me, too. I just have to recover from my stupefied shock first.

Mama, Daddy — thanks for being who you are. You are truly two of the most incredible human beings I know.

_________________________________
*EVERYTHING except Daddy’s 1972 Porsche 914; that, they shipped to Germany. ; )

Bill Weger in Wiener Blut (Viennese Spirit)

Confessing My Creative Sins, Pt. 2

Tangled

Last week, my lovelies, I started telling you the story about how I forgot my creative purpose. When I first pondered relating this tale, I thought I would approach it in logical, yea even chronological fashion.

Alas and alack and forsooth, I’ve discovered that I just can’t do it. Too many threads of my personal history are too tightly interwoven with each other, and there’s nary a way I can untangle them all so that they make chronological sense.

In Part 1 of my Confessions, I talked about giving everyone in my life permission to determine what I did with my creativity. I gave it to everyone except myself. In Pt. 1, I described to you some of my thought patterns back then…

…and now, I must needs pick up a different thread and follow that into the creative tangle.

And that thread, my darlings, is the religious one.

Zounds and gadzooks, this one is gonna hurt.

Tangles and Tarnation

I won’t spend time delineating the particulars of the faith I was raised in. Suffice it to say I grew up surrounded by religious folk who were conservative, tradition-minded, and focused on Doing The Right Thing. As an adult, I’ve come to realize that within the confines of the United States, the denomination I was raised in is considered pretty rigid.

In Germany, however, flexibility was vital. The church my parents and I attended was composed mainly of American military servicemembers and their families. Because of military rotation, the congregation had a new face every few years. People came and went — people who hailed from various stateside cultures and religious backgrounds. If the church was to survive as a group, everybody had to swallow their pride in certain traditions. Some rituals and patterns of thought remained the same; but nobody had the luxury of resting on the easy laurels of dogma.

On top of that, I was blessed with parents who demanded I think and speak for myself. I asked questions, requested honesty, and made a beloved nuisance of myself to the church leadership. (Fortunately, the leadership changed every few years, so I didn’t develop a reputation.) *grin*

But in spite of all this freedom of religious thought, I still managed to tangle up a few things. I heard a lot of preaching and teaching about self-sacrifice and about putting others’ needs ahead of my own. Both fantastic principles — when understood and applied correctly.

Unfortunately, I neither understood nor applied correctly.

Over time, I developed a view of God that ate away at my soul like a ravaging disease. Somehow, I came to believe that if I didn’t do things to make God happy, he would send me to hell. And the only way I could make God happy was to sacrifice whatever I held most dear about myself.

And, of course, what I prized most about myself was my creativity.

Torture

I told myself that I loved God. I told others that I loved God. You’d be impressed with my acting skills, dear inklings: My surface faith was so convincing, it would numb your brain. I had myself convinced, that’s for sure.

But all the while, I feared that God would someday demand I pay up. I lived in terror that God would say, “You’ve put your creativity on a pedestal long enough! It’s time to give that back to me.”

I came to see myself as a type of Abraham. Abraham laid Isaac, his son, on the sacrificial altar with a knife poised to plunge into the boy’s chest.

I believed that God would require me to stretch my artist child out upon just such an altar — and rip the artist child’s living heart out.

Remember what I said in Confessions, Pt. 1 about how I bent to society’s expectations? Take what I just said about sacrifice and extrapolate:

When society insisted that I should Get A Good Job, Make Something Of Myself, and Contribute Responsibly, I thought it was God, telling me to pay up.

When individuals demanded that I write or paint only Happy Encouraging Things instead of gritty truth, I thought it was God, telling me to sacrifice.

When people I trusted told me to give up my writing time in favor of what others needed of me, I thought it was God, putting the ritual knife into my trembling, unwilling, sinful fingers.

The result?

Years of depression. Years of fear: fear of God, fear of rejection, fear for my inner artist child. I was terrified of what looked, to me, like a bleak and unbearable future. I berated myself for my secret unwillingness to sacrifice. I thought I was just weak of soul. I questioned my worth.

I all but quit writing. I had nightmares of murder and guilt. My paintings turned ever darker, and I received criticism for them. The word “demonic” was used.

I thought it was God, telling me I had no right to cause such trouble with my controversial art.

Truth

I was wrong.

That was not God.

The Creator does not work that way.

But I wouldn’t realize those Truths for a long time.

Come back Thursday. I’ll confess another thread of the story — and point us toward a happy ending.
_____________________

I welcome all of your thoughts on these things.

Shared experiences?

Residual heartaches?

Current heartache?

What questions do you have for me?

Confessing My Creative Sins, Pt. 1

As a large, flippered, marine mammal once said, the time has come to talk of other things.

But these aren’t easy things like shoes and sealing wax, dear readers. These are hard things, and they’re things it hurts me to talk about. I need to talk about them…but the telling comes with a painful price.

2nd grade short stories

I’m going to tell you about how, once upon a time, I forgot that I was created to create. I’m going to tell you about how I lived in constant fear and about how I did not stand up for my artist-child self. I’m going to tell you about how I didn’t protect her.

Permission

This will be a story in multiple parts. It’ll require dredging up stuff about my past that I would rather not think about.

So, let me put it off just a little longer by sharing with you something I recently read:

“In life…we only have one choice at any given time. The choice to go left or right…forward or backward. The choice to live or to die. The choice to grow or stay the same… .

Just the same as our choice, we have the ability to grant permission or deny it. Permission to love. Permission to praise. Permission to dance. Permission to edify and to justify. Whether in conversations, relationships or alone, we give permission to those around us every single day.

What I find to be most intriguing in my travels as coach and motivating speaker, is how often people give up their choice by granting permission to someone else to make it for them.”
Tammy Redmon of www.tammyredmon.com*

Darling readers, I’ve spent much of my life fiercely defending my belief that we humans are blessed with free will, with choice. And, while I was so vigorously defending my free will, I was also refusing to exercise it. I paid bounteous lip service to the idea of choice, but I allowed other people to make my choices for me.

Created To Create

If you’ve read my About page, then you know the story of how I first realized that my teenhood dreams of authordom actually went farther back than I thought. If you haven’t read my About page, then you should go do that now.

No, really. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

All right! So, now you know about the wordy second grader, the spiders, and the haunted castle. We can move on from there.

My second-grade self knew and took for granted that I was created to create. With all the innocent, stronger-than-steel faith of a child, she trusted wholly in her connection to the thirst-slaking wellspring of creativity. She drank deeply and constantly from the Source. At age 8, age 10, age 12, I had no doubts about what and who I was.

I was creative. I was a word-artist.

When did I start to forget? Ah, it’s impossible to pinpoint. The forgetting didn’t happen from one day to the next. No, it was a gradual clouding-over of vision over the course of more than a decade. I couldn’t have stopped it. I was too young and naive to imagine it could happen to me, much less recognize that insidious progression.

Creative Memory Loss

My late teen years probably saw the most rapid and intense onset of creative memory loss. I was thinking ahead to universities, to majors, to job-after-college. Make money with writing? Not likely, so let’s get a degree in psychology and write on the side.

“On the side” meant “not at all” until my last year of college, when I finished my novel-in-progress for my senior project in English. By now, I’d dropped Psych as a major and adopted Writing instead. One would think this would encourage a prolific pen. Instead, I finished the project, graduated, and let my writing slow to a crawl for a couple of years.

“Real life” left me neither time nor energy for writing. It didn’t seem like a grown-up activity. Forgetting the creativity felt more mature. Not to mention easier.

Who was telling me that being a grown-up canceled out being a writer? The answer: nobody. Nobody came to me and said, “Courtney, you’re an adult now. It’s time to put these childish dreams of writerdom behind you. It’s time to Make Something Of Yourself. Grow up.”

I wish someone had said that to my face! Blatant attempts at control are easy to combat when they’re right under my nose! I could have stood firm under a barrage of verbal criticism, but I didn’t know how to fight the subtle undermining of my creative foundation.

Giving Away Permission

My soul submitted to the shackles one tiny little step at a time. They were laid upon me by society and by unspoken, between-the-lines judgments from various people in my life.

I learned to see my writing as just a hobby. Oh, if anyone had asked, I would’ve assured them that I still intended to publish someday. But I didn’t behave as though I believe that. I behaved as though, in a Top Ten list of priorities, writing hovered somewhere around 9.5.

After I graduated from college, three years passed before I started writing another novel. In the meantime, I wrote poetry. I painted. I moved to the other side of the world.

I did everything I thought I was supposed to be doing.

Read Tammy’s quote again. See those lines about permission? I gave society and other people permission to decide what I should do with my creativity. Everybody had sanction to determine the fate of my artist-child self.

Everybody except me.

To Be Continued…

So, my dearies, that’s the start of the sordid story I’m trying to tell you. I don’t really want to tell it, but I think I need to tell it. And from what some of you have told me and asked me — both in comments here and in person — I suspect some of you might need to hear it.

So keep coming back. I’ll be talking about this for at least a few more posts.

*Quoted by permission.

Why I Believe I’m Created to Create

This is pretty much the essence of how I feel about writing:

“It feels like a gift from the universe to you. And maybe it is. …(Y)ou’re so far into the thing you’re doing that in that moment, everything else doesn’t matter. I’ve gotten this feeling from other things, but where I get it the most is when I’m writing.

“It’s a relationship with words, essentially. I have one and it manifests itself through my fingers, usually onto a computer screen but occasionally with pen and paper. It’s a relationship in which I feel defined, in no small part because in the act of writing I have been able to define myself, to myself and to others.”

–John Scalzi
The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Eighteen: Writing

 

Having a Little Faith

In my Twitter bio, I tell the world that I am “created to create.” If you search my blog for that phrase, you’ll find a bunch of posts in which I use it. It’s a phrase that’s near and dear to my heart lodged at the very core of my being.

“What’s the because?” you ask.

(Or maybe you use proper grammar and cock your head while stroking your chin, saying, “Courtney, dear, do please elaborate: What is the reason that this phrase resonates with you so?”)

 
At the end of this post, you will find a link to my Confessions of my creative sins. In these Confessions, I talk a lot about my faith and its effect on my life and my art. Some of this effect has been, on the surface, horribly detrimental to me as a human being and to my expression of my creativity — on the surface. Two things of great import are worth noting here:

1. The detriment was a result of my misunderstanding of “faith” in general and of the principles of my own faith in particular.

2. The detriment has proven itself superficial because I’ve learned so much and grown so much stronger as a result of the dark times. The surface was deadly…but the depths are invigorating, rich, fulfilling, and teeming with life.

I don’t often discuss my faith on this blog; I know that’s not why most of you come here. But if you’re interested in my writing and/or in me as a writer/human, I suspect that hearing the occasional tidbit about my deeper beliefs isn’t going to drive you away. Feel free, though, to correct me on this if I’m wrong. ; )

And, yet again, “What’s the because?” What’s the connection between all of this faith stuff and the Scalzi quote above?

Created to Create

Well, here’s the connection in one shelle du nut:

I believe in God.

I believe in the very first statement of the Christian Bible’s Old Testament: “In the beginning, God created….”

I believe that it’s no coincidence that God-as-Creative-Being is the first thing we learn about him.

I believe that being “created in God’s image” means, in part, that we each are created to create.

I believe that “to create” means to put something into the world that wasn’t there before. That might be a story. Or a painting. An etching in wood. Something made of construction paper.

Or it could be an encouraging conversation with a friend. It could be a hug.

A kiss.

A smile.

When I watch my cat, I see her being exactly what she’s been created to be: She plays, she stalks, she hunts, she revels in sunshine, she interacts with her humans. In every facet of her being, she Is exactly what God created her to Be. When I watch her, I marvel at how easily she expresses God’s creativity at work in her. She doesn’t think about it, doesn’t analyze it, doesn’t worry if she’s “doing it right.” She doesn’t even do. She simply Is, and that is enough.

Pippin and sunshine

Me, I have a hard time being that simple. I have a hard time simply being. But my roots are digging ever deeper, and I am growing. I understand one thing for certain: I am created to create. The cat is Cat when she’s in the sunshine, on her back, with all four feet in the air, looking about as ridiculous as a feline can.

Me, I am Human when I’m in the sunshine of creativity, exposing my belly, baring my vulnerable heart to the world, making a fool of myself by letting others read the secrets of my soul in my written words. When I am Writer, I am expressing God’s creativity at work in me.

Scalzi says, “It’s a relationship in which I feel defined, in no small part because in the act of writing I have been able to define myself, to myself and to others.”

Me, I’m engaged in an ongoing love affair with my Creator. That affair, that Love, manifests itself in many ways — but one of its most significant manifestations is my Writing. When I am Writer, I am being exactly what he created me to be. This defines my Self — to myself and to others.

If you want to read more about how I came to these conclusions — if you want to see me bare the darkest times of my soul — my Creative Confessions are here.

___________

What about you, dear inklings? Any thoughts to share on faith and the writer’s relationship to the written word? Do you agree or disagree that every human is inherently creative? Whatever the roots of your own creativity — whether you call those roots spiritual or not — I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Of Figs and the 9th Circle of Hell

Sometimes, I am a nerd.

Okay, yes, most of the time. And nerdery happens on this blog pretty much all of the time. This post about Google Analytics is a good example.

I had an awfully cramazing good time with that post, and a few days ago I was tooling around in Google Analytics again, and I thought to myself, “Self, you really should write another blog post about keywords, because that was just rockin’ awesome fun,” and myself replied, “Heck YEAH.”

So. Here are a few recent keyword phrases that have led people to my blog. Some of them make sense. Some of them, in the timeless tradition of haiku about refigerators* ***, do not. But I am going to answer them anyway. Because that’s just the kind of sweet, kind, helpful person I am. Booyah.

Six Keyword Searches…

…in order of my amusement:

1. three creative sins

Not sure what we’re talkin’ about here, y’all. If it’s three sins in creativity, how’s about this?

  1. Letting other people tell you how to be creative.
  2. Telling yourself “I’m not good enough to (insert creative activity here).”
  3. Neglecting to hone your craft.

If it’s creatively-executed sins you’re looking for, this might not be the blog you’re looking for.

(Email me.) ; )

2. what is the german word for “here”

The German word for “here” is “hier.”

BANGERANG. Next question.

3. what to write on my first blog post?

Most importantly: WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? Why are you blogging? Why do you care? This is pretty much The Question you should answer for yourself before you even write that first blog post. If you do that, you’ll forge a connection with your readers before you even have any. Readers, that is. I know this is very meta, but trust me, I’m an expert**.

4. why are short stories short?

Um.

Because they’re not long?
Because they’re not novels?
Because short story cat is short story?

It’s because of reasons.

Oy.

5. why grocery shopping is the 9th circle of hell

Shopping carts in parking spaces. Packed aisles. Twenty-five cash registers and only 3 checkers. Sugar cookies jumping out at you from every endcap. The woman in bunny slippers, curlers, and a see-through blouse. The guy at the meat counter who turns to you with wide, shining eyes and says, “Have you tried this ground chuck? You should try this ground chuck!

I really don’t think I need to elaborate on this.

6. writing a story about court

You’re writing a story about ME? You are fantabulous! I love you! You are my new favorite person for the next ten minutes! Do I get a superpower? Oooooh, can I be telekinetic? And have vorpal unicorn morphing powers? I wouldn’t mind a teleporting ability, too, since I’ve kind of been wanting to go to Australia lately. Thanks!

_______________________

* I misspelled “refrigerator” as I was writing this post. I happened to be writing this post while at Consortium Time. I turned to Aaron and Becca and said, “I need someone to write a sci-fi story about a device that regenerates figs. It would be called a ‘refigerator.'”

They were not amused.
Although Becca said I had her until “figs.”

** Also, I seem to be a pathological liar.

*** Jessie mentioned haiku this week, which is why Japanese poetry is so randomly present in this blog post. Gadzooks, Brain.

Book Edits Are Eating Me

Most darlingest readers, from the feedback you’ve given me on Tuesday’s post, I see that it struck a chord with many of you. On one hand, I’m glad to know that, as it tells me I’m doing some good by embarking upon this journey of creative confession.

On the other hand, I’m sad to know that my “Confessions” resonate with you, because I know it means you’ve suffered through your own creative shackles. And I wouldn’t wish those on anyone.

But no matter which hand we’re talking about, I plan to continue my Confessions. We’ll take each other by the hand and walk this path together. As one of my favorite authors once wrote:

“Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased—thus do we refute entropy.”

–Spider Robinson

The next step in the journey must wait until next Tuesday, though. I am working on the final edits for Colors of Deception, as well as devoting time to palaver with my art team regarding the photoshoot for cover art. (In other news, I’m trying my hand at strung-together prepositional phrases.)

All of this has taken time away from blogging. I’ll try to make up some of it over the weekend. In the meantime, I invite you to peruse my About page or the list of Popular Posts in the sidebar to the right of your screen.

Come back next Tuesday for “Confessing My Creative Sins, Pt. 2.” I’ll look forward to hearing from you!

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

i write because mirrors have voices

Hile, inkslingers, ne’er-do-wells, and sundry,

I’ve been neglecting the blog again of late. But I have good reason. A depression low-point struck, and I’ve been self-medicating with Netflix. Also, I was sick with another of my lovely sinus infections, so it’s taken me a bit to bounce back from that.

But I’m trying to get back to bouncy-trouncy-flouncy-pouncy-fun-fun-fun-fun-fun, hence my choice not to indulge in ST:Voyager tonight but wet my writing whistle, instead. (Ooh la la.)

“Here, drink this,” he says.

Last month, Herr Chuck the Wendigo (as I like to call him [read: I just made that up]) issued one of his weekly writing challenges: 1,000 words on why we write. Since I tend to drink up whatever the Wendigo hands me (and yes, this maybe should frighten all of us), I am taking that challenge and frolicking with it.

(Ooh la la.)

Why I Write

I write because mirrors have voices.

You can walk past a mirror and not even notice it. From the corner of your eye, you might catch a glimpse of movement, but it’s not enough to give you pause. You keep going, focused on wherever you need to be, whatever you want to do, whomever you intend to see. The mirror stays behind, hanging forgotten on the wall or sitting blind-once-more on the shelf or waiting silently in the windowframe.

(Windows and eyes can be mirrors, and we sometimes forget this to our peril. But that is another story and shall be told another time.)

You can walk past a mirror and barely register your own reflection.

But I write because mirrors have voices.

I walk past a mirror, and it screams at me.

LOOK.

Stop, writer, and LOOK.

See yourself. Stare into your own soul, and pull something out of there that you would prefer not to see. Turn that thing over in your hands. Feel it. Touch it the way you’ve never touched anything else. Dig your fingertips into it and feel the pain…

…because, oh yes, you might pull that thing out of yourself, but it remains connected to you as though by vital umbilical cord. That thing in your soul sends and receives, and so do you. You press that thing between your palms, and you set off an agonizing resonance. The thing in your soul that you don’t want to see, that thing is pain. But your job is to fiddle with it and poke it and prod it and see what makes it squeal.

You don’t want others to see that thing, either.

But your job is to show them, writer.

Take that resonating pain and make them feel it, too.

They might not perceive it as pain, but it’s still your job to show it to them.

That’s the only way you’ll ever write something real.

That’s the only way you will ever be real.

I write because mirrors have voices, and they tell me to pull out the parts of my soul I would rather keep hidden and bare them to the world.

Everything I write is, in some way, a reflection of myself.

Every character I write carries around a little part of me. (This maybe should frighten all of us.)

(Sometimes the voices of the mirrors sound suspiciously like the voices of my characters.)

I write because mirrors have voices, and they tell me to dig deep and unearth what makes me real and use it to craft something real for someone else.

I write because mirrors have voices, and they insist that I Make Things.

* * *

When I ignore the mirrors…when I walk past them and stare anywhere else and refuse the glimpse of my reflected movement…bad things happen.

That thing in my soul? It turns surly when I ignore the mirrors. If I’m not writing, that thing in my soul goes dark and sucks in light. It sucks away joy and interest in life. It saps motivation. It leaches me of any desire to interact with other people.

When I ignore the voices of the mirrors, what happens to me looks an awful lot like depression.

* * *

During the times in my adult life when I wasn’t writing, I didn’t like myself very much.

* * *

I write to soothe the thing in my soul.

I write to Make Something Real in fiction, in the hope of touching people I would never be able to touch otherwise.

I write to like myself.

I write to be who and what I am created to be.

I write to quiet the characters who demand I tell their stories.

I write because mirrors have voices.

 

iheartwords

________________

Why do *you* write?

You can’t be bad at art.

When it comes to art, even personalities that aren’t perfectionist suddenly descend into weird, nit-picky hangups.

“It doesn’t look right.” “It doesn’t look real enough.” The one who never alphabetizes her books will develop a dire need for right angles and even planes. The one who can’t keep his pantry in any semblance of order will agonize over brushstrokes that refuse his attempts at realism. “I can’t make it look the way it does in my head.”

“I can’t.”

More demoralizing, discouraging, and disheartening words probably don’t exist in the art world, whether you’re talking visual arts, writing, music, or performance. Artists in every medium and of every range of experience maintain this mental image of what their art should be — usually in comparison to someone else’s. “I can’t” — because nothing they produce ever measures up to that ideal they’ve carried around probably since childhood.

“They.” What am I talking about? This is a case of “we,” for sure, because I’m one of those artists.

Talking to Yourself

There’s this thing called the Self-Talk Cycle. Maybe you’ve heard of it; I can’t remember who first coined the term. But the Self-Talk Cycle describes:

how you talk to yourself about yourself in your head;
what emotions this engenders in you;
what actions you take based on those emotions;
what you tell yourself about yourself as a result of those actions;
and so forth.

Here’s a visual of what I’m talking about (click to embiggen!):
 

selftalk

 

So, imagine that you consistently tell yourself, “I’m bad at art. I don’t have a creative bone in my body. If I try this, I’m just gonna mess up. Besides, doing art isn’t productive. I shouldn’t waste my time or other people’s time.”

What we say to ourselves about ourselves always leads to feelings. How will you feel as a result of talking to yourself like this about your artist self? Your musician self? Your writer self?
Frustrated.
Overwhelmed.
Guilty for even thinking you could take the time for this.
Disappointed.
Angry with yourself.

What actions will you take as a result of these emotions?
Avoid your art projects.
Ignore your urge to create.
Dam up and wall off the impulses that lead to art, music, writing.
Block relationships with other artists, musicians, writers. Keep them at arm’s length so they don’t remind you of what you’re not doing. Heaven forbid they tempt you to try creating again.

What do you tell yourself about yourself as you take these unpleasant actions?
I’m alone.
I’m not as good an artist as ________, so they wouldn’t want to hang around me anyway.
I’m no good at art, music, writing. There’s no point in trying.
If I try, I’ll just waste people’s time.
I’ll just screw it up again.
I can’t.
I’m bad at art.

This circle is particularly vicious. It has teeth, and if you let it go on long enough, it will tear your spirit to shreds. (I should know.)

Don’t let that happen.

Fight that vicious, spirit-shredding monster with the Truth.

Here’s the Truth

You can’t be bad at art.

You can’t be bad at art.

You can’t be bad at art.

Read this and let it sink in:

Art is not about talent or skill. Art is about you. Spending time with you, getting to know you. Seeing parts of yourself that you love, some that you hate, but mostly parts that scare the very breath from your lungs. Art is not about technique or style. Art is learning who you are, and being brave enough to show the world. You can’t be bad at art, unless you are simply afraid to try. Art is a terrifying pursuit, because there is nothing more frightening than our own selves.”

~J.T. Hackett, artist
(@Jay_T1313)
(emphasis mine)

…and…

“When we say we are afraid to begin a project, we are actually saying something else: “I am afraid of how I will feel as I continue.” We do not want to start because we do not know that we can continue. It is not the start, it is the finish that troubles us.”

Julia Cameron

Part of the fear of beginning is the fear of being seen as a beginner…a novice or even an “inferior.” (I can’t remember where I originally came across this idea; possibly it’s more Julia Cameron.) Another part of the fear is fear of knowing ourselves. Fear is where the cycle of art-murdering Self-Talk begins. “It’ll never look right. I’ll screw up. I can’t…”

…because I’m afraid.

But you can.

Because you can’t be bad at art.

And you don’t have to let fear rule you.

Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve

That little subtitle there is a quote from the Bible, specifically from the Old Testament book of Joshua, Chapter 24. Some might accuse me of taking it out of context (though I really don’t believe that I am), but here’s the crux of it for this post:

You have a choice.

You can choose to be subject to fear.

You can choose to immerse yourself in the negative things you tell yourself about your art.

You can choose to obey your fear of being a beginner again.

You can choose to obey your fear of failure.

You can choose to serve your fear.

Or…

You can choose to be subject to freedom. Because that’s what art is.

You can choose life. Because that’s what art is.

You can choose to immerse yourself in speaking kindness, joy, peace, love, and beauty to yourself about your art.

You can choose the courage it takes to get to know yourself.

You can choose the courage it takes to show the world who you are.

You can choose to serve your art,

following where it leads,

even if it leads you to truths about yourself you didn’t want to know.

You can choose to serve your art,

thereby serving Truth and Life and Joy,

thereby serving Good and Light and Freedom.

Sometimes, following your creativity, following Truth and Light and Freedom, means looking into dark places. This seems a paradox, but it’s one of those universal paradoxes that crop up in our existence every so often.

Look into yourself, delve into the dark places, and find in them the Light.

“I know myself, and I will know myself further. I am brave enough to learn who I am. I am good at art. I feel free and strong in my art. And I am brave enough to show it to the world.”

You are everything you need to be, but you’re not there yet.

Become what you already are.
 

Writers’ Blog Hop: 4 Writerly Questions (also Dr. Seuss)

Hidey-ho, beloved inklings!

Did you miss me?

Don’t answer that. ; )

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been rather absent from my blog for the last two months. This is due to three things. Attend, my dears, and I shall tell you them.

Thing One

When I have a spare moment for writing, I devote that moment to (working title:) The Writing of Legends of the Light-Walkers 3, The First Draft: The Draftening. That is not the working title. I just made that up.

More on this later.

Thing Two

Last week, my parents celebrated 50 years of marriage. This is mind-blowing and cramazing and I love them for it. I feel that in this world of hook-ups and hang-ups and h-something-something-alliteration, people like my parents are a ray of hope to those of us who haven’t gotten to the big FIVE-OH (or even the big TWO-OH) yet. Plus, they’ve gone through a lot to make it this far, so all the hats (and possibly other various accoutrements) are off to them.

50years

To show my love and appreciation, I threw them a party (and this is the Thing Two that took up potential blogging time). Cousins and aunts helped, and without these cousins and aunts, I couldn’t have accomplished half of the party prep and the party itself wouldn’t have been half as nice. I spent much of the prep time — and some of the party itself — overwhelmed with gratitude at the loveliness of all of these women who came together to help honor my parents. It was truly a blessing.

With Apologies to Dr. Seuss: Thing Three

I’d thought several times about surfacing from novel-writing and party-planning just long enough to pop in here and say hi. But then Judy Dunn, fellow writer and blogger, contacted me and asked me to join in on a Writers’ Blog Hop. I agreed and then decided to make the blog hop post my “hey how’s it goin’, y’all.”

Hey! How’s it goin’, y’all?

If I’m not mistaken, that brings us full circle. So, woot and cetera.

Writers’ Blog Hop: 4 Writerly Questions

In Judy’s own blog hop post, she answered four writing questions that the previous blogger? hopper? (hoppah!) had asked her. So I get to answer those same questions (AND PASS THEM ON TO THE AB-FAB WRITER ANNOUNCED AT THE END OF THIS POST SO CHECK HIM OUT DO IT DO IT DO IT OR I’LL SEND ELVES TO TATTOO “I’M A NERD” ON YOUR FOREHEAD DON’T TEST ME).

*ahem*

Without further ado or adon’t, here are Les Quatres (4) Questions Writerliques:

1. What am I working on right now?

My current project is the third novel in my Legends of the Light-Walkers series. (The first two are here.) Everything you need to know about LLW3, you can find here. For blog-hopping (blopping?) purposes, I’ll just say that this is probably the biggest writing project I’ve ever taken on, it eats my lunch when I take my eyes off it for the splittest of seconds, and I love every ridiculous minute of it.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

LLW3 is different in that it is the pseudo-urban fantasy prequel to epic fantasies LL1 and LL2. Yes, I’m sorta switching genres mid-series. Except not really. The whole LLW series is meant to be epic fantasy. That’s always been THE BIG IDEA. But for certain things to happen in LLW1 and LLW2, the story of LLW3 has to be told.

The story of LLW3 is the story of Rafe Skelleran — who just happens to have been born in Oklahoma City, OK. That’s not exactly an epic fantasy setting. So when we meet Rafe, he’s still not-so-happily ensconced in his downtown OKC apartment. He crosses over into my epic fantasy world (readers will know this as Rethana’s universe) in…um…a chapter that’s now Chapter 3, I think. But he starts out here. So that’s sorta where the urban part comes in.

Bear with me, y’all. It’ll all come out in the wash, I promise.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because I gotta.

Next question?

; ) Just kidding. But no, really. These stories are in my head, and if I don’t write them, I get surly and depressed and start oil-painting deepsea anglerfish mermaids (READ: fishtailed girls with ginormous jaws and spiky teeth) and lots of things in black. And then I get accused of demon-possession and nobody has any fun anymore. So I write my stories to make things better for ALL of us. You should thank me.

Really though, do come see the anglerfish mermaid sometime. She’s a cutie.

4. How does my writing process work?

Well, there’s coffee.

Next question?

Yeah, yeah. ; )

I used to be mostly a “pantser”: Flying by the seat of my pants, I dived into Telling The Story with little to no preparation, and it was magnificent and brilliant and exciting until I stalled out and dropped like a stone at around 10,000 words. KABLOOEY.

Nowadays, I still pants it a leeeeetle, but only after I do a lot of prep work. Great Scott, I know that sounds like a major paradox. Here’s how it works:

  • I write out a short synopsis — just the basics of what I think will happen. This is MC. This is what MC wants. MC does this. This is Antagonist. This is Antagonist’s goal (in opposition to what MC wants). Antagonist does this. And so forth.
  • I write out a Mock Table of Contents, and I let myself be ridiculous with it even if the story isn’t primarily comedy. For instance:

1. “Also, I Can Kill You with My Brain”
2. Down the Rabbit Hole; Dude, Your Ward Is Screwed Up
3. Take Me to Your Dream Weaver (a la REO Speedwagon)
4. Dude Is Janky, Let’s Kill Him
5. Girl’s Got Skillz (Or: Come Here So I Can Hit You with a Rock)
6. In Which the Spirit of Robert Frost Is Channeled. Word.
7. Sanctuary! Also, Get the Hell Outta My Head
8. Most Everyone’s Mad Here; Et Tu, Jael?
9. …

You get the picture. That, by the way, is the Mock ToC for the third Legends of the Light-Walkers novel. For keen observers, there might be a teensy-weensy spoiler or two in there. But for the most part, the Mock ToC means nothing to anyone but me. Each chapter title is just a note-to-self on what’s supposed to happen in that chapter. None of these will appear in the final draft.

  • I also do a character list, with 300-word descriptions for the protagonist and antagonist, and 100-word descriptions for at least two supporting characters. The other supporting chars just get a bullet point each. I’ll jot down notes on the big event (what catapults the MC into the story), the conflict, the obstacles, the climax, and the denouement. None of this has to be very long; it’s mainly just notes I’ll use for reference if I get stuck while writing the first draft.

I might do a long synopsis and also list what happens scene-by-scene in each chapter, but that depends on how tedious I’m finding the process at this point. I do write better when I’ve done some of this pre-writing, but if I start feeling bogged down with the pre-writing, I move on to the actual writing of the story. Boggy feelings don’t go well with creativity.

HINT: This is where I turn from a plotter back into a pantser. MIGHTY PANTSER-MORPHIN’ POWERS, ACTIVATE.

Oooooh, I know what this is called! This is plot-pantsing. PLONTSING. I AM A PLONTSER, Y’ALL. I think I just invented a term. Check me on this, people — but I bet you heard it here first. (If you didn’t, don’t you dare burst my bubble.)

In the actual writing-of-story process, I just write as fast as I can without (much) editing, so as to get the first draft out in “one” fell swoop. That fellness might take two years to swoop all the way, but if that’s as fast as I can go, then so be it.

After Draft 1 is done, I let it sit at least 6-8 weeks before looking at it again. I then read it all the way through without (much) editing. Then I release the Inner Editor in all her full and glorious wrath and edit and revise and rewrite until Draft 2 is finished. I wash, rinse, repeat until I have Draft 3. Nowadays, that’s likely as far as I’ll go before handing it over to an editor. (I’ll let beta readers take their shots starting with Draft 2). I think the most drafts I’ve ever had on one novel was six.

This is now WAY longer than I’d intended it to be, so I think I’ll go home now. : )

Please check out my fellow wordnerdssmiths in the Writers’ Blog Hop!

judyfinal Judy Lee Dunn writes to release her true stories in the hope that they will help her readers learn how to navigate life and live to tell about it. Her blog was named a Top 10 Blog for Writers in 2011. She has written everything from marketing and sales copy to grant proposals, children’s books, magazine articles and news stories. Judy has finally settled on her true passion, creative nonfiction. She was a contributing author for Seasons of Our Lives: Winter and is currently writing her first full-length memoir, Out Tonight. Judy lives on Anderson Island in south Puget sound with her husband Bob. In her spare time, she likes to read early 20th century novels and feed gourmet meals to stray cats.

 

 

tonyhealey Tony Healey is the best-selling author of the sci-fi series Far From Home. He was a contributor to the first Kindle All-Stars short story anthology, Resistance Front, along with award-winning authors Alan Dean Foster, Harlan Ellison and 30 others. In January 2014, he published the speculative fiction and horror anthology Edge of Oblivion, with all proceeds going to charity.
Tony’s post for the blog hop will be available for your reading pleasure on May 12th.