Who Am I To…? What To Do When Imposter Syndrome Sets In

“I assure you, all of my novels were first-rate before they were written.”
– Virginia Woolf

I’m sure most – if not all – of us can relate to this statement. The idea comes, the characters take shape, we start hearing dialogue, and the setting comes into view. We sit down, we write, and when we read our words a few days later, it feels flat. Or like it’s missing something but we don’t know what, exactly.

We start to have doubts. About our initial idea. About our writing. About ourselves. We can start to question whether or not we should proceed – at the very least, with this new idea – and at the very worst – with writing at all. Ever. We lapse into self-flagellation, even if only metaphorically.

It’s easy for imposter syndrome to set in. And it’s easy to compare our “less-than” prose to all those polished, finished, printed books on the bookstore shelf. We believe we don’t – maybe even, can’t – measure up.

You’ve become enmeshed with your work, much like a person who’s become enmeshed in a relationship. You can’t find the edges of yourself. (Where do you end and the writing (or the other person) begin?) It feels icky. It feels claustrophobic. It’s unhealthy.

When this happens, take a step back. Separate yourself from your writing – the work. You and it are two separate entities. And as Chuck Wendig says, “Your First Draft Does Not Require Your Faith In It.”

What matters most is that you just keep moving forward. Keep massaging the idea and the story and the character, and like a bound-up muscle, it will start to relax. In subsequent drafts (and it could mean – almost always means – A LOT of drafts), you may just start to see a glimmer of the brilliance that first came to you.

And always remember Virginia’s quote: For most of us – even the greats – the original idea may always feel like a dream.

And that’s okay…

 

Reason You Aren’t Writing #3

In my last post about why you might not be writing, I talked about the benefits of freewriting and how it can kickstart us on stuck days so we can get going or get into the flow of writing.

And sometimes, even when we’ve been able to write pages and pages, we know that something’s missing… we know that we’ve sidestepped something important that could deepen the story or character, but we can’t quite locate it.

Writing with our opposing hand can help.

Much like freewriting, it “tricks” our brain into working differently, and in this case, it’s about more than just helping us get into the flow state. It’s about accessing parts of our brain that have gone quiet and that likely hold some wisdom our story needs.

If you do this enough, fascinating information will bubble up from your subconscious, flow down your arm, through your hand, into your pen, and onto the page. And don’t be surprised if those neuropeptides scientist and pharmacologist, Candace Pert, wrote about come into play. That is, you’ll probably feel some feelings…

If you’re thinking I don’t want to spend my precious time scrawling nonsense in child-like penmanship, think again. Give it a shot. Chances are, you would have wasted more time agonizing over the fact that the thing you want is eluding you. When we write with our opposing hand, we light up dormant synapses in our brain. And again… magic.

When you do this exercise, do what Tony, my yoga teachers says: Notice what you notice, and feel what you feel.

And here’s your writing prompt: When [your protagonist’s name] was a girl/boy, the thing she/he wanted more than anything else was _________________.

Set a timer for 10 minutes, pick up your favorite writing utensil, and go.

Then…

Head over to the Writing Through the Body™ Writers Group on Facebook and let us know how it went. What was the process like? Did you unearth something unexpected? Did you get a new idea or gain an insight that will help you move some aspect of your current writing project forward or more deeply? I look forward to hearing.

Sending you mad writing mojo…

The Reason You Aren’t Writing #2

In a recent post, I talked about the #1 reason I hear people give for not writing. In this post, we’re looking at another common reason for not writing: not being able to stay with the writing and go deep with an idea, character, or scene. Some people call the ability to do this FLOW.

It’s not uncommon for people to carve out the time, then sit down at their desk or go to a coffee shop with the best of intentions, only to find themselves unable to locate the next nugget they can use to move their story forward.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote that being in flow means “…being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

We’ve all experienced flow, and it feels amazing, right? And because we’ve felt it at times makes it even more frustrating when we can’t get there again. The truth is, we won’t float off into flow state every single time we sit down to write. Or at least, we ought not count on it.

There’s a trick to help with this, and most – if not all – of us know about it, yet we rarely do it.

Freewriting.

The next time you’re sitting, staring at a blank page or screen, uncertain about where to begin, do this freewriting exercise, and use the prompt at the end of this post.

With this in mind, let’s have a go at it.

If you’ve forgotten the rules of freewriting, here they are.

  • Set your timer for 10 minutes.
  • Write non-stop. Don’t let the pencil or pen leave the page until the timer goes off (and yes… you have to do this the old-fashioned way with pencil/pen and paper and not at the keyboard. Don’t ask me to explain because I can’t, but when we write by hand, something different happens in our brains).
  • Give yourself permission to not know. If you get stuck, simply write something like “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write.” Eventually, something new and unexpected will replace it. (It’s only 10 minutes. Try it!) Again… magic.
  • Don’t worry about perfection. Just let it all out. Spelling and punctuation be damned!
  • Envision a garden hose. Think about the first time you turn on the hose in the Spring. It’s full of dirt, webs, and bugs that have made the hose their home. Turning on the water flushes out all the “stuff,” and eventually, clear, clean water flows. That’s what free writing does for your writer’s brain. Flushes, cleans, and primes the creative pump. Think of this as a mini version of flow.
  • Dry, rinse, and repeat as needed throughout the day, week, month, year… the rest of your writing life.

Before you get to work on the short story, novel, script, memoir, or whatever gem you’ve got going, do some freewriting. Even if you aren’t stuck, freewriting is a great warm-up for your regular writing practice. Think of it as priming the creative pump to enable flow. Words you didn’t know were knocking around in your brain will flow right out your hand and onto the page. Really. It’s magic.

Here’s your prompt: As soon as she turned the corner and saw it, she remembered why she had come.

After you’ve completed the writing exercise… head over to the Writing Through the Body™ Writers Group on Facebook and let us know how it went. You don’t have to share what you wrote (unless you want to, of course!), but let us know what the process was like. Tell us what poured out onto the page that allowed you to create something new or add to your in-progress work. (AFTER you’ve written it, of course…) 🙂

I can’t wait to hear how it went!

Sending you mad writing mojo…

Fill-in-the-Blank Flash Fiction Friday – August 10

Here’s your Fill-in-the-Blank Flash Fiction Friday* opening sentence.


After five nights and four days in __________________, __________________ and __________________ were no closer to __________________ than when they arrived.


The “Rules”

  • Fill in the blanks.
  • Finish the story in 1,000 words.
  • Post your story in the comments section below by the next Friday.

I’ll post the winner** on my social media sites AND

you could wind up in the Fill-in-the-Blank Flash Fiction Friday book
I just might maybe publish at the end of the year

Sending you mad writing mojo….

Johnnie
XXXX


*Writing is serious business, but sometimes it’s fun to have fun.

**Selection of the winner is arbitrary and depends on my mood, what I’ve eaten or haven’t eaten, how much sleep I’ve had, and my constantly shifting tastes…

Author Interview – Kristin Oakley

What compelled you to tell the story/stories in your most recent book?
Strange as it sounds, my protagonist, Leo Townsend, compelled me. I didn’t know that I’d be writing a series until I’d written the last line of my first book, Carpe Diem, Illinois, and once I did, I knew Leo had more stories to tell. In the second book, God on Mayhem Street, which is my most recently published book, Leo is forced to deal with his estranged father and learns things about his family he never knew – I never knew, until I wrote them. The book also explores the idea of a front-running presidential candidate who is openly gay and who is likely to win. How will the country deal with that?

What obstacles did you encounter while writing the book?
Most of God on Mayhem Street takes place on Leo’s family farm outside my fictional town of Endeavor, Wisconsin. I’m a city girl and have been on a farm maybe six times in my life, so I didn’t have a clue about the farming life. I was lucky enough to meet fellow writer Dr. Bill Stork, a Wisconsin veterinarian, at the Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival a few years ago which was run by our mutual publisher, Kristin Mitchell of Little Creek Press. Bill helped me with the terminology, the farming culture, and the best way to poison cows.

The other obstacle I had was my protagonist, Jacob Landry. I knew he wanted the Townsend farm but he was reluctant to let me know why. He gave me a lot of headaches. I figured there was something valuable about the land, oil maybe? In Wisconsin – no way. After many hours of research, I did find out something interesting and unique about Wisconsin that made sense to the storyline and led me to Jacob’s secret.

How has writing your most recent book changed or added value to your life?Strange as it might sound, I finally felt like a novelist. I guess it’s because there are many writers who only produce one book and then move on to something else for whatever reason. While publishing my debut novel was a huge accomplishment, creating more than one book meant I’ve turned my writing into a career. In some ways, it’s made me take my writing all that more seriously.

Did you self-publish or did you go the traditional route? What was that process like?
I took the hybrid route of self-publishing by hiring Little Creek Press. I had pitched my first book to agents and got some interest, but nothing came of it. I knew Carpe Diem, Illinois was good, ready for an audience, and I didn’t want to wait years for it to be published. I decided to hire Kristin Mitchell of Little Creek Press because she’s first and foremost a graphic artist and her book covers are beautiful. Since I’d spent years of my life crafting my books, I wanted beautiful covers for them as well. I also didn’t want to spend a lot of my time figuring out the publishing and distribution processes. I just wanted to write.

The first thing I had to do was find a good editor. At the Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival I mentioned earlier, I met one of Kristin’s editors, Karyn Saemann, and we clicked immediately. After the book was edited, I sent the final manuscript to Kristin and she did the rest—acquiring the ISBN, formatting the book for both paperback and Kindle, getting it in various distribution sources, and advertising it on her website. I liked the results, so hired Kristin and Karyn to help me with God on Mayhem Street.

Are you friends with other writers? If so, how do they influence your writing?Definitely. The majority of my friends are writers. They give me valuable feedback on my pages, brainstorm ideas, help me set up and meet deadlines, pass along resources such as contests or book signing opportunities, and give me encouragement and support. I can’t imagine writing without them.

I have a critique group I meet with every two weeks or so for valuable writing time and feedback, a couple of friends who I retreat with twice a year, and several other writer friends who’ll I’ll periodically meet at coffee shops. I’m also on the board of the Chicago Writers Association (CWA) where I’m managing editor of our online magazine, The Write City Review, and our debut anthology, The Write City Review. I’ve made some wonderful connections through CWA and even won their 2014 Book of the Year Award for Non-traditionally published fiction for Carpe Diem, Illinois which opened a lot of doors for me.

Do you maintain a regular writing practice? If so, what does it look like?
Sort of. I’m in editing mode right now, editing the second draft of the second book in my Devil Particle Trilogy (which I hope to release next year) so I try to edit about 30-50 pages each week. I shoot for editing every day because then the story stays fresh in my mind, but at least I manage to set aside three to four 2-hour or more blocks of time each week to devote to my work-in-progress. What works best for me is to establish deadlines because I’m really good at meeting them. I plan on finishing this round of edits on the second book by September 1st and then working on the first draft of the third book, which I hope to have completed by the end of this year.

How many other books or stories do you have in progress right now?
Four books – or more. As I mentioned, I’m currently working on The Devil Particle Trilogy – a young adult dystopian series. I also have 30,000 words of the third book in the Leo Townsend series written and can’t wait to get back to it. Leo’s mad at me for neglecting him! And I have ideas for two more Leo Townsend novels bouncing around in my head. Oh, and ideas for a woman’s fiction and another futuristic/dystopian book. I guess that makes 8!

Do you view writing as a spiritual practice?
I guess it depends upon your definition of spiritual. Writing definitely fulfills me and brings joy to my life, especially when a reader tells me they’ve been moved by my writing.

What would your life look like if you didn’t write?
It would be very different—it’s hard to imagine. I would probably concentrate on my art – oil painting and photography. Right now, those are somewhat neglected hobbies.

Why do you write?
For the money – lol! Oh, don’t get me wrong, the money would be nice, but it’s not realistic to think I’ll get rich from my writing. And even if I do, that would be wonderful, but it wouldn’t be the reason why I write. I write because of the thrill of creating whole worlds, strange and interesting people, and surprising situations. I like tackling the big issues of our time through the lives of intriguing characters. For instance, what would life be like if children never attended school? Or why should it matter to anyone else that two people of the same sex love each other? I love developing characters that are intriguing, and words fascinate me – how just one word can inspire or incite. Plus, like all writers, I get a definite high when the words flow. Good writing is definitely addicting.


Kristin A. Oakley’s debut novel, Carpe Diem, Illinois, won the 2014 Chicago Writers
Association Book of the Year Award for non-traditionally published fiction, was a
finalist in the Independent Author Network 2015 Book of the Year, and a runner-up in
the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition. Its sequel, God on Mayhem
Street, was released in 2016. Kristin is a Chicago Writers Association board member, the
managing editor of The Write City Magazine and The Write City Review, and a UW-
Madison Division of Continuing Studies adjunct writing instructor where she critiques
manuscripts and offers a variety of workshops.