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Month: July 2016

Prepping for a Bike Race and Writing a Novel

So a few weeks back a friend challenged me to ride a bike race in the near future. It is 53 miles long, and at the time I was riding about 12-15 miles a day, most of that part of my commute. I decided to train for the race, in an attempt to do one thing: finish.

Aerial Course Overview – Rebecca’s Private Idaho from SCVP Cordovano Video Production on Vimeo.

Like any good citizen, I fired up Google to find a training plan, and I found one designed to prepare a cyclist for a 50+ mile mountain bike race. There was only one minor problem with every plan that I found.

They were 12 weeks long, and I had eight weeks until race day. I was reminded of the expression of stuffing 10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound bag.

I was also reminded by my ever overworking mind that I also had to move during that time, and help another friend move. So some of my “training time” would be spent lifting boxes, a noble activity, but one that did not really count toward my goal.

With another self imposed writing deadline looming, one designed to get me back in the novel writing game, I realized the two were parallel for a number of reasons.

Time is Short

There is only so much time in a day, and while I write every day, and way more than some people do, I need to allocate how much of that writing time is for Fiction. Because while writing for Huffington Post, Tweak Your Biz, and other websites is fun and helps pay the bills and spread the word about the other things I do, my new detective series is languishing, and fiction sales need the boost that only new work can give it.

Time management has become critical, but I have to be careful. To accomplish goals, I can’t set aside my other priorities. I have a family and other obligations, and neglecting them to write or ride is not the right thing to do, at least long term.

Time Resting is not Time Wasted

Did I mention that I tore a calf muscle playing basketball in March? You may not know much about cycling, but your calves play a big role. The tear (which happened a week before my wedding, making other things tough as well, like the honeymoon) is healed and pretty much rehabbed, but there are days when I get out of the saddle and realize how much it still hurts.

Writing muscles are much the same. I have been in a non-fiction, tech and business writing type mode, and while that is great, the fiction writing muscles need to be flexed, stretched, and exercised as well.

But rest sometimes allows those muscles time to heal. In fiction, ideas build up so words flow like water released from a dam. In cycling, muscles are ready to tackle a challenge and be pushed harder than if they were already tired.

Deadlines Motivate Me

I work well under the gun. When I have a deadline looming, I push myself and do some of my best work.

I also exercise more often, mainly because I feel like I have a purpose, a goal in mind. That goal makes it more important that I apply myself, since the last thing I want to do is fail because I did not put in the effort.

Setbacks Happen

You can only control your efforts and what you try to do. Accidents happen, and people and relationships are still more important than any goals you may have. These setbacks are decision points. Do you drop out of the race, or change your goal for completion of your novel? Or do you buckle down and work that much harder?

Handling setbacks without just giving up completely is the hardest part of endurance. Make no mistake, long distance biking and writing a novel have that in common. Both are endurance events.

There are other things you can compare to novel writing. All of them are tortuous and require strength, flexibility and endurance. Do you think training for a mountain bike race compares? What else do you think compares? Let me know in the comments below.

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GUEST POST: 3 Signs Self-Doubt is Trying to Destroy Your Creative World

I’ve followed Colleen for a while now, and love her blog and all of her posts. They have become a highlight of my monday and #MondayBlogs. Today, she guest posts on my site. Enjoy! I know you will learn something. I did.

I’ve interviewed over 100 authors over the past two years, and I’ve learned one thing we all have in common:

Self-doubt.

From short-story writers to novelists, thriller escapers to romance weavers to fantasy spinners to literary thinkers, self-published to traditionally published, newbies to old hats, it doesn’t matter.

Just about every writer had a story to tell about how the self-doubt demon had threatened to open its giant mouth and swallow her whole.

“I become plagued with self-doubt,” says women’s fiction writer Linda K. Sienkiewicz. “I fear I’m wasting my time, kidding myself when I say I’m a writer, flogging a dead horse. Oh, those horrible negative voices in my head!”

“I wage a constant battle with self-doubt,” says USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Bernard. “I often think of it as an iron ball chained to my leg, slowing me down. It makes everything more difficult. Promotion is harder, bouncing back from rejection is harder. I wonder what the writing life would be like without it?”

Jennifer admits she may never know, and I imagine the same could be said for most writers (and other creative artists). Though we can beat it back, self-doubt is like a mosquito in the middle of the night. No matter how many times you swat at it, it just keeps buzzing in your ear and biting your skin.

And it’s got teeth, very sharp, dangerous teeth. If we allow it to get too close, it can shred our confidence, sap our motivation, and gradually tear down our desire to create at all.

“And if I’ve learned one thing,” said animated movie Frozen director and screenwriter Jennifer Lee during a University of New Hampshire commencement speech in 2014, “it’s that self-doubt is one of the most destructive forces….Self-doubt is consuming and cruel and my hope is today that we can all collectively agree to ban it.”

Unfortunately, if we think we can somehow live life without it, we’re going to be disappointed. I’ve learned through lots of interviews with creative people that it’s a common companion, no matter how successful you get.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we have to let it mess with us. Below are three signs that self-doubt is trying to destroy your creative world—and what you can do to stop it.

1. Your work isn’t fun anymore.

You’re dreading, or worse, avoiding your writing time. You slog through the pages like you’re walking through a four-foot drift. When people ask you how it’s going, you change the subject, roll your eyes, or shrug your shoulders.

“Okay,” you say, and let it go at that.

Something’s wrong, but you’re not sure what. Could be that you’re tired—not enough sleep or too much stress in your life. Maybe you’ve been eating a lousy diet or you’ve avoided your exercise.

But beware, because this could be the work of the self-doubt demon. It lurks around at the edges of your subconscious mind, feeding you destructive messages about how your work is going nowhere, and is a complete waste of time.

In other words, it’s a huge killjoy.

Action Step

If you’ve noticed that you just can’t get excited about your work these days, take a moment to think back. Maybe some event preceded how you feel. A rejection, critical review, or even an offhand comment from a friend. Maybe someone said something about how much money you make (or don’t) as a writer, or you came to the realization that your book just hasn’t sold well.

Maybe it was your own thought that started it all. “I don’t really know what I’m doing. It’s been five years and I haven’t gotten as far as I hoped.”

Somewhere along the way, a seed was planted, and self-doubt grew.

Once you discover what started it all, write it down. (If you can’t remember, just write down your main doubting thought.) Seeing the cause or even just the thought in black-and-white can help it feel less powerful.

Next, ask yourself if you’ve been here before. Has this type of statement or event (like a rejection) triggered this feeling in you in the past? Do you remember attaching a lot of significance to a similar opinion or event in your life? If so, did you overcome it?

If you’re still writing, the answer is “yes.”

Realize that self-doubt is habitual. Finding evidence of similar feelings in the past can help you realize that this is just a pattern, and that you don’t have to give it so much power or significance. The more you see evidence of that, the less pressure and heaviness you’ll feel, which will help you more quickly get back to the fun of creating.

2. You’re not showing anyone your work.

You say that it’s not ready yet, but when you go to work on your manuscript, you know you’re tinkering. It’s time, but you keep finding reasons to wait.

Reasons to hide.

One of the biggest mistakes I made in my writing career was failing to submit often enough. It was only when I finally got ticked off at my lack of progress that I splurged on submissions. Shortly after that, I got my first novel publishing contract.

Looking back, I know that I feared rejection. I kept thinking if I could make the submission perfect, maybe I could avoid the pain, but that’s not how it works.

I know now that it’s better for your overall career to keep writing—move on to the next project, and the next—while getting your old work out there. Even if you don’t get it published, you’ll learn something, either through editor/agent comments or just by gaining some space from your work, and moving onto the next project.

Most likely, if you’re not sharing your work, self-doubt has a hold on you.

Action Step

Create a submission schedule. Send your story or poem or novel out to five places at a time (journals, magazines, editors, agents, your choice). If and when they come back, send them out to five more. Then move on to your next project.

Ignore the doubt. Just do the work. Gradually, the doubt will fade on its own, or it won’t, but you won’t be allowing it to slow your progress.

3. You’re comfortable where you are.

On the surface, everything looks good.

You’re writing. You’re producing material. Maybe you’re publishing and selling your stuff. You’re blogging and interacting with other writers. You’re content.

Sounds good, right? So what does this have to do with self-doubt?

Content means comfortable. And comfortable means stagnation.

“My personal research,” says life coach Ibukunolu, “revealed that unsuccessful people are often stagnant; they hate change, in fact majority of them vehemently fight change because of fear of the unknown. On the other hand, the same research revealed that successful people are constantly evolving, constantly creating, constantly exploring, constantly improving, and constantly moving forward; they love change, in fact they thrive on risks and uncertainties.”

Have you gotten too comfortable? Do you have a hard time remembering the last time you were nervous, or worried about your work? That spells “SAFE” in big red letters, and safe likely means you doubt your ability to go any further.

There’s nothing wrong with resting for awhile at a certain level of achievement, but if you stop there for too long, you’ll soon start to go backwards.

“Once you stop learning, you start dying,” Albert Einstein said.

Action Step

Get bored.

That’s right. Make some space in your life.

Give yourself at least thirty minutes a day for at least a week when you have NOTHING on your calendar.

Why?

Boredom has been shown in studies to encourage creativity, and you need new, creative ideas to challenge yourself. In one 2014 study, for instance, the group of participants that were most bored scored the highest on tests of creativity.

During that 30 minutes, jot down ideas for your next project—something that’s beyond anything you’ve done so far. Maybe a novel if you’ve written mostly short stories. Maybe a self-published book if you’re traditionally published. Maybe a speaking event, online workshop, or new video feature on your blog.

There are two benefits to this approach. One, you’ll have a week’s worth of new ideas by the time you’re done. Surely one of these will excite you enough to get you to take action.

Two, that excitement will help shadow any self-doubt you feel about being able to stretch yourself. Finding a project you can sink your teeth into—and that you feel, instinctively, is the next step you need to take—can motivate you to move beyond any doubts you have to give it a try.

Don’t Believe What Self-Doubt Tells You

These are just a few of the ways that self-doubt shows its ugly head in our lives. There are many others.

Your best bet is to stay alert. When you catch those destructive thoughts sneaking in, try to step back from them. Realize that they come up for a number of reasons, but the least likely one is that they’re true.

Instead, it could be an ingrained thinking pattern, stress, exhaustion, how you were raised, or just the fact that you’re a sensitive, creative person.

Whatever self-doubt is telling you, don’t bother arguing with it. Take meaningful action that will help you get excited about your work again, because when you’re working and actually involved in (instead of just thinking about) the creative process, that’s usually when you feel most confident.

Have you struggled with self-doubt? How did you get past it? Please share your thoughts.

Source

Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman, “Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?” Creativity Research Journal, May 8, 2014; 26(2): 165-173, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10400419.2014.901073.

C Story

Colleen M. Story writes imaginative fiction and is also a health writer, instructor, and motivational speaker specializing in creativity, productivity, and personal wellness. She is the founder of Writing and Wellness, a motivational site for writers and other creatives. Her latest novel, Loreena’s Gift, was released with Dzanc Books April 12, 2016. Her fantasy novel, Rise of the Sidenah, is a North American Book Awards winner, and New Apple Book Awards Official Selection (Young Adult). Find more at her website, or follow her on Twitter.

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GUEST POST: Cool Story, Bro

This last week, a friend and humor hero of mine Kimmy Dee released her book of personal essays (and a couple of short stories thrown in for good measure) titled most appropriately Pussy Planet. Much like her blog, Turd Mountain, it is filled with irreverent toilet humor, dick jokes, and straight talk about her lady bits.

Not only is it a great book, but Kimmy is a great person. So I decided to let her take over my blog for a day. She shares with us a Cool Story, Bro.

Cool Story, Bro

My brain is a dick. Not literally, obviously, but much like those rascally male appendages my mind likes to fuck with me pretty much nonstop. It overwhelms me with anxiety one moment, only to drown me in depression the next. So when I set out to write a book of essays two years ago, I knew I was in for one hell of an uphill battle against a phallical foe. But of all the negative brain bytes force fed to me by my cockeyed mind during the conception of Pussy Planet and Other Endearing Tales, one recurring thought plagued me more than anything else: Who fucking cares?

You see, I’m no one special. I’m basically the girl next door, assuming that your neighbor is a reclusive cat lady with a plethora of mental health issues and a penchant for drunken outbursts, not to mention an unhealthy obsession with her own crotch. I haven’t seen the world and I’ve never done anything profound – so who the fuck would want to read about my stupid life? Even my therapist tends to nod off half way through each session, but that probably has more to do with my bargain basement insurance’s covered provider screening than my life’s lack of excitement. Still, I wrestled the entire two years with this question, and I think I can finally answer: no one. No one fucking cares.

No one gives two shits about my phobias, my family, or the misadventures of my unruly uterus. But everyone loves a well-told story. And that’s what I went for in Pussy Planet– tales from ordinary life told in a unique (and maybe even a kinda sorta extraordinary?) way.

This revelation came about during an online conversation with a good friend, in which I was chronicling in detail my failed attempt at masturbation. (Why, what do you and your friends talk about?)

“This needs to be in your book,” he said, after I finished laying out the sordid details of self-love gone awry. “Exactly as you just told it to me.”

You see, more power lies in the storytelling than in the story itself. My story could have been told much faster with, “I tried to get myself off, but it didn’t work. Bummer.” But where’s the fun in that? By going into humiliating detail I not only entertained the shit out of my friend, I also virgin-birthed the last essay in my collection, Anti-Climax. And it wasn’t a virgin birth for lack of trying, if you know what I mean.

Obviously, very few readers are emotionally invested in whether or not I can pleasure myself. If they are, well, I would gladly recommend them to my crappy shrink– he accepts scratch-off lotto tickets and Camel Cash in exchange for a mediocre mind fuck. But that doesn’t mean the average reader can’t cringe and chuckle a bit at my masturbatory ineptitude.

Since writing nonfiction for purely entertainment purposes isn’t as easy as it sounds (try it if you don’t believe me), I’ve decided to throw together a few pointers for those readers who yearn to reveal their own vaginal hijinks to the world. I’ve sold a few books now, so I’m basically an expert. If only I could say the same for my self-pleasuring prowess. Anyway, here’s how to tell stories good, by Kimmy:

-Don’t skimp on the dialogue. Reading an active conversation is way more enjoyable than a boring summary of what went down. Make the reader feel like they’re within bitch-slapping reach of your stupid ass.

-Give every character a unique voice. This one is especially important if you’re telling your story aloud, as no one wants to listen to the same mimicked “angry stroke survivor” inflection for all parties represented. We all know someone that adds a chromosome or two to their voice whenever mimicking someone else – if you don’t, then it’s you. Knock that shit off. It’s offensive and ungodly annoying. Every character deserves to be developed, especially in nonfiction. You know, because they are real fucking people.

-Be honest. You don’t have to be the hero in all of your stories. In fact, you’re probably much more relatable to readers when you fall on your stupid face. Or fail to locate, let alone stimulate, your clitoris. Nothing makes readers feel more connected to a story than realizing the writer is a bumbling dunderhead.

-Remember you are creating art. Whether you’re lamenting a tragic loss or reminiscing about the vibrator that got away, choose your words carefully. If you don’t love them, choose new ones. If you don’t know how to spell them and you’re so far off that even spellcheck can’t save you, scrap that sentence completely. You don’t need that kind of shit. It’s art, not rocket science. Get over yourself.

 -Mention your genitals whenever possible. Trust me on this; I’m an author.

So, there you have it… you’ve now been schooled in nonfiction creative writing by Kimmy Dee. Use this knowledge wisely and sparingly; with great storytelling power comes great accountability, especially on the internet.

Oh, and please buy my book.

xoxo

Thanks Kimmy. If you are so inclined to buy her book, here is the link. I got my copy, and so far I could not put it down. Maybe that is because of how sticky my Kindle is, but check it out for yourself. https://www.amazon.com/Pussy-Planet-Other-Endearing-Tales-ebook/dp/B01I1Y61J0

pussy planet cover_KDP

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