The Writer’s Studio – Personal Sovereignty

My brother said something to me the other day, “Robin, you have to really look at your sovereignty and ask yourself why you are letting XX affect you this way.”

I’d been complaining to him a lot, irritated by people who we like to call petty tyrants—those who exert their control by forcing what they know is a habitual reaction from you in order to manipulate.

He, however, was having none of it and told me so. I found it impossible to debate the merits of his assessment. I’d given my personal responsibility away and blamed it on another person.

I’d been procrastinating and whining about not having enough time for the things I love for a month. It definitely had to be because of all of these tyrants.

Over the course of the next few days, as I grew increasingly short-tempered in a wide range of areas related to freeing myself of these damned tyrants, I heard his bellowing voice in my head, “Why are you giving away your authority over the way your life plays out?”

My aggression with others grew and grew. My mind offered no willingness to bend to things I’d, before that point, conceded to for any number of reasons.  I blamed others for my limited work on my novel writing, for frustrations at work, for situations that left me without things I needed, for communication that never quite communicated what I desired.

The funny thing was life didn’t get any better with all of this standing up for myself. It actually devolved. 

Intolerant and thoroughly pissed off at others, I’d reached my  boiling point. Everyone received my venom. I’d become a tyrant in defense against tyrants, lost myself and my productivity in the ugly circle of fury.

60339760-938B-4ECD-A385-4722B08B9A67

That’s when my husband stepped in.

“Robin, you control how you work and create and move through the world. Set the parameters, walk away from that which does not serve who you really are, and go from there.”

At that moment, my husband’s sage words sparked a deeper realization of what my brother meant—how I’d been taking the hatchet to myself thinking I was standing up to others. How I could make my way back to my creative, productive, communicative, centered self.  He wasn’t telling me to go kick some butt. He spoke of sovereignty in terms of responsibility for how one reacts to others as they move into and out of your life.

It wouldn’t take days or even hours. It took about ten seconds to step into that responsibility and say, “I will choose to serve the health and well-being of me, my sweet family, and what we need to live our best, most purposeful lives. I will react in a way perpetuating such purpose.”

Understanding that my ability to navigate through life is first and most significantly impacted by the mindset going in shifted my perspective and sparked a renewed sense of purpose.

So, as August dips out of sight and the start of Fall descends upon us, I’m going to dig in and live with more purpose through the simple yet incredibly demanding act of personal sovereignty—taking responsibility for how I respond to the ebbs and flows of my life, and determining through my own actions how it all plays out.

In The Writer’s Studio – August, The Dead Month

Just about every writer who submits their work to agents knows that there is one month every year when nothing happens.

Don’t prep a manuscript, write a query letter, reach out on Twitter, or check in with an agent who has your partial. It’s not gonna work out for you because everyone is at least pretending to lounge on a New England beach.

The rest of the year is stupid crazy busy. August means time for a bit of radio silence.

Augustdeadmonth.jpg

For me, it has traditionally proven the month to hunker down and log big hours in the writer’s studio, plotting and crafting.

This year, however, my brain took a break along with everyone else. You can read about my angst surrounding this unplanned standstill HERE.

Today, after a long chat with an editor who just returned from vacation herself, I found myself breathing a bit easier. The conversation revealed her own startling loss of an entire month and her shock at how often lately this similar chat has played out. Apparently, August was a wash for at least half the known universe, and we are all scrambling to realign priorities, carve out time, and make tangible progress on writing projects.

For me, this is all about removal of external distractions.

I’ve planned the hell out of my research trip to France and refuse to plan even a minute more.

Classes and curriculum, mapped out.

Coaching training, done.

Schedules, made.

Now, to snuggle in and get the love letters between Francesco and Aesmeh mapped out.

93431c707aaa26e599d0125c5c4c0a4f

Then, to make sure my modern-era antagonist is fully formed and well-rounded. I actually quite love him, such a provocative character motivated by what he is convinced is the only possible road to truth.

Finally, before I get on the plane to start the research and writing marathon in France, I’m going to nail the sequence of the story down and finish the plotting. That way I can move through my time there with exceptionally focused purpose instead of scrambling to figure out story foundations.

I’m coming out of the Augustine black hole, people.

Finally.

On Being Distracted

So, I sat down fifteen mornings ago with the intent to pen a tome on the reality that I’m about as focused as a light breeze meandering through the desert these days.

I’m exhausted.

My head is spinning.

I’m almost late for everything (on time is late for me).

My patience for crazy is wafer-thin.

I have lists for lists of the lists I haven’t completed because I forgot to make a list.

My mind drifts and lingers in useless places like the social media dark universe and daydreaming.

george-pagan-iii-f-PH16nZHKI-unsplash-min.jpg

Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

I re-opened this draft today and realized the “On Being Distracted” headline proved so valid that I couldn’t even get around to finishing a blog post on the topic.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I ask myself, beginning the misguided self-talk that leads me deeper and deeper down.

On one side, I am remarkably busy.  My writing coaching business is booming, and I work with students all around the globe almost every day.

I also work with students all around the Lower Mainland almost every day, which means I’m spending a crazy amount of time on public transit. That level of contact with people, in and of itself, is enough to unsettle even the most chill of souls.

hugh-han-5pkYWUDDthQ-unsplash-min

Photo by Hugh Han via Unsplash

There, boom. The coaching part of my life is mapped out and accomplished with only the normal bumps in the dealing-with-other-humans road.

However, in the rest of my writing life, the lack of forward motion proves startling.

I sit down to edit, query or work on the novels – nothing.

I sit down to read (I haven’t read ANYTHING all summer that wasn’t for work) – nothing.

So goes the flow of being, and I recognize it as just that. Sometimes, you can’t squeeze more juice out when one side of your life is at full-speed and requires all of your attention. I will get back to a balance which gives me the time and energy to focus, probably sooner than I think.

Yet, I can’t help but feel like I am failing myself as a novelist.

Where’s the devotion?

Where’s the getting up every day and writing no matter what?

Where’s the “Do whatever it takes” required to make anything of yourself in this world?

I have beaten myself up without end for these times when I am tapped out, and I genuinely believe that I have to figure out how to honour them rather than let them steal pieces of me away.

Meanwhile, I’m still busy berating myself for choosing to finish three seasons of Outlander rather than write, or talk to friends on social media rather than read or research or focus on the craft in personal ways.

I suspect my head is waiting for the novel research trip, which is less than six weeks away. At least I can guarantee a bit of an endpoint for all of this foolish distraction.

 

 

 

On How I Broke Down When Writing Feedback Hurt (And Won)

The other day, literally within a few hours of me doing the “I am amazing at this” dance after I wrote what I considered a killer short story submission, I got an e-mail.

Seeing this editor’s name in my InBox brought on a mixture of excitement and fear as it usually does. She’s incredibly talented, and I literally sobbed when I recently got the request from her to see pages of Geist.

Excitement soon turned to crushing defeat.

Phrases such as, “Your writing didn’t resonate with me as much as I had hoped,” made me bleed from my eyes.

proxy.duckduckgo.jpg

It actually hurts me right now to repeat her feedback. I hesitate to share it with you because I feel like it marks me as a failure — talentless, like one of those people on American Idol who humiliate themselves in the audition phase and make the blooper reel for millions to take note of what not to do.

Her words started me down a wild path of self-doubt, echoing in my head over and over.

I even shouted into the Instagram void with one of those long Stories that I’m mildly grateful now I’m unable to reshare.

I shut my computer and walked away.

This moment, after such an amazing high from writing that morning, demanded a lengthy self-flagellation.

12348521_10153756428339938_1704737222_n

Me: I must suck at this. Time to seriously rethink my place in the world.

Higher self: I’m literally going to beat you with a stick if you don’t stop this level of bullshit.

Me: But, she said she hated it.

Higher self: No, she said she didn’t connect with it.

Me: Yes! Hatehatehate!

Higher self: *Sigh* Did you read the rest of the e-mail?

Me: Fuck off, I’m going to go mainline chocolate and watch Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant fall in love for the hundredth time.

Higher self: Read it now, you pathetic, thin-skinned pansy.

Me: Maybe it’s this abusive relationship with you I need to reconsider.

Higher self: *tapping foot and glaring at me*

Me: I’ll read it, shut up already.

2 minutes later

Me: Oh.

Higher self: She told you how to fix it.

Me: I didn’t read that part.

Higher self: Of course not, you were too busy confirming your own insecurities.

Me: But, what if . . .

Higher self: Re-write the damn chapter. Dig deep. Consider if what she has told you makes sense, if you have known all along that this needed to be fixed all along.

Me: But, I don’t want to re-write it. I’ll have to tweak the whole front of the book.

Higher self: Do you have an agent?

Me: No.

Higher self: Do you have a book contract?

Me: Stop already.

Higher self: When was the last time someone who has the capacity to get you from no agent and no book contract to agented author with a book deal took time to critique your work and show you specifically how to fix it?

Me: . . . I hate you.

Higher self: You love me.

Me: Why did you see this when I didn’t?

Higher self: Got yer back, baby.

downloadThe whole feedback thing sucked, but opening to truth is often not the finest moment in anyone’s life.

I took her recommendations and rewrote the chapter based on her notes, sent it off to a group of trusted friends and mentors to review and offer their honest feedback as well (per her recommendation), and spent the night going over it line-by-line with my brutally honest husband.

2 a.m. rolled around and I dropped into bed, satisfied that one of the most humbling writing days in recent memory may have opened up a massive wound, but refusing to step back into an old place of “to hell with this” meant it became one of the most instructive writing days in recent memory too.

Don’t let the brutal truth of writing feedback stop you from pursuing the craft. Use it to get better.

Day 30 – The Value of Keeping Scenes Simple

Day 28 and 29 got lost somewhere in the morass of trying to set the final scene of The Woman On The Wall.  Forty-eight hours of drop-off in writing output had one evil source—me, trying to overcomplicate things.

The terrible, beautiful part was all I had to do was look at tools I teach other people to realize that simplifying the pre-writing/writing process brings all kinds of clarity.

Take a peek:

Day 24 – Gardening As Food For Writing

After my reminiscing with the spirea in the neighbour’s yard, I went home and tried to write.

Nothing.

Some days, nothing comes out. That is generally a sign that I need to rest the active brain and let the passive brain take over.

proxy.duckduckgo

My husband is a big fan of passive-brain creativity and, I have to admit, my biggest writing breakthroughs usually come when I have removed myself from the computer and stuck my hands in the dirt.

So, that’s what I did today.

An afternoon later, I popped back into the writer’s studio and made solid progress.

Here’s a great piece from Scientific American on  passive-brain creativity.

And, a bonus tour of the garden on my back porch: