Dread Not

Isn’t it funny how often we dread something, drag our feet and complain, only to discover that it is the very opposite of what we thought it would be?

Monday’s. They are the bane of anyone in a job like mine; they are the end of your free time, the day when you have to go back to work and try to be a sensible adult. For me, they tend to remind me that I am not living the life I want – not completely, anyway.

This is what is funny about that. I have a job driving. More specifically, I have a new route and it is more country than town, a welcome relief from last Christmas, when I was stuck in the city and dealing with the ever increasing irritation of fellow drivers facing the holiday season.

Driving has always been a form of creative fuel for me. I do meditate by sitting still, the traditional form, but my favorite meditation is country cruising. At one point, I knew the country roads around my hometown so well that I knew at least six ways to avoid the inevitable floods that cut everyone else off from escaping in spring. Driving was always my answer to any sort of writing block when I was younger. As an adult, it gave me a way to deal with my anxiety, which began to really take hold in college.

So, as you might suspect, I actually do like my job. It isn’t my dream by a long shot, but I don’t hate it. Usually.

This morning, though, every step toward it was full of resistance. Maybe it was the rain that kept me from the forest yesterday or just that my DnD group didn’t get to murder so much as a single orc, leaving me with the sense that my weekend was incomplete. Either way, I was fully against work today. In my head, I was certain that it was going to be an absolutely horrible day and why the hell do I have to work this silly job anyway?

I won’t go any further with my inner monologue of whine. It is enough to say that this is the same voice that made sure I was always at the very limit of sick days during high school (though I had far more reason to avoid school than work). Even though I have long outgrown that kid that would tap out at the slightest sign of a (fake) cough, I still had this stone of dread in my stomach all the way there.

I didn’t really have so much to do, but, at some point, I did realize that the stone had melted away. That is about the time I started thinking about dread and what it really is. Like anger, it is a signpost. It is delivering a message that needs to be translated. This is why driving is good for me; there is a lot of thinking that can be done on the right country road and a whole lot of ideas are born in those empty cornfields.

I have known for a long time that I’m not living the life I want. I have spent a long time trying to decide the best way to move toward that life. There aren’t a whole lot of rules when it comes to creativity that can actually be expected to work on a regular basis. You can’t beat the muse into submission – found that out the hard way – and you can’t bribe it. It cannot be shamed and talked down do. Flattery means nothing and begging will get you nowhere.

In ancient times, Celtic bards were considered sacred, almost monk-like. They were thought to be getting their songs and stories from the divine. They would go into small rooms, cover any windows, and light a single candle in order to ‘hear’ the voice of the divine, the Oran Mor – the Great Song. I probably don’t need to mention that plenty of them were driven near madness; this is not a job for the faint of heart because there is no set path. You can work and work on something and end up with nothing. All too often, artists in all forms end up living an unfulfilled life, angry and bitter, because they just cannot find the answer for their own creative path.

I think my dread this morning speaks to that fear. I like my job. But I don’t want to live out my life as nothing more than a delivery driver. And, when it comes to that, I think a lot of us can understand that feeling. I don’t know how many of us are actually living the dream. In fact, I suspect there are a whole lot of us that don’t even know what the dream is.

I think a lot of us have an idea, but we are fuzzy on the specifics. Or, like me, maybe you built the specifics off someone else’s ideals. I love to write. But I’m not really sure, these days, what sort of writing I want to be doing. I know I need to be walking in the direction of my dreams, but I also know that I need to really understand what that dream is. Do I want to write fiction or take you on real life adventures? Do I want to go back to poetry or is there something to be found in writing a spiritual blog? I can’t completely answer these questions. But I want to.

This week, I’m dedicating myself to figuring exactly what I want. I’m setting myself to certain tasks and plotting out my youtube sequence to listen to those who know exactly what it means to go chasing after a dream that everyone else says is impossible. I want to know what it sounds like and looks like when someone realizes their dreams are diverging from the ordinary model. I want to know how others have found their own way in the creative minefield. And I want to see if I can’t figure out exactly what I want to do with my stories.

And so I put it to you, my friends. What is it you dream of? What did you want when you were younger? What do you still want? Is there some way you can bring that into your world? No-one says you have to quit your job and move to LA to become a rock and roll singer. Maybe it is enough just to buy a guitar, learn to play it, and entertain yourself after work.

Real change can begin as such a small thing. The grain of sand in the oyster’s center. I’ve always tried making big changes because that’s me. I tend to do things in drastic measure. But, right now, I feel like the answer to this daily type of dread, this fear that, a year from now – or ten – I will still be right here, talking about Monday’s and overdue bills, is to take small, certain steps to identify the little things that I can do to have a bit of my dream right now. Even if it is no more than a moment, it is a moment spent moving in the direction I really want to go.

Check Your Attitude

I’m not going to lie. This started out as a very different post about gratitude and how I’ve been getting more and more in touch with how I feel about my life, what I’m grateful for and what I never knew I needed to appreciate. I had it all planned out, which should have been my first clue it wasn’t going to go quite the way I envisioned; the universe has a wonderful sense of humor and its absolutely favorite way to show it is to see exactly what I have planned and see how it can turn it all around. Alas, my abundant gratitude is not today’s story.

Today is about perception.

Mine, to be more clear, since I lack the psychic ability to look into anyone else’s head and tell you how the world looks to them.

I could tell you that I see rainbows and roses everywhere, but I promised not to lie, even if telling the truth makes me look a little like an ass. I’m more of a skull and crossbones kind of girl with more sarcasm than sunshine in my head. It suites me. Unfortunately, I’m also the girl that tends to see things that aren’t really there.

We could call this a hold over from my childhood; I was bullied by family and classmates alike and I tend to be good at picking out nasty smirks, these days.

Well. I say I’m good at it. So good at it that, sometimes, I see that smirk when it isn’t really there.

Or hear it.

This is where I tell you that part of what I’m about to relate might make you uneasy or might make you think differently about me. Someone once told me they were surprised that I could get so caught up in the thoughts of others because their first impression of me was of a woman who does not give one crap about anyone else’s opinion of me. At my strongest, this is true. I have told even the people I love best where to stuff their version of me.

Today was not one of those days.

I believe that part of growing is being able to admit your faults. Now, I have been bullied. I have heard people laughing at me behind my back. I’ve been betrayed, lied to, lied about, and let told that I’m weird. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, a lot of people find me too strange to allow and make it their mission to try and change me. These days I let them go ahead and make fun of me because it says far more about them than it does about me. In fact, I’ve found that the way others see you tend to reflect the way they see themselves and has nothing at all to do with you in the first place.

This, of course, can be reversed. How you see others says something about how you see the world. Most days, I see other people as generally decent, but also need a little kindness and, on occasion, a good kick in the pants for being buttheads. We are all stumbling around in the dark wood of life and not a damn one of us really knows what is going on. However, today was one of those (now) rare days when I found myself irritated simply because other people exist.

Someone cut me off in traffic on my way to the bookstore – I needed their wifi to deal with the mess that has become my WordPress blog. “I hate people,” I growled. The car next to me hit a squirrel. I watched the poor thing get tossed into the ditch and there is no way in hell it landed still breathing. “What a jerk,” I growled a little louder, glaring at a man who was driving one of those pickups that always make you question if they even know what a hay bale looks like (Judgy? Oh hell yes). Yet another person was tailgating me and others were beeping their horns impatiently (at me or at someone else, I didn’t know) and all of this was further cranking the wheel of my irritation with the human race.

By the time I actually reached the bookstore, I already had that tingle which says ‘hey, you, better be looking closer at something going on inside.’

This tingle, call it my emotional spidey sense, is a familiar prickle at this point. I’ve always been self aware, but the the first surprise of getting to know myself was seeing just how little I actually knew about the person in the mirror. I decided, at some point, that I needed to develop a relationship with me the same way I would with another person. The first rule is respect and this was surprisingly difficult. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and they are certainly not wrong. I’ve made it a priority to listen to myself as much as possible, lately, but, sometimes, I forget about my promise and it rarely ends well.

Into the bookstore I went. The planner I use to track my writing activities is approaching it’s final month and I’ve been eyeing one that is of the same design – while refusing to pay twenty dollars for something that I’m only going to throw away. Black Friday may be over, but Barnes & Noble is turning it into a weekend event; my planner was half off. I could have looked at that and let it be the thing that turned my stormy attitude around.

Funny thing about a bad mood. If you nurture it long enough, it gets big enough you can’t see around it. The planner was half off, but so was my temper. If I get around to that gratitude post, I may bring this back to the table; learning to embrace those small things is key to releasing the older version of me so I can be happy. I did not focus on my luck that the planner, which is beautiful, was both half off and still in stock. I was determined to be grouchy.

I went to the cafe, ordered something small and sat down to work on my blog space. I was half growling, annoyed further to discover the theme I’d originally used for my blog was no longer available. I was working on the banner for the home page, glaring because I couldn’t remember how to make the black box in the middle transparent, fussing over fonts and colors and just being in an outright muggle mood.

And that is when I heard a half stifled, snarky little giggle.

I could take you back to high school right about now. I could remind you what it feels like when a group of someone’s is laughing at you, trying to make it look like they aren’t, and fully hoping you realize they are, in fact, laughing at you. I could bring you back to that sweaty, hot moment of shame that seemed to accompany those moments, even when you’d done nothing wrong and didn’t know why the jackals were giggling. But I’m going to suggest you stay right here with me. Because, for a minute, a very un-evolved version of me was alive and ready to bite someone’s head off right then and offer it up as a blood sacrifice to that nice little corporation sign that has come to universally mean over priced coffee that tastes like sadness, charred beans, and pumpkin spice.

That version of me was born somewhere in between the point of graduating high school and discovering the man that I married was always running me down behind my back. Built of anger and betrayal, it is both oversensitive and aggressive and it is my least favorite mask. That version of me loves dogs and horses and kids and is absolutely not someone you want to laugh at if you are a grown adult because she will leave you hysterically sobbing in a corner somewhere, possibly suffering from PTSD, and unsure if you will ever feel safe out in public again. It is a version of me that I’ve been working to send back into the void; people do stupid, hurtful things because stupid, hurtful things were done to them. They are cruel because that is the only way they can feel better about themselves. Somewhere inside of them, they harbor a seed of self loathing that has sprouted a dark and poisoned tree. And a group of college students is always so ripe with self doubt and fear that it sometimes amazes me they can manage to get out of bed in the mornings.

That’s what this was, by the way. A group of college students in their mid twenties. But, before we visit this group of sleek, perfectly dressed little children convinced that their life would never turn around and bitch slap them (ah, sweet innocence), let’s talk about the emotional alarm tingle of doom.

You see, that tingle was pretty much a full on fire dance at this point. ‘Pay attention, pay attention,’ it said. ‘Take a look at you. Look in, not out.’

Now, there was a time not all that long ago, when I’d have listened… eventually. But, first, I’d have gone full death glare, possibly even unhinged hell angel of ‘you decided to try it, now I’m going to verbally tear your spine out.’ Hell, I was dressed for the occasion; I’d walked in wearing my long black coat and, I’m sure, looking like an escapee from Wednesday (Go. Watch. Now.) because I really was feeling my inner grim reaper earlier.

I’ve spent two years working with this explosive and vengeful side of me. Two years. I still make mistakes; everyone does. But I knew the consequences of letting my mouth speak before my brain was asked for the best course of action. So I did not jump up from my seat to go incinerate anyone’s ego with my fury. Instead, I took a breath. This is still a new thing for me; I have to consciously choose to stop. There is something odd about being bullied. Some people never seem to come out of that dark room where they are regulated to being unpopular and unwanted. Others, like me, decide to take over the room, put on the crown, and declare themselves the queen so that nobody mistakes them for weak ever again.

I got really good, at one point, picking out what people didn’t like about themselves. I never became that woman who puts others down to make herself feel better, thank god. But. If you crossed me, if you pushed me to my limit – which usually involved one of my kids (my little band of outcasts gathered from every corner of the world), dogs, or anything helpless – I would use my extensive vocabulary to flay you alive. Some would not see the problem with this; most of the people who have seen me in this mode stomped across a clearly marked line and right up to the end of my loaded canon. They got what they were asking for.

Just one problem with that. I didn’t get away without a little hurt of my own. Once the fire died down, I had plenty of burns of my own to tend. Once you’ve been bullied, you don’t forget that feeling. It is not one you want others to have to feel. Even if you might think they do deserve it a little. Everyone has a story and a tragedy. Everyone deserves at least a little kindness.

It is not up to me to decide who gets chewed out and who doesn’t. Most people, if they are truly worthy of it, will get that karma at some point or another. Whether they learn from it or not is also not my call. That is why it is called free will and no matter what our government may think, nobody gets to step on that. I have no desire to be the one doing the teaching these days. I’m on a different trajectory. One that includes listening to that tingle and figuring out where I’m coming from instead of worrying about what other people are thinking about me.

So I listened to my inner cricket. I started thinking about the guy who cut me off. I’m not going to make that okay; always check your blind spots and don’t assume the other driver is paying enough attention to avoid an accident. You will be at fault. But. Had he hit me, I wouldn’t have been hurt as we were going too slow and I pay my insurance for a reason. The driver that hit the squirrel couldn’t have stopped; it ran under his tires, not out in front of him and, had he seen and hit the brakes, the car behind him would have hit him going fast enough to make the accident ugly. The tailgater sniffing my tailpipe wasn’t trying to piss me off, they just weren’t paying enough attention. The people honking weren’t honking at me. They were honking at each other for some reason that had nothing to do with me.

My sour mood was not about other people. I didn’t want to leave the house this morning. My bills are pressing on me a little, causing me to worry. I was having a nice little snuggle with my dogs, but, because I’d set myself to getting the blog cleaned up and ready for a newer, better version of my writing, I made myself go out.

Sometimes, you need to let go of ideas of how the day should go. You can (and should) say ‘hey, don’t actually feel like doing that right now’ and let your plans change. This is part of honoring who you are.

I’m not telling you to ignore what’s important. Kids need fed. Bills need paid. But blogs can wait. My irritation was born of my need to spend a day curled up on the couch watching youtube with a good dog. Strange as it may sound, it is sometimes important to rest, even if it means putting something else off. In not listening to that voice, I was disrespecting myself and, just like an overstimulated child, it was bent on being unhappy with every little thing. I was looking for a reason to be angry and I found plenty of them.

Now. About those college students.

I looked up, aware that, whatever they were trying to do for themselves by snickering at me, it was their issue to deal with. Only, they weren’t looking at me. Pretty much the only time any of them looked at me was when I walked past and there was nothing malicious in it. The girl was looking at my hair. It is extremely long at this point and gets a lot of girl attention. You know the kind I’m talking about. Remember those three little girls in Rapunzel that get to braid her hair? That look.

The rest of the kids barely knew I was in the room with them. They certainly weren’t laughing at me. They were having a good time, enjoying their coffee and their conversation and it wasn’t about me.

Let me say that again. It wasn’t about me.

That, my darlings, is what perception is. It is the story you tell yourself and it is wholly within you. It has nothing to do with the people around you, what they are thinking about you, what they are saying, even if they ARE looking at you. Some people would have heard that laugh and taken it as happiness instead of snark. Others would have snapped right up and demanded to know who they thought they were laughing at, causing all sorts of drama to ensue.

Your life mirrors your perception. You see what you want to see. Your perception is born of two things. Today, yes, but also all of your yesterdays. How you behave is directly wired into who you have decided you want to be. This is what the buddhists call the ego; it is how you identify and, good or bad, it is a lens through which you see the world. The beautiful part of this is that you get to decide every single day who you want to be.

Sometimes you get up, realize it is a day for puppy cuddles and mindless youtube. You listen to that little voice and you have a good – if not quite productive – day. Or you don’t listen and get all the way to a coffee shop and nearly traumatize a pack of college students because you thought an abandoned blog was more important than your own needs. Change isn’t easy for me; I resist it on every front and when I get something into my head I often cling to it. Even if it means steamrolling my personal needs.

Perception is directly related to how well we are listening to ourselves. Our ability to deal with the little uglies in the world, like honking horns, traffic drama, and snarky laughter is very much linked to the attitude we decided to put on. It can and will change on a daily basis, if you let it. Hell, sometimes, it changes by the hour. You do have control over it, though. You can listen to what it is telling you and know that, whatever it is you need or need to avoid is part of becoming better balanced in a world that is always trying to push your buttons. Don’t listen and the unheard, unseen voice will choose your attitude for you. It rarely chooses a happy one.

The buddha said ‘you cannot control the world, but you can control your reaction to it’. I think that, if we taught our children to decide, first thing in the morning, what they are and aren’t up to for the day, we’d understand that this phrase isn’t about shaming yourself into better behavior or letting others walk all over us. It is about knowing where you are for the day. Learning to watch and listen to ourselves is a vital part of change; the unconscious get up and rely on who they were yesterday to tell them how to be today. They are on autopilot and this is an empty life lived as a sleepwalker. The person who observes themselves has the ability to choose who they are and what they want out of life.

Today was not a day for me to be out in public. Today was a day to be at home, writing you a little note about gratitude. I wanted to tell you how I made toast lathered with butter and fresh strawberry jam. One of my customers made the jam from her own strawberries and gave me a jar of it after I delivered her husband’s medicine; they were about to leave for Florida for the winter and needed the medicine to show up before they could leave.

Had I been listening to myself, I could have written that story for you today, then camped on the couch in my pajamas watching Dead Like Me and loving the little things. However. I’m living by a new philosophy that is very much based on the Native American belief in using every part of the animals they hunt. Maybe I shouldn’t have left the house. But, in a way, I’m glad that I did; I got a good lesson out of it. In the end, I can’t change the past. I did leave the house. I did have a few little moments in there where I let myself slide backward just a bit. But I can still use that. I still had a story to tell.

Tomorrow maybe I’ll tell you all about those strawberry preserves and how I toasted my bread in a pan on the stove because my toaster vanished somewhere between the house I rented when I first came home, my sad, one room caregiver life in my mother’s basement, and this house, which has become a far happier place than either of the others. Or maybe I’ll take you with me into the forest for a hike. Or maybe I won’t write at all outside my usual three pages. I don’t know because that is tomorrow and, like I said before, tomorrow is going to have to take care of itself; I’m busy with today.

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Be Not Afraid

The role of the writer is to say what we cannot. -Annis Nin

I’m paraphrasing here. I’m still wrapped up in book drama. But I’m here for a minute on this very short post to just point out a few things.

I am a fiction writer. But I’m not a liar. This means that, sometimes, I’m going to say things you don’t like. You are welcome to disagree. Debate. Bring an intelligent argument. Be prepared to accept that I am not just going to bow down and admit defeat. True warriors do not care about easy opponents. We desire worthy ones.

I will not ever speak a popular oppinion just to make you happy. Not in my books, not in my blog posts, not in a podcast. And, in order to make you understand why, I’m going to tell you something personal.

I don’t like hurting anyone’s feelings. I never have. Causing distress goes against who I am and, due to a few issues growing up, I was also afraid. Afraid of how others might see me.

Becoming a writer has been an uphill struggle. I mean, just imagine how much courage it took for the ‘ugly weird girl’ to publicly release a book that many suggest is based on me. Imagine my fear that my family would read it, hate it, and assume it really was my attempt to attack my tormentors and spread the hurt I still harbored from years of bullying. It absolutely was not a conscious mirror of me. But I was so afraid; look at my main character killing people! My god, they’ll think I’m secretly a serial killer!

Freeing myself from this fear wasn’t easy. It took years. I spent hours talking myself through each book release. I spent even more time talking myself into behaving as though my stories deserved readers, into believing in my own talent enough to respect it. Ultimately, it required that I embrace one side or the other. Either I am a writer and determined to follow truth – even in fiction – and be authentic, or I must drop the whole thing; I’ve never been a halfway type of girl and I don’t want to be afraid of honesty. Nor did I want to be afraid of learning if I had true talent or just a pipe dream.

I say this for the other writers out there. You are going to be afraid. Be honest anyway. You are going to worry what others think. Say it anyway. You are going to be afraid that someone will point at you, laughing, and call you an imposter. Promote your work anyway. I will never tell you to be cruel with your honesty; we have enough bullies in the world, so respect others. Just tell the truth as well as you can. Be gentle with it, if you must. But be honest.

Look, I could stand here and tell you I was a happy teenager. I could tell you my marriage was a good one. I could tell you I’ve never felt let down, betrayed, or devalued. I would be lying. To tell you the truth about those things does not mean I’m dwelling – why would I – and it doesn’t mean I’m trying to use them to elevate myself anywhere. But people will say those things. Just like there are those who desperately need to believe that there is a massive conspiracy to keep us all deaf, dumb, and blind (not sure I completely disagree). By saying I am somehow lying or exploiting something, they are trying to protect themselves. Just understannding that will make you less afraid; if you know someone struck you because you startled them, it becomes easy to forgive them. As a writer, you are allowed to be afraid of telling your truths; it is always frightening to disagree with those you love. Do it anyway. Do it enough and you will stop being afraid.

I will restart the daily riff very soon. I’m going to introduce a new aspect 😉

The Commonplace Book Pt. 3

Alright, so we talked about the commonplace book and I told you that I use mine in a very particular way in order to focus on my current project more fully. I gave you a basic overview of what I do, but now let’s take a closer look. We’ll start with the first part.

Section one is the most normal part of the book. This is my calendar and goal section. I don’t bother to separate my regular appointments from my book goals because, let’s face it, my life revolves around my books, not the other way around and anything written down elsewhere requires three alarms and a shock collar. That does not mean I won’t still miss the appointment. But it does mean you have a better chance. I try to use the daily inserts rather than a full month view and I like the undated because then I don’t feel like I’m wasting paper if I take a month off from planned projects.

So, most of what goes here is my goals and let’s discuss that. I’m not the most deadline loving person. I sometimes sorta wish I was more organized, but, yeah, not gonna happen. I’m pretty sure you figured that out if you’ve been following this blog. Some things are easy, other things depend wholly on whether or not I managed to finish the higher priority task for the day. As an eternal optimist, I have the tendency to think I can finish something quickly. The perfectionist in me makes it take twice as long as it should. I can accept mistakes, but I cannot accept a job half done. I so I do things multiple times. One day, I’ll be able to time myself properly. Or not. Cause what’s the fun in knowing everything? And, well, this is not the sort of job where you get to say ‘this will happen like this’. You have to be open. And you have to be accepting.

Anyway, I am loose on deadlines because the other option is to constantly be stressing over it and, really, what good does that do? Goals, however, are a different story. I do believe in goals because, especially in small doses, they let you keep on track and you’re more likely to realize there is a problem while it’s still a small one. I have two types of goals, the major and the minor. I try to only set out three major goals at a time. The less you set yourself up for, the less pressure you’ll feel, the less likely you are to get tense and end up blocked. Examples of these goals might be to finish the planning stages (this is not the same as outlining. If that is your bag, awesome, do that here, if not, that’s okay; I have other, more organic versions of this), research, and first draft.  I put these one the calendar and I journal about them as often as I can. I do this, because it keeps me connected to the task. You have to understand that, if this is going to work for you. This is not journaling for the sake of journaling, nor is it a frantic attempt to cram yourself into a particular shape. You can go over your ‘deadline’ on these goals. Stay loose. The point is to keep your eyes in the right direction and journaling and general dates help. Simple, yes?

 Minor goals are the small, daily steps that get you closer to where you want to be. These can apply to anything to do with your writing; marketing, tribe building, classes, and more.These I am even less rigid about. Pretty much, I lay them out daily, but no more than a week in advance. If you go to Barnes & Noble, you can pick up one of the WTF pads that give you multiple different options for daily (and weekly) planning while keeping your sense of humor. Usually, I start my days making these goals and here is why. If I set these out first thing, they get me moving without me actually being aware.

I have mentioned my schedule before and I’m not going into heavy detail because my schedule will do you very little good. This is something you need to do for yourself. What are your weaknesses? Can you do a little coffee drinking phone play in the morning and then get to work? Or, like me, do you need to throw the phone as far as possible until after you’ve done a full day’s work? You have to be honest here. Like, I know what that stupid phone does to my work day if I don’t ignore it at least until lunch. And yet, almost every morning, I pick it up anyway. Yup. It isn’t that my self control is that bad. It’s just reflex. I better make sure nobody died in the night, check my fan pages, maybe rough draft a blog. And, well, next thing I know it’s three in the afternoon. This is the sort of honesty we do not want to have. But, if you want to make writing your life, you need to get control of your monkey mind. So play with goals or grab your dictionary and play word association to get things limbered up, whatever. Most likely, though, you first need to detatch from the technological umbilical cord. Next week, I’ll try to post about overcoming that.

Okay, so goals.

I keep a little daily/weekly goal journal in this first section, as I mentioned before. This is not a regular journal. If I’ve got something on my mind, I have other places to write about it. My goal journal is literally just me checking to see if I’m moving forward, as I’ve said. This is basically you giving your inner boss permission to do an evaluation. I do this because it is easy for me to lose track of days. Seriously, I lose whole days. I also tend, to get lost in Facebook. This is a mental bitch slap (but gentler) to get me thinking about certain things. Like, I don’t want to spend my life on Facebook. I want to be a writer. I want to publish excellent books. By keeping an eye on my goals, I can see what’s working and what’s not. I can ask myself daily how I’m doing and if there is anything that can help me do a little better.

Now, I know the first section sounds really boring, absolutely counter intuitive to creativity. But I’m going to lay this on you. When you have a child and you want to teach them without stealing the fun, you have to have structure while keeping what’s inside that structure as loose as possible. If you try to teach the ABC’s to a toddler by sitting them down with flashcards, good luck, my friend. Do it by making a fun game where they get to sing and jump on the couch, the information will stick fast. This boring structure is necessary; it is a small part of the bigger whole, but intrinsic to giving you a sturdy plan for what you’re trying to do.

Reality might seem intrusive, especially when you happen to write fantasy. Think of this like the tether on a spaceman’s suit when he goes out for a spacewalk. He can still enjoy the stars and floating around, but it keeps him safely attached to the ship so he doesn’t float off aimlessly into the vastness of space where he’s in deep poo long before he even realizes how far off the reservation he’s gotten. Which is extremely possible when you write epic fantasy. One second you’re writing about dragons, the next you are detailing the royal bloodline of King Wump Wump and the rules of a country you don’t even plan to visit. This goal calendar is the focus point. It draws the line between where you are and where you want to be. I also suggest using this to keep track of things that strike you. If you happen to visit a place that inspires you – even if it’s not part of this book – you can always make a little note of it here to be put into the Vision Quest on your computer when you get home.

This is all part of the game I play with myself called ‘How Long’. It used to be a WoW game and I adjusted it to real life a while back.

You know when you have this really great treat in the kitchen. Maybe it’s a pie? Maybe it’s your favorite ice cream? Or maybe it isn’t even food. Maybe it’s a book or a video game. Anyway, once you indulge, that’s it, you’ve had it. It may still be great, but the anticipation is gone. I talk a lot about loving your journey and this is where the reality of it becomes clear. Rather than madly chasing my deserts, I taught myself to enjoy delayed fulfillment.

Lately, I’ve been trying to apply this to my writing. In other words, instead of grabbing my notebook every single time I get a little inspiration, I try to control it. The problem with immediate gratification when it comes to those moments when the idea hits and a character starts talking is two fold. One, it can pass as fast as it shows up. And, two, it is like the spaceman drifting through space. You have no tether. Hell, you don’t even have a ship. You just have a tiny flash of light in the deep, dark depths of an endless space and you don’t know if it’s a star, a moon, or just Uranus. You don’t know where you’re going or why. You are just trying to find your way with a flashlight that might, at any moment, die and leave you without so much as a candle to guide your ass back home.

Now, I’ve tried keeping the idea notebook where I just enter these little things a bit at a time and that might work for some. My problem is that I might have four or five books trying to come through at once. And I mean at once. Like, there are points where there is a full on bar brawl going on in my head between characters that all want me to themselves. A year ago, I would have crumbled right about here into a hysterical mess; like, not having ideas sucks enough. What the hell do you do when you have too many and they all want attention at once???? Like, even when I chose one and insisted I was going to focus on just that one, the next thing I knew, I’d be all blocked up asking myself a million questions like ‘where is this even going’ and ‘how does this end’ and I was a train wreck. I knew I was a writer, but I suspected that I couldn’t continue on with this pantsing habit and expect to ever be any good at it. I mean, four or five rewrites and I would still feel like I’d written a story that rambled all over the place without any real drive. They are stories without intention, I thought. And, yet, any attempt to outline or harness my characters and stories was an unequivocal mess. I used to joke and say I needed Tony Stark’s computer so that I could pluck my ideas out and place them in front of me in an exploded view so I could figure out the what when where. FYI, Scrivener is perfect for this, on the computer.

I’m not a quitter, you know. I wasn’t about to accept mediocrity based on not being able to manage my own brain. I’ve been looking for a while for answers, but a few things happened in the last couple years that made me both hyper aware of my issues and determined to find an answer. A few months back, I did the come to Jesus talk with myself and that was when I started the journey to finding the methods that work for me.

I’ve read all the books. Twenty years, obviously I knew I had issues before this. I’ve faced down writer’s block way too often to pretend that I don’t have creative nightmares in my closet. I would read books, do the exercises, fight with myself, swear I was going to just quit the whole thing, go find a regular job and just be happy with that. Then a character would pop up waving a fabulous new idea and off I’d go, drifting into space, so fascinated with the shiny the character was waving at me, that I wasn’t aware I was completely off the path until I was alone in the cold, dead reaches of nothingness wondering what happened.

My characters are, well, not me. A few of them might share a few of my traits and I gave one my favorite horse, but, generally, I don’t really know these people. They pop into my head, start talking, and I listen. Up until three months ago, that was how I did everything. The problem, of course, is that, when they stopped talking, I had no idea where they were headed to begin with. I’m this way about real people, too. Oh, we just met? Doesn’t matter, you are my new best friend! Until I get dropped on my ass and left for dead (joke’s on them; I’ll be surviving the zombie apocalypse and, no, they can’t come into my shelter). Enter the book. My messy amalgamation of appointment book, idea catcher, research assistant, and random crap collector. I focus it on whatever story is trying to come up and I let the characters do their talking thing, but I don’t do any writing on the actual book itself; this is where I get to know them so, when I do sit down to write the book, I know where I’m going with it and why. Six months ago, this behavior would have put me in a panic; what if I lose the story???

Now, however, I have a different plan. I hold on to my characters. I will sometimes write down a sentence or two, but, instead of writing six pages of them talking, I listen and take some notes. I put those notes into the spare file. Rather than losing my ideas, focusing on them while refusing to allow myself to just jump in and start writing blind seems to give them more depth. When I collect enough of these ideas to start seeing a shape, that’s when I pluck them out of the spare file and start the real work. I still don’t write the story yet. Instead, I do the ‘research’. This isn’t always learning stuff, like myths or physics. Sometimes, it is as simple are reading the sorts of books that get me thinking.

I avoid reading the sort of book I’m writing. However, the best part of working this way is that I know the general personality of the book. Is it, like Lord of the Rings, more of a history or mythology? Is it a children’s book? Is it magical? Whatever it is, I tend to get in the mood by making playlists and reading books that shift my thought processes. Just as an example, say this is a book about a father and his daughter and the lengths he might go to for her. Time to re-read Les Miserables. If it is a more natural focused book I might read Walden. If it is more of a drama, then I read stuff like Wuthering Heights.

Say I am writing a book about a woman who sees ghosts and whose family has always considered her a bit mad. Say her only supportive family member dies and she is left adrift in a very unfriendly sea of relatives who all think they know what sort of person she is. Let’s say our sad heroine finds a journal from the lost family member which encourages her to leave home and go find herself and maybe come to terms with her strange ability. The focus of this book is not the supernatural powers. They just outline how outside the main character is. This is a book of self discovery and self growth. So I might read Eat, Pray, Love to get a feel for that sense of self discovery. I might read biographies on Joan of Arc to get a sense of how the world might see my hero before she gets strong enough to stop caring. I’d probably do research on different mental issues that might make someone think they were seeing ghosts – or that a real medium might be diagnosed with. And, yeah, I’d read as many autobiographies on real mediums as possible. Now, this may sound like years worth of work. Doubtful. I am a fast reader and once I have a handle on the ‘voice’ of the book and characters, I don’t need to keep chasing leads.

Okay, so, I’ve gone on long enough today. This post is probably longer than the entirety of section one. The basic point here is that structure doesn’t have to be this rigid conformity to deadlines and creativity killing rules. You can have goals and direction without freaking out about getting it done. This section is all about guiding yourself (gently) in the right direction. This job is hard enough without floundering around lost or destroying your passion for the story with outlines and determination that your muse is going to obey. No, he/she won’t. And the more you try to force it, the worse your writer’s block will get. This book is designed to crack open the heart of the story while keeping you interested. What are your methods for helping yourself forward?