When I wake up in the morning, I grab a cup of coffee, sit down, turn on Pandora, and I blog, write, or work on yearbook (almost done!). This morning, Pandora played the same song for me two times in a row. Carry On by Fun.. It reminded me how you can put CDs on repeat and play them over and over again, reveling in the words that seem so relevant in your life but are sung by a total stranger. How many of you have done that when you’re having a bad day (or a bad breakup)?
Carry On is such a great song. A few years ago, I listened to this song in my darkest days, and it helped me to do just that: carry on. Walk away from the past with open arms toward the future. The future is full of infinite possibilities, and if we didn’t carry on then we’d never have those experiences.
I sat down unsure of what I wanted to blog about this morning. I have been writing, working on a story that took me away from my two previous works in progress. Now that yearbook is almost complete, I’m going to put more effort into blogging more and also into finishing up edits on Little Birdhouses, writing more, and I’m going to start querying again. (Get ready for lots of blog posts about rejection) When I wrote last week, for the first time in awhile, I felt relief wash over me. And it reminded me of the reason I write. I write because I have to. I write because it takes all of my restless energy and turns it into something amazing and beautiful. And because maybe, like I did with Fun.’s song, someone will relate to something I’ve written. The gift of words.
Last week on Facebook, one of my Wench friends posted an article about Extroverted Introverts: How Extroverted Introverts Interact Differently With The World. Forever, people have been telling me how extroverted I am. Lauren, you’re so friendly. You always have a smile on your face. This part is true–most of the time. I’m super empathetic. Empathy can be draining, especially when you talk to someone and tend to try to talk out all their problems. People always feel like they can talk to me about big, serious issues in their life. I love being able to make those connections, but it can be emotionally draining as well. Plus, it makes me feel closer to them than they might feel to me. I get emotionally involved in people’s lives, even if I’ve just met them which often sets me up to be hurt.
I always wondered how I fit so well in an extroverted category when I don’t really feel like an extrovert. When I take the Myers Briggs test, I’m classified as an extrovert always. But in my down time, I love to come home, veg on the couch and recharge. In fact, I have to have that downtime or I feel so out of sorts. I like hours alone–sometimes days–and I feel overwhelmed when I don’t have time to recharge.
I feel very alone in a group of people, and I have a hard time breaking into new friendships. But other times, I’ll jump right in depending on the day. I use alcohol as a crutch in social situations to come out of my shell. I love to make people laugh, and I love to be the center of attention too. I do better one-on-one, but I don’t have a lot of close friends. I will have a friend for a few years, and then they drift away. I love to have deep conversations and sometimes this scares people off or is too much for them. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I say what I think. But, I have a hard time letting people get close to me. I have a tough time with intimacy and space. I see this same quality in my middle son, who shirks away from being kissed and hugged. I know how he feels–that overwhelming feeling of being captured or suffocated and needing my me-space away from people. I have felt that way on so many occasions.
The worst part of being an extroverted introvert is the over thinking. Sometimes my mind tacks onto a question and rolls in circles around it. Big questions like, why are we here? Is there a God? When we die what happens? – questions no one can answer, but that my brain won’t give up trying to answer. And not so big questions and fears that I can’t stop thinking about. Overthinking will make you miserable if you let it, and I think it is the source of depression in a lot of people, including me. My brain is in overdrive so much, and the only thing that can stop it: writing. Writing has been such a great outlet for the introvert part of my mind. I love to go out and hang with friends. I love to drink socially and talk, but when my introvert-side clicks in then I need to be by myself–just ask my husband. I want a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, quiet, veg-out, write and recharge time. I need a bath with a good book. I need to revert back to myself, recharge, and feel like my happy little self again.
What about you? Are you an extrovert, an introvert, or a little bit of both?
Today, I made a choice to work on yearbook for PTA. I made a choice at the beginning of the year to be the Yearbook co-chair, and no matter how much I may regret that choice I committed myself and therefore must do it! The thing is, I usually like doing creative tasks, like design the yearbook. But now, I feel like it’s one more thing I added to my list when I should have made my focus this year writing and running.
I started out this year gung ho about writing. And as other humans may know, sometimes that insatiability at the beginning wanes with time.
For instance, when you meet a new person and fall in love, all you can think about is that person. 24/7 you are thinking about them, fantasizing about them, and wanting to talk to them over and over again about everything under the sun. You literally cannot get enough. You think the feeling will last forever, and suddenly without warning you’ve been married for fifteen years, and that person you used to feel so giddy about is scratching his butt on the couch and peeing all over your guest bathroom floors. Honeymoon over.
The same thing happens when we take on a new endeavor like writing. When I first started focusing on my writing, all I wanted to do was write. I loved the feeling of writing. I loved the rush it gave me when someone praised my work. But then, I hit a roadblock, and wham! I stopped writing. Why? Because writing is hard, and a writer has to make a conscious effort to choose to write, even on the days when that writer feels like the writing sucks. Even on the days, when the writer writes 1,000 words and promptly hits delete. Even on the days, when she feels like no one is buying her work. Writing is hard and full of roadblocks and rejection. So how can we stop the roadblocks from holding us back in what we want to achieve in life? How can we go forward with our writing when we feel overwhelmed?
First, stop choosing everything else over writing. Stop blaming procrastination. Procrastinating is a choice. Once you realize this, it’s easier to think consciously about moving on from that procrastination and choosing to write especially on the days it’s hard. People have praised me for having written two books saying, “I can’t believe you do that, have three kids, and a day-job,” but the truth is when there’s something you want to do and love to do then nothing can stop you from doing it. So don’t let yourself stop you from doing it simply because it’s hard.
Don’t take on more than you can chew. I need to listen to this advice. I think in our world, we’re expected to do so much. Be a working parent, go to all the school functions, volunteer, make food. But don’t. Seriously learn how to say no. I didn’t say no enough this year and probably overextended myself. Don’t add things to your life if you don’t have the time to commit to them.
Prioritize: If you’re striving to be a writer, get published, or finish a novel then make writing your priority. Get up early and write. Stay up until midnight to write. Just write so words can get on paper and you are achieving your goals. Make choices that are conducive with this lifestyle, instead of making choices that will sabotage your end-game.
Give Yourself Grace: Being someone who has dealt with depression for most of my adult life, this one is very important. Everyone needs weeks and sometimes even months to regroup. Sometimes I do this by watching hours of Netflix. Then I won’t watch TV for months, and I’ll refocus on my writing or my reading (which by the way helps you be a better writer).
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help: I think we humans tend to think we live in a box and that our experience is individual from everyone else. The truth is, we’re part of a larger society. We have other people we can depend on when we need it. My husband is a huge supporter of me. He makes my life easy at home, often doing laundry, cooking, and generally picking up the slack. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have his help (live in a pit). And the thing is, I know I can always talk to him when I’m feeling down, or when I’ve been procrastinating for months, or when I think nobody will ever read my book again. The truth is, being a writer is hard and can be discouraging, so having someone who can talk you out of the deep pit of despair is awesome. Having people who say, “You need to write,” is inspiring and it helps motivate me to do what I want again. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, because true friends want you to succeed.
This post is as much a reminder to myself as it is to my audience on what I need to do to stop letting life get in the way of achieving my dreams.
What do you think is your biggest hindrance to your goals?
This weekend, I sat on the bench and watched my son compete in a gymnastics meet in Roswell, GA. He’s been in gymnastics for years, and he’s good. He’s generally a hard worker. But he missed about five months last year due to a dislocated shoulder, and he still holds himself to the standards of the boys who are in their second year as level 5s.
He did well at the meet. He messed up on the floor, and that was his first event, so I think that led him down a dark wormhole in his mind. But after rings, he started crying. He was so upset. He scored a 10.1 on rings (not bad by any means), but he felt like he should have been scored higher. And he hyper-focused on it, getting more and more upset. At one point, he even walked off the floor. I tried to calm him down, but he wanted to be by himself. By the time he made it to his last event, high bars, he’d calmed himself down and he managed to pull an 11.2, first place for the event.
Watching him struggle was hard for me, and I recognized myself in him. How many of us quit when it gets tough? How many of us quit when we feel like our best is not our best? I sat and watch my son beat himself up, because his rings weren’t perfect and that’s hard for a parent to see. Mainly, because he inherited this trait from me and probably from the way we parent.
I’ve done a lot of reading over the years on perfectionism, because having struggled with it I know it can be debilitating. The thing about perfectionism is that it doesn’t spur you on to bigger and better things, it actually holds you back from being all you can be. It takes all the positives of a motivated individual and turns them into negatives and all the what if’s pop up: what if I fail? what if I don’t win? what if? what if? until the what ifs make the person stop doing what they love. The “what ifs” seem to become the driving factor in making the perfectionist feel trapped by their own perceived lack of achievement.
I haven’t been writing lately, and I know this is from self-doubt and perfectionism cropping into my mind. I haven’t been putting the time in, because I still don’t know if I’m good enough. But doing what I love should be good enough for me. I tried to emphasize this to my oldest son over the weekend. “You love gymnastics, right? Then keep working hard, and don’t get so bent out of shape over one meet.” This is a hard lesson to learn, and it’s a hard lesson for me to teach. I’m sure he’s seen me give up when things get tough, or when I don’t think the writing is just right, or when life gets too overwhelming
So how do we overcome perfectionism?
We need to teach our children that good enough is good enough. Winning isn’t everything. Hard work matters, but it’s okay to fail. In fact, learning how to cope with failure leads us to success later on and gives us the tools to know how to succeed. We need to stop being afraid to let our children fail.
Celebrate victories. When my son didn’t do as well as he wanted in the meet, he said that the first place on high bar didn’t even matter. I told him he was nuts. He had scored 1st out of 61 kids. That was something! I told him not to focus on the negative, but to look at the overall picture, to learn what he could work on for the next week, and to look at the fact that he tried hard and did well. I pointed out that he came in 5th overall in his age group (top 20 out of the 6o kids), and that last time we’d done this meet he had come in 9th. I showed him his progress. We celebrated his victory with a trip to Starbucks, and as the day went on he became excited about winning his gold on high bar and the feelings about the rings began to dissipate.
Love and respect yourself. Perfectionist tend to be mean to themselves. Self-blame. Self-critical. They’re often meaner to themselves than anyone else in their life. This leads to depression. Love yourself and all your flaws, and learn how to let go of the need for perfection.
Don’t give up. Persistence pays off. As a writer, this is something I’ve had to learn. Giving up gets you nowhere. Learn how to roll with the punches without assigning blame to yourself or making yourself feel guilty for failures, work hard, and keep at it.
Perfectionism is something I’ll have to work on controlling for the rest of my life. I’ll fight the feelings that come with it, and it seems like my son will too. But I know with mindfulness, I can let go and learn how to be happy with my best.
What if I had written all weekend long? What if I chose a different career path? What if I hadn’t had children? What if I had married someone else? What if I didn’t live in Alabama?
“What if?” is the essential question in writing a story. Most stories start out with an author thinking “what if.” I spent most of my weekend on the couch, because my five year old was sick. While having my hot potato of a baby lay on me all day, I watched the whole season of The Man In The High Castle.I realize this makes me an extreme couch potato. But the story was so good I couldn’t tear myself away. I went to the bathroom a few times, and ate, and my daughter cuddled up against me and I provided her comfort, which is what one needs when they’re sick. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a weekend, minus the “sick.”
This show on Amazon is so well done, based on the book by Philip Dick, which I have yet to read (it’s on my list). And it asks the question “what if the Nazis and Japan won WWII?” What a question to explore. The characters are so believable, and the suspense kept me watching. Highly recommended!
I tout myself as a character writer. The Devil Withinmostly was written because I felt a strong connection to Will’s character. But the “what if
questions were still there. I asked myself, “What if I were growing up with an oppressively religious father? What would I do? What are the emotions I would feel? What if fundamental religion hurts more than helps? What if the person I’m supposed to depend on most hurts me the most? What if my ally is not a saint?” These are just a few questions I asked myself as I wrote The Devil Within. I’m not sure I found the answers, but writing through it helped me explore thoughts on religion, family, and guilt that I’ve had for a long time.
The new story I’m writing I’m asking myself : “What if everything is not as it seems? What if your whole life is one big lie?”
I often wonder why I feel the need to write, but I think it’s because I’m always thinking about the “what if” questions. Life isn’t black and white. It’s filled with choices, different paths, and to me writing is a way to discover what might have happened if…
“What if” question are you trying to answer today?
Q? What am I going to write about for the letter “Q?” Maybe I thought I’d have quit by now. I’m not generally a quitter. I could be described more as wishy washy. I make up a decision, and then sometimes I change my mind. Sometimes it’s too late at that point to actually be changing my mind. But quit–no, not me!
I’ve thought about quitting writing. Several times. I have all the usual author complaints.
But it’s hard
I don’t want to rewrite.
My first draft is awesome, do I really have to put more work into it? (Said nobody ever!)
I put hours and hours of work into something and only 20 people read and review my books!
Plus, the doubt. I’ve written about that before. Let me tell you something, writers don’t become successful by quitting. They become successful by coping with lots rejection. They become successful by plowing through the edits, even when looking at their piece one more time makes them want to vomit. They become successful by submitting over and over again, until someone accepts their work and believes in as much as they believe in themselves.
It takes ONE person to make a writer successful. The writer, herself.
What’s the mantra you hear the most in the writing world? Write What You Know. The more I write, the more I find this is true. Writing what you know is absolutely necessary. Little snippets of conversation you listen to, the aura of where you live, all of these items need to be included in your books. We, as human beings, are shaped tremendously by our environment.
I’m reading Ron Rash’s Something Rich and Strange right now. As I’m reading this wonderfully woven short stories of Appalachia, I’m finding in myself more and more the knowledge that I need to write about the South. What an amazing backdrop to be raised in: tumultuous, redneck, Christian, genteel, country, city, beautiful, history being lived over and over again. There aren’t enough words to describe Alabama in all its glory. It’s a place constantly misunderstood and ostracized–all the people thought to be back woods. But they’re not. There are writers and artists, scientists and doctors, living in these backwoods. And there is pain and history and love and hope.
My stories have slowly started to take on a southern feeling. Not all of them, since I still can’t pick a genre, but a lot of them have. It’s even showing up in my Flash Fiction. The Southern characters, as different from each other as anyone who lives here. I think that’s what makes Ron Rash’s short stories so beautiful. He’s a poet who can describe the people and the place where he lives as no one else can, because he’s been there and he’s seen it with his own two eyes. The South is part of me–it runs in my blood, and so it must run through my fingertips on to my computer screen as well.
It’s Spring Break here, and I took a whole week off (I haven’t been getting much editing done either, unfortunately). The family and I have been driving all over ‘Bama soaking up history. We saw this beautiful house in Tuskegee. They are looking for donations for restoration.
When I saw this house, I knew it was it. This was the house I’d imagined William Hill living in. Who’s William Hill? He’s the character of “The Devil Within,” my book coming out in early May. He’s nine years old when he loses his mother and siblings in a car accident, and he’s left in the hands of his overly religious father who doesn’t know how to cope with the boy. Stay tuned for more teasers, including a photo of a southern landmark that will be included in the book.