This blog is meant to nourish, heal, spark, and empower your creative flame. I help writers who are having trouble finding their voice and writers who have no idea how to get through writing their sloppy first draft. I help writers who have already written the sloppy first draft but now need feedback as they rewrite, revise, and polish the manuscript to the best of their ability.
It’s one of those normal-not-so-normal days for me. I slept badly, woke up feeling frantic, and drove to work obsessing about everything and nothing. During the course of the morning I alternated between short manic bursts of energy and then feeling completely raw and like I was walking around in the world with no skin on. I know the energy bursts will taper off until I’m left with only the raw feeling, and then I’ll need to withdraw totally. How I’ll feel tomorrow is a crap shoot. I might be okay, or I might feel down and low-key depressed for most of the day.
However I feel though, I know I’ll make it through. None of this is new for me. In fact, it’s so familiar that I don’t even really stress about it anymore, which might sound odd but it’s true.
It’s just my anxiety. And it’s been my pretty much constant companion for my entire life.
If someone asked me what triggered my anxiety this time, I could give them a list of possible reasons. The holidays are approaching, which makes me feel pressured and overwhelmed. I’ve been experiencing a bit of conflict in my interpersonal relationships, which makes me feel off-kilter and worried until I can get back to harmony with certain people. I’ve also been downloading a new idea for a novel into my brain, which definitely throws me for a loop every time it happens. I’m hearing voices and seeing images of the main character and his story arc as I go about my daily business and I can’t shut it off.
So, a lot is happening. And nothing is happening. Life is happening. I’m just anxious about it.
As I’ve gotten older and more comfortable with myself, I have noticed that whenever I experience a spike in creativity, I also experience a spike in anxiety. I’m almost sure that the new novel that is being birthed in my brain at the moment is responsible for most of my anxiety this time around. I’m in a state of receiving, you see, and I’m not really sure what it is I’m going to receive. I’m trying to remain totally open to the experience, ready to hold space for the characters and the story, no matter what they bring to me. But that’s scary all in itself. I have a million questions that can’t be answered at this time. Like, what if this idea for my new novel doesn’t work? What if only fragments come through and I’m not a good enough writer to piece the whole thing together into something coherent and readable? Also, the main character feels questionable. And violent. What if he’s too much for me to take on?
At this point in my life as a writer, I know that huge uncertainty is just part of what you sign up for when you’re going through a creative surge. For high levels of creativity to come in and do their thing, the environment must also possess a certain level of instability. Creativity can’t get down and boogie when the structure trying to hold it is too rigid. Creativity wants to make its own shape. Preconceived notions about what that should look like be damned.
So, yeah. Instability. It’s necessary. But it triggers my anxiety big time.
The other piece of the anxiety puzzle, for me, is the fact that I’m so sensitive. Like, to everything. Maybe normal people get a strong case of nerves when they hit the “publish” button on Amazon, but I feel dizzy and nauseous for days afterward. And I’ve never done well with criticism of my work. When I write something that’s important to me, it feels like I just coughed up my still-beating big bloody heart all over the page. When someone criticizes those creative efforts, it feels like they kicked me square in the chest and I can’t even breathe.
Of course, too, whenever I put my work out into the world, my insane overthinking brain starts up again with the questions. Who am I to say these things and voice these opinions? What if I’m wrong? What if, really, I just wrote a bunch of bullshit and slapped a cover on it and called it a book? What if I’m a pretentious idiot? Or worse, what if I’m just completely mediocre? What if the world would actually be better if I stopped writing?
You might say that every person has fears and doubts like these, that it’s all part of being human. But for a writer like me, when I’m in the grip of anxiety, these thoughts and questions play on a never-ending loop and the weight of them feels physical. It freezes me in my tracks as I’m walking across a room. It drags me down and gives me the strange feeling of vertigo at times, so that I have to sit down, wherever I am. Then I question myself from a different angle. Am I being melodramatic? Are these feelings even real or am I making them up? How can anyone feel so strongly and be so sensitive about their art that it makes them feel physically ill? Aren’t I being overindulgent, yet again?
I don’t have a “solution” for this experience, although I have learned strategies and coping mechanisms over the years. Breathing exercises, shifting perspective, reframing my thoughts. All of that works, to a certain extent. But the reality is that I am what I am. I’m a highly creative, extremely sensitive, emotional tornado who is also an intuitive artist, ready and willing to ride the white rapids of the creative experience.
I’m done fighting who I am, but that doesn’t mean the bouts of anxiety get any easier.
I’ve been writing seriously for about 12 years now, and while a lot of things have changed along the way, one thing has pretty consistently remained the same: I always seem to feel dissatisfied with my writing life.
Sometimes I’m unhappy with the writing itself, but experience has shown me that almost all bad writing can be improved if you just work hard enough at revisions. What I’m really talking about is something different, something deeper. It’s an insidious feeling of never being where I wanted to be, of always striving to reach some goal, and then reaching it and still feeling like I didn’t get what I wanted.
For many years I thought this feeling would go away if I got an agent and/or published my work. But then I started publishing, and while the euphoria of that lasted for a little while, it also faded eventually and the feeling was back. So then I started looking forward to the next book I would write and publish, and the next, until I realized one day that I was always obsessing about the future. I was constantly envisioning what it would look like when I had five books published, and then ten, and then more.
This restlessness and dissatisfaction spread into other areas of my writing life as well. I always felt like I should be working more on my blog, reaching out to media for more interviews, and other authors for more opportunities to collaborate. I should be working on getting more reviews and doing more guest posts for other sites. No matter where I was, no matter how good things were going, my mind was always focused on the future. I was always striving for more, more, MORE.
Because of this agitated feeling I carried with me about my writing life, I tended to rush through whatever stage I was in while writing my novels. I was always in a hurry to get the first draft done, and then get through revisions. Right before I launched any book was pure hell, nothing moved fast enough and obstacles seemed to throw themselves into my way on purpose. I would lay awake at night stressing over the smallest details and trying to come up with a better plan tomorrow so that I could move through the process faster and more efficiently.
It wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I had a huge epiphany, which resulted in a creative breakthrough:
I wasn’t enjoying my writing life very much.
And my unhappiness had nothing to do with the writing itself.
I was miserable because my brain was going haywire trying to predict and plan and prepare and PUSH things into existence. I was uncomfortable in the present moment because I really had no idea how to look around and enjoy it. All my life I had been driven and motivated. Ambitious. I didn’t just like to read books, I read voraciously. I didn’t just enjoy writing, I wanted to set the world on fire with it.
I wasn’t just okay with where I was at, wherever that might be. I always wanted to be somewhere else. Somewhere in the future, where the idealized fantasies my brain played on a loop had all come true and I was magically not anxious, not afraid, and not uncertain in any way.
Well, something happened a couple of months ago and all of a sudden it was like this light clicked on in my mind. I suddenly got it. After years of devouring self-help books and trying to shove myself into “being in the present moment,” something snapped into place for me and I finally saw what being in the present moment actually means.
Maybe it’s because I went to a big magical creative conference in Santa Fe this September. Maybe it’s because I just turned 40 years old. Maybe it’s because my dad died last year and it became apparent to me how short life is. You know, I really DON’T know. All I can say is that I get it now. I see things completely differently and it has changed my writing life.
The point of this whole pursuit we call writing is not to get somewhere with it. It’s not winning awards or getting the approval of others, or being interviewed or selling millions of copies of our books. Those things are nice but not one of those things are IT. The point—the whole IT to this thing we call writing—is to experience the process of creating something that is uniquely ours. Sometimes that experience will be joyful and we will love what we are creating, and sometimes it will be ugly and painful, but no matter what it is, it works. Because the point is to just be with it, as it is.
And to do that, you gotta let go.
All your fantasies and plans and frantic anxious mind loops that go around and around and around and never stop…yeah, all that stuff. You gotta let it go. It’s not helping anything, it’s only taking up your emotional energy and mental space. It’s only holding you back from experiencing your writing right now, in this moment. Today.
So, wherever you are, just stop for a moment. Look around. Take a long slow breath and be in it and be grateful for it. Because this moment will never come again.
It’s that time of year where I’m flooded with phone calls from panicked writers who are trying desperately to prepare for NaNoWriMo. For me, the end of October is always filled with these kinds of last-minute coaching sessions, in which I talk writers down from the ledge and convince them that all will be okay and that they CAN make it through NaNo.
From all these years doing all these frantic phone calls with writers, I have noticed a pattern. Writers who have done NaNo before definitely seem to have an easier time of it, because they already know the thing that first-timers have to learn on their own:
You can prepare all you want, but that doesn’t mean things will turn out the way you expect.
This is a very hard truth for the human mind to accept. We are a culture engaged on a constant basis with the high level of fear that runs through our society, and many of the things we are afraid of are future-oriented and media-driven. This makes it difficult for us to stay present with what is happening in our own experience right now in our own lives.
We are so afraid of what might happen—of the unknown experiences that lie on the horizon—that many of us are in constant planning mode. If we have a plan, a to-do list, a strategy, a bullet-pointed outline—some sort of concrete, logical thing that we can show someone else to prove that our idea is a good one—our efforts won’t be wasted, and we have proof that we somewhat know what we’re doing. We can tell ourselves that we are safe. Everything will go according to plan. We are prepared.
Except, this is a lie. The reality is that you can prepare all you want for things, but in the end, life will go how life will go. Events will occur that you never saw coming. People will enter and leave your world without warning. You will grow and change in ways you could never even have imagined. Life is life and most of the time, it has no interest in adhering to our plan, our strategy, or our bullet-pointed outline.
And making art, in any form, is just a microcosm of life.
This is the single most important thing to keep in mind as you race your way through the crazy month that is NaNoWriMo: Writing a book (or even just 50,000 random words) is not something over which you can exercise full control. Yes, you may have a plan in place and that may be helpful to you, up to a certain point. But after that point you’re just basically strapped onto a rollercoaster and the ride has started. It’s too late to get off, even if you take some twists and turns you weren’t expecting and feel like you’re going to crap your pants.
Another important thing to remember: NaNoWriMo tends to work for writers because there isn’t time to get caught in the same old hang-ups you’ve had for years around writing. You don’t have the luxury of sitting on the fence with your story idea anymore. Either you’re in, or you’re out. NaNoWriMo demands that you commit your most precious resource to the creative process: time. And once you experience an entire month of ruthlessly devoting time to your writing, it changes you in a deep way. After NaNo, you have no more excuses. You KNOW it’s possible, it’s just a matter of doing it.
So, you’re all in. You’re making the time and you’re writing. And you also feel like you’re on a rollercoaster that you can’t stop and you can’t control. How do you get through it and keep your sanity intact?
You have to just go with it.
Now, I know all you control freak perfectionist writers out there are reading that sentence and feeling VERY unsettled by the thought of “just going with it.” But it really is the thing that will save you during NaNoWriMo. Start with your plan, yes, and try to stick with it, by all means. But…if the plan goes awry, if your story takes a turn you weren’t expecting, or things don’t pan out the way you thought they would, don’t be afraid to let go of control and fall into the flow. Don’t be afraid to let yourself be carried along by your own creativity and the natural rhythm of the intense life experience that NaNo can be for writers.
Letting go is probably one of the hardest things we can do as artists, and as humans, but it is also one of the most rewarding. When we let go of our attachment to what the outcome should look like, or how it should feel to us, we open ourselves up to so many more possibilities. Magical possibilities that we’ve never even dreamed of, because we were too busy trying to plan everything out. Making art is one of those magical possibility portals in life that can take you to places that will blow your mind.
NaNoWriMo is almost here. You might have your plan in place, but are you ready for the real magic? If you’re willing to let go and go with the flow of life, you might just get even more than you bargained for out of the whole experience.
If you’re a highly creative person then chances are you’ve gone through periods in your life when you felt creatively stifled. Maybe you had a brutal work schedule or you were caught up in a bad relationship and your head wasn’t where it needed to be to make good art. Or maybe you had critical parents and you just never had the self-confidence to put your work out into the world. But no matter what the reason, all of us at one time or another have wished we could bring more creativity into our lives, and then we’ve gotten blocked on how to make that dream a reality.
Why is this? Why is it so hard to tap into our own creativity and make it work for us?
Yes, we live in a modern busy world that is full of distractions and no one has enough time, but this is an easy way out. At the bottom of it, the no-time thing is just one more excuse. There is another, larger, problem beyond this.
The real problem is that creativity can be a scary thing.
When we think of creativity, we might think of splashing paint on canvas or writing an excellent short story that wins some sort of award. We might acknowledge that we are already creative in our lives if we take the time to cook gourmet meals or decorate our home with love. This layer of creativity feels fun and playful, maybe a bit casual even. It’s also not what we’re talking about when we begin to really talk about exploring our deep creative core.
Every one of us has this deep creative core, and it’s a wild place, full of unpredictable desires and intimidating urges. Our deep creative core wants to fulfill these desires and urges, even if that means tearing other things down. Our deep creative core pushes us to take inventory of our lives and to be honest with ourselves. Are we living in alignment with our soul’s purpose? Are we tuned in to beauty? To love? Are we making an honest effort to find meaning in our lives, every single day?
Our deep creative core demands that we ask hard questions, and that we don’t run away when we get hard answers back.
And this is why we see so many people out there who are so totally disconnected from their creative core. In a way, it is much easier to live on autopilot and concentrate on imitating what we see others doing around us, rather than making our own original and sometimes questionable choices and having no mass consensus available to assure us that we absolutely did the right thing.
Living from your creative core means going out on a limb, taking the risk, possibly being laughed at or misunderstood but doing it anyway. It means being willing to see the beauty in yourself and choosing not to be afraid of it, even if it feels like it’s too intense, too much, too wild and too unknown. It means writing that first page of your book, even if you cringe the whole time you’re writing it. It means painting that picture, even if you hear your inner critic screaming at you all the while. It means putting yourself out there—ALL of you—even if you’re terrified of being rejected.
It’s not surprising that the whole creative experience can feel overwhelming and scary to people. And that’s why so many of us push it away, without even being fully conscious that that’s what we’re doing. It’s why we tell ourselves we don’t have the time right now, we don’t have the money right now, our idea isn’t good enough or it’s been done before, or that we don’t have the skills to pull it off.
The truth is that time can be made, and most of the time you don’t need as much money as you think you do. The truth is that every idea has merit, every new iteration of something is actually totally unique, and your skills can always be improved. The truth is that you CAN make it happen RIGHT NOW. But you have to choose it. You have to choose it and not look back.
Once you start living from your deep creative core you will never want to return to the way things were before. Yes, you’ll still experience setbacks and even despair, but you’ll know what it is to feel truly alive, and you’ll realize THAT is the point of life. To feel alive. Nothing else compares to that feeling, and nothing else can take its place.
This is the real deal you can have with your own creativity, if you make the choice to be brave enough to walk through that door. Once you walk through that door, your life WILL change, there’s no doubt about it, and you might not be comfortable with those changes, at first. But you’ll access parts of yourself that you never knew existed and a side of the world you’ve only dreamed of in your wildest fantasies.
So, I invite you to do it, and you can consider this an open offer. Do it. Walk through that door.
Change your life and become the creative being you were always meant to be.