Wednesday, August 17, 2016

6: Pushing Through

 Pushing Though 

 Welcome to's Creative Writing Podcast. 

Today's podcast episode is about pushing through.

We all deal with emotional difficulties at different times with our writing. This episode will talk through that process and help you to overcome your self-doubt.
This week was tough, but despite all the roadblocks, the hiccups, and the distractions... I was Doing It!

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My Week

As a military veteran, I deal with a lot of anxiety and depression, and I'm going to try to do my best to remove that filter from my personal weekly updates. But, if you asked me right out, I'd tell you I had a tough week. And that would be true. But there were also some really good moments, and I can't discount those.

I made some huge progress with lining up story components and defining the motivations of a particular character in Chlorophyllium 9 and subsequently Final Hope. That process often requires that your ego go through the crucible and it's a process that can be hard, but it can also be very worth it if you want to create the best story possible.

Work wasn't too bad, though I did get some stern words from an upper management member who, I feel, misunderstood a situation where I was trying to do the right thing. I won't go into any detail here, but my supervisor was pretty awesome and smoothed it out as best she could. It was great that she supported me and was on my side.

(Of course, insert emotional trigger here, though. Feeling like I was stuck and unable to defend myself took me back to a pretty bad situation I was in for a long time during my service. This probably helped fuel my bad feelings about my writing.)

Podcast News

I didn't get time to produce the shortened outros I talked about in the last episode. I think doing this would be an improvement, but it probably isn’t the highest priority at this time.

Installed the Patreon App on my phone and have been uploading some quick writing prompts: both audio and pictures. It's been a lot of fun and it doesn't take much time. Now, I've been trying to figure out how Patreon works and it seems like there are two types of posts you can do. One is the standard free-for-all, while the other is attached to a donation. So, for patrons who support you, you provide special content on a pre-arranged agreement (such as, no more than twice a month).

This raises the question, if in the future I do start getting patrons, what content should I create for my supporters?

I originally planned on providing up to two additional podcasts per month, but these things take a lot of time to produce and that might not be very feasible. So, what about posting stories based on some of the creative writing prompts posted that month?

You see, my goal with this podcast isn't necessarily to get better at podcasting, though that's naturally one of my concerns. I want to do well at whatever I'm doing. Producing extra episodes is taxing and coming up with seven writing prompts that are more than a single sentence can be tough. Furthermore, producing podcasts doesn't necessarily make me a better writer.

Writing stories based on the prompts and providing them to my patrons could be mutually beneficial, but are my podcast listeners here for their own creative writing endeavors, or are they interested in my writing. Is there a segment of listeners who are interested in both? Who enjoy what I do enough to offer their support in exchange for my writing?

My biggest concern is, what is the best thing for me to do to provide value for my patrons, while also increasing the skills that best align with my writing goals?

What do you think? I would love to hear from you!

Writing Updates

I started out the week feeling pretty good about the progress I had made. Then I started questioning the overarching motivations of one of my characters. This spilled into self-doubt about how I was handling narration versus dialogue.

Then I started to doubt my previous good feelings about character development and progression.

This led to a downward spiral that ended with a whole lot of not writing.

The task seemed insurmountable and I didn't feel like I was up to it. I felt like a hypocrite for podcasting and writing about the creative writing process. I embodied everything that I warned about in the last podcast episode, "Doing It."

I did not do it.

Pushing Through.

In this week's episode, we're going to get real about writing. The first thing you need to know is that EVERYONE STRUGGLES. (period.)

We each struggle with our own, unique demons and in our own way. But the key thing to understand is that many have gone down that road before you and many will travel it long after you are gone.

Some will think you've never seen the beaten path, never known its twists and turns or tripped on the jutting roots that creep out from beneath the surface.

You know, it's so easy to dismiss or discount what it takes to be a writer today. So many people have done it. It seems like we have more writers now than ever before. EVERYONE, it seems, is writing a book.

Sadly, only those who push though will make it.

You are not alone.

In those dark moments, when you think it's pointless to go on, remember why you wanted to write in the first place. Other writers have felt very much the same as you're feeling in your darkest hour.
  • Do you feel like a fraud?
  • Are you a faker? A chameleon who lacks a sense of individual talent?
  • Are you nothing more than an amalgamation of everything you've ever read?
  • Who would want to read this crap?
  • It's contrived, self-important, and utter nonsense.
Trust me, others have thought those exact same things. I know I have.
At least, that's what I thought... you know, that others felt this way too.

To prove, or disprove, the point, I decided to pose the question to a group of authors I've mentioned on the podcast before.

Let's see what they had to say...

"Don't mistake how you feel for a reason to stop. Let it buzz around in the background and just keep going. Getting through it each day, little by little, will do more for wearing away the doubt than backing off of a goal. Remember that the journey will not be what you expected, but it will happen anyway. That and keep in mind that external forces like writing a book, getting it published can't make you feel secure. That's an inside job."

"I struggle with this ALOT and it causes quite a bit of havoc on things like creative flow and motivation. The bad part is, you can get it from just about everything: unsupportive people... insecurities that have NOTHING to do with writing at all. It's a difficult thing for an author to put themselves out there to begin with. Like it or not, it's a piece of the bare soul going out for the world to see, but there are so many other contributing factors as well. It can be overwhelming."

But E. R. Starling pushes through...

"It's a very big struggle, but I've always been a fighter so I find it easier to push things aside and reach for what I want instead of what I'm afraid I'm going to get. Focusing on why I write also helps. It is a process, and a long one at that. Like Martha sais, it's an internal job. As long as you work with it, you see results."

"Self-doubt sucks and we all experience it. Even Stephen King. When I feel like throwing the towel in, I revisit some of my rejections, specifically and old note from a college professor who called my writing, 'outrageous, over the top and all around an unpublishable mess.' The book to which she was referring was the first one I published and has now sold a few hundred copies and received some glowing reviews. It's even nominated for some kind of Indie award right now, though I doubt I will walk away with a win. I let myself get mad all over again because getting mad makes me more determined to push on and prove her wrong. Other people's doubt of me is my fuel to go forward."

Then an anonymous writer from the group chimed in...

"I'm pretty sure it's normal and a good sign. I was talking with a buddy the other day about this aspect of the creative process and even great writers like Stephen Kind have a history of this. King threw out his draft of Christine, but his wife pulled it from the trash. I think we all feel that our stuff is crap after pouring our hearts and energy into it and the folks out there with stars in their eyes and no talent are the ones who have no doubt. We're our worst critics..."

After probing a little deeper, the author, who wanted to remain anonymous, expressed a hurtful memory with a close family member. The laughter and the hurtful words still echo in their head, "You'll never make a living as a writer."

Hurtful Words

As it turns out, I have some of my own hurtful words I carry around. I remember one particular event very well. I was sitting in my grandmother's dining room on a warm, Sunday afternoon. I loved my grandma very much and we would visit and she would prepare a nice lunch every Sunday.

We were talking and I was going on about some of my goals. I was working on a manuscript that has long collected dust in the years gone by, but I remember saying that I was writing a book. My grandmother laughed.

"What are you going to write a book about," she asked.
"Well, it's fiction," I managed to say, hoping she was just dismissing my lack of supposed expertise in a non-fiction realm.

(Which would also have hurt, but I could just shrug that off as her not understanding my job or what I'd done in the military.)

Still, she laughed and repeated, "What are YOU going to write a book about?"

It hurt. A lot.

The Complex Issue of Self-Doubt

Kat Lind says, "The issue on self-doubt can be very complex, but if you boil them down to basics, they are simple. You have a message in your head that was set some time ago that disagrees with where you want to go or do. The argument is the expression of self-doubt

"The conflict is part of the reason that so many creative type people suffer from depression. The internal fight and the argument saps energy and you have bursts when you can overcome the issues and then fall into a depression when you run out of energy. 

"There are exercises that can be used to surface the nasty messages that hold you back, but sometimes you can just use the voices as a focus for defiance."

"I'm working hard to turn my own misgivings into the same. Whenever I think, "I can't," I try to immediately follow that with "But what if I can?" Confidence is all about how you talk to yourself... Say enough positive things and, hopefully, you start believing them and they'll start happening. That's my theory, anyway."
Michael Anderle was actually the first person to respond to my question. He said, "Figure out your strategy to deal with it early. I've told my fans that each time I hit release, I'm always chewing fingernails until the first reviews come in to see whether 'this one is the one that I screw up!' It doesn't matter if the previous book was a high seller... THIS book is the one that I worry about. I think I had less worries on book's 1, 2, and 3 than number 12. Don't know if it helps, but... well, there it is."

But I wanted to know more, so I asked the next logical question:
"If you had to pinpoint why your anxiety has gone up with subsequent releases, what would you think the reason for that would be? Is it a desire to not disappoint fans?"

Michael Anderle: "Yes, in the beginning there were NO expectations. I wasn't expecting a lot, and had nothing to compare my efforts to. The writing rather 'flowed'. Most books since number 3 or number 4 have been more and more complex, the writing harder and the exhaustion... bigger. Consequently, there are times I'm not sure about the book. (I think) I'm getting better at figuring it out, but I never 'know'."

How did I Push Through?

My wife was a good sounding board for my frustrations. She told me she believed in me.

And then my oldest daughter, Gizmo, told me that my writing efforts were inspiring her to pursue her desire to be a digital artist. When she thought about me putting so much time into my podcast and my writing on top of my full-time job and spending time with the family, she felt like her personal art goals were achievable.

Boy, did I feel silly.

(Here, the podcast includes an audio clip of Gizmo explaining her thoughts.)

So, What Came of My Struggle?

Somewhere along the line, I had a breakthrough. Maybe my gut was trying to tell me something. But why in such a hurtful way? Why did it have to bash my self-esteem and crush my belief that I could be a successful writer? I don't know...

After reforging my understanding of one of my primary antagonists, while going through the crucible of self-doubt, I uncovered a very interesting character thread that connected another disjointed element in the story. Suddenly, something that had been bothering me made perfect sense and I could understand the character motivation. It was both shocking and yet explainable in one deft blow.

This realization will inform my writing and further character development. And understanding the conflict the antagonist faced helps me understand who he is as a person and why he's been doing some of the horrible things he's done. We're all the hero of our own story, so it couldn't be simple ideology that fueled his reasoning. That would make him a stick-man and his emotional resonance with one particular mistake couldn't be explained with that logic. No, the ideology is nothing more than armor, because acknowledging what he sacrificed would crush him.

Tactics, Techniques, and Skills to Overcome Self-Doubt

Take a step back.
You have to realize that everyone struggles.

Sometimes our parent (critical) ego steps into the territory of our child (creative) ego. We need to understand that the creative side of ourselves has to feel safe in order to create.

Much of the advice we receive in life centers around the safe choices. (Get an education, get a job, work your way in the system toward the goal of eventual retirement.)

Putting yourself out there for the world isn't a safe choice, it's an artistic (read: risky) one.

The parent ego, in this case, represents our fears and our doubts. Kat Lind says that, "Most frequently, the voices associated with this ego get recorded in your brain when you are younger or very vulnerable. But you can neutralize it with logical and conscious thought.

The Sign-Off

I realize this episode was a bit on the heavy side, but thank you for sticking it out with me. Writers of all types usually encounter some form of self-doubt.
  • You are not alone.
  • You can do this.
  • You can push through and overcome!
I believe in you.

And now, for this week's writing prompts.

What you'll find below is a series of creative writing prompts to help get you through your week. There are no rules as to how you should use them, but I recommend taking your muse's hand; wherever she may lead you.

Whether you find yourself writing a descriptive scene or dialogue, a poem or prose, or anything else (even if it seems entirely unrelated to the prompt), you have won. Happy writing, and may you find success in hunting your muse this week. 

1. The Smoldering Ruin

You are a special investigator out on assignment. The scene of a crime across town requires the attention of someone of your… expertise. You’ve been tracking down a serial murderer for the last eighteen months, really getting inside his head, and the folks at the bureau seem to think he might have just made his first big mistake. All you know for sure is that you’re headed to the scene of a deadly arson. Which seems odd, given that fire never really was your guy’s MO.

2. The Package

You’ve been working hard finishing a project and, in a trance-like state of flow, you blow right through lunch. Hours later, you find yourself starving and running out of steam fast. So, you decide to step out for a quick bite to eat before getting back to the grindstone. When you return, a small and mysterious package has been left on your keyboard.

3. You Might Regret This

From the first instant you remember after waking up in the morning, you knew today was going to be rough. There was something in the air, something almost ethereal; like smelling ozone and knowing an electronic device somewhere has fried, or biting your cheek and tasting copper. The feeling was more instinct than anything else. And then your day went on and everything seemed fine. More than fine, in fact. You’ve just been offered a very big and very important promotion, but still that feeling remains. As you shake your boss’s hand, you can’t help but wonder if there isn’t more to this deal than you were told.

4. Stuck on the Bridge

Every week, you get up in the morning, get dressed and ready to impress, and then set out for work. You drive the lonely, dark streets until the rural capillaries turn to veins and you merge onto the artery that will take you into the heart of the city. You make your way through the traffic, watching for brake lights and avoiding the lane weavers, until you eventually arrive at your place of employment, snug within one of the buildings that make up the city skyline.

But today, on your way home, traffic comes to a standstill as you reach the midpoint of the long bridge that stretches across a large body of water halfway through your commute. With no end to the wait in sight, you notice a strange shift in the mood of the commuters around you. So you turn down your speakers, roll down your window, and listen. 
Think of something you do on the computer, your smartphone, or any other electronic device as a part of your normal day-to-day activities. Now take that action and make it magical by adding a touch of cyberpunk. How will you visualize traveling the information superhighway? Will you get entangled in the sticky web of Social Media? What is it like to encapsulate how very integrated into the system we’ve all become?

5. A Different Shade

You work in an obscure corporate research and development department of an innovative tech giant. A lot of what you do is smoke and mirrors, funneling money into technology that doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose, like paint that changes color to reflect the emotions of the person standing in front of it. 
Things were going well for a long time. Everyone you worked with felt like… family. As a team, you created some of the most wild and innovative gizmos and gadgets that most normal people would never hear about, let alone see first-hand. You pushed the barrier of discovery in ways you’d never imagined possible, but ever since the new technology director came on board, the ambience of the place has slowly shifted toward a structured, results-based initiative. First, the free sodas disappeared. Then it was the ping pong table. Of course, that was just the beginning.
Now you’re standing in front of a black emotion-sensing wall in the conference room and you’ve got to give your team the bad news. How will you help them see the light at the end of this tunnel?

6. The Stolen Files

You’ve been working on a special dataset for months, but just as you were about to reveal your findings, all your files were stolen. It’s a good thing you kept good backups because, while surely an inconvenience, you can recover what was lost in just a matter of hours. Yet, something bigger is troubling you. What purpose would someone have with stealing your research? Could they somehow put it to nefarious ends?

7. The Proposal

You’re walking in a crowded public space when you’re approached by a charming street performer. After some crowd-pleasing theatrics, they make a fine show of a marriage proposal. It all seems so innocent and fun, so after your initial refusal, met with several boos and groans of dismay, you oblige to please the onlookers. What happens when you come to realize that it wasn’t all just some act for a few coins and a handful of crumpled bills? Does the arrangement suit you, or are there… other… complications to consider?
What is the true nature of the proposal, and why did the performer choose you? If you must put an end to the whimsical arrangement, what consequences will you face?

I hope you've enjoyed this week's episode and creative writing prompts.

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