Translating “Write What You Know”

When they said “write what you know” I don’t think they meant “set your werewolf poems in the landscape you walk everyday” exactly…but I do think that’s the spirit of it.

This is a writing rule a lot like “show don’t tell”. It is used so liberally and often without nuance.

I think I’m finally really figuring out how to do this. It’s been about 20 years since I started writing seriously, so this is a little alarming, as far as rate-of-growth is concerned…but anyway, a lot more of my writing is coming from a personal place. No matter how strange the subject matter.

I think hearing this phrase, people immediately leap to “but I have been very boring”.

I know. We’re writers–being boring helps us actually get work done. Unlike acting or other arts which can happen impromptu, we need to sit and be still for long stretches to accomplish anything.

And here’s the thing: I started out writing stories about ninjas in imaginary oasis countries. And now I’m writing…well, about the same kind of thing. What has changed?

My heroine is shopping, and her different ethnic background means she has to look at clothing for housewives. My hero gets excited about buying a box lunch at the train station, instead of taking one packed by his mother.

The were-canines worrying about being shot if they trespass on someone else’s land in dog-form.

And of course, I still need to do my research about the things I’m not familiar with. But I can also look at a story where I somewhat phoned in the setting details and when wondering how to fix it, think about whether it would be more interesting to have it happen in an alternate US Midwest, rather than an imagined historical Britain.

The phrase isn’t “limit yourself to what you know”. It should maybe be “draw on things you know all too well”.

The cliche phrase will still be everywhere, but now I’m going to think, “Ah yes. Do crazy things using details I know from my own experience.”

Which does mean breaking out of boring, every once in a while, to get exposed to new details. I’m thinking about letting some were-creatures take up residence in New England, too….

Weaponized Diary

To be honest, I miss having a drama-diary.

You know, the kind you keep when you’re young or upset, usually both? The kind that chronicles the super-important events of angst and feeling.

I’ve never been very good at that kind of diary (I am the sort of person who writes to reason with myself, and left most of the interesting bits out of any given diary entry even during those days) but Morning Pages aren’t at all like that.

Sometimes when I travel I do wax poetic, or musing. Travel gives an excuse for a sort of self-indulgent writing. I wish I did more of that on a daily basis, too. But no–my journal is now a weapon.

 

Again, I am not a dramatic diarist. Most days my journal is a bit of catalogue of what I did the day before, and a scheme of what to do with this one. Some days, though, when I’m fighting to keep my attention on even that mundane, easy writing–I know it’s resistance.

And when I’m remembering the weapon in, I start questioning. “What am I feeling? Why? What underlies this?” Often it’s not really a big thing–maybe realizing that I’ve been deterred from doing the proper footwork on starting my business.

Other times, it’s about writing. Problem solving, or just enjoying a little meta.

And yet–it hones my day. It gives me clarity. Helps me shed doubts and push myself forward.

The actual entries aren’t dramatic, but the results are.

And on the rare days that I can’t actually get to the page, I miss it. I also find my mind doing the work it’s been trained to, pushing at the resistance.

The past few days I’ve been on the move–between cities. Two out of four days I missed my window to journal. As I mused on my failure to stay in shape, I asked myself some questions, just as though I was writing it out to myself.

I realized that I was ready to make a big change, one I’ve been resisting because it gives me an excuse. (Sugar. AAAAAAUGH.)

I don’t know, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. I think it’s pretty fierce, anyway.

Big Magic – In a Light Package

The first time I picked up this book, I’ll admit I scanned it, and then put it back. I had it out from the library, and when there was someone next in line, I let it go back.

It seemed light, and I have read so much on creativity I thought it wasn’t very relevant.

But.

Then I listened to Brene Brown (Rising Strong) talk on Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, and their synergy was so great. I immediately got Rising Strong to read, and also recommitted to trying Big Magic.

And they made great companion reads. While Rising Strong gets into the nitty-gritty of recreating your patterns of failure, Big Magic talks philosophy about creativity. And while it IS a light read, it tends to very lightly draw out some of the darkest myths of creative work.

And then illuminates them with more balanced, truthful ways to think.

This book is one that’s going on my very short list of books to actively push on people. (Like Rising Strong!) Because it’s light enough to breeze through–while also collecting so much of what we need to hear about retraining our beliefs on creativity.

How did I not realize this book was my jam?

***

I will be giving away an e-book of either Big Magic or Rising Strong to one of the attendees of my webinar on Thursday!

Unlock Your Agency: Three Tools to Become the Hero of Your Life

September 30th, Friday, 7pm Central on ZOOM

Dreamstorming

I’m trying to figure out my book’s cover.

This may sound a bit silly to those of you who understand publishing, especially when you know I’m thinking traditional publication. Especially when I tell you I’m going to start WRITING it on October 1st.

I, too, would have thought so at one time.

We’re taught to manage our expectations by pretending we don’t have any, though, and I’m currently in rebellion against stifling the stage I’m going to call dream-storming.

(Daydreaming + Brainstorming)

See, instead of blocking out my hopes and expectations, I’m trying be as concrete as possible so I know what I’m aiming for.

If I know what kind of cover I think this book should get, I have a clear idea of how I’m going to present it to agents, publishers, and even critique partners.

What about this infant story will make people think “YES I want to read that”?

I haven’t thought about this before at this stage in the process, but I’ve also never outlined a book formally before writing it, either, and I think both are going to improve my process. If I know who (besides me) will be picking this book up off the imaginary shelf, and can visualize how the cover will appeal to them, I can also think about how to approach the book.

I’ve learned how to hone a book to what I’m intending through revising. Now I’m thinking about how to forecast it, too.

So often I read things where the description sounded awesome, but the book I built in my head was not the one I had in my hands.

It takes skill, cunning, and a little luck to make a book that other people want to read, and even more to describe it so they know it’s their jam.

I wouldn’t want to disappoint my imaginary readers!

So while I’m not going to actually break out the .Gimp art, I think I’ll keep dreamstorming, thanks.

Though, no joy so far. Maybe if I spend a few hours on Pinterest…

***

Ready to stop quashing your dreams and start living them?

Does that sound like a tall order? I’m holding a webinar called Unlock Your Agency on the very topic of how you can start getting more power over how your life happens.

Unlock Your Agency

on Zoom, Friday September 30th, 7pm Central

Blunt Conversations with Myself

I spent the whole day like I was in the wrong gear, engine making a grinding sound. I couldn’t get anything done, though it was so URGENT to do so, though I kept reaching out for things to do…

Irritating, but I knew that I just hadn’t asked the right question yet.

So I kept going for walks. Putting on my EOs. Journalling and reading and…

Big Magic tripped the switch. Elizabeth Gilbert was describing how she worked part time as she wrote. I sagely nodded my head. She noted that she’s seen artists burn out trying to make their living off their art. Oh, yes, I also…

:screeching breaks sound effects:

I had made a point of not doing that to writing–but then I’d given myself a near impossible goal-expectation in my coaching business. THAT’S why I couldn’t get traction on my to-dos.

The best thing, though, was that my process to question my paralysis worked. It took longer than I wanted it to, but it worked.

I asked, “Why am I afraid? What am I making this about?”

I went for walks, journaled, and read books that seemed likely to shake loose thoughts about it.

What are you stuck on lately? Have you asked those hard questions of yourself?

That’s not the end of the story, so check in again on Friday!

The Bell-Sound of Fear

I just finished handspinning a yarn. Yay!

It’s gorgeous. And even though I had no reason to think it would turn out otherwise (the color scheme is great but far from daring) I still had a little crisis of confidence.

Sometimes I only notice I’ve had the crisis as the beautiful relief hits–when I’m certain it’s going to be good. The mounting peal of “is this right is this right” gets cut off and instead there’s clear air to breathe.

I think this is a universal principle, at least of creating.

But creating is everything, from a project at work, to a reorganization of the kitchen, to daydreaming the next fandom post you’re going to make.

Why do we battle fear?

Because making something new is so important.

With a yarn, it’s easy–if I keep going, I know I’ll see if it works. Or I’ll test it, realize it doesn’t, and stop until I work out a solution.

With something bigger, like a novel, you may hit that ringing sound of CRISIS several times.  Where in the process can be personal, but some popular ones are: in the middle of the novel’s drafting process, when setting out to revise, and when sending queries to agents.

Those are the moments where you think “I am actually doing this” and the meaning behind that act becomes clear.

You can’t keep that suspenseful doubt from happening–you can, however, talk to it.

“No, these colors go together. I know that once things fluff up after I’ve set them it looks more finished. This plan makes sense.”

Next post (Wednesday) will be on deconstructing when you’ve making something mean too much, and the fear becomes paralyzing! Because I’ve been working through that recently, too.

Inner and Outer Trolls

I just listened to an amazing podcast by Elizabeth Gilbert with Brene Brown (one of my favorite TED presenters ever, as well as one of the world’s favorites!)

Wait. Go listen to it first, if you can:

Magic Lessons: “Big Strong Magic” with Brene Brown

So many things struck me in this conversation. I could blog about it for days, but really, just go listen to the podcast and we’ll talk.

However, one of the things that really caused a shift for me, was their no-bones-about-it comments on internet hate.

This is the sacrifice they make to have their work OUT THERE.

And that was so important for me to hear. I want to be in one of the industries that seems to deal with the vitriol of the masses A LOT. A sci-fi/fantasy writer – female – who wants to be a blogger and do media.

Media?

You may not really know that, because I haven’t seemed to get around to doing more than a drip and a drab with that. Sure there are obstacles (I don’t have my own camera, finding a quiet time to dress and do my makeup and THEN talk for an hour or so to the camera for about 5 minutes of film is just tricky) but that’s not why.

I knew, deep down, it was fear.

But these two put it out there–yes, this happens. And I realized, it’s not a punishment for being unable to navigate perfectly. It’s the price of admission.

This is a much more workable mindframe for me.

TROLL ASIDE:

I do think that our current online social climate is at a new high for ugly behavior. I also think that something is going to have to shift soon to balance that out. Social network companies are going to have to show more integrity in how they deal with malignant members. Or users are going to figure out ways to protect their own.

It’s like the USA–the wild west portion of our history is relatively small. Humans eventually figure out ways to appoint lawkeepers and punish wrongdoers. Not perfectly, but anarchy doesn’t last.

It may show up in something that’s traumatic, or it may be a seachange of positive action. Just like a young country and culture, the world of the Internet is going to follow human behaviors and history–and that may be some things that are free now are taken away.

Sometimes things that are free are really stolen from others.

People are made safe to anonymously attack others at the expense of those who are attacked. How’s that trade-off going to shift?

For now, though, there’s only one troll we have control over. And that’s our inner troll.

I am doing a call on Zoom about five tools to Quash Your Inner Critic on Friday, August 5th! It will be at 2pm Central time, and is going to be recorded for replays.

INFO:

Join the Facebook Event for timely reminders HERE

Bethany Powell is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting. 

Topic: Quash Your Inner Critic – Recording Session
Time: Aug 5, 2016 2:00 PM (GMT-4:00) Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://zoom.us/j/2391512858

Or iPhone one-tap (US Toll): +14086380968,2391512858# or +16465588656,2391512858#

Or Telephone:
Dial: +1 408 638 0968 (US Toll) or +1 646 558 8656 (US Toll)
Meeting ID: 239 151 2858
International numbers available: https://zoom.us/zoomconference?m=sigwNZLjEYRmsW1hA2rGM-6H57_a56tv