Why creators need to care less what people think

74 - Skeleton Keys with Locks - from The Journey's End on Etsy

Image source: The Journey’s End seller on Etsy

Today a tradesmen came to do the front door to replace the broken lock on our door. That’s right, burglars, don’t even bother trying. We’re Fort Knox, baby.

But he came to the door and my brain immediately thought, Aaaargh I forgot you were coming today. The place is a mess and I haven’t even vacuumed yet.

He was there less than half an hour to do the job and we’ll never see him again, and why would he even care what our place looks like? Gosh, what a waste of mental energy it was to stress about it.

It led me to wonder, if I’m letting my poor brain stress out this much – even momentarily – over what a total stranger thinks of me in a non-creative situation, how much am I stressing my brain out about what readers are going to think about what I write?

Have I been writing a terrible novel because I’m worried that readers aren’t going to get it?

Then I read this post by Tim Urban today and just laughed because it explains everything. It’s called ‘Taming the Mammoth: Why you should stop caring what other people think’.

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Why we should get to play jigsaw puzzles at work

Image source: WHSmith 1000 Piece Jigsaw: ‘Hidden Tigers’ by Steve Read

Image source: WHSmith 1000 Piece Jigsaw: ‘Hidden Tigers’ by Steve Read

So where I work, we share a building with a biology research lab. It sounds cool but I never get to see them apart from a shared “hello” in the hallways. But the best part is that the path to the stockroom takes me near enough to see their staff room… which is filled with jigsaw puzzles!

Every morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea, you can spy them all in there, sitting or standing around a massive boardroom table covered in the latest masterpiece.

Tigers in the jungle.

Castles on the moors.

Uluru at sunset.

I swear I saw a Harry Potter puzzle once.

This is how they incubate their ideas, and I think it’s genius.

“Well, it sounds like we’ve hit a wall. Let’s take a break and come back after morning tea. To the puzzle room!”

But let me tell you, the puzzles have more benefits than just having a nice little break from work.

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Open letter to the doubting writer

I wrote this email to a client last month and they said it had to be shared, so here is an edited version of that note. I hope it encourages you as it did them.

 

60 Once upon a time on typewriter - bigstock_story_2226743_2 from Tamika Christy

Image source: Tamika Christy

 

Dear doubting writer,

No worries, don’t stress. Panic is a normal part of the writing (and a vital part of the editing) process; no doubt you know that already.

I wouldn’t have quoted on your book if I didn’t see in it the potential to be a truly worthy book. I’m not saying the book is perfect; that’s why editing is a good idea. But you’ve already got my vote of confidence.

There’s no one with a gun to your head to get this book out ASAP. No matter when it arrives, people will be thrilled ecstatically to read it.

But you know what, even if you look at your book and think “eh, it’s still not perfect”, I was reading another book today and came across this quote:

“the woods would be very silent
if no birds sang there
except those that sang best”
– Henry van Dyke

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Writing the next chapter: What story will you tell in 2015?

Image source: ‘English girl riding bike’ from Riding Pretty blog

Image source: ‘English girl riding bike’ from Riding Pretty blog

My first post for 2015 is bike-themed, because Tim and I went for a bike ride this morning to kick off the new year. No need to peddle old ideas when you can pedal into the future!

There are always endless possibilities for New Year’s Resolutions. Finish your novel. Lose weight. Find The One. Change jobs. Get to Mordor and drop the ring in Mount Doom. The usual.

As Dave Beck, NaNoWriMo Technical Director, puts it: “In the end, isn’t everything—from relationships to careers to geopolitics—about the narratives we choose? The narratives we write?”

So here’s what my resolutions are all about:

Write a good story with your life. A true hero need only be a person who sets goals and overcomes conflict to achieve them.
(paraphrasing Donald Miller in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)

Image source: Our wedding photos by Kyle and Elissa Johnson, Slade Portraits

Image source: Our wedding photos by Kyle and Elissa Johnson, Slade Portraits

Last year I wrote my story as well as I could. I had goals, and I overcame obstacles to achieve them. After the usual stresses of preparation, I married the right man for me and enjoyed decorated our new home with the artworks I made with my own hands. I left a job I didn’t enjoy and worked hard at building my editing business so I could continue to do the editing work that I love. I made time to do some of the adventures I enjoy like bushwalking and beach trips, both with friends and by myself for much-needed and much-appreciated “God dates”. Halfway through the year life got really difficult for a time as I found I had some severe struggles to work through, so I asked for help when I needed it and I trusted God to get me through. I began submitting one novel to publishers, entered as many short story competitions as I could, and completed NaNoWriMo again. And I showered as much love as I could on the people I care about.

So here are the few things that I felt went into writing a good story with my life in 2014, and what I’ll be trying to seek out again in 2015.

Image source: Sarah Killey Photography

Me and Tim holding hands at the altar.
Image source: Sarah Killey Photography

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Phew! Made it.

2014 NaNoWriMo Winner!

2014 NaNoWriMo
Winner!

You can do it, fellow NaNoWriMo writers! You can; you can; you can!

If you are now in the slogs of writer’s block, take a look at my past blog posts about how to beat it!

(Don’t worry, this is just a little “giddy with relief” post. You’ll get a real one later in the week with some actual thoughts written down for you to read.)

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is always highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

Reblog: Tamora Pierce and how to trip your character – in a good way

So this week has been full-on!, and NaNoWriMo is taking all my writing energy (!!!! 😀 ), so this post will be super short – cheers! But today’s “tip link” is something I know you’ll enjoy and find useful:

TIPS FOR BREAKING THROUGH the writer’s block wall.

Tamora Pierce from NNMW

Tamora Pierce
Image source: NNMW

In this great post in ‘NaNoWriMo pep talks’, Tamora Pierce talks about trying two super simple things to get your character moving again.

As for Tamora’s credentials, she is one of my favourite authors, and her writing is legitimately incredible! Her characters are believable and her plots are fantastic examples of medieval fantasy written for a younger audience that doesn’t dumb it down. I discovered her when I was ten and I’ve read almost every book she’s ever penned – which is a LOOOOOT of books.

Her idea #1 is my favourite:

Trip them up.

On the sidewalk. In a forest. Getting out of a swimming pool.

Tripping, no matter when or where it happens, is by nature an unexpected event. Depending on how tired they are, how many resources they have left, it’s something that can make your character overreact completely, do something crazy and uncharacteristic, or make them realise their newfound strength and rise to the challenge.

e.g. Whoops, my character broke their leg. Now they can either react by punching in the face the person who tripped them over, or my character can react by using the time off to do something they’ve always wanted to, accomplish a dream. Like painting a beautiful sunset. Or watching a Firefly marathon interrupted.

'The slip horse falling off a cliff' by Sidney Nolan

‘The slip horse falling off a cliff’ by Sidney Nolan

This horse (painted by the odd-but-amazing Sidney Nolan) fell off a cliff, poor fellow. Now that’s a bad day!

 

What’s a memorable time you tripped? Can you work it into your story somehow?

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

Sting: overcoming years of writer’s block

StingIn March, Sting gave a TED talk called ‘How I started writing songs again’ (http://www.ted.com/talks/sting_how_i_started_writing_songs_again).

As a youth, he lived by a shipyard, and constantly thought of getting free. As we all know, he did, selling more than 100 million albums and earning 16 Grammy Awards.

But something changed – he got writer’s block, stretching on for years. To overcome this, he recently found himself writing new songs by returning to the stories of the shipyard workers he knew as a boy.

I found his talk incredibly moving, as a creator and as someone who remembers a difficult childhood. In his talk, Sting sings songs from his upcoming musical, as well as my favourite of his songs, ‘Message in a Bottle’.

This ties back to my posts about incubation and writer’s block. I’ve written about how incubation of years has helped me to rewrite stories that I first imagined in high school now, as an adult. In Sting’s case, an unwanted incubation period that stretched for years (the writer’s block preventing creation) was solved by returning to childhood stories that had been incubating from even longer ago, bringing new creation.

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block? How did you get past it?

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

How to put incubation to good use – lessons from the masters

Coming to hang out at GenreCon 2013 on Saturday 18th? Shoot me an email (see my Contact Us page)!

 

Today is the continuation of the incubation theory, and how to use it: “How can we use incubation to get past writer’s block, without wasting time?” Examples of famous people who’ve put incubation to good use in their creative process.

If you’ve missed my past posts on incubation theory, and you’re wondering what I’m talking about, here’s the recap…

Young Businessman Thinking and Wondering While Writing a Paper Image Source: Writing and PR Studio (BigStock Images)

Young Businessman Thinking and Wondering While Writing a Paper
Image Source: Writing and PR Studio (BigStock Images)

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The last leg of the race

The victorious woman crosses the finish line - Eshet Chayil!

The victorious woman crosses the finish line – Eshet Chayil!

Ever struggled to finish a project?  Yeah, me neither…

I’ve been thinking lately about how crazy busy this year has been, and how I haven’t finished the novel I was working on, although the beginning and the middle are definitely somewhat there…

The point of my post today is that often the hardest part of trying to get somewhere / waiting to achieve something is that last leg of the race.  The week before your loved ones return home.  The last year of uni.  The last month of work before you resign from your old job and start your new one.

Our writing projects often get abandoned right at the end.  I’ve written 42 / 50 chapters for a book that I told everyone I was going to finish in 2011 – now that’s awkward!  And the reason why is that I know how to start with a bang, and the middle is the crux of the story, so that’s pretty set in my mind, but wrapping it all up just looks too big.  I don’t know how to reach those last things that are needed for each of my characters to say, “My part in this story is done, and I’m happy with where I’ve ended up.”  For some characters, I don’t even know what is needed to finish their part.

Jeff Manion spoke at the 2010 Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit about his book, ‘The Land Between: Finding God in difficult transitions’.  He said that the point at which leaders’ plans fail, and people stop volunteering to help, and churches dissolve, is not when you expect.

It’s not at the beginning, because even though looking at a blank slate is scary, most people will be able to imagine the vision that you are setting forth as leader, and it’s exciting to look forward to a future full of hope and promises.  People are happy to give time and money and effort to help a new project get off the ground.  And even in the middle, it’s easy to stay committed, because you can see progress in the steps along the way.

But in that last leg, it’s often hard to see whether or not it is the last leg.  If it looks just like the middle is continuing on forever, then it’s easy to get discouraged.  The last few steps just look too big, and getting through the middle may have drained your resources and energy and passion for the project.

We can fall with the finish line in sight, when we do it in our own strength.

I drove a friend home from a meeting recently and he was reminding me of others who have fallen near the end of their personal race.  He spoke of the Israelites wandering through the wilderness of the Sinai Desert, and how when God first promised to give the promised land to this slave people, they said, “No way, we can’t do that.”  And when they were nearly there, they blew it many times by rebelling against God, even though the end was in sight.  Moses was literally up the mountain fine-tuning the Ten Commandments when the people decided it was never going to happen and made themselves a golden calf idol to worship instead.

I want to keep running with perseverance the race that God has set before me (Hebrews 12).  In the writing context, this means that I want to finish the projects that I start.

1 Corinthians 9:24-25:  “24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2012. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.