The Need to Improve

On the weekends, my intellectual father will often send an email filled with links to interesting articles he has read and music that he is currently listening to. Some of it I skim over (similar to skimming headlines in a newspaper), and sometimes I’ll find a gem and voraciously devour it and discuss the topic with him further.

This past weekend, he sent me a BBC article, Why Even The Best Feedback Can Bring Out the Worst In Us. We inherently reject criticism even if it is to our own benefits. We often automatically deflect the criticism or point out the flaws in someone else’s work in order to make ourselves feel better. By the end of the article, it suggested that we build an armor of self-esteem so that we can accept and use the criticism we face to our advantage.

This article is especially relevant for any writer or artist. The bulk of our work is receiving criticism on ‘the masterpieces’ we have produced. The successful ones instinctually know not to take the criticism personally, but use it constructively in order to hone their skills and progress in the field. The ones who do not make it (either finish a story or gain acceptance by a publisher) take the criticism personally and fall into deep despair.

In How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, he mentioned, “Many people begin their criticism with sincere praise followed by the word ‘but’ and ending with a critical statement.” For the record, I am just as guilty of this as any other reader. I have lived by the sandwich form of critiquing: mask a negative comment between two positive affirmations. Dale Carnegie countered this negative equation with, “This could be easily overcome by changing the word ‘but’ to ‘and.’ Pile on the praise and the writer will “try to live up to our expectations.” For example, a comment could be “I love the way you tried varying your sentence structure in this paragraph, and it’ll be even better when you master the rule of commas!”

When critiquing a piece of writing, I don’t know if an editor can simply not correct errors and give all praise, but Dale Carnegie makes a great point of keeping the comments more inspirational and positive so the receiver doesn’t feel weighed down by the negative commentary.

I think of critiques as valuable lessons and a way to gather more ideas for my work. The comments made on a writer’s work are purely suggestions. I think it’s important to keep in mind that at the end of the day, the writing is still yours and you can pick and choose which comments to use and which comments to trash. They are not permanent changes to your text just because it is someone else’s suggestion.

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Go for it

That little voice of inadequacy in all of our heads, I think, is especially loud in the writers who want to write and get published, but simply cannot get up the gumption or nerve to finish whatever we’re working on and send it out to publishers. I have a particularly hard time with this one.

There are always those flashes of memory from the past that can affect your choices in the future. Memories of criticism can be especially lethal. As a young student, we were all forced to read and write about topics that we just didn’t care about. In grad school, I had to read what seemed like the longest book about immigrants and social inequality (can you tell what the instructor’s interests were?). I also took a class on modernist literature to the same result. Not that these topics aren’t important, I’m just not interested enough in them to do a whole bunch of research and write 15-20 page research papers on the topic.

The motivation just wasn’t there. After those classes, I thought that I never wanted to look at a book or write anything ever again. Writing those research papers for those classes was like having all of the hair on my head pulled out one by one. I just didn’t care about the subject matter, which makes finishing the work agonizing. Then, to finally finish the writing, feeling proud and accomplished, and only to have the work bleeding with corrections and criticism.Even now, I have a hard time sitting down to work when I am at home, and I think part of that is the memories of doing those painstaking research papers on this same couch.These lingering memories can leave doubts and fears in the mind of an aspiring writer.

It can be hard, but I believe we can overcome these doubts and fears in ourselves. As I become more attached and committed to Adelie Ink and the Pondering Penguins blog, I’ve been catching up on the literature as to what it takes to make a blog, business, or any chosen endeavor successful, and part of that research was reading through Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.  ‘Rich’ doesn’t always mean monetary wealth, although that is a great motivator for many. A lot of the book is focused on mindset. The successful do not let negative thoughts deter them from what they are trying to achieve. They connect with positive, like-minded people who are there to give them a pat on the back and a shoulder to lean on. I think a lot of writers could take a page from the entrepreneurial world. It is a lot of the same mindset. The business man/woman constantly tells him/herself that “I can do this,” “I am committed,” and “I am worthy of the reward.” They also don’t procrastinate with entertainment, a key success to any productivity schedule. They watch maybe an hour’s worth of TV, and the rest of their free time is used reading and educating themselves on how to attain their dreams.

There is also the theory that you receive what you give to the universe. So if you’re sitting at your computer thinking I can’t do this, What am I doing? This is nuts. You’re only going to see more of the same agony. If you sit down to write with a positive attitude and feeling of excitement, then the words and story will come much more easily.

There is that well-known phrase or title, “Starving Artist.” When one thinks of a person who works in the arts, there are the select “lucky few” who make it and become hugely successful, famous and reap all of the glory. Then there’s the other 80-90% percent who love the craft, and are probably just as if not more talented, but perhaps don’t achieve that “star status”. However, in short, this mentality is simply not true and demoralizing in some respects. Success isn’t designed into the shape of a funnel, it can take any shape of the person who dreams it. There are plenty of opportunities for everyone if they are willing to put the time and effort into what they want if it is truly what they want.

I hope this blog post inspires you to turn off the TV, get off of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and open to that blank page, and express whatever it is that you feel the need to share. If you are looking for that spark of inspiration, read a book that inspires you, or listen to something while you come up with ideas. Good luck! Please let me know how it goes!

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Climbing Those Mountains

There are two basic hurdles or mountains one must climb in order to succeed with writing. One is successfully dredging the ideas from the deep abyss that is our minds and transferring them successfully to the page. Two is being able to look over those ideas that we saved and secured and polishing them until they shine.

My biggest hurdle is the first one. These ideas come and go as swiftly and gracefully as the wind. I listened to a TED talk hosted by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, (https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius)  and she addressed some of these issues. Gilbert explained:

I had this encounter recently where I met the extraordinary American poet Ruth Stone, who’s now in her 90s, but she’s been a poet her entire life and she told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia,she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it “for another poet.” And then there were these times — this is the piece I never forgot — she said that there were moments where she would almost miss it, right? So, she’s running to the house and she’s looking for the paper and the poem passes through her, and she grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her, and then she said, it was like she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail, and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards, from the last word to the first (Tedtalk.com). 

This is exactly the same battle I (and I can imagine every writer) fight(s). It doesn’t help that I have a horrible memory, and if I don’t catch the idea and expand on it then and there, it’s gone forever. At times like these, I feel as if opening a new and ominous word document on the computer is too ‘official.’ My idea is not fleshed out enough for the consistency of typed letters, and neat rows on the cleanest digital white background. If the idea that I am working with is the initial spark to the great bonfire, then it is worked on in notebooks and scrap pieces of paper (that are then shoved between other pieces of paper and sometimes lost forever anyway). To help with this, I have heard that a lot of writers keep an idea notebook or journal with the bolts of genius quickly jotted down for later retrieval. Most of them never come to fruition, but at least they’re saved for later contemplation. Also, if there is a concrete writing schedule built, then these ideas can be worked on more quickly and worked on at a faster pace because I’m not waiting for chance and luck to strike. 

The idea that I can passively sit and wait for inspiration to strike also doesn’t work for me. It is extremely rare that I am in the middle of doing something mundane, and I am then struck with the greatest story idea. I had one great “Ah Ha!” moment a few years ago, and I’m still waiting for another to strike. That was one of the best writing moments in my life. I was thinking about the fact that I have to constantly and actively think about it. 

It was one evening while I was cleaning my kitchen that the opening lines from Bemelman’s Madeline popped into my head, “There was an old house in Paris all covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”  As I was scrubbing dishes, the idea of using that premise to write about my own family and childhood suddenly popped into my head. I turned Bemelman’s lines into “In an old house in Vienna, all covered in vines, lived three little girls who thought they were lions.” I was extremely excited about this idea, and would not stop writing until the story was complete. I eventually made a little book of it and sent it to my older for her birthday. That was one of the best writing moments in my life, and it hasn’t happened before or since. Other than that precious night, I have to constantly and actively think about writing. 

 

The Wandering Writer

Hello! Thank you for taking the time to read my first post. I’m so excited to share this journey with you. Writing can be such a lonely endeavor, and we as writers can be severely critical of ourselves. It is important to connect with others to encourage, inspire, and learn.

So let’s jump in!

The title of today’s blog post is appropriately entitled Wandering Writer because I found, after a number of unproductive years, that getting out, or carving out a strict ‘writing zone’ in your home is critical in achieving any writing goals. My favorite places to write are the libraries close by and sometimes a coffee shop, though I feel obligated to purchase something in order to use the space and the internet connection. Because I live in a very small space (I bought a trailer two years ago in honor of the tiny house movement), I have found it extremely difficult to declare a section of my place a writing zone. There is also something about being out in public that keeps me on task. I don’t feel like I can procrastinate on Netflix, Facebook, or Pinterest when I’m sitting at a table or cubicle. Also, there’s not as much distraction in these places. I don’t feel pressured to face the pile of dishes that glare at me from the kitchen sink, or the pile of laundry sitting next to my bed. I am forced to face that ominous blank page.

I also equate home with fun and relaxation. Who can be productive when you’re sitting on a comfy couch, under a fuzzy blanket, and listening to the whirr of the newly loaded dishwasher? I can’t. At home, I feel entitled to put off those pesky to-do lists and simply relax. Netflix seems to beckon much louder from home than it does from the library or coffee shop.

I have also found that it is important to physically schedule some writing time into my day. If I say, “I should,” that simply does not give me enough motivation to face the writing. I phrase it as “I am going to write at this time for at least this long,” just like going to work, eating dinner, or working out. It is happening because it is habit and part of the daily schedule. There is no doubt that I have to do it.

Writing groups on Facebook are also great motivators and reminders that I should be working on my chosen craft. I am hoping Adelie Ink will join the ranks of said pages, but there are a number of great Facebook pages that post daily prompts, helpful articles, and reviews on new books recently published.

The inspiration and means are so easily attainable these days that it’s hard to find excuses NOT to write. I hope this post motivates you to get out, find a quiet nook, and get some writing done! Let me know! I want to hear from you.