The Inner Critic Perspective #5: Ann Marie Meyers

I have lived a long life and had many troubles

Most of which never happened

MARK TWAIN

There’s a voice in my head that rules and which has ruled since as far back as I can remember. It’s the voice that told me stuff like:

You’re fat.

You’re not smart.

You’re not enough.

I listened to this voice without awareness as I grew up and I believed without questioning, and whenever anyone said anything that was negative or made me feel bad – (comments like: You’re selfish; Share with your brothers; What’s wrong with you?) – my inner critic validated these judgments, confirmed how selfish I was, lowered my self-worth even more and grew in dominance.

When I considered the possibility that I wanted to be a writer, my inner critic told me what it thought of that career choice. I listened. I believed. I made excuses why writing was a bad idea. In high school I studied books by D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce and E.M. Foster, and when I read their bios, all I saw was how unhappy their lives were and I came to a conclusion: I decided that writers – ALL WRITERS – were unhappy people. I wanted to be happy. And so I buried my desire deep, very, very deep. And guess what.   

I WAS NOT HAPPY.

Later, when I embraced writing and realized that this was where my passion lay, my inner critic mocked me.

What will people think of you?

 What do you have to say?

 Who do you think you are anyway?

 Stay and be a secretary. It’s a safe bet.

That started another struggle inside me and for a long time my dreams ran parallel races with the fears my inner critic threw at me.

What if people laugh at you and criticize your books?   

I was at a crossroads.

If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise

ROBERT FRITZ

Author of The Path of Least Resistance

The truth is that refusing to take action for whatever reason – especially toward the thing that creates a fire in your soul and which at times can seem so scary you want to crawl into a tiny space and hide – leads to a hurt that is so much more encompassing and powerful than fleeing.

Running away never works, especially not in the long term. At some point a person has to stop running, even if from pure exhaustion, giving the thing from which you are trying to escape time to catch up. And then the inner critic has a heyday. First it berates you for trying to flee, laughs at you for your feeble attempt, then tries to reel you back to safety, to your comfort zone, where “everything will be all right and your fear will take care of you, don’t worry.”

No man is ever whipped, until he quits in his own mind

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Here’s the thing, and this took me years to learn. The perspective of the inner critic is founded, among other things, on misconceptions, false premises and limiting beliefs that we pick up as children, in the media, from our surroundings, and which we consciously, but mainly subconsciously, agreed to adopt as truth.

For a writer, the inner critic isn’t born with the desire to create stories. It comes at you from all sides based on the choices made, the beliefs, stories and limitations accepted whether deliberately or unconsciously. It’s all-inclusive.

So a belief as simple as I’m not enough is in fact ‘enough’ to fuel the inner critic to beat up anything remotely positive. In the worst-case scenario, it can make a person atrophy and not bother trying. In the case of a writer, it’s the I’m wasting my time mantra that pops up while writing, or the why bother song that constantly blasts you when rejections start coming in and you want to give up and quit.

I realize now I can never run away from my inner critic (or even my ego). Nor is it of any use to hate it, or get angry at it.

Now I face my inner critic head on. I acknowledge it. I tell it there’s nothing to worry about. I’ve become the one to console it, to make it feel safe by convincing it that ‘fear’ can be used as a springboard for action if approached in the right way.

This is not a ‘one time fix all’ scenario. At times it doesn’t work instantly. But I’m aware. And awareness is power.

My inner critic has become my sounding board and I bounce all the negatives right back at it, with as much love as I can muster. Always love – because anything said and delivered in anger will only bounce right on back at you.

The only failure of mind comes from worry and fear—or from disuse

The Secret of the Ages – Robert Collier

ANN MARIE MEYERS grew up in Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies. She has a degree in languages and translates legal and technical documents from French and Spanish into English. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and daughter. Meyers is an active member of SCBWI and serves as the facilitator of a bi-monthly children’s writing group.

Although Ann Marie initially started writing for adults, when her daughter was born she kept getting ideas for stories that would appeal to kids. Her first children’s book, a middle grade fantasy entitled Up In The Air was an Amazon best seller.

Website: http://www.annmariemeyers.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/AnnMarieMeyersauthor/

The Inner Critic Perspective #4: Karen Krossing

Co-existing With My Inner Critic

Unfortunately, my inner critic is alive and well. I can see him, crouching in the corner of my office. I picture him as a Gandhi-like figure—only he’s mean-spirited—who beams negative thoughts into my head as I write. Right now, he’s rubbing his hands together, preparing to strike.

Things I’ve noticed about him:

He never sleeps.

He never takes his gaze off me.

He strikes when I’m at my most fragile. Sometimes, it’s right after I didn’t get a grant or a book contract fell through. Maybe this writing project stinks, he says. Maybe you’ll never get it right.

I’ve also noticed that he’s subtle. He doesn’t directly suggest that my project stinks. He plants the seed of self-doubt. Then he waters that seed until it germinates and grows into a weed with deep roots. Until I’m saying out loud to my family, “This writing project stinks. I’ll never get it right.”

His voice becomes louder then. Deafening. Maybe all your writing stinks, he says.

If he’s timed it right, I start to feel small. Too small to talk back to him. Too small to write my stories. “My writing stinks,” I say to myself. And I believe it.

The weed he planted forms tubular roots that become new weeds. In the corner of my office, my inner critic smiles. It’s a crooked smile worthy of a dastardly villain.

The thing is, my home office is supposed to be my creative space. It has my most treasured writing books, my uncluttered desk—just the way I like it—and a cozy chair for reading and pondering. I’ve carefully curated my office to be a place where I can experiment without judgement. So, who let my inner critic in?

I did.

I can’t help it. He’s a part of me. Believe me, I’ve tried to get rid of him.

I’ve shoved him outside my office. But he lurks in the hall, waiting until he can sneak in again.

I’ve barred my office door with sixteen (metaphorical) padlocks, installed (metaphorical) gun turrets and hired (metaphorical) guards to patrol the perimeter of my safe space.

But when I settle at my desk to write, he’s back in his corner.

I’ve learned that my inner critic exists wherever I am, and I cannot banish him no matter how hard I try. This means I have to co-exist with him. Even though he serves no useful purpose that I can see. Even though he’s an evil villain who’s constantly plotting against me.

How do I co-exist with something so vile? Here’s what I figured out:

  1. I accept him. Okay,I tell him.It’s you and me, here in this office. And I’m going to write, damn it. So, you can sit in your corner and beam negative thoughts at me. But I’m going to be over here, writing.
  2. I out-shout him. This is a great writing project, I say really loudly to myself. I really like this sentence. And that one. This part needs some re-writing though. Soon, his voice becomes background noise. It’s like I’m trying to write in a noisy café, but the woman at the next table is loudly describing her recent medical procedure in gruesome detail. So, I put on my noise-canceling headphones, and I get to work.
  3. I regularly weed to remove negative thoughts he’s planted. To do that, I examine my thoughts about writing to figure out if they’re truths or misbeliefs. For example, does all my writing stink? Well, no, since I’ve had writing successes. If the evidence doesn’t support the thought, I ponder what new thought I can form that is based on the evidence. When I form that new belief, it’s a more honest one.

My belief is that writers are made of strong stuff because we battle the darkness on a regular basis. We follow our characters through impossible situations, we feel their trauma, we honour their pain. Because of that, we have the inner strength to endure our own inner critics.

I believe that each of us also has a source of good inside us who can help keep our inner critics at bay. Who, you ask? I expect you already know the answer.

My writer’s intuition hovers in another corner of my office. She has shimmering wings and a magic wand. She knows when I’ve written a beautiful sentence. She recognizes the moment when a plot point slides into place and completes my story. She’s waiting to beam honest writerly truth into my brain, if I’m not too busy listening to my inner critic.

The more I learn about writing, the stronger my writer’s intuition gets. Most of the time, she doesn’t even see my inner critic. He’s hardly a blip on her radar.

KAREN KROSSING wrote poetry and rants as a teen and dreamed of becoming a published writer. Today, she’s the author of seven successful novels for kids and teens, and she runs writing workshops to empower emerging writers. Her recent titles include Punch Like a Girl(Orca),which was runner-up for the Kaywell Books Save Lives Award, and Bog,(Fitzhenry & Whiteside), which won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. She is currently enrolled in an MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Web: karenkrossing.com

Twitter: @karenkrossing

The Inner Critic Perspective #3: Phoebe Chin

A Reflection Through Colours and Words

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Your doubt sounds a lot like my mother

 

And when I feel her words –

Our mouth shaping the criticism

That slaps across my cheek

I weep,

Her words stain the folds of me.

As I carry her in me,

Those words ring full:

 

“You’ll never,

You aren’t,

You must,

You should.”

 

Scarcity breeds and blooms

In her words

 

How to unravel

Years of my mother’s fear?

How do I begin?

It feels like washing blood

Out of fabric

 

I begin:

 

Offering myself

Kindness,

 

Teaching myself

Abundance,

 

Recounting to myself

Safety,

 

Allowing myself

Pleasure

 

And soaking my loss in rest

______

PHOEBE CHIN is an art therapist and multi-disciplinary artist who is looking to specialize in end-of-life care in Toronto. Her life and work are heavily influenced by her navigating intergenerational trauma, intersections of faith and queer identity, and living with mental illness. Facilitating creative spaces brings her deep joy. You can find her musings and figuring out how to take better care of herself on Instagram, and past writing on her blog.

The Inner Critic Perspective #2: Susan Marshall

The Inner Critic

“Just because you read something in a particular way, doesn’t mean it actually rhymes.”

“Why do you repeat the main character’s name so much?  It’s really grating.”

“I’m not sure why you wrote this story, is there a purpose here?”

I received the above comments—and sadly there were more—from classmates, as part of a ‘peer critique.’ While this blog post is about your inner critic, I’m first going to start with the outer critics, and those comments from years ago…

Unlike most writers, I never ever aspired to be one. I was a librarian, married to an accountant. We were hailed as Mr. and Mrs. Boring. Until seven or eight years ago, I was convinced I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. I would have scoffed at the idea that I would ever write a book.

When I signed up for a ‘Writing for Children’ class, it was for a purpose: to pen a picture book about a child with a disability, similar to my own daughter, who was two years old at the time. Unlike my classmates, I had zero previous literary aspirations and zero experience with creative writing. I was an absolute newbie.

The critique comments were on point: my first picture draft really sucked. But at the time, the negative comments gutted me. One student rightly pulled me aside after class and warned me that, by attempting to write a picture book without ever having written anything else, I was trying to scale Mount Everest without practicing on the Niagara Escarpment first. Her sage advice went unheeded.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to ‘fix’ the story, I threw in the towel. At that point, I tried to run away from writing, but it didn’t stick. And I’ve since learned that once you’ve been pulled into the writing vortex, it’s hard to extricate yourself.

I stopped with the classes. Clearly I was hopeless at writing. But many of the YA stories—workshopped by my classmates—stayed with me. For some reason, those characters and plot lines came alive in my brain during church. And eventually, they spurred my own ideas, which started to compete for headspace.

During those contemplative Sundays, when I was supposed to be paying attention to the priest, a novel started slowly taking shape in my mind. Pretty soon, by the end of mass each week, I had practically written another chapter.

I tried to silence the creative voices. Why would I want to take another stab at writing? #Masochist? But I could not get the story, which would become NemeSIS, out of my brain. Eventually, I succumbed and started writing.

I wrote the first draft of the novel, very quickly, over the course of a few months. It was utterly terrible, and I even I knew it this time. I turned to my sister and a friend, both amazing editors, for advice. They helped me beat the story into something semi-coherent, with the added bonus of consistency in my use of verb tenses. I eventually sought out an external editor, who helped me with some substantive issues. Less than a year from the start, I had a manuscript.

As a proud new manuscript ‘parent,’ my inner critic was temporarily silenced. I started submitting, and bizarrely, saw significant interest from a decent publisher almost immediately. Nine months later, the project was rejected. I then tried to find an agent, with no luck. I submitted to more publishers, and received more rejections.

It took a while, but eventually I had to accept that the initial interest was a fluke. The manuscript—and more importantly, me the writer—sucked.

At that point, I was pretty bummed out because I felt the need to write, was in dire need of instruction, but was too worried about negative comments to sign up for more classes (#Coward).

Staring at a dead end, I eventually put the manuscript, along with the dream, into a drawer. I threw myself into other activities, thrilled to be done with writing.

Unfortunately, my husband continued to drag me to church each week, and try as I might to pay attention, another YA story idea started percolating. I considered becoming an atheist, but in the end, I went back to the computer.

I wrote another terrible first draft of a second novel, but I wasn’t going to submit this one. I knew it sucked, and I sucked, but I was starting to love the process. Writing was my new hobby.

As a stay-at-home-mom, with my youngest starting half-day school, I rationalized that spending my free time writing would keep me out of the mall. And since there was no cost, I waspractically savingthe family money.

Once I finished the second manuscript, I meant to take a break, but instead, I started re-editing the first one (NemeSIS), again. Eventually, I had two manuscripts but no confidence to submit either of them.

Unsure of how to proceed, I became intrigued by a Kirkus Reviews‘pop-up’ ad. As a librarian and reader, I knew Kirkus Reviewshad a solid reputation. And while the indie review was expensive, look at all the money I had saved! I guess ‘the mall’ found me, somehow. In the end, spurred on by atime-limited discount coupon, I took a deep breath and put down a credit card.

Even before I finished the transaction, I vowed to myself that if Kirkuspanned NemeSIS, I would bow out of writing—church be damned—forever. My outer and inner critics needed official confirmation of my literary suckage. Basically, I put my fate as a writer into the hands of a lone book reviewer and braced for the worst.

Months later, when I opened the email from Kirkus, I was confused. I read the review repeatedly, not quite comprehending the words. Despite the tag line, ‘A smart choice for teen readers,’ it took one of my kids to read it out loud, before I grasped that the review was positive. I was stunned.

I suppose it’s exactly as Malcolm Gladwell espoused; I needed to spend all those hundreds (thousands?) of hours —writing, rewriting, thinking, editing, not praying—to gain a basic literary competency. 

And while I eventually managed to get NemeSISpublished, my inner critic is still quite vocal, reminding me just today how badly the first draft of my third (#OMG) manuscript sucks. At this stage, I have some faith that if I keep working away, the story might turn out okay in the end.

Although maybe not, seeing as I’m such a crappy writer. The Kirkusreview was surely a fluke! Hmmmm, maybe I should stop being a coward and take another writing class? But they’re pretty expensive, and besides who needs outer critics chiming in when the inner critic never shuts up?

Wait! What if I spent my time at church praying to become a better writer, instead of ignoring God and plotting books? I could even reach out to St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint for writers and journalists? Nah! As if I could even call myself a writer!

Hey, I’ve got it! I’ll go all-in with Saint Jude, the dude for lost causes, and likely the only one at this point who can help me with my writing…

One of four daughters, SUSAN MARSHALL was born and raised in an estrogen-fuelled household in Hamilton, Ontario. Always a big fan of libraries, Susan graduated with a Library Science degree from U. of T. Naturally disorganized, she quickly opted out of the field, instead working for The Globe and Mail and then Seneca College. Four kids later, she decided to stay-at-home.

Susan lives in Toronto with her husband, three sons, a daughter, a dog, and a cat. Her first novel NemeSIS (think ‘sister bully’) was published in 2017.

Website: www.susanmarshall.ca

Twitter: @sueemarshall

The Inner Critic Perspective #1: Maureen McGowan

In Support of the Inner Critic

When I chose “The Inner Critic” topic for this blog I thought it would be easy. I’m blessed with a particularly powerful one and figured I’d have a lot to say on the subject. But as the time to write this post drew near, and then the deadline came and went, my inner critic settled down on top of my head and squished out every ounce of rational thought.

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When he finally released me, (I feel sure that my inner critic is male), he left me bruised and yet with an urge to come out in his support. (Stockholm syndrome? Brain damage?)

Joking aside, I do think that our inner critics provide a valuable role—pushing us to be better, to expand our comfort zones, to learn more and improve. How can taking a critical look at our work or striving for improvement be bad?

It’s certainly beneficial to have some humility and self-awareness, to know that every word we write isn’t brilliant. It behoves us to understand that no matter how much we’ve learned about writing and storytelling, or how many books we’ve written, that there will alwaysbe more to discover, ways to improve. I firmly believe that a healthy inner critic can drive us to produce our best work.

Three cheers for the inner critic!

On the other hand… an overly aggressive inner critic can be stifling, soul crushing, and can keep us from taking the risk to put words down on paper in the first place, or to submit anything we’ve written for publication.

Hmmm…. Suddenly all my warm, fuzzy feelings for my inner critic have vanished.

Or maybe it’s that my inner critic served his purpose, but then outstayed his welcome. If my inner critic served me well when I started writing, perhaps I’m done with him now. It’s not that I plan to stop learning or improving—that part is great—but to be frank, over the years my inner critic has turned into a bit of an asshole.

I’d give anything to return to the heady days, early in my writing career, when my inner critic was tamer, or pretending to be, when he could be silenced by a great day of writing, by a light bulb turning on at a workshop, by a great talk with my writer friends—the days his voice could be extinguished by a request for submission or a contract offer. Those were the days.

Lately, none of those things can silence my inner critic. Not fully. Not even a contract. Not even a glowing reader review or accolade. No, my inner critic has grown so loud and oppressive he’s hard to shake off.

But I do remember when he was useful.

When I decided to write my first novel I knew I had a lot to learn, and being a good student I set out to learn all I could. I joined multiple writers’ groups across more than one genre, I took courses, attended conferences, and I joined a very serious critique group with like-minded women. We met weekly, tearing apart each other’s work without mercy and holding each other accountable to meet goals and submit work to agents.

Looking back, those days were marvellous! With each new discovery, each new skill, my confidence built, and I became keen to share my insights and knowledge with others. I shared what I’d learned with others in online groups, I conducted workshops at conferences, I judged writers’ contests and mentored beginners.

My memory of those days could be slightly flawed, but I do believe there was a time when I truly believed I’d figured this writing thing out. Mostly.

Yes, I knew there’d always be ways to improve, but I got to a point where I believed I’d learned enough to pass. Plus, I had a modicum of external validation (agents, contracts, accolades, letters from readers), enough to convince me I had talent and skill. For a while, my inner confidence was louder than my inner critic.

Oh, to return to those halcyon days!

As the years went on, as I left one agent and signed with another and then left him, too, as I published books, received a few minor awards, achieved what most would say was success with sales and reviews, my inner critic grew in pace with my achievements. In fact, I’m pretty sure that he grew faster than my success. Perhaps he feeds off accomplishment, always keeping a few steps ahead, prepared to cut me down to size without warning.

And with all my inner critic’s negative talk, at some point I started to believe I knew nothing. That I knew even less than when I started. Which is objectively nuts.

Ignorance is bliss, I tell you! It’s like the more I learn about writing and storytelling, the more skills I develop and the more books I write and publish, the louder my inner critic shouts that I know nothing, that I have zero talent, that I’ll never achieve my literary dreams.

Was it just a few hundred words ago that I came out in supportof my inner critic? What was I thinking? I must have been crazy. Stockholm syndrome indeed.

Time to face facts: my inner critic is an abusive jerk!

Working in a creative field requires a delicate balance. We creative types are often overly sensitive, easily crushed by criticism and setbacks, and yet criticism and setbacks are inevitable.

In the publishing world, rejection and disappointments are as certain as death and taxes. None of us needs an inner critic to feel bad about ourselves or our work, to push us to get better. There are plenty of external sources to do those things for us. (Any author who’s ventured onto Goodreads, without protective armour, can tell you that.)

Forget the thesis I stated at the outset of this post. I was wrong. Inner critics are the worst! The very worst!

Anyone know a good assassin?

 

MAUREEN MCGOWAN is the award-winning author of two YA series, and also writes romance as Mara Leigh. Maureen left a career in finance to pursue writing fiction. Aside from her love of books, she’s passionate about films, fine handcrafted objects and shoes. You can find her on all the usual social media places and at: www.maureenmcgowan.com

P.S. Her inner critic says this post sucks.

P.P.S. She’s not as oppressed by her inner critic as the above implies. Thank you for your concern, but no need to call the authorities. Yet.

The Creative Process Perspective #4: Joanne Levy

A rambling train-of-thought approach to describing how I do what I do.

So. Hi. Welcome to the inside of my head. It’s a messy place most of the time. But the cool thing is, somehow I manage to wrangle my thoughts and output stuff that is, while not perfect by any means, still coherent and, hopefully, enjoyable to read.

How does that happen? Short answer? Most days I have no idea.

Longer answer follows. You know, as I drink coffee and figure out what leashes my muse so I can fill pages that will entertain and delight.

Okay. *cracks knuckles*

The truth is, I am not a plotter by nature. This should become obvious as you read this post. I enjoy discovering the story as I write, which means I don’t like being constrained by things like outlines. Actually, I find that if I draft an outline, I then feel like I’ve already written the book. That completely sucks the fun out of the process for me. So yes, I’m a pantser who finds great joy in drafting.

I’m sure some of you reading this don’t get it and maybe even shook your head just then, and that’s okay. We’re all different, and that’s what makes it interesting when writers get together and talk about their processes. There are as many approaches to writing as there are writers.

But I digress. Time to get back to my process.

When I sit down to write a book, I generally have three to five plot points in my head that I will write to. That leaves a lot of room to flesh out the characters and story without having to do a lot of pre-work (I’m not a fan of research—I love going down internet rabbit-holes [read the reviews, you will not be disappointed] as much as the next person, but I’m not talking about getting sucked into silly and pointless YouTube videos, I’m talking Serious Research that is 100% accurate. Not my jam.).

The bad news is that often pantsers who do no pre-work can easily get stuck.

Like, I’ll sit there and ask my blank page, “Where does the story go from here?” Sometimes I don’t know. Like, really don’t know. How does Character A get from plot point Two to plot point Three? No freaking clue.

That’s when I get seriously stuck and can’t get words on a page. I’ll try and try but nope. Nothing’s coming. Some people call it writer’s block, but I’m not so formal, I just call it being stuck because it’s just a matter of not knowing what comes next.

Yet.

After writing for years, I have finally come to learn that getting stuck is nothing to fear or get upset about. That no matter how hard I try to grab that muse and force her to look at the blank page, that is not the way to get unstuck.

To get unstuck, I need to walk away. My muse needs to frolic in a meadow or go for drinks at the pub—I don’t really know what she does when she needs time away from the project. I just know that I need to set her free for a bit.

I have come to trust that my brain will whirr along in the background while I give it space. Go on a walk, enjoy a Paint Nite (I can’t recommend this enough for writers—it is a wonderful way to get out of the house and turn your brain completely off for an evening. Plus, at the end of it you have a piece of art that you can hang in your home—or not) or in very hard cases, take a few days and refill the well on a mini holiday where writing is NOT on the agenda. Go to the beach, take in some movies, visit with friends. Talk about stuff other than your current WIP.

In other words, get away from the keyboard. Once the muse has had her little vaca and is ready to work again, she’ll come back. She’ll poke you in the face at three a.m.. Or will pinch your butt while you’re in the shower with no way to write down her epiphanies. Probably, it’ll be at the most inconvenient time, like in the middle of a colonoscopy.

Point is, she will come back. Trust that. Trust yourself. That just might be the hardest part of writing.

Another common problem with being a pantser is that moment when I realize, “Oh *#@$ I’ve written myself into a corner.”

That’s when my writing turns into every knitting project I’ve ever attempted: inevitably, I’ll have to unravel rows and rows of work to fix that mistake that would otherwise always be a mark on what could have been a good project.

Every time I have to do this, I think that next time I’m going to outline.

And then I don’t.

No, really, I don’t. Even though I know it would make the writing easier and go more quickly.

But hey, what are you going to do? This is how I roll, and even though it’s more work in the end, writing from scratch is my joy.

And I totally need that. Because the business side of things isn’t always a joy. In fact, publishing can be the antithesis of joy. Sometimes publishing kills joy. Slaughters it and leaves it for dead on the side of the road.

I’ve had long stretches where I found no joy in my work. Before my debut finally sold in late 2010 (it was something like the fifteenth book I’d written and—I think—the fifth or sixth manuscript that had gone on submission), I hadn’t written for over a year. I was done with trying to get published. DONE. My heart had been broken so many times that I was over it and couldn’t bring myself to continue trying. I still had a few subs out there but was just going to let them shrivel up and die on the vine.

And then I got the call. SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE was going to get published.

Bam. I got sucked back in. I found the joy again. Only to have my heart broken again. And again. It still gets broken and then sucks me back in somehow.

So yeah, I need to give myself permission to write in a way that may create more work and is backward, if it gives me joy.

Because why else bother? If there is no joy, I may as well do something else. Seriously, anything else.

“But Joanne,” you may be thinking, “what about write-for-hire projects where someone asks you to write to their outline? You’ve done those, haven’t you?”

Yes, I have. I’ve done a few write-for-hire projects, but that doesn’t mean there was no joy in writing them. They can be really fun, actually. Working to someone else’s outline allows me to fill in spaces with my own creativity without the pressure of writing the outline myself. It’s a different kind of creative process and on a smaller scale, where the plot points are set out, and I work to give the plot voice and add humour.

Since I didn’t write those outlines, my brain didn’t feel like the book had been written already. Hence, I could still find joy in that drafting even though it’s slightly different.

But left to my own devices and writing my own stories from the ground up, I’m still a total pantser.

Hey, remember where I said this was going to be a rambly train-of-thought post? I was not kidding.

But you know what? It was fun to write, so there you go. Hopefully, you got something out of it too.

If not, my bio’s below—feel free to complain directly.

p.s. If you haven’t checked out the rest of this blog, DO. There are amazing perspectives on not only the creative process, but also rejection, and art and fear, with more to come. In a world where being a writer can be lonely and isolating, it’s nice to be reminded there are other like-minded folks. I also find they’re often hanging out on Facebook when they say they are writing. Myself included, but I blame the muse who was probably in the pub at the time.

A survivor of the corporate world, JOANNE LEVY now works from home, doing administrative work for other authors and creating the friends she wishes she had when she was a kid. She lives in rural-ish Ontario with her husband, Labrador Retriever, African Grey Parrot, and two cats, one of whom vomited during the writing of this bio. Joanne’s books include the forthcoming UNTITLED(not the actual title) from Orca books, CRUSHING IT, SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, and  a couple written by her not-so-secret alter-ego, Tamsin Lane: YAEL AND THE PARTY OF THE YEAR and TARA TAKES THE STAGE .

Visit Joanne online at www.joannelevy.com 

The Creative Process Perspective #3: Kari Maaren

Writing on the creative process requires use of the creative process, and if there’s one thing that’s true about the creative process, it’s that it’s never there when you want it to be. Creativity is like a cat: when you’re sitting around with oodles of time, it hides under the couch, whereas when you have ten things to do and no time for creativity, it’s suddenly everywhere, sitting on your keyboard and looking at you accusingly. If you’re very, very lucky, it won’t throw up in your shoes.

The creative process is a simile taken slightly too far in an essay about the creative process. Is that creativity or desperation? How do you know if you’re being creative enough? If you ask yourself several questions in a row without answering them, will readers accept your creativity and go away without disparaging you on Twitter?

No! Shut up! The creative process can and must be quantified! It is logical. It is a locked box that is accessed with a single key, and the key is a logical key and not made of magic at all! Try This One Weird Tip, and you too can master the creative process! Stop thinking mystically. There’s nothing mystical about any of this. Similes are useless. Questions are open-ended. Write 500 words a day, and you’ll produce a 95,000-word novel in exactly 190 days. What are you waiting for? Write!

 I…I’m not sure that’s right. I mean…yesterday I wrote 2,694 words, and I don’t know why. And the day before, I wrote three words, and I still don’t know why. And the day before the day before, I looked out my window and saw the peach tree in my backyard, and I spent the next five hours standing there imagining out this entire epic fantasy series in which the peach tree was a pocket universe that had sealed itself into its own reality and now hosted a thriving population of supernatural beings, one of whom was a young wood nymph who felt too ordinary and just wanted to be loved. Is that invalid? Am I going to fail? Has this been done before? What if I’m not good enough? What if wood nymphs aren’t trendy right now? What am I going to do?

Everybody stop panicking. I just pantsed the hell out of a 140,000-word novel about time-travelling space monkeys. If I can do it, so can you. The trick is to start with a great idea, then surrender yourself to the story. Don’t get hung up on outlining or worry about research until the story has formed itself. You can always rewrite sections that don’t work.

Outlining is the only way to go. Without my outline, I am nothing. The story must be perfect and perfectly contained, with every element mattering and profoundly affecting every other element. I’ve read books by pantsers, and they tend to be loose and chaotic. A good story is taut, economical, beautifully structured. Writing by the seat of your pants will never give you that.

What is creativity? Is it a candle in the wind? A breath of fresh air in an inferno made of despair? Why is creativity? If we are not creative, how are we human? If we do not do art, are we really alive? When my soul does not soar on the wings of creation, shot through with metaphorical fire and stretched on the rack of hope, how am I not nothing at all?

Your questions are meaningless. Your imagery is hackneyed. You will never be a writer. You will never be an artist. There is no creative process. I read your heartfelt essay, and I know for a fact that I will someday be a millionaire, since if you can get published, anyone can get published. I could write a bestseller tomorrow because it’s all about figuring out the formula, and I’ve already done that. The only reason I haven’t published anything yet is that I am profoundly cynical about the whole process. It’s a rigged game. That book you love is garbage. Everything is garbage.

Guys? We’re getting off track here. Guys? I think I can do this, but how do I know? What if I write my story down and it’s no good? Maybe I shouldn’t write it down. Maybe I should eat chocolate while I’m brainstorming. I’ve heard that helps. Also wine. And carrots. Guys? Are you listening? Are you—

WHAT IS THIS WEBPAGE? WHY AM I ON IT? I WAS IN A BOOK. I FOUND THE WHEAT. I PLANTED THE WHEAT. I GREW THE WHEAT. I HARVESTED THE WHEAT. WHERE IS THE WHEAT? WHERE IS THAT LAZY DOG? WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THIS ESSAY? WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MY BOOK? AM I AN EXAMPLE OF POSTMODERNISM? ARE YOU?

Don’t be postmodern. Everything is postmodern now.

Do be postmodern. Everything else is too restricted.

What even is postmodernism? Is it a creativity-killing crutch?

Yesterday, I saw a flower growing through a sidewalk crack, and I ended up in tears. What if I die tomorrow, with all my stories still untold? What if no one ever hears the things I have to say? I feel as if the stories are there, right there, but I just don’t have time to get them all out. There are so many that they choke each other off before they even get started. I need to write everything today because there may be no tomorrow.

img_7620-2.jpg

 The ice creeps

into my brain

into the depths

of everything I am

and the sea of stories

freezes solid

turns

from everything

to nothing

as I gasp

helpless

on the shore

Today, children, we are going to write a story. Does everybody have a pencil? No, Nigel, that is a glue stick, not a pencil. Okay! I want you to imagine you live in a castle with a magic bee! What happens to you and the bee? You have one whole page to answer this question! No, Nigel, that’s still a glue stick. Please put the glue stick away.

We are all creators. We must all create. Children know this; adults forget.

Creativity doesn’t pay the bills. Stop being so childish. Grow up and get a real job.

 My creativity is better than yours.

 My creativity is weirder than yours.

 My creativity is a more useful cat simile than yours.

I GROUND THE WHEAT. I MADE THE DOUGH. I BAKED THE BREAD. NOW WHO WILL HELP ME EAT THE BREAD?

 Guys? Guys? Guys?

 I think I have an idea.

 

Kari Maaren is a writer, cartoonist, musician, and academic who has no spare time. Her first novel, the Andre Norton-nominated Weave a Circle Round, was published by Tor Books in 2017. She has a completed webcomic, West of Bathurst, and an active one, It Never Rains, and she has produced two CDs, Beowulf Pulled My Arm Off and Everybody Hates Elves. She is fond of time travel and titles that begin with “W.”