Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Writing to Think

I've been journaling since I was ten years old, and I think it's a big reason that I'm a writer and a sane person today. Really. It's the one piece of advice that I give to everyone: Keep a journal! Especially if you want to be a writer. But even if you don't. I honestly can't imagine getting through adolescence without writing about it all. How would I have figured anything out? For that matter, how would I figure anything out as an adult?

I write to think. I write to make sense of the world. To figure out a problem, a mood, a situation. When I first started journaling, I wrote about what I ate for lunch. I listed all the swear words I knew. I complained about my friends and my clarinet teacher and the unfair word on the spelling test. As I got older, I journaled about my dreams for the future. And boys. I journaled a lot about boys. I was always in love with someone who wasn't in love with me, but it was okay because I could write about all those desperate feelings, and somehow that made me feel not quite so desperate.

When you journal, you realize that whatever you're going through is temporary. You realize that you can get through it. That it will change. That there's something to learn from it. You get perspective, which is an incredible gift. And you give that gift to yourself. How easy!

Five years ago, when I had a snoopy preteen daughter in the house, I bought a little fire safe and put all my diaries in the safe. Three years ago, while we were away for spring break, burglars broke into our house and stole all our valuables, including the little fire safe. Yes, all my diaries disappeared. I was devastated at first. I would never be able to go back and re-read what I'd written. But you know what? I don't really do that anyway. I don't want to go back. I want to go forward. For me, it's the act of writing that matters. Because that's what helps me think.

Since the burglary, I've not kept a traditional journal. I've done it all online in a password protected document. But the document got too long and cumbersome, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to password protect a new file. But now I've found this awesome new website: www.penzu.com. It's an online journaling site, and it's free. It makes it so easy and fun to journal. And if you are just developing the habit, you can even sign up to get little reminders from them to journal on a regular basis. I highly recommend it!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Writing and Fear

At the writing retreat I attended in January, one of the speakers said that all not-writing is due to fear. We might make excuses about time or energy or the muse not visiting or writer's block or whatever. But really? If we're not writing it's because we're afraid.

I didn't write today. Or yesterday. Or the day before. This, after vowing to write every day for a minimum of 30 minutes since December 1st. When my son asked me if I had written yesterday, I told him no and gave him a great excuse about wanting to read instead and waiting to get feedback on a different manuscript and blah blah blah. He cut me off and said, "Mom, you have to blog about your failure." Love that kid.

So here I go.

I didn't write for the last three days because I'm afraid.

I'm afraid this first draft sucks. (The fact that it's supposed to suck because it's a first draft is not comforting to me. Sucking sucks.)

I'm afraid I will never be able to translate the idea in my head into the masterpiece I imagine it to be. (This fear makes sense. My idea is perfect in my head. Of course I won't be able to create a perfect book. But who cares? Maybe I can create a book that is good enough.)

I'm afraid someone else will write my book before me, and they'll do a better job than I could ever do. (Stupid fear... nobody can write my specific book except for me. That's why it's mine.)

I'm afraid that even if I write the best book, my agent won't be able to sell it.

I'm afraid that even if my agent sells it, my publisher won't promote it.

I'm afraid that even if my publisher promotes it, reviewers will pan it.

I'm afraid that even if reviewers love it, people won't buy it.

I'm afraid that even if people buy it and love it and and ask for more, I won't ever be able to deliver because it is such an impossible task, and each book is challenging in its own way, and writing one book well does not mean you know how to write another book. At. All.

So there you have it. I'm sitting with my fear. But I'm not so worried. It won't last. Sometimes I have to just succumb to the yucky, scary feelings for a little while. Acknowledging them helps them pass. Because hidden right underneath all these fears are dreams and confidence and faith. Writer's fuel. They won't stay hidden for long.