or: How to Approach Limiting Beliefs as an Author
This week, I’d like to share my thoughts on a subject near and - well, not quite dear - to my heart: the way that the beliefs we’ve carried with us our whole life can hurt as much as they can help. I’m not talking about religious beliefs, but the things we learn to get ourselves through life, to shield ourselves from pain or failure. We may not even be aware of most of them ... they’re just quietly lurking in the underbrush of the forest of our minds, whispering to us about which path is “safer” to take. The trouble is, the path which was safer for us long ago may not be the best path for us to take, now.
When I was little, I lived on a large plot of land with forest that surrounded a local river. There was a clearly defined path through those woods, and it led to three of my favorite spots: my great-aunt’s house, a steep hill with a crude attempt at a fort, and the riverbank. I loved that riverbank: it was the site of many adventures for my little figures and dolls, and where I’d pretend I was a princess, learning to be a warrior in order to save her family from an evil wizard. The point is this: a few years ago, my great-aunt needed help cleaning out her storage, and I went along with my parents to help. I got to thinking about that riverbank, and decided in a moment of nostalgia to go and follow the old path to sit and watch the water for a while, to reconnect with that younger self who hadn’t forgotten how to play. You can imagine my absolute dismay when I saw that the trail I remembered had become overgrown, only the ghost of itself visible. I still found the riverbank, mostly through memory and a good sense of direction, but it was a struggle to find my way there, and even more of one to find my way back. This is exactly what can happen when we try to follow old beliefs ... and when you’re trying to find your way to the things you love the most, they can really get in the way.
Recently, I found two articles in the same day about how authors deal with these sort of limiting beliefs in their writing process: one by Anne R. Allen, and one by Chuck Wendig. They’re extremely different authors, with very, very different approaches to both writing and their limiting beliefs. (Those who aren’t fond of strong language may wish to steer clear of Wendig’s blog ... he uses it like most use punctuation. I find his insight worth looking past it for, but your mileage may vary.) Anne R. Allen examines the beliefs which hold her back, in order to remove them, realizing that some came from random encounters and were never repeated. She applies this tactic to her writing style more than her approach to the life of an author. Chuck Wendig, however, blasts forth with a tirade against those who, whether consciously or not, have given authors the message that they do not want us to be creative people. He encourages us to ignore and blow past those messages in bombastic, gleefully offensive fashion, and the rebel in me, the kid in me with her fingers in the cookie jar? She eats it up like sugary breakfast cereal or potato chips.
So which one of them is right, you ask? Do we examine the things holding us back: sit with them, study them like old belongings, reminiscing about the good things they once brought us before donating them to charity to serve others the way they served us? Or do we simply rip them to shreds, cackling madly, and dump them in the trash?
I think, perhaps, both. It depends entirely on which belief is getting in your way. With the right application of common sense and practicality, it is possible to determine whether or not ingrained statements like “those kind of books are trash”, or “don’t you think it’s time you wrote about something different?” are worth going into depth thinking about. That first example? Wendig it. Wendig it right out the window with the expletive of your choice and a grand, sweeping gesture that would make your inner child proud. It’s the sort of thing that you know right away is smelly, dumb, and keeps you from having fun. The second one, though, that may require Allen’s treatment. If you have more to say on that particular “something”, you shouldn’t keep yourself from writing it ... but perhaps a change of pace will help you come back to it with fresh eyes. It’s all subjective.
So how do we find our way to the riverbank? In the end, I think that the answer is this: find yourself a good walking stick to help you keep your balance, to nudge the branches aside, to defend yourself against sudden rogues and monsters. Pack your favorite tools and toys, a good book, and something to drink. Find the faint traces of a trail-head, and try to follow it. If it grows too dense, stop. Listen for the river: it knows where it’s going. Follow the sound. If you have to bushwhack, so be it: bushwhack, and do it with a smile on your face and a warrior’s song on your lips. There’s a certain joy to be found in fighting your way down your own path. Once you find the river, follow it, and trust your sense of direction. Together, both of them will lead you to that sandy bank where you can sit down on a favorite rock, take your things out, and enjoy yourself in peace. Once you get back, you may even have a story to tell.
Until next time, you can find me down by the water....
(Adrift in the Post-Camp-NaNoWriMo Waters)
A friend asked me, yesterday, how it felt to have "won" Camp this year, and I gave her my honest answer: yes, I was glad to have put the work in, and it felt good to have the words on the page, but now that it's through and the cabins are closing up until July, I can only ask: "Well, what now?"
During any NaNoWriMo event, the goal is clear: write unto the brink of exhaustion, and then write, write some more. But then the goal is gone, which is both freedom and damnation. "You're done!" My brain rejoices. "You can do whatever else you want!"
"I can?" My creative heart thrills. "Oh! Oh! I can draw! I can edit! I can start planning the next bit of work! I can work on that virtual tour of Aviario or organize my notes! .... GASP. I can organize my desk!"
Then, of course, my brain decides that is far, far too much to choose from, and I do none of those things. (Well, maybe not none. Last night, I totally organized my desk. True story: one of my pipe dream jobs is 'professional organizer'.)
I have a feeling I'm not the only one who has this problem after a NaNo month. There's something grand and purposeful about having a goal with an official tracker, an amazing group of people supporting and rooting for you, and lovely Winner Swag once you're through. It's a bit like going through withdrawal once you've finished out the month.... and my creative heart, well, it likes all that pomp and circumstance. It feels validated, the way my brain does at "The Real Job" when it crosses things off the to-do list and works with my team on projects.
If you're suffering from a post-Camp slump and feel the way I do, don't despair. I have a revelation to share with you: it's all still there. If you have friends you've made through the forums or cabins, reach out to them: find their Twitters, Facebooks, Tumblrs, Instagrams, Snapchats, or whatever internet poison you prefer. I assure you: they'll still be just as awesome. Need a tracker? Make your own! Grab a journal or a spreadsheet and start plugging away. As for the swag: it's true, we can't all print our own t-shirts or mugs or what-have-you, but think of it this way... your finished product is something no one else can make. If you need a little badge that says "I Did The Thing", well, there are plenty of image generators that will help you Make A Thing that says you Did The Thing.
And if you can't decide which Thing you want to Do? That's okay. Hop around from Thing to Thing until you find the one that really makes your creative heart sing and your brain say "Hey, wow, yeah, I can really work with this, right now." Eventually, you'll have found your next project.
That's where I'm at right now: just like Cinderella up there. I know that eventually, I'll have both my shoes back, but until then, I'll run with one. The project I'm meant to focus on will catch up with me soon enough.
Until next time,
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