Monday, January 28, 2013

The Problem with Labels



I’m a full-time member and a part-time President (because I’m so busy) of the Procrastinator’s Club. As a member, it is difficult for me to actually pinpoint when I’m truly working. Being the ancestor of Scots, I tend to have a very narrow definition of “hard work” when it comes to my writing. I know I’ve been working hard on my manuscript by the following:


  1. I wrote 20 pages in a 4 hour period
  2.  I began the book and finished it in the same session. 
  3.  I revised the whole book in one sitting


Being none of these actually ever happen in a writing session for me, it’s clear I never consider myself as working hard on my manuscript. I could have always been doing more…better and faster and with less complaint. If I didn’t bleed to death all over the page or worse, if I had fun, I was not working. In fact here is a short list of things I believe if you’re doing, you’re not working hard at actually writing.

  1.  Staring into space
  2. Reading a book
  3. Pre-writing a scene
  4. Making a list of possible scenes, character goals, et al, in order to help you think what should be coming next in your book
  5. Storyboarding
  6. Talking about your book with CPs or random strangers who stupidly stopped long enough to ask you if something was wrong
  7. Taking up another hobby: quilting, beading, crocheting, drawing, painting, baking—if I’m listing them, I have done them
  8. Reading craft books—this is deceptive because it’s not a fun book, but a work book
  9. Napping (or if you’re one of those writers: exercising)
  10. Deleting the last ten pages of your manuscript because you realize it’s all wrong


Writers are uber-critical of their efforts. This is not news. And it’s also not news that constantly criticizing our efforts only sends us into a death spiral of continually not working on our projects, because after all, what is the point. You’re never going to finish it; and even if you did, no one will want it.

I’m not sure if it’s our perverse natures trying to keep our hopes from being too inflated—that if we “keep it real” we won’t be disappointed if it comes true. There is true irony in this. For one, even when we’re keeping it real, we’re using the word “IF” instead of “when”; and for two, you’ll be disappointed either way, so what are you actually preventing? Nothing. You’re just giving yourself an ulcer and more reasons not to get out of bed in the morning.

We already have enough stress in our lives to allow our writing to become something even more to stress about, especially when we’re giving false labels to what actually constitutes success, hard work, or legitimate reason for praise. Life is hard enough without labeling yourself with narrow definitions for, well, everything. And if you’re narrowly labeling your efforts in writing and creativity, it’s a 100% likely you’re narrowly labeling other things in your life: your love life, your worth as a person; your efforts to be healthy and happy; your place in the world, etc, etc, etc.

That shit needs to stop.

So this week, I’m going to work on broadening my labels for what constitutes working on my story and also having more compassion for myself in all things. We could all use more kindness: with ourselves, our loved ones, our writings in progress, and life in general.

What is one of the things you need to stop right now? And what is something you will do this week to be kinder to yourself (or your writing)?


21 comments:

Maureen said...

Hmmmm....I need to stop believing it's too hard to open that doc and start working. On edits, writing, or anything. AND, just because I start reading a book it doesn't mean I can't do anything else until I finish it.

Kinder stuff? Well, I was reading something (not a book, an article) about happiness and being happy with what one does instead of waiting for what you do to make you happy.

I'm gonna work on that.

quantum said...

Sounds to me as though the Universe is laughing again!
This is not the spirit that won an empire!

Talks about talks, meetings to plan meetings, creating lists, endless motion in circles.

Re-defining hard work and creating illusions is not the answer!

You have to focus on one objective at a time, prioritise if necessary, sideline all the 'shit' and go for it ... in a straight line. A straight line being the shortest distance between two points.

I love a charming, humorous, philosophising, eloquently loquacious, woolly headed companion for spinning in circles at the pub; but if I want something done I find someone who prefers action in straight lines to talking in circles ..... like me! LOL

To be kinder to myself I'm going to ensure that I always have numerous audio books on my MP3 player, so that I have listening options, wherever and whatever I'm doing.

Janga said...

If #10 qualifies as writing, then I've accomplished a great deal more than I thought. :)

I really am trying to read less so that I have time to write more. I'm several books behind my 2012 reading pace of 1.3 books a day, and so I'm having some success. Numbers 5 and 7 aren't problems for me, and I'm working on cutting the napping--seriously. I'm trying to be kinder to myself by beating myself up less about what I failed to do yesterday, last week, last year, a decade ago.

MsHellion said...

Mo, ha! That's exactly what I did this weekend. I read but then refused to do other things this weekend (other than napping). *LOL* But I need to reverse it. For every hour of writing, I get an hour of reading...not the other way around.

And I love that "being happy with what one does rather than waiting for IT to make you happy"--that's brilliant--and I think part of us all does wish that being published will make us happy. Like a diet that worked and we're now thin would make us happy--but that's like never the case. *LOL* I'll have to try this one too. :)

MsHellion said...

Q, I'm sorry my Hamlet soliloquies are not your thing. Yes, I would rather work with someone who would dive into a project rather than sit around and first discuss everything that could go wrong and talk me out of doing the project. Usually the project divers are ones who have had success before AND are not afraid of failure as a long-term thing. The Hamlet Perfectionists out in the audience can't handle that, and I frequently have to tell mine to chill the f*ck out so I can get some shit done. Afterward, when I was all successful, I'll go, "See, that wasn't so bad" and my Hamlet will say, "THIS time." It's like riding around with a killjoy. The only thing I think that truly shuts him up is life experience. The more I live and do stuff and come out okay, the less power Hamlet has, but if he gets you early enough in the day, he can turn the day into a nap. *shrugs*

I love audio books...they're the best. I need to check out more of them. I almost did the other day. Maybe I will tonight when I go to the library.

MsHellion said...

Janga, I know you have accomplished a lot more than you think. *LOL* We'd all like to write the kind of brilliance you toss away, let alone what you keep... *LOL*

I was telling Deerhunter that I had to toss out about five pages and he was scandalized. "THROW THEM AWAY! You didn't keep them in their own file? You can't just THROW THINGS AWAY! What if you could have used them somewhere else?" So then I had to reassure him that my idea of throwing something away WAS moving it into another folder of scrap writing. Bless his heart. Man kills me.

You do read a lot--and I do imagine scaling back at least that .3 would crank you out some pages. :) We'll make the sacrifice of your great reviews in order for the prospect of reading something awesome you wrote instead. :)

MsHellion said...

P.S. My work computer is being hauled away to be "exchanged and fixed" and I have two long-ass meetings today. So I'll probably be checking in after work on these. You guys have a great day!! Be kind!

Marnee Bailey said...

Ugh. I wrote a long thing and then I accidentally hit the back key and deleted it.

I think the gist of it was that we as writers have to be honest with ourselves. There are times when some plot twist is at the edge of my consciousness but I can't get it yet. So I read or I clean something or do some project. But there are times when I do those same things (reading, crafting, etc) when I'm avoiding what I have to write next.

There are plenty of excuses I make to avoid. Like, "I'm not emotionally ready to write that" or "It just needs to gel a little more." Sometimes I have so much going on in my life that I can't make myself focus.

But I think it's important to learn the difference, ya know?

MsHellion said...

Marn, yes, I think this is very true--sometimes you are staring into space and working--and then other times you're just staring into space. *LOL*

I think my problem with this particular story is I usually like to be in Adam's or Lucy's POV, but rarely Eve's. I think because Eve hits too much of a nerve, you know? So it stalls out easier and I end up writing something in Adam's POV until I can write something in Eve. :)

Janga said...

I don't know if anyone else does this, but I find that I sometimes need to write scenes that I know will not be in the book in order to write a scene the story needs. This is true both of back story scenes and off-stage scenes. I consider these scenes writing because they are a vital part of my process.

Terri Osburn said...

It's all writing! I know for me, things totally changed when I switched from saying "If" to "When I get published." I had to put it out there and though it took repeating, I had to believe it down to my toes.

Believing really is 90% of the battle. Or so I believe.

My writer brain totally shut down after I finished the rough and I got worried because she literally TURNED OFF. No new ideas floating around. No scenes playing out. No character chattering as usual.

Radio. Silence. But after a week, she turned back on. Lesson learned. Once again, trust the process. If the process includes a nap now and then, but you wake thinking about a scene, then that's just how it works.

Terri Osburn said...

Janga - I think I did that with the first book I wrote (the one I never finished) but I haven't done it since. My problem is that I leave out scenes I should have written. So I'm kind of the opposite.

Marnee Bailey said...

I agree that it's all part of the process. And I think everyone's process looks different. Half the battle of writing is learning your own personal process. What works for me might be the kiss of death to one of you gals. It's all about finding your fit.

I do think that the whole WHEN you publish thing is important too. I feel like having that out there, no matter when it is out there, is key to remaining inspired and motivated. As in, this is just another bump on the road until I publish. I'm learning something. And Ter reminded me this weekend that things happen when they're ready to happy. It's so cliche but all of this happens for a reason. We're learning as we go.

MsHellion said...

Gotta be careful where you put your if's.

It's IF you should fail, but it's WHEN you publish. *LOL* Context is always important. *LOL*

And I love how Terri panicked after a WEEK of silence.

Terri Osburn said...

When you only have SIX weeks before deadline, a week is like one sixth of your life!

Maureen said...

Well, the trick about the when you publish is the truth...no guarantee you will be a great success or that it will make you happy. If you count on it to make you happy, then it doesn't deliver...you just set yourself up for another 'when' ... When I sell X-number of books, when I am nominated for X-award, when my book is optioned for a movie. When...when...when...

You gotta work on happiness from within and not from outside.

I just don't think I should allowed to read big books anymore unless everything I've set myself to do is done. Even small books can be dangerous... It's like when a program is on TV and you own the DVD, but once you start watching it you can't turn it off, even though you own the DVD and could watch it anytime!

I swear, I'm like a magpie with something shiny!

Terri Osburn said...

Just to be clear, I never tied getting published to being happy. But if you want something, then you go after it. And believing you can reach the goal plays a big part in making it happen.

What you're talking about sounds more like how we define success. That is a totally different blog topic, and one I am NOT going near!

Maureen said...

True, but success the same for happiness for some people. It's something I struggle with. I think success is a trigger word for me...

MsHellion said...

You had SIX weeks to revise, not write your third book...be cool. Yeesh.

MsHellion said...

Mo, well, I'm not sure I can imagine myself being published yet. *shrugs* Even if it *will* happen, but yes, you have to work on your happiness from another angle. Becoming Nora Roberts won't necessarily make you happy; it'll just make you busy as hell...and I'm sure she gets her share of letters listing every editor fail and misspelling and how her plot was completely implausible.... The woman must have moments where she isn't completely happy with her writing. *LOL* She just has more experience to know better.

We all just need to work on creating more experience for ourselves, instead of drawing out one experience forever. Okay, that's just me...but whatever it is you need to do, do it.

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