“The higher a monkey climbs, the more exposed is his backside.” ―Jamaican Proverb

I know that Writing is Hard, but what I sometimes forget is that it is humiliating too. This is especially true the more you write and the better you get at it because now people are actually reading your work! They are giving you feedback! And they have opinions. So many opinions. And you have to fight against those opinions or accept them or shut them out. And it is hard work.

But, as with anything, the thing that keeps me sane is to remember that everyone feels exposed like this, even the best writers I know. Here is a gem from an interview with Sabaa Tahir:

Washington Post: Where did you get the confidence to go forward with your idea?

Sabaa Tahir: I didn’t have a lot of confidence. It was almost like it was stubbornness more than anything else. If you are willing to sit down and spend time on a story and make it work, no matter how unconfident you are on the surface, deep down somewhere you think this story is worth telling [so it’s] worth the effort, the blood, the sweat, the tears, the embarrassment, the humiliation.

And even if its total schadenfreude, I got a secret thrill out of reading that. By writing and by exposing my truth, I too am engaged in this act of bravery, armored with the feeling that even if my words fail me, even if they expose me, even if they humiliate me, the point of what I’m trying to say is so important that it will protect me. Though with every word + word, with every request for feedback, I reveal more for public scrutiny, I am also closer to expressing my truth.

That makes it worth it.

That’s what makes us writers.

The Politics of Dancing

My mother in law says she doesn’t discuss politics with her friends. Okay, is it weird to start anything with ‘my mother in law says’? I know, it is, but bear with me.

She asked me about the book I was writing, the book which I finished (for realz this time) two days ago. When I told her just a *few* of the topics—immigration, LGBTQ identity, love, sisters—she wondered if it was necessary to be political in a book.

My mom in law is AWESOME, I want you to know. And she wasn’t being judgmental at all. She really wanted to know: should politics be in books? Wouldn’t that alienate some readers?

It’s a good question but the way I see it, an unnecessary question. There are no politics in anything I write. There ARE people. And people plus people equals politics. Ideas cause politics. Life causes politics. A separation of politics from life isn’t possible. Or I guess it is, but I don’t think it makes for good books.

Politics IS sort of an icky word, TBH, sounding sterile and, well ‘removable’. But change the word politics to beliefs. Change it to values. Change it to how you want to care for the world and for each other. THAT should be in every book you write.

And what does that have to do with dancing? Nothing. I just like this song.

Writing with Friends

We all know it–that fog we go into the minute our manuscript transforms from a tiny shapeless embryo blob into a magical creation with a life of its own. Suddenly our WIP has plot lines and characters and–ooh baby!–did our protagonist just show some sass?

We soon find that the only thing we care about is writing. Word counts creep up. Pages go from single to double to–oh god–TRIPLE digits. Our manuscript is a living, breathing thing, and all we want to do is to keep writing. Forever and ever and ever . . .

It is so damned easy to live in that WIP Black Hole forever, and with good reason. There, we are surrounded only by characters of our own creation. No one tells us our plot has holes in it, or that our sentences are cliche. Our manuscript is perfect. It is loved. WE are loved.

But, as much as you don’t want to, you need to get out of this WIP Black Hole. Here’s why:

(1) It is not sustainable to stop exercising, eat only peanut butter, sleep four hours a night, and to have blisters on both of your thumbs so you can only tap the spacebar at your peril. You are going to burn out. And be unhealthy.

(2) Your book is meant to be read. So you need to show it to people. As you’re writing. Before it’s ready. Before you know what it even is really. You need to see what people think. The fear is that this destroys your creativity (people *sniffle* told me *sniffle* my writing was baaaaad!), but it doesn’t stifle anything of the sort. When these conversations go well (and getting feedback is a conversation!), they offer you new perspectives on your work, exciting ones, that will only make you a better writer.

(3) Say the best thing in the world happens and your book is published, and it is on that bookshelf at B&N and there you are, at your folding table, Sharpie in-hand, ready to start signing. No one, at this point, will have read your book. And no one will want to buy it. So you are going to be holding that Sharpie aloft for a long time, and you are going to sign five copies.

UNLESS your readers already know you. Unless you contribute to their blogs. Unless you review their books. Unless you give ’em a damned retweet now and again. And that brings me to the final, most important reason why you need to re-enter the world and don’t become totally, can’t-think-of-anything-but-writing kind of writer:

(4) You have a responsibility to the people around them. To love them. To pay attention to the things they care about. To support other writers just as much as (you hope) they will someday support you. It’s not a strategic thing, folks, it’s a human thing. It’s a part of being a good writer member of the writing community. Because writing is hard and the pay is terrible and everyone who tries it–no matter their success–deserves your kindness. And your re-tweets.

THE SEVEN THINGS WRITERS FEAR

Ha ha. Made you look. There are way more than seven. But lets start with these:

  1. Writing. Writing is scary. If you commit words to a page there’s a chance that those words can be a steaming pile of crap. Crappy words = crappy writer.
    But! If you just write ‘in your head’, sit in a café and watching YouTube, if you spend time reading writing magazines, advice columns and following writers on twitter (none of this is bad in itself, of course) you will procrastinate the hell out of your writing career! You’ll never be a crappy writer! You’ll never be a writer either, tho.
  2. Blank Page. When I was a kid I tried to keep a diary. (All the cool kids were doing it. We were also all rollerskating to Crazy Train.) But seeing my terrible handwriting, the blue ink from my erasable PaperMates pen smearing across the page – it just stopped the flow. The snowy expanse of the white page is intimidating. It’s already perfect (if you like all that bland whiteness) you’re just going to smudge it up with your boring, oft-repeated words. Why bother? Because telepathy hasn’t been invented yet. And the best way to get your ideas to another person – maybe even the best way to get those ideas clearly to yourself – is to write them.
  3. Not Writing the write Right way. Grammar, spelling, usage —the building blocks of writing is are scary. I am scared of grammar when I write in Spanish. I didn’t go to school learning that language. So when I try to figure out what is grammatically correct in Spanish, I run to my sources (Google. Spanish-English Dictionary. My sister.) So I get that it’s hard when you are afraid of looking stupid. But if you are afraid of looking stupid, why are you trying to do something creative? Creative professions demand you risk looking stupid. It’s a requirement. Grammar should be the least of your fears. (Mwah-ha-ha!)
  4. Idea Theft. I don’t completely understand this one, but I know a lot of would-be writers are afraid of this. The thinking goes a little like this: I have this world-shatteringly original idea for a dystopian love story between two animatronic Dodo birds. But I don’t want to share it with a writing group, or a writing partner, or a crit partner because they will steal my idea! Idea stealing does happen, I hear (I haven’t had it happen to me or anyone I know personally) but here’s the thing. If you are a writer, ideas are your bricks. They are your tools. They aren’t the thing itself. Do you know how many books feature wizards, dragons and elves? I don’t know either, but a TON. Yet, there is only one HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE. What matters is what you DO with the ideas you have. No one can write your idea the way you can. No one has the history, memories, perspective and voice that you do. Ideas are great, but you should be working on cultivating dozens of ideas, on a regular basis, not concentrating on protecting one precioussss.
  5. Failing/Getting Rejected. Don’t worry about this one. Seriously. You WILL get rejected. So, no fear.
  6. Seriously, you’re still thinking about Failing and Rejections, right? WHY? Accept that failing is just like waiting in line at the DMV or at the Starbucks. It. Will. Happen. And you will recover. Each failure is a mini-lesson that will ensure you fail in a whole different way next time. So if you want to think of failing as a sort of ‘dues’ paying, go ahead. That’s what it is. My neighbor sends her kids out in the summer to play barefoot so they’ll get their ‘summer’ feet – good old calloused feet perfect for climbing trees, doing cartwheels and walking, unbothered, on gravel. You need to get summer feet for your writing feelings. Okay, that’s a really awkward sentence. Fail. But you get the idea.
  7. Wasting time. Finally! A genuine fear. Wasting time. Don’t do it. Commit to writing in whatever way you want to this year and DO. IT. We don’t have all the time in the world. We don’t even have all the time we think we should. Should you be writing right now? YES. Go away. And write. You got this.