How to silence your inner writing critic

frustrated writerA friend of mine was telling me about a young writer she knows who was having some serious doubts about her writing. Man, do I know how that feels! I think any of us who have discovered the joy of writing have also discovered the weight of it, too.

A few years back I wrote Reclaim Your Creative Soul, a book that offers tips on how to organize your inner and outer life so you can make room for writing or other creative projects. One chapter specifically deals with conquering that inner voice of doubt, so I decided to share it in its entirety.

Reclaim Your Creative Soul
Chapter 5  ~ Treat Yourself

Our worst enemy can often be ourselves. We’re the first person to find fault in our appearance, doubt our abilities, and assume everyone is better than us. When I look back at some of the things I’ve said about myself— you’re fat, other authors are so much better at this than you, no one wants to hear what you have to say, you’re not as smart as your coworkers, your book sucks, you could never pull off that look, no one likes you…. I would never say anything like that to other people. So, why do I think it’s okay to say those things to myself?

We, as artists, are probably the hardest on ourselves. It’s so easy to bash what we’ve created, even when other people recognize the magnificence of our creation. But with art comes a sort of madness, and many of us are on the verge of throwing in the towel, certain that someone is going to discover that we’re just a hack who’s pretending to get by. Anytime we think we have something figured out, our inner critic (let’s call it “Marge,” and give her a smoker’s voice, just for kicks) comes breezing in, pointing out every flaw and imperfection. If we dare to make our art public, it gets worse. We build our worth on the feedback from others, and believe we are only as good as the reviews we receive. As soon as a bad review comes in, even one that’s only slightly negative, “Marge” repeats that criticism so we’re sure to take notice. Soon, all we hear is that bad review. It’s almost like every other good thing that was said about our art was never said at all.

There’s something I need to tell you. You are a brilliant human being with a soul too big to be contained. This is why you are an artist. Your art is your way of sharing your expanding soul with the world. If art brings you fulfillment, it’s because you were meant to be an artist. People find joy in your creations, and this world would be bland without them.

But even saying that, I recognize that the only way you will ever be able to let go of “Marge” (or to at least learn to contain that saucy wench) is if you learn to fall in love with yourself.

You guys, things are about to get mushy in here. You’ve been warned.

The first step is to stop slamming yourself. Right this very moment, I want you to promise me that you’ll make a valiant effort to stop negativity in its tracks, especially if it’s not helpful. The moment that “Marge” pipes in with unsolicited feedback, I want you to kindly tell her that you don’t need her help right now, and you’re doing just fine on your own. You need to be stronger than feisty old “Marge,” and let her know who the boss is.

Of course, dominating your inner critic is near impossible, unless you have the right tools in your belt. In this case, the right tools would be solid proof that you are perfectly capable as an artist—the things you are good at doing, the characteristics you possess that draw people in, the training or life experiences you’ve had that contribute to your expertise, the products of your creativity…. This list is as long as the talents, experiences, products and values you can claim as your own.

So, what are those things for you? The only way you can know is if you list out each of these items, adding them to a list of brag-worthy things about you. Don’t be shy, it’s not like you need to show this list to anyone. In this moment, give yourself permission to be proud of yourself. Are you nice? Are you funny? Put those on there. How about if you’re organized? Or maybe you’re like me and rock an ironclad budget. Add those skills to your list. If you run out of things, consider asking other people like your spouse or your best friend. There’s no shame in it. After all, you’d do the same for them, wouldn’t you?

Once you’ve finalized your list, study it. Memorize it. Own it. This is YOUR list. You are good at these things. This list contains the very reasons why you are wonderful, talented, unique, and completely capable. And when “Marge” comes back from her smoke break to give you an earful, kindly hold up your list and remind her that you’ve got this. Then tell her to go home.

So now that you love yourself, it’s time to take yourself out on date (I warned you about the mushiness). Yes. I am seriously telling you to date yourself. This might feel a little uncomfortable, but bear with me.

I first learned the power of taking myself on a date in the early months of my divorce. I was new at being single, and discovering that I wasn’t very good at it. Ever since I had started dating in my teen years, I had always been coupled up with someone. So being single was entirely new to me. And being single with kids? I was definitely not good at this.

As I told you in the beginning of this book, I lived with my parents in those early months, and spent a good portion of that time recovering from my failed marriage in a fetal position on the couch. But sometimes my parents would give me a night off from my depression by urging me to leave the house and do something for myself. Therefore, I’d go out.

Problem is, I was not very much fun to hang out with in my state of melancholy. I didn’t want to burden any of my friends with my Eeyore attitude. I also didn’t know what to do with myself. So I did the only thing I could think of.

I went to the bookstore.

The first several times I got a night to myself, this was where I always ended up. Here, I was surrounded by good friends. Anne Lamott, Alice Sebold, Maya Angelou, Liz Gilbert, Ernest Hemingway, Tim Farrington…. I loved the smell of the bookstore, the feel of books in my hands, the colorful covers, and the even more colorful stories. I’d grab a hot chocolate from the café, and then I’d spend the evening perusing the aisles until the store was ready to close.

Eventually, these dates with myself went to the next level. That’s right folks, it was time for dinner and a movie.

On this special evening, I took myself out to an ethnic restaurant on the other side of town. I didn’t even flinch when I told the waitress, “One, please.” Inside, I was sure every eye was on me. But outwardly, I acted as if going out to eat by myself was no big thing.

Admittedly, it was a little awkward to sit at the table with no one in front of me. There was no one to talk to, or even to look at. I ate my dinner in silence, trying not to look around too much. I think I even brought a book to bide my time. Couples and families surrounded me, and it was apparent that I was the only single dining that night.

But you know what? As I ate, things started feeling a little less awkward. I realized I had somewhat of an advantage. I didn’t have to make conversation if I didn’t want to. I could fully enjoy my meal, focusing on each bite one at a time. No one was watching me. No one even cared that I was eating alone. I could order what I wanted, eat at my own pace, and just enjoy my own company.

After dinner, I walked next door to the movie theater and chose the movie I wanted to watch. Going by myself, I knew which movies it would not be—no action movies, no government schemes, no horror, no car chases. Without a date, I didn’t have to worry about coordinating tastes at all in my movie choice.

“One for ‘Garden State,’ please,” I told the person at the ticket counter.

Once inside and seated, couples surrounded me once again. But when the lights dimmed, it didn’t matter. Even more, I realized just how awesome it is to go to the movies alone. I laughed aloud at the funny parts. And when things got sad, I cried without shame. There was no one there who would see my tears, so I had a really great therapy session right there in the middle of the movie theater. It was cathartic. It was liberating. And it was the best date I’d been on in my life.

Isn’t it time you got some quality time with yourself? How about just straight-up pampering yourself, whether alone or not? There are so many things you can do. You could take yourself out for a healthy meal. You can go get a massage. You can play mini golf. You can…. Well, you can do one of these fifteen things, all under $20.

  • Take a bubble bath with bath salts and scented candles.
  • Enjoy a night in with a good book. Bonus if it includes a cozy drink and fuzzy socks.
  • Take yourself out to lunch and a matinee.
  • Buy yourself flowers. Throw in a small box of chocolates if you want to feel extra special.
  • Purchase a new magazine and read it in the park.
  • Get all Zen at a yoga class.
  • Go for a bike ride in the country. Don’t have a bike? Bike rentals are cheaper than you think.
  • Check out the animals at the zoo.
  • Learn something new at the museum.
  • Be inspired at an art gallery.
  • Visit with a friend you haven’t seen in a while.
  • Host a friend’s night in.
  • Be a tourist in your own town and check out the sights.
  • Get more sleep. Sleep in, take a nap, or go to bed early.
  • Make time for your significant other.

Now that you’re feeling all gushy about yourself, it’s time to commit. What I mean is to take a whole entire day off for yourself. If you can swing it, take a whole entire weekend.

My friend, Molly Kurland, is a successful massage therapist in the area we live, and the author of Successful Strokes: A Realistic Guide to Creating a Lucrative Massage Business. Her job as a masseuse demands a lot of her time and energy. Home life is no less energetic. Her family recently adopted two new puppies that have now reached the high-energy stage of teenagerhood. On top of that, Molly is working on writing and other creative endeavors. There just isn’t much down time. So once a month, Molly kisses her family goodbye and heads for a weekend getaway in the nearby seaside town of Gualala. Here, there is no Internet, no TV, no phone calls, nothing. There’s just her, a private room, a hot tub, and time to spend any way she wants. Sometimes she uses this free time just to read a good book. Sometimes it’s when she gets her best writing in. Sometimes it’s just a chance to breathe in silence. Molly has told me that this solo getaway is her key to happiness, and the way she ensures she can be fully present for her job and family when she’s home. She’s made it a priority to do this at least once a month.

We should all make it a priority to get away from it all on a regular basis. Just as I spelled out in chapters 1 and 4, it’s so important to take a break from the busy part of life and just be still for a moment. It’s especially important for our art so that we can unclutter our minds and create with an unencumbered soul. While taking a weekend away isn’t possible for everyone, most of us are able to take a day off, maybe even a few hours.

After all, YOU are important. Now treat yourself that way.

CHALLENGE YOURSELF

Baby Step: It’s time to write that list! Get out a pen and paper and write down all the things you’re good at, the things about you that make you wonderful, and anything else that’s positive about you. Enlist the help of your family and friends to make sure you have a complete list. Once you’re done, hold on to that list. Then refer to it any time you feel doubt or criticism start to creep in.

Level Up: Take yourself out on a date—just you. Note how it feels to spend time by yourself in a crowd of people. Does it feel weird? Are there any benefits? Could you see yourself doing this more than just this once? Write about the experience when you’re done.

Be Hardcore: Go away for the weekend. If that’s too difficult, strive for just a day. But leave town by yourself so that you can spend some time getting to know YOU.

If you’d like to purchase the whole book, you can find it here.

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The story behind “Reclaim Your Creative Soul”

Last week, I was honored to speak to a group of people from my church about Reclaim Your Creative Soul, the book I published earlier this year about making more time for creativity. I began by telling them about my journey toward that book, and then I shared a quick rundown of the necessary steps to varying types of organization—both body, mind, and the space around them—so that their craft can be a priority.

This book is very personal to me. It shares many of the things I’ve come to know in my journey as a writer. I lay out the details of my writing practice, and the different ways I’ve created order in certain areas of my life to free me from distraction and allow me to focus on my craft. But more than that, it shares the spiritual journey I took toward actually writing this book. I’d like to share that with you here.

In August of 2015, I reached my breaking point. My writing was suffering because I felt like I had no creativity left in the tank. My eating habits were out of control, which resulted in weight gain, lack of energy, and a feeling of gross worthlessness. I felt overextended at my job, which was eating away at me even when I wasn’t on the clock. The successful writing career I thought I was going to have was nowhere to be seen. I actually felt like my desire to be a writer was a curse, because everything I wanted was so out of reach, and I was sure I’d be chained to being a 9-5 worker for the rest of my life.

That August, I reached a point where I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like this huge weight on my chest was consuming me. I knew if I didn’t do anything about it, I was going to go off the deep end. Something needed to change, I just didn’t know HOW. So I did the only thing I could think of doing. I took a day off from everything to focus solely on the three areas of my life that were consuming me the most: my career, my health, and my creativity.

I called this day my “soul retreat.”

During that day, I spent time with God, addressing each area that plagued me and seeking answers on what I could be doing better. I not only came away with these answers, I also received a better understanding of who I was, my worth as God’s creation, and my purpose as a creative person. I gained clarity I was unable to reach before. Most of all, I learned how to breathe again.

(I explain what happened in full detail in my book, and also in an earlier entry of this blog)

At the time, I didn’t know I was going to write this book. But the seeds began to sprout on the day I took my soul retreat. A few months later, I began laying out the bones of Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The Secrets to Organizing Your Life to Make Room for Your Craft. At face value, it was my answer to those around me who wondered how I was able to write books while holding a full-time job, raising a family, and everything else that kept me so busy. But more than that, it was a love letter to myself and those who needed to hear this message: The two biggest obstacles between you and what feeds your soul is fear and a feeling of unworthiness. More than following my guidelines toward structure and organization, my hope is that readers will began to believe they are worthy of contributing their creativity to the world, and that the world NEEDS this creativity.

Don’t get me wrong, the struggle I felt in August is not something that just magically went away . I still reach moments of overwhelm and an inability to focus. Right now, as I’ve rearranged my life to include college courses, I can feel that same weight bearing down on me. But whenever I feel this way, it’s when I know I need to pause and reevaluate where I’m at, where I’m going, and what I need to do to get there. And because of this book, I have a reminder on what needs to happen so that I can keep going.

If you are in a place where your creative life feels out of reach, I encourage you to pick up Reclaim Your Creative Soul and start working the steps toward creative freedom. Writing this book changed my life. I hope reading it changes yours.

Just published ~ Reclaim Your Creative Soul

3 years ago this month (March 16, 2013, to be exact), I published my very first book. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I had big visions of everything I would do with the millions I would be raking in.

Obviously, I am still working on reaching millionaire status. I did, however, accomplish my #1 goal in life—I wrote and published a book.

Today, I have published my 7th book. And I did it while holding a full-time job, raising a family, volunteering with my church and my writing group, and still having a life.

I’m not saying this to brag. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my accomplishments. But more than that, I am adamant that if I can write 7 books in 3 years while carrying on a full-time life, so can you.

Many people have asked how I am able to write books while living such a busy life. I keep hearing, “I hope I can do that someday.”

Why not make someday TODAY?

In Reclaim Your Creative Soul, I share the secrets to adding creativity back into your life, even if you feel more than busy. If you wish you had the time for your art, then know that I wrote this book for you. And because I don’t want anything to stand in your way of reading this book, I am offering a discounted price TODAY ONLY.

Kindle is 99 cents.

Print is $10.95.

Purchase your copy at bit.ly/creativesoulbook.

Thank you! And I’m so excited to hear about all the creative things you’re about to accomplish!

The countdown is on for release day!

Last August, I felt like the walls were caving in on me. I was busier than I had ever been, work was crazy hectic, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. There were days when I’d be driving to work, and the temptation to miss my exit and keep driving was overwhelming. I needed an escape. I wanted to hide. I wished that time would just stop so I could catch up.

What I really needed was a day of rest, a break from all the hectic parts of my life so that I could refocus and figure out where I was going in my life.

I ended up taking a personal soul retreat, which I wrote about here. The result was life-changing. Not only did I come away from this experience with sense of peace and a lot of clarity, I also found the inspiration for a much-needed book I had been wanting to write for a while.

reclaim tableOn Tuesday, March 15, Reclaim Your Creative Soul will be released to the world. In it, I share tips and secrets to creating order to the ordinary parts of life so that artists can find more time for creativity. My hope is that people who lead busy lives — whether full-time employees, parents, or just busy people in general — will find the inspiration they need to place a priority on their creative life, without taking away from the mandatory parts of their life. Basically, I was writing to those artists, writers, and other creative people who can’t quit their day job or their families, but still want to feel fulfilled by their art. I want to help eliminate the excuses leading to why there’s no time for art, and promote empowerment that yes, you can be an artist while leading a full, productive life.

You can pre-order it today, but it’s better to wait until March 15th when I will be offering special pricing for both Print and Kindle.

Before I sign off, I had to brag about the fact that Reclaim Your Creative Soul was mentioned in our local newspaper, the Press Democrat, today. Check it out!

reclaim newspaper.jpg

I know I work there, but that really only makes it harder to be covered in the newspaper. So to have my book mentioned is pretty cool. 🙂

Final note – the beginning of this article mentions the Sonoma County Local Author Showcase. If you’re local to Sonoma County, I invite you to head on over to the Rohnert Park-Cotati Regional Library on April 2. I’ll be there, as well a bunch of other extremely talented local authors. If you go, make sure you stop by my table and say hi!

The messy blending of a … story

About a week or so ago I announced that I believed I was done with the rough draft of Prelude to Forever, the story of how Rachel and John met and fell in love before A Symphony of Cicadas. Having planned on this book being a novelette, I was satisfied with the shorter length, and the place I would leave off at. I hand-wrote the whole rough draft of the book, and have been spending the time since that announcement retyping everything I wrote. It’s been an arduous process, though somewhat satisfying as I am able to edit as I go, creating a much cleaner version of what I’ve been writing. And the story is evolving slightly, adding a few interesting layers to characters and their situations.

Of course, a few details I’d planned have changed too. In doing so, I have opened the door to continuing the story beyond what I have already written – meaning this might be more of a full-length novel than a novelette. The original story was just going to focus on John and Rachel’s romance. But now I am expanding to what it’s like to blend a family – all the messy and awkward parts of it.

Thing is, this is a scary thing to write about, mostly because it hits so close to home. When I had first planned on writing this story, the family blending was the biggest reason why. But slowly I started to phase that part out. I see now it’s because writing about it would make me have to face things in my own home that were uncomfortable or unpleasant.

I see step-families all around me, and some of them act as if blending their family was the most natural thing in the world. The others act as if their stepchildren were spawn of the devil. Our family is somewhere in the middle, where things are neither terrible or all that great. There are some days where it feels like our family is just cruising along, and everything is going like clockwork. And there are other days when we’ve never felt more disjointed. Both my husband and I have a mental list going on how much better the other person’s child would have been if we’d raised them with our opposite ideals. Our children have a mental list of why their stepparent is weird and unapproachable. And the list of inequities on all sides is a mile long.

And then there are the little surprises, like the other day when my teenage stepson greeted me with a heartfelt hug when I came home from work – the second or third hug we’ve shared in the six-and-a-half years we’ve known each other…and it made me so happy I did all his chores for him.

Today I was listening to a podcast on writing, and the subject was about the creative process. The point in it was to put energy towards the things you’re excited about. If a project is draining you, it might be time to set it down and walk away. It may be the wrong project.

Listening to this, I realized how draining this story is to me right now. And all day long I’ve been mulling over whether it’s time to set this down and start on something new. It’s tempting – there’s one project I’ve placed on the back burner that I’m itching to dive into. But I’ve also realized that I’m struggling with this story because it’s edging a place in my own life that’s difficult to write about. As I get closer to that part of the story, the temptation to walk away from the book grows.

So for now, I’m sticking with the story. I’m not sure how many people will actually be affected whether I write this story or not, but I realize I need to at least try. There still might come a day when I decide I need to put this down for my own sanity. But for now, I’m going to let Rachel, John, Joey, and Sam share their story through me, and maybe even offer a few answers towards my own messy family.