Shadowboxing

Shadows.  Areas where light cannot penetrate, when obstructed by an object. That part of ourselves that we repress and try to bury, reluctant to admit that it exists at all. Why do I bring this up?

I came face-to-face with my own today. And I was disturbed, to say the least. Generally, I like to think of myself as a good, decent, and relatively soft-hearted person. Someone who tries to do what’s right, and sticks up for the underdog.

The problem is, people like that don’t write the things I put down on paper today…or do they? According to Jung, “in spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness—or perhaps because of this—the shadow is the seat of creativity.” Okay, I suppose I can buy that, although I’m still uneasy with it.

I wrote this piece, a short story about demons and demon possession, specifically for a particular anthology. I was trying to disturb the reader, to shake them up, but I didn’t expect to feel it myself. And in turn, about myself. We all have the persona, or mask, that we show to the world, reserving our truest selves for our most intimate relationships; and, I would argue, there’s always some part of us that we never share. For me, a lot of that is shadow material, some of which spilled over today into my conscious and even public life, a dark earthquake sending out temblors to rattle my self-image.

And how others see me. I’m quite good at keeping my and others’ secrets, and I can’t say whether that’s fortunate or not, because secrecy is sometimes essential to preserving trust. People used to tell me things, you see, and they often weren’t very nice things–but that’s what I signed up for, when I did counseling. I worry about someone, perhaps a former client or current friend/family member, reading what I’ve created, seeing my darkness, and wondering how in God’s name they ever thought I was a good person to have any sort of relationship with. Because in every story I write, there’s some part of me being brought into the light.

Jung wrote that “everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” So I suppose that by writing this story and presenting it to others, making it conscious, I’ve let a little more light into the blacker depths of my psyche. In any case, I’m being honest. And I believe that’s truly important when writing, just like it was when I was doing counseling (although I think I’m more honest now), because it improves the instrument I’m working with–me.

So although I’m doing a little shadowboxing today and fussing over what that means, I don’t think I’ll be stuffing that part back down anytime soon. Stretching the boundaries of the self might be painful and letting the darkness out into the light scary, but I agree with what Shrek says after belching: “Better out than in, I always say.”

Ogres are so wise.

Disciplinary actions will be taken

Discipline. Self-control or orderly conduct, according to the ancient Webster’s New World Dictionary residing on my bookshelf. Extremely useful when you’re a writer, and something that I have trouble with on more than one occasion. As one of my friends has said more than once when we play D & D, “You rack the disciprine.”

Martial-arts movie quotes aside, he may be on to something there. Writing does require discipline–you have to make yourself sit in the chair at the computer/typewriter/paper, for starters. You must then put words on the page to get an idea across, and edit what you produce, if you’re at all conscientious. A market or agent must be selected and the work sent out, and tracked. Even when you’re successful, there’s correspondence and marketing and selling to be done. Without discipline, the process breaks down.

I think my error has been on two fronts–believing that the process should always be easy and fun (which it sometimes isn’t), and that it should only occur when “inspiration” or “the mood” strikes me. I know these ideas are unhelpful and detrimental to getting things accomplished, and yet they persist. The truth of it is, writing can be hard work. Notice how this addresses both fallacious ideas in one fell swoop.

So what can we do? Show up, for starters. Put your butt in the chair and grab something to write with. Set yourself a goal, whether it’s a particular length of time or word count, and do your darnedest to achieve it. A word of caution, here–don’t try to make yourself do 10 pages or 4 hours straight, because you’re setting yourself up for failure and even more problems down the turnpike. Make it easy to achieve, so that you get that feeling of pride and confidence and WANT to do more! If you chronically over-schedule and pressure yourself to complete Herculean tasks, come up with a goal and then cut it in half. Yes, you heard me right, you overachieving perfectionists! Foster a feeling of confidence and trust in yourself, so that when writing is difficult or you don’t “feel” like it, those feelings and the good habit of consistently writing will carry you through the rough patches.

And do try to inject a little fun into it, if you’re struggling with getting started! I hate the thought of anyone white-knuckling it as they grimly peck out each joyless word. Play music, have desk toys to stimulate your creativity, and let yourself follow up on that idea that simply captivates you right now. Be silly, be zany, be gross, but be certain that discipline does NOT mean the absence of fun and individuality. Self-control does not mean you’ll be bringing the iron curtain down and running yourself like a totalitarian regime (besides, no one, not even me, would buy me as a dictator of any kind). We get to write, remember? It’s a privilege, not a duty.

So look upon “disciprine” as the doorway to greater fun, productivity, and rewards of all kinds. Even we flaky writer-types need a little now and then…in moderation, of course.

Pro/crastination ≠ pro/ductive

Hi, my name’s Michele and I’m a Procrastinator. There, I’ve gone and done it, haven’t I? Taken an actual step toward facing one of my worst personal demons. I might call him Mr. Noitanitsarcorp, because trying to work with him inhabiting my soul is like working in reverse (and it’s kind of a cool demon name, you know?). How to exorcise a demon of this particular ilk? By discovering what powers him–and for me, that’s fear.

Fear is an extremely powerful human emotion and is quite constructive under many circumstances, except when it prevents you from being productive and prolific. Procrastination is one manifestation of fear, although there might be other reasons a writer puts things off or makes excuses not to write, submit, network, or promote his or her work.

So if you find yourself not sitting down at your computer/typewriter/laptop and not writing/editing/submitting/answering correspondence, stop for a moment and listen to what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling. Are you scared? Bored? Frustrated? Write down the thoughts and reasons that might be contributing to those feelings, then address them.

Do you hear yourself saying “I’ll never make it,” “no one gets my writing,” “it’ll take too long to get a career going,” “what if I fail?” or other negative statements? Fight back! Talk back to that pessimistic voice–“I will make it,” “I believe in my work and so do others,” “doing what I love is worth the time I spend,” and “I will succeed!” Short, sweet, and positive–make it your mantra and thumb your nose at that cranky, grumpy, fearful, uninspired part of yourself.

A few excellent resources are “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron and “A Writer’s Space” by Eric Maisel. These two books can assist you in recovering your creativity, productivity, and self-confidence using a variety of helpful exercises and techniques. And if you need additional help, don’t be afraid to seek it out–during my years of training in psychology, I went to counseling and found it quite helpful in rediscovering my most passionate dreams and working to achieve them.

Moral of the story: well, I try not to moralize! But seriously, if you love writing and creating, don’t let anything stand in your way. Identify what’s getting in your way and remove it however you need to (although anyone who’s not a Mythbuster or trained professional should steer clear of high explosives). May you be pro/lific and pro/ductive!

War of the Worlds: Frontlines has arrived!

A few days ago I received my contributor’s copy of War of the Worlds: Frontlines. Came at the best time, too, because I had a terrible day at work and wanted nothing more than to go home, shut the front door, and collapse in front of the TV set for a few minutes. Healthy and constructive, no. Quick and easy, yes.

But there it was, a small book-sized package waiting for me on the front porch. And I knew instantly what it was, dropped my satchel and tote and purse and simply ran from car to house to rip it open (carefully, oh so carefully, mustn’t damage the long-awaited prize) with mildly trembling hands.

Beautiful. Glossy cover, elegant font, and my name in the table of contents. MY name, you understand? Turning the pages, there was my story, “Tequila Sunset,” on page 150. Sounds silly to say, but I was goggling over having something I created in an actual, real, professional-looking book that other people will read. Maybe they’ll like it, maybe they won’t, but if even one person gets it, that’s enough for me!

As a kid, I was a voracious reader. Couldn’t seem to get enough of sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and yes, even the occasional romance. I read the classics and I read complete and utter trash. Hell, I even read the backs of shampoo bottles (not that I’ve stopped, mind you)! There weren’t enough words in the world to fill me up. And now I get to feed others, which is a huge honor that I don’t take lightly.

I was listening/watching some clips on YouTube yesterday about writing and the whole business of it, and one author encouraged writers to think about why they want to write…to teach, to move, to stimulate thinking, to shock, to elevate? I thought about it and responded, “yes.” Maybe that’s not wise in this culture of marketing yourself and finding a niche, but then again, I really believe that successful writing involves using yourself as the tool. And I mean to achieve all of those things in the reader, maybe not all at once, maybe not every single time, but on the whole, that IS who I am. I trained to be a psychologist, so why wouldn’t all of those fit?

When I read my first published story, I see so clearly that writing from a place that’s solidly Who I Am and not catering to what’s Out There is working for me. I could chase after the latest pretty-vampire fad, but that’s not me. All I can say, gentle readers, is that many things become easier when you embrace yourself and your gifts (although many other things get more difficult, but that’s for another day). If you want a window into a little piece of my soul, think about picking up a copy of WotW: Frontlines and turning to the 14th story. And thanks for listening (watching) me ramble!

If you build it, will they come?

Today I’ve been thinking about marketing and advertising as I go about my morning tasks. That scene from “Field of Dreams” keeps popping up in my head–“If you build it, they will come.” It’d be nice if readers were like those baseball greats from the past who show up to play on this baseball diamond in the middle of Nowhere, Iowa, but corporeal entities stubbornly keep insisting that you do more to advertise. I don’t even know if anyone will read this post unless I get the word out that it exists.

When I worked as a grad assistant for Women’s Services at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, I was in charge of the programming and all the advertising that came with it. I did presentations to plug our workshops, flyers, posters, the whole traditional ad campaign thing. And there were a few times when NO ONE showed up, embarrassing and ineffective to say the least. Ugh, all that hard work for nothing!

The conclusion I’ve come to is that while I was wanting something from them (please please puh-LEESE come!), I wasn’t giving anything in return. The kiss of death when you want large groups of students to attend something! Large groups of anyone, really. What gets people to show up to things? It’s fun. There’s free food (not an option here). Everyone else is going. There’s free stuff. You like that person or their work, and maybe you’ll get their autograph or photo? In short, they’re offering YOU something valuable!

Takeaway lesson–offer your readers or visitors something useful or fun or cool. I like freebies and contests and swag as much as the next person and it motivates me, so why wouldn’t I give it away? So I am. Every month or so, I’m going to post free short stories on my site, and as I get things published, offer free swag or a free copy of the anthology or mag or book I’m in, maybe for those who visit and leave comments or get on my newsletter (when I have enough news, that is!). Part of me feels a little dirty using a carrot and stick to get traffic to my site, but hey, this ain’t Field of Dreams, folks. When I look at it sensibly, I can remember times that I’ve missed out on great artists and writers and musicians simply because I didn’t know about them. And that’s a shame, because we’re both losing out.

I’ll be posting my first short story on my website in the next day or so, and I’d love for you to swing by and play with me on my own Field of Dreams. Can’t wait to see you step out from between the rows of corn, bat in hand, and throw you the first pitch.

Have Patience…demand $5 million ransom

Patience. Not pushing the river. Letting go and letting God. Sounds good, doesn’t it? If only it was that easy! I seem to have spent what little I had during my training as a counselor. With my first published short story, “Tequila Sunset,” coming out this month in the War of the Worlds: Frontlines anthology, I’m all about the now–and patience is nowhere in sight. I have to practically sit on my hands to keep from sending my poor publisher email after email asking whether the anthology has been sent out for printing yet, has he received contributor copies yet, and when does it go on sale? In short, being an annoying nag that nobody wants to work with.

I don’t know that I can blame myself for being excited, though. I’ve dreamed about other people picking up something I wrote and being taken on an adventure, for a long time. I don’t care so much about seeing my name in print or the money, although my goal is to someday be able to support myself through only my writing and quit my day job(s). I get impatient for that, too. If you’re a writer who’s had his or her first taste of success, or maybe still writing and submitting and hoping for someone to publish your work, you can probably relate.

I’m thinking it might be helpful to use some of my knowledge from my past life as a psychologist-in-training and not only write articles about how to succeed and get published as a writer, but also on how to cope with the inevitable rejections without getting depressed or giving up, how to stay well, and how to keep on believing in ourselves. I mean, I can list resources till the cows come home on how to get published, but there are others out there who are farther down the road and know more than I do about that side of things.

So bizarrely enough for a dark fiction writer, I’m contemplating putting up wellness tips, exercises, and affirmations along with some of my stories under the “Freebies & Miscellany” section on my website, so maybe we can ransom Patience back without paying the $5 mil, and focus on writing instead. ‘Cause I sure don’t have the money to burn! Would love to hear what others think would be helpful.

Bloggity blog blog blog

I’m sitting here, staring at the blank space where I should be writing  fascinating things but mostly stuck on how to get my website to look less like someone wrote the XHTML code with their feet and more like an actual professional designed it. I’m wondering if I should have swallowed my pride and used one of those prepackaged websites instead, like someone watching smoke billow out of their kitchen as the Chicken Kiev burns to a cinder and thinking too late that a bag of Bertolli’s might have been a good idea.

But the thing is, learning something new takes time. No matter how bright or skilled you are, the harsh truth is that you’ll most likely fail and, very probably, make a horrible mangled mess of what you’re attempting to do before you get better at it. Have I blogged much? Nope. Am I making a mess of it? Maybe. Who knows?

I went to my first writer’s workshop a few weekends ago at Ball State University, ironically enough where I did my internship for my doctorate, and listened to published writers discuss how to get serious about writing. Kelsey Timmerman, one of the speakers, said something that seems incredibly simple, but makes a lot of sense–the more you write, the less you suck. What’s the takeaway lesson? Keep going. You, gracious reader, may also be a writer or follow a different career path, but I imagine you’ve had brushes with burnt lasagna or birdhouses that should be condemned or speeches that left you wishing for a portable black hole to escape into, and can sympathize. So I’m going to keep going, and I hope you stick around as this little site and I evolve over time. Maybe you’ll find things here to keep you going, too.

Thanks for coming to visit, and for being patient.