Writing With Kids

ToddlerI often tell friends it’s harder and better than people say. I was talking about parenting, but it also applies to writing.

Last night, my two-year old son was up multiple times with a nervously high fever. When your baby’s sick, everything else goes out the window.

But on a day to day basis, there’s teething, tantrums and toddler troublemaking. There’s always reasons to not write especially when you have a child pulling at your pants. And real, understandable, legitimate reasons too. Like sleep.

I caught this post on Writing & Parenting in my Twitter feed today, and it all came tumbling back to me. It justified, validated and explained why writing sometimes feels like an uphill battle these days. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t admit to moments when I dreamed of life pre-kids when I had hours to idle at coffee shops, not even writing, just gazing out the window, pretending to write. These days, every precious minute is coveted. It’s not that I’m a slave to my writing or my writing clients. It’s cause writing is almost like a third child. It’s surprisingly that important to me.

Meet an angry, irritable soul and you’ll probably have met a creative person who hasn’t expressed himself that day.

Writing when you’ve got kids is nothing to apologize for. Sure, the guilt will get to you on days when you’d rather sit in front of your computer than put together another puzzle. But I think doing the things that fills our creative souls makes us not only better parents, but better people.

So you may have to sacrifice some time, sleep or some other activity you used to savor, but in the end, I think putting energy in what you love (writing and your kids) is all worth it.

One day when we’ve figure out as much of a balance as possible, they’ll thank us. I’m sure.


The Truth About Failure

Blue woman

I had it again. It’s a reoccurring dream where I’m still in high school. The dream haunts me because I’m stuck there, unable to take the necessary courses and get the required grades to move on. Although the situation is different, the emotion is the same.

FEAR. It’s the emotion that prevents me from taking the next step.

This year embarks a new journey for me. I’m still writing, but I decided to reach outside of my comfort zone and teach workshops. Teaching stress management workshops has been my dream for almost as long as I’ve wanted to be a writer. I finally faced my fears and did my first one at the end of last year and have two more scheduled in the next few months.

I’m always surprised when people like them and prior attendees want to sign up for another one. This is despite the fact that since I’ve been working on them, I’ve slept better, my son’s cries doesn’t stir me up the way it used to and my husband says he’s noticed a significant decrease in his stress after taking it. I’m too accustomed to failure. I brace myself for it even before its made apparent.

But I read something recently on failure that changed how I perceive it.

Failure isn’t the end of your dream, nor is it proof that you won’t ever succeed. It’s indication that you might need a new path. It’s evidence that you need to try something different. But it’s also the realization that you’re doing it! Failure is a necessary part in success. You cannot avoid or sideswipe it if you want to get good at what you do.

Stop criticizing yourself by adding unnecessary suffering and burden for the things you didn’t do right. They are wasteful emotions that work only as excuses so you don’t have to try again.

In The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield talks about the pain he felt when the first movie he worked on bombed:

I’m a loser, a phony; my life is worthless, and so am I.

My friend Tony Keppelman snapped me out of it by asking if I was going to quit. Hell, no! ‘Then be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.’

That’s was when I realized I had become a pro. I had not yet had success. But I had had a real failure.”

The One Tip That Helped Me Cope With Criticism

{Etsy artwork by JCDisplayArt}
{Etsy artwork by JCDisplayArt}

No matter how long you’ve been writing, it always gets to you. The formal rejection letter. The kind, but full revision request. No reply.

Writers are subjected to rejection as part of their job. But it doesn’t make things easier.

While I tend to get over it faster than I did 7-years ago when I started as a freelance writer, it still hurts the ego. Like a scab that you constantly pick at, my mind constantly asks, “Why oh why did I make that dumb mistake?”

That is, until I heard this Soundstrue podcast with Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message author Tara Sophia Mohr. Here is a little excerpt from the transcript:

[A]s my writing and my work have gotten more visible, it’s a constant [struggle of], am I willing to challenge my inner critic on this one? Am I willing to not believe the voice that’s saying, “I’m not ready yet to write for that publication; I’m not ready to go on that TV show; I’m not enough of an expert on the topic.” I’ve got all of those voices inside of me…”

It’s familiar verbiage for anyone risking their creative hearts on the line. But what she says after that was really mind-blowing.

“…feedback only ever tells us about the person giving the feedback; it never tells us anything about ourselves. And I really believe that…

I believe that if a million people said, “I don’t like your book, Tara,” that wouldn’t make me a bad writer and that wouldn’t make the book a bad book, but it would tell me a whole lot about what works for a reading audience, what works for contemporary readers.

And when we start to see feedback that way, it all becomes emotionally neutral information that does not take our egos on a huge roller coaster, but just gives us insight and then if we realize, “Hey, that insight is about people that I want to reach or influence or engage, I better pay attention to it.” And if it’s not, then I don’t necessarily need to pay so much attention to it. So it just becomes sort of strategic information that can help you achieve your aims, which I believe is the role of feedback; not ego boosts or ego wounds, and certainly not evaluations of your merit.”

Amazing right? 

Think about it. Every “negative feedback” you get is just evidence, information. We can allow it to define our self-worth or we can simply use it as objective data. As Mohr says, if it helps us get closer to our goals then we listen to it. If not? We don’t need to spend anymore time and energy on it.

I know it works because I’ve already used it.

Try it and let me know if it helps you too.

Riding the Wave of a Freelance Writing Career

Santa Barbara waves

Having a full-time freelance writing career can wreak havoc on your soul, not to mention your wallet. Why? Well the latter is obvious. But for many people who are not in it, us creative artistic types tend to sway towards low self-esteem. It’s a given since most of us are born sensitive and tend to grow up in families who are less than enthusiastic about our dream of being an artist for a living.

But if you want to have a long-term career in an artistic field, you need to get beyond the ups and downs of your creative pursuits. People will love and hate your work. Basing your worth and value on their feedback will make you a little crazy. Depending on constant feedback will drive your editors a little crazy.

How do you do it?

While you’re waiting to hear back about a pitch, or feedback from a client try the following easy distracting tips:

1. Work on another project.

2. Go for a walk.

3. Watch mindless TV.

4. Meditate.

5. Read up on a new topic.

6. Practice self-kindness. (Repeat after me: “It’s okay if they don’t like me, I still like me..”)

7. Get lost in a novel.

8. Spend a few minutes playing a time-sucking game and enjoy it.

9. Cook a new dish.

10. Phase out in nature. [Ocean, trees, the dirt beneath your feet.]

11. Call up your cheerleading friend for a boost to your wounded ego.

12. Reread or write in your gratitude journal.

13. Love on a pet.

14. Watch a comedy.

15. Spend time with the very young or the old.

17. Savor a cup of tea.

18. Reread old encouraging and past positive feedback.

19. Buy yourself a bouquet of flowers.

20. Do research on an organization you would like to help through volunteerism or donation.

Is Your Ego Getting in the Way of Your Writing?

{Etsy photo by AliciaBlock}
{Etsy photo by AliciaBlock}

All artists have trouble with their egos. Maybe it’s because unlike other fields, our sense of self and our creation are personally intertwined in a beautiful, yet complicated relationship. We often get defensive when editors pick away at our prose. And when finally hitting send on that perfect piece we spent days on, we’ve never felt more vulnerable.

That’s why it hurts so much when we’re rejected. It’s not just an attack on our work, but it feels like an attack on our soul.

But allowing our egos to get wrapped up in our work isn’t just unrealistic and draining, it’s bad for business.

I asked my husband recently about what it is about artistic fields that can make even the strongest among us, neurotic, defensive and whiny.

He said simply, “It’s subjective work. If I’m doing something for my job, I’ll know if it’s right or wrong. For you, it’s a little more shady.”

That gray area can mean that no matter how many times you think you got it “right,” there’s someone with a red pen ready to mark up your work and say it’s, “wrong.” On one hand, that’s a good thing. Being a writer, forces you to continuously work on improving and getting better. On the other hand, if you’re a perfectionist, you might have to be like me and learn how to take the criticisms as they come. You need to realize it’s never a personal thing. It’s your job.

So when you feel under attack, try the following to get back on track:

  1. Take a breather. Step away from your computer. Go for a walk. Talk to a friend. Watch mindless TV. Distract yourself so you don’t get more absorbed into your own little drama.
  2. Work on something else.  Maybe you’re too focused on this project and your brain needs time to settle on something else. Switching gears can give you insight into what you could do to improve the situation.
  3. Get another perspective. It’s easy to read into things when you’re tired, too invested in a project or just sensitive. Asking someone you trust for their opinion, could help you to see that what you thought was an attack is really nothing personal at all.
  4. Look at the big picture. In the almost 7 years I have been writing professionally, there have been many clients who seemed to like my work and then disappeared. I wish those clients had been honest with me about how I was doing. If you can look for the opportunity in what seems like an obstacle, you can only improve as a writer.

What about you?

What helped you overcome your own insecurities as a writer? Were you bold enough to confront an editor or did you try the above four to help heal your open wounds and soothe your ego?


Why It’s So Scary Being a Writer

{Etsy print by OutsideInArtStudio}
{Etsy print by OutsideInArtStudio}

In The Courage to Write, Ralph Keyes says:

“Just thinking about being a writer can be scary (as well as thrilling; the two tend to go hand in hand). Saying-even to yourself-“I’m a writer,” or “I’m going to be a writer,” or even “I guess I’ll do some writing now,” feels presumptuous; like a five-year-old playing make-believe for bemused grown-ups.”

What makes calling ourselves “writers” so scary? Doctors, teachers, heck even my husband can spout out their careers as if they were describing the weather. Whereas I? I fumble through the word inaudibly.

Fear of Being Judged

I think it has to do with the reaction that often follows those three words: “I’m a writer.”

I’ve been ridiculed, rejected, criticized and misunderstood when speaking it. Recently, a relative thought “writer” was a nice way to say “administrative assistant.” He kept saying, “No really? What do you do?”

Added to that is our own internal fears and insecurities. To be a writer means you only need to have written. A friend who writes told me he could never claim the title because he wasn’t published. But the act of writing itself deserves the title writer whether or not you’re doing it as a hobby, or a full or part-time gig. We dole out labels for everything else. Why is it that you need to be awarded the title to deserve it?

Fear of Sucking at It

Maybe you have visions of being a great writer. You mock those who do write because you secretly believe you’re SO much better than them. But the truth is, your own claim to fame as a writer is based on the fantasy you have built up in your head. If you want to write, you need the courage to confront those fears and write. That means accepting that you might suck at it. That means being humble and honest about what you can do at this stage in your writing career. Sucking at it doesn’t mean your doomed. In fact, I’ll admit that my first drafts always suck BIG time. But it’s part of the journey. It’s part of the hard work. So suck it up and let yourself suck. You’re that much closer to being the writer you dream of being.

Fear of Being Found Out

This is the fear writers have of either being a writing fraud (I’m guilty of this) or saying too much. It’s a slippery slope when you write. Good writing comes when writers divulge honestly about what they’re thinking, imagining or feeling. But every time a finger pushes down on another key, there is a fear that what we hide will suddenly be revealed.The world will finally know our secret wishes, fantasies and fears. For a writer who is often introverted and secretive, this is their greatest fear. Yet, in order to write and write well we need to relinquish our need to look perfect so that we can be human, fraudulent, flawed and all.

There are of course a lot more fears writers deal with. But these are a few that swarm around our heads when the room is too quiet and the keyboard is silent. In order to keep writing, we need to push on ahead mentally courageous and resilient as if none of this matters, as if the only person reading this is you.

It takes courage to be a writer. It’s not only saying, “I’m a writer” like you mean it, but seriously believing it.

Do you have fears about being a writer or writing itself? How do you cope?

A Writer’s Self Confession of Procrastination

{Pinterest photo}
{Pinterest photo}

Here it is. I can write to my heart’s content meeting and surpassing deadlines if it is for someone else. In fact, it is one of my writerly strengths to submit a piece days before it’s due. But my own work? Sadly, still sitting untouched in Google Drive.

I know that writers need a break. I understand that paid work feeds the hungry writer. But the idea that I’ve let this dream of mine slide eats away at this writer’s soul. It makes me feel like a failure and a fake. I see successes like hers and a pulsating thought rises in my thoughts, “You’ll never make it.” And it’s hard not to listen to that one. After all, a story doesn’t write itself.

In the lifetime that I’ve written I built an impressive graveyard of untouched, unfinished stories. I’ve always visited them respectfully, mourning their lost. But I’ve also done so with great pride for the attempts I made believing they were little souls that helped me grow, but were not ready for the world. It’s hard to keep telling myself this, however, when my priorities have slipped.

How does a writer keep themselves fueled and motivated when the desire to make money overtakes inspiration?

This quote from first time novelist Ayana Mathis helped me. Maybe it will help you too:

“When you’re working on a project for months and months—whether it’s a book or anything else that requires a sustained effort—it’s easy to get discouraged. The rewards are few, and you feel as if it’s never, ever going to be done…Acquiring any skill is like this: You make a little progress; then you lose ground; then you make a little more progress. Accepting the fits and starts is the only way to keep yourself from giving up.”

It’s a desire to keep going once we stopped that helps us through the periods of procrastination. It’s not stopping that makes us failures. It’s not even an end. It’s simply a pause. As we have all learned and grown in the process of building our freelance writing careers, it takes time. It takes courage. And it means not beating ourselves up when we fall. Because we all do. Every successful writer does. That means if you’ve briefly paused, you’re still in the running fellow writer. Don’t give up!

The Fight Between Left and Right

{White flag. iPhone photo taken while hiking on Mariner’s Ridge in Hawaii.}

What’s one of the hardest battles you’ll fight as a writer?

The battle within yourself.

Working on an article recently, I found myself on the front lines defending my creative prose with an ardent editor. Unforgiving and rigid, she was on task to cut away my unnecessary words and fluffy copy for something more streamlined. It was a hard battle lost my friends. All the more so because that editor was me.

Every writer has two sides of their brain that battles for attention. My right brain is the more feisty one relentlessly slipping in creative allegories for fun. It’s my left brain that has to follow closely behind like a parent of a 2-year-old, afraid of what trouble he or she’s going to get into next.

It’s an exhausting feat. If I don’t give her free reign to self-expression, my work comes back bulky, incomprehensible, and childlike. At the same time, if she’s dormant, my writing can seem dull, forced and tense. It’s an ongoing balance that needs to be met. This is accomplished only if I spend adequate amounts of time free writing, painting or partaking in any unedited artistic expression. It’s the part of me that likes to make up phrases like “crud of the crop,” or paint with wild abandon. These tasks hold just as much value as creating an outline or transcribing a piece. I need to appease both sides in order to write anything worthy of publication.

It’s always an exhausting feat this writing stuff. But I’ve learned a few ways to make it easier. Writing freely in my first draft, for example, helps. My husband calls this my “throwing up” process. It’s an ugly read so he often asks to stay out of it. This is time for my right brain to get it all in, every creative word, phrase and analogy. On another day, my task oriented left brain rolls her eyes and has fun holding down the delete button. There will be many many more edits after that. But if I can soothe my right brain by keeping old prose that doesn’t work “for another time,” then it’s a lot easier to cut.

In the end, it’s a battle won by both. The most successful pieces incorporates creativity and is concise. It’s always a challenge because truthfully I have an affinity for my right side.

I’m wondering how often you have trouble with this too. Is your right or left brain more dominant when you write?

Starting Over

{by Brandi-Ann Uyemura}

Fabulous careers in creative fields (like you writers) deserve a little more attention, motivation and flexibility than other fields. You need to roll with the punches, get your tough going (when the going gets rough) and be willing to go for the ride. [Definitely met my “trite phrases quota” for the day.]

Part of that is getting used to the up and down roller coaster ride of both inspiration and writing gigs. That means sometimes there will be lulls, sometimes there will be speed bumps. And when I’m on a high, I need to remember to stop myself from being too big for my britches, less I forget that I’m about to fall back into a valley.

I’ve recently moved to Hawaii and left the comforts of mainland writing gigs. Actually, I left during the peak of my career and had to turn down several lucrative opportunities that did not allow me to work from home. But like you, I’m met with just another writing hurdle. One that asks the question:

How do you start over again?

How do you start over if you’ve been fired from a job, quit the current one or projects have ended?

You dust yourself off and get resourceful. Contact previous clients or tell friends, acquaintances, family members that you’re looking for a new one. Join a writing club, create your own (if anyone lives in Hawaii who’s interested in attending a club, I’m about to start my own).

You remember that things take time. 

You remember how busy you were when things were going good so you use the time to rest and recoup before your next big gig.

You forget about how good it was so that you can move on to bigger and better things.

You do an inventory of skills you may need and equipment and supplies you don’t. Use the time to reorganize, take classes, and read up on your field.

Most importantly, don’t lose hope. Starting over seems scary because we get too comfortable where we are. Life is about beginnings and ends. Sometimes we forget that and believe we have control over everything in life. In Produced By Faith DeVon Franklin says we only have control over two things:

“how we prepare for what might happen, and how we respond to what just happened.”

{If passion’s what you need help with, you might want to read my latest article for The Writer magazine here.}