#IWSG: Goals, Dreams, and Vision in the Writer’s Journey                        

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When I first started my writing career, I was a starry-eyed graduate student with little more than a head full of dreams and a heart full of stories, clutching a copy of Writing Down the Bones to my chest. I wrote for the sheer joy of it, the exhilaration, the thrill. I didn’t care about business, and I didn’t even know what platform was.

That was ten years ago. In the years that followed, I realized that I needed more than the wispy qualities of my dreams if I wanted to be in this for the long haul. I realized that writing is art, it’s storytelling, it’s magic, but there’s also a business side.

But, unfortunately, I went too far to the other side of the spectrum and got stuck on the hamster wheel of word-count goals and metrics. I became obsessed with things like “how many projects can I draft this year?” or “how many words can I write today?” And the storytelling suffered. Sure, it was finished. But it didn’t often sparkle the way I wanted it to. I’d lost my heart. I’d lost touch with the magic.

I’d tried to turn myself into a storytelling factory, and do you know where it led me, that starry-eyed dreamer who wrote for the sheer love of it? Burnout. I realized that my approach wasn’t working. It wasn’t organic enough.

In the years that followed grad school, I worked multiple jobs—at one point, three at a time, started a blog, attended writing conferences, met amazing people who have supported me on my journey, quit jobs to focus on writing, learned countless ways to improve my craft, started many projects, tried and failed, battled chronic illnesses…

Yeah, it’s been a journey. And you know what? I’m still only beginning. That’s the beauty and the frustration.

I still have goals. We need goals. That’s why challenges like NaNoWriMo and ROW80 work—because they give us tangible deadlines, finite targets that take “I want to write a novel” to “I’m writing a novel” and, finally “I wrote a novel.”

But as much as we need goals, we need vision. Vision gives goals a context. Without a vision, we’re just churning away in a sea of words. Without vision we lose our heart.

I still write for the sheer magic of it. Yes, I recognize that it’s hard work; it’s constant growth and improvement. It’s learning new skills. It’s putting ourselves and our work out there despite a fear of vulnerability. But whoa, when the magic whispers…I’m transported. That’s what they call flow, the magic of the storyteller’s life.

So, yes. Let’s dream. Let’s set goals. Let’s strive to achieve them. Let’s devise a plan and follow through.

But let’s do these things in the context of our vision. Who are we as storytellers? What is our passion? What brings us to the page? What do we want or need to say, and why are we saying it?

Love. Magic. Adventure. To tell deceptively simple stories that help rekindle people’s belief in the power of magic and love. For me, it’s that simple—and that complicated.

If I keep that vision in my peripheral as I write, I can make the steady progress that moves me along the writer’s road. I can move forward on my journey. Lose it and I’m a rat in a wheel, lost in word-count goals and deadlines.

We need those things.

Let’s just give them context.

(The Insecure Writer’s Support Group helps writers overcome their insecurities, and by offering encouragement creates a community of support. Visit their website to learn more.)

So now, tell me. What’s your writer’s vision?

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#IWSG Post: How I’ve Learned to Deal with Self-Doubt in my Writing Career

How I_ve Learned to Deal with Self-Doubt in my Writing Career

Self-doubt is a part of most people’s lives, but those of us walking a creative path are particularly susceptible. Self-doubt has the potential to stop us in our tracks, to paralyze us. It is, without a doubt, the number one cause of writer’s block.

So, is there anything we can do?

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeI am no stranger to the doubt monster, that creature that rises out from the corner and looms over me, trying to scare me off my writing path. I spent a year where I made little progress on my larger projects, but through grit and faith, I managed to finish a few smaller projects that helped me to grow as a writer. One of these is a short story that has just been accepted for publication.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I’m not you, and what works for me won’t always work for you. But here are the things that helped me weather the Doubt Storm and come out the other side.

If doubt stops you cold in your writing tracks, find ways to continue to grow as a writer.

During the Doubt Storm, I found myself unable to work on my larger projects. But I wrote short stories and poetry. I read blog posts and books about writing and, more importantly, creativity. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic was especially helpful, but books such as those by Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) and Julie Cameron (The Artist’s Way) are also beneficial. Or you could try books like Wild Creative by Tami Lynn Kent or Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.

The point is to try to keep growing despite the doubt. If you’re not able to work on your Big Project, work on something else. Pen a few haikus. Try flash fiction. Find a writing prompt online and write something silly. Write a blog post. Read books about writing and creativity. The period of crippling doubt will pass. Have faith in that.

Fill the creative well.

What this means is different for all of us. For me, scrapbooking has proved a wonderful creative outlet. Time in nature or meditation helps me to feel connected and grounded. Find another creative outlet that rejuvenates you. For you, this might be cooking or photography or drawing. Read books that inspire you, and don’t be afraid to look for inspiration in unlikely places. If you write and read in the fantasy genre, pick up a good mystery or thriller. Reading books in varying genres also helps to fill the well. The point is to do things that help you grow creatively.

Understand that you are not a writing machine. Writing is less like a one-person factory and more like a garden. In other words, you are not a robot. You are a farmer.

There will be fallow periods, and they are vital to your creative process and growth. Ever wonder what happens to a field that isn’t allowed to lie fallow?

According to Vocabulary.com

Fallow comes from the old English word for plowing, and refers to the practice of leaving fields unplowed in rotation––when a field lies fallow, the soil regains nutrients that are sucked up by over-planting.

Ah. Sound familiar? That period in which I didn’t work on my stories proved sooo beneficial to my writing. I studied, I reflected, and yes, without realizing it, I grew. I emerged with a sense of clarity and purpose that I’d lost in the whole slog of word-count goals and obsession with finishing drafts.

Today, I’ve embraced a slow but steady approach. Instead of rushing through drafts, I write consistently but slowly. Most importantly, I learned so much during that fallow period, and it has infused my writing with a sense of purpose that wasn’t there before. So, consider that a slow period or dry spell might very well be a vital part of your creative process.

Practice gratitude.

This goes for life in general, but be grateful. This means celebrating what you’ve already achieved. That story that you wrote that you’re proud of, celebrate it and be thankful it chose you as its teller. Make a list of three things every day that you’re grateful for. Keep a gratitude journal. Make a practice of thankfulness and gratitude, and you’re readying yourself for the day when words begin to flow again.

Stop the comparisons.

There are people who never seem to experience doubt or dry spells. Don’t compare yourself if you do. There are people who are full of pithy sayings that do nothing but make you feel worse. And then, there will be wonderful writers whose fingers seem to be flying madly against the keys while you are stuck and starting to panic.

That’s okay. There’s no need to be angry at those people, although feelings of envy and despair might fill you. Just acknowledge they’re in a different place, and honor where you are. Accept that fallow periods might be necessary. Find ways you can grow without comparing your growth to someone else’s.

I can’t claim to have all the answers. Sometimes my own Doubt Monsters have threatened to eat me, and only through faith have I persisted. There are times when I’ve faltered, but I have managed to pick myself back up.

If you get a few words on the page, celebrate it. Don’t be afraid to celebrate the small things.

After all, what is a novel but a collection of small, connected moments?

What about you? How do you cope with self-doubt as a writer? Have you weathered a creative dry spell? What helped you make it through? Are you in one now?

This post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly blog hop. If you’re looking for a supportive community of writers, visit the group here.

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#IWSG: Magic Most Wild…

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeFunny thing. I never stopped believing in magic. That desire to taste mystery never left me. It lived inside me when, as a young child, I reenacted Little Red Riding Hood over and over in front of the fireplace in our living room, before a captive audience of parents who must’ve been very tired of the tale. It lived inside of me when, as a tween, I wandered the forests of home, dreaming up stories and sowing soul-seeds that would one day grow into the stories I write today. And when, as a teenager, most throw such things away, I found myself beginning the pages of novels I would never finish, tales that blended fantasy and happily-ever-afters.

In college, I wrote poetry, because genre fiction was forbidden, and I couldn’t stop penning lines about magic. But as a poet, they let me write about magic, because in poetry everything is imagery and metaphor and so I could once again taste the way those sweet words burst again my tongue—like wild strawberries fresh from the vine, those words.

And then came decision time. I chose graduate school. And not just any graduate school. I chose the children’s literature M.F.A. program at Hollins University. And there, I spread my wings and wrote the fantasy stories I’d longed to write.

After graduate school, I found myself strongly drawn to adult and new-adult paranormal and fantasy romance and have since shifted toward those genres, combining my two great loves:  fantasy and romance. I fell hard for the magic and the swoony kisses. I’m fascinated by faeries and beings who are larger than life—dark elves, fierce warriors, witches who worship the wild earth.

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I write what I love, and what I love is a blend of fantasy and romance. Sometimes I lean more into the romance. Sometimes I lean into the fantasy side of things, and the romance is a golden thread woven into that tapestry of magic. I explore the magic of the earth, of gemstones, of plants, of the moon, of the forests, of the cottage garden, but most of all, I explore the magic that sleeps inside each of us, waiting to be reawakened.

Many of us have forgotten that magic. But I have clung to mine. Through the ups and downs of my life, it has sustained me. It has called me out of the darkness, a candle burning in the window of an inn on a long and winding road on a night when the rain falls in sheets and the wind howls like a banshee.

Magic is the heart of each of my stories because magic is my heart.

What about you? What genre do you write in, and why?

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#IWSG Post: Making Magic on the Page

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Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeI love being a fantasy writer. No matter how many stories I write, there’s always new terrain to explore. As a practicing Pagan, I also have the opportunity to weave threads of real magic into worlds of the fantastic.

One of the ways I do this is by incorporating the magic and symbolism of gemstones and plants into my stories. In Spellfire’s Kiss, for example, my characters cast a spell that uses five gemstones, four associated with each of the four elements (earth, water, fire, and air) and a fifth to symbolize spirit. In my Cabot Sisters series, the characters have a chalcedony pendant that symbolizes the water magic that runs in their family. In The Faerie Key, Lily uses black tourmaline, a crystal that’s said to have powerful protective qualities, in casting a protection spell.

Plants, including herbs and trees, also have elemental associations and magical or healing properties. Sage is dried and bundled and used for cleansing people’s auras and living spaces and for smudging magical tools such as athames and wands. Lavender has calming properties, and it’s an herb that I reference frequently in my stories. Willow trees are associated with poetry, oaks with royalty, and an ash tree is said to be Yggdrasil, the tree that connects the nine worlds in Norse mythology.

When it comes to magic, the possibilities are endless, and that’s why I know I’ll never get bored writing fantasy. There are always ways to incorporate the magic of the natural world into a fantasy story. By far the most interesting research I get to do for my stories involves magical symbolism. I research goddesses and gods, types of faeries and other magical creatures, symbolism of plants and stones, and so much more.

Being a fantasy writer allows me to draw from nature, my greatest inspiration, and to incorporate my Pagan faith into my work. A raven, messenger of Odin or the Morrighan. The songs of birds heralding the arrival of spring. The legend of a redcap or kelpie. The power of the goddess Brigid. Or simply the verdant green of summer leaves. This is the magic of my path—and the magic that can make a fantasy story shine.

Learn more about the Insecure Writers Support Group, visit fellow bloggers, or sign up here.

What about you? What’s the most interesting thing you get to research for your work?

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