I’m Never Allowed To Make Mistakes (Also, A Free Short Story)

Darkness & Good button with red text on a white background, with shadowed, dark grey leaves in the background. The leaves have red ribs and stems. Link goes to http://darknessandgood.blogspot.com. I was trying to think of a story for the Darkness & Good blog the other day, because it’s my turn to post this week, and me and short story ideas are kind of hit and miss sometimes (AH HA HA ALL THE TIME HA HA SOMETIMES HA), and first of all, I ACTUALLY THOUGHT OF A STORY RIGHT WHEN I NEEDED ONE AMEN HALLELUJAH, and second of all, in doing so I had a bit of a revelation about myself. The story starts with the protagonist making a stupid mistake that they really should have known better than to make, and it puts their life in danger. Usually in my stories what happens next is sudden, inescapable DEATH.

But this time, I realised that that’s how the story would usually go, and it made me realise something else: I’m really not good at giving myself permission to make mistakes. Like, really not good. I’m better than I used to be, and I know enough now to recognise when I’m beating myself up over something I shouldn’t be and to take steps to stop that, but yeah. I still have this subconscious expectation that I really should be superwoman. Making mistakes when I didn’t know what was going on or what was happening? Yeah, okay, that sucks, but it happens. Making mistakes when I really should have known better? That is pretty much unforgiveable.

Except, it shouldn’t be. I’m human. I’m not *actually* any better than anyone else, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to retrain damaging perfectionist tendencies. I’m learning where the boundaries are between ‘good enough’ and ‘killing myself with perfect’, and I’m getting better at realising innately what my mum taught me while I was first married and studying at uni: I only have 100% of myself to give, and the more things I spread that between, the less I have to devote to each thing. I can’t expect to achieve 100% in fifty-million things, because that’s fifty-million-hundred percent, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

But. My fiction, apparently, still keeps telling me otherwise. I still keep writing stories where stupid mistakes cost people their lives, out of this perverse and totally subconscious belief that I’m not allowed to make stupid mistakes, that I’m better than that, that doing so is a failing on my part.

So this time, I let the protagonist win. This time, she got hit by a mistake, and came back up swinging, learned from her mistake and triumphed in the end. Because let’s face it, that’s what I do in life. You make a mistake, and you’re allowed to beat yourself for a minute or two, but then you have to figure out what you did wrong, what you’re going to fix the situation, and how to avoid making the same mistake again. Sometimes that actually means remembering to not over-commit yourself, or making sure you protect your sleep so you’re not walking about like the zombified dead–shockingly enough, sleep deprivation is not conducive to avoiding mistakes!!!!!!

If you’re interested, you can read my short story over on the Darkness & Good blog right here. But either way, leave a comment and let me know: Do you get frustrated when you make mistakes too? How do you cope with residual perfectionism, if so?

Dear Amy: In Which I Berate Myself Politely

Dear Amy,

Here’s the thing. You’ve been waffling back and forth over this thing called writing for a long time now, and really, we’ve all had just about enough. You say you want this, that it’s a life ambition, a goal, whatever; you say that it’s impossible to achieve with everything else you have going on in your life.

You’ve read the advice. You’ve read the books, the courses, the blog posts, the articles: Writers write. Whether they feel like it or not, whether they’re feeling inspired or not, they show up, they apply fingers to keyboard, and they write. Even if it’s junk. Because at least junk is practice.

Moaning in your head or on twitter or wherever that you don’t have time to write is not. Shocking, I know.

But seriously: remember what you read the other day in that glorious book of Liz Gilbert’s? No one cares! It doesn’t actually matter! If you can’t write during term time, then fine! Don’t write! But don’t then spend every waking minute berating yourself for not. Seriously. If you have energy to berate, you have energy to write.

Ultimately, this comes down to one thing, and one thing only: you either want it, or you don’t.

If you want it, don’t spend one-two-three-four-five hours procrastinating on social media or surfing the ‘net before you actually get to writing (and then wonder why you’re now too tired). Don’t stare blankly at the computer wondering what’s supposed to be happening (that’s what outlining is for, or at the very least, grab a freaking pen and do a brainstorm on some paper). And most of all, don’t angst back and forth, praying and wishing and hoping and wondering whether or not you’re “supposed” to be a writer or not. You’ve already had your answer there: Show up, and a career will too. Show up, and the magic will eventually happen.

Eventually. You know this ain’t happening overnight. You know the hours you have to put in for this to work. Either you want it enough to go for it, or it’s all too hard and you don’t want it enough – which, hey, that’s totally legitimate! You don’t need writing to put food on the table or pay the bills; you don’t need writing to help you sleep at night. This is, literally, the icing on the cake. You write because you like it.

You do like it, don’t you? Because if not, why are we even having this conversation? If you don’t like it, just stop already. No one’s going to call you a failure, a quitter, a loser. If you don’t like writing, then stop.

Oh, she says slyly. You don’t want to stop? You do like it after all? Well fancy that.

In that case, I have just one more question for you. Are you ready? Sure? Okay. Here’s my final question:

WHAT THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE ANGSTING WHEN YOU COULD BE WRITING A STORY, WOMAN? GO. GET THEE HENCE.

And remember, the whole point is that it’s fun, not work.

Love ya,
A

 

A PS for the not-me people in the audience: I still feel like this hasn’t quite captured the epiphanicness of my epiphany the other day, and certainly this isn’t as gloriously worded as the letter I wrote myself in my head at the time, but the point is there, I suppose: I really do spend an awful lot of time questioning a) whether or not I’m ‘supposed’ to be a writer and b) if I am, then why it’s so hard to actually achieve writing in my day-to-day life. The epiphany was: It’s hard because I lack commitment. That’s it. Full stop. Case in point: I wrote over a thousand words in the doctor’s waiting room last week purely and simply because it was post-this-epiphany and I made the decision not to be distracted. I fail at getting my word count in yes, because life is super busy, but actually mostly because I fail to decide not to be distracted. This is me, deciding: I will not be distracted any longer. Or at least, I’ll do my level best to recognise when that’s happening, and to recognise that the only one responsible for whether or not I am willing to allow myself to be distracted from my goals is ME. On that note, I’m off to sew some play mats and write some words. <3 A

This Is Your Official Permission To NOT Write Every Day

I know, I know. A lot of conventional wisdom about writing recommends a daily writing habit—for exactly that reason: if you write every day, it becomes a habit. Habits, in this case, are good. But.

Conventional wisdom is just that: conventional. It’s often the average of all the options, something that most people can aspire to. But it doesn’t take into account your own personality, or your routine, or anything else unique to your individual circumstances.

Since I read Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k back in April, I’ve started tracking my metrics again. I did this for a few years when I first started writing, but then writing became just another way to measure my failure and so, to help dig myself out of the mire of postnatal depression, I quit writing. When I took it up again (initially in 2013 with the proposal for From The Ground Up—non-fiction was an easier ‘in’ for me than fiction with my mental state at the time), I decided not to track my word count or anything like that, because I didn’t want it to become like before: I didn’t want to have statistics I could use to beat myself up.

I neglected two things, though. First of all was that I’ve matured a lot as a human being since 2011: I’ve had two kids, I’ve suffered through and, with the help of a lot of family support and a great psychologist, beaten it, I moved away from my home town for the first time ever (and moved back again 18 months later, ha)—but most of all, I’ve learned to cut myself some slack.

The second thing I learned (or relearned) from Rachel Aaron’s excellent (if short) book: you can’t improve what you’re not tracking. Following the advice in her book, I spent a week tracking my daily circadian rhythm—which it turns out, by the way, is almost exactly wrong for modern day living. My peak awake times are at the 10s and 4s of the clock—fantastic given the baby pretty much only wakes just after 4 during the night if she’s going to, less fantastic when I’m supposed to be going to bed at 10pm. My peak asleep times? The 1s—not too drastic, although I’d like an afternoon nap more often than I get it—and the 7s. Guess what time I have to get up for work? You guessed it: 7, or just before. URGH.

But anyway, writing. The other thing I noticed after tracking my stats again for several weeks was that I actually write better when I don’t write every day. I’m a deadline kinda gal: you know, the one leaves the essay to the day (night) before (of, haha*). So even though my spreadsheet is set up to tell me how many words I need to write each day in order to meet my deadline, it actually works better for me if I let it lapse a little. There’s nothing like two days of zeros to motivate me to spend a good hour writing, even if it’s late and I’m tired, because I’ll do anything to get the numbers back on track. The key, though, I’ve found, is to be ahead to start with: if I let myself fall behind, then missing a day registers in my subconscious as ‘FAILURE, FAILURE, DO NOT RETURN TO THIS PROJECT’ and it’s really hard to find motivation again. If I start off the spreadsheet ahead, though**, then missing a day or two just means I’m less far ahead than I was, so I’m not failing yet—but it’s enough motivation to kick in a really write so I can maintain that lead.

Yeah. I know. Psychological games played with oneself are totally weird. But they work, so don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

So writing daily for me actually doesn’t work so well: it becomes a daily chore, and something to beat myself up over if I don’t make it. If I give myself permission to NOT write every day, though, and combine that with spreadsheet tracking of my word counts and deadline goals, something magical happens: I don’t write every day, but when I do, I pull much better word counts much more easily. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a win/win situation.

So this is your official permission: you don’t HAVE to write every day. Try tracking your metrics, and use that information to tailor your routine to you.

 

* I gave up fighting this in uni, because although I’d try to be diligent and get the essay done early, I’d invariably end up scrapping it the night before and starting over. It got so bad that I was often starting my 2,000-word essay two hours before it was due. I still got distinctions, but I don’t recommend this as a path to stress-free education. Ha.

 

** My current spreadsheet is tracking the word count for On Roads Between, the sequel to Where Shadows Rise (the Sanctuary series). By ‘starting ahead’, I just mean that I waited until I had a few thousand words under my belt before creating the spreadsheet, which meant that even though I only had to be at 565 words on day 1, I already had 8,507 to dump in, putting me about three weeks ahead from the outset. (Of course, I’m only ten days ahead now, but I’m still ahead, so my subconscious registers this as WHEE SUCCESS LET’S DO MORE OF THIS.)

I Don’t Believe In Depressing Fiction (Repost)

I’ve blogging about this here before, but it can always stand a reprise…
Finally, I figured out why it is that I don’t like depressing fiction in any form. I thought about trying to explain this to some of the people that know me in person, but really, it’s a kind of weird, complicated answer and it would sound silly in person.

It might still sound silly written down, but at least here you all expect me to be strange 😀 So, blogging it is.

(You do expect strangeness, don’t you? If not, I’m not sure where you’ve been the last few years…….)

So, on to today’s randomness: why I don’t like depressing fiction.

For years, now, when people try to convince me to watch a sad or depressing film or read a sad or depressing book, I’ve resisted. When pressed for a reason why, the best I’ve been able to come up with is that my life is sad enough, why would I want to be sad in fiction too? And besides, I’m a writer, it’s my job to resonate with the feelings of characters, and when I read/watch depressing/sad fiction, my imagination goes crazy putting me in that situation, and it’s really depressing/sad.

Now, all of this is true, but in a way (I’ve discovered in Today’s Random Brainwave), it’s also the cop-out answer. Because the real answer is much… well, stranger, and more complicated.

You see, I realised this morning – or perhaps late last night, I can’t recall now and it doesn’t matter* – that it’s because deep down, I don’t really believe in it. Now, you can see why that would sound majorly strange in person: no, sorry, I won’t watch depressing movies, I don’t believe in them.

Um, yeeeeah. And I’ll bet you don’t believe in the lovely men in white coats who I’m just going to go call now to come visit you… Riiiight.

*ahem*

But this is why I like writing: it allows me to clarify, and no one can interrupt me until I’m done, bwa ha ha. >:) (control freak, much?) Because what I really mean is this: I don’t believe in it for me.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve had my share of crap in life. Friends dying suddenly with no warning, family dying prolonged-ly after many many years when we thought it might all be all right; parents divorcing during my final year of high school, my husband having study-induced depression; me having depression; other friends having depression and attempting suicide. Pets dying, financial strain, life pressures – yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. Been there done that.

BUT.

I still don’t believe in sad/depressing fiction. Because I believe there’s more to life. It might be that I’m religious, or it might just be that my personality is this way, but deep down inside of me, I am never, ever convinced that the sad stuff, the bad stuff, is all there is – or even that it will win. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, and even if it’s a train, well, at least if you’re clinging to the tracks as the train barrels over you, desperately hoping that it’s not going to collect you as it whizzes past – at least you’re lying down. Things can always get worse.

And things can always get better.

And, I don’t know. My mind insists on the better. It’s like that story I heard once in high school (probably junior high to you USAians) about the man who’d somehow managed to break both legs falling from something (or something, yay fuzzy memories) and yet was smiling and laughing and joking when the ambulance people came to pick him up. They asked him how he could be so happy, and he told them, “In life, we have only one choice: to be happy with what we have, or to be sad. I choose to be happy.”

Now, y’all that know me will be shaking your heads and raising dubious eyebrows here, because HELLO, we all know I’m hardly Miss Queen of Peppiness, especially if it’s before 8 in the morning. I’m not claiming to be some kind of super-freak happy queen. All I’m saying is, I trust in my deepest of deeps that everything will work out okay in the end. I live by the saying, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

So depressing fiction that says there’s no hope, that there is nothing in the world worth saving or living for, or even that there is nothing at-all-zero-zilch-absolutely to be grateful for, in even a tragic situation – well, it just doesn’t fit with my world view. It doesn’t resonate with me. I have to work to ‘get’ it.

And really, when there’s so much good fiction out there, why waste time on something I know I’m going to have to make an effort to get, and that the ‘getting’ thereof will make me sad?

Well, because it’s good for me and expands my horizons and reminds me how other people live and all that blah blah blah. I know that. Which is why, every now and then, I let myself be convinced and I watch/read something sad/depressing. And cry for the rest of the day 😛 😉

So there you go. My random piece of strangeness for the day, allowing you to see deeper into the inner workings of the mind of the Inkly One. You may now run away screaming; I promise not to chase you.

* Clearly evidenced by the fact that I spent not only a parenthetical comment on it, butalso a footnote 😛

 

Are We Self-Censoring Our Way To Dystopia?

So, this is a lesson I conducted for my seniors literally just now, and it was awesome and thinky and I wanted to share 🙂 We are studying the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and in that context we are looking at the idea of censorship. You don’t have to have read the novel to get the below; the first video gives a nice summary of the high points, though the presenter speaks very fast, so I recommend doing what I did with the class and watching it twice if you’re not familiar with the novel.

Essentially the point is this: In the novel, books are banned, to the point where firemen no longer put out fires, they start them – for the sole and exclusive purpose of burning books, and sometimes the houses wherein they are contained, and sometimes the people who refuse to leave them to burn alone. Instead of books, people ‘connect’ via wall-sized screens, spending their days watching glorified soaps – alone or with others, it doesn’t really seem to make much of a difference. Much is made, in the novel, of the fact that the government enforces this regime for its own benefit – but the line that slips by at the time, only to stick in your mind and later bring everything into startling clarity, is this:

“It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.”

The censorship started with the people. They literally censored themselves stupid. And I wonder – and many other wonder… Are we doing the same thing right now?

Recitals: Practising in Public

I took nine years of clarinet lessons from elementary school through high school. Of course I was in the band. The band gave concerts, despite the fact that there were times when we sounded pretty awful. We didn’t get paid. If we were lucky, our parents showed up to listen to us perform. There were wrong notes, missed cues, lots of mistakes. But nobody ever proposed that the school band stop giving concerts.

~ Elise Stone

Writers, go. Apply this to writing, RIGHT NOW. And then when you’re done epiphanising over the fact that it’s okay to practise in public, go read the Twins of Darkness and Good blog 😉 😀

Own your apprenticeship. Write with abandon. xx

In The Midst Of Change

Life has been tumultuous for me in the last couple of months. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it here on the blog before or not (sorry if I have!), but there were at least ten days a couple of weeks ago where we had a family disaster or stressful event for every single day. There was even a family death, though she was old, so it was relatively expected (although her condition deteriorated much faster than anticipated after hospitalisation). So suffice to say I have been feeling pressurised.

It’s easy, when you’re under so much stress, to feel completely trapped. And that itself compounds the stress, because if you have to live like this forever, if this is the best it gets, the hell, how on earth are you going to cope?

But it’s easy – too easy – for the opposite mindset to lodge, as well. I read this article just now, which I’ll link you to in a second, that said this:

Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

I cried. Now, granted, it doesn’t take much me cry – my emotions live close to the surface, happiness makes me cry as well as sadness, and I find cause for genuine sadness in most newscasts, which is why I get my news on Twitter where I can be pickier about what I let touch me – but this line made me shed a tear because it’s so, so apt.

Not last weekend but the one before we packed into the car and went on a camp. It was a Camporee, actually, which I think is something Scouts do, and at the very least is something that Pathfinders, our church’s equivalent of Scouts, does. We had a blast. My husband is involved at a high administration level, so he was busy and preoccupied, and Small Boy had only been camping for the first time the weekend before, and we were right near a small but completely unfenced river, so it wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but more than anything it reminded me of how much I miss exactly what the line says: proper laughter and abject silliness. And of course, I am a total show-off and flirt when I think I can get away with it without offending anyone, so you know.

I miss that. I miss that kind of lifestyle, that kind of living-with-abandon, and so when I read this article tonight, written by a palliative care nurse about the top five regrets people have as they are dying, it really hit home.

Change is coming in my life; you don’t even have to know me that well to see it. And change usually makes me scared, and stressed, and uncertain. But this time, it’s about making decisions that will enable me to not have those regrets when it’s my turn to die, when all I am is dispelled and left to return to dust. I finally, finally know what I want from life, and I have taken the words of Maggie Stiefvater to heart, and I will not be afraid. No more.

Sometimes, when it feels like you are drowning, all you really have to do is stand up. In our panic the ground can feel further away than it is, but we all have something, some core deep down inside, that one thing that we are absolutely certain of. Use it. Stand on it. Rest there when the water of life is up to your neck and you think you’re going under. Stand on that one thing that you know down to the very last fibre of your being, and it will hold you.

I will not be afraid. I will laugh, and I will stand.

Stand with me. I’m honoured to have you by my side.