Tag Archives: motivation
I posted this photo on Facebook a few days ago with the caption below, and enough people found it helpful/motivating that I thought I’d share it with you guys.
I cried a little at the end of our run today. Not because it was hard, but because I realized that I had won again. A lot of you know that I went through another bad round with depression back in the fall/winter, and I’ve been fighting to get out of it using exercise, reading and taking action on self-help stuff (even the silly crap), and weekly self-therapy sessions (don’t laugh). It’s hard work, like dragging my reluctant ass up a steep and muddy slope. But as I collapse here with my running buddy/motivational canine, I feel like I’ve made it back to what passes for normal for me. I broke my reading slump. I have an amazing book coming out in less than 2 months. And I feel good.
Next challenge to add to this one: getting the headaches and brain fog sorted out. I can do this. Baby steps.
So there’s the update for people who have been following along since I started talking about pulling myself out of this pit (here and here). I’m still doing weekly question-and-answer therapy sessions with myself to dig down to the roots of things that are holding me down and trying to drag me back into the pit. Through that I’ve broken my reading slump, changed some of my beliefs, and found a bit of the balance I’m looking for in my life (still a long way to go there). I’m on week four of Couch to 5K (C25K) training, and having that challenge to look forward to/achievement under my belt in the morning/extra exercise is helping a lot with my motivation.
This doesn’t mean my depression is cured. It means that for now, I’m finding ways to change my brain chemistry and thought patterns in ways that allow me to be less anxious, less hopeless, more motivated, and on an upward spiral. Most days are still challenges. There are still triggers that can snap me back into a low mood/closed-off state, but I’m learning to identify and deal with them through changing my perceptions and reactions. (And THAT, my friends, is slow going. But I’ll get there.)
It’s hard work, and I know how fortunate I am to have the time to do it. I’ve been in a lot of different places with my mental health. I’ve been crushed under panic attacks. I’ve been depressed enough that I lacked the motivation to kill myself, but passively wished I was dead. I’ve survived times when none of that responded to medications until I was on high doses of antidepressants that turned me into an emotionless, anhedonic zombie (but hey, they helped me survive). I’ve suffered withdrawal symptoms from coming off of those drugs that were worse than the side-effects. I’ve wanted to exercise and eat better and lacked the time, energy, and resources to do either.
This post isn’t to say “LOOK WHAT I DID, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO IT TOO,” because screw that. This isn’t advice or a how-to, but an encouragement. My path to feeling better is the one that’s working for me right now, and if sharing my journey helps one person decide that it is possible to feel better, that the fight is worth fighting, or that they’re going to speak up about the shit that they’re going through and seek help, my mission will be accomplished. Maybe for you that means speaking to your doctor. Maybe it means admitting to your family that you need help to find time to get ten minutes of walking in. Maybe it means opening up to a friend who’s been there who can tell you that it can and does get better.
If you’re fighting depression (or not fighting it… I’ve been there, too) or any other mental illness, you are not alone. You are not a weirdo. You’re not defective. You are amazingly strong, and the proof of that is the fact that you’re still here. You are not your illness, and YOU are still there under it.
And if you don’t believe that right now, that’s okay, too. I believe it for you.
It’s Mental Health Week. I’m getting loud.
(As for the end of that facebook status, about the headaches and brain fog… CT scan results are in and my doctor asked to see me next week. Fingers crossed.)
*Though it is a cycle. When I took the baby step of walking for 20 minutes a day, I gained the energy to walk for 30. And my mood lifted a little. And I found motivation to make other changes.
I don’t do a lot of advice posts here. I don’t feel qualified. I’m happy to answer questions in private and chat about writing until you want to duct-tape my mouth shut, but for the most part I keep posts to talking about my work, releases, and whatever else is going on in my life.
Today, I’m going to make an exception.
We’re not going to talk about how to write, how to outline, how to create characters, or how to find an editor. Today is just going to be me sharing one big regret from my life as a writer in the hopes I can encourage someone else to not make the same mistake. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I think it might help someone out there, so here goes.
I wish I’d had the courage to write shitty books.
Does that sound strange? Let me explain.
I’m a perfectionist*. As we’ve discussed before, this doesn’t mean I’m a type-A personality who’s driven to do my best at everything. That wouldn’t be so bad. No, my perfectionism means that I expect myself to be good at everything from the get-go, without practice. Know what that leads to?
A whole lot of quitting. I’ve been like this since I was a little kid. I quit ballet, figure skating, t-ball, and guitar lessons. I wasn’t good at them right away, I had no concept of how to enjoy the experience of being challenged, I didn’t like feeling like a failure, so I gave up.
This is a horrible way to think. It’s stagnant. It relies on natural talent and coasting, and it rejects things like critique and learning from mistakes because it doesn’t want to believe anything needs to improve. Failure is terrifying, and to be avoided at all costs. Failure means you’re NOT GOOD ENOUGH, and to try means to risk finding out you’re an imposter.
I’m not proud of it, but it’s the mindset I seem to have been born with, and one I’m still learning to fight.
So that brings us to writing. I’ve always enjoyed writing, ever since I penned fanfic-ish (okay, direct rip-off) versions of my favourite stories in first grade. It was fun. I had a great imagination.
But I wanted everything to be perfect on the first draft. If I needed to work at it, that meant it wasn’t good enough, and therefore I shouldn’t bother. Criticism and suggestions for improvement made me defensive, and instead of trying to improve my work, I trashed it. Oh, and I expected my work as a first-grader to be as good as a published adult author’s.
Fast-forward to my twenties. I wanted to get back into writing. I started with short stories that I showed to very few people because I suspected they’d tell me they weren’t as good as they could be, and my ego couldn’t handle that. I believed that I had natural talent. That’s fine. Faith in oneself is essential. But I wanted that to be enough. I expected the first book I wrote to be a masterpiece, ready to have publishers swooning all over it, ready to catapult me to fame and fortune.
And I thought anything else was a waste of time.
So in between battles with depression, exhaustion from my day job, and later dealing with more depression (and babies/toddlers/small children), I started a few books.
I never finished them.
Why? Two reasons. First, they started to look like they wouldn’t be great, so I gave up. Second, I had this weird belief that I was somehow wasting ideas if I wrote them before I was good enough for them.
As though I couldn’t scrap them and re-write.
As though I couldn’t revise.
As though writing a not-quite-there-yet book and putting it under my bed to collect dust was shameful, because I wasn’t good enough.
I hated the thought of spending years working on something that wouldn’t be the Best Thing Ever. It seemed like a waste of time. I saw no reward in effort, in climbing a learning curve that exists for everyone but that I thought I should be somehow above.
Feel free to laugh. Really. I wish I could, but all I can do is wish for a time machine so I could slap some sense into to that younger me.
This is probably the worst attitude one can bring to writing: That we are above average, gifted, superior, and above criticism. It’s shooting yourself in the foot before you begin the race, then insisting you don’t need assistance. It’s a sure way to make sure you never make progress in anything.
The funny thing is, writing books that would never have seen the light of day would have been the opposite of a waste of time. Yes, it might have felt that way back then. We all want to believe that every bright, shiny idea that passes through our brains is a gift from the muses, that we are special snowflakes who will just drift to brilliance and fame because we deserve it.
But the fact is that you have to work for it. Years of writing (and finishing) bad books would have helped me write good books sooner. Maybe having a few full novels shoved under my bed would have prepared me to get Bound ready for publication in less than the 3.5 years of revisions it needed. Maybe I’d be cranking books out faster now because I’d know more about my process and how to make things work.
I wasted so much time giving up because first drafts weren’t perfect and because (surprise, surprise) writing is FRIGGING HARD. Yeah. It really is, and not all effort is rewarded equally–or financially. But if you push through, if you finish a bad book or two, you will learn so much more about the craft and about yourself as a storyteller than years of stalling and waiting can ever teach you.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I do not wish I had published a few bad books. I’m actually glad self-publishing wasn’t so promising and cheap back when I was first thinking about writing, because I know the temptation would have been there to publish books that weren’t remotely ready. Back then I was scared to let people see my work, but probably would have published anyway on the strength of my arrogance, and the reviews would have killed me. I don’t think throwing everything we write out there, letting the chips fall where they may, and revising stuff later is a good career strategy or respectful to readers (I know, some disagree with me). There are enough bad books out there, and I’m glad I was forced to wait until I had something of good quality to offer.
But I wish I had those bad books stashed in a drawer. I’m sure I’d be completely embarrassed by them, but I like to think that I’d also be thankful to past me for putting the work in, learning to fail, and letting go of perfection for long enough to actually move toward improvement.
So here’s your advice, friends. If you want to write, WRITE. Don’t wait for your abilities to magically develop to match the potential of this glorious story idea you have (trust me, you’ll have a better one soon enough, and you can always re-write it later). Put in the work writing complete and utter shit. Don’t feel like you ever have to publish it, but finish it and be open to having it critiqued. Be willing to accept the idea that you’re not a gifted genius, and that maybe you have a lot to learn. You can learn. You will learn. But hiding behind “I’m not going to bother if it’s not going to be perfect” will never get you there. Don’t write shit on purpose. Bring your A-game. Just don’t be scared of it not being amazing on the first try.
And then move on the the next thing. I’ve found that finishing each book has caused bigger shifts in my abilities as a writer than anything else, as each new book allows me to apply what I’m learning to a fresh story. I wish I’d finished more, sooner. But you can’t change the past, so what I’m doing now is trying to be open to trying new things, challenging myself, and maybe screwing up along the way.
Happy writing, friends.
*Cool footnote: After I drafted this post last week, I started reading a book called Mindset (Carol Dweck, Ph.D.). Guys, it is talking about me. The fixed mindset is everything I’ve been blabbing about and fighting against for the past few years. I’ll let you guys know how the book is once I’ve finished, but I’m pretty excited. And freaked out. Has she been stalking me? O.o
So, now that NaNoWriMo is drawing to a close, I need a new system to keep me motivated and rewarded.
Because, y’know, bringing characters and stories to life is cool and all, but I really like updating my word count every day and being like, “BOO-YAH!”* Watching the word count bar fill up is fun. Seeing progress is ridiculously encouraging, and being able to look back on what I’ve accomplished every day is even better.
I could just write my word count in my planner every day, but I wanted something more visual, kind of like that word count bar. Soooo I’m giving myself star stickers. Here’s the chart:
I don’t plan on getting a lot of gold stars after this month, but it’s there, just in case. You never know, right? Reach for the (gold) stars.
Silver is my actual daily goal, though there will be many days when I don’t reach it, for various reasons. Still, getting a silver star is pretty darn good.
Green star? Hey, words written are words written. No day when I’ve created something is a waste.
Red star= no writing. I got a lot of those last weekend, right after my NaNo win:
No stars for days I’d planned to take off, I guess. Oh, and blue stars for editing. I expect to need a LOT of blue stars in January, as I prepare a ms to go for professional editing in February. Sending a cleaner ms = cheaper editing for me.
Cue panic attack!
I know, writing should be its own reward, and I’m acting like a toddler who demands stickers on a chart before she’ll use the potty. But it’s fun. I like putting stickers on things, and I like a visual record of what I’ve accomplished. Gold stars aren’t enough motivation for me to write 5,000 words of crap, which is good. But then, neither is winning NaNoWriMo.
I can’t pad my word count with descriptions of what’s in characters’ pockets just to win something. Can’t do it.
So we’ll see how long it takes for the novelty of this to wear off. I suppose if I also noted times of day I worked and conditions, I could eventually figure out how to optimize productivity…
Or I could just put pretty stickers in my planner. Whichever.
So, kindred spirits and others: How do you keep yourself motivated? Or DO you? Do you like stickers? I FRIGGING LOVE STICKERS!
*Please note: I do not literally say “BOO-YAH.”
It’s a question that’s been attacking me from several angles this week.
It started, I suppose, with a Facebook post from Grammarly called “25 Common Phrases That You’re Saying Wrong”. It was an interesting post, listing commonly misused phrases and the correct versions. Go have a look, I’ll wait.
Fun, right? I’ve been saying all of them correctly except for number four, but I found the (repeated) explanations in the comments section very interesting. I also realized that I don’t use the phrase “you’ve got another thing/think coming,” because I can’t think of a situation when using that wouldn’t be rude or condescending. But that’s not the point.
The comments were enlightening in another way. Many of the comments were of the “I didn’t know that, thanks!” variety, some were debating the correctness of numbers four and 24, and seemingly hundreds were of the “It’s WRONGLY, not WRONG, dumbass” variety. But a number of comments ran in the self-righteous, “I’ve never used any of these phrases incorrectly, and anyone who has is an idiot. Why bother speaking English if you can’t do it properly?” vein.
As I was reading through the comments, a realization bit me on the nose. Are you ready for it?
These people sound like assholes, and I don’t want to be one of them.
Yes, it bothers me when people use the wrong form of “your/you’re” in anything more formal than a Facebook status, because I think clarity in expression is important, and glaring errors distract me from the message a person is trying to convey or the story they’re trying to tell. I have been tempted to carry post-it notes and a black Sharpie in my purse so I can correct errors on signs without actually committing vandalism. I think it’s ridiculous that “irregardless” is in the dictionary, and that “literally” is now literally defined as “figuratively.”
I love English, messy pawn-shop of a language that it is, and I cringe when it’s (not its) abused.
But I’ll tell you something: I don’t love it enough to think that it’s more important than being kind. I don’t ever want to be one of those small-minded jerks who reads someone’s tweet about their dog dying and corrects the message’s grammar instead of offering sympathy.
Perfect example of what I mean: In the comments on that Grammarly post, several people said that when they ask someone, “How are you?” and the person says “Good,” they want to walk away from the conversation.
Did you catch that? Because someone said “good” instead of “well,” these self-proclaimed grammar nazis* consider that person beneath them, not worthy of notice or care. They’re more concerned with a correct response than with the fact that maybe that person said “good” with a tear in her eye or a dishonest wobble in his voice.
No, they’d rather be right than be kind.
I don’t want to be like that. I also don’t want to deal with people like that, so I think from now on I’m going to say “good” whenever someone asks me how I’m doing. That should weed a few of them out.
This issue goes far beyond grammar, of course. That was just the first incandescent brain-flash I got this week. It applies to so many things in life. Take Batfleck (or whatever people are calling this “issue”). I understand thinking that someone made a bad casting decision for a movie. I also understand that this is important to many people. Discussing these things can be interesting, and expressing passion is important.
But when you look at the comments on Twitter and the posts on Facebook, something becomes apparent very quickly. People are more concerned with seeming clever than with the fact that they’re ripping an actual human being apart with their personal insults. “I think _______ would have been a better choice for Batman” is an opinion, and there’s nothing wrong with it. “Dare-Douche can’t be batman” is also an opinion, but it’s attempting to be hurtful to a real person. It’s also not particularly clever, and there are a lot out there that are far crueler, but you get my point. People are going for laughs, for “look how clever and wonderful I am” rather than trying to actually add something relevant and useful to the discussion.
Again, they’d rather be right (or funny, or admired by their Twitter followers) than be kind.
Have you looked at reviews of popular books on Goodreads lately? Scandals and kerfuffles aside, there are a whole lot of negative reviews that consist entirely of GIFs and statements like “_________ is the worst writer ever and should give up now” and “nice try, sweetie, better luck next time.”
I can’t and won’t claim that I’m innocent in this. I’ve made fun of celebrities who I won’t name here. I get frustrated when people are famous for being famous, or for apparently being pregnant for two years, or for spreading glitter and bad decisions like confetti. I’ve wondered out loud how people can enjoy certain books that are either badly-written or that make pre-teen girls swoon over stalkers. And there’s a place for honest criticism, for talking about the larger issues that these things bring to light, for sharing concerns over young women flocking to Twitter to beg a certain singer to beat them up because he’s OMG SO HAWT. But when it comes to the balance of being right or kind, I’m going to be making some changes. I’m going to make sure that when I share my opinions I’m focusing on my concerns or on the issues– not on insulting the celebrity/author/politician in a personal way, and certainly not on insulting the people who love their work.
This isn’t about pretending everything is sunshine and rainbows, or wanting to buy the world a Coke, or why can’t we all just get along, guys? There’s a place for honest criticism, for fans expressing their opinions on casting decisions in movies, and for defending the integrity of our language (b3caws engush is gr8, guise). There are issues that need to be discussed, even if there are people who are going to have their feelings hurt because they have different opinions. I’m not saying that I’m going to hold in my thoughts and opinions until I explode, just because I think someone won’t like what I say.
This is about me (just me) trying to make a small change. Before I open my mouth or set fingers to keyboard, I’m going to take a minute to ask, “why am I saying this?” If I’m adding to a discussion in a productive way, or if I’m offering gentle correction because I want to help someone or improve a situation, I’ll go ahead. If I’m just talking for the sake of talking, if I’m trying to sound clever or make myself feel smart because I’m right and someone else is wrong, or if I’m saying something that’s hurtful to someone on a personal level, I’m going to back off.
I’ve decided that for me, being kind is more important than being right. It’s not going to be easy to let go of my snarkiness over celebrities; I suspect I’ll be a work in progress for quite some time.
But there you go. I’m going to try.
(Please forgive me if none of this made sense. There’s an invisible troll trying to drive a foot-long section of rebar through the right side of my cranium this morning, and it’s throwing me off a bit.)
*Yes, a phrase with its own significant problems, but we’ll leave that for another time. This is dragging on as it is.