Are You Lost in Writing Fog?

 

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Pixabay

Panic at 3500 Feet

One bright morning, my husband and I flew in his little Maule MX-7 from our crooked, grass strip to his parent’s house sixty miles away. As we cruised toward the sun, a few cotton-ball clouds dotted the patchwork of fields below us, but the skies above were clear.

Ten minutes later, a solid white blanket cloaked the ground.

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Photo by Life Of Pix on Pexels.com

Fog is intimidating when you’re on the road, but it’s downright hair-raising from the air, especially for this white-knuckle flyer.

After vowing silently never to fly again, I pointed out the obvious to my husband. “We can’t land in this!”

“It’ll lift before we get there,” he said, his hands firmly on the control wheel.

We followed the straight line on the GPS screen until we reached the destination point — his father’s farm. We circled the area and searched for an opening in the clouds but found none.

Anxiety taunted me: What if the fog doesn’t lift for hours! The plane will run out of fuel!

We circled again. I prayed, HARD. After one more go-around, the summer sun burned a hole in the fleecy cover, and we were able to land.

Despite my doubts, my husband knew what he was doing. He had studied the forecast and knew the weather conditions – dew point, temperature, and wind – were improving.

How Are Your Writing Conditions?

Sometimes, even the most conscientious scribblers inadvertently create their own WRITING FOG — a hazy state of confusion and bewilderment. Momentum slows, and finishing — or starting – a project becomes a tricky prospect.

If this occurs while you’re working on a story, you can’t see where the plot is heading. Or maybe your theme becomes fuzzy.

You may encounter Writing Fog between projects: one work is complete, but your vision for the next is blurry. You become disoriented, panicky, uncertain of your goals. You’re afraid you’ve lost creative energy. You’re afraid of crashing.

What Causes Fogginess?

Lack of planning. When I was a homeschooling mom, I was a dedicated (compulsive) planner. I scheduled every thirty minutes of my day. If I didn’t, I couldn’t get the laundry done. Or the meals. Or anything.

But I reached a point where my ever-increasing To Do list was making me nervous. So, I swung to the opposite extreme and NEVER made a schedule. No plans, no calendars, no lists. This also had its problems, such as missed appointments, late bills, and a serious lack of focus.

Winging it with your writing will give you similar results. That’s not to say you must write a fifty-page outline before you draft your story. And it’s okay if you can’t envision exactly what your next project will be. But a little planning can prevent you from getting lost. Think of it as GPS for authors.

Over-thinking.

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Pixabay

This condition is a symptom of the never-ending, futile quest for Perfection. It’s a trap. A labyrinth of circular thoughts which leads right back to Start, or worse, to No-man’s-land. When you over-think, you edit beyond the point of practicality. Is revising your work for the thirty-ninth time really going to make a significant difference? Or are you simply stalling? Finish the thing already. Excessive analyzing stems from not trusting yourself, which leads to another pitfall…

Too much advice. I love my writing podcasts, blogs, vlogs, courses, books, and #writingtips. But they can be too much of a good thing. All the brilliant but conflicting voices become a jumble of blah, blah, blah, until I don’t know what to believe. One expert says to create extensive character profiles; another says to allow characters to grow organically. Who’s right? In the end, you should go with your gut.

Over-dependence on others’ advice makes you passive. Passivity leads straight into the pea-soup of self-doubt and indecision.

If you’re in a muddle, and you can’t see the next story, the next scene, or the next sentence, consider whether one of these three conditions is to blame. Here’s hoping the mist will clear and bring your thoughts back into focus.

 

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What Are You Going To Blog About Today?

Since I came up with a small excuse for not writing last week, I humbly reblog this article for your encouragement. Thank you, Stephen!

Fractured Faith Blog

It has come to my attention (well I do investigate for a living after all) that I follow a lot of fantastic bloggers. I try to keep up with as many of them as I can and, where possible, offer encouragement and support. I can’t do that with them all, though, as otherwise I would never be off WordPress but even if it means just liking a post, I do it. Just to let people know that I care and appreciate their written efforts. It’s the least I can do given the tremendous support we receive on a daily basis.

The flip side of that is that a lot of bloggers don’t blog or, if they do, it is very infrequently. You see it all the time. The ‘Sorry I haven’t blogged in ages but I’ve been soooooo busy/life got in the way/haven’t had anything to say’ type introductions. Delete…

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A Baby Owl: A Small Excuse for Not Writing

Yes, I’ve been too busy to write much this week. And here’s the reason why:

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This is Alex, aka Owlex. A four-week-old Barn Owl that we got from the Avian Conservation Center near Charleston, SC.  My husband is a falconer, so he knows quite a bit about birds of prey, but this is his first owl. So far, Alex is eating well, taking small bites of mice from the Falconer’s hand. And he sleeps a lot (the owl, not my husband). It was easy to fall in love with this little guy.

Maybe one day, Alex will look like this:

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Image by DannyMoore1973 on Pixabay

Writing What You Don’t Know

As a budding writer, I was utterly dismayed by one of the first pieces of advice I received: write what you know.

Write what I know? Where’s the fun in that?

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I wanted to write about England, which I’ve never been to but I’m in love with.

I wanted to write about portals to other worlds, like Narnia. Visions conjured from clouds and wind. Erupting, sentient volcanoes with agendas, and evil wizards disguised as noble leaders. None of which I knew.

Here’s what Roz Morris, author of Nail Your Novel, has to say:

“You don’t have to write what you know — you only have to write what you can GET to know. The chances are, if you’re interested in a subject, a place or an era, you can find out enough to convince a reader. “

That was good news. Research was important if I was going to write about a place I’d never visited and a time I’d never lived in. As for fantasy elements, I’d need to flesh out my settings with sensory details and backstory.

“Writers do this all the time…If you should stick only to what you know, we should worry about the thousands of authors who write about murder.”

Indeed.

Life in a Dry Lakebed

The U.S. Deep South is known for heat, humidity, and the occasional hurricane. But two years ago, we were in the midst of a drought. If we weren’t exactly hoping for a hurricane, we would have welcomed a tropical storm.

It was early fall, and after weeks of little to no rain, the oak trees wilted. The leaves faded to a greenish-beige, like day-old avocado flesh.

The soil turned sandy in some places and hard as terra cotta in others. The pastures were parched, and what grass was left was brown and crunchy underfoot.

After several more weeks of dry weather, our lake receded. The water retreated from the maple trees lining the shore, revealing more and more of the lake floor. Bream, bass and mud turtles crammed into an ever-shrinking stagnant pool. The ground cracked into muddy puzzle pieces that didn’t quite fit together.

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It was about this time that our twenty-odd Katahdin sheep broke through the fence, wandered into the yard, and ate my potted red geraniums — retaliation for confining them to their pasture.

Over the next few days, we got into a pattern: they would escape through the fence, my husband and I would lure them back with a bucket of sweet corn. Again and again.

Giving In

Eventually, they wore us down; we knew we were beat. They needed more vegetation than their small pasture could provide, so we closed our front gate and let them roam over the whole fifty acres. And though I resented the loss of my flowers and the pebble-size droppings sprinkled over the yard (walking was tricky), the sheep were quite happy with this arrangement.

They ranged far into the woods during the day, and at night, they’d camp in the front yard close to the house. We’d peer out our bedroom window and watch them, frozen in place, sleeping on their feet. Or more eerie still, the ghostly figures would drift across the lawn in the darkness, their emerald eyes glowing.

The Wasteland

As the drought persisted, I’d walk past the dying lake on my way to the mailbox and bemoan the water loss.

I missed the reflection of the trees and clouds on the mirrored surface. I missed the gray heron and the snowy egrets fishing in the shallows. The not-so-attractive Muscovy ducks and loons. They’d all left for deeper waters.

The lake bottom was an ugly wasteland that smelled of rot.

But sometimes the death of one thing gives life to another. And just when you’ve filled your empty cup with cynicism, a dry lakebed surprises you.

Hope Springs

At first, the dirt took on a mossy hue. Then vegetation sprouted from the mud which, over the next few days, grew tall and thick.

Glossy, lush grass. The flock feasted on it, spending long days in the lakebed, until their bellies grew big and round and they were satisfied.

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When winter came, the rains returned and replenished the lake. The drought ended, but so did our days as sheep farmers. After years of battling predators, especially coyotes, we were losing the war.

Quite unexpectedly but providentially, an elderly man in overalls knocked on our door one afternoon. He’d seen the sheep from the highway and wondered if we would sell them.

Yes, we said reluctantly.

This Baptist preacher said he knew a lot about raising sheep. I suspect he knew something about shepherding humans, too. In the end, no money changed hands. We gave them away.

He called not too long ago. “I didn’t want you to worry,” he said. “The sheep are thriving.”

As sad as I was to give them up, his call reassured me. They’re in a better place now. A safer place, with a good shepherd, lots of fresh grass and, hopefully, a lake of their own.

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Why You Should Compare Yourself to Others

When Comparison Hurts

This morning I read a post from a fellow blogger. It was succinct, engrossing, fairly long, and beautiful. I thought about it while struggling to write this post.

My thoughts don’t flow like this other author. His sentences are pithier, his images more vivid. He writes from the heart and pulls the reader in with emotional impact. And he does it quickly. He couldn’t have labored over the piece for days because it contains recent information. I picture him at his laptop, fingers flying, never looking up until the entire post is finished and published ten minutes later. And it’s brilliant.

This hurts a little. Why can’t I do that? I am exceedingly, excruciatingly, agonizingly slow.

Some will say, Don’t compare yourself to others. I know they mean well. And I get it: it’s hard to be grateful for your ’96 Dodge when your colleague drives a new Jaguar. And that two-bedroom apartment doesn’t seem as spiffy after you visit your relative’s mountainside mansion with the dolphin-shaped pool, guest house, and scenic view.

It’s hard to be proud of your own accomplishments when they seem

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compared to others’.

But comparison isn’t the problem. Coveting is. And that’s a response I can choose to indulge or not.

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Only it’s not. COVETING is the thief of joy.

 

Comparison is Not a Thief — It’s a Teacher

Ira Glass, producer and host of “This American Life,” expressed the struggles of creative people in a video a few years ago, and an excerpt of his talk shows up periodically on writing sites. He offers encouragement to writers whose work doesn’t live up to their aspirations. (He was speaking off the cuff, if this transcription seems jerky. Listen to it in his voice here.)

“Nobody tells people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me…we get into it because we have good taste. But…THERE’S A GAP, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good…It’s trying to be good, but it’s not quit that good. But your TASTE, the thing that got you into the game, your taste is still killer. And your taste is still good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you…A lot of people never get past that phase. And a lot of people at that point, they QUIT. And the thing I would like to say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of YEARS where they had really good taste, and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short

The most important possible thing you could do is DO A LOT OF WORK. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline, so that every week or every month, you know you’re going to finish the story. BECAUSE IT’S ONLY BY ACTUALLY GOING THROUGH A VOLUME OF WORK THAT YOU ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO CATCH UP AND CLOSE THAT GAP. AND THE WORK YOU’RE MAKING WILL BE AS GOOD AS YOUR AMBITIONS.”

And this is why comparison is a good thing, because it forms our taste. When I read Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, it raises my standard. It improves my taste. And if I will analyze his exquisite writing, I may see the mechanism behind his lyrical prose and learn how to lift my own writing to new heights.

If I can humble myself and shun covetous self-pity when I read better authors, I will make progress. 

Maybe sometimes what we need is MORE comparison, not less.

 

 

 

When an Editor Is a Bad Fit

I wrote a novel. It was technically my second — I completed my first novel for NaNoWriMo in 2013. But I hid it away, and I have no regrets on that score. It was truly terrible.

I spent three months on the first draft of my second story. This was THE story I wanted to tell, the one that came from deep down. It gushed out of me like a geyser in the space of three months. Then I rewrote

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Image by Mitchell Joyce via Flickr

it three times over the next five years.

During those years, I read a million writing books and took a course on novel structure. I submitted chapters to Critique Circle – a great place to learn from other writers and readers.

I polished the story as much as I could, but I needed expert advice to mold it into a masterpiece worthy of the greats: Austen, Bronte, Dickens. Well, at least to make it good enough to self-publish.

To reach my goal, I hired a highly recommended editor (who shall remain nameless) and sent her the first five chapters and a synopsis. I didn’t expect coddling. I expected criticism. How else could I improve the story? I wanted criticism.

I got it. Plenty of it. On every page. As I read through her sometimes blunt comments on the first couple of chapters, I saw many errors I had missed. She pointed out other elements I had failed to develop. But she was spot-on, and I knew I was getting my money’s worth. I was enthusiastic about revising…

Until I got to her comments on the fifth chapter in which I introduced another prominent character, the Love Interest.

In a nutshell, the editor told me not to “waste my time” on the novel because this character was fatally flawed.

I am, admittedly, sensitive. If, like me, you tend to wear your heart on your sleeve – or if you insert your heart into your story — BEWARE. Less-than-gentle (yes, harsh) criticism can cause acute myocardial infarction.

I have also been known for taking things too personally. But in this case, it felt personal. You see, anxiety and I are old friends, and the character in question suffered with an anxiety disorder. The editor couldn’t believe that someone with severe anxiety could also be high-functioning and rational in other respects. Ouch!

I asked many questions about her conclusion and explained the character arc — her growth from fear and solitude to strength and victory.

The editor stood her ground.

It’s been a year, and I haven’t had the fortitude to delve back into my novel since I received feedback. At the same time, I can’t get the story out of my system. It haunts me. Family and friends have encouraged me to send the chapters to a different editor. Maybe I will.

Over the past few years I’ve submitted short stories to four other editors. Each offered words of instruction and encouragement while not sparing the red marks in my manuscripts. They made my stories better without crushing my spirit. They were worth every penny.

Hopefully, my experience will help someone else. So here are a few lessons I’ve learned:

1) Don’t wait FIVE YEARS before you get professional advice on your story. A good editor will catch developmental weaknesses that will save you time in the long run. And everyone needs an editor because everyone has blind spots. Even editors need editors. You may not agree with everything they recommend, but they will catch mistakes you missed.

2) If you don’t gel with one editor, hire another. You are paying them to HELP you, not tear you down. Some people will say it’s their job to tell you the cold hard truth, but the WAY they tell it can encourage or discourage, inspire or demoralize. Find a professional who gives it to you straight in a constructive way.

3) If you feel strongly about a story, don’t allow ONE person’s opinion to hold you back. I’m still learning this lesson.

Perhaps this should be number four: if you can’t work with one editor, don’t wait a whole year before you find another. Maybe it’s time to dig through the box by my easy chair and pull out that manuscript…