Know your big WHY

Our culture and our socialization tell us women how to act and think. We are supposed to be women/wives/mothers first and writers second.

Because of this, you need to be clear about WHY you want to write so that you can give yourself permission to write. And just to be clear, some of us have a harder time giving ourselves permission than others do. So,

1. Know what your goal is: it might be to start writing, to write more, to write more creatively, to write a novel, to finish writing projects, to sell your work. Be clear with yourself what your writing goal is.

2. To accomplish your goal, go deep: those who study brain science suggest that you need to answer this question, “what is the intrinsic social, moral or personal reason I have for wanting to achieve my goal?”

Knowing what your goal is and why you want to accomplish that goal keeps the motivation part of your brain activated. The clearer you are about your big WHY (the personal reason you want to write), the more important the goal will feel to you, and the more your brain will be motivated to turn that goal into reality.

When you know your big WHY you will have the motivation to take the necessary steps to find/make/clear time and space for your writing.

Writing Tip #4

20 things that a woman writer needs to stop wearing:
1-20: The weight of other people’s expectations and judgments.

Have you ever been held back, by yourself, from writing because of the expectations and judgments of others?

That’s a trick question, because, if you’re a woman, the answer is, “Of course.” It’s so easy to get so wrapped up in trying to be enough for everyone else that you begin to forget about what you need. (Notice I said need, not want.)

Wearing the weight of other people’s expectations and judgments can vary from not seeming like a big deal to feeling immense amounts of pressure to have ________, to do ________.

Start walking down your writing path today – tiptoe if you need to. Chances are it won’t fit perfectly right now and might be a longer journey to get to where you want to go than you would like, but ultimately, if you are doing what you love, you’ll be happier than you are right now.

Have a Passion. Decide to Act. Make Art.

Today, I’m reminded to take solace in the act of creating. A while ago, in one of my PhD classes, the artist Gendron Jensen*, who has spent a lifetime transforming relics from nature – usually bones – into art objects of uncommon beauty, talked with us about art and creating.

Three things he told us resonated profoundly, and I want to share them with you:

1. The very act of creating changes the projection of world history, whether your art is every made public or not. (His point was that making art changes us, which changes our personal behavior and actions, which changes history.)

2. Art needs to be released.

3. Create. Then let in the other.

*Jensen’s drawings are in the collections of such museums as Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He works almost exclusively in graphite on sheets of paper as tall as seven feet, making meticulous renderings of the intricate infrastructures of wildlife.

A Writerly Life: Elif Shafak

“Male writers are thought of as ‘writers’ first and then ‘men’. As for female writers, they are first ‘female’ and only then ‘writers’.” ― Elif Shafak

Overwhelmed? Blocked? Try Reverse Empathy

There is still much to learn about women’s creative processes and how to create the conditions that foster our creativity without negating the importance of relationships in our lives. Our culture and socialization still hijack a woman’s creative process, creating barriers for the woman writer. By barrier, I mean any persistent event, condition, or circumstance which inhibits a woman’s ability to both begin writing at all, and also to continue after she has begun.

Bell Hooks said, “Most women I encounter (with the exception of a privileged few) feel that we are still struggling against enormous odds to transform both this culture and our everyday lives so that our creativity can be nurtured in a sustained manner” (Art, p. 128).

A woman’s desire to do creative work is, in the experience of many women, treated as an indulgence, and hooks warned women that they cannot wait for ideal circumstances to be in place. She said, “Each of us must invent alternative strategies that enable us to move against and beyond the barriers that stand in our way” (p. 130).

In addition, I think women are culturalized to be overly empathic. An article published by the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley said, “Overly empathic people may even lose the ability to know what they want or need. They may have a diminished ability to make decisions in their own best interest, experience physical and psychological exhaustion from deflecting their own feelings, and may lack internal resources to give their best to key people in their life.”

This sounds like many women writers I know.

So what should we do? Here’s one alternative strategy you can use to move against and beyond your barriers: when faced with cultural and social messages that affect your ability to write, while waiting for ideal circumstances to be in place, when struggling for that bit of writing time, treat yourself with empathy. Yes, empathy. Empathy is acknowledging the humanity of someone (you) who was raised to think differently. So what I’m really talking about is reverse empathy, instead of feeling empathy for those round us, feel empathy for yourself. This a practice that allows you to pay attention to another’s needs without sacrificing your own, because it requires you to pay attention to your own needs.

Often when we are given writing advice, we try to follow tips and ideas that don’t really work for women, because of our conditioning and our circumstances. Instead of feeling like a failed writer, we should try and view ourselves through a reverse-empathetic lens. When we do, we learn to identify our own frame of reference, then we can take compassionate action toward ourselves. Then we can find, make, create, win back our writing time.

You Can’t Win If You Don’t Play

What’s your passion?

I want to write more. Let me streamline that a bit: I want to write more, send more of my work to an editor and/or agent, get published more, and make more money. You probably want something similar (that’s why you’re reading this, right?)

Now, I could ask myself, why aren’t I? However, a more interesting question that I’m pondering is, What pain am I willing to put up with in my life to work on my passion?

The pain is:
* the early mornings or late nights spend writing,
* the hours spent writing when I *should* be doing something else,
* the tough conversations about why I don’t have time to do ____ because I’m writing,
* the days that are so full that i have no mental energy left over at the end of the day to write,
* the fear that I’ll never make a “living wage” as a writer.

But you can’t win if you don’t play.

So, ask yourself, what pain are you willing to put up with in order to write?

Woman, Writer, Warrior

I’m personally and academically interested in the choices and compromises talented female writers make, more specifically why some women have difficulty giving themselves time and permission to do their writing.

I struggle with my roles as a woman: wife, mother, PhD student, professor, nurturer, and I run out of time and energy to do my creative work. But it has never truly been a problem of time management or writer’s block. Rather the issues run deeper, and for my PhD dissertation, I chose to write a novel and to document my own fluency and resistance as part of my contextualization.

I work up this morning and thought, Holy cow, where did the week go?

This has been a tough writing week for me. I’m 69 thousand-ish words into a draft of my 70 to 80 thousand word romantic mystery novel. And I’m totally overwhelmed about the fact that I’m not writing fast enough, worried that summer, which officially started yesterday, will be over before I can finish my novel, and freaking out because my life is boring (read: wake up, drink coffee and write, and worry about writing).

To put it bluntly, I am, like so many other women writers do, having difficulty giving myself time and permission to do my writing. Even though I need to!

The novel is part of my PhD dissertation – so I have “permission” to write it. If you’re a woman and a writer, you get what I just said – all those hours and hours given to a writing project that were not given to family or work.

I’m trying to cut through and write. But I keep thinking about all the stuff I need to do: clean the house, do the laundry, check work email, call the kids, feed Feral Cat. Feral Cat is a beautiful, but matted tuxedo cat who now lets me pet him, so I’m trying to figure out how to cut his matted fur off without him freaking out. I could do that instead of writing *wink*

So today my plan is to become a writing warrior. To create a writing culture for myself and other women writers that bears witness to the woman writer’s experience.

Have any writing advice for me? Let me know in the comments below.