Refilling the Well

A little while ago I wrote a review of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, after having “completed” the 12-week program. I put those quotation marks because whether or not I actually completed the program is actually up for debate. I did many of the tasks and exercises, but I also didn’t do a lot of them, if you know what I mean. If you read my review you’ll see that, in the end, I decided that the program was not for me. There were too many ideas and concepts that I just couldn’t quite agree with.

But there were a few things in the book that, when read, made me go “YES. Oh my flipping lord, YES.” One of those things was the concept of “refilling the well”. Basically, the idea is that we can wear ourselves out creatively. We can spend too much of our time and energy on the actual art, to the point that we’ve “drained the well”, so to speak. We run out of energy/ideas/creativity; we don’t know what’s wrong, exactly, but all of a sudden we find ourselves staring at a blank page without any idea of how to make use of it, or everything we create feels like complete and utter crap, or just the thought of working on our art anymore makes us want to burst into tears.

"Yep. Just as I thought. Dry as a bone." Image courtesy of Natasha Hanova
“Yep. Just as I thought. Dry as a bone.”
Image courtesy of Natasha Hanova

The suggestion, based on this phenomenon, is that creativity is a finite source, and we have to replenish it from time to time. It’s like calories; if we continuously burn more calories than we take in, we starve. If we use up all our creativity without shoring up our supply, we eventually run out and have nothing left to draw from.

So how exactly do we shore up our supply? Well, my experience thus far has been that the best way to rebuild creative stores is to allow yourself to experience other people’s creativity. Read books, watch movies, play video games. Allow yourself to enjoy and fully experience the creations of others. Say, for example, that you’ve been working on a science fiction novel. Take an evening and watch some classic sci-fi movies – you might just get some great ideas for that scene you’ve been stuck on. Working on something visual, like a painting, and not quite sure where you’re going with it? Spend a few hours on sites like Flickr and DeviantArt. Seeing how others have accomplished similar things might give you the spark you need to keep moving forward.

Why am I talking about this today? Because I am currently in the process of desperately trying to refill the well. Though I’ve finally gotten back to work on the last bit of manuscript editing I have to do (more on that tomorrow), I’ve been woefully disappointing in the amount of new writing that I’ve been doing of late. I just haven’t been able to push myself to sit down with a blank page and write something new; no new chapters to unfinished stories, no new drabbles or short stories…nothing new at all. Blogging, while important in its own way, does not count. I need to be writing new fiction. Lots of it. You can’t get better at writing unless you force yourself to do a lot of it, and you are seriously unlikely to reach a large year-long word-count goal if the only words you’re writing are for your blog.

And so here I find myself, staring into the well, tossing things in and hoping that soon I’ll be able to see the top of the pile. I’ve been (as previously mentioned) reading the most recent Sookie Stackhouse novels. I’ve recently completed (along with every trophy, thank you very much) the PS Vita game, Tearaway. I’ve been watching movies with my husband (most recently a horror and a goofy Grindhouse flick) and have plans to start watching the Doctor Who show right from the beginning original episodes. I’ve been using the books my husband gave me for Christmas to learn more about my favorite superheroes, their backgrounds, their villains, and their comrades.

Am I feeling more creative yet? Maybe a little. Maybe a little too much. I find myself actually drowning a little bit in the ideas. I’m not sure what to go for, where to turn next. There are so many areas on which I could focus, and I can’t tell which one I’m most interested in. While attempting to refill the well, I may have actually leaned a little too far forward and fallen in.

But it’s a good problem to have, I think. Soon I am going to be returning to my “day job” out West, a job that involves a lot of physical labor, moving about outside, and thinking technically. Therefore it is going to be a joy to go back to my room at night, curl up with my tablet or a new blank journal, and just write. Maybe I’ll choose one direction and aim for it with laser precision. Or maybe I’ll spin the needle each night and see where the winds take me. Either way, I suspect that 2014 is going to be an interesting year for seeing what pops out of my brain and onto the page.


Book Review: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

For the past twelve weeks I’ve been going through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I thought it only fitting, now that I’ve “completed” the program, I give a review of the book.

Image via…sorry, you can’t actually “click to look inside” 😛

The Artist’s Way is a 12-week program meant to help a “blocked” artist restore their sense of creativity. Each week focuses on restoring a different aspect of creative life via a number of exercises and tasks. By the end of the book an artist hopes to have moved past whatever issues are keeping them from being happy, productive, and successful.

There are a number of pros and cons with the book, in my opinion, but I can basically boil them down to four main points:

Pro: Several interesting topics that really make you think

The real gem of this book is the way it makes you think about certain important topics that probably never crossed your mind before. For instance, in one of the first chapters the author talks about the bad influences in your life that may be keeping you from following your dreams as an artist. This chapter gets you thinking about bad experiences as children, friends and family members who you might fail to recognize as emotional vampires, and lots of other psychological blocks that could be keeping you from reaching your potential. These types of topics, when they arise in the book, are great because they’re the kinds of things that a person doesn’t usually just recognize on their own.

Con: Surprising lack of creativity concerning the exercises and tasks

For the first 2-3 weeks of the program I genuinely enjoyed the exercises and weekly tasks. Some of them were quite amusing, fun, and telling. The problem is that after the first few weeks, new, creative tasks disappeared almost completely. Sometimes they were reworded or had a little something extra added to them, but for the most part you’re just redoing the same several tasks over and over again. It’s really quite disappointing because the first batches of tasks are quite good and helpful, but once you’ve done the “5 Imaginary Lives” task the fourth time you start to wonder if maybe the author had a bit of a creative block going on while she was writing this book.

Pro: Loving, positive support from the author

I have to admit, the author of this book, Julia Cameron, writes like a big sister or an older cousin. The book is nicely written in the tone of a woman who is genuinely concerned about you and your creative “recovery”. She gives lots of personal examples, as well as examples based on real people in her life and students she has had in her classes, and she just makes you feel like you’ve got someone on your side, even if nobody else is.

Con: Everything is about God

When I first started the program I mentioned that Cameron mentions God as being the “Great Creator” that is the source of all creativity, but she also goes on to say that you don’t have to believe in God for this program to be helpful. As an atheist I was quite relieved, because there’s nothing worse as an atheist than being told that all your problems in life are due to not believing in God. My relief lasted about four chapters. It quickly became evident that even if you don’t have to believe in God for the program to be helpful, it would be a pretty damn enormous boon. Every chapter seems to mention at least three instances where believing in God is your greatest tool. If you believe in God, he will send you creative skill. If you believe in God he will provide the financial necessities for you to exist as an artist. If you believe in God all the things that are holding you back will magically disappear. If I sound like I’m exaggerating it a bit, know that I’m not. While there are also many topics in the book that focus on inner strength and personal accomplishment, every chapter at some point says (if only in a roundabout way) that as long as you believe in God (or the “Great Creator”) everything will work out. And I can’t honestly say that this attitude didn’t start to sicken me after a while.

In the end, I’m glad for having read the book, but there were definitely a few issues with it. I’m certain that it would be much more helpful to people with spirituality as an important part of their life, but even then there could be quite a bit of work done to the exercises and weekly tasks to keep them fun and interesting. Personally I found that what this book helped me with was recognizing and accepting myself as an artist who must create no matter what…but it did absolutely nothing to actually help bolster my physical creativity.

My final say, therefore, is that it’s worth a read for some of the inner truths it can help unveil, but if you’re more interested in actual creativity than the spiritual aspect of creativity, this might not be what you’re looking for.

Have you read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron? What did you think? Did it help you at all? What other books have you read that have helped you with your craft? Please share!

Faith, Trust, and ART!

Last, but not least, week 12 of The Artist’s Way focuses on “recovering a sense of faith”. On this topic the author speaks about trust, mystery, imagination at play, and escape velocity.

The “trust” part speaks for itself, I think. In order to be an artist of any kind you have to put a lot of faith in yourself and trust that things will fall into place. This can be especially difficult because of the nature of the world we live in…there is a formula to life in this century, and part of that formula is getting a “real” job where you work regular hours and receive a nearly identical paycheck every so many days. Trusting yourself to be an artist is trusting that you’ll be able to survive without that piece of the formula. Sure, at first you might follow the formula to a tee and worry about the artist stuff in your spare time, but if some level of success should roll up to meet you, if you make that leap to becoming a full-time, professional artist, a lot of things are going to change and you have to be able to trust that it will all work out somehow.

“Mystery” refers to the strange, slow, creeping nature of creativity. It refers to the fact that ideas (for a story, painting, screenplay, etc) rarely appear fully formed in the artist’s mind. Ideas are slow to build, elusive, ever hiding in the shadows. An artist has to be willing to let these little hints and glimpses come to them without rushing to flip on all of the floodlights. Forcing an idea can be the thing that murders it violently. You have to start with that little taste, allow it to simmer in the pot for a while until the flavors begin to emerge. If the idea is truly great, the details will come to you as they are required. Forcing the idea out before it is ready is akin to forcing a smile in a photo; everyone who looks can see that something is not quite right.

The concept of “imagination at play” is quite simple: imaginations want to play! Artists – though they may deal with all the same stresses and daily frustrations as everyone else – are naturally playful people. We don’t just write a novel or sculpt a statue; we sing in the shower, and scribble in children’s coloring books, and collect pretty rocks, and plant flowers around our houses, and bake immaculate-looking treats, and build lovely websites for ourselves, and use our craftiness to make gifts for others. Everything that we do simply because we enjoy it is part of our playful imagination. We are not “wake up at the crack of dawn, eat a bowl of flax seed cereal before going to my 9-5 job, come home and do the chores, get a shower and crawl into bed” people. We may have to do all those things, but we also need to be playful, to do silly things that other people may find strange. We need to be creative and imaginative and weird. Imaginations must play; you do know what happens when there’s “all work and no play”, right?

“Escape velocity” is a final, interesting topic. Relating to physics, “escape velocity” is when the kinetic energy from, say, a rocket ship, becomes equal to (and therefore cancels out) the energy from the gravitational pull of the Earth. Until these two forces balance, there is no way for the rocket ship to move forward and “escape” the Earth. Concerning artists, the book suggests that the “escape velocity” for an artist is a Test…test with a capital “T”. As the artist builds up their kinetic energy and aims for escape, inevitably a Test will arise to meet them…the Test that they have to overcome in order to pull away from the Earth. For example, a very talented artist may finally have built up the courage to quit their day job in order to work full time on their art…and the moment they do their boss offers them the first raise they’ve ever received. Do they stay or do they go? It depends, of course. This is a Test of dedication to the artist’s dreams versus dedication to the “formula”. That extra money could help you pay off your bills faster, get further ahead, build up some savings…but you might be miserable the entire time because you’re not doing what you really want to be doing. Do you hit escape velocity and pull away into the stars, or do you let yourself fall back down to Earth?

In the end, the “sense of faith” that you’re meant to be recovering is the type of faith that very few people seem to have these days: a faith that things will work out if you want it badly enough. It is very difficult to allow oneself this kind of faith because there are so many outside factors shouting, “NO! That’s NOT the way the world works!” And yet we must, at least in some way, have this kind of faith if we are to reach for the dreams we hold dearest.

Acceptance, Success, Exercise, and Altars

Week 11 of The Artist’s Way impresses upon us the importance of “recovering a sense of autonomy”. I’m not entirely sure that the word “autonomy” is the right one to use in this sense, but we’ll ignore that and simply move forward.

There are a few steps, according to this chapter, that help us to recover our “autonomy”. The first is to accept that we are artists. That may seem a little redundant at this point of the game, but I do understand what the author is getting at. The thing is that artists tend to be a little different; we’re odd, we value different things, we prefer to use our time differently, we see beauty where others do not. The result of this is often a lack of support from those around us. People think we’re weird for wasting our time on our art, they see us as immature or socially awkward. These reactions can encourage us to “straighten up and fly right”, to change ourselves to suit the image that those around us want to see. We teach our kids to be themselves, but as adults we expect everyone to adhere to a certain set of rules. Artists have to accept that this is the way people will be, but that we don’t have to put up with it. Put simply, if I want to paint murals on my bedroom walls, or wear ridiculously flamboyant clothes, or spend all my time sitting in the park and scribbling in a notebook, that’s my choice as an artist. Other people will think that there’s something wrong with me, but if I want to be an artist I have to accept that others aren’t always going to be accepting.

The second step is understanding what “success” truly means. First things first, not all artists will ever attain what the outside world sees as success (namely, making good money). It’s a sad but simple fact that all artists have to deal with…they may never make a good living with their art. There are simply too many factors. For instance, I may write the greatest novel the world has ever seen, but if it happens to be on a topic that people are not currently interested in reading about, it simply won’t sell. Understanding that, we have to look at success in different terms. Success for one may simply be achieving publication. For another it may be selling a certain number of books. The end game isn’t important, because there is no end game. Art isn’t something that comes to a finish because you achieved what you set out to achieve. I may publish a book and call that success, but the moment that happens it doesn’t mean that I’ve succeeded in becoming a real artist; it just means that I hit a goal. There will always be more to do. I can’t just write one book, publish it, sell a million copies. That would be great, but if I want to continue to be an artist, I have to write another book, reach new goals. In other words, enjoy life’s little successes, but know that there will always be more to strive for.

The third step, apparently, is exercise. I have to admit, I was a little surprised to see this topic pop up in this particular book, but the author is not enforcing a physically fit lifestyle. Rather, she is letting us know that exercise can be a helpful tool toward creativity. We live in a fairly sedentary world, and we find every possible reason not to engage in regular exercise (how many of us “don’t have time” for exercise, but seem to find plenty of time to spend on Facebook every day?), but regular exercise can be a great way to de-stress, clear the mind, and bring creativity to the forefront. Even a ten minute walk in the sun can make us feel calmer, happier, and ready to get to work.

And the forth step, another surprise, is to build an “artist’s altar”. That seems terribly religious, I know, but it’s really not at all. An “artist’s altar” is simply a special place that makes you feel happy and productive. As an example, a painter might have a special room that is only for painting, that is filled with tons of supplies and fun stuff. The painter may even splash random colors of paint on the walls if it suits her fancy and makes her feel more creative. A photographer, alternatively, might have a particular wall in their house on which they display their favorite photos in lovely frames. Or a web designer might have a large corner desk with multiple screens and some interesting designs pinned to a cork board above it.

These four steps, apparently, are the key to “autonomy”. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know myself.

Myself, I accepted a long time ago that I’m an artist and a lot of people aren’t going to “get” that. It doesn’t matter. Writing makes me happy, and I don’t need other people to understand that.

Myself, I’ve made peace with the fact that I may never be conventionally “successful” as a writer. It’s enough for me to work toward one goal at a time and see where the wind takes me.

Myself, I don’t always get as physical as I should, but I do what I can and I can vouch for the fact that exercise makes a lot of other parts of my life come together in a god way.

Myself, I don’t currently have an “artist’s altar”, but I’ve been working toward one because it’s something I’ve craved for a long time, so hopefully I’ll have one in the near future.

I don’t know if these steps make me “autonomous”, but they’re definitely all things that I can agree are important parts of being an artist, so I guess that’s what matters in the end.

Have you “accepted” yourself as an artist? What is your version of “success”? Does exercise help you to create? Do you have an “artist’s altar”? Please share!

Focus in a Sea of Distractions

We’re on the homestretch, and Week 10 of The Artist’s Way is about “recovering a sense of self-protection”. I’m not sure that “self-protection” was the right choice of words…I’d have said something more along the lines of “recovering a sense of focus on what’s important”.

Basically, week 10 talks about a number of issues that we deal with (and sometimes enforce upon ourselves) that cause us to lose our focus and drift away from our dreams. One such issue is not given an actual title in the chapter, but I would refer to it as the “I’ll Do It When…” syndrome. This is when we set arbitrary limits for ourselves that don’t really mean anything in the long run, but make us feel as though we’re protecting ourselves from pain. For instance, I might finish editing my manuscript this month and have it all set for self-publication and then suddenly turn around and say, “No, you know what, I’m not well-known enough to sell a book. I’ll wait until I have, hmmm…say, 200 followers on my blog before I publish.” The limit is completely arbitrary (what’s so special about the number 200?) and means positively nothing (number of blog followers, in the end, has nothing to do with whether the book will sell), so the only point of it is to hold myself back, and why would I want to do that? As we’ve mentioned before, the name of the game is fear. We impose limits on ourselves because we’re terrified of the unknown. In this example I might be terrified that if I self-publish I won’t sell any books, or worse, I’ll sell a few and then get a wave of horrible reviews. So I (hypothetically) give myself these little limits that I have to reach before I’ll be willing to make the leap, and then when that moment comes I find another reason to limit myself. The cycle continues.

procastinatorThe other issues addressed in week 10 are workaholism, drought, fame, and competition. Workaholism is exactly what it sounds like; the artist in question lets their entire word become awash in their day job, to the point that they can never “find time” to work on their art. This isn’t simply the normal situation where an artist has a day job and thus has less time to work on their craft; this is actively seeking out more work to do because the artist is scared to work on their craft (for any of the reasons previously discussed). And this doesn’t necessarily have to involve a day job with an employer; a house wife who longs to be a painter may insist that she has no time to paint because she has to vacuum the floors for the second time today, and remake all the beds, and cut up and wash all the fruit and veggies in the fridge, and…well, you get the idea.

Drought is pretty much exactly what it sounds like…writers might call it “writer’s block”. This is when you have no ideas, everything you create seems like crap, and you have no idea how to move forward. You begin to doubt yourself. Drought is a state that every single artist deals with at some point, but depending on what kind of artist you are and what kind of person you are, you could push through it and come out stronger on the other side, or you could give up entirely. Drought has been well known to be the end of many artist careers.

Fame is synonymous with ego in this case. Even if I’ve been successful so far (say, by self-publishing and selling my first hundred books), I get caught up in the fact that I’m not famous yet. There are certain things that we equate with being successful, and unfortunately “fame” is one of them. By becoming the artist we had hoped to become, we also expect to start being adored by the public, receive fan letters, get asked to do book readings or get invited to a convention. If these things don’t happen, we assume that we’ve done something wrong. It’s not enough to meet our dreams and maybe even make some money at them…suddenly we want to be a celebrity too, and now we’re focusing on that instead of our art. Our art gets shuffled to the background.

Competition is based in good old fashioned jealousy. It boils down to seeing others succeed and feeling as though they somehow beat you. For example, say I have a close friend who is also a writer. We began writing around the same time and we often write in similar genres and the like. Now say that I’m stuck in the editing process, while she has already pushed forward, self-published, and has recently landed on the bestselling e-book list on Amazon. My sense of competition kicks in and I begin to feel like I’ve “lost”. The possibility of succeeding becomes moot because I’ve already “failed”. I lose the will to keep moving forward.

This is a chapter that I actually found quite interesting because I have, in one form or another, experienced each of these issues. I’ve played the “workaholic” by finding a million other things that “had” to get done that weren’t my writing. I’ve created arbitrary limits for myself, like telling myself that my zombie novel has to be the first thing I publish, even if it’s not necessarily my best work. I’ve put myself down because others are out there achieving what I’ve always dreamed of…they “beat” me to it. I told myself that I can’t be successful because I’m not “famous” enough (via, not enough followers, never getting comments, etc). And I’ve definitely gone through the drought process…many times, in fact, and every time I consider that this might be the time I quit all together.

These are all things that I expect every artist deals with, because they all boil down to human emotion and instinct. We want to be the best, we want to be loved, we feel that if we’re doing things right they should be easy, and we hate being afraid. The key, as with many things, is to recognize the issues and move on from them, and it helps knowing that others are going through the exact same things. That’s why communities (like the #MyWANA Twitter community for writers) are so great. No one has to suffer alone.

Have you ever dealt with workaholism, drought, “fame”, competition, or a raging case of the “I’ll Do It When…” syndrome? How did you get past it? Please share!

“Trade”ing in Your Dreams

Week number 8 of The Artist’s Way is about “recovering a sense of strength”. This chapter addresses a number of topics, but what they all boil down to in the end is the concept of having inner strength and refusing to let outside forces dictate the course of your artistic career. In this vein the author talks about unsupportive family, teachers and mentors who only point out the weaknesses, never the strengths, and any number of inner turmoils (“I’m too old” or “I can’t afford this” or “I’m not good enough”) that beat artists down and keep them from reaching their true potential.

Since this topic just happened to come up at the same time, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share something I overheard while at the hardware store the other day. I was getting some paint mixed when a man came up and started chatting with the woman behind me. I wasn’t really paying attention at first because they were strangers to me, talking about their families and the like, but then my ears happened to prick up on the woman talking about what her kids wanted to take in college. I don’t recall what she said the girl was going to do, but she said that the boy wanted to be an author. She then went on to explain that, “I told him, that’s great, if you want to be an author, but you have to take a trade or something to fall back on.”

I found myself more than a little annoyed about this.

3uv0cSee, on the one hand, as a mother, I can see her point. The arts are such a cruel and difficult world to make a living in, and we hate to imagine our children failing, so we encourage them toward fields that we know they will at least be able to get some sort of job in.

On the other hand, people who haven’t tried to be an artist have no concept of just how much time and energy such a thing entails. Writing, in particular, takes vast amounts of time and energy just to get words to paper, and that doesn’t factor in the time it takes to learn how to write properly, take courses and read books on the craft, research information you might need for your story, research information on the different forms and methods of publishing, research people and services you’ll need along the way (critique groups, editors, agents, cover designers, etc), and all those extra little niggling things. See, people who don’t write imagine that it’s just as simple as that: you get an idea, you write it down, you hand it to a publisher, and it becomes a book. But nothing could be further from the truth. Art may be looked down upon by people studying hard to become doctors, lawyers, and scientists, but just because the subject matter and the path toward art are a little different doesn’t make them any less difficult and time consuming. People don’t just become artists in their spare time, because spare time is not nearly enough time.

To say that I wanted to turn around and give this woman a talking to would be putting it lightly, but I’m not that kind of person. All I could do was sit there and seethe quietly, thinking that this boy of hers will probably never become an author like he wants. What will likely happen is that he’ll take a trade and try to write in his spare time. He won’t bother with courses or craft books because he’ll be too busy in his trade courses, and doing labs and homework and exams. When he graduates from his trade he’ll go off and get a job in that field because he’s an adult now and he needs money to support himself and his adult life, and because of that job and all the other things going on in his life he’ll write less and less until he’s barely writing at all, if he even is still writing at all. He’ll never become an author because instead of using his time and energy to work on writing, he’ll use it all up on the “something to fall back on”.

I know this is what will probably happen, because it’s exactly what happened to me. All I can hope for is that this kid, like me, realizes a few years later that he needs to work twice as hard now to recover that lost dream of becoming an author, and that he does it because it’s truly what is in his heart.

I’m not saying that we should all accept point-blank whatever random career choice our kids pull out of the air…at 18 not many kids actually have any idea what they truly want to do with themselves. But it’s worth taking into consideration that your kid might actually know. This woman’s son may have been writing stories since the third grade. He may have dozens of mini-manuscripts under his belt. He may have even had something published in the newspaper or as part of some kind of contest. He may have real talent. And he may squander that talent on a trade because his mother doesn’t believe in him enough to give him the strength and encouragement to follow his heart.

What would you do in the son’s position? In the mother’s? Do you believe that all prospective artists should have a “back-up plan” or that they should focus their energy on their real goals? Have you found yourself in this position before (either the son’s or the mother’s)? Please share!

The Virtue Trap

Week 5 of The Artist’s Way is about “recovering a sense of possibility”. The chapter talks about allowing yourself to believe that the dreams you aspire to are possible and that you are capable of achieving them. It goes on to talk about something called “The Virtue Trap”, which can basically be thought of as the “virtuous” excuses we come up with for not achieving our goals. For instance, a father who wants to train to run a 5k may say that he can’t spend time training because he needs to work overtime to support his family. The family may be able to do just fine without the overtime and a few cutbacks, but the man tells himself that expecting his family to sacrifice for him would be selfish…whereas sacrificing his goals for them is virtuous.

This is a trap that I think almost everyone falls for in one way or another, especially when it comes to giving up our time for others. It’s a strange thing, really, but many of us would rather sacrifice our dreams and look virtuous in the process than to allow ourselves to focus on our dreams and end up looking selfish. I can think of a hundred examples:

–  A new mother may love her job and long to return to work, but she stays home with the baby because society tells her that she’s supposed to.

– Someone may give up on their dream job because it would require their spouse to move far away from home with them, and they don’t feel they can ask that.

– A grown adult may long to travel the world, but instead stays home to take care of their aging parents.

– An older sibling might give up on their aspirations to go to an ivy-league school because they know that if they do it will practically bankrupt their family and possibly kill any chance of the younger sibling going to university.

The list goes on. Think about your own life. What have you given up (or for that matter, what do you give up on a daily basis) because what you want would affect others? What don’t you allow yourself to do because you tell yourself that it would be selfish?

The problem is that oftentimes when we’re sitting around, brooding about our lost opportunities and telling ourselves that we can’t be selfish, we neglect to look at things from the other point of view…that maybe we’re not the selfish ones.

Image borrowed from
Image borrowed from

Let’s look at my original example. The man wants time to train, but instead he works tons of overtime so that his family can live more comfortably. He tells himself that he’s being virtuous by working the overtime, that it would be selfish of him to cut back his hours in order to train because it would require his family to cut back on their expenditures. What he doesn’t consider is that perhaps he’s not the one thinking selfish thoughts – perhaps his family is the one being selfish, expecting him to give up his spare time and his goals so that they have more money to spend.

This isn’t necessarily the case for every situation, of course, but I invite everyone to look at their own situations.

Would it really be selfish of you to follow your dreams and goals? Or are other people in your life being selfish by expecting you to give them up? Are you falling for the Virtue Trap?

Getting to Know Yourself

The third week of The Artist’s Way is about “recovering a sense of power”. This week looks into several concepts. One of these is anger, and how we should use angry feelings toward ourselves (“Oh my god, I’ve gotten so fat!”) to reveal those things in our lives which we need to be focusing on.

Another of the topics is “synchronicity”, which basically refers to great things that happen to us (coincidences, most of us call them) that help us work toward our goals. Most of us ignore these things, (“Sure, I met this awesome writer agent who is really friendly and helpful, but it’s totally a coincidence and she won’t want to read my manuscript.”) because we’re more scared of actually achieving our goals than never achieving them.

And the third topic is shame, which most of us have way too much of. We think poorly of ourselves because of concepts that society forces on us (“Artist’s are just lazy people who don’t want to get a real job.”) and that keeps us from following our dreams and goals for ourselves.

As of the writing of this post I haven’t been able to find the time to work on any of the tasks for this week, but there is one exercise that was in the bulk of the chapter itself that I thought I could share. It’s a series of “finish this sentence” lines that are meant to evoke some thought and emotion into who you are and what is important to you, as well as your feelings about certain concerns and issues that might be blocking your creativity.

destructionThe bold part of the sentence is the prompt, and the normal font is my response.

1. My favorite childhood toy was…probably my Super Nintendo. I can think of dozens of other toys that I absolutely loved, but the SNES holds a special place in my heart, along with such games as Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy III(VI), and Uniracers (yes, Uniracers…shut up!).

2. My favorite childhood game was…Jailbreak. It goes by other names in different areas, so for clarification it’s basically hide-and-seek in the dark, where “it” sends people to “jail”. If one of the hiding kids is able to get to the “jail” without “it” catching them, he/she can yell “JAILBREAK!” and everyone runs off to hide again.

3. The best movie I ever saw as a kid was…probably the first live-action Ninja Turtles movie. I saw tons of movies as a kid, but I can specifically remember waiting in line at the theater to see this one and I was definitely not disappointed.

4. I don’t do it much but I enjoy…reading. I read more than most people I know, but still not much considering that it’s one of my favorite things to do. I love reading, but it takes up so much time that I don’t have.

5. If I could lighten up a little, I’d let myself…attend a “Write-In” during National Novel Writing Month. “Write-In”s are basically when a group of writers were are participating in NaNoWriMo get together and hang out at a cafe or at someone’s house and just enjoy each others company while trying to write as much as possible. There are a couple in the next town over every year but I never go because it feels like a very un-adult thing to do for some reason.

6. If it weren’t too late, I’d…go away for college. The degree I got has served me well, so the university I attended was fine, but I always regretted not going away just to experience the whole “dorm life” thing.

7. My favorite musical instrument is…the guitar. It has always been a little difficult for me to play since my fingers are so short, but it’s more fun than the piano, and I just love the sound of a good acoustic guitar.

8. The amount of money I spend on treating myself to entertainment each month is…almost non-existent. In the past couple of months I’ve spent a bit of money on video games for the Vita my husband bought me, but normally I don’t really spending anything at all. If you work it out monthly over the course of a year it’s probably less than $10.

9. If I weren’t so stingy with my artist I’d buy her…some craft courses. There are lots of awesome-sounding writing courses on WANA International and Writer’s Digest, but I just can’t bring myself to spend money on my writing when I have no way of knowing if I’ll ever make any back.

10. Taking time out for myself is…almost impossible. When I was working out West I was accounted for 23-hours of the day, and when I’m home I can’t even sneak away for two minutes without the baby hunting me down and wanting something.

11. I am afraid that if I start dreaming…I’ll crash and burn. I’ve been allowing myself a hope and prayer for the past while, but it’s a tenuous grasp. I worry that I’ll put all this effort into something that I never get anything back out of.

12. I secretly enjoy reading…all these cheesy sexy-vampire-novels-that-are-marketed-toward-teenagers that are out these days. Don’t get me wrong, I still like my vampires to be scary-ass monsters that will rip your throat out, but there’s also an inherent charm to the sexy ones, especially if they’re sexy and dangerous.

13. If I had had a perfect childhood I’d have grown up to be…a writer, for sure. It’s what I’ve wanted since the third grade, so if everything had fallen into place perfectly, that’s definitely what I’d be doing today.

14. If it didn’t sound so crazy, I’d write or make a…series of novels based on all of my favorite video games from my childhood. Games like the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger, the Breath of Fire series, and Secret of Mana all had such amazing story lines, I’ve always thought they deserved to be fleshed out and paid more attention to. I’d love to put 100% of my attention into these things, IF I had any belief that the respective copyright holders would ever allow me to publish them. For now, I’m just spending some of my writing time on the Final Fantasy VI one (a girl’s gotta dream).

15. My parents think artists are…artists? I really don’t know how to answer this one, since I’ve never really asked them. My parents are supportive; whether that reflects their actual attitudes toward artist or not, that’s all I really know.

16. My God thinks artists are…non-existent? I don’t have a God, so I doubt he thinks very much about anything at all.

17. What makes me feel weird about this recovery is…just an overall sense that it’s silly and pointless. I can honestly say that some of the tasks have prompted some “Ah-ha!” moments, but overall I just feel like it’s going to turn out to have been a huge waste of time.

18. Learning to trust myself is probably…one of the harder things I’ve ever tried to do. I might seem confident sometimes, but inwardly I’m pretty sure that I have no real talent and will never succeed in my goals.

19. My most cheer-me-up music is…mostly alternative rock from my younger years. Oddly, even when the lyrics are the exact opposite of “cheer-me-up”, things like the Offspring, GreenDay, and Blink 182 give me a little burst inside. That’s why I have tons of their songs on my phone.

20. My favorite way to dress is…jeans and a tank top. I don’t really like dresses because I hate having to sit properly, and I’m not a huge fan of shorts because I’m not a huge fan of my legs. I prefer tank tops to any other kind of top because they’re cooler (I get overheated strangely easy) and they show off some of the qualities I actually like about my body, like my shoulders and upper back.

So there’s a little piece of me, as per The Artist’s Way’s exercises. Did you learn anything?

What about you? Care to share your answers to some or all of these questions? 🙂

Accountability Tuesdays – Week 33

I’ve recently coined a new phrase that I think will catch on: “Trying to write with a toddler around is like trying to do complex mathematics while covered in puppies.”

Okay, so it’s not terribly clever, but it’s true. For all the parents out there who are trying to take their writing seriously but have young children in the house with you at the same time that you’re trying to work…you’re not alone.

I love my daughter beyond words, but no one with kids can argue with me that trying to work from home with little kids around isn’t like climbing uphill, backwards, wearing four hundred pounds of gear. It’s a little difficult, is what I’m trying to get at.

And with that said, let’s move on to the accountability, shall we?

Health and Body Image Goal

Last week I laughed (digitally) at this one. This week I am in so many stitches that I’m turning blue. I’ve been battling with some major sugar cravings that seem constant and unyielding, and no, I haven’t done any “real” exercise. That said, I’m in the process of cleaning up the basement so that I can start doing my workout videos ago. The only problem with this is that my cats have recently decided that they don’t much care for their litter box. The entire basement smells like cat pee, and I’m at a loss to figure out exactly where the smell is coming from. Pray for me, my friends. I’m gonna need it.

Editing Goal

I haven’t done any editing in the traditional sense, but I have been doing something that I think is just as important. With the hell of several great blogs and some interesting articles on the Writer’s Digest website, I’ve been making some important notes about changes I want to make in my zombie apocalypse novel. I think these changes will really improve the flow of the story and the believability of the characters, so I’d say that’s as good as actually doing some editing, right? Damn right!

1,000,000 Word Goal

Again, this week I didn’t get as much writing in as I was hoping, but my total turned out to be surprisingly high. Between blogging, transcribing, morning pages, and other Artist’s Way exercises, I managed to wrack up a total of 24263 words, which if I’m not mistaken, is my best week yet. I may not reach a million words this year, but I am definitely destroying my previous years’ records.

And that’s that for this week. Ciao!

Secondhand Truth is Hazardous to Your Health

I love good quotes. It’s one of those odd little facts about me. Whether they’re cute, funny, inspirational, or just plain true, I love a good quote. That’s why I was amused to come across this quote amongst the many that pepper the sides of the pages in The Artist’s Way:

“To believe in God or in a guiding force because someone tells you to is the height of stupidity. We are given senses to retrieve our information with. With our own eyes we see, and with our own skin we feel. With our intelligence it is intended that we understand. But each person must puzzle it out for himself or herself.”

In case you hadn’t figured it out, this quote falls into the “just plain true” category.

As an atheist, people assume that I’m an angry, Godless heathen who hates religion and thinks all spiritual people are idiots, and because this quote refers to belief in God I bet most of you are assuming that this post is going to be a religion-bashing hate-fest. But nothing could be further from the truth. I’m actually extremely tolerant; I think everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe, just as long as they don’t harass those who believe something different. And no, this post is not about religion (specifically).

This post is about people in general. It’s about growing up and taking the things you are taught as truth, without question.

These days there are too many people, from the religious and politically-minded, to the millions of schoolchildren around the world, who neglect to use their own senses, their own gut, and their own thoughts to determine what they do or don’t believe. So many people out there accept, without question, everything they are taught by their parents, neighbors, teachers, employers, and so on. People adopt the religious and political views their family teaches them, even if those views don’t really make any sense to them. Kids take what their teachers tell them as gospel, even if something doesn’t sound quite right about it. We all, in a misguided attempt to fit in, accept whatever the norm is in the society in which we live, because we worry endlessly about being “right”, even if our gut tells us that we’re wrong.

pushykittyGrowing up I was as bad as anyone. I read books my teacher’s suggested even if they were genres I knew I didn’t like. I rooted for the sports teams that my father liked even if I secretly thought they were terrible. I watched the shows and played the games that my peers liked because I wanted to fit in. That’s all anyone really wants, deep down inside, but when you really stop to think about it, “fitting in” is a terrible basis for establishing who you are as a person. Your beliefs are an important part of who you are, so why take them secondhand from the people around you?

I really am a very tolerant person. I believe that love is love, that everyone has a right to their own faith and beliefs, and that no one has the right to force their opinions on anyone else. As such, nothing bothers me more than when someone believes in something simply because it’s what they were told was the truth.

Use your own senses. Trust your own gut. Do your own research. Chase your own experiences. See and decide for yourself, and if you discover that what you believe is different than what you’ve been taught, at least you’ll know that you learned it for yourself instead of taking it as second-hand information.

Which brings me to another of my favorite quotes:

“I don’t want you to think like me; I just want you to think.”

Is that really so much to ask?

Look at yourself. Look down deep. What “truths” do you accept simply because they are what you grew up hearing? Have you ever adjusted your beliefs based on your own senses/gut/experiences? How did that feel? Please share!