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  1. A Pep Talk for Writers Who Think They Suck

    June 19, 2016 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    “I suck at writing!”

    How many times have you told yourself that behind the writer’s curtain? Or publicly, on Twitter, in a forum, or to your best friend as you gobbled down a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia?

    I’m here to say, “You don’t suck.”

    The fact that you’re writing means you’re putting in effort. Nothing sucky about that.

    Now, you might be a beginning writer. Nothing sucky about that either. You’re learning. Genius rarely happens when you pop out of the womb.

    I took golf lessons in college. I love watching a golf game on television; there’s something meditative about all that green, the sports announcer whispering about club choices, the placid ponds that dot the grounds. But out there on the course with my own club, I spent a lot of time in the bunkers. And hollering, “Four!” as my ball sailed into another student’s thigh.

    I could moan, “I suck at golf!” But I refuse to accept that label. I haven’t yet mastered the swing. If I wanted to, I could invest years practicing my swing, but frankly, that doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather watch golf than play it.

    So, are you saying you suck at writing because you don’t want to expend the energy? Do you want an easy out? Do you want to throw in the pen?

    If so, claim it. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t want to put in the work. Be honest. “I’d rather read, than write!”

    But if you want to study the craft and improve, if you want to write every day, you’ll discover that some days your writing vibrates with energy, and other days when it’s just “meh.” Some days you’ll read your work and say, “hey, that’s pretty good,” and other days when you want to rip it in half and grind it under your heel. Your writing will surprise you and embarrass you, inspire you and depress you, move you and bore you.

    That’s how it goes. Up and down. Sometimes sideways.

    Now, If you’re an old hand at writing and you play the “I suck” card, well, my friend, you’re not playing with a full deck. I implore you to set aside your work for a day and go out and play. Then come back and read it again.

    I guarantee—you’ll find something in those pages that shines. One sentence. Grab it, and use it to start a freewrite. Put the new pages away for a day, come back and read what you wrote. Find another shining sentence, use that as the start of a brand new freewrite, and keep going until you hook into something strong.

    Let’s say you just started blogging, and after a post or two, you’ve run out of ideas. The words you write sizzle out after three paragraphs. Do you suck? No! You’re learning how to blog. Maybe you don’t have a solid idea of what to blog about yet. You need time to experiment, discover your topic, discover your voice. You will. Keep at it.

    Let’s say you labored over a short story, or a book, and sent it off, and it was rejected. Do you suck? No! That particular journal or publisher wasn’t right for your work. Or you had too many typos, or cliches, or a passive voice. Or the story didn’t grab the editor. All of these things are fixable!

    Research journals or publishers to find a better fit. Submit again. And again and again and again. Have a good editor go over it with a red pen. Rewrite, if need be. Don’t use the “I suck!” excuse to avoid the work. Yeah, it can feel draining, frustrating, having to rewrite and resubmit, after you’ve invested oodles of time in the darn thing. So take a break. Recharge. Then get back to it.

    Takeaway this week:

    To learn more about submitting to literary journals, and what an editor wants, read this.

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  2. When the Words Won’t Come – How to Write Again

    June 12, 2016 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    Writing can bring us pain at times. But not as much as the pain of not writing. Not-writing is a pain that bores into your psyche, drills into your bones, your soul. You can’t just not write. Yet when you sit at the task behind the writer’s curtain, nothing comes.

    What do you do? What do we all do, we who call ourselves writers even when we can’t write, when all we have to offer is this pain? Our wallet of ideas, words, images, characters, plots, metaphors, similes…empty.

    We need a writer’s bank account to draw on.

    During the fat times, when we’re bursting with ideas, when the energy of writing is flowing like an eager river, tumbling, rushing over boulders and dirt, gathering up everything in its path—during those times when we have more writerly goodies than time, we need to bank them. Save them.

    I call these write-aheads.

    Then, when the lean times come, and they do come, we have something to draw on. We open that folder of write-aheads and read a few documents, and find one that sparks something, and we tweak it. Noodle it. Expand, revise, mold it.

    Invest in some good story prompts. 

    Write a list of them yourself, or buy, borrow, or steal a book of them. Here’s one: The Writer’s Idea Book. Grab a prompt and write fast for five minutes. Grab three and link them together, quick, quick, for fifteen minutes. Sprint to the finish line, then take a breath.

    Whew! Fifteen minutes of writing. Better than none.

    Borrow words.

    Read. Other writers have provided words. Take them in. Absorb them. Let them entice you, excite you, stimulate your thinking. You’re filling the account with juice. Take their words, write them down, let them be a springboard to rebuild your own account. You’re not claiming the words as your own, you’re borrowing, so you have something to work with. See what avenues they lead you down. See what they collect. See what grows.

    Ask for a loan of support.

    Tell your tribe of writers that you’re flat broke and you need some advice. They’ll be eager to expand their experience by sharing it with you.

    “Yes, I’ve been there, too. Here’s what I did…”

    Do your writerly banking elsewhere

    Sometimes it takes going off the beaten track. Writing something foreign to you. A song lyric. A radio drama. A haiku. Doesn’t matter if it’s good or if it’s something not even a blind man would want to see. Doesn’t matter. The important thing is to throw some words on the page and fire up new neurons in the brain. The old ones need a rest.

    You’re not alone!

    Above all, know you’re not alone in this pain. We’ve all been down that road, kicked the dust with our round-toed sneakers hoping for a little rain, a little somethin’ somethin’ to unbreak the dam.

    It’s not a mirage ahead. There’s a real well full-up with ideas. You’ll stumble into it again. Have faith!


  3. How to Effectively Cope with Passive-Aggressive Behavior

    June 5, 2016 by Diane

    Dear Digby, 

    I am exasperated! I serve on the board for a social club; we had one board member who was constantly creating drama, acting passive-aggressive–she acts agreeable in board meetings but then posts quotes on her Facebook page that are digs (that’s her passive-aggressive side coming out) and then screams at the President that she has issue with every point brought out in the board meeting. Her behavior is like that of a middle schooler yet she’s nearing 60. 

    Signed, 

    I left middle school about 35 years ago, how about you?

    Dear I left middle school,

    Interesting, that this woman who serves on the board of a social club, has the social skills of a mosquito.

    First, you need to educate her on how to behave like an adult.

    The next time she screams at the president, I advise you, and the entire board, to stick your fingers in your ears and chant, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”

    The woman will do one of three things:

    1. Stop mid-sentence and stare at you, slack-jawed.
    2. Turn red with embarrassment and forget what she was saying.
    3. Pick up her toys, and go home.

     

    If none of your fellow board members are willing to execute this simple solution for an ongoing problem, then I advise the following:

    The next time she screams at the president, stare at her for a full five minutes without saying a word. All of you. Her diatribe will hang in the air like thought bubbles in a cartoon.

    The woman will do one of three things:

    1. Run out of steam.
    2. Hear what she’s saying, turn red with embarrassment, and stop talking.
    3. Pick up her toys, and go home.

     

    If none of your fellow board members have the fortitude to challenge the woman in a stare-down, then my advice is this:

    Unfriend her on Facebook.

    Passive-aggressive people are responding from their own hurt. You don’t need to resonate with it. Her opinions are no business of yours. You have better things to do with your time. You have noble pursuits ahead. You are going to make this social club a roaring success!

    You can, however, view this woman as an opportunity to practice compassion. Recognize that her behavior is coming from pain, accept it, and observe her actions from a place of non-attachment. With an open heart, watch her mouth moving as if from a great distance.

    And then get up, walk over, and smother her in a giant bear hug.

    Love your enemies. It pisses ‘em off.

    Need advice? Ask Digby! Submit your question via the contact form.