Facing the Dragons

0My burning question to guide the first three months of the new year–for myself as a writer–is this: What if I write my own story–what if I intentionally shape my life to engage my best work? In response to this question, I’ve come up with #oneproject: to sculpt my time more effectively by envisioning my Best Day.

Jeffrey Davis‘s #LiveTheQuest Prompt 3 is this:

How will you respond to challenges differently this year? No risk, no challenge, no quest. It’s that simple. What one to three challenges and messiness could you inevitably face this quarter while executing your one project? Define those challenges. Write about them. Then ask yourself, How can you respond to them differently than you did last year? Write, draw, doodle, paint, flow chart, or compose your way into imagining how you can respond to challenges differently in order to execute your one project.

My challenges are not unique to this #oneproject, this Best Day endeavor. They’re old frenemies of mine: sleep, distraction, and discouragement.

Sleep. I don’t know that I need to explain this one. Creative mind=insomniac mind. And yet sleep nourishes our minds, fertilizes our creativity.

Distraction. Everything is SO SHINY. Even vampires are shiny now, people. And for someone who’s fascinated by everything, this is a tough one. I am a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad mother because when my children tell me they’re bored, I have absolutely no sympathy. The world is fascinating and beautiful and I want to read ALL THE THINGS and go ALL THE PLACES and meet ALL THE PEOPLE, and barring the possibility of those things, I will attempt to experience them vicariously online. Some “distractions” are worthy ones, ones that fuel my creativity–long walks, stargazing, reading. The online stuff is the tricksy stuff. I have a very vexed relationship with social media in particular.

Discouragement. I recall a college professor talking about how the worst sin in the Christian past of the particular work we were reading was despair, because it implied disbelief in God. For creative types, perhaps discouragement is the greatest vice, because it implies disbelief in ourselves and our creations. It’s so, so easy to become discouraged on this long, twisty road toward making a living as an author. It’s patently absurd, really, to even consider the possibility of a career in this field–how many writers “make it,” after all?

I’m still percolating how to tackle these three challenges, but I’ll give it a shot:

Sleep. Um, I need to just sleep. Easier said than done when you live with an overactive imagination and an insomniac seven-year-old. But I need to find ways to work on this. Part of my problem is that at the end of the day, I have this compulsion not to go to bed unless I feel I’ve accomplished something worthwhile. So (GULP) maybe I need to get up earlier. (I really need a drippy green slime-font for those words). I’m a night owl by nature, but I think I’m going to have to undergo a very painful metamorphosis. I’m working on this now, and feeling a new and keen empathy for caterpillars. It looks like nothing is happening in that chrysalis, but I bet it hurts.

Distraction. Main problem: shiny internet. Shiny Facebook, shiny email, shiny Twitter, shiny rabbit-holes down which EVERYTHING IS IMPORTANT AND SPARKLY!! My friend and fellow-Quester A. K. Anderson has helped me out with this one via her post on Five Social Media Tips for Authors. She succinctly addresses the pros and cons of various platforms and offers suggestions for how to maximize their effectiveness without letting them overrun your time. It’s all about concentrated bursts of connection, and for a technophobic writer like me, this is required reading. I need to set aside time specifically for doing the networking stuff I need to do as a writer, but I need to be intentional about using the internet as a tool and not as entertainment. That’s what books and walks and good conversation are for.

Discouragement. This is the most abstract, and perhaps that’s why it’s the toughest. I’m a roller-coaster kind of kid–I’m either climbing, plummeting, or upside-down and totally disoriented somewhere in between. It’s so easy to give in to discouragement, so easy to observe from the outside the success of others and be consumed by envy. It’s so easy to devalue what I do, to treat it as a hobby instead of a career. I am fortunate to have a supportive family, to have a husband who values what I do and encourages it. I know that not every struggling writer has this support, and so I am obligated to take what I have and do the best I can with it. I’ve recently made the huge step of pushing household responsibilities to the weekends–cleaning, meal-planning, etc.–and reserving weekdays from the time my guys leave for school until they return for writing. This feels amazingAnd weird. I’m acting like a writer. For me, this has been a huge step in tackling the inevitable discouragement. I’m putting my time where my mouth is. I know the discouragement will continue to crop up like wire grass–it never really dies. And I’m going to have to wrestle with it, to try to stay positive and push my own creative boundaries.

One thing I’m extremely, ridiculously excited about this year is a new collaboration with my friend Cara of Cara Walton Photography. She invited me to write text to accompany one of her pieces, and submitted the result to a local art show. Our piece was accepted, and will be on display in February. I’ve been hopping around the house like a woman who just won the lottery, which probably sounds doofy, but I realized last night that this is the first official recognition as a writer that I’ve experienced in my adult life. My words were good enough. And Cara’s images are amazing. We’re embarking on more projects together, and I’m getting a little giddy thinking about what we’ll create.

See how fellow Quester Lauren Iuppa Ayer tackles this prompt here.

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11 thoughts on “Facing the Dragons

  1. Hey! thanks for the shout out! I’m always startled when I see my name 🙂 Let’s chat off line some time about “Creative mind=insomniac mind” – because I disagree. I think it’s Creative mind=quiet room, and that laying in the dark unable to sleep is the stillest and quietest our lives get these days…..

  2. Yes, Brenna, you _DO_ have a creative mind (sleep or insomnia); wickedly witty, sharp, and shifting as your story requires. Let me add my yes to your words are good enough. And I am really enjoying what I’ve seen of your collaboration with Cara. Keep crafting your world. I see it responding.

  3. Brenna – “I’m a night owl by nature, but I think I’m going to have to undergo a very painful metamorphosis. I’m working on this now, and feeling a new and keen empathy for caterpillars. It looks like nothing is happening in that chrysalis, but I bet it hurts.” This made me laugh out loud – I bet it does hurt, but just think about how SHINY! and SPARKLY! the butterfly will be on the other side! I am a night owl as well, but I have been hauling my butt out of bed 3x a week at the ungodly hour of “absolutely no light in the sky” to go to Boot Camp class for the past 6 years or so. Guess what? I write better on those days – actually, I do almost everything better on those days, dammit! Ohhhhhh, how I wish I were still sleeping as I drive to the class… Congratulations on your collaboration and you most definitely should be dancing around the house – that’s HUGE!

    PS – I tried your links to AK Anderson and her Social Media Tips – and they’re not working. :O( I need to check these out.

    1. Barb, thanks so much for your response and your encouragement! I’m finding, too, that the sunrise days are also creative ones. And thanks for the heads-up on the links–I’ll check them out now!

  4. Brenna, I can totally empathise with your sleep issue. At the moment I’m busy trying to reshape my evening, so I can go to sleep at a reasonable hour, so the morning can be spent productively- in practice or in creating. All about balance! Nicky 🙂

  5. Our collaborating is making me giddy as well. I am so happy to share this experience with you. As Bradley would say, we can bask in the existential glory of it all together 🙂 Your words are indeed good enough, they are amazing. I am currently reading “The Art of Asking” by Amanda Palmer. In her book she talks about being haunted by The Fraud Police. So many of us (especially women and artists and combinations of the two) never feel like we’re good enough. We constantly doubt our abilities to do things and when we do find success….we feel like it’s undeserved. We keep waiting for The Fraud Police to show up and arrest us and tell us it’s all a sham. I feel this constantly. I constantly doubt myself and seek validation for my art, my parenting, and my teaching. Doing an art show is a surreal experience. Having people look at your art is scary. You feel naked, exposed…vulnerable…but nothing is achieved without the risk. So I say, let’s face those fraud police together and make some cool art together.
    -Cara

    1. Amen, sister! Here’s to facing down the Fraud Police and making good art! I’d love to know what you think of The Art of Asking when you’ve finished. Looking forward to the excitement/terror of the art show! 🙂

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