Take Responsibility for Your Writing Life

Well. I’m a little red-faced today. The crime scene series will continue. As soon as I find it. Don’t worry, I have backups of backups. I just transferred everything to a new computer this week and apparently missed a few files. Embarrassing! And entirely my fault.

But it got me to thinking.

I like excuses. They seem to provide lubricant for slipping out of situations in which I am at fault. However, I try hard not to make excuses because, really, who cares? They don’t change the failure, right? They can’t undo a missing post, a lost opportunity, or a broken promise. Excuses might appease and reduce the fallout, but doesn’t let us own our mistakes and face them.

For that, we need to take responsibility.

As writers, aren’t excuses just easier?

  • I was too busy to write today.
  • The boss needed me so I couldn’t write.
  • The kids are sick so I was too tired to write.
  • I just wasn’t feeling it today. Maybe tomorrow.

Who are we appeasing? Ourselves, of course. We don’t want to acknowledge our failure or our lack of commitment. It’s easier to excuse ourselves to ourselves than admit we blew it.

What would it look like if we take responsibility instead?

  • I chose to spend my time elsewhere.
  • I elected to focus on something else.
  • I decided not to write while the kids napped.
  • I didn’t care enough to sit down and start.

It might sound a little harsh, but it’s honest, right? And it also requires us to own up to our choices rather than hide behind circumstances or other people.

Life does sometimes get in the way. That’s just a fact. But taking responsibility rather than making excuses gives a much better picture of our writing life and a much better gauge of our resistance.

Do you make excuses for not writing? I still do, even as I want to take responsibility instead. How do you feel after you tell yourself an excuse? A little relieved? A little dirty? I do, and ashamed besides.

How does it feel different to take responsibility? For me it feels a bit grim, but also honest, like a hard look in the mirror. Sometimes it’s clear there wasn’t much I could do. Most of the time, what’s clear is that I was lazy, uncommitted, or scared. Then I get a little mad. Taking responsibility has gotten me back out of bed to do my daily writing because I don’t want to see myself as a person who can’t fulfill her commitments.

For the next week or two, listen to what you tell yourself. Examine the excuses and rephrase them as taking responsibility.  If you need help, call your accountability partner (or get one). Holding myself accountable to another person who wouldn’t accept  excuses was how I began to understand the whole subject in the first place.

If you struggle to get your writing done, ditch the excuses, take responsibility, and get a little mad.

 


Which positive outcomes might we find by moving from excuses to responsibility?

The Writer’s Google Search History

http://www.flickr.com/photos/86979666@N00/7623744452/Here’s a new twist on an old feature here at The Sarcastic Muse: Inquiring Minds. This time, I want to know.

We writers joke about our Google searches. Though someone in a secret bunker somewhere might raise an eyebrow at some romance genre searches, it’s the thriller and international crime writers that interest me most. My inquiry has several parts.

First, do you think the government is actively watching based on keywords, times visited, or length of time spent on sites for some optics? How active are they? What lands a person on the proverbial watch list?

Second, is anyone actually worried that a government employee might see their search history? (I worry more about my family as I’ve been researching the psychology of killers for years.)

And third, which is probably the heart of my question, do the alphabet agencies care about name, ethnicity, or other profiling data? If my parents immigrated from Serbia or my dad still writes to his cousins in North Korea, Afghanistan, or <insert geopolitical hot spot here>, or my brother took a new name when he converted to Islam, does that make the watchers watch more closely? What about ex-pats living in hot spots around the world? An average middle-class person who doesn’t hold a passport probably doesn’t worry too much.

But what about the rest of the world? Terrorism in all forms has become an increasing part of our lives, and, by extension, our fiction. Whether we need to know the blast radius of a pipe bomb, the epidemiology of an anthrax outbreak, what the FBI play book says about dealing with militia groups, etc, writers turn to Google. How concerned are writers in general? How concerned are writers with even casual ties to people or places the government is watching for?

This inquiring mind wants to know.


Comments are open to everyone. We can’t learn if we don’t ask.

 

Writing A Novel is Like…

Writing is like . . .

Baking from a recipe in which the measurements and ingredients come only one at a time and you don’t know what you’re making.

Being lost; you’re not sure where you are but you know you’ll find your way home eventually.

A scavenger hunt. Just follow the clues.

Sinking into a bathtub with frequent temperature changes in the water.

The weather, with all its daily and seasonal changes.

Driving a bit fast on a dark, twisty road. With no headlights.

Writing a Novel is LikePutting together a big puzzle with no picture to guide you.

Having someone else feed you each bite of your favorite meal.

Stringing beads blindfolded and not seeing what you created until after you’re done.

A long conversation with a total stranger.

Waiting in line for hours for a ten-minute ride on an awesome roller coaster.

Waiting in the wings for your first public performance.

Navigating with a map full of holes.

The best sunrise after the longest night.


 

What is writing like for you?

 

Writing Dark Stuff

Writing Dark StuffAmanda recently wrote a post on getting rid of our writing filters and I’m still thinking about the topic.  My writing friends are not surprised when I pull a twisted, blackened story out of the stuff between my ears, but my relatives are always taken aback. I’m the responsible one, the nice one, the compassionate empathetic one. I laugh easily and smile often (regardless of my perpetual RBF). I look harmless.

But there’s a part of me that is happy to write stories that horrify my mother and make my children a little nervous. I research serial killers and psychopathology. I spent several months learning all I could about long-term captivity and Stockholm Syndrome. I don’t mind talking about autopsies and the Body Farm at dinner (I assure you they very much mind listening).

Joanna Penn has commented several times on her videos that people ask how such a happy, smiling woman can write about things like corpse desecration.  I understand how she feels. There’s something about the dark side that feeds my inner storyteller. I wish I could remember who said this (if you know the reference, please let me know), but someone commented that comedians are often quite depressed and people with bad childhoods often learn to entertain. He or she posits that people with normal lives or happy childhoods might wander into the blacker side of storytelling. I suspect most horror writers are quite normal. I don’t think, if you met me in person, you’d suspect I’ve written about a serial killer’s first time or the calculated revenge of pets.

My filters are to avoid writing anything that might offend family and more delicate friends. For the most part I don’t write gruesome, but turning off that filter on occasion has led me to a few pieces I’m quite happy to have written. The freedom to write what comes to mind is the best writing gift I’ve ever given myself (and credit is due to the Muses for encouraging it).

So why am I telling you this? It’s because I hope all writers will allow themselves space and time to write what comes. You don’t ever have to show it to someone or publish it, but putting the words down is a gift to your inner writer. I think there are two reason for that. The first is that you are getting beyond your filters and thoughts of “I can’t write that!” The second is  that, since writing begets writing, you are opening yourself up to other story ideas if you let yourself go.

I do have hard lines I don’t cross. Ever. But they are a choice rather than a filter imposed upon me by someone else. I hope that makes sense. This post is as much my reaction to Amanda’s encouragement as it is my hope for fellow writers. It’s written in first person because I believe we are not alone in our anxieties when it comes to the words we write. It won’t kill me to be vulnerable, right? And if it helps someone, so much the better.

What I want to say is to write what is in you to write. If that’s zombies, cannibalism, human experiments a la Dr. Mengele, or (insert squeamish thought here), then write it. Leave it in a corner of your hard drive forever if you want, but all writing is good practice and opening yourself up to writing without filters teaches your writer brain to be more forthcoming.


Have you written anything you feel might horrify someone close to you? How difficult was it to write?