FFS, Writers. Encouraging Shame and Guilt Hurts More than Helps.

We all write for different reasons, but behind that reasoning is a complex web of emotions that motivates us. No matter how much fiction might depict iconic heroes who think more clearly because they’re stoic or focused on logic, the truth is that we’re rationalizing (rather than rational) creatures. The idea that we must and should write every day or write a certain word count every month generates negative emotions like shame and guilt when those targets aren’t met. Negative emotions impact our ability to rationalize, because they can easily lead to distorted judgments of our self-worth which introduces a host of other issues that interferes with the work.

Some people are motivated to create because shame and guilt forces them to show up and prove someone (or the Universe) wrong. I would argue this type of motivation is temporary and not sustainable, because you’re tying a lot of negativity to your creative process which can lead to procrastination. A lot of writers (including myself) aren’t motivated to produce because we feel ashamed. Shame and guilt often lead to a barrage of self-flagellating, punitive thoughts for things outside of our control that do everything from muck up our routine to negatively impact how many copies we sell. The judgments and vast amount of “You should…” leads to gatekeeping and a host of assumptions that everyone has the same body, mind, and circumstances to share a similar process–which is a lie. They also exist for understandable reasons; we naturally want to share advice and position ourselves as experts so people take us seriously. The trouble with that, however, is that there isn’t “one way” to write or tell a story. So much of writing advice should be treated as a tool rather than an absolute, because there isn’t a magical solution to get words down on the page or finish a manuscript. Writing is something you have to make room for and do by yourself.

Instead of spending time focusing on more valuable traits like resilience or persistence, shame morphs the reasons why goals weren’t met into judgments of self-worth. We’re not “real writers” unless we do X, Y, Z. I still get accusations of this. Mind you, sometimes finding the reason “why” we didn’t write or couldn’t finish a thing is valuable–but that can also be incredibly punitive. Sometimes, a bad day is just a bad day and there’s nothing more that needs to be discovered, analyzed, or said. What’s more: it’s okay to have a bad day. If you’re reading this and thinking: “Oh, no… That can’t be right…” Consider where your motivation to write comes from. Consider that you are tying your self-worth to your productivity. That leads to a litany of issues–especially when you can’t produce or when the reception of your work doesn’t match your expectations. We are not typing monkeys. We are human beings who have lives and sometimes? Shit happens.

You are more valuable than your word count. Being a storyteller does not mean you “must” do anything–other than tell stories in your time, in your way, for your process (or business model). How you do that? When you do that? None of that should matter to anyone but you, and thought it is hard you can build and be part of communities if your experiences are different. Your process is yours to manage, develop, and take ownership of and no one else has the right to judge you for your life’s choices. Writing every day is a breakable rule as Tempest Bradford pointed out. In fact, every “rule” is breakable. You simply write until you internalize your craft–even then, your process could change from project to project. That doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong because you have a different process or you’re a bad writer because you need help.

As a friend once told me, trust yourself. Your story can only be told by one person: you. Enjoy the journey. Each of ours is different, and sometimes our destinations are, too! Good luck!

[Guest Schedule] My RadCon Panels

Hiya!

I previous announced that I’m a guest of honor at the RadCon Science Fiction and Fantasy convention in Pasco, Washington. Today, I’m happy to share my panel and event schedule with you. All scheduled events are one hour long.

Friday, February 14

Collaborating Without Bloodshed
5:45 p.m. / 3121

Ever wondered how authors, writers, artists, and other creative’s work together on the same project without driving each other crazy? Come find out tips and tricks to make the collaborative process work for you.

Researching and Writing
7:00 p.m. / 3125

From science to history to magic, the world is full of source material for writes if you only know where to look. Our panel of writers, game designers and fellow travelers will share tips and tricks to help you research your worlds.

Saturday, February 15

Creating Believable Religions
11:30 a.m. / 3125

Creating believable religions From the creations of gods to the interpretations of their messages and powers, we will examine how to create religions within a world that are compelling and believable.

Writing Guest of Honor Keynote
12:45 p.m. / Bronze: Main Stage

That’s right, readers. Someone decided it was a good idea to give me a microphone and a stage. Hee.

Reading and Signing with Monica Valentinelli
2:00 p.m. / 3121

I will be bringing bookplates! Some of my books and games are ginormous and I realize they might be too taxing to lug around.

Deep Dive on Worldbuilding and Magic
4:30 p.m. / 3125

Ever wonder how magic systems in fantasy are created? In this panel, we’ll discuss tips and tricks to create your own magic system using historical occult sources and folklore as inspiration.

Sunday, February 16

Magic and Pop Culture
12:45 p.m. / 3117

Magic is experiencing a wonderful renaissance in modern storytelling. How do contemporary TV shows like She-Ra, The Dragon Prince, The Witcher, and The Magicians portray magic? Magicians? What do we enjoy? Wish was improved?



It’s (Winter) Not Over Yet and Productivity Reflections

Lord Lardbottom, an orange tabby polydactal manx cat, in a Cuddle Pile

Now is the winter of my discontent for it is cold and white and terribly unpleasing. I enjoy the seasons, when we have four of them, but the spring and fall months seem to get shorter every year due to climate change. Last year, we had an eternal winter, a polar vortex so cold hell froze over, and about two weeks of spring before the temperatures climbed. I’m looking forward to more light in the day in any case.

Winter also brings a fresh round of To Do lists and goals I want to achieve, the type that are within my control and power to control. With the focus on productivity, however, an old and malformed tree has begun to bloom, for this tree–call it Work–is tied to how I view myself in my darkest moments. Its blossoms of self-doubt attract birds that cry: “Are you doing enough?” It’s the “enough” part that’s the challenge for me, because every time I open a new project I feel like I’m at the beginning and I’m starting over again and again. It doesn’t matter where I’ve been, for that’s behind me. My destination is the only thing that does.

Unfortunately, that type of thinking leads to toxicity for one very simple reason: None of us are machines. We are human beings. Life happens! Most people I know are doing the best they can. As I’ve mentioned several times before, Americans aren’t great at talking about failure and loss until we’re on the other side of it. Whether that’s out of fear because we’re deemed unlucky or not, failure and loss are part of our journeys. We desperately need discussions about them because they help people figure out ways to cope. Most people don’t just climb the proverbial career ladder in one trip. Some people don’t want to climb the ladder. Some get climbed over or pushed down. Sometimes the rung is broken. That doesn’t mean that the person who reaches the top was smarter, faster, better–and yet, the social zeitgeist favors “a” story. Someone had a dream, they worked their ass off, and they became wildly successful. It’s the work, you see, that made them what they are. If you just work hard enough, you’ll get there.

This, too, is incredibly toxic because it implies that every dream is possible provided you apply enough effort. What’s wrong with that? The emphasis on “you”. That it’s your fault if you don’t succeed because there’s something wrong or broken or different about you. You get sick, someone dies, your company shuts down, your rent goes up, you get into a car accident–none of which are your fault. Your identity and the things that happen to you don’t acknowledge the big picture; they don’t recognizing systems of power that impact you, too. You didn’t get the job. Okay, that sucks. Why? You didn’t get the job because that position went to the manager’s nephew, instead. All of a sudden, when you start recognizing that pattern or the details, you notice just how much is out of your control. That’s why the myth of personal responsibility in a society filled with millions of people can and does negatively impact us from time to time. If only I didn’t… If only I weren’t so… If only I… Sometimes, you could do all the right things and nothing works out; that doesn’t make you a failure.

So what’s the solution to dealing with those conceits? Besides not listening? I think that’s different for everyone. Our coping mechanisms evolve as we grow and change, too. My solution is to re-frame what I’m doing as a marathon. Right now, I’m tracking my tasks instead of time or word count. Every time I do something related to my personal goals I write that item down in a journal. Over time, I’m building up a log of all those little things I’m doing for myself. Those tasks are written down and dated so I remember in those uncomfortable moments that yes, I am making progress.

If you’re reading this and struggling right now, please know you’re not alone. I don’t know you or your situation, of course! However, if you’re feeling bad because you’re not doing enough? Maybe, you are.




Monica Valentinelli >

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