Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

It’s amazing how many blog subjects I get from writing blogs. When I first started this, I was certain I would run out of ideas after three weeks, but I have learned so much from this that I have yet to run out of subjects.

It was during a blog editing session that I learned the meaning of the phrase “don’t be so hard on yourself.”

We all know that second drafts turn out better than the first. For my blogs, I write a first draft, then do a complete rewrite for the second draft because it’s always been more efficient. I tend to ramble and use too many adverbs in my first drafts, or make the same point in multiple ways. It’s because of this that I expect my first draft to resemble something that came out of the back end of a bull.

Imagine my surprise when I wrote a second draft that was worse than my first. I automatically assumed that I hadn’t written my post “Why In-Laws Suck” well enough, and rewrote it just for the sake of rewriting it. When I compared the two, the first draft made my point much better. By assuming I had written like a dunderhead, I wrote like a dunderhead.

Had I given myself enough credit, I would’ve looked at that first draft closer and realized that my gut instinct in the heat of the moment was enough. If I hadn’t expected myself to fail, I wouldn’t have.

From now on I won’t be so hard on myself, and you shouldn’t be, either. As writers we have to be both egotistical and self-deprecating, but it seems like most of us swing toward self-deprecation too fast. Give yourself a chance. You may surprise yourself.

This is water. Make good art.

-Dearwood Ellis

Tell me about when you’re hardest on yourself in the comments.

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Sometimes I Think I’m A Bad Writer

…then I open my notebook.

Or my Scrivener file.

I get into this cycle sometimes. Usually it happens when I read, watch, or play something that blows my mind. I won’t have any idea how someone (or several someones) could come up with something so amazing, and I feel small compared to the creative giants before me. That gets followed by crushing doubt and serious thoughts of calling it quits to avoid the embarrassment of being so much less than these amazing people that created such amazing things.

A lot of people don’t understand why writers do this. Allow me to offer my opinion: we love our creations as much as some of the other creations out there, and it is therefore natural to compare them.

If you’re developing ideas for a space adventure story and you love Firefly, the comparison is daunting.

After a while of getting worked up about such things, convinced that I’m a bad writer with lackluster ideas, I conjure up my remedy: my own notebook.

I carry a composition book with me everywhere and I don’t give a flying fuck at a rolling donut if it makes me look immature or unsophisticated. Every idea I have goes into my notebook (which later gets entered into my Scrivener file), and every note that supports that idea gets scribbled in there, too. I also have quotes from myself and others, title ideas, character names, stuff I’d like to acquire, and one time I had a dumpling recipe. This notebook is filled with my ideas of the things that I love, and I can’t help but get excited when I look at them.

I might love Firefly, or Doctor Who, or any number of things, but none of these come close enough to how excited I get over my own stories and characters. I might not ever create something as popular as the shows, movies, or games I love, but as long as I’m creating something I love even more, I’m not a bad writer.

This is water. Make good art.

-Dearwood Ellis

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Seriously, I’m concerned for your health.

Every writer that was ever worth beans has admitted to moments of crushing doubt. In this one arena we are all alike. Our doubt can infect every aspect of our writing, and most of the time we don’t perceive it as doubt, we perceive it is stress.

So take a seat and take a few deep breaths. I’m afraid you’ll give yourself chest pains.

How does this happen?

We worry about not writing enough, and when we do write, we worry about not writing well enough. If you’re at all like me, you try to schedule the hell out of your writing time, then when you get there, the pressure is so intense you don’t want to do any of it.

We put so much pressure on ourselves that eventually we just explode, throw our hands up in the air, and walk away until we recover. This isn’t just unhealthy, it’s detrimental. This happens because we focus on what’s yet to be achieved. We seek success in writing, therefore we must always be working toward a goal. This puts us in a constant state of having not achieved.

The remedy for this is twofold.

First you must appreciate the time you have in which to write. If it’s ten minutes or ten hours you must appreciate it as if it is the very thing that gives you life. Thank the universe, your friends, your family, and yourself for allowing you that time.

Second, you must appreciate what you’ve already done. If it’s wonderful or horrible you must appreciate that you were inspired, got to write it, and most of all you must appreciate what you learned from it. Our time and our previous works deserve respect. After all, time is money, and time was spent on those works, so they’re an investment. If you haven’t yet, print out your previous works so that appreciating them can be more of a physical experience. Read them, dress them up in nice folders, whatever you have to do in order to love them.

By reinforcing to ourselves that what we did in the past has value, we help ensure that we fully appreciate what we are able to do with our present. Our doubts and our stress will be reduced once we believe that what we are currently writing has value.

This is water. Make good art.

-Dearwood Ellis

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Why In-Laws Suck

Mother in law = Woman Hitler.

My mother in law lives up to that anagram. Also, she’s one of those people that calls her BMW a “Bimmer.”

My father-in-law might not like that I’m porking his daughter, but he likes me. My mother-in-law thinks I’m Satan’s spawn (and a complete idiot to boot) and uses every opportunity to tell people that I’m lazy and just sit around playing video games all day. Half of the family listens, the other half ignores her.

The problem is the amount of contact I have with the family members that listen to her. Nearly every time I go to a family function, someone brings up a job I should take, or a field of study I should pursue so that “when I get tired of playing video games all day,” I’ll be ready. It’s that quote that lets me know they’ve gotten their information from the Bitch in the Bimmer. Her powers of manipulation are so extensive that they’re almost a super power, so I do my best not to blame those that fall prey to it.

I’m not an idiot. I know who my enemy is. However, when I follow up with the reality that I’m a writer in the middle of my third novel, they act like that’s just as useless.

When people treat me like my life’s passion is a waste of time, it derails me. I can’t comprehend how they think that writing is a waste of time because all of them read.

I was dealing with it mostly fine until I found out that one of them (we’ll call him Blondie) is writing their first novel and everyone else thinks it’s so great. I wanted to throw things and scream, even shake some people violently.

This, folks, was when I realized I was stuck in an insane thought cycle from which there was no logical escape. There is no logic in their thought process. Instead, their thought process is based solely on the emotion of attachment.

To them, Blondie is doing a valuable thing because they value him. And for me (thanks to the Bitch in the Bimmer), my writing is a waste of time because they perceive me as a waste of time .

I could have let that depressing reality crush me, but instead I found a cure.

The (very simple) cure was reminding myself that none of these people would mean anything to me if they weren’t my in-laws. For that singular reason, I shouldn’t care what they think. I’ll appreciate the ones that love me, but there’s no reason I should worry over the ones that don’t like me because of what someone else said about me. I can’t please people that have resolved to never be pleased with me.

I’ll still be courteous, but I’m not going to fuss over their opinions of me, anymore. I can wish upon them the happiness and success that they do not wish upon me.

So, back to my point.

The reason in-laws suck is because they’re a trap. And I mean a you-need-Admiral-Ackbar kind of trap. Your spouse loves your in-laws, and they are a huge part of their life, so they become important to you. Due to that, their opinion of you matters. No one wants their spouse spending time with their family and getting an earful of why they hate you, so their opinion of you becomes even more important than the opinions of your own family.

Writers (and artists) have been met with similar distaste for ages, and we all need to learn to get rid of our opinions of it before it destroys our confidence and our art. We can’t let other people make us feel like we’re worthless.

I did not come equipped with this ability when I was spawned, so I have to learn it on my own. I am just now learning this and my wounds are recent and deep, so it might be a while before I get to practice putting this into action. I need to heal first, and you might need to heal before you can handle it, too. I wanted to tell you my story while it was fresh and relevant in the hope that it would help you more.

If it helps, come up with an “In-Law Manifesto.” Mine is a simple statement:

The Bitch in the Bimmer can hate me all she wants, but I’m still going to write books…

Oh, and she can go fuck herself because my blog is being followed by a publisher.

This is water. Make good art.

-Dearwood Ellis

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Schedules and Boundaries

Almost every writer I know has a day job. Every writer I know subjects their writing to a mind-bogglingly flexible schedule. The result is days and sometimes weeks without writing, and a deep desire for things to be different.

I have a confession to make:

I’m a stay-at-home writer.

Most of us think the moment we can stay at home and write all day long, we will. There are several reasons this is not the case, but I’m addressing only one problem today: I get interrupted constantly.

I love my friends and family, but they come out of the woodwork when I’m writing. I try to be accommodating, which turns into a lot of chatting and very little writing. Even worse can be when I spend an entire weekend seeing people and running errands, which turns Mondays into clean-up-and-recovery days. This all leads to two things that really get under my skin.

The first is the question, “well, can’t you write later?” The second is the statement, “you have all week to write.” I’m afraid that in five years this will lead to the question, “why haven’t you published a novel when you’ve had all this time on your hands?”

The real issue is that my friends and family have to respect my writing time, but they don’t because they don’t respect me as a writer. This is my fault. I have allowed people to consider writing as just my hobby, and I need to stop.

The solution that I came up with is a simple public declaration of my writing hours. From the time I wake up until noon is my daily writing time. Weekends included. No functions, no interruptions, no exceptions.

Emergencies (by nature) are exempt, and major life events (like weddings) can be worked with.

But this is not some sort of I-am-writer-and-therefore-god-so-you-must-do-this-for-me statement. This is a contract with mutual benefits. My friends and family agree to not make demands on my morning time so that I can write, and in turn, I agree to make myself available for them the rest of the day. By being less distracted and being able to write in the morning, I’ll be less distracted by thoughts of writing when I get time with them in the afternoon. Anyone that does not see the mutual benefit of the arrangement may get cut off.

We need to be okay with saying “no,” but we can’t do it at the expense of saying “yes.” I suggest everyone declare a similar policy. Pick your time and declare it, because no one knows where the boundary is unless you draw it for them. We want our friends and family to have an easy time with us, which is probably why most writers force their schedules to be flexible. In reality we must treat our writing schedules with the same respect we want others to treat it with. The trade-off is also giving the same respect to our non-writing time.

The result is the ability to say “no” without guilt to the things that conflict with your writing, and to say “yes” without guilt to anything that falls outside of your writing time. As writers we need to be able to have time away from our writing, and our writing can’t be the thing keeping us from that.

This is water. Make good art.

-Dearwood Ellis

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Sacrificing Virgins

I had a vision of myself the other day. I was clothed in ceremonial robes, holding a young virgin in my arms… then I threw her off of the cliff I was standing on. It was pretty great.

In reality I was in my kitchen throwing away a different kind of virgin… a first draft. Also I don’t think my underpants qualify as ceremonial robes. So what was I really doing?

I was making a sacrifice.

There are times for all of us when we want to write something but we know we’re going to screw it up. From my experience, waiting for the sake of waiting isn’t productive, it’s more like an illness. It’s like an infection that creeps into our blood and proceeds to infect every aspect of our life. We must keep writing, we can’t wait around.

It’s at this point that I understand I must make a sacrifice. I must sit down and bleed out the wrong words like a poison to make room for the proper, healthy words. It isn’t nice, it isn’t fun, but it’s necessary. The longer an illness stays within us without an immune response, the sicker we get.

So it goes with a bad idea. The longer we sit with a bad idea, the more it takes hold, so we must get it out.

The end result is that I write a first draft knowing I will throw it away. I read it once so that I can pull out the good parts that bled out with the bad, then I throw the poison in the trash, sacrificing my virgin that began life without a chance.

Sometimes we have to write like crap, and the longer we write, the more we understand what that really means.


This is water. Make good art.

-Dearwood Ellis

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I am the William Shatner of writing.

You think I’m joking, but I’m not. This comes from my recent editing bouts where I have to wrestle with the fact that I love commas. I look over a piece of text and see it littered with useless commas that I know are there because I write with several stylistic choices in mind at once.

The result, my friends, is something, almost as bad as this sentence.

If I read this stuff out loud with appropriate pauses for all of the commas, I’d sound like I was giving the worst Shatner impression of all time.

While I like to laugh at myself for this particular quirk of mine, it also causes what I like to call, “OH GOD WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME?” syndrome, which can put a real damper on my badass self confidence (and irritates my case of “screaming in all caps is fun,” syndrome).

What I’ve been learning recently is to do my best to avoid extended periods of editing. With short stories that’s easy enough, but with an entire novel I feel like I should audition for a Priceline commercial. There is a happy medium where I edit some, then write some, and that tends to keep me laughing at myself instead of getting so distraught that I drink scotch and watch Capote while sprawled on the floor wondering why more people aren’t in love with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

While my version of writing misery is probably rather unique, if editing your work sends you on a downward spiral (as it does for most writers), consider adjusting how long you’re at it. Schedule it out if need be, and don’t forget to bring along your sense of humor.

This is water. Make good art.

-Dearwood Ellis

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