Weekly Musing: Fear and Loathing in Washington State

I decided to take a break from writing this week to use the time to recalibrate myself. I attended an excellent and informative workshop last Saturday presented by J.A. Pitts and Ken Scholes where the main topic was about short story writing. In addition to getting a very simple way and effective way to brainstorm a short story, the biggest thing that stuck with me was goal-setting and what I really want out of writing and why I write.

Lately I’ve been feeling very confused, lacking a clear path about what works for me. I feel like I’ve been trying to shoehorn all the advice I’ve read and heard into my writing. I’ve been hearing the evil old me regurgitating such classics as ‘Well, this is what I SHOULD be doing’, ‘This is how I SHOULD be this’, ‘That’s not the RIGHT way’, and ‘What the hell were you thinking?’

The impact has been unfortunate because I have struggled mightily in new pieces. It’s not so much the writing gremlins as my personal gremlins. The ideas are there for the stories but as soon as I sit down to write, it becomes too much. That fear aggravates my writer’s ADD so I get distracted by the junk food on the Internet.

After I get overly full on that, I try to set the ship back on the right course by reading writing websites. Instead of soothing me, it makes my anxiety worse. And annoys me. I’m noticing the same advice over and over and over. I think I’m on advice overload and just need to step away.

Just get back to the writing!

By taking this week off from active writing, I aimed to rest my brain and soul. The quiet from not being concerned with anything in particular other than this blog post, has been beneficial. I need to limit the amount of professional reading I do and absorb. Just pick up the bits that I think I need. I need to work more on telling myself to just go out and write whatever comes to mind regardless of word length or any due date (an advantage of not being a writer with a contract, any deadlines I have are either self-imposed or due to an anthology or submission to a magazine.)

Oh, and did I mention, just get back to writing!

No way can I even begin to make a dent in the pages and pages of ideas, thumbnail sketches of stories, bits of dialogue, and bits of plot I have if I don’t actually write!

I came up with an analogy that I hope makes sense. I started learning how to cook when I maybe in 5th or 6th grade. This was when the Food Network first came out and was available on our cable system in the town I grew up in. Back then they had a lot of great just basic cooking shows. I watched those for several weeks before pawing through my mother’s cookbooks. I looked at the recipes, realized I understood the terms, and ventured into the arena of putting what I learned into practice. For several years, I followed the directions to the letter, carefully measuring everything, using only the ingredients listed. I made good food. I enjoyed making it, parents enjoyed it (maybe not the gazpacho I made one time), all is well.

But I got bored. I was following the rules and that began to feel very, very confining. I don’t like being confined. Plus as the Food Network expanded their programming, I saw more and more chefs who didn’t measure everything out. They urged getting creative and playing around with spices and flavors. Once I got permission, in essence, to play with spices, it opened up a whole new food world to me. The older I got, the more my palette expanded and I began venturing out to other cultures and plucking flavors from those. Now I just use a recipe as a guide, a mere suggestion, before just going off on my own or make up my own stuff without writing it down.

I realized this is an approach I should take with my writing. I think I’ve got the basics down. I’ve got a good start on my writing ‘cookbooks’ and resources, all easily accessible. If I need to get more as my tastes change or I find deficiencies, I can. Now I need to transition into going beyond the set recipe. If I want my writing to develop its own flavor like my cooking does, then I need to start playing with the spices and the amounts used. But I can only do that by ‘cooking’ every day.

Different types of writing should be viewed as different meals served throughout the day or like an extensive dinner packed with several courses. And the freeing notion of equating writing with cooking will, I think, help calm lingering doubts as to the value of what I write. Some recipes work, some don’t. Sometimes you accidentally set your toaster oven on fire because you think it’d be a great way to toast coconut until you go to the bathroom and forget.


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