Why I’m Begging you to Stop Calling Yourself an Aspiring Writer

Why I’m Begging you to Stop Calling Yourself an Aspiring Writer

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(Aka please don’t feed the banshee).

I’ve been pondering this topic for a while, but when I woke this morning to the You’re-a-Fraud banshee shrieking in my ear, I knew today was finally the day to write this blog post.

Have you met the You’re-a-Fraud banshee? She’s the inverse patron saint of writers. I first heard this term (or one close to it) from my friend Heidi Boynton who teaches confidence to girls using athletics (it’s an amazing program called Mini Mermaids). In that program, Heidi refers to our harsh inner critic as The Siren, which is that voice in your head that confirms all your worst beliefs. You can’t get published, your work isn’t good enough. Other writers are real. You’re a fraud. One day you’ll be found out. 

In my case at 7am this morning it was:

“Oh my God all these real and talented writers are going to this conference I’m headed to. I’m just a fraud who dropped out, lives in Colombia and tweets on social media, and yes, maybe I wrote a book, but it’s not like I’ve found an agent yet and I’ve barely added any words in the last month, and I’m not even sure book two will be as good as book one … and … and..”

At that point I jumped out of bed and told my banshee what’s what (more below on how I learned to do that).

It’s not a coincidence that most people in creative fields have met our not so friendly banshee and in my opinion it’s directly related to this “aspiring” writer description.  That’s why I want to make a case that it’s time to get rid of the term.

Recently the pervasiveness of this “I’m a fraud” thought among my writer friends sunk in when I saw my two most popular tweets and retweets below.

So what’s the correlation between calling yourself an aspiring writer and learning to quiet the You’re-a-Fraud banshee? If you’ll allow, let’s take a side trip for a moment to my career before writing, when I was a marketing executive.

For twenty years I worked in Vice President of Marketing and Chief Marketing Officer roles in technology companies ranging from massive Fortune 50 companies to startups. And not once in twenty years did I call myself an aspiring anything. Not even when I was starting out and clueless.

Not when I was an intern with almost no skills other than making coffee (I’ve never even heard of an “aspiring intern”). Not when I was a newbie in my first job, a junior product marketer who learned how a spreadsheet worked at the same time as she struggled to price 200 products and promotions into 20+ different currencies (pre-Euro). And yet, I’ve never heard of an aspiring marketing manager, either.

So what’s the difference?  Did I come with ready-made competence in the jobs I was thrust into? Hell, no.  And yet I never once called myself aspiring, because the very term implies you aren’t able to do your job. You aren’t capable. You aren’t completing marketing tasks for your company on a Monday morning; you’re just pretending. And I might not have been perfect, but I was darn well doing the job as best I could. Every day. Just like you are writing, not just hoping to maybe to write something one day.

Aspiring doesn’t just mean you are not an expert, it means you are aren’t capable. And I know you are. You are writing. You’re already a writer.

Recently I’ve started to wonder why I get infuriated when I see aspiring in someone’s social media or hear them introduce themselves that way at a conference. My honey is a woke guy and he likes to say that if something triggers you, it’s time to look inside to find the answer.

So, why do I want to slam something through a glass table every time I see that word on a twitter profile? The answer is the banshee. I’m ashamed of her.

I’m battling the banshee every day, and I’m begging you to pleeeeease stop feeding her.

A year ago I heard the amazing Cynthia Whitcomb (screen writer) give a talk at Willamette Writers Conference and deviate into a side-bar on writer doubt. What she taught me has immensely helped. The siren doesn’t listen when we tell her to just shut up. As proof, have you ever tried saying “Just for ten minutes, I won’t think about that thing that’s worrying me.” How did that work out for you?

The only way to silence the banshee is to feed her facts. That’s what I did this morning when I jumped out of bed. For me it’s facts like:

I’m part of a supportive writer community. They’ve read my stuff and they believe in me.

My book reached the finals in two awards.

I got requests for full manuscripts, so the idea must have merit.

My beta readers said it’s a page-turner.

A writer I respect read the first 50 pages and told me to stick with this manuscript, because it’s so close.

When you label yourself as an aspiring writer, you’re also feeding the banshee facts, just the wrong ones. You’re telling her she’s right, you’re not really a writer. You’re just an aspiring one. Not yet capable. Not yet ready to actually do the job. In the future, one day, you might become a real writer, but not now. Not today.

And the banshee squeals in return:

“See, I’m right. I told you. You’re a fraud!”

So please do me a favor and don’t feed her by calling yourself aspiring any more? She’s already fierce enough.

Of Hope and Hummingbirds

Of Hope and Hummingbirds

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Tales from the Querying Trenches

One of my favorite activities (or lack of activity) in San Miguel is to watch the hummingbirds in our garden. Lately, as I’m deep into book querying (that’s when you search for an agent), I’m increasingly drawn to these tiny flying frenzies, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

My life as a writer is more peaceful than my previous corporate life, even if full of micro disappointments, as writer’s lives tend to be. So why relate to a bird that lives every day on the knife-edge of oblivion?

I’ll be lying in the hammock, immersed in a book when I hear that familiar machine gun volley of chirps and a bright azure spark will be hovering by the feeder, its wings thrumming, guzzling sugar water as if its life depended on it. Which, in fact, it does.

I believe that daily frenzied struggle, with no option to quit, is why these birds have me captivated.

As I wait to hear back from agents on my book, attempting to strike a precarious balance between optimism and despair, I’m increasingly drawn to the avian equivalent of the little engine that could. 

You see, evolution dealt these little critters a hard blow. Originally derived from swifts (you can see the similarities when they dive), hummingbirds lost more and more weight as generations went by. They developed a unique figure-of-eight wing flap, all to better to hover next to flowers. But this helicopter-style flight (they can fly horizontally and upside down) takes a huge toll on their metabolism.

Flapping one’s wings at up to 80 strokes a second requires their tiny heart to beat over 1200 times a minute. With a frighteningly fast metabolism to power all that activity, they must find and consume more than half their body weight in sugar every day, just to survive. 

Which means every time a hummingbird stops eating, they risk dying. At night, to avoid a scenario where their bodies stop functioning for lack of sugar, they go into a state of torpor, aka short term hibernation (where their metabolic rate drops by 95% and heart drops to only 50 instead of 1200 beats a minute).

The fact is that very morning a hummingbird risks being too weak to kick-start its own heart and never waking up again.

So why do hummingbirds speak to me as a writer?

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘write or die’, but it’s not as if I believe that to be true.

For me, writing is a privilege I’m afforded because I’m not living on a knife edge, unable to pay the rent this month (although it helps to pay rent at Mexico rates!).

However, this lack of struggle (not writing for survival) also increases the temptation to quit, or at least to stop believing. When an agent doesn’t appreciate my ‘”voice” or doesn’t “connect with my characters”, it’s all too easy to fall into the self-pity trap of thinking perhaps I’m not cut out for this writer thing?

And then there’s writer jealousy. You know that habit of comparing oneself to other writers that pokes in uninvited and asks questions like “Why did she get an agent before me?” or “Did you see how much more beautiful her writing is than yours?”.

Even while writing this blog post I discovered an essay from a writer who passed away, which talks of hummingbirds with more eloquence than I ever could. This happens to me rather often. My style and voice are commercial and I pine after literary writing, despite knowing that particular style isn’t my gift to share with the world.

I’m going to pause and quote some of that amazing essay by Brian Doyle, because part of my journey is learning to appreciate the work of others who have different talents and I just adored his writing.

“Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms… Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer more heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures than any other living creature. It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.”

From The American Scholar: Joyas Voladoras (Flying Jewels)

Beautiful, right?

I’ve finally realized what appeals is hummingbirds’ very audacity to believe in their right to exist.

For me, hummingbirds represent an invitation to gratitude. Most nights I go to bed without fear of not waking up tomorrow. Without fear that if I stop fighting, I won’t survive and neither will my family. That’s a privilege most on this planet don’t have. And for this I am grateful.

Will I find a publisher for my first book? I sure hope so, but regardless I continue to learn and evolve as a writer. Watching their frenzied fight is a reminder that I have a gift to give, whether others yet recognize it or not.

As Doyle points out in the article above, we only have so many heart beats in this life.  I’ve chosen to use mine writing.

I’m also proud to be part of an amazing community of writers through the Women’s Fiction Writers Association who support each other on this great journey of creativity – including coping with rejection. And for this I could not be more grateful.

From now on, every time I see a hummingbird, I’ll consider it a call to touch base with that gratitude.

Why Awards Matter to Debut Writers

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On a morning in July, one of my writer friends texted to say congratulations and shortly after my honey had to inform our neighbors here in San Miguel that the screaming from our rooftop (where I was eating breakfast) was not the murder of an American expat, but squeals of writerly delight.

 

I’m beyond proud to have been announced (completely to my surprise) as a finalist for the Rising Star Award by Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association and two weeks later as a finalist in the Colorado Gold Novel Contest.

Both of these are competitions for new (unpublished) writers that are judged by published writers. The Rising Star Award is part of a set of activities run by Women Fiction Writer’s Association (WFWA), a supportive, amazing, talented community of writers to which I am beyond proud to belong and the Colorado Gold contest is sponsored by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Association.

For my non-writer followers I know you’re thinking something along the lines of That’s cool for you Lainey, but what’s the big deal with an award that writers give to other writers?

So let me try and explain why these things matter, and why we almost had to call La Policia to calm me down and get me off our rooftop Terraza. You see, writing is a hard and solitary activity. It’s just you and your computer staring at each other for six to eight hours a day (on a good writing day), which is manageable for a few weeks, but writing a book takes years of your life (yes, years I’m not joking). During which time you start asking that computer screen questions such as:

Is this total crap?

Am I wasting my time here?

Will anyone ever read this book and think they didn’t waste six hours of their time reading it? (yes that is the average time to read a 100,000 word book, that took at least a year or two to write, edit and perfect).

Not buying it? I can assure you my writer friends are nodding their heads right now. So how do you keep yourself going?  You find your tribe. A set of people who will be honest with you, but supportive and on your side. A group of people who will never say seriously you gave up a good day job to do this? What do you want, to work in Starbucks the rest of your life?  And will give you feedback that is not Wow that was not interesting at all, but instead You had me until page three, but I don’t understand your character’s motivation when they entered the cheese maze? 

This is why validation from awards matters. They don’t actually say your book is amazing. They don’t even say, for sure, that your book will find a publisher or even an agent (the first step in that route).  What they tell you is that a jury of your peers think you aren’t wasting your (or your reader’s) time.

Believe me, after a year and a half of talking to a piece of polarized glass and liquid crystal, getting a message from a group of published authors that your stuff is worth their time matters enough to make you scream from the rooftop (literally).

Why (the Dream) of Writing from an RV Wasn’t for Me

Why (the Dream) of Writing from an RV Wasn’t for Me

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Or What I Wish I’d Known About the Creative Process Before Ditching our Furniture

Mid last year my honey and I moved out of our expensive apartment in San Francisco, gave away most of our belongings, sold our car, and used the money to buy an RV.

This is us on the day we purchased our new home, affectionately named The Purple Turtle.

Traveling while writing is a dream for many. So, why didn’t it work out? This may sound flippant, but the short version is I underestimated the importance of an interrupt-free environment.

I’d read the writing books that advise to arrange your work-space so you can get in the zone, to which I applied a liberal dose of cynicism.

That voodoo get in the zone bullshit doesn’t apply to me. Surely if I just hunker down, put on some headphones, and focus in 20 to 30 minute chunks with one of those time management apps I’ll be fine?

Unfortunately 6 months of sharing a micro-space validated an important fact. More specifically a door to an office that closes, so you can work undisturbed.

Doors are a writer’s best friend.

I’m embarrassed to admit that every piece of advice I read and ignored was correct.

For me it takes about 90 minutes to get into my writing flow. Which is about the same time it takes before my amazing honey (working from another desk in the RV) either needs to go to the rest room or get up to make coffee.

And in a 33 foot RV every movement, no matter how small, causes the vehicle to rock furiously. Hard to ignore, even with headphones!

Other Unexpected Challenges of RV Living

Saving cost. Not so much. Our RV was cheap (think $9,000 for a 400 square foot apartment on wheels). Even with gas and park fees, we’d done our calculations and expected RV living to cost us less than a tiny apartment in most cities.

 

Then the Purple Turtle collapsed. Unlike the writing on the tow truck promised, having an RV towed is not 35 tons of fun.

A new transmission costs four thousand dollars even when it’s an older rebuilt part (ouch!).

Not to mention the thousand dollar brake job when the wheels starting squealing like a thousand mice were trapped inside, or the moment (post repair) when the brakes gave up entirely. Thank God we weren’t hurtling down a mountain at the time.

RV Hate. Gotta admit, I didn’t see this one coming. Not until the first time we parked on a friend’s street in Livermore, California and before we opened the door a posse of neighbors appeared and demanded to know exactly when we’d be leaving.

And it’s not only neighbor-fear that’s a challenge. Lots of cities with homeless problems have started putting zero RV rules in place. Yes I’m talking about you Santa Cruz, California. Hard to visit my Mum when we’re not supposed to park anywhere in the same city.

Travel time. Here’s an interesting graph. It shows my productivity with editing my novel by month.

See those blow-it-out months with the smiley faces versus the others? That’s I was stable in one place; Oregon in July, Taos New Mexico in October, and locked in my Mum’s guest bedroom in December.

But see the most recent super smiley face? Thats the month we left the RV behind and moved to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, our all new plan for saving money and finding writer Nirvana. In a house with 2 separate offices, each with doors!

So, do I regret buying the RV and traveling (even though she’s now at a consignment lot seeking adoption)?

Not for a moment.

My honey and I traveled to Albuquerque, where I met the amazing writers of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association at their annual retreat and we were privileged to become temporary residents of the locations in the photos below (New Mexico in October is not to be missed. Do it once this lifetime!).

But, would I recommend trying to write a book from an RV? Not so much.

 

Purple Turtle Memories