Reflections on Risk-Taking and Creativity

March madness is upon us in the form of the best snowstorm I’ve seen in ages. Last night we sent the kids to their nearby grandparents house, and they kept our mini-van complete with snow tires. We’ve got the Honda Civic with nearly bald tires, and so we are marooned. Not a single snow plow in sight, and it’s still coming down. Our home isn’t such a terrible place to be stuck. The fire is crackling. We took a break from work to start Season Two of The Expanse. The kettle is on and homemade, dairy-free strawberry ice cream is waiting for dessert. Then I have to get back to work, but in the meanwhile, I’m thinking about risk-taking and creativity.

I’m in a weird space this week. Everything feels like a dream I’m floating through, like a vacation. Free of the long to-do lists (because I didn’t make any) and without the feeling that there isn’t enough time in the day. We aren’t going anywhere special, but March Break and the total lack of morning crazy to get the school bus seems like just enough of a holiday.

On Monday I started sending out the almost-final draft of my manuscript for beta reading. This is a crazy time in my writerly life. I have some pretty awesome betas, a good representation of the type of reader I hope to attract. There’s something both exciting and terrifying about knowing that people, especially strangers, are reading your words and giving feedback. It’s the risk you have to take as a creator; you make something for the world to consume, and then you sit back and see how well they digest it.

I took another risk when I launched my crowdfunding campaign. It was a wise move, deciding to ignore that voice that told me I was self-indulgent. My campaign goal was met, thanks to many lovely contributors. I’ve booked a little getaway for the second week of April to complete the last draft of my novel and research publishing options. Do I self-publish and invest in a proper marketing campaign? Do I query agents and see if the traditional publishing world wants me? Are there indie publishers who might take a chance on my book and help me with marketing? The questions are endless.

The scariest part of creative work is letting other people see what you’ve sunk your soul into. My first book was immensely fun to write. It was non-fiction, and in many ways, easier. This one, this novel was different. It was scary, and thrilling and I went to that deep place in my imagination where I used to live as a little girl. There’s way more of me in this book than the other. I’ve experienced more self-doubt and self-loathing with this project than with any creative experience thus far. What if it’s no good? What if I’m too old? What if nobody ever reads it? I have to wade through that self-deprecating static almost every day, because I know once I’ve cut my teeth on this novel business, I can move on to write the thousands of other stories in my head. And most importantly, I can say that I did it.

Don’t be so precious about it. I keep telling myself this. It’s only the first one, and it’s bound to teach you so many things. If you don’t do it, you’ll regret it.

I think of all the writers I’ve beta-read for. Writers who feel the exact same way I do about their books, and some who are beyond this newbie writer anxiety. Sometimes these books are wonderful. Sometimes I’m not even sure how to wrap my feedback in a positive spin. If the thing you created was rubbish, would you want to know? I would. I’d like to think my skin is tough enough that I could just move on to the next story.

So for the next couple of weeks I’ll wait. I’ll work on other things, like my businesses that I’ve neglected trying to prepare this next draft. There’s plenty to keep busy with while the betas work on their feedback. I’ll probably never hear from some of them at all, because that’s another risk you have to take.

It’s torture, but I love it.

 

All the Balls

I’ve been a bad writer. Any of you who have taken on writing know that sometimes it just doesn’t happen. The words go away, and your computer screen or blank page seems to mock you. In my case, it’s never for a lack of ideas, it’s not writer’s block in the traditional sense. I literally block myself, stepping into the path of my own writing and grinding it to a halt.

Until I’m clear on why I do this, I’m not sure how to break this cycle. My momentum will be going strong and then, bam! Something happens and I derail myself. In this case it’s been months away from the page, as evidenced by my disappearance here.

My issues with writing are attached to value, guilt, worth. All ugly stuff really, and the kind of stuff that I speak so passionately against where everyone else is concerned. Why are we all so bad at following our own great advice?

Life without writing isn’t awful. I have enough meaningful work, volunteer gigs, beautiful moments with friends and family to keep my days filled with good feelings and a sense of purpose. Life without writing does feel a lot like the difference between eating well and laying into foods that just don’t agree with you. Or skipping vitamins for too long. Something wasn’t working quite right underneath all of the good stuff. Something felt off.

So, on Monday I dusted off my novel and got back to re-writes. I entered a contest. I decided I’d do NANWRIMO (national novel writing month) and write a Christmas present for my daughters. Can you hear my writer’s knuckles cracking?

I’d like to say that I motivated myself. That the feeling of not writing was worse than the struggle and uncertainty of a daily practice. I’d love to tell you that I gave myself a pep talk and decided my passion for words and stories was worth the time investment, even if I never made a living off my writing. I’d be thrilled to say that I’ve decided to take myself more seriously as an artist. But those would all be lies.

Last week my four-year-old son came home from junior kindergarten with a package. It contained a very simple book about colored balls. We sat on the couch and he read each page to me, clear and sure, and my heart exploded out of my chest. It was the first book he’s ever read to me.

I remembered how as a child, books saved me from loneliness and filled my soul to the brim with possibility. I saw his own potential for reading his way through endless adventures open up right there in our cozy living room. I felt an ache so deep and strong pushing me to make sure my kids get to read one of my books someday. A book that I’ve written.

“This is me in all the balls.” That was the last line of the book my son was reading. I may have to juggle a whole bunch of them, but I can’t drop this one again because it’s just too important.

The Writing Process

Oh how I love to hear from you guys, and get a chance to lend a helping hand! Today’s post is an answer to this reader’s question about the writing process:

the writing process

First off I want to say superb blog!
I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your head before writing.
I have had a hard time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out. I truly do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints? Many thanks!   – Sally

Here’s my answer, via YouTube. The writing process is totally unique to each writer, and many of us have all kinds of rituals and OCD habits that we need to indulge before we can get our creative juices flowing.

If you have any questions you’d like me to answer about writing, relationships, sex, parenting, or anything else you can find me at cat@catskinner.club. I promise to always protect your anonymity, and if I use your question as a post, I’ll be sure to send you a token of my gratitude!

Kisses on your nose,

cat skinner

Ask Mommy: The Writing Process

Today’s post is an answer to this reader’s question about the writing process:

First off I want to say superb blog!
I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your head before writing.
I have had a hard time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out. I truly do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints? Many thanks!   – Sally

Here’s my answer, via YouTube. If you have any questions you’d like me to answer about writing, relationships, sex, parenting, or anything else you can find me at askmommy@playboymommy.com