The Power of “What If?”

I know that I’ve written before about bolstering our creativity by keeping open minds concerning the direction our stories, characters, and plots can take. But in a world that can sometimes feel like a dark cloud over new ideas I think it’s important to revisit the power of a positive “What If?” in the way we approach our roadblocks.

We’ve all been in the middle of a down time in our writing and creativity. I know there are people out there that will preach that writer’s block does not really exist and you’re just procrastinating, or not wanting to put the work in.

While it is true that you’ll never write anything if you don’t actually sit down and write, trying to pour out a story (whether its 500 words or 100,000) from an overloaded, overworked, and over stimulated brain can be like trying to jam a king-sized sleeping bag into a twin sized sack. You know what I’m talking about.

There’s not enough room.

Some of the blocks taking up space may include fear (of failure and/or success), self-doubt, and perfectionism. These show up like the ghost in a Scooby Doo episode, unmasked to reveal depression, anxiety, imposter syndrome, and even ADHD.

So you’ll never hear me say that writer’s block doesn’t exist (and if I have claimed that before, I retract it). I believe that the inability to create can have very real sources that we sometimes need a dynamic team of teenage detectives in an ugly van to suss out.

Today, I’d like you to apply the two-word question to those moments of stifled creativity and see what happens.

Here’s an example:

“I have a novel, nearly complete, but you can’t figure out how to end it. It’s been on my laptop for a month and it’s driving me insane but every scenario in my head doesn’t ‘feel’ quite right, so I’m just not writing any ending at all.”

Why, that’s not a werewolf! It’s that dirty landowner PERFECTIONISM (who runs a floating crap game called FEAR).

By asking ourselves what we’re really afraid of, what’s really so hard about the situation (I don’t want to write the WRONG ending, none of the endings are GOOD ENOUGH) we can face the fear directly and start asking what if….

What if you took one hour each day to write three separate endings, for each of the different possibilities you have? Unattached to the novel, a separate document. Call it exploratory research. I would bet dimes to dollars that you’ll find one that is the BEST for your novel, and feel much more capable of completing the next project on deck.

Here’s another one.

“I haven’t written any new poems in over a week, I don’t feel creative, I don’t have any ideas. I can’t find the RIGHT words. I have submissions due, I can’t focus, and I can’t even remember how to write a good poem. I’m not a poet.”

Say, that’s not a two headed mummy! It’s the motel owner’s shady uncle ANXIETY and his henchman DEPRESSION. Your brain is overworked and can’t focus, you feel like there’s nothing new in the world to write about, or worth writing about. With a trace of PERFECTIONISM, and a dash of IMPOSTER SYNDROME, this combination puts an end to possibilities before they can even reach your brain.

What if you spent ten minutes outside? Find a tree, flowering bush, cloud, roly-poly, something not man made, and focus on it for ten solid breaths in and out. Don’t look at anything else, don’t think about anything else, don’t draw your attention away from that one object. How does it move, how is the light hitting it, how long has it been there, what color is it, does it smell, does it have a taste, what’s it made of?

Not only will being outside and remembering to breathe help you to relax and curb some of those anxious and depressive feelings, but you’ll realign yourself with the beauty of noticing the small things. And details bring poetry to life. Then sit down, in the grass, and write something, no more than a page, about what you felt, what you saw, what you took in through all of those sentences. Repeat, with anything. Human, animal, mineral, place, time, concept. The possibilities are endless.

Last one, best one.

“I can’t write a synopsis! It’s so detailed and I can’t possibly boil down my entire novel into a few pages. I wouldn’t know where to start, and what’s the point, no one will take my novel anyway!”

Oh, my little defeatist, that’s not a man-eating robot, why it’s nothing but the cranky heiress SELF-DOUBT dressed up in a spray painted, cardboard box!

Look, not every writer is birthed knowing how to write a synopsis. In fact, absolutely none of them are (I think they are, however, birthed with an extra gene carrying the appreciation of ‘old-book’ smell and a tendency towards adverb-overuse and caffeine addictions) We all had to research it, take a class on it, and put in the work including probably a dozen revisions along the way.

You can find a great resource for how to write one here:

https://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-write-a-synopsis/

If you’re an plotter, a synopsis is easier. You have it all typed up somewhere, so work off your outline and put aside a time-specific block to work on it and only it. If you’re a pantster, may God have mercy on your immortally, unorganized soul, because it is fucking hard to do. Same thing though, set aside an afternoon (or two) with a start and end time and write it out like you would a copy of Cliff Notes

Add something enjoyable to the completion (extra coffee or old books?) to make the goal a little sweeter to reach. Have someone who doesn’t know your book read the synopsis (yes, it should give away the ending, no, don’t worry if Janet in Accounting knows how it ends). They can let you know if it’s easy to follow without being overwhelming.

Self-doubt, fear, perfectionism, anxiety and depression are not final resting places for your writing (or other creative endeavors). They’re road blocks brought on by your own expectation and unrealistic standards. The best advice I can give you about “What If” is to ask yourself, in the face of rejection, frustration, and doubt…

What if you can? What if you can write that book? What if you could write three poems in an hour? What if you can send your pitch, synopsis, and novel out by the end of the week?

What If, when used properly, can be the precursor to hope.

So give yourself hope. Give yourself a choose-your-own-adventure. Give yourself a good what iffing.

That got weird. You know what I mean.

Poetry

Today was not my best

I woke up with

Heart palpitations

A panicked bird in my chest

Crushed with loneliness

Aching just to be touched

To be reassured

that my own body was real

And beneath that,

Behind the pounding of my brain

The incessant ache in my temples

I felt this burden.

the world’s sadness

all of it,

pressing out from behind my eyes.

None of it mine

To fix.

Not even if I tried.

I woke and debated with myself

The rational side whispering

Don’t wake them.

Though you’re lonely

And sad

And shaking

Don’t let them bear witness

To the crazed cacophony of terror

That pounds in your veins

That sends shivers rolling through you

Marching to the song:

You’re not enough

Nothing will be enough

We’re all going to burn

The world is ending and

You’ve brought

your own children here

To die.

I wrapped my arms around your body

To touch something real

To be grounded

To hold on

And help me feel

Not so alone.

Not so much pain.

But still this feeling follows me

In the daylight

While I set the table

And type the words

And bend to fit

What needs to fit.

A panic hangover

Like a shadow behind my eyes

Dulling everything with shades

Of impending hopelessness.

Today I’m not my best.

Validation

Good Thursday to you, writers and readers. Apologies for missing last week’s blog. I could leave it at that. I could lie and say I was too busy. I could pad the truth and say I was feeling a ‘bit down’. But part of the problem with mental health awareness in this country is that we too often lie or lie by omission about it.

Last week I didn’t post a blog because I was recovering from an anxiety attack and suffering a depressive episode.

Wednesday, I couldn’t hold a solid thought in my head. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t predict when or how the next overwhelming wave of worry and tears would hit me. By Thursday, I felt like I had the emotional hangover of the century. The kind that leaves you with a raging headache. The kind that leaves you feeling empty and raw. Like you couldn’t bear to be touched, or spoken to, or even think of stringing together two sentences.

My anxiety was at a peak when I tried to voice my concerns and fears about the current state of our world. Some friends stepped all over themselves to shout out unsolicited advice, barrage me with guilt for not having hope and a sunny disposition. Tsk-ing their tongues at me for not being happy.

“Just smile” and “We’re all in this together” and all that bullshit.

If I had said I had cancer no one would tell me to take an Advil to cure it. No one would say I needed to re-examine my perspective to stop it’s growth. Yet, there it was, my virtual conclave shouting back all the answers I never asked for, simply because it helped assuage their own consciences. So that they’d feel as if they’d done their part to ‘help’ a friend in need.

And it got me thinking. About social media. About our current world. About what we do in our lives these days, as people, but also as artists, to find validation. See, I wasn’t looking for validation or rainbows or sunshine. I was looking for someone who was really listening, who was overthinking as deeply as I was. Who wanted more than a sound byte or click bait. Someone looking for a real conversation about our current addiction to opinions like ours. To admit that we’ve become so divisive that people are threatening others with guns, and running others over with cars, and all manner of horrible things because our individual perceptions of the ‘truth’ have been spoon fed to us by opposing sides in a virtual (read: NOT REAL) buffet of horseshit.

I’m not saying the truth doesn’t exist. I’m saying if you really want it, you have to make a concerted effort to seek it out. Know the perils of conspiracy theories and understand how to spot them, understand why they work on the delicate human psyche. Know that if something reads as degrading or judgmental of one side or the other, that it’s probably more opinion than fact and you need to get to the basic source of that pile of horseshit, not just take it at face value.

Where was I?

Validation.

Yep. So we get on the FaceBook and the Twitters and we read the sites and clips that these super-smart algorithms have determined make us salivate the most, and they keep feeding us the sugary Captain Crunch of news until we’re so assured of our ‘rightness’ that anyone not complying with our view is a contagious carrier of the ‘wrongness’. Then its only a matter of time before someone is whipped up into a frenzy and runs their car through a crowd of peaceful protesters or shoots someone with a MAGA hat, or shuts themselves into an oval-shaped office, a la totalitarian coup style, crying like a toddler about voter fraud.

Sounds like we’re ALL just a bunch of sheep. But why?

Well, darlin’, these systems are smart as fuck. These systems are designed to be addictive. They’re designed to validate our existence, our beliefs, our lives and choices. My God that like button is a sweet hit of virtual cocaine. The ‘heart’ and ‘care’ emojis? Ecstasy, baby. Someone out there LOVES you.

What in God’s name does it have to do with the writers and artists among us?

Well, as you know I’d left all that bullshit for awhile and was actually more calm and centered for it. I only recently returned because I wanted to have a space for my author platform. Because, and this is the professional side of this post, you HAVE TO have an online presence to write. Or at least that’s what we’re told. You HAVE TO build up an audience. You HAVE TO market yourself. Sell yourself. Get a following, if you ever hope to ‘make it’ as a writer. This is a new world. If you can’t roll with the changes, you’re destined to be left behind. You’ll never sell any books the old way, idiot!

What do you want to do? Just write?

Just write.

Just write?

Because you love it. Because you…never…started writing for the profit…you just liked to write….

Wait…you liked to write?

See it’s all a big system. We spend so much of our energy, our time, our lives, our hearts, trying to forge these connections in a world that–by all intents and purposes, DOESN’T REALLY EXIST. We base our worth on likes. On followers. On the number of hits our website gets. And then wonder why we feel so empty and disconnected and never quite enough.

I’m off social media; for reals. You may still see a profile pic pop up across the Internet-o-sphere, but you won’t find my content behind it. My website contract ends in February. I’m not sure I’ll renew it. I started my platform because I was told I had to, in order to reach more readers.

Do I want people to read my work? Sure, if they enjoy it…if it feeds their soul and serves their happiness, absolutely.

Do I want to expose too-big-for-its-own-good heart and threaten my well being to do that? No. Not anymore. I want to write. My time is finite. I will not be around forever. When I’m gone, my books, my poetry, my writing, will all remain. My Facebook account will be deactivated. I will stop being worthwhile to their algorithm when I’m dead. But what I write, what I put on paper will carry on (if anyone still reads books by then).

I urge you to examine your life. Examine your addictions. Do you control the content of your life, or is it being controlled for you? Is that content controlling how you live your life? What you believe?

Blog posts here will continue until February. I’ll be re-running old favorites as well as interjecting some poetry here and there. I already paid for the year, I might as well use it to share the things I love.

Take care. Really…I mean that. Take care of yourself. Your real-life, human self. You are one of one. You’re more than just 1’s and 0’s in a giant marketing scheme. Go be a real-life human. Do real-life human things. Walk outside, go for a run, read a book, write something, nap, work, make love, eat amazing food–and don’t post a goddamn thing about it to anyone else. I assure you, it still happens even if your social media sites don’t hear about it.

Happy living.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: #10

I know it’s been a couple of weeks and I don’t expect this blog post is going to wow anyone or cause massive social change. It may not even get read, after all, I’m not here to give you the latest updates and numbers and calamity that’s been shouting, ceaselessly, in our faces for the last few weeks.

I’m here to tell you I’m not ok. As my friend sid says, my “give-a-shitter” is effectively broken and I haven’t been able to write much of anything. I swing from anxiety for my parents and at-risk loved ones to rebellious trips to the grocery store for an onion and a bottle of shampoo.

It shouldn’t make sense that I’m not writing, I have so much time, right? So much freedom to not go out and just hang in my pajamas. An introvert should be ecstatic that she no longer has to find excuses to not attend social obligations. But this introvert is also distrustful of the institution that has so easily taken the choice. This introvert has gone from someone who had at least a few hours alone time in the day for free-thinking, to someone who is a full-time-stay-at-home-mom-teacher-comforter-researcher-scientist-gym teacher-housekeeper-spanish teacher-stoic-source-of-calm who feels inadequate at all of it and obligated to keep being the ideal citizen. I should be able to thrive under any condition you put me in and raise a fine bunch of kids while doing it.

But I’m not thriving. Not creatively. Not in any way.

I sit down, in front of screen or page and the ideas that I know are bundled up inside feel trapped, covered by a very particular sense of gray and a heavy blanket of anxiety. I don’t have the luxury of this time. Shouldn’t I be planning a lesson or getting my kids out for a walk, or writing some cheery optimistic chalk bullshit on my neighborhood sidewalks so we don’t forget ‘we’re in this together!” Of course we’re in this together, we’ve got no other choice. It’s like walking into a prison and have some lemon-sunshine blond smile with perfect teeth and giggling “Welcome to Camp! We’re gonna have loads of fun! Just go with it! Oh, and if you complain you’re a vile piece of shit who doesn’t care about your neighbors! Here’s your pajamas and a set of sidewalk chalk!”

Overall, its as if my mind is holding in all of this beautiful stuff, interesting threads of story and plot in its sweaty, clenched hands and it looks at the world shouting the same repetitive rhetoric around, shrugs and says, “why bother?” Then pretty soon those ideas fade under the weight of gray around them. Until they disappear completely and all that’s left is the repetitive rhetoric.

So this lesson has no title. It has no direction. Except to say this, these are strange and harrowing times. You can argue there is hope in the social solidarity we are forming from six-feet away. But something feels off about this and I don’t know how the history of it will be written. So, I’m journaling every day. Words others will probably never see. Thoughts that can be as dark and complex or stupid and shallow as I need them to be on that particular day.

So that’s your assignment for the remaining weeks of this thing. Journal. The thoughts, fears, anxieties, joys (if you can find them good for your sunshine-blond soul), that change in every moment with the wobble of this event. Someday you may come back to it, read and remember. Or you may chose to burn it and hope never to go back to the person you were in those moments of dark. History is going to be written from these events, don’t let theirs be the only version.

Oh, and get outside. Its the only thing that’s saved me from some severe physical/mental damages (minor ones are still fair game). It’s actually quite pleasant when you can catch nature on her own.

The Beauty of Quiet

You can feel it, like a vibrating pulse, constantly surrounding us. It’s in the buzz of the lights, the ringing of phones, the blip of messenger, the ping of news alerts. It’s the hum of electrical devices and the glow of screens. It’s a blanket of noise and light, sound and motion. It’s the modern, ‘marvelous’ world we live in.

And it’s killing us.

Our brains are beautiful machines, designed to process incoming information from our senses and filtered through our own experiences and knowledge until they are the equivalent of a constantly running mainframe that makes millions of decisions a day, from a billion different choices and scenarios. And we live in a world where the information is at hand in any moment we desire, from thousands of different outlets and devices, constantly spewing out anything you’d like to know and most things you wish you didn’t.

And yet our brain no longer knows itself.

With a constant barrage of noise and information from outside along with the endless distractions permanently affixed into the palm of our hands, we have lost our ability to know who we really are and what is really important to us.

After all, without quiet alone time, our thoughts and therefore our minds become products of all that we take in. Without solitude for true self-reflect, unplugging, and just being in our own heads, we become part of the noise, this capitalist driven machine that has stopped questioning what it really means to be happy. Implanting ideas of material wealth and social forum acceptance as the cure all to the emptiness we feel.

We are too busy, we are too distracted, we are devoid of personal and private time. Our lives have become fishbowls; both open for inspection from anyone paying attention and also offering 360-degree views of everyone else’s business.

When was the last time you took 15 minutes of complete silence, without any external distraction?

Don’t have the time? It’s equivalent to about two Facebook checks, three cute cat videos, or two over-polarized news articles.

Don’t think silence makes a difference?

In a study published by Psychology Today, quiet contemplation was proven to dramatically improve our brain’s ability to sleep more soundly, stave off depression and anxiety, improve cognitive and behavioral function and even help fight chronic pain.

(Ahmad, S. (2019, July 17). Meditation and Mental Health. Retrieved January 19, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/balanced/201907/meditation-and-mental-health)

We all know what happens when a computer overheats. Shit starts to go wrong.

Very wrong.

Depression and anxiety have never been at higher levels. Everyone on this planet is walking around with their nose stuck to screens waiting for the world to tell us what to value, what to be, what to feel…Waiting to tell us that we’re good enough. When the only person we should be seeking these answers from is ourselves.

I know it’s a little ironic to be preaching a sermon on getting off your tech from the pulpit of a blog. It doesn’t escape me that I’m keeping you here for some of those minutes we waste. But I’m doing it as a public service.

Get off your screen, take a break from the games, and social media, and frenzy of sound and light.

Because while the outside world is distracting you with all of its splendor, you’re missing the really beautiful stuff, the REAL stuff, that resides right in your own head. Go have a thought. All on your own. Follow it around for a bit without Google force-feeding you the answers.

Please. For your health, for the health of this planet and all human beings, do this thing.

Living beautifully means living. Not just watching fabricated life from the strangest social experiment ever concocted, but really spending time with yourself, with face to face conversations, with the space to breathe and let go of all that nonessential bullshit and make peace in the quiet.