by Johnny B. Truant
I’ve always had trouble coming up with ideas. It’s my constant weakness. Give me an idea and I can articulate the hell out of it, finding all sorts of interesting nuance that bears on the story. But ask me to come up with ideas? No bueno.
I used to do that thing all the time where I’d stare at the blank Page One of a book, then realize suddenly that it’s extremely important that I walk circles in the living room and feed my dog twice.
(Don’t act like you haven’t done this.)
I stated in my last post that the writing life can be a beat-you-up pain in the ass. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the problems usually come from our emotional reactions to reality, not reality itself.
Yes, you can get rejected and yes, your new book sales can vastly underperform expectations, but chances are the rejection itself or the book sales alone probably aren’t what’s beating you up. It’s probably the associated emotion and the way you react (and then go into a tailspin) that does that. Especially if your day was already kind of crappy when the news hits you.
As writers, we often work alone. When you’re alone, it is easier for emotions to run amok because you are the only one able to change the situation. Unfortunately, my friends, sometimes we are the problem in the first place.
Something we’ve all done
Check reviews. Oh, there’s a bad one. It makes me feel terrible. Then we check reviews again. That same bad one is still there. Now it’s like I’ve gotten two bad reviews.
Look at that voodoo: One bad review, read twice, feels like two bad reviews. Read it a third time and it’s like the same big meathead keeps right on hitting you. Why do we do that? It’s like inflicting freaking black magic on ourselves.
And so I started thinking: What if I could make some white magic to counter it? What if I could thwart the “solo writer freaking out because they don’t have any good vibes to help shake off the bad” situation by making some better vibes for myself?
Friends. Romans. Countrymen. We are creators. We make things up for a living. We exist every day in fantasy lands that other people can’t possibly imagine.
We can use the benefit that our everyday lives are better than hippie trips to our mood-boosting advantage. Maybe, during the days when badness is having its way with us, we could channel our profession’s natural fantasticalness.
Dealing with misconceptions.
So. Circling back to my argument above. We all have bad days, weeks, and even months, but I believe much of that ill feeling comes from a few very specific, very misguided misconceptions.
We tell ourselves that we need to force out the writing even when we feel crappy. I do, anyway. As the higher-up pull-out quote says, though, it probably makes more sense to use our creativity to GET OUT of the crap instead of making it one more thing that holds us down.
In other words: Do whatever it takes to find joy in writing when you’re down instead of saying, “I must write no matter what, to get the job done!” Writing should uplift us, not be one more rock on our backs.
The goals we think we should have are often out of whack with our real goals. (See my last post.) I’ll go for weeks disappointed that I’m not #1 at the local Barnes and Noble, then remember that being happy, earning enough, and having a small group of devoted fans and supportive friends is all I actually wanted.
We need to allow our working world to be the amazing, magical place it should have been all along. Because if we begin in a bright and sunny place (or, rather, acknowledge that we’re already in a bright and sunny place), any darkness that comes will never stand a chance at defeating us.
Inspiration is everywhere.
Inspiration isn’t just about ideas. It’s about magic, remember?
I’m not talking about magic mushrooms, although I do know folks for whom psychedelics work better than antidepressants. I’m talking about channeling whatever makes your world feel just a bit more peaceful or ethereal, and less like it’s filled with terrible monsters.
But that right there is the whole point: the world feeling more ethereal instead of feeling like a monster.
It’s the same world, people. If I feel good and if you, standing right next to me, feel bad, it’s not the world that’s different. The problem lies with the baggage we carry and how it tints our perceptions.
Seeing problems and failure all around you is like wearing glasses covered with mud. That’s the state we fall into when we’re alone, spiraling out of control with no one there to anchor us. Those are the times when we fail to see the beauty and magic and inspiration that’s all around us.
What if instead, you could live in a world…
- ..where everything has something to teach you?
- ..where everything helps your art instead of convincing you it’s trite and you’re wasting your time trying?
- What if instead of being constantly discouraged by toxic thoughts, you felt constantly encouraged by the world?
That would be a pretty kickass world.
I have plenty of bad days, but getting my priorities straight (see last post) took away a lot of that angst because it made me see that I’m doing pretty well on my real needs and wants even when my fake needs and wants (the ones the internet and society and comparisonitis give me) are lacking.
And finding a way to feel inspired all the time? Finding a way to use that mindset to face darkness from a place of light and positivity? Well, that was some serious icing on the cake.
Searching for inspiration.
Recently, I started writing down one thing every day that inspired me.
It was difficult at first, because I used to think you needed to sit by a waterfall or meditate on a mountaintop to find inspiration. That’s just silly. In truth, there’s a lesson in everything. We’re just too much on autopilot to see it.
Here are some of my recent musings, drawn from totally mundane things around me:
Today I noticed how hollow most of our everyday interactions are. It got me thinking about how every background character in a book has their own backstory, and every backstory could birth a novel.
Today, I learned that my 12-string guitar didn’t sound right because I was using the wrong kind of capo to change its key. It made realize that amping up anything creative might be as simple as trying new tools.
Today, I noticed that there is never NO sound, and that instead, a background hum is always present. It made me wonder how unnoticed elements of my books are influencing reader perceptions without me — or maybe them — even realizing it, and how I could use it to my advantage in the future.
Why did I phrase them this way?
They’re phrased the way they are because I started writing them up as posts for my blog readers in the same way some people find benefits in Morning Pages. It’s a word-of-the-day thing for my readers, who tell me privately that seeing what ordinary things I find inspiring actually makes them inspired, too.
Even cooler, there’s a meta thing that happened with this exercise.
Writing “Noticings” helps me to feel more of that daily magic and live in a much better place … but it got even better when I learned how my ridiculous little habit was helping other writers who read my blog, or who listen to the accompanying podcast.
We are not alone.
That’s what I think is really the point of all this: We are not alone. But…because creative people are deep thinkers, we often overanalyze things. Or catastrophize things. Or turn everything into a long harrowing story because (duh) we’re storytellers.
That’s what storytellers do.
But the stories are mostly just stories. If we cut through the garbage we add to our bad days, more often than not we’ll see that we’re making our own madness.
But we’re not alone. All of the other creatives out there are just as crazy as we are. Keeping that in mind takes away a lot of the sting. At least it does for me.
I started writing the “Noticings” blog and recording the accompanying Art of Noticing podcast because I was kind of messed up one day and knew I had to do something. But the “something” I chose to do for myself had a ripple effect.
For one, it made me notice my own disempowering stories. I began to see that there’s a lot more to love in a creative life than there is to hate. There’s more joy than there is pain, even when there’s plenty of pain.
When those posts did the same for others, it was like the benefits doubled. So yeah. despite the work I’ll keep doing it. Because community is what this is all about.
This thing we do isn’t easy.
But who cares? I’ll keep doing it anyway.
What dumb stories do you tell yourself? Do you have any misperceptions, writerly or otherwise, that derail you or get in your way? We’d love it if you shared them down in the comments!
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This article was originally posted at Writers In the Storm.
Johnny B. Truant is the bestselling author of Fat Vampire, adapted by SyFy as Reginald the Vampire starring Spider-Man’s Jacob Batalon. His site at JohnnyBTruant.com publishes his 10-minute Art of Noticing podcast and the accompanying “Noticings” post series, both for writers and other artists.
Johnny’s other books include Pretty Killer, Pattern Black, Invasion, The Beam, Dead City, and over 100 other titles across many genres. Originally from Ohio, Johnny and his family now live in Austin, Texas, where he’s finally surrounded by creative types as weird as he is.