We read to know that we are not alone.
We read to know that we are not alone.
I am working on providing for myself the validation I so often seek from others. It has been a life long struggle, but I know I’m doing better.
Still, it feels nice to be recognized for your hard work every once in a while.
So, dear reader, I want to let you know that you are doing a great job.
How could I possibly know? Because I know people are loving, hardworking, and capable of infinite growth. While circumstances can be unjust, unsafe, and emotionally draining — people can move on. They rise above their circumstances, often accepting help from those who are unironically trying to make the world a better place.
You are one of those people receiving help. You are also one of the people making the world better. Through the things you create, the ideas you share, the people you help.
Could you do more? Yes. We all could.
But remember how much you have learned since you came into this world. Consider all the work you did today to make your life and the universe better. Acknowledge how many people count you as a blessing in their lives.
When you think of it that way? You are doing GREAT.
I have been having a great 2019, and it is making me feel uneasy. You see I have this pesky life habit.
I get all excited and start seeing possibilities everywhere. I get an idea for a new creative project or amped up to start a new work out routine and start to take on more.
And for a while thing are great! My new responsibilities fill me with excitement.
But in my excitment, I tend to take on more. A lot more. Until I get tripped up.
And even under the crushing weight of my self imposed responsibilities I keep looking for more. Should I be doing something to prevent wrinkles? What can I be doing to stop climate change?
And then I lay there furious at myself that I can’t do it all.
In 2019 I’m going to try something new. If I ever feel like the weight is getting too much, I’m going to take a look at what I’ve taken on and let some things go.
Wish me luck.
I don’t know if you have noticed, but there are a lot of things to be fearful and upset about in this world. I can so easily be swallowed up in a down-the-toilet-bowl swirl of my twitter feed that it makes me want to crawl into bed and hide under the covers. Forever.
But then there is the other side of the coin. The moments of joy that come into my life every single day. A beautiful sunset, a visit from a beloved friend, or a tv show that moves me to tears all remind me that there are wonderful things in this world along with the bad. But I still have a difficult time experiencing both.
Part of me feels guilty for smiling at my daughter’s goofy dance when there are kids elsewhere are torn from their parents because of rules I don’t believe in. I feel the stirrings of shame at feeling proud at accomplishing a writing goal when the polar ice caps are melting.
To help me reconcile these two extremes, and keep from going crazy(read: crazier), I am going to try something new. I will be working incredibly locally, focusing on what is within my control. I will try to dwell and ruminate in the joy I experience. I will also try to take in these massive stories of sorrow only long enough for me to take what actions I can, and then moving on. I am going to recognize tragedy in-the-moment and then wallow in my joy.
It’s kind of a reversal for me, but it sounds like such a relief.
For the month of February, I am going to try on the hat of actionable optimist who dwells on the joy, shamelessly.
I am writing as fast as I can, but it is still slow.
I am writing as well as I can, but it is still rough.
I am taking the next step to get my story out into the world. What else can I do?
Sometimes in the sturm und drang of the internet, something flutters to the surface of the cesspit, untarnished and beautiful. Something like Jonathan Van Ness’ progress videos as he learns to ice skate.
Jonathan is a charming fifth of the cast on Netflix’s “Queer Eye” and host of the podcast “Getting Curious.” While he is an expert in many things, he is bravely choosing to share his process of learning something completely new. What he is sharing isn’t flawless, but it is real. It is so refreshing to see behind the curtain of social media perfection to see a capable person striving to learn something new.
In my sheer joy I texted my BFF Amanda:
I think we don’t see adults learning something new more often because as a society we somehow think of it as shameful. Surely adults should know everything already? Children are the only ones we force to learn. I think if respected people shared what they are learning more openly it would make children less resentful and adults less ashamed.
Have you ever met an adult who refused to learn how to use their cell phone? It isn’t a generation gap to blame, it is a willingness to learn that is missing. Because an important element of learning is failing, looking silly, and being publicly embarrassed. And as we get older we seem less willing to make ourselves as vulnerable as we need to be to learn something new.
I’ve just finished reading the book “Grit” by Angela Duckworth where she compares the difference between ‘growth mindset’ and ‘fixed mindset’. Those with a fixed mindset have a tendency to think of the world in black and white terms. An individual is either intelligent or they are stupid. They are talented or hopeless. Those with a growth mindset have the perspective that effort can change intelligence. That practice can develop talent. Unsurprisingly, those who believe that they can change their circumstances often are the same ones who put in the tremendous effort necessary to learn, grow and ultimately …change their circumstances.
Now, of course, I am going to bring this all back around to writing. Because I am, after all, me.
A growth mindset ties in perfectly to discussing character arcs. A story works best when a character learns a lesson and leaves the story different than they began it. (Ideally, the reader/viewer leaves changed too, but that part is out of the artist’s control.)
For example in my work in progress, my two protagonists begin the story with fixed mindsets. Though their worldviews are very different from each other they are both unwilling to question, let alone shift, their personal philosophy. The plot works on my characters, as their point of view is challenged again and again, until finally, they break. The breaking point for me is about the midpoint of the story. Then comes the second half as they practice and test their new point of view.
On the other hand, my villain is confronted by as many, if not more, challenges to his fixed mindset. Unlike my heroes, he refuses to change his mind. Instead, he doubles down on his worldview to disastrous consequences.
I love reading because I get to see characters go through the hard work of growing and changing. It helps to inspire me to follow in the footsteps of protagonists and not my villains.
Optional writing homework: Think about what core beliefs your character has at the start of your story, then think about how they will change at the end. Consider what kind of events or strife will challenge them enough to change this deeply held belief. Do exercise with your protagonist, a side character, and your villain.
Sitting across the table from my handsome husband, I sipped my Manhattan and listened to him talk about video games. Again.
We enjoyed a medium deserved, much-needed date night in the midst of the whirlwind around Christmas and New Years. The conversation turned, as it so often does, to a beloved Twitch streamer. We attempted to pinpoint what exactly is the source of his success. We cited his unthreatening everyman video game skills and his hilarious fluctuations between absurd confidence and wallowing self-pity that translated into moderate charisma and lots and lots of money.
Honestly curious, I asked aloud, “I am at least as charming as this guy. How do I implement his business model to my writing career?”
“Give your book away for free,” my husband answered.
My head felt like it exploded.
Do you even know how much work I already do for free as a stay-at-home mom and housewife? Do you know how little that unpaid labor is valued in our society? And you want me to put my passion project, the fruit of my intellectual and creative self, out into the world for free as well? No.
I blinked in shock. Mike may or may not have been pleased to render his chatty wife speechless.
“That’s how you would do it,” he doubled down on his assertion.
But the hours of work! The literal years of my life spent writing and learning how to write better. The money spent on conferences, how-to books, and paper. Don’t these sacrifices deserve some sort of reward?
Not really. I’m writing for fun and self-development. Nobody has held a gun to my head to say I need to write this story. What would a fair hourly rate even be? And who in this “fair” art market could afford a book of passion written by a first-time author? Books would go for thousands of dollars! And who would pay thousands of dollars for art? That’s right… art collectors.
I took a deep breath. Trying to slow my mind enough to come up with a reasonable objection to his crazy plan. “But I want the approval of being traditionally published,” I said embarrassed to so openly need the approval of others.
“Who care’s about publishers? You care about readers.”
“That’s true.” The readers are the people I am hoping to connect with after all. Some will obviously pay nothing, but some might pay a lot.
And this is where I got stuck for days. My mind churning in the background, as I do all my other unpaid work, picking away at why I should or should not give away my book for free.
Isn’t this model the honest meritocracy that I want in the world? If a reader likes it, they will pay, if not, they will not. The Twitch phenomenon has proven that there can be serious money in providing free content and asking for small donations from people who care to do so.
But there is the other side of The Twitch coin, the unknown number of streamers who are just as charming, skillful and engaged as the big names, but for some reason, the alchemy of popularity didn’t work for them.
‘What if I’m one of the unwatched streams?’ Comes a voice from the increasingly widening pit in my stomach. ‘What if I build it, but nobody comes?’ The failure of a cornfield ballpark is still statistically likely even if I do get traditionally published. So why not let it get out there for free at least make it easy for readers to get their hands on?
And after weeks of churning… I’ve decided my story is valuable and I don’t want to give it away for free. That is weirdly difficult to admit, and embarrassing. But, yeah. My novel has worth. (Still awkward… I’ll keep practicing.)
How much worth? In terms of dollars? I do not know. Value, especially in art, is in the eye of the beholder. The same book can be thought-provoking and literally life-saving to one reader, and a simple ‘meh’ to another. Which one is correct?
Is my book collector-level worthy of thousands? Maybe for some readers. But most of my readers will be in middle school, and that is a lot of allowance money. Is it worth the $.99-$25.00 that a bookstore will charge? Perhaps. Maybe since it is born of love and hours willingly given it should be my free gift to the world.
Perhaps someday there will be a machine, or more likely an app, that can measure the increased serotonin levels in your brain when you experience art. Then they will equate those chemicals with a dollar amount, or even better, a percentage of your income. (Like taxes, but fair.)
Until that technology arrives, I’m at a bit of a loss.
All I can say is that my book has worth. My story has value. I just don’t know if I’ll get any money. If that makes cents.