Sometimes life has a way of raising you up to beautiful heights or knocking you down until you're flat on your face. When either one happens, it colors the following days. When it's a good experience, everything seems more vibrant and the world feels like a happier place.
When it's bad, it can color every experience after that with anger, frustration, sadness, or bitterness. I'm hoping not everyone has this problem, but, for me, I can't turn my brain off. I replay events over and over in my head. I can't focus. I can't sleep. I can't move on. I become stuck on the injustice and the bad actions of myself and others.
As a writer, here are two ways I've found to deal with these emotions that feel like they will chew you up and spit you back out.
Six years ago, I experienced a very traumatic medical event. It rocked my world. It crushed me. It felt as though it shattered my soul, and I still believe it was/is true. I didn't feel like I had anyone to really to talk to about it, not fully, at least. My negative feelings were eating me alive, and I was a wreck.
I turned toward journaling my raw feelings. First, it was in the form of blog posts, and then I turned it more private and just had a word doc on my laptop. I didn't censor myself. I didn't hold back. I just wrote what I felt. Simple as that.
And you know what? It helped. It let me put some of those feelings away because I had them on paper. Once they were on paper, they didn't have to be inside me, rotting away.
Another way to channel these emotions is to use the people/experiences as fodder or inspiration for a character or a story.
For example, I worked with this one guy years ago who was one of the most pompous and degrading people I had met - at least back then. This guy would haunt my thoughts and sometimes my work-related nightmares. He was so much like another person in my life at that time that I paired them together in my head and made them into a character in one of my novels.
Let me tell you... that was a lot of fun. I got to explore who they were as people (at least my interpretation of them) and put them where I felt they fit into the story. Those who have read that manuscript have told me that they could picture that character so clearly, that he was a great villain. I think it's because I wrote with real emotion when I created the character. I used real life as my inspiration, and because these actual people were so real to me, the character became so real to the reader. Plus, it helped me explore their motivations for behaving the way they did. It helped me understand them better. I didn't like them any better after, but I could understand why they acted out the way they did.
And now it looks like I'm back to this point with a recent life event. Several good friends suggested that I journal about my feelings, and I think that's a good start. But I decided I needed to take it a little further and develop a story around it. I thought about it for days and weeks, and three ideas finally hit me. Thank you, muses! I haven't started writing about it yet, but even just playing with these ideas in my head, I already feel a little better. I can't wait to use a person/several people to bring a new character to life. And I think it will help me understand more about them, too. If I need anything right now, it's understanding.
Plus, it's cheaper than therapy, right?
Creating a story and writing it down on paper requires a piece of your soul. As writers, we’ve all felt it. But we don’t lose that piece of ourselves; it just survives elsewhere, kind of like a horcrux, as cheesy as that sounds. That’s how we make a story, a character, or a place come alive, with a small portion of ourselves, sacrificed for the greater good of the story itself.
Because it requires a piece of yourself to write, take a moment and consider how you find inspiration. Pinpointing your inspiration will allow you to give your best self to your story, and thereby, it makes for an even better story. Some, and you might be one of them, find music inspirational. They create playlists to listen to as they write.
For me, however, I’m inspired by photos and images – all forms of visual art. It’s all about finding a visual representation of what’s floating – or sometimes crashing – around in my brain, which allows me to build a world, create characters, and tell a story.
Discovering Pinterest – Creative Writer-Style
In 2012, I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time. The goal of NaNo is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I had never written a novel before, and I was a bit overwhelmed with the idea. This story was in my head for close to eight years. It tried to come to life in different forms – including picture book and short story – but it just wasn’t right. I had all these ideas in my head, but I couldn’t organize them.
I consider myself a visual learner, and in order to find focus, I knew I needed something that I could look at that inspired me to write the story I wanted and needed to write – the story that was begging to get out.
One day as I was pinning non-writing-related things, it hit me. Pinterest could be exactly what I needed to stay organized, clear out my mind a bit, and stay inspired. I created a board and then scoured the internet until I found images that closely resembled what was in my head.
Throughout the writing process, I kept referring back to my Pinterest board, and it kept me focused and on track for the full 30 days. Because it was my first go at it, I only pinned a few photos, but it was my game-changer. I even found people repinning or liking some of my pins. It helped me realize that even though these pins were meaningful to me and my story, art touches others, too.
Stepping it Up a Notch - Finding What Works
When it came to the second NaNoWriMo adventure, I was ready to tackle Pinterest all over again. This time, I made it a private board, just to see if I would have a different, more personal experience keeping it all to myself until I was ready to share the finished product.
For my second book, it was all about the places the characters traveled, and because they were in a different world, I needed some visual inspiration. I was looking for unique, magical, and beautiful. I found the most inspiring images, and I wrote the book around them, always having Pinterest open and viewable as I wrote.
Writing a Book without Pinterest – Disaster from the First Page
My latest attempt at NaNoWriMo wasn’t as successful as my previous years. Because I didn’t decide what to write about until the day before the event began, I didn’t create a Pinterest board to guide and inspire me. I figured I was experienced enough to skip this step and simply write from my imagination.
As you can imagine, it didn’t go so well.
But I continued. I pushed through it. Even as I was writing the novel, trying to get in that daily word count, I knew it was chaotic and quite the mess. Because of the short timeframe to complete the novel, I didn’t feel like I could slow down and create a Pinterest board once I doubted my ability to do without. Sure, it was a first draft, but I didn’t feel I had a firm grasp on the characters or even the story until almost the end. If I would’ve used Pinterest the way I had previously, I think the story would’ve been more natural and streamlined, from the very first page.
Moving Forward – Learning From My Mistake
The closer November gets – and the closer I get to starting a new novel – I find myself thinking more and more about how to use Pinterest better this year. After last time, I’ve learned my lesson. Pinterest will now be my #1 tool for developing characters and my story, and I’ll never write another book without creating it its very own Pinterest board. And you can’t go wrong with free.
I know it's been a while since I've written a post. No worries; I'm still alive! I've just have some personal life changes that have been rocking my world. But this time of year is all about looking back and then looking forward. A new year is the perfect time to refocus on what you're supposed to be doing. For me, that's writing.
I finally returned to my monthly writing group last month, and one of the members announced her upcoming book release party. How exciting! Not too long ago, we were in the same boat, trying to figure out if independent or traditional publishing was best.
She decided to independently publish, and it was all due to her 5-year plan. That got me thinking about my own non-existent plan. I'm a planner by nature, but I've never had a writing plan, not one, at least, that has been well thought out.
While I still don't have an exact plan in mind, here are a few things I need to consider and work out in my head:
1. I need to finish revising one of my books.
It's been written since 2014, and I still have not gone through it all. I can't progress at all in getting published or self-publishing until that manuscript is revised. Once it is, I can enlist the help of beta readers to make sure everything is how it should be.
2. I need to figure out which method of publishing I'll wholeheartedly pursue.
I've been going back and forth on this one for a while. But after hearing about my fellow writer's 5-year plan, it really has me thinking more about independent publishing. There is so much more research I need to do.
3. I need to start publishing. Simple as that.
I think I hold myself back sometimes because of my fear of failure. It's been a dream of mine to publish for so long. What if I fail? What if it's all a waste? What if I turn into a joke? I need to abolish those ideas and just go for it. I'll never get anywhere if I don't try.
4. I need to seek out more freelance writing opportunities.
I need to get back to my roots. I need to start sending out freelance articles again. I took a long break, but I think it's time. I need to redefine myself as a writer, and that may start with returning to freelance writing.
Have you thought about your writing goals for 2017? What are they?
I'm an adjunct creative writing professor and freelance writer, but I dream of being a published novelist. This is my journey.