When Writing, Be Gentle With Yourself

Gentleness by Cornelia Kopp

There are so many reasons to be hard on ourselves. We need to work more, to spend more time with our family, to focus more on our health. Employers, friends, family and society demand more and more of us: more attention, more focus, more multi-tasking, more time. They say “always be better, stronger, faster than you were yesterday so you can reach your goals and make a life for yourself.” The times tell us to be aggressive with ourselves, to never take no for an answer, to always look for the bigger thing, the better thing. We should never be satisfied with what we have and always strive to have more, do more, be more.

I find this litany exhausting to the extreme. It implies that people have no limits. I tells us that if we’re not improving every day, we’re not really doing anything worthy at all. But is there a point where we need to–where we have to stop and recognize our limits? I think writing is the perfect space to start being gentle with ourselves.

No perfection needed

Think of writing as a sibling of thinking. Do you always expect perfect thoughts from yourself? Of course not: thoughts often come half-formed, not quite complete. Take this post, for example. I started thinking about this topic as I decided to give myself the space and the time to be a bad writer. I decided to be gentle with myself as I learn to write fiction. This post is not perfect–it’s actually not as clear, logical or convincing as I believe it should be. But it comes from somewhere deep, somewhere real, so I hope that the ideas shine through.

After a year of not writing, after a year of struggling to get words on paper because I was afraid to be bad, I told myself that I would allow myself to be bad, that I would allow myself to be a beginner again. I like being in the state of “bad-ness”, of being in a place where discovery, learning and improvement. By improvement, I don’t mean the “I must be perfect at everything” improvement that I express in the first paragraph. I mean improvement of a more gentle kind, of a kind that’s less obsessed with productivity and more interested in fulfillment.

The state of perfection is a static, lifeless place. When you are perfect, what else can you do? The state of imperfection, the state of “bad-ness”, has so much more potential, so many more possibilities and directions.

So bad it’s good

When writing, allow yourself to be in a place of bad-ness. This is where the best thinking happens. This is where the heart reveals itself. It’s when you let go of all the expectations placed on you by teachers, superiors, and most of all yourself, that you are free to express yourself with the words that are right for you. It takes courage to lay our own thoughts bare and to face ourselves in writing–many a time did I make myself cry writing a truth that I did not want to admit to myself. But these are also the most powerful words you will ever write.

Give yourself the chance to be bad. Give yourself the opportunity to mess up. Be gentle with yourself as you explore your inner world for blog posts or personal essays or fiction. Find a way to shut down the voices in your head that tell you “this is crap” at every period. Reading the truth is better than reading polished but empty prose. Being authentic is better than being perfect.

What do you value when you write? Listen to your thoughts as you type or scribble. What comes to your head? Are the words harsh and judging or gentle and encouraging?

Some ways to be gentle

Here are some ways I have developed to be gentle with myself when I write:

  • Freewriting. I love freewriting because I can completely let go of judgement and of expectations. Freewrites never see the light of an audience. It’s a warm-up for your writing muscles.
  • Describing your “watcher”. Novelist Gail Godwin calls it “the watcher”, the person who is there telling you how bad you are at writing, the person judging your word choices and your comma use. Take a few minutes to describe your watcher. Give it shape and life. Then put it in a mental box, out of sight, as you write.
  • Stopping the whining. I will admit: I am an inveterate whiner. Read my journals and you’ll find pages upon pages of complaining, whining and feeling sorry for myself. And then one night I saw that this was not doing me any good. Venting once in a while is fine, but complaining as my only writing outlet impoverished my thinking. Now instead of whining, I grab on to a thought or idea and, like meditation, go back to it when I lose my way. It’s done wonders for my thinking… and my self-esteem.

Being gentle with yourself is good for your soul and good for your writing. How do you stop the harsh voices from getting in the way of your writing? I’d love to know how you allow yourself to be gentle!

READ: From Blog to Book Deal by Srinivas Rao and David Candrall

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from one of the authors.


I’d never heard about BlogCast FM before, but when Srinivas Rao, co-author of Blog to Book Deal: How They Did It, contacted me to review his book, I got on the podcast right away and found a wealth of interviews from bloggers across the world who made a splash one way or the other.

The title of the book describes exactly the content of the book: “how they did it”. It’s not a how-to guide to getting a book deal. It’s not a step-by-step system to write posts that will get an agent’s attention. You might learn things, but it may not actually be about book deals.

The book is short and contains interviews from bloggers like Ramit Sethi, Chris Guillebeau and Jenny Blake, among others. But the two I found myself most interested by were Julien Smith and Jeff Goins, despite the fact that I didn’t really like either of their books.

Here are a few choice quotes from their interviews.

Julien Smith:

The content has to be not intellectually interesting, but emotionally compelling. That is probably, I guess, my edge.

Jeff Goins:

When you’re not willing to compromise and do whatever you really need to do and say what you really need to say–that’s when you really start to find your voice.

Most of the book was quite interesting to read because it’s about different bloggers’ experiences. It’s like a behind-the-scenes of successful Internet people. There’s a lot of talk about “how to be successful” in blogging, and despite the fact that reading this book won’t make you successful in blogging, it will certainly give you an idea of what people have done to become so.

The book fulfills its non-promise, and that’s something I can appreciate. Too often we get swayed by books that seem to have the secret to something, only to let you down by not delivering the promised content. This is a pitfall that Blog to Book Deal has avoided, and I really appreciate that. It sticks to what it knows: interviewing bloggers and getting to the heart of the topic.

If the blogging world interests you and you’re curious to know about how easy (or hard) it is to get a book deal from a blog, 7$ isn’t wasted on this book. It’s also full of little thoughts on blogging itself, or on voice, or on being extraordinary, a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

How To Get More Followers on Tumblr by Elizabeth Benefiel

It’s been a while, but I have reviewd a few web- and blog-related books in the past year such as Clout, Content Rules and Audience, Relevance and Search. As a blogger and student of content management, I’m always interested in ways to improve my writing, blog appeal and followers and to learn about new platforms.

The owner of a popular Tumblr blog called 11 questions, Elizabeth Benefiel has written a short e-book (it took me about an hour to go through it) aptfully titled How to Get More Follwers on Tumblr.

Given its length, the book is understandbly concise and is divided in 12 chapters with extra resources at the end. The topics covered go from how to set up a Tumblr blog to finding a topic, establishing relationships with other tumblrs and using apps to enhance the experience.

Because it is so short, I was not expecting much depth from this book. The target reader seemed to be someone who has absolutely no experience with blogging and social media, as most of the advice and ideas presented in the book are very, very basic. It’s a good choice if you’ve never blogged before and have never been around Twitter or Facebook, but if you have any experience in today’s Web 2.0, you’ll find most of this information obvious.

Benefiel uses screenshots (some are missing, however) and clear instructions whenever she’s dealing with a technical thing. But unless you have really no idea what you’re doing, you’ll find those instructions kind of useless. Maybe it’s just my own affinity with technology that makes me feel this way, but I can’t imagine that many people interested in Tumblr who don’t know what Twitter is or who can’t set up a blog on a platform as easy as Tumblr.

However, I really appreciated her tips on how to choose a Tumblr URL (and therefore title). She lays out some rules about what works well and what might attract readers. This information might be useful to potential tumblrs who find themselves stymied by the lack of good URLs available.

This is a useful little book if you are completely new to blogging; however, if you are more experienced, you might want to look into books that offer a bit more depth into content strategy and web and social media marketing.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the author. All opinions are my own.

Do you use Tumblr? Do you have tips on how to increase your following? Share them in the comments!

Live to Write, Write to Live

This post is my entry to Make A Living Writing’s contest for a one-year memberhsip into the Writer’s Den.

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I live to write.

Writing

Photo by Gregory Wake

I write a lot. I write on my blog, and I’ve written for other blogs. I hand-write a journal every night, and type at least 750 words every morning. I love everything that’s related to words: books, dictionaries, text editors (I have at least 5 different writing programs on my computer). I can write in two languages. If I’m confused, I write. If I’m happy, I write. If I’m sad, I write. If I’m elated, I write. When something doesn’t work, I write about it until I figure out how to make it work; when something works, I write about it to remember what I did.

I’ve been told for years that I write well. I’ve written literally hundreds of essays, proposals, summaries and other academic-related documents. I’ve also written thousands of words of comments on students’ writing as a teaching assistant for a writing course.

I don’t need to learn how to write. In fact, I teach others how to as my main occupation. What I would love to get from Writer’s Den, however, is how to use this talent to make a living writing for others.

Don’t get me wrong–I like teaching. It’s meaningful work that lets me share my knowledge and help students succeed in their academic and professional careers. But I feel that I need to write professionally to be a well-rounded and knowledgeable teacher. The more I know about writing in different situations, the better I can teach my students.

In academia, writing is easy. It’s sollicited. Teachers ask you to write, and then spend a lot of time reading and commenting on it. You don’t get money, but you get grades. It’s gratifying and makes you feel valued when you do well.

But the world of professional freelance writing is the other way around. Writers have to sollicit people to write for them. They have to negotiate compensation. Some writers literally spend years begging for someone to publish them, to give them a chance and to prove that they can move readers to buy, or subscribe, or simply to read more.

I know how to write–but I don’t know how to reach those people who would gain the most from my talent. Learning the ways of professional writing and publishing is something I am willing, and ready, to take on, and the resources offered and shared by the Writer’s Den mothers and members are perfect for this new stage in my writing education.

I will be an active, involved member of this community. Sharing thoughts, ideas and tips with other writers is an essential part of our work, and I have a lot of thoughts, ideas and tips to share from my own experience as a writer and teacher of writing.

Everyone dreams, at least once, about turning their passion in their profession. “Choose work you love”, said Confucius, “and you’ll never work a day in your life”. I want to stop working, and start living. I choose writing.

In other words, while I already live to write, I also want to learn how to write to live.

Anabelle will return shortly

Some quick news before I go back to work:

I have a Steampunk Expo post waiting down the line, but this week I am overwhelmed with grading, so it will have to wait until I’ve handed all my grades in.

My friend Julian will provide a review for Svengali (which I won’t be able to see) on Friday.

Have a great week everyone!

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