Eden Mabee

Save the Trees: A Cautionary Tale by Eden Mabee

I took a long time in writing this. I wasn’t sure that a post of this nature would be appropriate—or welcome. It’s not very inspirational. Nor have I filled it with writerly wisdom.

What it is… is important.

Under the purview of a ROW80 sponsor post, it involves the insidious creep of an “Everyone else seems to be doing so well, what is wrong with me? I’m so tired and stressed and… I must be doing something wrong” mindset that pervade social media these days, including ROW80 member blogs, and the inherent dishonesty behind that belief.

a5068ffe5391e9181e63d7e5a4653814a379b8a78647bcace01a494eeeb29245Yes, the ROW80 is the Writing Challenge that Knows You have a Life, so failure is an option where the Cray-cray comes to visit. But how many of us really want to share those personal heartbreaks that mess up our word counts or knock our goals out for the count a week or more? We cannot stop life from having its way with us, but we can stop sharing—we don’t want to seem like we’re whining or being downers, after all.

I’ve been involved in the ROW80 for about four years, and I’ve sponsored for a couple. I’ve watched how we all seem to back off from employing the support we could give each other when life get hard. I’ve seen how we beat back Life’s Frustrations with cudgels of optimism, “I know I can do better next week”…. only to drop from the challenge within the next few check-ins.

I know this pattern from personal experience too. Last year, around now I dropped out of the ROW80 (and a few other writing groups I was involved in) for several months (I’ve only returned early this spring). Life had gotten … punchy, and on top of the many things I was dealing with, I was blocked…. blocked as I had never believed I could be.

From a series of deaths (two family, two friends, and one pet), to having to help my son deal with adjustment to two different schools, to the university bureaucracy as I sought to finish my teaching degree, my husband’s change of employment after sixteen years…. It’s been one hectic year, the kind of year that could –should have filled a thousand stories.

If I could have… as I said, I was blocked. I was stressed, tired… and I was desperate for the solace of my words.

"Do All The Things!" with dust bunnies subletting the vacancy in my emotional and physical reserves.

Do All The Things!” with dust bunnies subletting the vacancy in my emotional and physical reserves.

I returned to the ROW80 because of this… After all, what could be a more natural place to find a way back to one’s words than to take up a writing challenge? It might have been fine, but in my mad need, I also joined the two CampNaNoWriMos and the JuNoWriMo (as crew). I was determined to kick my Muse into action, somehow.

It took nearly ending the life of an innocent maple tree with the 2-ton guided missile that is my truck after a late night visit to my parents to accept that I couldn’t do it all anymore. I never could.

From my social media posts, few would have known. I tried to stay upbeat. I tried to cheer on fellow writers, believing that showing how much things weren’t going well would discourage others. I wonder now, though if it wasn’t dishonest. Things weren’t going well, and this was bad; I wasn’t allowing the ROW80 to be what it was designed to be. At its simplest, I wasn’t truthful in my check-ins. At the worst, I was denying my fellow ROWers the chance to see the bad with the good and the chance to be supportive… to be part of the community that they joined.

This is why I had to write this post, why it was important for me to share.

Because you deserve better of me… and of yourselves. We are a community. Maybe we don’t want to always air our dirty laundry, but we owe it to each other to admit when things just suck. We should feel comfortable enough to say when we need to step away without falling off the world. Because we’re not the only ones out there who need a kind supportive word.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll save a tree for it.

~*~

Eden Mabee

Write Anything–Even If It’s Wrong by Eden Mabee

Hi, all! Hope you don’t mind, but you are now my test subjects for an experiment. I want to know: Is it really better to “do (write) anything, even if it’s wrong“?

See, my husband spouts this (witticism) all the time: when we’re discussing plans for the new kitchen design or what we might like to plant in the garden, where would we like to go on vacation… basically for all things. A lot of it is in retaliation… self-defense(?) for my Analysis Paralysis (and his, and our son’s… it’s really a family epidemic here at Chez Mabee).

So, as I’ve been suffering another bout of The Other Writer’s Block lately, I figured I’d do something about it this time, and I would take you all with me as I did. I am going to try out Writing Anything, even if it’s Wrong. Because if I wasn’t writing this post, I have nine drafts I started and tossed in my recycle bin on such topics as: Writing Begets Writing, The Process of Habituation, Is Too Much Positivism Hurting Your Progress, Why So Negative

Any single one would be an excellent sponsor post. But each time I pull one out, I reach a point where I can’t get beyond my research and note taking to condense the expansive ideas into a coherent post. Perhaps they haven’t percolated in my mind enough yet; perhaps I don’t understand them as much as I feel I do; maybe they just aren’t speaking to me… no, I wouldn’t have gotten as far as drafts, if that were the case…

No, in this particular case, I know exactly what is wrong.

I know (meaning I feel) I can’t do them (or you all) the justice they deserve. These are such important topics, after all. And this is a sponsor post, damn it! I can’t just toss out some word, half-cocked and hope that they’ll come off as something meaningful. I owe it to you,, to my craft to be careful, to make sure all my Is are crossed and my Ts dotted–wait!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimera_%28mythology%29

Ain’t it cute?

The point is, to use Shan Jeniah’s wonderful phrase, I have this obnoxious pet in the house called the Chimera of Perfection (don’t get one if you can… they eat everything, take up the bed every night, sit at the corner of your vision demanding attention and fuzzles when you most need to get some work done). I don’t know how he got here. Yes, I do have a bad habit of caring for strays (as anyone who has ever read my blogs about the backyard cats and strange couch-camping roommates can attest, but I think I would have at least seen this thing before it moved in.

I admit, I’m a bit intimidated by this guy. How do I get him to move out without risking life and limb? It’s not like I can refuse to feed him; he just raids the cupboards on his own.

But something needs to be done. I’m a sponsor this ROWnd, and part a sponsor’s duties involve writing a post to inspire our fellow ROWers. Why did I accept being a sponsor if I knew this post was going to be such a trial? I mean, I struggle with this issues every time I sponsor. I dread it. I waffle, I bitch and moan, I make a ton of “possible drafts”… I always submit my pieces late (Kait just loves me). But I do it. I’ve done it several times. And I’ll keep doing it.

What does one feed these anyway?

Because I find, even when I struggle with the post, that the act of making myself write something… even when it’s wrong, inspires me to try harder. Because getting those words down is a powerful act. Determination and action are the basilisk’s* stare to the chimera’s talons. And though it can be hard to move that rock that’s been holding you down out the door and into the yard for the birds to perch on, it’s energizing. You won’t believe how strong, how capable you are after you’ve done this.

Wait… one need a gorgon to do that. Ah, well–just proved the point…

Write something, write anything… even if it’s wrong.

(*Don’t worry… you can always get rid of these by judicious application of weasels!)

 

~*~

Eden Mabee

The Benefits of Writing Old School by Eden Mabee

I have a confession to make…

I love WriMos (something about a month dedicated to writing that just delights the muse). For this July CampNaNo, I took things one step further. I decided my WriMo would be a month of actual writing. Pen on paper writing. I was going to commit myself to the pen and the notebook and a few tapes (yes, cassette tapes and occasional LPs). I went full ‘Old School’.

Why?

I wanted to see if it really was the distraction of ‘instant access’ to all the world had to offer that was slowing me down and keeping me from meeting my goal of writing every day.

Now a few weeks in, I can say for certain that yes… this is the stuff. Even getting up to cross the room to flip a tape (or fix a skipping record) hasn’t proved as great a distraction as email, Facebook messages and notifications, Candy Crush, comments on my blogs…

I wrote so much more when I didn’t sit in front of this electronic box.

This shift has made me reconsider what it is going to take for me to be a writer, to seriously reconsider more than what makes me a writer, but what makes me productive in general.

But let’s stick to writing–writing and simplicity.

WritingBrainThis experiment won’t work for everyone, but perhaps we could all benefit from at least trying to handwrite again. Not just for a day or two as a whim, but for a week, or two, just to see what happens. Try to just write, wherever you are (in the last two weeks I’ve written in shopping lines, in the truck, at the truck dealership, yadda yadda… basically, in a lot of places). You don’t have to go at it as hard-core as I did. Try handwriting for just a short period of time each day… say 10 minutes. If you have more time or want to try something more involved, you could follow Julia Cameron’s idea of morning pages (The Artist’s Way) and freewrite with pen and paper in hand until you’ve filled up three full notebook pages. You may find you can get more words written faster without the keyboard, or you may not. For me, it takes about 25 minutes to type the equivalent of morning pages (750 words), where it takes me about 20 minutes to put the same number of words in a notebook. (I’m not the fastest typist in the world.)

Why?” I hear you ask. “Why would I make you waste your time doing something that you’ll have to either store, throw away or spend extra time typing into the computer later?”

Because I truly believe it will help you become a better writer.

I don’t believe this solely because the research says that writing things by hand is good for your mind (though it does, just search online for ‘handwriting brain affects’). I also think history speaks for itself.

When we think of all the ‘great’ authors, do we think of them all tap-tap-tapping away at their bluetoothed iPhone keyboards? Or dictating their stories to the microphone Yes, some of them had typewriters. Some of our modern greats use wordprocessors… But classics have been handwritten on napkins (Ernest Hemmingway, JK Rowling, etc), the insides of unfolded envelopes, in the margins of other author’s books…

We don’t need anything to create stories beyond our imaginations. To create stories with permanence we need some way to record the fruits of our minds, and the tools we choose are…just tools. We may have tools we like better than others, and while many tools, especially power tools, may increase our efficiency, but… just as some of the most enduring (and beautiful) buildings weren’t built with nail-guns and circular saws, wonderful writing does not rely on the latest version of Dramatica Pro or the newest MacBook or… anything except you and your creativity.

Since science is starting to show that handwriting can increase creativity over time (even if it slows you down in the short run), isn’t it worth trying?

Climbing Back In The Saddle by Eden Mabee

I’m not sure how it happened.  I fell off and…  damn, but it’s hard to climb back in the saddle and get those words written.  The horse keeps moving, you know.  The publishing world, the writing world, the social world…  it all kept moving, and here I was, stuck on the ground, stunned a bit, afraid to jump back in because I’d made a mistake and fell off.  I had stopped writing.

There were many reasons—we all have reasons for not writing.  For me, Life got busier than busy.  I had run out of ideas, and my characters weren’t talking to me.  All I could think of were lesson plans and schedules, and assignments and homework and getting my information into the State database so I could continue to work with kids and…  Well, you name it; I saw it as an excuse to take a break from writing regularly.  And once I stopped writing regularly…  I stopped writing.

I didn’t think it would hurt to take some time off.  Yeah, I felt estranged from fictional people that I once knew better than my own blood kin.  Yeah, I began to sleep badly as the once familiar catharsis and escape I had once relied on seemed to be gone.  But I was B.U.S.Y.  I had “important” things to do, children to care for, homework to finish for teachers, paperwork to do for the government, etc.  Writing was just a hobby for me, not my career…  it should have been set aside.

Or should it?

I don’t exaggerate when I say I was out of touch and more than a bit emotionally disconnected without having that regular contact with my characters.  After investing so much time on their lives and on the world I’d created, it was as if I had been torn from my family and home and forced to function in an alien environment.  Instead of moving day in and day out with the comfort and reassurance of knowing I had all these “people” there alongside me as I moved into what was a very new world  of becoming a teacher, I felt alone and uncertain.

And I’m not exaggerating the difficulty I have had sleeping since I stopped writing regularly.  The odd day I managed to write (I squeaked through NaNoWriMo by doing scattered days of crazy huge wordcounts followed by days of not being able to settle long  enough to write  ten words) , I woke up the next day feeling more creative and inspired.  Losing writing time was akin to not exercising day after day; I felt weak and unfit for most mental activities.

“That’s okay,” you might say.  “We’ve all stopped writing once or twice when Life took over.”  But I can’t be the only one who has noticed how much harder it is to start back up again than to keep going.  The one-day break… that’s not too bad; we call it a day of rest, a Sabbath as it were.  The week off… that’s a vacation.  But the months off… those are something else.  Usually when someone leaves a thing for so long, it is because they’ve chosen a different path in life, or that Life has chosen for them.

Enough is enough.  I am a writer, not a victim.  I can climb back up in that saddle and write, and I am inviting you to join me.  Let’s see where our writing takes us.

~*~

Eden Mabee

We Need To Talk By Eden Mabee

Our fabulous sponsor Eden Mabee is giving us a twofer this round.  Given a lot of what I’ve seen flying around the interwebz, I think it’s well timed.  Particularly as we’re approaching the end of Round 3 and some folks won’t have made their goals and will take that really hard.

~*~

 I want to bring up one of those “we’d rather not think about it” topics: depression. Given that the word “depress” as in to “press down” is right in the name, it should be no surprise that it can stop us dead in our tracks, keeping us from achieving not only our writing dreams but also almost anything. Depression is a serious concern, and it’s important to know how what to do about it when it happens.

Writing is a generally solitary craft. Except for the rare conference or critique group, much of our community contact comes though screen and electronic interactions. The human element that has proved so vital for heath and happiness just isn’t there. Most cubical farms offer more direct human connection.

Is it any wonder that cafes have become a haven for wordmongers? A moment’s chat with the barista, a conspiratorial wave to another oft-seen regular as you each take seats near the only two outlets in the place… asking someone if you can move their coat enough to share the outlet they are using.

There are always ways to connect with other people, ways to be more involved, of course. But often we have so much to work on: writing, editing, rewriting, social media build up of our authorial platforms (yay, screen time!), plotting covers and dealing with publishers and… and, oh yes, the daily affairs of him and family , jobs, car repairs, schools. You name it, there’s work involved that seems to never end, leaving us tired and mentally drained…

That slippery slope

The thing about depression that makes it so dangerous is how insidious it can be; one can be close to the edge and not know it. Each day at a time doesn’t seem like much, but over time, things add up. For example, a number of us try to squeeze writing in during the “wee hours”, which too often translates to after everyone else is asleep and all their needs have been attended. And morning after morning we find it harder and harder to do even the little things… till one morning we wake up and pushing the blankets off has become a Sisyphean task.

Oh really?

I can hear you all thinking “Come on, it’s not that bad. Yeah, I’m a bit tired–who wouldn’t be with the hours I put in. So a few things slid, they weren’t that vital; I can get to them later when I catch up. All it will take is a little extra effort… not a big deal.”

However, how often do we actually catch up and have nothing waiting in the wings for us to get it finished? There is always something, and we know it.

And if there were ever a recipe for hopelessness, it’s the feeling that you’ll never be done. When the words “The End” seem beyond reach, when we see everyone else hitting that “Publish” button and we’ve been fighting writer’s block for weeks at a time…. Some of us give up, some of us fight on, and all of us struggle with the questions of worth.

Something to consider

Writers, as a rule, tend to be the hardest on themselves. We are our own worst critics pressing ourselves to wear more and more hats, tweak those words just a bit more to make the sentence stronger… The challenge of breaking into our chosen field and living comfortably while doing so pushes us to take on jobs that we’re not trained for, and while adding new skills is a good thing, in the short term, it’s yet one more thing taking our energy… when we’re already running at full steam, finding that energy can feel impossible. And we’re usually running at full steam.

Even on the best days, words, ideas, even smiles, won’t always come easy. And if we’re close to that edge… let’s not have a few small setbacks push us over.

So what can I do about it then?

First off, I am not a doctor, so if you think you are at danger for depression, please get a clinical opinion and counseling/medication as needed. There is a genetic tendency towards depression, but it can strike anyone. So, if you think you might be at risk, here are a few things you can do to stave off some of the effects of depression”

  • Cultivate some strong supporting relationships: Yes, the ROW80 offers a great support structure but add some face-time to your days too. And do so before depression becomes a problem. Make a “date night” with your family, plan outings with friends, get in touch with some of the “old crew”
  • Exercise! One of the best things you can do for yourself is to get out and move regularly. This can’t be a one time shot in the hip; regular exercise releases endorphins that boost mood, and studies show that this effect can last longer than medication.
  • Practice relaxation techniques and stress management: These two go hand-in hand, but so do the two above. Exercise can help you reduce stress, and maintaining healthy emotional relationships can be relaxing and reduce stress as well (healthy relationships are key… there are a lot of unhealthy relationships out there to be had too, unfortunately). Meditation can be extremely helpful here.
  • Eat healthy: We are what we eat after all. So let’s eat the good stuff. And yes, that means we can (and should) enjoy the occasional cookie too. Willpower is healthy, but denial is not.
  • Sleep: Preferably you’ll be getting enough of that sleep when the sun is down (because sunlight is good for your mood too, releasing serotonin when it hits your optics nerve, and helping your body produce Vitamin D), and hopefully you’ll be getting close to the recommended seven hrs (give or take a small bit) a night. Sleep helps your brain process all the things in your headspace.

You can try variations on these basic five things, and if you find they don’t work, consider professional intervention–immediately if you’re feeling self-destructive. Whatever you do, don’t let this one thing slide. Depression is a very real danger for writers, but there are ways to protect ourselves.

~*~

Eden Mabee