Combatting the Crazy

Katherine Longshore 5 Tuesday, September 04, 2012
Photo by Marek Bernat from Stock.xchng

When we came up with this week’s theme, I knew I needed to read these posts more than write one.  Staying sane while juggling family, life, and a deep, creative connection with the writing is our great balancing act.  Add the pressure of deadlines and reviews, social networking and in-person events, and you have a recipe for major crazy.

I recently had an attack of the crazies while working on line edits for Book 2. (Line edits are those final tweaks and word changes before copyedits. Finessing. Fine-tuning.) I got it into my head that what the book really needed was for me to trash the last hundred pages and completely rewrite them. When I e-mailed my editor, Kendra Levin, with my concerns, she immediately came back with this advice: Close the document and step away from the computer.  Take a walk.  Give yourself some fresh air, a chance to move around and clear your head.  DON’T LOOK AT THE MANUSCRIPT AGAIN TODAY.  I did what she said.  And the next day, after a brainstorming session on the phone, I was able to shake off the crazy and get back to the revision.  To the finessing.  The pages remained in the manuscript – right where they should be – and they are better for the time I took away from them.

Sometimes, all you need to feel better about your work or to dislodge that ever-so-important spark of imagination is to take a walk.  Go for a run.  Play with your kids.  Fly a kite.  Getting outside and getting moving is essential for us, because we spend so much time inside – at our desks, in our heads.  Fresh air “blows the stink off” as my grandmother used to say.  It’s worthwhile remembering that – and being reminded of it.

We all need to be reminded of the essential ways to stay sane.  Which is why we decided to write on this theme despite the fact that we don’t always feel we’re the most qualified people to tackle the subject. Kendra Levin is not only brilliant with a red pen (well, green margin comments in Word).  She’s an award-winning playwright and a life coach for writers.  She gets it.  She’s been in the trenches.  She knows. So I turned again to Kendra to ask her advice this week – for you, for me, for all of us.

Here’s what she had to say:

--If you are daunted by something--the prospect of writing or revising a whole manuscript, the challenge of incorporating writing more regularly into your daily routine, the project of how to break into social networking to promote your book-- break it up into manageable chunks.  Don't think of it as one big thing-- think of it as a series of small tasks.  It will be way less intimidating!

I try to do this in my real life as well as my writing life.  Cleaning one room.  Checking one thing off my to-do list.  Focusing on the motivations of one character.  Setting a goal for 1000 words a day.  Take the journey one step at a time.

Photo by Benjamin Pop from Stock.xchng
--Know your limits and be kind to yourself.  There's a big difference between being motivated and being a slave-driver to yourself.  Take care not to let the line get too blurry.  It's good to take on challenges and to find ways to get your butt into the chair on a regular basis, but if you push yourself beyond your saturation point, you'll burn out and it won't be good for you or for your work.

This is one of the most difficult lines to balance for me.  If I write 1000 words one day, I push for more the next.  And if I don’t keep equaling – or bettering – the previous day’s goals, I feel like I’ve failed somehow.  Goals are good, but quality is better.  Ultimately, I’d rather write 200 words that will stay in my novel than 2000 that won’t.  I’m still learning the balance – if you know what it is, please tell me!

--When in doubt, listen to your gut.  If you are getting lots of different and conflicting advice/feedback; if you are not sure what direction to take your piece in; if you are facing difficult decisions about the next step in your career, trust your intuition to tell you what's best for you and for your work.  It won't steer you wrong.

Trust yourself.  Trust your imagination.  Trust your characters.  Journal about it.  Free-writing will almost always unearth what’s most important to you, though it may take three or five or ten pages to get there.  Taking a walk and letting your mind process while your body moves helps, too.

--Don't forget to draw on your support system.  It's so easy and natural for writers to feel totally alone, but remember, lots of other writers have gone through exactly what you're going through, or have struggled in their own ways.  Always remember to connect with the writers you love and trust when you're feeling down; re-read your favorite book about writing; or just confide in someone who cares about you.  

I am grateful every day for the Muses.  For my writing friends who live just down the road and can grab a coffee with me.  For my husband and children.  For my sister – who is also a writer – my parents, my friends.  Sure, my non-writer friends can’t completely understand what I’m going through – they’ve never had a character go wildly off-outline or read a one-star review of their work or sat and stared at a blank screen for an entire day (or week). But they understand it’s important to me.  And they are always happy to provide a shoulder to cry on and a good supply of top-quality chocolate.  Sometimes, that’s all I need.
This is Kendra! (From her website)

I’m grateful for my editor, too.  For the strange and amazing sequence of events that put me and my work in her capable and compassionate care.  Kendra’s enthusiasm for creativity and imagination is an inspiration.  Through her coaching business, she holds workshops and classes and coaches writers and other creative people one-on-one.  One more way to combat the crazy.

What do you do to stay sane?  The first thing I’m going to do is to bookmark this week’s blog posts….


Thus, my house is getting yet another fresh coat of paint, lately! One room at a time!!!! HA! Great, insightful, encouraging post, Katy!!! (big hug!)

This post is the fresh air to blow the stink off! Thank you!

I wish I had some advice of my own, but mostly I just take a break from the book and shoot a few (hundred) obsessive emails off to you & select others.

And holy heck, when did Talia's SPIES cover go up? GORGEOUS. Yay, Talia!

Great post, thank you! I got to (briefly) meet Kendra Levin at our local SCBWI conference two years ago and she was awesome. :-) You're a lucky girl/writer!

Hey, Jackie, want to come and do my house next? One room at a time might work...and *hugs* back!

Beth - welcome to a whole new level of crazy, my friend. And yes, isn't SPIES fabulous? I even got to see an ARC...

Kimberley - thank you! I am a very, very lucky girl and yes, Kendra is AWESOME.

Another author/blogger I love to follow, Maria Zannini, mentioned she's making it a habit of cleaning one room at a time. Not trying to clean the whole house and beat herself up for not giving it the quality clean it deserved, but one room at a time. Same for attacking the crazy. We've got so much with our lives, loves and living that it can be very daunting if we let it. Taking it "one room at a time" has been helpful in dealing with this sort of thing. Not sure if there is a "miracle balace" but I'm always working toward it.

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