Stretch international cyber book club – Ch 5
Catch up on previous chapters here:
You can check out Xeno's website/blog here. And the kindle version of his book here.
Life as an indie author is hard. Life as a Filipino indie author is harder. In a world of “outsiders” (indie author), I feel that I am, once more, an outsider. I’m an outsider in a sea of outsiders.
I don’t mean this to be a rant about race or ethnicity because it is not. In the past few years of trying to embrace vulnerability to become a better person, I’ve learned that to sweep our feelings under the rug is a big disservice to ourselves. We deserve to acknowledge what we feel, whether they be joy, sorrow, or fear. And we should! To deny the isolation and loneliness I sometimes feel with my writing career is a betrayal to myself. I will not do that.
There aren’t many independent Filipino authors like me. In fact, I know no one. The other Filipino authors I know (not personally) are all traditional. They have publishing houses, books with their names on the shelves of book stores, and even adoring fans who await their every social media appearance. I’ve yet to encounter another one to whom I can talk about bastardised genres, writing techniques, local influences, and even the loneliness that the career brings. I’ve no one to confess to that “I killed my friends and it thrilled me.”
The three-year journey bringing my debut novel “I Killed My Friends and It Thrilled Me” wasn’t easy (the last sentence of the previous paragraph was a shameless plug or a play on words, whichever way you look at it). There were obstacles galore: never-ending balancing of the day job and the dream career, passionate angst that drained energy, undoing three-decades worth of fear-based mindset, and even financial difficulty. To give birth to my baby, I channeled all the negative energy from the frustration brought by the obstacles to dive deep into writing. It paid off. Three years after I met Tracey online, I dropped the adjective “aspiring” from my social media profiles’ description and christened myself as a legitimate author. I did it. Achievement! What’s next?
Like a mother who had just given birth, I was out of energy. The book was up for sale on Amazon but I had neither the preparation nor the drive for the next phase: promotion. I poured so much of myself into finishing the book I forgot that its life didn’t end there.
What did I do? I returned to being an addict.
I returned to a former addiction – planning. Listicles, how-to’s, blueprints, plans, timetables, redundant motivational articles, and even memes. I returned to them in the hope that somewhere buried under all that bale was the saviour for my creative slump. To be fair to all the things I was addicted to, they had helped me. In the years I was reframing my mind to obtain the mindset I needed to pursue the writing dream, listicles and company provided me with hope and motivation, even if that sounded a little absurd. In the absence of people who could mentor and guide me, listicles and company became my odd educators. However, just like some students, I outgrew my teachers.
But I was terrified so I came back to the things that helped me before, wishing the magic would happen again. Of course, it didn’t and because of the abundance of those planning tools, I kept trying. A Facebook strategy didn’t work as I expected, I binned it in the trash and tried another one. The second plan turned out to be useless, I went for the next. The cycle went on and on and on. I accomplished very little, I think it’s fair to say I achieved ‘nothing’. Promotion sucked and didn’t help my book at all. Thus, I learned THE PERILS OF PLANNING. Because so many planning tools and ideas are within our grasp nowadays, it’s easy to get trapped inside a whirlpool of them, with us tricked into believing they’re our safety net when the truth was the exact opposite.
Then I got tired of worrying about promotion altogether and my mind was yanked off towards something different. The climate of Philippine politics in the last two years was similar to that of the US. We have a president the majority didn’t vote for. In the air lingers a sense of unease.
I suppose I can attribute it to growing up. Though, I should just be focusing on my writing career, I could not turn a blind eye on what’s happening in the world around me. I became “woke” and in the last year started expressing my political concerns and thoughts on social media, Facebook in particular (a different Facebook account than the one I’m using now). But the social media platform became toxic. Invisible lines were created between family and friends. I ran away and went back to another platform that used to be my haven until I gradually neglected it – Twitter.
If you asked me then if I knew I would be standing at one of the crossroads of my writing career, I would answer ‘no’. I had no inkling. You see, I didn’t want to associate my political views with my public writing image. But there are some things we feel strongly about even our hesitations regarding it couldn’t stop us from taking action. Reminding myself of Nike’s slogan “JUST DO IT”, I smashed the wall between my political views and public image.
Something unexpected and magical happened. People who share similar political views and values entered my life. Some of them I had lots in common, some only a few. Some I met in real life. Some became friends, some even fans.
Their presence in my life pulled me out of my creative slump, not because some of them bought my books, not because some of them became friends, but because they made me realise that dynamic my writing career needed – meaningful connection. The planning tools allured me with a myriad of methods and blueprints on how to achieve my goals that I allowed myself to become a cold and calculated online promoter who just wants prospective customers’ money. I ignored one of the most important and powerful RESOURCE I owned – my authenticity.
Creativity runs in my blood once more. I’m back to writing. It’s raining ideas in my head. That isolation I felt, it has diminished. I found a tribe. I’m still not as successful as how others define success. But I’ve found something that warms my author soul and indirectly feeds me creative energy, an invisible friend that’ll make the journey ahead a little less lonely. You know what I’m glad for? I’m glad I took ACTION.
Up Next: Ch. 6 by Patty Young
Thank you, Xeno, and I share your to do list addiction story, have only recently gotten clear with myself about the role anxiety has played in my life and how I use planning to medicate that. Like bringing an umbrella will prevent the rain — looks prudent but also hides some magical thinking. I notice now that planning can cause upset: when real events don't conform to my plans, then I'm upset, but if I hadn't tried to anticipate what I really couldn't anticipate anyway, then there would not, in fact, be any upset. I enjoyed the metaphor here of improv and jazz, could make lots of connections to writing — and life, for that matter!
Xeno, I feel you!
As an "aspiring" author myself, I'm just beginning to experience the angst of defining my "platform" and finding people who are attracted to my voice. I know they're out there but I fear that it's going to take a lot of work to find them! However, as you stated at the end of your review, it is the ACTION that moves you in the right direction. So I know my job now is to feel the fear and take the action anyway.
Just today a friend who is an astrologer felt moved to text me this message in the early morning hours: today your life is going to be rattled, but don't reject the new course of action, because a grand opportunity waits within the chaos. Even before I read her message I'd already begun dealing with shifting priorities, and I was wondering what was going on.
Her message, coupled with your message, is giving me the courage to wait it out (normally I would begin strong-arming the heck out of my schedule, taming things to my liking.) I'm just going to wait for events to unfold, as there is obviously a master plan in the works that only requires me to comply (NOT one of my strong suits!) So my action today is to take no action. My action today is to WAIT, with an open mind and a sense of curiosity and hopefulness. As my son would say, I'm PUMPED to find out what's going to happen!
Working on catching up. Just posted to Ch. 4 in case anyone is interested.
Xeno, thanks for sharing your story. I can relate. I'm a writer (I have a blog and write for mental health organizations). I've been working on a book for many years that I want to get out there. I've finally realized I need to stop planning and working on it until it's "perfect," (because I'll always want to change something!), and take action. So I'm taking action, and we'll see where it leads. Congratulations on getting to the point where creativity is flowing in you again!
The over-planning part of this chapter reminded me of traveling. A few years ago, my husband and I went to Europe. He did an awesome job planning, and planning absolutely had to be done. But some of the best memories are when we got lost and visited places, met people, and ate food that we weren't planning on. We found gems by allowing ourselves to get lost, to veer off the planned path, and be open to new experiences. A rigid schedule would've changed our trip completely, and we wouldn't have the amazing memories we have.
The section "Just Do It" caught my attention, because that's my motto! I don't always live by it, but often remind myself to. I agree you can "get lost in the excess of planning," and never act on something. My dad does this, he's such a planner that my mom gets exasperated, saying that takes the fun out of everything. If you second guess yourself, compare yourself to others, wait for something better to come along, it gets overwhelming. The result? Not doing anything at all. Planning too much can stifle our actions. I have to admit I tend to do this. I'm working on it!
My daughters went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which prides themselves on "Learn By Doing." It's wonderful because the students engage in 'real world' jobs and situations, which prepare them for after graduation. I liked a quote in this chapter, "We learn from doing. When we plan, we're not acting but delaying our actions and speculating about a future that may or may not exist."
It's a great reminder for me to "Just Do It!"
Thanks for sharing part of your story, Xeno. I am happy to hear you've found meaningful connection. That happens when we become our authentic selves. Being authentic opens the door to finding people we connect with the best.
The concept I most took away from this chapter is how overplanning can cramp one's style. I tend to plan a lot because that makes me feel more secure when I finally make a decision, whether it be planning a trip or deciding what light fixture to buy, etc. I think this stems from my aversion to feeling that I've made a mistake. I'd rather get it right the first time. I don't want to disappoint others or myself, and then have to fix a problem. I see that I spend a lot more time on planning than I need to. Time that can otherwise be used to have some fun or just relax. I need to find a happy medium!
One of the great joys in being creative is that I don't usually have much of a plan, only a desire to be create and not think too hard. Of course, some projects require a certain set of materials or steps, but outside of that, I am usually spontaneous when it comes to design and color.
I've been told (and I can see how it's true) that I have both a logical/organized side and a creative side. I think I indulge both of them.
Sue, I too was most focused on the overplanning concept of this chapter. I am a planner as well. However, I grow impatient quickly and anxious to start a project or make a purchase. My need to "check things off my list" is far greater than the fear of making a mistake. I think – as inmost things in life – the answer lies in moderation. I'm naturally and "moderation" sort of person. This has been strengthened by two people in my life. My husband is a perfectionist and is paralyzed into inaction by overthinking everything. If I want him to do something, all I have to do is start it myself and he will jump in to make sure I don't do it wrong!
And, my sister's famous last words are "let me think about it". The problem is that by the time she makes a decision the opportunity has usually passed.
Planning is important and necessary, but I think we all need to seize opportunity when it is presented. Speaking for myself, too many opportunities have passed me by. Some of my greatest memories and experiences came when I threw caution to the wind.
I am SO proud of you! I found myself welling up with tears as I read your piece – saw the connections, held my breath and cheered that you are writing once more! Although I have never heard your voice – I could hear you!
A meaningful connection is key – so is being kind and patient with yourself. There seem to be many 'keys' and just as many locks we need to get past. I agree, too many planning is simply that – you are planning, but if you don't move on it, it just becomes a list.
Recently I learned that there is no such thing as writers' block. I shall speak for myself of course, but there are days I can sit and plow through chapter after chapter – it flows, it comes to me so quickly I can barely type it fast enough. There are other days, not one word is put to the books page (confession: I force myself to write every day – but that is different. My routine includes 750words.com – so even if I sit there and stare at a blank page, I will write – get the words out and check off another day. But – that is different from sitting down to work on the next book. One is practice, honing, throwing words, taking notes, writing messages or outlines or nonsense. The other is work and both for me, are important. They fill me. Working on the book is just that – work. If this makes any sense at all lol). Okay, all that being said. I think humans need quiet, silence, contemplation, meditation, stillness, alone time – call it whatever you wish and if you do not have these times of calm, even stagnant times, the other productive, crazy great, words running free, ideas leaping higher will not come. Writing is an art. An art cannot be forced. It should be practiced, but not forced. Think of it like inhaling – now hold it – when does it become uncomfortable? Now blow out and take a deep normal breath – it's lighter, sweeter and gives you focus.
Xeno, you thrill me! Your words catch me up and get me all tangled, then let me go and I feel better for it! I'm so happy to know you and I can't wait to see where your journey takes you and where you take your life! XOXO
Thank you Xeno for your write-up and for sharing what was in one sense a very personal and vulnerable struggle to rise up from the mire of your disjointed efforts, scattered purpose, and self-doubt to find in yourself the more authentic, disciplined, passionate, focused author you present to us today. In another sense, I imagine we can all relate to the universal challenges in your story–especially as you tell it with such relatable honesty–of stripping down the fancy distractions we construct to avoid facing our personal truths, enduring hardship, and diving into the hard work that imparts meaning to our lives.
I love your point here, Christine, because yes. Planning can have attached to it that sticky-wicket of expectation. If we're planning, of course we're going to be thinking that the planning is going to lead us to a certain place and if it doesn't, well, then it sure is easy to veer off course for short or long treks into the wilderness.
Oh my Kelly..! I'm so intrigued to find out what new and interesting things are coming your way. And if your Facebook post about a certain book has something to do with it, please let us know!! We're dying to support you in any way you can. It's tricky, isn't it? Trying to figure out those times when it's "good" and "right" to wait as opposed to times when it could be resistance kicking in. How awesome it seems like you've made so much progress in figuring out the difference between the two.I so agree that sometimes the best action is no action..but not for forever!
Oh how I love your travel story Jeni! I haven't had an experience like that in a long time, but back when I was younger, I was very fortunate to be able to some traveling in Europe and have a few similar experiences. Getting lost, as it were, can really change our lives and give us such rich experiences that we never would have otherwise had. What a great reminder that there's a reason the beaten path is beaten down and boring!
Isn't it awesome, Sue, how we can start to see ourselves in the pages of these books!!! I'm with you. I tend to over-plan as well. Maybe not to the same extent you do ;), but I do def engage in that behavior. I hate to "make mistakes" even though those very mistakes are often the things that can lead us to the next level. There certainly are times when we have to plan. Planning the gala to the absolute nth degree is the reason I was able to have it go off without a hitch; however, many times in life this need to control every detail has negative consequences. This is something I will make a point to pay more attention to moving forward.
here here Janice!
Beautifully said Marci.
Man Patty..your comments are stellar..thank you for being such an incredible support to this whole process and to each and every person who faces their fear and takes the plunge here to write the post for the week. I can see you in my mind's eye cheering everyone on and sending your positive vibes across the county and globe!
As an aspiring author myself, you have inspired me, too, Xeno. So very much. Thank you for your thoughtful and articulate and compelling story here, and for sharing your truth and your vulnerability. This is the second time we've gone on a journey like this together, and I can tell you from wayyyyyyy over here that your growth as a person and as a writer is extremely evident. All that hard work is most def paying off. I'm grateful for your important insights, like keeping gas in the tank once a project has completed one step for the many more remaining steps that are necessary to take it to the next level. I wish it wasn't so hard to be an indie author..there or anywhere for that matter! The writing life is so lonely much of the time. It's like another full-time job to commit to finding and maintaining that tribe. But I guess like any important endeavor, it's worth the effort. I don't know where I'd be right now if I didn't have the tribe here I do..of real life friends, but also my writing tribe..people like you that I've never even met. It's an indescribable experience to put words into the black hole of this social media/universe phenomenon and have people respond! I can imagine how hard it was for you to bridge the gap in writing publicly about politics. As you identified, it is a trying time here. Families turning against each other. Hatred spewing in all directions. It makes one want to crawl in a hole and not consider coming out for 3 more years. If ever! Creativity oozes out of you and all over the keyboard. We're the lucky ones that you've been reinvigorated. And as Patty said, sometimes we need to hibernate..take a good long nap, to come awake and alive again. You're on your way and I can't wait to see/read more! Thank you for such a great post!
Aside from everything that's already been written here, I was struck about the planning discussion as it relates to writing and me. How the author wrote that "The quest for the best choice sucked the joy out of doing their work, which lead them to put in less effort and made them less likely to achieve their goals." I see so much of myself in that sentence and how I try to control the writing practice/journey. How frustrated I often get because it takes time to get the words to start flowing just the way I want them to, which misses the point entirely. They don't have to be and never will be perfect out of the gate. It has been an important learning curve for me to embrace the process…the WHOLE process…which includes JUST DO IT..and then go back and do it again. ACTION. When I give up the struggle to find the best choice and just start then I have something to work with and joy appears in the shaping and texturing. Needing to know where I'm headed has stifled me over and over and over again through this writing journey. And it doesn't allow for the happy accidents and side shows that exist on the periphery.
Kelly! "FEAL THE FEAR AND TAKE ACTION ANYWAY" – we need t-shirts or canvas bags with this on it – I love it!!!
I heart you Tracey!!!
What struck me about this chapter is that planning goes hand-in-hand with perfectionism and paralysis. All of which make it truly impossible to produce a "shitty first draft" (thank you Anne Lamott for saying "Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. … and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft."). The more I plan, the less I write and the more I loathe what I eventually produce. There is something in this cycle that involves "preparation" and "performance" as well, although I can't quite articulate their roles except to say that they take up time and make me disappointed with whatever I do.
All of these P words work against doing what I love, just for the fun of it. Just for the fun. Just fun. Fun. Love and Fun. Neither begins with P.
For those dying to know what was going to rattle my day…
I received a text from a client I haven't worked with in a year. He's been approached by Amazon about turning one of his as-yet unpublished novels into a mini-series, and he asked me to help him fine tune the screenplay. The catch is that it needs to be complete by the 23rd, which means I literally have to drop all other work to do this project.
I said YES without hesitation. If you are my FB friend, you saw the post I put up yesterday about the publication of the political thriller RAGE – same client, different novel. The screenplay is a female buddy story with a twist that will leave the reader breathless – sort of a Thelma & Louise style journey, but with a more pleasant ending. That was another 18-month project that has been sitting on the shelf for a while, but that is now getting some love. As of this writing there's no direct benefit for me in it's publication or conversion to a mini series, but i LOVE the story and am so happy that other people will finally get to read it. Perhaps it portends future work as the client realizes that he can't possibly live without my services (we truly are a great team).
In any event, I took the leap, and realized that although I had already PLANNED my work week, there was no serious issue with deviating from the plan and taking action elsewhere.
Christine, thank you. You described it here perfectly:
"I notice now that planning can cause upset: when real events don't conform to my plans, then I'm upset,"
It became a cage of panic, disappointment, and immobilisation. I forgot we need some spontaneity in life too.
Thank you, Kelly!
I've been on a writer's group with Tracey a couple of years ago. One of the goals of that group was for us to harness our message. Lo and behold, being the stubborn+rebellious person I am, it took a while for me to find that voice. I didn't want to force it by just adopting whatever ideas that came to surface. I had to dig deeper, unearth what really sets my fire burning from within before I found what I'm comfortable with.
Plus, I believe our voice will forever be evolving. So I agree with you, it's okay to wait it out as well.
Good luck, Kelly! Sometimes, in new and unexpected opportunities we find a golden pot!
Jeni, thank you. And please, keep working on your book. Keep us posted on the progress if it's not a burden to share!
I like your travel story. It's been a while since I went away for some travel adventure. I must admit I've yet to dive on a less-planned travel, always conformed to an itinerary. Must try your experience the next time!
"I've been told (and I can see how it's true) that I have both a logical/organized side and a creative side. I think I indulge both of them."
This is awesome! With the right balance, you can use this to a great advantage.
Pat, thank you for the kind words. Appreciate it a lot! XOXO
Guess what? I agree with your point on writer's block. I also don't think it exists. Used to struggle with that or the concept of it. One of the things that helped me battle my writer's block is by getting rid of my "fear of consumption". Before, I thought I should just create: write, edit, and re-write. Over time, I learned to let go and indulge in some consumption activities (other than reading books) that indirectly feed me ideas and creativity: watching movies, playing video games, going somewhere I haven't been to, even surfing the Internet. They worked! My fear was unfounded.
Marci, thank you. Glad I was able to put it into writing with realness and true to my voice.
And thank you for inviting me to be a part of this, Tracey. I had no idea what the book was about, but the first book discussion was great, so I thought "JUST DO IT" and join even if I didn't see a roadmap ahead. It's the unexpected surprises that make taking action without much of a plan exciting.
I will definitely quote you on this:
"The writing life is so lonely much of the time. It's like another full-time job to commit to finding and maintaining that tribe. But I guess like any important endeavor, it's worth the effort."
At times it's tough. Not a lot of people can relate to carrying two full-time jobs on the shoulders, which makes me hesitant to share my challenges to a non-writer. This has taught me something positive as well, have little time for complaining and more time on working!
Will think this way from now on, it's a good one: "there's no shitty first draft".
Oh My Xeno, What an inspiration. Thank you for sharing all that. I have never been one for perfection in anything, I sort of viewed as "to each his own" 'nobody perfect is being perfect" sort of thing. I think it's my background in working with people with special needs.Everybody does their thing in their own way and pace.For me, that is the way I am with almost everything, like, grammar, spelling, food choices, and big things like rearing my children. but, that's another story. My point is now, regardless of how I chose to do things I must get on with it! Try and DO my best whatever that seems to be. I feel I have been in planning stages all my life, some completed, some not and some WORTH re-exploring. I do hope my own perfection/planning issues DO NOT get in the way this time. Thank s again!
Yes! exactly. Absolutely rang true for me as well.
OK. My comment just disappeared into cyberspace, so maybe it'll help me be more concise this time around. Having given the chapter a more thorough read, I thought I'd add few thoughts.
The artist in me, preferring an in-the-moment whimsy approach to experiencing life and exploring where a project or road leads, loved the chapter's encouragement to eschew the tedium of planning and just act. For the most part, I like to think that's who I am. I also want to remember the phrase "escalation of commitment," which seems to work like cognitive dissonance when individuals or groups feel invested in a planned course of action. It seems important to recognize and address this phenomenon, especially when working with groups, to avoid potential intransigent thinking.
Interestingly, Xeno hit on a critical planning theme that I don't think Sonenshein actually elaborated on with this particular chapter — the danger that planning time might not only steal critical moments from timely action but might also serve as a non-productive procrastination tactic to avoid action. While I don't generally enjoy the work of preparation, I absolutely confess to lengthy planning rituals as a means to delay beginning scary, difficult, or overwhelming work. I hope with awareness, discipline, and self-bribes, I can mitigate the problem of procrastination over-planning half as well as Xeno seems to have done!
My favorite nugget of the chapter was the anecdote about the lost soldiers and the quote, "any old map will do," a truism I've also discovered in many disparate ways through the years and taken to heart. There's a great book I highly recommend on creativity called, "A Whack on the Side of the Head" in which the author presents similar paths to problem solving. One idea is to throw out a random word like "bagel" in conjunction with a problem like traffic. Participants are then tasked with listing why bagel is the solution to the problem of traffic. As with this chapter, merely having the certainty of a solution or map enables one to act and move toward a solution. The proposed word, regardless of what it is, also provides a framework for creativity and brainstorming. Taking steps in the right direction creates positivity and productivity, which feeds on itself to improve working relationships and create a constructive atmosphere to generate useful ideas.
One final thought: I found interesting Sonenshein's point that second-guessing and regret plague those who operating from a planning regulatory mode while sparing those who commit to a choice and appreciating the path they're on. His discussion reminded me of the often misunderstood Robert Frost poem, "The Road Not Taken". Given two indistinguishable roads, the author makes a spur of the moment firm decision to take the one he rationalizes might be grassier and less trodden on; though, he acknowledges that in reality the other was "just as fair" and "really about the same." The author recognizes that he'll one day look back anyway and indulge the thought that his arbitrary choice of taking the road "less travelled by" "made all the difference." I personally believe he's happier for evaluating his life from the lens of all the good that came from the choices he made rather than haunting himself with endless mind games of "what if?"