Cheryl lives and writes with her inspirational family, two energetic dogs, and a small mammal menagerie, all of which are fairly tame. She writes about cool science stuff for children and adults, daydreams about stories and characters 87% of the time, and tries not to plot novels while driving.
You can also find Cheryl on Twitter @CherylRWrites and Pinterest. Come say hi!
For those of you who don’t know me, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I like to plan out where I’m going and how to get there. I like to make sure I used the most efficient, effective strategies to reach my destination.
That’s great if I’m doing something relatively straightforward, like preparing Thanksgiving dinner or planning a cross-country adventure. Those projects are big enough to present complicated planning puzzles; break them down, though, and you often find that none of the individual pieces are terribly difficult.
But I’ve realized something in the past few months.
What if you want to do something completely outside your comfort zone?
Should plans go out the window? Lately, I’ve been wrestling with this question. I’m working on a new project, a transmedia* expansion of the story world in which my most recent middle grade fantasy series is set.
Transmedia? I didn’t even know what this meant two months ago, so it’s an understatement to say that this project takes me into unfamiliar territory! There’s so much to learn, so much to read, so many ideas and storytelling possibilities to explore…
It all sends my planning urge into overdrive. My brain tries to plot out what topics I should pursue, and what order I should pursue them in; it tries to prioritize, estimate the most effective use of my time, figure out which direction I should be heading at any given moment.
Like I said, all that’s great as long as I know where I’m going. Since I don’t, that penchant for planning can become a liability.
I think the issue is that humans are hard-wired to seek safety (some of us more than others, as evidenced by certain athletes at the Sochi Olympics…) When you stray from what you know, from the well-beaten path of the familiar, a little voice starts bombarding you with doubts. You aren’t prepared. You don’t know enough. You’re wasting your time. You should stick with what you know. You’re going to fail, FAIL, FAIL!
When you’re trying something new — when you’re heading off the map — you can’t plan every step ahead of time. At some point, you just have to dive in. When you do, you’ll be most effective if you can mute those doubtful voices for a while.
Step 1: Counterintuitive as it seems, one of the best ways to silence doubts is to listen to them. By setting a specific time to reassess plans, priorities, and progress, you reassure those doubting voices that you won’t ignore them forever — giving you the freedom to focus on one thing at a time.
Tip: If you find that doubts and worries continue to ambush you, making it hard to create, trying jotting down troubling thoughts when they pop into your mind. By creating a list of troubling thoughts, you send your brain the message that it doesn’t need to keep reminding you about them: you’ve got them written down for later consideration!
Step 2: Once you’ve made a decision, create a “cheat sheet” of responses for doubts that continue to nag at you. There’s a difference between assessing your plans and constantly second-guessing yourself: one helps you choose a direction, whereas the other wastes your valuable time.
Step 3: Embrace your vision.Silencing doubts is only half of the equation. Once you’ve chosen your destination — once you’ve committed to test the waters, or start down the road toward your big, crazy, wonderful dream — it’s easy to spend so much energy on fighting doubts and fears that you forget to keep your eye on the prize.
Stepping out into the unknown can be scary, but I’m convinced that’s where you find treasure. If you’ve faced those voices of doubt and still feel compelled to go forward, embrace your vision! Don’t just argue with the naysayers (internal or external): put your vision in front of you, to remind you why it’s worth heading into the unknown.
Wherever your journey leads, I promise — it will be worth it!
Do you have a vision that takes you into uncharted territory? What is it? What strategies help you to keep moving forward? We’d love to hear more in the comments!
* Never heard about transmedia? Don’t worry, you’re going to hear more about it in the coming weeks! The quick definition is that transmedia is a type of storytelling that uses multiple media platforms to deliver the story. For example, the Emmy Award-winning Lizzie Bennet Diaries retold the story of Pride and Prejudice using video blogs, Twitter, LookBook, and Instagram. If you want to learn more, author Henry Jenkins has a great post on his site, “Transmedia 101.“
About the Symbols for Writers Series:I’ve written a number of times about the power of intuition and symbols to enhance your writing practice. Exploring a symbol can kick-start your creative process, help you to understand a creative block, or enable you to express a complex concept in a condensed package. Lately, it seems that all my best ideas and insights arise from exercises that tap into the nonlinear, nonverbal part of my brain.
When my friend Laura hosted an impromptu discussion of symbols and writing–using beautifully illustrated cards as a jumping-off point–I was struck by an idea: she should create a collection of such images and symbols for writers. Each image could be paired with an explanation of its symbolic meaning, maybe a writing exercise, and she could share her wealth of knowledge about imagery, dreams, and symbolism with an audience who needs to access intuition on a daily basis.
As I expounded on the idea, Laura interrupted with a laugh. “This sounds like your vision,” she said. “Maybe it’s something you should explore.” And so this project was born.
I’ve found that symbols and imagery can trigger valuable insights into writing, life, problem-solving, finding joy, and more. Since I’d love to have a collection of such images, coupled with text and questions geared toward writers, I hope you will enjoy them as well!
How to Use this Series
Following the image is a brief visualization exercise to help you identify what the image means to your subconscious–but there are no rules. If you prefer, skip to the suggested meanings that follow and see if any resonate. You can also use the image as a creative prompt, or as a reminder of some key idea you want to remember in the coming week.
Symbol: The Clock
What thoughts and emotions does this image bring to mind?
Take a good look at the image above, then close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Let your mind relax and wander a moment, then imagine the clock shown above. What emotion does the image trigger? Does it bring to mind a particular project, scene, or character? Or perhaps a situation or person in the “real world”? When you have something in mind, ask your subconscious if that’s right–if you’re on the right track–and then sit quietly to see if you sense an answer.
Take some time to write about your experience and the insights, ideas, or questions it generates.
The clock can symbolize a feeling of time pressure. If this meaning resonates, it may indicate a need to give yourself the gift of time. It is also a reminder that time is a limited resource that must be used wisely. Is your schedule overflowing, your time too tight? Maybe this image is prompting you to depose a tyrannical schedule. How can you ease time’s grip on your energy?
The clock may also be a sign that you feel overwhelmed by something in your life. Maybe you need to devote more time to that issue, to help move it forward and free yourself of a looming deadline, real or imagined.
Did this image resonate with you? Why or why not? Please share in the comments!
I will be posting a new “card” every Friday. Please let me know what you like or don’t like, and what you might suggest for future images. Are there particular concepts or issues you’d like these images to explore? I’d love to hear your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions!
My husband recently returned from a week-long business trip…and he’d changed completely! I found myself noticing all sorts of sweet things about him, like the way he holds my hand driving back from the airport, the way his cheek dimples when he smiles, the way he fills our mornings with laughter and loud music. I remembered how much I enjoy hanging out with him; I kept thinking of things I wanted to tell him, babbling all the way home the way home. It felt like when we were first dating, when we could spend hours on the phone without running out of things to say.
Okay, I see those raised virtual eyebrows…and you’re right, he didn’t really change. I changed. I had stopped noticing all the things I love about him amidst the day-to-day busyness of errands, vet appointments, and bill-paying. When he left for a while, it gave my brain a chance to reboot!
Sometimes, taking breaks from something—whether it’s a person, a novel rewrite, or a blog—refreshes your ability to see it clearly.
Taking a Break Can Rekindle Your First Love
When I came back to blogging this past month (after a lengthy break!), I was mentally prepared to browbeat myself into bloggish productivity. After all, when I’d stepped back, I was feeling burnt out and out of balance. Blogging had become a chore. Subconsciously, I’d carried that mindset with me; when I debated whether to pick up the blog again—Should I blog again? What should I blog about? What direction should the blog go?—I was debating whether to put that chore back on my to-do list.
As I started digging in, though, I wasn’t hit by the expected weight of another chore. I was hit full force by all the reasons I loved blogging, things like:
Connecting with all of you, dear readers!
Helping writers who have wrestled with the same questions or faced the same types of obstacles I’ve faced
Posing questions about my current questions and obstacles, and hearing your stories and solutions
Discussing plot development, character creation, and other important questions about the craft of writing
Sharing cool resources
Laughing with you over writerly obsessions (can you say compulsive email-checking?*)
Trading book recommendations
Taking a break refreshed my mind and spirit, rekindling my first love of blogging.
Taking a Break Can Provide Clarity
I’d lost my vision for the blog (burnout will do that to a gal!), and figured I’d have to put my nose to the grindstone to rediscover it. But like the rest of writing, blogging goes more quickly after you’ve done your research. Much of my time away from the blog allowed me to figure out more about who I am as a writer and where I want to go…so when I came back, the vision for where I want to go next sort of fell into place.
If you’re feeling burnt out, overwhelmed, or simply out of ideas, consider taking a break. Rest. Recharge. Work on something else. Take care of other pressing demands on your time and energy. Go on, now—I give you official permission. In fact, here’s a coupon:
Print it out, fill it in, and post it where it can remind you that you aren’t lazy, you aren’t a quitter, and you don’t have to work on anything nonstop!
Taking some time away from your project can help you see the big picture, rather than just a blizzard of overwhelming details. It can help you see what’s working, what isn’t, how things might change. Best of all, taking a break might just return you to your first love.
And isn’t that why we do this writing thing in the first place?
Anyone else have a project where a break might be just what the doctor ordered? Or maybe you have a story like mine, where taking a break brought you clarity on your work-in-progress. Please share in the comments!
*When I started this blog, the issue was compulsive mailbox-checking, because no one accepted digital submissions. I think that was healthier…at least it got me outside!!
Dirty, dog-eared, crumple-paged, coffee-ringed, or soda-stained? Do they have sand stuck between the pages from a trip to the beach, or maybe a grass stain or two? Perhaps you’ve even collected the footprint of a wayward beast.
If none of the above resonates with you, maybe you should ask yourself if you’re doing it wrong.
Although I’ve been quiet online, I’ve been extremely busy in the real world. (Real world? Weird, right?)
And some of what I’ve been busy doing has been SO COOL! Most recently, I’ve embarked on a free online course (a MOOC, or massive online open course) through Coursera all about Gamification. It’s a topic that’s fascinated me ever since I discovered Jane McGonigal’s SuperBetter game (which I blogged about here, a year and a half ago). Somewhere in the near-ish future, I plan to share some of my thoughts about how gamification can help writers market their books and build their platforms, but for now, I want to share with you what gamification is.
According to Kevin Werbach, author of For the Win instructor of the Coursera gamification course, gamification is “the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts.” However, I think the best way to understand the concept is by checking out some examples (from the Volkswagon Fun Theory initiative):
Goal: Reduce speeding without stationing police on every corner Solution: Speed Camera Lottery