Letting Go of Shame

I just read this great piece by Daniel José Older called Writing Begins With Forgiveness: Why One of the Most Common Pieces of Writing Advice Is Wrong. There’s a paragraph I really want to share with you, so I’m going to quote it here:

Here’s what stops more people from writing than anything else: shame. That creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be,’ ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had…’ Shame lives in the body, it clenches our muscles when we sit at the keyboard, takes up valuable mental space with useless, repetitive conversations. Shame, and the resulting paralysis, are what happen when the whole world drills into you that you should be writing every day and you’re not.

The whole article is great, though, and I urge you to take the time to read it.

But this thing, this shame…it hangs over my head every day I don’t write. Every day I don’t put in the time on my writing, or my author career — every day I don’t blog, I don’t edit, I don’t proof, I don’t put new words on paper — every day I focus on something else, I feel shame.

And I need to let go of that.

Right now I’m not writing as much as I’d like to. I’ve been putting in some work on a small project, but it’s slow going and like pulling teeth to be honest. I would like to have been finished with it in August but at this rate, I’ll be lucky to write “the end” in October. And as for the big project, Anala, book 3 in The Third Age, I’ve had to promise myself that on day 1 of my honeymoon I’ll sit down and do more work on it, but that I can’t try to get to before then.

I still have a bunch of stuff to do before then anyway — I just finished proofing The Jade Star of Athering, finally, and now I’ll be sending off the edited files so I can get the final paperback proof, and maybe there will be a paperback available by November. (Let’s not get hasty here; there have been so many issues with getting that book out.) I have that small project to get out, which I’ll talk more about when it’s launched, but suffice it to say it consists of 5 short pieces — a story, a myth, and 3 character backstories — that are proving difficult to get done.

These things I have to find room for in between the day job, the other publishing work I do, keeping house, wedding planning, and keeping my health up. To be honest I’m kinda crap at all of these things, except the day job, where the requirement is I show up, smile, and do the same thing for 8 hours. The fact is I just don’t have time to focus on writing all that much right now, and I have to let myself be okay with that.

It’s a struggle. I already shame myself for not being productive enough on whatever I’m doing; writing is no exception there. It’s supposed to be my greatest joy, but I also want it to be my career — to provide for me on some level. Is it any surprise I am too hard on myself for not doing enough of it?

I’ve been writing for most of my life and I’ve yet to really find my process. It’s changed and fluctuated so much over the years, I’m honestly not sure what really works for me. I’m sure I’ll figure it out someday — if I can let go, and trust myself, and actually have the time to do so.

So I’m letting go of the shame. I’m not letting myself feel crappy for not writing (aside from, you know, the crap feeling I get when I’m not writing just because I’m not writing — I’m not giving myself extra crap feeling, is what I’m saying). Shame does nothing productive; it drags us down; it makes us despair; it constricts whatever creativity we might have had. Shame is the mind-killer, for it is rooted in fear.

I’m going to start with self-forgiveness instead. Then, when I have the time to sit down and write, I can truly let what’s in my heart sing on the page.


Writer Wednesday: Vancouver International Writer’s Festival (in which insanity descends upon Granville Island for a week in October)

Well, I’ve now been on hiatus for two weeks, instead of one, and I figure it’s about time I get back to this blog.

So for today’s Writer Wednesday I’m going to be talking about the Vancouver International Writer’s Festival, happening October 18th-23rd.

VIWF is something that my mother has been volunteering for for the past several years. Now that I have no school this semester (yay!) I’ve signed up to volunteer as well. VIWF is held on Granville Island and has 69 events over the 6 days that it’s held. It’s the largest literary festival in Canada. Writers from across the country and the world come to talk about their works, the writing process, the topics their writing covers, and much more. There are parties, get-togethers, and even a writing contest. They also have a bunch of morning events that are ideal for school groups — reaching out to youth about writing, reading, literacy, and the world of words.

This week-long event is a fantastic opportunity for networking. Granville Island is literally crawling with writers, pens in hand, insane glints in eyes. (All writers are insane. We admit this happily.) It’s also a fantastic opportunity to see your favourite writers speak: a few years ago mom scored us tickets to see Ursula K. LeGuin talk. She was amazing (as expected). I was hoping to see Michael Moore this year (there’s a special pre-festival event for part of his book tour) but the tickets are already sold out. Mom’s excited about Russell Banks coming and reading from his new book.

I’m hoping that next year I’ll be invited to the festival, as a debut author in British Columbia. I just need to prod my publishing company to submit my name for review.

If you’re in the area, you should definitely consider coming to the festival. It’s not too late to apply to be a volunteer, too — deadline is Sept. 26th for new volunteers — so that’s also an option. It’s an event you don’t want to miss.

Have you ever been to a writer’s festival, as a writer or a reader? What was it like? If you haven’t been, do you think you’d ever go to one? Why or why not?

30 in 30: Day 10 (in which I ramble off into existential bullshit about the nature of writing)

A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. The book was assigned for a Creative Writing class I had back in 2004 (Hi, Vinnie). I took one look at it and rolled my eyes, thinking Whatever, I’ve been writing for years. What can this book possibly have for me?

Let it be said now, I was a fucking idiot when I was 17.

Goldberg’s book provided invaluable insights on the process of writing. I didn’t even think process was important, but the book made it clear that it was all there is. End result is nothing. Writing is life. You must live it.

I devoured the book. I read every inch of it and implemented practices from it into my life. It helped my writing grow in leaps and bounds.

Now, six and a half years later, I’ve pulled the book off my shelves again. I’m going to reread it. Implement the practices again, with six and a half years of knowledge added to my brain since the first time I read it. See what changes. See what I didn’t remember so well. See what I never forgot.

Being a writer is a neverending career. You never hit some imaginary level of “Grand Illustrious Master of the Pen” and then you’re done, no more advancement to go. There’s no level caps, and your achievements are more like Feats of Strength*** — they’re personal, things to look at and think “Yeah, I did that.” A lot of other folks — except your writer friends — won’t care.

And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. Writing may make you a hermit. What are you going to make of that? — that’s the question. (Shakespeare had it wrong.)

What I’m going to make of that is some damn good stories. And poems. It’s not about outward recognition — yes, I’m nervous when I do put my stuff out there, and that’s part of the process too, that trial by fire of can you stand by your work enough to put it out there and take the criticism, but that’s not why I write. It informs my writing and makes me a better writer — I never would have won the Slam had I not lost it first. But it’s not why I write.

I write because I have fire in the head. And I’ll burn if I don’t let it out.

Until later,
-your drugged up on painkillers Katje


***Yes I know I play too much WoW shutupshutupshutUP.