Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

On Blank Journals and Self-Doubt

Forget what they say about diamonds and dogs: when it comes to writers, journals are man’s best friend.

Okay, okay, maybe dogs, too.

Like most writers, I love journals. (I’m talking inspiration journals, although, writers should consider the diary kind, too.) Whenever I get a new one, I admire the artistic cover, run my fingertip down the unbroken spine, flip through those beautiful, blank pages and let their virgin paper aroma fill my nostrils. If the journal has a ribbon as a placemarker, I fling it out of my way. Then, I move to the first page, pick up my pen, and…freeze.

blank journalHere it is before me: a gorgeous, unsoiled journal with over 100 blank pages waiting to receive my brilliance. Only, I can’t help but wonder, do I have any brilliance to give them? Who am I to dirty these clean manila pages with combinations of words that I deem “creative”? Are the words I write worth the death of a tree, worth a lifetime on paper?

Once the ink marks the page, it is there forever. Even if I use pencil, the ghost of the lead will stain the pages with half letters and smudges for life of the paper. There is no going back.

Okay, I’ll scale back the drama, but hopefully you get my point. And even more hopefully, you’ll tell me that I’m not alone in this. For whatever reason, writing in a blank journal is a million times more difficult for me than writing in a word processor. The few real-life writer friends I have echo these sentiments. They, too, recognize the confidence-shattering object that is the blank journal. But, surely, we cannot be the only few who feel this way.

So what is it about the blank journal that is so intimidating? Here are my theories:

1. Symbolism

As humans, we apply a great deal of symbolic meaning to objects. When faced with a new journal, a writer does not see it as merely a journal — it is a vessel of creativity, a primitive draft of a novel, a piece of posterity for grandchildren to discover and leaf through in 30 years. That’s a lot of pressure.

2. Self-Doubt

While I don’t necessarily agree with traditional writer “stereotypes,” I will concede that many (though not all) artists are inflicted with disproportionate amounts of self-doubt and self-criticism. Therefore, when faced with an empty journal, all the ugly heads of “writer’s block” rear. Seeing these blank pages give you a glimpse into your soul: you are not worthy of soiling them with your unexceptional thoughts.

3. Perfectionism

Once your writing utensil hits that virgin page, the mark can never be undone. Why ruin the journal — it’s so pretty! What if your handwriting is messy? What if you make a mistake and have to cross something out or create eraser smudge? Should this journal be all for its own project, or can you divide it into sections? What if you run out of genius and can never fill the entire journal?

new journal
The beautiful journal I got for Christmas, which inspired this post, and which I vow to use fearlessly!

This is not an exhaustive list. And the next one isn’t either. However, if these, or any other thoughts, haunt your new journal, try reminding yourself of these things:

1. It’s just paper.

Seriously, it’s just a bound set of paper pages. It’s not some sacred vessel. In fact, even with your words scrawled in it, it’s still just a journal. Calm down.

2. You can get another one.

If you “ruin” your pretty new journal with “uncreative” thoughts, you can always get a new one. There is no ration on paper at this time in human history.

3. No one else will read it.

Your journal may not be filled with brilliance, but that is okay! It is a place for inspiration, random thoughts, and plot bunnies. No one has to see it, and even if they do, no one will judge it as harshly as you will.

4. Stop de-valuing yourself.

Your words, your creative thoughts, are worth writing down. Trust me, even if you think they are rubbish, they’re not. Besides, as number one says, a journal is just paper. Without your human touch, it will be wasted paper. So put it to use.

5. Just have fun.

A journal is a writer’s playground. In our technological age, you will not publish anything that comes directly from the pages of your journal. At the very least, you must type them into a word processor, which will give you a chance to edit. With that in mind, just brainstorm and experiment and play. Save your genius for Scrivener.

Perhaps my writer friends and I are alone in this phenomenon. However, whenever I receive a new journal, I feel a deadly combination of excitement, nervousness, and insecurity. I know I need to take it less seriously, and perhaps an unofficial new year’s resolution of mine should become to allow journals to be a playground rather than a breeding ground for my self-doubt.

In fact, I am going to combat that this week by using a new journal to hold the story beats for my next manuscript. What about you?

How do you feel about writing in inspiration journals? Do blank journals intimidate you or bring out your creative best? Share your experiences and tips below!


Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How to Make New Year’s Resolutions You Will Actually Keep

It’s that time of year again. As the new year approaches, we begin to think ahead to what it may have in store for us and what we want to accomplish for ourselves. The television is flooded with commercials for dieting products, nicotine patches, and storage crates. The air is buzzing and hope begins to balloon in your chest. Even though January 1st is just another day, we have given it social and psychological meaning, and it marks an almost-tangible transition. You have goals, resolutions, and you will keep them.

new yearAnd then the magic dissipates, the champagne goes flat, mid-January or early February hits, and you suddenly do not care about those resolutions. And even if you do care, you convince yourself that you do not have the time, energy, or resolve to stay committed. Is this just the hectic reality of life? Maybe. But it may also be that you simply did not set the right kind of resolutions.

If you want to make new year’s resolutions that you truly will keep, follow the steps below. I’m using these with my own resolutions, and they have proven to work for me in years past.

Step One: Dream BIG

The dawn of a new year is the perfect symbolic time for refocusing on your dreams. However, most people stop at this step. They say to themselves, “I will be healthy this year.” That’s a great dream! But if that is the resolution you use to represent that dream, you aren’t going to get very far in achieving it.

Step Two: Get Specific

Okay, so you want to “be healthy.” Awesome! Now, what does that mean for you? There are several kinds of health: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, psychological, financial, etc. Whatever your resolution is, make sure you know exactly what it is you plan to accomplish. Without a clear picture of what your dream looks like, you won’t be able to make it a reality.

Step Three: Get Real

Let’s say your dream is to “get rich.” Okay, fine. And you specify that to be “make one million dollars.” That’s all good and well, but is that goal actually realistic for your current and projected situations over the next twelve months? Chances are, it’s not. A few more realistic ways to work toward your dream of riches would be to receive a raise, find a higher paying job, invest, or create multiple streams of income. While it may take you longer to reach your dream, I guarantee this approach of small realistic goals over big unrealistic goals will help you stay motivated and get you much farther in the long run.

Step Four: Get Quantifiable

So, you have your dream and your specific goal, and you’ve made sure they are realistic. Great. Now it is time to make your goal(s) measurable. Going back to the “be healthy” example, let’s say you decide that means to have better nutrition. Lovely. Make that into one or two even more specific goals that you can quantify. These could be: eat one serving of vegetables every day at lunch, only eat one serving of junk food per day, or drink less than five sodas a week. The choice is yours, of course, but make sure that you can track your successes and failures clearly and without negotiation.

Step Five: Get Tough

But not too tough. If you set a goal for yourself that is too easy or too difficult, you are bound to fail. For example, I drink maybe one soda a month. Tops. So, if my healthy resolution was to cut out soda altogether, that is a healthy decision, but it would not be difficult for me at all. However, I LOVE chocolate, so if my goal was to cut out chocolate completely, I would fail within a week. There has to be a balance. If your goal is not challenging, you are deceiving yourself into believing you are moving farther than you are. Likewise, if your goal is too challenging, you will never reach it and feel like a failure.

Step Six: Get Honest

Selecting your new year’s resolution(s) is a deeply personal decision. However, so many people choose their resolutions based on what others do. Is this a product of social groupthink, social pressure, or just a lack of creativity? No matter which way, make sure you are only taking on resolutions that you actually want to try and that you truly believe will benefit you. Don’t feel like losing 10 pounds? Don’t resolve to lose weight. Don’t want to record every second of your life? Don’t resolve to keep a journal. It’s that simple.

In the end, the keys to making new year’s resolutions you will actually keep are these: know yourself, your situation, and your dreams. Be smart, be logical, and be entirely honest.

And remember: the only judge and the only victor is you.

What are your new year’s resolutions? What factors do you consider when choosing your goals? Share your advice below!

Book Reviews, Writing & Publishing Articles

Feedback Friday, Review: The War of Art

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I first heard about Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art through comic book writer, Jonathan Hickman. At the end of his graphic novel, The Nightly News, Hickman includes a section titled “Fully Committed,” in which he describes how he learned to dedicate himself to his craft. He attributes much of his motivation and success to The War of Art. He begins, “It was October 2nd, 2004. I was sitting alone, bawling my eyes out, in a little Greek restaurant about half a block from the hotel where I was attending a Robert McKee seminar. I was reading Steven Pressfield’s book, THE WAR OF ART.” He goes onto detail how the book gave him the kick in the ass he needed to get his comic career going.

If the fact that this self-motivation book brought a grown man to tears isn’t a glowing recommendation, I don’t know what is. As you can imagine, I was intrigued. I did some more investigating into the book, read more reviews online, and knew I had to read it. People were hooked; they swore by this book.

I borrowed it from my local library, read the first section, felt super-motivated, and promptly ignored it until my loan expired. Pressfield would say that this was Resistance keeping me from realizing its existence. I would say it was university. Either way, I let the book go.

This year, as I prepare for my first true attempt at NaNoWriMo, I knew I needed a swift kick in the ass to get myself in gear. Therefore, I decided to pick up Pressfield’s manifesto again and actually finish it. Clearly, I had high expectations from all of the internet hype. Maybe these expectations skewed my reading, maybe not. Either way, I am left with mixed feelings.

Pressfield divides The War of Art into three “books.”

Book One, “Resistance: Defining the Enemy,” describes the forms Resistance takes (basically all the various ways we procrastinate and/or become distracted and discouraged) and the characteristics of these forms. Each section in Book One, and all the books for that matter, is short and punchy. The personification of Resistance is dramatic, but it is effective in making the reader hate it and desire its defeat. Book One also has a surprising amount of humor, and even a dash of anti-capitalist leanings sprinkled in, which make it easier to digest and reminds the reader not to take things too seriously.

In Book Two, “Combating Resistance: Turning Pro,” Pressfield outlines the difference between professionals and amateurs. This book was the most helpful to me, as it properly shamed me into re-evaluating my self-definition in relation to my craft. All I’ll say is, I have some work to do. Overall, I like Pressfield’s definition of a professional, especially how he encourages artists to take themselves seriously enough to become a business and invest in themselves.

I did have some major issues with Book Two. Most notably, I disliked the separation between one’s self and one’s craft that Pressfield mandates. I agree, a person is not her work, and she should not take professional criticism personally. However, Pressfield argues that the artist should entirely separate himself from his work, giving all the credit to a divine, higher realm, and that the artist should never listen to any criticism at all. I strongly disagree. Yes, not all criticism is useful, but most criticism is constructive and is a great learning tool. Moreover, I believe that the artist should take credit for his work, as he does put in great effort to manifest his products.

My other problem with Book Two is that Pressfield defines the professional in very depressing terms. He describes how the craft is difficult and all professionals must suffer for it. Pressfield’s obsession with misery plays into the “starving artist” stereotype that is damaging to creative people and industries. Newsflash: you can enjoy your creative work, and while it may be difficult, you do not have to live your life in constant agony. Misery is not chic.

Finally, in Book Three, “Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm,” Pressfield takes things to another level, literally. Pressfield describes how there is a divine plane filled with divine entities who reach out to inspire us lowly humans. These divine creatures are the ones who should receive the credit for human art, as all inspiration comes from them. When he does try to use secular terminology, Pressfield maintains that each person is predestined to fulfill certain acts and create certain masterpieces and to deny the world and the creator these predestined gifts is selfish.

If you can’t tell already, I’m not religious, and I’m not very spiritual, either. I will grant that there is some unidentified force that makes humans specially equipped with personalities and allows us produce art unlike other animals or living things. But that’s just it — it’s something within humans. Even if a divine plane and God and angels do exist, I do not believe the artist needs to give every speck of credit to these beings. Maybe I’m a revolutionary, but I believe that humans are capable of independent thought and free will, which makes us capable of making our own, unique art.

My last gripe with Pressfield comes from the introduction of his book. In it, he claims that, if every human could defeat his or her unique Resistance, then all social evils would be cured. In an extreme example, he argues that “it was easier for Hitler [who wanted to be an artist] to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”

Again, maybe I’m a revolutionary, but I feel like society is a bit more complex than that. But hey, maybe, just maybe, if everyone did beat “Resistance” and fulfill their purposes, then poverty and starvation and sickness and war and everything else bad would disappear. I’d be okay with that if it could really work.

As I said already, I’m left with mixed feelings on Pressfield’s The War of Art. Some of Pressfield’s claims are hyperbolic, and his devotion to the divine is no doubt entirely unrealistic to a large portion of his audience. However, his personification of Resistance is motivating, and his direct calls to action are inspiring and full of useful catchphrases.

If you take this book entirely for what it is: a way to motivate yourself to get off your ass and fulfill your life’s purpose, you’re golden. If you try to evaluate it more deeply, you’ll be left with some serious philosophical questions that will likely ruin the book’s intention. My advice? Enjoy books one and two, and unless you do have some proclivity for the divine or supernatural, skip book three. Also, read fast. If you just read it fast and don’t think too much, you’ll only hear the uplifting battle cry.

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If you are interested in reading The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it at my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.

Thank you!

Book Reviews, Writing & Publishing Articles

Feedback Friday, Review: 8 to Great: The Powerful Process for Positive Change

8 to Great: The Powerful Process for Positive Change
8 to Great: The Powerful Process for Positive Change by Mary Kay Mueller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

8 to Great: The Powerful Process for Positive Change entered my life through my office’s employee development program. M.K. Mueller is a Kansas City local, so the boss thought we should support locally and give her program a try.

Overall, the “8 to Great” process is nothing but old self-improvement advice repackaged in a trendier way. The formatting of the program is effective, as each of the eight “High-Ways” builds upon the ones before it to lead the reader to his/her highest self. Each chapter covers a different “High-Way” and follows the same structure, which makes the information within easy and comfortable to ingest. However, some of the language, specifically the puns and plays on words, make the book feel cheesy and forced.

My biggest problem with this program is that several of the “High-Ways” contradict one another. For example, High-Ways 5 and 6 tell the reader that, when someone is mad at him/her, that person is just feeling his/her “angergy” and that nothing that person feels is a result of the reader or his/her actions. However, High-Way 3 informs the reader that he/she must take “full-responsibility” for his/her actions. Clearly, one is not actually taking full responsibility if one denies the impact one’s actions have on others. This is just one example of many ideological conflicts from this program.

To conclude, here are my brief reviews of each “High-Way:”

High-Way 1: Get the Picture
I agree that being able to state one’s goals clearly and visualize them helps in their attainment. However, I cannot buy into the idea that simply visualizing them is enough to make the universe manifest them for you.

High-Way 2: Risk
The tenants of this High-Way hold for me. One must take risks in order to change one’s place in life, whether they be big or small. This chapter is a great pep talk for people who need to get off their butts and get in motion.

High-Way 3: Full Responsibility
This chapter is something many people need to read: own up and take responsibility for yourself, your actions, and your own happiness.

High-Way 4: Feel All Your Feelings
In this chapter, Mueller maintains that all feelings are neutral: not good, not bad, they just are. Moreover, she encourages the reader to use feelings like sadness and anger as energy to fuel the reader’s ambitions. While easier to say than do, I like the point she is making.

High-Way 5: Honest Communication
I believe this is the most useful chapter of the program. It suggests specific strategies that can be used to improve one’s communication in almost every social relationship as well as with one’s self.

High-Way 6: Forgiveness of the Past
While everyone knows the now-Disneyed adage, “Let it go,” this chapter is somewhat unique to other forgiveness advice. It offers simple exercises the reader can undergo in order to work toward forgiveness, which seem like they could truly be helpful. However, I would add: don’t forget to take responsibility for the harm you may have caused others.

High-Way 7: Gratitude for the Present
As with the other chapters, this one is nothing new. However, creative and artistic types should glance through it for tips on finding inspiration in even the most mundane aspects of life.

High-Way 8: Hope for the Future
This concept, I did not like. I agree that hope is good and maintaining optimism is important for one’s well-being. However, Mueller markets hope as a cop-out for when “getting the picture” doesn’t magically manifest one’s dreams. In short, she defines hope as surrendering to the universe and trusting that eventually one’s goals will be fulfilled in some way…without one having to lift a finger. Maybe I just didn’t drink enough of the Kool-Aid, but I believe that people need to use hard work and hope together, not just hope on its own, to manifest their dreams.

In short, this book is well-structured and an easy read. As long as the reader doesn’t think too critically about the information provided, I see no reason why this program could not teach one new skills and improve one’s life and outlook.

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41Xf5kQhFfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_If you are interested in reading 8 to Great: The Powerful Process for Positive Change  and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it at my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.

Thank you!