Managing the Writer’s Mind

Our last post introduced a model (created by master life coach Brooke Castillo) that focuses on Circumstances, Thoughts, Feelings, Actions, and Results (CTFAR model) to help us minimize judgmental, negative, stifling thoughts and emotions that may hold us back from living the writer’s life we want.

Simply put, our thoughts are directly responsible for our actions, and therefore, our results. Using this model to map our minds can free us to become the best version of ourselves.

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

The first step is to identify the negative thought you want to change. That sounds easy, but our brains and our daily mental routines fight against us. We don’t give ourselves peace to “listen” internally so we can notice the lies we tell ourselves.

Recognizing what we say to ourselves can be uncomfortable (and often unbelievable):

  • I’m stupid; I have no talent.
  • I don’t deserve to spend time writing; it’s a luxury.
  • I’m not worth the paper this is written on.
  • Why bother? Nobody cares about the stuff I write.

 

We’d never say such things to a fellow writer. So, why do we say them to ourselves?

Even when we say them to ourselves in jest, they affect our psyche.

What Lies Are Haunting You?

Let’s apply the model to a negative thought that Author Sally has identified she wants to change: “I can’t write because I have no idea what to write about.”

  • Circumstance (a provable fact): Sally is a new writer wanting ideas.
  • Thought: “I have no idea what to write about.”
  • Feeling (the emotion when she has the thought): Frustration
  •  Action (what she does when she feels frustrated): Curls up on the couch, watching mindless shows every night
  • Result (the outcome of her action): Sally does not write

The result (i.e., Sally does not write) provides evidence for her original thought that she cannot write and has no ideas.

If you struggle to consciously identify thoughts that are holding you back, can you identify a feeling instead? If so, work backward in the model to identify the thought that produced your feeling. You’ll likely come up with several, but pick just one thought to work with first.

Creating and Believing New Thoughts

After you apply the model using your original thought, the next step is to create a new thought to replace the old one. Yeah, that’s not easy either.

You may need to use a “bridge thought” (as named by Castillo), which will provide a stepping stone until you can believe the new thought.

Sally’s new thought may be: “I’m so full of ideas I can’t stop writing.” If Sally currently believes she has no ideas, it will be a huge leap to embrace this new thought.

That’s where the bridge thought is useful. Her bridge thought could be, “I’m willing to consider that I do have ideas when I pay attention and let myself get quiet.”

Every time the old thought shows up, Sally can replace it with her bridge thought. Eventually, the bridge will become her default thought. At that point, she can begin replacing the bridge thought with her new belief.

In the beginning, keep your bridge/new thoughts simple and straightforward so they’re easier to use as replacements for the old thought.

Practice

Let’s look at another example. After receiving constructive feedback from her critique group on a short story, Author Glenda thinks, “I don’t have the skills to be a writer.”

  • Circumstance (neutral, provable fact): Glenda received feedback from her critique group.
  • Thought: I don’t have the skills to be a writer.
  • Feeling: Depression.
  • Action: She stops writing, quits studying the writing craft, and leaves her critique group.
  • Result: Glenda no longer grows and improves as a writer; her development as a writer halts.

Since Glenda stops learning and practicing the craft, her writing skills don’t improve. Thus, her result (no improvement) provides the evidence to support her original thought (“I don’t have the skills”).

If Glenda wants the simple new thought: “I AM a writer,” she might consider a bridge thought such as “I’m willing to learn and improve my writing every way I can.”

Now, it’s your turn.

This will feel awkward or artificial to you at first. That’s common. Fully understanding the model takes time and repetition. Keep trying. Tackle your negative thoughts one at a time. The more you apply the CTFAR model, the better you will understand it and receive its benefits.

I’d love to hear how this goes for you. Comment below or email me at Gina@AroundTheWritersTable.com.

A Writer’s Model for Overcoming Blocks

I don’t buy into the mythology of writer’s block.

You’re crazy, Gina!” I hear many of you saying. “I’ve felt it, been there. My ideas stink. I don’t know what I’m doing. I KNOW I’m blocked.

I hear you. And I. Have. Felt. Your. Pain.

I know what it feels like to be at a dead end with my story or simply unable to put a single word on the page, and I had accepted that writer’s block was a fact in a writer’s life, prevalent and unavoidable. But now I know it’s not.

Writer’s block is not an inevitable occurrence in a writer’s life.

Would you like to believe that too? I invite you on a journey with me into a new way of looking at what holds us back from writing. I hope you’ll travel with me to learn a few concepts about the human brain, and about how we feel, take action, and get results.

The Model

These concepts are not invented; I didn’t make them up, nor did anyone else. They are universal. I do credit Brooke Castillo for creating the CTFAR Model I use here, which provides the language necessary to talk about, understand, and apply the concepts.

This model is called CTFAR because it focuses on our Circumstances, Thoughts, Feelings, Actions, and Results.

  • Circumstances are events that happen (or have happened) that we cannot control. Circumstances also include other people and their actions. Circumstances are facts, neutral and provable: a meeting occurred, someone died, a co-worker made a comment about your hairstyle.
  • Thoughts are a response to what happened. We tend to consider our thoughts to be facts, too, like circumstances. But they aren’t. A thought is simply a sentence in your brain.
  • Feelings are a one-word description for the vibrations or energy in your body: sad, angry, depressed, joyful, fearful, elated, etc.
  • Actions are a behavior, something you do; this includes inaction, by the way.
  • Results are the outcome of those actions.

What does all this have to do with writing and writer’s block?

Let’s look closely at each element of the model and some real-life examples to understand the amazing effect applying the model can have on our writing.

Circumstances Are Real

Most of us believe that what happens in the world drives what we feel.

For example, I might believe: (a) rainy days make me glum, (b) a friend’s criticism makes me angry, (c) my unfinished book depresses me. The root of these lies in pure Circumstance: (a) it’s raining, (b) my friend made a statement, (c) the book’s ending hasn’t come to me yet. These are all neutral facts, i.e., circumstances I cannot control.

Our tendency is to blame circumstances for how we feel.

But circumstances aren’t responsible for feelings.

If our feelings arose from our circumstances then people in the same circumstances would never experience different feelings about them. If a rainy day (circumstance) caused glumness (feeling) then everyone would be glum every time it rained. I know plenty of people who are cheerful on rainy days.

Thought Before Feeling

Feelings do not come from the circumstances themselves; they arise from the thoughts we have about the circumstances. Put more simply, our thoughts cause our feelings.

Wait. . . What?

I appreciate the confusion. . . . Introspection is HARD. Blaming circumstances for our feelings (especially negative ones) is easier than being self-aware enough to identify the original thought that caused the feelings. Believing our thoughts cause our feelings requires us to accept responsibility for noticing our thoughts in the first place, which can be terribly uncomfortable.

Our brain prefers to stay with the old thinking where it’s safe and familiar.

But noticing our thoughts is key to interpreting why we feel a certain way and, more importantly, is crucial for seeing what is in our way (our so-called “blocks”).

Taking Action Toward a Result

The feelings that emerge from our thoughts drive us to do something (an action) or we chose to do nothing (an action, too). That action then brings about some result. Here, my friend, is where this all becomes incredibly revealing . . . and humbling.

That result produced by your action is the evidence that supports your original thought.

Taking in that last bit can be pretty heady, maybe even a little confusing at this point. So before we walk through examples, take a breath and see what the CTFAR model looks like:

Applying this model to real-world situations is the best way to grasp its phenomenal impact. So, in my next post, I’ll outline how the model plays out for several writers who consider themselves to be “blocked.”

In the meantime, try this exercise if you’ve been having some negative feelings about your writing practice. Identify the emotion you currently have; find one word that best describes your feeling. Then, ask yourself (1) why you feel that way, and (2) what you do when you feel like that. With your responses on hand, you’ll be prepared to walk through the model with your own thoughts in our next blog post.


Gina Hogan Edwards is the founder of Around the Writer’s Table. When she isn’t hosting writing retreats and supporting authors in creating a writing life on their own terms, she is working on her novel-in-progress, Dancing at The Orange Peel.

What Keeps You from Writing

Our fears are proficient at keeping us from writing and they are confounding masters of disguise.

We often don’t recognize them for what they are. They hide behind to-do lists. They cloak themselves in victimhood and responsibility to others over self. They mask themselves in blame and shame through which we are incapable of seeing ourselves truthfully.

External Voices

One of our workshop exercises at the January Story Camp writing retreat focused on identifying the fears associated with writing . . . and not writing. We began by recognizing the things that others—family, friends, fellow writers—may say or have said to us about our writing and we compiled lists. Here are just a few things that showed up:

  • It’s a waste of time.
  • There are more important things to do.

  • How dare you write about this family!
  • Your writing isn’t that good.
  • It’s too hard to be a writer; are you sure you want to try?

All sorts of criticism and judgment from others can show up when we declare that we intend to be writers.

Internal Voices

After listing our external voices, we then turned internally—the things we say to ourselves in the privacy of our own minds. Again, we made lists but these were tougher to compile because we usually resist hearing our true internal voices. Here is a sampling of those:

  • I should be doing more important things.
  • I don’t deserve to take the time to write.
  • There will be consequences to pay with family and friends if I write.
  • I’m not a good enough writer anyway.
  • The topic is too hard and heavy.
  • The topic is too light; no one will care.
  • I have obligations to others to fulfill.
  • There’s not enough time.
  • I’m too tired after working all day.
  • My teachers always told me I couldn’t write.

All of this negative self-talk boils down to fear.

Do you recognize any of these? several, maybe?

We may write in different genres or mediums—journaling, essays, novels, memoir, poetry—but we are not so different in the fears we harbor about our writing practices and the words we write.

We “manage” our fears by buffering or camouflaging them in busy-work, masking them in a litany of excuses, by taking care of others before ourselves, and giving our time to things that we label as “more important.”

Our fears have good intentions.

They intend to protect us, to keep us from being exposed and vulnerable. But to grow and flourish as writers and to full-heartedly experience the benefits of writing, we must overcome these fears.

We must remove the masks and cloaks that disguise them as something else.

Recognizing what the something else is and then acknowledging our fears releases them of their power. Each time they show up, we must step back—away from our personalities and our egos—and look with curiosity at our fears and at our responses to them.

So, now, make your own lists.

We did this on sticky notes on the first day of the retreat and then put them all into our own paper sacks. Over the following days, we added to the sacks as new and old fears revealed themselves. On the last night of the retreat, we ceremoniously placed our sacks of fears into a fire. We watched them go up in smoke so no one had to take them home.

From both your external and internal voices, make your lists. Then talk to your fears: ask them where they come from, how they’re trying to serve you. It will feel weird, but yes, talk to your fears.

Then tip your hat to them, look them in the “face,” put them into a fire—whatever works for you to release them. As you do, declare, in no uncertain terms, “Thanks, you’ve done a fine job protecting me. But I don’t need you anymore.”


Hear more about how fear keeps us from pursuing our dreams in Alexis Fedor’s recent interview of Gina on the Artists in Business podcast: http://www.alexisfedor.com/gina-edwards/


Gina Hogan Edwards

Gina is the founder of Around the Writer’s Table. When she isn’t hosting writing retreats and supporting authors in creating a writing life on their own terms, she is working on her novel-in-progress, Dancing at The Orange Peel.

Writing as a Priority

by Chanta Combs


As winter wanes and spring blossoms with new growth and new promises, we hope you are finding time for your writing life. Have you envisioned what success will look like for you? Or, perhaps, you’ve spent some time in recent weeks writing an Author Mission Statement to clarify your intentions? As we have mentioned in recent blog posts, these are valuable tools for creating the writing life you seek. Another important component of this journey is establishing a ritual or carving time out to become the writer you want to be.

Who (or What) Runs Your Life?

It’s true—lists dominate my life. I have lists for my professional assignments (finalize a presentation, send this month’s invoices), my parental duties (get invitations for his birthday party, finalize the enrollment forms for summer camp), my home (fix the broken lamp, get estimates to replace the sod)—not to mention my lists for the grocery store, the pet store, and all the other errands required for life to feel functional from week to week. Oh—and don’t forget—the lists I use to prioritize all my other lists.

Escaping the Vicious Cycle

I agree; it’s a little neurotic. But I tell myself that without my lists, I would never get anything done, which is a lie. Truthfully, I really use my lists as a perverse rewards system. If I can just get these five things done, then I will have time to write. If I can just run all my errands, then I will actually have the mental capacity to create. The problem: with every task eliminated, three more seem to pop up. As such, the lists run in perpetuity, and I never really find time to do the things that make life meaningful.

Needless to say, it’s an exhausting and counter-productive cycle. So, how do I overcome this huge obstacle that keeps me from being the writer I want to become?

A New Way of Thinking

Divorcing myself from my lists is one remedy—but probably a superficial (albeit somewhat liberating) one. What I really need is a different mindset; I simply need to accept that writing is as inherent to my well-being as brushing my teeth or sleeping.

Writing is a cathartic, all-consuming pleasure for me. When I am lost in this journey, time passes swiftly, meals become secondary, endorphins flood my body. Even when I’m not writing, story ideas fill my daydreams; character development, plot arcs, and transitions distract me from my worries and provide an escape from the ennui of the day-to-day grind.

So, why do I deny myself the pleasure of getting lost in a writing project? Because I put everything else—my job, my family, my friends, the world’s expectations of me, and my interminable lists—ahead of writing. Despite the fact that it is one of my first and longest-lasting true loves, I simply don’t make writing a priority. And, to be totally honest, I also feel some insecurity—that I don’t have anything meaningful to add to the cacophony that already reverberates throughout our lives.

The Ritual of Writing

For the words inside to reveal themselves and for me to overcome my fears, the physical act of writing must be done. Creating a writing schedule, preparation rituals, and a routine are the keys to making writing a priority in our daily lives. Some questions that each of us should consider as we continue to envision the writing life we seek:

  • How much time will you spend writing per day or per week?
  • Will you write at a specific time of day and in a particular place?
  • What is your favorite writing instrument or journal?
  •  Will you create a ritual—for example, making a cup of tea, lighting a candle, playing soft music—to create the ideal environment for your work?

By creating new habits, each of us will slowly start to change how we think about writing as an integral part of our lives and how we view ourselves as writers. With time and practice, these new rituals will become routine, and we will start to wonder how we ever lived without them. Then, writing will become a priority—not simply a carrot that we hold out to ourselves as a reward for getting everything else done first.


For guidance to clarify your idea of success as a writer and to create your personal Author Mission Statement, check out these recent posts:


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is a member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and a regular contributor to our blog. Her professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

Designing Your Writing Life

Last month, we introduced you to the concept of an Author Mission Statement and explained how it can create authenticity and clarity in your journey as an author. We’re hopeful that you could create some silence in your life to reflect on the questions posed in that blog post. With this introspection and reflection in mind, now is the time to create your own Author Mission Statement and build the writing life you want in 2018 and beyond.


Examples of Author Mission Statements

To illustrate how Author Mission Statements can be written, let’s start with examples from five different writers.

Author 1 who records stories and events in her journal to share with family:

My writing will be shared with my children and is for them to share with their children. I want them to know the places and people from which we hail, our heritage and our traditions. I want them to understand their roots and to know what kind of people their parents and grandparents were and strived to be.

Author 2 who keeps a private journal:

I write for myself, to understand the world I inhabit and what that means for my own life. As I write, I untangle complicated relationships and circumstances. Writing keeps me grounded in my self-worth and focused on how I can become a better person.

Author 3 who writes humor as a hobby:

I write for fun! My family finds my stories humorous and I enjoy having a creative outlet that also brightens people’s lives.

Author 4, a journalist who writes travel articles:

The readers of travel publications, both online and print, are where I sell my articles. I want to take readers to places they may never be able to go, and provide travelers with ideas and plans for trips they may never have considered. My articles provide a way for me to share what I learn from the people I meet in faraway places and they create a personal chronicle that I can enjoy when I can no longer travel.

Author 5, a career fiction author:

My self-published books are intended to engage readers who enjoy mainstream literary fiction. They primarily deal with themes of complex family relationships and uncomfortable social issues, such as bigotry and abuse. I intend to craft thoughtful stories that challenge readers’ perspectives and perceptions of what they have always known, and in the writing, I unravel and challenge my own views.

Create Your Author Mission Statement

As you can see, your Author Mission Statement can be a single sentence, two sentences, or a paragraph. The form can vary, but it should clearly and concisely state your “why” for writing and can include your long-term goals.

To assist in creating your own statement, download our Author Mission Statement worksheet. It expands on the questions in our previous post and provides plenty of space for crafting your own mission statement. Get it HERE.

In addition, the consulting firm Franklin Covey offers their own set of questions for creating a mission statement at https://msb.franklincovey.com/. Although theirs are not author-focused, they include general life questions that could influence the choices you make about your writing life.

Revisit Your Author Mission Statement Often

If you’re a new writer, you might not yet know where you want the writing to take you. As we noted in our last blog, even experienced writers may change their aspirations. So, don’t ever worry that your Author Mission Statement is perfect or consider it finished.

That is, it will require revision over time. Our life circumstances change. We grow and transform personally, ideally reaching for our finer selves. We learn more about our craft and become clearer about our writing preferences with experience. We may decide to explore new topics or genres. So, plan to revisit your Author Mission Statement approximately every six months to ensure it is aligned with the writer you are becoming.

To Share or Not To Share

Some writers prefer to keep their Author Mission Statements to themselves while others find that sharing them reinforces their resolve to create a writing life on their own terms. If that’s you, you’re invited to post your Author Mission Statement in the comments below. Share a little about your experience while crafting it too, if you’d like. It’s always helpful to know that we don’t write alone.

Regardless of whether your share your statement with others or not, be sure to place it conspicuously so you can read and reflect on it regularly—perhaps by your computer monitor or inside your day planner. Put it where you’re most likely to notice it when you’re faced with challenges or decisions in your writing life. Your Author Mission Statement is your definitive guide for creating a writing life on your own terms.

Why Do You Write?

January is a month of miracles. Despite the ubiquitous bitter cold and with spring still weeks away, this month is nevertheless able to engender a sense of renewal and growth. It is a time for introspection, hope, cleansing, and new beginnings. So, who do you want to be in 2018? As author Rhett DeVane told us in her guest blog earlier this month, you, as an author, can define success on your own terms. Around the Writer’s Table wants to provide some tools for you in that journey.

What’s an Author Mission Statement?

I recently had a discussion with an author who felt she might have lost her way or become sidetracked on her 2017 writing goals, both short- and long-term. Last year, she had felt driven in a new direction for her writing, which spurred her to define some tasks she intended to accomplish over the summer. By fall, she hadn’t completed any of them. Moreover, she was distressed that the new direction she had so enthusiastically laid out for herself might, indeed, be wrong.

The direction an author defines for her writing—whether hobby or career, and no matter the genre or form—is never a matter of “right” or “wrong.”

Authenticity is the author’s truest compass.

To be authentic, though, you must know yourself. You must understand what your heart craves, be aware of what feels genuine, and move toward that. Ask yourself, “Am I living my writing life in a way I have defined for myself or how others define it for me? Am I using someone else’s definition of ‘success’ or do I have a definition that is true to who I am?” (see our last blog post)

As you seek answers to these questions, consider creating your Author Mission Statement. Most of us are familiar with the concept of a business mission statement . . . but how and why should an author have one?

An Author Mission Statement is a short declaration of your long-term intentions as a writer. Even if you are a new writer, creating a mission statement gives you focus and direction. Your Statement can keep you concentrated on work that serves you; it can guide you to focus on writing that aligns with the way you want the world to see you and what you want to leave behind. In short, it is your “why” for writing.

Benefits of an Author Mission Statement

An Author Mission Statement:

  • Creates focus for your choices when faced with a myriad of distractions and opportunities.
  • Establishes your underlying purpose as a writer beyond the simple goal of putting words on a page.
  • Supports you in establishing day-to-day priorities and assessing when you’re straying too far from them.
  • Acts as a meter or a gauge to assure you stay on course to reach your long-term goals.
  • Reconnects you with your passion when times are tough or your energy is drained.
  • Assures that you create a writing life on your terms, not on the expectations and preferences of others.

In summary, an Author Mission Statement provides clarity to guide you throughout your writing life.

Getting Clear on Your “Why”

Reap the benefits of the clarity an Author Mission Statement provides by working through the following questions to define your own:

  1. Why do you write? And why do you write in the form(s)—fiction, poetry, nonfiction, short story, novel, etc.—or the genre(s) that you write or want to write?
  2. What do you want to be known for? What do you want the people you care about to remember about you? Is leaving a legacy important to you?
  3. What are you most excited to write about? What subjects, issues, concerns, or insights really ignite your imagination or passion?
  4. Who do you want your readers to be? What kind of reader do you want to attract?
  5. What do you want that reader to get from your work? What do you want your writing to be for them: energizing, inspirational, memorable, an emotional connection, or something else altogether? What makes your writing unique?
  6. What core values or beliefs underpin your writing? Are there any commonalities or recurring themes in your writing?
  7. What’s missing from your writing life right now?
  8. How do/will you measure your success as a writer?

Be honest with yourself as you answer these questions.

You don’t have to answer all of them. They simply provide some boundaries and a framework for you to begin. You may have immediate, instinctual responses. Or you may need time to arrive at your answers; don’t rush through them.

Your Author Mission Statement is for you—you don’t have to share it with others unless you want to. So, go deep and find what’s truly in your heart in response to these questions. Being clear about your answers will assure your Author Mission Statement represents your essence as a person and a writer.

What is Success?


As I was wrapping up the Story Camp Women’s Writing Retreat, prepping for the arrival of the Fiction Among Friends writers in the next retreat, and hustling to complete my blog post for this week, my friend author Rhett DeVane shared the following with me. Though I hadn’t told her my intended post’s focus, the perspective she offers here about success as an author is the perfect prelude to mine, which will come to you next time.        ~ Gina


What is Success?

By Rhett DeVane

On the way to my annual writers’ retreat, an epiphany slipped through the sunroof and gonged me so hard I nearly veered off the highway. The topic? Success, and whether, after twenty-plus, earnest years in the writing and publishing business, I consider myself a success.

Then a segue-thought muscled past the Frank Sinatra tune blaring from my car’s sound system: success is akin to physical beauty. It’s often a false judgment, a fleeting endorsement of what society values at that nanosecond, and, like beauty, not something to cement in the center of my writing life.

I’ve never been considered beautiful. On occasion, I clean up well; I don’t scare small children and animals, or stop five-day clocks. Instead, I rely on personality and a warped sense of humor. Those traits, I developed with guidance from my Southern, story-telling, practical-gag-playing family.

While my grandma rested in her coffin, on view for the world, her loving relatives clumped in one corner, sharing tales about the time she did this or that, and laughing as if we didn’t have good sense. If at least one person hadn’t fired stink-eye disapproval in our direction, we would’ve failed. Thing is, if Grandma could’ve sat up, wiped off the flesh-tone shellac and spoken, she would have—and her story would top all of ours put together.

Like my family, I hold humor and a pleasant outlook above society’s notion of physical beauty. So, why should I put others’ images of success ahead of my own definition?

Over the years of conferences, critique groups, and online forums, I’ve noted how writers tend to measure success by numbers, Amazon ratings, or top agents and huge publishers. Is that truly why I write? No. The joy of seeing my thoughts meld into story, to watch characters learn and grow, to make some sense of humanity, and to lend levity and light: good enough reasons.

The instant a book leaves the safety of my computer, it must survive on its own. It may not be a classic beauty, but I’ve cleaned it up, given it every ounce of my hardscrabble knowledge, and wished it Godspeed. I have been successful at my work.

A nasty trap waits for all writers: the longing for success. The moment I set sights on someone else’s target, time spent on my laptop becomes a chore. The muses pack up and head to another author who welcomes them without boundaries.

Writer’s block thrives when I get in my own way.

A friend once asked my mother about her three children—how they “turned out.” I’ll always treasure her reply. “My kids are successful. They have homes, jobs, and none of them ended up in prison.” You can’t say she didn’t set a high bar. She did her best, cleaned me up, and sent me into the world.

My mama said I was a success. There you go.

How I define personal success is up to me.


Why do you write and do you have some measure of achievement or accomplishment that you use as your barometer for success? How do you define success as an author—not someone else’s definition or terms, but your own? Share your comments below.


Rhett DeVane is the author of the “Hooch” series based on her hometown of Chattahoochee, Florida; the seventh book in the series, Parade of Horribles was released in 2017. Rhett also writes middle-grade fantasy (the “Tales from The Emerald Mountains” series), picture books, and the occasional short story and flash fiction.

 

Trusting the Evidence

When I started today’s post, I had no idea what I was going to write about. So I began putting words on the page as if I’d already completed the thing that needed to be written. It’s a little mind trick, yes, but I simply gave up control and let words flow in free-form, almost mindless, fashion, which is uncomfortable for me . . . because I like structure and organization and tidiness. And I like to be in control.

As writers with will—and humans with excess hubris—we convince ourselves we have total power to dictate and manipulate the writing process. On the first day of the annual Story Camp writing retreat, we do a workshop exercise that allows the release of these illusions of control over creativity.

It’s liberating.

And it requires massive trust in the creative process we so desperately try to make compliant.

It requires trust that our muses have our backs, trust that ideas will come and words will flow, trust that allowing messiness in a first draft makes way for magic in later versions. As I have administered and participated in this exercise, I have come to believe that the act of putting words on the page is a hallowed act of trust.

TRUST has been my overriding theme for 2017, for me personally, as well as for Around the Writer’s Table—perhaps especially for AWT. Just as I’ve learned to trust in the writer’s creative process, I have had to learn lessons in trust in all parts of my personal life and my professional endeavors.

Trusting when I’d rather be controlling hasn’t been easy.

I want to be in charge of circumstances and situations, people and outcomes. I want things to be the way I want them to be. But that’s not life, is it?

Surrendering to trust can be terrifying.

It’s an endless effort I resist even though I’ve witnessed the goodness that results from it. I believe blessings are buoyed by trust. Yet still, I must persistently reaffirm that trust is the way forward for me.

I do, after all, have plenty of evidence.

Two years ago in November, I trusted that leaving my stressful but decent-paying corporate job with health insurance and other benefits was the right decision and, since then, I have received bountiful confirmation of what surrendering to trust can do. The blessings have been remarkable.

Trusting in my decision made it possible for me to be present with family these last two years during times of bereavement and celebration—times I couldn’t have taken off the clock previously unless I had permission from a corporate god. Because I trusted, I’ve been able to participate in and/or host eight writing retreats in Florida and North Carolina over the last two years, with three more to come in January (this still blows my mind!).

Trusting that the future holds what it should has brought me talented and kind clients I am grateful for every single day. Because I have trusted, my business has grown—not without sacrifice and worry, but in a way I never dreamed would be so rewarding.

Because I trust that what I need will come, a new friend and advisor has been brought into my life, a true gift; trust also brought me two more talented and enthusiastic interns who will join us in 2018. The driving force that will lead AWT into some exciting new endeavors this next year is my trust that surrounding myself with ethical, loving, smart people and purposefully putting one foot in front of the other will take me where I’m destined to go.

Because I have trusted and continue to trust in what the Universe and the Divine have in store for me, I have an abundance of friends who uplift me, an inspiring community of writer-friends, a mastermind group who challenges me to better myself, a husband who is unceasingly supportive, and family who fills my heart and soul with love.

Yes, the evidence is there.

Because I trust, I am blessed. And I will trust—despite worry, resistance, and fear—that more goodness is to come in 2018. I wish each and every one of you a new year filled with blessings, and I hold the hope that you, too, can buoy your blessings with trust.

Love to you all and Happy New Year!
Gina Hogan Edwards

Time Well Spent

I asked Chanta Combs to share a bit about her experience with Around the Writer’s Table these last few months. In this week’s blog, she reflects on her internship with us and why it became so much more than a straightforward professional and educational experience for her. Her personal discussion about her relationship with writing will likely resonate with many of you.

Gina Hogan Edwards


My writing has become my guide on
this scary, exhilarating, and comforting journey of self-exploration.


Wow. My first semester as an intern with Around the Writer’s Table (AWT) is already over. Where did the time go?

Listening to My Inner Disquiet

I began the semester with nothing more than a compelling desire to write and a nagging curiosity to learn about the industries that foster the written word. I have always loved to read, research, and write but have spent my career (to date) monetizing these passions through conventional work as a lawyer, lobbyist, and policy advisor. While I have loved this work and have explored marvelous, unforeseen professional horizons, I am voracious for more.

My time with AWT has taught me invaluable lessons about the creative process, self-employment as a freelance editor, and my ability—and, more importantly, desire—to write.

Writing is the Teacher

My first assignment was to write these bi-monthly blogs. Because my writing has historically been analytical advocacy, plumbing the depths of the creative process seemed very foreign to me. As such, AWT spent a lot of time teaching me the dynamics that authors encounter throughout this journey.

And as I turned my understanding into writing, I not only learned about the art of writing but also about overcoming my own mental obstacles as I explore writing through a new lens. Simply put, the tools required to write authentically are the same tools required to live authentically—regardless of your vocation. Get silent, go deep, have mentors, and follow your intuition. “Just do it,” but be open to constructive feedback as you do. And as you speak your truth, embrace your personal evolution, understand that others may not, and trust the journey.

Going Deep

While writing the blogs satiated my basic need to write in a new way about new subjects, I was—unbeknownst to me—also internalizing these lessons. By early December, my mind was a muddled mess as I tried to apply these lessons to my current profession, my role as the mother of a young child, and my desire to reinvent my career. So, I spent four days alone at the beach—the place where my heart rate slows down, my mind calms, and clarity ensues.

This is when I was able to accept the fact (which apparently has been quite obvious to others for a while) that I am ready to embrace writing, editing, and publishing as a new facet of my career. I’m nervous—this is unexplored territory for me, and I feel wholly unprepared. But I am following my intuition by taking more courses at Florida State next semester, signing up for a journaling class at the end of the year, and committing to attend AWT’s Story Camp writer’s retreat to jump-start the new year.

Exploring New Dimensions

In addition to writing (and learning from) these blogs, I was able to ghost-write some material for AWT. Ghostwriting taught me another dimension about myself as a writer. First, it requires less personal vulnerability. Second, it requires a really intimate understanding not only of your readers (as all writing does) but also of the person for whom you are writing. I enjoyed stepping into her shoes and embracing her unique perspective of the content. This experience underscored the fact that I love to write for writing’s sake and don’t necessarily need public recognition to enjoy it. This appreciation has opened a whole new frontier for me, and I have already made inquiries about enrolling in a ghostwriting certification program at University of California at Long Beach.

Taking the Next Step

Needless to say, my internship with AWT surpassed my originally meager expectations. I thought I would get to write some, edit a little, and be on my merry way. I got so much more than that.

I found new layers of my soul, re-evaluated my life’s goals, enhanced some of my existing capabilities, and found new ones. Because I am eager to learn more, I will enroll for another internship with AWT in the spring semester. I am very excited, optimistic, and thankful for the journey that AWT and FSU have started with me.


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and is a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

Believe in Your Creative Journey


While writing can be perplexing, intricate, and intense,
it is a beautiful, enriching journey that will provide—in and of itself—the
strength you need to develop your authentic voice.


The world seems to measure us exclusively on our outcomes, what we produce and the quality or quantity of that production. Even those of us with creative souls tend to focus on whether our works have been published or whether we’ve sold enough copies to cover the costs of publication, much less make a profit.

But as you know, writing—in and of itself—is a journey that deserves savoring and understanding. It is oftentimes a rewarding yet arduous path that requires significant introspection, personal grit, and heaps of emotional courage.

Finding Your Creative Voice

Because writing demands both internal and external growth, we have explored this journey with you in recent months—more specifically, the stages of finding and/or reclaiming your creative voice. Based on our experiences with authors and as authors ourselves, Around the Writer’s Table has created a model to assist authors in visualizing, understanding, and embracing their stages of creative development. While our recent blogs have not specifically discussed this model, they have captured its essence. With ongoing feedback from authors, we’ll continue to refine and plumb the depths of each stage in the creative process and, of course, we’ll keep sharing with you what we learn as we go.

Thus far, we have talked about how, at the beginning of the creative journey, prioritizing and creating silence—both internally and externally—provides space to evaluate, understand, and release your creative restlessness, that inner disquiet that can be a driving force in your writing. And as you start writing, experimenting with others’ techniques is a fundamental component of the creative process. As such, exploring different authors’ methods will foster understanding and appreciation of the tools that are most effective for expressing your authentic voice.

After you’ve spent some time writing, it is important to then assess and acknowledge how far you’ve come and how far you have yet to go. Only by humbly stepping away from and objectively reviewing your work can you acknowledge what works for your writing, differentiate yourself from your mentors and teachers, and begin to fully master your authentic voice.

Once you successfully detach, evaluate, acknowledge, and act on areas for growth, you will quickly take true ownership of your writing. As you and others start to understand and embrace your new public identity as an author, objective verification and testing of your creative development should be continuous.

Ultimately, the goal is to fully integrate all parts of your life into mastering your craft so that you no longer have to compartmentalize your creative spirit or wear a mask to satiate others’ expectations of who you should be.

The Resistance

Sheesh. That’s a lot, right? And this doesn’t even consider that you may cycle through some or all of these phases more than once on your creative journey. Yes, it’s a tough trek.

Simply put, writing, like other long-term commitments, can create anxiety and a crisis in confidence as you encounter and re-encounter these various stages of creative growth. You will likely face ennui, fatigue, and an innate desire to throw your hands up, believing that you’ve gone as far as you can in your creative journey.

The Decision Point

Will you keep going? This moment, this decision is crucial and is reminiscent of a story called “Three Feet From Gold,” by Napoleon Hill in his book, Think and Grow Rich. In this story, Colorado miners invested enormous amounts of time and money to find gold, only to get frustrated and quit when they didn’t find any. After they sold their mining equipment, the buyer soon discovered that massive amounts of gold were only three feet from where these miners had stopped drilling.

The moral of the story: “Failure is a trickster with a keen sense of irony and cunning. It takes great delight in tripping one when success is almost within reach.”

Keep Going

When your internal voice of resistance speaks up, review those stages of creativity that you have cycled through and mastered. Evaluate your own experience objectively and allow that experience to serve as evidence of what you, as a writer, are capable of accomplishing. The journey itself—even with all its frustrations, rabbit holes, and complexities—should be a source of confidence to keep pursuing your true essence as a writer.


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and is a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.