A writer’s (or artist’s) holiday survival guide

Watch these tips instead!

The holidays are a wonderful time for many people, but for us artsy types they can be an emotional minefield. Even if we have a good relationship with our families, the sheer amount of exposure to people in such a short period of time can be exhausting. And that’s without getting into all the awkward questions well meaning relatives like to ask about our creative hobbies.

I can’t make your family more pleasant, or their questions less awkward, but I can give you some strategies to survive the holidays with your sanity more or less intact.

How to build a permanent writing habit out of Nanowrimo

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Nanowrimo officially ended last week, and whether you won or not, I hope you took a break over this weekend. Nanowrimo is a massive challenge with a lot of pressure, and it’s as exhausting as it is fun. You earned a weekend off, and you needed it if you want to avoid burnout (if you didn’t take this past weekend off, take the coming weekend off instead).

But the weekend is gone, and if you take any more days off you will lose the momentum you built during Nanowrimo. So today I’m asking you to get back to work, and to set a new goal for December: create a regular writing habit you can maintain year round.
How Nanowrimo helps you build experiene

What do I mean by a regular writing habit?

A regular writing habit can be writing 1,667 words a day, or it can be writing a sentence every day. It doesn’t even have to be every day–but it does have to be at least once a week.

It definitely doesn’t have to be a novel, short story, article, or blog post. It can be pages in your journal. The only thing that matters is that you’re writing on a regular basis.

Pro Tip: You don’t have to maintain a daily writing habit forever, but it’s easier if you start writing every day. You’ll fall into the habit more easily. When you eventually do need to take a few days off, you’ll be itching to get back to your writing.

Why is a regular writing habit so important?

Most people could benefit from a regular writing habit. Journalling provides an excellent emotional and creative release. It can even help people re-evaluate their lives and commit to improving them. If you’re already making changes, a journal can track how those changes affect your life on a daily basis. It’s a private place where you can be completely honest about your thoughts and your life. Nobody will judge you, because nobody will ever read it.

Fiction can serve many of these same benefits. There’s something cathartic about examining humanity through a fictional lens. I work hard to avoid blatant self inserts, but my characters do live through some of the same struggles I have. Helping them conquer those struggles shows me how to conquer my own. When I reread my own work I can see how my own trauma influenced those words, for better and for worse. And if I write something a little too cathartic I don’t ever need to share it.

In other words, a regular writing habit is good for the soul.

For those of us who want to become successful authors, it’s also something more: the foundation of our careers. You might be able to write a single great book without one, but it will take a lot longer. And a single book doesn’t make a successful career, even if you sell a million copies. So you need to develop habits that will see you through not just one book, but many books.

Those habits must also be built around your normal life, because you can’t expect to quit your day job any time soon. It is possible to make a living as a writer, but it’s not easy, and it’s not a quick process.

The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll achieve the career of your dreams.

How to reap the rewards of the Nanowrimo community all year long

Watch my top 3 strategies for building a year-round writing community through Nanowrimo instead!

Nanowrimo is almost over and amazing things are happening. People all over the world are verifying their word counts and watching their green bars turn purple. Thousands more are buckling down to finish their novels–or at least their 50K–in the next few days. Many of those thousands are scrambling to push out an insane amount of words. Some are even using the crazy word count building tricks I shared here last week.

There’s something incredible, magical even, about all these people mutually achieving a common goal. A deep camaraderie that comes from sharing the same trials and tribulations and eventually the same success. It’s the deepest sense of community I’ve ever felt.

And in a few days it will all go away. Everyone in your Nanowrimo community will return to their regularly scheduled lives. Regional Nanowrimo groups will host their final events of the year and separate for 11 months. The forums will die. If Nanowrimo is your only writing community you will find yourself suddenly and desperately alone. You might only be halfway through your novel, but the rest of the community is completely done with Nanowrimo. Nobody will be around to cheer you on when that book hits 60K, 70K, 80K, “The End”.

I struggled with this problem myself for three years. When Nano ended, so did my community. I still wrote during the rest of the year, but at a much slower pace. Staying motivated proved difficult without anyone around to support me.

At the end of my fourth Nanowrimo I decided that this wasn’t going to happen again. I couldn’t keep the Nanowrimo community active, but I could make friends who would stick around all year. And I did–many friends who served as my best cheerleaders and eventually my first critique partners.

Today I’m going to walk you through how you can do the same.

How to write a massive amount of words in the last 10 days of Nanowrimo

Watch the best of these tips – then scroll to the bottom to read the CRAZIEST thing I’ve ever done to win Nanowrimo.

There are only 10 days left in Nanowrimo! The pressure is on, especially for those of you who have fallen behind.

I’m here to tell you that there’s still hope, even if you’re behind. Even if you’ve barely started.  I’ve written 50,000 words in three days before, and you have a whole ten days left! You can get there–or at least give your novel a final massive push towards completion. Today I’m going to show you the best tips and tricks I’ve used to achieve massive word counts, ranging from the simple and practical to the completely deranged.

But first, a note about “failure”

In this article I’m exploring all the ways to push out a massive word count because that kind of challenge is good for some people. Some people want to–and can–write 25,000 or 30,000 or even 50,000 in ten days. Some want to hit those word counts in even less time. This article is designed to help those people.

You don’t have to write a massive amount of words. You don’t have to hit 50K in ten days or even in the whole month. And you shouldn’t feel bad about slowing your pace to protect your physical or mental health. Your path to success is valid. The only way to truly fail is to stop writing.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get into it!

Strategies for pushing through when you hate your novel

Watch these tips instead!

Hello folks! As I’m writing this, it’s about to become November ninth. That means we’re almost a full third of the way through Nanowrimo. And at some point–in either the past few days or the next few days–you’re going to hit what us veterans call the second week slump.  You hate, or are going to hate, your novel.

I am here to help! In my thirteen years of writing books I’ve hated all of them at some point, but I’ve (almost) always pushed through and finished the damn manuscript. I might have metaphorically burned the manuscripts afterwards (actually printing and burning it would be a waste of paper), but the things always got written. Today I’m going to share some of the strategies I used to get to “The End”, even when I hated my novels.

The physical side of self care for writers

NaNo-2017-Participant-BadgeWriters all over the world are gearing up for Nanowrimo and everyone’s talking about how you can make the time to write 1,667 words a day, but I’m thinking about something entirely different: how to fit self care in around an intense writing schedule.

I’m the first to admit that I tend to let self care slide when I’m deep into a creative project. I’ll get so caught up in my stories that I forget to eat for extended periods of time, and burning the midnight oil to finish my projects. I struggle with truly relaxing, because I’ve always got one book or another on the brain. And I definitely don’t get enough exercise.

All of this gets worse whenever I have a creative challenge or deadline. And if you’ve ever done Nanowrimo–or any other significant creative challenge–this probably sounds familiar. So today I’d like to talk about how to make time for self care, specifically physical self care, even during your most intense periods of creative productivity.

3 Simple strategies for fighting imposter syndrome

How to fight imposter syndromeand live your best creative lifeImposter Syndrome: a false–and sometimes crippling–belief that our successes are created through luck or fraud, that we’ve simply fooled people into believing we deserved success rather than earning it on our own merit. A belief that can taint everything we do, preventing us from seeking opportunities or enjoying success when we achieve it. And one that is particularly common among creative folks; every single writer and artist I’ve ever met has struggled with imposter syndrome at some point.

My own struggles with imposter syndrome

In some ways, I’ve struggled less with imposter syndrome than most. I’ve always felt comfortable calling myself a writer, and transitioning to author was fairly simple. After ten years of hard work, I never once believed that publishing Keeper of the Dawn was simply a stroke of luck. I still have a lot to learn about the writing craft, but I am confident in the skills I’ve already developed, the stories I’ve already told.

But imposter syndrome still plays a major role in my life. It rears its ugly head when I research grants and opportunities to teach workshops, telling me I don’t qualify for those things because “I’ve only published one book”. It cripples me when I attempt to apply for lucrative freelance jobs. I can’t begin to express how many times I’ve turned away from an application because I didn’t feel qualified, even if I had all the required skills.

This month I confronted my imposter syndrome in a massive way by speaking on my first panel at Can Con: The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature.  I spoke about asexuality, which was deeply nerve wracking because I only recently came out as graysexual, and only discovered the concept itself a couple years before that. Many amazing people have been doing work around asexuality much longer, and I felt like I was taking space from “authentic” asexuals. But asexuality is a spectrum, and graysexuality is part of that, and I’ve spent a lot of time discovering the asexual community online. So I convinced myself to apply, and then to speak.

So how did the panel go? It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The room was overflowing with interested parties, all with their own thoughts and questions to contribute. Several people thanked me for my honesty afterwards. And none of that would have ever happened if I let imposter syndrome win.

How can we fight imposter syndrome?

This amazing experience got me thinking about all the other opportunities I’ve passed on due to imposter syndrome, and the number of opportunities other creatives must be missing for the same reason. Every creative I know–professional or otherwise–has admitted to struggling with imposter syndrome. I know it’s had a real, definable cost for my creative career. How much would that cost be if I pooled it with the cost of all the opportunities other writers have missed?

More importantly, how can we stop missing these opportunities? I’m still trying to figure that out, but I’ve got a few ideas. These strategies are intended for writers, but can be adapted to suit virtually any career.

1. Introduce yourself as a writer/author/artist/creative professional EVERYWHERE

The more you tell other people you’re a writer, the more you’ll start to believe it yourself. There’s something powerful about saying the words “I’m a writer” or “I’m an author” over and over again. It becomes one of the main ways you define yourself, the same way any job does.

Of course, telling people you’re a writer often leads to awkward questions. For a long time I only introduced myself as a writer in actual writing groups, because I was tired of people asking where they could buy the stack of manuscripts I was still editing. You might want to do the same, and that’s fine. Writing communities are safe spaces where you can build confidence in those four words, “I am a writer”. But you need to become part of those communities, and start introducing yourself that way, if you ever want to feel like it’s true.

And someday you’ll be confident enough to introduce yourself that way everywhere.

2. Find or build a supportive writing community

You know what really makes you feel like a writer? Hanging out with other writers, having them acknowledge all the work you’re doing, sharing your work with them in a safe space. We are all our own worst critics, and sometimes it takes another person pointing out how much we’ve accomplished for us to realize that it’s true.

The Nanowrimo community is particularly brilliant at fighting imposter syndrome. On those forums you’re a writer, no matter how many words you accomplish or how much you’ve written before this Nano. And they help you celebrate every win, commiserate during every struggle. They constantly reinforce how awesome you are for doing this incredibly difficult work. It was in Nanowrimo communities that I first became confident calling myself a writer, and I suspect the same is true for many others.

3. Make lists of the tasks you complete, not just the goals you achieve

A few years ago I ran into a concept called “the win file” on a freelance writing blog (might have been The Renegade Writer, not sure). A win file is exactly what it sounds like: a file where you collect all your successes. These can include published pieces, awards, photos of speaking engagements, anything that reminds you of an achievement you’re proud of. When you’re feeling down about your writing, you can return to this win file and be encouraged by all the amazing things you’ve already accomplished.

This can be a great way to get inspired, but it doesn’t work so well if you look at those accomplishments and go “well those were all sheer dumb luck”. So I’m going to suggest an idea I actually got from a high school teacher: making “done” lists instead of (or as well as) “to do” lists.

Your “done” list can work a couple different ways. It can either list every single thing you accomplished that day, including housework, or it can focus only on writing/creative tasks. Either way, I want you to take a few minutes at the end of every day to write down all of the tasks you completed, even if it’s only writing a sentence.

Eventually you’ll have an entire notebook filled with the hard work you’ve put into your creative pursuits. This notebook is proof that your successes are hard won. When you feel like an imposter, simply turn to this notebook and it will remind you of every struggle you’ve faced along the way.

Final Advice

As creative professionals, sooner or later we all face imposter syndrome. It’s a fact of life. But there are ways to reduce it, and more importantly to fight through it so we aren’t missing out on the opportunities we deserve.

Have you used any of these strategies to combat imposter syndrome? Do you have any other strategies for fighting it? Let me know about them in the comments section below!

5 FREE Self care activities to get you through the colder months + NEW #GratefulDailies challenge

Image from Pixabay user tomasdelgado https://pixabay.com/en/pilates-stretching-yoga-exercise-1950971/Fall is my favourite season, but it’s hard for a lot of people. An enormous number of people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the holiday season is stressful even for people who love it. Depending on where you live you may also lose access to some of your favourite self care activities. Many forms of outdoor exercise become dangerous or impossible the moment snow hits the ground. And even if it’s possible, walking through a blizzard isn’t a great way to de-stress.

So how can you keep taking care of yourself as the cold settles in? Shift your self care schedule to focus on indoor activities!

The best indoor self care activities

Your personalized self care plan should consist of activities YOU love, but some things work for just about everyone. Today I’m going to focus on those: free, simple things you can do inside, most of which only require a few minutes of your time.

Let’s get started!

1. Spend an extra minute or two in the shower

Most of us rush through our mornings. We shower only to scrub ourselves clean before we go to work. We don’t stop to relax and enjoy the water flowing over our heads, the dirt and stress from our night or day washing away, giving us a clean slate for whatever comes next. One of our best opportunities to de-stress is wasted, over and over and over again.

If you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, spend 2-3 extra minutes in the shower. Do some breathing exercises, letting the steam clear your lungs. Focus on letting the water wash away your stress, not just your dirt. Push everything but the present moment out of your mind, and enjoy the physical sensations of the shower. A bath is even better, but even these 2-3 minutes of deliberately enjoying the water can loosen a lot of tension in your mind and body.

2. Stretch your body

I’m not suggesting you introduce hour long yoga sessions into your days (although that’s not a bad idea), but a little bit of stretching will do you a lot of good. Even a few minutes of stretching at your desk can make you feel a lot better.

Personally I try to do 5-10 minutes of leg stretches in the morning and two sets of wrist stretches, one in the morning and one at night. This maintains my flexibility and reduces the pain caused by my repetitive strain injury. If you’re lucky enough to not already have an RSI, these stretches can help prevent one–along with a myriad of other health problems.

3. Stretch your mind

Learning something new is one of the best ways to refill your creative well, and for us writers, that’s the most important thing self care can do. And you’re already holding the ultimate learning tool in your hand, using it to read this article.

What should you learn? Anything you want. And yes, the vast majority of it can be learned for free, in the comfort of your own home. You can find millions of educational videos on YouTube and thousands of free university courses on Coursera. If you can think of a topic, there’s a free course around it to help you get inspired.

4. Combat Clutter

Fall is a busy time for most of us, and cleaning is often one of the first things to go when we feel overwhelmed. Then our house becomes a disaster zone, and we become less and less motivated to clean it. Eventually it becomes so overwhelming that we MUST clean it, and we spend an entire day (or more) cleaning it.

This procrastination cycle exists for pretty much everything, but house cleaning habits are particularly vulnerable to it. After all, if nobody comes over, who cares what your house looks like?

The truth? You do. It may not be conscious with everything else going on in your brain, but you’ll notice when it’s cleaned. I have a high tolerance for mess (and what looks from the outside like a dis-organization system for my files), but even I feel better when I manage clutter. And even 3-5 minutes of cleaning can keep things in check if you do it every single day.

5. Start a gratitude journal

The science behind gratitude journals and gratitude itself has been proven many times. It helps you notice and focus on the good parts of life, enhances empathy, and builds resilience. And once again, you’ll only need a few minutes a day.

You can buy a structured gratitude journal, use a regular notebook, or create a document on your phone/tablet/computer. Some people even post their gratitude journals on social media, reminding people of the good in the world. The only thing that really matters is taking the time to list three things you’re grateful for every single day. They can be small, like a dollar you found on the ground, or massive, like a life altering trip around the world.

Want to start a gratitude practice with me? One of my self care goals for this fall is to start a gratitude journal of my own, but I don’t accomplish much with social accountability. Maintaining self care goals is particularly difficult, because I’m the only one who notices most of the differences.

So I’m going to make myself accountable, and you can join me! Every evening I’ll post three things I’m grateful for on Twitter with the hashtag “#gratefuldailies”. You can also mark your Tweets with this #GratefulDailies image:

#GratefulDailiesTwitter ChallengeWatch for the #gratefuldailies posts @DiannaLGunn. If I miss a night, I’m obligated to post two the next night–and it’s up to YOU to keep me accountable.

Once you’ve read my post, create a #gratefuldailies Tweet of your own. The only rule is that you must share three things you’re genuinely grateful for, however small or large or silly or serious. Let’s see how many nights in a row we can keep ourselves grateful! To get daily reminders to post your gratitude journal, leave your Twitter handle in the comments below. Reminders will be sent out at 3PM EST via Twitter, and the challenge starts tonight, October 9th. 

Let’s bring a little bit of joy into our lives, each other’s lives, and the Twitterverse!

#Inkripples: Career vs. hobby – where do you stand?

inkripplesblueandgreen-1
It’s been a few months, but I simply couldn’t resist weighing in on the topic for this month’s #Inkripples challenge, career vs. hobby. For those of you who don’t know, #Inkripples is a blog hop featuring themed posts from a variety of authors. The challenge was started by  Mary WaibelKai Strand, and Katie L. Carroll, and I’ve already participated several times this year.

Without further ado, let’s get into this month’s topic!

#HoldOnToTheLight and shine it into the darkness of our minds

holdontothelightToday I’d like to tell you a story. It happened to me, and parts of it are still happening to me.

Two and a half years ago I happened my way into one of the best jobs in the world. I was doing sales for a web development company, and one day my boss asked me if I wanted to join his new endeavor–a non-profit teaching kids how to make cool stuff. Things like woodworking, tech, web design, and much more. And I would start by photographing a collaboration with the TDSB, a working model of the Ontario power system.

I jumped at the chance, and for roughly 10 months I worked there three days a week. I poured my soul into everything from basic set up to photography to overarching marketing strategies. And I loved every minute of it (well, okay, not EVERY minute but most of them). Most of the time I go out of my way to avoid kids, but watching them discover their creative potential was incredible. Seeing how well my coworkers taught and worked with those kids was even better.

I imagined a bright, wonderful future for myself there. Maybe not forever, but for a few years at least. I would help them reach out to kids in the suburbs and expand their programming into all kinds of arts. Eventually I would teach my own courses there, once I established my skills.

At the end of ten months–a couple weeks before Christmas–I was let go. The conversation was long and difficult, so I won’t get into the details here. All I’ll say is that it ended with us on good terms, but I was still totally heartbroken. And the farewell bonus I received didn’t do much to make it better.

I sank into the deepest depression of my adult life. I knew I needed to find new work right away–the hubby was quitting to retrain in film–but I was incredibly discouraged. What could I possibly do that would be anywhere near as awesome? Where could I find as many opportunities to flourish? I’ve always enjoyed my freelance work, but that job was something more. When I worked there I actually felt like I was making a difference in the world.

Things went downhill from there. There were gaps, two or three weeks long, between work for both of my major freelance clients. I found all kinds of little side work, but it didn’t nearly replace the income. I burned through all of my savings in a matter of months, and with the hubby still retraining, I began climbing into debt.

Of course I kept looking for things, but my confidence and mental health were shattered. I can’t express the number of times I almost turned myself away from an opportunity, thanks to an inherent belief that I didn’t deserve it. Or the number of underpaid, soul draining gigs I took because I didn’t have the energy to search for anything better. I was exhausted by both my hunt for work and my depression.

Every moment of every day I was painfully aware of how broke I was becoming, but I still buried my head in the sand as best I could. And I certainly didn’t talk about it, or the stress it caused me.

This spring things began to even out. My first book, Keeper of the Dawn, came out in April. I haven’t gotten my first royalty check yet, but it’s sold both consistently and well since it went up for pre-order. I’ve got some new, well paid freelance work. There are other exciting things happening in the background, including a couple co-writing projects I can’t really talk about yet. Oh, and I’m writing a setting for the tabletop RPG some of my darkest tales before. I talk readily and openly about the struggles I faced as a teenager. It’s time to do the same with my current struggles.

I’m not sure exactly how I’ll get out of my current problems, but I know one thing: when we let our darkness hide in silence, we give it strength. If we want to defeat it, we must expose it to light, to scrutiny. We must admit our struggles before we can overcome them.

Most importantly, we must face the darkness together. No one person can make it alone.

#Holdontothelight Awareness Campaign

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK),SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to Facebook.

You can also check out my #HoldOnToTheLight post from last year.

Have you ever struggled with depression? Financial woes? I want to hear your stories (if you’re willing to share) in the comments section below!