Your Inner Critic Is a Liar

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To be a writer is to be in a constant state of worry. Will anyone be interested in my work? Will they like it? What if they don’t like it? The worst is when the worry morphs into criticism and you doubt your own validity as a writer: my book isn’t good, no one will ever read it, I should just quit now. Sometimes it seems as though your inner demons take up as much space in your head as your stories and characters.

I recently read an interesting article on how to mindfully address your inner critic. The author offers some good suggestions, such as waiting the emotions out (they will pass) or agreeing with your inner critic and going forward anyway (for example, you’d say something like: “I should just quit now…and I will go ahead and write another paragraph.”

I often use the agreement technique, only I follow up with “but” instead of “and.” The article says not to use “but” because you’re supposed to be agreeing with the critic, not challenging it. But (see what I did there?) I guess I’m the challenging type because it makes more sense to me, is more reassuring, and, therefore, is more effective. My agreement statement would be more along the lines of : “I should quit now…but what else am I going to do with my life?” Even more challenging is when I go with the ‘agree but don’t care’ method (AKA the stubbornness approach). When I’m in this mood I’ll say something like: “I should just quit now but I like what I’m doing, so who cares what anyone else thinks–I’m going to do it anyway.”

However you deal with your worries or inner critic, the most important thing is to remember that they are liars. Unless you have legit psychic powers (if you do, I have a question about the lottery numbers…), you really don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Just because you don’t see how things could possibly work out doesn’t mean they won’t. Life is funny that way. So go ahead and ignore your inner critic, or tell them off, or sit and have a polite conversation with them–whatever you need to do. As long as you don’t listen to them.

How do you deal with your inner critic? Share in the comments.

And while you’re here, make sure to download my free short story Blood Magic. Myth and magic collide in this story about choices, transformation, and retribution: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/816146

 

Summer Fun for Creatures of the Night

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Toronto is going through its usual series of summer heat waves, where temperatures reach well into the 40s (104F+). It’s hot, it’s sticky, it’s miserable. There’s an inescapable burning orb in the sky, buzzing insects in your face, and a pervasive smell of fake coconut (AKA suntan lotion, which is actually one of the pleasanter smells one encounters at this time of year). Summer can be rough, even intolerable, for a lot of people. Being of Greek descent you’d think I’d love the sun and heat. You’d be wrong. Born and raised in Canada, I’m far more tolerant of low temperatures than high ones, but even my ancestors had a word for people like me:

Ancient Greek Word of the Day: κακοθερής (kakotherēs), unfitted to endure summer heat (via Tumblr)

So unfitted. But never mind the heat, there’s a bigger issue with the sun: I can’t stand the feel of it on my skin. Hell, I don’t like being in direct sunlight even when I’m completely covered. No, this isn’t some sort of melodramatic goth affectation (not that I’m opposed to those). Up until age 8, I loved the sun and spent my summers outdoors, usually in the nearest pool. And then my immune system decided to start going after me instead of sticking to fighting bacteria and viruses. All of a sudden sunlight was uncomfortable, exhausting, and overall unpleasant. I don’t know if this is a common side effect of auto-immune disorders or if I’m the lucky exception, but I can relate more than a little to my vampire characters.

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So what do you do when you and summer just don’t get along?

  • stay inside as much as possible during the day
  • when you have to go out, hats, parasols, and sunscreen are your friends
  • if it’s hot and you can’t cool down at home, the library is perfect (by the way, Love Lies Bleeding is now available at the Toronto Public Library! If your local library doesn’t carry it, ask them to start 🙂 )
  • movie theatres, coffee shops, museums, and art galleries are all good places to cool off for a few hours
  • look for nighttime entertainment and activities, such as concerts and festivals
  • reading is always a good (and portable) option. You’ll find endless articles about beach reads, but check out this article on alternatives to beach reading for sun haters.

Are you looking for books featuring characters that avoid the sun as much as you do? I’ve got you covered:

Blood Magic: Myth and magic collide in this FREE story about choices, transformation, and retribution: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/816146

BLOOD MAGIC by Aspasia S. Bissas

Love Lies Bleeding: a novel about delusion, obsession, and blood: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35524549-love-lies-bleeding

Love Lies Bleeding by Aspasia S. Bissas

Make sure to leave a rating or review on your favourite book site!

What’s summer like for you? Share your thoughts in the comments…

Mental Health Break

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Like so many people (especially the ones in creative fields), I struggle with anxiety and depression. Usually it’s manageable (I’ve actually found that some mild anxiety helps me write). Every so often, though, for reasons that aren’t always clear, the scale tips from manageable to overwhelming. If you’ve ever had severe anxiety or depression you know the feeling of deep despair that leaves you searching for a reason to get out of bed. If you haven’t experienced that kind of bleakness, then consider yourself lucky (not blessed, or motivated, or magically able to control your emotions–just lucky).

This past week has been difficult for me, both on a personal level and because of events in the wider world. One of the events that made the week so bad (for countless people besides myself) was the tragic suicide of Anthony Bourdain. I didn’t know him, but he’s been part of my life for a couple of decades now. He was an inspiration, something of a kindred spirit (other than that time on No Reservations when he decided hipsters were okay), and a truly decent human being. I’m not exaggerating when I say we’re all worse off without him.

I wish I knew how to break the cycle of depression and anxiety. I do my best to deal by working on it as best I can and trying to work around it the rest of the time (with varying levels of success). If you’re suffering from any kind of mental illness or distress, the first thing you should do is see a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. Don’t be afraid and don’t be ashamed–there is help, from support groups to therapeutic techniques to medications, and more.

If you’re in crisis, you can get help right now (always keep your local hotline number nearby). In Canada, the National Suicide Prevention hotline is: 1-833-456-4566, or text 45645. You can also chat here: http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/

There’s also good info here: https://suicideprevention.ca/need-help/
If you’re not in crisis but are struggling, here are some things that work for me. It’s a good idea to experiment to find what works best for you.
Shower and Get Dressed: It might not seem like much but it can make a noticeable difference to your mood. And if nothing else, you can say you got up and faced the day. On bad days, that’s a major accomplishment.
Leave the House: Many people (myself included) withdraw when they’re depressed. If you feel like you can’t deal with other humans, then go for a walk on your own. Somewhere green and peaceful is ideal.
Get Something Done: Pick a task to complete no matter how small, and do it. It can be anything that makes you feel like you’ve achieved something. To avoid being overwhelmed, keep a short and easy to-do list handy for times like these.
Indulge Yourself: Do something you enjoy (as long as it’s nothing harmful). If you have a tendency to feel guilty about “doing nothing,” then try interspersing the fun with simple, but productive, tasks (see above).
Spend Time with Pets: You’ll both feel better. If you don’t have a pet, try hugging a plushie. Don’t underestimate the therapeutic value of a soft doll or pillow.
Avoid Things (and People) that Make You Feel Worse: This won’t work long term, but for a day when you’re already feeling crappy, it’s a necessity.
Write a Letter: Sit down with pen and paper and write a letter to someone you like but haven’t spoken to in a while. Think of some positive things you can share (they can be as simple as a great movie you saw or your thriving houseplant).
Plan a Trip: It doesn’t matter if you can’t go because it turns out planning trips makes people happier than actually going. So have fun planning your dream vacation (or  research anything else you’re interested in).
Have you tried any of these? What works for you when you’re feeling depressed or anxious? Share in the comments.

Writers’ Advice on Writing

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As with so many of my posts, this one is inspired by an article I read. In this case, the article shares advice on writing from famous writers. I don’t know about anyone else, but what I find most valuable about advice from other writers isn’t necessarily the advice itself (although it’s often helpful) but the chance to bond over writing, and to affirm that I’m doing something right. Whether you enjoy the advice, the bonding, or the affirmations, here are some of the best tips from other writers, as well as a couple of my own…

Get a Cat (Muriel Spark via her character Mrs. Hawkins, from A Far Cry From Kensington)

As someone with three cats, I can’t argue with this advice 🙂 Cats are a source of joy, laughter, and purrs (and my lap cat makes sure I sit and focus). If you’re not a cat person, you might want to consider bunnies or small pets (rats, mice, hamsters…) They’re equally good company and shelters always have many available for adoption.

Stop While the Going Is Good (Ernest Hemingway)

Stop while you’re on a roll and let your subconscious keep working on it until you start again. The best way to write is to not force it.

Writing Anything Is Better than Nothing (Katherine Mansfield)

Just write. The more you do it, the better you get, even if what you’re writing will never go further than the paper/screen it’s on.

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Some advice of my own:

Keep the TV, music, and internet (if you can) off. Some people can work with distractions; I’m not one of them. But even if the noise doesn’t bother you, words, phrases, storylines, and even rhythms can burrow into your subconscious and end up in your work. That can happen anyway (it’s just part of the fun of having a brain!) but why increase the risk?

Take up needlepoint. Or any craft you can easily do while staring at a computer screen. Crafts that occupy your hands while your mind is free to focus elsewhere are great for writing.

Take an editing class. Not that you should edit your own work, but you should be able to polish it before submitting it anywhere. No publisher is interested in a manuscript full of errors (it’ll also help with other things, like work emails and social media posts).

Do you have writing advice to share? What tip has helped you most as a writer? Let me know in the comments…

 

BLOOD MAGIC by Aspasia S. Bissas

Download your free copy of “Blood Magic.”

On the run from both vampires and hunters, Mara and Lee are forced to confront the bleak reality of their future together. But an unexpected turn of events offers Mara the chance to shift things in her favor–at a cost. Will she walk away or will she embrace the magic?

Also available free at Barnes & NobleiBooks!ndigo, and other online book retailers.

Art and Writing

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I recently came across an article about how art can improve your writing.  I was intrigued; as an art lover, I was excited to find out how one obsession could affect the other. Unfortunately, the article didn’t offer anything particularly insightful.

Some of the advice was good, if basic: “Show Don’t Tell,” “Find the Humanity,” “Copy the Old Masters…Then Find Your Distinctive Style.”

Some was puzzling: “Keep it Interesting.” Well, yes, that’s the idea–I doubt any writer is deliberately going for a boring story.

The worst advice, IMO, was this: “Make it Beautiful: This is the greatest lesson to me. Artists – first and foremost – aim for BEAUTY. As a writer, don’t forget to reach for the beautiful in your imagery, language, story, even characters… ”

No. Just no.

Some artists strive for beauty and create masterpieces. Some explore the ugliness of the world and do the same. Never mind the sheer subjectivity of a concept like beauty, if all art were “beautiful,” how dull would that be? And writing is no different. Writers who aim only for beauty not only won’t be able to “Keep it Interesting,” but will also lose most of the humanity they’re supposed to be finding. Focusing on what’s lovely is the best way to miss what’s interesting.

So, can art help your writing? I think so. Creative and artistic pursuits are complementary; the more you immerse yourself in art and creativity, the more inspired your work will ultimately be. I also believe there’s one key rule that applies universally: do it with passion, or don’t do it at all. If you have a burning desire to tell a story (compose a song, sculpt, sew, whatever), then that’s what you should be doing. If you think it would be a neat hobby to try in your free time, then great–have some fun while you pursue your real passion. But if you’re meh about what you’re doing (maybe you’re motivated by ‘should’ rather than ‘must’), the results will reflect that. The people who are great at what they do have passion for it. Find your passion and go be great.

If you’d like to read the original article, you can find it here. What do you think? Do you have any tips for how art can improve writing (or vice versa)? Share in the comments.

Don’t forget to get your free copy of my new short story “Blood Magic.” Myth and magic collide in this story about choices, transformation, and retribution. Available here and at most online booksellers.

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