Once upon a time my wife and I were sitting up late at night, reading. She had a romance novel, I probably had something by Heinlein or Asimov or Andre Norton. Suddenly, she yelled, “Arrrrrgh!” Or maybe it was “Gaaaah!” And she threw the paperback across the room, bouncing it off the wall, scaring the cat, scaring me. I said something like, “Uh, honey, sweetie pie, is something wrong?” Meanwhile thinking, she’s between me and the kitchen with all the sharp instruments.
“At the end an atomic bomb went off and they were all killed.” Well, hell, I’d throw a book across the room for that, too. If it was genre fiction and failed to do what I expect it to. It’s just wrong.
To prepare for writing this essay I watched two of my favorite movies: Independence Day (1996) and Godzilla (1998). See the sacrifices I make for you, gentle reader? I knew I wanted to write about popular literature and film and its relation to so-called serious lit and film, and how they both relate to what we do, but until I watched those two again, I wasn’t sure exactly why I wanted to, and if I had anything to say.
We all have them. Books and movies — stories — we love that are not critically-acclaimed and which more highbrow types look down their patrician noses at.
We’ve all been there, right? “When asked, “What are you reading?” You say, “Oh, I’m re-reading a wonderful early Jayne Ann Krentz” and the English professor down the block says, “Frightfully nice, I’m sure. I’m just finishing Crime and Punishment.”
The odds are if you are reading this essay you read and write genre fiction, stories that, like Rodney Dangerfield, often don’t get respect. (If, on the other hand, you are working on a free-form non-novel about existential suburban ennui I can’t help you. No one can help you.)
For most of us these old friends are books we read growing up, that spoke to us. For me it was Ian Fleming. I said, “I want to do that.”
I think when we revisit those old friends now, we can learn from them, if we watch or read as writers. And I think there are three tips that will help you to articulate what it is about the work that speaks to you.
First, ask yourself why this work holds so much appeal to you.
For me, in Godzilla (1998) it’s the character of Nick Tatapoulous, the hero. Here’s a guy in the pouring rain outside Chernobyl, (yes, that Chernobyl) shoving metal rods into the mud so he can apply current and shock earthworms to the surface for capture — and he’s singing. He’s having a good time; this is his work and he’s been at it for three years. This is a guy I want to know more about. (For the rest of the movie the people on the team fighting Godzilla call him “the worm guy.”) He’s quirky and driven and interesting.
Second, put yourself in the place of the author and try to see what elements they cared about. This is sort of the flip side of Tip Number One. Those elements may not be huge parts of the story, but if they mean something to the writer you will be able to spot them.
In Independence Day the father-son story between Randy Quaid and his son is not essential, you could take it out and still have a movie, yet it is the most emotionally-charged part of the film, just as you could take the comments about assisted living out of the Evanovich books and they’d still work as mysteries, but they’d lack some of the punch. That’s where Evanovich’s heart is. You need to remember that when you are writing, holding it as an example to encourage you to leave a part of yourself on the page.
So far we’ve talked about two tasks when you revisit an old friend, book or movie: you ask yourself why you like it, and you ask yourself what meant the most to the creator. There’s one more tip and it’s a little more difficult.
Third, look for evidence that the writer takes the work seriously.
That’s an absolute must for good stories. There’s a 1950’s science fiction movie called (I’m not making this up) The Hideous Sun Demon. It’s about a scientist who is exposed to radiation and later finds that when he got out in the sun he turns into a big lizard and kills people. I think it’s a documentary. Even adjusting for inflation, the budget for this film was probably less than the catering budget for one day of shooting on NCIS. In the notes that come with the DVD, the creator, who plays the scientist/lizard, talks about the monster costume they made out of a wetsuit and how hot it was during filming, how in some scenes if you look closely you can see sweat running down his, uh, pants. Did he have to go to all that trouble for a movie aimed at an audience of kids at the drive-in who were more interested in drinking beer and getting to know their dates? No, of course not, but he cared and it shows in a small, but well-crafted movie.
That works both ways. The Robert Aldrich 1955 film noir, Kiss Me Deadly is an example of a writer that didn’t take it seriously. He said in an interview, “I wrote it fast because I had contempt for it.” (1) The film’s place in movie history is secure, but I think it sucks. The dialog is wooden, the characters some of the most unlikeable ever to slink across the screen, and it’s untrue to the book. Mine is a minority opinion, but I stick to it. I hauled out the DVD and watched a good chunk of it to see if I still felt that way and I did.
So, why did I want to write about pop lit? Why, because I like it. Every time I see a new serious book and think I should be reading it, a new James Rollins or Caril Hiassen comes out and gets in the way. I write to entertain and I read for the same reason. That’s it. I can’t say I have no higher purpose, for me there is no higher purpose. How any of you remember the amazing, wonderful chapter in Stephen King’s it where the young writer struggling through a creative writing class suddenly blurts out, “Can’t a story just be a story?” Made me want to stand up and cheer.
Look, you may have a hard time explaining this to the woman who is finishing Crime and Punishment. She won’t get it because she reads for different reasons.
But you’ll know.
I’ve talked about a couple of movies and a few books that — thanks to you readers and to Fae who asked for another contribution — are my guilty pleasures. You know what? They’re not so guilty anymore, so thanks.
Now I’d like to hear yours. One of the coolest things about Writers in the Storm is the community, the sharing, so it’s time to fess up. Who knows? We all might find a new, unappreciated gem. What’s your guilty reading pleasure?
James R. Preston is the author of the award-winning Surf City Mysteries. The most recent is Sailor Home From Sea. He is finishing the second of a projected trilogy of novellas set at Cal State Long Beach in the 1960s. The next Surf City Mystery is called Remains To Be Seen and will be available in 2017. His work has been selected for the UC Berkeley Special Collection, California Detective Fiction. And when he needs inspiration for a great opening, he looks at a Jayne Ann Krentz.
(1) Hiberman, J., The Thriller of Tomorrow, adapted from his book, An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War.
Scientists seem to think so, which is a little…well, depressing.
Writers (and other creatives) are encouraged to use social media, after all, for marketing purposes.
Many of us might have even stayed away completely if not for the gentle nudgings of our editors, agents, writer friends, or “rules of Indie publishing” handbooks. (Commandment number three: thou shalt establish a platform on social media.)
So what does it mean for us if our time on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and all the rest is actually bad for our mental health?
Are we doomed to either let our platforms languish or suffer the darkness of depression and anxiety?
I dug a little deeper into the research, and I’ve come up with seven ways you can avoid either of these negative options, and keep social media where it belongs—as a helpful item in your creative toolbox.
Internet Addiction Is Not a Healthy Thing
Research has been connecting social media and depression for several years now. Back in 2010, for instance, they followed about 1,300 participants from the age of 16 to 51, and found that those who used the internet “excessively,” or who were considered “internet addicts,” were more likely to be moderately or severely depressed than those who used the internet less frequently.
Still, most of us wouldn’t consider ourselves addicts, so we didn’t pay much attention. In 2011, when a new study linked “a great deal of time on Facebook” with an increase in depression in teens, we nodded our heads. Of course those youngsters are on their gadgets too much, we agreed, and parents tried new methods to monitor and limit use.
When in 2012 another study connected high internet use with suicide, again, most of us hoped for prevention and outreach programs, and went on our way. But then some newer studies came to light that we couldn’t so quickly ignore.
Facebook Makes it Look Like Everyone Else Has It Better
This time, researchers tested the effects of Facebook on 82 participants five times a day for two weeks. They looked specifically at two things: how people felt moment-to-moment, and how satisfied they felt with their lives.
Results showed that Facebook produced negative shifts in both of these variables over time. The more people used the social media network, the worse they felt. The more they used it over the two week period, the less satisfied they were with their lives.
Why would this be?
The researchers theorized that we tend to compare when we’re online, and may often conclude that our lives are not as rich and full as those of our “friends” on Facebook.
Oddly enough, those who were most social in real life experienced the worst negative effect—the direct opposite of what we may have suspected. Researchers thought this may be because this group of people was more “sensitized” to social interactions.
Another study about the same time came up with similar results. Researchers found that those who used Facebook for longer periods of time believed others were happier than they were, and that their Facebook friends had better lives than they did.
Online: Is It All a Competition?
In 2015, Charlotte Rosalind Blease from the University College Dublin published an article reviewing the research to date, and concluded that Facebook users may regard themselves as competing with their friends, and often end up feeling inadequate as a result.
She determined four factors that increase risk of depression:
having a lot of Facebook friends,
spending a lot of time reading updates,
frequently reading updates (at various times throughout the day), and
how many of those updates contain content that suggests bragging.
We didn’t used to have to see how so many other people were doing all the time—particularly those who may be more “successful” or attractive than we are, or at least who portray that image.
Yet another study out of the University of Missouri-Columbia reiterated the same idea: if you’re comparing while online, you’re setting yourself up for the blues.
“Facebook can be a fun and healthy activity if users take advantage of the site to stay connected with family and old friends and to share interesting and important aspects of their lives,” said study author Margaret Duffy. “However, if Facebook is used to see how well an acquaintance is doing financially or how happy an old friend is in his relationship—things that cause envy among users—use of the site can lead to feelings of depression.”
More Social Media = Less Happiness for Writers?
So if it’s all about envy, as long as we keep in mind that people are portraying the most positive sides of their lives, and that everyone struggles, we should be fine, right?
Not so fast. Other studies have shown that it can be more complicated than that. One was published as early as 2010, and this time, the researchers focused on older participants—i.e., out of college. They found that participants who used social media the most reported the least bonding and an increase in loneliness.
Stephanie Mihalas, PhD, a psychologist and a clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, stated that people spending a lot of time on social media can become victim to their own thoughts as they become less attuned to the world around them.
Recently, a larger study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine got a lot of attention. Researchers studied nearly 1,800 people ages 19 to 32, and again found that the more time the participants spent on social media—this time including multiple platforms like Twitter, Google Plus, and Instagram—the more likely they were to be depressed.
On average, the participants used social media for about an hour a day, and checked their accounts about 30 times a week. More than a quarter of them had “high” indicators for depression (two hours a day or more). Other results included:
Those who reported most frequently checking social media throughout the week had 2.7 times the likelihood of depression.
Those who spent the most total time on social media throughout the day had 1.7 times the risk of depression.
Exposure to “highly idealized” representations of peers on social media elicited feelings of envy and the belief that others lived more successful lives.
Engaging in social media for extended amounts of time backfired—participants felt they had wasted their time, which negatively influenced their mood.
Ironically, time on social media can also lead people to assume they have little social support. We know that face-to-face interaction helps increase our sense that we are supported, and also decreases the risk of depression. One might think social media would extend the same benefits, but apparently not.
The same researchers mentioned above measured feelings of social support in their participants, and found that users reporting two hours a day or more on social media were less likely to feel like they had emotional support.
7 Ways to Keep Social Media from Ruining a Writer’s Mood
So far, scientists can’t prove cause and effect where all this is concerned. Some debate that we don’t know yet if people who are depressed already may be more likely to spend more time on social media, thus skewing the results.
The numbers keep coming in, though, and the evidence is piling up. From what we’re seeing so far, it looks like social media can be beneficial up to a point, but that we need to be careful how much we’re using it.
“Ultimately, it appears that the way social media is used, rather than the amount social media is used, leads to maladaptive outcomes,” says Lindsay Howard of the Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology in Norfolk.
How do we reduce the risk that our browsing may turn sour? Try these tips:
Limit your time on social media: This is the best method we have so far for making sure social media doesn’t bring us down. Limit it to no more than one hour at a time (for all sites), and try to take at least one day off each week.
Approach it carefully: If we approach social media as a business, and use it to build a platform and network with other creatives, we’re likely to be better off than if we fall into the temptation to compare lifestyles (and number of five-star reviews). Try to avoid comparisons in general, remembering that we all move at our own pace. If you see a post about someone’s bestselling book, for example, and you feel that twinge of envy, turn it around by using the post for inspiration. Share your “friend’s” success, check out the story yourself, or use the post as motivation to keep going after your own goals. If you feel this way often, consider steps that will limit how many of these types of posts you see.
Don’t allow negative stuff: Some research has suggested that emotions can be contagious online. When we see negative posts, we tend to post similarly negative responses, and vice versa. Try to keep your feeds positive by interacting with positive people. If one of your “friends” posts something sad or negative, feel free to offer your support, but realize the post may bring you down. Counteract the feeling with a few videos of puppies and kittens, or do something else to help yourself feel better. We all want to offer online support when we can—just be aware that it can have a contagious impact on your emotions, and you should take care to limit your exposure.
Create a schedule: Some research has indicated that the more we use social media, the more we can feel pressured to be on it more often. That can create anxiety and depression. Reduce your risk by setting specific times in the day when you will check social media, and block your access the rest of the time either with willpower or computer apps that refuse to allow you to log on.
Be aware of your feelings: Try to tune in to your feelings more often. Notice how you feel before you get on social media, and after. Consider keeping a diary about it for a week or so. If you’re noticing a negative effect, make some changes.
Limit your “friends”: In some studies, people with higher numbers of “friends” or connections were more at risk for depression. Most folks seem to be after big numbers of followers these days, but if you’re noticing negative effects, reconsider. Are you really engaging positively with all those people? Use lists and other methods to limit who you’re actually interacting with to those key folks who matter in your network.
Focus on your creativity: Sometimes we get too caught up in “consuming” social media, rather than using it to share our creativity. But we’re creatives! Bring your focus back to what you can create and share with your connections. Think about how you can brighten the lives of others, and keep your focus there. It will help you feel empowered and will remind you of your uniqueness—both great shields against depression.
Have you found that social media leaves you depressed sometimes?
Colleen M. Storywrites imaginative fiction and is also a freelance writer, instructor, and motivational speaker specializing in creativity, productivity, and personal wellness. Her latest novel, Loreena’s Gift, was released with Dzanc Books April 12 2016. Her fantasy novel, Rise of the Sidenah, is a North American Book Awards winner, and New Apple Book Awards Official Selection (Young Adult). She is the founder of Writing and Wellness, a motivational site for writers and other creatives. Find more at her website, or follow her on Twitter.
Chou HT and Edge N., “They are happier and having better lives than I am”: the impact of using Facebook on perceptions of others’ lives,” Cybepsychol Behav Soc Netw., February 2012; 15(2):117-21, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22165917.
Moira Burke, “Social network activity and social wellbeing,” Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2010, ACM New York, NY, USA, ISBN: 978-1-60558-929-9, http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1753613.
Ariel Shensa, et al., “Social Media Use and Perceived Emotional Support Among U.S. Young Adults,” Journal of Community Health, June 2016; 41(3):541-549, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10900-015-0128-8.
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog.
You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”E.L. Doctorow
Y’all know I have process envy, right? I think most of us do. I always thought I’d be a plotter. I loved outlines so much that I actually enjoyed diagramming sentences in seventh grade! (not that I remember much about it now). But alas, when it came to writing, my creative mind gave my logical mind the finger.
As an inveterate pantser, one of the most frustrating things is the lack of craft books. The first one I discovered when I began writing was, The Writer’s Journey (which puts forth the concept of the Hero’s Journey) by Chris Vogler. It made logical sense to me when I heard it, but it turns out, that’s not how I conceptualize my characters.
The next I tried was Save The Cat, by Blake Snyder (I was lucky enough to be in the audience for the last talk he ever gave). That made even more sense to me – but I don’t plot. So where I could see the ‘beats’ after I wrote the book (and luckily, they fell about where they should), it didn’t help me write the book.
My craft bookshelves . . . and my Biker Chick Barbie.
I jumped from craft book to craft book, based on the rave recommendations by writing friends. It took me filling almost two full bookshelves to realize something wasn’t right (hey, I’m a slow learner, okay?)
Inspirational books –
I DID find a few along the way that helped me – books that I term ‘writing inspiration’. They are amazing, and I highly recommend them for pantsers and plotters both. My top faves are:
Those were great for getting me fired up for writing, but then I found myself sitting in front of a blank Word doc. Where to start? I had an idea of my character, and I knew he had to go on a journey, but how? To where?
I needed a book to help me, the pantser!
Well, since then I’ve found a couple of excellent ones, and I wanted to pass them along to other pantsers, so you don’t have to go on a long, fruitless search.
He’s an agent, but more importantly, he’s a brilliant teacher in regard to what makes a story unputdownable (yes, I just made up that word). He had me at:
“Constructing an inner journey for any character starts with discovering where that character would least like to go.”
“Visible actions are stronger than internal moments. Acting is stronger than reacting.”
“The rich woven texture of breakout scale novels comes more often from a tight weaving of plot layers than from the broad canvas sprawl of subplots.”
‘Every protagonist needs a torturous need, a consuming fear, an aching regret,a visible dream, a passionate longing, an inescapable ambition, an exquisite lust, an inner lack, a fatal weakness, an unavoidable obligation, an iron instinct, an irresistible plan, a noble idea, an undying hope…” (not necessarily all in the same character).
Doesn’t just reading that get you fired up to start a project? He doesn’t show you how to plot, but he shows you how to build a compelling book from the premise up. I can’t recommend his books highly enough.
That’s not even all of them, but it’s enough to give you an idea. Again, she doesn’t try to change you to a plotter (although there’s lots of great stuff there for plotters, too), but she helps you conceptualize a better novel.
She made me see Story in a whole new way. A way that opened up my creativity. I’ll never write another book without reviewing this first. Don’t believe me? Watch her TED Talk:
I was so excited about this that I pulled it up on my phone and made Fae Rowen listen to it while she drove us home from the RWA Conference! Lisa is just starting an intensive 10 week online course I signed up to get info on. I think it’s going to be expensive.
I also think it will be worth it.
Okay pantsers (and plotters), what craft book is your favorite? Did any ever change the way you saw writing?
Have you ever heard the phrase “act as if”? I heard it for the first time when I was a teenager from a friend who was into personal growth before I even knew what personal growth was. He used to throw it around haphazardly, like it was the answer to everything, and he embodied it with as much enthusiasm. The phrase was an open-ended statement, meant to be filled in with whatever your particular goal might be. In his mind, it was to act is if you already had the job you wanted, were already living the lifestyle you wanted. Act as if you were the CEO. Those were his goals.
WHAT DOES IT REALLY MEAN TO “ACT AS IF”
At the time it irritated me. I have always placed a high value on authenticity, for better or worse, and acting as if I was something I wasn’t felt inauthentic. Who was I to pretend I was at a higher level than I actually was? For starters, I was a teenager. No one would fall for it. But more than that, I wondered if anyone would want to be around a person like that. Society tends to place a high value on humility, for better or worse, but something I’ve learned in the pursuit of my own goals is that self-deprecation is a bad habit that only gets in your way, especially in an industry where low self-esteem runs rampant.
As I’ve gotten older and delved deeper into personal growth and pop psychology myself, I understand this sentiment better now and it’s something I’ve adopted into my mindset, little by little, almost without realizing it. Imagine my horror when I stepped back one day and realized that my friend’s words had stuck. I had set goals for myself—to become a published author, to be a speaker and teacher—and instead of waiting for an agent to come breaking down my door (ha!), I simply started setting myself up to be an author. It was a choice made out of impatience more than anything else, but for some reason, it was working.
HOW I FOSTERED A CAREER MINDSET
It started with a website. I was a web and graphic designer already so it was a natural place to begin. My website was my “face” in a digital-based industry. I spent hundreds of hours turning my website into my little spot on the interwebs that reflected who I wanted to be, not necessarily where I was in the moment. Not out of inauthenticity, but out of anticipation of reaching that goal one day…hopefully sooner than later.
Then I got more serious about designing my days to foster success. I studied people who were already successful authors and speakers and emulated their routines. I learned how to keep myself motivated, I incorporated mind-focusing techniques into my daily life, and I prioritized my career long before it would ever begin to make me money.
When I realized that on top of writing, teaching was my true purpose, I hunted down the information on how to submit my ideas to conferences and local venues. And when that didn’t take off as quickly as I hoped it would, I added webinars into my repertoire where I could host my own classes on business and productivity for writers.
And all the while, I got up each day (most days—let’s be real here) and worked as if I already was a published author and renowned speaker. I scheduled my days, I strengthened my writing habit, I outlined workshops, I submitted proposals and query letters, I ate well to increase my energy, and I reached out to others in the industry to expand my network. I still do. As much progress as I’ve made, there is still a long way to go. There is always room to grow.
HOW THE CAREER MINDSET EXPANDED MY CAREER
After years of practice, I discovered my fear of being inauthentic was unfounded. In fact, in those times of flow, when I’m not worrying about whether or not my dreams will come true, or worrying about what anyone else thinks, I’m being my most authentic self. In my mind, this is who I actually am. I’m only waiting for reality to catch up.
Act as if.
In the fourteen years that have passed since I first heard this phrase, here’s what I’ve learned it truly means: live in the mindset now of who you want to be in the future. When you live in that mindset, you take actions in the mindset and you bring your goals to life.
In other words, if you want to be a published author, act like one. Make decisions like one. Take steps now to live more like you imagine you will once you are one. The more you live like the person you want to be, the more you will believe it is your reality and believe me, reality will meet you in the middle.
Act as if.
How has living with a career mindset panned out for me? Well, when I first spoke with my agent and she offered to represent me, I asked her what made her want to offer me representation. She loved my book, of course, but on top of that, she had looked at my website and liked my confidence. People want to get behind people who believe in themselves.
When I first spoke with the woman who would become my editor, I was able to share with her how I’ve grown my platform in the many years I’ve been acting as if I already were an author, as well as all the systems I had in place to continue my growth once I had a book in print. Not only has it been an absolute joy to connect with people who love writing as much as I do (and the only thing keeping me going on the darkest days), it has been an organic way to grow the platform publishers like to see in this social media era. A few days later, she offered me a 2-book deal.
WHY “ACTING AS IF” WORKS
These are only two of the biggest examples, but there have been dozens of little steps along the way and probably hundreds of connections I’ve made without even realizing it by putting myself out there as the version of myself I strive to be, even on the days I didn’t 100% feel like that person. Low self-esteem is a cancer, I tell you, but the amazing part about “acting as if” is that you grow past the self-doubt by putting in the work each day and making progress. Working this way, you can’t help but grow your natural confidence. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s amazing what’s possible when you believe in yourself, even if you have to “fake it until you make it.” Because that’s what acting as if is really about—putting on your dream like a suit each day until you believe you are worthy of that suit. When you believe, the opportunities to live in that suit arrive.
Or yoga pants. Your call.
How have you “acted as if” for your writing career? What can you do to “act as if”?
Announcing the winners of Laurie Schnebly Campbell‘s contest: Comment #21 and #35 as chosen by random.org. Congratulations to Alice Fleury and Melissa Racine. You can contact Laurie to arrange your free class.
And now, you’re in for a real treat, as Kathryn Craft continues her Turning Whine Into Gold series.
Do you ever seek to connect with certain people for the primary reason that they have beautiful energy about them? I do, and just thinking of them can bring a big boost to my day. They are deep thinkers, endlessly curious, good listeners, resilient as all get-out, and, like a tennis player bouncing in the ready position, seemingly game for whatever comes next. I recognize them at first meeting, because they don’t (read: “cannot”) hide their light under a bushel. I always look forward to seeing them, because I know that without a doubt, I will come away the richer for it.
In the theory of synchronicity put forth in his 1993 novel, The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield suggests that any meeting between two people who are acting from their “higher selves” is meant to have this effect on each other. Can I prove that this is so? No—but I love thinking about it.
Redfield’s book was a spiritual guide thinly disguised as a novel. As literature it was roundly criticized—as would be any plot that relies entirely on coincidence. But I have learned to pay attention when a book is a runaway hit, assuming it has some takeaway for me (yes, even Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight). The Celestine Prophecy enjoyed a 165-week perch on the New York Times Best Seller list, and in 1995 and 1996 it was the #1 book in the world. It changed the way I came to view the give-and-take in every interaction.
While two people who are acting from their higher selves will feed each other’s energy, people acting from their lower selves tend to try to steal that energy. Redfield suggests this energy theft happens in one of several predictable ways—and the first sheds light on the very nature of whining.
I hate to say it, but this is my control drama. When I am tired, or feel beaten or broken, I whine (I’ve been writing Turning Whine Into Gold for three years now—how do you think I came to know so much about it?). When I whine to another person, I seek their comfort. I have nothing else to give back right then. I want to build myself up by syphoning off some of their energy. This is a relatively passive form of control.
My husband has beautiful energy, but this is his drama when acting from his lower self. He goes into his man cave (okay, office) and shuts himself off until I venture forth to find out what’s wrong. Knowing that I will eventually chase after him is his way of syphoning energy off of me. Not that it takes that many steps to go find out, or burns that many calories to ask, but his low-pressure system causes an energy suck that I can feel even when I’m up in my writing loft.
This was my mother’s control drama. She would woo me with empathetic-seeming questions until she had my trust, seeking my weakness, and then be critical of my answers. You must keep your guard up around an interrogator at all times, anticipating their thoughts and actions so you can avoid the criticism. Keeping you off-balance is how the interrogator syphons your energy.
This is the most aggressive form of energy manipulation. Through threats or abuse, the intimidator forces you to put him or her at the center of the relationship at a great deal of emotional cost to you—but oh, do they feel powerful in the end.
At the very least, these control dramas may be of use in your fiction. At best, they can improve the relationships you rely upon to maintain your writing career.
An awareness that your control drama has been tripped can make you quicker to realize that it’s time to spend some time alone and shore up your reserves. Because our work is passion-driven, there’s a trap for all writers: once we identify as a writer seeking publication, we tend to focus on what we want—from our relationships with our agent (sell for big money!), editor (make me shine!), publicist (make my book visible everywhere!) and even our readers (buy more and review more I beg of you!). Oh, and could our husbands and/or children please be more understanding and supportive—or, let’s face it, self-sufficient?
Such desires are understandable, but when (inevitably) unmet, they can be like bleeding out, draining you to the point you are ready to suck energy like a vampire from any warm-blooded source.
At such times we need more of those energy-boosting exchanges—but ironically, to benefit, we have to contribute. If you want to create a publishing team that works—even on the home front—try to think of the ways your enthusiasm can foster the effort.
What do you bring to your relationships with your agent, publisher, publicist, and family? You bring a book, yes—but that’s a product. How does your writing help make you a better person, and how can you bring that to your relationships? How do you protect your energy so that you can avoid slipping into a control drama?
If you have anyone with beautiful energy in your life, please pay them tribute in the comments. Then emulate!
Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she leads workshops and speaks often about writing.