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Forest North | Holistic writing and editorial support for writers at every stage of their journey. Nonfiction & all flavors of fiction welcome here.

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A blog focused on writing process, effective writing, effective narration, the writing culture at large, and supporting writers and authors as they do their best work.

When everyone else is doing better than you (Or when it feels that way)

Brenda Errichiello

Let's face it: If there's anything the internet has taught us, it's that it's entirely too easy to put a shine on anyone's life and make it look perfect through the power of carefully-crafted social media. We all do it: putting our best face forward, showcasing the brightest, most sun-drenched days, hiding or concealing the parts that we fear might make others uncomfortable. 

It's like taking a picture of the cleanest corner in your house, putting a filter on it, and pretending your whole place looks that good. (If you're anything like me... it doesn't.)

There's nothing wrong with sharing joy... but when it comes to the way this makes us feel, it can be hard to untangle whether seeing those pictures really is joyful. 

And for a lot of authors I work with, it isn't. (Not when it comes to books.)

It sometimes feels like everyone and their cousin is publishing a book. We see all these authors building successful platforms, doing the marketing, putting themselves out there, and it's not at all uncommon for this deluge to make us feel completely overwhelmed and intimidated. Almost as if there's no way to compete... and that can lead all too quickly to the thought that your story isn't even worth telling. 

Let's set the record straight: Your story is worth telling. 

Just because someone else has made one beautiful cake, and you're still fine-tuning your recipe, doesn't mean readers won't be excited for even more cake. Cake is amazing. Who doesn't love cake? 

It's really intimidating to look out over the giant sea of the internet and see all of the amazing things that other people are doing. It's natural to wonder how you can possibly make your voice heard. But don't let the impression that everyone else is a successful, published author stop you from writing—it's not true.

The internet is full of people making themselves look as appealing as they possibly can. While there are people (and authors) out there living the big life for sure, you have to remember that every person you see trying to sell a book is putting their best foot forward. You have to take everything you see on the internet with a grain of salt. Don't beat yourself up for having a house in the middle of spring cleaning, just because someone else's corner looks great. 

Plus, our problems, shortcomings, and struggles seem a lot worse to us than other people's problems because they're our problems. It's really easy for us to see all the shortcomings and frustrations of our own life, but even the people that are our closest friends don't share every doubt and insecurity they have with us. And the people whose websites you're looking at most certainly don't expose their deepest fears to the world-at-large. (Unless that's their thing, and even if it is you're still not getting the full picture.)

Comparing your life to what you see people doing on the internet is like comparing the commercial version of a Big Mac to the burger you actually get in the box. If you go to McDonald's expecting to get the burger you see in the ad, you're going to be sorely disappointed. But that shiny-looking burger ISN'T ACTUALLY REAL. Comparing your sad-looking burger to that ideal burger is a lie! Everyone's Big Mac looks pretty sad when you open the box and give it a good, hard look.

Set aside comparisons and fears; your job is not to outshine others, but simply to shine.

Finding the motivation to continue producing original content is hard, but you ultimately have to trust that you have something to say that is worth listening to. You have had experiences and have perceptions that are different from the people around you. One of the greatest things about fiction is that it gives us the opportunity to get into someone else's head—and you have the ability to offer that experience to someone else just by virtue of not being that person.

And while you can encourage yourself to develop thoughts that are worth listening to by participating mindfully in the world and while you can focus on your own work to avoid being influenced, you're still different by default. Plus, I don't know about you, but I have found that experiencing others' differences through writing is very interesting, but I am often moved the most by the stories that speak across space, time, and circumstance to the sameness in us all.

So. Go forth and write.


Know a writer who could use some gentle encouragement & guidance on their writing journey?

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If that writer is you, sign up for my monthly love letters to writers here.

We need a “Bob Ross of Writing.” Here’s why.

Brenda Errichiello

There’s something that’s missing from the larger conversation around writing.

It’s something that’s served visual artists for years. Something that has spawned the proliferation of Paint Nites (where you drink and paint a pre-chosen painting with your friends), mail-delivered art boxes, and the kind of dabbling that sometimes leads to something great.

It’s something that National Novel Writing Month fails to deliver, with all its bravado and focus on pushing through resistance under pressure.

It’s a gentle, instructive demonstration of the beauty and fun of creating in a particular media—in this case, writing—by someone who has more perspective than the casual beginner.

It’s Bob Ross. But for writing.

The thing is, process and outcome are BOTH important when it comes to learning how to write.

I’ve been editing for fiction authors for over five years now, and I’ve learned that most first-time book writers navigate similar terrain on their path to their first finished book.  

During the drafting process, they learn about themselves as a writer, or a creative. They learn that every day is different, that the creativity comes and goes in waves. What a good day looks like for them. What recovery looks like for them. What it feels like to make progress. How long the adventure actually takes.

They also (hopefully) learn how to build a book—the plot elements, character structure, conflict, pacing and suspense that’s necessary to push a reader through the story, balanced by background information, setting, and world building, to make the world itself come alive.

The thing is, though—none of these things can be learned from an instructional book. Or a how-to list. Or a single webinar. Much of this learning process in the early writing and story-crafting process is learned through trial and error.

There’s no Bob Ross of writing, no seasoned professional who opens up their entire creative process so that other people, new to the craft, can learn, witness, and apply as necessary.

This is inefficient at best and can be really massively problematic, at worst, as each person who wanders into book-drafting territory is unable to learn from the people who have gone before them.

There’s a lot of suffering, a lot of misapplied expectations. The journey can be grueling.

What happens, then, is that we believe that we’re to blame—that we’re not good enough, or smart enough or talented enough, when it’s really just part of the terrain.

If you’re hiking down a path, it’s not your fault that you have to scramble over a log. You just have to scramble over it.

Without the perspective of someone who’s been there before, or someone else who is traveling their own path, it’s hard to know what’s YOUR problem and what just comes with the territory.

I want to open up the creative process so that we can learn from each other and stop blaming ourselves.

I want to create a road map that’s more nuanced than a simple how-to list.

I’m not Bob Ross, but I am Brenda Peregrine. I’m an editor, a writing coach, and an educator. I care about being kind and gently instructive.

I want us to feel better about the creative work we do in the realm of writing.

And I’m drafting my book out loud. Not because I'm a chronic oversharer or especially into the idea of being eviscerated on the internet.

It's because I believe Drafting Out Loud will help you become a better writer.

Really, the thing is, anyone who is willing to share their process here will contribute something to the conversation. I believe that opening up these kinds of spaces and shedding light on them is inherently valuable, and my book and my drafting process isn’t anything particularly special on its own.

But something that IS true is that I have editorial experience that most first-time authors don’t have.

I’ve got a really peculiar perspective on this—I’ve watched and helped hundreds of people through this process, and not yet done it myself. I’ve seen some of the terrain through sheer repetition, though not yet walked the path with my own two feet.

It leaves me particularly well-suited to both explain the general territory that most of us have covered AND react genuinely, as it’s happening to me.

I can’t offer a perfect road map. But I can offer self-awareness, a sense of perspective, and my own superpower--an incredible tolerance for vulnerability—to the mix.

I don’t know how this is all going to turn out, but Bob Ross didn’t know where each cloud was going to go when he started, either.

Nor each branch. The painting develops as a byproduct of the creative process.

And this is true, also for books.

Drafting is a discovery process, and I’m inviting you to join me on mine. So you feel better about yours, whatever it looks like.

Join the facebook group to follow along, or learn more here.


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Creativity-by-the-clock is not the only way.

Brenda Errichiello

I’m joining my colleague Sarah Hawkins of True North Business Management--and 12 other sage women--on the Mindful Habits Blog Tour, where we’re collectively sharing some strategies and advice around bringing more mindfulness to your work, especially for you creative entrepreneurs out there.

For my part of the tour, I’m sharing some thoughts about using ritual as part of your writing process to invoke mindfulness and create a sanctified space to do some writing--whether that’s website copy or your next great novel.

First, an admission: I am many things, but I am not a creature of habit.

In a lot of ways, I wish I were. Our culture rewards habituated behavior. We like to trot out habit and routine as the hallmark of “productive” humans. Articles that list “all the things you MUST do before 5:00 am every day to have any chance, ever, at being successful” get a lot of traction.

In writing-land, especially, this kind of advice is rampant: “You must write every day to be a successful writer,” or “If you want to write, wake up an hour earlier every day and get your X thousand words in before 6:00 am!”

Ugh, shoot me.

Honestly, at one point in my life, I really struggled to remember to take medicine every day. The fact that I now take my Vitamin D before I go to bed every night is kind of a victory...getting up at 6:00 am every single morning to do my writing isn’t ever going to happen.

And the thing I want you to know, if your life doesn’t automatically fall into routinized blocks, if something inside you dies inside every time you read an article about time management, if you are also not a creature of habit, is that it is okay.

Seriously, it is okay.

Writing isn’t inherently more valuable when it happens on a schedule or as part of a routine. And if you struggle with carving out the space to do the writing on a regular basis, you’re not alone.

You can still write successfully.

The reason that routine and habituation is trotted out as the secret to successful writing is because when we routinize ourselves, we have a Pavlovian response to our schedule. The bell rings, and we have a reaction.

It’s 9:00. Ding! Time for breakfast. It’s 10:00. Ding! Time for writing.

The advantage here is twofold: (1) when we link our actions to time, we routinize the mindset as well as the action and (2) the routinization approach can be broadly applied to everyone who exists as part of our shared space-time continuum--it's easy to market.  Everyone participates in time. 

And honestly, if that approach works for you, run with it.

But here’s the key: You don’t need to link mindset shift to time. You can link it to anything you’d like.

And that’s where ritual comes in.

At the core, ritual is about two things: action and intention. You perform an action, you identify an intention, you proceed.

It’s really no different than blowing out the candles on your birthday cake. You blow out the candles, you make a wish, and your birthday is thusly celebrated.

Writing rituals can look and feel like anything you’d like, but at the core, you need an easily repeatable action, and an intention. (Which, bonus! In this case it’s probably “I intend to write.”)

This does two things for you: first, it links the action of writing to something that is easier to accomplish with a little bit of willpower: lighting a stick of incense or a candle, making a cup of special writing tea, scenting your hands with a particular essential oil blend.

I generally light incense and sit in a particular spot with the door closed--the change in location and the smell of my chosen "creativity" incense triggers me into a spot where the words seem to flow.

The barrier to entry for small tasks is so much lower than “sit down and write the thing now,” and when you’re not sliding from one task to another as part of a set routine, this can be a huge advantage.

Second, it creates a natural barrier between your creative time, or your writing time, and the rest of your life.

The thing is, a set schedule or a habituated writing routine actually ISN’T a necessary precursor to creative writing, whether you’re writing a book or a website or a blog post.

What is necessary, though, is space. Space to think, space to let your mind wander. A bit of freedom from the mundane chatter of our minds and our day-to-day lives.

And that’s where ritual excels as a support pattern for creativity--we mark the time we’re using to do this important work in a way that sanctifies it. We attach an open mindset to a set of actions. We train our brain to respond when we smell, or taste, or hear, or feel a particular cue.

By designing a writing ritual for ourselves (and if you’d like some help with that, check out my free guide below), we give ourselves a method to create the kind of mindset that creative work flourishes in.

And, by linking it to a cue that is not a clock, we can take advantage of that tool whenever we need to, whenever the mood strikes, or at 6:00 am every morning, if you’d like to go that route.

There are as many ways to write as there are writers. The critical takeaway here is this: The best way to write is the way that works best for you.

So go find it. And maybe light a little bit of incense on your way.


Further Reading & Next Steps:

If you’d like my help with designing your own ritual, get your copy of my free guide here.

For some community around creating and sustaining your own mindful habits, join Sarah’s Facebook group. I’ll be hanging out for the next week, and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.

If you’d like more information about the blog tour itself, you can find that here.

In case you missed it, you can check out yesterday’s post by Allison Jones, E-RYT, in which she examines how Highly Sensitive People can survive in a world with constant stimuli. 

And please swing by tomorrow, when the post from Lexi Koch, Intuitive Transformation Coach, goes live. She’ll explain the benefits of checking in with ourselves throughout the day so we can take great care of ourselves

There's no secret key to masterful writing. And that's okay.

Brenda Errichiello

 
 

There’s this conception, among authors at the beginning of their careers, that there’s some secret key or esoteric bit of advice that will unlock the True Potential of Writing™.

That there’s something out there that seasoned writers know that neophyte authors don’t.

And there are lots of things that you learn with experience, as a writer. How to cut through your own writer’s block. How to get some words on a page, even on a lackluster day.

How to revise. How to take criticism.

How to use a semicolon. (It’s really not that hard; I promise.)

But this belief that there is someone or something out there that can make writing somehow painless? It harms us. It costs us money.

It’s false.

It makes it easier to believe that we need someone else to tell us how to do our best work.  

Sure, there are best practices, and you can learn a lot about structure and storytelling, SEO and blog formats. And some of these things are useful.

But none of them circumvent the discomfort of doing the work itself.

It’s uncomfortable to show up. It’s uncomfortable to notice your own patterns, your own vices, your own predispositions.

We are none of us immune from the inefficiencies of writing, even those of us who have been doing it a while. Some days are good, and some days are a struggle.

But the real concern here? On some level, we WANT there to be a secret key. We want this to be true, because if it is true, then we don’t have to do the uncomfortable work of really looking at ourselves.

We don’t have to ask ourselves why we’re so busy we can’t allow ourselves 45 minutes to write.

We don’t have to ask ourselves why our pulse whizzes at the thought of self-promotion, or why our mouth goes dry with fear when we think about talking about our creative dreams.

We don’t need to acknowledge how desperately we seek validation.

If the secret key exists, the answer to our desire is knowledge, instead of self-awareness—and gaining knowledge is always more comfortable than doing the heavy lifting of personal growth.

If we can just discover that one thing, or learn that one technique, we don’t have to ask ourselves why we’re so mean to ourselves. We don’t have to change our behavior, to start saying no to obligations that don’t serve us.

We don’t need to say out loud, to people who might disagree or judge us: my writing is a priority and I am choosing to make time for it.

We don’t ever have to throw the pasta at the wall to see if it sticks.

We avoid the profound discomfort of standing there, surrounded by our people, staring at the wall.

There is no way to avoid this discomfort, if you want to be a writer.                

You can put it off, you can table it. You can delay it. But eventually, you will have to throw the spaghetti and you will have to look at yourself.

You can either do it now, or later. And either one is fine.

But in the meantime, give the search a break. This is some corny-ass shit, but the True Potential of Writing is totally inside of you already.

You just have to be brave enough to look.

The Message in a Bottle Philosophy

Brenda Errichiello

How long should you spend working on a blog post? An e-product? A book?

Obviously, the answer depends on who you are, what your experience level is, and what you’re trying to accomplish. A hundred-thousand-word YA dystopian fantasy is always going to take more investment than a five-hundred-word blog post.

Generally, based on my experience, I’d say a couple of hours, a couple of weeks, and eight months to a year and a half seem to be good estimates, respectively.

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