"Are you a writer or an author?"
I used to think this simply meant the difference between being unpublished or published. That's not untrue, but I'm beginning to realize that it's not that simple.
Elizabeth Atkinson talks about the publishing process as "introverts being expected to be extroverts."
Jennifer Crusie has said that getting published is like taking a piece of art and turning it into a can of soup, and if you can't make that transition, publishing is going to break your heart.
Lynda Mullaly Hunt recently told a roomful of hopeful author-wannabes that being an author is about the business side of writing, while being a writer is the about the creative side. And she urged us to protect this creative core of ourselves, to not let it get swallowed up by the business of being published.
Good advice, but how is it possible if you want to be a writer and an author? The 30-70 Rule (presented by Elizabeth Atkinson -- Nov 2018 post) is a time guide that a lot of authors keep in mind as a matter of practicality: 30% of their time is used for actual writing and 70% on promotion/sales/ submissions/social media/etc. That's 70% of the time not writing!!! How is it possible to hold your writing self intact if you spend such a small percentage of your time actually focusing on it?
Six months ago, I quit my job and plunged into a "writing walkabout" to discover more about why I write, and to see if it could it be a real vocation. The discoveries of these last months have gone beyond far my expectations as I've taken classes and workshops, and tried all kinds of new writing (I even tried stand-up comedy!). The main thing that has happened, the wonderful thing that has happened, is that I have discovered that not only do I love writing, but I love it in a whole new and more complex way than I could have realized even a year ago, and can see that growing and developing as I continue to learn and write.
So writing? YES!!!!!!!
But authoring? Hmmmm...
Have you ever read the acknowledgements at the back of a book? That long, long list of people involved in getting a book to press? Those lists intimidate the heck out of me. That's so many people, so many steps, so much work and time. My stomach starts to cramp up thinking of all the emails and revisions and meetings and input and PEOPLE! All those people! And that's after you do all the submission work and find an agent/publisher!
At least I know I'm in good company. I'm not the only one who'd like to pass on all the authoring stuff and just sit at my computer with the sunshine or the rain or the snow outside my window, drinking tea and creating worlds and letting characters romp through them. Or sitting on my bed in my pajamas, not even officially up for the day because I had a spark of an idea as I woke up, so I'm sitting there writing and writing as a new story emerges, thousands of bright-winged words spilling out as I lose track of time.
And then my book would magically revise itself, perfectly phrased and typo-free, and morph a lovely cover and lightly textured pages of recycled, non-chlorine-bleached paper, and somehow, osmosis-like, end up in bookstores and libraries, and no one would actually read except for people who LOVED it, so I didn't ever have to worry about pesky things like critics or social media trolls, or if my family or friends liked it or not.
I'll keep hoping! :)
Meanwhile, as my writing walkabout is ending (practicality demands it!) and I step out again into the unknown, I'll try to focus on the usual: finding balance, staying open to possibilities and opportunities, and doing things one step at a time. And making sure that no matter what authoring might be in my future, that I always remember to make room for what I really love: writing!
When: May 3, 4, 5
Where: Springfield, Massachusetts
Who: SO MANY WRITERS!!!
What: Keynotes and workshops and pitches, oh my!
This was my first official conference for the Northeast Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (NESCBWI) and it blew my socks off! They kept us very busy--I have a notebook full of scribbles that I'm now decoding, gleaning all those gems of information passed on by industry professionals from picture book writers, middle-grade and young adult writers, and agents and editors. There were members there from as far away as Texas, travelling all the way to the east coast because the NESCBWI conferences are awesome! (You can see the details at https://newengland.scbwi.org/ )
Aside from the four workshops on Saturday and three on Sunday, and meeting other aspiring authors, my favorite part of the conference was the keynotes. While it's understandably frowned upon to pass along information learned at a workshop or conference, I think it would be okay to share a snippet of inspiration from the keynote speakers (and if I'm wrong, please let me know!)
Jane Yolen, award-winning author of over 300 books for children, (including the How Do Dinosaurs... books) started off the conference on Friday evening. Among the inspiration she shared, I loved her focus on valuing the writing process, not the end product, because, Jane said, if you focus on the product, you will lose the joy of writing and you will burn yourself out.
Patricia MacLachlan also spoke on Friday evening, in a fireside chat. Patricia is the author of one of my favorite books, Sarah Plain and Tall, and seeing her on stage was a trip--she's quite outspoken and funny and tart! I enjoyed her take on writing as "a wonderful way to make a living" because you can take naps, hang with the cat, drink...and find joy (because of the writing, not the drinking. Or...maybe both?).
Saturday, the keynote speaker was Lynda Mullaly Hunt, a middle-grade author who spoke about being vulnerable in writing, as she found herself doing at a whole new, uncomfortable level with her newest book Shouting at the Rain. Lynda had so many great quotes (my notebook is a solid mass of scribbles!) but one that resonated with me was: "It's not who you think you are that holds you back. It's who you think you are not" --a quote attributed to Denis Waitley.
And finally on Sunday, Euka Holmes closed the conference. EUKA HOLMES, y'all! She spoke with the kind amazing energy and warmth that is reflected in her art and told us about specific books that she illustrated and her process of creation. One thing she shared was something her mother always told her: "Don't get ahead of yourself, don't let yourself get overwhelmed. Just do the next thing, whatever that may be." I loved that! Good advice for any endeavor!
So now the conference is over, and while I'm still processing everything, I am also considering the next steps in my own writing journey. As I move forward, I hope to hold on to the inspiration that I gained from the people above, who've been there, done that, and triumphed. I hope to hold on to the inspiration to enjoy the process, take naps because I can, not limit myself, and "just do the next thing, whatever that my be."
For years, I did not show anyone anything I wrote--ever! But in the last six months, I have come out of the writing closet and participated in three different workshops in which I not only let people see something I wrote, I listened to them discuss it! GAH!!!! Talk about nerve-wracking! Thankfully, my workshops were, for the most part, positive experiences. And although I have learned to be a bit wary, both of what I hear and for how I offer feedback to others, I do think there is value in workshopping.
A workshop is a type of critique group that allows a writer to get constructive feedback on a piece of writing. Usually the piece is distributed before the workshop to give participants time to read and annotate everyone else's work (which will then be given to the writer later), and then the group meets to discuss the story, poem, essay, etc. The workshop discussion usually includes a writing professional (teacher, editor, author) and peers working at a similar level to you (classmates, other writers).
Although workshopping a piece is meant to provide constructive feedback for the writer to make the piece better, that's not always what ends up happening. In her book about creative writing, Method and Madness, Alice LaPlante writes "The results of a workshop can be magical, or brutal, or extraordinarily helpful, or ludicrously unhelpful, or all of the above. It depends on who is in the class, who is leading the workshop, and the particular story being discussed."
The person in charge of the workshop will make a huge difference in the tone and productivity of the group. If the leader is emphatic about using positive feedback and gently worded questions to the writer, then the workshop can be an affirmation of what the writer is doing well. This is also dependent on the participants' willingness to strive for positivity, and on the group leader being able to reign in anyone that is being too enthusiastic/too negative in sharing their point of view.
An emphasis on positive comments can backfire, though, if participants are just trying to find something about which to comment. When directed to find things you like about a story, it is possible to go overboard and wax a little too enthusiastically about a plot point or character just because you feel the need to say something. Reading to find things you like can actually help you find more good points than if you are not looking, and it's okay to mention them in workshop, time allowing.
LaPlante mentions another pitfall that workshoppers can fall into when they don't know what else to say: asking to see more of something. "I'd love to see more dialogue" or "It would be great to have more background on the mother" are examples of this kind of feedback. Again, these kinds of comments can be helpful, but are another example of something to suggest if it's your authentic observation/interest, and not because you are looking for something to say. Do you really want to know more about why the dog barks so much, or are you just not sure what else to say?
However, some workshops aren't focused on asking for more of anything or showering you with happy thoughts, and some participants don't want that. Madison Smartt Bell in his book Narrative Design, writes, "The fiction workshop is designed to be a fault-finding mechanism; it’s purpose is to diagnose and prescribe." Often, a member of the group can feel pressure (self-imposed or outwardly-imposed) to look knowledgeable and participatory by finding as many "flaws" as possible and pointing them out. And if the class is determined to find everything they possibly can that is "wrong" with the piece, the writer had better have some thick skin.
Which way is better--unbridled positivity, or full-frontal flaw finding? Either way, it's important to take ANY feedback, positive or negative, with a grain of salt. It's possible to get so much advice--and often contradictory advice--about what you should or could do to "improve" piece that it can be hard to know where to start. Bell notes that some of his students tried to incorporate all the advice they received...and ended up with "second drafts that very likely had less obvious flaws than the first, but also a whole lot less interest. These revisions tended to live up to commonly heard, contemptuous descriptions of workshop work being well-tooled, inoffensive, unexceptional, and rather dull."
Now that I've participated in a few workshops and know some of the pitfalls, I find that I'm less adamant about expressing my opinion and trying to appear like I know what I'm talking about, or caring as much about what others are telling me. So will I continue to workshop? Yes! Workshopping can be an extremely helpful way to learn what is confusing, distracting, or seems out of place with the rest of a piece. And I do appreciate positive feedback--we all love to hear the good stuff!!
And there have been unexpected benefits to workshopping: Participating in workshops has pushed me to be a better reader. I'm normally a critical reader, but by reading original stories looking for things to like, I'm finding that there's so much more depth and interest and enjoyment than I realized. Another benefit is seeing writing come to life, a la Reader Response Theory. This is the idea that writing is a living thing that only comes alive when we read it and interpret it through our own unique worldviews and experiences. To hear how someone else interprets a story and discuss it in a group has been fascinating and affirming of the writing process as a whole.
When deciding to workshop, you don't get a choice about the format and the kind of feedback, so if it matters to you, you might want to know beforehand by doing some research. If you are in an entry level workshop, you are probably going to get the more positive type of feedback. Below, in case it's of interest, I have listed out details of the three workshops I've attended:
Agent/Editor Day held by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (October 2018)
Workshop with Elizabeth Peavey through the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance (January 2019)
Creative Writing Class Workshop for Short Stories (February/March 2019)
In my ongoing quest to understand why people write, I'm now collecting quotes about writing. To start, this one is from The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling), a quote from a character who is an author:
...I tend to find out what I feel on a subject by writing about it. It is how we interpret the world, how we make sense of it.
I think reading what characters say about writing is fascinating to compare with what the author of the book thinks about writing. From J.K. Rowling's website, here's part of why she says she writes:
A very different point of view comes from Terry Farish, author of a lovely book called The Good Braider. In this book, Farish uses lyric prose to experience the world through the eyes of another person, and her statement about why she writes reflects this exploration:
I must take the time to
In the introduction of The Gifts of Imperfection, author Brene Brown writes about the process of how she decided to write such a book. I love Brene Brown and I LOVE this book, but I already worry about what I'm writing being worthwhile, so I'm not sure I want to ask myself this! Is it necessary to worry about the worth of something? Is it enough to have the story and the impulse to draft and revise and share it?
Before I start writing, I always ask myself, 'Why is this book worth writing? What's the contribution that I'm hoping to make?'
Author Barry Lopez seems to have less concern on considering the worth or merit of a piece of writing and instead embraces stories to care for and share as needed. The gentleness and openness of his philosophy is such a restful place in which to create.
The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If the stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed.
In Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, the protagonist, Cath, is a dedicated fanfiction writer and new college student reluctant to try writing anything original. In chapter two, Cath's creative writing classmates are discussing why they write:
"To explore new worlds." "To explore old ones." "To set ourselves free."
But while the class is throwing out ideas, Cath is thinking:
"To get free of ourselves...To stop being anything or anywhere at all...To disappear."
Later, in chapter 23, Cath's English professor talks to her directly about writing. Cath has still not tried writing anything original. I love their debate (in part, below) because it illustrates that there are so many ways to be immersed in writing. I think Cath's love of writing fanfiction is not less worthy than writing original work, but it's definitely a different process.
For over a decade, I have been dabbling with writing as a kind of hobby--mostly working on a young adult novel and children's picture books. I've also done a lot of journaling as a way to try understanding myself and the world. And of course, most of my jobs have involved writing: quarterly summaries, incident reports, departmental support via email, etc. Recently, I decided to try focusing more on writing, to see if it was something I really wanted to do vocationally. But on which kind did I want to focus? Non-fiction, such as SEO or other types of ghostwriting, or even articles for magazines? Or memoir-type essays? Or fiction?
So of course I started trying to do ALL of the ideas. And after a couple of months of that, I can report that is NOT working. There are so many things milling around in my head that they are crowding each other out. I go round in circles and sometimes end up doing NONE of the ideas.
Which one, then, should be the focus? Would it help if I knew why I want to write?
Six months ago, I would have said I want to write fiction because it's more fun than my day-job. Wouldn't it be great to have a fun job? But since I'm now trying to understand the writing urge and my place in the writing world, I have not just been exploring other types of writing, but other reasons to write besides enjoyment. So far I have collected the following reasons (and please note that these aren't necessarily my reasons!):
GAH! That's a lot of possible reasons. Not really helping pick a focus, but quite a bit further along in my writing quest than "I want to write because it's fun!"
I guess it's silly of me to have assumed simplicity with this task--what in life worth doing is ever simple, after all? The list above is making my head spin, and for practical reasons, I do need to focus, so for now I'm going to do what I usually do in trying to figure things out: I'm going to see how I feel about it.
Day-job writing hasn't been particularly creative, but it's usually been satisfying in that it's complete in a short time, and connecting in that someone else usually reads it right away.
The process of journaling is therapeutic, engaging, and freeing and I usually feel amazing when I'm done.
Writing essays/short stories is engrossing, but halfway through I often blob out, thinking that this couldn't possibly be interesting or useful to anyone.
Writing children's books feels silly and light.
And working on my novel...that's the most complex one--that's a rollercoaster writing experience. Fun, maddening, engrossing, surprising. And also the one that I can't stay away from. No matter how long I've gone between drafts or how crazy-making it is, I always come back to it.
So maybe that's enough for now. Maybe I don't need to define it or know exactly why I want to write. Maybe it's enough to acknowledge that something compels me to do it, to come back to it, to stick with it. So I will.
Why do you write?
Artio's Books in Auburn Maine closing its doors soon. It's worth a visit for the 75%-off books and to walk through the space--it's like stepping into a Dickens' novel, with stacks of old books crammed in every which way, an eccentric proprietor, and even a brisk little dog that barks at you until you give him a treat (he's considered the doorbell). There are still thousands of books left, including current titles, and probably headed for the dumpster if they don't find a home.
Used books shops like Artio's provide resources for readers to explore and try new things, and maybe inspire new interest in an author we didn't know about before. I was able to stock up on odd non-fiction for possible future research and assorted other finds, including a few books that I might not have have come across or if I hadn't seen them here.
If you are in the area, it's worth a visit! For more information, please see the Facebook link by clicking on Artio's Books at the beginning of this post.
Deadline Monster Ravages Manuscript
Well, it’s official as of two days ago: I did not make the deadline to submit my young adult novel per the general open submission opportunity provided by the NESCBWI.
This seemed like a reasonable goal several months ago. Before I noted that my book was way too long and decided to cut it in half, requiring a lot of re-plotting. Before I read Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story and it kicked my butt (in a good way) and showed me SO MANY things I still needed to do. Before I realized that I was revising a 40-chapter book at the rate of about half a chapter per day.
So, no. Did not finish in time for the deadline. Or even remotely close to it.
It’s disappointing, but it’s fine. I can regroup. Other opportunities await!
My bigger concern is that pushing myself to make the deadline seemed to pummel all the joy out of the writing process. I know there are times when writing is not fun, but if I don’t enjoy writing overall, then why would I do it? And is the deadline the monster that destroyed my writing happy place?
I think the answer is yes. Whenever I put pressure on myself to do something, the more pressure is applied, the less fun the activity or project becomes. Some people love that down-to-the-wire adrenaline, and become very motivated. For me, it's the opposite. I do less and less and get more and more unhappy with not only the project that's pushing at me, but everything else in my life as well. Things get out of balance. What once was fun is now another form of stress. Bleh.
But having deadlines has also made me more productive. Real deadlines are a new thing for me, starting from a few months ago. Before that, besides Camp NaNoWriMo word counts, I mostly meandered around with vague goals that were rarely met due to truly horrible first book attempts that required long months of regrouping, and the fact that writing a book takes WAY LONGER TO WRITE THAN YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE. (At least for some of us, apparently.)
This new way of pushing myself to meet deadlines based on conference/workshop dates and submission deadlines has resulted in tremendous progress in the last few months. But was it worth it if the writing process was so sloggy? My book has been a form of play for me for years, something fun(ish) to do outside of my real job. I have worried that trying to make it into my main job would take it from being play into, well, work. Un-fun.
So now what I’m wondering, as I try to find the flow and engagement of pre-deadline writing: Is the ONLY difference between play and work a deadline? And if so, are there ways to meet in the middle and find a deadline that gets the work done but allows you do not have it hovering over your shoulder like an annoying little brother?
That’s my new goal, then. To pick a deadline that is reasonably possible, and to make it just far enough away that it’s not THE ONLY THING I CAN THINK ABOUT when I’m writing.
I guess, just like so many things in life, it all comes down to balance.
Yay for Day Jobs!
As I say goodbye to my current job to spend a few months (or more!) writing full time, I've been thinking about the pros of working at jobs that seem to have nothing directly to do with writing. Besides the very obvious benefits--food in stomach, roof over head, insurance card in wallet--there do seem to be a lot of useful lessons buried in these various jobs that are directly applicable to my current writing adventure.
Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith
As I take a leap into the unknown right now, I'm reminded of my first "real" job, which was teaching English in Japan at a conversation school. When I was offered this opportunity, I didn't have a teaching degree or experience, had no idea if I could manage living in a foreign country where I didn't speak the language, and was adding to my already considerable debt load to buy the plane ticket and manage my first year of living expenses. Was it scary? Yup! Was it crazy? Probably! But while I worried about failing (a lot!), I was more worried about not even trying, about missing out on what might be a great opportunity. And you know what? I ended up staying in Japan for nine years working at a little school in Hokkaido. I paid off all my debts, including my student loans, and learned to speak Japanese (more or less). And most importantly, I met the most lovely and amazing children and adults and had a blast collaborating with them in our English classes.
I've taken other "leaps" that didn't work out as well (please see my previous blog, Transplanted Ivy), but I'm still glad I tried. Whatever comes of this newest dive into the unknown, I can know that while sometimes things don't seem to go as planned, sometimes they turn out even better. And no matter what, there are always new experiences and adventures out there that can only be encountered when we are willing to let go of what seems safe and try something new.
It's only impossible until you do it
As I now tackle revising an entire book that seems to need even more revising the more I work on it, I keep in mind another seemingly impossible task at another job I had when I came back from Japan. I was hired as a case manager and teacher for adults with developmental disabilities. After living and working in another country, I would have expected more fortitude from myself about trying a new career out, even without experience. But in Japan, my job was often comprised of fun stuff like making up games and songs and stories. This new job involved paperwork. A lot of paperwork. Maybe that doesn't sound like a big deal to you, but, hey, we all have our hurdles, and spreadsheets and analytical report writing were mine.
The first time I had to write a quarterly summary for one of my clients, I was staying late at work, all alone, the rest of the office dark and quiet, and...I cried. I cried through that whole stupid summary. It's embarrassing to admit it now, because it seems so dramatic and unnecessary to CRY over writing a REPORT! But I did. I also got through it. And the next one, and the next. And though it took several years to get organized with it all, I eventually did. And I'm so glad that I did, because if I hadn't pushed myself and learned that I can do way more than I thought, I would have missed out on meeting some of the coolest and most unique people with whom I've ever had the chance to work. And dance. There was lots of dancing :)
So I this is what I can hold in mind when I encounter parts of being a writer that seem way more daunting than I was expecting (like stepping into the world of freelancing...so far, lots of echoes of that long ago report!). "It always seems impossible until it's done" according to Nelson Mandela, and I would add that if you just try what seems impossible, just in trying, the hardest part is often behind you.
It's all in your attitude
I recently read a post that was meant, I think, to be encouraging to writers. The writer exclusively referred to the writing process as something that is awful. "It sucks," she wrote, over and over. I kept waiting for a glimmer of positivity, but the writer stuck with her theme that writing is so hard and so awful and that's okay because that's how it's supposed to be. I understand that she was attempting to connect with her readers through the shared reality of how challenging writing is, but it makes me wonder: If writing really seems to be that awful to her, then why would she want to do it?
It also makes me wonder: What kind of day jobs has she had?
Like most of us, I've had some stinkers. And while I can look for the silver linings, the learning experiences and the characters I met, the thing that I can draw right now from these not-so-perfect work experiences is perspective. My definition of jobs that "suck" applies more to things like answering phones and having caller after caller dump their frustration on me. Or working at a restaurant and being short-staffed and having the hostess seat three of my tables at one time. Or, worst of all: data entry.
Having these jobs for comparison is a gift. These jobs provide me with perspective that can help remind me that even in the lowest writing moments, there are way worse things out there than not knowing how to start or end a chapter. If I start to think sloggy thoughts about what I'm writing, I can stop and ask myself, "Is this really so bad, or am I just caught in a cycle of perfectionism or being deadline obsessed?" And if that doesn't work, I can spend a few moments imagining that I'm doing data entry, and that should do the trick quite nicely!
I don't disagree that writing is hard. Occasionally maddening. And yes, I might go low enough at times to agree with the "it sucks" writer. But it also often engaging, and sometimes it's even...fun! Yes! it is! I'll say it and I don't care who knows it! :)
So thank you, Day Jobs past (and probably future!) for making this all work, and for giving hope, teaching perseverance, and keeping things in perspective!
NESCBWI Agent/Editor Day in Devens MA
October 27, 2018: I'm so excited to have attended my first Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) event!
Karen Boss (Charlesbridge Publishing) presented the mini-keynote about motivation and encouraged us to take risks earlier and not worry about what other people think when we are doing work outside the box.
The main part of the day was working in small groups (eight writers) paired with either an editor or agent. Using text from the two chapters introducing my two main characters, I got great feedback from my groups and the professionals facilitating the groups, author/agent Rebecca Podos, and editor Lindsay Warren. It was an amazing atmosphere, supportive and open.
Now it's time for me to take the feedback and positive energy and use it to get my book ready for submission by the end of December! :)
Polyvagal Theory in Writing
October 13, 2018: I attended the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance workshop called Seize the Reader with Jennifer Jacobson, author of fiction for children and young adults, including The Dollar Kids (jenniferjacobson.com). Also, check out Deb Dana's The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy for more information on Polyvagal Theory (debdanalcsw.com).
**Please note that Jennifer has graciously allowed me to post this information, and that is only a dollop of the information presented in her wonderful workshop. For more on this and other ways to make your novel sing, I highly recommend attending one of her workshops!
At the start of our workshop, I was surprised that Jennifer Jacobson handed out worksheets on Polyvagal Theory. Polyvagal Theory a way of explaining the reaction of our nervous systems when exposed to stress/trauma. As a trauma survivor, I am familiar with Polyvagal Theory, both the tidy formal explanations, and the much less tidy emotional and physical responses that those of us dealing with the aftermath of trauma experience.
But what does Polyvagal Theory have to do with writing? The connection, Jennifer explained, is in learning to understand and utilize our emotional responses to make us better writers. We know that good writing is about creating an emotional connection for the reader. If the reader is not emotionally invested in what we are writing, then we are going to lose them.
Jennifer led the workshop in steps to show us that in order to write emotionally truthfully, it is necessary to for the writer to be engaged emotionally when writing. Specifically, writers need to feel the sadness of the moment when they are writing a scene where their main character is sad. We need to feel the character's anxiety if we are writing a scene where that character is anxious. This is where understanding Polyvagal Theory can be helpful, because it can provide a map for us when trying to slip in and out of these emotional states.
At a quick summary, there are three basic states of our nervous system (encompassing our sympathetic and our parasympathetic nervous systems):
1) VENTRAL VAGAL: We feel safe, social, at home. We can think clearly, sleep well, have fun.
2) SYMPATHETIC: Fight/flight response. We can't eat or sleep, are hyper alert for danger.
3) DORSAL VAGAL: Freeze response. We shut down, feel hopeless, collapsed. Can't focus.
Jennifer had us list out what sorts of events each of us had for triggers for these different states (but she didn't make us share them!) and then she asked us to think of our main character and list out what would make them feel safe and at home, what would make them scared and ready to run, and what what make them feel hopeless and unable to act. Additionally, we considered what would move the us and our characters in and out of these states.
For example, one of my main characters often feels trapped by her life circumstances, which can take her out of Ventral Vagal and move her all the way down to Dorsal Vagal. So then my dilemma as a writer is to understand what would bring her back up again to a safe place, or at least to Sympathetic, where she might not feel happy, but at least she can take action. Coffee? She loves a good latte. Would that be enough? Probably not. I will need to get right down there with her and feel her pain and see the world through her eyes and write her back up, through Sympathetic, and finally to Ventral Vagal.
(Spoiler alert: my main characters don't get to spend a lot of time in Ventral Vagal!)
I love Jennifer's ideas, but writing has often been my happy place--my own personal doorway to the Ventral Vagal state--so I wasn't initially happy to be told that I need to deliberately move out of my happy place to write certain kinds of emotions. However, since I've been noting my emotional state when I write, I can see that I do follow my characters' emotional ups and downs fairly closely, and I'm thankful to report that slipping around the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system when I write is not the same roller coaster as my own personal trauma journey! It can even be rather cathartic!!