Guest post by Barbara McDowell: Rehab for writers in hiding

Barbara McDowell

Today, I am ticked pink! I know…shocker! But seriously, I am thrilled to welcome my long-time (since the very beginning if you can believe it) blog buddy, Barbara McDowell, to my digs. At her blog, Life Can’t Drive 55, Barbara posts about a variety of topics such as her musical inspirations, writing journey, the quirks of life and longstanding addictions for all things dancing, performance, reality TV shows and boy bands. Barbara’s confessed that In Sixth Grade, She Wanted to Be a Go-Go Dancer and She’s Like the Runaway Bride When It Comes to Class Reunions. Some other faves include 7 Things To Not Do While Driving, and Who Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up? Her Rants from an Idol Addict posts are a hoot and provide keen updates from her now 11 seasons of watching American Idol. She also recently wrote a touching tribute about Don Cornelius, the founder of Soul Train. Do make sure you pop over to check out Barbara’s blog. She’ll welcome you in and pass some dark chocolate.

Take it away, Barbara!

Thrilled to be here, Natalie! I appreciate you for letting me wander in from the winter winds.

I am a short story writer, budding novelist, blogger and occasional poet. But as of six months ago—when I went into writer rehab—without seeing me in a class, at a conference or me telling you, you wouldn’t have known it. See, I’ve been a writer in hiding.

I know I’m not the only one. I’d point out some others to you, but see…they are still in hiding. There are places we all meet to cavort in our masks. The locations vary and the times are preferably when popular reality TV shows are on so others are at home and no one sees us.

Some of you may be thinking, “you poor thing, why would you hide your creativity and life spark?” *stopping to accept some hugs and gather the tissues* Well, one doesn’t set out to live in hiding. It is born out of listening to some limiting beliefs from others and embodying them as your own. It is a progressive thing that seeps in and grows. And the limits become fears. And the fears become habit.

I come from a family of science and math types that, while fascinated by my vivid storytelling and on-stage antics, didn’t believe there was a viable future in someone being a writer or performer. Yes, some may become stars in these fields, but I was told to be more practical. First limiting lesson learned: Writing isn’t practical.

So I told no one I wanted to be a writer.

One thing I do have going for me is an independent spirit (hello, true Aquarius over here) and stubborn streak. I wiggled my way through elementary, middle and high school as a quiet writer. I thrived in English classes and spent my time in Biology and Algebra filling notebooks with my poetry.

Moving on to college, I made my first run out of hiding. Insert a minor in creative writing paired with some scarfs and head wraps, and I thought I’d be a writer. Then a guy I dated would come over and find me sitting on the dorm room floor, scrawling away in my composition notebook with Hendrix playing and incense wafting. I fancied myself to be a generation too late, displaced hippie writer. He’d always make a crack about what I was writing. The fact that I was writing. Next limiting lesson learned: Writing is silly and people will mock you.

So my non-writer friends never saw my writing.

Then came death by English department workshop. Let’s throw a mix of sheltered, self-absorbed, emotional 18-22 year-olds into a circle and move the critique switch to “go.” And it wasn’t lost on me that most of the time I was the only minority in the room and since that minority was black, the expectation soon became that I’d channel either a Cosby Show or Cops sensibility with no leeway in between.

No, my parents aren’t doctors or lawyers. What do you mean a suburban setting isn’t realistic? Yes, I am writing what I know. No, I’ve never seen a drive-by. Yes, I could write about one, but I’d have to go do some research. Okay, I get that you want to hear some slang, but that’s not my native tongue.

And being a horror-leaning writer just made it worse. No love lost there. Next limiting lesson learned: You must write what others expect.

So I lost my voice and there would be periods of time that I didn’t write a word.

Once I made it into the work world, writing was relegated to a dusty hobby. I had a file cabinet organized with poetry, short stories and essays that never saw the inside of a submissions envelope. I worked wicked overtime and went back to school to earn an advanced degree. When I would write and fall in love again with the process, I’d feel like I was stealing time away from more important work. Even when invited to join a writers’ group, I compared myself to the others and felt like an imposter because writing wasn’t regular in the full balance of my life. Plus I was writing short stories versus novels. And I wasn’t published. Or I wasn’t writing full-time. More limiting lessons learned: Just writing isn’t okay. Real writers are published. Real writers write full-time. Real writers write books. 

So what does rehab for a hiding writers look like? For me, it needed to be a mental (distracting the voices with brownies) and physical (just do it!) change.

Steps to come out of hiding:

  • Call yourself a writer – Yeah, pretty simple concept there, but how many of us let the external and internal gremlin voices keep us from doing this? A huge ah-ha came for me when I tapped into the blog and then books of Kristen Lamb. One of her gems is when she said that when asked what we do, we should answer that we are writers. If we lead with telling about our day gigs and then mumble about being a writer, then writing will forever be relegated to being a hobby and having a secondary life role. Kristen has a way of facing off with the inner fears and making them quiver. I’m telling you go pronto to her blog and learn!
  • Let people find you – You know the main reason no one was commenting on my early blog posts? I didn’t tell anyone they were there. Writing by its nature is a solitary endeavor, so the boom of social media has provided so many avenues to make connections. When I joined Twitter, the doors flew open. Determine what social media tools work for you and then use them.
  • Join up with some online writer communities#MyWANA is a great starting point on Twitter to find like-minded souls that are both rock stars and former writers in hiding. The folks networking there will inspire and challenge you. Other great places are #ROW80, frequented by those participating in the A Round of Words in 80 Days challenge and #WriteCampaign, used by those doing the Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign. All great peeps.
  • Go to conferences – Don’t just go. Tell others about it. Heh, heh. Seriously, keeping immersed in the craft and sharing the time and/or travel with others shines a light on the importance. When I shared I was going to the Kenyon Writers Workshop last summer, a colleague commented “why would you want to waste your vacation time at a conference?” Once I got done telling her why, I felt bolstered by the importance of spending time for my writing.
  • Invite others in – I’ve done this by joining in conversational tweets, dialoguing with people in blog comments, e-mailing and asking others for help and most recently hosting some guest bloggers.
  • Flash people! (cough) I mean do guest blog posts – This was a huge fear of mine. The inner voices of doubt contradicted as they wondered what if no one comes to read it and what if everyone comes to read it. There is a sense of vulnerability in putting your words and thoughts onto another person’s site. But I tell you, it is so freeing. People outside of your circle will not only see you…they will see you as writer.

I won’t shoot up rockets and sparklers and tell you that the process of embracing my writing life was instantaneous. Remember what I told you earlier about my stubborn streak? What I can tell you is that working up the courage to move towards being the writer I know I am meant to be has been worth every step.

Thanks again for having me, Natalie! I hope everyone enjoys the post. You can always find me at:

Visit me at: http://writenowlife.wordpress.com
Follow me on Twitter at: @BMcDowellOH
Read my recap articles on season two of The Voice at: http://realitynewsonline.com

Is your writing life and personal life fully intertwined? 

Do you write content or in a genre that others find unexpected? 

Have you ever felt pushed to write something else?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Barbara McDowell

By day, Barbara McDowell works in training and development, managing the educational needs and course development for the staff of a regional accounting firm. In the depths of the night, she is a crafter of stories birthed with dark, human themes. Suspense at each corner turned. Terror sometimes waiting at the end. Initially a short story writer, Barbara is in process on her first novel that focuses on the twists of redemption and forgiveness. A lover of coffee, cats, crime dramas, crochet, conspiracy theories and chocolate, Barbara can be found blogging at http://writenowlife.wordpress.com or tweeting at @BMcDowellOH.

Thanks so much for coming over and sharing such a wonderful and open post Barbara. I think there are so many of us out there, me included, that can relate to your experience. I am still finding myself struggling to “put myself out there” as a writer and I haven’t fully intertwined my writing life and personal life fully yet. It’s coming but slowly. In reading your words and experience, I draw a great amount of comfort, support, strength and inspiration. You are forging the path and I am right there with you.

We are writers, here us ROAR!

P.S. In case you missed Monday’s post where I spotlight author Elena Aitken, you should definitely check it out. There’s a great giveaway!

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