Brandi Willis Schreiber

Sensual, Southern Romance

"Perfect Is the Enemy of Done" - An Interview with Author and Writing Coach, Deb Norton

Late last fall, my writing came to a screeching halt, the kind of halt that gives you whiplash. Things had been going well, or so I thought.  After weeks of planning and plotting a story, I had a writing desk full of notes, outlines, Post-Its, printed Google docs, research articles, calendars, and a good amount of words written.

I had a vision and a plan, and I was going to do this thing right.

But then things didn’t work quite the way I wanted. My story hit some snags, so I tightened my grip on it. There was no messing up here. After all, I’d had an embarrassing critique on a different story at a workshop a year prior, and I certainly wasn’t going to go through that again.

But the scenes started snagging some more, and the words didn’t come out right. Knowing that wasn’t going to work, I got serious. I replotted, replanned, re-researched.

Then fearing I wasn’t doing ANY of it right, I worked myself into a black hole of inactivity whose gravity even the Starship Enterprise couldn’t escape. Writing felt impossible because NOTHING was right, and my story started to feel more like labor than love.

 

In frustration, I do what I normally do when I get stuck. I take a walk, and I turn to books on craft in hopes of illumination from others who are wiser than I. I wandered to the writing section at my local Barnes & Noble and came across a book:  PART WILD: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO HARNESSING THE CREATIVE POWER OF RESISTANCE, by Deb Norton.

Well, I was certainly experiencing resistance, so maybe this could help. I purchased it on a whim and started reading it in the mornings before work.

I realized very quickly that I wasn’t trying to write.

I was trying to write perfectly.

And nothing will give a writer whiplash faster than trying to lay down a perfect line.

Perfectionism is an ugly beast, and as Deb Norton sagely points out in her book, “it goads you into rewriting before you’ve even written” (39).

Bingo.

I was working so hard not to make any mistakes that I wasn’t making anything except myself miserable. Worse, I was holding my story hostage and demanding that it be what I wanted, fully formed, before it even made it to the page.

I managed, without writing a word, to destroy the joy and wonder of my story, and to deny my characters – whom I sincerely hope you get to meet someday – the experience of being in this beautiful world I’d created, which was the whole reason I started writing in the first place.

Writing is as much a psychological endeavor as it is a skillful one, and Deb’s book reminded me that I have the skill.  I just have to recognize the resistance I experience, in whatever form it takes, and work with it so that I can get back to the page.

(And, I’m happy to report, that has definitely happened, more wondrously and joyfully than before.)

Today I am thrilled to introduce you to author and writing coach, Deb Norton, whose book, PART WILD: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO HARNESSING THE CREATIVE POWER OF RESISTANCE, has both inspired and challenged me to reevaluate the resistance I experience in my own writing.  Read on for her FANTASTIC thoughts on perfectionism and how you can work around (and with) it.

AND to win a signed copy of her book, sign up for my newsletter here:  http://www.brandiwillisschreiber.com/contact/ I’ll be giving out a copy to a random newsletter subscriber this spring!

 

Deb, would you mind introducing yourself to folks who may be unfamiliar with your writing and your work?

I’m an actor by training and a writer and teacher by profession. I’m often referred to as a writing midwife and much of my work centers around helping writers who need help releasing, developing or refining their work. I love and admire people who are willing to engage with the creative process, so it’s a gross understatement to say that I enjoy my work. What else? I live with my husband and two dogs in a tiny town, at the edge of the Tahoe wilderness that can only be found as a result of being very lost or very determined.

 

Tell us a little bit about PART WILD and how this book came to be.

Well, frankly, writing a book, writing anything was never my intention. I knew from very early on that I would be an actor. That was always the plan and there was no plan B, which is why it was so difficult to graduate from acting conservatory and discover that I hated the acting business – auditioning, networking, marketing myself, waiting to be chosen. So, in an attempt to bypass all the smutty bits of my trade, I sat down to write myself a vehicle. Brilliant, right? I was so proud of myself for not being deterred from my path.

But, the minute I picked up the pen, I was attacked from the inside by a host of internal critics that I never even knew I had. That was when I first tangled with creative resistance and the only advice I could find was just to be tough and disciplined and push through it. Well, I’m not tough or disciplined and by the way, neither are 99% of creative people, so I started digging around in my acting and improv toolbox, I researched, I read, I grilled my writer friends, I experimented and eventually, VERY eventually I’m afraid, I wrote a play. The play did great and so many wonderful things came out of it, but the most important things were the processes I’d outfitted myself with to deal with any form of resistance. I started sharing those processes with other writers and that turned into a workshop and that turned into my book.

 

Deb, you and I have been emailing back and forth about this idea of perfectionism and how it is "the enemy of done."  I find that thought really profound, because as I wrote to you, my own perfectionism has not just been the enemy of my writing, but pretty much the Supreme Adversary Extraordinaire of my creativity AND my spirit.  Why is perfectionism so dang detrimental to writers and artists?

The answer is simple, but not easy. Perfectionism is dangerous because it’s a moving goalpost. Nothing in nature is perfect – that’s how we know it’s natural! And this is meant to remind us that perfection is not achievable, nor is it desirable. Perfection is a mirage and it will always reset to being just out of reach no matter how close you get to it. It’s the same with potential. Once your reach it, the bar gets even higher because the greater you get, the greater your potential for greatness. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

 

You told a great story in your chapter, "Perfectionism - Picking and Polishing," about learning to rollerblade and how every small pebble and stone originally took you down. It wasn't until a friend pointed out that you needed to "go faster!" that you learned how to do it. How does this idea of "blowing by the pebbles" relate to perfectionism?

Right, the slower I went, the easier it was for the tiniest rock to stop my wheels cold.

The practical problem with perfection is that it goads you into stopping to examine every idea, every sentence, every word. Perfection looks over your shoulder as you polish and buff everything to a high shine, and then, in a fit of hysteria, points out an adverb that could tarnish the whole thing. Meanwhile, you’ve been working on the opening three paragraphs for two years and there are cobwebs growing from your hair to your pen.

Momentum is key to breaking this spell. If I find myself staring at a blinking cursor until I’ve picked my nails clean of polish, it’s because I’m trying to perfect an idea or a sentence before even writing it down. As though just writing it down and moving forward to see where it will take me is an act of reckless abandon that could get me killed.

If you’re picking you’re way along, clinging to the safety rail, then you’re not going to reach speeds that will allow you to stumble onto something new and fresh. We like to be safe, but safe keeps us in known territory and as a creative person, you’re not reaching for what you already know. You’re reaching for the discovery. So, the thought is, instead of slowing down to a “safer” speed, put on your helmet, wrist and knee guards so you can “safely” flirt with the edge of your next breakthrough.

Speed not only to snaps perfection’s hold, but it can lead to discoveries and improvements in your writing and, of course, it also increases your word count.

 

I remember rollerblading as a kid, too.  But I remember being completely self-consciousness-LESS.  There I was, flying down the sidewalks of Olton, Texas, in jean shorts and my purple and neon green rollerblades, and when the sidewalk ran out, I simply hopped from the grass onto the bumpy pavement and just kept going until another sidewalk appeared. Oh, to regain such a sense of possibility and courage! If I tried to do that as an adult today, I'd be terrified.  What is it about adulthood - and this great big F-word you mention in your book - that crushes this ability in us?

Oh, that’s a great observation, great point! The older we get, the higher the stakes. Our margin for error seems to decrease as our responsibilities and our nearness to mortality increases. Falling hurts more as we get older and have less natural resiliency and bounce, but more to lose and less time to gain it back.

But, on the positive side, I think the natural process is to go from being unconscious to self-conscious to just… conscious. The first two just happen, but that last phase is one that we have to take on through awareness and practice and that’s the gift of aging, I suppose – we begin to process life into wisdom.

 

You have some wonderful advice about overcoming - or perhaps rollerblading around - perfectionism.  One thing you mention is that writers and artists need to "create an environment that celebrates failures for the progress they [have] made."  Tell us more about that.  What are some ways that we could create those environments? What would they look like? What have you done to cultivate that kind of environment and mindset?

First and foremost, I’ve learned to recognize and embrace that awkward, wobbling, windmilling feeling that comes of flirting with my edge. That’s the mindset part of it.

As for environment, I think first and foremost about tools and equipment – the pen needs to blaze, so no skipping ink and no snaggy paper. A timer is essential – I can get more useful and surprising writing on the page in a six minute burst than I can in an hour of pressuring my muse for the perfect words.

And here’s the thing that many of us forget in terms of creating an environment that celebrates risk – surround yourself with objects, sounds, sights and people that “make you burn brighter.” Whatever it is that sears away self-consciousness and makes you feel expansive, delighted or awake… pull it in into your space. Music, nature, toys, colors, crayons, clay, healthy, life-filled foods, people who champion your creativity and the mess that the process makes of you… And of course, remove any objects, sounds, sights and people that make you feel like you need tidy up your flaws and fly right-er.

 

As a writer, I struggle in the middle ground between wanting to write RIGHT (whatever that means) and the paralyzing fear that I don't know what the heck I am doing.  What advice could you give other writers who are stuck in this netherworld?

My friend and teaching partner, Dara Marks, often says, “You can’t analyze a dream until you’ve dreamed it.” I think the first stage of writing needs to be at least a little bit unconscious and groping. You need to be in partnership with your story, not in control of it. This is the stage where you’re not “writing what you know” but rather, you’re writing toward the next thing you’re trying to know. It’s the stage of listening, mirroring, dancing and channeling.

Only after you’ve done you’re exploring, can you start mapping. I mean, of course it’s hair-tearingly frustrating to try and map before you’ve explored, right?

So come at that first part with curiosity, integrity, intention and some amount of abandon and it will feel so much better. At the end, you’ll have something you can interpret and analyze and make decisions about. That’s when you can start structuring – otherwise you’re sculpting before you have clay.   

 

You also had some lovely advice on another way to "blow by the pebbles":  LEARN TO FALL WELL. I absolutely love this because although not all writing days will be awesome and rejection IS going to happen, failing is not the end of the world.  Talk a bit about what learning to fall well means to you. What are some ways that you've learned to fall well?

I wouldn’t say I’ve learned it fully yet – like every human, I instinctually resist falling and the resisting makes falling more awkward. On my best days, though, I can successfully inhabit the understanding that if I’m operating at the outer edge of my skill, i.e. pushing to improve and innovate, I’m going to fall and that’s fine, because in this context, falling is an indicator of progress.

Imagine a gymnast or ice skater standing, stock still and staring at the beam or the ice, trying to work out all the ways this could go wrong. Or imagine them refusing to do anything that risks a fall. No, athletes know they will fall and the falling is as important to the process as the succeeding.

Or how about scientists? Any researcher will tell you that the failures are as important as the successes. They provide crucial data, without which, success could only happen by accident.

So, while I can’t say I’m in a state of release that allows me to fall and fail with ecstatic joy, I can say that being in positive relationship with falling softens my landing and allows me to bounce up more quickly. Additionally, having this perspective encourages me to “fail faster” which leads to more progress.

 

I love your Facebook page because it's so positive. You also post writing prompts that are easy to do but have surprised me with their depth.  What are some writing prompts you'd recommend to the perfectionist?

Any prompt is good for shorting out perfectionism if you go fast enough! That’s the goal at the most fundamental level – short out perfection’s control over you by refusing to stop and tidy and polish as you go.

That said, I would recommend these sentence starters:

My perfectionism…

Perfect is…

If I let myself go…

I could never…

But, remember, these are only effective if you move your pen as fast as it will go, throw grammar and spelling out the window, refuse to cross anything out (try circling it instead), find your willingness to write very unperfect dreck.

In fact, one of my favorite prompts for perfectionism is, “Write as badly as you can for six minutes.” Seriously, choose a topic and explore it in the most clichéd, trite, purple, immature, saggy, wandering, digressive, ungrammatical, incoherent way you can.

 

Deb, what final words of encouragement could you give to the fellow writer who is dealing with resistance?

Okay, so perfectionism is a form of internal critic. It’s there to slow you down and reduce your risk tolerance. Its mission is to keep you safe, keep you from getting hurt. But, of course this assumes that without perfectionism and all the other mean internal critical voices, you would forget to strive, lose all common sense and start submitting your rough drafts and high school poetry to agents. I promise you, perfectionism is not the only thing standing between you and moral decrepitude. It’s not the only thing keeping you safe from mortification and destitution. You can let go, make a mess, experiment, bark up the wrong tree, go down a rabbit hole, fail fifty ways and STILL write your book, but you will write it sooner and you’ll write it better than if you partner with perfectionism.

And remember, perfection, like all inner critics, is the guardian at the gate. And what do guards protect…? Something valuable! A castle, a treasure, a hostage, a weapon, a secret, a game-changing technology! So, if you think about it, any time your perfection flairs, it’s a sign that you’re getting close to something valuable and instead of stopping, you want to go at it with more energy. The more red in the face and fearful your inner critics get, the closer you are to something of value.

 

What is next for you in the author and writing coach world that readers might want to know about?

Well, I’ve taken a big chunk of time off from teaching in order to launch my book and I can’t wait to get back to leading workshops and retreats. I expect to get some things on the calendar for spring and summer in the coming days.

On the writing side of things, I’m finishing up a proposal for a book about creative shame – I think I have a new way of looking at it that could be very helpful. And I’ve just finished my stage play, a modern adaptation of the Persephone myth, and will be sending it out.

 

So many thanks to Deb for sharing her time and insight with me.

If you’d like more information or to connect with Deb, visit the following:

For free prompts, tips and encouragement, like the Deb Norton Writing Facebook page: http://bit.ly/2ci8FrE

Or if Instagram is your jam: @debnortonwriting.com

Or you can also get them in your Twitter feed: @partwild

For news about events and offerings, sign up for Deb’s newsletter (and get a free 30-Day Memoir and Journaling Jumpstart Kit): www.debnortonwriting.com

Deb Norton is a writer, actress, workshop leader, and story analyst. She is a master teacher at Hedgebrook and a former Co-Artistic Director at Theater 150 in Ojai, California. She believes that unleashing creativity is a matter of teaching our wild and civilized parts to play well together, and has developed a series of techniques to break through artistic blocks. She is the author of Part Wild: A Writer's Guide to Harnessing the Creative Power of Resistance (Enliven Books/Simon & Schuster). Deb lives in the Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.

 

 

The World of Vikings, Outlaws, and MMA Fighters: An Interview with Harper St. George

Today I am thrilled to introduce you to historical and contemporary romance author, Harper St. George. Harper’s short story, “The Fallout” appeared in Premiere: A Romance Writers of America® Collection.  I contacted Harper about what it was like being published in RWA’s first anthology, and this began a long-distance writer friendship that I value very, very much. If you needed one more reason why the romance writing community is one of the most inviting and supportive, here you go.

If you love historical fiction and the worlds of Vikings, outlaws, and MMA fighters, read on! And scroll to the bottom to check out how you can stay up to date with her releases!

Historical and contemporary romance author, Harper St. George

Harper, I am excited to share a little bit about you and your writing on my website! For folks who may be unfamiliar with your work, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you write.

Hi Brandi! Thank you so much for having me on your blog. I write historical romance, Vikings and westerns so far, and I’m starting to branch out into contemporary romance.

 

You grew up in Alabama and Florida.  How did your youth in these places lead you to being a writer and influence what you write today?

I grew up in rural areas, and I feel that definitely influenced my writing. My grandparents were full of stories, things that happened in their lives and the lives of people around them. When they were growing up, usually without electricity or easy access to books, people sat around and talked to each other more and shared life experiences. I definitely feel that aspect of our society has changed with our access to media and various mediums. The idea of storytelling hasn’t changed, but the way we experience it does. I feel so lucky to have experienced a little bit of the oral storytelling tradition through them.

 

 Harper, you currently write Western and Viking historical romances for Harlequin. Talk about two completely different settings! Was it challenging as a writer to set your books in such different places?  And what is it about these particular settings that excited you and made you want to create stories in these places and times?

I know! People are usually surprised when I tell them the settings for my romances. You know what? Vikings and Westerns really aren’t that different. Both settings pit men and women against the elements of nature and baser human instincts. I love to write stories that are heavy on character development, and these settings provide a plethora of external conflict that put my heroes and heroines through the ringer.

 

Speaking of Harlequin: Many amazing authors write for Harlequin, and I know many aspiring authors dream of landing a contract with them.  Tell me about your path to publishing with Harlequin.  What’s your advice for writers who are considering pitching or proposing to Harlequin?

Harlequin has a great reputation for helping to develop new voices. I love my editor and how much time she’s taken to help me become a better writer. I’d wanted to write romance ever since I was a teenager, and Harlequin was the first publisher that came to mind when I decided I was finally serious about making my dream a reality.

Harlequin.com has a section for aspiring writers that lists out the requirements for each of their series. I knew that I wanted to start with historical romance, so I found requirements for their Undone line, which featured historical novellas. With two small kids at home, I knew I wasn’t able to focus on a complete book, so I took a chance and wrote a 15,000 word novella. It took me four months to write that and get it polished enough to send it in. Luckily, my current editor pulled it out of the slush pile and liked it enough to ask me for some revisions—I’d written only the heroine’s POV, so she asked if I could add in some scenes from his perspective. I sent it in, and pretty soon they offered me a contract for HIS ABDUCTOR’S DESIRE. After that, I wrote one more novella for them and decided I was ready for a full-length. It took me almost a year, but I wrote ENSLAVED BY THE VIKING.

I know it sounds cliché, but my advice to aspiring writers is to not give up. If you love writing, keep doing it. Keep cranking out stories and trying to find a home for them. Whether you are published right away or not, no story is wasted. You are learning valuable information about yourself and the stories you want to write. It’s hard to see it while you’re in the trenches of the story, but you really do grow with each one.

 

 One of the things that the romance industry does really well is support other romance authors.  In fact, you were kind enough to meet me in person after I contacted you about your short story in the first RWA anthology.  In the course of your career, have you received help and support from other authors?  If so, who were they (if you’d like to share), and what did that help and support look like? What do you think about this “pay it forward” attitude that seems to be prevalent in the romance industry?

I totally agree. The romance industry is one of the most supportive groups of people I’ve ever encountered. Whether it’s a little tidbit of information gleaned from a presentation at nationals, helpful feedback on a contest entry, or a word of encouragement on Twitter, romance authors help each other. I think it’s because we all know how it feels to be outsiders and underappreciated. After all, we have to battle stereotypes and, often, misogyny on a daily basis.

 

I am always curious about writer’s processes.  It seems that no matter whom I talk to, every author writes a book differently!  Do you mind sharing a little bit about your writing process?  How long does it take you? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you set daily word goals, etc.? In particular, do you have any rituals you follow when you sit down to write or edit?

I think my writing process changes with every book. That’s another way of saying I’m still figuring it out … Unless I’m writing something I’ve sold on proposal, which includes a detailed synopsis, I try to write a very sparse outline so I know where I’m starting, and a little of what happens in the middle, and the end. By the time I start writing, I have a very clear idea of the first few chapters.

Because I’m learning the characters as I write, I’ll have to pause after the first few chapters and plan out the next three scenes—which means I’ll write a short paragraph of what happens in each scene. That paragraph will include the POV I’ll use and the goal of each scene. Once I write those, I’ll plan out the next three scenes. I need to have the three scenes so I can feel secure in where I’m going with the story, but not so constrained that I can’t allow for spontaneity.

The only time I set daily word count goals is when I’m getting close to a deadline. I should probably get better about doing that all along, but I can never make myself take them seriously until that deadline is staring at me. With two kids, my only ritual is to sit down the second I have a minute to spare. In fact, having kids probably keeps me disciplined because I don’t have time to spare. I do have set times during the week that I write, no matter what, and I find that helps my brain to know that it’s time to get some words down.

 

Tell us about your newest book releases. What are they - and the series - about?

Check out this cover! IN BED WITH THE VIKING WARRIOR, now available here and here.

Check out this cover!

IN BED WITH THE VIKING WARRIOR, now available here and here.

IN BED WITH THE VIKING WARRIOR is my latest release. The heroine is a Saxon woman who comes across a mystery man wounded in battle. He saves her life, so she takes him home to care for him. The only problem is he doesn’t remember who he is. By the time his memory returns and they realize he’s an enemy…it’s too late for their hearts.

It’s the third book in my Viking Warriors series. The series is set in the late 9th century when the Danes began to settle in England. It follows a band of Viking warriors who fight together and find the loves of their lives along the way.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2f6jjVE

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2d3KDmO

 

 

THE INNOCENT AND THE OUTLAW, now available here and here.

THE INNOCENT AND THE OUTLAW, now available here and here.

THE INNOCENT AND THE OUTLAW is about a band of three outlaw “brothers” (only two are related by blood.) They roam the west looking for a murderer. Along the way they’ve made a lot of enemies. That’s where the heroine gets pulled into the mix. Her stepfather is also an outlaw, so she’s been kidnapped in retaliation for something he did. It was a fun book to write, and I hope readers are enjoying it as much as I loved writing it. It is book one in my new Outlaws of the Wild West series.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2e6rfnN

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/29khdCB

 

 

You also had some exciting news you recently announced about a new book series!  Tell us about that and when readers can expect it!

I’m so happy to announce that I’m making the move to contemporary romance. I’ve been working with my writing partner, Tara Wyatt, to develop a series set in the world of mixed martial arts. The series name is Blood and Glory, and it’ll follow the loves and careers of three MMA fighters. The first book in the series, DIRTY BOXING, is coming September 18, 2017 from PocketStar! Here’s the blurb:

"Perfect for fans of emotionally charged, sexy reads, Dirty Boxing, the first installment in the Blood and Glory series, reveals that the mixed martial arts battles waged inside the octagon are second only to the battles fought in the name of love.

After an unstable childhood, Jules Darcy is very familiar with the risks of falling in love. And as an adult, she’s never let herself forget just how high those stakes can be. That’s why she ran away a year ago after her fling with MMA fighter Nick Giannakis quickly got serious. But when she jumps at the opportunity to reconnect with her dad by accepting a job with his growing fight league, she’s stunned to learn the abs, the chiseled arms, and the rock-solid punches she has to market belong to none other than her former fling. Unable to run away from the sexy middleweight this time, Jules vows to keep things strictly professional. But one look at Nick, and her resolve starts to crumble….

The last thing Nick expects when he signs with the prestigious World Fighting Championship is that he’ll have to work with the only woman who ever broke his heart. Desperate to hide the pain she caused him, Nick vows to keep his distance from his gorgeous ex. But when he realizes their intense chemistry hasn’t faded after a year apart, he wonders if they could have a future together, even if dating the boss’s daughter could complicate his bid for the championship belt.

Under the bright lights of Las Vegas, in the world of high-stakes prize fighting, they’ll have to take a risk and decide if their love is worth fighting for."

 

What are some of your favorite books and authors? What do you like about these works and writers?

I tend to find authors I like and devour all of their books. I love the connection you can have with an author whose voice you love and how you can read anything they write and love it.

Some of my favorites when I first started reading romance were Judith McNaught, Julie Garwood, and LaVyrle SpencerMORNING GLORY will probably always be my all-time favorite romance. I love how she creates amazing, flawed, every day characters and shows their growth through both subtle and unimaginable conflict. Some newer favorites are Molly O’Keefe (M. O’Keefe) and Charlotte Stein.

 

Lastly, Harper, what advice would you share with aspiring authors?

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it, and don’t give up. Listen to advice about improving your craft, but don’t let the fact that there’s no market for your work stop you. Keep writing and good things can happen. You only fail when you stop.

 

For more great information about Harper, visit her website www.harperstgeorge.com to stay up to date on her books. You can also join her newsletter for announcements, exclusives, and first looks: http://eepurl.com/bo04hL