Self Help & Writing Advice

I don’t like self-help books. Which means I often don’t like writing advice books.

Which sucks because I really want to like both of them. I am positive there are things I could learn from them.

I understand that a lot of this is my own personal psychology. If I’m reading a book about how to fix a Thing (that I do, or lack, or whatever), then my handling of that Thing must be broken. Therefore, I am broken. And hearing about how I am doing something Wrong (and how I should be doing it instead) feels accusatory.

Yeah, I know. It’s not. I fully recognize that that is not the intention of the writers of these books.

But at the same time, it’s very easy to internalize case studies of bad practice as “well, if you do this, you are a bad person” and promptly fall into a guilt spiral. Or the “but I can’t do it right” spiral or the “but I tried it your way and it didn’t work” spiral. 

Those are a lot of negative spirals, and I think I’ve been in all of them at one time or another. The most recent one I tried was talking about how to accept interruptions with grace because some things are more important than productivity. True! But at the same time, I look back on my own frustrations—and the clash between available time and the ability obtain focus in the first place—and how I handled them when my kids were small… and yep, there’s the spiral sucking me down.

The best way out of this is to push myself out of my comfort zone. To stop the reaction where I dig in my heels, yell “NO!” really loudly, like a toddler, and refuse to listen.

I try this, sometimes. Or at least, I do my damnedest to internalize the good advice. Especially where writing is concerned. But sometimes with writing advice, it feels very much like… if a writer doesn’t do things in the way people say, they’ll never make it. 

So instead, I try to take what works. 

I acknowledge that some of it isn’t for me. Write every day at the same time in the same place? Hah, yeah, no. My life is way too chaotic for that. For the last two weeks I’ve been trying to scrape together 30 minutes of focus a day, and sometimes that’s spread out over three 10 minute quickie sessions of getting information or doing something quickly. Jotting notes. Creating a space. Doing ten minutes of research. I’m working on the every day, but at the same time, I’m giving myself grace to recognize that it doesn’t always work that way.

Editing advice, and story structure advice, in particular kind of kill my brain. I’ve started planning some things, but doing analysis on my own work reminds me of being in high school. Sure, something might be symbolic, but it was probably my subconscious that came up with it, not something I planned consciously. And yes, analyzing that might be helpful, but I struggle to DO it, and again… spiral. Whoops.

Anyway. There was a point here.

The point is—not all advice is for everyone.

And that’s really important to learn. Figure out what helps you and what doesn’t. Figure out what triggers you into a spiral, and what helps lift you up to be more productive. Adapt. Adjust. Move forward.

Side note here, let me call out a couple of books that DID work for me (see, there are a few).

On the self-help side, I loved How to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing by KC Davis. I probably liked it in part because it came from the point of view of depression and ADHD. I definitely liked it in part because it wrapped around things I already do, and expanded on those.

On the writing advice side, Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin was a good book. I didn’t do all the exercises (something else I struggle with—I am hunting for the perfect journal prompt book) but I very much enjoyed how she approached writing in her examples.

I’m still looking for good books. My frustration hasn’t stopped me from signing up for giveaways on Goodreads when I see something that sounds like it might work for my brain. It hasn’t stopped me from borrowing a book from the library based on a recommendation from a friend (and yes, I buy the ones that work for me).

I’m definitely interested in recommendations, too. As long as no one is insulted when something doesn’t work with my brain.

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