NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is days away. I’m loading up on fiction to feed my brain and imagination. I listened to the unabridged version of Gone Girl. Why? Because I kept hearing the same thing over and over for almost a YEAR.
These people are just SO horrible and yet? You can’t stop yourself.
Regular people. READERS told me this. NOT other writers.
***Bizarrely, I have found there can often be a BIG difference between what we loathe and what readers LOVE, which is why we must continue to write for readers, not other writers.
The READERS were right. And regardless of one’s opinion about the book, I will say it was masterful in that we could see the best and the worst of ourselves reflected back through the characters. The control, self-righteousness, cowardice, love, disappointment, manipulation, etc. (Btw, no spoiler alerts in this post).
Some people love candy-coated fiction. I love the dark stuff. The go-for-the-guts writing that puts the worst of us on display. Because if it isn’t out? We can’t change what we can’t see.
Meet, Kristen Lamb…The JERK
I’m one of the most blessed people on the planet. Truly. I’m not a millionaire and may never be, but I’m infinitely rich. I wouldn’t trade the wonderful people I know personally and on-line for anything. This is a tough post to write because it’s vulnerable.
I have a confession. I am a Recovered (Recovering?) Jerk. It would be nice to lie to you and tell you I never have my moments, but I do. Thankfully, they are far rarer than they used to be. Today, I’d like to talk about some of my Jerk Reformation. It could be a BOOK…okay a SERIES of books, but we’ll touch on the highlights.
And I realize all of you are kind and sweet and don’t need this for you, but maybe it can help with someone you know 😉 . Or maybe make your NaNoWriMo characters a bit richer. People loooove reading about screwed up people.
It’s like my fascination with horror movies. When I have a REALLY BAD KICK YOU IN THE TEETH DAY? Nothing perks me up like a good scary movie.
Because at least I am not (to my knowledge) possessed by demons….
Same with reading. Well, yeah, I’m totally screwed up, but not THAT screwed up.
I used to be highly critical of everyone and everything, including myself. The last part was likely what others never saw. I led those around me to believe they never measured up, but the truth was, I never measured up. I came from a highly dysfunctional and chaotic home. I knew nothing of peace. I only knew
love control. Granted, in my mind I was helping. Yet, I’ve learned over the years that people need acceptance more than “help.”
I was a fraud.
On the outside my clothes were perfect, my hair perfect, my house perfect, but truth was? I was falling apart. I felt that showing any weakness was bad, that it made me a failure. This made me prideful and afraid to ask for help. Others didn’t see I needed help because, “Well, Kristen is ‘perfect'” *rolls eyes* Granted, others probably sensed I was a mess so my “perfect” facade simply generated more resentment.
People aren’t fond of phonies. Imagine that?
Life popped me on the snoot and opened my eyes to my character (or lack thereof); my poor attitude, my judgmental ways and my impossible (and stupid) standards. I couldn’t give away what I didn’t have. I had no grace for myself, so how could I give that to others?
I was white-knuckled-terrified of failure, of not knowing ALL the answers or being *gasp* WRONG. Every quiet moment was a deafening montage in my mind of how I sucked, how I’d screwed up, how I should’ve could’ve would’ve….
I refused to cry, to let others know I was a mess. I bottled it up—the fear, the disappointment, the feelings of inadequacy.
What I’ve come to understand is that failure is the tuition we pay for success. Failure is vital. Failure is an event, not a state of being. Failure is to be celebrated, because it means we’re being brave. We’re trying. We’re daring to do something remarkable. As I began to give myself permission to fall on my face and laugh it off, I realized I needed to do that with others.
We don’t need critics who point out we fell and draw a diagram of our stupidity and how “they would have done it better.” Likely they wouldn’t have done it any better and even if they did? Who cares? What we need is a hand helping us up, patting us on the back and then high-fiving us for daring to TRY.
An ugly stepchild of perfectionism is pride. As I mentioned earlier I was prideful. I knew better, did it better and life was all a competition because 2nd place was the first loser.
Dumb, dumb, dumbditty-dumb-dumb.
Yes, I know. I had something to prove but was too foolish to realize there is nothing in life TO PROVE. Good people don’t judge us by our resume or our lists of accomplishments or rows of trophies. GOOD people won’t remember our designer handbag, our perfect house, our fancy car. They will remember and respond to how we made them feel when they were in our company.
I worked a job for years that I loathed because the pay was good and the title “impressive.” But, I longed to write. Oh, but writing meant I might have to shop at Walmart or thrift stores instead of fancy boutiques. I might have to drive an old car and clip coupons. THE HORROR! What would others THINK?
Probably nothing, LOL.
The funny thing was all those people who were my friends when I could pick up the tab or take them shopping vanished when the money ran out. I learned the hard way that real friends aren’t for sale 😉 . In the past few years? I have family members who’ve vanished. Family I believed LOVED me.
They did…until I outlived my usefulness.
Pride created other problems. Because I was too afraid to admit I wasn’t the All-Knowing-Oracle-Perfect-At-All-Things, I was an unteachable @$$. This left me to relying on luck and resenting others who were successful. Tearing others down to make myself feel better.
Oh, sure, SHE’S a successful writer. If I had a more supportive family, a better computer, a magic pad of FLOWER POST-ITS I could be there too. WHAAAAAHH!
Stupid, I know.
But when I let down my guard and began to admit that perhaps-maybe-kinda-sorta that I didn’t precisely-specifically-exactly KNOW EVERYTHING I began to grow. I could take advice and even *gasp* criticism. I could separate my work from ME. Mentors, critique partners, etc. were pointing out problems in a story or a situation, not ME. Wow! Who knew?
These were baby steps to learning that my work could be flawed and I’d live and even improve. The next step? I could be flawed in my character, behavior, or attitudes and would live to tell the tale! I might even…improve.
Boundaries, Anger, Forgiveness
For a long time I suffered with an anger problem. I’d love to lie to you guys and tell you I’m perfect and totally cured but I hear thunder rumbling outside and don’t want to push my luck 😀 . When I grew to a point that I could accept increasing layers of critique/criticism with my writing, I was more open to others pointing out my personal flaws.
I was a people-pleaser and said yes to everything. Then I’d get overloaded, stressed, angry and lash out. I’m still working on not overextending. Shingles will show you painfully your own limitations.
I love to help. I DO. If I meet you at a conference and hug you and tell you that you will change the world and that I BELIEVE IN YOU or that I really DO care about you? It isn’t an act at all.
An energy drain, yes. But optimism as a superpower? I’ll roll with that.
Ugly truth? I used to say all the same things I do now, only I said them solely so you would “like” me. Not because I believed in you. I didn’t believe in me. How could I believe in you, too?
Optimism is a great character trait, but it needs balance. One of the reasons I’d lash out in anger is I was realllllly bad at putting down boundaries, communicating them and sticking to them in a loving way. I’d back up and back up and back up and say, “Oh, it’s okay” when it wasn’t.
What I’ve learned is that boundaries are part of all healthy relationships. I heard this metaphor and love it. Your life, MY life is like a beautiful garden (which likely needs a lot of weeding but that’s another post). Frequently we buy into the lie that fences are bad. People should be free to come in and out of our lives. This is true, which is why all good fences have a GATE. You will NEED this gate more than ever when you decide to become a writer. You might need RAZOR WIRE on that gate for NaNo.
Writing isn’t a hobby or a fun cute thing we do. It is WORK. HARD FREAKING WORK and others will not respect that unless we draw a line.
Everything we’ve discussed so far might be useful for you on a personal level. Maybe you aren’t as messed up as I was (am?). Chances are though, if you’re a writer, fiction is cheaper than therapy. The interesting thing about Gone Girl is it viscerally showed me how we could root for utterly unlikeable people.
The difference between a selfish, insecure jerk who is a horrible person versus a pure sociopath is that, eventually, the terrible-no-good-awful person realizes they are a terrible-no-good-awful-person. Maybe they try to change. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they do the right thing. Maybe they don’t. But the linchpin difference is their eyes are opened to the reality of who they truly are.
The same applied to ME. The perfectionism, pride, back-biting, resentment, jealousy, anger, false pretenses were fuel that kept me in the destructive cycle of being a jerk. Unlike some fictional characters, I chose to change.
My disaster of a life showed me that I needed to learn to love others where they are. Love myself where I am. Perfection is a lie. Pride is a poison. I had to forgive myself if I ever hoped to forgive others.
We Are All Works in Progress
We all have good days, bad days and days we wish we could erase completely. Most people are not sitting up all night thinking of ways to make others miserable (Some do, so don’t let them through that gate until they knock it off). We screw up and always will.
But the good news is we can learn, grow and become better (so can our characters). We can discipline ourselves to look for the good in ourselves and others, because it takes no great talent to be critical. And the beautiful thing is when we learn to give ourselves permission to be imperfect, we get better at extending that grace to others. As we become more dimensional, so does our writing.
If we only want to be around “perfect” people, life will get really lonely. Also, good fence-building is a skill that takes time.
I love this blog and adore all of you. Honestly. I love how you guys talk about your struggles and lift one another up. I’m inspired by your generosity, your honesty, your newness, your authenticity, your brokenness, your flaws, your weakness, your strengths and all of it makes me better every day. I might still be a jerk without you 😀 .
What are your thoughts? Shocked I am a Recovering Jerk? Hey, we jerks need friends too. Do you struggle with perfectionism? Do you find yourself holding others to super high standards because you do it to yourself? Are you afraid of being you? Afraid if people knew your house was loaded with laundry they might not like you?
Do you deal with family who tramples through your heart and home? Are you learning about how to put up good fences too? Are you afraid if you cry you might never stop? Are you a Recovering Jerk too? What did you learn?
Are you afraid to write the awful character? Do you find yourself candy-coating? And share your thoughts on Gone Girl, just try not to spoil it for those who might want to still read it. I could write a BOOK about my opinions.
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
September’s Winner: Taylor Grace. Please send your 20 pages (10,000 word WORD doc to kristen at wan a intl dot com). You an also choose to instead send a one page query or synopsis. Congratulations!
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.
I’m one of the (likely) few who haven’t read, listened to, or watched GONE GIRL. I heard many of the same things you did (about the awful characters), and I thought it better not to bother. I’ve never been able to build up much empathy for characters who are their own worst enemies, needlessly (I’m thinking of films like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Blow, etc. etc…I really try, but I find that Just. Don’t. Care what happens to them, because I find them odious as people, whether or not they are the protagonist of their stories. Strangely enough that doesn’t seem to be a problem for me with classic works, like the protagonists of Shakespeare’s tragedies, but I figured it was because the Bard was so good at what he did that he was able to provide enough balance to allow me to care).
Your post is making me reconsider GONE GIRL. It seems like maybe it’s got more going for it and I could find a way to root for “bad” characters in a modern tale, for once. Thanks for the food for thought!
Maybe just do the movie, LOL. Shakespeare gave us the same DREADFUL people as Kill Bill and Gone Girl and it’s why we remember them.
I’m with you. Neither I or my husband could make it through “Pulp Fiction”, “Reservoir Dogs”, etc. I ended up skimming through “Penny Dreadful” because most of the characters are so unlikable. I saw a review I trust of the film version of “Gone Girl”, so, yeah, I might give it a go (without the spouse).
Yeah, I have to be in the mood. No idea about the movie, but the author in the book? MASTER MANIPULATOR. You feel used, like your feelings have been toyed with and that is EXACTLY what you’re supposed to feel.
I hear you. I wanted to like Penny Dreadful – the idea sounded good, and I really like Josh Hartnett as an actor – but I felt the same. I really, really like many dark, tormented, and twisted characters…heck, my villains are more fun for me to write, usually, than my protagonists. But I have to care about them in some way. They have to have some redeeming quality or some hint of a soft underbelly, or I just can’t be bothered.
My name is D. Marie Prokop and I am a recovering jerk. Thanks for not leaving me all alone in my misery. My next book, which I am prepping for now fro Nano, is supposed to be full of conflict and turmoil. I often shy away from deep, deep flaws in my characters because it’s so darn uncomfortable, but I have to take off the kid gloves for this one. Facing my own demons is certainly helping. Wish me luck!
Wow, this post was timely. I have to write the scenes with my villain in them. I don’t want to. I want the world to be gauzy and filled with happy unicorns and flowers that never die… But I have to have this villain… have to have him. I have to let the readers know him a little so they can understand why he’s such an awful person. What drives this guy? He’s mean.
I’m going to give it a shot now. The rest of the book is done… just these few scenes with bad guys and motives. I’m also going to give my good characters some dark press. Thank you for this post.
So I woke up at 3:52 this morning and never went back to sleep. I was laying there thinking about how I quit my well paying corporate job (that I loathed and could hardly get out of bed for each morning) back in March. I wrote a short book, started a blog, and I completely suck at being a “writer”. It’s been my dream since I was a teeny tiny girl, but I don’t know how people actually do this for a living (and I’m afraid that if I let go of this dream, I’ll have nothing left to dream about or strive for the rest of my life). So as I’m laying there, I’m thinking about all the things I gave up, and how if I don’t figure out a way to monetize my blog, or write something fabulous that someone will publish, or land freelance work (or whatever it takes, because I clearly can’t figure it out), I’m going to lose everything I’d worked and saved for, and I, too, will have to let go of the same facade you wrote about. I’m afraid my friends won’t look at me the same way, that my girlfriends with fabulous clothes and accessories will notice I’ve been using the same Kate Spade bag for two years, that my car is getting old, and I’m in no way able to replace it, that I’ll stop vacationing in cool places. I also completely identified with your being a perfectionist. I think it’s ruining me! Every day I have to make sure my house is completely spotless, laundry going, dinner prepped, shopping done (or at least the lists are done), etc. before I even give myself permission to write, which makes for crazy long days. I desperately want a house that looks “lived in” and “warm” instead of like one that’s constantly ready for a real estate open house. I.Cannot.Let.Go. I feel like I sabotage my own happiness because of this perfectionist obsession. I loved your advice, and I am so grateful for your willingness to share your stories, your vulnerability and transparency, and your honesty.
Oh, Honey, I will not BS you. It is HARD. But it is worth it. I’ve not had new shoes in a YEAR because I pay cash for EVERYTHING. I get my hair done once a quarter instead of every other week and I can’t remember my last pedicure. But I LOVE what I do. And letting go is not static. Most days I am okay. We got a SWEET deal on our home because of the disastrous carpet and unpainted walls. Five years later? Still here. And younger me would have killed herself to fix it. Now? I have five books written, three are best-sellers. Three NF on contract, a popular blog and if people don’t like my walls with Crayon art from Spawn? Feel free to bring a paintbrush and fix it your damn self. People who know us and LOVE us don’t CARE.
I’m not telling you to quit the day job. But plan your escape and you WILL have to choose. Clean house or your dream? And how much of the cleaning and perfectionism is driven by the fears you might just fail as a writer? You might. In fact, you probably will. I have. Countless times. But I got back up, and up, and up—had a drink—got back up. And then? Things began to change because I am, if anything, an OUTLASTER. You can be too :).
Your home will be messy by tomorrow, but your writing will outlive you, your children and their children.
I cannot even begin to explain how badly I needed to hear this today. One hundred times, thank you.
Honey, we ALL need to hear it. I am swimming in laundry. I BADLY need a shower. I have to take the cat to the vet and we won’t even START on the condition of my closets and e-mail. But letting go of perfect helps us embrace insanity, which makes EXCELLENT fiction 😉 . ((HUGS))
I often think that my own insanity could become a best seller! Now just to write ot down…
Where’s the “like” (or “love”) button for this reply?! Oh my gosh, how much I needed to hear this! You’re right. I think we all do–at least at certain times.
I completely identified with your comments. I think in your case though, it’s clearly a case of you being too hard on yourself. I read your blog, Mrs. Jones…., and really enjoyed it! You’re clearly literate, insightful, and engaging with readers, which is more than I can say for myself. Give yourself a break and let your hair down a little. You’re awesome!
Thank you! You brightened my day 🙂 I’m guessing most of us are too hard on ourselves. It’s a huge growth area for me.
Tell me about it! Why do you think my blog is still blank? It’s taken me way too long to publish because I’m too hard on myself and too much of a wimp to put myself out there. At least you took some risks, and it’s paying off nicely (even if it’s not monetarily). Keep up the good work! I’m working on following suit soon, but taking baby steps. I wish there was a support group for struggling, aspiring writers….”Hello, my name is Elisabeth, and I’m a wannabe writer.”??
I know exactly how you feel! At first you feel like your just exposing your soul to the whole world and its terrifying, but once you do it, you’ll be surprised by how much support you will receive. Let me know when you start to publish, I’d love to read it 🙂
Thanks for commiserating and for your interest. I’m a total amateur, so could use some supportive but honest feedback, tips, etc.. How long have you been writing? I noticed that Kristen does have a writer’s support group, #myWANA. Are you a part of that? I’m going to check it out as the writing life is pretty lonely, especially for new writers.
Would love to connect with you there or continue the conversation here, whichever you’re interested in. No pressure though. 😉
Thats is fantastic, i didnt know about her support group, but id love to connect with you more there as well. Im also really new, I have so much to learn!
Me more than you! Kristen is right, writing is such a lonely way of life, so if love to connect with you more as well. I’m working on a novel now and building a website, but like you, I have to balance it all with family, kids, and my hope of eventually turning it into some kind of income. I know it’s somewhat unfounded, but I feel like if I’m able to make money from my writing (some day), I can finally add Value and contribute financially. I know there are tons of people out there who would say that I’m adding “value” to my family now by just simply being there for them, keeping a nice house, and cooking a lot of homemade meals; but societal clues & signs everywhere suggest otherwise. Sounds like you have similar feelings, which is why I really identified with your comments. If that’s true, and you need a fellow cheerleader, friend, or fellow struggling writer to lend an ear (or eyes) once in a while, don’t hesitate to drop me a line anytime. I’m out there plugging along every day.
Im so glad we connected, Elisabeth! I would love to be one another’s cheerleader! Im starting a novel, too. Im excited and scared! Any chance you’re doing nanowrimo?
Would love to connect through our websites. I could use a cheerleader throughout the day. Will email you directly so we don’t make the comment feed on Kristen’s blog too long.
KIT any time & keep up the good work Jessica!
I got up at 5:02, so I could have my hour to write before the drive to the day job… (a job I love so much I won’t be able to quit – even for writing. so it’s got to balance)
Thank you for posting your comments – you inspire me. To keep writing. every day.
I have a tendency to candy coat and it’s something I have been working hard on this month. Vulnerability is hard to expose, but it shows another layer.
Great post and reminder!
Hi Kristen, I’m new to your blog and wanted to say thank you for sharing such a brave post. I’m currently working on a novella and my protagonist isn’t the most likable person on the planet (although she’s got nothing on the characters in Gone Girl). Thank you for encouraging me to explore her imperfections rather than candy-coating her. I think she and the novella will be the better for it.
I’m usually a lurker, but this really struck me today. I was working on getting over my perfectionism, only to have my “heart and home” trampled on by family. I feel like because I allow myself and my husband and daughter to not be perfect, I am being judged by other members of my family. I feel like I’m all broken glass inside. If I look at what broke me, I’ll get cut by the glass. Sorry for venting, I really wanted to let you know how close to home this post hit.
Thanks for giving us a shoulder to cry on sometimes Wana Mamma.
OK, That went a bit wrong! LOL- Snort! Kristen, I love and appreciate your transparency. Have so been there. Guess what? I am going to try this Na no Na no thing. First time. Prayers going up and fingers crossed!
I loved your confessions of a ‘recovering jerk’ post. I laughed at while reading, and realized the funny thing I had not really thought about for a long time.
What do ‘I’ like to read?
I always steer toward the dark stuff to read and watch. But, I love the funny stuff. In fact, about a hundred years ago (exaggeration) I wrote a very tiny, tiny, home (my house) newspaper (when computers were first out) I would put little things about my kids doing the chores, and humorous day’s events etc. Kind of like an Erma Bombeck sort of thing. But, alas, I then got a real job and went to work in the daily grind for 30 years so I stopped. I was finally able to retire, I even took the early out. That is when I became interested again.
So, I started writing again for fun. I have nothing published, ever, but I had started many stories in the past, with no time to complete them, I lost most of the material. Now, I am getting new ideas, and each day I look for your Blog to give me the inspiration and kick start that I need! I am the most complete Amateure of all time, that ever was. But I will persevere!
I joined the NaNoWriMo because I have a book in me somewhere. It has been trying to come out for years, I hope that it finds its way under the pressure of the contest.
Knowing that I am not perfect, helps me, knowing that others are not perfect, calms me!
PS I have not read Gone Girl yet.
I think you just told the story of my life. Yes, to pretty much all of it. It took a child nose-diving into hell to pull me out of the need to control and look good. It’s tough to look good when you’re a pastor and your kid shows up to church on drugs. But oh, the grace that just covers over so much and washes so much away. Losing all that perfectionist crap is the most freeing thing that could happen to a person. My writing and ministry are devoted now to helping people be free, and I love the change. (And wow, do other moms love hearing my talk on anger 😉 You are so right. We are all jerks. Admitting it and moving on is way less work than keeping up the act.
Once again, you’ve echoed my thoughts and summed up the whole of my social being in one single post! How do you do that? Thank you so much for such an insightful, relevant confession! I’ve been following your blog for a few months, and dare to say that I’m becoming a better writer through your posts. By “better”, I mean that I’m writing more and taking more risks as I gain more confidence in my own abilities as I see through you that other really great writers have had some of the same stumbling blocks, fears & shortcomings as I do, but they don’t let it stop them from writing. Like you, I was (am) a perfectionist, but I’m starting to see that vulnerability is not only normal, it makes for great reading material! Thanks a million for sharing your vulnerabilities with us!
I don’t mean this to sound cheesy. I would love if my posts made y’all adore ME (if you do, TOTALLY COOL with me), but it isn’t my goal. I want you to embrace and adore and forgive YOU. Because there is and only ever will be YOU. And we spin our wheels trying to please others and make them like us and that facade will steal our joy, our courage and even our dreams. I hope my posts give you the courage to embrace the beautiful mess we all are. Ok, some of us start out as horrifying train wrecks and graduate to beautiful messes, but the point is that imperfection is what makes us perfectly unique (we might not useful, but we ARE unique, LOL). ((HUGS))
Just found out about your WANA group and am going to check it out. Thanks Kristen! Btw – how does NanoWrite work? Is it something you have to sign up for?
You can do it officially or unofficially. Sign up on the NaNoWriMo site (google it). I do it “unofficially” and just keep tabs and accountability using the #NaNo on Twitter.
Love your honesty, Kristen!! We all have things we regret/wish we’d done different. The best you can do is learn from your mistakes and help others not to do the same or to turn a new path.
You mean I don’t have to mop the floors today? Thank goodness! Kristin, I concur with all the above comments, you always write posts that are so appropriate to our lives. The novel inside of me is about my birth mother, whom I never met, but I’ve heard stories… Her life through my eyes is not going to be sugar coated, so she may be somewhat of a dislikable character. Maybe it’s me venting because she gave me up – maybe it’s because I see some of me in her. And when I finish writing about her, I’ll write about me – but that will not be until my family and friends realize I’m not the perfect person they think I am. I’m going to try this NaNoNaNo thing so I can discipline myself to get what’s inside of me out.
I could almost mirror this exactly! Except I’m a nice person in recovery. Hoping to work up to jerk status.
I spelled your name wrong, Kristen, so sorry. See, I will worry about that now because it was not perfect.
like’n this – thanks..
Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us! You have truly inspire me and made me smile!! Thank you!
Great post. Thank you for sharing your personal story. I’m a current recovering perfectionist as well. I’m encouraged by your post. Makes me think there’s hope.
You tell it like it is, Kristen, you walk the talk and talk the walk, and set the bar for motivation up a few notches to encourage slugs like me to excel. Of course, we’d follow you over every hill that only is too much for the ones who won’t even try.
I love to live through some of my characters, since a couple of them are the jerks we all might “secretly” want to be, at times…
And anyone who says they’ve never been a jerk is a HUGE liar!
Recovering Jerk and in therapy for perfectionism. Writing is not a place for a perfectionist. My inability to write perfectly, land a book deal within a month and view criticism as impersonal kept me from striving for my dream of being published.
15 months after quitting my job and writing full-time (probably not 40 hours per week spewing words, but there is so much more to writing than writing), I am still unpublished. I am considering advice to check out independent publishers, but I don’t want to give up my traditional dream too easily. I am nearing the million words written end to my apprenticeship. The best is yet to come.
Much in part due to your encouragement with this blog, in classes and on the phone. Sorry to say, I just haven’t met the “jerk Kristen.”
Kristin, I love your blog since you talk with humor about life and writing. At the end of each blog you talk about WANA. I’ve been waiting for a long time hoping you would explain what WANA is in one of your blogs. Now, I have to ask straight out. What the heck is WANA?? Deb Hockenberry Deb Hockenberry, Children’s Author KidzTales http://www.debhockenberry.com Where Can We Have The Party? – Coming soon from 4RV Publishing Entertaining, one word at a time.
One of the tabs of this blog explains it. It stands for We Are Not Alone and we chat on FB using #MyWANA, or hang out on the WANA International FB page. It’s a group of mainly writers who are there to be what we often don’t have in life. We talk, laugh, love, share, support. Unlike a lot of hashtags it isn’t just about writing and VERY little promotion. I smite spammers. We get pudding when we behave which means we never EVER get pudding 🙁
This post explains it best, I think. http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/wana-a-nursery-for-stars/
I hate you!!! I’m never reading your blog again! J/K 🙂 A friend of mine died a couple days ago. I cried for the first time in a very long time. As a person who lives with anxiety/panic I finally realized how much I’ve kept bottled up inside for years. Always stoic, putting on a mask, keeping it (me) normal so I wasn’t embarrassed by how I would like to act. It felt good to cry, like a ginormous weight had lifted off my shoulders. I’d told myself it wasn’t ok to cry. Weaklings cry. Emotional people cry. Not me. I’m strong…right?
Thanks, once again for your timely post, Kristen. It helps. 🙂
Holy cheesecake, the MC in my current WIP is a LOT like you, in that she expects perfection from others and herself because she can’t forgive herself for past ‘mistakes’ so makes her feel like a failure. EXCELLENT post (and helps me clarify my MC’s internal struggles!) As for GONE GIRL? Couldn’t finish the book, she reminded me too much of a very real, twisted woman I knew years ago. I hope to see the movie though, not sure why I think that won’t bother me as much! 🙂
Not so deep in her HEAD, LOL. Was definitely an interesting book. Perfection is birthed from feeling inadequate and out of control. You need to ask the tough questions. What is she hiding? Why does she fear NOT being in total control? Then you have your story and one that will deeply resonate. Because as JACKED UP as Amy was, I could see shades of myself.
This was wonderful! Thank you for sharing! I too, hhaven’t read Gone Girl and really don’t care too. I have found my reading habits are completely different from most of the people I know. You’ve got me thinking as to why. Also, thank you for reminding me to be thankful every day! And to ttry harder at everything. Peace Doll!
Watched the film of Gone Girl and…I didn’t expect such a dark, screwed-up film, but it was definitely something interesting. Made me think! Especially about the motives of the characters, what they were REALLY thinking.
As a recovering codependant, and perfectionist (with writing–I can’t make myself write crap. It has to be good.), it felt nice to read this post. It spoke to me, especially the fences and gates. I like that metaphor. I always thought that I was a bad person for trying to please people and then resenting what I did.
Somehow, that same vulnerability doesn’t come across in the writing. But I guess, I’m trying to shield myself in my writing in some way too. I have to try and not do that. 🙂
Wait a minute. Didn’t I take that photo of your temper tantrum? 🙂
One of my friends used to call me ‘The Supreme Organised One.’ I thought it was a compliment. I couldn’t stand to see inefficiency, so I’d point out (even to complete strangers) how they could save time by doing things my way. Fortunately, I had children who weren’t interested in being told, and they opened my eyes to another world. I capped it all off by ditching my engineering career to be a romance writer. I do love happy endings and sugar-coated stories, I think, deep-down, we don’t really believe they are possible or realistic… but they are. I’m sure of it. The fact that we can change ourselves proves it.
Failure is an EVENT, not a state of being.- I LOVE this line. It is so true, it’s a moment, that we can get past and learn from not who we are.
I adore you and love you. Thank you for being so vulnerable and open with us. I can be a royal bitch a truly nasty piece of work and I am very judgmental to myself and to a lesser extent others. It is something I am working on. 🙂
I feel bad setting such strong boundaries in my life, especially with my time. But my writing is important, and I have lost people because honestly spending time with them wasn’t as important as writing, or when I did spend time with them it was such an energy drain that I couldn’t get anything else done for the rest of the afternoon.
As I edit my work I’m going to think of this post and make sure my characters are real and flawed and awesome, like you 🙂
It’s unbelievable how much I saw myself in your post. I grew up in a very small family and had a lot on pressure on me, always having to be the perfect daughter with excellent grades and excellent results in everything. My first female friend arrived when I was 16. Before that, my best friends were all boys, a group of extremely smart, quick-mouthed, highly competitive people. I had to do things twice as well as them to prove my worth, and I did it every time. I was the first of my class, I won school prizes, I was the only girl allowed in their group because I was oh-so-fucking-smart. In other words, I was an arrogant know-it-all, and proud to be. Failure wasn’t an option. A girl called me Hermione Granger during all high school, and sadly she referred only to the character of the first half of the first book. Also, just like you, showing emotions wasn’t an option either. I didn’t allow myself that kind of weakness. I was so eager to please everyone that I never said “no”, never set any boundaries, I just bottled everything up for years. The explosion was inevitable, at some point.
When I moved away for college, I had a hard time. I started failing at a lot of things, mostly because I hated what I was studying. And there was no one to compete with, I missed my friends so much and I thought they were (and I was) so much better than anybody else that I just couldn’t find the motivation to even be “good”. I ended up in a very dark place.
But now I can say I’m happy it happened. I had to learn how to cope with failure, with my mother’s disappointment, and most of all with my consuming sense of shame. It took me years, but I grew up, for real this time. I was lucky, I met amazing people who just accepted me for who I was (even if I was a jerk to them at first), who never made me feel judged. I learned to come to terms with the fact that I’m not perfect, nor I’m supposed to be. And I started to forgive myself.
Now I couldn’t be happier. I love my life, I’m a positive person surrounded by positive people, I don’t take myself that seriously anymore (actually I often laugh at myself), every time I make a mistake I think “ok, it’s not the end of the world, let’s see what I can learn from it”. And the paradox is that I have never been more self-confident. I used to fake strenght because I had none, because the truth was I needed other people’s approval to feel worthy. I didn’t love myself, but I couldn’t admit it, or feel bad about it (let alone cry), because that would have meant I was weak. Pride has always been my deadly sin.
I’m so glad I have changed. I can be still very proud, now and then, but every time I fall now I see a chance to learn something and become a better person. And I think my writing can only improve thanks to that.
Sorry about my babbling (and my English, it’s not my first language!), but your post really brought back a lot of memories. Thanks so much for sharing.
Babble away. It’s what we are here for! 😀 It is a weird paradox isn’t it? The more you allow yourself to be weak, the stronger you actually are. ((HUGS)) THANK YOU for your comment!
Wow. I think you’ve hit a nerve here with this post. (You often do, actually, but seriously!) This post…the comments… All the things I was going to say have been said. So many people feel this way and it’s nice to not feel alone in it. So, once again, thank you.
This is a great post, for many reasons including all of the ones already commented on.
For me, the discussion around perfectionism and judgment resonated a lot. I don’t know if I should consider myself lucky or not that I’ve never stuck around at a job to live a luxury consumer lifestyle because I was born into lower middle-class (fourth/third-generation poverty) and grew up in thrift stores, my expectations are already low when it comes to money/luxury items.
Still, I was raised with a perfection-mentality of presenting an image to others that would appear unbreakable, supported by constant judgment of others for appearing weak or vulnerable (tenuous confidence built through tearing others down). For my teen years, I held back crying and bottled it up until I moved out of my household and it all came pouring out, and it still is.
Around four years ago, while finishing my university degree, I began self-reflexive contemplation of who I was and who I was being. It was then that I realized the inherited attitude wasn’t who I wanted to be or even, who I was. It was just all I had known.
It was tough because, like you mention, friends and family got shaken up by this change in my expression. It was pretty startling to see who left (because even though I’m not rich, I still would offer to pay for dinners and gas because I had no concept of financial boundaries and a number of peers jumped on that opportunity).
Overall, it’s a mess of knots and tangles to go through, which is why the vulnerability in your post resonated with me; I’m still cultivating myself and my awareness of that self on a constant basis and I don’t plan on stopping ever. I’m figuring out how to build friendly fences and I thank you for the metaphor of a gate because that imagery helps me conceptualize it.
A lot of my insecurities as a writer are due to the perfectionist attitude lingering. I often find myself slipping into worries about whether an aspect of my story is perfect or not, as well as whether I am balancing the role of writing in my life appropriately to what would be considered “acceptable” by the average, mainstream person…
…but I’m drawn to writing and I can’t deny that it is a medium where I shine as an artist. It’s just scary sometimes to know how competitive the market is and that failure should be expected, but at the same time, I want to be able to build a home of my own and have a foundation that will provide security to my loved ones and so the less failure and more successes, surely the easier that will be… then again, the only way I’ll know what will happen on the path is to keep walking on it.
Again, great post, thank you for sharing. <3
Thanks for taking the time to write this post! I’m a recovering jerk myself, though when the realization came I thought, “wow, I’m a d@!k.” So I made the commitment to trying not to push my insecure – have to be perfect – overbearing attitude on others. It’s been tough! I know the anger you speak of, very well. It can be enough to drive me bananas (everytime o wrote that I hear Gwen Stefani…) but I’m working on those fences and slowly but surely my plates clearing (sort of). I doubt my writing all the time. I’m not so much scared of the characters sucking, I’m more worried about the WHO STORY sucking. It’s a problem, but a writing workshop I attended recently really helped me to develop a good short. At least the other students said it was, I still see the holes. It didn’t help woth my terrible grammar and mechanics but hey, baby steps you know? I haven’t read Gone Girl. From the reviews I easy ready to spend the cash and it’s not part of Kindle Unlimited. I saw you mentioned maybe watching the movie but I’m not a Ben Affleck fan. Not even Goodwill Hunting and I loved that movie. But to end this super long rambling of words, thank you again. I love your posts!
Clearly autocorrect helped with that post!
I can’t STAND Affleck and am trying to find ways to see the movie without paying for it so he doesn’t make money. I only downloaded “Gone Girl” because I signed up for a trial of Audible and you get two free books and I used one of my credits. I’d hoped it would be good, but wasn’t out money if I hated it with the trial offer. I’m actually going to BUY a paper copy now. The author earned her royalties in my POV and I just bought another of her books. And no worries on typos. Usually, if you don’t rat yourself out, I correct them for you 😉 . And hell, it’s COMMENTS on a BLOG. If people get pissy? Pound sand. We like to have fun here.
Typos happen. It’s the age of technology and autocorrect. I don’t mind making fun if my poor editing skills when there’s a fail on my part. Keeps me human. Or it makes my smartphone stupid. Eitherway, it makes me laugh. I’d say wait for Amazon or Netflix for that then though you’re still ‘paying’ for it. As for Gone Girl, I’m on the fence. But if audible is doing a trial maybe it couldn’t hurt. I’ve never listened to a book before I’m not sure how it’ll go. What the h, I’ll give it a go. I’ll either love it or want to punch my radio…
you can probably request the movie through your local public library district.
Hi Robin, do you think it’s at the libraries yet? I know in my area the library has older films (2-3 years) because it’s all based on donations.
GAH!! This funnily enough is something I came across in the novel I wrote last year that I only read back a few weeks ago.
I was astounded at how horrible my main character was. She was nasty and sarcastic and I thought to myself, yes, she is meant to be, its a real and raw character going through the hardest time in her life where everything fell apart…what is she meant to be? Happy and perky.
I ended up rethinking her character and behaviour in order to be more ‘likeable’ because I was worried a reader would dislike my main character and therefore disregard my novel completely.
This post has made me realise that I don’t have to change her…she will be flawed, in all its beauty because flaws are what make us human. They are what make us grow and give purpose and interest to our lives (and characters).
This was awesome and exactly what I needed. Thank you!
It’s okay for them to be flawed, even HORRIBLY flawed, if we have some context. I am finishing Book Two of a trilogy and the perky, lovable character of Book One is SCREWED UP. She is super paranoid and unlikable…until you get WHY she is that way. And you can balance it with good things. The character says something crappy and in narrative winces and hates herself for being a jerk. Or, in Book Two, my character is a hacker and does a LOT of illegal things. BUT her favorite pastime is baiting pedophiles on social media then hacking their computers and melting their hard drives. So even though she IS a cast-iron b!@#$, you (hopefully) can’t help but kinda root for her.
Also side characters can help. For instance, in Terminator 2, Sarah Connor was UNLIKABLE, but we loved her boy. And we loved HER because SHE loved her boy. Hope that helps.
If we are honest, ALL of us are at some point in our “Jerk Recovery Journey” – JRJ! And, none of us will ever be fully recovered – jerkiness is incurable, it can be managed and hopefully reduced but JRJ will show itself in all its ugliness sometimes – we are Jerk Works in Progress or Jerk-Wips – Yum sounds like a not so tasty smoothy!!
Kristen, I appreciate your honesty in this post! We are so hard on ourselves, we need to give the grace and encouragement we give to friends to ourselves more often. Thanks for your encouragement to continue on no matter what!
RE: Gone Girl, I also read it and then saw the movie, the movie was a good adaptation. It is a dark story; I enjoyed not being sure who to cheer for, who to feel sorry for and who to hate!
Thank you for sharing all of this. I recognize some parts of myself in your text, maybe most of all in the area of perfectionism. I try not to judge others, but I can be pretty harsh with myself and that sometimes leads to me being harsh with others as well. I liked what you said about failure, how it should be celebrated because it means we’re trying and doing things, and I complete agree. But the fact I agree doesn’t mean I always do exactly that… I’ve been afraid of failure and messing up and being less than perfect and embarrassing myself, but I’m slowly trying to let that go and embrace failure. Life shouldn’t be taken that seriously.
The thing about boundaries also sounded familiar to me but, funnily enough, I think NaNo is one of the few times I can actually manage to keep up with my schedule because people tend to understand it better. It has a deadline and a word count, while my “regular writing” doesn’t. I really should get a better gate though.
To end this babbling, I’d like to say that I very much enjoy your blog and the way you write, and I was surprised to hear you’re a Recovering Jerk. You don’t seem like a jerk at all, so your recovery process must be working 🙂
I just finished editing the final draft of my first book! I should publish it in the next few days but my inner perfectionist is screaming “No! Not yet! It’s still not ready!” But I will ignore it and move on. Finish it, don’t perfect it – damn it!
Wow. How do you do this, Kristen? Sometimes I read your blog and it’s like you’re pulling out all the words I’ve shoved away in the deep, dark recesses of my soul and airing it out. Thank you. I believe after reading this that I too am a recovering jerk that probably needs to take a deep breath and not be afraid to fail.
Because humans aren’t all that different. We often need others to be brave and admit they are flawed so we can be brave, too. For me, it was Joyce Meyers (a minister) who talked about her daily struggles to even be a decent human being, that even though she was in ministry she had bad days. REALLY? Was liberating.
Great post, Kristen! I can sympathize as I also struggle with perfectionism–especially when it comes to wanting to do a good job, be it at the day job or writing. Fortunately I’ve given up on presenting a “perfect” picture to my “friends”.
My biggest struggle now is that I hate my corporate job but can’t afford to quit as mine’s the only income my family has. It will take years before I can even theoretically start to make any money off writing. It’s really hard to keep up the optimism when I see the years stretching out ahead, and all the hours of effort in soul-numbing work.
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Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is very timely for me. I am most definitely a jerk in recovery too. This week’s struggles….practicing patience! Tough one for me right now. I’m working F/T in a job I’m not wild about (haven’t been for a few years) and daydreaming about ways to write more. I do have a blog but definitely censor what I write. I need to just let it all go, sit down and write and not worry about what others think.
@ Jessica Barrett and Kristen: This is interesting on so many levels. Kristen you and I have spoken before. I have been one of those people that is so willing to get advice and criticism so that I can become a better writer, a stronger writer. Like you Jessica, I have dreamed of being a writer; I have been doing it in the background since I was a child. Every chance I got I wrote– poetry, short stories, it didn’t matter as long as I was writing. But somewhere along the way I decided I needed steady income, a salary– I needed to show the world (and my family) that I could do it on my own, that I was smart. My demon…..needing to prove I can do something, that I’m smart. Because somewhere along the way people started telling me I wasn’t (or showing me I wasn’t). So I pursued not only my B.S. degree (only minoring in English), but I went on to get a Master’s degree in Social Work– of all things. My family, my husband, my friends were so proud. Then I got the “responsible” job. That’s when things started going sideways. I struggled, not with helping people or diagnosing people, but with colleagues, bosses and just getting up every day to do that job. I put everything I had into it (including not writing to focus on my day job, which was a total emotional and creative drain). My first experience was being told I couldn’t go down to part time so I could finish an internship (after 4 years of dedicated service to this org.) So I left. Then my next FT job, which lasted 2 years, landed me in the cross hairs of a bullying director, a sabotaging boss, and colleagues telling me I wasn’t doing enough, that I wasn’t really helping anyone. I got laid off. This is when I went back to writing, dove in head first, all the while continuing to find some elusive FT job, this time in the field of writing. I took a part time job in politics as a writer/researcher, which went ok but I didn’t give the politician what he wanted, so I never got an offer for FT work. I started freelancing on the side, and getting published, but it was the “big publishing I have been striving for. Ok keep looking. Then I got a FT job in a marketing department as a writer. 1.5 years is how long that lasted. The chief boss was passive aggressive and always placated you but was never sincere. The directors- always right, so I was always wrong. Their way of writing (mind you this was a corporate job where writing was not their strong suit- hence hiring a writer), was correct. I could say anything. Eventually I was doing things that were not writing related. Hmmm, ok keep going, it’s good salary, I can buy by ridiculously expensive clothes and help my husband pay our mortgage. But I was completely unhappy. Then lo’ and behold, I got laid off…..again. Almost every FT job I found my self in, I was either bullied (by bosses), or never good enough. Universe screaming at me– I think so. Now I find myself working from home, freelancing a lot (and comparing myself to other freelancers who are already successful financially- which I know, bad shannon, don’t do that), working as an associate publisher for a local magazine (which is an utterly amazing job, but pay contractually and very little) and desperately trying to get an agent for my first completed novel, which took me three years to write. I am almost 40, we don’t have kids yet, and my poor husband has taken on most of the financial commitments so I can pursue some type of writing career. Let’s see….feel like a failure (but won’t give up the fight), can’t figure out what writing path I’m on (yet I’m still going), worry that I will never make this happen (but literally can’t breathe without writing in my life), and feel so far behind where I hoped to be by 38. And yes, I feel like I have to cook, clean, do laundry and yard work while balancing writing so that I feel like I’m contributing something somewhere.
So reading your comments/post is in the category of perfect timing. I think this is my “mid-life writing crisis”, yet my soul won’t let me give up. Ok stepping down from my soapbox now. Thanks for posting this:)
Great post. The truth is we all have at least the capacity to behave like jerks whether we choose to act on that or not…Some people just tend to choose to be jerks more than others. 😀 It’s whether we’re learning from our mistakes and making an effort to improve that really matters. I agree perfection is impossible to achieve and it’s boring besides. 🙂 The most interesting and memorable characters in books or in TV shows or movies are flawed.
Loved this post. Sounds like you have been going through a giant personal growing spurt. We truly are a never-ending work in progress. Everyone is! Great job!
I have always strived for perfectionism because I never felt I was as good as others. Other people were (and to some degree) still are better than me at everything, especially writing. When someone tells me something is good, I think they are just being kind, afraid to hurt my feelings. When I tell someone their stuff is good, I really mean it. Everyone is better than me. That’s just as wrong as pretending I am better than anyone else, both equally dysfunctional. It takes work to balance our thoughts and behaviors to a healthy attitude that everyone has weak as well as strong points. Great, thought provoking post, Kristen, and very timely for me.
Well, the difference in an artist and a hack is the hack thinks everything they write is BRILLIANT, LOL. So a good amount of self-loathing shows me you are probably more talented than you give yourself credit for. Keep humble, but also know someone will ALWAYS be better than you. Better than me. It’s all subjective anyway. Just love why you do and your readers will find you ((HUGS)).
Wonderful post. Very insightful. I’m late to this party since this email was buried way down in my inbox. I came to the book late and so I knew most of its twists. So it was a fun exercise in looking at it as a writer. How does she build suspense? How does she make you keep turning the pages? I thought it was terrific. And I like books w/ unlikable characters that you still root for. Such fun! I’ve struggled with that in my own writing because, like life, I want people to like me and, as an extension, my characters. And from critiques I’ve found that’s a big problem I have because it makes me unwilling (unable) to throw enough conflict their way. Working on it, just not sure if it should be “on the page” or in my life. Probably both!