On Writing

contributed by Xia Vox 

Hi Colette,

What’s helped with my writing? I wrote more than I planned, so feel free to skip to the bottom 🙂

First of all, it’s been bottled up for many years. Ever since I was a young kid, I loved books and writing. Then ambition paralyzed me with anxiety such that by the time I entered college, I gave up writing seriously and engaged in a pattern of hedonistic pleasure (sex, drugs, and EDM!) as avoidance. That persisted until I started blogging as Xia in 2003.

Now that was a bit of a cheat – which we need sometimes to jog us into action with our pens. That is, by writing pseudonymously, I felt more freedom to express myself with a gleeful and carefree honesty. The irony is that the more well-known Xia and my blog became, the harder it became for me to continue in this vein. A feeling arose of being boxed in by my own and others’ preconceptions of how Xia should be. Moreover, as I became acquainted with others in the writerly class, my awareness of this critical gaze upon my work brought a new level of self-consciousness.

Perhaps my original point in using Xia as an alias was to feel at liberty to speak my mind in a way which I could not otherwise. Voltaire, who has the best quotes ever (“How infinitesimal is anything I do, yet how infinitely important it is that I should do it” and “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh”) wrote most of his works under different noms de plume. Mind you, he was periodically getting thrown in jail by the French king, so it made sense. But for whatever reason, writing under a pseudonym can be freeing – even now, in this era of digital transparency when such personas must inevitably be viewed as open secrets. 

I know at least one talented individual who started writing her memoir, only to decide that potential revelations would be too disruptive to her private life. And so writing for the public not only takes talent and continual effort, but the courage and deep desire to embrace whatever consequences come with it. And at the end of the day, I am a firm believer in calling life’s bluffs. So much of my learning has taken place by way of this approach. But it hasn’t always come easy.

It was back in 2008 that Stephen Elliot, who has authored seven books and written for you here on Pervette, rallied me with an ego-stroking pep talk about my future as a writer, talking up my abilities and encouraging me to go for it. “Blogging is great, but it’s easy. You’ve got to write something bigger. You’ve got to write a book,” he said something like that. At the time, I wasn’t ready. In fact, I hit a wall just trying. For a month, I woke up every day with the goal of working on this grand writing project. And by the end of each day, I was in tears and feeling depressed. Obviously, there were inner obstacles to starting that part of my dream. Thus in 2009, after retiring from professional BDSM, I entered grad school to study the mind – in part, to unblock myself from whatever barriers that were preventing me from doing this thing that I knew I had a talent for, and that I wanted very much. I told myself, “This is your final stall. After this, you’ve got to start writing. And hopefully, you’ll have the mental tools to do it.”

So what did this unblocking entail? Mainly, following my emotional signals and intuition back to the underlying self-limiting belief. Facing the belief and processing it with lovingkindness and compassionate acceptance. This often entailed crying over half-buried childhood memories. Then experiential work with myself, like pretending I was time-traveling back to my younger self at different stages to give myself the love, acceptance and nurturing I needed: a baby who was weaned at three weeks and left in the care of others; a young girl who already felt defective and damaged… Regarding the beliefs, I had to learn how to become attuned not only in how to uncover them, but how to not fight them. Have you ever had a nightmare where you switched from resisting or running away to seeing the feared thing with friendliness? It will transform into something innocuous, revealing the heart of the matter. As they say in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (which relies heavily on Buddhist philosophy), “If you want it, you can’t have it. If you let it go, it’s right in front of you.” There it is again, that dance of balance that seems to be the linchpin for everything, embracing the paradox which encompasses the whole. 

A final piece for me came towards the end of grad school when I discovered Jane Roberts’s version of “We create our own reality” law of attraction. The Nature of Personal Reality convinced me that I had all the power I needed to write a “real” book (ha, somehow makes me think of Pinocchio wanting to be a “real” boy!), and that if I just did the necessary work and used my envisioning to stay the course, it would become inevitable. So I started taking weekly writing skills workshops. These were great for beginners – every week we wrote a piece copying the style of a literary author’s work; excellent exercises. But as I progressed, I saw that even the instructors were sorta stuck. Like one I had who was an accountant told me she had started and stopped writing short stories for the past 12 years but wasn’t sure what she was trying to say. At a certain point, these groups did not fit for me anymore. It felt like I needed to take the training wheels off, so I left and committed myself to a daily writing practice. I started a poetry blog in 2012 and finished my first draft on a novel in 2014. I still have bouts of self-doubt, but I now know that is normal and that as long as I keep a steady pace, it will happen.

Whew! Sorry so long. OK I meant only to list a few pointers, so here goes:

-Write out all the self-limiting beliefs you may have about writing. Hand writing for this is best. Just let it all out. Every dark, dirty little secret or tightly held fear, all the things you want to run away from. You don’t need to share this with anyone but yourself. But airing it out will be a relief. Like, okay is that all? I can deal with that.

What’s good about this exercise is even if you accept some of it as “true,” it has less power. And that takes some of the pressure off writing too – like the hell with it, so what? Hope that makes sense.

-Mental tricks! Acting “as if.” For me, acting as if I’m writing just to play around, to entertain myself, like it’s a silly little fan fiction. That takes the pressure off.

-Imagine your audience, develop an emotional relationship to them. See yourself in conversation with them. If they like you and have similar interests, you probably think they’re pretty cool. And just think about how much they would love to hear from you. Not the others, forget about them, it’s not about trying to please the people who’ll never get it anyway. So for the like-minded souls out there, making each piece like a little love letter – to yourself and all your people out there.

-Trying on different voices. This is like the exercises we did in that writing group. Look at some of your favorite writers’ works and try to write a piece similar to one of their passages or shorts. This may or may not be something you’d post, depending on consistency concerns. But it’s great for flexing the writing muscle. On that note, one should not be scarce with writing – I find the more I write, the more I write! It’s like turning on a fountain. It doesn’t have to all be precious. Riffs, experiments, dead ends, what have you.

-Writing every day. OK after all these years, I believe this is more superstition than necessity (like that whole, “I must write it down now, or lose it forever;” I’ve actually found telling myself any idea will circle back makes it so), as I’ve gone for big chunks of time without writing. But writing regularly – like at least once or twice a week – is going to keep you on track.

Here’s an interesting thing: I have short stories I started over 10 years ago that feel as fresh now as they did then. I know I will finish them and publish them in a compilation within the coming years, particularly because the same themes continue to preoccupy my imagination. I think what we write is like what we dream – the content exists outside of time, such that if you look at a dream journal from years ago and it jogs your memory of a particular dream, you can remember it like it happened yesterday. 

-Writing as spiritual practice. There is an element of faith and belief involved, but it’s never been a straight-out mystical experience for me. Believe me, I have prayed for the muse to overtake me, like a demon possessed! A more effective prayer was when I asked my higher power for assistance, knowing I could not do it alone. For me, it’s like 90% logical effort, 10% magic. But you can feel when you’re in the zone and ride it!

You had asked me about rituals. Well, every day as soon as I wake up I journal the memory of my dreams. Then I meditate for about 10 minutes in the morning and/or put myself into a hypnotic trance and prime myself with appropriate suggestions. Though these rituals are not specific to writing, I do think it’s all related. Lately, I’ve been using my pendulum to help confirm intuitive understanding and address any resistance as it comes up with self-hypnosis. And sometimes when I feel stuck and I have moved my body in a while, I go for a run or bike ride or other intense work out. Mind-Body.

-Writing isn’t everything. On some levels, writing doesn’t matter. It’s one expression, but there are so many paths, this one is just heralded so much. I tell myself things like this to help put things in perspective, not make things too grave.

To be a Renaissance Woman – I know you can relate to this! To be adept at many things, but not tied down to just one. Like it’s been sad and disappointing to watch the slow decline of one of my favorite authors, who keeps churning out novels, each one with less character development, coherent plotting, or necessary editing. It’s clear to me that he’s no longer interested in mastering the form and has become self-indulgent, yet he’s effectively stuck as his big name will still draw millions of fans like me to read his bloated prose.

My writing heroes tend to be Renaissance women too. Adventurous souls who did more than write – they lived life to the fullest! Anais Nin and her diaries – if I hadn’t read those during my formative years, would I have become Xia?

I love reading women’s memoirs and biographies. I think it’s also great inspiration for blogging. Karen von Blixen-Finecke aka Isak Dinesen who wrote the memoir Out of Africa. Karen Armstrong’s Down a Spiral Stair (about her time as a nun). Aayan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel. I’ve read several great histories of royal women in England and France (of course, Marie Antoinette-we share the same birthday).

-Books on writing can be helpful. Brenda Euland’s If You Want to Write is my favorite. Stephen King has an enjoyable and helpful how-to/memoir that is a quick read. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones inspired me as well.

But after having utilized writing how-to books for years now, I think it’s more than my natural paranoia when I state that about half of what I’ve read seems like sound advice, while the other fifty percent seems to consist of judgmental projections and anxiety-inducing imperatives which may cause more harm than good if followed. To me, it’s counterproductive instilling fear in the reader about the need to write to a certain standard. Pshaw! Don’t buy into it. Calling life’s bluffs, right?

-Perfectionism can deaden. Save that for the Editor. When you are the Writer, you are NOT the editor. Think flow. Embrace “failing.” Quiet down the meta-voice and merge with the words.

-Dealing with negativity. It will come not only from within, but from others. People are always projecting, they don’t know any better. So forget about the whys involved (e.g. why would friends and loved ones say discouraging things?) and see how you can use whatever’s thrown at you. Perhaps deflecting it Aikido-style. Or turn it into fuel. Oh yeah, they don’t think I can do it? I’ll show them. The best revenge is success.

-Thesaurus is my friend. Once I’m polishing up a piece, or even during, as long as it doesn’t interrupt the flow (like if the page takes too long to load, leave it for later), I input a word to see if any synonyms might work better. It may just be that the new word sounds more lyrical. Or that I don’t want to use a word twice (I go over a piece once finished and do word look-up to see how many times I use certain words – ones I remember repeating or the usual suspects: but, yet, so, and etc).

-Percolation. I think we talked about this a little. For blog posts, first I try to think of an opening scene. Cinematic. Showing, not telling. It may come to me before I even understand the lesson/message underlying it. So then it becomes an organic process that is mirrored in the blog post. First relaxing the mind and fishing for a memory, then wandering around it. Then trying to understand it. The writing begins either in the wandering (with just pure descriptives) or the understanding (descriptives and then analysis).

OK that’s about all I can think of! Hope this helps!