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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Exiting the Land of Guilt: Guest Post by Janet Brook

Janet Brook photoJanet Brook, writing as J.L. Brook, is the author of Trickster’s Wind a Young Adult Fantasy about magic, mayhem and chaos, three words that describe her writing journey as well. Hoping to inspire other writers to persevere, she shares how she overcame roadblocks with persistence and short drives (aka baby steps).

I learned to sabotage myself early. If I failed at something, I assumed it was because I wasn’t good enough to succeed. Whatever everyone else wanted was good enough for me, even if it wasn’t what I wanted. Writing was the one creative outlet I could indulge in — as long as I didn’t talk about it.

When a high school creative writing teacher dealt a mortal blow to my already fragile ego, my Saboteur and I took a long scenic drive together through the Land of Guilt. Every billboard we passed read “Who Do You Think You Are?” or “How Dare You?” The one that hit me hardest was “You’ll Never Be Good Enough Anyway, So Why Bother?”

That one kept me dancing around the edges of my Great Dream Highway for decades.

I put aside pen and paper to be the person my family and the rest of the world wanted me to be, which was invisible. I became the Queen of Self-Sabotage. I had a road map of excuses to steer me away from finishing any project I started.

I could see beyond the borders of my Land of Guilt, but could not find a way to get there. Every time one of my friends received accolades or got a manuscript accepted or published, I tried to be happy for them. I yearned to travel their road. Meanwhile, my own faltering, timid efforts kept me driving in circles, blocked from leaving the Land of Guilt by a huge wall of indifference. Having been conditioned to a lifetime of invisibility, I was not surprised by this, but it still hurt. Worse, it affected my ability to sit down and write anything I felt was “worthy.”

exit writers block canstockphoto20883091 (2)I wanted to produce at least one good, solid, exciting, page-turning story. I wanted to bring the reader along on a journey and come away a better person for having read what I had written. I wanted the words to flow as they needed to, without trying to force them. I wanted to push my limits and boundaries without fear of offending someone. I realized the only way to have what I wanted was to give myself permission to drive away from the Land of Guilt.

Exiting the Land of Guilt boiled down to two things: persistence and short drives. It took me twenty-plus years to finish Trickster’s Wind and get it published, but I have to tell you, no feeling in the world can compare to holding something you’ve created in your hands and knowing it’s real. I never expected baby steps could take me this far.

My first crossroad and turning point occurred while attending a week-long breakout novel intensive workshop with Donald Maass in Nashville, Indiana. I flew home with a big “I can DO this” that shoved my Saboteur right out of the driver’s seat! I started taking short drives in search of my Dream Highway.

  • Short Drive: I stole precious moments to work on revising my novel despite feeling residual guilt.
  • Short drive: I participated in NaNoWriMo to develop a different story.
  • Short Drive: I took that NaNo story through a second BONI in San Jose, California.
  • Short Drive: I started sharing pages with dear friends from BONI and NaNo who were not bashful about telling me when I strayed into the woods.
  • Long Drive: I took early full retirement from the Post Office to pursue my chosen writing path.
  • Detour: With my income cut to a third, I was forced to sell my home. Bob and I moved three times in one year until we finally settled into our current location. We wasted no time setting up desks in the second bedroom where our shared writing journey took off in earnest.
  • Short Drive: I hired a professional editor for Trickster’s Wind.
  • Short Drive: A friend introduced us to Peter with Total Publishing and Media, here in Tulsa, which has turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to learn both sides of the publishing industry.
  • Current Short Drive: I’m learning how to promote my book without feeling guilty.

Like Rosanne’s 15 Magic Minutes, the power of short drives is that they’re short enough that you can see yourself taking them. Determine what short drives will take you closer to your writing destination. Take one after another and a distant goal gets closer and closer. Watch for opportunities along the way, and celebrate each accomplishment no matter how small.

Janet Brook has always known she wanted to write. She grew up reading every book she could get her hands on, especially folklore and fairy tales. When she was four years old, she left her dollhouse furniture out in the yard so the faeries would have something to sit on. Her father was NOT amused when he ran the lawnmower over them. She can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/pages/J-L-Brook-Author/1568063846799374

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7 Comments on “Exiting the Land of Guilt: Guest Post by Janet Brook”

  1. Joanne Kenzy July 14, 2015 at 4:53 pm #

    Superb! You mention the blights of living. To push through that maze is a miracle!
    I too suffer with those things today, working feverishly to kick them out of the way.


    • Janet L. Brook July 14, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

      Joanne, the best advice I can give you is be gentle with yourself as you’re pushing through the roadblocks. Break things down into small, manageable bits. I know many days it is almost impossible to scrape together fifteen uninterrupted minutes for writing, but whenever you can, make the most of them by focusing on one aspect of your scene at a time. Work on dialogue during one session, and setting narration, or exposition during the next, etcetera. Then move on to the next scene. Before you know it, you have a complete draft. Don’t forget to reward yourself for completing a fifteen minute session. I keep a supply of iced coffees from Aldis on hand. Best of luck to you!


      • rosannebane July 15, 2015 at 5:04 pm #

        Thanks Janet for your reply to Joanne. Great advice on breaking down drafts into parts for anyone. And rewards are always in order!


  2. Sammi Soutar July 9, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

    Excellent write up, Janet. Your description of experiences with that diabolical road warrior, our Internal Saboteur, was cringe-worthy. I know that road. I know that saboteur. Best of all, you show the way out. Best wishes to you in your future writing and marketing endeavors. You’ve got something special there.


    • Janet L. Brook July 10, 2015 at 7:59 am #

      Thank you, Sammi! You and Rosanne are such inspirations. I look forward to celebrating your writing successes along that Dream Highway.


  3. Janet L. Brook June 26, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

    Rosanne, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share my experiences with your readers. I hope others take heart from this as they embark on their own writing journey.


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