The Creative Life: How to Overcome Self-doubt

I’m excited to be relaunching my Dreamlight Fugitive blog in addition to my main blog, Beyond the Dream! My first new post is about something that affects everyone in any creative field: the arch-enemy of creative expression…self doubt!

Illustration by Jack Spellman (jackspellmanart.com)

Yesterday, having finally finished my new novel after a year and a half of work (and the rest! But that’s another story!), I was clobbered over the head by an attack of self doubt. I’d just ordered proofing copies yet I found myself going back and picking away at random sentences, trying to find better ways of stringing the words together in order to reach that most elusive of writerly goals: the ‘perfect sentence’!

One thing led to another and I soon started to question the entire book. What if it wasn’t ready to be put out into the world? Feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction quickly turned to feelings of anxiety and dread. What if I was in fact one of the worst writers ever to pick up a pen or hammer away at a keyboard? I’m safe at the moment, but the moment the book is published it’s a target and as the one-stars reviews come flooding in, I’ll be revealed as the terrible hack I am! I even very briefly considered binning the entire book and starting again from scratch.

That’s how self-doubt works! It’s a vicious, pernicious and potentially crippling little monster. It hides away in the darkest recesses of the mind and is prone to jumping out at inopportune moments and letting rip with its penchant for woeful catastrophising. It’s something that every artist and writer must learn to live with and it does get easier with time.

Most of the time I have it under control. But coming to the end of a project, when you are actually taking the steps to releasing that work into the world, makes the self-doubt monster terribly antsy. Stirring from its slumber like a cat that was only really half-asleep the whole time, you know the meltdown is inevitable.

crazy

“You’re thinking of publishing THAT? Are you crazy?! It needs at least another year of work. The critics are gonna tear it to shreds!”

Now, a little self-doubt is healthy. It gives us a certain objectivity about our work, which is useful in the editing stage (and throughout, really). It becomes harmful however when it degenerates into an overwrought, mud-slinging, anxiety-ridden neurotic monster, determined to convince us that nothing we do is good enough and that we’d be better off setting it aside and slumping onto the sofa and firing up Netflix. So pervasive and persuasive is the self-doubt monster, it’s almost certainly destroyed countless artists’ careers before they’ve even had the chance to get in the game. Left unchecked, this inner censor will not only hinder your creativity, it will completely destroy it and leave you a blubbering and, above all, blocked wreck!

The self-doubt monster is actually pretty easy to deal with it however. And here’s how.

First of all, take the ‘self’ out of self-doubt. It has nothing to do with who you are. It’s simply a thought and that thought’s corresponding emotion. It’s actually completely impersonal. We all get it — everyone, in every walk of life! It’s certainly not unique to us. Self-doubt is basically fear. It’s a defence mechanism designed to somehow keep us safe, even if it is a little misinformed and ultimately wholly counterproductive. Depersonalising it immediately takes the sting out of it.

Secondly, once I’ve depersonalised it, I personify it. This might make me sound utterly crazy, but I find it helpful to give it a name and form. I call my self-doubt monster Fred. Fearful Fred. He looks like a big, fat and slightly ungainly grey caterpillar. Most the time he just wiggles about in the recesses of my mind, doing whatever it is caterpillars do. Occasionally however, something gets Fred riled and he gets all worked out and inflates in size, becoming a gargantuan blob full of his own hot air. This happened last night when I somehow convinced myself I was the worst writer in human history.

I isolated the emotion in my body (it seemed to be around my belly, or solar plexus) and I decided to have a chat with Fred (as the personification of my self-doubt). He was beside himself with fear, anxiety and dread. So I made him a cup of tea, sat him down and explained that I’m grateful he’s so diligent in looking out for me, but there was no need for such stress and worry. Yeah, it’s always a little scary releasing a new piece of work into the world, as it probably is for a baby bird being pushed out of its nest in the hopes it will fly for the first time. But I reminded myself the importance of keeping everything in perspective.

I wrote an article last year about the power of karma yoga. Karma yoga isn’t a sequence of physical postures as you might expect, but a mindset with which we approach life. As it says in the Bhagavad Gita, we have the right to act, but the fruit of those actions is not up to us. So the karma yoga attitude — which is the greatest antidote to stress that I know — is simply to do our best and let go of the results. Once an arrow has been fired it’s no longer up to us whether it hits the intended target. Chances are we’ve done our best to ensure that it does, but it’s now under the control of a set of natural laws and dynamics that are completely outwith our sphere of influence. All we can do is relax, take it easy and endeavour to take whatever comes with good grace.

The self-doubt monster can be an implacable and relentless foe to any creative person. It’s probably cost me years of my life. I’m certain I’d have more than one novel published by now if I hadn’t spent years under the sway of Fred, bless his heart. Now I’ve learned to master my mind and emotions a little bit more. This doesn’t mean that self-doubt and other self-limiting thoughts vanish forever. But it does mean that when they come up I can put them in their place and simply get on with things. As the Tao Te Ching says:

Mastering others is strength; mastering ourselves is true power.

Self-doubt and anxiety are defence mechanisms generated by the unconscious mind to keep us safe. But we are safe! As artists we follow our calling, we write the stories and paint the pictures that our muse is kind enough to share with us. We learn and grow and improve our skills all the time. We make mistakes, but mistakes are an essential part of the learning curve. Never be afraid to make mistakes! And never allow yourself to be held prisoner to the tyranny of other people’s opinions. Some people will love what you do, and some people won’t. Some people are fair in their criticism and some people are jerks with clear psychological deficiencies (I now refrain from reading comments sections on youtube and other websites because of this!).

Learn to wrestle with your self-doubt monster. Or make it a cup of tea as I do. Usually once I’ve had a firm but loving chat with Fred, I imagine sending him off on an all-expenses paid vacation to Tenerife where he can just relax in the sun all day drinking Pina Colada while I get on with what I have to do.

Self-doubt is ignorance masquerading as truth. Don’t let it cripple you. Take charge of it and educate it. You’re doing fine, let it know that and these lagging parts of the mind will eventually catch up. When we no longer give fear or doubt power over us, when we educate them and put them into perspective, we give ourselves the greatest gift of all. Freedom! And freedom is the ultimate goal of all creative — and moreover, all human — endeavour! So dance with your doubts and allow yourself to be free.

This fantastic song and video by one of my favourite artists, Bat For Lashes, is about just that. This was the song that Natasha Khan wrote after a long spell of creative block, and it’s very much about learning to tame and dance with the monsters of self-doubt, despair and fear. Enjoy.

My Tao Te Ching book is now available to buy!

Hi everyone! I’m pleased to announce that the paperback version of my Tao Te Ching book is now available on Amazon and is currently on sale at cost price. The Tao Te Ching is a remarkable gift, and I wanted to be able to share it as such.

taocoverfinal

Five years ago I set myself the challenge of creating my own version of this ancient text. I wanted to encapsulate the best of my favourite translations, retaining the text’s integrity and poetic flourish while making some of the more cryptic statements (of which there are a great many!) a little clearer and easier to understand.

I spent time reflecting on each verse and pondering the meaning of Lao Tzu’s words and then wrote a commentary on each one. I did this for myself more than anything, but decided to share it on this and my prior blogs. A lot of people have really enjoyed my take on the Tao, which has subtly evolved over the years as my own understanding has grown. Here is my introduction to the text.

I’ve been posting the content of this book in this blog for almost two years now, and will continue to do so until I have posted all 81 verses. If you’ve enjoyed it and want to have the complete work to hand, then this is for you! It’s been available to download on Kindle and Smashwords in ebook format for some time now, and the paperback edition looks beautiful I have to say. It’s a book that’s great for keeping at your bedside and dipping into for a little inspiration and insight.

Click here to view the book on Amazon US

Click here to view the book on Amazon UK

It should also be available in most other territories. The Smashwords ebook edition (which includes Kindle, ePub and many other formats) can be found here)

Hope you enjoy!

I’ve also just finished my second novel, which follows on from ELADRIA. It will be published in the Spring, along with a whole range of surprises. It’s a work I’m very proud of and a story that has been with me most my life. I can’t wait to share it with you. Hopefully now this major project is out the way, I will be able to get back into a more regular blogging routine!

Making words happen

 

My puppy has decided he's a better writer than me.

My puppy has decided he’s a better writer than me.

It’s been a while. I’m sorry for such heinous blog neglect. Here’s a little update.

I’ve been working hard on my next novel, which is an extensive rewrite of a book I first drafted some years ago, called The Key of Alanar. I’ve already shared a little bit about this particular journey here. It’s a story that’s been with me since I was only about sixteen, and one that’s very close to my heart. I consider the version I wrote before to be a kind of skeleton version. I’m a better a writer now so it’s been interesting going back to revisit and resurrect it. While it’s the still same story with the same characters, I’ve added bits, taken bits away and endeavoured to make the prose tidier and the characterisation punchier.

I’ve found that it’s actually harder to go back and rewrite something from the past than it is to write something new from scratch. In many ways I’m a different person now and if I was to create it from scratch it would probably reflect that. It’s nevertheless something I’m very pleased with. It’s a real journey, a journey of the human spirit — from loss and lack through darkness and despair, to eventual redemption and wholeness. Sadistic as it sounds, I take my central character and torture him relentlessly, stripping everything away from him and putting him at the mercy of all kinds of demons, both inner and outer. I feel the ending is going to need some substantial adjustment to reflect changes in my own understanding since I first wrote it. It’ll be interesting. I’m looking forward to being able to share the book with the world, hopefully by the end of the year. It’s pretty epic in every regard.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time with my head down, studying, living and practising the teaching of vedanta, which is the most remarkable thing I’ve ever found in my life. Neither philosophy nor religion but a pramana, systematic and very logical means of self knowledge, vedanta has been leading people for thousands of years from the suffering to wholeness, simply by reorienting one’s point of self-identification from body/mind/emotions/ego/intellect (which are all objects perceivable to us) to awareness (that which perceives; the eternal subject). The moment I stumbled across vedanta, I realised I’d found what I’d been looking for for the best part of a lifetime. I knew instinctively that if this didn’t work for me, nothing would. And, assuming certain psychological qualifications are in place and one is committed to putting in the time and energy to make it work, it does actually work! I’ve seen it work on myself and others. It is the closest I’ve ever found to a science of consciousness and self realisation — and I speak as someone who studied psychology at degree level. It’s the greatest of gifts and I’m going to share some of my journey and what I’ve learned on this blog as and when I get the chance.

Until then I have a guest post to share on the nature of karma, and I will follow it up with my own post to clarify certain points and demystify something that just about every has heard of but which few understand properly, even in the world of spirituality. Hope everyone is enjoying the summer. It’s beautiful here. Every day is a gift.

 

Rory’s Writing – Four Questions, Four Answers! – Blog Tour

Howdy! First of all, I know things have become pretty quiet and sporadic on the blog front, for which I apologise. There are a number of reasons for this, but  I will try and contribute more often to the blog, even if it’s just in the form of ‘baby blog’ entries. I also intend to get caught up with everyone else’s blogs as soon as I can.

Without further ado — I’m very grateful to Rohan Healy for awakening me from my blog slumber by tagging me for the Blog Tour! Rohan is a multi-talented guy, musician and author of several non-fiction books as well as an action-packed science-fiction novel called “Gyaros: The Mice Eat Iron”, all of which I have read, enjoyed and highly recommend.

As for the Blog Tour, I’m delighted to have been included. It’s quite simple — I have four questions to answer. So, here goes…

Question 1: What am I working on?

I am working on my second novel, The Key of Alanar, which will hopefully be published later this year or early next year. It is the second novel in The Alanar Ascendant series, the first being Eladria. This book has a long genesis; it’s a story I first started working on when I was only 16. I actually originally wrote the book between 2001 and 2007, but it was never published. I’ve gone back and rewritten it substantially. The story is the still same more or less (it’s a good story! haha) but I have added different elements and fleshed a lot of things out. It’s essentially a different book and I’m very pleased with it so far. I’m now about a third of the way through it. I’m several months behind for various reasons, but I am not rushing it. I want to do it right. I can’t wait to finally share this book with the world; the stories, world and characters are very special to me and have been with me most of my life.

Question 2: How does my work differ to others of its genre?

My books combine fantasy with science-fiction in a way that’s fairly fresh, I think. They also have a certain metaphorical, allegorical component to them. If you look beneath the surface, the stories I write deal with philosophical, spiritual and existential themes and issues. But rather than bash the reader over the head with this, I try to weave these themes rather subtly. For instance, when it came to Eladria, most readers just seemed to enjoy it as an action-packed adventure story, while others also picked up on and really engaged with the philosophical content. Someone actually told me the book had really helped them and changed the way they look at life. So, I think my work can be taken on multiple levels; the reader can engage with it on whichever level they want.

Question 3: Why do I write/create what I do?

I don’t know. Why do birds sing, I guess? It’s just part of me. It’s what I do. What I have to do. I’ve always had stories in me; stories that gripped, captivated and consumed me — and which wouldn’t let me go until I’d found some way to get them onto paper. There’s nothing particularly glamorous or exciting about writing. It’s a hard slog, to be honest but I couldn’t live without it. As Rohan said in his answer, it’s as natural to me as breathing.

Question 4: How does your writing/creating process work?

I come up with a story and spend a lot of time working out the details before I write my first word. I learned a long time ago the necessity of having a fairly clear blueprint before you start writing. That doesn’t mean I can’t make changes as I go along, but I always need to have a clear outline of the beginning, middle and end, and how I’m going to join all the dots. I like to be clear about what the story is about and why I’m telling it and how the characters change, grow and develop as the story unfolds. To me the plot and characters are of equal importance and are inseparably interwoven. When it comes to writing, I just shut myself away, sit and type. It’s helpful to have a daily page quota, which is usually 3 pages a day. Then when it comes to the endless rewriting, again I just have to shut myself away and go over it again and again until I’m happy. During the rewriting stages I often listen to music, usually ambient electronica or other instrumental music that enhances the mood I’m trying to create in whichever part of the book. It’s just really a case of write, write, write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

So, finally I’m gonna tag three other authors and invite them to take part in the Blog Tour, answering the questions themselves:

Adrian Lupsa

Julianne Victoria

Barbara G Tarn

Have fun guys :)

Amazing 5 star review of ELADRIA by Adrian Lupsa

jhp5051a62b6c6d2

I’m pleased to share the review fellow blogger and author Adrian Lupsa has just posted of my novel ELADRIA!

Check out the review on Adrian’s writing blog here! 

And that’s not the only great review I’ve had recently, they’re starting to build up — most of them are on Amazon UK as being from the UK I guess that’s where most of my readership has started off.

Seip Fine Art gave another great 5 star review:

Rory Mackay’s debut novel ‘Eladria’ is a tale that is …Timeless, Thought-Provoking, Brilliant, Exciting, Beautiful, Adventurous, Fanciful, Wise, Complex, and woven into it all is a stunningly simple twist that you won’t see coming, that ties everything together!

Connie said:

From the first page, a very well written story of epic magnitude, drawing you in to a fantastical world. Princess Eladria takes you on a brilliant & exhilarating journey.

Holly said:

I normally have to force myself to read a book but Eladria is the first book I have literally not been able to put down! It is well written, easy to read with a gripping and exciting story which takes you on a powerful journey along with great characters, who you really feel like you know personally!
Whats different about Eladria is the deeper meanings with the story and the chatacters. This element adds an extra depth and sets Eladria worlds apart from other books in this genre. It is unique and truly a must read!

And according to Glitzblue:

This brilliantly written and truly innovative story left me wanting more. From the first page I was led on a journey into epic worlds full of interesting characters, places, plots and sub-plots, ‘Eladria’ kept my imagination and curiosity fired all the way to the last page. A must for any reader!

It’s amazing to get such great feedback! If you didn’t see Rohan Healy’s ELADRIA review back in May, it’s incredible! Someone contacted me and said it was “the most beautiful and thought-provoking book” they had ever read. Such comments motivate me to keep going — and at the moment I’m hard at work on the next novel in the series, which I’m hoping to get published in 2014. The journey is only just beginning.

ELADRIA is available in both paperback and ebook format! You can buy a signed copy direct from me via my website.

Alternatively you’ll find it on Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Barnes & NobleWaterstones (UK) / Book Depository and many other online stores.

Book Review: “Sex: Not as a separate subject” by Rohan Healy

sex-not-as-a-separate-subject-sml

The new book by prolific blogger, author and musician Rohan Healy is all about sex. “SEX, Not as a separate subject: A guide to great sex with great people” is basically an encylopedia of everything sexual, touching upon just about every facet of this astonishingly vast subject. One of the things I love about Rohan’s blog and his books is the easy-to-read, conversational style of his writing. When I read Rohan’s work, it feels like sitting down with a friend, having a cup of coffee and all kinds of interesting discussions about fascinating topics. His approach is easy-going, light-hearted and inclusive, yet focused and exceptionally well-researched. Indeed, it’s clear that a heck of a lot of research went into this book, both theoretical and practical I’m sure!

The aims of the book are to entertain and inform, to provide a greater understanding of human sexuality, give people more confidence in themselves, their bodies and expressing themselves sexually. It may also open people’s minds to the wide range of different relationships configurations, approaches and sexual practises that exist. From masturbation, foreplay and sexual dysfunction to bondage, massage and tantric sex, Rohan explores just about everything you could ever think of. The first part of the book looks at sex in broad terms, exploring historic attitudes toward sex, examining the role of sexual energy in our lives, the spectrum of orientation, why sex is primarily in our heads and why inevitably everything must start with self love. One of the many fascinating bits of information was that Kellogg’s Corn Flakes (yes, the breakfast cereal) was co-created by staunch anti-sex/anti-masturbator John Harvey Kellogg with the intent of diminishing people’s sex drives!

The second part deals with how to have good sex, overcome sexual problems and includes some great techniques such as the Taoist ‘deer exercise’, the concept of ‘sexual outercourse’ which is a chapter everyone should read, sexual communication, with a lengthy section on bondage/BDSM, which has received a lot of mainstream attention following the success of 50 Shades of Grey. The book’s closing section deals with the more emotional aspects of sex, beginning with ways to find compatible lovers, then moving into the territory of relationships, highlighting the importance of openness and authenticty, non-violent communication, synchronisation and tackling issues of monogomy and ethical non-monogamy.

As I said, this book is pretty much encylopedic. It provides an overview of just about everything you could probably think of relating to sex and relationships, with a wealth of information and practical techniques, suggestions and advice. Obviously some chapters will be of more interest to you than others depending on your tastes and preferences, but I can pretty much guarantee you can open this book at any random page and find yourself lost in fascinating insights and information. No matter what your relationship status or what your views and attitudes are about sex, this is definitely a book that will leave you much the richer, even if it’s simply because it encourages you to adopt an attitude of self-love and a healthy relationship with your body and this most natural of functions.

Sex, Not as a separate subject is now available to download in Kindle format on Amazon!