My Writing Shadow


These wild violets in my yard remind me of the surprising beauty that unfolds when I let go and allow nature to do its good work. A book called The Shadow Effect reinforces the same idea with human nature.

Yesterday, my first day after the semester ended, should have been a great day. It should have been time to relax, get back on track with my writing, putter around the house, work on home projects.

Instead I had a stressful morning. Even though I am not a fan of public speaking, and even though I really wanted to sink gratefully into my first day of vacation, I’d agreed to sit on a panel of writers talking to 8th graders. The lone fiction writer/teacher on the panel, I was there to balance out the newspaper journalists and magazine freelancers.

Well, I was supposed to be there.

Except I got the time and location wrong and ended up being really late. By the time I got there, the event was almost over. I am never late. With anything. I pride msyelf on never missing a deadline and never keeping anybody waiting. Also when I do rouse myself to speak in public, I like to look like a pulled-together professional, not a disorganized ditz.

I knew, in that moment when I realized I was going to be really late, that I had to drop my pride. I had to ride out events as they unfolded. So I arrived, apologized to my peers, made a joke to the kids, and did my bit. It went okay, because I was able to stop beating myself up, stop wondering if I was getting early-onset Alzheimer’s, and deal with what was needed in the present moment.

But after the event, I wondered if the episode was trying to tell me more than “let go of pride, the need to control, the need to appear professional.” Because it was so unusual for me, I wondered if there was something else my shadow self, the disowned part of me, was trying to say.

And so I went to the craft store and wandered the aisles, indulging my inner artist. Which is when I sort of got my shadow’s deeper message. Sometimes a writer needs to say NO. Sometimes a writer has to be selfish in order to fulfill her deepest desires, like finishing the book. 

Saying no, being selfish with my time, does not come easy to me. I like to see myself as a generous and giving person. And yet…in order to write, I need to be selfish.

The shadow is insidious (I still can’t believe I got both the time AND location wrong.) but it can also be a great teacher. My shadow was pissed and wanted my attention. The shadow will do that. It will sabotage things unless you pay attention to its demands, which really are in our own best interest.

What the shadow is really saying is “Own me; use me to your benefit.” In my case, that means owning the selfishness that allows me to get some writing done.

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  1. Cindy,


    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ve been struggling with this very thing myself and your words were exactly what I needed to hear. Too often I allow everything else to get in the way of writing, which affects not only my page count, but also my overall sense of well-being. So maybe being selfish is necessary on occasion. Life is such a balancing act…


  2. It is significant, I think, that this happened on the first day, the very first day, after the semester ended. Your shadow saved you a lot of time and got right to the punch line. This is a great example of the universe in action and a good lesson for all of us.


  3. While I admire your attempt to offer writers a much needed pep talk to get on with the process of writing, what do you have to say to the writer whose writing comes from what he or she feels is a connection to a higher or greater power; the type of writer who gets hit by lightning with an idea and can sit down and write an entire short story in half an hour and sell it with very little editing?

    This is not a brag. It’s actually a complaint. I feel a great inability to relate to other writers because I don’t have a “process” that I go through or a writing routine or formula. I’ll never be a Michener or a Shaara, or a Carver for that matter because writing for me is more like channeling and only occurs when I’m randomly tuned in.

    The only way I managed to write my first novel was that I was hit by lightning about 50 times on the same, or similar channel.
    My question is how does one make this happen on-demand?



  4. Sharon, you’re right. I still feel bad about it. I’m trying to forgive myself but the truth is I messed up and inconvenienced (and I’m sure stressed out) other people. I know I’ve got some work to do with learning to say no (among other things) because I don’t want anything like that to ever happen again. And Karen, wow, I am amazed that even now, with all your success, you still don’t always manage to give writing priority. See, I feel selfish because I’m still doing it “just for me.” But you have readers! Many of them who want to read your next book (like me!)


  5. Cindy, I agree. There’s a message in this for you. Funny thing, I often have nightmares about not showing up, getting the wrong location, not being where I am supposed to me. Reading you post reminded me of the gut-wrenching fear of that recurring dream. Like you, I always aim to be “responsible and unselfish” but deep down, sometimes I feel the need to pull back and do what I need to do.

    There was a time (and it still happens occasionally) where I was asked to speak ALL the time, and usually for free. I felt some weird obligation to say ‘yes’ to all of those engagements, sometimes because I felt I *should* do something more to help my book sales, or to get more writing jobs, etc … so maybe I wasn’t saying yes for self-less reasons after all. When I realized that, it was easier to say no…


  6. Hi Phillip,

    Boy do I know how you feel! I only want to write when I am inspired by my own higher channeling power, too. I think for those of us who don’t have book contracts, we don’t have deadlines, we only have ourselves. So it’s easy to let writing slide.

    You say: “I feel a great inability to relate to other writers because I don’t have a “process” that I go through or a writing routine or formula.”

    Finding a process is what writers do to help them get on with the writing when they don’t feel inspired. Some writers have to pay the bills with words, so they are forced to find a process they can use when lightening isn’t striking.

    Other writers have ambition to see themselves well-published. That goal gets them to follow a process when they don’t feel inspired. And some writers just want to know how the story ends, so they have to keep writing it to see how it turns out.

    You say: “The only way I managed to write my first novel was that I was hit by lightning about 50 times on the same, or similar channel. My question is how does one make this happen on-demand?”

    For me, the only way I know to get the on-demand inspiration is to sit in the chair and prepare to write even when I am uninspired. Sometimes getting into that flow will kick start if you just assume you’ll write something. Usually that good feeling of being in the flow of the writing comes if you just start. But then some days it doesn’t.

    Having a process makes it easier to pick up the frequency. It can be as simple as reading what you wrote the day before and saying to yourself “what happens next?” and going from there. Or it can be as complicated as some of those big old books like Robert McKee’s STORY.

    What is hardest for me is getting back into a story after spending too much time away. So I try to make a habit of writing. Good luck with your own writing…you’ve already finished one book…don’t you want that feeling of accomplishment again? Maybe that will get you started on figuring out a process you can turn to when lightening isn’t striking.


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