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Inspiration is for Freakin’ Amateurs

Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. -Chuck Close

I realize this is a funny thing to say given that my work is largely infused with inspiration/motivation, but you’ll see what I’m really getting at. As writers and/or artists, we know that 90% of the battle is just putting your damn butt in the chair to write, or picking up the paintbrush (or pencil), or whatever implement you use to create. Yet all too often we expect this flash of inspiration to hit us like a gift from the gods.

Sure sometimes that happens, but more often than not it’s a slow build.

For me, creative writing, especially nonfiction about my life, is often an arduous process. There’s the occasional moment where the clouds part and the Universe says, “here you go, honey,” as they hand me a nugget of flow.

But usually, it pretty much goes like this:

 

As a kid I was a good student. I hated disappointing anyone almost as much as I hated being anything less than perfect. For the most part I got straight A’s. I was highly disappointed in myself if I didn’t.

Classmates would often remark that I was “so smart” or how they wished they could get A’s like I did. Frankly, this kind of pissed me off. Sure, on the surface this was a compliment, but underneath was the assumption that I just had some special gift that they didn’t. Bear with me, I know I sound like a bragging asshole right now.

I spent hours studying, doing drills, and practicing to earn those grades. In fact, in fourth grade when I got my first D ever (ironically, in spelling), Dad and I worked every night for months to bring that up to an A.

I was lucky that my parents definitely passed down their genetic propensity for traditional intelligence (make no mistake there are many different types of intelligence), but after that, it was up to me to get the grades even in subjects that felt like my brain was being torn apart. I’m looking at you math and conceptual physics!

In seventh grade this girl Mary and I competed for the best grades, we were often neck-in-neck for who had the best percentage A. This was when I realized there were smarter, harder working kids than me. She wanted it more and maybe she was smarter than me, too. I backed down a bit from my quest for perfection and sometimes settled for B’s or C’s (conceptual physics, you bitch). If I couldn’t be THE best, I’d get by with my reasonable best.

The thing is, I never applied this drive to physical activity as a kid. When it came to sports of most kinds, I was riddled with self-doubt and self-pity. If I couldn’t hit the ball, run fast enough, or catch often enough I just gave up. I needed to be at the top, and if I couldn’t I bowed out. It didn’t occur to me that hard work might just get me to “decent” eventually. I understood how to apply hardwork to school, but not as much to other things.

~

Fast forward twenty-some years to when I started out at UCLA X Writers Program. I entered thinking I was a pretty good writer who just needed to learn some tools in order to write better. From my first class, I realized I was an amateur. I was not even close to the top tier. Again, I wanted to be THE best. 

I secretly dreamed of being the next Joan Didion, or Mary Karr, until I realized I would likely not only would have to work for decades, but also was not born with their level of talent either.

Something had shifted. After a brief mourning period around not being born a golden child, I was able to better fight the urge to be perfect. I cared so much about becoming a better writer. Writing was something I’d wanted to learn since high school, and now I was finally doing it. I wanted to learn as much as possible, and push myself to my best, but not THE best. 

The initial momentum of my dream to become a writer propelled me, but it was the revisiting of it that got me through the hundreds of edits and thousands of hours of writing. I still feel as if I have a long way to go, but now just being on the path is enough to keep me going.

~

I liken creative work to walking. When you’re doing the work, you often feel as if you’re just staring at your feet as they step over the earth. You’re not sure where things are going, or even where you’ve been. There’s beauty in that presence, but if you don’t look up occasionally you’ll likely fall off a cliff or wander into a bad neighborhood.

On the other hand, if all you do is look up and around and your surroundings, looking for inspiration or motivation, you’ll never effectively see the path that leads you to your goals. And we all know the path is always a winding one.

I think then that our best bet is to do both. Observe what’s happening in our world, look forward toward our goals, our ultimate vision, as we call it in my personal branding course.  But we must also remember to look down at our feet, be in the moment, so we don’t stumble over that rock, or we can step over that brook, or clear out those branches that have fallen to block our path.

The rewards are all around us and even within the work of our path. But it’s that combination of steps, moving forward–the daily work–that leads us closer to our dreams, while that looking up that reminds us why we’re here.  

The more we do the work, the more inspiration follows. We don’t have to be the best, but when we are relentless in the pursuit of our calling, dream, or purpose, our most inspired work bursts forth.

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What if There’s a Refuge Built Right Inside Every Human Being?

This week I listened to an episode of the On Being podcast that made me reconsider how we humans survive trauma or hardship.

Krista Tippett’s interview with poet John O’Donohue was profound. I found myself rewinding and replaying segments that rang through my body like an ancient song of wisdom. I’d like to share with you what struck such a resonant chord with me.

Here’s the transcript excerpt of O’Donohue talking about the thirteenth century mystic called Meister Eckhart:

…one day I read him, and he said, “There is a place in the soul that neither time nor space nor no created thing can touch.” And I really thought that was amazing. And if you cash it out, what it means is that your identity is not equivalent to your biography and that there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there is still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.

This simple thought made me feel like rewriting the story I’d been telling myself about my own life. See, lately I have been reclaiming the idea that none of us are our past, or “our story.” I think for so long I held on to the idea of figuring out my past in order to find answers to my identity. Years into researching and writing my own memoir, I now see that while my past has served to form me, I am so much more than my story.

Let me explain.

Years ago, there was a moment when the course of my life changed drastically. It was 1995; I was fifteen and engaged to be married to a man I wasn’t in love with (long story). Between my fiancé’s absolute joy, my parents’ financial investment in the wedding, and my people-pleasing mentality, I didn’t have the nerve to call things off. I told no one how I felt, but squirreled away my truth into a place so deep within my soul that I soon forgot it was there. I told myself I could do ‘this’—for everyone else’s sake. All it required was some denial and muscling through.

The new me continued in the forward motion of life, getting married at sixteen, pregnant at seventeen, and again at nineteen. I moved across the country with my then husband and children, and was a good Christian wife who submitted to him, and followed where he led. From time to time, my natural verve broke through and I’d challenge him on theological or philosophical assumptions, or what I believed to be my one area of expertise—how the children should be raised. But for the most part, I lived with eyes half-shuttered, ears muffled, and head down.

As the years passed, though I had an eternally deep well of love for my children, I grew numb to most everything. Soon the simple act of continuing to exist became painful. I slipped into a depression and then slipped back out (sort of) while taking Zoloft.

Andrea and kids in Europe

Me at 22, with my kids in Europe; daughter covered in chocolate, son passed out. Summer 2002

About six years into that murky time, we compiled student loans, a little savings, and a lot of credit card debt to fund a twelve-week trip across Europe with our four-year old and nineteen-month-old. It was there in Europe, exposed to a vast expanse of life, history, and culture that I realized there was more to life than how I’d been living. My head raised, eyes snapped open, and my ears suddenly heard what they couldn’t before.

But the problem with understanding that there is more is realizing that you don’t have it.

I began to see that my melancholy was caused by a slow bleeding-out of everything I once was before I got married. And because I had married so young, I had been losing my identity before it had had a chance to fully form. My soul was dying in the marriage we had constructed of silt and toothpicks.

But that secret part of me I’d hidden away almost a decade before began to crackle and glow within me and do its work to bust apart the layers of murky malaise I had lived in so long.

I’ve been working on a memoir for several years now and have always interpreted that “me nugget” I squirreled away at fifteen as a vestige of my former self—the girl I used to be. Through the fifteen plus years since that fateful Europe trip, my children and I have been through multiple serious hardships (more on that another time).

Lately, I’ve been wondering when I’ll run out of energy to weather the next life challenge, when or should it arrive. I have been looking at myself like a damaged warrior. As anyone who’s been through a marathon of personal battles will tell you, what doesn’t kill you doesn’t always necessarily make you stronger. Sometimes it drains you to within inches of your life.

And then this thought came along on the podcast—through the centuries, through Meister Eckhart, and John O’Donohue: what if there is a part of me that is untouched by fear or trauma? What if there is an island of solace in the depths of each of us? What if there is an eye of the storm we can come home to when our lives are whirling in chaos?

What a relief. I don’t have to worry about being strong enough if I can retreat to my untouched soul when I need to regroup.

After I listened to the podcast, I discussed this idea over lunch with my son and daughter, now nineteen and sixteen. They brought up Eastern philosophies which teach not only a sort of untouched place in your soul, but that it is a communal space we all belong to. It is a central universal consciousness where we find refuge and connection with the entire human race and maybe all of earth itself.

We all have our own private struggles, some in the hard work of pursuing our dreams, some in the push of birthing beauty into this world, and others with massive health, economic, cultural, weather, or societal events that threaten to crack us open and bleed us out.

I’m not convinced there’s always a reason for when bad things happen. I mean, tell that to the child imprisoned as a sex-worker, or to the countless families who’ve lost their homes in Hurricane Harvey and Irma, or the refugee who lost his family.

I’m not saying there can’t be purpose in tragedy. But that line of reasoning has only ever comforted me when the stakes are low. Otherwise, it reeks of bullshit.

Still there are some of us who weather tragedy and hardship better than others. Maybe this unwounded soul thing is why.

I like the idea that there is an inner holy refuge built right into each of us, that it is something I can cling to when the storm is raging all around me.

O’Donohue went on to mention that the most direct way to connect with that part of ourselves (and our interior life) is through beauty, whether it is an impeccably performed song, a well-crafted book, the exquisite dance of nature, or a lovingly prepared meal. These corporeal pleasures fast-track us from fear to home (the home inside ourselves).

So maybe I never actually squirreled away that part of me like I thought I did. Maybe that untouched part of me was always there, waiting for me to reconnect. And perhaps that Europe trip came to me at the exact right time, when seeing masterful art at the Louvre, sipping beer in a German beer garden, savoring chocolate in Belgium, and standing in the Roman Forum connected me not only to that stalwart part of me, but bound me to the consciousness of my sisters and brothers throughout history as well.

I felt this while I was there, but never had the concept to wrap around the feeling. Until now.

Maybe that sureness is what has sustained me through my own personal hells. Maybe that is the super power we all have and we all share and need only access.

I choose to believe the beauty we see, the beauty we are, and the beauty we create has the power to truly change the world.

>> Listen to the John O’Donohue episode of On Being. <<

Namaste

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Stop Wondering What to Do with Your Life

Last year my daughter, then a junior in high school, was having serious anxiety over impending college doom. See, nowadays they put an insane amount of pressure on kids to decide what they want to do for a career, pick a four-year school, and run headlong into their (often ill-conceived) goals.

Problem is, many–I’d venture to guess it’s the majority actually–don’t know what the hell they want to do with their lives.

Let’s be honest now and admit that many adults still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. I think I was like thirty-two, when I finally figured it out.

There are a mess of opinions out there as to whether you should follow your passion, or even have one; just take a steady job and do what you love on the side; or heck that if you find your passion you’ll never work a day in your life.

#truthbomb: No one answer works for everyone. Click To Tweet

But I hope to give you some solid advice that I’ve gleaned from years of research and teaching. Buckle up, Buttercup!

The sky is falling

There’s a real stigma about death and dying, especially in America. It’s often impolite to speak of it. So let me be that a-hole. The truth is, we’re all going to die at some point. Nobody wants to hear it, but our time on earth is limited.

Strip that social moré away though, and death becomes a natural part of life. It’s an integral cycle that ties us in with the history of humanity itself.

What’s truly amazing though, is how much potential we have to live bigger these days. Many of the social constraints, limitations, or disadvantages of previous generations have been stripped away, or are fading into the distance. While we still have a ways to go, we live at a time where we have luxuries like women’s rights, running water, and dentists.

These modernizations potentially free us up to be able to create the life we truly want. Each of us has the option to make an impact; to help others and ourselves. We have the choice to live to our greatest potential.

And yet, how many of us actually do it?

We’re gonna live forever

The thing is, for most of our lives, death feels far off.

It’s like knowing we’ll age, but not realizing it’s happening until those age spots and crow’s feet appear in the mirror. It often doesn’t feel real until it happens.

Most of us suffer from the delusion of reprieve, in which we see the realities of life and death, yet somehow secretly believe that it’s not going to happen to us, and that somehow at the last moment we’ll be whisked away from death.

Obviously, we can’t spend each day worrying about our mortality, that would defeat the purpose of life. But the problem with avoiding it is that so many of us wait until it’s too late to say what we needed to say, or do what really wanted to do.

A deathbed story

So i’m going to tell you a story, one I’ve adapted from Les Brown:

Fast forward your life to the point where you’re on your deathbed (keep reading, it will get better, I swear). You’re laying there and you know there’s not much time left. All of the sudden several people walk in, people you’ve known your whole life yet never took the time to get to know on a deeper level. Each one of them represents one of your talents, passions, and ideas.

Maybe the first represents that book you wanted to write–the one that scared you into paralysis. Maybe the second is learning to dance salsa, and the third is starting that business you always wanted to try.

Whatever they represent to you, imagine you’re lying there and each and every thing you felt pulled to do, the hopes and dreams of your life, staring down at you.

One by one they open their mouths and softly they say, “We were born with you, we were the gifts you were meant to share with the world, but you never used us. And now we will die with you!”

Take a moment and let that scene sink in.

Wait, there’s more to you

I’m willing to bet, that right now you have so much more to give this world than what you are currently are. I’ll even venture that deep down below fears, excuses, and denial, you know exactly what some of these things are that you’re meant to do in your short time on this planet.

When I first heard that story I wept. Who am I kidding? I cry every time I hear it. I cried as I wrote it. And I do because I cannot bear the thought of dying like that, with all of those ideas and gifts left unused.

We’ve all got that gift or talent, or idea we’ve been imbued with since birth. So why the fuck aren’t we using them?

Busy and scared

Lawd knows, there’s so much to do. We’re distracted by our never-ending to-do lists, celebrity drama, stupid world leaders, and an overwhelming amount of information. (Did you know the average person is inundated with 100,000 pieces of information each day?)

And yet, at the end of our lives most of those things will not matter to us.

I know I won’t be on my deathbed thinking, I’m so glad I always paid my cable bill on time, or I’m so glad I spent hours of my life on Facebook.

We live in a corporate message driven world, guided by what we think we should buy to fill the gap of desire in our souls.

Shedding the busy-ness only goes so far though, because at the root of distraction are two best friends: Fear and Addiction.

If we’re honest, most of us are a little bit (or a lotta bit) addicted to TV, social media, and the internet, just to name a few “busy” makers. But in the end it’s our choice every time. For most of us it’s a choice we’ve come to make on autopilot. Its as if our reptilian brains are in control. Oh wait, they are.

Which brings me to addiction’s best friend, the worst four-letter word ever: Fear.

About a decade ago a colleague from my business women’s group mentioned that she was training to become a life coach. Her training centered around busting through fears to create the life you really want. It was based on the philosophy of the book, Fearless Living.

She said that she was nearing the end of her program and that she was doing 12 week coaching for a few people for free. She offered me one of the spots. The thought of free coaching was appealing, but I told her, “I’m pretty motivated, I don’t think I have a lot of fears left to conquor.”

Kindly and wisely, she said, “that’s okay, even if you don’t, you might be surprised at how many subconscious fears people have.”

So I did the twelve weeks. Boy, let me tell you: it was then that I noticed that pretty much every decision I made on a daily basis came from some fear, whether tiny or huge. Things like:

  • not wanting my hair cut like a “mom” because I wanted to be seen as a cool young mom;
  • letting my ex walk all over me because I was afraid he’d retaliate;
  • not standing up for myself when a client stiffed me, because I feared I’d never be able to replace them.

The list goes on and on. But the point is that we are often unconscious of the role fear plays in keeping us from living up to our true worth and purpose.

Whether we busy ourselves with social media because of FOMO, or we stay in our “secure” boring/comfort zone job because we fear financial ruin, or we don’t pursue that crazy idea because we’re afraid of being judged, or we don’t speak up because we fear we might be wrong, or we don’t write that one book because we don’t want to fail, or we don’t take salsa dancing classes because we don’t want to look like “idiots” or even beginners; it all comes back to fear.

Don’t freak, move

I know how hard it is to face the reality that maybe you’ve been half living your life, or that fear has been ruling it. Obviously, I’ve totally been there. It took me years to realize how I’d squandered my innate gifts and purpose(s) because of my fear of being worthless.

The only way out from the guilt, fear, or sadness is to say, “no more!” And take the risk of really living. Whatever that means for you.

It doesn’t mean you need to run out and do everything on your bucket list (unless it does). It just means that it’s time to begin.

Crawl if you’re not ready to walk. But baby, do something.

Start before you’re ready, and before you have it all figured out. Take small risks because little changes have better, lasting results than drastically trying to change everything at once.

Remember the story about your deathbed? Guess what? It’s time to change the story.

A different kind of deathbed story

This time imagine now you’re lying on your deathbed, but now  you’re basking in the contentment of knowing that you’ve fulfilled your purposes on this earth. You have this sense of peace that you’ve done what you needed to do. Can you feel it? It’s like a warm blanket on a cool night. You’ve done the things that most pulled your heartstrings and now you can rest easy.

  • What are these things you imagined you did? Think about it.
  • Then write those things down on a sheet of paper and put it somewhere where you’ll remember to look at it.
  • Review that list every morning and let those ideas marinate in your brainpan for a few days.
  • Set yourself a deadline to pick the first one you want to work toward. And begin to take small actions.
Little conscious steps down the right path are much better than strides down the wrong one. Click To Tweet

Once you make the decision and commitment to pursue what you’re meant to do, whatever that is, you’ll begin to feel the deep river of fulfillment begin to trickle and flow into your daily life. It’s a feeling unlike anything else.

So here’s the two-ton question: What do you want to be known for? What will you do with this one life you have?

It’s okay to not know. I won’t judge you. But it’s kind of like going on a trip and not having a destination planned. If your goal is to just explore that’s great, but if you want to create a fulfilling career, live up to your potential, or want people to understand what you’re trying to do in your life or business, you need to have vision.

Maybe you like your life the way it is. That’s cool. But if you have a flickering desire for more, if you have some dreams, start taking action.

And if you’re wondering how my daughter is doing, she’s much more at peace knowing she will start community college next year and take a little extra time to tune-in to what she wants. I’m very proud of her.


Three ways I can help you:  Enroll in my personal branding course, book a one-on-one branding consultation with me, or sign up for my weekly email newsletter.


Image credit: Photo by Maxime Bhm on Unsplash
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Why Wonder Woman’s Naïveté is Important (for Everyone)

“She was too naïve.” I’ve heard this complaint from so many friends, even my daughter, after watching the new Wonder Woman movie. I get it. It was uncomfortable to see this powerful woman completely unaware of her power, sexuality, and equally naive to the corrosive properties of the dark side of human nature. But to me, it made perfect sense.

So often I think we’re taught to equate success and power with the expectation that we’re innately uber powerful and bold, but for many of us badassery is an evolution. We’re not all born kicking ass and taking names.

It took decades for me to move from wallflower to butt-kicker. Heck, I’m still working on it.  Every. Damn. Day.

I grew up in a strict evangelical-fundamentalist enclave where a woman’s place was in service to her husband and children. Feminism (or any kind of true equality) was a dirty word.

In high school I walked around, head down, watching my feet, with my boyfriend, wearing Christian t-shirts emblazoned with sayings like “No Jesus. No Peace.” I’d wake up at 5:30AM to read my Bible and pray, for fear I’d backslide and lose my salvation if I didn’t work hard enough at it. I began to orient my every move around my boyfriend who would eventually become my ex-husband. My vows to him included a line that I would “follow wherever he led.”

I lived in a constant state of blind fear, utterly unaware to the expanse that my life could have outside of this bubble world.

Over the years, I grew up and away from the strictures of a faith that no longer served me. It took years for a mindset of powerlessness to indoctrinate me, so it only makes sense that it would take years to claw my way out of those limiting beliefs.

Just like Diana Prince, I saw the world through a sheltered upbringing, naive to the realities of modern life–both the good and the bad. But in some ways my upbringing, like Diana’s, prepared me for the battles of real life. The ability to commit to a disciplined life, to share what I believed even though I was scared, helped me for what lied ahead.

I used to call my life “Murphy’s Life” because, for years I felt like I was the perpetual target of a machine-gun firing shit sandwiches at my head. Between divorce, money issues, multiple health issues, deaths of loved ones, and too many things to name here, the experiences that challenged my beliefs catalyzed me to my shift from a lowly servant mindset to that of a woman who takes charge. As it turned out, strength, courage, and wisdom had always been there, deep down. I just didn’t know it yet.

[Spoiler] Throughout the film, we anticipate that Aries will find Diana. The stronger she gets, the closer he gets.

In the final battle scene of the movie, Diana loses a loved one and must face her impossible foe.  She’s on her back, pinned to the ground. It seems hopeless. She can decide to give up, or get up. Our hero breaks through what she thought she believed about herself (and the world) and taps into more power than she realized she had.

For me, that moment came when I had to make the hardest decision of my life: taking my children away from their father. My ex was abusing drugs and mentally abusing our children (and me). The stronger I got, the worse he got. It took me longer than I’d care to admit to patch together the courage to stand up to him. I’m sure I looked like a damned wimp; I sure felt like one. But after so many years of being under his control, pinned to the ground of my own life, I finally realized it had to stop.

For Diana, it took saving the world, to step into her power. For me it was the same, I had to save my world–my children. Les Brown says of being knocked down, that if you can look up, you can get up. And so I finally did. I got up, and strapped on my own villain-kicking boots in order to protect my children from their own father.

The things is, we humans ARE so much more powerful than we believe. We are blind to our own strengths and capabilities. But I truly believe we can become our own heros. And our world needs more of us.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman gives us a beautifully faceted hero, one whom we watch evolve into claiming her own latent power.

We’re all a different places in our life’s journey. We were or are all naive in some ways, and definitely–at some point–to our own super powers.

I think superhero movies are so popular right now because so many of us feel powerless against the myriad of injustices in our plugged-in, overwrought, global society. If we’re meant to draw inspiration from superheroes, if these fantastical myths are meant to give us hope and strength then this Wonder Woman is the hero we’ve been waiting for. Because when shit got real, she did not stop.

Sure it sounds cheesy, or even cringe-worthy, but here goes: be the hero of your own life. There’s so much more to you than you realize. You don’t have to feel like a badass to start being one.

Get up and into your life, trusting that you’ve got what it takes, and you’ll see that strength, courage, and wisdom has been there  inside you all along.

 

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Nine Traits of Astonishingly Successful Authors

In a market of ideas, why do some take off while others don’t? Why do some authors have mega status while others continue plodding on in obscurity, or with only moderate success?

The literary market fascinates me. There’s this vast ocean of books, ebooks, audiobooks, etc.  published each year and just a handful of them hit it BIG. I won’t pretend to guess that I know the reasons, but thinking about this got me wondering if there are some common traits among bestselling authors.

I think if there was a magic formula we’d know. We’d know because only be those who fit that formula would get books published. But as a writer trying to make it–and by that I mean support myself with my art–I do keep my eyes peeled and my ears open to what seems to set wildly successful authors apart.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the past few years or so in my work with writers, and participating in writing seminars, networking, workshops, and of course, my own research.

To be sure, this kind of mind-blowing success–I’m talking JK Rowling, John Grisham, Elizabeth Gilbert level–is not likely to just happen to most of us, but it can’t hurt to know what these authors have in common.

So, let’s dive in, shall we?

#1 They write a lot. And often they have been for a while. One of the big fallacies that I wish that some successful people would stop perpetuating is the idea that they just tried something and it worked. Sure there are those lucky ducks who get rich quick. I’m not saying luck never has anything to do with it.

But read enough success stories, or listen to enough podcasts like How I Built This or Being Boss and you’ll notice a pattern that successful people worked really hard for it. Whether it was practice, trial and error, or getting a degree, more often than not, it takes time and commitment.

There’s a reason they say “building” a reputation and not “sprouting” a reputation.

Neil Gaiman offers this advice, “Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.”  (Here’s his full commencement address at The University of the Arts: http://www.uarts.edu/neil-gaiman-keynote-address-2012)

But before you go quitting your job, please read on.

#2 They submit/pitch a lot and are in it for the long game. One of the stories that has encouraged me the most is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted Talk where she shares how she submitted her writing to publications for almost SIX YEARS before getting something published. That’s a long fucking time to wait. And that’s real commitment.

#3 They believed in their project(s). We’ve all heard certain authors say that they didn’t think anyone would actually publish their work. This is one of those moments where I wonder if their hindsight is really 20/20.

Who writes for so long and submits proposal after proposal if they think they have absolutely no hope?

It’s likely best not to have expectations, but I have a hunch that they believed someone would say yes, eventually.

When asked about her faith in her first Harry Potter book, before it was published, J K Rowling said, “You know, I can say this now, I was quite diffident about saying it for a long time. But I did have a belief, with Harry, that the difficult thing would be persuading someone to take it, because it didn’t fit. People said children’s books had to be half the length, and what an old-fashioned subject, a boarding school. I did have this feeling that the difficult thing would be persuading someone to publish it – but that if it was, people would like it.

(Read the full interview here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/28/conversation-lauren-laverne-jk-rowling-interview )

#4 They stood for something. Often something different/unique. These famous authors have instant recognition in our minds. We know them for their style, their voice, their subject matter, or persona of writing. I think a big reason many authors don’t get there is because they aren’t deeply rooted in who they are, what they offer, what/who they stand for, or what they seek to understand. Aka they don’t know what their brand is.

This of course, is of utmost importance in the stories we write as well. Depth of plot and character, as well as intimate knowledge of themes and what both you and your writing is about is key.

#5 They are as tenacious as fuck. They made time for their writing, they got agents, they created book proposals, they wrote essays, or stories, or whatever. The point is, they didn’t make excuses for finding the time to finish their work. They did the work. Stephen King wrote every night after his two day jobs, in the laundry room, on a makeshift desk his wife made for him.

#6 They are focused. Maybe this one could be combined with the point just above, but I want to emphasize it. Perhaps because I need to remind myself of this so often. I love ideas, always have. But the problem is, I find myself jumping on too many of them and doing way too many disparate things, which makes me fall behind on finishing the things I’ve already started.

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” –Ray Bradbury

What is clear is that all of these fabulously successful writers carve out time to write, consistently. They make it a priority.

#7 Most of them had day jobs, so there’s no excuse. JK Rowling was a single mom with a low-paying job who was on state assistance while she wrote the first Harry Potter book. I try to remind myself of this when I’d rather be working out a storyline than getting my other/paid work done.

Besides I think writing in a vacuum often produces navel-gazing, academic, philosophic work, whereas having other obligations while writing, however you do it (doesn’t have to be a day job), produces richer writing and more interesting work.

Here’s what Maya Angelou said, in an interview with Harvard Business Review:

Interviewer: “When you were working at those early jobs, did you ever envision what you would become?”

Maya: “No, but I didn’t think I wouldn’t. I somehow got the feeling early on that if human beings did a thing, I could study it and try to do some of it too. And one thing led to another. If I had not studied Latin in school, I wouldn’t have found it as easy to comprehend the structure of language. Had I not danced, I might never have really listened to music and known I could compose something. You see? I understood early that not everything I did wasn’t going to be a masterpiece, but I would try to do it the best I knew how. I’ve listened to an inner voice and had enough courage to try unknown things. And I think everything in its time.”

And that brings us to what I think is one of the most important points of success.

#8 They had really great ideas/stories that were usually well executed. It seems to me that more often than not their stories or ideas were not only great, but were well crafted. How many times have you read a book, seen a movie, or watched a TV show and thought, well it was a good premise, but it lacked [fill in the blank]? These BIG successful books, essays, screenplays, etc. are (with definite exceptions) excellent ideas, well played.

I think we often underestimate the power of great ideas.

#9 They often felt a higher calling to write. One more quote from Maya Angelou, to sum this point up: “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

Whether you or I ever get to the top of our mountains, I think Ms. Angelou’s advice is always good.  If you love what you’re doing, even if you’re making your money elsewhere, you’ll enjoy this life more anyway.

Here’s hoping that someday, your name will be in lights. Or at least that you get to do more of what you love.

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Make Money from Your Art: The Ethos of the Starving Artist

artist sitting on the street with paintings behindThere’s this unspoken longsuffering ethos in the literary world that writers must suffer for their craft, always look at their work as inadequate; and be relentless in their pursuit of the grand art of it all. And the ultimate reward for this holy work? Being a part of a literary elite culture of back-patting and back-stabbing.

I’m calling bullshit.

Of course this rationale is also prevalent in the art world at large. When I was a child with a natural penchant for drawing and art, I was told at every turn how I could never make money with art. So I gave it up for a long while and became a preschool teacher (another high paying option, ha!).

As an adult writing student, most of my writing teachers encouraged us to submit to literary journals with readerships of hundreds and maybe thousands. It was rare that we’d talk about writing for a big commercial publication with readership in the millions.

The self-publishing deluge and mass of crappily written books out there would seem to support this higher literary calling mentality. But I can’t help but wonder why we writers must choose between these extremes. Isn’t there some middle-ground?

Look, I truly do believe that being critical of one’s own work is a great way to improve. It’s essential. And the relentless pursuit of art for art’s sake is worthwhile. But I would guess that many of us want to not only share our writing, but share it with the widest audience possible. So that tired writer narrative doesn’t serve us so well in the real world.

If all you want is to be in the great literary journals and perhaps be looked back upon as a literary genius of your time, that’s awesome. There’s no shame in that. Again, the world needs this high art  writing. I’m not saying I don’t want to be published in literary journals. I do, for sure (though I’m no literary genius).

But can we be honest in saying hardly anyone actually reads these literary journals? Many of them don’t even pay their writers and have six-month long acceptance cycles.

Can we stop holding this up as the ultimate in writerhood?

If I’m trying to sell a book–a book that I’d like to be commercially successful and of literary quality–it seems more likely to get a better deal if I’ve been published in the New York Times and O magazine, not just literary journals.

I don’t want to sacrifice quality, but if I’m going to spend my time honing my writing, doesn’t it make sense to get some commercial success out of it as well?

I want my writing to change minds now, and as controversial as it might be to say, I would love to have bestseller (let’s all stop pretending we don’t want this), and to someday support myself with my art (gasp). Maybe you do too.

I think the relentless self-bashing, pining for awards to give us  a sense of worth, and comparing ourselves to each other, does not serve our art, or each other.

I know it’s not popular to say, but I’m rejecting the idea that writers should be self-loathing, humble-braggers who are content with a hand-to-mouth existence in pursuit of their higher calling.

This is one of the reasons I am involved with BinderCon, because attending their LA conference was the first time I ever felt like I could actually do this writing thing and maybe even make some money at it.

Anyway, that’s my rant. Keep on going with your art/calling/passion/project/business! I hope this encourages you to make your own path, the one that suits your life.

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Forgot My Own Anniversary

On March 6th, two years ago, I started this here blog thang. But truly what I did was commit to my dream of becoming a writer. And this March 6th I totally forgot to post something to celebrate. Doh!

To those of you who have read my posts I thank you from the deepest part of my soul. One of my greatest joys in life is to connect with other people. I hope that you’ve been entertained and inspired by some of the things in this blog.

My purpose in this project was and is to be honest about the process of pursuing one’s dreams. Too often we see the successful folks put on a pedestal and we think perhaps we just don’t have what it takes to get there. And while, yes, I’m still not a best-selling author (yet), I am on my way. (And I’ve had some great victories this year [rec’d the UCLA X Writers’ Program Scholarship & I’m nearly done with my UCLA X certificate program]).

This post is pretty unpolished and unedited. But if you can look past that, what I want you to know is this: If you commit to your dreams, it may push you harder than you’ve ever been challenged before. You will feel like giving up, like you’ll never be any good. You will feel the pressures of money and family, friends and obligations threatening to overtake your dream. But even if you can just whittle out ten minutes a day for your dream, do it. It is insanely fulfilling to know you’re actively working on your dream.

Our goals can often seem enormous and unattainable. But take some time (and this is a reminder for me too) to block out all the noise and just imagine where you want to be. Be like a child, if only for a few moments every day. Notice the beauty, wonder and possibility that exists when we don’t put our dirty human hands all over it.

I haven’t been published in a literary journal yet, but I’m working on it. 😉 In the meantime I wanted to give you a present.

A Thank You for being among my first readers:

This is a flash fiction piece I did for a contest that I did not win. I still think it’s worthy of a read, even if perhaps it isn’t perfect. I hope you enjoy it.

{  “Iris” (click here to read)  }

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fear or love

A friend posted this on Facebook today and I had to share it with you. Jim Carrey is one of my favorite comedians, but he is also profound.

Go ahead, ask the Universe for what you really want. Work toward it, let go of how it comes to pass. Have faith.

Do what you were meant to do.

If you want to see the speech from which these excerpts came, check it out here:

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Make it Happen

Mariah Carey’s self-titled album (her debut album actually) was the first CD I owned.  I can still remember sitting on our back deck one summer, at dusk. Our brand new black boombox that had a–wait for it–CD player, was set near the steps.  I peeled the cellophane wrapper of the CD and in a rare moment of secular-music-listening-pleasure, I heard Mariah’s stunning voice, clearer than any radio broadcast.

I still love me some Mimi (even though she ditched her curly hair) and when this song popped up on my Pandora feed today I just had to share with you.  It is one of my faves from that era.  A time in my life when I felt small, but had big dreams.

So keep going y’all!  I know I am.  I am making this happen. And for the first time in my life, I feel like I am living to my potential.  I hope you are too!

“If you believe in yourself enough

And know what you want
You’re gonna make it happen
Make it happen”

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The Push

First, I want to just give a shout out to all of the wonderful people in my life who’ve encouraged and supported me through this first year – especially my soul mate, my boyfriend, Derwin. Thank you all! And thank YOU, for actually reading this! I’m humbled and honored that you’d even want to read it. I hope it inspires you in your journey. 😀

I started this blog one year ago, today. I’ve been wracking my brain for days/weeks trying to figure out what to say, how to update you on this past year’s progress. I’d love to tell you that I’m now a best-selling author and I’m touring the world inspiring others. But of course, real life is so much more complex than that. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m decidedly not a best-selling author, yet. 😉

I’d like to share a story with you.

When I was 10 years old my family threw a party at our local water-park, Windsor WaterWorks. It was an uncharacteristically gloomy August day in Sonoma County. Gray clouds covered the sky and threatened rain with occasional random drops here and there.

“It’ll clear up,” my dad said, as we packed our car and piled in. It was a special occasion, a joint 6th birthday party for my cousin Vincent and my brother, Luke. We were not about to let a few clouds get in the way of the celebration.

The clouds began to dissipate a little as we arrived at the park. Before the adults could set down the bags of party supplies at the picnic tables under the oak trees, we kids started begging to go on the water slides. I was so excited. We had driven by this freeway-side water park so many times and now there we were, about to actually glide down the water slides into the pools below. Vincent, Luke, Aunt Victoria, my Mom and I headed toward the first tower of slides. At the bottom of the wooden staircase an attendant handed us flimsy, blue foam mats.

“Which slide do you want to go on first Andrea? Level 1 or Level 2?” my aunt Victoria asked, her hand on my shoulder. Mom stood just behind her, an inquisitive smile on her face.

“Let’s do Level 1 first and then I want to try all four slides!” I bubbled excitedly. I could picture myself sliding down, feeling the wind in my hair, the rush of the water splashing my cheeks. My mom and aunt followed close behind as my cousin and brother hurried up the stairs ahead of me. As we crisscrossed back and forth, going higher and higher, I looked down. My heart jumped up into my throat. Oh, god what had I gotten myself into? We were up so high. The wooden beams didn’t seem so strong now. As we walked under the blue fiberglass slide it would shake and sway a little as the shadow of a person slid quickly past. When we reached the top I could see the twists of the blue tube and the small pool below. It didn’t look nearly big enough to catch a person flying down the slide at those speeds.

At the top, my cousin and brother flung down their blue mats with ease; one after another sitting and scooting themselves off into the tube slide. It was my turn. I stepped into the little pool of water at the top of the slide. I could feel the water pulling, rushing past my legs and down the slide. The attendant waved for me to put my mat down. I looked back at my mom, eyes wide, face contorted with utter dread.

“It’s ok hunny, you wanted to do this, remember?” she attempted to reassure me, with a smile.

“It’s ok, Andrea, just sit on your mat, you’ll see it’s not that bad.” my aunt said. She stepped into the pool beside me. I laid my mat down on the platform carefully and held my aunt’s hand as I positioned myself on it.

“I can’t do it, I’m too scared,” I squirmed, realizing the error of my ways, as the water rushed past my hands.

“C’mon, Andrea, if Luke and Vince can do it, you can too. We’re coming down right after you.” Mom pleaded. The attendant grimaced at us and impatiently asserted for me to go. The line was backing up behind us. I looked down at the tube again.

Unbeknownst to me, Mom motioned to Aunt Victoria to just go ahead and push me, that’d I’d be fine.

“Trust me,” she whispered to my aunt. All of the sudden I felt a firm push on my back and I was sliding into the tube. I screamed, flung my legs out to the side and slowed down a little. I hung on to my little blue mat with a white-knuckled, abalone grip. Taking a breath, I realized I was actually having fun. I splashed into the little pool at the end of the slide. Surfacing, I blew the water out of my nose, and swam to the side.

“What took you so long?” my brother whined, hand on his hip, smile stretching across his face. His white-blond hair swept back by the water.

For the rest of the day I rode that slide, and only that slide, nearly non-stop. Mom knew best.

Last year I was able to push myself to start pursuing my dream before I was ready to. (Thanks for the lesson, Mom) It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I flailed about in the beginning, trying to get my bearings. But let me tell you, now, I am having such a good time! I am so excited and fulfilled, knowing I am actively participating in crafting my dream. I don’t have the guilt nagging away anymore. That “I really should start that book someday” feeling is gone because I started it, and I’m doing it, day by day, making my dream come true. Every day is not a cake-walk, but it’s so much better than before.

Here are just some of the things that have changed since I committed to following my dream, one year ago:

  • The universe has aligned in ways I can’t be specific about yet, but I am blown away by how things have fit together and worked out this year. I feel like I have a new life.
  • I left two jobs that were no longer right for me.
  • I started going back to school –and I LOVE it!
  • I did several personal writing challenges – writing every day for 30, 60 & 90 day increments
  • I met some amazing new people who share the writing lifestyle
  • I started reading and doing the exercises in The Artist’s Way, as well as other creativity-building activities.
  • I write every day, except weekends. (But sometimes those too)
  • I feel happier, more peaceful and more fulfilled.
  • I have learned so much about writing, and how there is so much more to learn. Ha ha.
  • My relationship with my children has deepened – no easy task with teenagers.
  • My relationship with my boyfriend has deepened.
  • My children are happier and more actively pursuing their dreams.
  • I started actively writing the memoir I have wanted to write for the past decade.
  • I can now see the vision of my dream coming to life in vivid lines and color. And boy, is that a good feeling.

So, I’m not telling you all of this to toot my own horn. Far from thatI want you to know that no matter who you are and where you are in life you can start making your dream come true – today. But the key is you have to START and fully COMMIT to it.

For some it might be baby steps and others may have tons of time to devote to it. But I share this with you to show you that it’s not necessarily going to happen in an instant. It’s a hard, fantastic road, and you may, like me, not make it all happen in the first year (or more). But that doesn’t matter. It will happen. When it is meant to. But know this, even if things aren’t going great, when you’re doing all you can to pursue your life’s purpose, there is a peace and happiness that transcends the fear.

If you haven’t started yet, consider this your push!

(Oh & hey, if you still aren’t sure what your dream is that’s ok, keep exploring, it took me years to finally realize what my dream was.)

Hugs y’all,

Andrea

[Curious how it started? See my first post.]