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What to Do When You Feel Like Nothing is Working

Does this happen to you? You’re doing something new, pursuing a new goal or change and it feels like NOTHING is working. Here are some ways this has shown up for me:

  • I pitching or submitting writing all over, but all I hear are crickets in my inbox
  • I market myself, but my social following isn’t growing as fast as I want
  • I’m working on that book and it feels like I’ll never finish it
  • I diet and exercise but haven’t lost weight yet
  • I tell my teenagers to do their chores, but feel like I’m just talking into an echo chamber

Been there?

Meanwhile, you look on your Instagram feed and it seems that everyone else is killing it. This is when I usually get a little punchy.

I’m the type of person who, once she knows what she wants, wants it NOW. Of course, as an grownup I’ve had to learn–usually the hard way–that I have to wait. And sometimes that wait is looooong. Or seems like it, anyway.

Trying something new, whether that’s a diet, pitching a book, eating better, or even pursuing your dreams, is a risk.  And risks always bring up resistance.

If we don’t try anything new, we feel safe, comfortable. We know what to expect, even if that’s mediocrity.

When we step out of our comfort zones though, and take a risk, we don’t know what the outcome will be.

And waiting in silence can sometimes feel like failure, or torture.

Our bodies and minds often react to the sometimes slow burn of waiting in predictable ways.  But the good news is that recognizing those predictable reactions can be an effective way to begin digging yourself out of the anxiety or despair of waiting.

A few years back, I had a job I hated. Every day I had to prepare myself mentally to survive the day without slapping my boss and telling him what I really thought. Aside from not being treated like a human being, I think the thing that stung the most was that I was working so hard at something that didn’t matter to me. I knew I was capable of so much more; I knew I wanted to do something more meaningful, to help people.

On top of the shitty job, I had a second job in retail, and yet still could only afford to live at my mom’s apartment, sharing a single bedroom with my two kids. Of course I realize that others have it way worse and I don’t claim to own all the pain. But basically, my prior businesses had failed and I was in a very disempowered mental state.

It was a real banner time in my life. 

My stress levels were near capacity, so much so that I was practically incapable of figuring out what to do next to get back on my feet.

Funny enough though, on top of all that I had recently decided to  commit to pursuing my dream of becoming a writer and speaker.

I figured, heck what else did I have to lose? If I failed at what I thought I should do (being a successful business owner), I might as well fail at what I really wanted to do (be a writer and speaker, inspiring others).

So between two jobs and two kids, I’d carve out 20 minutes each day to do something, anything, even minuscule toward the glimmer of  life I wanted to lead.

Each morning I’d pull myself up out of my twin-sized bed, and with a heavy heart, push myself to reframe my mentality.

My mantra usually looked a lot like this: at least you have work, this won’t last forever, there are lessons to learn in this space.

Most of the time, I believed myself. But sometimes when the tendrils of negativity had dug too deep into my soul, I bawled, cursed, and complained, which if I’m honest, helped purge me, too. In any case, I needed reinforcements–I could not rely on myself alone to be positive.

Yet despite the love and support of those closest to me, I knew the only one who could shift this was me. So I had to reinforce my own mindset.

I listened to motivational speeches, books, and seminars on the half hour commute to the job I hated. When I arrived, I’d take a deep breath before I opened my car door. I’d gather my lunch bag, straighten my business casual button-down, and walk, head held as high as possible, past my bosses’ office windows on the way to the front door. I grasped for a happy thought so I could have a smile on my face when I walked through the door to whatever shitstorm of demoralization was in store for me that day.

I’m not very good at faking it. But I clung to those positive messages I’d listened to in the car on the way to work.

I survived that near year of struggle and moved on to better things, but every day was a push and pull of dealing with crap and doing everything I could to stay afloat mentally.

It felt like FOR-EV-ER!

 

~

Nowadays, I’m doing the work I feel put on this earth to do and there is a deep well of fulfillment that comes with that, but not always such a deep pocket book. Of course I’m still working hard to attain certain further goals, aka building my Empire of Empowerment. **insert non-evil laugh here**

But sometimes I still grow impatient when results aren’t materializing as fast as I’d like. Sometimes I even get in a panic and wonder if maybe I would be better off if I just had a “normal” life and the security that comes with that.

When I’m smart, I go back to those coping tools I learned the hard way. So, here are some tools that will hopefully help you in your journey.

When you feel like you've got nothing left

Weighing the Alternative

As weak sauce as it may sound, the thing that often gets me through a tough waiting period is weighing the alternative. I mean, I could be living a different life–one of predictability and stability, but never get around to writing my books, never help people with their brands, never bring hope to those who’ve had to rise above their circumstances. But I would be miserable.

So as torturous as it is to wait when you’re doing the work and NOTHING seems to be happening, it’s still better than not doing what you feel you must.

Listen to Positive People (or People Who’ve Been Through it)

Is that motivation enough, though? Aside from the shadow alternative of not trying, the other thing that gets me through is listening to, or reading, or watching inspiring people.

We can’t always have the perfect mindset, so sometimes we need to rely on someone who’s  not in the pit of despair–someone who can throw us a rope of encouragement to help us climb out of our self-imposed misery.

Did you know that for every negative thought or comment you need to counteract it with seventeen positive ones? Negativity is sticky. Positivity is more hard-won, but worth it.

Don’t Panic

The other thing tendency when you’re trying something new and aren’t getting a response or a reward is to try to figure out what you’re doing wrong so you can quickly change it.

Sometimes this is a valid approach. I mean, we all know the definition of insanity.

Sometimes it is not. More often than not, it takes more time to build this new thing than we realize.

Just because it’s taking time doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track.

We’re so used to immediate gratification these days, so if we don’t get thousands of followers, or millions in sales, or immediate recognition right now, we think we’re doing something wrong.

Often, we just need to stick with what we’re doing, make minor adjustments, and trust that the Universe will meet us halfway. Either that, or trust that miracles are possible.

One way to decipher whether you need to change your approach or just keep sticking to it is to have a group of trusted, knowledgeable peers (or a mentor), to be honest with you.

It’s not over

I think the most important thing to remember though, is that there is virtue in the work itself, even if the outcome isn’t what you’d hoped for. As cliche as it sounds there is always something to learn. Usually a lot more from the things that didn’t work than the things that did.

Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve had many ventures, ideas, tries and fails. I’ve learned a ton.

Even if you’re trapped in a soul-sucking job, eventually there will be a way out if you keep your eyes open. Even if you’re not seeing results yet from your new workout regime, you will. Even if you’re not hearing back from publications on that essay you’ve been pitching, you will; or you won’t and then maybe you’ll just publish it on your own blog. 😉

We humans always forget that nothing is permanent (well, except death, but until then…). Change is inevitable, so if you’re going through a period of struggle you have to remind yourself it will end.

It’s also important to be realistic and not expect to be the next bestselling author, or Steve Jobs overnight.

Watch this:

Your WHY

Finally, the thing I go back to when I am questioning everything, including whether or not I should press on, is my WHY. I ask myself two questions to determine if I’m feeling like shit because I’m following the wrong path, or if it’s just a bump on the right road:

  1. Why am I doing this?
  2. Do I really believe in it?

We can have all of the right tools in place, but if we aren’t sold on the reason we’re wanting to lose weight, or start a business, or build this brand, we likely will not have the follow through. So if your “why” is not good enough, either figure out a better “why” or perhaps it’s  time to change routes.

While the first question prompts you to remember your goal, the second question activates your own well-developed bullshit-o-meter.

We often ignore the wisdom we have deep down. Asking ourselves if we really believe in what we’re doing can often reveal clues to whether or not we should keep going.

Here’s a tip: when you ask yourself these questions, pay attention not only to your mental response, but to how your body feels in that moment. Often, our bodies reveal what our minds are sometimes incapable of telling us.

~

Listen, I know it’s hard to keep walking the path when you can’t see where it will end. There are only a few guarantees in life, and most of them do not ensure that you will be the victor. But one guarantee is change. So if you’re doing the work, things will change. It may not happen according to the timeline you set, but it will come eventually.

I keep going, despite the times where I’d rather curl up in the fetal position and never get out of bed. I remind myself that to think that I wouldn’t be met with challenges when trying something new is just delusional thinking.

I believe that: good things are coming to those who are striving for good.

Music

Finally, one of the best ways to quickly shift your emotional state is through music. So here’s my little gift to you, my own personal badass-good-mood-kick-ass-take-names playlist. I hope it makes you dance toward your vision of success!

 

 

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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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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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A Bromide Rejection

Another Rejection. The third that week. It came with a one liner of feedback (a rarity):

“Your work is stronger when relaying experience and specifics as opposed to relying too heavily at times on bromides.”

I paused. I was being rejected by a word I had to look up. Some writer I was.

You probably know the word, but just in case:
Bromidenoun
a trite and unoriginal idea or remark, typically intended to soothe or placate.
“feel-good bromides create the illusion of problem solving”
or
a statement that is intended to make people feel happier or calmer but that is not original or effective

Ouch. Of course my first inclination was self-flagellation, both for apparently having lackluster ideas AND for having to look the damn word up.

The bitter pill of Rejection is a common subject in the writing world. I used to find it boring. That is, until I started swallowing those pills wholesale.  I’ve tried my best to steel myself, but sometimes it just gets to me. When I thought of the hours I had put in to applying for and submitting my work, over and over, to publications and fellowships, I wondered if I would ever hear a “yes!”

Then I thought about my work, the pieces I submitted.  Maybe the feedback is true, or maybe it isn’t. It sure didn’t feel good to have something I’ve spent a lot of time on, laboring over, crying over and bleeding on the page–equated to trite platitudes. As a new(ish) writer I’ve struggled with a lot of self-doubt, a little of which is warranted.  It can be hard to know which criticism to listen to and which to ignore.

In those moments, after I freak out,  I have a few go-to moves:

  1. I ask the opinion of someone I trust and respect, someone who will be honest with me, and “gets” me too.
  2. I take a moment to pay attention to my gut–is there a grain of truth to the criticism, or not? How much of it will I own?
  3. I remind myself that no matter how compelled I am to be perfect, my work doesn’t have to be 100% perfect to be valuable. Just because my work is rejected doesn’t mean I’m a reject. Nearly every successful person’s path was paved in failures. It actually means I’m on the right track.
  4. Take a time out. Sometimes it’s best to just get some time from the piece. There’s a magic that happens off the page, in your mind.
  5. There’s always a lesson to learn: whether it’s improving on my own work, or learning when to brush off unwarranted criticism and trust my own judgment.
  6. Ask myself what I can be grateful for. Even if my work is being rejected, it’s being read. And that’s miles ahead of where I was years ago when I was only playing at becoming a legit writer.

I know a lot more rejection may come. Some likely to be more harsh. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop, or even slow down. It means I’ll keep going, improving, clinging tighter to what rings true and finding my own footing.

There will be moments in writing, and in life, where some don’t pick up what I’m laying down. That’s okay.  I know there are others like me–people who will get something out of my writing. Ultimately that’s what it’s really about anyway–not recognition, money or status, but connecting with other human beings, making something of this life.

So I’ll keep writing and pitching my work and one of these days it will find its place. Things will fall in as they are meant to. In the meantime, its my job to keep doing the work of it.
Keep on going friends!
Swallow those bitter pills of rejection and shit ’em out, taking only what you choose from it.

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Parting Words of 2014 (from Amy Poehler)

I am reading Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please right now [love]. I especially enjoyed the preface, entitled “Writing is Hard: a Preface.”

amy-poehler-yespleaseThis year more than others I’m intimately aware of that statement. Writing a book is a bitch, but one that is worth it.  The thing is it’s not about the result–it’s about the work. There is beauty, bloody guts and somehow magic in it. And when you are doing something you love, even when it’s hard, it fulfills like nothing else.

Here are some words, better than what I have for you, from Amy Poehler’s preface:

“So what do I do? What do we do? How do we move forward when we are tired and afraid? What do we do when the voice in our head is yelling that WE ARE NEVER GONNA MAKE IT? How do we drag ourselves through the muck when our brain is telling us youaredumbandyouwillneverfinishandnoonecaresanditistimeyoustop?

Well, the first thing we do is take our brain out and put it in a drawer. Stick it somewhere and let it tantrum until it wears itself out. You may still hear the brain and all the shitty things it is saying to you, but it will be muffled, and just the fact that it is not in your head anymore will make things seem clearer. And then you just do it. You just dig in and write it. You use your body. You lean over the computer and stretch and pace. You write and then cook something and write some more. You put your hand on your heart and feel it beating and decide if what you wrote feels true. You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing. That is what I know. Writing the book is about writing the book.

So here we go, you and me. Because what else are we going to do? Say no? Say no to an opportunity that may be slightly out of our comfort zone? Quiet our voice because we are worried it is not perfect? I believe great people do things before they are ready…”

Keep it up my friends! Find that thing you believe in doing and do the hell out of it! Happy New Year.  Here’s to many wonderful years to all of us!

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Just Write

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this:  It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.  What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”

I’ve just dipped my toe into the great book, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield.  This quote is from the book.  More on Resistance later.

Incidentally, this applies to all arts and acts of creating something worthwhile.  So insert your chosen craft into this quote and feel the words sink in to your soul.

 

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Mind The Gap

For those of us who are struggling to produce something worthwhile, striving to make our art, perhaps even our magnum opus, it can sometimes seem like we’re just treading water. Like we are barely keeping our heads above the waves, let alone being able to swim to shore.

We want our work to be great – earth-shatteringly so. But we know it’s not quite there yet. We know we’ve got a ways to go. (ooh, that rhymes)

This video defines that ‘gap’ (& what to do about it) through the art of Ira Glass and David Shiyang Liu and Frohlocke.

Sit back and enjoy this little nugget of inspiration:

Ok. Now, back to work!

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Remember When You Were Awesome?

I’ve so got this, I thought one afternoon, driving down the freeway.  I was thinking about a new section of the book I was writing.  I felt so happy, so lucky.  I had been trying to figure out how I was going to structure this one part of the book and it had finally come to me.  I recorded an audio note on my iPhone as I drove to my writing class.  Excitement and passion swelled my chest.  I whispered a little prayer of thanks.  In that moment I could visualize all the pieces falling into place, my dreams materializing.  Fuzzy figures in the distance, they transformed into sharp focus.  God, it was a good feeling. Awesome, in fact.

The next day, good feelings gone, I muddled through a thoroughly critiqued (by my peers) chapter of my book, trying to find the right words. That old familiar feeling resurfaced–fear & self-deprecation.  My Inner Negative-Nelly chimed in:  Really, you think you can do this?  You couldn’t even do this one chapter perfectly.  Maybe you aren’t really meant to do this.  Maybe you have no idea what you’re doing, or worse, maybe you just don’t even have it in you to produce something good.  Maybe you should just give up.

The tendrils of paralysis began to twist and unfurl their way into my motivation. Realizing what I was headed for, I spurted, “Nope! F-that.”  I’m not slipping down that spiral again.  Screw it, I’m going to muddle through this whatever it takes.  Because sometimes, I am awesome. Even if I don’t feel like that right now.

Those who risk doing something they love, something they feel drawn to do, something they feel strongly about, will experience doubt.  It’s human nature. It’s normal.  And honestly, I think it’s the universe testing your resolve.  It’s probably not going to be all smooth sailing for most of us.  But that’s precisely what gives the experience intrinsic value.

We’ve all heard the adage: If it was easy, everyone would do it.  I’d also like to add: If it was easy, it just wouldn’t be that great.  If everyone wrote like Mary Karr, Joan Didion, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, their craft would not be so powerful.  If everyone could paint like Picasso or Michelangelo – their art would be considered average.  While there’s no doubt these artists are insanely talented, none of them just woke up one day and were perpetually awesome.  They tried and failed. Their work “sucked” sometimes, but through that failure they did not give up.  They didn’t give up because they knew deep down they had something special to share with the world.  You’ve got that thing too — that thing that only you can give to this world.

If you’ve already committed to following your dream, whatever that may be, the question is no longer whether you will continue, but rather, how well you will do this thing.  But when you’re drowning in that sea of self-depreciation, flailing and feeling like shit about your efforts/talents, you need some kind of buoy to cling to.  Allow me to throw you your buoy (or life-raft): remember a time when you were awesome.  As your negative thoughts pull down on you fight back by recalling a time when you felt like you could conquer the world.

Here are some prompts to get you thinking about times when you were awesome.  Go through this list.  Write down your ideas.  Next time you feel like you’re drowning, you can grab on to one of these and begin swimming back to shore.

-Describe a time when you felt most at peace. What had you done to get there?

-Think of the moment when you first had the idea to do this (whatever it is you’re venturing to do)

-Remember a moment you realized that you were going to be OK.

-Recall when you received a compliment that meant a lot to you – what was it? Own it.

-Write down an occasion when you finished something you were proud of.

-Note any goal you’ve achieved (whether it’s losing a pound, telling someone how you felt or anything).

-Recall a fear you faced (& maybe even conquered).

-Savor the memory of a meal that you made especially well.

-Make note of an award you received.

-Stumped?  Ask some trusted friends what it is that they like most about you, or one of their favorite memories of you.

and the list goes on…

You get the idea.  Build up the cadre of examples of when you were awesome and you’ll beat back the doldrums quicker than ever before.

Hope that helps.  Remember:  Believe in yourself, even if you’re the only one who does. (If you build it, they will come)

So the next time you’re feeling low, just remember when you were awesome.

If you have other tips, please share below. 🙂 Or if you want to share something about yourself that is just, well, awesome please do!

 

 

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I don’t wanna wait!

I have a confession: I am very impatient, but sometimes I also take a while to make up my mind. (I know my friends are rolling their eyes here)  It’s a one-two punch of needing  time to decide and then once I have, I want it NOW!

Over the years I have become more comfortable with being “ok” with the way I work and don’t beat up on myself as much for not being able to make quick decisions.  Still, sometimes, there’s that gnawing ache to be on with things already!  When I’m in that mode there are a few things that help me cool my jets when my impatience kicks in.  Hopefully you’ll find them helpful as well.

impatient-paulo-cuelho

“It took almost 40 years for me to become a writer.
Before that I always dreamt of becoming a writer, but I never dared to take the necessary steps.” – Paulo Coelho

1. A light at the end of the tunnel.  If I know where I am headed (sometimes even just the general direction, if not the end result)I feel so much better.  Taking the time to really think things through & feel confident in your decision can help stave off impatience.

2. A plan. Sometimes a goal seems awesome at first but then you don’t know where to start, or you like me, you research the hell out of what to do so much that you get lost in the details.  Breaking your task down into bite-sized prices and calendaring it out can give you the peace of mind to carry each item out without freaking over the entire project.

3. Do it when you don’t feel like it.  Acting on those bite-sized tasks can sometimes feel like drops in the bucket. But the reality is that each activity either brings you closer to or further away from your goal. Ask yourself this question every time you feel like making an excuse to avoid the task: Will this action bring me closer to my goal or further away? It’s surprising a simple thought like that can help you empower yourself to move forward.

4. Friends. Talking with friends not only boosts your mood in general, easing that sense of urgency, but you’ll realize how much you are accomplishing when you actually ‘catch up’ with your friends. And hey these are your friend for a reason, you’ll likely get some good advice, insights and encouragement for your goal.

5. Breathe.  Mindful practices are scientifically proven to change the way your brain works (in a good way) and improve executive functioning (ya know the part of your brain that governs things like impulse control/patience).  Yoga, prayer and meditation are just a few examples of mindful practices.  Essentially, you’re tuning out of the rat race of your daily life to take a moment to breath and make some space in your head.  Mindful Awareness is ridiculously awesome and is proven to help with mental and physical ailments.  Check out UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center to learn more.  Also, here’s a bunch of free 5-10  minute meditations (my fave is the Loving Kindness meditation).

I’ve seen how much these practices have affected my own mindset as I am finally actively working toward writing my first book.

What are you up to? I would love to hear about your goals and how you keep from letting impatience, laziness or confusion take over.

Photo credit:  http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2011/09/07/impatient-to-change/ (A great little post on following your dream by someone how has – Paulo Coelho)