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How Doing #NaNoWriMo is Actually Reducing My Stress

National Novel Writing Month reduced my stressI hemmed and hawed about whether to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. The idea of this challenge–writing a 50,000 word novel in a month–has always appealed to my overachiever side, but I’ve never pulled the trigger, until now. This year, since I’ve been working my way through some doozies of personal emotional shit storms, like my hometown literally burning to the ground, not to mention our shared trauma over numerous international and national tragedies and natural disasters, I decided this was the perfect time to push myself to commit to starting my novel. Why not pile on more, right? 😛

Why in the hell would I commit to this insane writing challenge now, during a time in my life when I’ve been especially busy and stressed? Because I needed a g-darn creative outlet that is ONLY for me.

As a creative entrepreneur and bleeding heart, I don’t always give myself the time and resources I need for self care. Shocker, I know. I go through phases where I’m really good about practicing the gospel of self care that I preach, and then there are other times when life hits hard and I feel like blob of flesh with a spinning top for brain. A slow, wobbly whiligig at that.

I look at the beautiful Instagram feeds of folks I admire like Glennon Doyle, Lewis Howes, and Tim Ferriss and see how “on it” they are with fitness and general well being, and then think, what the heck is wrong with me? Why don’t I have it all together?

For most of us, real life isn’t so curated, or expertly executed. (At least I hope it’s how most of us are and not just me and a few people I know.) There’s this myth that we too can “have it all together.”

But there’s a limit to our personal bandwidth.

I’m going to be asshole here and go ahead and say that it’s not really possible to have everything perfectly aligned in your life–or at least not for more than a short period of time. Life is seasonal, with good times and bad.

We have to stop pretending like perfection and balance is attainable.

Now, before you think I’m a total pessimist, know that I’m not saying we can’t improve our lives, or even have damn great lives. I just think we hold up this model of being wealthy, healthy, perfecto human beings like if we just work hard enough, are disciplined enough, or eat paleo, everything will change. We’ll have achieved nirvana here on earth. And because we believe this, we compare it to where we are now and push and press ourselves to the point of exhaustion to get it. Then feel like failures when it doesn’t happen.

We forget that progress takes time, or that many of the celebrity-lifestyle-gurus who are doing great things also do not live perfect lives, despite what we may see in their Instagram feeds.

No one knows the personal challenges you face like you do. People may try to understand (or not) but remember no one really knows what’s going on in that old brainpan of yours. Some of us have taller hurdles to jump, or mountains to climb.

Give yourself a break and take the time you need to figure out what will work for you. Stop frantically trying all of the things. Get alone time and think on what will help you change and improve your life and career.

So what does all of this have to do with me doing #NaNoWriMo and it actually helping my stress levels? I’m so glad you asked. 😉

I do creative work and strategy work for a living and I love it. But it also drains my creative well (as Julia Cameron would say), so when it comes time for downtime sometimes I go into blob mode, incapable of making a creative decision–even if that’s just what I should make for dinner.

With all of the major disasters and events in October, toward the end of the month I was feeling like El Blobo, bigtime.

Thank god though, I was able to actually listen to this little nagging voice that kept saying, “Hey, maybe you should start on that novel you’ve been wanting to write…maybe you could use #NaNoWriMo to get your butt in gear?”

I told my accountability buddies I was thinking about doing NaNoWriMo and how I felt a little crazy to be thinking about it since I was already juggling so much. But this voice inside assured me that if I could figure out a way to fit it into my life, it would be a good thing, a restorative thing. So I listened. And my accountability buddies decided they’d join in too.

Here’s how I adjusted my goals: The traditional approach is to write 1,667 words every day so that by November 30th you’ve got 50,000 words written. I knew this was way out of my feasibility at this time. I settled on just 500 words per day.

This little chunk of words–which I can sometimes finish in as little as twenty minutes (this is shitty first draft status, so don’t freak)–feels like a treat rather than an obligation or responsibility.

Now I’m only a week or so in, so you know, count that for what it’s worth, but I have been enjoying this writing like I haven’t for a long time. See it’s not an emotional rollercoaster like writing my memoir or essays about single motherhood can be. And while that writing is important and I will go back to it, this feels like pure fun!

Not only does it tap into the pleasure of just writing with my imagination, but I’m writing a novel set in the 1800’s so it also hits my history-buff-research-aholic pleasure center as well.

I’m telling you all this, not because i think you should jump on the NaNoWriMo bus, but because I hope it will spark some ideas for you on how you might refill your well with something you love–utilizing a tool that will keep you accountable.

Speaking of that, I registered on the Nanowrimo website and set my personal goals, but the site also tracks your progress compared to the standard 1,667 words/day standard as well. And so, here’s where that impossible ideal of comparison rears its ugly head. And I choose to ignore it.

Here’s a recent screenshot (of my hackneyed tracking on the site):

my nanowrimo progress

I’ve also been tracking my progress by posting on Instagram, and forgot to enter my words on a daily basis on the site. So basically, I already screwed up my tracking part. LOL. But I don’t care. I’m doing the writing.

I don’t care that other people are writing more, or not. I don’t even care about the quality of what I’m producing.

I do care that I found a creative activity that is purely selfish, in the best way possible.

And guess what? That makes me better at everything in my life. A happier mother, girlfriend, dog-mama, friend, consultant, designer, marketer, brander, etc. You get the idea. And that, my friends is the stuff of real, positive change.

My challenge to you is to think about what you might do to nurture your own creative spirit.

How can you slow down enough to be able to hear that little voice inside you telling you exactly what is needed to heal your overworked, stressed, yet pressing on soul?

And hey, if you figure it out let me know! I’d love to hear what you decided to do for yourself and how you plan to keep yourself accountable.

Remember, you have something(s) amazing to contribute to this world, but you ain’t going to make it if you’re feeling like a blob with a spinning top for a brain.

Go find that restorative thing, hold yourself to it, and love your badass self.

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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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Fighting Dirty

This is a piece I’ve been holding on to for years (since my kids were in elementary school). Today I was inspired by a fellow writer to post this. Hope you can relate. 😀 

fighting-dirtyPhyllis Diller once said, “Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk in a blizzard.”

Is it just me or have you ever felt like “Dirty” is actually conspiring against you? As if no matter how much you clean, you’ll never win? There is a war going on in my home. It’s not between me and my children, or even my boyfriend. No, this is between me and Dirty!

On any given day as I suit up with my all natural cleaning products, my vacuum, and an iron-willed determination to rid the house of squalor, the onslaught begins. Quietly at first, it materializes in the Little Stains on the carpet, whispering their disappointment.

“How you could you have missed us? Tsk, tsk!”

Then the Dirty Laundry taunts me, piling up in flaccid indifference. Like wallowing swine, it revels in repose.

The Dust leers at me, collecting itself on every prone surface. I dust away that which I know full well will return in only moments. In the shadows, it accumulates, waiting for me to falter, building its mite-ridden legion.

Every room of my home is a battlefield.

The kitchen burgeons with self-indulgent villains. As I step onto the Linoleum, it provokes me, flagrantly flaunting every splatter and crumb. The Dirty Dishes breed on the counter. Yet the clean ones hide, discreetly tucked away in cupboards. But not the Dirty Dishes, they simply wait by the ‘pool’ for me to massage the food off their porcelain skins. In the corner the Garbage Can, always protected by its liner, somehow still manages to attract the nastiest of odors. Mystery liquids collect inside it, inundating the house with toxic gases.

But the most maniacal of household hooligans is both devious and ubiquitous, manipulating the best of my intentions. The Clutter is everywhere. Often, it can be hard to tell if an item is part of the Clutter or if it is something more important: perhaps a bill, a coupon or a progress report. If I wait too long to decide they will multiply.

Worst of all I am betrayed by my own children’s unwitting allegiance to Dirty. Their loyalty is most apparent in their bedrooms. Items discovered and treasured–if only for a moment–are hoarded there. Their collections of random artifacts: paper clips, stones, crumpled leaves, wrappers, shells, dried-up snails and other knick-knacks have formed a bond of profane chaos. In the wee hours of the morning I imagine these baubles striking alliances with the Dust, becoming eager accomplices to Dirty’s work.

As toddlers, my children brought two of the most unholy warriors into the fray. The most depraved warlords of house: the Pee-Pee and the Poo-Poo. Walking by my son’s room, the Pee-Pee or the Poo-Poo (or both, as they often travel together) would waft evil tendrils at my nose. The hunt would begin. Of course they would not be in a diaper or the toilet. Oh no! Following their vapor trail, I would find these two consorting in the Lego box, taking a cat nap on the carpet, or crouched for attack in the closet. These days though, these foul foes are confined to one room: the most dangerous of all battlefields.

The most active frontline of our home is the Bathroom. Here the little black hairs taunt me, spending their last moments curled in defiance on the tiles. The dribbles from misaligned toilet adventures whirl up their pungent, yellow reek. The mirror languishes behind water spots and toothpaste splashes, as the toilet revels in its ring-around-the-collar.

In cacophony, the legion of Dirty calls out to me:

“Go ahead and clean, we’ll just infiltrate again soon. You shall never defeat us!”

Deep down I know it’s true. Here and there I win small victories. They are short-lived, but divine: a freshly vacuumed carpet, a pristine bathroom mirror. Sometimes in the still moments, when the house has just been cleaned I relax, kick my feet up and sip some tea. These are the moments I must remember during the dark times, when I’m dug in, in a swirl of dust, scouring away.

Yet no matter how many battles I win, it comes to this: I will never defeat Dirty for good. So if you ever visit, please know Dirty and I have reached a truce. The battles are fewer now. And as much as it may irk me, I know someday when I’m old, I will not regret my decision to fill my hours with those I love, rather than constantly battling an enemy whom I can never truly defeat.

 

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Iris

original photo by Vivian Maier

original photo by Vivian Maier

The impropriety, Bill sniffed, that guy needs to get his woman under control. He glanced at Iris as they made their evening stroll down Michigan Avenue to the L. To him it appeared that she barely registered the couple arguing outside the bank. She hadn’t even turned her head. He figured that was good, that she was probably thinking about the bed-skirt she had just ordered from Sears. Why a bed needed a skirt though, he did not know.
Bill’s wingtips crunched on the wet sidewalk, in rhythm with the dull slap of Iris’ flats. He liked the sound of synchrony.

At least she’s speaking up, thought Iris as they approached the arguing couple. She didn’t think it would do much good, but she felt for the woman. For an instant, she admired the woman’s baby-blue raincoat and noticed how it complimented her copper hair and angry eyes. Given the man’s suit, she assumed he had probably squandered the couple’s money. Iris thought of the jar of cash hidden under her own marital bed. Bill would never look there. He would never make the bed. She let out a snicker, quickly covering it with her hand. Bill didn’t notice.

Bill noticed the redhead’s crimson lips and long stems. Never make a pretty woman your wife, he thought. But guilt pricked him. He had to admit Iris was pretty, but in a more sensible way, with her long chestnut hair and modest makeup. She was the kind of woman who makes a good wife.

The man loomed over the redhead; his arms on either side of her against the stone wall of the bank. The redhead’s face contorted, as if she were yelling at him, but her voice was barely audible.

“How could you?” she said, like air from a punctured tire.

Iris’ foot slipped on the wet cement. She lurched. Bill reached for her, but she recovered her own footing.

“Thank you dear.”

Iris wondered what the man had done to the redhead. It seemed to be something so bad that the woman couldn’t wait for the privacy of home. She wondered if perhaps it had just been the last in a series of unkindnesses. Or perhaps the woman had just reached her breaking point. Iris knew she would soon reach hers. But she told herself, not until the day her degree was finished and her cash jar was full. She would not yell at Bill on the street. She would handle Bill differently.

Leaving the arguing couple behind, Bill’s thoughts turned to supper.

“Are we having your famous meatloaf tonight, dear?”

Iris nodded as a crooked smile crept across her sensible face.

 

(This piece was created from a prompt. The goal was to tell a story based on the exquisite Vivian Maier photo that appears above).

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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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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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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.]

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What Fear Looks Like

Warning:  What follows is very raw, unpolished and deeply personal.  I cried as I wrote this.  I’m sharing it with you because I want you to know there is freedom from what holds you back right now.  And, maybe just maybe, if I show you my fears, you will realize you’re not alone in yours.

Have you ever faced your demons head on?  Have you ever written down what you were afraid of?  Last June I did this, in the form of a writing exercise from Courage & Craft (Barbara Abercrombie).

The gist of the prompt was this:  Write about what keeps you from writing (you could insert whatever it is you struggle with here).  Give this thing a color, shape, sound, a voice, a texture, etc.  

So here goes…

“6/7/2013

It’s a fire-breathing dragon at first, floating in the air, it comes from the right, claws tracted, sharp teeth bearing.  A guttural roar comes from its throat, like a thousand lions, it shakes me.  I feel that its talons will tear me apart. I can feel his flaming hot body warming my skin, his hot breath, sulfurous in my face. He is telling me NO!  I will tear you apart if you write this!  You are not allowed to write this, his gurgling roar says without words.  He’s floating there, menacing on the right side of my visual field.  It is dark all around and I’m scared to tears.  If I fail, he’ll tear me apart, but this drive within me keeps picking away at me making it more uncomfortable NOT to write.

The swirling gray and black pit now threatens below me.  A whirlpool of fear and doubt attempts to drag me down and then money, paper bills start falling from the sky over me.  The bills turn to stones and as I sink into the pit the stones pile up and cover me entirely. “

And then I kept writing anyway, in fact, even more.

We all have our fears and demons to exercise.  Mine are failure, what other people think (silly I know) and lack of money.  It’s hard to pursue something just for the love of it, for the absolute faith that it will turn into something worthwhile, something that transcends the value of money.  It’s scary as hell.  But I’m done playing small.  I’m finally standing up for what I believe in for my future.  I know I have something important to give – there’s no doubt in my mind.

How about you?

You have greatness within you.  Whatever it is that you want to contribute to this world – do it.  You only have so many years left to make your mark!

Try doing the above exercise yourself!  Write about your absolute worst fears – what paralyzes and shatters you. (& please tell me about it.)