From The Archives: Love Yourself, Love Your Writing

Here's one from the archives for you:

We're awfully hard on ourselves, our own worst enemies.   At least I am!  And I suspect I'm not  Heart_light_blackground_518497_hso different from other creatives: I'm judgmental of myself --hyper critical at the best of times.  My thoughts run all over:

  • That thing I just said?  How idiotic!
  • What a lump for not speaking up.
  • Oh god, I look bad today!

And when it comes to my writing, it's even worse, because the voices are so insidious and ingrained.  It is such a familiar thought pattern that sometimes I don't even notice it.  When I do, it runs something like this:

  • This work isn't good enough.
  • Is that the right word? You idiot, that's not the right word.
  • They're not going to like it.
  • It's not good enough to sell.

And so on and so forth.  I'm sure you can add some of your own to the list!  (And let me be perfectly clear here--there is a difference between unloving critical thoughts and loving critical thoughts--the latter help us hone our skills, rewrite until the work shines, and strive for excellence.)

Do you know anybody who is as openly judgmental and critical as the voice in your head?  I don't.  If I spent all day every day with someone as condemning  as the voice in my head, I'd be physically withered at the end of the day.  And yet, that's exactly what's happening in our brains.

The solution?  Try turning love on it.  Warning: this is not easy.  And if you're successful at it, the practice will change your life.  Also, it's a process--you have to keep going back at it over and over again.  You have to consistently apply it to your life and your writing.

So herewith is a process to apply to self-judgment:

1.  Become aware.  Pay attention to those nasty little comments flinging about your brain.

2.  Fight back.  Sometimes called denials, this is when instead of cowering under the onslaught of all those vicious words, you make a stand and refuse to accept them.  Mentally uttering "That thought I do not want" (a Course in Miracles saying) is one way to do this.

3.  Form a new thought.  And then love bomb your brain with it, constantly, all day, and especially every time the old thought comes up.  Maybe something like:

  • I am powerful.  (My writing is powerful.)
  • I am enough.  (My writing is enough.)
  • I am a creator.
  • Whatever thought works for your individual circumstance.

The idea being to let thoughts like these become the constant soundtrack running in the background.  I know it's woo-woo, and it's ever so much more pleasant to think this way than the other.

4. It might get worse before it gets better.  Because old negative thoughts don't go without a fight.  And one way they fight is to get stronger when they fear being eradicated. But don't fall for their devious plan.

5.  Stick with it.  As I said, this process takes time.  Those fearful thoughts didn't get there overnight.  They lodged in your brain over a lifetime. 

 What do you think?  Willing to give it a try?  Or do you have another technique for quieting that voice?  Please comment.

 Photo by Victory to the People.

7 Practices to Create Your Best Writing Year Yet

Fotolia_74702492_XS (2)I write a lot about motivation here.  Yeah, ostensibly I write about writing, and I do, but when I look back over all the articles I've posted, many of them are about techniques for getting words on the page.

That's because I have a cement-firm belief, based on my own habits and years of teaching and coaching writers, that the hardest part of writing is getting your butt in the chair and keeping it there long enough to rack up a word count.  You can be the best, most elegant and clever stylist in the world, and if you can't get yourself into a regular writing practice, nobody is going to read those elegant words.

Last year I wrote a lot.  I finished a 90,000 word novel, wrote 25,000 words on another fiction project, and completed lord knows how many words total in blog and newsletter articles.  At the same time, I worked with writers one-on-one through coaching and teaching and in workshops.  So along the way I've figured out a few things about how to write regularly.  (Though these are subject to change--after all writing is a process, a vital, fluid process.)  So here are my recommendations for best practices to make 2015 your best writing year yet:

1.  Plan.  I mean this in two ways.  There's overall planning for you career.  What kinds of books do you want to write--memoir, romance, mystery, fantasy, YA?  What book will you commit to write this year?  And second, there's planning for individual scenes.  I've found that I get way more writing done when I know where I'm going.  You may be a pantser, and god bless you if you are, and swear to me that you can just write and see what happens, but I am more productive when I know what's up.

2.  Pre-write.  Often it is as important to write around your project as it is to write on it.   Write in your journal or do Morning Pages.  You may resist this, thinking why should you take your precious writing time to work on something other than your WIP?  Because you need to get all the distracting crap out of your brain, for one thing.  Jettison the carping voice of the inner critic in your journal and you'll be in a much better frame of mind for writing the real stuff.  And because you also will be amazed at the ideas and information that will flow through your fingertips, including tons of good stuff for your WIP.

3.  Schedule writing time.  As I've written a gazillion times, I love to get up and write first thing in the morning.  I write Morning Pages and then go right to my WIP. (Lately I've also been scheduling at least one two-hour block of time on an afternoon as well.)  My buddy J.D. is a night-time writer.  If he tried to rise at 5 as I do and write he'd be miserable.  And if I tried to write at night like he does, I'd be asleep at my desk.  So figure out what works for you and do it.

4.  Separate the writing process from the rewriting/editing/revising process.  They are two different stages of writing.  Period.  You'll make yourself crazy if you try to perfect every word as you go, and you'll lose sight of the bigger picture, too.  Later, after you've gotten all your words down into one gloriously messy first draft you can have fun honing and perfecting your scenes and words.  But only later.

5.  Write fast.  This is my single best tip for success, guys.  Once you know where you are going and are working in rough draft mode, let it rip.  Don't read over what you've written, don't stop, write as fast as you can.  I believe that we all know way more about our stories than our conscious minds let on--and if you write fast you're going to get all that good stuff from your unconscious out onto the page.  Writing fast is also how you will discover your voice.

6.  Find the joy.  It's supposed to be fun.  Lord knows, most writers don't make enough on their books to quit their day jobs, so enjoy it for goodness sakes.  It is easy to get into the grind of a writing practice and see only the daily word count.  But pause for a minute in the midst of writing and remember how cool it is that you are a writer.  Because it's the coolest thing in the world to be, bar none!

7.  Rewrite.  I know, duh.  But you'd be surprised how many rough drafts I've seen through the years--words on the page obviously written fast (a good thing--see #5) with no attempt to go back and straighten things out.  I do see writers getting stuck in the Rewriting Forever Syndrome, loathe to let their babies go out in the world, and that's not good either. But it is the rare piece of work that does not need at least one rewrite.

That's all I've got for you.  It really is about sitting down and putting words on the page--that simple and that difficult.

What are your best recommendations for a regular writing practice?  Please share!

Image from fotalia.

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss, and Neither Will Your Writing


This stone clearly has no momentum.
 I'm in LA, visiting a friend.  I'm distracted by good food to eat, events to attend (yesterday a book signing for a fabulous cookbook and a Native American Thanksgiving ritual).  And yet I'm writing every morning.  I'm a rolling stone, merrily cavorting down the long hill of novel writing.  I've achieved the vaunted state of momentum, where even if I wanted to quit writing, I probably couldn't, because I'm caught up in something bigger than myself.  


For the record, this is my favorite state to find myself in.  When I'm in it, I feel most like myself. When I'm not in it, I want to be, desperately.  When I've achieved momentum in my latest project, I'm in love with my writing and my world.  It's an amazing state, one marked by energy (getting up at 5 to write every morning is not difficult in the least), focus and joy.

And it's not always the easiest state to arrive at.

I've written before about the tasks that will help you achieve this vaulted state of momentum, such as: 

Taking good notes to prime the pump, moving your body, reading (I highly recommend Elizabeth Gilbert's new novel), and writing every day (which is why Nanowrimo is so popular, because it gives people a structure to help them do that).

These activities are all well and good--and important, but they are often more easily done once you've established momentum.   So what underlying mindsets will help get you there in the first place?

Discipline.  Which is not a dirty word.  We writers like to think it's antithetical to creativity, but truth is, its not because creativity doesn't exist without it.  If you can't muster the discipline to get your butt in the chair regularly, no book will flow out of you.

Gratitude. Yes, gratitude.  The concept is much written about this time of year, with Thanksgiving soon to be upon us.  People on social media are busy making lists about how they are grateful for family and friends and pets and their glorious lives. But it's a practice that is well applied to writing also.  Be grateful for the words you've written.  Be grateful you've got a good brain to think with and two strong hands to write with.  Be grateful that you're a writer in the first place.  It will make you feel all warm and fuzzy--and warm and fuzzy is much more conducive to momentum than anxiety and angst.

Positivity.  This is easy in theory, harder in practice.  At its simplest, focus on what you've done, not what you've not done.   I wrote 773 words this morning, so it would be easy to bemoan the fact that I didn't quite make it to 1,000.  But I'm actually quite happy about the words I did get on the page, because I was in a bit of a difficult spot that I had to write my way out of.

Connection.  Whether through journal writing or prayer, connect with that thing that's bigger than you.  It might be God, it could be the goddess, or Allah, or Buddha, or even the great nothingness of the universe.  Find it

Courage.   Courage to go to the dark places.  Courage to labor away at something when you're not sure what the outcome will be. Courage to get up every morning and face the blank page.  Because that's what creativity demands of us--courage.  (Which is why so many people never, ever do anything creative.)

Those are my ideas on the subject, what are yours?  How do you get to a place of momentum in your writing?  Please leave a comment.

 Photo by frumbert. 


Love Yourself, Love Your Writing

 We're awfully hard on ourselves, our own worst enemies.   At least I am!  And I suspect I'm not 

Heart_light_blackground_518497_hso different from other creatives: I'm judgmental of myself --hyper critical at the best of times.  My thoughts run all over:

  • That thing I just said?  How idiotic!
  • What a lump for not speaking up.
  • Oh god, I look bad today!

And when it comes to my writing, it's even worse, because the voices are so insidious and ingrained.  It is such a familiar thought pattern that sometimes I don't even notice it.  When I do, it runs something like this:

  • This work isn't good enough.
  • Is that the right word? You idiot, that's not the right word.
  • They're not going to like it.
  • It's not good enough to sell.

And so on and so forth.  I'm sure you can add some of your own to the list!  (And let me be perfectly clear here--there is a difference between unloving critical thoughts and loving critical thoughts--the latter help us hone our skills, rewrite until the work shines, and strive for excellence.)

Do you know anybody who is as openly judgmental and critical as the voice in your head?  I don't.  If I spent all day every day with someone as condemning  as the voice in my head, I'd be physically withered at the end of the day.  And yet, that's exactly what's happening in our brains.

The solution?  Try turning love on it.  Warning: this is not easy.  And if you're successful at it, the practice will change your life.  Also, it's a process--you have to keep going back at it over and over again.  You have to consistently apply it to your life and your writing.

So herewith is a process to apply to self-judgment:

1.  Become aware.  Pay attention to those nasty little comments flinging about your brain.

2.  Fight back.  Sometimes called denials, this is when instead of cowering under the onslaught of all those vicious words, you make a stand and refuse to accept them.  Mentally uttering "That thought I do not want" (a Course in Miracles saying) is one way to do this.

3.  Form a new thought.  And then love bomb your brain with it, constantly, all day, and especially every time the old thought comes up.  Maybe something like:

  • I am powerful.  (My writing is powerful.)
  • I am enough.  (My writing is enough.)
  • I am a creator.
  • Whatever thought works for your individual circumstance.

The idea being to let thoughts like these become the constant soundtrack running in the background.  I know it's woo-woo, and it's ever so much more pleasant to think this way than the other.

4. It might get worse before it gets better.  Because old negative thoughts don't go without a fight.  And one way they fight is to get stronger when they fear being eradicated. But don't fall for their devious plan.

5.  Stick with it.  As I said, this process takes time.  Those fearful thoughts didn't get there overnight.  They lodged in your brain over a lifetime. 

 What do you think?  Willing to give it a try?  Or do you have another technique for quieting that voice?  Please comment.


 Photo by Victory to the People.

10 Ways to Welcome May and Energize Your Writing

What the veggies from my raised beds will soon look like
May is one of my favorite months ever, and here in Portland it is starting out as a glorious month! As new life bursts forth all around us, so, too does our creativity.  It is time to welcome the return of good weather in all its glory.  Sometimes in order to do this, we need to clear out the dregs of the old in order to make room for all the new. 

You'll notice that many of my suggestions have very little to do with writing.  That's because sometimes the best thing you can do for your creativity is to engage in an activity that energizes or relaxes you, and then return to the computer.  I know I'm guilty of spending way too much time in my office, convincing myself I don't have time for other things.  But once I allow myself the freedom to enjoy other activities, I return to my writing refreshed and renewed.

Accordingly, here are some ideas for how to clear out the old and welcome the new:

 1. Organize Your Office—This seems always to be an ongoing project for me.  And, I find that it's worth it to keep up with the constant flow of papers.  I'm happier when my office and desk are clean, period.  And contrary to the popular idea of writers as fueled by angst, a happy Charlotte is a productive Charlotte.

 2. Sort Through Books—Yes, I know, it is hard to let go of our beloved books.  I used to never, ever be able to get rid of a book.  But then I realized that I was simply releasing them into the universe for others to enjoy.  And then, of course, I have a great excuse to buy more….

3.  Buy Something New—I recently took an excursion to Ikea, to look for new office furniture.  While there, I bought blue velvet drapes, the most gorgeous things you've ever seen, for my family room.  And that led to buying a media center to put the TV in, and suddenly I'm in love with my family room all over again.

 4. Try Something New—Earlier this week, I took the day off and with the help of my daughter, nephew, and 17-month-old grandson, planted raised beds full of vegetables on the driveway.  I used to garden all the time, but I've been a gardening slacker the last few years so it felt like a whole new lease on life, especially because usually I grow flowers, not vegies.

 5. Start a New Project—Never written non-fiction before?  Why not try a memoir?  Or maybe you've always wanted to write poetry, or complete a screenplay.  Go for it!  You can dabble and have fun in as little as 15 minutes a day.  Or why not try something completely different, like painting, or salsa dancing, or knitting, or hang gliding. No, that last one makes me nervous.  But you'll find something, I'm sure.

 6. Get a Pedicure—They aren't just for women—c'mon guys, you know you want to try it.  Taking time for a little self-care can be wonderfully rejuvenating.  And that leg massage feels so good!

 7. Buy a New Journal—And then write in it.  Write down all the dreams and goals that this season is inspiring, or use it to start that new project in.  I've heard people say that journaling doesn't really count as writing, but it most certainly does.  Writing in a journal regularly will help you establish an ease with putting words on the page, and it can be the breeding ground for many ideas.

 8.  Do Something for Yourself—Last Saturday, I got my hair cut.  Yeah, I know, normal people do this all the time.  Usually, I do, too.  But for the last few months I've been dithering over whether to keep my hair long or cut it short again.  Finally, I made an appointment and put myself in my hairdresser's hands.  (We chose a middle ground.)  I've been amazed at wonderful it feels.

 9. Take a Walk—It is so simple and so energizing on a fabulous spring day.  The sun on your face, the flowers in bloom....ahhh.  Here in Portland, it seems nearly everyone has a garden to admire!

 10. Invite People Over—Share your joy in the season with others.  Entertaining doesn't have to be fancy.  Ask someone over for Happy Hour, or dessert, thus saving the stress of cooking dinner.  Or order a pizza!  The point is to enjoy the company of others.  My nephew was a recent house guest for a few days and it was so much fun having him around--you get the chance to see life through other people's eyes.

 If these ideas don't appeal to you, invent your own!  Just find a way to celebrate this glorious season.  Because, being present and celebrating where we find ourselves is the absolute best way to be grateful for the lives we've been given.  And being grateful for the lives we've been given is absolutely inspiring to the creative process.

 How do you celebrate spring?  How do you energize your creativity?

Photo by levi_sz (my attempts to share a photo of my raised beds failed when my phone refused to send it).

How to Make Yourself Feel Better When The Writing (or your Life) is Not Going Well

Hands-pray-prayer-1688128-lWe've all been there.  (Some of us are there much more than others.)  The miserable writing session when the idea won't come, when no words appear on the page, when nothing works, no matter how hard you try.

It sucks.

And just as a gloriously wonderful writing session can make the world glow with a special light, a bad one (or a series of bad ones), can make the world a dark and depressing place.  And that's no way to live.  It really isn't, because it's not going to help your writing.  At all. 

Now, I'm not advocating that we all adopt a Pollyanna attitude, no matter what problems we face.  I get that many of us are enduring difficulties that make it hard to be cheerful.  What I am proposing is that life is better when you look at it with a glass-half-full approach, and your writing will be, too.  Because wallowing in weepiness for an extended period of time ultimately doesn't work.

And so I have gathered some hints to help you drag yourself out of the muck.  Again, these are all based on personal experience.  I've been there.  I still go there.  But I'm much better able to change my mood these days.  It takes work, but it's worth it.  So here you go.

1.  Feel it. So often when we feel something negative, we immediately gloss over it and attempt to cover it up.  But when you do that, the emotion tends to pop up somewhere else, at an even worse time.  Surprisingly, the fastest way out is often through.  Feel the emotion fully.  Magnify it, even.  Immerse yourself in it.  This won't feel good--but that's the point. The more fully you can feel the pain, the faster you can get through it.

2.  Forgive and release.  I'm fascinated with the process of letting go, surrendering, or releasing, whatever you want to call it.  It sounds so easy--just release it!--but in actual practice it is anything but.  What I've learned lately is that adding forgiveness to the mix hastens the releasing process.  Forgive yourself for your belief that you're a lousy writer.  Forgive yourself for your idea that you'll never finish this damn novel.  Forgive yourself for the belief that you are anything less than an amazing writer.  And don't forget to forgive anyone who might have convinced you of this in the first place while you're at it.

3.  Renew your vision.  You know that dream you have of becoming a best-selling novelist?  Now's the time to envision it again.  You probably lost sight of it while you were busy beating yourself up about what a crappy writer you are.  Connect with it again, in all the 3-D, technicolor glory you can muster.

4.  Send love.  Close your eyes and imagine gold and silver light in your heart center.  Now send it out--to anyone who made you feel bad about your writing, anybody who rejected you, even to the writing itself.  Love is the most powerful force in the universe.  Use it for the good of your creativity.  And use it creatively.

5.  Go write.  Right now, or as soon as you can. Writing will make you feel better than anything.

What's your favorite technique for making yourself feel better?  Leave a comment, so we all can benefit.

Image by Steven Fernadez, under Creative Commons 2.5 license.

One Technique for Overcoming Writer's Block

Gray_brick_block_220245_lAh, our old friend writer's block.  It can take so many shapes and sizes, just like fear, which it is, of course, based on.  And just as writer's block can take a gazillion different forms, so, too, can its cure.  Which is why you should try a variety of strategies if you are hit with writer's block, whether you're procrastinating writing the next scene in your novel or haven't been able to work on your memoir in years.  Here's one possible approach.

A friend told me this tip in regards to getting over procrastination and getting things done (clearing out clutter, anyone?) in non-writing arenas of life.  But it will work just as well for you (yes, you) with your writing block.

Here's the crux of it: micro action.

All you have to do is commit to one small (tiny, even) action each day.  Do that and call it good.  Really.  Consider it done.  You've accomplished your goal.

Here's a non-writing example.  I've got an upstairs that has somehow accumulated quite a bit of clutter that I'd like to clean up.  But I'm busy.  I've got a book launch coming up and I'm doing publicity for that while maintaining this blog and continuing to do client work and teach.  And plus, I hate clearing clutter.  I get confused and overwhelmed really fast.  Like five minutes fast.  So here's my micro action: deal with one piece of paper or item per day.  That's it.  That's all I have to do.  The other day I picked up a piece of paper and put it in the recycling bag.  And I had met my goal.

 I'm not sure what the experts say about why this works, but here's why I think it does: because it gets you used to doing whatever it is you're avoiding.  And then you realize it's not the big scary monster you think it is.  When you don't do something, it tends to loom large and take on proportions way bigger than reality.  The other thing that happens is that you trick yourself into it.  That one piece of paper uncovers another that I deal with in the moment and then another and another and before you know it, the shelf is cleaned off.

So let's apply this to writing.

If you're seriously blocked (and really, any block is a serious block because we writers are born to write and when we're not writing life is not good) set yourself a micro action goal of writing one sentence.  If you're seriously seriously blocked, maybe your goal will be one word.  That's your accomplishment.  Write your word or sentence and you are done for the day.  Or maybe you'll set the goal to write for one minute.  Or five minutes.   I'd be willing to bet serious money that eventually--way sooner than you think at this moment--that one sentence will turn into a paragraph, which will then turn into a scene. And you'll be writing again.  Because here's the deal: you've established yourself a habit.  And once something is habitual, it's not scary anymore.  (Unless you're smoking.  Or drinking too much.  Then it gets frightening.)

Here's a tip--don't become an overachiever, at least when you first start this process.  For instance, I'm using this process to re-commit to a regular walking routine after injuring my knee. If I so much as walk out the door I've accomplished my goal.  But for me, getting outside (step away from the computer...) is the hardest thing to do, so usually, once I'm walking, I'm quite happy.  I noticed last week on a walk that my knee was starting to get a bit tired.  And my reaction was to start coercing myself to do more.  Telling myself I hadn't gone far enough.  Berating myself for being lazy.  But then I remembered--I'd already accomplished my goal.  And I headed for home.   Because of this attitude and my micro goal,  I now look forward to walking.

So if you're struggling to make forward motion on a big project, try this micro action technique.  And then report back after your novel is on the best-seller list.

Have you ever tried something like this to get yourself going again?  What were the results?

 **By the way, speaking of book launches, wouldn't you like to celebrate mine with me?  Click here for the details.

Photo by Rotorhead.

Clarity + Focus = Ease + Grace

Magnifying_space_copy_223214_lClarity + Focus = Ease + Grace

I heard this saying last weekend and it immediately spoke to me, as truth does.  I know this equation is true because I've experienced it for myself.

When there's not clarity and focus you get--



--Spinning wheels

--And multiple variations of the above themes

But when you have clarity and focus you get--

--Flowing writing


--The feeling of being in love with the world

--The rest of your life magically working, too

--Ease and grace

Okay, I hear you saying, "I want it! I want it! How do I get it?"  Yeah, we all want it, me included.  Because who doesn't want to live their lives with grace and ease?  Isn't that what it's all about?  I can't claim to have all the answers, just some ideas about what works for me, gleaned from observation of how my life seems to run best.  Here goes:

1.  Work for it.   Just because ease is a variant of easy (or vice-versa, whichever which way it goes) doesn't mean it is or should be.  Ease and grace means that things flow because you know what you're doing and where you're going.  And it takes introspection and perhaps some journaling to get clarity about where you want to go.  It takes some commitment and work to get clear. Once you get that clarity, you can start the focus.

2.  Ask for it.  Tell the universe you need help.  Tell God you need clarity.  And then...

3.  Be quiet.  Listen for the answers. 

4. Become an observer.  Or perhaps clarity will come as a visual cue, you never know!  What I do know is that when you ask for help, it comes if you're paying attention.

5.  Man up.  Once you get clarity, you know what you want to do, now you need to grow a pair and use it to focus.  (Sorry for all the macho phrasing today, not quite sure where it's coming from.)  Does your clarity tell you its time to write a novel?  Now, ahem, you gotta figure out how you're going to find time to focus on it.

6.  Get passionate.  I talked to a former client about his novel recently.  "It's all I think about.  It's all I want to do in my spare time,"  he told me. That's passion--and that allows you to find focus.  And then you get the ease and grace.  Just ask someone who's in the middle of a passionate, flowing, writing session.

What about you?  Do you have clarity and focus, ease and grace in your writing life?  How do you attain it?

***By the way, if you need clarity and focus on your novel, join my Get Your Novel Written Now class, starting August 14th.  You can learn more about it here.

Photo by gerbrak.

Checking in on the Three Words of the Year

Did you choose three words (or one word) to live by this year?  Have you checked back to see how you're doing with these words?

Last December, in a post titled Three Powerful Words for An Amazing New Year, I announced my words and the thought behind them.  Since we're halfway (gasp) through the year, I thought it would be fun to revisit my words and see how I'm doing.  I'm wondering if you might think it is time to do the same thing with your words.

One reason I'm doing this is because I've written the words on a post-it note that is stuck to a cabinet above my desk, and my gaze falls upon them when I stare off into space.   Most of the time, I barely notice them, but once in awhile the words come into focus and I ponder them.   Yesterday, I pondered them so hard that I finally checked back to the original post to see how I'm doing.

The answer is that I'm doing okay.  Probably not great, but okay.

My three words for the year are creativity, faith, and inquiry. 

I'm going to talk about faith first, because its the word around which I'm doing the best.  In my post I wrote about my faith in God, which is important to me, but also faith in myself, what I'm doing, and that everything was going to be all right.  I wrote about having faith in my ability to go deep within and uncover the riches that are buried there.  And in the six months since I wrote that, I've been learning to do all of this on an ongoing basis--learning being the operative word.  What I'm learning is that faith of this nature responds to effort, maybe even requires effort, and that by making the effort you begin to create the faith.  One of the hallmarks of this year is that I've been consistently making the effort.

I'm doing fairly well with inquiry, too.  In the original post I wrote about not wanting to take things at face value, to dig a bit deeper mentally and form my own opinions.  I still leap to judgment, oh dear lord how I leap to judgment.  I can read a rant on the internet and be totally convinced of its truth, then read oppositional comments and switch to the other point of view immediately.  Such is the curse of the impressionable mind. One way I am using inquiry successfully is to turn off the internal blame machine, and this is a wonderful thing.  If I've eaten a piece of chocolate cake, for instance, or fallen down on my writing goals, I say to myself, "Hmmm, I wonder why that happened."  Or, "Wow, that's interesting.  Wonder what's going on?"  This allows me to observe myself more objectively.  The thought occurs I should turn this style of inquiry to the outside world as well.

And finally we get to creativity.  Falling down a bit here. I'm a lifelong knitter and I love the craft.  It soothes me, satisfies my need for beauty, and allows me to make useful things.    There's nothing I love more than spending an afternoon poking around yarn stores, then coming home with a new project and casting on.  But here's the deal: I don't do it enough.  One of the things I wrote in my year-end post was how I wanted to partake of this kind of creativity more regularly.  I've got opportunity: my pug Buster loves nothing better than for me to sit with him and watch TV in the evenings, and Buster is ancient old and so I figure I better humor him while I can.  This would be a perfect chance to indulge in this creative hobby of mine, but do I?  Sometimes.  And I can't figure out why I don't do it more.  Time to take advantage of that inquiry that is the other hallmark of this year.

Alrighty, then.  That is far more than enough about me.  What about you?  Did you choose three words for the year?  What were they?  How are you keeping up with them?


What Are Your Writing Non-Negotiables?

I think writing non-negotiables are a great idea. Rose_dark_death_220937_l

What are they?

Writing non-negotiables are the the tasks you don't negotiate with yourself, you just do.  They are the one thing or several things that you must--in agreement with yourself--do every day.  If you don't do them, you'll feel lousy.  If you do them, you'll feel successful. 

Why are they a good idea?

Because writing non-negotiables keep you in balance.  They are a constant reminder of what you want to accomplish.  I have three:

1.  Work on my author platform.  Since I have a novel coming out next year, I want to make sure my social media presence is sharp and wide ranging.  This includes blog posts and Twitter.  It would and should include Facebook, except I'm allergic to it.  This is far and away the easiest non-negotiable and I usually have to force myself to stop doing it.

2.  Make money.  Every day, I must do some writing or coaching that contributes to me making money.  For many of us, a no-brainer.

3.  Make progress on my novel.  I admit, this is the one that most often does not get accomplished.   I have a broad definition of the word "progress," too.  For instance, earlier this week I sent a chapter out to my critique group.  That counted.  Reading over notes counts, too.  You get the idea.

If you're interested in the concept of writing non-negotiables, feel free to steal any of mine that work for you.  You can easily keep track of them in a success journal (just make note of any and all successes at the end of the day. ) And consider some of these non-negotiables as well:

4.  Write a sentence.  I had a friend whose singular goal around writing was to write one sentence a day for a year.  She accomplished it and she was content with what she had done.  Never underestimate the power of one sentence.  It has power on its own, or it can lead to more.

5.  Write a poem.  Some people like to write a poem a day.  I bow down to them.  I'm not that good of a poet, but for many the practice encourages their other writing.

6.  Write a blog post.  I've known bloggers who write a blog post a day.  I did this for awhile a few years back and then it about killed me.  But you might choose to do it for a limited time, say, a month.

7.  Commit to a word count.  10K a day, anyone?  You don't have to be a super-hero at the computer to enjoy producing a consistent number of words every day.  1,000 seems to be a good goal for many people.

8.  Revise a page.  When you're in rewriting mode, it is hard to abide by word count.  But find a way to set a goal for yourself.   A certain number of pages might do it.

9.  Morning pages.  Many writers, myself included, find journaling first thing in the morning to be of enormous help to their creativity.  These cycle on and off of my non-negotiable list.

Those are my suggestions.  What are yours?  Do you have a list of daily non-negotiables?  Please share.

 Photo by Rotorhead.

You Can Do It!

"A #2 pencil and a dream can take you anywhere." Joyce A Myers Objects-stationery-draw-10141-l

For some reason, I've been thinking a lot about motivation this weekend.

Because I think that sometimes we need it to get ourselves started.  And by "started," I don't mean just beginning a project.  I'm talking about starting a writing session.  Here's what sometimes happens to me:

1.  I commit to taking time to write.

2.  I check email.

3.  I ponder writing, but it seems scary.

4.  I converse on Twitter.

5.  I look at news and entertainment stories.

6.  I ponder writing, but it seems like it will take a lot of energy.

7.  I check email again.

8.  I find another tweet to which I must respond.

9.  And finally, finally, I get to my writing.

And then I love it.  Flat out love it and don't want to do anything else again, ever.  So why did it take so long for me to get to it?

I think its a lack of motivation.  I have failed to remember and capture that wonderful feeling of being in love with my writing.  Truly, hearing sentiments like, "you can do it!" remind me of what it is that I really want to be doing.  Hearty platitudes actually help me because they recall the feeling of accomplishment I want to achieve. They remind me that I am in love with writing.

And the best way to evoke the desire to do something is to think about how it will make you feel.

So, here's my encouragement to you:  You can do it!  Really, you can!  Just pick up that pencil or open that computer and have at it.  

Please comment.  Do motivational phrases and ideas encourage you or annoy you?

Photo by Danzo08.


Expect Nothing, Accept Everything...and Show Up

One of the recent phrases of wisdom I've been attempting to follow is this:

Expect nothing, accept everything.  To which I add: and show up. Opening-open-closed-28753-l

I'm not sure where the original quote came from.  I heard it at church.  It resonates with me because it has taken me a long time to grasp the "expect nothing" part of it, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this.  Because, if we want something, aren't we supposed to visualize it?  And isn't that a form of expecting?  But now you're telling me not to expect anything after all.  And how am I supposed to think about my goals if I'm to expect nothing?  Isn't having goals expecting something? Sigh.  This stuff is confusing as all hell.

But here's what I've figured out: the trick is to just go out there and do the work--show up--and then accept what happens.  Without expectation.   It's a subtle tweak, doing the work without expectation.  Because most of the time what motivates us to take action is expectation.  Expectation that we'll get money, or success, or fame, or whatever.

But expectation can also drive what we want away.  Have you ever wanted something so bad that you felt all screwed up and twisted inside?  Its that kind of expectation that actually blocks the flow. Sometimes this happens with visualization, too.  The trick with that is to visualize your goal, and then release it to the universe to make it happen as it will.

Which is where acceptance comes in.  We think that we know just how things will turn out.  We certainly know how we want them to turn out.  And we also like to think we're in control.  Ha! But so often, things don't turn out like we planned.  Sometimes, they turn out better.  Sometimes we think they turn out worse but later we realize that is not the case.  So accepting what comes is very important.

But probably most important is taking action. If we fail to master the showing up part, then we languish.  We visualize our goals and wonder why nothing is happening.  Um, could it be because we've forgotten the showing up part?  I'm pretty sure this is where much of the sneering at New Age ideas comes in.  There's been an enormous backlash and misunderstanding about the movie The Secret, for instance.  Because people missed the taking action part. 

My understanding of all this is still a work in progress, so I'm happy to hear any clarifications, or differences of opinion, or amplifications.  Comments are encouraged!

If you're having a hard time showing up to do your creative work, my Get Your Writing in Gear sessions are $50 off for my March Madness sale.  Get clarity, get refocused, get rarin' to go on your project in a jam-packed hour of inspiration based on your current issues.  For more information, click on the purple button to the right, or check out this link.

5 Limiting Writing Beliefs to Let Go

Today is Ash Wednesday.  I am by no stretch of the imagination an authority on this or any other Christian holiday, seeing as how I was raised in the Unitarian church, and in Sunday School we learned about needy children of other cultures, mostly Africa.  (Which is no doubt why, to this day, I have a burning desire to visit that continent.) As a child, I don't recall ever hearing much about Ash Wednesday, let alone participating in it.

However, in the church I currently attend, Unity (note subtle difference from the name of the denomination in which I grew up)  Ash Wednesday is a day to think about, and let go of, your limiting beliefs.  Now this is a ritual I can wrap my brain around.  What I'm talking about here are internal limiting beliefs.  You know--those pesky little devils that stop you from moving forward with your writing.  Water_drop_drops_224824_l

I've identified several common limiting beliefs that I encounter with students and clients over and over again.  And, in the spirit of repentance, I thought I'd first confess my own biggest problem in this area.  Here it is: I bump up against myself.  Put in other words, I rebel.  Against my self.  Which is really stupid, I know.  So, if I've scheduled a morning to work on a product I want to create, I'll end up cleaning out a closet.  Or, if I've decide the single most important thing I can do is to work on my novel, I'll work on the products.  How does this rebellion translate to a limiting belief? Ah, that's the tricky part.  But I think its like this: somewhere buried deep in my self-conscious is a limiting belief that I don't take myself seriously enough.  Thus, I don't uphold my schedule.  (If there's a psychiatrist out there who has a different view on this, please weigh in.)

But that's enough about me.  Herewith, the five most common limiting beliefs I see in my clients:

1. I don't have any thing to write about.  Of course you do.  You're alive, aren't you? When first you start to write, the getting of ideas takes a bit of massaging.  You have to work at it, even fake it a bit.  You have to generate energy by jumping in.  How to let go: Using prompts is a great way to deal with this, because they are pre-supplied starting points.  And most often, you start out writing about the prompt, and then end up writing about that incident when you were 21 that changed your life forever.  Which you'd totally forgotten about.  But are now writing about.

2. It won't get published.  Maybe it won't, at least by those lumbering old traditional publishers.  But you can still give it a try.  Because you'll never know until you try.  And thank your lucky stars you live in a time when other options abound.  How to let go: If you want to expound at length on a regular basis, you can start a blog.  If you want to write articles, you can submit them to Ezinearticles or write for Associated Content.  If you want to write a book, you can publish a digital edition or let people buy it through Lulu.  And yeah, lots of those old-timey publishers exist, too, both book and magazine.  You can still submit to them.  And who knows what will happen?

3. I can't finish it. This limiting belief comes up most often in relationship to writing a book-length project, such as a memoir or novel.  Because,  writing a whole book is quite an undertaking.  A worthy undertaking, but an undertaking nonetheless.  How to let go:  Make sure you have the right mindset in place.  Choose an idea that makes your heart beat faster, so  you'll stay interested.  And mostly, know that you can do it.  Because you can.  And will.

4. It's a waste of time.  In our success-based culture, we're all about doing.  And thus if we're doing something that isn't a means to an end, we think its a waste of time.  But creativity is important in and of itself.  Even if you're writing just for yourself, its a valuable experience, because it is meaningful to you.  How to let go: Develop familiarity with the stats that reveal just how important creativity is, not only on a personal, but a societal level.  Start by reading the information Whitney Ferre has collected on her site, or read last summer's Newsweek article.

5. I'm not good enough.  The grandmother of all limiting beliefs for writers.  I'm not good enough.  Or its various permutations:  I'll never be as good as ______.  It's already been done.  And so on and so forth, all of which are just your ego being afraid of change.  How to let go: Write.  And then write more.  Because, you get better the more you write.  And, you gain confidence the more you write.  Confidence to banish these silly limiting thoughts.

So, what limiting writing belief are you going to let go of for Lent?  Feel free to share in the comments.

 Photo by Magstefan, from Everystockphoto.

A Messiness of Mind

I'm enduring a messiness of mind this week. Estock_commonswiki_303408_l

It feels like I've been on a full-out run since mid-December. There's the mad Christmas rush, of course, followed by New Year's and my daughter's birthday.  And then I had to get organized for my trip to Nashville last week, which was more complicated than usual because I was also presenting a workshop.

On the two plane flights home, I had terrible problems with the air pressure changes (that'll happen when the pilot descends from 20,000 feet when you're only 60 miles out) and so ever since I've been struggling with a head as congested as a stuffed sausage.  That's what it feels like, actually.  I keep thinking that there's no room for any extra thoughts between the usual synapses in my brain.

And to top it all off, I arrived home Monday night and stepped right into a full schedule on Tuesday, with appointments during the day and every evening booked.

I realized this morning while writing morning pages that I've simply not had time to clear the gunk out of my brain (and the damn congestion doesn't help). But here's the deal.  My surroundings echo my mental state. My office is a mess, with piles of journals and notebooks here, books I've pulled off shelves there, and papers everywhere.  And after reading a blog post from my student and friend Leisa Hammett, I've realized how big of a problem this is for me.  I looked around this morning and decided I need to get myself organized, pronto.

But a messy office is just the physical manifestation of my messy mind.  Here are some of the things I haven't been doing that usually contribute to a better mental state:

My morning ritual.  I am managing to write morning pages, but usually I spend time in meditation and prayer, contemplating life, and doing a bit of inspiring reading also.  That's all out the window.

Meditation.  See above.

Exercise.  I'm a lifelong walker and usually it takes barely anything to get me out the door.  Not lately.  Its too cold, or its too wet, or its just too too.  Basically, I'm just too lazy.  This must change.  My body is complaining to me, loudly.

But here's something I have been doing a lot lately that I believe has an enormous impact on my well-being:

Reading.  I'm always reading something (usually about 5 somethings) but lately I've been on a run of reading especially good books (The Hunger Games, The Help, a couple of non-fiction titles).  There's no better way to spend downtime as a writer than reading.  It informs, encourages and teaches us about our craft in every single aspect.

So, with luck, with any luck at all, I'll get my office organized this weekend.  Right after I finish the last 100 pages of The Help.

Resistance is Futile

Some days, my life is one long series of resistance.

I want to eat couscous with my lunch, but the voice inside my head warns me it's a carb and I really shouldn't eat carbs.

I want a glass of wine before dinner, because all the males of the family are drinking beer and watching the Orange Bowl and its fun to hang out with them.  But the ego-driven voice tells me that I shouldn't because it's a week night.


I really want to take time to work on my own writing project, but I warn myself I have manuscripts to read and paid writing to finish.

Every one of these desires is met with resistance, a chorus of  shoulds and shouldn'ts.  And my desires and my resistance go head-to-head, back and forth, until I'm having a Linda Blair in the Exorcist moment, my head whipping around on my neck in a frightening fashion.

And then I realize what is happening.  That I'm resisting what is.  And the old adage, what resists, persists, is true.  So as long as I resist the damn couscous, I'm going to want to eat it.  As long as I resist the wine, the call to drink it is going to get stronger.  And when I resist the urge to work on my own writing, the sadness inside me will grow bigger and bigger until it swallows me up. 

What I really need to do is just let it all go.  Relax into it and quit with the resistance already.

But, my ego whispers, what about that concept of personal responsibility you're so big on this year?  Huh?  Huh?  Isn't it the responsible thing to do to not eat the couscous or drink the wine? In a way, yes.  But there's a crucial difference.  And that is the act of letting go.

Have you ever had the experience of wrestling with a problem, focusing on it obsessively, without result or change?  And then suddenly you've had the glorious feeling of just letting it go?  When it happens it is magical, because you truly enter the space where whatever happens is alright.  No matter what, its alright.

Because letting go means that you are not attached to the outcome.  And here's where the personal responsibility part comes in: you do your best, you work your hardest, you glory in the process, but you aren't attached to what happens.  You trust that whatever happens will be for the best.  And if what you want to have happen doesn't happen, you know that something else that might be better will.

And so, when I let go and relax, I can serve myself up some couscous and realize that a very small portion will satisfy my craving for it.  I can pour myself a glass of wine and enjoy it without feeling the need for another.  And I can take time to write and know there's time enough to get everything done.

What is, is.  Resisting it is futile, because you're arguing with reality.  So relax and let go.  And all will be well.  And by the way, this is what letting go and relaxing looks like:


What do you resist?  What are your experiences with letting go?

Photo of wine by telefon897, from Everystockphoto.  Image of pugs and cats from my Iphone.

Writing Your Way Back To Yourself

This morning I woke up tired, headachy, and full.   Yesterday was, after all, Thanksgiving.  And I cooked for 12 people, which is enough to give anybody an exhaustion hangover.  As I stood in the kitchen, sipping my coffee, I thought that I'd skip my morning routine of writing first thing.  Because, well, I didn't feel like doing anything more than slumping over the newspaper at the kitchen table. But then I told myself I would feel better if I wrote.  So I dragged my tired ass up the stairs to my office and my journal.  And after about a page of writing, I realized something.


I was beginning to feel like myself again.

I can feel the writing bringing me back to myself, I wrote.

And isn't this a most wonderful gift?

All you have to do is write.  It doesn't matter what you write on, or with, or where you write or how, or even what you write about.  All you have to do is write and you'll find your way back to yourself.  And if you do this regularly, well then, miracles might even happen.

It doesn't matter if you write for a living, writing for a business, write with the hopes of someday publishing, or write for your own pleasure, I believe firmly that establishing a regular writing habit will serve you well.  It actually doesn't even matter if you want to be an artist, or a dictator, or the best barista on the planet, I still think that a regular writing habit will serve you well.

Because it will bring you back to yourself.  Again and again and again.  And I think it is one of our strangest and dearest foibles as humans that we need to be brought back to ourselves over and over again.  For most of us, this is a lifelong quest, to remember who we are and come back to it.  Some people never figure it out.  But I believe we writers and creative types have an advantage--because through our creations, we are constantly figuring it out.  And that is why we return to the page again and again and again.

And now, please excuse me while I go eat some leftovers.

I'd love to hear how your writing habits serve you.


Photo by clarita, from MorgueFile.

Taking Time to Write

Everyone talks a lot about making time to write, but do you take time to write?

I have a lot of transition points throughout the day, times when I'm segueing from one project to the next, or switching from being out and about to sitting at my desk, working.  At these junctures, I often find myself clicking onto my yahoo home page to mindlessly scan the sites I have collected there.  Or I'll write a quick email. It is a brainless, restful transitional activity.  And judging by the long emails and instant messaging conversations I have with people who I know are at work, I'm not the only one who uses the internet in this way.


All fine and good, when used in moderation (like all things, dammit). 

The problem is that it is so very, very easy to get carried away.  One innocent headline on your news reader leads you to another story you just have to read.  You tell yourself it is an important part of your career to stay up-to-date on current events.  Right, but do current events include whether or not Lindsay Lohan is in jail? I think not.  You remind yourself that in your position it is very important to stay in touch with people.  Yes, but do those people expect you to answer their emails instantaneously?  Of course not.

I know, I know, you've heard this a million times before.  But try taking a look at it from a slightly different lens.   What if, instead of indulging engaging in mindless activity when you have a bit of downtime, what if instead you turned to your writing?  What if you kept your current project open on your computer, or your journal at hand, and when you had a minute, you re-read the last paragraph you wrote? Or edited a sentence or two, or wrote a few lines based on a prompt.

What if you actually took the extra time you have throughout the day and used it for writing?

Many's the time I've read of writers who claim to have written their books in small chunks of time here and there.  The poet and novelist Darnell Arnoult tells of the years she was working full-time and raising her children, and how she would sit in the car and write while she waited for them to finish their sports practice.  Out of this, eventually, a novel grew. 

Start taking a look at your down time or your transition points.  And don't discount what value there is in taking time to look at your writing.  Even if you only have five minutes, reading over your work keeps it alive and fresh in your mind.  It helps you to establish that magical momentum.  And it will keep your subconscious pondering connections and ideas to contribute.


I think the reason we don't take these little bits of time throughout the day is because we're tired, and dealing with our writing takes energy.  But get into the habit of it, and soon it is the opposite.  Your writing habit will energize and refresh you, much more so than surfing the net.   And besides, wouldn't you rather reach the end of the day exhausted because you gave it your all?  Because you used every minute, because you threw words at the page every chance you got, because you remained engaged with your writing--and thus the world--throughout the day?  I know I would.

How do you take the time to write?  Or if you don't, do you have any ideas for how you can?

This is Why We Do It

I'm staying on top of a hill at a resort in Gatlinburg.  And when I say hill, I mean hill.  You could, perhaps, even call it a small mountain.  Well, if you were familiar with western mountain ranges like the Rockies or the Cascades you probably wouldn't, but here you could.  Also when I say we're at the top of the hill, I mean at the top. 

The first day we were here, my friend Linda and I decided we would walk all the way down to the resort lobby and then back up again.  Amazingly enough we made it the whole way, with multiple stops to "see the view" (ie, rest).  The next day we set off again and made it about 2/3 of the way up before flagging down a golf cart to take us the rest of the way.  (The resort runs golf carts and shuttles up and down the hill a gazillion times a day, because, trust me, most people do not want to walk up the hill.  They are the smart people.) My legs and butt were so sore I simply couldn't go any farther!


But later on that day, we hiked to Laurel Falls, a popular destination here in the Great Smokies.  The last thing I wanted was more uphill walking, but sure enough the trail climbed steadily.  Thank goodness for small favors, it was a low grade and an easy hike.  (And beautiful!) But still my legs complained a bit.  And my ego?  That Voice that hates change, hates challenge, wants, at all costs to protect me?  It was screaming about how much it hated this latest hike.  (You should have heard it when I was walking up the resort hill.  Oh, mama it was cranky.) The Voice wanted only one thing: for the hike to be over.

And then I had an epiphany.  This is why we do it.  For the challenge of the moment, for being present with the aches and pains and discomforts.  Not for having done it.  Not for sitting around the fire later and talking about it.  For this.  For this moment in all its challenges (which, in this case, were very minimal.  But the Voice doesn't care.)  Because, later, when sitting around talking about it, you might actually find yourself wishing you were back there in the moment doing it. 

Of course, I related this immediately to writing.  There's a common saying about certain people you may meet along the way: the don't want to actually write, they want to have written.  So true, so true. But those people are missing the wonder of the pain of the moment.  Of sticking with a scene even when its not working exactly right, of continuing to work on your novel even when you have no idea if it will ever sell.  I could come up with a million more examples, but you already are familiar with them.

So remember this next time you are in the middle of a writing session and things aren't going so well: this is why we do it.  For all of it, the good, the bad, the pain, the joy.  And just keep going.

Photo of Laurel Falls by Zhans33, from Wikipedia.

The Voice

Over the last few months, I've been thinking a lot about what Geneen Roth calls The Voice.


No, this is not voice in the way we usually talk about it in literature, as in that special, sometimes elusive thing we writers are all seeking.  It is the critical, harping, nagging, unpleasant voice that tells us how stupid, ugly, untalented, lazy, fat, and silly we are.

It is The Voice that most of us spend far too much time listening to, and worse, believing.  Because this voice lies.  This voice is the sum total of every authority figure or adversary you've ever encountered in your life and it is simply mimicking those people.  It doesn't know what it is saying, it is just programmed to say it.  And we're programmed to listen.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  With some effort, you can get The Voice to be quiet.  First of all you have to become aware of what it is saying.  You're a shitty writer, it might whisper.  Or, you're never going to get published, so why bother writing? Like that.  Often worse.  The Voice can get very personal, as in, you blew your diet again, no wonder you're so damned fat.  And so on.  We all have our individual versions of The Voice.  Whatever your version of it is saying, become aware.  Pause and listen.  Half the time, acknowledging is a huge part of the battle.

Then realize why The Voice is whispering this crap to you.  The Voice is part of your ego, dedicated to protecting you at all costs.  And part of that protection means to resist change.  Because change is scary and might hurt you.  Change includes things like committing to writing every day, or publishing your novel at long last.  Good things.  Desirable things.  Your ego just doesn't see it that way because it involves, well, change.

Finally, talk back.  Quit letting The Voice rule your life.  You've already allowed yourself to become conscious of it.  Now it is time to get it to shut up.  This is not the time to worry about being nice, because The Voice, although it thinks it has your best interests at heart, is not nice to you.  Often what is needed here is some aggressive action.  Like every time you hear The Voice whisper those words you hate yell at it to "Shut up!"  You can get even harsher, as in, "Shut the F*&^ Up!"  Do not feel bad about this.  Harshness is necessary here.  Another trick you can use is mental imagery.  Give The Voice a shape, like an evilly-grinning amoeba, for instance, and then imagine opening a door to a closet and locking it inside.  Or dropping it into a jar and sealing the lid.

If you do this every time you become aware of The Voice talking to you, after all you'll start to notice a lovely silence in your head.  A silence out of which stories can grow, goals can be accomplished, things can start to happen.  It is quite remarkable, actually.  I invite you to try it.

**A couple of unrelated notes:

1.  I'm off to Nashville tomorrow.  Hoping to keep the posting schedule up; will post oldies but goodies if not.

2.  Poets and Writers came out with their list of the top MFA programs, mine made the top 10!

3. I am busily developing new coaching programs.  They are going to rock!  I'm very excited about them, so stay tuned.

And have a great Labor Day, everybody! 

Photo by Xenia, courtesy of MorgueFile, via EveryStockPhoto.


Call It Whatever You Want....

...but today's topic is faith.  Call it belief if that sounds less religious or woo-woo to you.  Or call it certainty.  What I'm talking about here is the quality not of hope (as in, "I hope I get an agent") but of utter, bedrock, complete and total belief, (as in, "I know I'm getting an agent.")


Because faith/belief/certainty is the most important thing you need to be successful in writing (or any field).  You can't waver in your faith, ever.  And sometimes you will be tempted to waver.  Sorely, sorely tempted.  Like when you get yet another rejection.  Or you miss yet another writing session due to circumstances beyond your control.  (The cat had to go to the vet! The child forgot his lunch money! The spouse's car broke down!) Or when you sit at the computer and the words won't come.

I've been thinking a lot about faith lately.  When I was a kid, I always admired people who had strong religious faith, probably because I didn't.  Well, that's not exactly correct.  I went to a church that didn't exactly encourage a strong religious faith.  We Unitarians are a very independent bunch, I will tell you right now.  But I was greatly enamored of my Aunt Betty who converted to Catholicism when she married and forever after went to mass with great regularity.  (In my childhood memory, it is daily but I have a feeling that's an exaggeration.) I also adored her because she was stylish, smoked elegantly, and insisted that a good stiff drink was called for at every occasion, even lunch.  So is it any surprise that I got a good idea about the benefits of faith? 


But the kind of faith I'm talking about is more than getting yourself to mass every day.  Its about living every moment knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are the embodiment of your desires and all you have to do is uncover the fear and disbelief and crap that gets piled on top of them.  And that, my friends, is far more difficult than going to mass every day.  (Except I must confess I've never actually been to mass, me being a Unitarian and all.  Interesting side note: the creator of the Simpsons, Matt Groening, went to the same Unitarian church as I did.  Which is probably why he loves to poke fun at Unitarians on the show.)  But it is also a requirement if we're going to get anyway in this world.

I recently have had an up close and personal example of how putting faith into action equals results.  This summer, I've been dieting.  Okay, I'm pretty much always dieting, except when I'm not.  But this summer I've been doing a version of a low-carb diet.  This diet suits me well, makes me feel energetic and healthy and is easy to follow.  So, naturally, I expect the weight to fall off me.  (Because that's what the diet industry would have us believe--that if only we follow a diet, their diet, the weight will just fall off instantly.)


But it hasn't.  It has gently and slowly left my body.  So gently and slowly that sometimes I can't even tell it is leaving.  Many's the time I wanted just to console myself with a whole baguette and a cube of butter.  Or Coconut Bliss ice cream with caramel sauce.  Because often sometimes my ego whispers things to me.  Like, C'mon, this dumb low-carb diet is not working.  Why not just give up?  Or, Ditch this stupid diet and try another one.  But first eat everything you want, including five homemade chocolate chip cookies, before you start the next diet.  Oh, such devilish yet tempting messages.  Since I haven't lost 20 pounds overnight, clearly this diet isn't working.  So, honestly, why not just give up?

And this is when I've had to take myself firmly in hand and tell myself to just have faith.  To keep at it.  To remind myself that I always let go of weight slowly until my body figures out what it's doing.  I've told myself that so much this summer that the voices are finally quieting and the diet is just the way I eat, nothing more, nothing less.  I don't spend a lot of time worrying about it, I just do it. 

Fast forward to yesterday, when I'm having lunch with my friend Sue, she who has just recently returned to live where I can see her whenever I want to, yay! We're perusing the menus at The Stepping Stone Cafe (motto: "you eat here because we let you") and sighing, I allow as how I'll choose the salad over the luscious-sounding burger and fries.  I explain that I've been doing low-carb all summer.  Sue looks at me, puts down her menu, looks at me again and says, "Oh my God.  You've lost so much weight.  I just realized it.  Wow, you really have, haven't you?"

To say I was happy would be an understatement.  To say I was pleased with myself for ordering the salad even more so.  I mean, how embarrassing would it have been if I had a fry in my mouth as she was saying this? But mostly it felt like a vindication to me for all the times I patiently told myself to have faith.  To stick with it because eventually it would work.

Sometimes writing is like dieting, because you just have to stick with it until you finish the tenth draft of the short story or the outline for the novel.  Or you have to force yourself to return to the page again and again, even when the words aren't coming.  You have to have faith--that rock-solid certainty and belief that what you are doing is worth it.  Because, you know what?  It is.

How do you maintain your faith in your writing?  Or your diet, for that matter.

**Today's very cool photos by The Wandering Angel, courtesy of Flickr, via Everystockphoto and createsima and peter_w, from Everystockphoto.