Good Job!

Consider this kind and helpful advice from the wonderful artist, James Whistler:

“Hang on the walls of your mind the memory of your successes. Take
counsel of your strength, not your weakness. Think of the good jobs
you have done. Think of the times when you rose above your average
level of performance and carried out an idea or a dream or a desire
for which you had deeply longed. Hang these pictures on the walls of
your mind and look at them as you travel the roadway of life.”

“Good job!” — that’s often what we hear moms and dads say to their kids when they accomplished something worthy of note. While these words are sometimes overused, they still have an uplifting ring about them, don’t they/

And yet, and yet … do we ever say them to ourselves when we do something praiseworthy — something that we found hard, but stuck with until we finished it? Or a tough problem that we solved in a way that made us smile and feel good about what we did?

Not always, I hear some of us saying. Not enough, I hear others whisper. Never, I hear too many of us murmur. Why not take Whistler’s advice instead and give ourselves some love?

“Hang on the walls of your mind the memory of your successes” — what a great image! Why not take time once in a while to remember your triumphs, large and small. Dwell on them for a while and the feelings they sparked inside you?

“Take counsel of your strength, not your weakness.” Why not call on your strengths, your inner resourcesyour resiliency and drive — when you hit a rough spot, instead of taking counsel” of your weakness?

“Think of the times … you carried out an idea or a dream or a desire for which you had deeply longed.” We all have moments of true joy and completion — moments where we feel we surpassed ourselves and rose above what we thought we were capable of doing. Why not relive them and let them lend you their strength and satisfaction?

I love the idea of creating a gallery of triumphs for ourselves — don’t you as we “travel the roadway of life” — don’t you? It’s so energizing and motivating! Let’s create one for ourselves as we all write on!

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Useful Obstacles

“The only use of an obstacle is to be overcome. All that an obstacle does with brave men is not to frighten them, but to challenge them.”   Woodrow Wilson

And brave women, too! I love the idea of an obstacle being useful, don’t you? It can give you a whole new take on a difficulty you face, if you see it not as something negative or bad, but instead, as something user friendly — a tool you can make use of to your benefit.

When obstacles challenge us instead of frightening or discouraging us, they have the potential to help us grow, to make us better at the work we do. Facing an obstacle is a little like finding a stone in our path — we can stumble over it and grumble about it, or we can dig it up, get it out of the way, and strengthen our muscles for the next one.

So, can we develop a mindset where we see obstacles to our creative work as friends instead of foes? Let’s say we are struggling with a rough patch in fleshing out a character who seems lackluster on the page. We’ve hit a roadblock and need to deal with it.

We can throw up our hands in frustration, which won’t help much.

OR, we can get creative:

We can have a chat with the character — a dialogue in which we ask the character to tell us what the problem is and where they want to go. I’ve done this with surprising results!

We can create a conflict between the character and someone else. This may ratchet up the tension in our story and push the character into a corner, forcing him or her to really come alive. Again, the results can be surprising.

We can spend some time exploring the character’s backstory — what forces shaped their behavior? Will a tweak give them more pop and sizzle? Is there something hidden that needs to be revealed or to smolder?

Suddenly, this problem with a character becomes useful. It’s challenging us to make the character deeper, truer, more real. All this can only enliven the story we’re telling and make it more compelling.

Thinking of obstacles as useful tools in our writer’s kitbag isn’t always easy, but with a little can-do focus and creativity, we can transform them from problems into possibilities. Ah! The alchemy of attention and positive thinking! Write on!

 

 

 

 

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Something Wonderful

Where My Books Go

All the words that I utter,

And all the words that I write,

Must spread out their wings untiring,

And never rest in their flight,

Till they come where your sad, sad heart is,

And sing to you in the night,

Beyond where the waters are moving,

Storm-darken’d or starry bright.

— William Butler Yeats

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Original Oscar

“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”   Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde is a favorite of mine. Perhaps its his amazing range: He could go from 0 to 60 in a heartbeat, from the wicked humor of The Importance of Being Earnest to the heavenly, hard-won wisdom of De Profundis. Today, October 16 is his birthday. In his honor, a selection of his sparkling gems on writing to inspire us all:

“The play was a success, but the audience was a failure.”

“What seem to us bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.”

“Experience in the name everyone gives their mistakes.”

“Moderation is a fatal thing; nothing succeeds like excess.”

“Constancy is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

“All that I desire to point out is the general principle that life
imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

“One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead.”

“To live is the rarest thing of all. Most people, that is all.”

“The true artist is a man who believes absolutely in himself, because he is absolutely  himself.”

“To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”

“The Artist is the creator of beautiful things.”

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

“There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written or badly written.”

“Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find the way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

What a way with words! Write on!

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Creating Conviction

“One important key to success is self-confidence. And one key to self-confidence is preparation.” Arthur Ashe

Constant repetition carries conviction.” Robert Collier

How do we create the conviction we need to keep going when it seems like our writing isn’t bearing fruit? When we feel discouraged? How do we jump start our confidence and belief in ourselves? As Arthur says so well, self-confidence flows from preparation. So how do we create it?

We keep going:  We keep showing up and working, even when the work isn’t going well. Or when we think we may never finish. Or that no one will want to read what we’ve written. We create conviction by doing the work that earns us the ability to feel confidence in what we’ve done.

We do the work at hand:  Whatever we find on our page, we show up and give it our best. We know that this is exactly where we’re meant to be and that we’re doing exactly what we’re meant to do.

We train our commitment muscle: When we do the work at hand, even when we don’t feel like it, we’re showing the universe that we’re committed — we’re ready to do whatever it takes.

We find joy and purpose in the doing:  When we don’t worry about where we’re going or whether we’ll get there — we take pleasure and joy and pride in just doing what we’re meant to do,

We stay in today:  We focus on the present moment, the present need. We let everything else — all the distractions, all the concerns, all the cravings go. We release them and give the moment our all.

My friend and mentor Dr.Rob Gilbert* says that there’s a virtual cycle that shifts into gear when we put in the time and do the work: The more we do, the better the results, and the better the results, the better we feel, and the better we feel, the more we do.

So let’s create conviction! Let’s fuel our self-confidence. “One important key to success is self-confidence. And one key to self-confidence is preparation.” Let’s do the work it takes to succeed as we all write on!

*Check out Dr. Gilbert’s Success Hotline: 973.743.4690.

 

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Remarkably Rewarding!

Just last week, I received a little fan note from a friend telling me how helpful he’d found my small-business start-up guide, Birthing the Elephant — what a boost his kind words gave me! I’m proud to say that while it was written for and about women entrepreneurs, there’s plenty of frontline advice in its pages about smart moves to make and pitfalls to avoid that men can benefit from, too. And though it was published a while ago, the tips and tactics it offers are evergreen.

This reminded me of meeting two young, dynamic women in a coffee shop one day when you could still sit in coffee shops and work. I was working on my novel and nursing a lavender latte — delicious! These two young ladies were discussing their websites and I knew instantly from the energy and excitement pouring out of them that they were two budding business owners.

We struck up a conversation and I snapped a phot of them. I told them about Birthing the Elephant. They were adorable and very excited to meet an author. We exchanged addresses and I sent each of them a copy of my book with a note of encouragement. What fun this was!

Is there anything that compares with having people read and enjoy your work? It always makes me feel uplifted to share something I’ve written — it’s like giving people a part of myself.

My dear friend and gifted author Nancy Burke knows exactly how this feels. Her novel Only the Women are Burning just launched and it’s racking up some great reviews (stay tuned!) Nancy told me how rewarding it is after working on her novel so hard and long to have people reading it and really “getting it” — really appreciating the layers of emotion and meaning she worked so hard to weave into her story. I’m so happy for her — what a great reward for all her perseverance!

What a gift it is to write — and to share what we’ve written! Let’s remember this on those days when it seems hard and lonely and we’re not sure where we’re going. When your words reach the world and touch people, none of this matters. Have you ever received this kind of a rewarding response? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Write on!

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Bold Navigators

“We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it — but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”   Oliver Wendell Holmes

October 12, is the traditional Columbus Day, and I somehow missed the boat! Still, I don’t think Columbus will mind if we celebrate it today — and a nautical theme seems apt.  When I found Oliver’s quote, it ushered in the feeling that we are meant to ponder the four paths he described. Here are some thoughts on the possibilities they offer us:

Sailing with the wind: When we sail with the wind, we make progress quickly and easily. The wind works in harmony with our vessel and we know the joys of speed and the satisfaction of feeling that we are moving in the right direction. We are unencumbered and free. These moments may be rare, but we’ve all experienced them: We’re in a state of flow — everything sails along as if we are sliding on glass. The ocean of words yields up its treasures to us and we experience a joyful freedom, even exhilaration.

Sailing against the wind: This is rough going all around: The ocean batters our frail bark and we fear we may sink and disappear, never to be heard from again. There are obstacles, there is friction, there is energy-sapping fatigue as we struggle against forces that seem to challenge our very right to do what we are doing. These are tough moments: whatever we’re writing seems to defy us and invite us to give up, give in, and let ourselves down.

Drifting: This is almost worse than sailing against the wind. When we sail against the wind, we know our opponent — we have something to battle. It can be fatigue or lack of confidence or external circumstances that buffet us and threaten to blow us off course. But when we drift, there’s no friction and no progress, however slight. We simply wander aimlessly and often stray off course, overcome by our lack of direction and purpose.

Lying at anchor: When we lie at anchor, we’re not even in the game. We’re not under sail and on our way somewhere. We’re not honing our gifts or charting our path or battling the elements. We’re safe and secure. We haven’t left our comfort zone and so nothing’s going to happen. We may talk a good game, but when it comes to putting pen to paper or fingers to the keys, there’s something holding us back. And so we never weigh anchor and sail.

“We must sail,” Oliver tells us: We’re either riding with the wind or sailing against it. Drifting along aimlessly or never leaving port aren’t viable options. So let’s ride the waves! Sometimes, they’ll carry us along with the wind at our back and everything will go smoothly: We’ll have a great few hours or even days on the page. And sometimes, we’ll be sailing against the wind, struggling to keep ourselves on course. But as so often happens in life, these moments of struggle create movement and open up new opportunities. Conflict creates change and change opens the door to fresh ideas and invention.

Let’s be wave riders — and write on!

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Revision Decisions

When my wonderful friend and writer, Nancy Burke, was speaking recently about her fast-paced newly published novel, Only the Women are Burning (stay tuned!), she made a helpful distinction between editing and revising. As a gifted author and teacher, she’s right on target (https://www.nancyburkestories.com/).

Editing as she described it, is vital to a high-quality end product and makes a huge difference in readability: it involves tightening text, ensuring clarity, rearranging, and, ultimately, copy editing. Revising involves a deeper dive into a text’s content and meaning, and can require major surgery.

To my mind, revising is about playing. Now some writers love revising! Joyce Carol Oates, for example. And I just heard children’s writer Karen Cushman says that getting a first draft down in tough, but that she enjoys revising.

If you’re a reluctant reviser, here are ways to approach revising more playfully:

Think re-envisioning:  In a way, revising is all about coming up with a new “vision” of your work — teasing out themes that emerged in a draft, building up characters that are crying out to be heard, restructuring so that the central problem and through line of your tale are clearer. See revising as a chance to deepen and enrich your story — as a chance to mine the hidden gold you didn’t even know was
there when you wrote your draft.

Think layering:  Getting a first draft down on paper is a little like creating the skeleton, the bones of your story. In revising, you flesh out what’s on the page. Revising gives you the chance to add layers, to enrich and enliven what you’ve written. You can give key characters stronger desires and demons, and make minor characters more real and
essential. You can add emotional energy to your settings and description — and make them more integral to the mood you’re creating.

Think dialogue drama:  Revising lets you play with dialogue and make sure it sparkles. You can take a dialogue pass through your entire text, approaching it in isolation and making sure that it ratchets up tension, reveals character, and sounds realistic.

Think break it down and pump it up:  Revising allows you to make sure that your story’s pacing and plotting are spot-on. You can analyze chunks of your story and make sure the pieces fit together like a puzzle. You can also pump up the drama and action in places where your story sags.

As many writers have said, writing is rewriting. So let’s bring some play to our day as we all write on!

 

 

 

 

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Something Wonderful

A little blast of warm, tropical sunshine:

The Caribbean Calling

Listen to the kiskadee singing!
The bamboo bawling!
The humming-bird humming,
Sweet and low.
Listen to the sea splashing!
The black-birds calling,
The sound of pick-axe and hoe!
Listen to the children playing,
Sunlight brightening their faces,
Smiling at mangoes and cocoa.
Listen to the Caribbean calling
Its children wherever they roam
Back to their landscape home.

— Faustin Charles

 

 

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Surpass Yourself

“Quality is not an act, it is a habit.” Aristotle

What a bold statement! Let’s unpack it a bit: If quality is not an act, then it’s not something we do and bring to our craft once in a while. If it’s a habit, then it’s simply part of who we are — it’s ingrained in us and we bring it to our work automatically, without even being aware of it or straining after it.

What an empowering approach to excellence! It’s not something we do, it’s simply who we are. How can we make it a habit, part of our writing DNA? Here’s one approach: We can make a decision to surpass ourselves, to do a little more than expected each and every day.

Here’s what I mean: I remember a story of a new coach taking on a cycling team that had more losses than wins. It wasn’t even considered a contender. But the coach had a plan: Instead of trying to push the team past its limits in an effort to win, he focused on making 1% improvements in everything they did.

Just 1% improvements. They built these into every aspect of their training — their daily practice on the roads, their nutrition and eating, their sleep, even the massages they received. Over time, those 1% changes added up and within a few years, the team went on to win the Tour de France — the most grueling sports event in the world.

Think about how we might apply this to our writing. Just sitting at our desks a little longer, writing one more paragraph when we feel like quitting, searching for that one better word instead of settling for one that doesn’t feel quite right. I

If we do this steadily and with intention, our own 1% improvements will begin to add up. Pretty soon, we’ll be surpassing ourselves — doing work we didn’t feel we were capable of. We’ll get out of our comfort zones and stretch our limits.

Let’s make quality a habit. Let’s go for small improvements until finding them becomes part of who we are — a habit. Let’s surpass ourselves as we all write on!

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