Run On

Words inscribed on a plaque in a park where I jog from time to time:

“Somewhere, someone in the world is running when you are not. When you race him, he will win.”   Tom Fleming

“It was routine for Tom Fleming to run 150 miles a week. At the height of his career, Fleming won the New York City Marathon twice, in 1973 and 1975. He began running at Bloomfield High School and then at William Paterson College, becoming a four-time NCAA All-American and Conference Champion. He placed second in the Boston Marathon twice, in 1973 and 1975, when he acheived a 2:12:05 PR [Personal Record]. Tom opened one of the first running stores in 1978, where, true to his love of the sort, he would mentor anyone needing running advice. For the past 18 years, he taught 4th grade and coached boys and girls track at Montclair Kimberly Academy, passionate about passing on his skills, encouraging each student to strive for their personal best. A charismatic storyteller, generous with his time and talent, he taught everyone that the only way to succeed was to work hard.”

I love reading this plaque and whenever I’m at the running track where it’s displayed, I tap Tom’s quote with my fingers, hoping to catch a little of his amazing energy and drive, even though I’m only jogging a few laps at a time.

For me, these words fly far beyond the track field – and apply to any endeavor we choose to pursue, including writing. Tom’s story is about doing what you love with intention and brio:

He brought passion:  He pursued his calling relentlessly, in all kinds of weather and conditions, no matter what else was happening in his life.

He brought grit and stamina:  Like all elite athletes, he must have endured his share of injuries and pain, yet he learned to fight through them and to keep running.

He brought joy and love:  Surely, no one can run 150 miles a week unless he loves what he’s doing, not for the winning and the awards, but for the sheer joy of it.

He brought a willingness to run the extra mile – over and over – always striving to release his full potential and surpass himself.

Can we bring all this to the page? Can we brig passion, grit, joy, and the ability to go the extra mile? Can we give a level of effort that makes us stand out? Yes we can! All these qualities are within our power. Let’s tap into them as we all write on!

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Giving Thanks

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While we celebrate Thanksgiving once a year, every day is an opportunity to give thanks and to bring an attitude to gratitude to our work. I have so much to be grateful for: my wonderful family and friends, my work as a writer, which I cherish, and all of my creative fellow scribes, who inspire me every day. So, as we go about our work, let’s take few moments some time today say thank you for all our gifts. Let me begin:

Thank you to my friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert, whose wonderful Success Hotline (973.743.4690) means so much to me. I listen to it every day. Rob’s motivational mission really inspired me to launch my KWD motivational blog for writers in honor of my beloved mom Dorothy and my sister Judy. I wanted to share my love of writing and to offer inspiration and encouragement to my fellow writers. The writing life is wonderful, but it can sometimes be lonely and challenging. I wanted to bring some light and joy to it.

Thank you to my KWD kindred spirits for reading my posts and sharing your writing journeys with me. Whenever I receive a comment in my email in box, I feel so happy and blessed. It gives me a huge boost to know that I’ve shared something — a quote or an idea or a strategy — that brightens your day and, hopefully, gives you a shot of energy so you can keep going and push past whatever obstacles you’re facing. Knowing that you are reading KWD motivates me to keep going as well, so we are helping each other.

Thank you to my inner spirit and writing muses. When I launched KWD, I had a few random ideas for a handful of posts. But as my intention to continue grew stronger, my sources of inspiration blossomed (see Idea Magnet). Everywhere I turned, fruitful new themes seemed to pop out at me. I learned something very powerful from this: Our creative well is never dry. Many times when I’ve sat down to pen my day’s post, I’ve had no clue about what I was going to write — yet something always bubbles up inside me or jumped out at me. The more we ask of ourselves creatively, the more we have to give.

And a huge thank you to all storytellers, past and present. Sharing your struggles and triumphs has been such an enlivening experience: Above all, it has shown me the kind of grit and discipline I need to make my own writing dreams come alive — not just on the page, but out in the world.

Now it’s your turn! I hope you’ll take a few moments to say thank you as you write on!

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Washington’s Wisdom

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In honor of George Washington’s true birthday which is almost upon us (also my wonderful husband David’s birthday!), some words of  wisdom from our Founding Father to ponder:

“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”

“It is better to be alone than in bad company.”

“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

“Make sure you are doing what God wants you to do–then do it with all your strength.”

“A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”

“My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.”

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to appellation. ”

“In politics as in religion, my tenets are few and simple. The leading one of which, and indeed that which embraces most others, is to be honest and just ourselves and to exact it from others, meddling as little as possible in their affairs where our own are not involved. If this maxim was generally adopted, wars would cease and our swords would soon be converted into reap hooks and our harvests be more peaceful, abundant, and happy.”

Let’s take inspiration and fortitude from George — and write on!

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Babe Emboldens

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“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” Babe Ruth

An interviewer once posed the following question to the immortal Bambino: “Babe, what do you do when you get in a batting slump?” The Babe replied: “I just keep goin’ up there and keep swingin’ at ‘em. I know the old law of averages will hold good for me the same as it does for anybody else, if I keep havin’ my healthy swings. If I strike out two or thee ties in a game, or fail to get a hit for a week, why should I worry? Let the pitchers worry; they’re the guys who’re gonna suffer later on.”

Now consider this: For years, Babe Ruth’s amazing record of 714 home runs was unapproachable. But what most people don’t know is that he had another unapproached world’s record: He struck out more than any player in history. He failed 1,330 times.

Think about this for a moment: One thousand three hundred and thirty times the mighty slugger got up to bat, struck out, and endured the humiliation of walking back to the Yankee dugout after getting up to bat, swinging … and missing. But he never let the fear of failure knock him flat. In fact, when he struck out, he didn’t view it as a failure, but as effort – a step in the right direction that was bringing him close to his next home run.

The law of averages worked for the Babe and it can work for us, too. Somewhere out there, some of us are struggling with our creative work. We may be striking out, not on the baseball diamond, but on our field of play – the page. You may be one of them.

We may be struggling to complete a story or novel, but feeling lost.

We may feel muddling through another round of revisions that aren’t going well.

We may be submitting stories to journals or publishers and getting turned down.

We may be searching for an agent to represent our work and coming up empty.

Whatever we’re facing, we need to make the law of averages work for us – we need to keep on slugging. The more we put ourselves in play  — the more exposure we give ourselves — the closer we come to hitting our own personal home run.

I know, it’s tough. Getting up to bat and striking out is no fun. But it helps to remember that each strike-out – each rejection, each pass, each bump in the road — isn’t a failure but a step forward. And the more we get up to bat, the sooner that home run comes our way!

So let’s take a tip from the Babe: A strikeout is just a set-up for a home run. Write on!

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Finding Focus

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“In summary, creating the practicing mind comes down to a few simple rules:

  • Keep yourself process-oriented.
  • Stay in the present.
  • Make the process the goal and use the overall goal as rudder to steer your efforts.
  • Be deliberate, have an intention about what you want to accomplish, and remain aware of that intention.

Doing these things will eliminate the judgments and emotions that come from a product-oriented, results-driven mind.”

— from The Practicing Mind, Thomas Sterner

How I came across this handbook is lost in the mists of time, but I’m glad I did! The full title says it all: The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life. What a pithy, valuable guide! For me, the biggest takeaways from the book is the power of the present: focusing on what we’re doing when we are doing it. Let’s briefly unpack the four steps above:

Keep yourself process-oriented:  Focus on the journey, not the destination. Focus on the act of writing and creating, not what you want or have to produce.

Stay in the present:  Be where you are doing what you are doing. If your mind drifts off, gently bring it back to the task at hand.

Make the process the goal:  Let go of any stress about achieving or making something happen. Don’t create any boundaries around what you are doing – focus on doing.

Be deliberate:  Think in terms of intention, not goal. A goal is a point in time you are striving toward. An intention is about the desire to develop a skill, to improve and grow.

Finding focus is challenging, but doable. Let’s make it our intention as we all write on!

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“Ace” it!

“It is easier to act your way into a feeling than to feel your way into action.”   Ed Agresta

“Well done is better than well said.”   Benjamin Franklin

“Ace” = Action cures everything.

We’ve all been there. We’ve felt stuck, in a rut, not sure which way to go or what to do and so we end up doing nothing, which only makes us feel worse. There’s a simple antidote for this common creative malady. It’s captured in three words: Action cures everything.

Wherever we are and whatever the job at hand, there’s always an action we can take – and the simple act of taking action can pry things loose. When we act, we exert power, we influence situations, we make things happen — exactly what we may be struggling to do.

Ace – action cures everything. Let’s look at what this can mean to us as writers:

Taking action gives us forward motion which can quickly turn to momentum. When we move forward instead of looking back or staying stymied, we pry things loose. We shake things up and signal to the universe that we are focusing on progress, not the past.

Taking action helps us deal with our doubts and fears, which make “traitors of us all,” as Shakespeare says so well. They can hold us back and make us feel that we don’t have what it takes to succeed. When we act in site of our doubts about our ability or our fears that our work isn’t good enough, we move into the land of possibilities — an empowering place to be.

Taking action frees us to learn and be curious. “The work itself will teach you” – I love this old Estonian proverb! When we take action, we brush away the cobwebs from our minds – and make space for new ideas and approaches to take center stage.

Taking action creates energy — and energy unleashes creativity. When we’re feelig sluggish and immobilized, just taking one step and then another, one simple action after another, can give us the mental and emotional fuel we need to keep going and growing.

As motivational speaker Ed Agresta says so well, “It’s easier to act your way into a feeling, than to feel your way into an action.” Don’t focus on your feelings. Act your way into feeling whatever you want to feel: energized, curious, creative, capable.

“Ace” it – action cures everything. Three powerful words to remember as we all write on!

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Revision Roadmap

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Whatever writing project you’re working on, at some point you’ll face the need to revise and polish your work. If the project is short, then the revision process is likely to be intense and relatively quick. But if you’re tackling something longer and more ambitious, like a novel, then you have a much tougher row to hoe.

Some writers prefer to stop-and-start precision revision: they like to rewrite and polish as they go, though this can seem painfully slow. Others prefer to barrel on from beginning to end: they like to get everything down on paper and then circle back to the beginning and reshape their prose from start to finish.

One very useful approach to revision — especially when you’re working on a meaty short story or a novel — is to approach it in waves by segmenting key elements of your story and then looking at them from an editing standpoint. Using a segmentation strategy for revision can make it a much more manageable and coherent process. Breaking it down this way also makes revising a long piece of work seem less daunting:

Make a dialogue pass: Isolate all the dialogue you’ve built into your story and review it. Is the dialogue for each character written in a consistent style? Does it sound believable and colorful? Does it advance your plot and/or reveal character?

Make a description pass: Isolate all the descriptive passages in your story and review them. Do the passages vary in length and pacing? Are some of the passages too long and overly complex? Are they repetitive? Do they create a strong sense of place or are they more decorative?

Make a plot pass: Look at your story structure from a plot perspective and isolate and list all the key plot points in your story. Do they unfold in logical progression? Does each plot point provide forward motion? Does your plot structure provide a satisfying springboard for action and character development? Does it build toward a satisfying climax?

One approach I’ve found helpful is to use different-colored Magic Markers to box or highlight chunks of dialogue and description in a chapter. I might use green for all my dialogue sections and blue for all my descriptive passages, for example. This is an easy and visual way to check whether a chapter strikes a good balance between dialogue and description. Hope you’ll try this and let me know if it works for you. Write on!

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