Many of my students and clients tell me that they have a hard time finding the time to write. This is totally understandable. Our lives are busy. We have obligations and commitments we must fulfill, or face tangible consequences. Writing is not like this. Nobody knows or cares if we don’t write.
But people who have the urge (calling) to write and don’t act on it often experience dissatisfaction, even angst. They feel like they have an itch they can’t scratch. Part of the problem—what keeps people from sitting down to write—is their own imagination. They’ve made up stories about what “writing” is supposed to look like. They assume they need to carve out huge chunks of time. They believe that they have to feel energized or inspired. They might envision their writing hurting people they love. They may worry they lack talent. They’re convinced they have to know what they want to say, despite the fact that writers often have no idea what’s on their minds until they’ve written.
Drop Your Limiting Stories and Write Where You Are
When you realize that these inner voices are keeping you from doing what you say you want to do—write—you get to show up exactly as you are. This means you accept yourself and your circumstances, and instead of feeling like you have to stretch into some impossible, imagined version of yourself as a writer, you take “writing” off its pedestal, cradle it in both hands, and invite it into your crowded, messy, busy life.
Ask yourself these questions: How can I make writing fit within the real world that is my life? How can I create just a little bit of space to write? Can I sit down and scribble in a journal for twenty or thirty minutes once or twice a week? How about fifteen minutes once a week? Start small.
Some people don’t think this qualifies as writing, but experienced writers know better. Small efforts taken over time become large. Minutes become hours, so have at it: dump thoughts out of your head and onto the page. Romp around. Have fun. Take your shoes off. Strip naked. No one’s watching and there aren’t any rules. Until you start to take this process seriously, at which point you might want to hit the pause button
Writing Is Not Heavy
Author Jack Canfield tells a story about his spiritual teacher pointing to a boulder in the woods and asking, “Is that heavy?” Jack replied that of course it was, to which his teacher said, “It’s only heavy if you pick it up.” Trick question? Maybe, but it serves as a lesson for writers: Don’t pick up and carry heavy thoughts that prevent you from writing.
If you show up for yourself in this way—even once a week—you’ll be writing without “writing,” and effortlessly developing a practice. I advise people to work by hand at this stage, which ignites the heart-hand connection. Intimacy flourishes when we bring pen to paper. Author Natalie Goldberg says, “Just because you can drive a car doesn’t mean you should stop walking.” Take one step at a time. Feel your way.
Type and Edit Your Work
Once you’ve developed a “writing without ‘writing’” practice, you may want to expand that by devoting a small amount of time each week to typing up what you’ve scribbled, editing as you go. When you feel like you’ve shot your creative load with any given piece, set it aside. When you allow time to pass and come back to your work, you see it with fresh eyes. Edit some more. You’ve no doubt heard the expression “writing is rewriting.”
Keep lists of (a) journal entries that feel relevant or alive in some way that you’d like to develop, (b) typed and edited pieces in process, and (c) places to send your work when it’s ready.
Now, to recap, you’re basically just showing up a couple times a week to scribble and play in your journal, and also devoting one hour a week to typing, editing, and developing ideas that surfaced during your playtime scribble session. With these two practices in place you are “writing without writing.” But really, you’re writing! Congratulations! Keep going.
Find Trustworthy Guides
It’s a game-changer to get the right kind of feedback on your writing. This means someone who can hold an unconditionally loving space for you and your work--and who knows the art and craft of writing. This person can help you see what you have, identify themes, water seeds ready to sprout, keep you honest while bolstering your courage, and be a cheerleader for you while supporting your process and expanding your reach.
Many of my students and clients simply do not see the value of their own writing. They are convinced that what they’ve written is garbage. The problem here stems, once again, from their imagination. They are making up stories in their head as voraciously as on the page. That’s okay. Learning to recognize this habit eventually liberates us from it.
A good guide will help you see treasure where before you saw trash.
Share Your Work
Thoughtful, compassionate critiques will help you grow as a writer, and if you’ve been enjoying these practices, the day will come when you’ll want to share your work. Again, start small. Share with your writing circle, class, group, coach, editor, or mentor. As your confidence (and skills) grow, start to share on social media. Share at public readings. Share on blogs—yours or somebody else’s. If you don’t have a blog, create one. Share with newsletter subscribers. Share with people whose work you admire. Even though writing is a solitary act, writing careers thrive on relationships. Reach out. Find a writing community.
My dad used to say, “If you love your work, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’d like to add: If you don’t think of what you do as “Writing” with a capital “W,” if you shift your thinking about what it means to write and be a writer, and allow yourself to have a good, long scribble, rant, or rave, free from ego demands or expectations, you will be living the “writing without ‘writing’ life”—and loving it!
If you’d like some writing inspiration and live in Southern California, please consider joining us for a literary salon THIS Sunday. The event is free and open to the public, but you must R.S.V.P.
If you’d like support “writing without ‘writing’” you might enjoy my writing circles. I have one space left in my online writing circle, and two spaces left onsite. Classes begin January 29. The salon is a great place to listen to what goes on here and to celebrate brave people and their writing!
* Photo Credit goes to my mom who took the photo of me (above) decades ago while we travelled together in Italy.
Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season, or at least made it through with your health and happiness intact. I was in a minor car accident, which wasn’t a big deal (no injuries or auto damage), but it shook me up and slowed me down. The slowing down part was nice.
It’s my habit to spend as little time as possible in my office during the holidays and to create quality, festive time with family and friends, as well as quiet, reflective time alone. I’m grateful for these practices and find them restorative, although I’m usually chomping on the bit to get back to work in January.
This year is no exception. I signed up for Michael Neill’s Genius Catalyst Intensive and Creating The Impossible programs. When I consider what feels “impossible” to me at the moment, four things come to mind:
• Landing a traditional book deal
• Making a 6-figure income
• Starting a speaking career and getting paid to speak
• Selling out my print run for Raw in the next twelve months
You could say these are my BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals) for 2020, but deep down I know that accomplishing any or all of them won’t necessarily bring what I might expect or imagine. They certainly won’t deliver enduring satisfaction or joy, or make me, or my life, “better.”
I recently read an excellent post on this subject. Written by my friend and colleague Jonelle Simms, Goals . . .Blech! is full of her inimitable insight and humor. In it, she examines the deceptive (and sometimes dangerous) nature of goals. If you take them (and yourself) too seriously, you become enslaved by them and end up looking in the wrong places for your joy, which comes from within.
That said, I’m looking forward to attempting to do things that feel “impossible.” I’m holding it all lightly, and I’m excited about the adventure. In my experience, stepping out of my comfort zone usually leads to growth, and sometimes magic.
And speaking of magic, my writing circles are almost full. I have two openings left in each. If you’re a former student who reserved a seat, it’s time to claim it here. If you’re interested but have questions or concerns, please let me know. I’d be happy to speak with you.
If you’re local to Southern California and would like to connect with a dynamic writing community, please join us at our next literary salon, Sunday, January19th. This event is free and open to the public, but you must R.S.V.P.
The first thing I did when I returned to my office after taking time off for the holidays was to take everything off my bulletin boards. Here’s a photo of what the items looked like piled on my desk after I removed them. Among these treasures are thank-you notes and cards from students and clients; original artwork from family and friends; family photos; and other gifts of inspiration and love. Don’t let the mess fool you; I cherish each word, image, and person who sent them. If you are one of them, thank you!
The next thing I did was to revamp my “Priority Pyramid.” Let me explain. Last November, I worked with Dan Blank, author of Be The Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience. In his book, Dan recommends an exercise to help creative professionals get clear about their life and work priorities.
If you’d like to try this exercise, get fifteen index cards and write down one word on each card indicating what’s important to you. Then prioritize your cards into a pyramid, with your most important priority at the apex, and work down from there. These cards are a wonderful reminder of what matters if you lose your way. Each person will obviously have different words on their cards.
Here’s what mine looks like:
For me, a deep spiritual connection with Self comes first. When I lose that I’m like seaweed tossing in the ocean, and life feels disorienting, even painful. After that my priority is my family and also my writing. While the importance of family is obvious, it’s not always been easy for me to explain why my writing holds such a high priority in my life. The best way to describe it is to say that writing enhances my connection with my True Self. It helps me remember who I am.
Many of my students and clients tell me that writing is also foundational in their lives. It helps them navigate their days with greater clarity and grace, stay grounded, identify and release limiting thoughts, express joy, share stories, and reimagine what’s possible.
It’s useful to look at priorities independently, but also in relationship to one another.
I’ve added “I believe” statements to my “pyramid landscape” to remind me why I do what I do.
I agree with Natalie Goldberg, who, in her book, The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language, says “you can anchor your mind with your breath, but also you can anchor your mind with pen on paper.”
But perhaps the most reliable “anchor” of them all is love, which, ironically, is also the ideal launching pad. The best of what gets created through us comes from love.
This index card—the oldest of my bulletin board relics which I wrote around age six—sat for years beneath a sheet of glass that protected my mother’s mahogany sewing machine table. Mom put in long hours there. It was a palace of creation and love—and so was she!
I had no clue when I wrote this all those years ago that as an adult I’d need to keep reminding myself to be guided by love rather than fear. Old habits may die hard, but they pass more peacefully—and lose their power over us—when we see them for what they are and let them go.
Love is patient and kind, and it allows us to start over and reinvent ourselves. Again and again.
As I sorted through the items I removed from my bulletin board, two of them went right back up. I wasn’t ready to clear these messages. One says, “Listen,” and the other says, “The only time is NOW!” I don’t know about you, but I need reminders like these.
I’ve also left a lot of blank space on my bulletin boards to create room for what’s coming.
Writing Circles begin January 29th. Enroll here
I have two openings for private coaching clients. Let me know if you’d like to work with me one-on-one.
I wish you a new year filled with health, happiness, creative expression, and love.
I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season—or getting through it with as much grace and ease as possible. One thing that helps keep me grounded this time of year is walking our dog, Katie, who insists upon frequent and leisurely outings. I don’t mind (usually), because they provide exercise, time outdoors, and inspiration.
Check out this leaf she’s circling:
This reminds me of a stanza in Mary Oliver’s poem, “Sometimes”:
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it
I feel like I don’t do these things often enough. But it’s what I love most about my creative life.
Now that the holiday season is in full swing, a snarky inner voice says, “Yeah, right. Get real. You don’t have time for this.”
But I’m learning to ignore this voice, which I know is stale, conditioned thought, and instead listen to my wisdom. My wisdom reminds me that my sense of joy and well-being goes up exponentially when I follow Oliver’s instructions, and also, my busyness is up to me.
I’m at a place in my life where much of what I do is by choice, and not a requirement. Even when I was younger, a lot of what I thought I had to do came from within. It seemed like I had to achieve certain things, or behave (or appear) a certain way, but I realize now that I was taking orders from an inner voice that wasn’t particularly kind, expansive, or helpful. It sounded more like a drill sergeant than a wise guide. Mary Oliver is a nourishing companion. Her “instructions” are both simple and complex. Let’s take a closer look.
We are designed to pay attention. But we forget and become distracted. If you’re like me, you might spend too much time judging, expecting, evaluating, proclaiming, analyzing, defending, and protecting, which is the opposite of paying attention. However, the instant we remember to pay attention, everything changes. A world of possibility opens to us and we are free to observe (and relate to) what’s here in new ways.
Life is astonishing—especially when you’re able to see the beauty around you (particularly during busy or turbulent times). Allowing yourself to be astonished might mean shifting from a fearful perspective to a loving one. And we cannot be astonished if we’re not paying attention, which happens when we’re hijacked by our thinking. We also cannot experience astonishment when we think we know what to expect. In this context uncertainty is a gift--if we can embrace, rather than fear it.
Tell about it.
Even after thirty-plus year’s writing I still have inner voices that heckle, taunt, and say things like: Don’t write that. Don’t share it. It’s no good. You’ve said this all before. Who cares? Who do you think you are?
Many writers worry about speaking their truth. They don’t want to make waves, or they’re afraid of hurting someone they love, or they believe old, limiting, fearful beliefs that stifle or even paralyze them. Many don’t realize that their vulnerability is their strength and also their gateway to creative freedom. When you relinquish your illusion of control you invite something large and luminous to come through you. Your job is to get out of your own way and share it.
I have my own instructions for living a life. They were given to me over time, in small doses, during meditations, when I needed help in my life. I had to get out of my own way and become quiet to hear them.
Bella’s Instructions for living a life
(especially during the holidays):
I will unpack these “instructions” in a future post.
Meanwhile, I began this one saying that I feel like I don’t pay attention, allow myself to be astonished, or tell about it often enough. I’m realizing that the key is to make room for these opportunities, to give ourselves these gifts daily, if only for a few moments.
If you’re ready to explore what’s possible in terms of “tell[ing] about it,” check out my upcoming writing circles (online and on-site), which are almost full. I have two openings in my online class and three openings in my on-site class. Happy to answer any questions you might have. Start the new year (and decade!) speaking your truth and sharing your wisdom! Details and registration.
I also have two private coaching openings if you'd like to work with me one-on-one. Contact me if you're interested.
Reminder: Raw is on sale for $9.99 (no tax or shipping) until December 21 if you buy it directly through my website. If you haven’t already done so, order your copy today!
This past Monday night, I did not want to attend Forest Lawn’s annual “Lights of Remembrance: An Evening of Honoring the Memories of Your Loved Ones.” I was tired (hadn’t slept well the night before) and felt like I was getting sick. I also didn’t want to drive twenty plus miles at night to a place I’d never been, or go alone (my husband was too tired and my friend declined). I wanted to stay home, lounge by the fireplace, and watch The Crown.
I also did not want to kick off my holiday season with sadness. I did not want to do the grief dance. (My mom died seven years ago, in December.) I did not want to be reminded about the ways I’d failed her.
But Melissa Gould was the guest speaker. I had to go. Melissa is a former student of mine, whose memoir Widow. . . ish, is being published by Little A books next year. Witnessing her journey has been remarkable. Here she is at the podium Monday night. My photo doesn’t capture it, but she was radiant!
When she first showed up in my class, Melissa had recently lost her husband and was grieving. An award-winning screenwriter, Melissa’s inclination was to write fiction, but she needed to tell her own story. She didn’t yet understand the value her personal narrative held, nor the healing that would come as a result of sharing it. But she showed up in a big way (even when it was scary).
She began her process by writing simple exercises from class prompts, which over time became seeds from which essays sprung about her life as a young widow. Her essays have since been published in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Girlfriend by AARP, Buzzfeed, and elsewhere.
In addition to all the other reasons I didn’t want to go, I told myself it would be better if I got dressed up. I thought the event was happening at a sanctuary, which made it feel like an occasion, but the last thing I felt like doing was putting on heels or makeup.
But then I realized that allI had to do was show up. I set aside the need to “dress” and instead put on comfy leggings, boots, a sweater, hat, and scarf. No make up.
When I arrived, I discovered the event was being held outdoors, and saw other people dressed casually. Here’s the dramatic backdrop for the event:
A choir sang, Melissa read her poignant work, poems were shared, and then Melissa led a “silent reflection,” a guided meditation in which she invited the audience to close our eyes and imagine ourselves in a room with a deceased loved one.
I was with my mom in New York, in our old living room.
“Can you forgive me?” I asked.
“For what?” she said.
“For not being more present in your life, especially as you aged.”
“There is nothing to forgive,” she said.
I felt the truth of that statement.
Then I heard, “You were there for me in countless ways, large and small. You were a wonderful daughter.”
I realized that we all do the best we can, given our consciousness and circumstances—and that this applies to me as well as anybody else. It also occurred to me that I’d been weaving (and believing) a “not-good-enough” story in my role as her daughter, and was finally able to release it.
Tuesday morning I put the candle from Monday night’s ceremony on my altar, placed an empty chair beside it, and invited my mother to join my meditation. During the journal writing that followed, I wrote her a long letter. And she “wrote” back. I heard her voice and wrote what she said.
Since then I have felt her presence strongly, but instead of feeling familiar sadness, regret, and shame, I am filled with love and joy! What a sweet way to kick off the holiday season!
I keep thinking how I didn’t want to go to the event and the one thing that dragged me out of the house was that I wanted to show up for Melissa. She had demonstrated incredible tenacity, courage, persistence, and faith. This is worth celebrating.
I was also grateful to receive an email from her saying that she was moved to see me there and that my presence had been a gift. She told me how writing continues to heal her and is yet another gift.
What strikes me is that gift-giving is fluid and creative, and we sometimes don’t even realize what we’re giving—when or to whom. But also, we never know when we’ll receive a gift. I showed up for Melissa, and she showed up for me—and for everyone gathered to honor memories of loved ones. The gift I received from her was both unexpected and priceless.
This is what’s possible when we show up for ourselves and for each other.
Stories nourish, heal, and uplift us all. Monday night reminded me that we rarely know the power of our own stories—until we share them!
If you have a story you’d like to share, or if you’d like to explore what’s possible for you through writing, check out my upcoming writing circles. Start the new year (and decade!) with the gift of creative expression and healing.
My memoir, Raw, is on sale for $9.99 (no tax or shipping) until December 21 if you buy it directly through my website. Order your copy today!
Sometimes I want to lay down my ambition, hit cruise control, and glide through life. But as an author (and human being) there’s so much I don’t know and want to learn. Case in point: I had a wonderful experience publishing my memoir with She Writes Press. I’ve come close to selling out my 1000-book print run—except for a few boxes left in my garage, which remind me of this important fact: books don’t sell themselves.
The realization that I (along with most authors today) need to take responsibility for the business part of my writing life has been sobering—but also, surprisingly fun. I’ve been reading marketing books the way I used to read craft books as a young writer—inhaling them with wonder and awe. But these days, more than ever, authors are expected to sell their books, no matter how they publish. Knowing as much as we can about publishing and book promotion is essential for success, not to mention peace of mind.
Dan Blank, author of Be the Gateway, has been on my radar for years. His book sat on my shelf unread. When I finally picked it up a few weeks ago, I couldn’t put it down. Just as I was beginning to become curious about blogging and newsletters and wanting to understand these tools better, Dan offered a four-week workshop on this subject, so I signed up.
I didn’t expect what came next.
Dan had me evaluate my priorities, craft a mission statement, and get clear about what I was doing and why.
And then he challenged—disrupted—my ideas about author marketing.
Disruption is your friend.
I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me something that contradicts what I believe to be true, my default position is to become defensive. This makes learning difficult. But the reason we hire coaches and teachers is to learn from them. It made sense to set my ego aside and listen to, and at least try, Dan’s suggestions.
This instruction challenged me most:
Dispense with your fancy, designed newsletter and send out a plain text email. Reach out to the people on you email list as a person, not a brand. Really? I thought, recalling how I’d paid my web designer to create a spiffy Mail Chimp template that reflected my brand, complete with banner, logo, and author photo. Dan said that I didn’t need these advertising bells and whistles.
But the thought of showing up without them—just me (as if I’m not enough without my “brand”)—made me nervous. I didn’t feel completely naked, but I definitely felt vulnerable—and scared.
That’s when I realized it was easy to hide behind the window-dressing of my newsletter/brand.
I asked myself: What do I like to see in my inbox? I had to stop and think about this. I knew what I didn’t like: anonymous advertising and people overwhelming me with information, offers, and promotions. By contrast, I realized that I looked forward to Dan’s emails, as well as others who regularly offer valuable insights (and free) advice and suggestions that enrich my life and work. People writing from their hearts about what they’re seeing and learning, and sharing their hard-earned discoveries with me. I savor this type of human connection. And then this became clear:
The definition of marketing is connecting with people in a human way and doing it as authentically as possible.
Many authors don’t realize that marketing can be as innovative and raw a process as writing. The difference is that instead of communicating just with yourself (and your higher power), you’re communicating with others. Sixteen (instead of the usual five or six) people on my email list replied to my first (experimental) plain text email. They responded with great ideas, conversation, and support. More people opened that email, too. And a few people even shared it with others! Hearing that made my day. Someone enjoyed what I wrote so much they felt compelled to share it! Amazing. I felt rewarded for my courage and grateful to Dan.
The deeper reason I hired him is that I’m working on a proposal for my new book, and although I have confidence in the material, I realize that my author platform may not be robust enough to attract a traditional publisher. And, regardless of how I publish, I want to learn more about finding and building an audience for my work.
The title of my new book is Where Do You Hang Your Hammock: How to Find Freedom and Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book. Between the books I’m reading, the Nonfiction Writers Conference I attended last week, and the work I’m doing with Dan, my mind is flickering with marketing ideas. For example, last week I heard that there’s a “National Hammock Day,” which “commemorates the universal symbol for relaxation”. Who knew? Perhaps publishing my book on or near this date might provide publicity opportunities? Although my book is geared toward writers, its message of resilience, flexibility, and cultivating freedom and peace of mind extend well behind this niche. Several ideas come to mind: I could write and pitch stories about relaxation to media outlets when my book launches—and every year after on my book’s “birthday.” I could reach out to special sales clients for bulk sales. Maybe writing associations, organizations, nonprofit groups, or even writers’ clubs might want to purchase copies to give to their author-members as a welcome or thank you gift? The possibilities are fun to consider. And, of course, if you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
But getting back to blogging and newsletters. I’m not saying I’ll never send out another designed newsletter, but for now I’m challenging myself to show up “plain”—just me and my thoughts about my unpredictable journey, in conversation with beloved readers and friends. One of the things I discovered about myself while speaking to a writing mastermind colleague recently is that I’ve spent too much of my life hiding and trying to look good and it’s time to stop and just be me.
Here’s the mission statement I wrote for Dan’s class:
I believe in the power of writing to heal and transform lives, and I view publishing and book promotion as opportunities to deepen self-awareness, nourish meaningful connections, and delight in peak experiences while being of service.
Dan also encouraged me to get clear about my blog’s subject matter, which wasn’t hard to nail down. My blog explores intersections between the writing life, spirituality, and personal transformation and growth. That’s what my new book is about, too. I want to give this project its due. I want to give it space, let it breathe. I’m not in a hurry. Tim Grahal encourages authors to build an audience well before their book launch.
Is this easy? No! Does it diminish your overall creativity and writing output? No! Does it make you immune to vulnerability? No! But, honestly, I wouldn’t want to live any other way. I’m human. I vulnerable. I’m afraid. I take chances. And I sometimes fall on my ass.
There’s no one right way for authors to market their books. What works for one person may not work for another. The key, as I’ve said, is to come from your heart and to be authentic.
This past weekend, while visiting the Descanso Gardens, I took this photo. Bridges literally connect us from one place to another. They are also great metaphors for psychologically transporting us from where we are to where we'd like to go. People can be bridges. So can unexpected situations, or sudden insights. While writing this post, it occurred to me to do some additional, authentic marketing by putting my memoir on sale for the holidays.
Raw is available for $9.99 (no tax and free shipping)—if you buy it directly through my website. I’d be happy to sign the book to you or a friend or family member before mailing it. This offer is good through December 21. If you haven’t ordered a copy yet, please do. And if you read and enjoyed Raw, please consider buying a copy as a holiday gift. Your support means more than I can say.
Thanks for being part of my journey!
These are my favorite books that lay out today’s publishing landscape: The Business of Being a Writer, by Jane Friedman and Green-Light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of Publishing, by Brooke Warner.
These books are excellent for marketing: Online Marketing for Busy Authors: A Step-by-Step Guide, by Fauzia Burke; Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book, by Tim Grahl; and Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience, by Dan Blank.
Do you ever expect yourself to have all the answers? Do you become frustrated and impatient when you don’t know what to do about something in your writing or in your life? Do you get hung up on doing things “right”?
On this week’s mastermind call for women writers, after sharing questions I had around marketing my work, a colleague jokingly said, “You mean you don’t have all the answers, Bella?”
That’s when it hit me: I expect myself to have all the answers and when I don’t, I angst, thinking that I’m getting life “wrong.” Lurking beneath this irrational thought is a need for control. Digging deeper, I find the old, conditioned (mis)belief that somewhere, deep down, I’m not okay—and I need to do something!
This is a lie, an illusion, a trick of the ego.
In Native American lore, the coyote is the trickster. He’s a clever fellow who knows how to express himself, but he’s sneaky. He appears when we least expect it—and fools us. He makes us believe things that aren’t real. He distorts and deceives. For writers, the trickster/ego might say things like Why bother writing? Nobody cares. What do you have to say that could possibly matter?
Writing—and sharing your work—is an act of generosity of spirit. One writer in our mastermind group said that she’s come to think of marketing as a way to love people, because she’s sharing her stories. Sharing our stories is also a way to love ourselves. Stories help us understand the world and our place in it. Stories make us more human, more alive, more courageous, and more loving.
As writers, we make up stories on the page but also in our lives. It helps to be aware of the stories we repeat in our heads rather than become fused with them. We do this when we identify with inner narratives that limit us. For example, many of my students and clients become consumed with stories about what they think they “need” to do. Their to-do lists make them feel as though they are living in a pressure cooker that's about to explode.
Non-Doing is Your Release Valve
The way to ease this pressure is to realize when you’re making up rules or regulations and enforcing them. Ask yourself, “Does xyz have to be done right this minute? Can it wait until tomorrow? Or next week? Is this a ‘must’-do or a ‘want’-to-do? What do I believe accomplishing xyz will achieve? What if I’m okay right now in this moment and don’t need to do anything?”
Dr. Gail Brenner, author of Suffering is Optional: A Spiritual Guide to Freedom from Self-judgment & Feelings of Inadequacy, says, “In the space of non-doing there’s a great perfection in things as they are.”
If deep down, underneath our frenetic thinking, we are fine, then there’s nothing for us to protect or defend. Nothing to do. We can just be. And from this place of being we are free to do what we want (within reason and law) and not pretend that our lives—or our well-being—depend upon it. In other words, we can lighten up!
Another woman from my mastermind group for writers works at a homeless shelter, where she has a “listening post.” She shows up and listens to people. She doesn’t offer advice or try to fix anyone. She just listens.
We can all do this for ourselves: just listen. Our inner tantrum-throwing toddler will eventually get tired and our wise self will emerge to remind us that we are all connected and made of the same miraculous stuff. Underneath our urgency and fear, peace and love reside. When we look in this direction, we realize that we are okay no matter what’s going on. We are more resilient than we think.
Next time you’re feeling pressured to do things “right” or you’re not sure about a next step, consider this: What if there is no “right” way to do things? What if the “right” way is whatever is in your heart? What if you simply choose to trust yourself and follow your inner guidance and wisdom? The great Persian poet Rumi said, “Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there’s a field. I’ll meet you there.” And Hamlet reminds us that “there’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Thought is our inner coyote. It helps us navigate our life, enables us to howl when we must, and even helps cultivate awareness. But when you learn to become a neutral observer of its shenanigans, you gain freedom.
We have to exhale in order to inhale. Let go. Trust life. We may not have all the answers, but the truth is that we do not need them. Learning to live in the questions, befriending uncertainty, and patiently waiting for answers to arise in their own sweet time is a nourishing and liberating practice.
Last week on my mastermind call for women writers and coaches we stumbled into an interesting conversation around this question: “Does writing always have to be ‘fun?’” One writer said something I’ve heard many of my students and clients share: “I’m not crazy about writing, but I love having written.” We all agreed that sometimes writing is fun—but not always—and for some it’s rarely fun.
However, we acknowledged that writing is compelling and engaging; it provides an ineffable satisfaction; we enjoy finding ways to communicate our craft. Some of us felt that our writing process was sacred, holy, and healing. One woman compared it to parenting, which, ideally, is based in love. Neither parenting nor writing is all fun and games, though; there may be equal parts bliss and frustration, joy, and torment—there’s work involved.
This resonated with me and reminded me of a chapter in my forthcoming book: Where Do You Hang Your Hammock: How to Find Freedom and Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book, in which I encourage writers approaching publication to remember why they write. This helps us stay grounded in and connected to our values as we put our work out into the world. It’s a stabilizing practice.
Of course, we all write for different reasons. Here are a few I mention in my book:
• I write because I love stories.
• I write to see what I’m thinking.
• I write to document my experience or someone else’s experience.
• I write to heal.
• I write to change or inspire (myself or others).
• I write to teach or educate—or to learn.
• I write so that I won’t forget.
• I write for posterity.
Don’t get hung up about whether or not your writing is fun. Look at what it gives you. Think of it as a relationship in which give-and-take go hand-in-hand. Consider that there will be good times and bad. This is normal.
That said, you are more likely to enjoy your writing when you allow yourself to write what you want to write with no thought to outcome. Try releasing judgments and expectations toward yourself and your writing. Let your writing exist on its own terms. When you approach your writing open and curious like a child, when you show up and let yourself play and explore, you’re more likely to have fun. The key is to hold it lightly, to let your writing lead you once in awhile. Relinquishing control of your writing, at least sometimes, may be just what you need to rekindle an old flame or encounter a new one!
Sometimes, in the lives of writers, even when things are going well, we become fearful. I see this in myself and also in my clients and students. No matter what’s going on, the inner critic rears its—predictable—ugly head and says things like, “I can’t do this!” and “Who do you think you are?”
When my students and clients come to me with these worries I tell them what I try to remember to tell myself when I’m struggling in this way: Just because you hear those words in your head doesn’t mean that they are true. Leave those thoughts alone. They are not personal. It’s universal doubt and we all have it. Just let those thoughts be. It’s normal to have them. But you don’t have to feed them, or engage them, or believe them. Think of limiting thoughts as clouds—bad weather—that has nothing to do with who you are or what you’re capable of. You are the unobstructed, blue sky.
Your feelings come from your thinking. You may not be aware of your fearful thoughts but your body is a wonderful barometer. Let it be okay to feel what you feel. Move toward your uncomfortable feelings, rather than trying to resist them or push them away. Put one hand over your heart and another over your belly. Breathe. Be with your physical sensations while simultaneously withdrawing your attention away from your thinking. Let the story of why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling fall away. Doing this allows you to feel your emotions and then let them go. They pass more quickly, and on their own. Don’t resist or fight them. Let them be. They will pass, as all thoughts and feelings do when we leave them alone.
Fear is good. It tells you that you are living fully, putting yourself out there and growing. I love what Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic, says about fear. When she starts a new book she knows Fear is coming along for the ride. After all, she’s heading into unknown territory. She tells Fear that he can sit in the back seat of the car for the journey. If he behaves himself he may be allowed to sit in the passenger seat, but he’s not allowed to navigate. And under no circumstances is he to go anywhere near the steering wheel!
We don’t have to let fear drive the steering wheel of our lives. I once dreamed I was entering a sharply curved freeway off ramp when the steering wheel of my car came off in my hands. Oh, shit, I thought, I’m gonna crash. But I didn’t. That’s when I realized I didn’t have to try so hard. I could let go a little—okay, a lot—with both my writing and my life. And as I started loosening my grip, things became easier, more spacious, and slowly, over time, I became freer. It’s a practice. One worth cultivating if you’re looking for freedom and peace within your own body/mind.
How do you relate to your fear? I’d love to hear from you!
Recently a client in her mid-sixties, who was feeling daunted by the work involved with writing, publishing, and promoting a book, asked, “Am I too old to write a book?”
“Absolutely not,” I told her.
I have another client, Irene Sardanis, who published her first book, Out of The Bronx, a memoir, this past spring, at the age of eighty-five. She’s having the time of her life celebrating and promoting it. Has it been challenging? Yes. Has it been hard and scary at times? Yes. Did she have moments when she didn’t think she could do it? Absolutely! But writing and publishing this book has been a highlight of her life. She has grown on multiple levels. The experience has enriched her and has provided wonderful opportunities she hadn’t previously imagined.
It’s not surprising that many women hit their stride and make some of their most meaningful contributions later in life. Many have been taking care of the needs of their families while also working outside the house, which leaves little time for reflection, or the time, space, and quiet that writing requires.
The trick when beginning any new project is to take it one step at a time. Allow yourself to be a beginner. This means opening up to not knowing. It probably means asking for help. It will require you to show up in whatever ways make sense in any given moment.
This will likely feel scary, but that’s a good sign. Fear tells you you’re living fully, putting yourself out there and growing! It’s exciting to expand—and who says we have to stop learning at a particular age! There is no cut-off number for creative productivity unless we ourselves create one. Older women have wisdom and valuable experiences to share.
Writing, publishing, and promoting a book is multi-faceted. Savvy authors know themselves, their values, and their audience. They study the business of writing as well as the art and craft. Some even discover that they enjoy it all! Worlds expand and careers may take off at any age.
It’s not about what we cannot do; it’s about what we can do. And more often than not we’re capable of much more than we think—because we are unlimited beings. Be gentle with yourself as you reach beyond your comfort zone. You’ll be amazed at how you’ll be guided—and holding your finished book in your hand will bring you unimaginable satisfaction, gratitude, and joy! And that will be just the beginning . . .
For more inspiration check out this article on women who published their first book after the age of seventy! https://www.bustle.com/p/women-writers-who-published-their-first-book-after-they-turned-70-18701995
Years ago, my writing mentor suggested I turn my blog into a book. At the time I didn’t understand why that might be a good idea. That stuff’s done; ancient history, I thought--yesterday’s news. But after my memoir was published and I’d spent several months promoting it, I wasn’t ready to begin another writing project. I needed time and space.
I took long, leisurely walks. I wrote in my journal. I sat in silence. I let myself slow down. I listened.
And then one day my blog-to-book project, which felt like it had been if not stalking then at least following me, tapped me on the shoulder. I turned. It stared into my eyes and whispered, “It’s time. Revisit those posts. Do it now.”
It was not the kind of message that feels anxious and unsettling; rather, it came as a clear directive, from a wise, loving source that seemed interested in helping me help others.
Book Writing Made Easier
Before I knew it, I was off and running. The project took over. Although I spent long hours in my office, I never felt like I was working; it felt like I was taking dictation. As I wrote, I felt like I was being given everything I needed. Even when questions arose, their answers sprang to mind before I had time to ponder them. The words were there. Thoughts flowed. New stories came pouring out. It was the easiest writing I’d ever done, and it felt like I’d been given a gift: a new manuscript. Soon, with the help of two trusted colleagues, its title was born: Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? How to Find Freedom and Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book. This project emerged within weeks rather than years—although I’d been writing my blog for over a decade. Small steps taken steadily over time add up to a formidable journey.
Part of me wanted to dismiss and diminish my accomplishment, but then I realized that I’d be an ingrate if I allowed myself to discount something that had felt divinely inspired. So I didn’t take that bait. I remained grateful for the experience, as well as everything I’d learned along the way. I’d discovered why it had been a good idea to turn my blog into a book, and I’d also learned how to do it.
Why Turn Your Blog into a Book?
How to Turn Your Blog Into a Book
Be Open to Change
While your blog is likely filled with great content, especially if you’ve been writing it for years, it may not translate into a book right away. As you work with the material, it will take on a new shape. Be open. Listen. Trust what comes forward. If you’re lucky, you’ll be guided every step of the way and your book, which originated in your blog long ago, will gel into something greater than the sum of its parts.
If you’ve been blogging for years, you may have the substance of a book partially drafted. Culling, organizing, and expanding this material is a gift you give yourself as well as your readers. —But only if you’re called to do it. When thinking about what to write, follow your enthusiasm.
Don’t turn your blog into a book because you think you should.
Do it because the work feels relevant and alive.
Do it because you are not done with the work and the work is not yet done with you!
Post Script: Where Do You Hang Your Hammock: How to Find Freedom and Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book is due out next year.