If you’re a writer, your goal might be to finish writing a book. Or start one. Or publish a book you’ve written. Or perhaps you’ve done that and your goal is to promote it. Maybe your goal is to sell out your print run or win a contest. Whatever your goal, you may think that reaching it will make you happy. But more often than not, as soon as we reach one goal, we create a new one. There’s nothing wrong with this, per se—many of us get a lot done this way—but when we believe that our contentment or joy is somewhere “out there” attached to a goal we have to strive, fight, or suffer in some way to achieve, we live in a perpetual state of wanting, and, in the words of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, we “can’t get no satisfaction.”
Michael Neill, an internationally renowned success coach and author, asks his clients to state their goal and then add the words, “as part of my wonderful life.” So, for example, if your goal is to sell out your print run, you’d say “My goal is to sell out my print run as part of my wonderful life.” This is different from the belief—which may or may not be conscious--When I sell out my print run my life will be wonderful. It may be. But it may not be, especially if you’ve been deferring your happiness or feelings of self-worth and putting conditions on your joy. I’ll be happy when—fill in the blank. This is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Contentment and satisfaction take place in the here and now.
Over the past few years, family illnesses and deaths have challenged me like never before. While I might have referred to earlier times of my life as “wonderful,” that’s not the first word that comes to mind now. Words like hard, heartbreaking, and at times gut-wrenching feel more accurate. Still, I’m discovering that even when the shit hits the fan--especially when the shit hits the fan—there’s still love, beauty, inspiration, and plenty to learn. I’ve been practicing slowing down. I agree with Michael Neill, who says that urgency is insecurity, not wisdom. I’ve also been attempting to surrender my illusions of control and practice acceptance of what is. And I’ve been trying to trust and love more and fear less. It’s a practice. Some days are better than others.
But I’m more likely to experience my life as wonderful—even with “shit” flying in my face—if I have the thought in my head that it can be and often is and keep asking myself questions like, Where’s the beauty here? How can I love more? How can I be of service? This is where shifts in perspective occur; a life can go from wanting to wonderful even when there’s no change in outer circumstances. This is fertile ground.
Our lives matter more than our work. It’s not that your writing isn’t important, but we write within the context of our lives. So honor yourself and your life as the exquisite creative process it is and soak up inspiration wherever you can find it. Look for it in places you might not expect to find it, like in the struggles of others, or in your own aching heart. Be with your challenges. Respect them. And go ahead and set goals—as part of your wonderful life!
Can you see the wonder-fullness of your life even when part of you thinks it sucks? What have life’s biggest challenges taught you? Can you move forward in the direction of your goal while perceiving your life as wonderful? If not, what needs to change right now for you to step into your wonderful life? Please share. I’d love to hear from you.
Most Mondays I wake up raring to go. Some days I hit the ground running, but other days, the sheer number of things I want (and tell myself I “have” to do) paralyzes me. My best defense is to dump everything that’s swirling around inside my head onto the page. This morning my to-do list looked like this:
Meditation and prayers
Write in journal
Write blog post
Re-read last section of memoir
Unpack from trip
Respond to emails
Write birthday thank you notes
Talk to Helen (my daughter)
Consult web designer
I don’t know if I’ll get everything on this list done today. Probably not. It helps to remind myself that it doesn’t matter if it takes me two or three days to complete these items. What does matter is that everything on my list I’m doing for love.
Dr. H. Ronald Hulnick, author, teacher, and world-renowned pioneer in the field of Spiritual Psychology, once told my class at The University of Santa Monica: “The only reason to do anything is for love.” That statement gave me pause. Really? I thought. Part of me wanted to disprove it. I wanted to say that was a luxury few people could enjoy. Would this be true for disadvantaged people? And on and on. But then I stopped myself, and asked, What if this is true? What might my life look like if love motivated my actions? What if I replaced fear with love? Unfortunately, as is the case for many of us, fear motivates a lot of my behavior. I began to wonder how life might be if instead of feeling pressured to do things out of obligation, insecurity, doubt, and fear, I flipped the paradigm on its head and chose to do things out of love.
So I experimented. The result was joy. It’s been interesting to realize that the specifics of what I did every day remained pretty much the same, but how I did things changed. When I realized I was doing what I was doing because of love, life felt lighter. For example, instead of complaining about cleaning my house, I focused on how much I loved my family and my home, and how great it was that I was able to clean my home. It also occurred to me that I was lucky to have a home. Instead of bitching and moaning about how much work it is to be an author, I reminded myself that this work is part of why I’m here. I love it, and I get to share it. How cool is that!
I am sometimes invited to do things I don’t want to do. When this happens, I ask myself, “Where’s the love here?” Maybe it’s connected to a person. Or perhaps it has something to do with the love I feel for a college, institution, or cause. I root around and sniff out the love. If I don’t catch its scent, I say no and move on.
I’m not absolutely positive that Dr. Hulnick’s statement is a maxim, but it’s been a sweet guide in my life and it’s helped me recalibrate everything I do so that I’m looking at my actions through the lens of love.
Recently, Robin Finn, a friend and former student of mine, published her first novel, Restless in L.A. Robin told me months ago, when she signed with her publisher, that her intention was to enjoy bringing her book into the world. And though there have been bumps in the road, which is always the case, she has not strayed from her intention to enjoy the ride. Here’s a great example of a teacher learning from her student, because as I gear up to bring my own memoir into the world next May (2018), I’m going to follow in her footsteps and hold the intention to enjoy the journey—potholes and all! And I’m going to remind myself that I’m publishing my memoir for love. Love for myself and love for others. Publishing is an act of generosity of spirit. It takes courage. The root of the word courage is heart. Anything coming from the heart resides in the neighborhood of love. And when you live there, life is good.
What do you do for love? Please share your thoughts. Hearing from others, making meaningful connections, is one of the things I enjoy most about blogging!
One of my life intentions is to relish the joy of self-expression. But lately I’ve been reluctant to say what I think, especially on social media and in my blog posts. This is partly because posting anything other than politics these days has felt trivial, and political conversations can easily erupt into flames. Putting out wildfires makes me anxious, and I don’t want to live in hatred and fear. I know from experience that crashes are inevitable when anger and fear take over the steering wheel of my life. Another reason I haven’t been relishing the joy of self-expression lately is that when the shit hits the fan, like it has these past few weeks in our country, I tend to think that the problems of the world are so much bigger than I am that nothing I have to say could possibly matter. Of course this isn’t true. It’s a lie fear tells me. I know there’s plenty all of us can do. Especially writers.
And yet, we each have to navigate our own path. We must decide for ourselves what types of advocacy are best suited to our temperaments, personalities, and resources. I’ve been asking myself, How can I serve? How can I do something positive? How can I love myself and others—especially people with whom I disagree? This last question is the hardest. I won’t pretend I have it answered. I just keep asking the question. Every day. And sometimes I’m surprised by what happens.
A few days before my daughter returned to college after winter break, we went to a wholesale florist and bought four dozen white roses. At home, I wrapped each one individually in cellophane and ribbon while my daughter attached handwritten notes that said, “Wishing you a wonderful day. Spread the love.” We handed the roses out to people on the street. Some folks were reluctant to receive; they couldn’t believe the roses were free. “Why are you doing this?” they asked. “We just want to spread some love,” we said, “and bring a little beauty into your life.” Giving really is receiving. We went home with empty buckets and full hearts because of connections and conversations we’d forged with strangers.
Another thing I’ve been practicing a lot lately is my light meditation. I sit for my regular mediation, but position myself in front of a window blindfolded. After twenty minutes, I remove the blindfold and keep my eyes closed. The darkness on the insides of my eyelids is replaced by golden light. I imagine this light inside me; that it’s the real me. In other words, I identify not with my pain, but with this light. I then try to “locate” my elusive spirit. I sit and listen, poised to receive guidance. I bask in the light until I feel that I am this light, which exists in every person on the planet, not just the people I like or agree with, but everyone. I envision the light radiating from every living thing, consider how we are connected, and I pray for us all.
To some this might seem like a waste of time. But for me it’s an essential practice. While anger and fear have their place, they can also be knee-jerk reactions. They are like smog in Southern California in that it’s everywhere. You’re so surrounded by it that often you don’t even notice it anymore. In our culture love is the radical choice, and during these crazy times, I intend to remain sane. The best way I know how to do this is to up my self-care practices: to back away from the ledge when I become dizzy and feel like I’m about to careen into a pit; to turn inward; to appreciate the larger picture of our humanity; to notice the blessings and light; to connect with my heart; to reach out to friends; and to have faith that things unfold the way they do for a reason.
How are you and your writing faring during these turbulent times? I’d love to hear how you’re coping, as well as ideas for random acts of kindness. How do you spread love?
A few months ago, soon after I’d finished writing my memoir, Raw: A Midlife Quest for Health & Happiness, I had the opportunity to share five minutes of my work at a reading. While combing through my manuscript for excerpts, I found myself thinking, Hmm, maybe this writing isn’t as strong as I thought. The writing felt flabby and slow. I found myself tinkering with passages so they’d read better in a shorter timeframe, and wondered if that was okay. In past readings, I’ve mostly read my poems, complete works, each one featuring a beginning, middle, and end.
But my memoir is different. It took time to develop stories in that longer format—time I wouldn’t have in a five-minute reading. I wanted to give my audience the best bang for their buck, to make my reading worth their while. I wanted them with me from the first word to the last. I have been to too many readings where restless audience members pick cuticles, scrimmage inside purses, check iPhones, or stare out windows, all overt cues that they’re desperate for the reader to just finish already. This sucks for writers, but it also means it’s our responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Every time you stand up and read your work, you’re pitching it. If you don’t grab your audience, and keep them with you, they will not buy your book. I’ve given several readings from my memoir since that first one and here’s what I’ve learned: presenting an edited excerpt of your novel or memoir is a gift for your audience as well as your book! In order to most effectively share part of a long-form story in a short-form (time) venue, you will need to compress, collapse, or cut. You may also need to compose transitions, connections, or endings to create a satisfying, standalone experience.
The key is to view a time “constraint” as a container. Make it work for you in the same way specific poetry forms, such as the villanelle, shape a poem. If you honor the requirements of your reading venue and deliver a complete experience, if you craft your work with a particular reading in mind, you have a much better shot of connecting with and entertaining your audience. If you leave them laughing, crying, or nodding their head, they are with you.
I have a three-ring binder with ten edited excerpts from my memoir, along with a list of others I want to develop. At the top of each page I’ve jotted down how long the excerpt takes to read. Please note: read slower than you think you should. Take your time. Plant your feet on the floor. Let your voice rise from your belly.
Edited excerpts will serve you well even if you’re giving a featured reading and have thirty or forty minutes. Remember to consider your audience when choosing passages. Your excerpt filled with sex and “colorful” language, however well edited, might not go over so well at a conservative ladies’ luncheon. This may sound obvious, but I’ve seen authors fall into this trap. You may want to share several edited excerpts that feature different flavors of your story, rather than one or two longer selections. Sadly, attention spans are shorter than they’ve ever been, and while a passage might be perfectly paced in your book, it might not hold a listener’s attention. Consider crafting ten or twenty excerpts of different lengths before it’s time to promote your book. You will be surprised what you can do with five minutes, or less. Being ready to go with as many great, edited clips as possible will make the reading part of your job successful and fun!
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Have you grappled with the problem of reading a passage intended to unfold more slowly in your novel or memoir? Were you resistant, as I was in the beginning, to edit your excerpts? Did you do it anyway? If so, what was the result?
We writers are an ambitious lot. We write books, blogs, and articles. We build platforms, read voraciously, navigate rocky inner and outer terrain, and invest huge amounts of time, energy, and money into our work. We are passionate. Some of us take jobs to support our families and our writing habit. Hours slip away while we toil at our craft. This is all fine—until it isn’t.
Many of us believe happiness and satisfaction will be ours when we achieve a certain writing goal. I don’t know about you, but soon after I achieve one writing goal, another pops up and takes its place. I’ve noticed this pattern in other areas of my life as well. A desire arises in my mind, which is fine, but then I attach and cling to it, and suddenly, without realizing it, my desire has turned into a craving that has control over me. I start working harder and harder to satisfy an unidentifiable hunger. I’m at its mercy.
The only way out of this predicament is to respect my desire, to act upon it, but then to detach from the result. This may sound easy, but it’s been brutally hard to master, especially when I unwittingly fuse my self-worth with my achievements. One thing has nothing to do with the other. Self-worth isn’t something that has to be earned. It’s inherent. We are all worthy. Our value has nothing to do with what we do, nor how well we do it. I understand this—mentally. As ideas. But grasping concepts is not the same thing as putting them into practice.
My striving is like a rat on a wheel. It’s unending. Like the rat, I sometimes go way too fast, and spin myself into a tizzy. At that point, all I want to do is get the hell off, stroll down a tree-lined boulevard, and release myself from the cage of my own making.
Freedom from striving comes when I let go of outcomes. It comes when I realize my job is to show up, do my work, resist the urge to judge it or myself, and fling myself, heart-first, into the wind. The challenge is to lean in, to trust that the universe supports me whether I fly or plunge. Though most of us would rather soar than collapse, both are worthwhile experiences. It’s what we think about them that gets people into trouble. In my meditation practice, I surf this strife as a neutral observer of my thoughts. This cultivates awareness. The Ancient Greek aphorism, “know thyself,” matters. It makes a difference.
Contrary to what I learned growing up, happiness and satisfaction reside within. They too are inherent to all humans, and not contingent upon getting or achieving. Striving for something or someone may bring momentary joy, but it’s a mistake to think something out there will ever bring genuine happiness.
When I get really honest about it, what fuels my striving is the misbelief that I’m not good enough. Wiggling in that can of worms are fears of letting people down, of being an imposter, of not measuring up. When I meet myself in this place, I flood myself with as much love and compassion as possible. I visualize my mother holding me, her baby, in her arms. I imagine the love I felt radiating from her. I didn’t do a thing to earn her love. It was just there. And this love is a gift I must continue to give myself. It’s the only sustenance my hunger requires.
So I step off the treadmill. Soak in a warm tub. Tenderly touch my own cheek. Imagine the places and times in my life I’ve felt cherished, call to mind those people, thoughts, and feelings. Bathe in them, too. Inhale their sweetness along with the scent of French lavender. And then I place my hand over my belly, and breathe.
How about you? What does your striving look like? What’s lurking underneath it? How do you to quell it? I’d love to hear from you.
A few weeks ago I received an email from Jack Grapes, my old writing teacher and mentor, who published my poetry book in 2008. Jack is a well-known and beloved literary figure in Los Angeles who has been teaching for over four decades. His email promoted an upcoming writing workshop offered by a former student of his. I wonder if he’d do the same for me? I thought, in the midst of putting together my fall writing classes.
The next day I put “email Jack” on my to-do list. It didn’t get done. The following day I wrote it again. Usually when I carry over an action item from one day to the next, it gets crossed off my list on the second day. Not this time. For a week the directive to “email Jack” appeared on my list—but it wasn’t getting done. Why is this so hard? I wondered. I knew Jack loved me. I knew he respected my work. Still, asking him to do something for me felt monumental, though I wasn’t sure why.
A week later, feeling uneasy, I forced myself to just do it! Ten minutes after I hit the send button I heard back from him. “I’d be happy to do that,” he responded.
A few days later, after sharing this story with Tracey Brown, my life coach, she asked, “So why was it so hard to write that email?”
It took me a while to get to the heart of the matter: shame. I discovered that deep down I felt embarrassed and ashamed to ask for what I wanted. I felt my request might seem needy, or inappropriate somehow. And from there, the sorry, old, “I’m-not-good-enough” voice, a close sibling to I’m-not-worthy-and-therefore-don’t-deserve-this voice, found its toehold and sprang into action, hoping I’d take the bait and fall. Once I realized my reluctance to ask hadn’t sprung from a fear that he’d say no, but rather, from this feeling of unworthiness to even ask, I knew I’d had enough!
How many times had I been reluctant to make a request of someone I perceived to be more established, successful, or powerful than me? How often had I felt like I didn’t have the right to “bother” or “intrude upon” them? How many times had I reproached myself, saying I shouldn’t need to ask for help? How many times had I berated myself, saying “You should have your shit together—and not need anyone else—especially when it comes to your career!” Talk about “shoulding” all over yourself! I was done feeling crappy.
For years I believed that one of the things writers needed most to succeed was chutzpah. Google defines this Yiddish word as “shameless audacity.” Synonyms are nerve, boldness, and temerity. Hispanics use the word “cojones,” or balls. I used to think writers needed balls of steel. Had my dilemma with Jack been a reminder that I needed to grow a pair? Or toughen up the metaphorical ones I had?
And then it hit me: instead of bigger balls, instead of fighting, I needed to drop down into myself, to connect with that place where absolute tenderness and faith in myself and others resides. The key, I realized, was to be shameless in the sense of understanding that we are all worthy and there’s nothing wrong with asking for what we want. There’s no shame in it; in fact, it’s a blessing. None of us lives alone on this planet. We are part of a community, a web of loving, supportive relationships. We all give and take all the time; these are reciprocal energies. Regardless of our professional accomplishments (or perceived lack thereof), no one is inferior or superior to anyone else. Thomas Jefferson once wrote: “Remember that no one is better than you, but that you are better than no one.”
In order to ask for what we want, we have to know what we want. Sometimes this is clear. Other times we have only inklings and intuitions. Either way, it pays to listen and act upon our desires. Listening is right up there with loving. “The only reason to do anything is for love,” Ron Hulnick, my Spiritual Psychology teacher and President of The University of Santa Monica, once told me. And this starts with loving ourselves. And trusting our worthiness.
Have you found it hard to ask for what you want? What stops you? How do you feel about approaching the many people—agents, editors, publishers, colleagues, etc.—you must interact with throughout the course of your writing career and your life? I know there’s a deep well of wisdom out there on this subject! Please share it.
It’s easy to race from one writing goal to another without stopping to acknowledge a job well done. After all, there’s always more work to do. But it’s important, at times, to pause and relish your achievements, to let them sink in. Otherwise life becomes a state of urgent, perpetual striving.
In the past, my M.O. has been to move full steam ahead. But lately I’ve learned how to rein in the racing horses of my mind. To be present and still and to honor milestones. I reached a major one a few weeks ago when I completed my memoir, RAW: A Midlife Quest for Health and Happiness.
Five years ago when I started writing my memoir, Tracey Brown, my life coach, tried to impress upon me the importance of self-validation, which comes from within. Part of this self-approval process involved learning how to celebrate myself and not expecting someone else to do that for me. This involved taking responsibility for my own satisfaction and joy and recognizing and rewarding my own achievements. At first this felt uncomfortable and I resisted the idea, which felt self-centered, even selfish. But Tracey persisted with this life-affirming, joy-inducing lesson.
With Tracey’s support, upon completion of the first part of my memoir, I treated myself to a trip to the desert, which restored, delighted, and rejuvenated me. I loved it. I don’t recall what I did to celebrate completing part two, but I decided that when I finished writing the third and last part of my memoir I’d take myself to a raw food spa in Malaysia. I let myself have this dream, partly because finishing my memoir felt so far away and seemed like it might never happen.
On August 1, I sent my manuscript to my writing coach and editor, Brooke Warner, and knew it was time to celebrate. However, for a number of personal reasons, a trip to Malaysia doesn’t make sense right now. Still, I wanted to mark the occasion in a way that felt significant, but I had no idea what that might look like. When I spoke to Tracey about it, I resisted every idea that surfaced. I felt embarrassed celebrating myself. I felt self-indulgent and materialistic. Besides, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, especially as I anticipate future editing and publicity costs.
“It’s not about money,” Tracey said. “You can find meaningful ways to acknowledge this milestone that are within your budget.” She also gently nudged me out of scarcity consciousness by reminding me that money isn’t fixed. “You have more coming,” she said. “Trust your radar. Ask yourself, ‘How can I honor myself in light of this milestone?’”
I took her question into my meditation practice. The first image that materialized in my mind’s eye was flowers. So I did something I’ve never done before: I had flowers delivered to my home from me. I also bought myself a card that said, “Congratulations,” and wrote myself a love letter in my journal. I took a day off work and poked around my favorite shops—and discovered a few new ones. I bought myself an Indian shawl, lavender with gold threads, to use as an altar cloth, where I meditate and write in my journal. And I’m in the process of having three thin bands of gold—yellow, white, and rose—made to wear as stacking rings, symbols for body, mind, and spirit, the three sections of my book. I hope these rings will remind me of my commitment to love and honor my relationship with my body, mind, and spirit. I hope looking at them will call to mind the fine work I’ve done, my perseverance, dedication to craft, and my love for writing—and life. This feels self-honoring. This brings me joy, as well as moments of pause, which transport me back to the present moment, where life unfolds. I am here. Now. Filled with gratitude.
How do you celebrate your writing accomplishments? I’d love to hear from you.
Slow down. Make time in your busy life to turn inward for answers. You are not a headless chicken; you are a reservoir of wisdom. Dip into your own well. Take time each day to make a meaningful connection with yourself first, and then with others.
Be where you are. Learn how to be more present in your life. Trust that you have everything you need and that things are unfolding perfectly in their own time. Replace desperate striving with deliberate actions that are in alignment with your values. Know what you value.
Have fun. Do things because you enjoy doing them. Sure, there are things you have to do. But much of what you think you “have to” do may only be “have-to” in your own mind. Distinguish between the two.
Decide what stories you’re going to believe. Most of us, without realizing it, tell ourselves a heap of lies. A common one is I’m not good enough. This is ridiculous. We’re all doing the best we can with the gifts we’ve been given. I came upon this quote recently: “As you grow, you will see that the idea of needing to earn worth and value is as irrelevant as needing to earn the air you breathe.” I don’t remember where I read this. I think my spiritual psychology teachers, Ron and Mary Hulnick, may have said it.
Another lie people get suckered into believing is that they’ll be happy when xyz happens. Fill in the blank. But when that dreamed-of thing or event happens, your impossible-to-please ego reaches for another goal to obsess over, keeping happiness just out of reach. Instead of falling into this trap, try choosing happiness—for no reason. If that’s too challenging, try adding some altitude to your attitude. The best way to do this is to look around and be grateful for what’s good. Count your blessings. Ask yourself what you might you do differently if your mind wasn’t hoodwinked into believing its own crippling narratives. Learn to see sparks of light in dark storms.
Let go of your ego. Let it drift up into thin air; refuse to be ruled by it. As the needs of your ego dissipate you’ll be free to let go of other things as well: the need to be or look a certain way; your concerns about what others think of you; stuff you no longer need that’s cluttering your home; habits and behaviors that drag you down; inner critics who spew crap into your ear that you adopt as your defining truth. Refuse to believe criticisms such as, No one will care what I have to say, or What right do I have to express myself? Pull the covers off inner chatter that hisses, Don’t be a show off. Don’t call attention to yourself. Don’t make waves. Hide.
Loosen your grasp on worry, which, according to the film Thanks for Sharing, is nothing but “a mediation on shit.” You can do better. Return to the present moment. Worrying about the future will not help you prepare for it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re worrying about the future. Stop. Come back to this moment. Right here. Right now.
Remember to put first things first. Sometimes when I go on social media sites, I can’t believe the noise. And I feel like I don’t want to contribute to the racket—to the endless cyber chatter. But then I realize I feel that way because I’m attempting to participate in a larger conversation before I’ve checked in with myself. This brings me back to where I began: slow down and check in with yourself. Listening to your inner wisdom is the best preparation I know for surfing life’s waves and weathering its storms. Balance, like so many other aspects that affect our happiness, comes from within.
How do you find happiness as a writer? And as a human being? I’d love to hear from you. Please share your wisdom.
A couple weeks ago I watched daily video interviews with coaches, speakers, therapists, and social media gurus on a free online summit called “Write Because it Matters,” hosted by Dawn Montefusco.
Some of what I saw inspired me. It was great to see fellow coaches getting themselves out there and sharing their messages. It gave me ideas about building my business and platform, and inspired me to roll up my sleeves and dig into the second-to-last chapter of my memoir, which I’d been avoiding.
But there was also information and conversation that didn’t resonate with me, such as Montefusco’s conviction that “Books ‘should’ be written in ninety days.” I don’t agree with this at all. Some stories take time. For example, I had to work intermittently on my memoir, RAW: A Midlife Quest for Health & Happiness, when five family members died over three years. The events I lived through became part of my story. That never would have happened if I’d hammered out a draft in ninety days.
I’ve been a writing teacher and coach for over a decade so I understand the importance of giving the unconscious mind free reign while composing. I also appreciate the power of deadlines, but there are many ways to write a book. Our task as creative beings and writers is to get out of our own way, and to allow what wants to come through us to do so—in whatever ways it needs to come. We are not always in control of that process. My students, clients, and I have grown when we’ve surrendered our agendas, our egos, and our ambition to our deeper wisdom. This is the intelligence we trust not only to guide what we write, but also how we write. Sometimes slowing down—in writing and in life—is what’s needed.
Many of my clients are successful professionals—attorneys, therapists, and entrepreneurs—with demanding workloads. And families. While some people have the time, space, and desire to crank out a book, others don’t. This doesn’t mean they’re doing it wrong, or that they “should” be working differently. The only magic formula for writing books—if there is one—is for each writer to know herself well enough to know what works for her.
And this is the key to navigating the chaos of the experts. Know that you are the expert of your work and of your process. In my writing classes, when a student’s work is being discussed, I tell that writer to sit back, take a breath, and jot down who is saying what about their work. I ask them to record rather than respond to what’s being said, and to listen. Later, in the privacy of their workspace, they can evaluate the comments, taking into consideration who said what. I ask them to consider what feels true for them on a visceral level. It’s their story. There’s no right or wrong answer. The trick is to slow down, to get quiet enough to hear your own voice—and trust it!
This process requires a clear intention and conscious effort, especially in a world bombarded with newsletters, emails, ads, texts, social media, conferences, classes, and more. I don’t know about you, but the busier, faster, and louder the world becomes out there, the greater my need for peace, clarity, and calm in here.
Any time you hear an expert wield the “should” word, pause. Ask yourself, “Is this true? Does this feel authentic? Is this a thought I want to invest my belief dollars in?” We are all in choice about our beliefs, whether we’re conscious of that or not. Part of our work as creative writers is to turn inward for truth. It’s fine to enlist the help of teachers and guides, but choose them wisely. Not everyone will uplift and inspire you, though you may still learn from them. If you treat these interactions the same way my students handle critiques, you’ll know on a gut level what’s useful and what’s not—and you won’t give away your power, especially when you remember that no one is the architect of your story, and your life, but you.
One guest I watched on the “Write Because it Matters” Summit was Kevin Knebl, a speaker, author, and coach who procrastinated delivering a first book to McGraw-Hill, and ended up writing it sequestered in a hotel room over forty-eight hours. That’s one way to meet a deadline, but not the one I’d choose. The best part of his interview, aside from his down-to-earth effervescence, was this comment: “Small activities repeated over time produce massive results.” Writers, take the time you need. Beware of rushing, which some people do to avoid feeling. Most agents will tell you their best advise is “Don’t rush.” Your work needs to stand out and be polished. Give it the care it deserves. Give yourself the care you deserve. Don’t be in a hurry. I’m not suggesting you drag your feet and throw yourself a procrastination pity party—I’m asking you to respect your process.
In writing and in life, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. The key is to take what you like—what resonates, what feels true, and what uplifts you—and leave the rest. This requires discrimination, focus, self-awareness, and a willingness to be your own expert.
I attended my first AWP conference and book fair this year, where I feasted on literary and writing business delicacies, along with over 12,000 other attendees. After reviewing over 550 offerings, I selected fourteen panels, which I attended over three days. It was a treat to see SWP Publisher Brooke Warner speak on the panel: “A New Girl’s Network: Lessons From The Movement of Equal Voice,” and SWP editor and Grammergency blogger Annie Tucker, who spoke on the panel, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting A Redline.”
There were many other inspiring and instructive panels, but the very first one I attended—“Book Launch Confidential: Marketing Made Smarter, Not Harder”—covered important topics I’d like to share here. What follows was gleaned from my notes on this session and represent the ideas of panelists Lynne Griffin, Michelle Toth, Eve Bridburg, and Michael Blanding, members of GrubStreet’s Book Launch Lab, a team of writing professionals in Boston, dedicated to bringing community and joy (yep, joy!) to the business of writing.
This process begins with what the Launch Lab refers to as the “Logic Model.” They encourage writers with books coming out to create a marketing plan unique to themselves and their goals, both personally and professionally. In order to do this, they suggest writers get clear about why they write by drafting a focused, intentional mission statement. Questions to help you with this process are: What do you want to accomplish with your writing? Why are you producing books? What do you want to offer, and to whom?
After you’ve clarified why you write, the Launch Lab team asks you to define success for yourself and your writing career. Success doesn’t come in one-size-fits-all. What might success look like if you dispensed with somebody else’s vision of it, which you may have bought into without realizing? Define success on your own terms; honor your authentic self. To do this, explore these questions: How do I want to spend my time? What activities enrich my life? Take an energy inventory. Ask yourself which activities give you energy and which ones deplete you. Also, ask yourself how you will know if you are successful. Define specific goals for your book. Success can be measured in qualitative terms, which are emotional, and may show up as enjoyment, connections, recognition, and learning. It can also be measured in quantitative terms, which bring tangible results, such as books sales, columns, future book deals, job opportunities, reviews, and distribution.
After you’ve explored your mission and defined success, you’re ready to begin your book launch campaign. To start this process, make an honest self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. What activities align with your mission statement? Which ones are congruent with your definition of success? Which tasks do you enjoy? If you hate blogging, don’t do it. If you love Twitter, tweet away. If public speaking tickles your fancy, book as many gigs as possible. If teaching brings you alive, do that. Don’t try to do it all—because you can’t. It’s impossible. Pick and choose what’s consistent with your values, dreams, and goals. Know yourself. Just as we can’t be all things to all people in our lives, we can’t follow every expert’s advice about how to promote our books. This is what it means to work smarter, not harder.
In a world where many of us function at a frantic pace, it makes sense to slow down and proceed with self-awareness and intention. It’s easy, as writers forced to wear many hats, to lose sight of what’s important. We are writers first. According to the GrubStreet gang, creative writing matters because it “explores and documents the human condition and creates meaning in the lives of those who practice it. The act of writing can change both ourselves and the world.” This is the promise. Maybe this is why over 12,000 people showed up at AWP’s 2016 conference. The fact that over 550 offerings were presented to attendees speaks to the busyness of our world. Clarity and simplicity, in the midst of all this, is ours for the taking. It’s up to us to back away, turn within, know what’s true, and plan our book launch campaign from a place of self-knowledge, confidence, and connection.
How do you work smarter not harder? Or have you been trekking the tedious path? I’d love to hear book launch stories of all kinds. Was your launch joyful? Gut-wrenching? Are you planning a launch? What are you anticipating or dreading? Please share your wisdom.