Category archive: Following Your Bliss

Why It’s Okay to Be Messy

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(Where the hell’s my sanity? I know I put it here somewhere . . .)

I’m blogging today to talk to you about a dirty little word that begins with “M.” That’s right . . . messy. You may have noticed by now, but life is messy. It doesn�t go in neat, ordered little rows the way we want. If life were a garden, it would not be a topiary. It would be more like a jungle�wild and unfettered!

Messiness Versus The Plan

When I was younger (many eons ago) I was wound so tightly you couldn�t pull a pin out of my tush with a tractor. I had to know what I was going to do every minute of every day so that I could follow The Plan.

A close relative of mine thought life had to be lived according to The Plan, as if inconvenience and do-overs were forbidden. If even the slightest thing didn�t go according The Plan, it was The Worst Thing Ever. This applied to road detours the same way it did unexpected pregnancies. That was his level of reaction.

It took me years to learn things did not have to be this way. They could go Not According to The Plan and still turn out all right�even fun. Like puttering around in an unorganized garden, or a wild jungle.

Messiness for the win

It�s understandable that we get annoyed when things do not go According to The Plan. A doctor�s visit makes us run late (heaven forfend the doctor should be on time). Our flight gets delayed. Our baby throws up on us more than usual. Anyone would get aggravated at these.

But it�s okay to see re-arrangement of things�the correcting of mistakes�as the norm rather than the exception. You reschedule the doctor�s appointment. You take another flight. You change your shirt during mealtime�again.

Today, if I have to re-arrange something, it�s no big deal. Of course, part of this is due to the fact I no longer work a 9-5 schedule. I don�t have to worry about cramming errands into my thirty minute lunch �hour,� or hoarding vacation days like Ebenezer Scrooge did his gold.

This leaves plenty of time for messiness and mistakes to happen (often in the same day). It gives me a messiness �cushion,� if you will. And that was a conscious decision. Originally, I took an enormous cut in both pay and job security in order to seat myself on that cushion. I didn�t have any dependents, so to me, the cushion was worth it.

Is a lifetime of messiness for you?

I don�t mean to imply that quitting your day job is the best solution for everyone. To some, it would create more problems than it would solve. But there are other ways to build messiness cushions into your day.

The advice is nothing new: stop setting high expectations, or overscheduling yourself. Determine what you can reasonably accomplish in a day�then subtract a few things. Say no (if you can) to tasks that would make you miserable or that you don’t have time for–without feeling guilty.

It may seem like you�re getting less done, but if you factor in messiness, you probably weren�t getting everything on The Plan (or The List) done anyway. Messiness was creeping in. The only thing The Plan did was make you crazy when you couldn�t follow it to the letter.

Which, if you look closely enough, had a hidden capital �M.� For �Messy.�� :-)

P.S. They say “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. So the gift of messiness can be applied not only to one day, or your to-do list, but to an entire lifetime. Often, you can be surprised at the good things that happen despite major derailments.

What were some of the best, most unexpected, messiest things that happened to you? Tell me in the comments!

(Top image: aliwest44)

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Why I Hate Picasso: Thoughts on Writer Inspiration

Picasso: this man will NOT help writers get inspired

(See this guy? Yeah . . . I’m not a fan)

Rumor has it that the late, great Picasso once said something like this:

“I don’t know what inspiration is, but when it comes, I hope it finds me working.”

I won’t lie: I’m not a big fan of Picasso. I don’t pretend to understand his art. The way he treated women was appalling. But it’s the quotation above that really makes me want to kick his little ass.

We’re artists. Inspiration isn’t a luxury. Inspiration is necessary for what we do.

Why writers need inspiration

There are those who will tell you that being an artist or writer is just like any other job. You don’t hear doctors or lawyers complaining about not being “inspired” by their work, and by golly, neither should we! We should just tough it out, plug along, and be miserable in our chosen professions.

Bullspittle. First of all, being a good doctor or lawyer should be a lifelong calling (just like being an artist). So if you’re one of those things and you’re not inspired, it’s still a problem. But it’s also a whole ‘nother blog post, so I’m gonna leave it alone for now.

Being an artist is different than being a doctor, lawyer, or anyone who works within a system whose outcomes are limited. Sure, sometimes a doctor may find a miracle cure for a patient, or lawyers manage to get an innocent person off death row at the 11th hour.

But most days, these professionals are dealing with a set of circumstances with known variables.

Doctor: “Either we will find cancer in that exploratory surgery or we won’t. If we do, we offer the patient options: more surgery, chemo, radiation, etc.”

Lawyer: “Defendant is accused of a crime, which, if she is convicted, carries specific penalties. We must go through steps a, b, and c in an attempt to prove her innocence, or introduce reasonable doubt into her case.”

Artist (positioning herself in front of keyboard or canvas): “I must come up with something no one has ever seen before, choosing from a range of possibilities and combinations that are infinite. Oh, and I have a deadline.”

Not exactly the same professions, are they?

Inspiration is part of the writer’s toolbox

Now, in no way do I want this to be misconstrued as a complaint about my chosen career. I am jackpot-lucky to be a writer. Really, I wake up every day and want to pinch myself. If food and rent were free, I wouldn’t charge a dime for what I do. Nor do I wish to argue how/why being a doctor/lawyer is more important than being a writer–or not.

It’s just that I take issue with the hard-asses who think inspiration is a namby-pamby, frilly-shilly, coddling psychobabble meant for the weak of heart. The smart doctor or lawyer makes sure she gets a good night’s sleep, has a hearty breakfast (with coffee), and goes to work with the tools of her trade sharpened and at her disposal.

Like the artist’s canvas and brushes and a writer’s lined pad or keyboard, inspiration is a tool of our trade. It’s necessary for what we do. It’s not a luxury we can afford to wait for, or hope it will just “come along” while we’re working.

Surrounding yourself with things, people, and ideas that inspire you will make your work a whole lot easier. The slog, tedium, and just plain unpleasantness we think is part of this “job” will decrease dramatically, and at times even vanish completely.

How writers find inspiration

Maybe it’s a playlist, or a favorite quotation tacked to your wall. Maybe it’s a collage you made of the reasons you’re an writer. Maybe it’s a drawing of what a favorite character in your novel looks like. But whatever it is, make sure you have it at the ready when you start working, because life is too short to live uninspired.

You know what they say: “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.” Life is not a sentence to be served, as if disease had already claimed your body, or you were convicted of a crime you didn’t commit. Life is supposed to be inspired and joyous.

Yes, even for lawyers. But like I said, that’s a whole ’nother blog post. 😉

What do you think? Is inspiration a writer’s right? Tell me in the comments.

(Top image by Voyages. Doesn’t that name sound inspiring?)

Is Suffering Necessary?

Is this really necessary?

I want to take a moment today to talk to you about something near and dear to my heart. No, not chocolate . . . I’m talking about suffering.

Most gurus will tell you that suffering is necessary for life, for wisdom, for growth, yadda yadda yadda. But what if they’re wrong? What if there are other ways to learn–ones that don’t have to hurt, but still lead to our desired outcomes?

What if our idealization of suffering . . . is wrong?

Why we love suffering

Why do we love suffering? Well, we don’t, really. What human beings love is meaning. We want to believe there is direction and purpose to the things we do. But here’s where it gets sticky: we assign meaning to our suffering by associating it with gain. We think, “If something was difficult, painful, or uncomfortable, at least it was worthwhile.”

Then we commit the logical fallacy of saying that because something is difficult it must be worthwhile. But one doesn’t necessarily follow the other. By believing it does, human beings make life harder than it has to be. It is possible to suffer needlessly–with no eventual learning or growth attached.

Sometimes, I wonder if we’re afraid to admit this is a fallacy in the first place. That stockholder making millions because it was a good trading day? He may have been putting forth no more effort than it took to sit on his tush.

What about his housekeeper, who works day and night to clean his floors? I doubt she’ll see as much gain for her efforts, although she certainly works harder. She suffered, he didn’t. Yet his is the greater gain. (But income inequality and suffering is a whole other post, so I’ll stop here).

Sometimes, we can choose not to suffer

If you’re going through something incredibly unpleasant, there are two possibilities: either it is necessary, and good may come of it, or it isn’t necessary, and you must find a way to eliminate it.

An example of the former may be having surgery to remove an inflamed appendix. An example of the latter is making book-writing as agonizing as humanly possible. The wisdom comes in knowing the difference.

Kick suffering to the curb

Can one not learn through bliss, through joy? Who among us has not known the perfect serenity found in a sunset? Who hasn’t needed a reminder that watching three hours of straight reality-tv is much-needed antidote to actual reality? Who hasn’t realized that taking a break to do something fun–whether it be a five-minute coffee break or a two-week vacation–can actually make us more productive?

Maybe suffering isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

No pain, no gain? no way!

Maybe, if something makes you unhappy . . . you shouldn’t be doing it. Again, this takes a certain level of clarity to apply to life. Dentist visits are no fun. But on the downside, if you don’t go, all your teeth may fall out.

But if something’s making you miserable, don’t assume it has to make you miserable. Did it ever occur to you that the misery might be harming you? That it’s actually what’s holding you back?

The fallacy that there will be an ultimate gain may be keeping you in a vicious cycle. You assume it’s hard because it is good, and good will come because it is hard. Look closer. If you didn’t operate under this assumption of misery, are there things you could do make XYZ more fun/bearable?

Now regardless, go do them. 😉

When have you learned from suffering in your life? When have you learned through joy? Tell me in the comments!

(Top photo by storyvillegirl)

Writing is a Magical Journey

The magical journey never has to end. Just ask Frosty here. 😉

Sigh. It’s the end of the holidays, and I must admit, this time of year always gets me a little down. When Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, and Christmas are gone, it’s like a little bit of magic has left the world. Don’t misunderstand–I’m excited about New Year’s, and don’t even get me started on Valentine’s Day (one word: candy).

But I found a way to keep the magic going, and not just till you can gorge yourself on chocolate in the middle of February. To explain how, we must first take a little trip back in time . . .

Summer, circa 1992

I hated my Girl Scout sleep-away camp, to which I was exiled for two weeks every summer. I missed my bed, my t.v., and my privacy. Also my indoor plumbing.

At night it was too cold to sleep, even in July. One time, squirrels chewed through my brand new neon pink bag the first night and ate all my home-brought snacks. With our cabin on the water, I got 68 mosquito bites (yes, I counted) within two days, including one on my eyelid that swelled it shut.

Oddly enough, it was the only one that didn’t itch.

Waiting on magic

Although I appreciated the care packages from home (the ones with letters, extra scrunchies, and edible food), I couldn’t help but feel something was missing. Standing on the rocks, looking over the water, I thought of all those magical journeys kids seem to go on in movies and books. I was barely twelve then, and still believed such things were possible.

Please please please let something like that happen to me. Let my cabin be blown away by a tornado—with me still in it—so I can visit a magical land. Let me be kidnapped by fairies (but don’t let them be too mean). Let a ship suddenly pass by that desperately needs my help to save Narnia. Again.

I would be perfect for something like that, I begged the gods. I don’t fit in here. I don’t fit in anywhere. Nobody likes me, and they don’t really believe in magical stuff anyway. But I do! I’d always be stalwart. I’d always be true. I would never stop believing.

Leaving magic behind

No tornado blew my cabin away that day. I was not, to my chagrin, kidnapped by fairies–mean or otherwise. The Dawn Treader did not pass over Upper Saranac Lake. But I did become a writer.

Not right away, unfortunately. For many years afterward, I gave up. I did what I swore I’d never do: I stopped believing. If I couldn’t be the special “chosen one” as a child, then I might as well resign myself to a boring, practical life. A life without magic, faith, or inspiration. My own personal version of hell.

The magic of writing saved me

At some point, I realized that being a writer is like getting to go on a magical journey every day. You can to include all your favorite things,  people, and snacks. Others can join you at any point (these are called Readers). If you don’t like the ending–unlike in real life–you can change it. It’s an adventure that’s totally personalized, because only you can tell it.

If you’re a writer or reader, the magic never has to end–not ever. You can always pick up a pen, another book, or another chapter, and it’s there just waiting for you. Every day can be your Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Christmas, or even Valentine’s Day. There’s no end to the fresh starts you can make.

So that’s my thought as this year draws to a close. What magic do you hope to experience in 2014? Tell me in the comments. And HAPPY NEW YEAR! 😀

(“Frosty” the Snowman by mysza831)

Why You Have What it Takes to Be a Writer—Right Now

kid writing

I’m going to be a real writer if it kills me, dammit!

As we come to the tail end of NaNoWriMo and Thanksgiving week, it’s no wonder you’re likely burnt out. Whose genius idea was it to put a major holiday in the same month as a writing marathon, anyway?

But after all the coffee is drunk, the turkey is basted, and you’re at your desk up to your neck in crumpled paper balls, you may be wondering if it was worth it. Were the 50K words you wept, bled, and sweated over enough to make you a “real” writer? What if you never find an agent, a book deal, a place on the bestseller list?

Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to worry about any of that. Not that it wouldn’t be lovely if we all received material rewards for our efforts. A writer’s gotta eat, after all. 😉 But no matter what happens–if you pounded out 50K, 10K, or zero K, you have what it takes to be a real writer, right here, right now.

Everything you need to be a writer

When I was in college, my theater appreciation instructor said there were only two things you needed to succeed in an acting career: talent and chutzpah. In terms of being a professional writer, I’d also add “perseverance.” And that’s it. (Okay, I’d argue that “luck” is a fourth criteria, but I won’t focus this post on what you can’t control).

The bottom line is, you don’t need gobs of money. You really don’t need connections You don’t need good looks (though I suppose it would be a bonus). You just need an imagination, a keyboard, and a really strong will. And you have all those things right now–I guarantee it. You have everything you need to succeed as a writer.

You are a real writer—so don’t give up!

To those who had a fantastic NaNoWriMo and are on their way to celebrating with turkey and football, I say “congratulations.” But to those who feel discouraged, who are about to drown their sorrows in pumpkin and pecan pie, there is hope.

You have what it takes. You have it right now. Don’t give up because you think you don’t, or you feel it’s taking too long.

Don’t think about tomorrow. Just write for today . . . and tomorrow will take care of itself.

Did your NaNoWriMo go better or worse than expected? How do you keep up the perseverance to write even when things don’t go well? Let me know in the comments, and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!! 😀

(Top image by milena mihaylova)

Must-Have Books to Inspire Writers

Words about inspiration

It’s NaNoWriMo, everyone! For those of you who may be unaware,National Novel Writing Month is a time when all authors and would-be authors tear their hair, gnash their teeth, and vow to get 50,000 words out, no matter what! But inevitably, the coffee starts running low, the inspiration flags, and you fear your wordcount will grind to a halt.

If or when that happens, you need an emergency dose of writer inspiration. That’s why I put together this quick list of books to get your creative juices flowing again. Fair warning: the list is very eclectic, which is the diplomatic way of saying “mish-mashed.” All I know is that these books have all inspired me as a writer at one time or another. I hope they do the same for you.

Books to inspire the writer in you

I loved A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle so much in high school that I insisted our school librarian get a copy for us–and he did! I admire the way the author finally quit the ad game, and after many years moved to a place in France with his wife. (Side note: it always amazes me how many creative types are wasted in advertising). It’s clear from Mayle’s writing that he appreciates life–even when things go wrong. This may be something we writers need to do more often when seeking inspiration!

A Room of Her Own, by Chris Casson Madden. An inside look at the quiet, peaceful spaces that inspire writers and other creatives. And don’t let the pronoun fool you–a sensitive male writer could easily find himself inspired by the rooms in these pages!

The Prophet, by Kalil Gibran. This is a great book for when you need faith and inspiration as a writer, or just in general. One of the nice things about it: it can be enjoyed by people of different religions—or those who hold to none at all. It’s very user-friendly that way. When things aren’t going well in your writing world (or your world in general), ol’Kalil is there for you.

Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul. I always start out reading this series rolling my eyes and thinking, “OMG, this is so corny. There’s no way I’m going to be drawn in by these sappy stories that someone probably just made up what do you mean there’s none left and why am I crying???” Because you will find inspiration as a writer here and you will like it!

Don’t Sleep With Your Drummer, by Jen Sincero. Even though it’s fiction, this could easily be a manual on how not to lose hope in the midst of creative versus real-world meltdown. Also pee-in-your-pants funny.

Where do writers get their inspiration?

What about you, fellow writers? What books inspire you to keep going? Let me know in the comments!

(top photo by photosteve101)

Why You Should Take More Chances

Sometimes, you just have to JUMP!

Very often, a novel’s theme (many times a YA novel) revolves around consequences. Consequences with a capital “C.” If you do “A,” you’ll suffer “B.” Once you suffer “B,” there is no going back to your regularly scheduled life. It has been irrevocably altered for the worse. There’s nothing to look forward to but an old age of sorrow and regret.

Does this sound familiar?

I think the message gets especially translated to girls in terms of sexual activity (nevermind that boys typically aren’t given the same message). Now, I’m certainly not advocating unprotected sex and the resulting rampant STD’s and unplanned pregnancies.

But the message seems to be more controlling than that. It becomes about a girl’s reputation, her social standing in her school, her community. There is still a real taboo against not only taking chances, but deviating from the norm and its expectations in any way.

“Don’t peek in the closet, little girl. Don’t you know dangerous things lurk in there? Never mind the self-knowledge, deep-seeded love, and mind-blowing orgasms. You just leave those things alone.”

You know the message we give kids that “it’s okay to be different?” It’s quite another thing in practice. So is the concept of taking chances.

Taking chances isn’t just for kids

Things get even worse when we read “grown-up books.” “Don’t take chances,” too many adult novels seem to say. “That’s fine when you’re a kid. After all, you have time to mess up and try again.”

Never mind that messing up never really stops, nor should it. After all, we’re only human. Sometimes, messing up is the only way we learn.

The adult books try again.”Teenagers should work on discovering themselves,” they protest, “but after that, their lives are set for, well, life.”

Not so. Self-discovery is an ever-evolving, ongoing process that cannot and should not stop until we drop dead. Plus, it can be fun! Yes, even when you mess up. Sometimes because you mess up.

What’s a Polish wedding got to do with it?

There’s a scene in the movie Polish Wedding where Claire Danes’ (pregnant) teenage character faces the wrath of the townsfolk for daring to have sex. I forget the exact circumstances, but she is walking up an aisle towards a figure of the Virgin Mary. Her character is not yet sporting a baby bump. Anyway, it’s her job to place a wreath on Mary’s head, and she’s about to do so when someone in the audience cries out “She’s pregnant!”

They were referring to Claire Danes’ character, not the Virgin. Natch. 😉

Anyway, the rest of the audience starts jeering. They call “Claire” all kinds of names, and generally express their shock that she, of all people, is the one placing the wreath on the Virgin’s head. After all, she’s apparently not a virgin herself. She looks into the statue of Mary’s eyes and asks “What should I do?”

Then she turns around, jams the wreath down on her own head, and says to the townsfolk, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

True, it was fiction. But I still thought it was the most incredible thing I’d seen in my life. This girl took societal expectations (that she should hang her head in shame and retreat to the shadows), and threw them back at her detractors.

She made the mistake of having unprotected sex. It had consequences. Life went on. And she and the baby were eventually very happy.

Taking chances: the secret of the universe

Do you really think that if no one ever took chances (related to sexuality, career, what-have-you) we would all remain safe? That people wouldn’t take chances unless there was a possibility of benefit?

Consequences to our choices are inevitable. But here’s the secret of the universe:

The consequences are not always bad.

Or they are not always as bad as you think. You may even see them as good after a few years pass. You may see them as good sooner than that. Hell, you may see them as good even when no one else does.

The benefits of taking chances

Here are a few good things that can come from taking chances:

  • You may meet someone new and important in your life
  • You may help someone
  • You may learn something
  • You may just have a great freakin’ time

Human beings are biologically built to take chances. To seek and explore. To tinker and investigate. Without this innate drive, we would never have discovered things crucial to life, such as fire, antibiotics, or air-conditioning.

I would just like to reiterate that I am not advocating reckless or irresponsible behavior. I am only saying that taking calculated risks is essential to life, and sometimes negative outcomes have positive aspects.

Mice, men, and taking chances

And what about the phrase “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray?” You can do everything right–everything “they” say you should–and still come out at a loss.

This happens a lot, people. A lot. I don’t mean to make you panic if you’re following the beaten path, as long as it’s the one for you. But I think plans “go astray” for a variety of reasons. One of them may be that you’re not following your heart (no, it’s not just a concept for kids. But that’s a topic for another post). 😉

When I was in college, we had a guest speaker who said something I’ll never forget. I can’t remember the lady’s name, so please forgive me for not citing her directly. However, the paraphrased version is this: “I have considered every option, debated endlessly on the right course of action, and still screwed up royally.” I think this happens more often than those who warn of “consequences” like to admit.

So take reasonable chances, knowing that only you can define what is reasonable.

Be fearless: take those chances!

There are consequences to every course of action. Ill-advised and well-considered. Spontaneous and planned. Undeniably genius and incredibly stupid. But there will be consequences nonetheless, and failing to take action because you fear them leaves you nowhere.

The word “consequences” has such a sinister, foreboding sound, doesn’t it? A negative connotation attached to the entire word. Poor “consequences.” We never give it a chance.

We never know how good those consequences can really be.

(And here is a quick poem to illustrate my point) 🙂

What chances have you taken that you don’t regret, even if the outcome was poor? Tell me in the comments.

(Top image by ClickFlashPhotos)

How to Make Writing Fun

 (Why did I become a writer? WHY??)

“I love almost every part of writing. Writing is what I clawed my way up from hell to do.” –Ilana Waters (yes, I just quoted myself)

“Writing is fun, easy, and enjoyable. If you want hard work, go dig a ditch for a water pipe on a golf course in a steady rain on a cold day. That’s work. Sitting at a computer and making stuff up just isn’t work. It’s a dream job.”

“Because our task is so easy and so much fun, we have to make it seem harder to those around us, and to ourselves, otherwise we get no credit for all the ‘hard work’ we do every day.”

–Dean Wesley Smith

What kind of writer are you?

I imagine there are two kinds of writers reading this post.

The first kind says “How to make writing fun? You mean writing isn’t already fun?”

The second kind says “God, yes—please tell me how to make writing more fun! And by the way, I hate that first kind of writer.”

Now, I’m not here to referee between the writer types. I brought neither my referee shirt, nor my boxing gloves, nor my shatterproof, blood-repellant goggles. If you are writer #1, perhaps this post will make writing even more fun.

(Full disclosure: I consider myself a “writer #1.” Please don’t hate me).

But if you’re writer in the second camp, which seems to be more often the case these days, I hope this post will be useful. Be forewarned: there are certain things I can’t do to make writing easier and more fun. I can’t make the baby stop crying, the house clean itself, or the sticky plot mess suddenly . . . unstick.

But I can tell you what works for me. Maybe it will work for you too.

What keeps us from enjoying writing?

To get started, here are some of Mr. Smith’s suggestions on how to make writing more fun:

1) “Take the pressure off. Simply put, this is not brain surgery. No life is in your hands other than some made-up characters. And you can kill them if you want, since you are God in your story.

2) “Stop calling your writing work. Stop thinking of writing as a grind. In other words, CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE.”

I should probably mention at this point that Dean Wesley Smith has been both a traditionally and independently published writer for decades, with dozens of books under his belt. He also has a well-established blog where he discusses the creative and business aspects of being a writer. Although I don’t agree with everything he says, I do think his aforementioned views on writing are spot-on.

Many people think writing should be agonizing and painful. As if that’s the only way to make it “good” or “real.” Writing is painful and arduous for them, so they need to justify the experience and suffering by making others hurt as well.

This is wrong, and demonstrates a distinct lack of self-awareness. If an author wrote a fantastic book in five months or five minutes, do you care? Would you even notice?

Okay, so the quality of the five-minute book would likely be a dead giveaway. But maybe the author’s just a speedy typist. Instead, let’s pretend the comparison is between five months and five years. Or five weeks and five months.

I think, then, that the answer to the previous questions is “no.” If the writer sweated blood over each and every word, or dashed off a manuscript in a surge of euphoric inspiration, the reader wouldn’t care. It’s unlikely they’d be able to tell the difference anyway.

As Mr. Smith says, maintain your perspective

Maintaining your perspective when writing is crucial to the “fun” process. Sometimes, working on a book too long can actually harm the story. Writers tend to overthink things. We may change what was awesome, original, and gratifying because of some imagined flaw.

My mother was a high-school biology teacher. She once gave me this advice on how to prepare for tests: “Go with your first answer. It’s usually the right one.”

Now, this is not license to ignore the whole revision/editing thing. It is license to ignore your brain when it starts playing funny tricks on you. Like when you think your MC resembles Princess Leia too much because of some tiny, infinitesimal detail that only you notice. Maybe it’s the hair-braid buns.

Permission to make writing fun: GRANTED!

Now, I’m not trying to be one of “those” writers. The ones who frolic around the other, agonized scriveners struggling with their WIP’s. “Those” writers run about strewing rose petals over keyboards, saying how wonderful and easy their lives are.

When the struggling writers say, “Um, no. I’ve actually got a serious problem here that—”

“LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU TOO BUSY FROLICKING!” The rose-spewing writers drown them out. I am not trying to be like that!

Personally, my writing takes a ton of effort, but I love it so much, it doesn’t seem like work. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we’ve been conditioned to believe that if something is engaging and fun, it’s not worthwhile. That if the process isn’t tortuous, something must be . . . wrong. It can’t possibly be that easy! If  you’re not sweating over every word, if your perspiration isn’t withering the rose petals left by Obnoxious Writer, your work must be crap.

I’m here to tell you it’s all right. Your work is very likely not crap. You are suffering the same ill-conditioning we all did. But you must learn to see past it.

You need to realize that you don’t have to be worried/upset/fretting in order for something to turn out well. You can be calm/purposeful/forgiving with yourself.

And I think that’s what Obnoxious Writers are trying to say, if only they’d stop singing and put down their !@#$% basket of rose petals.

(Depressed writer image courtesy of Sander van der Wel)

Spinning Straw: My Fairy Tale Life

fairy tale princess and spinning wheel

(What do you wanna bet I prick my finger on that thing?)

One of my favorite fairy tales is the story of Rumpelstiltskin. For purposes of brevity, I’ll  pretend we all know it. If not, there are many, many excellent versions available today for your perusal. For my money, you can’t go wrong with the Brothers Grimm. 😉

Anyway, it’s not only one of my favorites because the heroine outwits the villain at the end. It’s not even a favorite because it features a freaky little dude with supernatural powers.

I love this fairy tale because it reminds me to be humbled and amazed that, at any point, we can make something out of nothing. Okay–technically, straw isn’t “nothing.” But I’m guessing it’s worth way less than gold.

Our lives have value. Our experiences have value. Even when we think they don’t, they really, really do.

Another “fairy tale” to consider

One of my other favorite stories is called Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, by Simms Taback. It’s not a fairy tale exactly. It’s a picture book based on a Yiddish song, and talks about a man who keeps making his worn-out coat into smaller and smaller usable items. If I remember correctly, first it’s a long coat, then a short coat, then a vest, a scarf, a handkerchief, etc.

Finally, there’s nothing left of the coat but a tiny square of cloth. Joseph thinks it’s of no further use. But then (ahem, SPOILER ALERT), he writes a story about how he made it into all the different things. Even when he thought he had nothing left, he had the makings of a story.

If you think what you have is worthless, know it can always be turned into something else.

Give your fairy tale some wings!

Maybe it’s because it’s my birthday week, but I’m feeling philosophical. Now, I didn’t want to be a writer because I have the magical ability to turn worthless things valuable. Nor am I a beautiful maiden with weirdo minions doing my work for me (but man, it would be nice). If anything, when writing, I resemble Rumpelstiltskin—a small, furtive creature who does strange things behind locked doors. Only I do mine with words instead of straw, as so many of us do.

The spinning of straw refers to the ability that we all have to write our own fairy tales. To create our worth. Literally, figuratively–it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it can be done, even when others say it can’t. And it’s never too late, even when you’re afraid it is.

So that’s my story. I’ve just begun spinning. And maybe with a lot of hard work and a little luck, we can all keep spinning for a long, long time.

What keeps you with your shoulder to the (spinning) wheel when all seems lost? Tell me in the comments. And keep the fairy tale alive! 🙂

(Top image by GettysGirl4260. Touch spindle at your peril).

Be Happy, Not Safe

Happy happy happy happy . . .

I thought it was about time for another post on following your bliss because hey, it can be an elusive little sucker! If you’re like me, you once thought (and perhaps still think) that safety equals happiness. Once we are ensconced in our own little unalterable corner of the world, we’ll be perfectly content ever after.

The siren call of safety

How did this idea get so ingrained into our heads? I mean, I’m not trying to harp on folks who’ve worked hard to achieve a certain amount of safety in their lives. After all, no one wants to live in a neighborhood riddled with gunshots and homicidal screams.

But sometimes, I think we take the concept too far. What if you wanted more than knowing exactly what would happen to you , day in and day out? Why are we so afraid to think/live/exist outside the box? Let’s say you wanted to travel the world for a year (and could find a way to finance it). Or not to get married/have children. What if you yearned for a more flexible and exciting career?

I understand this is a somewhat strange thing to say, especially given our present economy. At the moment,  I’m sure most folks would see the concept of safety as a pretty good thing. “Now’s not the time to take chances,” they’d say. “Don’t rock the boat–are you trying to get us all killed?!”

But when is it ever a good time to chase your dreams? There will always be something holding you back. Sometimes, it’s the illusion that in order to be happy, you have to reach the Island of Safe. But you can still work towards your dream of happiness, even if it’s just a little bit each day. Nothing wild, crazy, or “unsafe” about that.

And look at all the folks telling you to stay “safe.” Do they look happy? Oftentimes, they’re just trying to convince themselves that they’re happy. And one way to justify their life decisions is to make you question yours.

Permission to take the safety off

So, if you’re looking for permission to take chances in order to find happiness, consider it granted. As Helen Keller said, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men
as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

Dream. Risk. Dare. It’s the only way to be truly happy. And that’s a pretty safe bet. 😉

(Extremely happy image by mrsdkrebs)