Back on Track

I recently lost my focus. I was so lost that everything nearly grinded to a halt. I was having a hard time getting my bearings and figuring out what the next step should be.

I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

The problem wasn’t that I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. The problem was that I couldn’t decide what to do first. I was drowning in the minutia of “defining” myself as a writer instead of just being a writer. I was getting caught up in websites, webinars, blogs, contests and experimenting with as many different types of writing a possible.

Then I remembered my book, waiting, begging me to click open that file and breathe renewed life into it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. All of those other things have been important building blocks in my development as a writer. I have gained insight from each thing that I have done. In fact, I have intentionally chosen to expose myself to as much of this field as I possible. As I’ve mentioned before. I don’t have any formal writing training (sorry Riverside Elementary, I really did appreciate you sending me to The Junior Author’s Conference, but I really don’t think that is enough). So I have made it my mission to craft together my own writing curriculum.

So, where did things go astray? Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of my goal. Those darn trees again. Have you ever found yourself in that place? You are filled with enthusiasm for some new endeavor. You plow ahead, adrenalin coursing through your veins, only to find yourself completely lost a short time later? Where was your roadmap?

Life is designed to be distracting. Stimulation is assaulting our senses from all directions. Unless we sort and prioritize, we can get lost. Sometimes, you have to regroup.

How to reorganize your life in 5 simple steps:

1. Trim the fat. I have decided to blog once a week. As much as I love blogging, it is time consuming and distracting. So I will still connect, just not as much for now. I have also slowed down on the random contest entries (unless struck with mind blowing inspiration).

2. Clarify the goal. I have identified concrete writing goals in blocks of time over the next year. I know what I want to do this month, over the next 3 months, 6 months and 1 year.

3. Know your vices. I love exploring the Internet. I’ll admit it, I get a little rush of adrenalin when I stumble upon a jewel of a website. Then I will compulsively follow links until I am 9 or 10 web pages deep. Again with the trees. I have reined in my web crawling. The Internet, what a seductive little siren she is. If I could earn a living web browsing, I would be set.

4. Make your goal a priority. No exceptions. No excuses. Just get it done.

5. Stay focused. I love to write. That is what I do. At the end of the day, this is where most of my energy needs to be directed. If I can remember that, then everything else should fall into place.

I did click open that file.

Now that I am back to working on my stories, I am reinvigorated and excited about writing. I don’t feel lost but feel like I am exactly where I need to be right now.

How can you plan to sort and prioritize in your life today?

 

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Writing with Purpose

I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth will I apply ALL my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy. -Og Mandino

 

Recently, I have read many blogs that have posed the question, “Why do you write?” Many of these blogs have gone on to explore the reasons that a writer becomes slave to the pen (or keyboard) or reasons why one shouldn’t write.

What drives you?

For the longest time, I thought that my reasons for writing were pretty straight forward. I love pouring my words out onto the page, in fact, I feel absolutely compelled to do so. I have laid awake some nights with thoughts floating in my head begging to be released onto my computer screen. I want to share my words with others and maybe even get published. For a while, I assumed that this is what drove most writers. But this is an overly simplified and naïve assumption.

The reasons people write are as numerous as the number of writers pounding away at their keyboards.

Recently, I had an “aha moment” (thank you Oprah). One person may write with no intention of ever letting another soul see their words. Another person may write for a therapeutic catharsis. Still another may write with hopes of becoming a New York Times #1 best selling author.

There is no right reason to write.

However, there is a right reason that you write. And it doesn’t matter to anyone else what that reason is. What matters is that you are true to your purpose. Working through your own true purpose is the only way that you will be successful in your endeavor.

Whatever you do and for whatever reason, do it with gusto.

Whatever reasons you have for making certain choices and following certain paths in your life, proceed with intent. Don’t be a passive observer in your own life. Sometimes I write purely for love of writing. Sometimes I write because I have a specific audience in mind for my work. Other times I write because I have committed to a project and I am determined to see it through. I write with purpose, because in that moment, I have fully committed to whatever I have set out to create.

When you write with purpose, what you create will be right.

I am not naïve believing that we will only write great masterpieces that will be read 100’s of years from now (although wouldn’t that be great?) Sometimes we write to stretch our creative muscles. Sometimes we write because we have a chance to make a little extra cash. Commit to whatever you are writing and make it your best effort.

In life, rise to your peak.

Don’t waste a moment of your time on producing garbage. Everything you produce is a potential building block towards bigger things. Every moment of your time and every bit of your effort is valuable.

Rising to your peak has little to do with how many people know who you are and how many of your books line the shelves. It is about how fully you realize your own potential. In everything. All the time.

Think of one bad habit, that you can change right now, one that is holding you back from realizing your greatest potential.

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Get Plugged In

In October 2011, the world population reached 7 billion people. In June of 2011, there were an estimated 600 million Facebook subscribers.

You are not alone in the world. One of the reasons that I started this blog was to engage with other writers. Writing, a solitary pursuit, can be isolating and I needed to connect.

It is easy to get so lost in your own internal world that you start to believe that no one else could possibly understand how you feel.

When I started writing, I hid behind my edict to “write! write! write!” I quickly found myself disconnected and uncertain if anyone starting out in this career had experienced similar feelings of isolation.

When embarking on a new adventure, it is easy to feel like no one has been in this same place as you before. When you are challenged or confronting an obstacle, you start to feel like Tom Hank’s character in Castaway, clutching your computer’s mouse like he desperately clung to his volleyball side kick. You wonder if anyone in the world could possibly understand what you are going through?

Yes. Of the 7 billion people that populate this earth, many before you have and many after you will face the same challenges that you face.

At any given time, someone is a little better off than you and someone else is a little worse off than you.

I started off a bit voyeuristic in my efforts at connecting with the writing community. I would visit blogs, but never comment. I attended my first conference, but did very little networking. I still had a hard time believing that anyone was as “green” about being a writer as I was.

While your life experience is uniquely your own, there are people who have had similar experiences. They get you. This tiny piece knowledge can bring solace when you are alone at your computer with a brain filled with tumbleweed instead of elegant and witty prose. It helps to know that when a best selling author says that they received 200 rejection letters before they found a home for their book, you can still be successful after you’ve received your 200th rejection letter.

Even better, there are many writers out there eager to share their experiences with you.

I finally started making connections and have found myself blossoming in my identity as a writer.

Some who have found success want to pay it forward and encourage others who are struggling to find their place. Other writers are exactly where you are and are also searching for some camaraderie. Still others have just cracked open the door to the world of writing and are looking for any connection to get to help them open the door a little wider.

Life is a marathon. Someone is in front, someone is dead last and there is a big heap of folks in the middle.

One day, you may find yourself leading the pack having achieved unprecedented success in your endeavors. At other times, you are struggling to finish and wondering if anyone has felt as pathetic as you do at that moment. Most of the time, you are somewhere in the heap. And you are certainly are not alone.

So plug in!

Reach out to other writers at conferences and on their blogs. Read about others’ experiences and gain support and insight from their shared experiences.

In life, know that while your life experience is uniquely your own, other people have had similar experiences and can be a valuable source of support and understanding.

How has getting “plugged in” helped you in your life?

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The Right Path

Recently, some major life events have caused me to rethink my life plans. I don’t mean the “What movie do you want to see this weekend?” kind of plans, but the “Is this the career that I see myself doing in 10 years?” kind of plans.

In part, these life events are what have led me to consider transitioning into full time writing. Right now, writing plays second fiddle to my medical practice. This decision comes with much soul-searching and weighing of the pros and cons.  You know, all of the due diligence that comes with good decision-making. To be honest, I don’t have a clear answer yet, about the right path.

Is there a right path?

Part of the problem is that we get so settled into and comfortable with a certain trajectory in life that a major shift seems too overwhelming to consider. We have an idea about what is on the other side of the mountain we’ve been climbing all of these years, but who knows what’s on the other side of that monstrous peak over there? However, something is telling me that I should take a look. Maybe this mountain that I am currently scaling isn’t the right one after all.

How do you reconcile going in a completely different direction when you have put so much time and energy into the path that you are currently on? What will be lost if you switch gears?

Maybe nothing? Or maybe something will be sacrificed. But chances are, you will gain so much from even considering a new direction.

And you know what? The prize in a journey isn’t just the reward at the end. You gather up all sorts of treasures along the way. These experiences give you wisdom, new perspectives and build your character. When you see that the journey is where the reward lies then you can reconcile going in a completely different direction. You realize that what you have gained along the way puts you in such a better place than where you started.

This is true in our writing and more importantly, in our revising. When is the last time that you scrapped a word, a sentence, a scene, a character or even a whole manuscript?

I recently received a critique on one of my earlier manuscripts during a local SCBWI’s conference. I gained valuable insight and went home that night to work on edits. In a moment of inspiration, I scrapped my original story and started a brand new one.

I think this will be something greater.

Surprisingly, I wasted little time lamenting the previous hours that I had spent pounding on the keys creating what I initially thought was pretty good writing. I briefly mourned the loss of a couple of key characters. Then, I embraced a transformed and more complex main character.

I know this will be something greater.

I have looked at the next monstrous peak, packed up my gear and started my climb from the base.

I imagine that this is how I will approach some of the life changes that I am encountering. In fact, I realize that my previous path has brought me to this place where I am fully prepared to face whatever lies ahead. These paths that we find ourselves on often lay the groundwork for a greater journey that lies ahead.

So go ahead. Change the coordinates in your GPS, whether in writing or in life, and plow ahead into territories unexpected and unknown.

How has your most recent life “rewrite” brought you to a better place?

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Listen Up

So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.Jiddu Krishnamurti

Active listening. Now this is an underappreciated and underutilized skill. Most people hear, far fewer listen and a precious few engage in active listening. So what is active listening and how can it enhance your writing?

First of all, to truly connect with another person on an intimate, interested basis, each person must engage in active listening. This means hearing a person’s words, internalizing their words and then incorporating their words into your own mental constructs before you offer with a single utterance in response.

Far easier said then done because we often rush to get our thoughts into a conversation before our counterpart has completed a sentence let alone a complete, coherent thought or idea.

I will be the first to admit to guilt of committing this crime of communication. I know that I have done this because I often have to engage in a mental dialogue when I am listening with intent. I am telling myself, “wait, what is this person saying and what does it mean to me?” before I allow myself to speak.

Do you listen with intent?

So what in the world does this have to do with writing? Active listening allows you to understand another’s emotional experience and motivations. These are the very thoughts and experiences that can add depth and texture to our stories.

Writing is not just about having a lot to say. It is about having something meaningful to communicate. Communication requires at least two participants engaged in a reciprocal exchange. In the case of spoken conversation, this requires active listening. In writing, this is understanding your audience, who they are and what they want, and then communicating with them through your written words. This, too, is reciprocal.

Active listening can also be helpful when you are not a participant in a conversation. Have you ever sat in a public place and just listened to the conversations around you? This is such a great exercise for writers. The content of what is being said may not be that important (although it’s often fascinating).

How people communicate, word choice, tone of voice, body language and the response of other participants in the conversation are so important. Active listening in these situations can inform how we build our characters and help us write more realistic and interesting dialogue.

Now, if you are so captivated by the content that you can’t possibly tear yourself from eavesdropping, you might find the seed for your next story. This does not mean copying conversations, verbatim, and calling it a story. This can mean “borrowing” from the gist of a conversation or more importantly incorporating the themes and sentiments of a conversation into your own stories.

There is no substitute for real life experiences. As writers, we often incorporate or tell of our own real life experiences in our stories. However, all around us, people are engaged in everyday conversations that are the seeds waiting to bear the fruits of great storytelling.

So stop. Take a deep breath. And listen.

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Good Enough

When is good enough ok? When can you give yourself permission to settle for something that isn’t your absolute best? I read a comment in another post today that reflected on seeing oneself as the eternal student; always open to learning, new experiences and growth. This means that there is always knowledge to be gained that will make you better.

So when is good enough ok? Not when it means always settling for mediocrity without aspirations of greatness. Ultimately, your goal is to become and to create your best.

Good enough is enough when you become so burdened by the process, that you lose site of your ultimate goal.

I recently found myself consumed by the technicalities of a couple of projects. I was buried under minutia and for a while, I had no idea that I was drowning. Except, I couldn’t breathe. I wasn’t happy or enjoying the process of writing. In fact, I was writing less and less as I got more involved in the intricacies of what I was trying to accomplish.

So I finally said, ENOUGH!

I realized that my attention and finest efforts needed to be reserved for the creative aspects of my writing. The rest would have to be good enough the way it was. For now.

Good enough is enough when the process is as important as the end product. Committed to the role of the eternal student, and still early in my learning, I have accepted that some of my early creative efforts have not been masterpieces. But, I am learning valuable skills about the craft of writing that will make future endeavors better.

Some of my stories are good enough for me, but probably not good enough to get published. (OK, definitely not good enough to get published.)

So what does this mean? Well, when I entered my medical residency, my skills were good enough for me to see patients under the supervision of a more experienced attending physician. My skills were good enough for me, as a trainee, but not good enough to run a clinical service on my own. Now, I have been seeing patients in my own practice for years and I feel very confident in my skills to provide good care to my patients. And I am still learning.

Being good enough in the moment acknowledges that getting better is part of the process, which means you have to know when you are not ready for Prime Time. In fact, not recognizing that you are not ready can be a dangerous risk.

So sometimes I write just for me. I write to exercise those mental muscles that will help me to become a stronger writer. I write so that at some point, the stars will align, I will know that I have created something good. And I will be right.

Good enough is enough when you get to that point when you lose perspective on what you are creating and are unable to let go. Some people make the mistake of never believing that they or what they create is good enough. Becoming mired in doubt and second-guessing yourself can be the greatest obstacle to your success. This is different from recognizing the need to revise and working with a piece until it is the best that you can make it.

At some point, you have to trust that you will create something that is ready to be shared. You have to reconcile with the fact that perfection is a myth and not worth chasing. At some point in the creative process you have to stop.

Let go. It’s good enough, and maybe it is great.

How does failing to recognize good enough limit you from becoming great?

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Who are Your People?

And suddenly, like light in darkness, the real truth broke in upon me; the simple fact of Man, which I had forgotten, which had lain deep buried and out of sight; the idea of community, of unity. -Ernst Toller

Today at work, a discussion ensued about relocating some of the employees to another location to free up some space. We have outgrown our office. My stomach churned and my clothes felt too tight as I sat there resolute that I wasn’t going anywhere. That was my gut response, to dig in my heels and refuse to budge.

I wasn’t trying to be difficult. To be honest, I was worried. I really like my colleagues and didn’t want to consider that our group might be dismantled. Part of the joy of going to work is the collaboration and shared experiences with my colleagues. It’s reassuring to know that I am not in the trenches alone.

Writing can leave the writers feeling like they’re in the trenches alone without another soul in sight. The very act of writing is solitary and often it is hindered, rather than helped, by interference from the outside world. When you sit at your computer, ready to give your life to your story, you are there alone.

Luckily, there is a vast community of writers out there. These folks populate blogs, Twitter and fill the seats at conferences and in classrooms. Some have books that line the shelves in stores and libraries. Others keep their masterpieces tucked away hoping for just the right opportunity to introduce their work to the world. When your comrades share their struggles and wisdom, they remind you that your experiences are universal. This little fact is easy to forget when you are staring at a blank screen with a cursor that is blinking and taunting you to create.

These are comforting thoughts. With the availability of a global community at my fingertips, I imagine a world where I can seek like minded people who have gone through, are going through, or plan to go through the very successes and challenges that I experience daily.

When I started writing in earnest, I planned to spend day after day at my computer until I created something great. I found myself frustrated and disconnected until I realized that there is a whole community of writers out there. This promise of community has been my buoy when I have felt weighed down by self-criticism and doubt.

So, what step can you take to grow your community today?

 

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