Archive | Mindset

The Writing Reframe: Ditch Your Eeyore Statements

EeyoreI’m working on a book with an awesome client and we have the best conversations as the book flows out.  We talk about a lot of spiritual and universal principles as she tells me her story.  One anecdote she told me last week has stayed with me. There was a time when she was confused as to where to go next in life and business, and walked around saying this exact thing to herself, and anybody who would listen. Until one day it occurred to her to reframe that story and instead talk about how she knew exactly where she was going and what to do next. And, ultimately, a mega-successful business was born.

Now the idea that you get what you think about isn’t exactly new news.  But sometimes I you have to be hit over the head with a concept numerous times before you really get it.  So I’ve started to watch how often I lament over my writing, saying things like:

It’s so hard.

The publishing world is so slow and elitist.

I can’t figure out where my story is going.

That character’s motivation doesn’t make sense.

I can’t write every day.

And so on. Eeyore statements. (You remember Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, don’t you? He’s the gloomy old donkey whose head is always hanging down.) I’m sure you can add a few of your own.  So lately I’m trying to catch myself at these and turn them around. The trick is, of course, you have to become aware of them. For me many of us, this attitude is so ingrained we don’t even realize we’re thinking/saying them.

Even if it doesn’t make a whit of difference in the ultimate scheme of things, and I’m convinced it does, looking on the bright side will make you a happier writer.  (Because who needs all that negativity?) And if you’re a happier writer, you’re happier in all areas of life, right? Right.

What are your favorite Eeyore statements? Please share in the comments.

And remember, there’s still one spot left in the France retreat! We had a last-minute cancellation. And by the way, flights to Europe may be cheaper than you think–so if you’re at all interested, check it out.

 

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The Glorious Avidity of the Beginner’s Mind

A giant Sitka Spruce

A giant Sitka Spruce

“In the beginning mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Suzuki Roshi

I don’t know about you, but I consider myself an expert. Yep, I sure do.  Because I’ve been writing novels for a gazillion years and teaching fiction writing for half that time. I’ve studied long enough to have earned an MFA and blogged long enough to remember when WordPress barely existed. So, yes indeedy. Expert here.

You’re probably an expert, too.  Maybe in writing—you’ve probably been at it for a while, too. Or maybe in other areas of your work and life.  By the time you reach a certain age, you’re a bona fide expert.  That means you and I know a lot.

It also means we have a lot of preconceptions.  Maybe a mind that is a tiny bit closed to challenges to our knowledge.  A brain shut tight to new ideas, to an expansive openness that lets the light in.  And we may not even notice, being so very busy in our expertness.

I was reminded of all this last week when I taught a group of beginners (or raw recruits as I liked to call them). Out of a group of eight, seven came to the novel-writing workshop with no prior experience writing full-length fiction.  They had ideas, but some were vague.  They knew nothing about plotters and pantsers and plot points and character dossiers or how to write a scene or structure a novel.  By the end of our three days together, they walked out with a plot and characters firmly in mind, close to being ready to write.vertigo-dizzy-dizziness-321395-h

I attribute this readiness not to me, but to them—and their marvelous beginner minds.  They soaked up ideas like the moss on my sidewalk soaks up water during rainy Oregon winters. Their beginner minds filled up with knowledge and ideas at an astounding pace and they inspired me—and this post—along the way.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with attaining expert status.  There’s the whole 10,000 hours thing espoused by Malcolm Gladwell , who claims you need to practice a thing that many hours to be considered an expert.  Do a quick spin around the interwebs and you’ll find all kinds of references to mavens and experts and specialists and professionals.  And they are all good. We need their knowledge and expertise.  But there’s something amazingly wonderful about approaching one’s work with a beginner’s mind, as I witnessed last week.

Following are some ideas for maintaining a beginner’s mind. But also go read this lovely article about it from a Buddhist abbess.

Be open.  I know, duh.  But how often to you find yourself listening to another person and eagerly pondering what you’re going to say in reply? Or getting defensive and upset about their words? Yeah, me, too.  So, for instance, if a writing friend is going on about how great it is to write without an outline and you fervently believe the opposite, try just being a tiny bit open to his point of view.

Be willing to admit you’re not always right.  Often we desire to be right more than anything. I’m not sure why this is—perhaps it gives us a sense of power or security in the world.  But it can be detrimental, too. Though my husband and I like to joke that I’m always right, I can think of some times when I’ve been very, very wrong. A willingness to admit it would have saved me tons of grief.

Be willing to admit you don’t know everything.  There are all kinds of literary terms whose meaning I don’t get. Okay, I admitted it.  And I still sometimes get confused about omniscient viewpoint.  And don’t even get me started on math—my son, the mathematician has explained prime numbers to me at least five times. I still don’t understand them.  And that’s okay.

But don’t close your mind just because you don’t know.  Don’t let not knowing keep you from being curious.  I could probably stand to learn Excel, for instance, an app I’ve told myself repeatedly I can’t master.  With an attitude like that, it’s likely I never will.

So the not knowing thing cuts both ways.

Approach life and writing with a sense of adventure.  Every time I’ve said to myself, “Life’s an adventure,” it has turned out to be.  You can’t have an adventure with a closed mind, you just can’t. And life and writing are ever so much more fun when you’re adventurous.

Okay, those are my thoughts. And now I’m going to go apply a beginner’s mind to looking at my WIP (work in progress for those with beginner’s minds).  I invite you to come on over to the blog (        )  to comment on how you cultivate beginner’s mind.

Photos: top by me, lower right by woodleywonderworks.

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Why Resistance to Your Writing is Sometimes Good

Burning Writing Of An Dark-Illuminated Paper Sheet

Here is one thing I have learned for certain in the gazillion years I’ve been writing: that resistance always has meaning.

Always, always, always.

It is up to you to figure out what that meaning might be.  But here’s the deal: once you do figure it out, then you can explore it.  And get over it.  You’ll understand more about how you approach your writing, and also your current writing project.  As far as I’m concerned, that covers pretty much everything.  So let’s look at both these categories.

How You Approach Your Writing

Your very own wonderful little self longs for expression.  And I’d venture a guess that for just about anybody reading this newsletter, that wonderful little self longs for expression through writing.  But sometimes that same wonderful self does things that are counter to that longing of expression.  Like procrastination, for example.  Or being a perfectionist.  Or being harshly self-critical. Or being all loosey-goosey and not discerning enough. (Sending out a first draft, anyone?)

You know which one is your own personal favorite form of resistance.  Mine is procrastination, and I’m very good at it.  I can even convince myself that what I’m doing when I’m not writing is critical to my well-being.  I can surf the internet and the whole time convince myself it is crucial to research for my novel. I can scroll through my phone and convince myself I’m doing social media (when really I’m looking at cool photos on Instagram).  And so on.  Insert your favorite distractions above.

But because I know this is my form of resistance, that this is likely how I’m going to approach my writing when things get tough, I also can call myself on it.  And the funny thing is, because I understand how I resist writing, I can also see how I resist other things in my life.  Like exercise.  Or gardening. Or cleaning the house.

It is important to not get all judgy on yourself.  At first, just observe.  Watch what you do and how you react and think of how interesting it all is, how clever a brain you have atop your body.  Next time, realize you’re doing it again.  And carry on.  After this happens enough, the observation of it will stop you—because you’ll grow weary of observing this pattern over and over again.  Trust me, watching oneself sputter and flail about does get boring pretty quickly.

 Your Writing Project

 The other aspect to resistance is your WIP (work in progress).   You may hit upon a scene or a chapter or a segment of it that you start to avoid.  You can be writing merrily along and suddenly something just isn’t working.   You marshal your forces.  You attempt to carry on as usual.  You forge ahead.

But nothing works.  The words fall flat on the page, the dialogue sounds wooden, the scene just won’t come together.

Okay, remember: resistance always has meaning.    writing-1560276

And in this case, something is wrong.  Here’s a handy checklist to divine what it might be:

Your setting.  Most often, this is it for me.  Maybe the scene is currently set inside and needs to be outside, or vice-versa.  Maybe you’ve set too many scenes in the same place.   I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changes the location of the scene and suddenly it comes alive.

 Your characters.  Are the correct ones in the scene?  Does your character need to confide in her best friend or her mother? Or maybe an old woman sitting on the park bench? Play around with the characters in the scene to see if you can’t get it going again.

Their motivation or backstory.  Perhaps you think your heroine is motivated by greed—but when you take the time to dig deeper you realize it’s the opposite.  Maybe you think your antagonist is a cranky jerk because his father died when he was young, but really, it was his mother who passed.  Etc.

The placement.  Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the scene, but where you’ve got it set in the plot isn’t working.  This is harder to figure out until you’ve finished a full draft, but worth considering.

These are just a few suggestions—I recommend looking at every aspect of the story until you figure out what’s going on.  And for my money, the best way to figure things out is to write about it.  I like to call this writing around, and I probably write about three to five times as many pages in writing around as I do in my current WIP.  It is how I figure out everything.

So, there you have it—proof that your resistance is a good thing.  The catch is, you have to deal with it.  But that’s much better than giving up writing for a week or a month or a year.

What are your favorite strategies for dealing with resistance? Please comment below.

Photos from freeimages.

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From The Archives: Love Yourself, Love Your Writing

Here's one from the archives for you:

We're awfully hard on ourselves, our own worst enemies.   At least I am!  And I suspect I'm not  Heart_light_blackground_518497_hso different from other creatives: I'm judgmental of myself –hyper critical at the best of times.  My thoughts run all over:

  • That thing I just said?  How idiotic!
  • What a lump for not speaking up.
  • Oh god, I look bad today!

And when it comes to my writing, it's even worse, because the voices are so insidious and ingrained.  It is such a familiar thought pattern that sometimes I don't even notice it.  When I do, it runs something like this:

  • This work isn't good enough.
  • Is that the right word? You idiot, that's not the right word.
  • They're not going to like it.
  • It's not good enough to sell.

And so on and so forth.  I'm sure you can add some of your own to the list!  (And let me be perfectly clear here–there is a difference between unloving critical thoughts and loving critical thoughts–the latter help us hone our skills, rewrite until the work shines, and strive for excellence.)

Do you know anybody who is as openly judgmental and critical as the voice in your head?  I don't.  If I spent all day every day with someone as condemning  as the voice in my head, I'd be physically withered at the end of the day.  And yet, that's exactly what's happening in our brains.

The solution?  Try turning love on it.  Warning: this is not easy.  And if you're successful at it, the practice will change your life.  Also, it's a process–you have to keep going back at it over and over again.  You have to consistently apply it to your life and your writing.

So herewith is a process to apply to self-judgment:

1.  Become aware.  Pay attention to those nasty little comments flinging about your brain.

2.  Fight back.  Sometimes called denials, this is when instead of cowering under the onslaught of all those vicious words, you make a stand and refuse to accept them.  Mentally uttering "That thought I do not want" (a Course in Miracles saying) is one way to do this.

3.  Form a new thought.  And then love bomb your brain with it, constantly, all day, and especially every time the old thought comes up.  Maybe something like:

  • I am powerful.  (My writing is powerful.)
  • I am enough.  (My writing is enough.)
  • I am a creator.
  • Whatever thought works for your individual circumstance.

The idea being to let thoughts like these become the constant soundtrack running in the background.  I know it's woo-woo, and it's ever so much more pleasant to think this way than the other.

4. It might get worse before it gets better.  Because old negative thoughts don't go without a fight.  And one way they fight is to get stronger when they fear being eradicated. But don't fall for their devious plan.

5.  Stick with it.  As I said, this process takes time.  Those fearful thoughts didn't get there overnight.  They lodged in your brain over a lifetime. 

 What do you think?  Willing to give it a try?  Or do you have another technique for quieting that voice?  Please comment.

 Photo by Victory to the People.

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What Effect Do Your Surroundings Have On Your Writing?

"Started treating my office like it was a real room that was worthy of my best treasures, not the 'spare room made into an office.'"  Danielle LaPorte, from a post titled "28 of the Best Things I Ever Did–From the Bedroom to my Business."

DeskinthewildWhen I first started writing, many years ago, my "office" was a desk shoved up against a corner of our bedroom.   The desk came from my father's printing plant, and it was huge and weighed a ton. (My husband hated it for that reason, and also because whenever I wanted to move it, it had to be disassembled.  It finally got taken apart one too many times, and died.)

I also sometime wrote at the kitchen counter, with small children swarming around me, asking for food or begging for my attention.  

Finally, when we put an addition on our house, I progressed to my own office.  It was downstairs with a view of the backyard and I loved it.  I filled it with a mismatch of furniture, anything I could scrounge, and tons of bookshelves, of course.  

Then, when my children moved out, I transferred my office to my daughter's former upstairs bedroom.  And there I've been for the past many years.  After my mother died six years ago and I inherited some money, I decided to invest in a proper office suite of furniture.  And so I went to Ikea and filled my room with a grouping that looked very official, very heavy, very dark.  I chose a huge desk with a curved front that had room for my computer, my printer and piles.  Lots of piles.  I also chose a file cabinet and glass-fronted cabinets to match.  You can see photos of it on this old blog post.  (As far as I can tell, Ikea doesn't even make this set of furniture anymore.) I loved it for awhile.  For quite awhile.

And then I decided I wanted to move back downstairs.  The thought was daunting–carrying all that heavy furniture down our narrow staircase! But I persevered.  Because I wanted to be more in the center of things.  To be able to start dinner and run back to write a few words while things simmered.  To be able to watch grandchildren and write a few words while they napped.  I started packing things up, but the project stalled and I ended up working in my upstairs office with stacks of boxes filling most of it.

Enter summer.  Gorgeous, soft Oregon mornings with the temperature hovering just above 60 degrees.  I took to carrying my computer out to the table on the back deck early every morning and doing my writing there.  Which was when I realized that I didn't need a huge desk with tons of area to pile things on.  It was actually a detriment to my process, because it started to overwhelm me. And so a whole new idea for my office was born. All I really needed was a good old-fashioned writing desk. At the same time, I started reading a favorite blogger's account of her time in Stockholm and fell in love with the look of the apartment she stayed in.

Out with the dark, heavy black office furniture! In with a light, white and natural wood look! At least in my vision.  I happened to have coffee with my friend Leigh, who has a business restoring old furniture and, on a whim, asked her if she had a writing desk.  Guess what? She did! And not only that, it was painted a lovely delicate light yellow, which went along with the look I had in mind.  

So we spent this weekend moving furniture.  We're still not finished–our living room looks like a thrift store as we sort through hundreds of old CDs, and figure out where extra boxes and pieces of furniture goes.  There are quite a few photos of the process on my Instagram. And you can see the photo of my writing area above.  But so far, I love it.  The room is bright and light and I love not working on my little yellow writing desk.  I feel lighter and brighter! And now I realize how that Ikea suite never truly suited me.  As my daughter said, "I never heard you say how much you loved it." True dat.

I expect to write wonderful novels and blog posts and offer classes and all kinds of good things from this space, because it makes me happy just to be in here.  (Oh, I almost forgot–I engineered it so I have a separate space for art projects, too.  Woot!)  And all this leads me to ask–what is your writing space like? Is it feeding your soul, and making you happy?  Or does it drag you down every time you walk in?  Is there something you can do to make it work better for you?

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Writing Mindset: Art or Business?

Keyboard_controls_writing_238875_lHere's how an author's career used to look: said author would get her first book accepted by a big New York publisher, and said publisher would tell said author not to worry about a thing, marketing-wise.   The happy author would be given a schedule for a tour and appearances and told to focus on what she does best–writing the next book.

Here's how an author's career looks now: said author's book may or may not be published by a big New York publisher.  More likely, his book was put out by a small press, or maybe he published it himself.   And said author knows that his publishers will do little, if anything, to market her work. He'll be calling bookstores, arranging guest posts, tracking down book reviewers himself.  Writing the next book?  That's something that will have to wait.

My first example is, clearly, art.

The second, business.

Two aspects of a writing career that exist side by side.  And more and more these days, we hear how authors need to master both. Gone are the days when we writers could lavish all our time on the first aspect.   This tends to upset us.  We mutter dark invectives about having to focus on the business side of our careers.  We begrudge time spent away from our writing.  

And yeah, I get it.  Every once in awhile I like to fantasize about having nothing to do but work on my novels.  And then I realize I'd hate that.  I like being on social media. (At least most sites.  You can take Facebook and shove it as far as I'm concerned.) I love working with my clients. (Please don't tell them, but I learn as much from them as they learn from me.)  I don't love cold-calling bookstores or seeking out reviewers, but hey, if it keeps me from working a real job, I'll deal.

And that's just it.  In this brave new world of publishing that shifts daily, we really do have to master both the art and business sides of writing.  I wish I had better news for you, but there it is.  I may not have the news you want to hear, but I do have suggestions for how to make it as painless as possible. Here goes:

1. Always put your writing first.  It's the basis of everything and if you're not doing it, you ultimately will not have a career because you won't have anything to market.  So do the work, then worry about putting it out in the world.  I mean this in a couple of ways:

a. Write your book before you worry about contacting an agent.

b. Put your writing before your marketing efforts on a daily basis. (For me, this means writing first thing in the morning.  Then I feel good about what I've accomplished all day long and that gives me energy to do the crap I hate.)

2. Realize that business is not a dirty word.  When we whisper the "b" word as if it were tainted, we do ourselves and our work a disservice.  Remember, people exist in the world who actually think business–and the dreaded "m" word (marketing)–are fun. You and I may not fall into that category, but realize that business can be every bit as creative as putting words together on the page.

3. Know that the situation is not going to change soon.  Don't waste your energy wishing you didn't have to master social media, or figuring out techie tools, or mastering marketing.  Don't spend time longing for the old days, described above.  Because they aren't coming back.  As I used to tell my kids when they complained about doing something, "With all the energy you've wasted kvetching about it, you could have been done by now."

4.  Get help.  Everyone can benefit from coaching, whether its for your writing or your marketing efforts.  If you're struggling, get help!  There are tons of wonderful teachers out there who can help you master the skills you don't yet have.

5. Do it with everything you've got.  You throw yourself at the page every day, right?  You express your deepest feelings and fears and truths, right?  Use the same mindset for the business side of things. Throw yourself at it, and give it everything you've got.  Approach it with the reverence you give your writing and you will do just fine.  More than that, you'll do great.

How do you reconcile the business and art side of your career?

(By the way, I have an email conversation with J.D. Frost to thank for the topic of this article. Thanks, J.D.!)

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That Thing You Worry About? It Will Set You Free

I worried about it all week.

My reading at the Spalding MFA residency was scheduled for 4 PM on Friday, as part of the alumni homecoming weekend.  Six alums who had recently published books would read and afterward, sell and sign books.

And I was nervous.

Nervous because I’d spent the week immersed in the glory of talking about writing and literature 24/7.  Every day in workshop, where I assisted the award-winning short-story writer (and my former mentor) Mary Clyde, we went over the finer points of writing literature.  That would be Literature, with a capital L.

One day in class, somebody mentioned Stephen King.

“I don’t read popular fiction,” Mary Clyde said, not in an unkind way, just an authoritative way.

Uh-oh.

Because, in my heart of hearts, I consider Emma Jean to be popular fiction.  I wanted my novel to be literary, really I did, but what came out on the page was, well, maybe a bit quirkier than that.   And here I was, in the heart of the world of literature, ready to read the first four pages of the book, in which our heroine declares her hatred of babies and realizes for the first time that her personality is a bit on the snarky side.

Friday afternoon came and as part of my duties as an assistant, I handed out drink tickets for the after-party, which helped soothed my nerves.  (So did the arrival of Leisa Hammett, my student and dear friend, who happened to be in Louisville that weekend. It also helped that my beloved friend Candace was there to check out the MFA program.)  And then it was time to read.

We were in a meeting room on the first floor of the Brown Hotel, where the walls were painted a deep mustard and decorated with curlicued flourishes.  I made my way to the podium and began to read, where I promptly decided as I read that I was bombing, with a capital B, because I couldn’t hear much laughter.  (And the novel is, for better or worse, supposed to be funny.)  I told myself that my worst fears had come true.  And I chalked it up to reading a popular fiction piece in a literary environment.

But when it was over, I was greeted with enthusiastic applause and people rushed up to me to tell me how funny I was, and how great the reading had gone.  It turned out that the acoustics in the room were a bit odd and everyone was laughing a lot, I just couldn’t hear them.  I sat behind a table which held a placard with my name on it, clutching a glass of wine Candace had brought me, and waited for people to bring me books to sign.

Which, to my surprise, they did.  Like, lots of them did. And it was the most wonderful thing because the comments they made elated me.  How they heard the first paragraph and knew they had to buy the book.  How my bio in the program inspired them.  (Um, that would be the bio that I cringed when I read because it combined my two worlds in a way I thought was a bit un-literary.) How they loved my reading and laughed all the way through it.

And I realized I had done it, done the thing I worry about it more than anything else: been myself.  Because I’d had no other choice, I’d presented myself as the person I am, a writer of popular fiction with a literary background and one who teeters between the poles of these genres a bit uncertainly at times all the time.

I hadn’t bombed.  Quite the contrary–I ended up selling more books than any other reader there, which I mention not to brag about, but to prove my point, one that we’ve heard over and over again, that being authentic is the path to freedom.

Lesson learned.  Phew.  Now I’ll probably have to learn it all over again sometime again soon.

PS.  Mary Clyde loved the reading, and she bought my book. 

What about you?  Do you struggle to express your true self?

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Mindset of the Wealthy Writer

Money_cash_coins_261247_lI was going to write about plotting versus pantsing this morning, but then the idea for this post grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let go.  So here we are….(and look for the other post later this week).

Let me be clear at the outset.  I'm not wealthy, at least as far as finances go.  But I am ridiculously wealthy as far as all the other important things in life go.  I've got wonderful friends and family, a house to live in, a car that always starts (knock on wood), access to health care, both traditional and alternative, food in my belly on a regular basis, and more.  That more being two main things: I get to be a creative writer every day of my life and I enjoy freedom and independence.

Yeah, some days I'd like to earn a bit more money.  But if its for me in this life to enjoy wealth in other arenas of my life, so be it.  I know there are many others who don't share my blessings.   Here's the deal, I only enjoy my freedom and independence when I'm actively and energetically writing as regularly as possible.

And so, for me (and I suspect for many others), everything else follows from that one activity, writing.  When we're writing we're wealthy.  When we're not, we're poor.

I like this way of looking at wealth, I realize, because it puts the emphasis where it belongs, on the process rather than the product. 

Are you following me?  Am I making sense?

If all of this does indeed describe the wealthy writer, then it makes sense that the mindset of the wealthy writer is one that enables him or her to write regularly and with ease.  And who knows, that just might lead to financial wealth some day down the road, too.  (It could happen.  And by keeping your mind on the process, it will be more likely to happen.  Because you will be working to master your craft, not focusing on the end result.)

So here are some ideas on maintaining that mindset, in no particular order:

1.  Expect big things.  Decide that its going to happen and maintain that expectation.  Instead of moaning and groaning about how hard it is to find time to write, tell yourself that it's easy.  And while you're at it, remind yourself that when you do make it to the page, you'll write with grace and ease.

2. Trust, that the above will happen.  Writing involves huge buckets of trust.  It just does.  Trust that the words will continue to come.  Trust that is you have a bad writing session, the next one will be good.  Trust that your story will come together in shining glory.

3.  Be grateful.  Thank the lord or whomever you prefer every damn day that you get to be a writer.  It's the best job in the world, even if you're only practicing it a few minutes a day.

4.  Banish negative thoughts.  Yeah, I sound like Pollyanna.  So what?  Negative thoughts are creativity killers, period, and it takes discipline and diligence to pay attention to them and turn them around.  It is especially difficult after a lousy writing session like the one I had earlier this morning.  But do it anyway.  Nobody said writing was going to be easy.

5.  Give it all up and get it all back.  That's one of my favorite sayings, from Alan Cohen, and it's true.  You find yourself in a ball of worry–about where the next check is coming from, about where the next words for your WIP are coming from, about everything.  Give it up.  Release it.  And see what happens.  Just do it.  When you really, truly release your worries, magic happens.

6.  Words in, words out.  I swear to God this is true for me.  When I'm disgorging words onto the page, it is as if I need to inhale tons of them inside me.  The more I read, the more I write.  And the better I write, because as I read I'm learning the tropes of writing.  This is true for wherever you are along the writing road.

7.  Enjoy it already.  Writing is too hard not to be enjoyed, period.  Quit getting all angsty over it and relax and write.

How do you create a wealthy writer mindset?  Is being wealthy all about money for you, or is it something else?  Please leave a comment and let us know.

Photo by ctoocheck.

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