Checking in on the Three Words of the Year

Did you choose three words (or one word) to live by this year?  Have you checked back to see how you're doing with these words?

Last December, in a post titled Three Powerful Words for An Amazing New Year, I announced my words and the thought behind them.  Since we're halfway (gasp) through the year, I thought it would be fun to revisit my words and see how I'm doing.  I'm wondering if you might think it is time to do the same thing with your words.

One reason I'm doing this is because I've written the words on a post-it note that is stuck to a cabinet above my desk, and my gaze falls upon them when I stare off into space.   Most of the time, I barely notice them, but once in awhile the words come into focus and I ponder them.   Yesterday, I pondered them so hard that I finally checked back to the original post to see how I'm doing.

The answer is that I'm doing okay.  Probably not great, but okay.

My three words for the year are creativity, faith, and inquiry. 

I'm going to talk about faith first, because its the word around which I'm doing the best.  In my post I wrote about my faith in God, which is important to me, but also faith in myself, what I'm doing, and that everything was going to be all right.  I wrote about having faith in my ability to go deep within and uncover the riches that are buried there.  And in the six months since I wrote that, I've been learning to do all of this on an ongoing basis–learning being the operative word.  What I'm learning is that faith of this nature responds to effort, maybe even requires effort, and that by making the effort you begin to create the faith.  One of the hallmarks of this year is that I've been consistently making the effort.

I'm doing fairly well with inquiry, too.  In the original post I wrote about not wanting to take things at face value, to dig a bit deeper mentally and form my own opinions.  I still leap to judgment, oh dear lord how I leap to judgment.  I can read a rant on the internet and be totally convinced of its truth, then read oppositional comments and switch to the other point of view immediately.  Such is the curse of the impressionable mind. One way I am using inquiry successfully is to turn off the internal blame machine, and this is a wonderful thing.  If I've eaten a piece of chocolate cake, for instance, or fallen down on my writing goals, I say to myself, "Hmmm, I wonder why that happened."  Or, "Wow, that's interesting.  Wonder what's going on?"  This allows me to observe myself more objectively.  The thought occurs I should turn this style of inquiry to the outside world as well.

And finally we get to creativity.  Falling down a bit here. I'm a lifelong knitter and I love the craft.  It soothes me, satisfies my need for beauty, and allows me to make useful things.    There's nothing I love more than spending an afternoon poking around yarn stores, then coming home with a new project and casting on.  But here's the deal: I don't do it enough.  One of the things I wrote in my year-end post was how I wanted to partake of this kind of creativity more regularly.  I've got opportunity: my pug Buster loves nothing better than for me to sit with him and watch TV in the evenings, and Buster is ancient old and so I figure I better humor him while I can.  This would be a perfect chance to indulge in this creative hobby of mine, but do I?  Sometimes.  And I can't figure out why I don't do it more.  Time to take advantage of that inquiry that is the other hallmark of this year.

Alrighty, then.  That is far more than enough about me.  What about you?  Did you choose three words for the year?  What were they?  How are you keeping up with them?


What Are Your Writing Non-Negotiables?

I think writing non-negotiables are a great idea. Rose_dark_death_220937_l

What are they?

Writing non-negotiables are the the tasks you don't negotiate with yourself, you just do.  They are the one thing or several things that you must–in agreement with yourself–do every day.  If you don't do them, you'll feel lousy.  If you do them, you'll feel successful. 

Why are they a good idea?

Because writing non-negotiables keep you in balance.  They are a constant reminder of what you want to accomplish.  I have three:

1.  Work on my author platform.  Since I have a novel coming out next year, I want to make sure my social media presence is sharp and wide ranging.  This includes blog posts and Twitter.  It would and should include Facebook, except I'm allergic to it.  This is far and away the easiest non-negotiable and I usually have to force myself to stop doing it.

2.  Make money.  Every day, I must do some writing or coaching that contributes to me making money.  For many of us, a no-brainer.

3.  Make progress on my novel.  I admit, this is the one that most often does not get accomplished.   I have a broad definition of the word "progress," too.  For instance, earlier this week I sent a chapter out to my critique group.  That counted.  Reading over notes counts, too.  You get the idea.

If you're interested in the concept of writing non-negotiables, feel free to steal any of mine that work for you.  You can easily keep track of them in a success journal (just make note of any and all successes at the end of the day. ) And consider some of these non-negotiables as well:

4.  Write a sentence.  I had a friend whose singular goal around writing was to write one sentence a day for a year.  She accomplished it and she was content with what she had done.  Never underestimate the power of one sentence.  It has power on its own, or it can lead to more.

5.  Write a poem.  Some people like to write a poem a day.  I bow down to them.  I'm not that good of a poet, but for many the practice encourages their other writing.

6.  Write a blog post.  I've known bloggers who write a blog post a day.  I did this for awhile a few years back and then it about killed me.  But you might choose to do it for a limited time, say, a month.

7.  Commit to a word count.  10K a day, anyone?  You don't have to be a super-hero at the computer to enjoy producing a consistent number of words every day.  1,000 seems to be a good goal for many people.

8.  Revise a page.  When you're in rewriting mode, it is hard to abide by word count.  But find a way to set a goal for yourself.   A certain number of pages might do it.

9.  Morning pages.  Many writers, myself included, find journaling first thing in the morning to be of enormous help to their creativity.  These cycle on and off of my non-negotiable list.

Those are my suggestions.  What are yours?  Do you have a list of daily non-negotiables?  Please share.

 Photo by Rotorhead.

You Can Do It!

"A #2 pencil and a dream can take you anywhere." Joyce A Myers Objects-stationery-draw-10141-l

For some reason, I've been thinking a lot about motivation this weekend.

Because I think that sometimes we need it to get ourselves started.  And by "started," I don't mean just beginning a project.  I'm talking about starting a writing session.  Here's what sometimes happens to me:

1.  I commit to taking time to write.

2.  I check email.

3.  I ponder writing, but it seems scary.

4.  I converse on Twitter.

5.  I look at news and entertainment stories.

6.  I ponder writing, but it seems like it will take a lot of energy.

7.  I check email again.

8.  I find another tweet to which I must respond.

9.  And finally, finally, I get to my writing.

And then I love it.  Flat out love it and don't want to do anything else again, ever.  So why did it take so long for me to get to it?

I think its a lack of motivation.  I have failed to remember and capture that wonderful feeling of being in love with my writing.  Truly, hearing sentiments like, "you can do it!" remind me of what it is that I really want to be doing.  Hearty platitudes actually help me because they recall the feeling of accomplishment I want to achieve. They remind me that I am in love with writing.

And the best way to evoke the desire to do something is to think about how it will make you feel.

So, here's my encouragement to you:  You can do it!  Really, you can!  Just pick up that pencil or open that computer and have at it.  

Please comment.  Do motivational phrases and ideas encourage you or annoy you?

Photo by Danzo08.


Expect Nothing, Accept Everything…and Show Up

One of the recent phrases of wisdom I've been attempting to follow is this:

Expect nothing, accept everything.  To which I add: and show up. Opening-open-closed-28753-l

I'm not sure where the original quote came from.  I heard it at church.  It resonates with me because it has taken me a long time to grasp the "expect nothing" part of it, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this.  Because, if we want something, aren't we supposed to visualize it?  And isn't that a form of expecting?  But now you're telling me not to expect anything after all.  And how am I supposed to think about my goals if I'm to expect nothing?  Isn't having goals expecting something? Sigh.  This stuff is confusing as all hell.

But here's what I've figured out: the trick is to just go out there and do the work–show up–and then accept what happens.  Without expectation.   It's a subtle tweak, doing the work without expectation.  Because most of the time what motivates us to take action is expectation.  Expectation that we'll get money, or success, or fame, or whatever.

But expectation can also drive what we want away.  Have you ever wanted something so bad that you felt all screwed up and twisted inside?  Its that kind of expectation that actually blocks the flow. Sometimes this happens with visualization, too.  The trick with that is to visualize your goal, and then release it to the universe to make it happen as it will.

Which is where acceptance comes in.  We think that we know just how things will turn out.  We certainly know how we want them to turn out.  And we also like to think we're in control.  Ha! But so often, things don't turn out like we planned.  Sometimes, they turn out better.  Sometimes we think they turn out worse but later we realize that is not the case.  So accepting what comes is very important.

But probably most important is taking action. If we fail to master the showing up part, then we languish.  We visualize our goals and wonder why nothing is happening.  Um, could it be because we've forgotten the showing up part?  I'm pretty sure this is where much of the sneering at New Age ideas comes in.  There's been an enormous backlash and misunderstanding about the movie The Secret, for instance.  Because people missed the taking action part. 

My understanding of all this is still a work in progress, so I'm happy to hear any clarifications, or differences of opinion, or amplifications.  Comments are encouraged!

If you're having a hard time showing up to do your creative work, my Get Your Writing in Gear sessions are $50 off for my March Madness sale.  Get clarity, get refocused, get rarin' to go on your project in a jam-packed hour of inspiration based on your current issues.  For more information, click on the purple button to the right, or check out this link.

5 Limiting Writing Beliefs to Let Go

Today is Ash Wednesday.  I am by no stretch of the imagination an authority on this or any other Christian holiday, seeing as how I was raised in the Unitarian church, and in Sunday School we learned about needy children of other cultures, mostly Africa.  (Which is no doubt why, to this day, I have a burning desire to visit that continent.) As a child, I don't recall ever hearing much about Ash Wednesday, let alone participating in it.

However, in the church I currently attend, Unity (note subtle difference from the name of the denomination in which I grew up)  Ash Wednesday is a day to think about, and let go of, your limiting beliefs.  Now this is a ritual I can wrap my brain around.  What I'm talking about here are internal limiting beliefs.  You know–those pesky little devils that stop you from moving forward with your writing.  Water_drop_drops_224824_l

I've identified several common limiting beliefs that I encounter with students and clients over and over again.  And, in the spirit of repentance, I thought I'd first confess my own biggest problem in this area.  Here it is: I bump up against myself.  Put in other words, I rebel.  Against my self.  Which is really stupid, I know.  So, if I've scheduled a morning to work on a product I want to create, I'll end up cleaning out a closet.  Or, if I've decide the single most important thing I can do is to work on my novel, I'll work on the products.  How does this rebellion translate to a limiting belief? Ah, that's the tricky part.  But I think its like this: somewhere buried deep in my self-conscious is a limiting belief that I don't take myself seriously enough.  Thus, I don't uphold my schedule.  (If there's a psychiatrist out there who has a different view on this, please weigh in.)

But that's enough about me.  Herewith, the five most common limiting beliefs I see in my clients:

1. I don't have any thing to write about.  Of course you do.  You're alive, aren't you? When first you start to write, the getting of ideas takes a bit of massaging.  You have to work at it, even fake it a bit.  You have to generate energy by jumping in.  How to let go: Using prompts is a great way to deal with this, because they are pre-supplied starting points.  And most often, you start out writing about the prompt, and then end up writing about that incident when you were 21 that changed your life forever.  Which you'd totally forgotten about.  But are now writing about.

2. It won't get published.  Maybe it won't, at least by those lumbering old traditional publishers.  But you can still give it a try.  Because you'll never know until you try.  And thank your lucky stars you live in a time when other options abound.  How to let go: If you want to expound at length on a regular basis, you can start a blog.  If you want to write articles, you can submit them to Ezinearticles or write for Associated Content.  If you want to write a book, you can publish a digital edition or let people buy it through Lulu.  And yeah, lots of those old-timey publishers exist, too, both book and magazine.  You can still submit to them.  And who knows what will happen?

3. I can't finish it. This limiting belief comes up most often in relationship to writing a book-length project, such as a memoir or novel.  Because,  writing a whole book is quite an undertaking.  A worthy undertaking, but an undertaking nonetheless.  How to let go:  Make sure you have the right mindset in place.  Choose an idea that makes your heart beat faster, so  you'll stay interested.  And mostly, know that you can do it.  Because you can.  And will.

4. It's a waste of time.  In our success-based culture, we're all about doing.  And thus if we're doing something that isn't a means to an end, we think its a waste of time.  But creativity is important in and of itself.  Even if you're writing just for yourself, its a valuable experience, because it is meaningful to you.  How to let go: Develop familiarity with the stats that reveal just how important creativity is, not only on a personal, but a societal level.  Start by reading the information Whitney Ferre has collected on her site, or read last summer's Newsweek article.

5. I'm not good enough.  The grandmother of all limiting beliefs for writers.  I'm not good enough.  Or its various permutations:  I'll never be as good as ______.  It's already been done.  And so on and so forth, all of which are just your ego being afraid of change.  How to let go: Write.  And then write more.  Because, you get better the more you write.  And, you gain confidence the more you write.  Confidence to banish these silly limiting thoughts.

So, what limiting writing belief are you going to let go of for Lent?  Feel free to share in the comments.

 Photo by Magstefan, from Everystockphoto.

A Messiness of Mind

I'm enduring a messiness of mind this week. Estock_commonswiki_303408_l

It feels like I've been on a full-out run since mid-December. There's the mad Christmas rush, of course, followed by New Year's and my daughter's birthday.  And then I had to get organized for my trip to Nashville last week, which was more complicated than usual because I was also presenting a workshop.

On the two plane flights home, I had terrible problems with the air pressure changes (that'll happen when the pilot descends from 20,000 feet when you're only 60 miles out) and so ever since I've been struggling with a head as congested as a stuffed sausage.  That's what it feels like, actually.  I keep thinking that there's no room for any extra thoughts between the usual synapses in my brain.

And to top it all off, I arrived home Monday night and stepped right into a full schedule on Tuesday, with appointments during the day and every evening booked.

I realized this morning while writing morning pages that I've simply not had time to clear the gunk out of my brain (and the damn congestion doesn't help). But here's the deal.  My surroundings echo my mental state. My office is a mess, with piles of journals and notebooks here, books I've pulled off shelves there, and papers everywhere.  And after reading a blog post from my student and friend Leisa Hammett, I've realized how big of a problem this is for me.  I looked around this morning and decided I need to get myself organized, pronto.

But a messy office is just the physical manifestation of my messy mind.  Here are some of the things I haven't been doing that usually contribute to a better mental state:

My morning ritual.  I am managing to write morning pages, but usually I spend time in meditation and prayer, contemplating life, and doing a bit of inspiring reading also.  That's all out the window.

Meditation.  See above.

Exercise.  I'm a lifelong walker and usually it takes barely anything to get me out the door.  Not lately.  Its too cold, or its too wet, or its just too too.  Basically, I'm just too lazy.  This must change.  My body is complaining to me, loudly.

But here's something I have been doing a lot lately that I believe has an enormous impact on my well-being:

Reading.  I'm always reading something (usually about 5 somethings) but lately I've been on a run of reading especially good books (The Hunger Games, The Help, a couple of non-fiction titles).  There's no better way to spend downtime as a writer than reading.  It informs, encourages and teaches us about our craft in every single aspect.

So, with luck, with any luck at all, I'll get my office organized this weekend.  Right after I finish the last 100 pages of The Help.

Resistance is Futile

Some days, my life is one long series of resistance.

I want to eat couscous with my lunch, but the voice inside my head warns me it's a carb and I really shouldn't eat carbs.

I want a glass of wine before dinner, because all the males of the family are drinking beer and watching the Orange Bowl and its fun to hang out with them.  But the ego-driven voice tells me that I shouldn't because it's a week night.


I really want to take time to work on my own writing project, but I warn myself I have manuscripts to read and paid writing to finish.

Every one of these desires is met with resistance, a chorus of  shoulds and shouldn'ts.  And my desires and my resistance go head-to-head, back and forth, until I'm having a Linda Blair in the Exorcist moment, my head whipping around on my neck in a frightening fashion.

And then I realize what is happening.  That I'm resisting what is.  And the old adage, what resists, persists, is true.  So as long as I resist the damn couscous, I'm going to want to eat it.  As long as I resist the wine, the call to drink it is going to get stronger.  And when I resist the urge to work on my own writing, the sadness inside me will grow bigger and bigger until it swallows me up. 

What I really need to do is just let it all go.  Relax into it and quit with the resistance already.

But, my ego whispers, what about that concept of personal responsibility you're so big on this year?  Huh?  Huh?  Isn't it the responsible thing to do to not eat the couscous or drink the wine? In a way, yes.  But there's a crucial difference.  And that is the act of letting go.

Have you ever had the experience of wrestling with a problem, focusing on it obsessively, without result or change?  And then suddenly you've had the glorious feeling of just letting it go?  When it happens it is magical, because you truly enter the space where whatever happens is alright.  No matter what, its alright.

Because letting go means that you are not attached to the outcome.  And here's where the personal responsibility part comes in: you do your best, you work your hardest, you glory in the process, but you aren't attached to what happens.  You trust that whatever happens will be for the best.  And if what you want to have happen doesn't happen, you know that something else that might be better will.

And so, when I let go and relax, I can serve myself up some couscous and realize that a very small portion will satisfy my craving for it.  I can pour myself a glass of wine and enjoy it without feeling the need for another.  And I can take time to write and know there's time enough to get everything done.

What is, is.  Resisting it is futile, because you're arguing with reality.  So relax and let go.  And all will be well.  And by the way, this is what letting go and relaxing looks like:


What do you resist?  What are your experiences with letting go?

Photo of wine by telefon897, from Everystockphoto.  Image of pugs and cats from my Iphone.

Writing Your Way Back To Yourself

This morning I woke up tired, headachy, and full.   Yesterday was, after all, Thanksgiving.  And I cooked for 12 people, which is enough to give anybody an exhaustion hangover.  As I stood in the kitchen, sipping my coffee, I thought that I'd skip my morning routine of writing first thing.  Because, well, I didn't feel like doing anything more than slumping over the newspaper at the kitchen table. But then I told myself I would feel better if I wrote.  So I dragged my tired ass up the stairs to my office and my journal.  And after about a page of writing, I realized something.


I was beginning to feel like myself again.

I can feel the writing bringing me back to myself, I wrote.

And isn't this a most wonderful gift?

All you have to do is write.  It doesn't matter what you write on, or with, or where you write or how, or even what you write about.  All you have to do is write and you'll find your way back to yourself.  And if you do this regularly, well then, miracles might even happen.

It doesn't matter if you write for a living, writing for a business, write with the hopes of someday publishing, or write for your own pleasure, I believe firmly that establishing a regular writing habit will serve you well.  It actually doesn't even matter if you want to be an artist, or a dictator, or the best barista on the planet, I still think that a regular writing habit will serve you well.

Because it will bring you back to yourself.  Again and again and again.  And I think it is one of our strangest and dearest foibles as humans that we need to be brought back to ourselves over and over again.  For most of us, this is a lifelong quest, to remember who we are and come back to it.  Some people never figure it out.  But I believe we writers and creative types have an advantage–because through our creations, we are constantly figuring it out.  And that is why we return to the page again and again and again.

And now, please excuse me while I go eat some leftovers.

I'd love to hear how your writing habits serve you.


Photo by clarita, from MorgueFile.

Taking Time to Write

Everyone talks a lot about making time to write, but do you take time to write?

I have a lot of transition points throughout the day, times when I'm segueing from one project to the next, or switching from being out and about to sitting at my desk, working.  At these junctures, I often find myself clicking onto my yahoo home page to mindlessly scan the sites I have collected there.  Or I'll write a quick email. It is a brainless, restful transitional activity.  And judging by the long emails and instant messaging conversations I have with people who I know are at work, I'm not the only one who uses the internet in this way.


All fine and good, when used in moderation (like all things, dammit). 

The problem is that it is so very, very easy to get carried away.  One innocent headline on your news reader leads you to another story you just have to read.  You tell yourself it is an important part of your career to stay up-to-date on current events.  Right, but do current events include whether or not Lindsay Lohan is in jail? I think not.  You remind yourself that in your position it is very important to stay in touch with people.  Yes, but do those people expect you to answer their emails instantaneously?  Of course not.

I know, I know, you've heard this a million times before.  But try taking a look at it from a slightly different lens.   What if, instead of indulging engaging in mindless activity when you have a bit of downtime, what if instead you turned to your writing?  What if you kept your current project open on your computer, or your journal at hand, and when you had a minute, you re-read the last paragraph you wrote? Or edited a sentence or two, or wrote a few lines based on a prompt.

What if you actually took the extra time you have throughout the day and used it for writing?

Many's the time I've read of writers who claim to have written their books in small chunks of time here and there.  The poet and novelist Darnell Arnoult tells of the years she was working full-time and raising her children, and how she would sit in the car and write while she waited for them to finish their sports practice.  Out of this, eventually, a novel grew. 

Start taking a look at your down time or your transition points.  And don't discount what value there is in taking time to look at your writing.  Even if you only have five minutes, reading over your work keeps it alive and fresh in your mind.  It helps you to establish that magical momentum.  And it will keep your subconscious pondering connections and ideas to contribute.


I think the reason we don't take these little bits of time throughout the day is because we're tired, and dealing with our writing takes energy.  But get into the habit of it, and soon it is the opposite.  Your writing habit will energize and refresh you, much more so than surfing the net.   And besides, wouldn't you rather reach the end of the day exhausted because you gave it your all?  Because you used every minute, because you threw words at the page every chance you got, because you remained engaged with your writing–and thus the world–throughout the day?  I know I would.

How do you take the time to write?  Or if you don't, do you have any ideas for how you can?

This is Why We Do It

I'm staying on top of a hill at a resort in Gatlinburg.  And when I say hill, I mean hill.  You could, perhaps, even call it a small mountain.  Well, if you were familiar with western mountain ranges like the Rockies or the Cascades you probably wouldn't, but here you could.  Also when I say we're at the top of the hill, I mean at the top. 

The first day we were here, my friend Linda and I decided we would walk all the way down to the resort lobby and then back up again.  Amazingly enough we made it the whole way, with multiple stops to "see the view" (ie, rest).  The next day we set off again and made it about 2/3 of the way up before flagging down a golf cart to take us the rest of the way.  (The resort runs golf carts and shuttles up and down the hill a gazillion times a day, because, trust me, most people do not want to walk up the hill.  They are the smart people.) My legs and butt were so sore I simply couldn't go any farther!


But later on that day, we hiked to Laurel Falls, a popular destination here in the Great Smokies.  The last thing I wanted was more uphill walking, but sure enough the trail climbed steadily.  Thank goodness for small favors, it was a low grade and an easy hike.  (And beautiful!) But still my legs complained a bit.  And my ego?  That Voice that hates change, hates challenge, wants, at all costs to protect me?  It was screaming about how much it hated this latest hike.  (You should have heard it when I was walking up the resort hill.  Oh, mama it was cranky.) The Voice wanted only one thing: for the hike to be over.

And then I had an epiphany.  This is why we do it.  For the challenge of the moment, for being present with the aches and pains and discomforts.  Not for having done it.  Not for sitting around the fire later and talking about it.  For this.  For this moment in all its challenges (which, in this case, were very minimal.  But the Voice doesn't care.)  Because, later, when sitting around talking about it, you might actually find yourself wishing you were back there in the moment doing it. 

Of course, I related this immediately to writing.  There's a common saying about certain people you may meet along the way: the don't want to actually write, they want to have written.  So true, so true. But those people are missing the wonder of the pain of the moment.  Of sticking with a scene even when its not working exactly right, of continuing to work on your novel even when you have no idea if it will ever sell.  I could come up with a million more examples, but you already are familiar with them.

So remember this next time you are in the middle of a writing session and things aren't going so well: this is why we do it.  For all of it, the good, the bad, the pain, the joy.  And just keep going.

Photo of Laurel Falls by Zhans33, from Wikipedia.