writing abundance

Turning Your Head Around

No, I'm not going to talk about the Linda Blair move from The Exorcist.

This post is about changing your mindset.  (I wrote a post earlier this week about the success mindset, and this is yet different from that, too.)  Specifically, changing your mindset when you are working on something that is hard.

Yesterday, I was hard at work on a project, hard being the operative word, and I was cranky.  The piece was complicated and it required deep concentration and a lot of thought.  The deeper I got into, the crankier I got and I soon I was whining up a storm.  Which, of course, only made everything more difficult.  But ultimately, it was me that was making it more difficult, because I was psyching myself out about how hard it was.

Duh.

So I stopped myself and my chattering brain for a moment and took stock.  I had already:

  • Put together all the research I needed
  • Gotten clear on the audience
  • Developed a loose outline

So what was the problem?  I needed to change my mindset.  Instead of bitching and moaning about the project, I needed to generate some enthusiasm.  And here's how I did that:

Remember the Vision

I asked myself, why was I doing this in the first place?  For love, money, prestige, career enhancement? The why doesn't matter so much as re-connecting to it.  If it is a project you are doing strictly for the money, envision depositing your fee in your checking account, or seeing a payment coming through on Paypal.  If it is for love, remind yourself what it is about the project that attracted you to it in the first place.  

Get Really Clear

All success starts with clarity.  You need to know where you're going before you get there.  If you get very clear on the parameters of the project, you'll have a much easier time.  As I've mentioned before, when something isn't working, there's a reason.  You may need more clarity.  Go back and look at your outline, or write one up if you haven't already.

Focus

Maybe you are struggling because your mindset is diluted and vague.  I'm a complete and total email and internet whore, but even I have to once in awhile shut down all inboxes and websites in order just to concentrate on the task at hand.  It is amazing how much minor distractions can pull at us and make us feel antsy and unhappy.  

Think About the Who

In fiction, it is the characters who matter.  In life, it is other people.  Sometimes it helps me to remember that.  So if I'm bogged down in a project, I think about the people I'm doing it for, how I'm helping them, how happy they are going to be to get this information, and so on.  If that doesn't work, because, say, I hate the people I'm doing the project for (rare, as I'm sort of a people whore also), then I think about the people in my life that I love, and remember that if I buckle down and get the project done I can go spend time with them.

Usually, I find that I can change my mindset by really thinking about one of these things.  What about you?  How do you change your mindset when it isn't working?

(And remember, if you try and try to change your mindset but don't seem to be able to, maybe you need the help of a coach.  Email me for more information.)

PS–I tried and tried to find a photo of Linda Blair with her head turning around to illustrate this post, but to no avail.

What’s Your Favorite Book?

Book_books_pages_265007_l I have a reason for asking the question in the title.

I've been going on and on about how I'm re-organizing my office, down to sorting through the oldest papers. And the work continued this weekend.  I'm down to a box of old CDs to sort, which I'm not entirely sure what to do with, and a pile of papers and notebooks and files which constitutes all the info I've collected to write my Ebook.  Pretty cool, huh?

But here's the coolest thing.  I sorted through my books and came up with three boxes of them to sell.  I used to have a really hard time getting rid of books, whether by giving them away or selling them.  I wanted to hang onto every book I've ever laid hands on.  And if you could see the overflowing book shelves in practically every room in my house, you would think I had.  But it finally occurred to me that by letting go of books, I was actually allowing more to flow into my life.  And also that letting go of them allowed someone else to read them. 

So I've come to peace with periodically sorting through books.  And luckily for me, here in Portland, we have Powell's books, the biggest bookstore in the country, which also buys books.   When you sell them your books, they give you the option of either taking what you've earned in cash or in a book credit.  If you choose the book credit, you get more. 

Now, let me tell you, many's the time we've taken books to Powell's when we were so broke we didn't have any choice but to take the cash.  But this weekend, when we took books in to the warehouse to sell, I was able to choose the book credit.  So…wait for it….I now have a book voucher worth $144 in books to spend at Powell's.

I about passed out with joy when they told me.

I've been collecting some titles that I really want to read–a couple new novels, one called Angelology and another called The Irresistible Henry House, and there's a new book on writing a novel in six months by John DuFresne.  Okay, so that's a pretty good list.  But I may get to Powell's and decide none of those look good.  And I'd like to bring home some juicy non-fiction, too.

I want more titles to peruse, a long, long list to ponder and think about and take with me so that I can pull books off the shelf and think hmmm, yes, or ick, no.  So help me out here, will you?  Tell me your favorite books.  They can be classic or contemporary, fiction or non-fiction, written by male or female authors.  I love books in the self-help and spiritual genres, but really, I'm game for anything.   Send me one title or a dozen, I'm not picky, just lay 'em on me.

I can't wait to read what your favorites are.

The Mindset of Success

This morning I was writing about a character.  Her arc is to go from being what she considers to be a Frustration_cranesbeach_ipswich_1173445_l failure, to suddenly experiencing great success.  So as I was tracing this movement, I started thinking about how to show what her failure looked like and felt like to her, and then what her success would look like and feel like also.

As always, writing is life and life is writing. The thought occurred to me that this is a good exercise to do for anyone who wants more success in their life.  What makes you feel successful?  How do you feel inside when you are successful?  How do you behave?  What actions do you take? What are the outer trappings of your success? 

Conversely, how does failure make you feel? How do you act and present yourself when you feel beaten down and discouraged?  What does failure look like in your world?

I have some ideas that are not yet fully formed about this topic.  A vague starting point:

Successful people hold themselves well, stand up straight, meet your eyes and have a firm handshake.  Duh.  Beyond that, there's a sparkle in their eye, a zest for life that shows in the way they dress and walk.  They don't hesitate–in any situation, they take action.  Outwardly, they care for themselves and their surroundings well.

Failures slump over and their eyes are dead.  They meander through their days instead of walking purposefully.  Nothing much excites them so they spend a lot of time idly flipping through web pages that don't really interest them on the internet.  Their surroundings are shabby and they don't much care.

What else?  What am I missing?  I want to know because this information bears on my character, but I also think it bears on all of us.  What does success look like to you?  To me success means getting a novel published and no matter what else I accomplish (and I have plenty of unrelated goals, such as write an Ebook and start a coaching program), until I publish a novel I'll not feel fully successful.  What does that say about me? 

The more I think about it, the more this topic of inner and outer success interests me.  I think it is worthy of thought and writing about to explore how you really feel about it.  Because once you know what success looks like for you, you can begin to take steps to achieve it.  Probably I'll be doing lots of writing about it through the creation of this new character, which will have a bearing on my own life.

So let me know what your thoughts are about success.  What will make you finally feel successful?  Or maybe you already do–and if so, what contributes to that feeling?  I'm all ears. 

***The awesome photo is from sandcastlematt, found on Everystockphoto, used under Creative Commons 2.5 license.

When Something Isn’t Working

When something isn't working, there's a reason.   Doll_head_snow_264063_l

I know.

Duh.

But how many times have you sat at your computer, beating your head against your desk, trying to make something work that isn't working?  Trying to force a character to do something she doesn't want to do, or writing a scene in a location that just doesn't resonate with you, or creating a plot point that seems forced and unnatural?

I've done this a million times, doggedly writing even when the nagging voice inside of me informs me that something is wrong.  Something isn't working.

And often it takes quite awhile before I listen.

It happened again earlier this week.  I've been diligently getting up to work on my novel first thing every morning.  I love, love, love the idea for the plot of the novel.  But I've not been able to wrap my brain around the protagonist.  No matter what I did, I couldn't bond with her.  Couldn't feel her voice inside me or get it onto the page.  But I kept writing, telling myself that the voice would come.  Except finally, one morning, I realized that what I was writing was so dull and lifeless that nobody, even me, would want to write it.

Now, I know full well that it is not a good thing to listen to such voices when you are writing. Except for when it is.  

When you are writing and writing and begin to feel like your driving a car on snow and you can't get any traction, it is maybe time to take a wee break and ponder. Which is what I did.  Luckily, on the day I decided it was time to hit the brakes and quit spinning my wheels, I had an appointment with my coach.  We discussed the problem in detail and I finally realized that I was trying to force myself to write about a character in a profession I knew nothing about and didn't care to learn.  So that gave me the freedom and the courage to start over–not with the plot, but with the character.

But, here's the deal.  If I hadn't been writing, I wouldn't have figured out that it wasn't going to work.  If I had sat around thinking about it, I'd still be sitting around thinking about it.  I wouldn't have discovered that there was a reason for my writing paralysis.  And so, even though in some ways I've gone backwards, today I'm a happy camper. 

Because knowing what's wrong lights a path to change it.  And, figuring out that there is something wrong in the first place is sometimes the most illuminating moment of all.

What about you?  How do you figure out when something is wrong?

Make Work

"Make work" is my all-purpose notation to myself that I use for both notes and on manuscripts.   It is Office_business_desk_237992_l shorthand for "Make it work," and a very handy two words.

If I'm writing notes, and they are a bit sketchy, I add, "make work," because I know in my brain what I mean, I just might not want to take the time to write it all out–these are notes, not the full manuscript, after all.

If I'm editing a manuscript and something needs fleshing out, I'll write the notation, "Make work."

"Make work" can apply to fleshing out a character, dealing with a plot issue, adding in more description, anything.  It is a sign to myself that something isn't working.  Something needs to be dealt with or looked at more deeply.

This week what I needed to make work was a whole lot deeper than most.  It involved re-thinking an entire project, about which I will write more tomorrow or next week.  The experience has also got me re-thinking various aspects of my life.  To wit:

  • What do I need to make work better?
  • What things am I holding onto, trying to make work, that I should instead let go of?
  • What else needs a make work notation in my life–where are things too sketchy?
  • What ideas in my brain need a make work note to bring them to life in the real world?

How about you?  What do you need to make work in your life or writing?

The Writer’s Paradox

 Cymru-gales-wales-1082570-l
Scenario #One:  Life is going well.  Really well.  Your relationships are all in great shape, you're healthy, you eat right and exercise regularly.  Your like your job, you have a great place to live, you love your pets, the sun is shining.  However, your writing sucks.  Nothing that you write works.  You can't get your latest project off the ground to save your life. You wake feeling that something is wrong and you go to bed distracted and irritated.  And so, plain and simple, you are miserable. 

Scenario #Two:  Life is hell.  Your marriage is on life support, your kids are screw-ups, you're overweight and you consider taking the elevator up four floors to your tiny apartment exercise.  You've just endured the worst winter on record and your job is about to become the latest victim of the recession.  However, your writing is going great!  You wake up energized, ready to get to work, and the words flow easily.  And because of this, you are happy as can be.

If I'm writing, all is right with the world.  And it doesn't matter what else is happening in my life, I'm still happy.  Writing well gives me energy and clarity and makes me feel I can deal with anything.  But if I'm not writing well, everything feels sludgy and gray.

Isn't this an odd paradox?

The only other thing I can liken it to is kids and their mothers.  Years ago, I read an article in which Nora Ephron discussed child rearing.  She said that if you gave kids a choice of having their mother, blissfully happy, but far away, or mom, desperately unhappy, but available in the other room, they'll take the latter option any day. Which, in my experience, is true.  Kids don't want their moms happy, they just want their moms, period.

I'm not even sure exactly how that relates to the writer's paradox but I feel it deep in my bones that it does.  I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that writing is so ingrained in me that it dictates the sheer essence of my being, moreso than anything else in my life.  Like a child depending on his mother, I rely on my writing to get me through.

Is this true for you? Or am I just a total whack job?  Please tell me it is true for you, too.

**Photo by clspeace, found via Flickr on Everystockphoto and used under Creative Commons 2.5 license.

My Old Friend Paralysis

Yesterday, all writing and other activities came to a screeching halt.  This happened suddenly.  One Everystockphoto_155435_m minute I was in the middle of a writing session.  The next minute I was paralyzed.  I realized that everything I had written was complete and total crap.  And that there was no use writing anymore, ever, for the rest of my life, because any new words that I put on the page would be even worse. 

Because of this epiphany that I could no longer write, I turned my attention to my to-do list, as long as always.  But nothing on it interested me. 

"Buck up", I told myself.  "It isn't supposed to interest you, it's your to-do list."

But I couldn't connect with a single item on it. Instead, I sat at my desk, paralyzed everywhere except for my over-active brain, which told me I was an impostor, a failure and stupid and unattractive to boot. This went on for a few minutes until I finally got up and cleaned the kitty litter.  Did some dishes and straightened the house.  These are all chores that generally go undone until I run and do it all in a panic at the last minute before someone gets home.  By the time I'd exhausted all the mind-numbing chores, I had only a few minutes left to write.  I forced myself back to it, and got some words on the page.  They weren't words that I was happy with, but they were words on the page.  By then, it was time to go to my acupuncture appointment, thank you God.

My acupuncturist, Hana, listened to my whining, told me I was probably having a healing crisis (I've been doing lots of acupuncture and hypnotherapy lately) and stuck extra needles in my crown and third eye chakras.  During the rest time, I dozed and snored for awhile, and then I woke up and started thinking about the novel.  Thoughts and ideas flooded in.  Oh wonderful movement, which feels so much better than being stuck!

I came home and made notes, not only on the novel but the entire process of being stuck.  And here are some of the antidotes I came up with, just in case this ever happens to you:

1.  Choose something, anything to do or work on, it doesn't matter what.  This is the Tough Love antidote.  May not be pleasant, but it will probably work.

2. Get in touch.  Maybe you've lost your connection.  Meditate.  Go deep.  What do you really want to write?  What do you really want to do at this moment?

3. Get away.  Go for a walk, clean the kitty litter, do the grocery shopping, whatever.  Sometimes just getting up from my desk allows the ideas to flow again.

4.  Move your body.  Take a walk, do yoga or Qi Gong, dance, march in place.  It is amazing how moving the body can sometimes loosen a logjam in the brain.

5. Take a nap.  If all else fails, sleep.

6.  Do something that gives you confidence.  Go back to something you're really good at and work on that for awhile.  It'll give you a boost.

7.  Listen to a motivational CD.  Never underestimate the power of some rah-rah attitude!  I put a CD in on my drive to acupuncture and it was already helping to lift my mood by the time I got there.

Okay, so those are my suggestions.  Anyone have an antidote to add?

No Longer Allowed

Attention, please.Note_desk_paper_237717_l

The following are no longer allowed during a writing session:

1. Whining

2. Worrying about the quality of your work

3. Obsessing over the odds for getting your work published

4. Wondering what others will think of your writing

5. Deciding that writing is a colossal waste of your time, because, really, what do you have to show for it?

6. Having impossibly high expectations

7. Getting distracted (no, you do NOT need to check your email)

8.  Worrying about what a failure you are and how this is not going to be the project to change that

9.  Thinking about whether or not you are following "the rules"

10.  Giving up, then going to do something else

Any guesses how my early-morning writing session went this morning?  Um, right.  Wasn't pretty.  How about you?  What is on your list of Things No Longer Allowed in Writing Sessions?

When I Am Writing…

"When I am writing my problems become invisible and I am the person I always was.  All is well.  I am as I should be."   Roger Ebert

I copied this quote from a profile of Roger Ebert that appears in Esquire.

Nearly four years ago, Ebert had most of his lower jaw removed due to thyroid cancer surgery.  Since then he hasn't eaten, drank, or spoken a word–he communicates by writing or a keyboard to voice device.  But in many ways his writing has been revitalized, as he writes a blog for the Chicago Sun-Times on a variety of topics.  In one of the most touching images that illustrates the article, there's a blue post-it note, with a message from Ebert written on it–"There is no need to pity me.  Look how happy I am. This has led to an explosion of writing."

The article, by Chris Jones, is an inspiration, well worth reading.  And Ebert's blog–he calls it a journal–is well worth reading, too.  I got absorbed in it when I went in search of the correct link, and forgot I was in the middle of writing a post. 

So, this is what I've got for you today, since I've got a busy day full of appointments–why are my Fridays always busy days full of appointments?–and I wanted to leave you with something.  Trust me, this article is much more inspiring than anything I could come up with on the fly.

Have a great Friday and a wonderful weekend, everyone.  Oh–and if anything from the article hits you as being worth sharing, come on back and leave a comment.  I think the first quote alone is worth clutching to your heart.

They Call it Fear

First there was the story I read online about how the Northwest, including Portland, could expect a Violator3_black_white_686057_l major earthquake of the sort that just decimated Chile sometime in the next 50 years.   I hate earthquakes.  I expect the earth beneath my feet to stay steady, thank you very much.

Then I watched a little bit of the local Fox News.  I never watch television news, but it was on after American Idol, and the TV didn't get turned off fast enough for me not to see the story about the guy who got slashed up by a trio of men who invaded his backyard in the early morning hours.  (The victim was outside having a smoke.)  This wouldn't have been so bad, except it happened fairly close to my house.

Before I knew it, I was getting re-acquainted with my old friend, fear. 

Now this kind of fear is a little different than being scared of stuff.

This is the kind of fear that most often is underlying, sometimes vague, beneath-the-surface misery.  It is not specific enough to battle.  There's no real way for me to put myself face to face with earthquakes, for instance.  And realistically, I'm not going to put myself face to face with a slasher.

No, this kind of fear is insidious.  It is the kind that terrorism is designed to instill.  It is the kind that seeps throughout every cell in our body, a nameless, creeping dread that if left unchecked, starts to subtlety control thoughts and actions.  And eventually it will manifest itself in my writing.

It won't be obvious how it's manifesting, either.  Instead, it'll take the form of procrastination or suddenly deciding not to move forward on a project or convincing myself its okay if I never write another novel. Because this kind of fear is leech-like, attaching itself to your bad habits and insecurities and magnifying them.  This kind of fear feeds on uncertainty and indecision. And before you know it, you're telling yourself you never wanted to be a writer, really, anyway.

So, how to battle such a sneaky enemy?  Here are some tips:

Acknowledge it.  The more you do this, the easier it will be to see.  Took me awhile, but last night after I'd soaked myself in a bath of fear, I realized what was going on.  Sometimes acknowledging is half the battle.

Dance with it.  Or wrestle it, or punch it in the face.  Argue with it, yell at it, tell it to go away.  Because this fear is stealthy and cunning, it doesn't like being overtly dealt with and chances are doing just that will keep it at bay.

Protect yourself from it.  Stay away from the things that cause it in the first place.  I usually don't watch television news, for instance.  I won't read books or see movies that have animals in them because I worry about the animals the entire time, even if there's a happy ending.  And because I take on things far too easily, I don't see war movies and I refuse to read anything written by Cormac McCarthy.

De-stress.  Meditate, do yoga or Qi Gong, find yourself a good relaxation CD (my current favorite, since I'm in the middle of a wonderful hypnotism program) or do whatever it is that rids you of stress.  Fear feeds on nerves, anxiety and stress, so it is important to deal with it regularly.

Write.  It always comes back to this for me.  Writing regularly is the best revenge against everything, including fear.  So write often, every day if you can, whether you are writing on a project you're passionate about or in your journal.  

And let me know what your fear-busters are, would you?  We can all use some help in banishing fear.

Photo by Violator3, used under a Creative Commons 2.5 license.