Monday, November 23, 2015

Can't Stop, Won't Stop: The Curse of the Writer's Brain

My brain never stops. Ever. Not to sleep regular hours. Not to enjoy normal holidays. Not even to take vacations that other people take and post about on social networking all smiling and happy and thought-free.

My brain doesn't take vacations. It hasn't since early childhood, when I realized I was going to grow up to be a story-teller, because that was all I ever seemed to be doing. Whether I was telling them to other people, or to myself, or to my invisible friends (who were real, just invisible), I was telling stories. Whatever was going on in my environment became a story. Whatever I was thinking or feeling or experiencing became a story.

Things have not changed. Sometimes I try to write and my brain freezes up, probably because it's tired and sick of all the coffee I drink to try to stimulate it. I think it freezes up, too, because it has too many ideas and they all clog the line trying to get front and center. Because they all want and need to be heard and acknowledged and explored in some detail, even the ones that don't deserve to be.

I know many creative people who have the same problem with their brains. Artists, musicians, directors, advertising agency folks, illustrators, you name it...we all suffer the same fate. I ask many of them if they ever take a day off. They laugh. I laugh. We have a good laugh and get back to work getting our thoughts and ideas OUT of our brains and onto whatever canvas we've chosen to express ourselves.

I want my brain to take a week off here and there, but it doesn't listen to me, and by now, I have run out of ways to try to convince it that some downtime will make it come up with better ideas. It snorts and chortles and goes on doing what it wants, because my brain has a mind of its own. I don't even try much any more.

The thing is, I can't fight who I am and how I'm built. I've tried. People say, "Take some downtime. Stop overthinking. Set it aside for later. Rest." I look at them and shake my head, because I know it isn't worth getting into a big argument over. They have no idea what it's like when my brain is telling me to ignore those people. Flip them the bird. Tell them I have important work to do and ideas to mull over.

I have negotiated a bit of middle ground, though. My brain allows me to get around three to four hours of sleep a night. Now and then, it allows me even more, but that is rare and I don't push it. I take what I can get, you know? Sometimes it lets me watch a whole television show or movie without interrupting me with ideas as to how I could do it better. That's always pleasant. In return, I let my brain run its mouth off and try my best to keep track of the ideas it spews out like waste from a drain pipe. Yuck. Now there's an image for you. But that's the image my brain wanted to give me. I've gotten used to it.

I hope my readers will, too.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Know When To Hold 'Em, and When To Fold 'Em: The Power of Personal Ultimatums

When pursuing a dream, especially one as crazy as being a full time writer, there comes a time when you wonder if you are chasing your own damn tail. The idea of giving up may cross your mind often during your career, especially the lean days when nothing seems to be working on the surface. That is normal. But there will be that ONE time when you really don't think you can keep on going another day, let alone another year, without seeing some return on your investments. Investments of time, talent, energy, hope and passion.

You lay awake at night going over and over your entire career, even your life, wondering which decisions got you here and what you could have done different. I'd say this works for relationships, too. When did things get derailed? Why are so many others so much farther along, happier, richer, more successful? Am I just so out of touch with reality I keep pursuing a pipe dream, or do I really have talent? Am I messing up my kid, my marriage, my health, and my body? 

It happens to all of us. But then you wake up the next morning and feel that urge to keep going, and the cycle repeats itself over and over. You might even have so many things in the mix, that you tell yourself "Something will break if I just hold on a little longer." You might even tell yourself that for years, waiting for that "break." Now and then, that break comes in the guise of an illness or massive financial distress that, once overcome, re-empowers you to go for your dream life. Or that break might never come. And you might watch your dreams go up in smoke, or down in flames, whichever visual you prefer. 

But there is another way to keep hope alive, and keep moving forward with a newfound fierceness, without having to come down with a terrible illness, or lose your marriage, or your mind. Give yourself an ultimatum. Just as you might give a lagging lover an ultimatum to take your relationship to the next level or be gone, you have to do the same with your dreams. Just as you would give someone you hired to work on your home an ultimatum to finish the job by the time they promised or not get paid, you have to do the same with yourself and your goals.

This ultimatum has to be BIG, and it has to be BOLD and it has to be IMPORTANT...or like a self-imposed deadline, you might just ignore it or let it keep slipping away. This ultimatum should be written down, and it should be general enough to encompass your main goal, yet specific enough to give you the momentum build you need. You can have several ultimatums for each area of your life, or one that is the most critical to you at the time.

Some ultimatums for writers might be:

If I don't get a publisher for this book in eight months, I will self publish.
If I cannot get 5,000 followers on my FB author page by December, I will devote the next three months to marketing alone.
If I cannot get an agent in one year, I will contact publishers myself.
If I do not see increased sales and better reviews on my book within six months, I will pull it offline and revise with a new cover.
If I am not making this amount from my writing by next June, I'll get a part time job.

Life ultimatums are more general:

If I don't lose ten pounds by my son's wedding on my own, I will join a gym and go three times a week.
If I don't find a date on my own in a year, I will join a dating website.
If I cannot earn my desired income by next February at my current job, I will seek employment elsewhere.
If I go one month without a drink, I'll take myself to a spa.
If my back pain is not gone by next month, I'll talk to my doctor about surgery.
If I don't run three times this week, I'll join that running group at the beach.

Again, we give others ultimatums all the time, whether we do it consciously or subconsciously. If he doesn't marry me in four years, he is out. If she cannot stop doing drugs on her own, we will have an intervention. If my boss keeps screwing me over, I will quit in March. If my spouse abuses me again, I'll file for divorce. Or we don't bother giving them at all, and continue living a life that belongs to someone else, feeling miserable and disempowered because we cannot make anything happen, or stick to something, or stand up for ourselves. Ugh.

But the most important ones, no matter how big or small, are the ones we give ourselves in regards to our own behaviors, actions and goals. The best ultimatums don't ask that you completely give up and throw in the towel if something doesn't happen in a certain way or time frame, although if that is what you feel is right, go for it. They simply provide you with a specific reaction you commit to having to a specific action. A tangible next step. They are goals coupled with subtle pushes, or even threats if that works better for you!  If I don't get a raise in six months, I will quit this shitty job! But be ready to quit that shitty job, or your ultimatums will no longer hold power.

And that is the key. YOU MUST FOLLOW THROUGH. Because if you don't, you will render yourself and your ability to push forward powerless. When you cannot keep a promise to yourself, and really, isn't that what an ultimatum is, than what hope is there of achieving a dream anyway? Stay tough, stay focused, and follow through.

So before you go and fold 'em, maybe hold 'em a little bit longer. Give yourself an ultimatum or two. Trust me, I did this and it lights a real hot fire under your ass. You will find your motivation refueled, and your hope and determination renewed, just by treating your life as though it's important enough to set deadlines and then make and take appropriate actions to get there. 

And should you fail? You can either fold 'em, or re-assess any progress and formulate a new ultimatum.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Timing Is Everything! Why Your Whole Life Matters

I appear to be in the midst of a major career shift with my writing, and one of the natural things that happens is to question the past. Did I wait too long to make this shift? Am I doing the right thing at the right time? Did I waste time not doing this a decade ago? Does my past in any way benefit this shift?

Whether it's a career shift, a change of relationship status, a big move or a goal of achieving health after a long period of lousy living, those questions pop up and make us wish we would have moved or acted sooner. Regret can haunt us like nothing else can. Regret can keep us immobilized, trapped in the idea that we shouldn't even be THINKING of making major changes at this point in our lives for all sorts of reasons (those are called "excuses"). Regret can keep us stuck in places we should have moved from before, but hey, the truth is...WE WEREN'T QUITE READY YET. Think back to a time when you really wanted to do something, but it felt forced and you had to push so much to make it happen, it was exhausting. Then think about a time when it all fell into place naturally, without you having to force the issue. Timing is everything (but you still do the prep work to be ready when the time is right!).

The past can serve us in all kinds of powerful and positive ways if we realize that everything we did got us here, to this point, and this decision, and this sense of READINESS. In my case, my past as a writer could indeed be a huge jumping point and foundation for the new direction I was forging. It actually took my literary manager, Italia Gandolfo, to get that through my head, because I was SURE all the years I had wasted not starting this transition sooner were, well, a waste. They weren't. They were a part of a brilliant and important career that I could now leverage into something new, something even bigger and something that really dovetailed my true passions and goals into the perfect place to be. For me. NOW!

There are things that we want that can only happen when they happen. There are dreams that will take detours and morph into new dreams and there are goals we will suddenly drop along the way and find ourselves picking up new ones we never imagined we would. There are situations that will work out JUST the way we planned, but mostly a lot of them that will work out quite differently. The thing is...IT ALL WORKS TOGETHER TO GET US READY.

Ready to move. Ready to jump. Ready to dive. Think about it. You cannot dive into a pool without a place to dive FROM. That place is the entirety of your past work, your past relationships, your past choices and it is THE perfect place to dive in and get started on something grand and awesome.

I knew all this. I always know. WE always know. But often it takes someone telling us at the right time for us to finally GET IT and embrace it. I've noticed this happening to me a lot lately. People saying things to me that are profound, that I'd heard a million times before. But I hadn't then been ready to really hear it. The timing wasn't right.

Timing is everything, and so is the time we spent doing what we did, in order to set us up perfectly for what is to come. No regrets.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Swimming Through Molasses

I've often thought that being a writer compares to a marathon swim through the thickest molasses money can buy. One day the news is good and excitement fills the air, and the next day the dreams are shot down in the flames of rejection. One day you think the deal is in the bag, and the next day you find out that the dealmaker folded and went out of business. One day you are posting all over Facebook about a new project, and the next day you are told to put that project on the back burner because the market hates the concept.

It's hard.

And it doesn't get any easier even after you've successfully published fifteen books! The marathon continues, and the molasses are as thick as ever. It's a miracle every writer doesn't up and quit the race. But many don't, and won't, no matter how much disappointment, rejection and frustration they experience, because writing is what they were meant to do and they just don't know how to do anything else. Or they DO know, but can't find it in their hearts to do so. Swimming through molasses becomes preferable to a life lived otherwise, even though it might be an easier life with a lot less painful, sometimes brutal rejection.

Over the decades I've been writing, and selling, and not selling, I've learned that patience is both a virtue and a vice. I've learned that while you have little to no control over what happens "out there" once you are done with your work, you still need to stay in control. I've learned that each day will bring either joyful excitement, heartbreaking depression, or, at the very least, a lot of waiting and hearing nothing but crickets. I've learned that in order to be a writer, I've had to adapt to all these things, and more, and in the end be okay with all of it. I'm not always okay with it, but that's what they make wine for.

At some point, you get to stop swimming and take a nice, long breather. If you are lucky, you might even get to crawl out of the molasses for awhile and swim through something a lot lighter and more forgiving, like lemonade or chocolate milk. But each and every time you begin a new project, that threat is there, that promise of jumping back into the stickiness again, with all its possible excitement and acceptance, depression and rejection, disappointment and frustration and waiting and waiting and waiting.

The sooner you learn to like molasses, the better.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Out of Control!

Personal shifts happen all the time in life, especially to those who are open to growth and evolution. People who are not happy staying stuck in the same rut or shit pile. People who are ok going outside the comfort zone no matter how much it hurts, feels weird, disorients, frightens or confuses.

I am undergoing this amazingly terrifying, yet awe-filled shift right now because of a huge choice I made a few weeks ago, and it's all about control. Or lack of it, as the case may be. You see, I used to be God in my life. I used to want, no, NEED, to control every aspect, every situation, and every person who came into my life in order to get my imagined needs and desires met, even the needs and desires that once met, weren't really what I needed or desired. I had to be in charge, on top of things, governing and supervising, running the show and directing the movie of what life should look like inside my head, even when my heart and soul weren't quite in agreement with the script.

Control freak much? Yeah…except there was no joy in it, and certainly no peace in it, and after a long, long time, I just got so sick and tired, so I gave up. But not in the giving up kind of way that means throwing in the towel and sucking my thumb in a corner because I cannot handle life anymore. More in the I don't give a flying two bit fuck anymore about who does what and why and what it all means, because it isn't making me happy or healthy or wealthy or wise to keep worrying about what everyone else is up to and the reasons behind it all. I gave up in a sort of "let it go" kind of way and went all Frozen on life's ass. I finally realized that not giving a shit was the equivalent of surrendering, relaxing and caring more for myself, and therefore, being more of a cool person than some angry, resentful, annoyed bitch who was always looking for a way to make something happen. Giving up can be so amazingly freeing.

Because in reality, I have absolutely NO CONTROL over people, and even many of life's situations. I am not supposed to have control. I have control over ME and my responses and reactions, my actions and words and abilities, my movements and choices and decisions. Life often supplies us with ample opportunities, and some we can take by the throat and choke the hell out of for every bit of success and happiness they can provide…others we cannot touch, because they exist outside our realm of force or influence. Serenity, as the famous prayer says, comes from knowing the difference and what to do about it. It also comes from having a little trust now and then in the natural order and flow of things.

So after all the years of my life spent trying to force, push, pull, shape, twist, mold and pry a situation or a person into what I thought was right for my own goals and needs, I came to understand that I would never be at peace and truly a self-powered individual if I continued this exhausting and frustrating behavior. I came to understand that we can be in the lives of others, and have them in ours, and have healthy boundaries and interactions, without having to make them into my own little Mini-Mes and Yes People. Some people aren't meant to be just as we want them to. Some are meant to mirror us, challenge us, push our buttons, show us our dirty laundry and even undermine us, all as a means for our growth and expansion. And as for situations? Sure, some I can control…and plenty I cannot. Some I have little control over, some I need to just surrender completely. It's hard to tell the difference, but that is the gift of discernment, integrity and self-worth…guess I need to work on that stuff more!

It's none of my business what others think, say, feel, want or do…and it's out of my control. And to tell you the truth, that is a good thing…no, a great thing. Because it's hard enough to live my life within the confines of my own boundaries than to cross into those of others and try to live their lives. It wastes my energy, and my time, and rarely do I get the end result I thought I so certainly needed out of it. What a bust deal! One life is more than enough of a joyful pain in the ass…I don't need yours, too!

I am NOT IN control! But because of that revelation…I am more than ever in control of ME, and my life is now my own and not a collective mess of influences I never wanted in the first place, beliefs that never resonated with my soul, and ideas that were never mine to begin with.

I welcome people and situations into my life all the time (I let them exit, too!). I just no longer welcome controlling who, what, where, why and how. I don't need to be God and Overlord of the Universe. It's too tiring and tedious, to be honest, and I kind of suck at it, from the visible results I've seen in my life. There is a lot to be said for being out of control!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Unbearable Darkness of Being…Creative

People talk about creativity like it's a good thing. And it is…most of the time. But there is a very dark side to being creative and having an imagination that doesn't stop churning and turning ideas out like a giant ice cream maker with no off switch. That dark side is a constant pull towards a black hole where, once beyond the event horizon, you become something entirely different than when you were initially standing on the edge. That dark side is total obsession with ideas and stories, lack of sleep, living a large chunk of your life disconnected from outer reality while you create inner worlds, having people wonder if you are "slow" because your mind is always dancing in black shadows or soaring through clouds…and the overwhelming sense of being utterly and completely alone when doing so.

I have a ton of writer friends and creative types in my life, so I am sure they know what this dark pull is and have felt it themselves many times. I am sure they have stood at the edge and given themselves to the gravitational gulp of forces beyond their control. I don't have to preach to the choir… It's the people in my life that don't do something that is primarily focused on the creation and execution of ideas that may not get it. No matter how much good I have in my life, I live with a voracious emptiness that threatens to swallow me whole if I don't constantly feed it…with ideas and stories and research and theories and facts and stuff I've learned and now want to share with the world. The bitch is insatiable and I live with it daily.

Creativity is a wonderful thing, but we have to admit this darker side exists, and then find a way to fully embrace it, accept it and just plain absorb it as a part of who we are and what we do. I will never be a calm, peaceful person so long as characters and concepts rampage about in my mind. I will never want to take life slowly when the end of the world could come about at any time in my imagination. I will never hesitate or be shy about asking for and going for what I want when my dreams demand I step up and grab the brass ring or consume me alive. It's not a way of life most people have the fortitude and inner courage for, not to mention the balls...and many times neither do I.

But creativity chooses us and chooses to express through us, whether we want it to or not, and for those of us who do this for a living (and the whole feast or famine thing is another study in the duality of dark and light, good and evil!), well, as the song once said, "The girl can't help it."

I am a friendly, generous, loving, caring, optimistic and humorous person. But fail to see the dark side and you fail to see the part of me that drives my reality, inside and out. I walk on the edge of black holes every day, and sometimes it's all I can to to not fall in forever, never to be heard from again. The thing that keeps me sane is that same duality I just referenced. Just as I love the coming together, I love the being torn apart.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Overwhelm vs. Underwhelm

I have been challenged by some feisty, troublemaking writer friends to resurrect my blog, and I couldn't think of a better topic to start the new year off with than the challenge of taking on too much. So, a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…wait a second, that sounds familiar…I realized that what worked for me as a writer was far different than what I was being told SHOULD work for me as a writer. Let me explain. All the classes and books and conferences I had taken over the years, since I began seriously pursuing writing as a teenager, suggested very strongly that I become disciplined and write a certain amount of words each and every day…and that I work on one project at a time through to completion, to avoid brain and creativity burn-out. This was hammered into my head over and over again. WORD COUNT. PAGE GOALS. DISCIPLINE. ONE AT A TIME.


It quickly became evident that this was not for me. Since childhood, when I began writing stories, I knew that the whole "one thing at a time" just wasn't going to cut it. At least not with me. My brain was filled with ideas and stories and characters and subjects I wanted to learn and write about. Nor was the idea that I should write a set amount of words each day. I just couldn't do it and make it feel natural. I felt embarrassed and awkward talking to other writers, especially writing teachers, who pushed the whole "5 pages a day" on me…because for me, it felt unnatural for my own tendencies. It took me a couple of decades to feel comfortable in my own writing skin, despite their admonitions.

What works for me is writing at least two things at once, preferably not the same genre or age group, or even format. Maybe a novel and a script. Or a non-fiction book and a novel. A middle grade story and an adult sci fi tale. You get the picture. Sometimes I have three things going at once. I love it!!! It gets my blood boiling and my passions raging and it stokes the creative fires.

What works for me is having tons of deadlines hanging over my head because I perform so much better under pressure. What works for me is writing in fits and starts, doing a ton of writing in my head before I ever put a word down on paper, and going days without writing anything, only to bang out half a book the following week. IT WORKS FOR ME. I SHALL NO LONGER QUESTION IT!

I am widely published, with tons of writing credits under my belt in non-fiction, screenwriting, short stories, essays, reviews, gift books, magazine articles and now fiction. I THINK IT WORKS FOR ME JUST FINE. So the next time someone chastises me for being overwhelmed, I will simply tell them it works for me. I like overwhelm.

It's the underwhelm that gets me into trouble.

Find your patterns, your rhythms, your methods and your modes and stick to them. The most important thing is getting the stuff on paper, no matter how you do it.

Hey, I blogged!!!!!