Sunday, January 31, 2010

Face The Truth

"Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together." -- Anais Nin

Being a writer means taking risks. With perhaps our greatest leap beingthe period between the initial Idea and the impetus for Action. It really does feel like jumping off a cliff or skiing down a mountain. No safety belts here. You simply push off and go. Exhilarating it may be, but it's also just a wee bit scary.

“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.” --Leo F. Buscaglia

Now, I’m not just talking about the obvious risks. It’s a given that submitting your work, seeking publication, sending out queries, facing book reviews, promoting sales and everything in between, makes your heart palpitate and leads to an excessive need for chocolate and hugs. Yet only a writer truly understands the gut-wrenching trepidation that can occur every time we sit down to scratch out a few more words.

Yikes! I’ve said it before and yet I’m still in awe of the process.

Creating Something out of Nothing.

Where do these ideas come from? From what magical resource does the Perfect Word or Dastardly Plot Twist spring? Believe me, learning to play guitar (which was no picnic, let me tell you) was a BREEZE compared to this.

“Oh, an A chord to F sharp minor to B minor to E. That’s easy because I already Know Those Chords.”

Yet every new story must be original. We may learn how to phrase a thought or craft a pleasing sentence. We may develop an *ear* for timing and rhythm. Eventually, the clichés wind down and the adverbs become less important. We evolve as writers. But the Magic required to pull those words out of thin air is still a tremendous leap of faith. A matter of reaching deeply into our subconscious. Delving into the shadowy parts of our psyche. We’re Taking A Chance.

So here’s what I think. Every writer should take a moment and acknowledge the magnitude of this journey. YOU ARE A WRITER. Do you realize how special that is? Perhaps we're not knotting a bungee cord to our ankles and leaping off a bridge. Yet every time an author sends out a query it's the equivalent of jumping out of an airplane without even knowing if you have a working parachute!

The risk may not be physical, but the stress, the worry, the fear, the hope, the anticipation and the exhilaration is no less. Hiking to the top of a dangerous mountain peak is daunting. Having dozens to millions of strangers flip through pages penned by you requires similar daring. It's the equivalent of speed-dating, as anyone and everyone can reject you. Except with speed-dating it's one at a time. Authors must brave the possibility of endless rejection simultaneously.

*gulp*

Writers also have the rarest of pleasures. A hiker may scale a mountain top. A sky-diver can leap out of a plane. An author jumps head-first into the wild unknown of the imagination. Each world is unique. Each story personal and written without guide ropes or parachutes.

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” --Andre Gide

I don’t know about you, but every time I sit down to write, I let go of all that is safe and familiar. I push myself deep into my creative being in order to compose one more tale. It’s taken more courage than anything I’ve ever done.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”T.S. Elliot

Along with every other writer, I’ve discovered something incredible. I didn’t know if I could compose a chapter, and I did. Didn’t know if I could complete a book—I’ve written four. Each risk, leads to Something. How far can we go? As far as our wings will take us.

“You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on.”Ray Bradbury

The more we write, the better we get. That, perhaps is the only sure thing about writing. And, in my oh-so-humble opinion, this is a fantastic reality. Everything else is a risk except that one thing. Every Time We Write, We Improve Our Writing.

Excellent! But, WHAT do we write? Do we write to please others or to please ourselves?

“Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.” -- Katherine Mansfield

The truth.

Hmmm…

The truth is we want it all. Don’t we?

I’ve faced my own dilemma, one that many writers share. I’m just not willing to chase the market. Sometimes I dearly wish I could. Yet the worry and stress about this decision is near to driving me mad. Just last year, an agent advised that a particular genre was selling. THIS year, another agent suggested that same genre is dead. Who’s right? And where does that leave an aspiring writer?

Awhile back, I put the question to the late, great Kate Duffy and here’s what she said:

“Write the best book you can and please yourself first. We, writers and publishers, create markets. Each author, no matter what the genre, is a franchise.

Editors don't buy by genre. They fall in love with a book and figure out a way to publish it that will make money.”
Kate Duffy

So, there you go. Take risks. Face the truth. Build your wings. Write the Best Damn Book you can and Please Yourself first.

Have a wonderful writing week, everyone!

--Chiron O'Keefe
Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Secret of Success or Who's Piloting Your Ship?

"The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination." ~Marion Zimmer Bradley

The journey to success can be a treacherous one. No matter how meticulously you plan, or how enthusiastically you dream, there will be trials and tribulations. It's inevitable. Yet here's where my story-teller's mind jumps in to play.

Imagine you're bouncing about with several companions on a rickety boat in a stormy sea. Rain falls in bitter cold sheets, drenching the lot of you while the gale-force winds buffet your leaky vessel with relentless glee.

One person shouts above the shrieking wind, "Hang on there, help will arrive! We just have to work together and we'll make it through this!"

Another screams, "We're doomed, I tell you! Doomed! Shark-bait and fish food. This baby's going down and we're all going to die!!!"

Which person would you rather share the life-raft with? *wink*

"I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship."Louisa May Alcott

There have been endless jokes about the old 'glass half-full or half-empty' scenario. Yet one thing remains true. We train our eyes, train our mind to seek out whichever circumstances we believe in. This applies to The Big Picture as well as the absolutely mundane. Why bother to even look for a convenient parking space if you already know it's impossible? Hmm?

Few people find success without actively seeking it out. Success is elusive, I admit. You have to invest time, energy, and focus along with determination and an endless supply of patience. Most important though is the belief that leads our perception. We must believe in success in order to look for it. We must have hope and optimism to chase those clouds away and keep our inner light shining bright.

"An optimist is the human personification of spring." –Susan J. Bissonette

Now a phrase like "beliefs create reality" may strike some as metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. Others may just see it as simply another spin on positive thinking, a perspective that has been around for eons. But let's backtrack and examine the idea from a strictly practical viewpoint. Bottom line: If you believe in success, you're more likely to have your eyes and ears open to any opportunity that comes your way. Put more simply, if you're looking for smiles, you'll find them. If you're looking for scowls, then your eyes will seek out and locate the clouds no matter how brightly the sun shines.

"You were not born a winner, and you were not born a loser. You are what you make yourself be." ~ Lou Holtz

If we walk into a room with our heads held high, shoulders back and an enthusiastic grin blooming on the face, we'll make a different impression than if we trudge in with shoulders slumped, right? Now consider this. Our self-talk, our beliefs, affect the impression we make on ourselves. You are the captain, and the ship is your life. Think back to the imaginary companions' cries during the treacherous storm, which person would you want piloting your ship?

"People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within." ~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

"The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes." --Benjamin Disraeli

A good way to examine your beliefs about success is to fill in a sentence like this:
"If I were a success then I would…"

For some of us, just starting the sentence gives us shivers and tingles. What would I do? Would I write with more passion or pump out more pages? Would I feel a surge of anticipation and bask in a glow of confident expectancy?

"Success doesn't come to you…you go to it." --Marva Collins

Success, optimism and determination go hand in hand. It's natural to assume that the outer trappings is what signifies victory. As if 'success' is a magical land in which only a lucky few are granted entrance.

Here's my quote: Success is not the promised land; success is a chosen attitude that leads to accomplishment.

"Success is a state of mind. If you want success, start thinking of yourself as a success." --Dr. Joyce Brothers

Being a success means also that you accept mistakes as part of the process. There's this great Disney flick called Meet the Robinsons. The motto of this movie could have been: Making Mistakes is the Secret of Success. I love this movie for many reasons, but especially for this theme. It's so true. Unless you let yourself experiment and make mistakes, you'll never move forward. And unless you Believe You Are A Success, you may not have the confidence to make those oh-so-necessary mistakes.

"Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success."Thomas J. Watson

"History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heart-breaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats." --B.C. Forbes

This week, as we tackle each new day, let's frame our thoughts with an attitude of hope and success. Let's 'look for smiles' and tell ourselves every day (at least for one week), "I Am A Success." Remember, winning doesn't make you a success. Knowing you already are a success means you Go For The Win.

Success will never be a big step in the future, success is a small step taken just now. ~Jonatan Mårtensson

Wishing us all a very successful week indeed!!

Now you tell me your favorite examples (in your life or of your favorite hero) where thinking and acting like a success made a difference. Any techniques you utilize?

Smiles to you all,

Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Are You A 'Real Writer'?

Motivational Essay 1-18-10

"Anything I've ever done that ultimately was worthwhile... initially scared me to death." ~Betty Bender

Now that the holidays and my 'musical vacation' is over, my WIP is staring me in the face. Sometimes, I swear a book-in-progress is as elusive as the fireflies my younger self chased on many a sizzling summer's eve. The novel, though, can be more daunting than that wispy insect fluttering its wings. Sometimes it's more akin to chasing a bear with nothing but a glass jar in hand. When the fearsome beast swivels about and bellows a mighty roar, we come face to face with our secret terror—that we aren't *gasp* Real Writers.

'Real Writers' don't feel fear and don't panic at deadlines. 'Real Writers' have an abundance of ideas and can easily whip up a complete series in the time it takes to sneeze. 'Real Writers' never lose their train of thought or wonder if their idea is just plain stupid. 'Real Writers' Are Perfect, Therefore I'm Not A Real…

Okay, hold it right there, Sister. Are you serious?

Unfortunately, I am. My guess is 99% of all the writers in the world wonder, worry, and panic at least part of the time. The only thing that distinguishes a 'Real Writer' is whether you (despite the terror quaking in your limbs) plop your butt into whatever chair currently holds your posterior's impression, plant your trembling fingers on the keyboard and Do It Anyway.

Well, do you? Because if so, then take heart, my friend. You ARE a 'real writer'.

"Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow." ~Dan Rather

"Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared." ~Edward Vernon Rickenbacker

As one of my favorite quotes states: It is easy to be brave from a safe distance. ~Aesop

It's easy to say, "I can write a book." The doing is a whole different story, so to speak. This morning, as my eyes pored over the revisions accomplished the day before, pleasure soared through me. Yeah, baby, we're back! Up until the moment when I pulled up The Blank Page for the new scene I needed to write. As often happens, the void terrified me. What if I couldn't come up with the next scene? Or the worst fear—what if it really, truly sucks???

Hah!

"Courage can't see around corners, but goes around them anyway." ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

Well, Chiron, my dear, it might. The stink from your crappy writing might be so appalling you'll choke on the fumes. BUT, that's exactly why The Great Goddess of Writing created the miraculous ability to rewrite. Just sketch out a vague idea in your handy "Free-Write" document, then write the damn scene!

"Courage is being scared to death... and saddling up anyway." ~John Wayne

"Every writer I know has trouble writing." ~Joseph Heller

Courage comes in many forms. For some, it's required just to dodge past the inner critic who's frowning before you type the first word. Others can dash out sentence after sentence with the glee of a bluebird swooping in flight—until the need to revise appears like a brick wall. Bam!

During those moments of quiet panic, do yourself a favor. First, remind yourself that You Are Not Alone. Realize that your favorite author, the one whose book inspired a belief that You Too could compose a novel, most likely sweated through more than a few days and nights of nerve-wracking trepidation as well.

"I am filled with doubts. Why isn't Steinbeck filled with doubts? I think he's had one lousy day of doubt throughout the time of East of Eden. Is it because he has so many outside interests? Probably. I have so few. I've never been a hobby person, and when I start working on a project, all I can think of is finishing the damn thing. And there's Steinbeck, building desks, carving oars for his sons, buying a boat, decorating his little house in New York. Should a future Nobel Laureate have a little more angst? I'd certainly appreciate it."Write Away by Elizabeth George.

Next remember that, just as Ambrose Redmoon said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."

Elizabeth George struggled with self-doubt, but like every successful author, she moved forward anyway. It does get easier. Some may reach the point where they feel no doubt, no fear, no trembling of fingers, no lurching nausea roiling in the gut. Others may quake the first time they peck out a sentence and experience a similar panic throughout every book. What gets easier is the ability to push onward despite the fear.

"Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties." -- Bonnie Friedman

And remember:

"We conquer, not in any brilliant fashion, we conquer by continuing." --- George Matheson

Tell me, how often do you struggle with fear or self-doubt? What methods do you employ to move forward?

As always, wishing everyone a productive week bursting with inspiration!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Where Have You Painted Your Bulls-Eye?

"Success doesn't come to you…you go to it." --Marva Collins

A classic book on self-improvement was published in 1960 with the title, Psycho-Cybernetics. The author, Maxwell Maltz, was a successful plastic surgeon who noticed a peculiar and discouraging phenomenon with some of his patients. Despite the removal of what they considered physical flaws, many still believed they were unattractive. Maltz realized their distorted perception stemmed from a flawed inner-view.

Bottom-line, self-image is based on inner beliefs, not outer appearance.

"Self-image sets the boundaries of individual accomplishment." ---Maxwell Maltz

This phenomenon also affects our basic interaction with life itself. Our core image determines how we will approach both goals and opportunities that come our way. To put it simply, You Are What You Believe.

"It's not who you are that holds you back, it's who you think you're not." ---Author Unknown

Now this is not new stuff, but the Dr. Maltz's approach may feel fresh, even nearly fifty years after its first publication. He likened the mind to a cybernetic "servo-mechanism". Pretty fancy, huh? The idea though is straightforward: our mind is like a computer-controlled missile heading to a target determined by beliefs. The self-image we possess is the result.

The target is determined by your beliefs. Think about that. Where have you painted your bulls-eye? How many times have you heard (or said) this common phrase: With my luck, THIS will happen…

Hmmmm?

"You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them." ---Michael Jordan

Since the publication of this classic (and I do recommend it to one and all) the idea of beliefs shaping the reality we encounter has become quite popular. Although, in fairness, the idea has existed for eons.

"The mind is everything. What you think you become." Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.

Yet today we still struggle with beliefs that affect our behavior and our self-perception. Why do some people manage to accomplish so much while others clench their fists in despair? How can we achieve success and happiness in life? Obviously, effort must be made. Goals set and reached. But unless you believe you can and will achieve anything of value, you may unconsciously set yourself up for failure or just languish in procrastination hell.

"Low self esteem is like driving through life with your hand brake on." ---Maxwell Maltz

The good news is we can change our self-image. We can reprogram our brain to believe in success. One very powerful tool is visualization. By placing an image in your mind, you can reprogram your thinking. As children, we learn behavior by imitating others. We put a picture in our mind and strive to faithfully reproduce that image. We Form Habits.

How many here have to think before tying a shoe? Not many, I'm guessing.

Our mental habits are much more powerful than we realize. And those mental habits are part of our neural network. How we respond to a smile from a stranger, for example, is based on a series of beliefs. How we respond to rejection is also based on beliefs.

"It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to." ---W.C. Fields

So… how do we use the power of visualization to change our self-image, to attract success and to become all that we long to be?

First:

Form a mental image of something concrete. A writer can visualize herself typing The End or signing a contract with a coveted publisher. You can form a picture of yourself paying off bills, marking PAID IN FULL. Perhaps focus on the image of a confident, radiant 'you' giving a lecture or shaking hands with strangers who welcome you warmly. Reinforce your image with an affirmation set in the present moment. Instead of saying you will be (fill in the blank here) say I AM…

The mind will respond As If This Is Happening Now. You are restructuring your beliefs and setting a new target for your mind to lock onto.

Second:

Focus on this image for at least five minutes, perferably twice daily. Maybe in your morning shower (or even better, while looking in the mirror!) and once before bed. Suspend all disbelief and let yourself *feel* excited. Woo-hoo! I AM A Success! Tell yourself firmly: This Is My TRUE Reality. Everything else is an illusion I no longer need. Stick to this for at least a month. If negative thoughts pop up during the day, remind yourself that the "illusion" took time to set-up and might take time to fade away. However… This Is My TRUE Reality. Everything else is an illusion I no longer need.

Third:

Take action. Every day do at least one thing to reinforce your visualization. If you're trying to finish a book, for example, write at least one page and then repeat your affirmation. I finished that page! I AM a successful writer!

Fourth:

Persevere. Stick to this and you'll be amazed at the results.


Only as high as I reach can I grow,
Only as far as I seek can I go,
Only as deep as I look can I see,
Only as much as I dream can I be.

~Karen Ravn

The exuberant rush of holiday madness has passed. Winter is here, affording us the opportunity to retreat from the frenzy and focus on our craft. Let's utilize this time to pull energies that have been scattered the last few months and refocus on our writing. This will be a productive month. I can feel it. Let's Make It Happen.

Now share with me your tips for reprogramming your mind for success. Any great books or personal stories? Do tell!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between The Lines.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Love is a Many Googled Thing

Like quirky love stories? This month I look at the stranger side of love at Pop Culture Divas with my post, Love is a Many Googled Thing.

See you there!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

How to Get Published

Thought we'd start this week's essay with a look at how to succeed in a writing career.

Step One: Stay Cool

"Never throw up on an editor." --Ellen Datlow

Always sound advice.

When the opportunity arises to shake the hand of a potential editor or agent, or even your Absolute Favorite Author who's standing RIGHT THERE, be cool, baby. There's keen interest and then there is the salivating, screaming, frenzied, "I Am Your Biggest Fan EVER" energy that's just one step away from the title character in a Stephen King novel.

This counts in the cyber-world as well. Be real, be professional, and remember that no matter how intimidating it can be to reach out to a potential editor or agent, they are living, breathing people just like you and me. At least, that's what I'm told and until I find their deadly crypt hidden deep in the shadowy mountains, I believe it.

Step Two: Write

"Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good." --William Faulkner

The yearning to write burns in many a heart. Yet for most the passion is more akin a desire to be published—to reap the rewards and bask in the glory of the ultimate personal achievement.

"Why, yes," she murmured, ducking her head in a show of modesty. "I am indeed the author of The Best Damn Book Ever Written."

Hmm… yes. However, back to the process of writing. The pounding away on the keyboard, the staring in growing frustration at the blank computer screen, the endless hours of computer solitaire research requires effort. Solid effort backed up by infinite persistence.

"I get up in the morning, torture a typewriter until it screams, then stop." --- Clarence Budington Kelland

The core of being a writer is… writing. Every chance you get.

"Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up." --Jane Yolen

Step Three: Revise.

"Proofread carefully to see if you any words out." ~Author Unknown

Join a critique group or form your own. Send your work to trusted writers and beg them to show no mercy. Try to pick ones whose mastery of the written word far surpasses your own (fresh-baked brownies can be very persuasive).

As Nathaniel Horne says: "Easy reading is damn hard writing."

What every writer learns (after two or three novels) is this: Writers Can't See Their Own Mistakes. At least, not at first. Maybe not ever.

What may seem to us like the perfect set-up is to our critique partners Too Much Back-story.

"Make everybody fall out of the plane first, and then explain who they were and why they were in the plane to begin with." --Nancy Ann Dibble

No matter how much you love your writing or dread the idea of criticism, if you want to be successful, you need to utilize the sharp eyes of other writers.

Step Four: Submit

"The reason 99% of all stories written are not bought by editors is very simple. Editors never buy manuscripts that are left on the closet shelf at home." --- John Campbell

I know, I know. Sending out queries is a test in courage. Seems so simple to type a letter and then either hit 'send' or slap it in an envelope and mail it off.

Simple it is not. While the act itself requires less effort than composing your novel, the pressure of getting the query exactly right can leave you shaking and drenched in sweat. Authors are known awaken suddenly, shoving aside the tangle of blankets, mind racing with one thought—Did I spell the agent's name right? Oh GOD, I didn't really address that to Miss Snark, did I?!?

Courage, my friend. We all go through it. The fear stemming from the mere anticipation of rejection. And sadly, the painful sting of reality that all too often reinforces the fear. Which leads to our next step.

Step Five: Hang in There!

"This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don't consider it rejected. Consider that you've addressed it 'to the editor who can appreciate my work' and it has simply come back stamped 'Not at this address'. Just keep looking for the right address." --- Barbara Kingsolver

Over the last few weeks, I've shared how some of the most successful writers faced their own round of rejections before seizing the golden trophy otherwise known as 'publication'. Often there's only one thing standing between an author and a life of success—persistence. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Repeat.

In Conclusion:

Once you have finished and submitted your first book the first fork in the road appears. For those lucky few who snag an agent or book contract right off, the path is clear. For the rest of us, the choice is there. Continue on or detour off into another direction? If the decision is 'damn the rejections, full speed ahead' then Congratulations! You Are An Author.

Welcome to the wacky, crazy life of writing:

When writing a novel, that's pretty much entirely what life turns into: 'House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.' --Neil Gaiman

Ah, yes, the life of a writer.

It's like that old joke:

An author is hailed by a friend who is clearly agitated. The words tumble from his friend's mouth, "It's terrible. Your agent called, then a plane crashed into your house triggering an explosion which hit a gas main and caused the whole town to burst into flames and—"

The author interrupts. "Wait a minute. Back up. Did you say my agent called?"

:-D

The New Year has arrived. Let's make it count!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas