Wednesday, August 14, 2019

On Listening to the Heart

This weekend I had access to a live webinar – a manifesting workshop – by a highly respected spiritual warrior. You know, one of those deals where if you pre-order the book – you get to watch them teach a master class to thousands of people? Yeah, that. 

What can I say? I’m a sucker for anyone who can package radical self-transformation into five easy steps. However, when it came time for the questions and answer portion of the event – I was struck by two things:

1. People mostly wanted to tell their story, they needed to be heard and seen, and have their pain validated. 

2. Most of the questions were a variation of this: “How do I know when to follow my heart and when to listen to my mind?” 

Undeniably, we are creatures of narrative (whether we are writers or not) and we need stories like air. Since we’ve been gathering around campfires, writing on the walls of caves, and living in community – narrative has been the song of our collective consciousness. And while we still love a good story, what makes a good story is certainly up for debate. Still, the most important stories are the ones we tell ourselves about ourselves - because our personal narrative becomes our individual potential or limit depending on how we process it. That’s where the heart comes in. 

So how do you know when your ego is lying to you in order to prevent you from experiencing pain? How do you differentiate a heart-centered desired from a mental construct? Here are three things to consider when you are struggling with what to do: 

1. Listen to your body. Both the heart and the mind are housed inside your body and your body doesn’t lie. Follow gut instincts, pay attention to what feels good and what causes pain. For example: the other day I was having a conversation about a potential business opportunity and I literally broke out in hives. No need to be a guru detective there. 

2. Meditate with a mantra. For those of you who have difficulty sitting still because you haven’t yet mastered the art of silencing the mind… give it something to do while you meditate! I prefer taking my mantra on a daily walk. In this way, my mind and body are fully engaged in activity and I can make a little room for my heart to whisper highest good to me. Some mantras to try are: I know the answer. I know what I want. I know highest good always. 

3. Write your way into a new story. Nothing is lost. And here is the best news of all: you are always where you’re meant to be. I know, I know, I know. It’s a paradox and probably one of the most difficult conundrums to master. But the deeper truth you need to ask yourself is “What’s the worst thing that could happen? What am I afraid of? Why?” Hold the vision, but detach from the outcome and get on with the business of moving towards love. Forgive yourself and align with the highest good for all involved. 

It’s time to change the narrative you’ve been clinging to. Where do you want to start? You get to decide what comes next. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Muck of the Middle: A Writer's Query Quest

This week marks the one year anniversary of my MFA graduation. I’ve spent the last 12 months turning my thesis into a novel, crafting the perfect pitch, and mustering up the courage to hit the query trenches. 

While I’ve always been a “writer” – it took me a little longer than most to remove the quotations and truly embrace my creative path. Like countless others before me, I have worn many hats: publicist, media relations, teacher, professor, consultant, queen. We often dance around our destiny as if we can somehow distract or delay its ultimate arrival. I’m sure there’s a deeper psychological force at play here, but that’s a post for another day. 

I entered my creative writing for young adults MFA program armed with my MA in theology. Ironic? Truth be told, the YA community can be a bit of a cult and it happens mostly out of necessity. Let's call it survival skills for navigating the writing universe as the “serious” poets and literarati often hold us at arm’s length.

Despite the success of young adult literature, many people still harbor bias based on limited knowledge about YA’s possibilities, quality, and genre scope. I can’t tell you how many snide comments I’ve heard about Twilight (which happens to be a masterful depiction of our innate human desire to be seen but is NOT the only YA book in the world). I’ve listened to people belittle the speed and force of young adult literature while bragging about how “true” writers take decades to create their masterpieces as if struggling is a precursor to success. 

Trust me, there’s enough struggle in the first ten pages of any YA book to last a lifetime. One of the reasons I love writing for young adults is because of the hyperbolic nature of the experiences we dive into. Everything is intense, passionate, or potentially life altering. I get to tap into my own pain, desire, and potentially destructive choices / memories from my teen years and “re-do” all of it for the sake of fiction. 

In my stories, the girls carry their own swords and aren’t afraid to save themselves because those are the sort of protagonists I wish I’d had when I was dealing with confidence, body image, and the butterflies of something more. My motto: Forget waiting for someone to save you – get out there and save yourself! 

Like the teen years it details, YA Lit is a hotbed of activity often modeling the intended audience. There are twitter feuds fueled by the explosiveness of cancel culture and intense reactions bordering on something more. There is defensiveness and offensiveness in equal measure. 

But the passionate YA Lit community is also fiercely loyal, notoriously collaborative, and transparent. I love how open my fellow YA writers are about process, pitfalls, and potential; however, despite the openness, I still struggle with mastering my day-to-day querying life. 

Things they didn’t teach in my MFA: everything that comes after the MFA. 

I know the querying is an essential part of the process and a necessary step on the epic journey that is a writer’s life. Hey, let’s be honest – it’s really uncomfortable. Maybe there are reasons why more agented/published writers don’t talk about the sheer difficulty of it. Maybe they want to put forth a positive front, forget the trauma, or simply move forward. Or maybe this process isn’t meant to be understood in reverse. Either way, for those of us stuck in the muck and mud of the middle – we sure could use a lifeline. 

I can’t tell you how many times a day I check my email, refresh my twitter feeds to stalk agents who have my full, or make sacrificial offerings at my altar of good intentions. 

I know the middle isn’t as sexy as basking in the glow of “the call” or singing the song of signing the coveted book deal. Sure, writers are weird and secretive and superstitious… but we are also people, living, breathing, and working in the real world. We have to get on with the business of laughing and loving while we wait. So, we might as well talk about it with people who understand. Lord knows the non-writers in your life don’t get why it’s “taking so long” or understand the adrenaline rush of an answered email (even the rejections). 

No matter the current stage of our writer’s journey, we’re all just chasing the high of validation, the joy of "yes" and the moment when the whole world confirms what your grandma knew all along: 

“Honey, you’re special. Now, you’re a REAL writer!”

Yeah. The middle is a wasteland filled with delay, detour, and denial. The middle is fertile ground for second-guessing, doubt, and downright fits of frustration. It’s the dark night of the soul that lasts and lasts and lasts….sometimes for weeks, months, and/or years. And the worst part is you never know when your “yes” will come so you basically exist in expectation. 

The middle is torturous. It’s when you need the most support and receive the least. Honestly, nothing in my MFA prepared me for what came after. I wasn’t prepared to slay this dragon alone. Where the hell is my sword? Where is the wise troll to guide me through this haunted forest? I simply refuse to believe the fancy hood and coveted diploma are false relics without magic.

There’s alchemy in effort and power in facing the dreaded question: “So what have you been working on since graduation?”

Most of the time, I resist the urge to respond by declaring that I’m working on not breaking into tears. Giving up is not an option for creative souls and that is part of the pain. Not because we are owed anything, but because to be in community we must not be afraid to be at the bottom. 

Everyone will tell you that you need to keep writing. Write while you wait, write while you query, write in your sleep. It’s the only way to fully walk this path. But it shouldn’t feel foreign or dirty or taboo.

We should be so excited, thrilled, over-the-moon for the next idea that we fix our eyes, minds, and hearts forward. Perhaps this is the reason agented/published authors often seem as if they are beyond the struggles of those of us on our query quest. It’s not that they don’t want to share the secrets to their success, it’s just that their success is a result of that forward motion. 

After all, you can never enter the same river twice. The river is always changing and if we are doing it right…so are we. 

So, for all my writing witches stuck in the querying trenches, here are 4 things to keep in mind when the muck of the middle is threatening your progress: 

1. PARTY OF ONE: Look, let’s be honest: you’ve got to walk this journey on your own. But you don’t have to be lonely. When you are feeling up against it, remember to share your experience, talk about your challenges, and ask your mentors for some wisdom. Eating alone at the buffet of creativity means you get to choose how much, when, and where. 

2. TIME GOES BY: It may seem as if time passes differently in the query trenches, but that’s just an indication that you need to use it wisely. Or, consider this: time is moving whether or not you sign with an agent this week. You might as well use the time wisely instead of worrying and go ahead and write something new. After all, the very purpose of being in the middle is to keep going. 

3. CREATIVE WELL: Yes, it’s important to keep writing while you query, but you also need to remember to replenish the creative well. It’ll be impossible to write something new if your creative well runs dry as you wait. Some great things to reignite your spark are to read something for sheer pleasure, take a road trip and snap some potential settings for visual research, add daily meditative walks to your writing routine, or just call an old (non-writing) friend to reminisce. The important thing here is that you mindfully balance your writing life with your non-writing life. 

4. “WHEN” IS A MYTH: There is only now. There is only this moment. “When” something wonderful happens you’ll want it to find you writing.  

Monday, July 29, 2019

What's Up Block?

It’s no secret that creative blocks can be common for most writers. One of the greatest misconceptions about writer’s block is that it looks the same for everyone. 

It doesn’t. 

Sometimes I am flooded with so many new ideas and potential plotlines and infinite possibilities that I CAN NOT WRITE! How am I supposed to choose just one? 

My natural reaction to this is to spend three hours on Twitter, reading about things that have nothing to do with my writing. Like, did you know that two popular YouTube stars got married and charged $50.00 for people to watch the live stream of their nuptials? Can you imagine? 

Gosh, if only. 

But I digress. 

Creative blocks can manifest seemingly from nowhere. They can be painful or they can be disguised as productivity. Procrastination is a tricky little witch. For example, when avoiding writing I have been known to organize my closet, take up bullet journaling, read my tarot cards, play with my puppy, and even do six loads of laundry. 

All that nervous, anxious energy needs an outlet. So why can’t I just channel it into my writing? 

The answer may be quite simple: writing doesn’t always look like writing. 

We live in a culture that exposes everything, especially all our wins. For writers in the trenches, this is a dangerous place to base your perceptions. Sometimes writing is dreaming, or walking, or talking with a friend. Sometimes it’s spending hours perusing your old journals to reconnect with your young adult self. And, yes, sometimes it’s crying, wagging your fist at the Universe for cursing you with this life, and wishing for a miracle. 

The important thing is to keep moving forward. 

Maybe you won’t write today. Maybe #MondayMotivation isn’t your thing. Maybe you are going to swim in the pool or walk along the beach. 

It’s okay to move at your own pace as long as you keep moving. 

Often times, creative blocks are blocks to our highest self – after all, creativity is a spiritual path. 

Here are three things to do when you feel “stuck” – 

1. Am I tired? Stressed? Worried about money or a family member? If so, how can I spend twenty minutes today practicing self-care? What can I do to replenish my own creative well? Go for a walk, read, take a bath… simple, mindful, focused acts for yourself can go a long way to restoring your creative soul.

2. Am I comparing my journey to someone else’s? If so, take 5 minutes for a “Quick Bitch” session and get your grievances out of your mind and down on paper. You don’t want to experience fatigue from over-thinking. Getting out of our head and into the heart requires a few minutes of honesty. The “Quick Bitch” tool has saved me from losing whole entire days to imaginary opponents. (How it works: set a timer for 5 minutes, make a list of everything causing you pain, don’t think, just write stream-of consciousness style. When the 5 minutes are up, stop.) 

3. Why do I want to write? Knowing your “Why” is essential for every creative. Have you tried writing a “Why Statement” to make your mission concrete. This powerful activity can help you get clear about your writerly vision so you don’t feel the need to do everything all at once. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Returning to the Self

 Blogging had long been an exciting part of my creative process. I loved reaching out to like-minded creatives and sharing my journey. But like everything, life soon got in the way. I was embarking on a new path, leaving one profession, deep into my creative writing MFA, and struggling to sort it all out. So naturally, I put blogging on the back-burner while I tried to make sense of the changes in my life. 

One thing I have learned is that sometimes our journey is all about returning to the Self. This returning allows us to reassess our values, establish new goals, and work to develop a more authentic expression of who we have become.  Paradoxically, in order to do that, we need to retreat. Retreating can be beneficial to heal old wounds, shield our sensitivities to the opinions of others, and ensure that we are acting from a place of highest good. But eventually we must reemerge.

Imagine if the caterpillar refused to leave the cocoon? The world would be robbed of the beauty of butterflies. Growth can be painful, full of doubt, and definitely uncomfortable. It is this uncomfortableness that forces us to break out of the cocoon and learn to fly. 

With that said, I have come full-circle and plan to use the blog to grow with my new creative community. I hope you’ll join me as I use writing, wonder, word witchery, and well-being to fuel the next phase of my creative journey. 

Here are 3 tips for returning to yourself in order to move forward: 

1. Don’t be afraid of the cocoon: maybe you can’t totally retreat, but you can find the time to scale back your interaction, involvement, and investment in things that drain your energy. The cocoon for you may mean taking 20 minutes a day to meditate, exercise, or focus your attention to what you truly desire. 

2. Ask for what you truly want: remove money, age, and societal expectations from the equation and ask yourself what it is that is causing the anxiety, pressure, and stress. Often times we confuse anxiety and opportunity. If there is lack, there is opportunity for abundance. Listen to what your heart is telling you and ask, “What do I want?” 

3. Know the difference between your mind and your heart driven desires: remember, your mind is liar. Its whole purpose is to prevent you from experiencing pain so it will tell you terrible things to keep you from growing. However, your heart’s goal is growth and as we’ve discussed true growth is uncomfortable. Remember: if it feels like a gift, accept it…and if it feels like a burden, reject it.