writing past the fear


As I’m writing my book on creativity and turning to some of my favorite sources for inspiration, I came across Ralph Keyes’s quote from Barbara Abercombie’s book A Year of Writing Dangerously.

“Finding the courage to write does not involve erasing or ‘conquering’ one’s fears. Working writers aren’t those who have eliminated their anxiety. They are the ones who keep scribbling while their hearts race and their stomach churns.”

I just love this. I love this because a highly successful writer is saying that he, too, like other writers, feels the fear.

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I rarely judge a book by its cover. But I do judge a book by its first few lines.

Am I the only one? Do you, too, try to figure out if the first page has done its job of wooing you? Of enticing you?

Recently, I signed a contract to pen a book on creativity. (Holy crap, that’s a very surreal, scary, exciting thing to type.) As I prepare to create my own work, I’ve been turning to the books on my shelf to see how various authors have started their stories.

Here’s a super short list. (Unfortunately, most of my books are still in boxes since Brian and I moved into our new home. So it’s really more accurate to say that I turned to the books that are piled high on the floor and desk of my mother’s home office. Thanks, Mom!)

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august break: real life

I’m really excited for Susannah’s annual “August Break.” It involves simply sharing one photo every day on your blog for this month. Or every few days. It doesn’t matter. As Susannah says, there are no rules.

I participated last year, too, and loved it. It’s a nice break for me after producing articles and blog posts every day.

I love writing. It’s my livelihood. My life. But taking a picture and posting it here on my personal blog is a welcome change of pace. Plus, it’s a great way to notice the little things. To pay closer attention. To slow down for a few moments.

I called this photo “real life,” because let’s be honest: My breakfast isn’t noteworthy. (It looks like a big lump.) It rarely is. In fact, usually, plate are needless.

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my definition of success

Well, I ended up quitting my Ph.D program. I left after defending my masters. I realized that while my cohort loved the work that they were doing, for me, it was just OK. And when you’re in a Ph.D program, where you’re drinking stress as a shake for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it helps if you feel more than OK about it. Passionate, preferably.

Fortunately, leaving the program led me to today. It led me to the work I do feel passionate about.

And, naturally, my definition of success has changed. Mainly, it’s not punitive anymore. And it’s not shaped by anyone else.

My parents were always very supportive of my decisions. They wanted me to do whatever made me happy. (It’s one of the reasons they came to the U.S.). But I let others’ definitions wiggle into my world. My advising professor. Our culture.

Today, I shape my success.

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tuesday tip: read + read often

“…You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but ‘didn’t have time to read,’ I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

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tuesday tip: writing requires composting

“Our senses by themselves are dumb. They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies. I call this ‘composting.’ Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat and very fertile soil.

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tuesday tip: nurturing your writing

One day in New York City, I met a Buddhist scholar and I told her about my practice of mindfulness in the vegetable garden. I enjoy growing lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables, and I like to spend time gardening every day.

She said, “You shouldn’t spend your time growing vegetables. You should spend more time writing poems. Your poems are so beautiful. Everyone can grow lettuce, but not everyone can write poems like you do.”

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