Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
– Barbara Kingsolver
I love this quote. As writers, we all want to sell our work. We all want our words to be cast into the world to make a difference. But, do we write to sell? Do we write to what sells? Sometimes we do, but what is more important is the passion within ourselves that, for some reason, we need to get out and share with anyone who will listen–er, read.
I’ve attended many writer’s conferences and seen and heard many successful, well-sold authors, and most of the time their main message is this: Write what you want to read. I think this is so powerful. Fiction has its trends. By the time you finish your masterpiece, it may not be sellable. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have merit. Times change. Trends change. Write what you want to write. Your passion will lead you to success–whatever your definition of success entails.
This dovetails perfectly with a conversation we had this week in the Level 4+ Riding Course I am attending at the Parelli Ranch in Pagosa Springs, CO. As some of you know, Parelli Natural Horsemanship is a method, philosophy, and practice of partnering in harmony with horses by communicating in their language. Monday we talked about 7 Cardinal Rules for Life:
- Make peace with your past so it won’t disturb your present.
- What other people think of you is none of your business.
- Time heals almost everything. Give it time.
- No one is in charge of your happiness. Except you.
- Don’t compare your life to others and don’t judge them. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
- Stop thinking too much. It’s alright to not know all the answers, they will come to you when you least expect it.
- Smile. You don’t own all the problems in the world.
I would add only two things: Be who you are. Love who you are.
See you next week!
Last night I arrived in New York City for a writer’s conference. Coming from New Mexico, it is always a shock to get off the plane and be instantly thrown into the hustle bustle of true “big city” life. It always takes me a few days to adjust and get into the rhythm of the controlled chaos. I feel like I’m going crazy at first, like I just don’t have the mental fortitude to deal with all the noise, the crowds, the lack of space. In New Mexico there is no “lack” of space to be sure.
My great solace as I sit in my bed, listening to the chaos that never seems to end below my window, is that I get to see the three women who’ve become so important in my writing life–the Crazies–as we call ourselves, Dana, Liz and Pam. We’re about as different as the contents in a bowl of fruit, a Northern apple, a Midwestern pear, a Southern peach and a Southwestern chili (yes, chili is classified as a fruit.) Different in our make up, our creativity, and our style–but still fruit.
We met a few years ago at a writer’s workshop in Scituate, Massachusetts–at a bar, the preferred hangout for most workshop attendees and conference goers, and immediately hit it off. Our differences and sameness seemed to mesh into our own perfect union of crazy. After a few days of divulging our life experience and the real and made up characters in our worlds, the word “crazy” came up. “Crazy” in the sense of addled, eccentric, mad, deranged, or just not quite right. We discussed that in most regions of the U.S., “crazy” was not a good thing, something to be pitied, or ashamed of, something not discussed, when Liz piped up, “my family is from the south and we just put our crazies on the front porch.”
After a hearty round of laughter and a toast to all the”crazies” in the world, hidden away behind closed doors, or out loud on the porch, we decided that the term fit us pretty well and we christened ourselves, “The Crazies on The Porch” with great confidence and pride.
Since that moment we united as sisters and talk every couple of weeks through video chat. We also send each other our work for editing, brainstorming, new beginnings, and polished endings. Sometimes we just talk about our lives. We are all crazy, in every sense of the word, and we are not alone. We have each other.
Sometimes we find things that really click with our personalities. I’ve always been interested in fashion and I have a pretty classic aesthetic – i.e. Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, Yves St. Laurent, Coco Chanel. Not that I always buy or wear these designer garments, particularly Yves St. Laurent and Miss Chanel, but these fashion gurus (or companies) make clothes that look best on me. I’m tall and have somewhat of a boyish figure. I’ve never been the edgy, punk, trendy, goth-type customer, nor do I do well with floaty, flimsy, ulta-girly fashion. I fully appreciate those aesthetics, but they’re just not me.
When visiting New York City for the 2011 Romance Writer’s of America Conference, I had a chance to spend some time tooling around the city. My daughter, who has a B.S. in Fashion Marketing and was working at Armani in NYC at the time, was dying to see the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was shortly after he tragically took his own life. Of course, I complied. What I saw blew my mind. The depth of creativity that this man portrayed in his fashions was beyond anything I had ever seen. There was such freedom in his designs it was truly inspiring. On exiting the museum and entering the gift shop – the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gift Shop is one of my favorite places on earth – I had to get something Alexander McQueen. There were books, greeting cards, scarves – and pencils. Pencils! Savage Beauty Pencils! They were thin, long, elegant and divine and they were screaming my name.
Fast forward to New Year’s Day, 2014 and I realize I am using one of two of my LAST Alexander McQueen pencils. Impending disaster. Panic sets in. What am I going to do if these two pencils are sharpened into pure nothingness? When I write I don’t use pencils very often, but when I do they must be SHARP. I had visions of these beautiful pencils being ground into a mass pulp of wonderous reptilian dust. What to do?
Easier said than done.
Finally, through Ebay, I found a set of twelve for $37.50. Who in the hell pays $37.50 for a set of pencils? Well . . . me. And I will savor every single one of them. Whenever I use these pencils I am reminded of pure creative energy, and their long, tapered elegance encourages me to find the savage beauty in myself, and the world around me.
It’s weird what inspires us. For some it can be art or fashion or poetry or nature. For me, on this New Year’s Day of 2014 – it’s pencils. Savage Beauty pencils.
The power of words is a wonderful thing. How often do you get lost in a novel and some line or passage knocks the wind out of you and makes you want to read it again . . . and again? Here are some of my favorite passages from some of my favorite novels. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do–and I hope you share some of yours with me!
“…The question is whether or not you choose to disturb the world around you, or if you choose to let it go on as if you had never arrived. That is how one respects indigenous people. If you pay any attention at all, you’ll realize that you could never convert them to your way of life anyway. They are an intractable race. Any progress you advance to them will be undone before your back is turned. You might as well come down here to unbend the river. The point then, is to observe the life they themselves have put in place and learn from it.”
Ann Patchett, State of Wonder.
“Babe could feel it as he wiped his bat down with a rag. He could feel all their bloodstreams as he stepped to the plate and horse-pawed the dirt with his shoe. This moment, this sun, this sky, this wood and leather and limbs and fingers and agony of waiting to see what would happen was beautiful. More beautiful than women or words or even laughter.”
Dennis Lehane, The Given Day
“As was his custom, Augustus drank a fair amount of whiskey as he sat and watched the sun ease out of the day. If he wasn’t tilting the rope-bottomed chair, he was tilting the jug. The days in Lonesome Dove were a blur of heat and as dry as chalk, but mash whiskey took some of the dry away and made Augustus feel nicely misty inside–foggy and cool as a morning in the Tennessee hills. He seldom got downright drunk, but he did enjoy feeling misty along about sundown, keeping his mood good with tasteful swigs as the sky to the west began to color up. The whiskey didn’t damage his intellectual powers any, but it did make him more tolerant of the raw sorts he had to live with . . .”
Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove
“An old man’s palsy overtook his hands and they reached for her face. He kissed her forehead. In that extraordinary and unstoppable act he realized, not without a twinge of pride, that he loved her, and that he, Thomas Stone, was not only capable of love, but that he had loved her for seven years. . . Love so strong, without ebb and flow or crests and troughs, indeed lacking any sort of motion so that it had become invisible to him these seven years, part of the order of things outside his head which he had taken for granted.
Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone
“And I pray one prayer–I repeat it till my tongue stiffens–Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you–haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always–take any form–drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul.”
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
What do you need in a work space to feel comfortable and get those creative juices flowing? Natural light? A comfy chair? Things neatly organized and in their place? These are some of the things that are essential to me. It took me awhile to figure out just what it was I needed. My first office was set up in my daughter’s room after she left home. It wasn’t as bright as I liked and it was still . . . Jessica’s room. I suppose it will always be her room – not my office. I tried a sunnier spot in the house – the living room where a beautiful antique desk resides. While I loved the spaciousness of the desk, and the flood of sunshine streaming through the french doors, there were always distractions:
The dogs outside the glass door, their happy faces begging, “come play with us!”
The refrigerator right around the corner.
The food pantry next to it. (It’s amazing how those two beckon when I’m trying to write!)
I finally settled on “The Zen Room.” This was once a patio off the master bedroom that was converted (poorly) into a hot tub room before we moved in. We tossed the ancient hot tub, put up dry wall, and added beautiful windows. When we first renovated the house, this room would be the “exercise room” complete with Yoga mats, a treadmill and plenty of UV light. However . . . the room never got used. I started taking Yoga classes at a nearby gym. I ride horses and play tennis and relish the fact that these activities keep me outside. And really, who wants to use a treadmill? Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for folks that do – I just don’t have that kind of attention span!
So – the Zen Room became my office. I purchased a swanky glass and metal desk and a nice cushy chair. Don’t underestimate the importance of a comfortable chair! I used to write while sitting on a straight backed wooden kitchen chair. Why do we do things like that to ourselves? No wonder I could only sit there for 30 minutes at a time while my poor back screamed in protest. I also have a sweet little armchair for reading and relaxation. Unfortunately, the cats have taken possession. As you can see, Louise (of Thelma and Louise) is comfortably napping on a manuscript cushioned by a pillow.
The ribbons and trophies you see are not writing awards. (Alas!) They are horse showing awards. While they once resided in a plastic storage container, I decided to hang the most important ones along the long wall of my office. I wanted to be surrounded by my accomplishments. As most of you know, the writing business is rife with criticism and rejection. While we are supposed to take it like a champ, rise above it and work even harder, sometimes it sucks. A lot of times it sucks. Every once in a while we need to be reminded of our successes – even if they have nothing to do with our masochistic yet preferred craft.
I can happily say I love spending time in my work space. It’s too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, but with an oscillating fan and a space heater, those problems are remedied. The cats think it’s their room, but luckily they are willing to share. Whether I am staring into space in an attempt to come up with ideas for new stories or diligently at work on a story in progress, my work space is conducive to creativity and long hours in the comfy chair.
What do you need in a work space? Please share your thoughts!
Why aren’t there more hours to a day? Could we please extend the week to nine days? Just think of what we could accomplish. It would be so much easier to get the household chores done, grocery shop, take care of the kids, finish the laundry, work our day jobs, work out, have hobbies, blog endlessly, stay active on social networks and, oh yeah, finish that novel (or novels). If we had that kind of time we would be so much more effective and we’d be able to set even more goals. Does this sound like you?
You might be struggling with Type A. First, I must state that I am not a psychologist, nor am I an expert in psychological behavior or theory. The words you are about to read are in no way based in science, psychology or fact. Just a little research on the internet.
Since originally published in the 1950’s, The Type A and Type B personality theory, although controversial in the medical and science communities since its publication, still persists as a way of describing personality types.
The general characteristics for Type A include: impatience, taking on numerous tasks, obsessive with time management, competitiveness, intolerance for tardiness, wordiness or anything they feel is wasting their time, irritability, and a tendency to be a “workaholic.” They are also proactive, ambitious, caring, truthful, and always try to take care of others.
Type B characteristics include: apathy, lacking organization, poor time management and procrastination. On the positive side they are patient, relaxed, easy going, have little or no stress in their lives and reap the benefits of better health.
The Type A has a constant sense of time urgency. There is never enough time to complete the monumental task they’ve created for themselves, because there is another waiting to be conquered just around the corner. When a challenge has been met or perhaps even an award given, the Type A will revel in the moment, celebrate, and then move on to the next big achievement, because perhaps it can top the last.
And speaking of challenges – everything is a challenge. Conquering challenges and achieving goals helps relieve the insecurities that drive Type A to be the way they are.
The Type A personality is known to successfully handle many tasks at once. They are usually involved in several unrelated activities while performing all of them well. After all, failing is not an option. Restlessness is a common anxiety suffered by the Type A. If they aren’t doing something, they might feel guilty or become depressed. Life is out there to be lived and Type A has to do it all.
Competitive by nature, Type A personalities often engage in highly competitive sports and/or activities. While competing against others for that prize or accolade, their fiercest opponent is themselves. There is always the challenge to be better. This may be treading into the waters of perfectionism, but I’m proposing that the Type A and the Perfectionist are kissing cousins.
Having said all this, I have to confess – I struggle with Type A. Sometimes I fantasize about sitting on a beach with a cocktail and letting the day lazily slip by, but when I am at the beach, I’m good for about two hours. Enough relaxation already. Let’s get something done.
While sitting at the stop light, which seems interminable, my mind is racing with all I have to do for the next few hours and that usually works its way into the next day. And, damn it, the light has been green for at least ten seconds. Why hasn’t that bozo moved forward yet?
And then there’s the schedule. Certain things have to be done early in the day and certain things done in the afternoon. After those are accomplished, there’s the shopping, laundry, and general upkeep of the house. Oh, and lunch with friends, and then there’s that tennis match, and is it Sunday night? Mad Men is on, but maybe I should TiVo it because chapters seven and eight really need those revisions. Darn, I did commit to critiquing two chapters for my critique buddy, and I scheduled myself for that weekly blog.
Does this sound familiar? What’s a Type A to do? Sometimes we just need to STOP. After that tennis match, maybe hang around and have lunch with the girls. What about going to a movie in the middle of the day? What if we decided to revise chapters seven and eight tomorrow? Promise to NOT log onto the computer for the entire afternoon. What about reading one book in its entirety instead of three at a time? After all, it gets hard to keep the stories straight. Spend time with family just talking. Sometimes after a hard morning of working horses, I just sit and watch them eat grass. Play with the dogs. Veg.
We need to be kind to ourselves and stop putting endless amounts of pressure on ourselves to constantly achieve. We need to embrace the Type B lurking somewhere in our psyche. For me, it’s a daily struggle, but I only have one mind, one body and one life and I want to enjoy it. So, I think I’ll go have that glass of wine and watch the sunset.
But, there’s that next book I wanted to research . . .