Translating “Write What You Know”

When they said “write what you know” I don’t think they meant “set your werewolf poems in the landscape you walk everyday” exactly…but I do think that’s the spirit of it.

This is a writing rule a lot like “show don’t tell”. It is used so liberally and often without nuance.

I think I’m finally really figuring out how to do this. It’s been about 20 years since I started writing seriously, so this is a little alarming, as far as rate-of-growth is concerned…but anyway, a lot more of my writing is coming from a personal place. No matter how strange the subject matter.

I think hearing this phrase, people immediately leap to “but I have been very boring”.

I know. We’re writers–being boring helps us actually get work done. Unlike acting or other arts which can happen impromptu, we need to sit and be still for long stretches to accomplish anything.

And here’s the thing: I started out writing stories about ninjas in imaginary oasis countries. And now I’m writing…well, about the same kind of thing. What has changed?

My heroine is shopping, and her different ethnic background means she has to look at clothing for housewives. My hero gets excited about buying a box lunch at the train station, instead of taking one packed by his mother.

The were-canines worrying about being shot if they trespass on someone else’s land in dog-form.

And of course, I still need to do my research about the things I’m not familiar with. But I can also look at a story where I somewhat phoned in the setting details and when wondering how to fix it, think about whether it would be more interesting to have it happen in an alternate US Midwest, rather than an imagined historical Britain.

The phrase isn’t “limit yourself to what you know”. It should maybe be “draw on things you know all too well”.

The cliche phrase will still be everywhere, but now I’m going to think, “Ah yes. Do crazy things using details I know from my own experience.”

Which does mean breaking out of boring, every once in a while, to get exposed to new details. I’m thinking about letting some were-creatures take up residence in New England, too….

Taking Cheer from Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick’s Day! A day holy to people wearing shades of green that make redheads LOOK green, and equating Irish heritage with being alcoholics numbing the pain of monocropping potatoes for the British Empire.

You can tell I’m Irish-American because my sense of humor is a little bitter.

But actually, I’d like to raise a metaphorical glass to the historical Patrick. There was a man who turned a dark time of his life into a calling, a passion.

And there was a time of history where the ending of one empire, the end of the world for many I am sure, sent out the seeds of a new civilization. One, in its own ways, as barbaric and cruel as any of the great empires. The one I feel perched at the very edge of.

The saving of ancient literature in Irish monasteries, with love and passion, mattered dearly. Do you think the men copying manuscripts hour after hour knew their own historical significance?

I doubt it. I hope they get to see it from their vantage point now.

I have often in my lifetime (with typical inherited pessimism tinged with arrogance) been sure I would see the fall of my own civilization. Recently I’m thinking the time-line looks uglier than I thought.

But maybe writing, and working on my passion, might matter.

So again, a toast to Patrick, who is apparently the patron saint of nothing BUT Ireland. Maybe he would have liked to be the patron of memoir or those beehive monastic cells or something.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul

says the ancient text (translated) attributed to him.

Amen.

There may be something to this wishing on a star thing.

I saw a shooting star tonight!

This is notable because I have two siblings who seem to see them fairly regularly, and I’ve rarely seen them outside of a meteor shower.

You know, I was not prepared with a wish?

Rather, I was not prepared to wish on the shooting star.

Since intentions are powerful, I can’t help thinking that if you were determined enough in your wish to remember it in the instant you see a star, you’re bound to have it come about. That’s no small level of intention.

Bouldering – Master Stroke Workshop

I’m doing a to-do list workshop on Facebook, and the first in-depth lesson I’m going to take  up here!

In this short video I laid out the idea behind choosing the big three accomplishments you want to have in life.

In essence, a day can be filled with little tasks that are urgent…but not leading to your real goals. If you know what your big goals are, and then figure out how to break those big goals into daily steps, you can make sure you’re working on those bigger tasks.

Then the margins of the day be filled with those minor ones.

So how do you discover your Boulders?

Maybe take a moment to think about what you’re pursuing right now. What is the dream for you, that you’re going for? It could be a higher level of responsibility in a career move. If you’re a visual artist, maybe having a gallery show.

You can also have goals in your personal life (get fit enough for a 5K, throw an amazing retirement party) or off a bucket list (See Paris!)

These are all things you probably can’t run out and do tomorrow–unless you’ve already been doing groundwork.

You may have way more than three. What are the three you want to accomplish in the next 5 years? 10?

How do you break down your Boulders?

If you look at these big tasks, you may already have a good idea what the next step is.

If not, you may need to Google and read a few blogs on How To Travel To Europe or How To Yarnbomb A Whole Bridge.

(I hope no one comes to this blogpost as the only place offering advice on that second one. GET LOTS OF FRIENDS.)

But you don’t want to get too lost in the details.

For instance, I want to publish a novel. I know I should write every day. But if I write every day and never move on to revising and getting feedback on my novel, I can’t move forward.

If I get all that feedback and then never finish revising, I won’t get it out to agents. (Alternatively, I won’t get around to creating a promotion plan for self-publishing!)

Sometimes you need to figure out each new step as you push forward. I had to go to workshops to learn how to revise my work effectively, and I’ve done other learning in the field, so I know better how to create marketable material.

But you can’t get stuck on any one of those steps. You have to remember the Boulder.

START NOW.

What’s the next step you know to do for your handiest boulder? Put that first on your list of things to do tomorrow.

Need help figuring out your boulders? That’s what I’ve started this Master Stroke group on Facebook for!

I’m also holding free coaching sessions, so get in touch here to brainstorm about your goals in life and in 2017! It would be my pleasure to talk big dreams with you.

Hard Words for the New Year

I’d like to make a statement before 2017 arrives.

A lot of people (many of my friends, anyway) have explicitly cursed 2016. This is actually not new–I’ve heard people cursing the year in pockets for several years now. When favorite icons (too young to be gone or too aged to ever leave us) die, when the nation (and world’s) politics go to an absurd place, when human beings perpetrate horrors on each other, it’s taken as a cue to cuss out the uniting theme. That being, an arbitrary calender limit.

And I understand. I do.

But blaming the numerical year is pointless. And I think it’s actually harmful.

Anthropomorphizing it into the villain shifts the blame to something no one can prevent.

Instead of saying “F___ cancer”, can we start a dialogue about the reasons our cancer rates are soaring and pharmaceutical companies are making a lot of money off of not curing it?*

Instead of saying “F___ 2016” can we talk about the way medicating (be it through doctors or self-drugging) instead of healing the wounds is destroying people who had way more to give?**

Instead of blaming The Opposition, when both sides are consistently trying shout down the other, can we meaningfully engage in the problems that are at the root?***

I’d like to challenge you in 2017:

  • Do things for your body that will help it repair, instead of attacking itself
  • Seek out healing of emotional wounds, even if it’s ugly work, instead of numbing them
  • Listen, ask questions, and find common ground with people who don’t agree with you

It’s easy to feel helpless–like all you can do is curse. This isn’t true.

And while I don’t mean to say you can’t express rage–let’s not stop there.

 

*There are so many leads on how to heal and prevent cancer, but they are not a vaccine and it won’t be distilled down to a drug. And our system doesn’t want to hear it.

**People are still dying. Our medications are not enough. And addiction is the opposite of connection–there is so much that can be done, if we’re willing to work harder, longer to make things right.

***Are there people who are 100% in the wrong? Absolutely. But you would be hard pressed to find someone who had a change of heart from being screamed at by someone they perceived as their enemy.

 

Big Magic – In a Light Package

The first time I picked up this book, I’ll admit I scanned it, and then put it back. I had it out from the library, and when there was someone next in line, I let it go back.

It seemed light, and I have read so much on creativity I thought it wasn’t very relevant.

But.

Then I listened to Brene Brown (Rising Strong) talk on Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, and their synergy was so great. I immediately got Rising Strong to read, and also recommitted to trying Big Magic.

And they made great companion reads. While Rising Strong gets into the nitty-gritty of recreating your patterns of failure, Big Magic talks philosophy about creativity. And while it IS a light read, it tends to very lightly draw out some of the darkest myths of creative work.

And then illuminates them with more balanced, truthful ways to think.

This book is one that’s going on my very short list of books to actively push on people. (Like Rising Strong!) Because it’s light enough to breeze through–while also collecting so much of what we need to hear about retraining our beliefs on creativity.

How did I not realize this book was my jam?

***

I will be giving away an e-book of either Big Magic or Rising Strong to one of the attendees of my webinar on Thursday!

Unlock Your Agency: Three Tools to Become the Hero of Your Life

September 30th, Friday, 7pm Central on ZOOM

What a fizzled drama taught me about AGENCY

A show I really loved just ended with not a bang, but a whimper.

It was really too bad, because it had a lot of meta about storytelling. The premise was that a webcomic character starts to change his story when the writer makes choices he doesn’t agree with. Talk about a huge question about agency and humanity!

So when the finale didn’t let the heroes determine their own ending, but instead put a lot of the power and emphasis back on the cartoonist (who through the show was unheroic and running from his responsibility) it seemed more than a waste.

It seemed like the screenwriter was failing themselves, self-sabotaging.

Boy, does that strike close to home.

While I am glad to be where I am, I also know that if I had been more confident of my work earlier in life, I might be making money writing by now. If I had been less wishy-washy about profit, I might have a successful online yarn store.

If I hadn’t allowed my self-doubt to keep me back…I might not be questioning myself so much right now about my coaching, future, relationship status.

One of the main things flaws in the drama is that the characters we assumed were the heroes didn’t have flaws they had to overcome. In a story, it’s the most compelling if we see a hero fail–and get back up to try again. Try something different. Face their failure and finally acknowledge when they’re wrong. Have to overcome that.

And while the cartoonist (erstwhile villain) does have a major flaw, I wasn’t satisfied enough in his ending to feel he earned the hero seat, either. He gave up on himself because of his flaws.

He’ll never go on to write a better webtoon that’s plotted more responsibly. But I hope the scriptwriter behind the drama WILL.

Maybe she’ll join my Unlock Your Agency webinar…

Because one of the main things I’m going to cover is what I’ve been discovering about failure: you have to own it. You have to use it to learn more about yourself.

Right now I’m getting quite the education. I hope you’ll join me next week as I share some of the tools that make owning your flaws a hero’s journey–not the end of the story.

Unlock Your Agency: Friday, September 30th – 7pm Central