Archive for March, 2011

When I started teaching I used define success externally. Were my students learning? Did they get what I was trying to teach them?

Slowly, I came around to defining success internally. Did I do the best I could do at the given time? How did I feel about how I interacted with my students? Was I working at becoming a better teacher and not just going through the motions?

When I looked back at each day or week or year I could gage where I’d been and think about where I wanted to go. What big changes did I want to make? What from the foundation I’d built did I want to remain the same?

I think you can apply the same system to writing. Sure, we all have external goals. Procuring an agent to shop our manuscripts and help us build a writing career. Landing a book deal. Landing multiple book deals. Having a book optioned for a movie. The list goes on.

When I look at what I do as a writer daily, weekly, yearly, the less I focus on the external—the things I have no control over—and the more I focus on the internal, i.e. how much time am I devoting to my writing, to learning the craft, to experimenting with new ways to tell stories… well, these are the things that are going to make me a better writer. And, a more satisfied writer.

Instead of worrying about the things you have no control over, just keep working on your craft in the myriad ways available. I know this isn’t an easy thing to do—I catch myself obsessing about things I have no control over multiple times daily—but the more you can reduce that worry, the more energy you’ll have available for what you sat down to do in the first place.

Happy writing!!

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Photo Credit: Hilton Pond

A few years back—okay it was 18 years almost to the day but who’s counting—I went on a solo backpacking trip on the California Coast, Point Reyes National Seashore to be specific.

Going solo in the backcountry was a pretty regular occurrence in my life back then.

So, what was special about this trip? I decided not to take any food. Well, that’s not entirely true. I took food along but decided before hand not to eat any of it unless I had to.

I’d experimented with fasting at home for health reasons, but never in the wild, and I’d heard that fasting could open you up to your surroundings.

I hiked in five miles, stored my food in an animal-proof locker provided by the National Park Service and left it there for three and a half days.

I walked 8 to 10 miles a day for the next three days. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but I saw a lot of animals: two bobcats, seven deer, a fleeting glimpse of a mountain lion, a seal pup, hundreds of giant salamanders. In short, it was amazing.

But the one sighting that impacted me the most was a small crab that had just shed its shell. It was green and squishy and sat in the inter-tidal zone. Easy prey for a crow or seagull.

In order for that crab to grow it had to make itself vulnerable.

As a writer, how do you grow? How do you make yourself vulnerable?

Maybe you abandon a project that you love and start a new one.

Maybe you keep digging deeper into a story instead of abandoning it.

Maybe you finally send out queries for the manuscript you’ve been cuddling.

Maybe you start reading craft books.

Maybe you stop reading craft books.

Maybe you take the time to tear apart your novel and totally rewrite it even though there is no guarantee that you’ll make it any better.

Maybe you open up your writing to more beta-readers. Or maybe you pull back and work on trusting your inner-voice.

The path to growth is going to be different for everyone, and what you encounter on the path will change over time. I think one of the keys to growing is recognizing the areas where you feel resistance and then exploring that resistance, even if it makes you vulnerable.

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This little wash only runs after some considerable precipitation.

Maybe ten times a year.

After the pour-over, the water flumes through this narrow channel.

A couple of bends later it cascades over these temporary falls.

Whatever doesn’t evaporate will end up in the valley below.

At least for a little while.

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I’ve been a little quiet over here in my corner of the blogosphere the past several weeks.

Sometimes I need to close other things out in order to focus on whatever I’m engaged in. And the internet, at times, can be overstimulating for me.

Thich Nhat Hanh in his book Peace is Every Step talks about closing the shutters ocasionally, not as a way of avoiding the world but as a way of engaging in a focused way.

The analogy he uses is leaving his shutters open while out on a walk and upon his return all the papers from his desk have been blown onto the floor by the wind, which is still blowing. He closes the shutters and puts his papers back in order. Eventually, he’ll open the shutters, but not until the wind dies down.

Most of the time, I don’t need to close the shutters all the way. I can blog, write, and live the rest of my life. But sometimes I have to block out a certain about of stimulation, even if it’s good stuff, to move forward on a story I’m writing.

How about you? Do you have to close the shutters ocasionally? How do you deal with overstimulation?

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It costs nothing to dream.

And everything not too.



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