Embody your fantasy; fiction can manifest reality

Though I’ve never published fiction,  I have written fictional stories that have become real worlds and my characters are well known by many who interact with them as if they are real, live people.

Let me explain.

Back in the early 90s, I was trapped in a marriage to a man who had become physically and verbally abusive. We had only one car, and I used to stare out the window as he drove through West Palm Beach, fantasizing about what went on inside some of the buildings we’d pass. I couldn’t go inside. My husband, who was much older and made most of the money, controlled where I went physically.

But he couldn’t imprison my imagination. The colorful sign above the ArtsBar on Dixie Highway provoked my curiosity, and my imagination projected me into that dark bar where Bohemian creative types drank and conspired to make art together. Along Federal Highway, a plain beige one-story building announced short term rentals. From a post hung a plain white sign with Mi Casa written in brown script, inviting me in.

Into these spaces, I projected the characters of two young women — Calla, the uninitiated narrator who had just declared her independence from a suffocating marriage and Sybil,  a wild child neighbor who taught the narrator the ways of single, independent, creative living. I began to write the story down. And then it took on a life of its own.

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Dorothy and I, photo by South Florida Sun-Sentinel staff photographer

Within a few months, enough money to leave my husband found its way into my hands. The local radio was giving away cash — extra if you knew the phrase that pays. I won the big prize — $1,000. That was surprising in itself, but what was even more magical was that I’d told my co-workers that I was going to win the contest that day.

With the money, I moved into a studio in a Palm Beach duplex that was maybe twelve feet square. It was so small, you could sit on the toilet and brush your teeth over the sink at the same time. There was room for a bed, dresser, desk, and book shelf, which left only enough room to walk between the furniture. It was tiny, but it was mine!

Within a couple days, I discovered the best feature of the place: Dorothy, a wild child who would teach me the ways of single, independent, creative living!

I was Calla and she was Sybil. She’d studied theater, art, and poetry. She believed in the chthonian power of the arts and lauded chaos, darkness, and earth magic. Dorothy showed me all around Palm Beach, where she had been waiting tables and rubbing elbows with high society who appreciated smart women with quick wit and sharp tongues. She took me to the bars and arts institutions. She taught me the importance of a little black dress and red lipstick. She taught me to be shameless and brazen. Within the year, Dorothy and I had published our first art & literary magazine and were featured several times in the local press.

Then Dorothy took off for Europe with a backpack and I became a one-woman show. I performed poetry on pool tables, I started a poetry band. People started calling me “The Poetry Chick.” Eventually, I founded Delray Beach’s Dada Poetry Slam (Florida’s longest running slam, which just came in FIRST PLACE in National Poetry Slam Group Pieces! Yay team!). I traveled around the country performing my poetry and selling my chapbooks.

I wrote that new life into existence. It began with a vision — a fantasy — which I clarified and developed as I wrote. In the writing, the characters became more real, more embodied.

I understand that my desire for freedom — personal and creative — was within my power to choose.

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The very first issue of our literary magazine

How on earth did I manifest Dorothy, though?

I don’t know. Perhaps the story was a pre-cognition. Or maybe I just got lucky. I can’t say for sure. But I do know that I have observed these synchronicities over and over in my life where my writing about things precedes them — new situations, events, and people.

I teach this aspect of Practical Magic for Writers in my Genius! workshop. I really am in awe of our ability to manifest the lives we want by imagining them and writing them into existence. That seems like magic to me.

 

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What it really means to be “woke”

There’s no mistake how much most of us enjoy our stories. Streaming our favorite films and shows is a national pastime that many of us can’t resist. The thrills, the romance, the suspense — all of this adventure, we experience from a safe distance. We know it’s “not real” so even when it’s dramatically tragic, we aren’t too concerned about how the death of our favorite character is going to impact our actual lives.

woke-up-v1-1312At night, similarly, we enter the theater of dreams, seeing stories unfold that terrify, delight, and amaze us. When we wake, we may remember them and wonder about them, but mostly, we shake them off because they aren’t “the real world.”

Then again, lots of what goes on in the real world, what we believe to be true and act on, is nothing but projection, too — just a great drama invented in our minds, a story we made up to give meaning and purpose to the world. It’s amazing how when we decide that something is true how the entirety of reality shapes itself to support that belief.

This condition of our minds is exactly why magic is so effective in producing the results we want. Like films, dreams, and our waking projections, magic creates meaning of the things in our world, attributing significance to them and acting accordingly.

Embracing magic has been a process of waking up within the dream of my life. The more awake I become the more I am aware that there’s no real difference between “reality” and “magic,” except that in “reality,” I am accepting the conditions of my life as somehow less mutable and more imprisoning than those of my imagination. In “magic,” instead of being at the mercy of an external world, I see that I get to choose what I’d like my world to look like. I get to create it intentionally, just like a writer and director would do for a film, except that the movie is my life.

Lots of people stay asleep within their dream. Mostly, I think this is because they don’t realize that they are dreaming. When most people say they are “woke” what they mean is that they are aware of some underlying social or political system at work in our culture. But this what is called in sleeping dreams “false awakening.” They’re just dreaming that they have woken.

To really be woke is to understand how much power we have, that we are the dreamer and that we can change the dream. That is we can actively change the projection that we generally and passively accept as “reality.”

dribbble_-_owlOf course, this takes lots of work. It takes work at things people will often dismiss as frivolous and impractical. Working with the subtle forces of deities (which is to say “archetypes”) and of our desires and aversions is the stuff of magic that wakes us up inside the dreams of our lives so that we are lucid and empowered, and we recognize the significance of everything.

This is what I focus on in the Genius workshop of the Practical Magic for Writers series. We work with the mind’s powers — of imagining, of creating story, of dreaming and believing and knowing — as we write.  I have found writing to be the strongest magical tool I know of to shape and create reality. It’s allowed me to wake within the dream and to dream wide awake.

 

The not-so-great disappearing act; what to do when you lose your creative mojo

When the magic is gone, everyone loses.

At a creativity conference I attended in Los Angeles, a woman came to the microphone for guidance. She was beautiful in a way that might spark jealousy in some. She was slender and tan. A scarf was slung effortlessly around her neck in a way that made her casual outfit more relaxed yet more stylish: a sign of affluence. But despite the money and the beauty, there was something pitiful about her.

“I feel like I lost my mojo,” she said sadly into the microphone.

She said she was a writer, a life coach, and public speaker. She had degrees in nursing and an MFA in writing. But the accomplishments were no match for her depression.

“I don’t even know what I want to do anymore.”

Watching her, I realized that a person can seemingly have it all and still not have “it,” that ineffable inner power that animates us and fills us with dynamic energy and creativity.

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Mojo is flowing… must be the water.

I had been in a similar state before. I had gotten so busy with the mundane demands of my life that I wasn’t tending to my creative flame. That’s why I started working Practical Magic for my writing, because I needed my mojo back. I needed the spark that made me feel excited and alive and let my writing life thrive.

Using the principles of magic I began to  integrate my everyday, practical life with my creative life, and my mojo returned. I became more aware of the inspiration and support that surrounds me so that I felt awake, alive, and magically charged.

When the woman at the creativity conference starting paying attention to the nudging of the universe to write about boundaries and faith, she came alive again, too. She found her mojo.

Pay attention. What has the universe been nudging you to write about? What themes keep coming up? These meaningful coincidences are what psychologist Carl Jung called “synchronicity” and are the stuff of magic.

 

 

 

 

Writing as spell casting — the untold power of your words

People’s eyebrows do The Wave when I tell them what I’m up to.

They seem intrigued (or maybe confused?) by the yoga-magic fusion that I practice in my writing. Many times I will have met someone in the more mainstream yoga world and when they find out that I practice magic, I watch their eyebrows do their thing.

Yoga and magic aren’t that different, really. They both work with subtle forces to bring about change. They both believe in the power of words.

magicYoga philosophy holds not only that words are powerful and important but that language and sound is sacred. The sacred syllable Om brought everything into existence. As writers, our letters create sounds that spell words into existence. We manifest where there was nothing. They don’t call it “a spell” for nothing.

Hello? Magic!

I’ve seen this sort of spelling happen over and over again in my life, where my writing meditations manifested new things and often a new world. In fact, these were often things beyond my wildest dreams.

Once during a waxing moon, I cast a spell for knowledge (I teach this spell in a writing workshop). It was a spell that had chosen me – that is to say, I had chosen the spell randomly allowing The Universe to tell me what work I needed to do in my life to become more aligned with my True Self and True Purpose.

In the seven days that I worked the spell, sitting in the roots of an old tree and recording its wisdom, not much happened except that my journal pages began to fill with smart observations expressed in poetic language. The last day, I finished the spell and I thought, “Well, I got some good writing.” And I thought that was it.

But that night, which also happened to be a lunar eclipse, I got more.

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The phone rang. It was a call from my then-teenaged daughter who lived with her father, and he had done all he could to keep her from me and drive a wedge between us. But that night, my daughter was asking to come live with me.

Talk about knowledge! From that point on, I learned what it was like to be a daily parent rather than a weekend one. I learned that all the sacrifices that I had made to stay in my daughter’s life hadn’t been for naught. I learned to forgive myself for being young and poor and unable to fight for her when I left her father.

But it wasn’t just me who gained knowledge. My daughter did, too. Her studies, which had been stunted by depression in her father’s home, began to improve. With hope for something more than going to the local community college, she also began studying for the SAT. Based on the knowledge she demonstrated on that test, the University contacted us to say they would admit her if she had another semester of excellent grades.

And the magic continued to expand over the months.  When we got the call six months later saying she was accepted to University, we literally jumped up and down and cried tears of joy.

What unfolded – the sudden reunion with my daughter and her rapid re-routing of her life course – was nothing short of a miracle. And that’s what a spell does for us: it gives us what otherwise seems too difficult or impossible. And this is just one instance of countless others where writing magic changed my life for the better.

It’s why I will always practice what I call Practical Magic for Writers. Not only do I manifest new writing, but I manifest wonderful life changes.

And just in case you were wondering, I shaped the writing from my spell for knowledge into a lyric essay, and it was recently accepted by Tiferet Journal of Spiritual Literature. Once set in motion, the forces of magic are unstoppable.

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Magic and Writing make me feel pretty unstoppable. I feel like a literary Wonder Woman.

Between a rock-paper-scissors and a hard place: on writing, performance anxiety, and winning!

We writers can get pretty weird about our work. Depressed. Anxious. Neurotic. Self-obsessed. Hysterical, even.

If writers had enough money for therapy, the mental health field would be booming. But instead what we have is an entire readers market dedicated to writers who write about writing and the struggles we writers face.

Ours aren’t your normal professional struggles. You’ve never seen your plumber or retail manager having a nervous breakdown about a deadline or a line that wouldn’t scan. Lawyers don’t wake up and go, “Maybe I should get out of these pajamas and get a real job?” And no one other than a writer really understands. It’s just part and parcel of the gig.

My students at the community college think I’m nuts because I’ve given myself life-long writing assignments, often with little or no pay. Like this blog here that I ‘m writing at nearly 11 pm on a weeknight after I spent the whole day writing to finish up a year-long project, my Practical Magic for Writers book.

Before I even turned in my final grades and declared school out for the summer, I’d taken on another deadline: Write Club, a head-to-head writing competition that is billed as literary bloodsport. There are chapters in Chicago (where it started), Atlanta, and here in Los Angeles. Basically: Two writers. Two opposing ideas. Seven minutes.

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Marya Summers defending “Overt” at Write Club Los Angeles, the Bootleg Theater

Contestants get a week. I was assigned “Overt” and my opponent, “Covert.”

In a nutshell it was a crazy week: I sat for full days with a lap top heating my thighs. I wrote decent poetry, then terrible prose, and finally decided to stick with poetry.  A day before the competition, I only had a solid 2 minutes of stuff I liked. Writing five more minutes of poetry – good poetry — in just the space of two days? When I hadn’t written a poem in like a dozen years? Um, hella hard.

The night before the competition, I sat in my meditation group with anxiety so intense that I couldn’t breathe. It felt like a giant rock was sitting on my chest and like I needed to run for a very long time. The next day, the day of the main event, I got up early and took the run my body craved, though I hadn’t run in months, and then I wrote some more. The anxiety wouldn’t let go. Nothing I did would shake it. I kept lowering the stakes:

1) It doesn’t have to be a good poem, just the best you can do.
2) It doesn’t have to be your best, you just have to have something finished.
3) It doesn’t have to be finished, just read what you have and have fun.

But the anxiety wouldn’t let go no matter what I told myself. Even while I was trying to have fun. It didn’t soften until I got on stage. Stage fright has got nothing on real anxiety — in the face of the former, the latter wasn’t even noticeable. The anxiety evaporated somewhere in the stage lights, I think. Just like that.

And then I won.

Loving Cup of Deathless Fucking Glory
The hard-earned Loving Cup of Deathless Fucking Glory

The moral of the story isn’t “anxiety = winning.” Not at all.

The point isn’t “anxiety = pointless, so why am I so silly?” either.

My point here is that anxiety is something that I’ve learned that I just have to live with sometimes; writing and performing have seldom been comfortable for me. Facts are, it’d be nice, but I don’t write to be comfortable. I write because I have to. It’s who I am. Sometimes being me is pretty fabulous, and someone gives me a trophy or a paycheck for it.

You know how beauty queens and glamour girls say, “You have to suffer to be beautiful?” I think what they are saying is about perseverance – that sometimes things are really uncomfortable. Whether it’s a girdle or performance anxiety, it’s hard to breathe, but you tough it out anyway.

Writing is hard. For me. For lots of writers. For those who say it comes easily, well, I really can’t say I like them much. Nor do I trust them. I think they are probably lying.

But what we have, friend, is intestinal fortitude. It’s a Fire Element quality — much like anxiety, which is also the result of excessive Fire energy — that I discuss in my workshops and book Practical Magic for Writers, which will be finished this summer.

Summer: the season of fiery solar energy! What better time to summon our inner creative warrior? Have writing anxiety or need some other writing help? Hit me up. Seriously. I luuuuuvvvvv to help.

The Secret Life of Procrastination: It’s alive and it’s coming for you! (and what to do when it does)

The other day procrastination loomed. It cast its dark shadow over my newest creative project in the form of my black, three-legged cat Oliver; then it plopped down and took the pen out of my hand, purring while it chewed on the pen. This was certainly a lot cuddlier and cuter than what I was doing. But dammit, I was finally starting to get somewhere!

When I was a columnist with a weekly deadline, I hardly ever had a problem with churning work out, even when I wasn’t particularly “feeling it.” I knew the drill: investigate/research on the weekend, write Mondays, revise Tuesdays, wake up at the crack of dawn Wednesday and make final revisions and edits. Some columns were more inspired than others, true, but my column was popular, and I met my deadlines.

oliver

Back then, if a cat sat in the middle of my copy, I just pushed it out of the way. There was, after all, an illustrator who needed the copy so that he could do his work before the layout people could do their work and the issue could go to press, and everyone could get paid. A lot of people were counting on me, including my daughter, Oliver and his four-legged counterpart, Sappho, all of whom had gotten used to living indoors and eating food.

After a couple of years, I’d burnt out. I’d pushed a lot of things out of the way to get the column done, including a desire to express myself authentically in a way that was meaningful to me, which editors kept striking from my copy. At first I resigned myself to the constraints, then exhausted and uninspired, I resigned the position. After I was on my own, however, my writing foundered. I had a bunch of half-written projects lying around and no real sense of urgency to get anything finished. Clearly I knew how to get things done; that wasn’t the problem. I worked, but at a slow pace. Some months I got nothing done at all.

Deadlines, accountability, and incentives: yeah, but…

These helped some. I wrote deadlines down, joined writers groups, and offered motivators like telling myself I could redecorate my bedroom after making my first $1,000. But those weren’t entirely effective. My brain isn’t dumb. It knew these were artificial motivators. Technically, no one needed the writing, my writers group might have thought I was a slacker, but they weren’t harmed when I showed up with unfinished writing, and if I really wanted to redecorate my bedroom, I already had the funds to do so.

A mentor suggested writing a check to a cause I loathed and then giving it to a friend and telling her to mail it if I had not accomplished my goal by the deadline I set. This could work, but it is coercive rather than motivational, and it’s not the relationship I want to have with my creativity.

Instead, I got busy looking at the investment I’d made already in my project (that is, the money in education, the sacrifices, and the time I’d put in). Clearly, the project was important to me, or I wouldn’t keep coming back to it. Then, I connected with the value of what I was creating. This included a monetary value of a completed project, but more importantly, the social value of how my project would help others. The latter had always been an incentive that inspired me. Inspiration, rather than coercion, was how I finally got myself going and what keeps me going.

Procrastination: It’s ALIVE!

No one likes to be told “No.” or yelled at to “Stop it!” I’ve watched people dig their heels in when what they want or what they are doing is negated. Children will throw outright tantrums. So will cats – this is where the term “hissy fit” comes from, after all.

I like to think my creative process is no different. When I get hung up in procrastination and I start resisting it, it acts out. Procrastination, like everything, WANTS TO SURVIVE. When it feels threatened, it gets defensive. Like a cat, it puffs up and creates drama. And I get even less done.

The secret is to overcoming procrastination is not to try to overcome it. Don’t make it a power struggle, which will only drain your energy. It sounds counterintuitive, but embrace the procrastination!

Instead of thinking of procrastination as not getting started, I think of it as Step #1. When I teach writing, I have my students put it on their “To Do” lists. No sense in ignoring it – procrastination wants to be a part of things. So include it, and then cross it off when you are ready to move on to Step #2. It’s win-win: Procrastination is happy because it’s gotten some attention, and you are happy because you’ve gotten something accomplished, ironically, by not doing anything. (You’ll learn in my classes and workshops how this sort of re-framing of ideas will change your whole world.)

Saying “hello” to my little friend and making space

As Oliver chewed on my pen in the middle of my project, I stopped my work for a minute and stroked his soft fur and said hello. Then I took out a few pieces of blank paper and put them next to those I was working on. I slid the furry distraction over on top of them. “Here,” I told him. “This is your project.” He sat on his pile of empty pages, batted at pen and bit it a couple more times, and then curled up and dozed off. While he napped contentedly, I got another pen and got back to work.

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Creative teeth: When your work bites

Yesterday, while I was spooning down a trifecta of Tutti Frutti frozen yogurt — honey, cherry almond, and vanilla custard — I was secretly fantasizing about killing someone. I’d been dishing to my pal J about the latest novel I’m reading and loving. It’s a Y.A. fantasy that my adult daughter wrote.

J was like, “Oh wow, your daughter wrote a novel?  What’s it about?”

I’d barely gotten three sentences out when he started laughing. “Another vampire novel?”

Maybe I’d been inspired by one of the characters in the novel, but I almost leapt across the table and tore his throat out with my teeth.

I suppose taking pity on the guy was the right move, considering a) children at nearby tables would have been forever scarred by a fro-yo blood-bath and b) the near-victim knows nothing about the creative process– neither the challenges nor the sacrifices (nor that he was almost one of them).

Other than kicking my powers of creative visualization into high gear and giving me an opportunity to exercise my impulse control, my friend also offered me an opportunity to reflect on some important truths about the creative life:

  1. People are going to mock and criticize because they are cowards themselves. It makes them feel superior and gives them a sense of safety. But it’s actually keeping them from taking risks and keeping them stuck, which is their problem. Not yours or mine. We know our creative baby (or grandbaby) may be fugly but we’re gonna love it anyway. Because it’s ours, and it’s a gift we appreciate because it teaches us about ourselves and the world. Like, how about all that badass discipline it takes to finish something as huge as a novel? How about the vision? The courage to move forward when you don’t know where something is going? These are things to celebrate. Creative risks are moments to celebrate precisely because of the cowardly critics. So maybe on a day when I’m feeling particularly charitable I will remember to thank the person or people laughing at our art for making us all the more heroic in our creative actions.
  2. It has all been done before. Yup. Lots of vampire novels have been written. And that’s because people like to read them. Duh. Fantasy fiction fans are hungry like a blood-starved vampire for another good book to sink their fangs into. So let’s not worry too much if our poem sounds a lot like a Rumi poem or if our novel isn’t novel enough. If we are one among many, that sounds a lot like an audience to me. Carry on.
  3. An entirely valid approach to creativity is imitation. It’s not only the highest form of flattery, it’s also highly instructive. We learn a lot by imitating those we admire. In fact, I’ve watched a painter friend reproduce Van Gogh’s technique, learning from the master though separated by centuries. I’ve got musician friends who swear by learning cover songs for similar reasons: they learn technique and structure as they play songs others have written. I’ll also add that lots of times accomplished musicians pay homage to those they admire by adding a cover to their set list. I saw Panic at the Disco cover Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” this summer and I was blown away. It was done with passion and precision, and no one was laughing that it had been done before.

Want more insights into the creative process and inspiration to keep you going? Come see me over at Wholly Creative.

A self divided cannot stand: resolve inner conflict, get more done

Much of my personal and creative life began to fall in place when I started to practice yoga and study yoga philosophy. It was on the yoga mat and in the classic texts that I found the best instructions for healthy thinking and practical spirituality. These enhanced my writing life. (You can read my paper presented at the MLA conference and published in the book Beyond the Frontier here: ” Writing West to East and Back Again: A Yogic Approach to Life-Writing.”)

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Yoga & Writing

In the introduction to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a classic Hindu text on physical yoga practices, Swami Muktibodhananda explains that yoga is the union of mind and body (to be clear, they aren’t separate…they just get out of synch or in dysfunctional relationship). This idea from that introduction has become central to my well-being:

Often we observe that when we try to practice self-control and discipline, we create more mental problems in our mind and personality…Therefore before you practice self-discipline and self-control, you must prepare yourself…If harmony is not created in the personality, then self-control and self-discipline will create more conflict rather than peace of mind.

You want to know what this “conflict” looks like?

Imagine your ego self holding a whip demanding that you to get to work and your feeling self complying grudgingly, refusing defiantly or in some way failing miserably. The task could be working on a creative project or going to the gym or doing the dishes. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. The point is that there’s a split in the personality between the self that thinks you should do something and the self that doesn’t want to it. It’s a sort of schizophrenia, almost.

A self divided against itself cannot stand. Or put another way: you are not being able to stand yourself.

I lived like this for years. I got a lot written, published and performed, but I was miserable because I was living in conflict with myself. Basically I’d tell myself I was a loser if I didn’t do the thing I knew I should do. There was some value (moral, financial, ethical, etc) inherent in the action that I felt I “should” do, but instead of focusing on the value, I focused on the action itself. When I lose focus of the “why” of things, I quickly see a hostile relationship between Marya the goal-setter and Marya the goal-fulfiller.

These days, when I recognize a “should” and an aversion to it, I know to look deeper. Why do I think I should do it? What is at the root of the aversion? This sort of reflection really helps me unify my “selves.” When I am connected with my desire — with why I “should” do something –I am able to get to my work in a way that makes me feel good and fills my work with purpose.

What “shoulds” do you wrestle with? Take some time to write about these, about what value these have (financial, moral, ethical, social, etc.). Sometimes we inherit “shoulds” from our families or society without examining them; if they have no value to you, personally, let these go the same way you might discard an ugly chair that used to belong to Aunt Agatha.

I think you’ll find that once you connect with why you want to do something, the aversion will soften or even disappear and you’ll be able to show up for the work you should do because you want to do it.

Creative anxiety nixed

If you’ve got creative goals, my bet is that you’ve had to face anxiety about whether you would actually meet them. In its most dangerous form this anxiety becomes generalized — the free-floating fear that seems to emanate from your creative project and engulfs you when you approach it. When I’ve had this anxiety, it shuts me down.

In fact, I had this anxiety yesterday, and oddly enough it’s because I’ve been celebrating some victories.

The book I’ve been working on is close to complete. During the holidays, I organized all my writing in one document with chapters and subheadings. It was beautiful! I felt like I’d seen a sonogram of this baby at 7-months. I could see it: all its fingers and toes! It just needs to grow a little more and soon it will be ready to come into the world.

Congratulations! It’s a book!
The fear that somehow I would screw this up, that I would fail to nurture my baby to full gestation was what set me in motion: I needed a schedule! Every piece of creative success wisdom had said this. So I bought a calendar, and I started filling in how much I was getting done each week. Startlingly little. A lot of my “writing time” was spent goofing off watching movies about magic or doing research on magic. That’s when I started to panic.

When I sat down to write an email to my coach (that’s right the coach has a coach!).

I am having trouble putting together a schedule for getting my book done. To be clear, I keep showing up and working on it just like you’ve taught me, which is why I’ve made it this far, but I’d like to hammer out a schedule. I keep seeing things that say pick a deadline and work backwards to create a schedule, but I don’t know if that’s realistic given my circumstances.

The problem: Lots of times I hit a block where I have to do research, meditate, or otherwise process stuff before I can write because I have no idea what the next idea block of info is about or what to say about it. And so the book slows down, sometimes back to R&D phases. Also, I am managing some health stuff (in addition to juggling the full time job) so some days I just can’t show up like I’d planned to.

When I try to create a schedule, honestly, it often amplifies the anxiety I already deal with on a daily basis and then I get MORE STUCK.

Is it possible to put together a schedule for completion in these conditions? Or is it better to just show up every day and record my progress?

I never sent that email. Because as soon as I wrote out what my problem was, I started to see what my REAL problem was. This is why when I’m coaching I say that we are not only learning to write but writing to learn! Once it was ON THE PAGE, the HUGE and INFINITE anxiety was FINITE, which meant that even it if it’s big that it could be managed. That actually reduced my fear. All I had to do was write it down.

Basically, there was a cycle that was based on these fears:

Know your superpowers!

#1 Fear of failure. This is based on the false belief that who I am is what I achieve. If I fail, this just reinforces what I have long suspected was true: I’m a fraud. A bad writer and a bad person.

#2 Fear of the unknown. The baby is still growing, and I don’t know what it’s going to need from me or what it’s going to become. What if it’s hideous? What if I’m a failure? (Return to fear #1, and repeat)

 These are normal fears that whip into a fast and furious cycle of dysfunction.

After writing things down, I realized I’ve met LOTS of deadlines when the stakes were high and I had no idea what I was doing. The thing was, the projects were smaller and the parameters more defined. Yup. That was my problem — an Earth element problem that lots of writers have.

(You can learn more about The Elements of Practical Magic for Writers.)

I, like other writers, am so frequently BIG PICTURE (Air element) in my thinking. My brain is so busy envisioning the grand scheme that it’s hard to focus on the minutia. But as soon as I realized, if I make this a CHAPTER project rather than a book project, the anxiety diminishes. And if I make this an ARTICLE project the anxiety is practically nonexistent. I needed smaller chunks! That’s not a new or radical notion at all. In fact, it’s common advice that borders on cliche.

I was so overwhelmed with anxiety, though, that I couldn’t see or think straight.

I would have been stuck in the anxiety cycle and shut down if I had not written down what the problem was and meditated on it. Sometimes the answers come. And the good news is this: if the answer doesn’t come, you have a clearly worded expression of what you want help with that you CAN SEND to someone who can help. That’s also part of the Earth element energy that assists us in our creativity: having a tribe. (You can join my tribe.)

So that’s what I’m asking you to do today. If you have some problem that is bedeviling you and slowing your creativity, write it down.

If you get an answer, would you share it me?

If you need help, let me know. I’m happy to help.

Sacrifice: a confession, an oath, an homage

I’ve been trying to write about sacrifice for days now. I realized it was important part of Fire element (I’m writing a book, Practical Magic for Writers, where I look at writing through the lens of the four classical elements), that we need sacrifice in order to keep us committed. I know this firsthand; I’ve sacrificed big time.

I have a clear purpose, a clear audience, but there is something in me so adverse, so resistant to writing about it that I haven’t been able to get myself to sit down to write for three days. When I try, my aversion has me open Facebook or email or compose something else. I’m a professional writer, for fucksake. And a writing coach. “Heal thyself!” I scream at myself in my head. Disgusted.

candle flame
A light in the darkness

Lighting a candle got me to sit down and open my lap top and start writing. I made it to 800ish words in a herky-jerky, stop-start process that felt a lot more like learning to drive a stick-shift than sitting down to write.

It’s a huge relief when I realize I am crying. I’m opening a huge can of worms. Fucking huge. Because to me sacrifice means leaving my then-2-year-old daughter with her father so that I could write. And it’s difficult to explain how I could do that and not be a monster; or if I am, how I got to be that monster. Or how my now-26-year-old daughter has both benefitted and been hurt by my choices. How we both say I did the best I could, given the circumstances, but both of us feel like we deserved better. We’re both still hurting and angry.

It’s difficult to explain the subtleties of what happened – how I didn’t “give her up,” for instance, or how much my difficult relationship – including emotional, physical and sexual abuse – with my own parents influenced my choices. It’s too much. And my cat, which has been relegated to the porch for shitting and pissing all over the house, is howling. Other than the over-eating, she’s a healthy cat. But she’s an emotional wreck.

sappho-2
A 24-pound cat fits easily into any size box.

Anxiety has me by the shoulders and is shaking me hard. And I want to punch the cat and shake her hard. I want her howling to stop so that my pain will stop its howling. Who can write in these conditions?

I decide not to be thwarted by writer’s block. Not to succumb to the urge to punch the cat. To write, even if it is crap. Just write it anyway. Because if I don’t write, not only do I feel the pain of the past but I also feel the pain of my present – my past and current powerlessness. And if I punch the cat, then I really am a monster.

I have rationalized my choices, but I haven’t forgiven myself. I’m pretty sure that’s holding me back. I’ve been punished enough. I am ready to be forgiven, to be washed clean. I want all the experience, all of the wisdom, none of the pain, none of the guilt.

The cat is still howling.

Too much of the time, I have felt like a hostage of circumstance. But I’ve decided my victim days are over. So, fuck you, anxiety and pain and shame and fear. Fuck you. You don’t get to control my life anymore.

I’m writing you off, out of my life. I will squeeze you out, shake you off. You will dangle at the end of my sentence, howling.