No Thing

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
Muhammad Ali

There’s a bagel shop near my house I sometimes go to when I’m in need of a tasty lox-and-cream cheese combo. For a long time, on one wal there was a poster of “The Greatest” in boxing stance with the headline “Impossible is Nothing.” One day, looking at it, my eye separated the word nothing into “no thing” — and suddenly, I realized what Ali was saying: “Impossible is no thing” — it has no reality, no substance, it’s just a construct, a figment. Later, I saw someone take the word “Impossible” and point out that it has the same letters as “I’m possible.”

There are so many paper tigers in our lives! So many barriers that we build out of our own fears and then give substance to, as if they were made out of bricks or concrete. Let’s bust through them all!

“Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve,” J.K. Rowling once said — and if anyone is living proof of it, she is.

So let’s dump that word “impossible” from our writer’s lexicon. And let’s start thinking about the “possible dreams” we can dream for ourselves.

Winning a contest — a possible dream.

Seeing our stories in print — a possible dream.

Finding the perfect agent for our novel — a possible dream.

Landing a book contract — a possible dream.

And once we start seeing all these as possible dreams, let’s find enough nerve to do what we have to do to make them realities. Impossible is nothing! Write on.

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So Blessed

“We are so blessed. Every day is a blessing.”
Connie du Hamel

Today, my friend and mentor Coach Mike Tully (www.totalgameplan.com) and I were pecking away at our computer keys at a friendly Dunkin’ Donuts in my hometown of Montclair. We’re having a blast working together on a totally fun and exciting book about what elite athletes can teach authors about boosting their performance on the page — stay tuned!

Just as I was leaving, I ran into Connie du Hamel, a former neighbor of mine. She’s in her 80s and amazing: She’s smart, active, curious, fun, and funny. She’s also a fabulous connector; she could have told Malcolm Gladwell a thing or two for The Tipping Point. As always, Connie asked about how my writing was going. We chatted a bit about books and then started talking about music and how lucky we are to be able to surround ourselves with beautiful music that gives us a lift.

Then Connie uttered her lovely words, “We are so blessed. Every day is a blessing.” How true! Walking home, I found myself thinking about this. As I ponder the many joys that flow from my writing life, I am filled with gratitude for them:

I am free to write: To live in a country where I am free to write without interference or censorship is to be fortunate indeed. Too often, I take for granted this enormous gift the universe has given me. I hope to always cherish and be worthy of it.

I am free to dream: After many years of writing nonfiction and crafting words as a marketing executive, I am now making my first foray into fiction. I feel excited every day about bringing the imaginary characters in my head to life and creating a world that kids can enjoy traveling to on the wings of words. What could be more fun?

I am surrounded by kindred spirits: What a gift it is to talk about books and ideas with wonderful writers and supporters! My beloved family, my masterful critique group, my talented friends in the Write Group, my cherished KWD community: My ever-growing tribe of fellow scribes is a constant source of inspiration and encouragement to me. Thank you all.

Wow. I could go on and on. How about you? When you think of your writing life, what makes you feel most grateful and blessed? It’s a wonderful question to ask yourself — and to answer. It will really give you a boost, just as penning this post gave me. Write on!

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Searching Out

“Find out what you need for writing that will make it easier for you on this journey. Test it out. Try sitting or lying down. Write first thing in the morning, then late at night. In a café, at home. Most of this will be dictated by the urgency of what you need to do. Pay attention to your needs and cultivate them. Try to find a ritual that will help you write. Maybe it will just be a shower in the morning and a cup of coffee. Or maybe you’ll find that you must read the newspaper first. Or your favorite book. Or meditate. Whatever it is, search out the ways that will make writing easier for you.”
Writing Toward Home, Georgia Heard

I love the simplicity and grace of this advice: Just figure out what works for you — and do it. So often we find ourselves fascinated by the writing process of other writers. As we struggle to complete our own projects, we look for clues to success from authors who have completed theirs. And yet, the more we look outside ourselves for some secret formula we can apply, the more confused we become — mainly because there are so many different ways that writers approach the page.

Instead, let’s just keep it simple. Let’s take the steps that Georgia, an accomplished poet and teacher, so gently suggests:

• realize that writing is a journey and that you need to pack your own suitcase for it.

• pay attention to your needs — explore and nourish them so you can give yourself the
best possible chance of succeeding in your work.

• test out different writing approaches with an open mind and a sense of adventure and
see what’s most enjoyable and fruitful for you.

• find a ritual that will help you ease into your writing sessions and use it as a
touchstone every time you meet the page.

• keep searching, gently but with intention, for ways to make writing easier for you.

Along with giving ourselves permission to write and permission to sometimes write badly, let’s also give ourselves permission to make writing as stress-free and enjoyable as we possibly can. When we come to our work in a relaxed and playful way, the pleasure we feel shows up on the page. Write on.

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Something Wonderful

While wandering from book to book, I came across this lovely passage:

“My love for the alphabet, which endures, grew out of reciting it, but
before that, out of seeing the letters on the page. In my own story books,
before I could read them for myself, I fell in love with various winding,
enchanting-looking initials drawn by Walter Crane at the heads of fairy tales.
In ‘Once upon a time,’ an ‘O’ had a rabbit running it as a treadmill,
his feet upon flowers. When the dame came, years later, for me to see
the Book of Kells, all the wizardry of letter, initial, and word swept
over me a thousand times over, and the illumination, the gold, seemed a
part of the word’s beauty and holiness that had been there from the start.”

from One Writer’s Beginning by Eudora Welty

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Breaking Through

“If there’s one overriding piece of advice I’d offer anyone in the throes of writer’s block, it’s this: Don’t think! Once you know what you’re going to say, just go for it. Write fast, write badly, write fearlessly. Remember, it’s a draft, not a book. Every mistake can be fixed, every awkward sentence revised. So let yourself fly! Don’t analyze. Don’t compare. Don’t imitate. Don’t think. Run through that desert, and put it behind you.”
Molly Cochran

Molly Cochran knows a thing or two about getting words down on the page and into print: She’s the author of 20 novels and has won a host of awards including The Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award (www.mollycochran.com). In “5 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block” featured in the Writer’s Digest online newsletter, Molly offered pithy pointers on getting back in gear if you’re stalled on the page:

1. Problem: Indecision. Solution: Outline your next scene. Sometimes we’re not sure how to handle the next scene in our story. “Should it be presented as pure narrative? Through dialogue? As a newspaper account? Or an internal monologue? To get through this snag, it helps to write an experimental synopsis of the scene using one of those choices. It doesn’t matter which. If you go with an internal monologue, say, write down the things your character will see and do to spur his thoughts. You’ll be able to see in a few lines if the choice you made is viable. If not, outline another possible scene. The point is not to find the perfect scene, but simply to get over being stuck…”

2. Problem: Lack of inspiration. Solution: Write fast! “Speed fosters spontaneity, which can bring on inspiration. At the very least, it puts something on the page, and something is better than nothing.”

3. Problem: Perfectionism. Solution: Allow yourself to write badly. This is the number one source of writer’s block. Constantly revising every sentence until it’s a masterpiece takes forever. As Molly puts it: “A writing mentor of mine once said that novels are not written; they’re rewritten. Leave the sparkling prose for the second, third, or twelfth draft if it doesn’t come to you on the fly. For now, just get your thoughts written down. Don’t worry if those thoughts are clichéd, repetitive, or childish. Bad writing is the key to good writing. Perfect writing is the key to a blank page.”

4. Problem: Other people’s opinions. Solution: Be fearless. “Don’t allow yourself to be stymied by what your friends, mother, priest, or spouse may think of what you’ve written. We have only our own experience on which to base our fiction.”

5. Problem: Worrying about what will sell. Solution: Quit thinking about it! Trying to figure out The Next Big Thing never works. Neither does trying to massage your story into one you think is more marketable. “Better to write your novel, your way.”

So if you’re stuck, here’s the simple recipe for getting unstuck: write fast, write badly, write fearlessly. Writers, start your engines! Bravo, Molly — write on!

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High Fliers

Who knows more about high flying than Nik Wallenda, King of the High Wire? He’s one of the seven-generation Flying Wallenda Family and holds seven world records for his feats, which include walking a tight rope over the Grand Canyon without a net. Barry Farber, bestselling author of 12 books (www.barryfarber.com), did an interview with Nik about one of the biggest obstacles to achievement that we all face: fear. Nik’s approach to handling it is one we can fruitfully apply to our writing:

Reframe your fear: “There is a very close connection between fear and respect in my opinion….What a lot of people call fear, I call respect…I don’t fear heights, I respect heights. I realize there’s definitely a risk there, but I also know with the right training, preparation, skills, and ability, I can overcome the fear.”

Disarm your fears: “Fear is very debilitating; it takes the life out of you, no matter what you’re facing. The key is to be willing to face your fears, respect your fears, and know that you’ll make it through….My great grandfather taught me to never give up. (If) you pursue your goal and you’re persistent about it, you’ll reach it no matter what the challenge.

Stay positive: “The most successful people in the world are risk takers. Risk takers are also the most confident people. It’s all about the mentality of how you go into a situation in your life….Your attitude controls your thoughts, you emotions, and the level of your success. I’ve had many doors closed in my face but had to keep a positive attitude during the process. I look at the end goal and try not to focus on everything in between.”

Prepare Relentlessly: “Preparation is the key element leading up to the event….Respect for the event means that you prepare to control the fear, maintain a positive attitude, train until there is no thinking, and never, ever give up. ”

What a refreshing approach: Approach your fear with respect. Respecting your fear means studying your craft: training and preparing so that you diminish the risks you face. Preparation creates the confidence that will equip you to work through whatever obstacles you face.

So often, we let fear stop us because it seems bigger than we are, but as my beloved mom, Dorothy, once counseled me, “Be bigger than your fears.” When we approach whatever we’re afraid of with respect, channel that respect into training and preparation, and move forward persistently and with confidence — we become smart, successful risk takers. OK. Whether it’s tackling a big book or story, getting our work out in the world, facing rejection, or wrestling with our words on the page, let’s take inspiration from the King of the High Wire. Let’s be high fliers — and write on!

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Easy Going

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
Mahatma Gandhi

How true! Although the need for speed seems to grow daily, there’s plenty of evidence that slowing down has many benefits: it can make us healthier, happier, and even more creative. In a recent article on the value of taking life a little easier, there were tips on getting up every morning in a more leisurely fashion, delaying your first cup of coffee a few hours to give your brain a boost when it needs it most, and using a slow-fast rhythm while exercising in order to boost strength-training results.

But what really attracted my attention were two pointers about communicating. One dealt with the need for slowing down when reacting to online comments. The other focused on the value of capturing your thoughts using pen and paper. Here’s a quick overview:

Online responses: Posts, tweets, and texts offer instant gratification, but they can also be easily misunderstood. And sometimes they can lead us to write knee-jerk replies that can have an unintended ripple effect. As Ryan Martin, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Green=Bay observes, “We’re in the midst of a real epidemic of high emotions online. This is true with email, texts, Twitter, Facebook — everywhere….When you can’t take into account tone of voice or facial expression, you’re more likely to misunderstand.” There’s a simple solution: Instead of writing and sending an instant response to a problematic online message, just close it and revisit it later. Chances are, you’ll be in a better frame of mind to craft a reply or you’ll find that you may have initially misinterpreted the message.

Write action: One of the most effective ways to slow down is also one of the simplest: Writing down your thoughts and feelings in longhand on paper. “The beauty of writing is that it allows you to capture your creative thoughts,” says Richard Quis, the coauthor of Thinking Anew: Harnessing the Power of Belief. Taking time to think about and process life events on paper can help you stay centered during difficult moments and can actually help you analyze challenging situations more creatively.

Another intriguing finding along these lines: Studies show that writing creatively for 15 minutes daily ignites the release of mood-elevating serotonin. In the winter, this can tamp down aches within 72 hours. There’s speculation that a devotion to reading and writing is one reason why Iceland ranks among the lowest users of painkillers in Europe. For generations, Icelanders have escaped tough winters by immersing themselves in ancient tales of history and romance. In fact, the storytelling tradition there is so strong that 1 in 10 Icelandic women is an author — amazing!

So, slow down your reaction time on line, grab a pen and paper, and if you’re suffering from writer’s block, consider a trip to Iceland. Just kidding! But, hey, why not? Write on.

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