All My Books

Limitlessness

RunHow are you limiting your success?

For years, people tried to encourage me to paint on larger canvases. Instead of taking their advice, I continued painting portrait sized landscapes that could be discretely hung in an office setting or as one of many paintings on a living room wall.

Now I realize why I shied away from those larger canvases. Fear. It’s easy to paint small, to say to the world, “My creativity can fit on my desk.” But if the audience wants to hear you scream instead of whisper, you have to decide whether to respond to that request or continue to hide behind the fear that limits you.

I finally took that leap of faith when I put down a wallet sized canvas and purchased a wall sized canvas that took up the back seat of my car. The next-door-neighbor helped me carry it into the house.

Then my heart sank.

All those excuses on why I couldn’t succeed threatened to extinguish the hope I had been feeling. I was eight years old being scolded for drawing when I was supposed to be memorizing my multiplication tables. I was sixteen years old in the guidance counselor’s office being told to choose a different major because no one makes money drawing pictures. I was twenty-eight years old in a job interview being told my artistic vision was too original to ever make it as a marketing director.

But the amazing thing about faith is the magic behind its force. My husband rearranged the furniture to accommodate the oversized canvas. My daughter suggested potential subjects to paint. And my son, who usually dominates the entire household with his demands, decided to leave me alone.

If you can abandon the excuses others have given you, those same excuses you have chosen to make your own, you can unleash your success.

Finding and Losing Faith

Writers are people of faith.

They trust the process. They let go and step into the fog of the unknown.

They send out their manuscripts to strangers and hope they will be treated fairly.

They write and rewrite even if no one reads what they’ve written.

When everything falls apart, they begin again.

But writers can lose faith.

They can doubt the process. They can hold on to fear and unrealistic expectations and refuse to try something new.

They can send out their manuscripts too early to publishers and face rejection or withhold sharing their work with the public until it is too late and the trend has past.

They can stop writing even when they have an audience waiting to read their next work.

When everything comes together, they can fall apart.

Most writers undergo a cycle of faith and doubt throughout their creative lives. Sometimes a writer will ask, “Do I cut my losses and walk away? Do I keep pushing for the dream? Do I settle?”

Some writers stop writing. Others can’t. It’s the air they breathe. Others stop talking about what they are writing, afraid to jinx the story that hasn’t taken shape yet. Some stare at the blank page and ask, “Why?” even as the words start to flow.

In the darkest moments, it is easy to abandon the craft. Ignore the phone calls from the muse. Delete the words that travel through the mind upon waking up. Discard the story ideas as distracting daydreams.

It is normal to lose faith. It is normal to walk away, vowing never to return. It is just as normal to return to the struggle of writing through the fog of the unknown, to risk sharing the manuscript with the world again. Finding and losing faith is as cyclical as the rest of life. The trick is to know neither the apex nor the nadir lasts forever. There is only this moment. Embrace it.

Writing for Fun to Free the Soul

Child Praying

Writing a Letter

 

 

 

 

 

Writing is my spiritual practice. Some people pray. Others meditate. I write.

I’ve written enough over the years that I literally have filing cabinets lined up along one side of the garage full of the writing I’ve done for fun, not profit, for me, not others, for the joy of writing in and of itself.

This is writing no one else will ever see.

Some of the poems are prayers. Some are conversations with God. Some are letters to the person I was or wanted to be. All of it was written from the depths of my soul, from that deep yearning to connect with something larger than me. The best writing from those pieces aren’t polished and published; they’re full of insight and revelations and truths.

Some of my favorite authors are spiritual writers—not writers who write about the topic of spirituality, but writers who use their writing to explore their spirituality and as a result of that exploration create wonderful published works.

When I was in college, I had the pleasure of hearing Natalie Goldberg speak about the writing life. For her, writing was an extension of the Zen practice of meditation. She sat and moved her hand across the page, letting the words flow out of her. It was no different than sitting meditation in which she sat and let the thoughts dissolve around her or walking meditation in which each step she took brought her closer to God.

When I was at the Vermont Studio Center, I had the privilege of writing with and learning from Melanie Rae Thon. Melanie’s writing practice consisted of asking questions and answering them through writing. Whether it was questions you asked yourself or your characters, the answers revealed themselves through the words that poured forth. Those answers could become solutions to real life problems or the conflicts and resolutions to published stories or novels.

When I realized the best writing I admired came from the spiritual practice of writing, I changed the way I approached the page. There was the writing I did for work and the writing I did for fun. Over the years, however, I lost sight of how the two intertwined: that the best writing I’ve done is also the best writing I’ve published which is also the best writing that has come from delving deep into my soul through my spiritual practice.

When writing became a job—something to produce for a profit—and stopped becoming a journey to find a way back to God—my spiritual practice—I saw the profits drop and my soul start to die.

Sure, I had the spiritual writing I did for fun on the side, but it was no longer essential like eating and sleeping. It had become a hobby, not a lifestyle.

It was only when I received an e-mail from the new editor of a national publication who discovered my writing through one of my spiritual pieces published when I was much younger that I woke up and realized a fundamental truth: the writing that answers the questions of the soul is also the writing most people want to read. It’s looking the hard questions in the eye and answering truthfully, whether through an article, an essay, a novel, a poem, or a short story, that brings the reader and the writer together in a timeless journey of discovery of the purpose and meaning of life.

Modern life may be different than medieval life, but the life of the spirit remains unchanged. That’s why we still read the classics—the truth does not change.

Writing for fun, for discovery, for the soul is the deepest, truest writing that you’ll ever do.

It doesn’t matter if it ends up the cover story of a national magazine or in the filing cabinet in the garage. What matters is the writing is done with the same loving practice as the everyday self-care tasks of caring for the body. For writing is one way of caring for the soul.


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Chase the Concept: Writing Backwards

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Yes, my blog has been bare. I took a two month hiatus to draft a contemporary Christian romance. That’s what the genre is…but that’s not how the story came about.

It started on one of my runs. A woman was complaining, saying it was all her mother’s fault she was a romance addict because her mother named her Juliet. She swore she was a star-crossed lover before she was born.

But just because I had a character didn’t mean I had a story. I had realized with my last two thrillers that concept is more important than story. High concept – a series of events that happens to a particular person with a particular result – must appeal to the masses, not a handful of people. That’s why I resisted writing anything about Juliet until much, much later.

I needed a series of events that happened to a particular person with a particular result that appealed to many people.

I needed a concept.

Backwards writing. That’s what I was learning how to do. I would sell a concept then write the story.

I sat down and wrote a one line pitch. Then a one page summary.

I sent out queries based on a book I had not yet written to see if it was worth writing.

Now I’m pedaling backward fast…churning out a novel and editing the first sample pages so literary agents can judge whether or not they think I should finish it.

It’s an experiment in backwards writing…but since forward writing hasn’t paid off, it’s worth the risk, isn’t it?


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WRITERS ARE ATHLETES

Santa Rosa Marathon

What does a writer have in common with an athlete?

A lot.

Hard as it may be to imagine the sedentary, day dreamy lifestyle of a writer as comparable with the action-packed, movement-filled lifestyle of an athlete, writers and athletes travel a parallel path toward success.

Here’s what I’ve learned from sports rehabilitation and writing through the trenches:

YOU MUST SET A GOAL

Athletes must have an objective: win a gold medal in the Olympics, run a marathon, or qualify to play on a local softball team.

Without a contract or a deadline, no one cares whether or not you show up at your desk to write. You must set a goal and work toward it. You might want to query your favorite magazine, write a book proposal, finish a short story, or land a book deal or find an agent to represent you. Any of these goals is good enough to get you started.

YOU MUST CREATE A SCHEDULE AND STICK WITH IT

An athlete is disciplined. Training schedules must be followed. Diets must be balanced. Sleep must be maintained. An entire lifestyle must encompass the athlete in order for the goal to be achieved.

Writers must also be disciplined. Set a writing schedule. Follow it. Make sure you eat right to think right. Exercise the body to exercise the brain. Sleep long and deeply so that creativity may be replenished. A writer must create a lifestyle to support the creative habit and allow it to flourish.

YOU MUST HAVE A SUPPORT TEAM

Athletes get injured, miss milestones, reset goals, and even fail. Writers are no different.

Athletes surround themselves with doctors, nutritionists, rehabilitation experts, sports psychologists, and coaches to build up the support team needed to sustain them through the ups and downs of training toward a goal.

Writers must surround themselves with people who support their writing: family and friends, fellow writers, editors, publishers, marketing experts, agents, attorneys, and people in other creative disciplines such as acting, music, and art.

Does an athlete cross the finish line alone? No. The support team is in the crowd, cheering the athlete on, celebrating the victory.

When you sign your publishing contract, you are not alone. Your support team is behind you, cheering you on, celebrating your victory.

The same is true with failure: you do not fail alone. Others are there to go over the play-by-play, break it down, analyze what went wrong and why, and help create a winning strategy for the future.

YOU MUST EXHIBIT GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP

Good sportsmanship means thinking of others: teammates and opponents. An athlete who exhibits good sportsmanship wins with humility and fails with grace.

Be kind. Be gracious. Be magnanimous.

Be a good sport.

Celebrate the success of other writers. Someday those same writers will celebrate your success.

Whether you are an athlete or a writer, the journey is the same: a life tailored around achieving a goal with the help of a support team in the midst of opponents who will push you to give your all in the pursuit of your dreams.



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Finding Your Place in Work and Life

This week author and philosopher Mary Clark writes about her journey to find her niche in writing and life:

Mary Clark

In the 20th Century, we had two very influential women philosophers, and controversial as well: Hannah Arendt and Ayn Rand. Then there were the feminist writers and social scientists: Joan Tronto, Margaret Urban Walker, but the friendship I had with an elderly Bohemian male, PJ, played a pivotal role in my life and my profession. Tally: An Intuitive Life is the story of that friendship and shared occupation.

In my late 20s, after graduating with a degree in psychology and then publishing a community-arts newsletter, I started work at a poetry program in New York City. These occupational adventures were connected, intuitively, although I was not aware of it then. I was interested in human behavior: why did people do what they did? In my writing, I peeled away conscious and unconscious layers and contemplated the nuances of my motivations, thinking, and emotions. Studying psychology, the patterns became more comprehensible, along with being exposed to the labels and varied interpretations. It all came to a dead end for me. Academic education failed to address the fundamental issues of life. What I didn’t know was that I was interested not in human behavior, but in human nature and all the great philosophical questions.

Yes, I read Nietzsche and Kierkegaard while still in college. I studied Hegel, Kant, Goethe, and others. After college, intuitively, I began to read on my own: novels by Balzac, Colette, Gide, Camus, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Gorky, Lermontov, the diaries of Anais Nin, the Village Voice, Susan Sontag, and Gore Vidal. The Existentialists held my attention for some time. Then there was art: Bunuel’s films, Bejart’s dance group, and Judy Chicago’s paintings. There were rock groups that dared to explore the borders as well. Here I found the beating hearts of real people, in real situations, facing the terror and joy, boredom and excitement, of living.

I was on a quest for wisdom about the levels of life: physical, mental, social, and spiritual. Still following an intuitive directive, I read (re-read) the Bible, the Koran, the Bhavagadvita, and Idries Shah’s The Way of the Sufi, among other religious and spiritual books. Who didn’t read Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet? Very little spoke to me. Some are great cultural tales; others are ethical guides, or both. Some of the poetry, though, fastened to me neurologically. In fact, all the great poems I’ve read have done this, although I can’t quote them. No, it’s more a matter of influencing my intuition.

It was difficult for me, as a woman and outside academia, to find intellectual companions. I was searching for a way to reach out to people who were also interested in philosophy, psychology, nature including human nature, and literature. So I began an alternative community publication featuring articles, cartoons, poems, and short stories on books, music, film, dance, and environmental issues. There was another side: the paper covered local issues as well, usually the positive, such as a new affordable senior residence. That community-mindedness was a natural part of my interest in the world and the ways human beings treat one another. Unfortunately, it was not a money-maker!

I moved to New York’s West Side and eventually came to the poetry program at St. Clement’s Church. Through its director, I met PJ. Everything I had done was connected by an intuitive thread. I moved from friendship with PJ, to care giving, and back to friendship, and then to more. In my blog post, Occupational Integrity: a Life Profile, I show how PJ traced the intuitive thread in his own life.

PJ

If you enjoyed this guest blog post from Mary Clark, please pick up Tally: An Intuitive Life published by All Things That Matter Press.


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It’s Officially a Secret

Teenagers - Whispering a Secret

Shh…Don’t tell anyone. Someone has discovered me.

Me. Little ol’ nobody. Me.

I’m flabbergasted. And flattered. Extremely impressed I could generate so much interest.

Because this person who discovered me is a bestselling author of more than 30 books.

And he blogged about me…for FREE!

100% unsolicited publicity! What more could an unknown author ask for?

Well, actually, I’m not unknown anymore. My “official” website has elevated me to the status of Madonna. Yes, the Material Girl who my character, Trina Kay, immortalized in Legs by using her most popular songs as ringtones has left my unchecked ego soaring to the heights of the most popular entertainers of our time.

(Okay, it might actually be my ignorance that has made me wildly popular.)

After all, between being an author, artist, athlete, and entrepreneur, I really don’t have time to educate myself. Hence, my ignominious ignorance.

But even ignorance sometimes pays off. Like when I discovered a file sharing site allowed 322,019 downloads of my novel, Out of Balance, and my only recourse was to file a complaint for copyright infringement. The fact that my website was labeled “official” actually served in my benefit, expediting the recourse I had through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. So, sometimes, ignorance pays. Big time.

So thank you Michael N. Marcus for exposing my inflated ego and unchecked ignorance to the public. Your educated wisdom and astute insight has helped an unknown author become discovered.

Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. After all, it’s a secret.



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Steps to Self-Publishing

Although I have previously written about the myths of self-publishing and have chosen to be published traditionally after two self-published novels, sometimes an author feels self-publishing is the right venue to meet their book’s needs.

Nikolas Baron from Grammarly wrote a guest blog about the steps to self-publishing.

Here’s what Nikolas has to say:

Last year, the number of “indie” books — books published by independent authors rather than by major publishing houses — rose by 43%, a slowdown from the previous several years of triple-digit increases. While print sales remain steady, more and more writers and readers are turning to e-books as a preferred format. E-books retain a poor reputation with some for their perceived shortcomings in quality and editing, but a professionally-edited e-book has a good chance of reaching higher sales goals and reaching more readers than the same book produced traditionally. With more and more readers turning to e-readers and e-books for convenience and lower prices, the market is wide open to the new author seeking to gain a foothold in the publishing world. Self-publishing can be a viable option for the author who is willing to work hard at the formatting, production, and marketing stages, as well as the writing.

The first step in self-publishing is, of course, to write the book, but having accomplished the writing of the book, the writer should take care not to overlook the important tasks of editing and proofreading. The first draft of a book is nearly never publishable. Using an online spelling and grammar check is the last step before presenting the draft to an editor. Anyone can self-publish, but success depends on how professionally the process is handled. No book publisher would accept a manuscript from an author, no matter how seasoned, and immediately publish it, without input from a professional editor. Editing is a necessary part of the process, as is hiring a professional graphic designer to create a cover design which will not only capture the potential reader’s attention but will also translate well into thumbnails and various screen sizes.

Before the actual publishing process can begin, it is necessary to make some decisions. Will the book be published strictly as an e-book, or will Print-on-Demand (POD) be made available? If an e-book format is chosen, which platform will be used to distribute the book? Amazon’s Kindle? Another e-book format like Smashwords? Each has their unique pros and cons, and the writer must consider their personal publishing goals and weigh the available options.

Next, it’s necessary to gather the cover information. This includes the back cover blurb – a summary of the book designed to “hook” the reader into buying, and any endorsements the author can gather. Endorsements need to be glowing reviews from established authors or others in the field. It will be necessary to ask for pre-screenings of the book in order to gather quotable reviews to include in the cover material. The text will need to be included in the overall cover and first pages design and formatting, so it’s important to get these reviews and material gathered early in the process.

Before the publication process can begin, it is necessary to acquire an ISBN number. The ISBN can be purchased singly, but experienced indie authors recommend buying a “set” of ISBN numbers. The price per number is far more attractive, and the extra numbers can be used later, assigned to future books, or used to identify the various formats of the current book. One ISBN, for example, can be used for the e-book version, while another can be assigned to the print book. Separate ISBNs are necessary for hardcover and paperback versions as well.

Once a cover image has been designed, the book thoroughly edited, cover text and blurbs created, endorsements sought and received, and an ISBN acquired, it’s time to format the book for publication. The format of the book depends on whether it will be produced as an e-book or print, and formatting rules shift slightly from company to company. It’s important to study carefully the guidelines of the book production company chosen. For example, Amazon’s Kindle publishing software allows the writer to upload the book in a Word or PDF format and retains the formatting. Other platforms may have different formatting requirements. E-publishing is a time-intensive process, but the final product is the author’s alone.


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Clarify the Concept

This is a follow-up to my October 2013 post Resilience.

“We like your writing, but we don’t like your concept. . .”

After receiving a dozen rejection letters from literary agents all stating the same thing, I started to wonder: what do they mean by “concept” and why don’t they like mine?

Concept is NOT what a story is about. It is a specific thing that happens to a specific person that must be specifically solved.

My query letters all stated situations, ideas, and plot points. As a result, my query ended up reading like an episodic adventure, which is why I kept getting those rejection letters.

I needed to rewrite my query to focus on the concept, to tell the dramatic core of the story and leave everything else out.

The problem was I didn’t know how to describe a novel in which multiple storylines overlapped. I only knew that if I left the query as it was, I would continue to get rejection letters.

I put the query aside and started focusing on other things: art, exercise, prayer, and family. I played a lot of hockey on the XBox and watched more movies of the books I wanted to read. I followed the advice of successful authors who suggested I read developmental studies on how to build a story from a concept and how to transform a weak query into a stronger one.

But, most importantly, I let go of all expectations.

Months later, I woke up hearing a voice. The person was reading from a piece of paper. It was my concept turned into a story. I leapt out of bed and sat down and transcribed the words until tears brimmed in my eyes.

I had my pitch!

Sometimes when we give up, we are really giving in to the universe and allowing our dreams to manifest. By turning away from my problems and enjoying the abundance of life and giving thanks for the wonderful opportunities I have been given to grow, I allowed my prayers to be answered.

Now the true test: will a literary agent like my revised concept enough to request the full manuscript?

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