Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Book of Opportunity

“A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.” ~Author Unknown

As a New Year approaches, the urge to take stock of our life bubbles up like a sip of fine champagne. Let’s lift a glass and toast our accomplishments, savoring the taste of our creative endeavors…the potential of the New Year sparkles like stars within our hearts!

We’ve all made goals… Some we’ve achieved and some still dangle like a sprig of mistletoe, just out of reach. The beauty is, no matter how far that finish line may seem, we’ve all accomplished remarkable things. Each page written, each book completed, even these essays I post, all are testament to my ability to accomplish great things. Too often, we focus with such fervor on an arbitrary point we consider The Finish Line we disregard the volume of work along the way.

While watching a silly holiday movie (often, the best kind!) I chuckled as the couple on the screen prepared to celebrate their 'six month' anniversary. There's even been a television episode or two which pokes fun as couples celebrate their six week, two day, fourteen hour and seven minute anniversary! Still, there's a good idea nestled in there.

Every page we agonize over, every idea that sees fruition, every task from synopsis to query letter is a goal that should be celebrated. There is no singular finish line because a career in writing means there will always be new objectives and our aspirations will shift and evolve right along with our career. Which is why, my friends, it's vital to celebrate right now.

Celebrate each chapter completed by acknowledging your status as a working writer. Yup. That's what I said. I know it sounds crazy but here's the thing. Every watch a kid at play and marvel over their endless energy and never-failing enthusiasm? The automatic assumption is that the source of infinite energy springs from youth. On my birthday this year, I watched the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Tribute concert and discovered an amazing thing. All these musicians seemed to have endless energy and boundless enthusiasm despite their years. Why? Because they love what they do and for them, each song sung, each note hit is a reason to celebrate.

This is the true secret of youth. Happiness and enthusiasm. There are two directions your face can turn, downward into a frown or upward into a smile. Likewise, there are two ways we can look at every accomplishment, whether major or minor. We can brush it off and reinforce that arbitrary finish line as the only accomplishment that matters OR we can recognize that each page written, each query sent off, each moment spent dedicated to our craft deserves acknowledgement.

So this week, when looking back over the year, rather than focusing on the lack, let's focus on what we managed to pull off. Count those pages, those queries, the critiques, the essays, the blogs, the comments, the emails, the promo, the edits, the revisions, and you might just find what a productive writer you really are. Wow. Mark that on the first page of next year's calendar as a reminder of all that can be accomplished in the life of a writer.

Sure there's been some challenges, and more than a few frustrations. Now's the time to shake off the skirmishes and discard the disappointments and relish the opportunity to begin anew.

A new chapter each year, a fresh page each day. This is the life of a writer.

“For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”~T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

The days stretch before us like pristine snow. It is up to us to step forward and forge our own path. How freaking exciting is this? A whole year to accomplish new goals, to wrap up ongoing projects, to meet the face of destiny and see that her face is our own.

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.” ~Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Now’s the time to choose how to fill those pages. How best to seize opportunity. How to celebrate our awesome career with every accomplishment. We Are Writers. No matter how onerous the task can be, we are the luckiest creatures that exist. We Create Worlds. We Are The Magic Makers.

“We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives... not looking for flaws, but for potential.” ~Ellen Goodman

And while, at times, we may be tempted to chide ourselves or bemoan the days behind us, let’s make a pact to focus on the potential instead. Who cares if we didn’t plant a seed in time to catch a particular rainstorm 273 days ago! There are seeds a’plenty and a promise of sweet rain to nurture those budding plants to new heights. Plot out your garden and plant away! Harvest time will come, and we will be ready.

"A new year is unfolding—like a blossom with petals curled tightly concealing the beauty within.” --Anonymous

Let’s tease out the beauty within each idea. Breathe gently to encourage those petals to unfurl. Those ideas nestled deep within your soul are aching for release. We are the luckiest of all people. We Are Writers!

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right. ~Oprah Winfrey

Write ON!

Let’s set our goals and see what we will accomplish.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hanging On After Others Have Let Go

“All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step in a continuous line. Many a man has taken the first step. With every additional step you enhance immensely the value of your first.”Ralph Waldo Emerson

What sets the successful author apart from the aspiring writer?

Perseverance. The determination to move forward no matter how many obstacles appear on the path.

“The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places.” ~Author Unknown

Staying true to our focus means we must recognize that the path to success can be arduous. There are always an abundance of obstacles to overcome before we reach our goal. Time restraints or writer’s block can tempt us to toss aside our dreams. Criticism and rejections can poke holes in our optimism. Instead of floating high from exhilaration, our happy fantasy deflates while we look around desperately for some encouragement.

Let me offer up some reassurance on this end. If you feel frustrated or stymied or overwhelmed, you are not alone. If you yearn for a magical flash of inspiration yet find you must struggle ahead with only a bare glimmer to light your way, you are not alone. All writers experience this struggle.

To be a writer is to sit down at one's desk in the chill portion of every day, and to write; not waiting for the little jet of the blue flame of genius to start from the breastbone - just plain going at it, in pain and delight. To be a writer is to throw away a great deal, not to be satisfied, to type again, and then again, and once more, and over and over.... - John Hersey

During the holiday season time is at a premium. For some of us, there’s last-minute shopping to do and presents to be wrapped. Houseguests pop in to share our few precious moments. Children are on winter break and underfoot. In certain areas, severe storms can wreak havoc on our lives, and even worse, knock out the electricity leaving us without internet or PC. Even those who aren't in holiday mode must endure the excessive crowds (which make errands and normal shopping a marathon) and find December's last weeks slipping away. Which begs the question, what exactly can a writer accomplish at this time of year?

My suggestion first off is this. Relax. Enjoy the season. If you can squeeze in a page or two, by all means let those fingers fly! If you can’t… be forgiving to yourself. Trust that you will be pounding those keys when the craziness eases off. Every book is written one page at a time.

“The drops of rain make a hole in the stone not by violence but by oft falling.” ~Lucretius

However this is a great time to consider what qualities to embrace in the New Year. Perseverance is essential for a successful career in writing. To persevere means we persist no matter what. To persevere means to stubbornly push ahead despite the odds. Grit, moxie, or to put it bluntly, you gotta have a set of steel ovaries to make it in this business. *wink*

Harry Potter was rejected by just about every major publisher and if not for a small London publisher would not have seen the light of day. Madeleine L'Engle was rejected by 26 publishers before her novel, A Wrinkle in Time finally made it into print. Imagine... all those publishers rejecting the story that won the 1963 Newbery Medal!

Judy Blume also collected repeated rejections.

"I would go to sleep at night feeling that I'd never be published. But I'd wake up in the morning convinced I would be. Each time I sent a story or book off to a publisher, I would sit down and begin something new. I was learning more with each effort. I was determined. Determination and hard work are as important as talent." --Judy Blume

Next week we’ll set the stage for the New Year so let’s consider what we intend to accomplish in 2010.

Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go. ~William Feather

Let’s “hang on” and remember… We Are Writers!!

Have a lovely holiday season, everyone!

--Chiron O’Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

To Reach for the Stars...

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart...”William Wordsworth

Being a writer is an amazing journey. Carving stories out of thin air, making substantial the dreams and speculations within our hearts. Yet most of us on the path of writing desire more. It’s not enough to doodle vague ideas onto paper. We yearn for accomplishment. To write not just a sentence but a complete story. To see that story magically bound with a glossy cover. To know that complete strangers read our words and are engaged, amused, entertained perhaps even... transformed.

Of course, this yearning now takes us beyond our original carefree imaginings and into the realm of practical endeavors.

“Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I'll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I'll give you a stock clerk.”--J.C. Penney

Whether the goal is to compose a single page or to commit to a set number of hours, to reach a desired word count or to flesh out a scene, to edit, revise or complete an outline, each and every goal we set matters. Without a destination in mind, we are merely wanderers.

There’s a saying by Lloyd Jones about failure and success that always appealed to me:

“Those who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed.”

Yet there’s more to striving than simply setting goals. We must push ourselves always to go a step beyond our comfort zone. Success is not defined by simply meeting a goal. If that were true, we could simply set a goal based on past accomplishments and feel satisfied. A toddler experiences a surge of triumph after mastering the tying of a shoe. Success is defined by reaching to accomplish what once seemed impossible.

Remember as a child, how even while playing the silliest of games we strove to better our past record? Hopscotch or jump rope, foursquare or dodge ball. Heck, even on the swings we always wanted to fly higher and higher. Our human instinct impels us to reach for the stars. As adults, and particularly as writers, we must vitalize this instinctive urge to best ourselves by continuously revising and expanding our definition of achievement.

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”Michelangelo

As writers, we must strive to maintain a balance between pushing ourselves too much and not pushing ourselves enough. And the truth is, though we share a common goal we are each individuals. Part of your personal journey is to divine what motivates you. Some thrive with far-reaching goals that would make others blanch. Find your rhythm, discover your own theme song, tap into the inner dance that sets your heart afire and then crank up the energy and let those fingers fly!

And remember…

“Failure is the path of least persistence.” –Anonymous

During the holiday season, time is at a premium. Few will have the extra minutes (much less hours) our hearts desire to pen a few words or to edit our WIP. Yet this is a lovely time to begin contemplating our future goals. The year is nearly at an end. A new one bursting with potential beckons from the wings.

For those who have the time and will to write this week, what are your goals?

For those whose plates are way too full take a moment to consider your future goals. Sometime between now and the new year, let’s set some Serious Goals for 2010.

Three more weeks left in 2009... Whatever we plan to accomplish in the New Year, we set the stage today. Action begets accomplishment. Let's keep that vision firmly in our mind and match our goals with energy and productivity. Here's to a week of writing and goal-setting!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Stay True To Your Vision

"I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence." --Frederick Douglass

Over the years I've become friends with many writers. Their books range from sweet inspiration to the hottest erotica yet each of these fabulous authors have one thing in common. The desire to see their name in print. However, the path to success is an individual one. Learning the craft goes hand in hand with tapping into that wonderful Unique Idea that kicks open the door to the lovely Land Of The Published. Unlike Dorothy, clinging to the doorway while your house gets caught up in a cyclone is not an option.

The quest for success can make us feel desperate. We begin the slow descent into compromise. Maybe if I include thirty-five sex scenes or scuba-diving vampires or a wiccan-rockstar-federal agent! Yup, that's the ticket! *sigh*

There are certain characteristics necessary to make it to the finish line.

Patience to get through the 350 or so pages we must write plus the revisions and subsequent edits.

Persistence to complete however many manuscripts necessary and send out endless queries until The Call (or email) arrives.

Passion to continue to seek out new ideas, to perfect each draft and maintain our smiles through the inevitable hours (and weeks and months) of promotion. Yet there's one more essential quality that must be firmly in place: Self-Respect.

"They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them." --Gandhi

Self-respect means staying true to your vision despite the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." Self-respect also means making your own decisions, whether it's to stick to one path or explore another. Self-respect means keeping your eyes wide open and choosing friends, critique partners, agents, and editors who hold your best interests at heart. It also means recognizing your own worth, which is where those wonderful friends, CPs, agents and editors can come in handy!

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else." ~Judy Garland

Some writers burst out of the gate and immediately sprint ahead to the finish line. For those who are still struggling, the presence of these early success stories can either be an inspiration or quite depressing.*rueful grin* Yet the clear-eyed fact is this—if they can do it, so can you. Many successful authors wrote a number of books before finding success. I've mentioned Allison Brennan before and I'll probably do it again. She faced countless rejections before getting her fifth manuscript picked up. There were many more hours logged in before she hit the NY Times bestseller list.

If She Can Do It, So Can You.

"Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing."Abraham Lincoln

Part of the journey to being a successful author is discovering Who You Are and exactly what books you wish to write. As 'toddlers' we often learn by mimicking those we admire. Somewhere down the line, each writer discovers what he or she yearns to write. Janet Evanovich began her career writing romance. As her writing evolved she discovered a predilection for adventure. Out of that discovery sprang her first hit series, the Stephanie Plum books featuring a wacky, accident-prone bounty hunter. Whether you know immediately which books will be tumbling from your imagination or find your path evolving into different genres, one question inevitably arises. Am I writing the Right Sort of Book?

Agent Jessica Faust addressed this topic in her post, Be True To You.

The pressure to fit in or be acceptable may force us into all sorts of gyrations. Sometimes the pressure comes in the form of others looking down their nose at you. Because you write romance. Because you write erotica. Or even because you don't! I remember struggling when some writers I knew suggested my intent to exclude sex scenes in my rom-com novels was something I needed to 'get over'. Obviously I had issues with sex or maybe I was a prude or these were my 'principles' or perhaps I was simply afraid to tackle the delicate subject. They were more than willing to help me get past this…issue and assist me in conforming to their expectations.

When I tried to explain that this was preference, my choice, and akin to choosing not to write Westerns or Historicals, the words fell on deaf ears. In their view, writing romantic comedy meant I had to conform to their expectations. As if choice was simply a broken zipper to be mended.

Another author I know faced the exact opposite reaction. Chapter members shook their heads and voiced their dismay about her choice to include sex scenes in her novel. It seems no matter which way you swim, there will always be someone on the other side of the river wagging a finger toward the 'proper' direction.

"Be proud of the person and the writer you are, take ownership of your strengths."Jessica Faust

It's time to stand up for our choices and feel proud, damn it! One common response to the eternal question "When Are You Going To Write A Real Book?" is simply, "When the fake books stop selling so well." *heh-heh*

For a giggle, check out Miss Snark's take on "When Are You Going To Write A Real Book?"

Now another view is the realization that one path may lead to another. Here's where the freedom of being unpublished allows you the luxury of making different choices. If one path doesn't pan out or starts to feel limited, why not explore another?

A truly gifted writer who is yet to be published (much to the astonishment of all who know her) is Amy Atwell. I highly recommend you read her article on branching out and exploring other avenues, Adjusting Courses.

No matter what genre of book you choose to write, no matter which boulevard you wander down, always remember to Stay True To Your Dream. No matter what the obstacle, no matter how long the wait, no matter how trying the effort, You Can Succeed. Within every person lies extraordinary potential. The secret? Stand up for the challenge. Embrace your destiny. However those fickle winds blow, be determined to take your ship out of the harbor and set sail.

"There are no great people in this world, only great challenges which ordinary people rise to meet." --William Frederick Halsy, Jr

Now you tell me. Have you ever experienced outside pressure to veer off your chosen course? Ever felt like you needed to duck your head because of your chosen genre? Do share!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between The Lines.

Monday, November 30, 2009

As Dreamers Do...

"When you wish upon a star,
makes no difference who you are,
anything your heart desires will come to you.
If your heart is in your dreams,
no request is too extreme,
when you wish upon a star as dreamers do." -- Music by Leigh Harline / Lyrics by Ned Washington


Faith is the light that brightens our darkest moments. We need faith to stay true to our vision no matter what.

I spent my wild high-school years in Orange County, Southern California. I adored Hollywood but my true home was Disneyland, the enchanted land where magical dreams come true. Walt Disney was an innovator, a pioneer and an unabashed dreamer who fueled his vision with a sense of optimism that would not be dimmed no matter how many clouds darkened the skies. We have only to consider his fantastic legacy to realize just how far we can go if we hold fast to our dreams and let faith in our destiny guide our way.

"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." ~~Walt Disney

Ah, courage. Yikes. It's one thing to bask in the lovely fantasy of being a best-selling author, signing books (not to mention contracts!), and quite another to scrape up the courage to tackle each phase.

The Dreaded Synopsis.
The Horror of Endless Editing.
The Revision That Would not Die.
The Curse of the Unwoven Subplot.


Each and every aspect of our budding career requires us to believe. To have faith. And to have the courage to tackle the inevitable fear that arises when those clouds roll in. We may chide ourselves for our procrastination—our innate talent for avoidance. Yet the issue often runs deeper than we realize. We need to remember that it really is scary out there. As budding authors, we're confronting the Great Unknown.
Imagine your fingers are the shaking legs of your inner self, and you're pushing, saying, "Go ahead, step off that cliff. It'll be fine. Trust me."


Of course it will be fine but our quaking fears don't know that. Yet. That's why we need to keep moving forward. We need to push ourselves a little bit further each time.

Remember the first time you rode a bike? Remember the wobble and pitch, the fear of crashing? Ah, but the terror of balancing on those thin wheels fades with repetition. The quaking panic of being a writer also dwindles the more we write. Before you know it, you’re steering through plot twists, climbing mountains and changing gears with ease!

"If you can dream it, you can do it." --Walt Disney

Anything we want to achieve, we can. That's the secret all successful people share. Action is the vehicle to make our dreams come true. However, it does no good to visualize without taking action. You can sit on your lawn all you want, visualizing cut grass. Those blades will continue to grow until you get out the mower.

"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing." --Walt Disney

Hah! Aye, there's the rub, eh? There's a huge difference between wanting and doing. Discipline is required. As is Focus and Determination. Those books won't write themselves. Dang it. *heh-heh*

"When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable." --Walt Disney

No half-measures. No "I sort of think that maybe I might just be able to write if the heavens open up and give me a sign and the weather cooperates and every circumstance happens just right. Maybe."

Say it. "I'm A Published Writer."

Believe it. “I Am A Published Writer.”

Then… make it happen. How? Writer's write. They persist. They push. They don't let up. Ever.

Keep writing, keep querying, keep perfecting your art. Seek out and utilize critique partners. Pay attention to the craft of every book written by the authors you love. Hold fast to your dream, keep the bright vision of your success like a beacon in the night and You Will Make It Happen.

“Somehow I can’t believe there are many heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secret of making dreams come true. This special secret can be summarized in four C’s. They are: curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy, and the greatest of these is confidence.” –Walt Disney

The four C's. This formula works quite well for writers, wouldn’t you say?

Curiosity. What might happen if a shy, awkward girl with psychic powers was cruelly tormented by high school bullies? Stephen King wondered just that and his curiosity propelled him to pen the bestselling novel, Carrie. A maddening sense of curiosity is vital for an author. Let your curious nature propel you to discover answers, truths and more questions that any reader has ever imagined.

Courage. Six hundred is the number of rejections Jack London piled up before his books found acceptance. Madeleine L’Engle was turned down twenty-nine times and Rudyard Kipling was told he didn’t know how to use the English language. Clan of the Cave Bear, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, Valley of the Dolls, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, any of these books sound familiar? They were all rejected and if not for the persistence of their authors, we would never have heard of them at all.

Constancy. Be relentless in your quest. Successful writers continue to write, continue to query, continue to strive to reach their goals. There’s no room for second-guessing. Clear out any doubts that clutter your mind. When needed, seek out other writers to offer encouragement and support. Doubts can strike fear in every writer so trust me, you’re not alone. Be determined to stay true to your course no matter how the winds might blow.

The most useful of all traits to add to your writer’s toolbox is Confidence. You must believe because you are, and you will be, exactly what you believe you can be. The old saying was, "I'll believe it when I see it." Let’s rewrite that to be more realistic. “I am a success and I'll see it when I believe it."

Get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it's done right.”Walt Disney

Plug away and keep the focus. We all start with a cool idea. We type feverishly until we've carved out an incredible story. Invest endless hours of editing. Only to be hit with the critiques. Back to work on the new revisions. Uh-oh, now comes the realization that a subplot needs to be expanded or doesn't work or drops off… and what the heck happened to Scruffy the dog in Chapter Three anyway???

We begin with the barest wisp of notion. Out of that tiny, almost imperceptible seed a full-grown story blossoms. Amazing. Freaking Amazing. Truly it seems impossible, when we think about it. What started out as letters became words. What began as words became a sentence. Out of the heart of our imagination sprang a tale.

“It's kind of fun to do the impossible.” –Walt Disney.

Yeah, Walt. I'm with you on that one.

Have a great week, everyone! Dare the Impossible. Dare to Dream. Even more importantly, Dare to WRITE!

See you next week!

--Chiron O’Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Write For Yourself and Celebrate Writing!

“Why do writers write? Because it isn't there.” ~~Thomas Berger

Thanksgiving, for those of us in America, has grown and evolved like most holidays. It all began when the Pilgrim’s celebrated a bountiful harvest with the Indians whose assistance made their survival possible. These days, families gather together to bond over generous servings of turkey (or Tofurki), endless hours of football and parades, and tasty bites of pumpkin pie. Yet tucked within the basting and the touchdowns is the root of an idea.

Thankfulness.

Being thankful for our family and friends, for prosperity and health, and for life itself. Now, let me add one more item to the list, Thankfulness for our innate creativity. Is there anything quite like the joy of being a writer? Penning marvelous adventures and exploring the journey of our characters, all within the cozy pages of a delicious novel. Yum-yum. Being a writer means having the power to create worlds. Wow. Could there be a bigger thrill?

“One nice thing about putting the thing away for a couple of months before looking at it is that you start to appreciate your own wit. Of course, this can be carried too far. But it's kind of cool when you crack up a piece of writing, and then realize you wrote it. I recommend this feeling.” ~~Steven Brust

Every so often, I love to rifle through my files and yank out tales written long ago. Even the fumbling attempts from several years back (when POV was still a baffling concept) astound me. I’m at a loss to name a greater pleasure than the sizzle of exhilaration when we come across a well-written sentence and think, Damn, I wrote that! Just like the fragrant homemade pumpkin pie beckoning to our taste buds from yonder table, the story our eager eyes pore over started with a few simple ingredients.

Yup, you stirred it up, baked it in a feverish oven of imagination, and after a suitable frame of time, produced a marvelous dish. Except for one little difference. It’s all yours, baby! There are no other ‘pies’ quite like the ones you bake.

We Are Originals.

How about that?

“The novel is an event in consciousness. Our aim isn't to copy actuality, but to modify and recreate our sense of it. The novelist is inviting the reader to watch a performance in his own brain.”~~George Buchanan

It’s astonishing, really. The courage and strength it takes not only to compose an entire novel (wow!) but to allow others to read it, well… that’s truly amazing. I’m thankful for the sheer audacity within my soul.

Think about it for a moment. Do you realize what a pioneer you are? How gutsy and innovative it is to even attempt to share your thoughts, your dreams, your private imaginings on the printed page?

What an incredible career we have. We Are Writers.

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”~~ Cyril Connolly

Yet one of the dilemmas we face (and with rare fortitude) is The Big Choice. I salute us all for taking the risk to write what we please. To recognize that success is measured by happiness and self-satisfaction. Persistence does pay off (ask any published writer) but they’ll no doubt agree that unless you write a book which pleases you, no worldly success will satisfy. So when you read what you’ve written at the end of the day, if you feel a genuine rush of pleasure, my friend, You Are A Success.

“Forget all the rules. Forget about being published. Write for yourself and celebrate writing.” ~~Melinda Haynes

Celebrate and relish the joy that comes from this unique gift. To write is like nothing else. Nothing can compare. Harry Potter appeals to the masses because the stories tap into humankind’s deepest and fondest fantasy. The fantasy of being able to create magic. Well, dear friends, that’s exactly what we do every time we write a story or share insights or explore our hearts within the pages of a journal. We are magically creating something out of nothing but the barest wisp of imagination.

We Are Magic-Makers.

We Are Writers.

“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten - happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.” ~~Brenda Ueland

Celebrate the elation, the delight, the tingle of pure pleasure as you write. This is a wonderful time to embrace this incredible opportunity of ours: to create magic on a regular basis. A perfect time to be thankful for the gift, for the spirit, and for the opportunity to express ourselves.

The world revolves around communication. Whether we explore communication by composing a heart-warming novel or an uplifting email, everyone shares this gift. Let’s take the time to acknowledge how special and vital communication is in our everyday lives.

Thanks to everyone for the comments, the emails, the stories, the letters, the cards, and the wonderful conversations you share. Thanks to my soul for creating within me the eternal desire to write.

I also want you all to know, how thankful I am to all my readers. You’re all ‘family’ and I appreciate each and every one of you. When I lift a glass in celebration I’ll imagine my online friends *clink*, as we all share a toast.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!


If you have a moment to spare, please share a when communication made a special impact on your life. Was it an unexpected card mailed from a friend? A piece of heartfelt advice from someone you cherish? A story or poem that inspired? A casual conversation that triggered an epiphany?

Until next week!

--Chiron O’Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Embracing the "No Way" Factor

"Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away… Now it looks as though they're here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday…" (Lennon/McCartney)

With all due respect to Paul McCartney, I prefer to believe in Today. Even better, I want to believe in Tomorrow. Every word I type in the present is transported into a magical future, which is still yet a dream. The essay I'm composing will be read tomorrow or Monday or maybe next Friday. A new WIP will take months to finish and weeks more to edit. We can forget in the tedium of the effort involved how miraculous tomorrow can and will be, especially if we lose sight of the magic in our words. There's something to be said for introducing Optimism to Risk-Taking and discovering how amazing this collaboration can be.

"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore."André Gide

Every writer goes through it. A manic-depressive swing depending on where the story is at. When we're in the zone, the words fly, the ideas are so thick they infiltrate our dreams and we can't type fast enough. When we're stuck with a plot point or drowning with too many choices, we can unfortunately be quite unbearable. My favorite image (which I'm embarrassed to say is only slightly exaggerated) is of me dashing through the house, hands waving in the air, while I shriek, "I'm a hack!"

Ups and downs. Highs and lows. Welcome to the wonderful world of writing.

"You can do anything you think you can. This knowledge is literally the gift of the gods, for through it you can solve every human problem. It should make of you an incurable optimist. It is the open door." --Robert Collier

No matter how many times we go over it, the truth always bears repeating. Our thoughts shape our world. At the very least, they shape our perception of our world and perception really is everything.

"A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes."Mahatma Gandhi

Studies are ongoing in regards to mapping the brain and proving repeatedly that Positive Beliefs Work. Science has taken it a step further, revealing that thinking about accomplishing a task lights up the same region of the brain as the actual activity. Even more exciting, visualizing that finish line (in whatever race we're facing) seems to carve a pathway in our brain that leads to success. Scientific proof for what has been a tenet of every successful person's philosophy for eons: Positive Thinking Leads to Success.

"Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness."Oprah Winfrey

It's good to be the queen!

Truth is, there are no safe routes or any way to assure a life free of troubles and pain. Life is messy and filled with complications. Since we're going to get out hands dirty anyways, why not go for it?

"The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one." ~Elbert Hubbard, The Note Book, 1927

There's an endless variety of methods people utilize to move past writer's block or procrastination or (let's call it what it is, folks) Fear. Yet each and every method ends up at the same place. Sooner or later, you have to plop yourself down, whether in front of a computer or with pen in hand, and write. Why? Obviously, if you don't write it's all over but there's more. This is the horse you've fallen from. The longer you wait, the greater and more fearsome this beast will appear to be. Don't hesitate. Grab the reins and let the words take you for a ride. Don't concern yourself yet with deciding whether the prose is brilliant or prosaic. That's what editing is for.

And keep this in mind: The only writers who don't make mistakes are those who don't write. That's my quote and I'm standing by it.

"If you're not failing every now and again, it's a sign you're not doing anything very innovative." --Woody Allen

Why play it safe? Safety is for wusses.

I read this brilliant post on the BookEnds blog by Angie Fox, author of "The Accidental Demon Slayer." Her words are so good I'm going to re-post them here along with a link to the complete article.

The post is called Angie Fox: Three Things I Had to Do in Order to Sell. She speaks of the steps involved with taking her writing to the next level. To get from 'almost there' to SOLD. Here's the first segment (may it whet your appetite for more):

The “No Way” Factor:

"My characters had to take bigger chances, have more to risk and lose. It’s easy to say, but a hard thing for a writer to do. It’s a vulnerable, risky place to be. I knew my story was big enough to sell when instead of ending my writing sessions thinking, “I hope that’s good enough to impress an editor,” I ended them thinking, “No. I did not just write that. I did not just make my character defend herself with a toilet brush and a can of Purple Prairie Clover air freshener.”

Taking risks can lead you into unexpected places, and even better… it transforms your perspective of writing from an effort to an adventure. Plus, from a purely practical point of view, when our writing excites us, our enthusiasm will spark a flame within the hearts of our readers too.

"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark burn out in a brilliant blaze than it be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet." --Jack London (Note: London received upward of 600 rejections before publication)

So, this week's motivation is two-fold: Keep Believing and Take Risks. Those two qualities go together like books and readers.

And remember…

"If you wish to be a writer, write." --- Epictetus

Thanksgiving is just around the corner with Christmas and New Year's a mere breath away. Let's keep the energy up and make this next week count!
Remember all books are written One Page At A Time.

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Seeing Past the Obstacle Illusions

"Life is full of obstacle illusions." --Grant Frazier

This week I took my own advice. I set goals, planned which days to accomplish each goal and then didn't give myself a choice, I Just Did It. After all, if writing was my job, choice wouldn't factor in at all, would it?

It was an intriguing experiment which netted great results. In one week's time, I finished the revision outline, typed up notes for a NF book idea, put together a blog post for Pop Culture Divas (fun!) and today I'm posting this week's motivational essay.

Am I tired? You bet! However, I'm also encouraged. Many times my weary eyes would read of yet another successful author whose busy schedule puts my own to shame. What's the most telling characteristic of a successful author? Persistence. Pushing past the obstacles no matter how tempting it can be to take a breather in the shadows.

Looking for appropriate quotes, I came across one that truly humbled me, inspired me, and fueled my desire to persist.

"Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein." ~Life's Little Instruction Book, compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr

Whenever I'm tempted to back out of my self-imposed commitments, based on what I feel are overwhelming odds, I'm reminded of Helen Keller, one of my earliest heroes. This woman surmounted obstacles light-years beyond my own petty grumblings. She believed too that everyone can achieve their dreams. Obstacles may be inevitable but giving up is an option I refuse to take.

"Never Give Up, Never Surrender!" Commander Peter Taggart from Galaxy Quest.

In the movie Galaxy Quest, Jason and crew find themselves battling Space-Uglies in a surreal imitation of their long-cancelled television show. Going from being a pretend hero to an actual battle is quite an adjustment. As long as it's all make-believe, we can back out of the room and pretend none of it matters.

Writers face a similar dilemma. Here I sit locked away in my office. There's no boss breathing down my neck and no paycheck waiting at the end of my week. The same person responsible for accomplishing my goals is the exact same person most likely to renege. *rueful grin* In the beginning, writing is a lovely dream, a fantasy where the space-aliens disintegrate neatly on command and every plot obstacle is tied up within the 47 minutes allotted to the script.

Once we plant ourselves in front of the monitor, we're shoved into the Real World and like Jason Nesmith, discover how exhilarating the action can be AND how tempting it is to walk away.

Don't walk away.

There's success at the end of the road as long as you keep your feet (and fingers) moving steadily forward.

"Just don't give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don't think you can go wrong."Ella Fitzgerald

Those insecurities and doubts hit every writer. Every single writer. There's no magic transformation that distinguishes those who are successful. If you've written a hundred books, there's going to still be a tiny insecurity that whispers, "Are you sure you have one more in you?" Be kind to yourself in those private moments when you confess your doubts. Trust me, we all go through this.

"I have a love-hate relationship with the writing life. I wouldn't wish to have any other kind of life…and on the other hand, I wish it were easier. And it never is. The reward comes sentence by sentence. The reward comes in the unexpected inspiration. The reward comes from creating a character who lives and breathes and is perfectly real. But such effort it takes to attain the reward! I would never have believed it would take such effort."Elizabeth George, Write Away, Journal of a Novel, December 15, 1997

Here's the thing. If you're a firefighter or a fictional commander on Galaxy Quest, you don't have a choice. Crisis forces you to act. Rarely is there time to second-guess your decision.

Writers need more stamina, more persistence, and definitely more motivation to keep their energy up and their determination firmly in place. You Are A Hero whenever you push past an obstacle, whether it be inner (trepidation or fear) or outer (squeezing in fifteen minutes between job and/or family time). Being a writer is fun but it's also damn hard work. Honor yourself every day that you fulfill your self-imposed commitment.

I Am A Writer! Woo-hoo!

"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going." ~Beverly Sills

"The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do." ~Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, 1996

Now, here's where my nagging inner voice says, "Okay, fine. We need to persist. We need to stick to our goals, but how do I push myself past the funk that sometimes grips me hard?"

Good point, dastardly inner voice!

There's good reason books on positive thinking and sales seminars advocate affirmations as a means of self-motivation. Here's an intriguing tidbit. Did you know studies have linked memory to emotion? The more intense the emotion, the more likely you are to remember the moment. Why? The brain is responsible for, and capable of, noting every single second of the day, yet our conscious recollection is selective. A good way to understand this is to think of your phone. You can store a select amount of numbers, however there are a few you can put on speed dial. Those 'intense' thoughts are on speed dial.

How does this serve us as writers, or even in our daily life?

Any thought you infuse with intense emotion is on your own inner speed dial. Think of those select numbers as the probable reality you want to connect with.

Positive thinking is not simply looking on the bright side (though optimism is always good!). Nor is it simply chanting affirmations automatically.
This is a process of self-hypnosis which plants in your brain a belief that shapes your reality. It may sound silly, to stand in front of the mirror and shout, "I Am A Success!" but it works. When you whip up enough enthusiasm, you actually believe it's true. When you believe it's true, you think like a success, you act like a success and you tune into opportunities based on your belief.

"Success isn't a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire." ~Arnold H. Glasow

Helen Keller could never have accomplished so much without fervently believing she could. The astonishing accomplishments we stand in awe of all depended on a person believing in success, and persisting beyond all obstacles, even self-doubt. Without persistence, Disneyland would not exist. The Sistine Chapel ceiling would be blank. And this essay would not be written. *smile*

This week, let's have a dual goal. First and foremost, let's 'set ourselves on fire' by staring in the mirror at least once a day and saying those magic words. "I Am A Success. I Persist Because I Am A Success and That's What Successful People Do."

Repeat until you feel the tingle. You'll know it when it happens. *wink*

Our simultaneous goal? Persist! Push for one more sentence, one more page, one more scene. Treat writing like a job that you love. If doubt intrudes or the urge to procrastinate hits, head back to the mirror.

Remember, You Are A Success. Your Actions Make You A Success.

Here's to a persistent, productive and successful week!

Smiles,
Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Soul of Music times Two



Being a musician and avid music lover, YouTube is my idea of heaven. All those concerts available day and night! Night and Day! ON MY COMPUTER!! *faints*




Today at Pop Culture Divas, I'm sharing some cool and unusual musical pairings in my post, The Soul of Music Times Two.

Drop by if you feel like dancing!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Discover Your Self Through Your Writing

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree.
“Which road do I take?” she asked.
“Where do you want to go?” was his response.
“I don't know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn't matter.”Lewis Carroll

Writing is a curious occupation. Although I suppose there are those who can pen novels, poems, songs, or scripts without any ‘soul’ investment, most of us instead take a deep breath and jump down that wondrous rabbit hole. In order to have the courage, the stamina, and the sheer will-power to keep ourselves on track we need to have a reason to write.

"The greatest explorer on this earth never takes voyages as long as those of the man who descends to the depth of his heart." ~Julien Green

Here is my suggestion:

Write to Discover Your Self.
Write to Awaken Your Heart.
Write to Engage Your Soul.


Truth is the sheer effort of completing a book can be exhausting. The process of submitting can be discouraging. The endless promotions and networking can leave you numb. This is why, no matter what anyone tells you, you must Write What You Love.

"No one remains quite what he was when he recognizes himself." ~Thomas Mann

Every writer experiences it. Whether the composition is your own version of the great novel or simply a chatty email with a close friend, there comes a moment of clarity which illuminates your soul. You discover in that flash of insight a part of your Self. A shiver of excitement and an astonished, “Well, that’s true, isn’t it?” follows.

Writing is more than a path to publication. Writing is a journey to your soul. When you invest those precious minutes and push beyond the linear constraints of your rational mind to dangle precariously within the caverns of imagination something amazing occurs. There’s really no describing it as each author has her own amazing revelation. Yet we all know how it *feels*.

"It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts." ~K.T. Jong

However, if we allow the fickle and ever-changing market to guide our path or follow the advice of a thousand other writers (including myself!) on What To Write, we may be robbing ourselves of the greatest gift of all: Self-Discovery. And ironically, it’s often those who shun the rules who then create a new market. How often are we told that agents and publishers are looking for something different? So much so that many of us type madly amidst the chunks of hair we’ve yanked out of our heads with frustration.

“Throwing away ideas too soon is like opening a package of flower seeds and then throwing them away because they're not pretty."— Arthur VanGundy, Ph.D. (Idea Power, 1992)

Self-discovery sounds very profound, doesn’t it? Yet it’s also a lovely, carefree and often silly dance. Consider for just a moment how children play. They explore all avenues with gusto and if someone advises them of the Right Way, they’ll buy into it for a time, yet then will gleefully rebel and discover their own Right Way. That’s what we need to do as writers. For some authors, this may mean investing ten years to write the next Gone With the Wind. For others, short and snappy might be just the ticket.

“Hi. I'm Troy McClure. You may remember me from such self help tapes as 'Smoke yourself thin' and 'Get some confidence, Stupid!'” --The Simpsons

The key is to Discover Your Path. Ready? Here are some steps to follow:
First… WRITE. (You knew that was coming, right?)

Second… Be Brave. Color outside those lines. Play in your own forbidden zone. Take every risk you can because you can always change it later. So why not leap out of the airplane?

Three… Keep Writing.

"When you aim for perfection, you discover it's a moving target." ~~Geoffrey F. Fisher

The more sentences you carve out of your imagination, the more the pages will reflect your soul. Let yourself be excited not only by the potential of being published or hitting that best-seller list. Thirst for the revelations that will emerge as you jump down that rabbit-hole.

“I can't go back to yesterday - because I was a different person then.” ~~Lewis Carroll

Ready to take some risks? We Are Writers! Go-go-GO!!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Perseverance. Without It, Passion Is Never Enough

by Chiron O’Keefe

“You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.” --Dr. Wayne Dyer.

Perseverance is a word that stumbles on the tongue. It’s not at all like the word Passion. Passion sounds juicy and gorgeous and bursting with flavor. Passion. Yum.

Writers imagine the process of composing is simply a matter of the right amount of passion. As if each story dangles like ripe fruit just yonder out of reach. Snap it off the branch and there you go!

The desire to carve a story out of thin air is certainly our greatest motivation. Passion moves us to reach beyond the known and imbues us with the courage to venture into the dark landscape of our imagination. However it’s the less attractive relative—the one with the heavy backpack and sturdy walking shoes—who is more likely to successfully traverse that rocky path.

Perseverance.

Without it, passion is never enough.

“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential... these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”Eddie Robinson

When the clouds of winter finally roll back from the sky and the delicate warmth of spring trickles in, the urge to plant seizes me. Oh, how I love to stroll among the potted flowers, inspecting each tag and imagining how the fragrant blossoms will color my back deck. I diligently purchase fertilizer and potting soil and browse the new array of containers. Ah, yes. My enthusiasm starts to wane after the first few hours of potting. *snort*

My back aches from bending over and the multitude of plastic containers I purchased now strikes me as overkill. The initial passion fades and there’s only one thing that keeps me going. Perseverance. Especially because I often change my mind as to Which Plant Goes Where, forcing me to start over until I’m ready to scream.

“Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.” --F. Scott Fitzgerald

With every story, the initial concept may change as the pages pile up. The work is endless and like the wary gardener, the realization that some portions of our budding tale might need to be yanked out can freeze us in our tracks. We become paralyzed with our need for perfection. Our need to be on the Right Track can lead to us riding the brakes. Let me assure you, every writer experiences that same fear. What if we get up to chapter 13 only to discover that the last few chapters aren’t what we envisioned at all?

Persevere.

Our ability to write depends on our willingness to put in the time and to let ourselves make mistakes. Ever watch a toddler learning how to toddle? Falling down is inevitable. Getting up again is a choice.

“Practice, practice, practice writing. Writing is a craft that requires both talent and acquired skills. You learn by doing, by making mistakes and then seeing where you went wrong.” --Jeffrey A. Carver

When the seed of a story first appears in our mind, the fervor to capture that delicious tale can lead to a satisfying burst of activity. Yet at some point the magnitude of the task at hand overwhelms our enthusiasm. The realization that the seed might take months (or even years) to grow and bear fruit can be daunting.

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.” --Walter Elliott

“Don't let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.” --Earl Nightingale

The fact is all writers struggle to finish the books they start. And every single book you’ve ever read, enjoyed or admired was written one page at a time. Too often we judge ourselves because we measure our accomplishment with a critical eye.

Yet each page is an accomplishment to celebrate. While it’s true that my back deck isn’t finished until all my flowers are potted in their respective containers, each plant stands alone. Every single page counts. As you read this essay, one or more quotes might just strike your fancy. Which shows how vital and significant every sentence can be.

“I see the notion of talent as quite irrelevant. I see instead perseverance, application, industry, assiduity, will, will, will, desire, desire, desire.” --Gordon Lish

We must stay true to our vision. The only way to bring our passion to life is to buckle down and churn out one more sentence, one more paragraph, one more page…

“He conquers who endures.”Persius

What’s truly heartbreaking is how the fear can not only slow our pace but also lead to a crippling dis-ease called Insecurity. We think to ourselves, Real writers don’t have this problem. If I was a truly talented author I’d be zipping through the pages without blinking an eye.

May I just say, “Hah!”

“With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.” --Thomas Foxwell Buxton

The greatest minds out there achieve success not because they’re so freaking brilliant the stars blush trying to sparkle as brightly. No, ma-am. Not at all. Those who achieve lasting success are those who persevere. All books are written One Page At A Time.

“Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.” --Jacob A. Riis

The authors who get published, who find agents, who hit the bestseller list, all have one trait in common. Perseverance. They pushed until they typed 'The End'. They polished and revised until the book was irresistible. They sent out queries until the Right Agent said, “Let’s Go!” They kept writing and promoting their books until they reached that coveted dream. Just like you, just like me, they reached for the stars. And just like you, and just like me, they persevered. We Can Do It!

“Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I never heard of anyone ever stumbling on something sitting down.” --Charles F. Kettering

One sentence, one paragraph, one page at a time. We can do it. We WILL do it because (let’s say it together) We Are Writers!

And don’t forget:

“Keep in mind that the person to write for is yourself. Tell the story that you most desperately want to read.”Susan Isaacs

Let’s support our perseverance with a visualization exercise. Remember, our subconscious works with our conscious mind to help us create the exact reality we desire. Take a moment to close your eyes and visualize the exact situation you yearn for. I’m typing The End! I’m getting “the call”! I can *see* my book on the bestseller list!

Remember too:

"Man is what he believes." --Anton Chekhov (1860 - 1904)

Have a wonderful writing week!

--Chiron O’Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Optimism—Don't Leave Home Without It!

"Two men look out through the same bars: One sees the mud, and one sees the stars." ----Frederick Langbridge, A Cluster of Quiet Thoughts

Intriguing fact: Utilizing brain-scans, researchers have confirmed that the brains of optimistic people actually 'light up' in their own unique way when contemplating the future.

Optimists have an open-door policy whenever they're faced with obstacles. They assume if they keep looking, they'll find an open door and cruise on through. Pessimistic souls don't bother. They have adopted a helpless and hopeless attitude, simply assuming the doors are all closed. Yikes!

"An optimist is the human personification of spring." ~Susan J. Bissonette

Now being an optimist doesn't mean ignoring reality. We don't draw chalk on the wall and pretend it's a door! We know there's always an open door somewhere, as long as we keep looking. For every problem there is a solution. In fact, often it's the problems that push us to move beyond our stagnation into a new perspective, leading to even greater success.

"Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it."Oprah Winfrey

However, there's no denying that optimism can be hard to manifest if your experience tends to reinforce the opposite of what you desire. This is why visualization is a such a powerful tool for writers. I mean, really, after a few rejections, how easy is it to plaster a smile on your face and bask in an optimistic glow? Your experience suggests failure while your inner optimism is claiming success is always possible. Which side do you believe? Is optimism idealistic or unrealistic?

"Optimism is the foundation of courage." ~Nicholas Murray Butler

"Some people are so fond of ill-luck that they run half-way to meet it."~Douglas Jerrold, Meeting Troubles Half-Way, 1859

"If I regarded my life from the point of view of the pessimist, I should be undone. I should seek in vain for the light that does not visit my eyes and the music that does not ring in my ears. I should beg night and day and never be satisfied. I should sit apart in awful solitude, a prey to fear and despair. But since I consider it a duty to myself and to others to be happy, I escape a misery worse than any physical deprivation."Helen Keller

Experience is based on memories. Yet memories are mutable. Which is why a friend's perspective can be so useful. Throw a different view in and suddenly an experience that seemed utterly horrific at the time, now sparks fits of giggles. Many a satirical writer has found the 'funny-bone' in the most trying of circumstances. Some writers, Erma Brombeck on one side of the scale and Larry David on the other, have made a mighty fine living seeking out the humor tucked within the disaster.

So, how does this affect us? Just like this: The memories we cling to form the foundation of our expectation. So, putting our past into a positive light helps us to look for the positive in the future. Now, here's something to consider. When you form a picture in your mind—whether it's positive or negative—you're creating a "future memory."

Psychology tells us that, based on past history people create comfort zones to revisit again and again. If, for example, your childhood was stressful, you might be drawn to stressful circumstances because that is what is familiar and comfortable to you.

Comfort zones, future memories and optimism. How does it all tie together?

The simple truth is we can create new comfort zones. How? We are writers, people! Just as we write stories for our fictional characters, we write our own story where we are the lead characters.

I am a successful, published writer.

Visualize your success and you are creating a future memory. This 'memory' creates a foundation which generates optimism. With the power of visualization, we can create a powerful future memory that creates a new and improved comfort zone that we are then automatically drawn to.

If we are thirsty, we reach for a cold drink without thinking. It's a reflex. In a social situation, a person might smile easily at strangers or duck back into the shadows depending on the emotional 'comfort zone'. This also is a reflex. Again, these comfort zones are created based on personal experience or are a result of conditioning from our background. Yet there are many successful people who once were shy and now shine. Why? Because they changed their comfort zone by creating 'future memories' which are nothing more than basic visualizations.

"I found that when you start thinking and saying what you really want then your mind automatically shifts and pulls you in that direction. And sometimes it can be that simple, just a little twist in vocabulary that illustrates your attitude and philosophy."Jim Rohn

"Optimists are right. So are pessimists. It's up to you to choose which you will be." --Harvey Mackay

One simple truth stands out, you will unconsciously be drawn to experiences that reflect the picture in your mind. If we dwell on misery or ill fortune, our subconscious dispassionately notes this as a direction to move toward. If we focus on success and good fortune, our inner compass adjusts dramatically.

Truth is, this amazing manifesting tool is rarely utilized properly because only a lucky few stumble upon these fundamental 'secrets of success'. Yet hundreds of books are written by people who have discovered on their own that believing in success can create success. Ironically, a pessimist is more likely to believe ill-fortune is inevitable while completely missing the stark fact that one can just as easily believe the same about success.

"Believe it is possible to solve your problem. Tremendous things happen to the believer. So believe the answer will come. It will." --Norman Vincent Peale

When I was a child, my mind was cluttered with many unhealthy beliefs. I believed I was unattractive and unlovable, and people responded to me based on those beliefs. Ah-hah, my inner self declared, proof positive that I AM these things that I believe!

In my teens, thanks to a mother who returned to college to study psychology, I began to read books like Psycho-cybernetics and The Power of Positive Thinking. Slowly my beliefs began to change and as a result, my reality began to reflect these new beliefs. I began to consider how often I scowled at others, fearing and expecting their rejection. How might I react if a stranger scowled at me? The realization that I might have been turning away from the smiles and seeking out the frowns to support my beliefs was a revelation. The realization that I could create a new 'comfort zone' changed my life.

"Anything's possible if you've got enough nerve."J. K. Rowling

However, it's not as easy as flipping a switch. They say it takes more muscles to frown than to smile and yet so many of us frown easily. There is something comforting about believing in ill-fortune for it takes the responsibility of success neatly out of our hands. Well, I say, Phooey to that! Let's grab hold of our destiny and create the future we most desire.

"As your faith is strengthened you will find that there is no longer the need to have a sense of control, that things will flow as they will, and that you will flow with them, to your great delight and benefit." –Emmanuel Teney

Let's grab hold of this next week and shape it to suit our needs. Set goals that keep us on the right track. Visualize the completion of our goals—both minor and major. I Am A Successful, Published Author.

As Captain Picard would say, "Make it so!"

Here's to a productive, positive, successful week.

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.


--

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Person Who Risks Nothing, Does Nothing

This is a reprint of an essay which features the wisdom of the fabulous Kate Duffy. Kate was an incredible editor and an inspiring woman who encouraged writers and provided hope along with clear direction. I was one of the many writers lucky enough to be rewarded with her optimism and constant support. The writing world lost a great soul. She will be missed. For information about her passing, here is a recent NY Times article.

"Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together."-- Anais Nin

Being a writer means taking risks. With perhaps our greatest leap being between the initial Idea and the impetus for Action. It really does feel like jumping off a cliff, or skiing down a mountain. You push off and go. Exhilarating it may be, but also just a wee bit scary.

"The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live." Leo F. Buscaglia

Now, I’m not just talking about the obvious risk. It’s a given that submitting your work, seeking publication, sending out queries, facing book reviews, promoting sales and everything in between, makes your heart palpitate and leads to an excessive need for chocolate and hugs. Yet only a writer truly understands the gut-wrenching trepidation that can occur every time we sit down to scratch out a few more words.

Yikes! I’ve said it before and yet I’m still in awe of the process…

Creating Something out of Nothing.

Where do these ideas come from? From what magical resource does the 'Perfect Word' or 'Dastardly Plot Twist' spring? Believe me, learning to play guitar (which was no picnic, let me tell you) was a breeze compared to this.

“Oh, an A chord to F sharp minor to B minor to E. That’s easy. I Already Know Those Chords.”

Hah! Yet every new story must be original. We may learn how to phrase a thought or craft a pleasing sentence. We may develop an *ear* for timing and rhythm. Eventually, the clichés wind down and the adverbs become less important. We evolve as writers. But the Magic required to pull those words out of thin air… well… It’s still a leap. A matter of reaching deeply into our subconscious. Delving into the shadowy parts of our psyche. We’re Taking A Chance.

So here’s what I think. Every author should take a moment and acknowledge the magnitude of this journey. You Are A Writer. Do you realize how special that is?

Perhaps we're not tying a bungee cord to our ankle and leaping off a bridge. Yet every time an author sends out a query it's the equivalent of jumping out of an airplane without even knowing if you have a working parachute! The risk may not be physical, but the stress, the worry, the fear, the hope, the anticipation and the exhilaration is no less. Hiking to the top of a dangerous mountain peak is daunting. Having dozens to millions of strangers flip through pages penned by you requires similar daring. It's the equivalent of speed-dating, as anyone and everyone can reject you. Except with speed-dating it's one at a time. Authors must brave the possibility of endless rejection simultaneously.

*gulp*

Writers also have the rarest of pleasures. A hiker may scale a mountain top. A sky-diver can leap out of a plane. An author jumps head-first into the wild unknown of the imagination. Each world is unique. Each story is personal and written without guide ropes or parachutes.

"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore." --Andre Gide

I don’t know about you, but every time, I sit down to write, I let go of all that is safe and familiar. I push myself deep into my creative being in order to compose one more tale. It’s taken more courage than anything I’ve ever done.

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." --T.S. Eliot

Along with every other writer, I’ve discovered something incredible. I didn’t know if I could write a chapter, and I did. Didn’t know if I could write a book—I’ve written four. Each risk, leads to Something. How far can we go? As far as our wings will take us.

"You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down." --Ray Bradbury

The more we write, the better we get. That, perhaps is the only sure thing about writing. And, in my oh-so-humble opinion, this is fantastic. Everything else is a risk except that one thing. Every Time We Write, We Improve Our Writing.

Excellent! But, what, exactly do we write? Do we write to please others or to please ourselves?

“Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.” --Katherine Mansfield

The truth.

Hmmm…

The truth is we want it all. Don’t we?

I’ve faced my own dilemma, one that many writers share. I’m just not willing to chase the market. Sometimes I dearly wish I could. Yet I worry and stress about it. Just last year, an agent advised me that a particular genre was selling. This year, another agent suggested that genre is dead. Who’s right? And where does that leave an aspiring writer?

I put the question to editor Kate Duffy and here’s what she said:

“Write the best book you can and please yourself first. We, writers and publishers, create markets. Each author, no matter what the genre, is a franchise.

Editors don't buy by genre. They fall in love with a book and figure out a way to publish it that will make money.”
Kate Duffy

So, there you go. Take risks. Face the truth. Build your wings. Write the Best Damn Book you can and Please Yourself first.

"I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all." -E.B. White

Have a wonderful writing week, everyone!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between the Lines.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Action Generates Inspiration

The clock strikes a significant hour. On cue, the stomach growls for sustenance while visions of steaming dishes dance in the head. Where do we find the inspiration for yet another meal?

Some leap up to snag a cookbook and flip through recipes. Others yank open the fridge door and ponder the available ingredients. There's also internet searches and food magazines with glossy covers depicting delectable treats. Few can resist an article that promises to detail how we too can whip up a gourmet meal in thirty minutes or less.

"Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working."Pablo Picasso

The common denominator here is action. Whether staring into a refrigerator or skimming through Joy of Cooking, the significance lies in action. We hope that some kernel of inspiration will pop up faster than a Pop Tart.

"We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action." ~Frank Tibolt

Whether our goal is to compose the perfect sentence or cobble together a tasty meal, we need a constant source of inspiration. Yet, what exactly is inspiration? Is it simply a new idea?

Thinking about the symbol of a radiant light-bulb beaming overhead, two thoughts occur.

First is the metaphor of The Idea being electric and illuminating, banishing the darkness with clarity and clear perception. The feeling evoked by the word 'Inspiration' convinces us that unless we experience a brilliant burst of illumination, we simply are not inspired. This can lead to waiting around, tapping our fingers, shuffling our feet, waiting for that bold lightning strike from the heavens above which will inscribe dazzling words into the air and provide us with a burst of energy so magnificent we'll zip through each chapter with rare speed and bubbling enthusiasm.

The second thought that occurs is the reality of the potent symbol. The Light Bulb. How did that come about again?

"Thomas Edison dreamed of a lamp that could be operated by electricity, began where he stood to put his dream into action, and despite more than ten thousand failures, he stood by that dream until he made it a physical reality. Practical dreamers do not quit." --Napoleon Hill

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." ----Thomas Edison

Edison was simply a man who did not give up. He didn't sit around contemplating his goals. He took action. Repeated action. Mind-numbing repetition until he got it right. Inspiration was a result of his determination and his action. Which really makes sense. When we think of inspiration as merely the flash of an idea, we truly miss the point and even diminish the concept.

Helen Keller may have experienced a flash of illumination when she first perceived that the movements of her teacher's fingers in her palm were linked to letters that magically spelled out a word. However, her inspiration was renewed each and every day by her determination, her drive and her action. How long do you think her inspiration would have lingered had she stopped striving to surpass each day's success with yet another?

"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." --Helen Keller

One of my favorite methods for renewing inspiration is to reread the last pages I wrote. Notice I said, 'renewing' because the original inspiration still exists. It doesn't go away. Perhaps the light has dimmed somewhat, which makes the goal to flip that switch and power on to full illumination. Still, perusing the previous day's work may not be enough. My enthusiasm might be pumped but I still may stare helplessly at the blank page wondering what the hell to write next. Here's where I employ my second strategy—Action.

"Apathy can be overcome by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things: first, an ideal, with takes the imagination by storm, and second, a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice."Arnold Toynbee


"Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action." ~Walter Anderson, The Confidence Course, 1997

The only true way I've found to bust through writer's-block buster is to write. I keep an ongoing Free-Write document for every story. Here I can play with scenes or brainstorm freely without worrying because It's Just My Free-Write File And So It Doesn't Count. Woo-hoo!

Hmmm... So, if Lucy really wants to get into Ricky's show, maybe she and Ethel can pretend to be waiters then when they get close to the stage, Ethel distracts Ricky while Lucy whips off her fake moustache and waiter's apron and jumps into the spotlight! Yeah!

Attitude plays a big part here too. Action must be accompanied by a firm belief in success even if at first you're just pretending. Seriously. Think about it for a moment. The first time a person picks up a musical instrument, there's no assurance there will be success. The budding musician must, in essence, 'pretend' she can play even as her fingers struggle to stay on the proper notes.

"The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense." –Thomas Edison

It may sound simplistic or even silly but trust me, Edison didn't invent the light bulb by daily assuring himself that he was a failure, that he was wasting his time, that he was too old, or that he didn't know what he was doing.

"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." –Thomas Edison

So… first let's do an attitude readjustment. I am a brilliant, successful writer.

Second, let's take action. Whether your goal is to write a page, a scene, a chapter or even a blog, start writing!

"You cannot change anything in your life with intention alone, which can become a watered-down, occasional hope that you'll get to tomorrow. Intention without action is useless."Caroline Myss

Remember, it's what we do that determines who we are and what we will accomplish. We may dream of what we could do or we could… just do it. *grin*

"First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do." -- Epictetus

"Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them." --Joseph Joubert

Here's to an action-filled week!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between The Lines.