Sunday, April 26, 2009

Excellence or Perfection? Writers Need To Know...

"Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing." --Harriet Braiker

The first time I truly considered the difference between excellence and perfection, my world view tilted on its axis. The word 'perfection' implies an ability to be flawless, which is frankly not a human capability. Besides, aren't the quirky flaws what makes each person so endearing? I flashed on an image of the old classic horror movie, "The Stepford Wives". Flawless to a fault, those shiny-faced robots were. Which is exactly why women shuddered at the thought!

Yet excellence is something we all can strive for. Personally, I even love the way the word rolls off the tongue. Excellence.

"No one is perfect... that's why pencils have erasers." -Author Unknown

Ironically, one of the biggest flaws people have is this unrealistic yearning for perfection. For authors the urge can be suffocating. The perfect word, the perfect phrase, the perfect query letter that will open The Door so many hope to slip through.

What does it mean instead to aim for excellence?

"A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault." ~John Henry Newman

'Personal Best' some would say, while others would describe the shining burst of triumph felt when something *clicks* inside the soul. Both are absolutely correct. Both are also dependent on the ability to move beyond the expectations, both from the outside world and from yourself. Striving for perfection may indeed be the leading cause of the nasty affliction known as Writer's Block. The heart freezes in panic because suddenly each word must meet some unrealistic criteria, as if there's an omniscient critic whose rating system rules us all.

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best." ~Henry van Dyke

The funny thing is those writers who take our breath away probably didn't give a whit about perfection. They were all in competition with themselves. That's what 'personal best' is all about. Looking at the scene and not worrying about whether it's perfect or whether it meets some arbitrary standard, but simply pushing to surpass your own expectations. That's when an author laughs in delight, staring in wonder at what magic has emerged from her soul.

"Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without." ~Confucius, Analects

Imagine if e.e. cummings conformed to the standards expected. Or Picasso. When agents and editors say all they're looking for is a good story, many a writer wants to scream, "But what does that mean?"

One word: Excellence.

To shove past the need for perfection and the need for safety to find a taste of your soul—that is excellence.

"The imperfections of a man, his frailties, his faults, are just as important as his virtues. You can't separate them. They're wedded." ~Henry Miller

The relationship between an author and his story is symbiotic. What this means is simply that if you can't accept flaws in yourself, you'll have difficulty weaving imperfections into your characters. The realization that excellence shines forth regardless of our flaws is a lesson our characters then teach us. Each story is a journey. Unless you're willing to take risks, your characters will reflect your hesitancy.

"Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will." --Goethe

"I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center." ~Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Player Piano

This week let's cram that need for perfection into a box and store it away in our inner attic. Instead of concerning ourselves with avoiding mistakes or finding the Absolute Perfect Sentence, let's focus on the heart of our story. That's where the excellence lies, after all. If you're feeling stuck, pull up a blank document and compose a letter to your soul, expressing what it is exactly you're trying to say in your story. If you have an idea tickling your brain, don't worry about composition or pacing or character arc. Just write. The words pouring out are the seeds ready to burst into bloom. Trust me there will be plenty of time to prune later. If you stare at the garden worrying about your harvest before you even plant, all you'll do is become mired in your own fertilizer. *wink*

"You see, when weaving a blanket, an Indian woman leaves a flaw in the weaving of that blanket to let the soul out." ~Martha Graham

Beauty, you see, is in the flaws. The tiny imperfections that capture the imagination are what life is all about. Put away the unrealistic belief in a 'Stepford Book' and let your soul take flight. You, my friend, are on the path of excellence.

Here's to a week of inspired productivity.
Let's Go-go-GO! Write-write-WRITE!

Chiron O'Keefe
My Love Affair With Pop Culture at Pop Culture Divas!

A side note: Brenda Novak's Auction for Diabetes Research gives both readers and writers fabulous, unique opportunties and all for a good cause! There's a banner on top of the page--turn off your ad-blocker and revisit for all the details.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Passion, Patience, Persistence: The Three P's of Success.

"Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write." ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Passion, Patience, and Persistence. These are three of the essential qualities needed to be a successful writer.

First… Passion.

The need to write, the fervent desire to create worlds and watch the stories unfold on paper is prerequisite. If you don't feel as if your life would be desolate without the act of writing, flee while you can!

Still here? *smile* Good!

Nurture that flame within your heart every day, every hour. Trust me, you'll need plenty of fuel to keep that passion burning. No matter how tempting it can be to wallow in despair, kick any such tendency to the curb. You're a writer, damn it! Your heart beats a little faster when the words fly by, right? You quiver with excitement when a new idea hits and you can't wait to trap that elusive inspiration on a fresh page. Am I close?

When the writing sucks (and we've all been there) you'll be tempted to toss your story out along with your dreams.


This is a relationship and the honeymoon phase comes and goes. Okay, that came out a little more risqué than I intended but I do love a good romance. *smile* Nevertheless, the sentiment holds true. You must cling to the passion that first drove you to pound those keys in a fever of excitement. Keep that passion alive. Remind yourself daily: I am a writer. Look in the mirror and pour your heart and soul into those four little words. Hear them for what they are. An exclamation of undying passion to the career you've embraced.

We Are Writers! Yeah, baby!

Next up… Patience.

"The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with." -- William Faulkner

Dang it! *shakes fist at muse*

The inspiration dangling before our mind's eye never seems to coalesce quickly enough.

"Having imagination, it takes you an hour to write a paragraph that, if you were unimaginative, would take you only a minute. Or you might not write the paragraph at all." ~Franklin P. Adams, Half a Loaf, 1927

Patience is essential because you never really know where the muse will take you. The process of writing is a mixture of applied focus and blind faith. A good metaphor might be of trying to start a fire by rubbing sticks together. Others have done it. The process looks easy enough. Yet the length of time required before that first spark of flame may feel like an eternity. And to our dismay, the first spark doesn't burst into a raging fire.

Be patient. Each word leads to another. Each sentence becomes a paragraph. Each page gets you closer to a finished draft. In our world of instant gratification, it's difficult to remember how much time is required to write a book. Thank goddess for our passion, eh?

Time to remind ourselves of the heart of our own life story: We Are Writers! We CAN and WILL make this happen. One word, one page, one chapter at a time.

Which takes us to the crux of our quest: Persistence.

"Never give up! Never Surrender!" – from the movie Galaxy Quest.

No matter how many times I use this quote, it always rings true. These words need to be inscribed on our foreheads. Backwards, of course, so that when we're staring at the mirror shouting, "I am a Writer!" we can read them clearly. *grin*

Writers write. And it doesn't matter if you're published, pre-published or don't give a damn about ever being published (I've heard of this elusive creature, though I have yet to meet one).

Writers write. Remember that. Persist even when you hit the inevitable slump. Persist even if rejections pile up. Persist when your heart is into it and when it's not.

Hold that vision in your mind like an Olympic torch. You want to go for the gold? Visualize your finish line. See yourself clutching your published novel in hand. Or signing The Contract. Or answering the phone and screaming like a maniac because you just got The Call. Or hitting that NYT Bestseller list.

Got the vision? Great, now get to work!

"If you haven't got an idea, start a story anyway. You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you'll only have to throw away the first three pages." --William Campbell Gault

And consider this…

Every writer goes through dark moments. Every writer wonders about his or her talent. Every writer worries about the dark moment or the climax, the character arc or the pacing, the beginning, the middle AND the ending.

"Cherish your visions; cherish your ideals; cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts, for out of them will grow delightful conditions, all heavenly environment; of these if you but remain true to them, your world will at last be built." --James Allen

You can do it. Why? Because You, my friend, are a writer.

April is here and we're ready to Spring into another week!

Write-Write-WRITE! Go-go-GO! Remember, We Are Writers!

--Chiron O'Keefe

My Bio Post at Pop Culture Divas!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

To Wish Upon A Star…

Walt Disney was a dreamer with far-reaching goals. A fanciful visionary who truly believed in the magic of his beliefs.

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

These days, hope and faith may feel like a lost dream. Yet in every era known to man there has always been two distinct choices: To believe in hope or to give in to despair. The greatest success stories always seem to feature heroes and heroines who take a chance despite the odds. Not only did they risk failure, they usually took an even greater risk. They strove to be unique in a world demanding conformity.

"Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly." ~ St. Francis De Sales

A struggle that many writers face is whether they will need to distort their vision or compromise their ideals in order to conform to what others believe in.

"He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away." ~Raymond Hull

There is much wisdom to be garnered by studying the rules of the craft, by absorbing the wisdom and advice of others in the field. However, writing is art. The ideas spring from your soul. You can learn how to create beautiful prose and how to construct a character arc. You can develop an ability to self-edit with the same finesse as a professional. What you can't learn is how to bring forth the stories that sweep you away. The only way to develop your art is to write without fear, without compromise, without worrying about conforming to anyone's standards but your own.

"Self-trust is the first secret of success." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-trust requires one very important thing. We must embrace our Self. So many of us struggle to fit in and to be accepted that we forget that our life is really our own. I remember many years ago, arguing with someone who wanted me to Be something I absolutely wasn't. Furious, I shouted, "Tell you what, next life YOU can be me but until then, I'm making my own damn choices!" *snort* Silly, I know, but my impulsive rant actually awoke within me a determination to not let others rule my life. As life lessons often go, this dilemma has popped up repeatedly as I come full circle and once again face others who insist my success or my happiness is dependent on me conforming to their ideals.

Wrong! *laughs*

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Trust in your dreams, trust in your own vision, trust that you can be and create exactly what you desire. There are times when you'll face rejection or criticism and believe me, it will sting. But those wounds heal much faster when you follow your heart. Many authors have heartily rejected the notion that success depends on conformity. Sherrilyn Kenyon is one author who faced countless rejections and persevered because she absolutely refused to place another person's belief over her own. She believed in her vision and because of that kept submitting until at last she found someone who took a chance. Now, she's a NY Times Bestselling Author. Sound good to you?

Believe in Yourself. Believe in Your Vision.

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

Yup, Dreams Can Come True. *smile* In fact, they do all the time. For some, the wait seems interminable, for others the journey is much quicker. One thing all people have in common is this. Happiness does not come as a result of success. Happiness comes from self-fulfillment. When Self-Fulfillment coincides with Success, my friends, you have created a dream come true.

"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

Be yourself. Believe in your Dreams. Know that Success Can Be Yours.

"Sooner or later, those who win are those who think they can." –Richard Bach

Now, I'd like to leave you a taste of Disney.

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 dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do.

Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true. --Ned Washington and Leigh Harline

There is good news on the horizon. *smile* Today on Facebook, agent extraordinaire Jessica Faust posted a link to a NY Times article suggesting sales are up for stories with a happy ending. Ms. Faust's blog is one of the best resources an author can hope for. Her perspective and her insights provide inspiration and a sorely needed solidarity in today's uncertain world. We're lucky to have her as an advocate—her track record speaks for itself. Thanks, Jessica!

Ready to write? Let's keep those dreams alive and put our fingers to work!

Here's to an inspired week of astonishing productivity. Go-go-GO!

Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Faith is a Passionate Intuition

"All serious daring starts from within." --Eurora Welly

Remember the classic children's story, "The Little Engine That Could"? Although the tale is designed for budding minds, the message contained within is pertinent to all, young and old.

"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!"

Writers often feel the strain and tug on their own internal engines. Struggling to make it over a difficult passage or pushing through a dark tunnel trusting a glimpse of illumination will soon brighten the way.

So what does that little steam engine remind us? Attitude is everything.

"If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere." ~Frank A. Clark

When we face adversity, we yearn for sympathy and hugs. *smile* Yet what we most need is perspective. To realize that an unlined face isn't a symbol of youth but of a life not yet lived. To recognize each moment is a tiny seed bursting into bloom.

"Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses." ~Alphonse Karr

Few careers afford the luxury of turning those lemons into limoncello. *smile* Every tragedy, setback, and obstacle is fertilizer for the imagination. Yup. The pile of manure spread over those seeds can yield some hefty blossoms. Consider Erma Bombeck. Her hilarious anecdotes wouldn't exist if she lived a quiet, uneventful life. Other artistic careers don't profit as we can from those nagging woes. Ah, but we have the luxury of crafting heroines who struggle against the odds or defeat the dark enemy. Not because we have firsthand experience slamming a spike into a vampire's chest either. *grin* For writers, each glorious moment of personal triumph or dreaded hour of despair is a glimpse into a potential story.

"When it is dark enough, you can see the stars." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dig deep, my friends, because All Daring Starts From Within. Dare to write the passage that eludes you (even if it takes a dozen tries). Dare to edit the scene you struggle with. Dare to send off the query even if your fingers tremble with fear as you punch those keys. If you think you can, You Will.

Know what you want to accomplish, each and every day. Know what you want to accomplish five years down the line. The going will get rough, as the saying goes. To quote John Lennon, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

"Nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose - a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye." ~Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818

Here's a secret successful people cling to. If you hold your destination in mind, you will arrive even if you get there from a different road. There will be detours and unexpected stops. However, intuition is a potent tool. Keep that vision in your mind and your intuition will guide you no matter what twists and turns you face.

"Faith is a passionate intuition." ~William Wordsworth

Hmmmm… I think I can, I think I can, I Think I Can!!

We're easing into Spring now, which makes this the perfect time to nurture and feed our stories, prune and revise, and prepare our minds for the harvest yet to come.

No matter what the goal is--to simply write or to get published--we need to keep a picture of our success firmly in mind. Just as we would envision how our plants would bloom, so must we visualize ourselves meeting each goal and celebrating success.

Let's Make It Happen!

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

Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Guest Blogging at Pop Culture Divas!

I'm honored to now be a part of the Pop Culture Divas group!

Today my debut article is on My Love Affair With Pop Culture.

Stop by and visit if you can...

Smiles to you all,