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.