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.


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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 clich├ęs 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.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Giving Up The Ghost

Do you like Ghost Stories? Today at Pop Culture Divas, I share some of my faves. Do stop by and fill me in on your favorite spooky tales!

--Chiron