Monday, March 29, 2010

All Life is an Experiment

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

Last week, I finally finished the first set of revisions for my latest WIP (Work in Progress). This book has been my personal 'White Whale', as I've struggled through every phase. Finishing the first draft took forever. The rewrite seemed to drag on even longer. Why the struggle? Two reasons, one because this was a new genre for me, complete with new rules and a more complex plot. The greatest reason though was more personal. This book is my least commercial. Not to say I've veered off into literary genius (unless you want to offer me a contract in which case I'll say anything you damn well please).

When I was young, I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures. So I did ten times more work. ~George Bernard Shaw

While others I'd known within my writing community chided me for not wanting to write 'hot' romance, it felt more like a repetitious exercise than an inspiration. Which led me to a dramatic turn into suspense without a speck of romance involved. I chose to venture into the paranormal territory yet, because of my own background as an astrologer who studied mythology, theology and metaphysics, my choice was to incorporate more realism into the world I created. Into the plot, I have woven my own thoughts and perspective, peppering the story with musings by my lead character.

"I'm not funny. What I am is brave." ~Lucille Ball

Sharing some thoughts about this with my husband, he asked, "Are you sure you want to go in that direction?" Which really is an excellent question but logic dictated I follow my heart for this round.

"Why not?" I said with a shrug. "My commercial books wowed readers but didn't cause a ripple with Those Who Matter in the publishing world."

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it. ~Pablo Picasso

Again, two reasons emerge. One is clear, perhaps by writing a book that reflects me, I'll find my way into publication. Even more importantly, to continue on with my writing, I need inspiration. I need motivation. In other words, if I'm not pleasing others, I need to please myself.

You must have long-range goals to keep you from being frustrated by short-range failures. ~Charles C. Noble

No matter what goals you have for fulfillment, there is work involved, along with a need for inexhaustible patience and a determination to continue on—to find that rainbow no matter how often the clouds appear gray.

He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

"There's only one true teacher on the path of becoming a writer—experience."Chiron O'Keefe

Each book written has taught me more about the process of writing than any of the craft books I've pored over. Here's the wisdom I've garnered:

First and foremost, to be a writer, you must write. You have to make mistakes in order to learn what works. You must take chances in order to stretch and enhance your ability. You must risk failure in order to succeed. You must make sacrifices whether they be major inconveniences or minor considerations. You must be determined, thick-skinned, and utterly passionate about your writing.

"With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable." ~Thomas Fowell Buxton

"Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they've got a second." ~William James

Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little course, and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice. Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Outside my window, sunshine splashes over the lawn, promising a hint of spring on the way. Yet I'm all too aware that others are still warming their nearly frost-bitten hands and yearning desperately for a change of weather. This is the way reality works. Just as some might find success while others are still shoveling snow by way of endless queries. What we all must do is remember, those blossoms will bloom… someday. In the meantime, we must continue to pull the weeds, plant the seeds, and put up with that huge bag of stinky manure in order to yield a harvest.

Here's to another week bursting with potential! How will you be planting your seeds?

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Keys to Personal Excellence

"There are only two options regarding commitment. You're either in or out. There's no such thing as a life in-between." Pat Riley

"I don't care how much power, brilliance or energy you have, if you don't harness it and focus it on a specific target, and hold it there you're never going to accomplish as much as your ability warrants." ~Zig Ziglar

I've been thinking quite a bit about commitment. Maybe because, like most writers, there are days when I'm surely ready for that padded room! Hah!

Yet the idea of commitment is one that I've danced around, perhaps like many here. On a good day, I'm there. I *get* it. I believe. Then the clouds roll in and the raindrops pour down my cheeks as I wonder if I'm truly cut out to be A Writer.

In or out, woman. There's no in-between.

To me, that's what marks a true writer. A friend once said to me (paraphrasing here), that Real Writers stick to it.

"Success depends on your backbone, not your wishbone." –Author Unknown

I've had my share of doubts. I hit my slump and wondered… Did I have the Right Stuff to make magic happen on the printed page? Did I have the *eye* to clarify my vision? Hell, did I really have a vision to begin with or is this just a fanciful dream? Horrors! Had I become one of those people who sneer, "I could write a book easy," only to toss my dream aside out of fear or insecurity?


"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

There are a number of people who helped push me past that wall. Some offered support at my request, others unknowingly brought forth a wisdom that radiated like moonbeams, chasing away shadows and illuminating my darkest night. Thanks to the writers I am privileged to know, I reconnected with my will to win—the urge to reach my full potential. *smile*

I also realized (thanks, Misty) that hitting a wall may just be part of the process. Which is exactly why a writer needs to commit. This is as much a relationship as the one I share with my husband. For better or worse, sickness and health, richer or poorer…

"Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write." --Elie Wiesel

My friend Tessy is an incredible example of one who cannot live without writing. Listening to her tickled the memory of what drove me to the keyboard so long ago. My thirst to create worlds. Ah-ha! Take that you pesky ideas rolling around my brain. Let's toss you onto the page and see where we shall fly.

"So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land!"J. M. Barrie (from Peter Pan)

Commitment is what marks us as writers. Writing requires time, effort, focus and a great deal of faith. We're like explorers crawling into a cave with nothing but the wavering beam of a flashlight to light our way. Without faith, we might turn back. Without persistence, we might give up. Which is exactly why writers need to commit: to writing that sentence, to filling up the page, to finishing the chapter, to wrapping up the book.

And of course, that's just the beginning! Re-read and revise. Cut some scenes, flesh out others. Yet… the joy of it. Ah, the tingling rush of pleasure as the eye follows the plot. This is magic of the best sort.

Did you know that scans have shown that our brains respond to imagined circumstances just as if they were real? When we write stories, and others read them, we are making magic. We are creating worlds here, my friends. This is True Magic.

Which is why…

"It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end."Ursula K. LeGuin

Let's recommit to our journey and relish the spectacular joy of writing!


"It is impossible to discourage the real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write." ~Sinclair Lewis

And that about sums it up.

This week let's make a conscious decision to commit to our writing. Do you, budding author, take this profession to love and to write?

Let's do it, let's fall in love all over again!

Remember, We Are Writers. And what do writers do? They WRITE. So let's Go-go-GO!

Have a great writing week, everyone!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Yum Factor--Michael Bublé (New Pop Culture Divas Post!!)

I'm swooning and dancing old school today with the delicious Michael Bublé! Dance over to Pop Culture Divas for The Yum Factor and sway with me! *wink*

See you there!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Monday, March 15, 2010

Keep Your Face to The Sunshine

"The worst thing one can do is not to try, to be aware of what one wants and not give in to it, to spend years in silent hurt wondering if something could have materialized--never knowing." --Jim Rohn

A wonderful writer sent me this quote. A great opening, don’t you think? To me, these words speak to the heart. How often do we know exactly what we want, yet avoid the steps needed to move towards our dream?

I remember when I first explored the Tarot. Each card is laid out in a specific pattern, according to the pattern that is chosen. Within the Celtic Cross spread, there is a position I find most intriguing.

The position can be summed at as 'Hopes and Fears'. Not 'Hopes or Fears'.

Interesting, eh? What we yearn for most is often what we most fear. For many of us here, the art of putting words to paper, crafting a story, seeing our story in print, and achieving lasting success is our greatest dream… and our biggest fear.

"It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed." --Theodore Roosevelt. From a speech in Chicago, IL, April 10, 1899.

We are a special breed. There is no instant gratification for writers. Each page takes time. Each edit requires painstaking focus while the hours slip away. The queries need to be written and we’re reminded to not expect a reply from the agent or editor for weeks that stretch into months. We develop patience and the ability to laugh at our worries. We have to. We Are WRITERS. Writers must write. Lest we ‘spend years in silent hurt wondering if something could have materialized--never knowing.’

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

We also develop a core of optimism and confidence that surpasses all others. We have to. Each tomorrow is a brand new day, and dang it, we’re going to make the most of it!! Woo-hoo!

Awhile back, hubby and I watched this incredible DVD about the 2006 TED conference. This is a conference of the best and brightest, the most innovative thinkers of our time. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an invitation-only event where the world's leading thinkers and doers gather to find inspiration.

Sir Ken Robinson gave an amazing talk about education. He is an incredible speaker, witty and articulate. He spoke of how children are more open to taking risks, to “give it a go.” Here’s a snippet from Sir Ken:

I heard a great story recently about a six-year-old girl in a drawing lesson. The teacher said this little girl hardly ever paid attention in class, but during this lesson she did. The teacher was fascinated. She asked the girl, "What are you drawing?" And the girl said, "I'm drawing a picture of God." The teacher said, "But nobody knows what God looks like." The girl said, "They will in a minute."

What all children have in common is that they will take a chance. They're not frightened of being wrong. I don't mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. But if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original. By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.Sir Ken Robinson

To me, this is the essence of what we all need to realize. We need to “give it a go.” Take that chance. Live that dream.

"Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow." --Helen Adams Keller

Here we are, at the beginning of a lovely week. A week full of promise and hope. A week brimming with ideas and inspiration. A week to take chances, to “give it a go.”

But nobody really knows what a successful, multi-published author looks like, right?

Well… they will in a minute. *wink*

When I was a child, I fervently believed The Land of Oz to be real. Further, I believed Glinda the Good would read about me in her magic book and knowing my desire to visit, would soon get together with the Wonderful Wizard and whisk me off to fairy land. That early belief in magic was a pivotal moment for me and what led me to a career in fiction. How about you? Any childhood memories of The Turning Point for you?

Until next time, keep writing!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Learning to Swim on Dry Land

“It is better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all.” -Will Shetterly

Being a writer is all about taking risks. Every book about the craft will tell you and every experienced author will Agree—you have to push beyond your limits. While this is sound advice, it can also be rather daunting. We may wonder, “Does this mean I should write historical when I’m drawn to science-fiction? Must I write hot when I prefer sweet?”

The answer is not quite as simplistic. Yes, we should challenge ourselves by stepping outside our comfort zone if for no other reason than to explore the other aspects of our writing selves. No, we don’t need to twist up our creative self into a pretzel shape based on the current market or the advice of others.

In reality, every page we type is a risk. Every idea we explore is a challenge. Who hasn’t experienced a tremor of unease which we translate quickly into Writer’s Block? Often the truth is simply that we’re nudging up against our unspoken fear. The Fear That Dare Not Be Named is this: What if my writing sucks?

“You never learn how to write a novel. You just learn how to write the novel that you're writing.” --Gene Wolfe

The more we write, the more we learn how to write. As we write our first novel we began the process of growth. Eventually we master POV and catchy hooks and dramatic cliff-hangers, a fabulous progression of events which often leads to the unfortunate notion that the fear will disappear completely. The good news is for some writers that will be the case. However, the percentage is small. Most of us struggle and whine and sigh and finally beat that damn fear into submission.

How? By writing. By writing a page even when our inspiration dwindles. By pushing to finish a chapter even if we’re certain our prose is stale. By finishing our first draft despite our inner critic who whispers that a REAL writer’s work is perfect from the get-go!

Let’s collectively roll our eyes and snort.

“You sit down and you do it, and you do it, and you do it, until you have learned to do it.” --Ursula K. LeGuin

Writers learn by writing. The mental acuity required to pen a story and polish it until it gleams is not something you learn by reading craft books. Some of the insights contained in craft books or in workshops conducted by bestselling authors will open your eyes. They may give you a new perspective which will enhance your story a thousand-fold. Those books and classes can educate you to the point where you’ll be capable of opening your own school.

But they can’t teach you how to write. Only you can accomplish that. All writers are self-taught.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” --Alice Walker

I’m a huge fan of The Big Bang Theory on CBS. In one episode, Sheldon (a nerdy genius with off-the-charts IQ) decides he wants to befriend a fellow scientist in order to gain access to the Open Science Grid Computer. His roommate Leonard tries to explain that he can’t approach making new friends the same way he learned how to swim… over the internet. Hilarious! The idea of someone learning how to swim without jumping into water is insane!

Uh-oh. This strikes a chord. How many of us have attempted the same thing?

The way we learn to write is by writing. By occasionally composing delightful, engaging, brilliant passages along with a whole lot of crap. *heh-heh*

“If you don't allow yourself the possibility of writing something very, very bad, it would be hard to write something very good.” --Steven Galloway

So, here’s the low-down. Boot up the computer or grab your pad of paper. Write. Get your story down. If you’re bogged down because you’ve written yourself in a corner, pull up a new document and vent. Spew out any and all ideas until one grabs you and doesn’t let go. Your intellect may encourage you to be cautious. Kick that caution to the curb. Write.

"If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be too cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down." --Annie Dillard

If you love your idea, let go of the absurd notion of a perfect first draft. Or second. Or third. You have to marry your plot and see it through… for better or for worse. Cozy up close because you’ll be sleeping with and dreaming of your tale until the breath-taking moment of completion. Stick to it. Write. Rewrite. Make the story your own.

“Books aren't written, they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it...” --Michael Crichton

Here’s the best news of all. As you progress to your second, third, fourth, fifth book, a marvelous insight will blaze.

You’re getting better all the time.

Each book will reflect your progress. Here’s a secret that authors can only discover after they’ve written a few books. You learn more after three books than you do after three rewrites. Which is why one piece of advice pops up more than most. Write Your Next Book. If your book isn’t being snatched up, set it aside and write your next one. And your next one.

65,000 words into my latest WIP, I tackled the task of editing my last book which I would have sworn was spot-free. I applied myself to the diligent task of giving it a read-through and doing any necessary clean-up. Here’s what I found.

TONS of mistakes. The book I’d pored over and pronounced perfect after endless revisions now revealed glaring holes and leaky prose. The simple truth is, I learned so much by writing my next book, my perspective had changed. The term, “Looking at it with new eyes” took on greater meaning. Trust me, this is not opinion, this is fact. You Will Grow As A Writer.

“You should never be ashamed to admit you have been wrong. It only proves you are wiser today than yesterday.” --Jonathan Swift

It’s all good. If you feel frustrated, relax, you’re a writer. If you feel fear, relax, you’re a writer. If you worry that your book isn’t perfect, Relax, You’re A Writer. You’re not alone. You will get through the endless drafts. You will finish one book and begin another. You will find an audience. You will succeed. Just keep writing.

“I have never thought of myself as a good writer. Anyone who wants reassurance of that should read one of my first drafts. But I'm one of the world's great rewriters.” --James A. Michener

Jump on in… The water’s fine.

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Creating Tomorrow With Today's Choices

"I still believe in Hope -- mostly because there's no such place as Fingers Crossed, Arkansas."Molly Ivins

In life, we have two clear choices: to believe in success or to believe in failure. It may seem as if there are an infinite number of perspectives available but it's simply untrue. Each view slants one way or another, with all sorts of justifications for the core belief. We invest hours in explaining Why we will fail or Why we will succeed. Often we invest as much time in our justifications as we do with any action towards our goals!

"Optimism is the one quality more associated with success and happiness than any other." --Brian Tracy

All that time and energy to fuel our dreams. By golly, it certainly behooves us to know exactly Which Choice we're aiming for! Especially because our Choice will fuel our actions. Optimistic people tend to succeed more often because they Choose to believe in Success no matter what. By framing their perspective with optimism, they tend to look for solutions rather than seeing negative circumstances merely as a reinforcement of their failure. They Believe Success is Inevitable. And so it is.

"All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible." --Orison Swett Marden

No obstacle is too great when one shores up her dream with hope, faith and optimism. Mary O'Hara was 56 when she wrote My Friend Flicka. Anna Sewell was 57 when she penned Black Beauty. What may be the world's longest running play, The Mousetrap was completed by Agatha Christie when she hit the age of 62! Not to be outdone, Laura Ingalls Wilder published Little House in the Big Woods, the first of the eight-volume Little House on the Prairie series at age 65.

You bet these incredible women didn't let setbacks discourage them for long. They had two choices. To believe they would succeed or to believe they would fail. Which choice do you think they made?

"No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit." --Helen Keller

The stars were once the primary navigational tool. The heavens above and a sturdy compass to provide direction. Consider the stars to be our source of inspiration. Occasionally there will be clouds obscuring your view, but your heart is the compass. Trust your heart to guide you, to give you direction. Believe in yourself. Believe in your goals.

"Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant." -- Robert Louis Stevenson

Every day that we invest time and energy into accomplishing our dreams, we are a step closer to realizing our fondest hopes. The ones who reach the stars don't rely on outside circumstances to validate their success. Success is in their hearts, in their attitude, and the world knows it.

Take a moment every single day to validate your dreams. Don't wait for the world or for outer circumstances to take on the task. You are a Writer. Say it now and every day. Remind yourself and you'll discover a secret. Believing in success makes you responsible to achieve that success. What most don't realize is that pessimists are lazy at heart. By believing in failure, they have a built-in excuse to avoid the work. Hah! We have no such dubious luxury (thank Goddess). We believe in success and so we must Choose to Do The Work.

"Light tomorrow with today." --Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Today's focus is what will fuel tomorrow's actions. And the next day, and the day after that. Let that flame burn bright in your heart, for the optimism will always light the way.

Here's to a fabulous week!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas