Sunday, May 30, 2010

If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It

"Every morning is a fresh beginning. Every day is the world made new. Today is a new day. Today is my world made new. I have lived all my life up to this moment, to come to this day. This moment--this day--is as good as any moment in all eternity. I shall make of this day--each moment of this day--a heaven on earth. This is my day of opportunity." --Dan Custer

Opportunity. What a lovely word. Two more that I love are Optimism and Optimal. The letters OP nestle within one of my favorite all-time words: Hope.

Sometimes the business of writing—whether it be the necessity of revisions, the frustration of wrestling with plot-points or the pressure of looming deadlines—can overwhelm our initial sense of joy. Leading us to forget what led us to becoming writers… The opportunity to write.

You know, one thing writers strive to understand is how words can be phrased to elicit emotion. How our choice of language can lead our reader to one conclusion or another. How even punctuation can transform the meaning of a sentence.

Consider this sentence:

A woman without her man is nothing.

Now, let's examine two ways of utilizing punctuation to completely transform the meaning conveyed.

1. A woman, without her man, is nothing.

2. A woman: without her, man is nothing.

Fascinating, Captain!

If punctuation can make such a dramatic difference, imagine what one chosen word might accomplish. Yet in our fervent quest to select the right choice in our writing (bless you, sweet thesaurus), we often forget the impact our words have in everyday life. Not just in how we write, but how we think. Just for an experiment, read the next five sentences aloud, reaching deep and *feeling* what comes up as you speak.

"Today, I have to write five pages."

"Today I need to write five pages."

"Today, I get to write five pages."

"Today, I have the opportunity to write five pages."

"Today I will write five pages."

"The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones." --Chinese proverb

Being a successful author isn't just about pounding out pages. The small steps we take in our approach to writing can be as significant as our productivity. And words have immense power. They really do. Words create magic, not just in our stories but also in our life. Let's try another sentence.

"I am a success."

Now, let's say it like we mean it! I AM A SUCCESS.

The same power that allows you to sweep a reader away into a world of intrigue or romance is at your fingertips, giving you not only the Opportunity To Write, but also the Opportunity To Succeed In Life.

Often we forget we have this power. For all the care we exert in selecting the proper word to express our chosen emotion within a story, we forget this same power exists within our life. This is why I encourage us all, every day, to shout WE ARE WRITERS! Words have power. Within our books and within our life.

"Some people dream of success... while others wake up and work hard at it." ~Author Unknown

This week, let's focus not just our minds but our hearts. Along with our goals of productivity let's forge a path to success with our thoughts. Once a day, every day, let's invest five minutes in focusing on our success. Feel it, breathe it, believe it! Five minutes where we imagine our life is exactly what we choose it to be.

And consider this… Studies show that the subconscious responds to our beliefs as if they are facts. Read that over one more time. Take a moment to savor the thought.

Our beliefs influence our experience. Visualization has improved the performance of athletes as significantly as actual practice. The thought is astounding. Do you realize what this means? Success Comes To Those Who Believe In Success. NOT because positive thinking is cool but because Our Beliefs Shape Our Experience.

Five minutes. "I am a successful, published author. My books are popular and engaging. I love to write. Writing comes easily to me."

Select the words that give you a tingle and repeat them with passion. Tell yourself—for the next five minutes I will suspend any belief in what my present experience APPEARS to be, and believe fully in the reality I choose. I AM a success. I hold within my hand my published book.

Why not? As writers we grasp better than most the need to "suspend disbelief." And the power of initiating beliefs. Now's the time to Create The World You Want. On paper and in life.

Let's seize the moment and begin anew!

"Our ideals resemble the stars, which illuminate the night. No one will ever be able to touch them. But the men who, like the sailors on the ocean, take them for guides, will undoubtedly reach their goal." –Carl Schurz

"All that we are is the result of what we have thought. .... All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world." --Gautama Siddhartha Buddha

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

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Quest for Integrity

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”--Joan Didion

I love this quote. While it certainly qualifies as a quote about writing, it speaks to much more. Everyone everywhere needs stories. We spin them in our minds, we daydream our way through monotonous activities, we conjure them up to provide a happy ending when life seems bleak.

We need stories just as we need heroes. Even more, we need to be the Hero of our own Story.

This urge to be a hero drives us forward. Sometimes with positive results. Sometimes not. If our need to be the “good guy”, the good daughter, the good wife, the good friend, means compromising our integrity or living an untruth, we can cripple our progress or even worse, feel increasingly depressed without realizing why.

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

What’s fabulous about stories, whether we're writing or reading (or watching) is how the character’s words and actions are not limited by our own personal inhibitions. In fact, our favorites tales can speak volumes about the qualities we wish to embrace. Characters who reflect those qualities are especially close to our hearts.

Here’s something I noticed… We like integrity. Now, what I mean by that is not Honesty, Honor, or Ethics. Obviously, in our daily existence, those three are pretty darn important. But let’s look at integrity. Integrity means being true to yourself. Being 'whole' instead of a fragmented personality who struggles to please everyone, at the expense of one's self.

In our stories, we want our heroes and our villains to be True To Themselves. If that integrity is compromised, we pull out of the story. Not deliberately, but suddenly something doesn’t click. Whatever the character does has to make sense because we as readers or viewers demand that the character embody integrity.

All men should strive
to learn before they die
what they are running from, and to, and why. ~
James Thurber

The challenge, in both stories and real life, is to weave in the need for evolution and transformation. That, too, is an integral part of life. Another way to understand integrity is to view it as consistency.

A long time back, hubby and I watched a movie that made us want to scream. Not only was it riddled with clichés, there was absolutely no consistency. The “heroine” (and I use that term derisively) was supposed to be a top-notch reporter yet she had the brains of cottage cheese. The “villain”, who apparently was harboring a secret obsession for the heroine, had built a shrine to her behind a closet door, yet left his computer running with a voice-over (her voice, naturally) so when she used the key (Tucked Over the Doorjamb! In New York City!!) to enter his apartment, she easily followed the sound to discover his Secret! *Gasp!*

*tears out hair*

We watched the whole thing, not believing our own stupidity because, let’s face it, the movie was consistently ludicrous from start to finish. D’oh!

What draws us into a story?

The hero’s quest for integrity. Usually our heroine/hero is not being true to her/his self. Because of this, there is an emptiness or a knot that needs to be untangled, although they rarely realize or acknowledge this. Throw in some unexpectedly challenging circumstances or an encounter with a person who pushes those buttons and you have the beginnings of a plot.

Why is this basic structure eternally appealing? Because it reflects life. We all are on a quest to discover our Self. To know ourselves. And we do encounter circumstances and people who challenge us to face the inconsistencies in our life.

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

We all want to be the hero of our own story. Within the pages of a book or the scenes of a movie, we learn how other heroines discover their own True Self.

"Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get." --L. Frank Baum

Have stories helped you to discover your own true self?

For me, the quest is about courage and embracing truth over illusion. As a child I devoured the tales L. Frank Baum wrote about the mythical land of Oz. Dorothy not only stood up for what she believed, she challenged others to be true their own selves. I don’t need my heroines to be a “kick-ass heroine” (very popular these days) right from the get-go. However, I do crave an awakening of her spirit. I adore how Bridget Jones went from lusting after Incorrigible Rogue to falling in love with the Flawed But Sincere Suitor. She eventually chooses the guy who likes her “just the way she is.” Awwww!!

Stories help me too because the escape allows me to breathe. I learn, I laugh, I cry, I breathe…

A dear, dear friend sent me an email asking, “Have you hugged your story today?”

Truth is, this life we lead is our story. Have you hugged Your story today?

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Would You Let Your Daughter Marry a Rolling Stone?

by Chiron O'Keefe

A Celebration of the reissued
"Exile on Main Street" and a tribute to the One and Only... The Rolling Stones!

Jump over to Pop Culture Divas and celebrate with me!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sparking a Wild, Creative Delight!

“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

This month I finished the novel I'd been grappling with for longer than I care to admit. It's no surprise the first and second drafts took some time. This is a completely new genre and the jump from rom-com to mainstream mystery suspense was quite a leap. I worried and I fretted about plot points and tension until I thought my head would explode. Finally, with a sigh of exquisite relief, I wrapped it up and shot it towards my crit partners.

Their response floored me.

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

They loved it. *faints* I about hit the floor. Sure, there are issues to be addressed, 'crutch words' (those pesky verbs or adjectives we unwittingly become addicted to) and a few minor "huh?" moments I need to correct. However their collective response has been overwhelmingly positive. Even better, they seemed to believe my writing took a giant leap forward with this genre. Woo-hoo!

However, truth be told, a small secret part of my soul is unsurprised this book stands out from my past novels. Why? Because this is the tale I yearned to write but feared I could not. Which means I had to dig deep to pull it forth from my psyche while simultaneously releasing any inclination to simply 'tell' the story. I had to live it. This is my voice, not the voice that appealed to me. I found myself relating to my characters and recognizing how they embodied qualities of my own being. Weird. Exciting. Scary. Invigorating. These characters spring from our souls as we give birth to a new world.

“The maker of a sentence launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old Night, and is followed by those who hear him with something of wild, creative delight.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is my fourth novel. Some folks start off knowing exactly what they 'should' write. Others haven't a clue, only a burning urge to compose tales that sweep their readers away. Ironically, whether the original choice is the right one isn't really evident until after you've got a few books under the belt.

The rush of satisfaction after completion is the same whether you've tagged your true voice or not. The thrill of plotting out an intriguing story is also pretty much the same, as far as I can tell. What is decidedly unique is the recognition I felt when I read through this novel. An inner knowing that this is definitely my voice.

Most writers start off believing their first novel is The One. For a few that is the absolute truth. The majority of writers must contend with a number of rejections before finding success. If a writer isn't prepared for the long haul, this fact can be devastating. However, I want to urge one and all to cling with a fervor to your dream, burn with enthusiasm and a fierce determination to not only reach for but to surpass all your goals.

“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

“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

Yes, the process will eat up the hours, leave your back cramped, your eyes bleary and your butt fairly numb. *grin* Getting published is of course the most obvious finish line for most of us. Less obvious is the surge of satisfaction that springs from honing your talent. For the musician, each new chord mastered means a song once out of reach is now right at your fingertips. For an athlete, the grueling workouts and dedication improves performance and the challenge that once seemed overwhelming is conquered with ease. A cook discovers that recipes that previously seemed daunting are now, literally, a piece of cake!

If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves. ~Thomas Alva Edison

There are no easy methods of learning difficult things; the method is to close your door, give out that you are not at home, and work. ~Joseph de Maistre

Be not afraid of going slowly; be afraid only of standing still. ~Chinese Proverb

Embrace your dreams. Be patient with the effort involved as well as with your own misgivings. Persist beyond reason and not only will success be yours, the brilliance admired in others will someday shine from within.

"Desire is the key to motivation, but it's the determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal - a commitment to excellence - that will enable you to attain the success you seek." --Mario Andretti

No matter which road you choose to travel, invest yourself in that choice. Too many times we become half-hearted, unable to work up any enthusiasm because we're not really committed. Who can blame us? The writing life is an uncertain one. It requires tremendous effort and a propensity for delayed gratification. Simply put, there's a whole lot of work and the possibility of years before we see any reward. Being a writer is not for the faint of heart.

If you have made the choice to succeed, count your success anytime you finish a scene, or revise a chapter, or are courageous enough to send out a query. Count your success by your patience, your persistence and your passion.

Success will never be a big step in the future, success is a small step taken just now. ~Jonatan Mårtensson

Ready to take that step?

Here's to a week filled with success!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Secret of Nature... Patience

“A leaf that is destined to grow large is full of grooves and wrinkles at the start. Now if one has no patience and wants it smooth offhand like a willow leaf, there is trouble ahead.” --Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Ah, those pesky first drafts, and the ensuing edits. That first glimpse of a lovely idea, plots branching out all over, leaf-pages that are smooth as lovely and completely wrinkle-free.

And here I am with a couple of acorns and a muddy plot.

So what's the key? Persistence, Patience, Faith.

Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there. ~Josh Billings (pen name of Henry Wheeler Shaw)

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

Persistence—It's not enough to wish or want, one must DO. Just as we urge our characters to take action to resolve the many dilemmas we put them in, we also must take action and push ourselves to Keep On Writing.

Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience. ~George-Louis de Buffon

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Patience—Rome wasn't built in a day. Nor was it made out of paper. Yet here we are with the power of Olympian Goddesses, able to construct vast worlds, birth amazing heroines and heroes, and pick those (sometimes) hapless heroes and heroines up tod toss them in the most delightful muck we can conjure up. However, no matter whether the mind can race faster than a speeding chariot, the fingers can only do so much. We may envision the whole book in one day but barely work through a scene within those precious moments of writing time. So… patience. One 'word-brick' at a time. Build the foundation. Add some walls. Throw in some roads. The city will be built.

Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother. ~Kahlil Gibran

I quit being afraid when my first venture failed and the sky didn't fall down. ~Allen H. Neuharth

Faith—We must believe. There's no getting around it. The Wright brothers didn't say, "Oh, well, if it doesn’t work the first time we can always just go back to repairing bicycles." No way! They believed Man was Meant to Fly. Just as your book is meant to be written. Believe. Look in the mirror as you brush your teeth. As soon as you've spit out the toothpaste and rinsed your mouth, remind yourself, "I am a writer." Feel it and encourage your soul to burn with enthusiasm.


And away we go!

Another new week. Another seven days filled with opportunity, inspiration, and endless possibilities. Let's make each hour count!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Encourage Your Soul To Sing!

"You don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note." --Doug Floyd

If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. ~Vincent Van Gogh

Awhile back, hubby and I yanked out the guitars, plugged in the vintage amps and took the digital recording equipment out for a spin. One of the classic songs we worked on is a long-time favorite: "Wild Horses" by the Rolling Stones. I memorized this tune back at the tender age of fifteen *gasp!* and to this day relish the intricate chord changes and plaintive lyrics. Love it, love it, love it… Except for one pesky little detail. Singing in the dreaded key of G.

Now I could transpose the chords or slap on a capo but for the accompanying lead guitarist, that’s a pain in the arse. There are those too who would argue that the richness and depth of the original chords are compromised.

Flash back to a few days earlier. Sipping a fine glass of cabernet, we’d been listening to the "Rolling Stones Rarities" album. The version on this disc has a blues feel, more vibrant and intense. Something about the husky tone in Mick's wail reverberated inside my soul. Suddenly, I just *knew*. The urge to redo the song thundered in my veins. So after hubby patiently arranged the microphones just so, and we dashed through the chord changes a couple of times, we gave it a go.

"Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to." ~George Seaton

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase. ~Martin Luther King Jr.

The first verse came out in a wobbly squeak, rather like an adolescent boy pushing maturity. A sure sign of the frustrating inability to Find My Note. Yet when the haunting chorus came around, I somehow magically tapped in. Faltering at first, but I could *feel* the correct pitch somewhere deep within my bones. By the second verse, I miraculously clung to the note for a few more seconds, astonished to hear myself singing in this impossible key. What a wild, incredible, brilliant rush. Yet… Could I hold it?

"Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else's." ~Billy Wilder

Each time I'd begin anew… The exhilaration would snatch me up, toss my soul into the wind and I’d thrill in a wave of ecstasy hearing the clear chime of My Note. Up until that fateful moment when I realized (with a rush of stark fear) what I was doing… *snort* At which point, my voice would once again wobble and squeak and my spirits would plunge down to the ground.

Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they're yours. ~Richard Bach, Illusions

The process fascinated me. As soon as I let my thoughts wander over to an observation of my actions I’d lose focus. An image popped in my mind. The classic Warner Bros. cartoons where, in his eternal quest to snare the clever Roadrunner, Wile E. Coyote would race off the cliff, legs windmilling wildly. His nimble feet would carry him several feet into the air until a tiny pinprick of awareness would nip his consciousness and, with eyes widening in realization, he’d sneak a glance down.



Life requires a certain amount of faith. Perhaps it’s most obvious in performance mode (or while chasing an elusive Road Runner), yet it’s clear that this axiom serves throughout every aspect of our existence. I know that when I’m typing, if I stop to think about the process my speed will slow considerably. I’ll become self-conscious, wondering if my fingers really know what to do. I'll make mistakes and often begin an endless cycle of correction, which then leads to even more mistakes.


Once you become self-conscious, there is no end to it; once you start to doubt, there is no room for anything else. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

The last sentence is really the crux of the matter. While most of us (whether deliberately or not) work towards a measure of self-awareness, we also must step away from being self-conscious. Meaning, we must learn to not second-guess each decision or micromanage every step of our life. Which isn’t always easy.

Faith is courage; it is creative while despair is always destructive. ~David S. Muzzey

What I realized during the course of the night is that even the most impossible task can be accomplished if you tune in just right. Not to say that one can bypass the effort required to move past the blocks, whether it be learning the chords, striving to understand the process of plotting, delving into the particulars of mixing hues on a palette, or even distinguishing between an intrusive weed and potential bud in your soon-to-be-blossoming creation.

"Faith is a passionate intuition." ~William Wordsworth

Yet one thing remains clear. It is that initial “tuning in” process that carries us through. Whatever you dream, whatever you yearn for, can be accomplished. For writers, we must close our critical "mind's eye" and open our hearts to trust in the process of creation. Trust that the characters will spring to life and the light of inspiration will reveal an amazing story just waiting to be shared. We all have to have to trust that we can and will Find Our Note. Let those fingers fly and encourage your soul to sing.

You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them. ~Michael Jordan

The best way to gain self-confidence is to do what you are afraid to do. ~Author Unknown

Wishing everyone a productive and inspired week!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas

PS.. I also want to let you know that if you like my weekly essays and want the motivational boost every week, you can sign up to be a follower of my blog. Just click on the notice at the top of the page. When you sign into Blogger, you'll see my weekly essay which posts every Sunday. Thanks so much!