Epiphanies in the Night

Medellin, Columbia

Medellin, Columbia

A number of weeks ago, I promised a blog post outlining what I learned in Texas, and then I procrastinated. It’s not like I didn’t think about writing the post; I did, often. I also knew what I wanted to write.

The words came to me in the middle of the night after being in Dallas for about two weeks. I woke at 3 a.m., suddenly and completely, with an epiphany in my head. I grabbed my journal and wrote on what I hoped was an untouched page in the darkness. It was, and the words I wrote were mostly legible.

So why haven’t I put them here?

It’s not time. The epiphany is too fresh to share, too new in my life – so instead of telling you what I realized that night, I’m going to tell you how it has changed my life so far:

1. I am going to Columbia to teach English and do other social awareness projects for three weeks in 2016. Teaching: way, way, way out of my comfort zone!

2. I am in the process of becoming a member of the Sooke Sailing Coop. No, I don’t know how to sail. Yet.

3. I started a Facebook page for my writer persona. I know I should have done it long ago but it just seemed such a big step. Now it’s done. You can link to it here if you’re interested.

4. I have two new script ideas. Yes, TWO!

5. I have committed to doing what it takes to break in to screenwriting. If this means traveling to Hollywood and meeting with producers, agents, or managers, I will do it. I’ve accepted and embraced this necessity, which for reclusive me is a very big thing.

Obviously, Texas was a game changer for me, and a testament to one thing I believe: don’t back off from change because it’s usually a good thing. Not that I won’t be doubting how good it is in Columbia when I’m standing in front of a bunch of people, wishing I was somewhere – anywhere – else.  🙂

Gratitude in Advance

gratitudeI’ve been doing something lately, totally spontaneously, and then today I find out it’s a thing!

Isn’t that the best experience ever, realizing that something that makes your day have more magic and meaning, is actually making a lot of people’s lives brighter around the world.

And what is this thing?

Advance gratitude.

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” G.K. Chesterton

Being grateful for your day, for your life, for an experience, for the beauty, for the people and animals and flowers in your life, for what you see, think, say, hear – all before you even experience it. All before it presents itself to you in all its wonder and glory, whether good or bad (which really is only a judgement call anyway, but that’s another blog post).

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” Buddha

Some people use advance gratitude to bring luck to their day, and according to them, it works. Some use it to turn difficult life events on their heads, to learn from them, to see the positive side these experiences have to offer no matter how small (an incredibly brave thing to do, but that’s another blog post too). Some, like me I suppose, just enjoy the rush of being more aware than I otherwise would be of the beauties around me and the experiences that bless me, again whether “good or bad”.

“Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy.” Fred De Witt Van Amburgh

If I could give any advice to anyone willing to try this, I’d say, look for the details. Instead of being grateful for something in general, notice and be grateful for the specific.

Instead of being grateful for someone you’re close to, think about how they smile when you greet them. Instead of being grateful for your garden, be grateful for that single glorious bloom by the fence, for the way the sunlight shines off a single leaf, the creative curve of a branch, the blue flowers bursting from the gumboot planter experiment you tried this year. LOL! Yes, I’m looking out my window right now. And feeling grateful, this time in the moment.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Robert Brault

Enjoy the beauty in this day!

My Weirdness is My Strength

Weird happy huskyI had this realization a month ago. It came to me very definitely and strongly, like someone had reached into my head and manually adjusted my thinking. Then, just in case I didn’t get it or wasn’t paying enough attention or didn’t trust myself enough, someone I deeply respect told me the exact same thing about two days later.

We were walking the Roche Cove trail, the sun was sunning, the raindrops glittered like diamonds as they fell, and my walking companion said that she’d had a realization about my writing… I need to embrace my weirdness. No one looks at the world like I do, no one draws the same connections. She even said that I’m an original thinker, and instead of quietly just thinking my thoughts, I need to get them out there, let them be known. My weirdness is my most important asset when it comes to writing.

Sooo… these last few weeks, I’ve embraced that. Whenever I find myself getting stuck on a story, instead of researching or thinking of the “right” ways to solve plot or character or theme problems, I trust myself and write what I want. Oddly enough, the most difficult thing about the whole mindset has not been to come up with original solutions, but has been to stop myself from slipping back into old patterns of thinking.

I’m opening up, bit by bit, and I’m loving every step of the way – and I can’t help but feel thrilled that my weirdness is turning into my biggest, most unapologetic strength. Now that’s awesome!

Change Your Thoughts…

…and you change your world. Three things have happened lately that have taught me more about choice.

First, I’ve had to do lots of thinking about it, because “change your thoughts, and you change your world” is the theme of the screenplay I’m currently writing. It has been enjoyable thinking!

Second, the Have-Do-Be argument (below) came from reading a book called Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, by T. Harv Eker. Though Mr. Eker’s book deals mainly in attitudes toward money, many of the principals can be turned to other things.

Nasa BridgeMost important of all, I read a Facebook post from my daughter, where she wrote:

“Eight months ago I drove over this, the NASA Bridge in Cape Canaveral, a Mars One candidate on her way to check out the Kennedy Space Center. Yesterday I sailed under it, a vagabond living on a boat on her way to the Bahamas. Oh life, what are you gonna come up with next?”

So, Have-Do-Be?

Like many, I used to think this was the proper order to accomplish things. If I have this, I can do that, and then I can be what I want to be. For example, if I had a boat, I could sail around the Caribbean, and be an adventurer.

The truth, however, is closer to be-do-have. If I am a certain way, I will act according to who I am, and then will have the results of those actions. If I accept that I’m an adventurer at heart, I’ll choose to combine my boating safety course with something new and different and take the course in Florida instead of at home. Because of that decision, other opportunities will arise, and I will make the choices right for me, knowing I am an adventurer, and at one point, I’ll be sailing the Caribbean.

Of course, she didn’t know what would happen when she signed up for that course. No way could she have guessed that trip would give her such opportunities. But she made the first and second steps. First, she recognized and accepted herself as an adventurer, and then she acted accordingly.

And that makes me ask: what can I achieve, what can any of us achieve, if we just accept who we know we are, and then act true to ourselves? Definitely, food for thought.

Morning Writing

SunriseWhat a luxury and privilege it is to wake up, get out of bed, walk into my office, breathe deep, turn on my writing music, open my document, and fall into a storyland of my own making. And to do it every morning.

I am grateful for my work for so many reasons.

I am grateful for:

 

  1. The magic that I feel in each story and each character, even the antagonists. They just want to be happy too!
  2. The months I had away from writing. That time away helped me appreciate being a writer on a whole new level.
  3. A family that is extremely patient with my oddities.  🙂
  4. Writer buddies, who are also very odd, who understand. You know who you are.
  5. Non-writer buddies, who teach me so much about being more than an observer, but to get out there and experience LIFE!
  6. Alone time in my office with a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, where I feel safe enough to let my imagination soar.
  7. Peaceful writing music, the score to my stories.
  8. Years of awesome story ideas just waiting for me to write them. I pray I’ll have enough time for you all.
  9. Sunshine out my window, and the garden hat that shields my eyes as I write. Who needs blinds?
  10. And there’s so much more, far more than I want to write here since there’s a story waiting for me right now – so I’ll sum them up in six words: I’m grateful to be a writer!
Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid

Profundity of Story

Lately, my thoughts have been turning toward the value of writing from the heart, writing deeply, writing profoundly. While I think many a worthwhile book has been written because of commercial motivations, and while I’ve written my fair share of novels plotted with monetary considerations in mind, that little voice inside my head, which seems to think I should be writing from my own heart, my own passion, just isn’t so little anymore.

Years ago, that passion was all that fueled me. It was at the core of the first books I wrote, but bit by bit, my writing turned from a passion and a desire to create something beautiful into a business, a job. While I still loved the stories I wrote, and still thought they were worthwhile and beautiful and of value, I chose my stories by the commercial potential they might have. Even worse, I wrote them with the imaginary reader looking over my shoulder.

I eventually struggled with burn out because of this. The last few years I’ve forced myself away from that burn out brink, and regained some of the joy of writing by following my “gut” feelings. With effort, I’ve come far enough from that commercial mindset that I can see, relatively clearly, that I’ve lost touch with the deeper truths in my own stories.

Today, thanks to a wonderful conversation with a patient and kind friend (thank you, Barb!), I feel as if I’ve made another significant shift from that commercial mindset. I have a very long way to go, but that’s okay. I see where I am now, as well as the first steps I need to take to get to the heart of things.

I think I may record my journey here in the next little while. If you feel like coming along with me, please share! I’d love to hear how you embrace the profound nature of your own stories. Maybe we can even help each other along. 🙂 I’d truly love that!

Happy Writing!

A Reader, the Nature of Stories, and No Man is an Island

I just got a message from a reader who used to enjoy my juvenile books:

I just wanted to say that though I have outgrown these books now (and I am sad about that) your books have blessed me a lot and helped me write a story about horses years ago.

I can’t even begin to say what they have done for my Dyslexic friend. I showed her and lent her a few of your books and now she has started to enjoy writing and she wrote a 40 page novel even though before she saw writing as a curse.

The story line each of your books holds is something hard to find in books for a younger audience and I have always enjoyed them and I keep them so when I have little girls of my own, they can read them.

I thank you for the inspiration. They take hold of me and I will always look back at buying one of your books and staying up all night reading it as a fond memory…

A number of things struck home with her email.

First, how fortunate I am that this girl emailed me years ago. She is a bright, vivacious person, and I feel blessed to have become her online friend.

Second, I love that she wanted to share her enjoyment with her own young friend. Isn’t that the way we are? We want to give the things that have meant so much to us to others, and their ensuing enjoyment in our gift gives us joy.

And third, the nature of stories. This one’s a bit harder to explain, so I’ll use the words of a master, Hermann Hesse:

… the river is everywhere at once, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the sea, in the mountains, everywhere at once, and that there is only the present time for it, not the shadow of the past, not the shadow of the future.

bookI think stories exist much in the same way. They may seem to come from nowhere, but actually, they come from everywhere and everything. We ourselves are stories; everything we do, experience, think, desire, everything we perceive through our senses, is connected to our story. Everything that exists has a story, a reason, a purpose for being, no matter how simple, no matter how complex.

And stories in books are one of the bridges between us. My young friend read my book, which came from the story of my life and the myriad stories that I allowed to inspire and change me, and she allowed it to inspire her. My book and all that contributed to it, became part of her. And then she passed that inspiration along, her own story added to mix, and her friend was inspired as well.

We are none of us alone.

A Fine Silvery Stream

Sheng Yen, a Chinese Buddhist monk, wrote this passage:

“Be soft in your practice. Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it.”

I’ve been doing this, but not only with my meditation practice. I’m learning to do this with story as well. A few days ago, I wrote an opening line, then followed that line to the next, and the next, like I was floating along that fine, silvery stream. I didn’t know where the story was going, where it would end, even if it would end, or just fizzle out. As I softly followed, it filled in the grooves and cracks. The crevices were found. The story emerged and was written.

I am doing the same again now but this next one is already longer. It may be a novella or a book. I can’t tell yet because I don’t know where that silver stream is carrying me. I don’t even know genre yet. All I know is that every day that I come to this story, something happens that surprises me. It’s taking form as I write, one sentence after another.

Faith is a beautiful thing – not faith in myself or my abilities, but faith in the story that is being told.

Let the story be what it wants to be. Let it lead the way, and be content to follow.

Optimism

Recently I read a new interpretation of the old “Is the glass half full or half empty” debate. The glass is completely full, half with water, half with air.

It made me think about my creations. About half of my literary works have been published in various magazines, about half haven’t yet found homes. I don’t write very much short stuff, maybe one or two works a year, so each that I find good enough to edit to a publishable state is precious to me.  And yet some still haven’t found their place.

According to my new “glass completely full” theory, it doesn’t mean the writing sucks. It doesn’t mean the story is shallow or flippant or just plain bad. It means publication is a matter of getting the right story to the right publisher at the right time. And that takes submissions. Lots of them.

Sometimes even to the same publisher.

Three times, twice with short works, once with a juvenile novel, I’ve received publishing contracts after my second submission of the same story to the same publisher. The first time, one work wasn’t “surprising enough”. The second time I guess it was.

This week, I sent out a few stories to magazines and contests. I’m trying to turn my “air” into “water” – which is much preferable to believing the glass is half empty or even half full. And it’s infinitely better than saying the glass is twice as big as it needs to be. Let’s not even go there!

Following Inspiration

I’ve been writing professionally now for eleven years, with no day job backup.  Some years are boom, some are bust, and I must admit the financial roller coaster gets a little stressful at times. You can build a reputation, a readership, and that helps, but when so many families are struggling, they don’t buy as many books for their children. It’s a sad fact. And then when you’re jumping into new genres, as I’m doing, there is no existing readership. Thus, even less security.

This is how I’ve learned to deal with it, and incidentally, how I’ve learned to deal with writing 3 – 4 books or screenplays a year without burning out.

I follow the inspiration. I work on projects when it feels right, not when I “should”. For example, this week, I was happily working away on a juvenile series proposal, the rewrite of Undertow, and Angel’s Flight, my current novel, when along comes a movie idea! Yesterday was spent in taking notes, discovering characters, realizing the science of the new story. I was excited, exhilarated, over the moon (or actually, over Azul, the name of my new planet)!

And then it was time to stop. Just stop. So I did. Now that idea is sitting there, happily started on paper, waiting for me to have time to return to it. It may even be my next movie.

That’s not to say that following inspiration is always a heady experience. You notice there was a time to stop, to go back to my novel? It was hard going when I got back, really hard, but I was where the inspiration called me. From highest creative heights to slogging through a difficult scene…

Both were necessary. Both were following inspiration. Both were creating something incredible (or incredible to me, at least). One was just a little more fun than the other.

Okay, a lot more fun! 🙂 And that’s okay.