Archives for August 2015

The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 21: 6 Books on Creativity I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Read {Yet}

As an insatiable reader, and especially as a creative person challenged by blocks and resistance and every other inconvenience in the bag of tricks that plague creators of every stripe, there are a few classic books on creativity and the creative process I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never read.

These are the books my creative cohorts have seemingly all read, many of them dozens of times (so they say), and long extoled the virtues of in every corner of the interwebz.

Books that every person trying to create some kind of art, whether through writing, painting, filmmaking, photography, business-building or any other creative pursuit, “should” read.

And I agree, these are books I feel like I “should” have read by now, fer cryin’ out loud.

On the plus side, they are on my list. (Yes, I have an actual list, which lives on the Notes app on my iPhone.)

So here they are, in no particular order:

:: The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron

:: The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life – Twyla Tharp

:: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles – Steven Pressfield

:: Do the Work – Steven Pressfield

:: Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

And though it doesn’t end up on many of the 36,600,000 list posts on the web that turn up when you do a Google search for “Books Every Creative Should Read,” I’d also add:

:: The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level – Gay Hendricks

There are many other books on creativity in addition to the ones above I want to read, and they’re on my list too, but the 6 books here are those I consider must-read classics for most artists and creatives, and the ones I simply cannot buh-lieve I haven’t gotten around to reading yet.

Which books would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments below!

The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 20: To Fall in Love Again

Yesterday I wrote about my prayer for clarity.

I’d been in a creative conundrum for weeks, lacking a clear vision for which project to devote my time to next at the end of some big client projects I was finishing up. The confusion was getting me down, and even more problematic, keeping me from moving forward. Oh, the inertia!

Stuck, stuck, stuck, that’s how I felt.

So I said a prayer for clarity, and clarity came.

I was weighing two projects – should I spend the next 90 days or so working on my book project, and if so, what should that book project even be? (If you could only see how many folders I’ve started with distinct book ideas, related outlines for each, and even completed chapters. Oh my.)

Or should I put the bulk of my focus on upleveling my copywriting business for now, and put the book project on the “I’ll-work-on-it-for-an-hour-a-day” backburner?

I thought about it and I thought about it, and after a few days, finally just up and asked for clarity. Just asked. Posed the question to the Higher Power, the Universe, God, my inner guide who knows all, ha ha, or however you want to think of the power that exists on a different plane, beyond what we are yet still within us, that can often show us the way.

Then a couple of things happened. Small things. But because I had prayed for clarity, you better believe I paid attention to the signs, as small as they seemed.

First, in an online writers group I belong to, someone had found my website, read a bunch of my blog posts, signed up for my email newsletter, and in general was loving my copywriting and marketing advice, and applying it to her business, which she shared about in the group.  

Just reading her lovely comments lifted a big weight off my shoulders. Aaaaah, I took it in and breathed easier. Muchly. Because what she said made me feel like, ok, my business doesn’t have to feel like it’s taking me away from my “real” creative projects (such as writing the book, or writing and submitting shorter pieces to online and other pubs), it is one of my creative projects. My business is part of my “body of work,” and it allows me to flex my creative muscles in a big, big way.  

Quite simply, it’s not a question of either/or.

And the second I stopped thinking of the copywriting business as separate from my “other” writing and creative projects, I stopped resenting it for preventing me from focusing more time on those other projects. I started to fall in love with it again a little. Then a lot. Head-over-heels in love with my business and the work I’m blessed to get to do for my remarkable clients.

That was sign the 1.

Sign the 2 came in the form of a video. One Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago, as I sat on my sofa drinking my morning joe and reading email, I saw a video filmed at a copywriting conference I’ve wanted to attend for a few years, but have yet to make it to.

The video was from the AWAI (home of one of the copywriting training programs I’ve taken) Fast Track to Copywriting Success Bootcamp and Job Fair from last year (or the year before, not sure). I can’t pinpoint the exact thing about watching this video that made such an impact on me, but I walked away thinking, “Damn, I’m proud to be a copywriter, lucky to part of this amazing tradition of using language persuasively to help connect people to products and services that can genuinely help them, thrilled to be working in this exciting industry.”

(I could wax poetic about copywriting for 1000 words, easy, but I’ll spare you. Though I am thinking of writing a tome called “Copywriting: A Love Story.” I am not making that up.)

So there it is. These two signs got me feeling really enthusiastic about my work again – something I hadn’t felt for my business in many months. Engaged, yes. Happy to be writing marketing copy for wonderful clients, check. But enthusiastic? No.

And now I have all kinds of clarity about how to move forward, what to work on and what to ditch, and how to prioritize my many creative projects. Sweet, sweet relief.

So, saying a prayer for clarity – highly recommended.

The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 19: Prayer for Clarity

Recently I was struggling with too many projects, not enough time, and way too many ideas for new projects I wanted to start, right here, right now, this instant, without delay.

In my mind it all seemed doable, but back in the real world, I knew it couldn’t all get done in a way that would leave me with even the tiniest shred of sanity. 

It’s so damn hard to “kill our darlings,” as the saying goes, isn’t it?

But that’s what we must do if we want to actually enjoy our lives while running our businesses, because not every idea we have or new project that excites us is appropriate for the season we’re in.

After all, there’s only so much of us to go around, and one likes to get 7-8 hours of shuteye a night, so some projects have to be given the heave-ho, at least temporarily.

If only it weren’t so difficult to figure out which ones.

So one recent night as I lay in bed drifting off to sleep, I said to the ether (well, really, to the Higher Power I believe in, if you want the truth), “Please, just give me a sign, let me have clarity – of the big projects I’m considering right now, which should I choose to focus on for the next 90 days or so? I’m feeling whipsawed by confusion. Because you know I really, really want to write that book, and I’ve been working on that, and I really, really want to uplevel my copywriting business and create more business assets, and I’ve been working on that too, but it all feels like too much, I feel overwhelmed, and it’s getting me down. Actually, more than anything, it’s the lack of clarity that’s getting me down. Because if I knew which project should get most of my attention right now, and which to treat as a side project, at least for the time being, I would do it. I would follow that path and be happy and calm and serene – and and even enthusiastic – about picking ‘the one thing.’  So, please, just send me a sign or an epiphany or a dream or something to tell me the right thing to do.”

That was my fervent prayer. And my prayer was answered.

More on that tomorrow.

The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 18: On Re-Reading “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying”

Some months ago I read a piece called “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying,” in which palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware shares the most common regrets her dying patients shared with her at the end of their lives.

Like the millions of other people who read the article, I found it moving and impactful.  In fact, I printed it out and put it on my desk as a reminder not to work so hard, get so caught up in the minutiae, or hide behind the way I think I “should” be, instead of letting my freak flag fly and just be myself.

I was reminded of Ware’s article today while sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for an appointment. This was a fairly routine visit, but I did get wigged out when I found out my blood pressure is still on the higher side, and this after all the work I’ve done over the last year to lower it naturally, fer cryin’ out loud. I even cried. That’s how much it freaked me out.

The nurse seemed a wee bit taken aback by my emotional reaction, but she did pass me a tissue so I could dry my inconvenient tears.

Anyhoo.

On the way home I was thinking about something the nurse said. She said of course I want to be careful and monitor things, especially given our family’s history of heart disease and stroke and diabetes (thanks, family), but that she was fairly certain my blood pressure situation was caused by anxiety, since I’m otherwise healthy.

Which makes it sound like I have some kind of anxiety disorder. But “not the kind that needs to be medicated,” the nurse said.  Ha ha. Apparently I just need to “relax” and stop worrying so much, according to her. From your lips to God’s ears, I thought.

I’ve been trying to learn to “relax” and take things in stride my whole adult life. I want to be better at this. I really, and I mean really, do. And I’ve tried things. If it’s a natural remedy and other people have achieved success with it, I bet I’ve tried it.

So anyway, back to “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.”

The most common regret turns out to be this one:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

It’s a regret about dreams unfulfilled, and the idea that once you lose your health, it’s too late. (According to the article, that is. I happen to believe in miracles and that health can be restored, so I’m not a fan of the “it’s too late” idea.) Many of Ware’s patients had not honored even half their dreams due to their own choices.

So the bottom line is, as long as you’re healthy enough to pursue your dreams, you should give it all you’ve got. Yes, that’s a very cliché thing to think, say and believe. (Actually, come to think of it, it’s not a cliché, because . . . this.)

There’s so much I want to do, and experience, and write about, and hearing the admonitions today in the doctor’s office threw that into sharp relief.

And re-reading Ware’s article brought it home, powerfully.

I want to stop letting my worrywart tendencies keep me from pursuing the things I’ve long wanted to do, for Pete’s sake.

For two years I’ve been saying, “I’m going to start a regular yoga practice again, I’m going to learn to surf, I’m going to find a great volunteer opportunity so I can be of service, I’m going to find a church-home that’s just right for me, I’m going to find a meditation community to become part of,” and so on and so forth.

And have I done any of those things in the past two years? Uh, no. Not yet. And for no good reason.

So, girl’s gotta get busy.

The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 17: Happy Anniversary

This afternoon I went to my monthly acupuncture appointment. While driving there, I realized that it’s been exactly one year this month since I started getting stuck with teeny tiny needles on a regular basis in an effort to “rebalance my energy flow,” or, as I like to think of it, learn to relax and go with the flow like a “normal” person.

It reminds me of that scene on Modern Family when the family is vacationing in Hawaii, and high-strung Mitchell says, while unsuccessfully trying to chill by the pool, “I don’t find relaxing very relaxing.”

I laughed in recognition.

Actually, I do find relaxing at least slightly relaxing, but only in small doses. Although I have been known to stay in my pjs, drink coffee and read for an entire day, I usually feel terrible afterwards, like I’ve committed some awful crime against productivity.

Like the recent Sunday when I spent 4 hours reading the New York Times, then flew into a panic thinking, “What have I done, what have I done?!?! I have SO much to do today, and I just spent 4 hours reading the paper!!” It’s a wee bit crazy-making. 

So I’m trying to put a lid on that kind of screwy thinking and behavior. Hence the monthly acupuncture.  Well, to treat that and a few other things that need “balancing.”

According to The Mayo Clinic website, “Traditional Chinese medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force — known as qi or chi (CHEE) — believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance.”

Doesn’t that sound divine?

I know when I leave my appointments each month, I certainly feel divine. Relaxed, happy, and chill, like everything is right with the world, fairly floating on a cloud of “what, me worry?”

And that feeling usually lasts a good two, three hours.

I’m working my way up to feeling that post-acupuncture high round the clock.  That is the goal.

Baby steps, though, baby steps.

The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 16: The Thing About Brunch

Let us consider brunch. Brunch is lovely. Brunch is fun. Brunch is the reward for a week of working hard and being responsible. Brunch is the opportunity to drink champagne before noon. Or, if you live in North Carolina like I do, the opportunity to drink AT noon, because no alcohol is served here on Sundays until the magic hour of 12:00 p.m. 

Brunch is also the chance to go off your no dairy, no alcohol, no meat, no sugar, no fun and no flavor diet routine and go wild.  Now admittedly, the uber-disciplined among us won’t be using brunch as an excuse to stop eating healthy, even for one day, but I say to those people:  you are boring.  You are no fun. You are a brunch pooper.

The Sunday brunch routine starts on Saturday night with a text exchange like this:

My friend, C: “We still on for brunch tomorrow?”

K: “You bet. Where and what time?”

C: “That French place downtown would be ideal.”

K: “Hmmm, I think the French place is closed on Sundays.”

C: “That’s unfortunate.  How’s about we start at the CAM* then, then see where the day takes us.”

K: “The food’s decent at the CAM, but the mimosas are weak.  Why don’t I come up with 2 or 3 ideas before tomorrow and we’ll meet at noon at your house and pick one.”

C: “Perfect.”

Sunday at 9:00 a.m.: Sign on to the interwebz and Google up “best brunch Wilmington, NC.” Find out the French place is actually open, and come up with two other options downtown as well, in case there’s a terribly long wait at the French place.  

Make note of brunch specials, if any. Double check that alcohol will indeed be served at the crack of noon. Yes indeed. Glorious.

Let the day begin.

You arrive at your friend’s house at 11:30 a.m. on a gorgeous summer day, full of anticipation for the girl talk, downtown people-watching, and dedicated mimosa-imbibing on the day’s horizon.

Deciding to go Southern this day instead of French, you make your way to The Basics, and stand in line with 20 or so strangers, waiting for your turn to be seated so you can revel in the Southern Benedict. Or maybe this time you’ll get that veggie sandwich you love so much, the one with the grilled zucchini on ciabatta with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and some kind of delicious vinaigrette. And let’s not forget a refreshing pomegranate mimosa or three. 

Finally, it’s your turn to be sat.  You feel wildly happy, elated at the simple pleasure of a stimulating conversation with one of your best gal pals, good food and drink, and the prospect of a day of fun and adventure, where there’s nothing on the agenda beyond brunch except letting yourself go where the day takes you.

Dang, I love Sundays.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

*Cameron Art Museum

The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 15: Find Your Creative Cheerleaders

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great. ~Mark Twain

When you’re doing something no one in your immediate circle has done – no family, no friends, no colleagues – it’s important to find people who believe in your dream, and if you’re lucky, can help you along the way.

When I decided back in 2009 I wanted to find a way to never have to work for anyone else, ever again – and that the way I was going to get there was to “make something happen online” – no one in my immediate family, and not many of my friends, had much understanding of what a “blog” even was. And I couldn’t think of a single person I personally knew who had considered leaving the 9-5 world to start their own business.

Then I fell into the online rabbit hole, and found kindred spirits.  Lots of them. People who had already done what I wanted to do, and had achieved success at it.

These were people who were building an audience online, running a successful business based on their natural talents, skills, gifts and abilities, making a fantastic living, and enjoying the kind of freedom you’re simply not allowed when you work a 9-5.

Not that it’s all unicorns and rainbows, of course. But I’ll take the pros and cons that come from being in charge of my own destiny and doing my own thing, work-wise, over the pros and cons in the 9-5 world any, any day.

Even if you don’t know these “mentors” personally, simply being exposed to them and seeing what they’ve accomplished makes you feel like maybe, just maybe, you can do it too. They become your creative cheerleaders in absentia, through the act of demonstrating their success online.

Because if it’s possible for anyone, it’s possible for you. And for me.

So here’s a short list of my “cheerleaders” (in no particular order). People or companies I admire for their business skills, their accomplishments, and the lessons and strategies they’ve taught me through their products and programs, lessons that have in turn helped me achieve many of my own business dreams:

:: Ash Ambirge

:: Danielle LaPorte

:: Linda Sivertsen

:: American Writers & Artists Inc. (AWAI)

:: Beautiful Writers Group

:: Freelance Writers Den

:: Naomi Dunford

:: Marie Forleo

:: Selena Soo

:: Fizzle

:: Ben Settle

Without the knowledge these wise folks shared, without doing what they do online and making me feel like I could do it too, I’m not sure I would have had the audacity to believe I could make my dreams a reality and create a business I love.

Creative cheerleaders, so important.