One Simple Way to Inspire the Next Generation of Writers

One Simple Way to Inspire the Next Generation of Writers

I was walking into the living room when my husband said, “Holy shit, Ruth Bader Ginsberg is dead.” 
 
The news hit me so hard I fell into a nearby wall. 
 
The notorious RBG was the

  • champion of equality who flipped the system on its head, 
  • the tiny and mighty example that glass ceilings are meant to be shattered,
  • a Supreme Court titan who answered her calling until the very end of her life. 

She inspired me to tame my imposter syndrome and live up to my ideals.
 
Part of me believed Justice Ginsberg would live forever. 
 
Sadly, she didn’t.
 
And now our country will reckon with the questions arising from her absence. 
 
On Sunday as I reflected on Justice Ginsburg’s role in my life, I watched a video interview with six high school students I met through a local spiritual center. The teens sat on an outdoor labyrinth and talked honestly about their lives during COVID-19. 
 
Amidst the fidgeting and nervous laughter were honest reflections on their fears of not being taken seriously, the struggle to set boundaries when not everyone holds the same beliefs, and the difficulty of spending so much time alone. 
 
 One young woman said, “Now that all my activities have come to a screeching halt, I don’t know who I am. Every dark feeling I’ve ever had screams in my ears.” She went on to talk about how silence amplifies our unworthiness. 
 
Determined not to live small lives, these teens used creativity and meditation to quiet their inner chatter. 
 
They were so wise, and yet they also clearly expressed how badly they needed all of us. 
 
While they said time and attention are great, what they really need is for us to show them what’s possible by living up to our potential.  
 
Right now, someone younger or newer to your field is struggling with their inner imposter. You have the power to help them see beyond their perceived limitations. 
 
This doesn’t require you to become the next RBG. 

Sometimes, what you do at your lowest point is what counts. 
 
In February of 2014, I quit my job as a mental health counselor for two equally important reasons. After a two-year struggle with Lyme disease, I was too sick to work. While making this decision, I realized that fifteen years of ignoring my writing dreams hadn’t given me the life I wanted. It was time to answer the call.  

For the next few weeks, I walked a trail near my townhouse and wondered what the hell I was doing. 
 
At the end of one of those walks, I met a new neighbor. After a few pleasantries, he asked the question I dreaded most. “What do you do?”

“I’m a writer,” I replied, forcing a smile.

 “Oh, how fascinating,” he said. “What books have you published?”
 
“Well none,” I said. “But I’m currently writing one.”
 
“Good luck with that.”  He smiled skeptically in my direction then walked away. 
 
I shuffled home as my inner imposter laughed at me. “Hey loser, did you see that smile?” 
 
I nodded, wiped away a tear, and thought about quitting.
 
The next day, I wrote the first chapter of a book. 

Every day after that I wrote again. 
 
Two years later, my former clinical supervisor asked me to tea. During our visit, she told me that watching me following my dreams had inspired her to take a one-year leave from her job. She planned to attend an intensive meditation retreat she called her personal Eat, Pray, Love adventure. 
 
A little while after that, a friend told me she was writing a book. 
 
Someone else started a business after watching mine grow. 
 
Seeds were planted that I could never have imagined in 2014.
 
This isn’t some magic, good-luck story. This is what happens when you show others that our dreams are important and possible. 
 
You see, life isn’t all about you. 
 
In pursuing your dreams, you give others permission to do the same. 
 
During the month of October, consider this experiment
 
Every time you encounter an opportunity to pursue your dreams, instead of asking “Why on earth should it be me,” ask “Why shouldn’t it be me?” Then act accordingly. 

When collecting data, don’t just pay attention to how you feel. Notice what others do because you’ve answered this call. 

At the end of the month, send me your findings. 

Or better yet, Tweet me your response with the hashtag #experimentsingreatness.

The F Word Every Writer Fears Most

The F Word Every Writer Fears Most

In my late twenties, I spent two years trying to turn my dream of earning an MFA in poetry into a reality. I attended graduate-level writing courses, workshopped my portfolio, and wrote teaching manifestos.
 
In March of 2000, I received an acceptance letter that included a free ride and the chance to teach college writing classes. The Dream had arrived. 
 
Looking at that letter, I believed hell yes was the only acceptable response. 
 
But as soon as I said yes, a still, small voice inside me screamed, “No!” The next seven nights were sleepless. Fearing I would puke, I skipped almost every meal. Every part of my body said, “Don’t do it.”
 
But how could I say no to The Dream? 
 
Certain this was just my imposter acting up, I drafted a resignation letter for my job and planned my cross country move. Three days later, I fielded calls from the program director about possible funding opportunities. I should’ve been so happy. 
 
But that little voice wouldn’t shut up. 
 
A week after my acceptance, I called to say I’d made a mistake. 
 
The director accused me of stealing another writer’s dream. His finishing move was a brief pause followed by “We thought you had so much promise.” (What I heard: I’m so disappointed in you.)

Holy guilt-storm, Batman! I was beyond crushed. 
 
Someone had expressed what I’d always secretly known: I was a failure with absolutely no promise. 
 
Certain I’d blown my one and only chance at The Dream, I stopped writing for almost two years.

When my stories refused to give up on me, I dusted off my ego and wrote a novel. Three drafts in, that project fizzled out. 
 
Hello, failure number two. 
 
Failure is the F word many of us fear most. Seeing mistakes as our worst nightmare, we trade perfection on the small stage for potential greatness. When meager attempts fail, we call ourselves bad eggs and smash our fragile egos into the wall. 

We equate mistakes with sins, and friends, we all know where sinners are headed.
 
Did you know the original definition of sin is to miss the mark? 
 
When we make a mistake, we are simply missing the mark.

And, in a writing life, every miss is an invaluable gift. 

Every draft that doesn’t work is an opportunity to get clearer about your story.

Every critique that hurts in an opportunity to make friends with your ego.

Every rejection is an opportunity to find the right home for your work.
 
For a long time, I was blind to these opportunities. Instead, I lived from the hell of my perceived shortcomings. 
 
A few years ago, I decided to see my life, and especially my writing life, in a new way. Instead of seeing outcomes as good or bad, I view everything as a grand experiment.
 
Writing a draft, querying an agent, and proposing a session for a conference, are all just experiments. The outcomes are simply data that tell me whether or not I missed the mark.

Some of those misses are the reason I’ve made it this far. 
 
That stalled manuscript taught me everything I needed to know about writing a book
 
That graduate school fail taught me to trust my gut because it knows that sometimes the imposter is not the one who’s trying to slow you down. Sometimes an opportunity isn’t a great fit, even if it feels like a dream come true.

Saying no isn’t the end of the world. There are always more opportunities down the road.  
 
Am I able to do this perfectly?

Hell no.

When I recognize I’ve reverted to the old way, I feel my feels and remember that seeing everything as an experiment is an experiment too. 
 
What would your life be like if you viewed everything as one grand experiment? 

What risks would you take? 
 
When would you allow yourself to say no? 
 
What would happen to your inner imposter? 
 
Send me an email. I’d love to know how your experiments are going. 
 
Or better yet, Tweet me your response with the hashtag #lessonsonfailure.

How the Imposter Syndrome Works to Keep You Small

How the Imposter Syndrome Works to Keep You Small

At 37 inches and 37 pounds, I was the second smallest kid in my first-grade class. The smallest was a kid we called Peanut—a boy so tiny, he’d drown in the shallow end of the pool. Everyone loved to ruffle Peanut’s hair. I loved his “old man” style, complete with plaid bell-bottoms, butterfly-colored shirts, and hair slicked down with Vitalis. 
 
Peanut was a sweet, old soul who appeared to like being small.
 
For a long time, I did too. 
 
Growing up in a rust-belt town where bad luck seemed like all we had, a small life with guarantees felt like my best option.
 
In early adulthood, I chose careers with certainty and sought out pensions that would carry me through retirement. It worked for a while, but in my family living small wasn’t just about paychecks. We stayed small because we feared someone would discover our flaws, or worse we’d try something hard then fail. 
 
Even when small felt safe, it had consequences. 
 
Watching people live the life I wanted left a bitter taste in my mouth. 
 
After a while, I believed I was weak, and felt trapped by my imposed limitations. 
 
Eventually, my body got on board. By thirty-five, I had developed three autoimmune diseases that zapped my energy. Then I contracted Lyme disease and that showed me how frail I had become. 
 
At the height of my Lyme days, I was underweight and jaundiced. My cold hands purpled with poor circulation. Every muscle and bone ached. I feared death was next.  

One day, I stared into a mirror and said, “If I’m dying, what have I got to lose?” 
 
I asked my husband to take a picture of me so I could remember this moment. 
 
Then I committed to living the life I really wanted.
 
While I thought Lyme might kill me, I was certain stretching myself would. 
 
Every time I tried something new, my mind said, “Stop! You can’t do this. Remember, you’re that poor kid with a subpar education and shitty grammar. And you’re sickly to boot. It’s only a matter of time before they find out what a loser you really are.” 
 
My heart raced. 

My stomach flip-flopped. 

My hands shook.

My body begged for me to stop.
 
When it felt like too much, I gave myself a hug and said, “Yeah, I know how hard this is.” Then I kept going.  
 
A few years later, my Lyme went into remission. As I had more energy, I took more chances. 
 
Instead of killing me, each effort made me stronger. 
 
And happier. 
 
Along the way, I learned the imposter syndrome is common among high-functioning, talented people who come from marginalized backgrounds. It’s also common in people who grew up in places where staying small was modeled. 
 
Not sure if that’s your story? 
 
Has anyone ever said:

  • “Who do you think you are?”
  • “Look who’s getting too big for their britches?”
  • “I guess you’re highfalutin now.”

 Growing up, variations on those phrases were slung at me any time I took risks. It was done not out of malice, but love. My parents and grandparents had always struggled, and they hoped that lowering my expectations would protect me from the disappointments life would surely bring. 

Now, I’m in the process of authoring something different. 
 
I hope you are too. 
 
If your imposter syndrome is keeping you small, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Where do those messages come from?
  • In what situations do you feel it the most?
  • How do you feel when you listen to that limiting voice?
  • What does it tell you?
  • What does it cost you?
  • What kind of life–and especially writing life–do you really want?

As Julia Cameron says, your dreams come from a divine place. Following them is an expression of the divine with you. 

Next week, I’m going to talk about the F word behind all of this small living.  
 
In the meantime, dream a little bigger and know that I’m cheering you on.

Is the Imposter Syndrome Stifling Your Creativity?

Is the Imposter Syndrome Stifling Your Creativity?

Last Monday I granny-shuffled down my street wearing an awkward abdominal surgery binder over my dress (think WWE championship belt made of bright white elastic and Velcro). I was four days post-gallbladder surgery. On this ninety-five-degree day, it felt like someone had been playing catch with my liver. Sweat trickled down my back as my husband walked beside me on what I’d hoped would be a quick private stroll. 
 
Neighbors were hosting a socially distanced gathering on their porch. As I inched toward my turnaround point, their laughter faded to a few murmurs. 
 
I couldn’t tell if they were whispering about my crazy belt or silently cheering me on. 

I just knew this walk was an essential part of my recovery. I had to do it even if walking felt like a brand-new skill
 
Sometimes writing feels like that. A story begs to be written, so we sit down at our desks only to stumble around our ideas as if English was a foreign language. We try and fail and try and fail again.
 
If we’re brave enough to send our work to critique groups or submit it for publication, we do it in front of an audience and hope no one sees how much we struggled to craft something meaningful.
 
Even thinking about an audience can bring about the imposter syndrome, that dreadful feeling that we’re a fraud, and any day someone is going to find out. One of shame’s cousins, the imposter syndrome tells us we’re not good enough to even try. If we do, our efforts are likely to fail. So why bother?
 
The imposter syndrome keeps us small and our stories largely unwritten. 
 
And, it’s oh so common.
 
So, what can we do about it? 

That’s this month’s newsletter topic. 
 
And it’s right on time. 
 
While every day might feel like the same, fall is only three weeks away. Another year will soon arrive. What do you want to accomplish before January 2021?
 
Let’s Carpe motherfucking Diem. 
 
Even if you have an audience. 
 
Even if you’re wearing some version of a blinding white WWE championship belt.
 
Even if the road forward seems impossible to walk.

The Power of Letting Go in Your Writing Life

The Power of Letting Go in Your Writing Life

This week, I’m letting go of two things: my manuscript and my gallbladder. 
 
On Wednesday, I’ll send my manuscript to three beta readers who happen to be uber-talented women with published books and successful literary careers. Part of me thinks, how effing lucky. I imagine the vast praise they’ll lavish on me after reading what can only be called the book of the century. 
 
The other part thinks, holy shit, they’re probably going to say my manuscript sucks. While I know that feedback is essential, handing over this file feels a little like waking from a dream only to realize you really are dancing naked in your high school gym, and let’s just say you could use a few new dance moves. 

On Thursday, I get to be one of the 750,000 people this year who’ll lose their gallbladders. There’s a 97% chance this will be a simple surgery with a short recovery, but I won’t find out about that 3% until I wake up. (FYI: I’m holding space that the 97% is actually 100%, and I hope you will too). 
 
In both cases, I’m not just letting go of an item, I’m letting go of control over the outcome. Deep down, I know I can’t make my beta readers say, “Oh yes, you should DEFINITELY send this out immediately,” any more than I can make my doctor wake me up mid-surgery to discuss his game plan. 
 
All I can do is trust that showing up is enough. 
 
I’ve spent countless hours hacking away a grand total of 13,640 words from my manuscript and digging so deep into my story that its ache has become my friend. I’ve read the book out loud (yes, the whole book), and polished my sentences. I’ve run the essential final spell-check. 
 
For my surgery prep, I’ve traded social media scrolls for time in prayer and meditation. Every day, I envision a simple surgery and an easy and speedy recovery. I’ve even followed my surgeon’s pre-op recommendations, which included a 14-day quarantine where I quit all supplements and caffeine. (You can send condolences to my husband.) 
 
This week, I have to trust that my efforts are enough. 
 
The outcomes are out of my hands. 
 
And, isn’t that how it always is? 
 
So, what are you letting go of this week? 
 
What will you do to remind yourself that your efforts are enough?

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