The Effect of Abundance On Your Writing Life

The Effect of Abundance On Your Writing Life

In two days, Americans will celebrate a very different Thanksgiving. In some houses, there will be empty chairs and smaller portions. A few might mask up or sit outside, while in other homes the only sound will be the clink of a single set of silverware against an otherwise empty table.
Many of us have experienced losses in 2020 from loved ones and jobs to relationships, routines, and even our health.  

If you’ve lost someone or something in 2020, I wish you comfort and peace. 

I also hope you have something to be thankful for and that whatever that is, you enjoy it with abandon. 
When the pandemic began, I met with someone we’ll call Betty. I actually met with lots of Betty’s so this story doesn’t belong to just one person. 
When I asked Betty how she was doing, she looked at me sheepishly and said, “My life’s good right now. I can spend time with my kids and try new things. But I feel so guilty I can’t enjoy it.” 
I could relate. 
As someone who’s worked at home for years, the ‘rona barely dented my routine. With less to do, I found myself resting more and cooking new dishes while unemployment and COVID cases skyrocketed.

Who was I to be happy at a time of such suffering?  
Delaying joy and minimizing our blessings are common practices even in the best of times. 
Some of us were raised to watch for the other shoe that’s bound to drop. 
We freeze in the middle of good times waiting for them to end, or we hasten their demise by “dress rehearsing for tragedy,” what Brené Brown calls foreboding joy.  
With foreboding joy, we keep ourselves in a slightly sad, fearful, or grief-stricken state, believing this will make our eventual falls a little less painful. 
That’s not what happens. 
Minimizing joyful times and failing to be grateful squanders the padding we can accumulate around the hard times we all eventually face. When our starting point is mildly miserable, we plunge even lower and hurt even more because we have nothing to cushion our fall.

Stressors like COVID, economic uncertainties, and political disinformation continually nick at the little padding we have left. They can also amplify old messages around foreboding joy. 

But, mutually assured suffering doesn’t solve anything.  

Not convinced? 

Ask yourself the following question. 
If you were drowning, would you rather have someone hop in the water and drown next to you or pull you onto their raft? 
Personally, I’d like access to the raft. 
Practicing gratitude and living abundantly give you the cushion to not just pad your own falls, but to also assist others during their challenging times. Even when you’re not actively helping others, enjoying life gives those around you permission to do the same. 

Living abundantly also makes you more open and creative, something we need now more than ever. 
Even though I related to Betty’s dilemma, I didn’t cave to mutually assured suffering. I enjoyed every happy moment I experienced. When summer brought an unexpected death and a health crisis to my door, the padding I’d accumulated made it easier to weather those experiences. 
So how can you lean into your abundance instead of succumbing to guilt? 

  1. Write down or say out loud what you’re grateful for—not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every day. Some people say grace before every meal. I say one gratitude. 
  2. Pay attention to your thoughts. If you notice you’re “dress rehearsing for tragedy,” pause. then pay attention to your surroundings. Focus on a physical sensation like the feel of the air against your skin. Once you’re completely present, name one thing that’s going well. 
  3. If you have extra—be that time, talent, or treasure—give some away.  This could include donating to a cause, running errands for a neighbor, or sharing a skill with a family member or friend. 

This year, I have a lot to be grateful for. 
My health returned. I have an amazing job and an incredible writing community. During the hardest of times, my family has been supported. 
In the month of December, I am celebrating my blessings by doing weekly #GiveawayForGood challenges. 
Each week, I’ll share a new challenge.
Respond to the challenge and you’ll receive one (or more) tickets for my weekly drawings which will include prizes like $50 gift cards to New Dominion Bookshop, a box of author-signed books released in 2020 ($100 value), and a grand prize drawing of a one-hour coaching session with me that includes a 10-page manuscript review ($250 value). 
My goal is to see how much good we can do for our literary community and those who are currently struggling. 
Participating in my #GiveawayForGood challenges will help you live more abundantly. 

Some of you might end up with a few extra end-of-year gifts, courtesy of me. 
Look for challenge number one in next week’s newsletter
In the meantime be welll, and wherever you are, may you always find ways to be thankful.

The Big O Versus The Broken Record: Eight Tips for Handling Negative Comparison

The Big O Versus The Broken Record: Eight Tips for Handling Negative Comparison

In 2000, one of my short stories was a finalist in a writing competition that included entries from five universities in the Louisville metro area. 
Two hundred people attended the ceremony. Sweat ringed my underarms as the emcee rambled on about honor this and the hard work that. 

My butt cheeks hovered just above my seat, waiting, just waiting, for her to say my name
The emcee sliced open an envelope, Emmy Award style.
 And then . . . 
A guy named Justin won. 

Deflated, I slumped back in my chair and listened to the winning story, which was quirky, funny, and way better than mine. 
While I couldn’t yet articulate why Justin’s story worked, I knew he deserved the award. 
At the end of the ceremony, I congratulated him. We soon became friends. In future writing classes, I paid attention to his comments and studied his stories, hoping to channel some of his talent into my work. 
Flash forward to last week. 
I’m scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Slack, trying to catch up with friends. In the course of thirty minutes, I learn that one friend had signed with a new agent. Another got a book deal. A third person published in the New York Times yet again. 
I was overjoyed.
I genuinely like to see other people succeed.

And yet, there’s this human part of me that gets really small when I’m working in the trenches while others are basking in the publishing glory I’m working toward. 
As I shared my heartfelt congratulations, a small, nasty voice whispered in my ear. “Where’s your good news, Lisa?” 

That rat bastard Comparison was squatting in my head. 

There are actually two forms of comparison. 
The first, I call The Big O after the iconic When Harry Met Sally scene where Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm in the middle of a New York Deli. At the end of Meg’s big O performance, a customer says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”  
After hearing Justin’s story, I wanted what he had, and I humbly worked for it. 
Big O moments of comparison are essential to our growth. 
They motivate us to work toward our goals.  
But the second form of comparison is a creativity killer I call The Broken Record. 
We get stuck in Broken Record comparisons when another person’s success triggers feelings of inadequacy inside us.  When this happens, we cycle through old messages we’ve received from caregivers, teachers, and others about not being good enough.
The Broken Record isn’t new. 
People have always turned green with envy when someone else succeeds.  
Over the past fifteen years, we’ve spent more and more time on social media interacting with the highlights of our virtual friends. 
It’s easy to distort reality when looking at a carefully curated life that seems exciting, easy, and victorious. We can feel a deep sense of separation and wonder why we can’t get our shit together and do EVERYTHING like the bright, happy, successful people we see online. 
2020 has pushed us deeper into this virtual world, upping those comparisons to eleven. 
All it takes is one Broken Record to rip your self-worth and creativity to shreds. 
While it might be impossible to completely avoid Comparison’s ugly chatter, there are things you can do about it.

  1. Set clear goals and milestones. When Comparison speaks, see if you’re holding yourself accountable to your goals. If you’re meeting milestones, great. If not, consider what support you need to get back on track.
  2. Limit your time on social media. The more time you spend scrolling, the more your virtual friends’ highlights can affect you. Instead of scrolling aimlessly, set time limits. If you really want to connect, schedule a Zoom date, socially distanced walk, have a text session, or call someone. 
  3. Scroll with a plan. If you’re using social media to build your author’s platform, engage authentically with other writers. Lift up authors you love by applauding their work or commenting on something they’ve posted. Share a skill you’ve developed or a resource that’s been invaluable. Ask a burning question. 
  4. Pay attention to how you’re feeling when you’re bombarded with too much good news. Half the battle with Comparison is noticing when it’s happening. Write down the messages rattling around in your head. Pay attention to where you feel Comparison in your body. For me, my shoulder blades squeeze together. The better you are at recognizing Comparison, the easier it is to address it. 
  5. Envision your success. Before every writing session, close your eyes and imagine one successful moment—an email acceptance of your work, holding your book, or giving a reading. Imagine this moment using all of your senses. Every time The Broken Record plays its sad song, pause, then say, “Hello, Comparison.” Immediately do your envisioning exercise. 
  6. Art has its own timeline. Put your hand over your heart and say to yourself, “I am on time, and my projects are on time.”  If you’re showing up, you’re on time. This is the only truth you need to lean into. 
  7. Turn your Broken Record into a Big O. Whenever another person’s success takes a bite out of your ego, feel your feels then humbly ask yourself whether this person has something you’d like to order. Get curious about the skills they’ve developed, strategies they’ve used to promote themselves, or the story they’re trying to tell. Recognize that while you might be seeing their highlights, they’ve also struggled. 

Last week, I listened to a Brené Brown’s interview with Sonya Renee Taylor, author of The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love. Her message of radical self-love was the perfect antidote to the Comparison I was feeling. 

Here are a couple of her quotes: 
“When our personal value is dependent on the lesser value of other bodies, radical self-love is unachievable.” 

We currently live in a society that’s set up like a ladder. Our number one goal is to sit on the top rung.  On the ladder, someone’s always above us while someone else is on a lower rung. 
Comparison is the ladder. 
But that’s an illusion. In reality, walking on the same track. 
“When we liberate ourselves from the expectation that we must have all things figured out, we enter a sanctuary of empathy.” 
Hop off the ladder and recognize that together we can all achieve our goals. 
There’s one final way to handle Comparison, and that’s the big G—gratitude.

Last week, after I practiced some radical self-love, I thought about all the fantastic news I’d received. 
There was a time in my life when I would’ve given anything to know just one successful writer who landed an agent, earned a book deal, or published in the New York Times. 
Now, these people are my friends. 
If there was a waitress in front of me, I’d say, “I’ll have what they’re having.” 
How fortunate, that these generous, amazing people are showing me what’s possible. 
So, where do you feel Comparison in your body? 
Have you considered what you’d like to see on the menu? 
Who do you know who has it? 
How can you emulate it? 
How can you offer the very best of yourself to the world? 

Send me your answer, then keep writing. Your stories matter.

You never know which one will pave the way for someone else. 

Three ways busyness and productivity derail our writing lives.

Three ways busyness and productivity derail our writing lives.

Last Tuesday, I made a pact with myself. No social media, election news, or election talk for twenty-four hours. I was taking a much-needed vacation and wanted one more day of serenity before returning to the world.
Holy Schnikes was that difficult!
My only solution to the election chatter swirling through my head was to stay active. Meditate. Go for walks. Listen to podcasts. Count ocean waves. Read. Write. Cook. Eat too many cookies.

I kept my pact until 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning. 
The exercise gave me an opportunity to connect with my personal kryptonite: being productive.
As a kid, staying busy made me feel safe. With a packed schedule, I didn’t have time to grieve my parents’ divorce, worry about the bully next door, or wonder if anyone liked me. A constant stream of activity—school, projects, play—smothered my anxiety and masked my depression. 
And, I was handsomely rewarded for my efforts. 
At school, I received gold stars, A-pluses, and compliments. At work, people said things like, “She’s such a great multitasker,” and “Look at all she’s accomplished.” 
Swamped and overbooked, my ego beamed with what felt like my inner goodness.  
Over time, busyness became a drug I mainlined to keep from feeling anything uncomfortable. 
Staying occupied during times of uncertainty is a healthy way to manage stress and anxiety
Problems occur when we overschedule and overinvest in productivity as a way to avoid painful feelings. Addicted to gold stars and compliments, we begin to value ourselves as human doings rather than human beings This can lead us to minimize life-enhancing activities like writing. 
If becoming a human doing is your go-to when the world amps up its chatter, don’t beat yourself up. 
According to Celeste Headlee, author of Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving, we’ve been indoctrinated to believe productivity makes us good. 
“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” 
“If you want something done, ask a busy person.” 
“Just do it.” 
As writers, an overreliance on productivity can create three creativity-derailing traps. 
The “Being Needed” Trap
We only feel valuable when we’re busy, and preferably doing things for others. 
Writers who fall into this trap trade writing time for work projects or caring for others, believing these activities are more valuable than our heart’s desires.
These choices are largely unconscious. Writers just know they can’t find time for their writing lives and nothing creative seems to get done. 
We get stuck in this pattern when we don’t feel good about ourselves. Busyness becomes a way to not just keep negative feelings at bay, but to justify our very existence. 
Here’s the truth. 
You don’t need to do anything to be good enough. 
You’re already amazing just as you are.
Failing to set healthy boundaries or practice self-care teaches others they don’t deserve to do these things. This can perpetuate feelings of low self-worth in everyone. 
 Here’s the solution: Do less all the time, and sometimes do nothing at all. 

  1. Take a few moments to complete my bandwidth check. 
  2. Once you understand your bandwidth, write your to-do list. Include everything from eating breakfast, sleeping, and work to watching Netflix, and helping kids with homework. Rate every item as “need to do” or “nice to do.” Make sure meals, exercise, rest, and writing are on your “need to do” listSchedule all of your “need to do” items on your calendar. Add in a few “nice to dos” if you have extra time. At least once per week, eliminate one “need to do” item from your calendar.
  3. Spend fifteen minutes per day doing an unproductive activity like staring at a wall or watching the clouds go by. Once you’ve done this for several days, notice how you feel. 

On Election Day, I listened to Brené Brown’s interview Glennon Doyle about her new book Untamed. Glennon had this to say about setting boundaries: Good boundaries are a drawbridge to self-respect.” 
Create your drawbridge, <<First Name>>, by understanding your bandwidth and then taking care of yourself. 

The Closed Heart Trap
To write well, you have to channel your characters’ thoughts and feelings. To do this, you need full access to your own thoughts and feelings. 
Busyness is an effective anxiety buster because it keeps you from feeling too much.
While this isn’t always a bad thing, it creates distance between you and your emotions. 
Writers stuck in this trap might show up to their writing desks, but they can’t connect with their characters. The writing loses its passion. Projects get shelved. 
Here’s the solution: Slow the eff down and feel your feels.

  1. When you wake up, delay checking your phone for at least fifteen minutes. Spend that time doing a mini bandwidth check and consider your self-care needs. 
  2. Schedule time for gratitude.
  3. Allow yourself a certain amount of time each day to feel something uncomfortable. 
  4. Develop a mindfulness practice

 In the same podcast, Glennon Doyle said, All feelings are for feeling. Feeling is hard, but what’s worse is missing it all.”
Life is precious. Don’t miss a thing—including your writing life. 

The Productivity Versus Process Trap 
I see this happen all the time. A writer finally makes time to writeTheir mind laser focuses on getting IT done. IT might be a poem, short story, essay, or book-length manuscript. But not only must IT get done, the most kickass version of IT must get published. 
These writers only see themselves as “official” writers when they’re making lightning-fast progress. Feedback becomes not just a hassle, but a sign of failure. The goal is to get IT done and then get THE NEXT IT done, because real writers are prolific, well paid, and published. 
When you value productivity over the process, here’s what happens:

  • Perfectionism, that asshole part of your inner critic, shouts in your ear. 
  • You feel every tick of the clock because unless you’re zipping through this project, you’re wasting your time. 
  • All that pressure jams up your ideas and closes down your heart. Hello, writer’s block. 

There’s nothing wrong with trying to finish a project or wanting to do it well. But art has its own timetable. Completing a successful project might take months, years, or even decades. 
Do you want to spend all that time rushing around or feeling miserable?  
A constant focus on productivity will kill your creativity. You’re more likely to scrap worthwhile projects, see yourself as a failure, or force subpar work into the world just to satisfy your ego. 
Ironically, all that pressure can make your projects taken even longer. 
Here’s your solution: Find joy in the process

  1. Set up a writing date with a group of fellow writers. After some writing time, share what you’ve created. If you want to offer feedback, just say what’s going well. 
  2. Create a gratitude journal just for your writing process. In your gratitude journal, record your creative wins and how you feel after completing a writing session. 
  3. Write pieces that are just for fun then let them go. 

Here’s a final bit of advice from Glennon’s interview. “There is no such thing as one-way liberation. When we liberate ourselves, we give others permission to liberate themselves.”
We might have been conditioned to believe that busyness is synonymous with goodness, or that boundaries make us selfish, but we don’t have to remain caged. 
Liberate yourself from the traps of busyness, so that you can show others the way out. 

Have you checked your bandwidth lately?

Have you checked your bandwidth lately?

Holy smokes, Election Day has arrived! 
For the past eleven months, we’ve been told this is the most important election of our lifetimes. For many of us, the outcome feels crucial. It arrives after almost six years of campaigns, town halls, debates, and endless pontification.  
I voted at 8:47 a.m. on Thursday, October 1, 2020, after a thirty-minute wait in line. Two weeks ago, I helped my father confirm that his mail-in ballot was received by his polling location.
If you haven’t voted, step away from your computer and get thee to your polling place! 
If you mailed in your ballot, confirm that it was received.  
Once your civic duty is complete, do a little happy dance.
Next, journal about your experience.
Include the taste of the air, the feel of angst on your skin, and anything else that strikes you as important. Even if the election is uneventful, your entry might serve as a future project. 
Then do me a favor.

Step away from the news, at least for a few hours. 
I’m spending election day in quiet contemplation, far, far, far away from social media. 
I’ll read a good book, do a little writing, and praypraypray for the good of our country. 
The ramp up to the election has been filled with dire predictions about who will win and what will happen to our democracy. This chatter is on top of news about spiking COVID cases, Supreme Court confirmations, the death of more unarmed black men, downturns in the stockmarket, hurricanes and wildfires, and the list goes on. 
It’s likely the news cycle will crank that distracting noise up to eleven in the coming days and months. 
To help you stay centered, I’m going to talk about practical ways you can silence the chatter that plagues writers most. 
Before we begin, let’s do a quick bandwidth check. 
Imagine you’re a radio station emitting a very specific signal. Right now, some of your signals might be so strong I’d hear them a few miles off. Others might be so weak they barely leave your neighborhood. 
To check your bandwidth, ask yourself the following questions:
1. What are my current responsibilities? Which ones are new to 2020? 
2. What community-wide problems are affecting me?
3. What personal obstacles or challenges am I facing?
4. How emotionally intense or draining are my days?
5. How does my current situation impact my commitment to my writing life?
6. Where am I getting support?
7. Does that support feel like it’s enough?

Once you have your answers, pause and take a few deep breaths.  
While we all have a 2020 story to tell, right now, yours is the one that matters. 
Get clear about what this year has been like for you, then give yourself a big hug.
Now, get out a piece of paper and draw your radio station. 
Mine looks like a simple rectangle topped with a long skinny triangle for the antennae. 
Next, draw a circle around your antennae that matches the size of your bandwidth. 

If the circle is small, you need more self-care. 
If your circle is in the Goldilocks range where you have enough to take care of yourself but not enough to spare, take a few minutes to be grateful. That alone is a huge 2020 win. 
If your circle is wide, spread the love by finding opportunities to be of service. 
I have no idea what the days and weeks ahead will bring, but I feel confident we will get through this. 
But for now, as we weather this momentous transition, take excellent care of yourself and everyone you know.

Be a source of love and light in this world.

Have faith that good things are just around the corner. 
Keep writing, and know that I’m cheering you on. 

How Invoking Your Muse Can Help You Beat Resistance

How Invoking Your Muse Can Help You Beat Resistance

During the 2020 James River Writers Conference, I had the pleasure of serving on a panel with acclaimed writer Victoria Christopher Murray. Victoria is the Essence bestselling author of over twenty novels. She makes her living as a full-time writer, and after listening to her speak, it’s clear she’s a pro

When asked for some parting advice at the tail-end of our session, she said, “Even after writing close to thirty books, I’m still afraid every time I start a new project. Fear is always the starting point. My job is to find a way to move beyond it.” 

The day after the conference, I reconnected with my manuscript. Like Victoria, I too wrestle with fear—fear that I can’t do it, fear that it will never get done, fear that it won’t be good enough. I could go on. This happens every time I start a new draft. 

So how do you move beyond the fear Resistance elicits? 

Steven Pressfield says our first job is to invoke the Muse. It doesn’t matter what you identify as your muse, be it highest self, angels, the unconscious, Greek goddesses, or even your cat. The point is to recognize that our best work comes from a higher plane that is available to all of us. 

In The War of Art, Pressfield invokes the Muse with a snippet of the Odyssey he reads out loud before every writing session. If you buy his book, you can find the passage on page 119. I’ve decided to invoke my Muse by reciting the artist’s prayer I wrote during a three-month Artist’s Way group I attended earlier this year. This personal prayer acknowledges what Julia Cameron, Steven Pressfield, Elizabeth Gilbert, and so many others also believe. 

Our creative gifts were bestowed upon us for a reason. 

Our job is simply to show up and answer the call.  

Once you invoke your muse, get out of your own way. Stop worrying about whether your writing is good enough. Instead, write because it makes you feel more alive, and maybe even makes you a better person. Pay attention to the messages that arrive when you’re not writing—the new idea during dinner, the insightful revision you come up with while walking, the solution to your plot problem that arrives in a dream. Carry a notebook with you to record them as they happen. 

Pressfield says, “This process of self-revision and self-correction is so common we don’t even notice. But it’s a miracle.” It’s evidence that your Muse is talking to you. 

As you make friends with your Muse, forgo hierarchical thinking, which tries to see where you fit within a pecking order. Pressfield says hierarchy is the realm of Ego, that small self that believes in limitation and comparison. Out in the world, the Ego competes, people pleases, and seeks instant gratification.

 Instead, operate from your Highest Self—the part of you that includes the Ego as well as the collective unconscious. 

The Ego believes we’re separated. 

The Self knows we’re all in this together. 

From the place of Self, you can wrestle with the greatest fear we all have: the fear that we’ll actually succeed

As you work to succeed, stake out a territory in your writing life. 

Pressfield says territory is both an external place where the work gets done and a psychological space where we sustain ourselves without any external input. It’s a place where we claim and then do the work. 

 For me, territory is both the desk where I work and the intention I create for every project. In drafts one through three of the memoir about my brother’s death and the subsequent heavy-metal tour I traveled with, my intention was to forgive first myself and then my former husband. As I near the finish line, my intention is to provide solace to the countless survivors of suicide loss out there, and perhaps further the conversation around why people die by suicide and how we can have more compassion for them. I also hope to take you on one hell of an adventure.  

Pressfield’s final bit of advice is a reminder: we are in charge of the labor, but not its fruits. “We must do the work for its own sake, not for fortune, attention, or applause.”  

This advice reminds me of a Zen proverb: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

For the writer, chopping wood is writing. Carrying water is revision. We do this for each and every project. 

For me, that means working to create the best damn book I can. I’ll rewrite anything that isn’t clear, beautify sentences, and muster as much compassion as I can for all of my characters. I’ll comfort the survivor of suicide loss who still misses her brother, and remind her why this story is important. Telling her story well is what I can offer the reader. It’s why I roll up my sleeves every single day. 

What will come of this? 

I will write this book. I will work to get this into the world. 

And regardless of the outcome, I will write another. 

How do you invoke your muse, <<First Name>>? 

What does your creative territory look like? 

Send me your strategies and I’ll share them in an upcoming newsletter. 

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