Are you still playing in the amateur league?

Are you still playing in the amateur league?

I remember the exact moment when I decided to go pro. It was January 5, 2013. I’d spent the last five months battling Lyme disease, which meant nightly fevers and flu-like symptoms that were accompanied by chills that purpled my skin. Every morning when I woke up, I wondered how I’d go on. 

When this hopeless funk showed no sign of letting up, I googled mindfulness and writing, and quickly discovered UVA was offering a mindful writing course. Without hesitation, I signed up. Then I told my husband to make me attend these sessions no matter how I felt.

The mindful writing class met on Mondays from 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM. I worked from 7:30 AM to 4:00 PM every weekday. A night class felt like a stretch, and yet my soul knew writing was essential to my recovery. 

So, every Monday at 6:30 PM, my husband kicked me out of the door. The class revolutionized my writing career and I’ve been writing consistently ever since.  

In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield says, “Resistance hates it when we turn pro, because pros beat Resistance at its own game.”

In part two of his book, he shares the differences between amateurs and pros. 

Amateurs play from the sidelines and are often sidelined by disappointments and problems. Terrified of failure and driven by the whims of ego, they are Resistance’s favorite afternoon snack. 

Professionals understand the difference between what is urgent and important. They do what’s important first, and that means making time to write. 

“This edict doesn’t mean that our work is necessarily crucial to the survival of the planet,” but it acknowledges that this work might be important to the development of the soul. Attend to these soul callings and we bring our best to all situations. Ignore them, and we get crunchy and irritable.  

To become a pro, you have to develop what George Saunders calls a blue-collar work ethic about writing. He likens the job of writer to the job of a truck driver. In an interview I saw several years ago he asked, “Would a truck driver show up to work only on the days when feels inspired? No, he shows up because otherwise, he’ll get canned.” 

Pressfield agrees with Saunders and says, “The muse appreciates working stiffs.” Here’s a list of what he says we do for our jobs. 

  • We show up every day.
  • We show up no matter what.
  • We stay on the job all day.
  • We are committed over the long haul.
  • The stakes for us are real and high. For a job, this might mean survival, like feeding the family, but in the realm of creativity, it’s about offering the world your gifts. And, as Marie Forleo is fond of saying, “When you fail to share your gifts, you’re stealing from the world.”
  • We do not over-identify with our jobs. We understand that this is just one part of who we are and that while we may see a job as our avocation, we understand that failure is an important part of this process. To fail at an attempt does not make you a failure.
  • We master the technique of our jobs.
  • We have a sense of humor about our jobs.
  • We receive praise and blame in the real world. 

 
Before 2013, I played in the amateur league. I hadn’t yet developed those blue-collar writing values, or the patience Pressfield says is essential. Professionals must “not only give the stars time to align his career but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work.”

Between the day I turned 8 (1982) and that moment in 2013, I had written intensely for months or a few years at a time, only to exhaust myself or get discouraged by setbacks or lackluster feedback on my attempts. 

Since 2013, my writing life has been as steady as a river. Writing dates appear in my calendar. I show up no matter what. I work my tail off to perfect my craft. I approached my writing life like a pro. 

But here’s the day when I actually turned pro.

Between 2014 and 2017, I worked on my first memoir. That effort included writing dates, taking classes, attending conferences, readreadreading memoirs, craft books, and novels. I even hired an editor and writing coach. Between mid December of 2017 and early February 2018, I sent my book to ten agents, absolutely certain that I had written a kickass book. 

Five agents asked for more pages. Two read the full manuscript. Just to get that far is a victory and a fantastic sign.

Here’s what happened. 

Agent One: “You’re a fabulous writer, and I love your style, but this isn’t going to sell.” OUCH!

The agent’s news was filled with gentleness and respect for me and my work. Still, I gave the above line a one-finger salute and then clung to what I was certain would be the Y.E.S. I had been working toward.

Agent Two’s feedback arrived on the day before my 44th birthday. I was in Hawaii, celebrating both my birthday and my tenth wedding anniversary. It was around seven in the morning, Hawaii time. We were eating breakfast after watching the sunrise at 13,000 feet on top of Haleakala volcano. I was exhausted and still jetlagged. Why I chose that moment to check my email is beyond me. When I saw Agent Two’s name in my inbox, I couldn’t unsee it. 

Part of me said, “Wait until you’re home.”  But how could I not celebrate my Y.E.S. in paradise? 

Here’s what Agent Two said. “There are so many great things in this manuscript, but something’s still missing. I’m happy to read a complete revision of the manuscript if you figure the problem out.” 

Boom. There it was. A big fat no. 

It often takes between 60 – 100 agent queries to actually get a yes, and I’d only queried 10. Conventional wisdom would dictate that I just keep trying. 

Except that after I licked my wounds, my gut knew these highly regarded agents were right. 

I hadn’t yet earned a yes. Because this project was mine, I couldn’t tell where the problem was. So, I asked for help, which Pressfield said is one of the things that separates an amateur from a professional. 

I applied for a conference that included a full manuscript evaluation, workshops with highly skilled peers from around the country, and masterclasses that might give me some insight into my manuscript’s problems. 

While I waited for feedback, I started my book about the heavy metal tour I was on shortly after my brother’s death. After all, I was a working stiff writer who still needed to show up. 

Over time, I came to understand and agree with those agents. The knowledge I gained is what will make the project about my brother and that heavy-metal tour successful. 

How do I know that day in Hawaii was the moment I became a pro?

I didn’t quit even though those rejections stung. 

I remained humble enough to listen to feedback and ask for help. 

I learned from the experience. 

I never stopped showing up. 

Two years after that rejection, I now know that my first memoir was essential writing for me, but not necessarily essential reading for everyone else. A few scenes ended up in my new manuscript. Others might appear in an essay or another memoir. Until I know, I’ll keep showing up.  

So, what writing league are you playing in, <<First Name>>? 

Which of Pressfield’s working-stiff attributes are easy for you to follow? 

Which ones are difficult? 

If you’re still in the amateur league, what’s keeping you there? 

What will help you take your writing life over that hurdle? 

Why Resistance is plaguing your most important writing projects

Why Resistance is plaguing your most important writing projects

Last week, I met with the last of the three beta readers who read my memoir. Here’s the unanimous verdict: the narrative arc is strong. 
 
Halle-freaking-lujah!
 
Cue the balloon drop, pop of a champagne cork, and happy dance that will probably overstretch something in my hips. 
 
For those of you who might not know, the narrative arc is the backbone of any story regardless of genre. In memoir, it reveals how the narrator transforms. And, friends, it’s fucking hard to nail the narrative arc. Many a book has crumbled without one. 
 
I’ll spend the next three months tightening, tweaking, and beautifying every last sentence for January submissions to interested agents. 
 
As I crack my knuckles in preparation for the work ahead, let me introduce you to my little friend, Resistance. 
 
According to Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, Resistance is the insidious, implacable, invisible voice within all of us that does its best to maintain the status quo. While it can show up at any time, it’s more likely to drop by when we’re following a call from the soul. Pressfield says, “The more important an enterprise is to the growth of our soul the more Resistance will harass us.” 
 
It tends to be most vocal when we’re in the last leg of any project, because Resistance hates a finisher.  
 
Resistance tells us tomorrow is a better time to start.
 
Or, that we need to completely heal before we can truly begin.
 
It helps us pencil in all of the tasks, duties, and work that will eat up our writing time. 
 
Resistance is often the reason we pop Cheetos, guzzle wine, or scarf down cake instead of sitting at our desks. Sometimes, it’s the reason we get sick, gossip about others, enter unhealthy relationships, or create dramas of self-sabotage that burn through our creativity.  

At first, Resistance feels like “a low-grade misery” that’s bored, restless, and never satisfied. There’s a guilt we can’t put our finger on. As it wears on, we become disgusted and hate ourselves and our lives. 
 
But don’t take any of this personally. Pressfield says, “Resistance is a force of nature that acts objectively like the indifference of rain and transits the heavens by the same laws as the stars.” 
 
Fear is Resistance’s favorite snack. The tastiest bites are made of the deepest questions we ask ourselves during the writing process. Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life?
 
But fear is not the enemy. Pressfield says, “The more scared we are of a work or a calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
 
So, you might be asking, Lisa, are you scared? 
 
Fuck yeah, I am. 

While I’ve been actively writing this book for a little over two years, it’s twenty-three years in the making. During those twenty-three years, other projects have fizzled out. 
 
For those you who might not know my story, this memoir is about how a chance meeting during a heavy-metal tour helped me survive my brother’s suicide.

Some parts of this book were incredibly fun to write, like all the scenes with Klaus, our quirky bus driver and road guru. But writing other parts felt like pressing a finger full of salt into my heart. It’s easy to show you the fun parts, but do I really want the world to see the inner workings of my heart? 
 
I fear that I haven’t yet been brave enough in scenes. 

I fear that my art won’t be good enough. 
 
I fear that once I send this off, I’ll lose control of the project, because while a published book has the author’s name on it, it’s no longer her story. It now belongs to the reader. 
 
For the next month, I’m going to wrestle with my Resistance as a part of my latest newsletter series. Steven Pressfield’s insightful, quick-reading book will serve as my guide.
 
Buy the book and join me on this odyssey while you’re experimenting with asking “why not me” about your writing projects.
 
Are you ready to wrestle together, <<First Name>>?  What does your resistance look like? Email me the answer. 
 
Or, better yet, tweet it to me with the hashtag #thecolorofmyresistance  

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.

Pin It on Pinterest