Friday, December 31, 2010

Tennis, Anyone?

I have a real passion for world-class sports, whether it be the Olympics (and I was fortunate enough to attend the Winter Olympics earlier this year), World Cup soccer (or football, depending where you live!), and, most recently, US Open tennis.

There is something spectacular about watching people, athletes, who are the best in the world at what they do. And it’s fascinating to see the different approaches, the different strategies these talented men and women use.

But they all have something in common, something that inspires me…dedication.

An athlete doesn’t show up on game day and hope for the best. They train, they practice, they learn, they change their approach. When things are going wrong, they still have to hang in there, even if the world is watching.

It’s easy to say that someone has natural talent, as if that explains success. Tennis legend Andre Agassi’s father had him hit 2,500 tennis balls per day, equaling nearly one million balls per year. His father believed that if Agassi hit a million balls a year, he’d be unbeatable.

Did Agassi have talent? No doubt. But what lessons did he learn from hitting one million tennis balls a year?

All of us can learn from this.

We, too, have to train, practice, learn, change our approach, hang in there when the going gets tough.

It took me over ten years to sell my first book. There were moments of horrendous disappointment. There were small victories, like awards for contest wins. But the biggest factor in finally publishing was in showing up every day, day in, day out, and doing the work necessary to succeed.

As writers, we can train by reading other great books, by reading how-to books, by doing the exercises recommended by other writers. We can practice and stay sharp by showing up at the computer, even when we don’t want to, when we’re tired, “don’t feel like it,” even when it’s more enticing to watch television or “chill.”

It we want to stay relevant, we have to be responsive to the marketplace and write the kinds of stories that readers want. It may be necessary, published or not, to change our approach, write better, faster, stronger, deeper, with humor, with emotion. What worked in yesterday’s competition may not work in today’s.

Does raw talent help? You bet it does. I’ve seen authors with amazing talent sell the first thing they write.

But I also mentioned that part about when the whole world is watching. If you get a bad review as a writer, you can’t hide. It’s out there on the Internet for the whole world to see, forever.

No matter how much talent we have, no matter how much success we enjoy, we still need strategies to regroup and move forward. Some tennis players will put a towel on their head to block out the crowd and regain focus. For my writing, I use a “whining buddy.” When I have bad news, I’m allowed to whine for twenty-four hours, but only to my buddy. I don’t put it on Twitter or a blog. I then go back to what works…writing, rewriting, revising, learning from the experience, practicing my craft, changing my approach.

I appreciate watching the best of the best. I admire their dedication to do what it take, living it, breathing it, thinking about it, dreaming about it. And I am inspired.

Time to write…

Monday, July 26, 2010

On Being A Writer

I grew up wanting to be a writer.

I had all these cool ideas of what that meant. Endless pots of coffee, maybe smoking and pacing. It certainly meant living in the Florida Keys. It meant being rich, successful, agonizingly creative. I’d probably be reclusive unless I had to meet my amazing fans at book signings. I’d certainly dress artisticly, maybe even wear tons of jewelry. I considered I might need to also have mood swings in order to be considered “great.”

For the record, I don’t live anywhere near the ocean, let alone the Keys. I wrote ten books in ten years before finally selling my first one. (Talk about the starving artist cliché. Only it isn’t a cliché!) Then, I had this picture that the publisher would want me to open the box under my bed that had all my rejected manuscripts! I’d be an overnight success. Imagine, all those books and my adoring fans! Palm trees and margaritas, look out!

Okay, so all those books were rejected a second time. (It wasn’t painful enough the first time!)

The thrill of signing with a New York agent and that first contract was amazing. The pain of subsequent rejection and iffy cover art brought me back down to earth. Factor in an unfavorable review of my debut novel from a national magazine and I was devastated.

In the amount of time I’ve been a professional writer, I’ve heard a lot of writers (okay, including myself), wondering why we continue to put in the time and the effort, especially when we get knocked off balance by a story that just won’t come together, characters who won’t behave, rejections, or an editorial request for more revisions. Even worse, a book we believe in might see mediocre sales or punishingly bad reviews.

I once heard a multi-published, New York Times bestselling author say, if you can quit, do. Another author who is also now a Times extended list bestseller has packed up her office several times over the years, given away her trusted copy of the Chicago Manual of Style, sold her computer equipment, quit, quit, quit the business.

I’ve had friends walk away for years after painful critiques, after being
unable to deliver manuscripts their editors were satisfied with. Some authors I know refuse to accept multi-book contracts because of fear, of jinxing the next book, of not being able to go to the creativity well and pull out yet one more compelling storyline, for fear that next book might not be good enough.

Some writers wonder why they bother at all.

After all, it’s easier to smile through an eight hour shift and say, “Would you like fries with that?” I waited tabled for five years while I was getting my writing legs on solid ground. Waitressing was difficult, with screaming children and masses of crackers smashed into the carpeting beneath a high chair. But at times, it was easier than being a writer. At least, with a day job, I didn’t stay up all night tossing and turning as an idea remained elusive. I didn’t take a walk on the beach and hear voices in my head. I could turn off a waitressing job. I cannot turn off writing.

So, why do we do it?
Maybe because no one else on planet earth has that story to tell. No one else comes up with those characters, those conflicts, that plot line.

We have almost all experienced someone developing a similar plot line or an identical title. But no one puts together the same characters, same conflict, same plot at the same time in the same way.

We have stories to tell that no one else can.

I remember being in a hospital waiting room with a book. The book took me away from the pain of waiting, of not knowing. It made the hours somewhat more bearable. And more than anything, maybe that’s why some of us continue to do it, despite the lack of benefits, uncertain income, long hours, potentially bad reviews.

Our stories can take people away. We can make them laugh, make them cry, make them care, even if only for a little while. Each story will continue to be unique because we are.

We write not only because we can, but because we have to.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I Am Woman…and I Am Grateful

I was having a glass of wine with a girlfriend in Olde Town, Arvada, a quaint historical area near my Denver-area home.

We were talking about how fortunate we are to be Western women. In many parts of the world, we wouldn’t be allowed to go out to a café alone, sit back with a cabernet, enjoy the sun, and talk about whatever we wanted to. We had serious discussions, and we laughed, and we counted our blessings.

One of the biggest freedoms we sometimes take for granted is the opportunity to live in a more enlightened age than our ancestors. (And here’s to future generations who will live in an even more enlightened age.)

Did you know…?

In 1873 Congress passed a law that banned birth control information as obscene.

That well into the 1960s, most US states had laws against contraception?

Margaret Sanger, after having lost her mother at age 50 (and 18 pregnancies!), decided there had to be a better way. Sanger was arrested for mailing out her magazine, the Woman Rebel. The magazine discussed contraception and there, was illegal. The troublemaker went on to open America’s first family planning clinic. It was shut down within ten days.

It wasn’t until 1938 that a US judge lifted the obscenity ban on birth control. But contraception remained illegal (even more married couples!). Believe it or not, it wasn’t until 1965 that that the Supreme Court of the United States overturned laws that prohibited contraception among married couples.

Are things perfect now…? Definitely not.

Women continue to struggle and fight. Some are still being rebels and writing aobut things that would have formerly been banned.

We are women, we are resourceful. We will continue to talk and educate ourselves and our sister friends. We are part of the leading edge who encourage others to ask for what they want and be bold in it!

That rebel, Margaret Sanger, outlaw writer and pioneer that she was, went on to form the American Birth Control League (which eventually became Planned Parenthood).

I feel fortunate to be a Western woman in 2010. Here’s hoping that the continued efforts of brave men and women everywhere will make it better to be a woman worldwide…soon.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What's That Voice Trying to Tell You?

One of my passions is encouraging others to pursue their passions. It’s way too easy to get caught up in everyday minutia, the nitty gritty details of work, family, housework, shopping, always on the go, always doing for others. (And not to say we shouldn’t do for others—especially if it rewards us!)

But is there a still, quiet voice inside you, urging you to do something? To try something new? To think in a new way? I’ll be honest, it’s not always a still, quiet voice inside me. Sometimes it’s this screaming, raging monster, demanding a release.

Whether you’ve got that quiet voice or the screaming monster, what’s it telling you?

I was feeling as if I was in a rut, eating at the same restaurants (and the same foods at those restaurants!), going to work, coming home to write and coach. The little voice in me knew it needed new experiences, a new take on life. So I started saying Yes to a whole lot of new experiences

I said Yes when I had an opportunity to go to the Olympics and experience all the sights and sounds of being among the best in the world. I say Yes to skiing at Whistler. I said Yes to a chance to visit San Francisco.

Recently, I’ve begun eating foods I’ve never tried before. I’m trying new restaurants, actively seeking out places I’ve never been before. (Last week, I ate octopus for the first time—“cooked” in lime juice. In January, I sucked down oysters on the half shell—and I don’t mind admitting that it took a glass of wine to work up the courage to get that first one into my mouth!)

I’m training for the insane Warrior Dash—an out-of-this-world even put together by the crazy minds of people who thought it might be fun to combine Navy SEAL training, American Gladiators, and some beer.

I’m also taking risks with my writing, trying to see where I can push the envelope.
I decided to go “cold turkey” with the daily news and talk radio. I haven’t turned on the telly since the Olympics. I haven’t listened to talk radio in weeks. (In fact, I now have Sirius in the car. I’m learning about classical music in a way I haven’t before, and I’ve actually tried the 40s channel!)

If you were to take a few deep breaths, shut off the television, put away the newspaper, step away from talk show entertainers, unsubscribe from the news services, what might you hear?

As a coach, I encourage you to do a “media fast” for one week. (C’mon, it’s only seven days!) Shut it off…yep, the TV, the newspaper, the stereo (except for motivational/inspirational stuff that encourages you to go for it!), even the bad news on the Internet. Ignore politics—it’ll still be a raging fight when you get back, I promise.

If something winds you up, step away for seven days. Instead, listen to that quiet voice inside you, the one that says maybe you should focus on getting fit, or planning a vacation, or eating better, or writing a book, or trying a new experience, or going to the spa, or even sleeping in a bit more.

What can you learn from yourself?

You’re the wisest one around you. You know what you want, what you need. Is now the time to listen?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Going For It!

Greetings from Whistler, BC, the site of the 2010 Olympic downhill skiing events and Sliding Center!

It's been an amazing experience to be here at the Olympics, watching people chase their dreams. We came out to support luger Ruben Gonzalez, competing for Venezuela.

As you know, the unthinkable happened. A young Georgian luger tragically died on turn sixteen at the Whistler Sliding Center while pursuing his Olympic dream.

I was impressed by the way the other athletes were undeterred--shaken, but not stirred to quote a famous character.

And I learned a lot from the experience of watching others.

A couple of days later, I took an impressive fall on one of Whistler's magnificent ski runs. (I felt much better when I saw an Austrian Olympian crash on the same run!) I landed chin first and ended up with whiplash from the impact.

I was lucky. First of all, I wasn't seriously injured. Second of all, I was skiing with a coach who knew all the right things to say to get me headed back down the slope. My confidence took as much of a beating as my ego and my body. But deep down, I wanted to go for experience completely, totally.

I skied the next day, as well, not wanting to pass up the opportunity to ski in a part of the world I may never get back to. The Canadian Rockies are majestic and impressive

We all have places in our lives where we want to go for it, to experience life fully. We may experience fear (I certainly did after my ski crash), but we shouldn't let fear deter us. We need to be smart, make sure we cover our bases (helmets, protective gear, taking lessons, etc.), but when we have a dream, we should chase it, whether it's writing a book, taking a trip, racing a car.

I'm happy to report that Ruben slid well. I'm happy to report that I'm feeling a whole lot better (thanks, Coach!). And what was the take-away from watching others chase their dreams...? I'm planning a trip to the Olympics in London to be inspired all over again.

Being around people who are inspired is inspiring.

So, if you want to write, find other writers. If you want to be the best, find a coach and others who are doing what you want to do.

Bottom line...? Chase your dreams!