Are you failing toward success?

Like most people, I like to find a groove and pretty much stay there. When I feel moved to do so, when all the stars align just so, maybe learn something new. And, like most people, I’m comfortable sticking to a pretty sedate routine. Then suddenly, you find yourself catapulted into a situation that you don’t feel ready for.

Such was my life a week ago while helping out a new client. We’d planned to co-lead a meeting, by remote, with her clients. Although I’d been forewarned that my co-leader might be unable to make the meeting, I chose to believe otherwise. My co-leader was also my new client and I didn’t want to fail her, or her clients. Unavoidably, my co-leader could not make the meeting. While facing a group of people I had never met, who expected me to take the meeting and run, the 20 minutes of prep time with my co-leader didn’t seem enough.

Awkward silences are still agonizing even if you’re in the safety of your own office. The last thing I wanted was to lose credibility, so I plowed ahead with the meeting, keenly aware of the screaming crickets in the long pauses after my questions, or total lack of answers. What do you do when no one chimes in?

Most of us want to leap right into that empty space and fill it up. But if you just sit tight, count to fifty, someone else will. Thankfully someone eventually began speaking. Once the meeting mercifully ended, I thought it had been a disaster. Mentally reliving point by point, I listed all the ways I had failed. The questions I’d forgotten to ask made me blush. For two hours after the meeting, I beat myself up, feeling like a total fraud, convinced that they thought I was an amateur. I worried they would think they’d been disrespected by my co-leader, dropping them into the hands of someone they didn’t know.

But that’s what we do, isn’t it?

 We stretch into unknown territory either by need or design (sometimes unwillingly) and in our heads we want (expect?) the meeting to go perfectly. Perfect intro, perfect delivery, perfect responses and in the end: perfection. Even if the whole meeting was perfect but one thing, we replay the one thing. Instead of applauding what went right, we make ourselves sick over what went wrong.

With a project deadline looming, I needed to get back to work. The meeting had been recorded and finally, I listened to it again, evaluating the information. And you know what? It wasn’t as bad as I thought. It wasn’t perfect, the gaps weren’t that long. The group had yielded answers to all but one question. I discovered places to improve my meeting skills.

My expectations for a meeting have shifted and I know now exactly what to do differently. This does not mean that they would have behaved differently, but I would feel better about the way the meeting went.

Sometimes there are going to be meetings where it feels stiff and formal, and there will be others that are comfortable and laid back and any number of shadings in between. Being ourselves, professional, calm and polite in uncomfortable situations goes a long way toward a positive outcome. I have had lots of mini-meetings on the phone while working in collections and telemarketing. I have great communication skills. I am not a fraud, I have been writing for decades.

Certainly, I fumbled in a few places and I noticed in the replay, that they did too. But we all remained polite and pushed forward. The meeting was not the disaster I perceived it to be initially. When the replay finished, I actually felt like I had accomplished more than I had given myself credit for.

We are all in various stages of learning new things. It is so important to give ourselves grace when things don’t go as perfectly as we had hoped. We even need to give ourselves permission to fail. As hard as it might be to admit, we learn a lot in those moments. So I encourage you to look at whatever you might have failed at recently and look at it from another angle: What did you learn? How would you do it over? How would you improve?

I’m going to keep all of this in mind at another meeting next week!

Will you share with us about your  “biggest failure” and what you learned? I’d love to hear from you.

Dreams Like Strings of Lights

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Whatever it is you’re dreaming of, take the next step.

It has long been my goal to work for myself, but in my early years, I had been trained that a person got up before the sun, went to work for eight or nine hours and came home beat. For this, you got a paycheck at the end of the week. All the fathers on our street did the same. When our growing family needed more income, my mother traded her night hours tor work in a thankless factory.

All my life, one model: Trade your hours for money.

Then my dad lost his job. After two years he found another job that would pay the bills, but he began dreaming about owning his own business. After a few years, he partnered with my brother and launched. The business did alright for many years, but he didn’t foresee desktop publishing. The business dwindled and found himself again trading hours for dollars, working with my brother in another industry.

Along the way, the mega companies and corporations began to buckle and fold. The idea of being totally loyal to one entity began to sound like putting all your eggs in one basket. You could give a lifetime to a company and instead of retiring fully funded, you might lose your pension, retirement benefits and health coverage.

My dad often spoke about another business model, one I had not really seen up-close. Multiple streams of income. Creatives are largely familiar with this model as they pursue their artistic endeavors. Office jobs, food service, collections, or those other jobs that pay a tiny hourly because they receive tips or commissions. Pursue your painting, crafting, dancing or talent until it financially overshadows the main source of income. Teach your craft to someone not as far along as you are.

There are pros and cons of each, to be sure. As a hustler, you are responsible for everything including taxes paperwork and the next paying gig. As a creative, not wanting to be defined by hourly work, I always had a side hustle and occasionally, the side hustle carried us through between hourly jobs.

How to develop three streams of income? Or four? Or more? There are far more forward thinkers than me. Lots of great people to read, learn from to help you gather steam while stoking your own fire. Ideally, income streams that could be checked on every now and then and earn money without constant attention. In essence, making money while doing other things,  these things allowed you to multiply your efforts.

My goals were simple. I wanted to help others in some way, double my income and stop trading hours for dollars, working by the project for a pre-named chunk of money. Right now, my writing pays for my (part) of the bills. My next stream of income will not only pay for itself but pay me.

It comes down to this: Just start. Start something somewhere. Begin. Take the next step and then figure out the next step. My dad went on to other dreams and started other businesses. He and my brother launched a second business and my brother runs it to this day, nearly 10 years after my dad passed away. His products have traveled the globe. After a few false starts with various enterprises, my intellectual property has graced four countries. I’m pleased with the progress. It seems one leads to another, dreams like strings of lights.

Write down all that you dream of doing. What can become an income stream. Choose one. It doesn’t have to be the easiest, but maybe the one you’re most excited about. What’s your next step?

I’m listening if you want to share. I will cheer you on.

Dream House

I share a lot about having a dream. They’re mighty powerful motivators. They can help you get through a tough job that pays the bills. Having a dream about how you would use your degree helps you get through 4 years of college.

My dad was a dreamer. He wanted to build a house, he wanted to live in the country, he wanted to pay cash for a car once in his life. He always had a dream. My dad arrived at a decision, (build a house) and then, he started looking for ways to make it a reality.

When I was a kid, my dad brought in the only paycheck. My mother took care of six children. I imagine when dad mentioned he wanted to build a house, some people laughed.

When my parents bought a bit of property, his dream became serious. He and my mom did a lot of the work, they scrimped and saved and we all sacrificed (no allowances). Not every bank was willing to work with him, but he only needed one that would. And found it. By the fall, we had moved in just as the school year began.

Then my dad had a vision for a full kitchen with solid oak cabinets. He built all of it himself. We kids helped in every possible way. We sanded wood many nights after homework and dinner. My dad cut wood, stained and varnished and glued and assembled and clamped cabinets together while working a full-time job. It took four years. By then he could stand in his dream house in the country. Recently, the house sold for over $250,000.

If you want something bad enough, you can find a way. You can do the work. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. You’re worth it. You’re building values. Your dream is worth it. Someone recently told me that the reason people don’t achieve their dreams is because they don’t have another one. That’s never been true for me. When I finally finished writing my first book, I already had another book in mind.

You’re loaded with dreams! Think of the goals that you’ve had throughout your life. At one time you wanted to graduate, or learn to drive a car, or buy a home. When you accomplished that dream, you had another dream. Write them down, no matter how farfetched it may seem today. You can’t foresee how doors will open for you as you progress step by step toward realizing your dreams. Look at your goals or your bucket list. Those are all dreams.

What seems the most impossible dream right now? What would be one step you could take toward it? If you feel inclined to share, I’d love to hear from you.

14 Ways to Stretch Your Writing Voice

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In my last post, I talked briefly about stretching as a writer. Hopefully, you’re on track with writing. You’re sitting in front of the page every day, or most days, and hammering out some words. Maybe you’re even consistently hitting your word count.

You have filled or are filling notebooks, or a journal or collecting all of your writings in a word file. You are finding your voice and feel like your writing has gained a sort of consistency.

What can sometimes happen is that you start feeling like, blah, blah, blah. Stretching ourselves where our writing is concerned is a great exercise that can broaden our horizons and add depth to our voice. Although there are many ways to expand, I have a few favorites listed below.

  1. Read outside your genre. If you write mysteries, you might dive into a few science fiction novels, or if you read exclusively romance novels, you could pick up a thriller.
  2. Create a blog. You’re a writer and you have something to say. They’re easier than ever to set up and some of them are free. For the very brave: You can allow comments and get feedback on your posts. It’s a great place to test the waters of your writing.
  3. Take a writing challenge. One of the favorites is National Novel Writing Month which falls in November. The goal is 50,000 words in 30 days. I love 30 day challenges. Write a super short story, journal entry or poem every day for 30 days, or post everyday on your blog. Write a page a day. Increase your word count to see how often you hit your goal.
  4. Take a favorite character from a book you read and tell what happens to them after the book ended.
  5. Write a journal for one of your favorite characters. It can be one of yours or someone else’s.
  6. If you normally type, write with a pen on paper. Conversely, if you always write on paper, try typing or keying your thoughts into a document.
  7. Clip photos from magazines and write your own version of what happened.
  8. Using Google maps (or other favorite map site) write about a city you’ve never been in based on the images you see.
  9. Attend (or participate in !) a poetry slam, or an author reading.
  10. Sharpen your skills of observation by looking for unusual situation while in your car, or on a walk. Write down five a day. I once walked in to a local java joint to find a pretty young woman sitting in the lap of a considerably older man. In traffic one hot afternoon, I looked to my passenger side to see a tiny, bright pink car with a behemoth man in a full beard driving. On a sunny Saturday, I saw a little girl on roller skates attempting to get on a two wheeler. I wanted to know the stories of those events.
  11. Increase your word power by learning and using new words you discover in the dictionary or in the course of reading. Write them in a notebook and try to use them the next time you write.
  12. Consider all the people you know. Who among them intrigues you? Ask to interview them. You would be surprised how many people are happy to talk about their lives. And you might just make a friend. This exercise also helps you focus on dialog various speech patterns.
  13. Try to capture turns of phrase. When I lived in the Deep South, I heard some of the most wonderful idioms. I wasn’t a writer then and didn’t bother to write them down and missed out on an opportunity to collect valuable character possibilities.
  14. Gather snatches of conversations by eaves dropping in restaurants or coffee houses. You never know what phrase will trigger your next story.

Certainly there are many more ways to expand your writing possibilities. What are some of your favorite ways to stretch yourself as a writer?

Setting Obtainable Goals

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Last week, there were days that I just sat in front of my computer willing the words (any words) to appear on the screen. I tried squeezing coherence from my brain, pressing letterized thought through my fingertips and… I was choking on mid-story sag.

During those times, I felt like the kid who can’t leave the table until they eat their peas. Go sit at your desk and when you get 1,666 words, you can come out and socialize. Some days the whole experience took hours. Mind you, I have a day job, I have responsibilities. Some people in my house wanted to eat. (Not now! I’m NaNo-ing!)

Writing can be hard. Your little editor might be screaming about how worthless the story is, or you don’t feel anything in the direction you’ve chosen to go. In those moments, I usually back up to where I felt passionate and look for other possible directions.
I wanted to crank out two thousand words a day for several personal reasons, to be finished early (someone has to cook Thanksgiving dinner!) and because giving myself an insane cushion of time (working 4 days ahead of schedule) I start to believe I can actually finish this thing. Not just finish, I can WIN.

In my NaNoWriMo project, I’m pulling from a lifetime of experiences, what I’ve heard and read and been told from many other individuals. It gets a little dicey.
But, the NaNoWriMo first draft doesn’t have to be perfect—it’s a first draft. I could excise huge sections of this after I hit my 50k. So why do I balk? Even though running days ahead of schedule –and it’s a comfy little cushion– I can almost hear the barking dogs of failure coming for my heels. I must press on!

Maybe you need to crank out 1900 more words today. Where will they come from? Maybe you’ll grab some mood music. Something a little dreamy, a little tech-y and a little cutting edge. (Maybe a prompt book…)
My character grapples with standing on her own, walking away from a toxic relationship and a destructive past and still looks uncertainly over her shoulder—would the relationship ever recover?
Finally, after consistently showing up to the page, the muse relents.
I finally have a first draft.
I have the voice of the story.
The bones reveal themselves! It’s not pretty, but it’s done.

I’ve reached just over 50 thousand words, which means I get to have Thanksgiving with my family. I get a few days to breathe before the next challenge. I have another book in my folder.
I love NaNoWriMo.

Please Welcome Our New Arrival!!

ImageSo, the waiting is over and we welcome the new arrival! When Jack got home last night I had celebratory offerings next to a headscarf on the kitchen counter. He almost lways welcomes an adult beverage in the evening. He even noticed the head scarf. I encouraged him to pick it up and when he did…

“The book? How WONDERFUL!” He was all smiles as he picks it up reverently and holds it like a father with a newborn baby; eyes wide with awe–just like mine. Oh, he gushed over it and me for at least five minutes. It was bliss! Then we left it on the counter between the two of us just gazing at it, admiring it. I felt like Geppetto, the puppet maker, when his doll finally becomes a real boy.

It’s nearly a pound, 6×9 trade paperback and 365 pages! Three dimensional pages that you turn by hand, with a real ISBN number and a cover!  I’ve heard writers say that there’s no feeling like seeing their book, all those hours of work, the polishing, the edits, the rewrites, “in the flesh” if you will.

ImageAnd now, I have joined their ranks as author, novelist. Wow. Amazing. Just amazing. When I got home today, he’d already called Barnes and Noble about a book signing! As soon as I know more about that, I will let you know too.

Okay, I just wanted to update you. I’m going back to work in the next book, working title: A Dancer’s Tale. It’s always great catching up with you.

Excerpt From Book in Progress

“Is it really your last night?” Uli asked.

“Yes it is.”

“It won’t be the same around here without you!”

“It’ll be better,” another girl joked. After the laughter died, she put a hand on Callie’s arm. “Really, Echo. I wish you all the best in your life.”

“”I hear you’re going into films,” another one said. She looked like a beach girl: long blonde tresses, evenly tanned and smooth skin. Callie didn’t remember ever telling anyone that. In fact, she certainly had not.

“Cinematography,” she corrected.

The girl looked her up and down and cocked a brow. She slowly nodded her approval.

“Yeah, I can see that. You got what it takes.”

The remark threw Callie, but she thanked her all the same and strode quickly down to her door. She closed it behind her and sat in front of the mirror while the music thumped beyond her dressing room. Last night. Finally.

After her last set, she considered taking the name from her door and maybe, press it in a scrapbook. Life here would go on as always here without her. The names and faces would change, the dances and routines would be the same. She had come to a point where it all felt cheap and tawdry and she wanted out while she was still anonymous. She felt almost certain that she would be able to return to her real life and put this to rest. It wasn’t fun or exciting after Trish died. Callie was all too glad to box Echo up with the rest of her costumes and move on.