Tuesday, October 29, 2013
What Makes You Come Alive? (Podcast #8)
Last week, a wee small voice emailed me saying she found herself to be scared of writing her first book. "I am afraid of failing," she said, "of people not liking my book, and of my story being too outrageous. How do I get myself out of this predicament?" That was the entire email, and it made me wonder how many other people are out there feeling this way.
We already know there are tons of folks slapping words on paper and publishing them, words that aren't ready for release. But what about those who are not that bold. Their stories are locked behind a fear that once those words are released, they'll be beaten up, bruised and run over.
I jump into tough love on these types of questions. What you do is set a time each and every day and report to work. You write. Writers don't write thinking about what other people will say. They write because they have stories to tell. The more they write, the better they get. Each word is one word closer to being successful. But success is subjective, so what I think is successful isn't what you think is successful.
Kurt Vonnegut, however, said it so well in a letter to Xavier High School in 2006. He was advising high schoolers in a letter after declining to come speak because of his age. In his brief but articulate and impacting letter, he said:
"Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow."
It's exciting if you stop and think about it. Writing helps you discover yourself. Imagine what lies hidden deep inside because you are afraid to write?
That's like being afraid to leave the house or try to sing a tune. Like not cooking a recipe or running a race. Not learning math or not trying to swim faster. All because you are afraid to see how well you can do.
Don't you want to know who you are?
Don't you want to know how broad your mind can reach?
But by working diligently at something, digging inside yourself to "find out what's inside you", you wind up learning how to be unique. After all, nobody is like you. And when it comes to writing, in order to stand out from the crowd, your writing has to be unique. And being unique means that someone out there won't like what you produced, because it's not what they are accustomed to, or what they expected.
You can't be good without being unique. So...there you go. You ultimately have to be a failure in someone's eyes to be a success in someone else's because we sure don't all think alike! Gracious, look at all the opinions out there. It's impossible for all of us to be on the same wavelength. Therefore, being outrageous is often part of the package as you define yourself and grow.
Dare to be different...or don't bother. It's a black and white issue here. You write or you don't, and to determine what you write, you delve inside your soul.
Be grateful for the voices. Be happy when someone comments on your work. Whether it's good or bad is a plus for you. It's feedback, and from that feedback, you learn more about your own writing. You start "becoming."
You also learn to take a stand once you recognize your writing strengths. You start sifting through the remarks, gleaning what you want from the criticism, not shying away from ALL criticism. The worst thing for a writer is when nobody bothers to give you feedback.
Eventually, however, when you publish a story, or start a blog, or present to a group, frankly anything you do in the public's eye, someone will walk away. Sometimes several will. Sometimes many. For a second it will stun you, then sting a little bit. You'll wonder what you did wrong, and rehash in your head what you could have done differently.
Our natural instinct is to identify cause and effect. What happens to cause a certain reaction? And when we are involved, we gravitate to what WE did. Were WE the cause?
We seek hard to see if we are involved for several reasons:
1) We don't want to be the guilty party.
2) We want to be proactive in correcting whatever is amiss.
3) We want to prevent it from happening again.
4) We want to make others' lives better.
5) We want to be successful.
Some of us avoid publishing, blogging and presenting so we don't have to deal with the above. Why?
1) We don't want to feel guilty.
2) We don't want to have to fix things.
3) We don't want it happening in the first place, much less a second time.
4) We don't want to get involved in strangers' lives.
5) We aren't sure what success is, much less how to handle it.
I think these reasons are why so many stop in place, frozen by what might happen, or what they might cause.
Causing nothing always leads to affecting nothing. If you do nothing, you cause nothing, and nothing happens.
Then we wonder why our stories don't sell. That means that if you are writing stories and publishing (causing), and putting them out there (still causing), you will create something (success/ opinion/ reviews/ buzz). The reality of it is that somebody will not like what you do.
You want feedback. You lie if you say you don't. Who creates and never wonders if someone would like it? Writers are hungry for reaction to what they do. But that means negative reactions as well as positive.
Embrace the feedback, regardless its name. It means someone was touched enough to push back. After one of my editorials about self-publishing via vanity presses, I had a record number of unsubscribes in one day: 36. Not much, you might say, considering thousands read the newsletter. But I watch such things, to keep a finder on the pulse of what I'm doing.
I rank that response as quite successful. My story mattered enough to entice a response. I got feedback! Those folks read my point and it struck them hard enough to make them leave. That means I made an impact. I hope they tell their friends, and I can best hope that over time my words about vanity publishing will sink in deep enough . . . and their writing lives will be much better. I call that a very productive day.
Dare to live. Writing might be what makes you come alive, what makes you start becoming as Mr. Vonnegut would say.
I have the following quote over my computer, and I read it almost daily as a reminder of why I do what I do:
Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that because what the world needs is people who have come alive. ~Howard Thurman, African American author, philosopher, theologian, educator and leader.