A Very Small Heart with a Lot of Gratitude

It’s a holiday week here in the U.S. Thanksgiving is coming! Some Americans believe Thanksgiving is celebrated to remember the Pilgrims or Plymouth Rock, or simply to stuff a turkey and oneself. Being small, being human and getting caught up in things we think we should do, we often forget what’s important. Gratitude is what it’s all about.

What Thanksgiving is About

Thanksgiving isn’t about Pilgrims, or a rock, or a turkey.  It’s not just about Americans.  In Korea, the harvest and thanksgiving celebration, Ch’usok, is in October. It’s called Thai Pongal in India, and it’s the Yam Festival in Ghana and Nigeria. Where ever you are, whenever and however you celebrate, be glad that this day (or one like it) comes around every year. It’s a reminder to give thanks, to enrich your life with gratitude.

How can we look at our world and not see miracles?

Sunset with gratitude quote by Albert Einstein

How can we look at each other and not see that at heart we’re the same?
Photo of child laughing, with quote Be grateful for those who make you happy from Proust

How can we be grateful for all the misery and strife in the world?

I hope and pray that peace and plenty prevail, but in the meantime, here’s a bit of advice from someone who saw plenty of strife in her short lifetime:

Quote from Anne Frank about the beauty that remains over a photo of a peace rose

How can we forget what true success is?
Photo of mountain peek with Danny Thomas quote

(Photo credits: sunset by Matthew Stinar; child laughing by cheriejoyful; peace rose by Vicky TH; Mt Holdsworth by Brenda Anderson)

Someone Who Does for Others

I’d like to introduce you to someone who lives by this philosophy, Louise Behiel. By her own description, Louise is ‘busier than a one-handed wallpaper hanger.” She is the manager of Interpretation and Translation for the Health Authority in Alberta, Canada, has a private practice as a psychotherapist, is a grandmother, mother, and writes romance novels. Read about how she juggles these parts of her life here.  Whew!  Just thinking about all she does exhausts me!  Yet, with all she has to do, Louise is one of my most constant supporters, and I know she takes the time out of her very busy schedule to support many others. She gives of herself, her time. There is no more precious gift. Thank you, Louise. To help me thank her, please join the conversation on her blog, you won’t regret it.  And read her novels, Family Ties, and Family Lies.

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart,it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude. ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Louise isn’t the only person whose support has meant so much to me. My cup overflows with gratitude to my family, my friends, and each and every one of you who read this blog. I deeply grateful that you feel the words I write are worth your most precious gift to me, your time.  Thank you.

If your heart is full, please share a moment of gratitude in the comments below.  

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

 

Powerful Words

It starts as a childhood wish: When I grow up I wanna be . . . . Sometimes, you try on a lot of dreams, a lot of roles. One day, you discover your true dream. I discovered my love of powerful words. My dream was to write fiction.

 

I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. — W.B. Yeats

 

Many years ago, I had decided I would make my living as a writer. The first person I shared a story with was a family member. She thought they were cute, like the little stories I had read as a child.

I had sold several stories to magazines. The pay wasn’t great. So I decided I would teach a ‘How to Write Fiction’ class at a local community center.

I prepared an introduction to myself and the course, a syllabus, ten lessons, in-class exercises, homework, and reading assignments for each class. I rehearsed and rehearsed. I was ready!

The Question

Finally, the day arrived. Eight students, ranging from a high schooler to a gray-haired woman of undetermined age, waited for me. I took a deep breath and stepped in front of the class. I welcomed them to the class, introduced myself by name and declared “I am a professional writer.” A hand raised. A question already?

“When did you start calling yourself a professional writer?” the student asked.

When? Intellectually, I had prepared an answer to that question, but emotionally? Not so much. I couldn’t even admit to myself that I had just said the words out loud for the first time. Instead, I answered with the information I’d prepared. I told the student that I had been a professional writer since I began writing with the intent to sell what I wrote. I said that every time I send out a story or a query with the intent to sell it, I am saying that I am a professional writer. I think I even quoted the definition of professional to the class.

I was being truthful, my answer fit the definition of professional and my approach to writing fiction. But, as truthful as that answer was, I didn’t believe it even as I said it. Still, my answer seemed to satisfy the questioner.

Powerful Words

I ended up teaching in that community center for a couple of years. My classes grew in size, I had many students who took every class. I defined myself as a professional writer in written and spoken words over and over again. The more I defined myself that way, the more I acted that way.

Life happened. I made other things a priority while my writing took a backseat to the traumas and banalities of life. But the dream was still mine. I continued to write and submit what I wrote. Sometimes I could only do a little, sometimes a lot. I kept saying that I was a professional writer to anyone who asked (and some that didn’t) because I’ve learned those words were powerful words.

Don’t Listen to Naysayers

Everyone has a dream. Maybe your dream is to be a writer, a chef, or a plumber. No matter what the dream is, sometimes it is hard to believe it will ever happen. Self-doubt can be a monster if you feed it. Don’t be your own worst naysayer. Don’t call your dream a dream or a hobby or ‘something I dabble in.’ Don’t say someday. Say today.

Maybe you or your parents, your partner, or your friends call your dream cute, or a hobby, or call it your ‘little’ whatever. You excuse them because it’s not really _bad_ stuff they’re saying. Yes. It. Is. Stop the negative energy where ever it’s coming from. Ask for the support you need.

Be Positive

Make a mantra, “I am a . . .” fill-in-the-blank. Write it in big letters. Pin it up somewhere you’ll see it every day. Say it out loud. “I am a –.” Repeat it as many times a day as you need it. There is power in the spoken word that grows with repetition. Feed yourself power, not negativity.

Follow through with your statement. Take classes. Improve your craft through practice.

Don’t let your fears of not being successful, of not being perfect, be an excuse not to try. Don’t let anyone keep you at the childish wish stage. Use the powerful words. Change I wanna be a . . . . to I am.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.
Live the life you have imagined.
— Henry David Thoreau

A Home Grown Power Plotting Weekend

By Kristin Nador

In my not so humble opinion, character’s and their distinct voices are strong among my writing talents. But plotting stories — not so much. Having been a pantser from day one of my writing career, the plot has been a second or third step. I carved a plot slowly, one excruciating revision after another. So when I read Ginger Calem’s glowing report of a power plotting weekend she participated in early this spring, I was pretty envious. Short on budget and time, I decided to devise my own power plotting weekend with the help of my writers’ group. We have just concluded our first Power Plotting weekend and I think each of us would highly recommend that you try it yourselves.

The Set-up

Based on Ginger’s experience, I bought the book, Break Into Fiction: 11 Steps to Building a Story That Sells and read it. Then, read it again. I had a couple of email conversations with Ginger. Then I sat down with my writer’s group and explained what I wanted to do. I have to say, my writer’s group is a terrific group of people with a wide variety of education and experience. They were open to trying as long as I took the lead on this one.

I used information from a number of sources: Mary Buckham and Dianna Love’s Break Into Fiction, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, The Script Lab and a number of other sources. I wrote up an agenda, forms that could be used to help develop your plot, and examples of how those forms would be used. We discussed these things briefly at one of our regular monthly critique sessions. We also discussed that we would try not to critique the ideas but to ask leading questions or make suggestions in as positive a manner as possible. No one would be forced to participate more than their personal comfort level would allow. We wanted to nurture these ideas so they could be grown into full-blown stories. Our plan was to meet a minimum of three different times during the weekend. Each person would go home and work on our stories independently between each meeting.

We planned to meet at a restaurant for the first evening, then meet at our usual location for our monthly critique sessions for the rest of the weekend bringing potluck meals.

Execution

Most of us submitted at least a paragraph of a story concept via an email group a day or two ahead of time. Each time we met, each author had a brief amount of time to present his or her story concept. Group members asked clarifying questions and asked structure-focused questions of the author. It was enlightening to see how the others came at their stories and even more enlightening to have questions asked that forced one to focus the story better. I think we each left each meeting with our brains buzzing with information and ideas. Each time we met again, the author had a stronger and stronger vision of his or her story. Characters and situations were fleshed out. Structure problems were identified and in some cases resolved. Story logic was developed or reinforced.

It was one brainstorming session after another and it was glorious!

My homegrown Power Plotting Weekend was a brainstorming session extraordinaire. You can do one, too!
Image: Brainstorm by Christos Georghiou @cutcasters.com

In the End and in the Future

Scene-by-scene plotting was not accomplished this weekend. Each of us agreed that there had been a lot of value in the weekend’s activities. Looking at story structure, plot, was helpful to all of us. In fact, we’ve decided we’ll be doing it at least once every year!

This worked for us because we respected each other’s ideas and abilities. It worked because each of us was willing to do the work on our own. It worked because we attempted to meet each author’s needs for his or her particular story.

We will set up our time a little differently next time. The restaurant was too noisy and distracting. Perhaps next time we’ll end the weekend with a meal at a restaurant or a pizza party instead of beginning there. We will keep the format of the author presenting his or her idea and the problem he or she would like to work on. We’ll use the question/suggestion method of exploring the author’s story problem. But we won’t call it a Power Plotting Weekend, we’ll call it a Writer’s Weekend.

I’d love to hear what you think. Would you be willing to discuss your story ideas in a small group like this? Or do you keep your stories secret until they are on the page?

If you’d like more information on story structure you might want to read How to Construct a Solid Gold Story and Re-Visioning Your Story.

And don’t forget. Next week our first stop on my Going to Mars, Word by Word series. I’ll be commenting on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars

The Hero of Your Story

A few years back, I decided I would make my living as a writer and would teach a ‘How to Write Fiction’ class at a local community center. It was an awesome experience but I never expected a lesson about being the hero of your story.

I have spread my dreams beneath your feet.
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

~W.B. Yeats

I prepared an introduction to myself and the course, a syllabus, ten lessons, in-class and at home exercises for each lesson, and reading assignments.  Once the lessons were written, I rehearsed and rehearsed. Finally, I was ready!

Finally, the day arrived. Eight students, ranging from a high schooler to a gray-haired woman of undetermined age, waited for me. I took a deep breath and stepped in front of the class. I welcomed them to the class, introduced myself by name and declared “I am a professional writer.” A hand raised.  A question already?

First Question

“When did you start calling yourself a professional writer?” the student asked. Intellectually, I had prepared an answer to that question, but emotionally prepared? Not so much. I couldn’t even admit to myself that I had just said it for the first time. Instead, I answered with the information I’d prepared, that I had been a professional writer since I began writing with the intent to sell what I wrote.  I think I even quoted the definition of professional to the class.

I was being truthful. My answer fit the definition of professional and my approach to writing fiction.  But, as truthful as that answer was, I had never believed it enough to say it aloud until that night.  Still, the answer seemed to satisfy the questioner.  And despite my anxiety, I got through the rest of that evening.

Fact is, I had nearly 100% attendance for all ten classes. I ended up teaching in that community center for a couple of years.  My classes grew in size and I taught my students skills they could use to improve their writing.  I know I learned a lot.

Life Happens

I made other things a priority while my writing took a backseat to the traumas and banalities of life.

I’ve had to relearn the most important lesson I learned when teaching at that community center course: how to stand up and be who I am.

Watching the Olympics this week I am awed by the dreams we are watching. The athletes proclaim their dream with every trial, every race, every practice. Many of them are fortunate enough to have the support of their loved ones.  But most of all, they NEVER let go of their dreams.  To my mind, each Olympic athlete is a hero of his or her story.

Be the Hero of Your Story

Everyone has a dream. Maybe your dream is to be an Olympic athlete, a writer, a chef, or a plumber. No matter what the dream is, sometimes it is hard to hang onto your dream.  You may have a hard time believing in yourself. Your parents or your partner may be the person who belittles your dream.  It could be they call your dream cute, or a hobby, or your ‘little’ stories.  You excuse them because it’s not really _bad_ stuff they’re saying. Yes. It.  Is.  Stop the negative energy.

Believe in yourself.  Believe in your dream. Make it a mantra: Mine is “I am a writer.” Repeat it as many times a day as you need it. Declare it. Own it. Be your own champion.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.

Live the life you have imagined.

~Henry David Thoreau

Won’t you take a moment to share your story with me and my readers? Who or what challenges your belief in yourself? Tell us about your dream. Shout it out. We’ll cheer you onward as the hero of your own story.

The Perfect Trap

Perfection is a trap. My first blog post, What False Comfort Zone Are You In? shared how my recognizing that trap had enabled me to go forward. Well, here I am again. Caught up in the perfect trap.
Framed Rebar by BY-YOUR-⌘, Flickr CC  (I mistakenly attributed the feature photo to the wrong photographer.  Corrected at 0621 on July 23, 2012)

Perfection is a trap. My first blog post, What False Comfort Zone Are You In? shared how my recognizing that trap had enabled me to go forward. Well, here I am again, caught up in the perfect trap.

My day job requires that I am certified in PALS (pediatric advanced life support.) I have to re-certify every two years.  You’d think I’d be used to it by now. I’m not.

To pass this certification one must understand the body’s physiologic response to various medical crises. You must pass a written test AND a re-enactment of several different crises.

Understand that these are things I have rarely had to do in the course of my career (and it ain’t short!). Some of the situations and activities I must re-enact are beyond my scope of practice.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are good and reasonable reasons why I need to know these things. Many of my patients have medical conditions that are serious and can become life-threatening if not treated promptly and correctly. Not to mention that within the department are nurses who work in the recovery room where they must and DO recognize these medical crises. They work hand-in-hand with advanced nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, and many other experts.

It’s performance anxiety, I tell myself. I am an introvert. Performing in front of others is not a natural nor comfortable state. In reality, I’m caught in a trap: seeking perfection. I so desperately want to know it all so that I can do it right that I needlessly saddle myself with much more work than is necessary.

Defining Perfectionism

Ah, perfectionism what is it, really? According to Dictionary.com it is “a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything else.” Well, what’s wrong with that?  Perfectionism magnifies the importance of achieving that goal. Rationally, we know that perfect isn’t really possible. But we are going to kill ourselves to make it as perfect as possible. And a single-mindedness on achieving perfection can lead to procrastination (it’ll never be perfect so why try?), bullying (my way or the highway), and low self-esteem (I can’t ever get it right).

At its root, perfectionism often is acquired from parents who were perfectionists, or from parents who were hyper-critical or didn’t give you any feedback at all.  It could be the result of a lack of self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy. It can also very simply be fear of failure.

What perfectionist need to learn is that perfectionism is not the same as the pursuit of excellence.

So how does one cure perfectionism?

Get Out of the Trap

First, if your perfectionism is so severe that it has damaged your relationships with others, consider seeking professional help. If you’re like me and simply drive yourself crazy with your perfectionism, here are some steps you might try.

  • Admit you are a perfectionist. Go ahead. Face the mirror and admit it.
  • What do you want to achieve? (by being perfect or by making this one thing perfect) Write down your answer so you can look at it objectively.
  • Ask yourself what will happen if you DON’T achieve your goal? Make a list of all the negatives and the positives.
  • What will happen if you DO achieve your goal? Who will notice? Write down your answer.
  • Make the decision to change. Mirror time again. Look yourself in the eye.
  • Take one thing at a time. Choose one thing to ‘get wrong.’ Allow yourself to feel how that feels. Write down what happened as a result of doing it ‘wrong.’
  • Forgive yourself for not being perfect. It’s not a perfect world.
  • Give yourself permission to strive for excellence without being perfect

Confession Time! Have you been caught in the perfect trap? What have you done to overcome it? I’d love to hear your stories, even if they aren’t perfect.