December 21, 2008

Join me for my January workshop

Start Close In
A Workshop by Brooke Warner
Sponsored by: Fremont Area Writers Club

When: Saturday, January 24, 2009
What: All Day workshop from 10 am-4pm
Where: The home of Evelyn La Torre, 45 Dolerita Court, Fremont, CA 94539
Cost: $65 includes materials
Bring: Comfortable clothes and your lunch
Register: Email to register, and an invoice will be sent to you from Paypal.

This workshop will work with writers around the power of starting with what you know. As all writers know, writing is a layered process that includes powerful self-discoveries. Too often we want to skip ahead to the next thing. We want to be farther along than we are. We want to have our story flow exactly as it should and we want our reader to have the perfect experience of our work. The hard part—and yet so often the most rewarding—is slowing down and enjoying the process.

Start Close In is taken from David Whyte’s poem by the same name. It encourages writers to start with what they know. Don’t take the second step, or the third, he writes, start with the first. The Start Close In workshop will encourage readers to explore what they already know, and Brooke Warner will lead the group in uncovering those nuggets of truth and insight that are just below the surface, waiting to become that first step. Often these insights and truths are things we have at our ready disposal, and yet we overlook them—perhaps they seem too obvious, or perhaps we’re sick of this story and have judgments about writing about the same old thing.

All of this and more will be explored through a profound and intuitive process called SoulCollage. Brooke will guide you through the process of creating small collage cards that are like windows into your psyche and soul. With these cards, you will discover those insights that are already right there, ready to be plucked. You will leave this workshop armed with what you need to take that first step.


December 6, 2008

great gifts for writers---or for yourself

This year I'm encouraging everyone I know to buy books for the people on their gift list. The book industry is in a scary place right now, and so for all of us who love books, and especially those of us who want to get published, what better way to show support than to use your purchasing dollars to boost up the publishers you love.

I have a couple suggestions to run your way:

The first is that you check out the WOW! Holiday Gift Guide.

WOW! Women on Writing is a great resource for women writers, and their holiday gift guide is full of cool gift ideas.

The second is that you consider sharing with your loved ones the fact that you might love to have a book to help you with your writing. If you don't have any of the following books, I highly recommend you ask for one, or put yourself on your gift list this year:

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

Ready, Aim, Specialize! by Kelly James-Enger

Bird by Bird, by Annie Lamott

On Writing, by Stephen King

How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead, by Ariel Gore

This is just a short list to get you started, and inspired to start thinking about how writing might fit into your New Year's Resolution.

Until next month,



November 12, 2008

live your creativity

Earlier this month we witnessed history. Worldwide, people have been calling Barack Obama’s election to the presidency an historic event. What Obama has done, really, is harness the energy of the people. He has a deep capacity to inspire confidence and hope. He’s dared people to dream.

How is it that some people have this capacity to inspire us to dare to dream? And how can we get some of that for ourselves? How do we harness our own energy and momentum when we’re feeling stuck in a rut? How does each of us find our own Obama energy to pull us out of the holes we dig for ourselves?

Most of us are completely unfamiliar with the depth of our own inner resources or our capacity to inspire ourselves. We’re too consumed with our to-do list, the priorities of others, the shaming voice that tells us that dedicating time to our creative pursuits is selfish, the all-consuming power of what you “should” or “could” be doing instead of writing or creating.

If you’ve been inspired this month, if you were moved on election night, if you have found yourself pinning your hopes on the possibility of change, consider how you have the power to inspire, move, and change yourself. It’s not out there. It’s in there. In you. Step into your greatness. Take a deep breath. Challenge yourself to believe, Yes You Can. You are your creativity. But living it takes more than just doing it. And doing it takes believing you can be it.

A simple request: Think about one thing you can do this week that would challenge you to live your writing. Perhaps carry an eraser in your pocket, or wear a rubber band around your wrist. Or tell three people that you’re a writer or an artist. Start to be what you’re doing. See how and if choosing to do one small action like this allows you to live your creativity. And if that doesn’t work, perhaps you need to challenge yourself to something bigger: get a tattoo, send out ten query letters, send an email to everyone in your address book that you are a writer and see what the responses are like. Brainstorm. Have fun. But live it.

Until next month,



October 13, 2008

the power of voice

Lately a lot of my writers have been talking about their voice. What is it? How do they find it? How much does it matter? Do they have one even?

It's interesting that the question of voice should come up so much now, during a time of chaos and unease in the economy, with the election around the corner and with so many doubts about where we're going as we stare into an uncertain future.


Because voice is authenticity. When writers question their voice, they're often asking, Am I being me? or Am I being true to me? A particularly resonant question during times when we're confronted with so much inauthenticity. People who write and talk about writing often tell writers to write what they know. And there's a reason for that. There's truth and authenticity in what you know, after all. And those writers who feel at ease with voice are usually writing from a place of truth.

So how do you find your truth, or your voice, if you're looking for it? The answer to this question lies in feeling into your writing and paying attention to when you're in the groove. Do you recognize the difference between writing that feels effortless and writing that feels forced? Do you sometimes get lost in the flow of your writing and experience a connection to what you're doing that feels like faith or grace or even just spaciousness?

Writing is in fact a sacred act, one that requires much more giving over of yourself to your prospective reader than most people imagine when they decide they want to write. It requires presence. It requires authenticity and integrity and desire. Whether you're writing memoir or self-help or fiction, writing with authenticity is a discipline that can be elusive, perhaps only attainable in certain moments on certain days for certain little periods of time.

Practice becoming aware of it and see if you can start to gauge the factors that cultivate truth in your writing practice: morning versus evening? state of mind you're in when you sit down to write? ability to clear the clutter of your mind or your to-do list and be present with the task at hand? writing in the living room in the middle of family conversation versus at your dedicated writing space?

Consider it. It's elusive, but you have the ability to harness it.

Until next month,



September 6, 2008

So you want to find an agent?

A lot of writers are so excited when an agent shows interest in their work that they might ignore what seems like common sense: Ask this person questions about the nature of the relationship your about to embark upon. Signing with an agent is as big a deal, or bigger, than signing with a publishing house, because this person (if all goes well) could be representing you for years to come. You don’t want to sign with someone just because they say they like your work and they can sell your book. Find out more. Have a conversation. And work these questions out before you move forward:

5 Questions Every Writer Should Ask Their Would-be Agent

1) What’s your agency fee?
The standard is 15% of the author's take, including advances and royalties; it might be as high as 20% if the agent is selling subrights (foreign, film, etc.) Find out if this is done by the agency, or whether they work with a third party. If you want to keep certain rights, such as merchandise or film/tv (many authors do), bring that up early on.

2) What’s your preferred method of communication?
Find out whether your would-be agent is more of a phone or an email person. If you’re a first-time author and you know you’re going to have a lot of questions, ask them how they feel about that. If it’s important for you to have an agent who returns your calls, you’ll be better off knowing if you’re dealing with someone who works exclusively over their BlackBerry.

3) What do you envision for my book?
Always assume that some work will be needed on your proposal/manuscript. Ask your would-be agent what they think your projects needs and where they think improvements might be made. This is not the time to fish for compliments, but you should be listening for whether or not you feel like they get your project. Does their feedback resonate with you? If not, it’s probably not a good fit.

4) What’s your strategy for shopping the book?
Find out how this agent shops. Will they only approach big houses, or will they consider small houses if you have a lead or an idea you want them to try? What kind of timeline do they have in mind in terms of when it might be ready to shop to publishers?

5) Do you anticipate any costs on my part in order to get the manuscript to a shoppable place?
Find out whether your would-be agent expects you to hire a freelance editor at your own cost. Find out if there are any out-of-pocket expenses they are thinking about before you sign—and make sure you can live with that before you move forward.

5 Questions Every Writer Should Ask Themselves about Their Would-be Agent

1) Is this would-be agent someone you can imagine working with through the good and the bad?
Remember, agents are mediators and advocates whose job requires not only fighting on your behalf, but also pushing back on you at times. Is this someone you can work with when the going gets tough?

2)How quickly does the agent respond to you?
This is an important one for people who are quick responders and expect that everyone else should be too. It may be enough just to ask for clarification so that you’re not living with some expectation that will never be met. But ask yourself, realistically, if you can work with someone who might be slower to respond than you might prefer.

3) What kinds of clients/projects do they represent?
Do your homework. Go to the agency website and find out what they represent and whether you like the books. Ask if they’ll let you talk to one or two of their current clients. This is not out of line or even remotely inappropriate. The worst thing they can say is no.

4) Are you interested in working with this agent on just your single project, or do you want the would-be agent to represent your for your entire career?
Make sure you sign on for something that makes sense for where you are in your career. If you want to take it book-by-book, that’s okay, and it’s okay to ask for that. It’s also okay to voice your expectations that you want to work with someone who wants to be with you for the long haul.

5) Do you understand the terms of the contract?
Make sure the payment provisions make sense to you and don’t hesitate to ask questions about things you don’t understand. You don’t want to find out post-signing that you’re not okay with some of the language. Take your time and go through the contract slowly and deliberately.

If you just finished reading and are thinking, yeah, but where do I start looking for an agent to ask these questions to? Here are a couple good resources to start your search:

The Guide to Literary Agents

Good Luck!



August 6, 2008

rest & recuperation

This month my own coach encouraged me to stop and think about the real value of rest and recuperation. In our goal-driven society, with all the demands and obligations and aspirations we have, rest and recuperation is vital, but it's also something that can be hard to really give into. Sometimes what's even harder, though, is giving in and then having to come back! Which is what I experienced on my one-week vacation in late July.

Now as I prepare to go to Mexico for a week, it's as if everything feels accelerated, as if stepping away from it all feels at once like the most impossible and the most important thing I can do for myself. With my own clients, I work hard to cultivate balance and to honor where the writer needs to be. But I also strive to be tough, to hold people accountable, and to keep myself and my writers beating to the rhythm of a fairly steady drum. But all of us reach burnout. All of us get to a place where the only solution is vacation, stepping outside of our day-to-day, allowing oureslves to   s l o w    d o w n . . .

Because it's August, the summeriest of the summer months, I want to take a moment to honor rest and recuperation. We all need it, and where creativity is concerned, stepping away from our lives can bring much needed perspective. Away from email, phone, blogs, and television, we can disengage. Whether or not you're vacationing this month, consider that next time you go out of town. Make it a goal to disengage, as completely as possible, from all the things you're plugged into. For those of you who already make this a priority, excellent; for those of you who don't, don't underestimate its value for even a second. It's when we're away from the things that distract us where we can allow ourselves to get in touch with our deepest sense of self.

Happy End of Summer!



July 5, 2008

how to be free

Yesterday was Independence Day. Happy Fourth to all!

What it got me thinking about, though, was freedom. Because it's so easy to take freedom for granted, I feel like Independence Day is a good day to reflect on freedom, just like Thanksgiving is a good day to reflect on what we're thankful for.

This summer has been busier than any summer I can recall. It feels difficult to make time for the things I want to do. And even when I do have time, it seems even harder to slow time down enough to breathe and enjoy it all.

One of the themes of my coaching this past week has been about harnessing life and living the life we're all capable of living. And the connection to freedom doesn't escape me. How can we breathe into our bigness if we don't allow ourselves to be free---free from the voices that tell us we can't, free to believe we can manifest our own biggest dreams, free to live as large as we can possibly imagine.

I thought I'd leave my readers with a summer poem for July, and ask you all to reflect on what you'll do with your one wild and precious life.

“The Summer Day”

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
The one who flung herself out of the grass,
The one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
Who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
Who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
Into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
Which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

---Mary Oliver

Until next month,



June 15, 2008

how to make the most or the least of your writing this summer

Make the most:

•Set specific times to write. The days seem longer in the summertime, so there's ample opportunity to allocate time during your day to your writing. Consider two- to three-hour slots. Set up in a cafe, or in a window seat in your house so you don't feel so shut in. Allow yourself to be inspired by the weather rather than making a list of all the other things you'd rather be doing.

•Get up early. It seems easier to get up earlier when it's light by 6 am, so try writing in the morning. If you live with roommates or family and you're craving quiet time, morning can be a huge make-the-most opportunity. Hell, why not try getting up at 5 am? Set your coffee timer and gift yourself the morning.

•Take a writing retreat. This might sound impossible if you have kids to attend to, or if you feel broke. But consider the possibility of going away, even just for a weekend. You can book yourself a weekend in a secluded bed and breakfast, or consider checking out Craigslist listings and see if you might find a housesitting gig. It's amazing how effective a single weekend of writing can be in jumpstarting your motivation and enthusiasm.

•Make your summertime goals known. Yes, this is a common accountability structure, but you need to tell someone what you hope to accomplish this summer. Maybe you need to finish your book proposal. Maybe you want to write five short stories. Perhaps your goal is to write three chapters of your memoir. Whatever it is, tell someone. Ask them to follow up with you every few weeks for a progress report. It might feel scary, but it's scarier to think that come fall you might not be a single step further along in your project than you are now---right?

Make the least:

•Tell yourself you'll do it tomorrow! A sure way to make the least of your writing is to procrastinate or NOT have set writing days. If you're telling yourself that a vague "I'll do it when I have time" schedule is going to work for you, believe me, it won't. There are always a million better things to do---especially in the summer when you can spend time outside and there are extra little voices in your head beckoning you to step away from the computer. Ignore them! Set your times and stick to them, and then you can indulge your voices on your non-writing days all you want.

•Don't prioritize your writing. Here's a fact: There are more important things than your writing. Your relationships, your family, keeping your house clean, your day job. Yes, it all ranks higher on the priority list than this thing that's your hobby or your passion, I know. So it's easy to turn to everything else before you turn to your writing. Write out your priority list and see where your writing falls, and if it's lower than, say, cleaning the bathroom, ask yourself why that is and if there's any way to bump it up a bit this summer. Maybe with enough practice it will be up on the top tiers by fall.

•Assume responsibility for everything. A lot of us have a ton of things to manage over the summer, particularly those of us with kids out of school. The more involved you get in scheduling and assuming all responsibility, the more of a guarantee it is that September will be here and you'll have done very little toward making progress with your writing. Each of you will have to handle this particular hurdle your own way, but consider asking for help. Don't be a martyr. Don't assume that no one else can handle what needs to be done. If you set aside your two hours, tell your partner or children what you're doing and allow them to be allies in your goals rather than distractions from them.

•Convince yourself that summer equals rest. If you treat your writing as work or a burden or an obligation that's hanging over your shoulder, then of course you'll believe that you deserve a break! If this is true for you, try thinking about your writing differently. Reframe your relationship with your writing this summer and consider all the ways in which it brings you alive. It's easy to feel lazy in the summer, and to justify that. So think of your writing as something like exercise or eating healthy. It's easy to feel lathargic and out of it, and sometimes we just need to change our habits a little bit to realize how much our day-to-day doesn't actually have to feel that way.

So go for it! Make the most of it, and consider the ways your sabateurs might be encouraging you to make the least of it. Happy June. Just days until summer!

Until next time.



May 10, 2008

who needs an author platform anyways?

This month I'd like to talk about what an author platform is, why it's important, and who needs it anyways. There's a hell of a lot of talk in the publishing industry these days about the importance of the Almighty Author Profile---the AAP.

The AAP is important, it's true, but I know how confusing it is for writers who have aspirations of getting their books published.

First of all, what is an author platform?

The answer is not clear-cut. If you're a memoirist writing a book about your childhood, your author platform might include your blog, your MySpace page, and evidence of some readership. If you're a first-time novelist, an author platform is actually surprisingly less important than you might think. If you're a life coach, your platform might include your network of other coaches or your affiliation with a larger coaching program you're involved with. If you're writing a book about Alzheimer's, part of your platform is going to involve reaching out to specialists and networks of people who work with people suffering from Alzheimer's.

The shorter more universal answer is that a platform is anything that shows your future publisher that you have the potential to reach a wide readership. That said, if you're writing a cookbook, there's no sense in detailing your connections to the martial arts community you've been involved with since you were a child. The AAP must be focused and concise, and if you're smart, it will detail things the publisher won't have thought of. For instance, I've worked with an Asian American memoirist who listed all of her contacts to Asian American magazines and community groups. I've signed writers who have successful blogs and a proven readership. Even if your contacts and networks are minimal, start putting together a list now. See what you have to get a gauge on what you might start doing to bolster your AAP.

So what should you be doing if you want to be known as a writer with a great platform?

1. Start a website: If you don't already have one, get one. There's really no way to understate the importance of a website. If it makes sense, you should be blogging, too. But at the bare minimum, get yourself a simple site that gives information about who you are and what you're writing, and that includes some sample writing, particularly if you're writing a novel or a memoir.

2. Start doing outreach: If you're writing nonfiction, particularly prescriptive self-help, start identifying your target readership and making contacts with those people and their organizations. If you're writing about addiction, for instance, start researching the groups online that are recommending addiction/self-help books. Figure out which organizations might support your book. I had an author who wrote a marathoning book and she contacted all the national marathon training groups to tell them about what she was writing. Certainly if you can get on people's radar, you're on your way to building your author platform.

3. Get published: It doesn't matter whether it's an op-ed or a feature piece---consider getting your work published. If your a poet or a fiction writer this is actually more important than if you're a nonfiction writer, but it's important for any aspiring writer. The more bylines you have, the greater your profile. End of story. If you can say you've been published, you have a leg up on the competition. Start small. Publish for free in the beginning if you have to. Start researching where stories or articles that are relevant to your book might get picked up. This is hard work, particularly if you're more focused on writing you're book than you are on building you're platform. But if you can manage to hold both things at the same time, this is a sure-fire way to get publishers' attention.

4. Contact your friends (or friends of friends) in high places: Yes, if you can guarantee a foreword or a blurb by a high-profile person that can actually tip the scale. So work your contacts, and be shameless if you have to. It's hard for writers, particularly those who prefer to be at their computers writing rather than engaging with the public, to understand that publishers love the authors who have the charisma to TV and radio and to be out there engaging with their readers. And it's not for everyone. And it doesn't mean you can't get published if you're not a social butterfly. It's just to say that it's no longer possible to be a successful author who refuses to give interviews or who lives in relative obscurity or who's too shy to ask their friends who they know, and hey, for that matter, if they'll buy your book once it's published.

5. Consider public speaking: Nothing builds the AAP quite like public speaking. Again, it's not for everyone, and if you're a novelist this doesn't necessarily make sense. But once you're published, you might start getting calls to talk to groups of aspiring authors, and then that does absolutely make sense. But if you're a specialist, and you're writing a book about being bipolar or about Latino solidarity or about the generation gap or about the struggle to balance motherhood and career, then you need to find out groups you can speak to. Oftentimes it's the book deal that generates the speaking gigs, but if you can figure out ways into speaking engagements, this is something that publishers love. Why? Because it shows a demonstrated and preexisting audience. So consider what you're writing and what you have to say and whether you might be able to break into the speaking scene and add another notch on the AAP.

That's it for this month. Super practical advice stemming from my clients' questions and confusion. The author platform is basically a creation of modern-day publishing, but it's one you can't ignore. If you want to be published, you have to be dazzling. Some of you will be able to do that with your writing alone, but unfortunately those writers are few and far between. So start thinking about the big picture, and consider getting started with at least one of the ideas I've laid out here. And don't stress. Even one of these things counts as a solid start. The good thing about book publishing is it will always be there, so those of you who have the foresight to build your platform slowly and steadily are going to benefit in the longrun.


Return to the Warner Coaching homepage.

April 2, 2008

spring cleaning: a writer's ritual

This month's topic is all about Spring Cleaning Your Writing. For those of you who don't think you need to spring clean your writing life, consider how good actual spring cleaning makes you feel. This year I had a very profound experience in getting rid of junk. About two weeks ago, within days of each other, I unloaded two carloads of books I've been hauling around with me over the years since college, made a trip to the electronic recycling center and even rid myself of a working computer, and cut off six-plus inches of hair. It wasn't intentional doing all this stuff at the same time, but the results were dramatic. I felt as if I'd lost fifteen pounds. I felt lighter, newer, and freer. Sound dramatic? I assure you it's not. Spring cleaning is cleansing, which is why every writer needs to incorporate it as a spring ritual.

Spring cleaning, as we're approaching it in our workshop, will be a metaphor, a goal, and an intention. It can be actual spring cleaning, and should be, especially if you're writing in a cluttered office space---or worse, a nook in the corner of one of your bedrooms or living room. It can also be spring cleaning of your creative space, a washing out of old ideas that are weighing you down, or which are simply not serving you. We all hold onto things, but we oftentimes don't understand why. I was growing out my hair, but for what purpose? It was nice in the beginning, when it was still healthy, but after a certain point I was growing out my hair because I was attached to the idea of having long hair. Once I chopped it off, I had to ask myself why I waited as long as I did. The same is true in writing, only finding out the things you're holding onto can require a little more inquiry.

Even if you can't attend the workshop, I urge you to do one spring cleany thing thing this month as it pertains to your writing. Clean your desk or office space. Get rid of books you haven't opened in more than three years (and which don't hold significant sentimental value, of course). Or journal on some or all of the following questions:
1. What do I love about being a writer?
2. Which of these things are about what brings my soul alive?
3. What kinds of risks do I take in my writing?
4. What would it mean to truly risk myself in my writing?
5. What one thing am I unwilling to let go of when it comes to my writing?
6. If I had to let go of this one thing, what would happen?
7. How does that actually make you feel?

These questions could be part of your daily pages or personal journaling. I encourage it as a way of digging deeper into the question of what maybe needs to be cleaned and cleared out versus the places where you know you have a tendency to be cluttered and stuck. Take a chance here and see what reveals itself. Maybe it will be so effective that you'll feel compelled to ritualize the experience for yourself.


March 12, 2008

SoulCollage and the writer in you

As Krista and I get prepared for our second SoulCollage workshop, I've been doing a lot of thinking about all the ways in which SoulCollage can help writers tap into their inner creativity. SoulCollage is amazingly intuitive. Sometimes, completely unexpectedly, I'll be thinking about some profound connection I've just made and realize that I've made a card that depicts exactly the emotion or energy I'm feeling in that moment. SoulCollage--or more broadly, allowing space for visual support in your life---can be a gift to writers who are willing to explore the full potential of what images have to offer you when it comes to your writing. They're there if you're open to receiving them.

I often encourage my writers to think about visual imagery as a friend to help them with focus, or intention. If you're writing memoir, for instance, there might be a particular image from your book that grounds you in your work. Or it might be more general. Lots of people identify with the natural world: soil to represent growth and the planting of the seed of creativity; water to represent the fluidity and forward motion of creativity and unfolding; trees to represent the grounding nature of the writing process.

Allow whatever images come up for you to be your friend in your writing process. Give an invitation and see what happens. I suspect that any of you who've never heard of SoulCollage before imagine that you need some sort of workshop or experience in order to do it right. But the reality is you don't. You can cut out or print or save any visual image that appeals to you. It might be something from an old calendar, or a photo you love from a website, or an image you see in a magazine. The point is having an awareness about the power of visual imagery to be a guide and a muse. If you're sitting stuck at your computer, confronted by the power of the blank page, imagine the power of an image that reminds you of your sense of purpose, that puts you directly into a space of ease and mindfulness.

I encourage you to be on the lookout for that image. Give it a try. Next time you're flipping through a magazine, stop when you see something that you're drawn to. Don't ask yourself why. Cut it out and hang it in your workspace.Or if you see something online, save it to your desktop and set it up as your wallpaper or screensaver image. Allow yourself to contemplate why you were drawn to it in the first place. It's amazing the insights that come when we just allow ourselves to meditate on the simple act of being present with something that captures our attention. And if you think about it, that's exactly the discipline you need to be cultivating for your writing: curiosity, presence, unfolding, and the possibility for alternate and additional meanings to reveal themselves over time.



February 4, 2008

radical simplification

I've written here before about David Whyte, who's an amazing poet and genius at articulating simple truths of life in ways that you allow you to hear and understand things you already know in a deeper and more full way. What he's able to do is take the small details of our everyday lives and remove them from their contexts, apply them to bigger contexts, and thus simplify them and universalize them.

Though he's wonderful to listen to and is certainly a brilliant man, this ability is not a talent. It's a learned and practiced skill that all writers should learn to pay attention to. The recurring theme of my coaching over the past two or three weeks has been the need to simplify. Certainly this applies to me, too, but I feel like all I'm seeing lately is the ways in which my writers and clients are complicating their writing, making their own creative journeys more difficult and more convoluted, and in that creating all kinds of obstacles to their goals that didn't exist when they set the goal in the first place.

The solution to this? Radical simplicity. David Whyte wrote: "… we understand that though the world will never be simple, a life that honors the soul seems to have a kind of radical simplicity at the center of it." What is radical simplicity and how do you bring that to your writing (or your whole life if you're aiming high)? Certainly it takes practice and slowing down, but there's a real discipline to radical simplicity. It's trusting yourself. Trusting that you know the words that belong on the page and that you know the story that needs to be told. If you feel like you're trying too hard, chances are you are. If you feel like your writing lacks focus, your reader is probably going to feel that way too. If you can't see the forest through the trees, consider taking a giant step away from your current perspective and approaching your work from a fresh one. What ten adjectives would you use to describe the project you're working on right now? If someone asked you what it is, would you be able to describe it in three sentences? Writing---whether it's a short story, a novel, a nonfiction project, a screenplay, or even a speech, must come from what you know. It must be delivered from a humble place, and from a knowing place. As writers you must learn to trust yourselves, and you must learn to honor your writing by allowing it to have a kind of radical simplicity at its core.

Do yourself a favor in February and take a long walk when you feel frustrated with your writing. Explore what it would mean to you to approach your work from a place of radical simplicity. Consider what your attachment is to the complexities that are weighing you down. And then see if you can start shedding unecessary layers, and try to write those three sentences again and see if what you have looks any different. It's not unlike a business plan. The more simply you're able to articulate what you're writing the easier it will be to sit down at your computer with a sense of ownership over your work. You own the work. The work does not own you.



January 21, 2008

setting your intention for 2008

January is a favorite time to set new goals, to create new resolutions, to think about all the things you haven't been doing but should be. Most of us create resolutions that are fairly vague. They're usually about things we want to get done during the year, but more often than not we have zero to little structure around the ways in which we might accomplish these goals. If your goal is weight loss (perennial favorite), for instance, you'd be best to go about it by starting a regular workout schedule, eating better, and all the rest. But how much easier would this be if you hired a personal trainer and chef to keep you on track? A lot. Most of us don't have the money to hire other people to help us see us through our goals, but there are smaller things you can be doing to follow through with the things you want to accomplish this year.

First, I encourage you to go beyond goal-setting. New year's resolutions need to be more than a goal. They need to have some kind of energy attached to them. They require passion. Or they just won't get done. Setting an intention is going a step beyond goal-setting. It's seeing yourself in that next phase. It's visualizing yourself achieving the goal and being in a new place, a step or two beyond where you are now.

One you've done the visualization and figured out where you want to be, consider getting into group settings that encourage you, that help you bring your intention into a more public space. You can do this by joining a group. If you're a writer and you don't already have a writing group, join one. Go to workshops. There are day-long workshops and weekend workshops on every topic under the sun. One of my own personal goals for 2008 is to hold four workshops. Beyond that, I want to attend at least that many. I kicked off this year by attending a David Whyte weekend at Mount Madonna Center last weekend. David's weekend promised to illuminate the invisible. It's important to take time away from your routine, to join others in a space that celebrates getting in touch with your inner intentions and your inner greatness. Sometimes spending a weekend outside of the pressures that you're feeling just to start, to be creative, and to get going with your goals is exactly the thing you need to allow the space for those things to happen.

Lastly, set up accountabilities. I believe that the best accountability system out there is actually having a coach who you're talking to on a regular basis, checking in with about whether you're on track with your own goals. But if you're struggling with the idea of whether you need or want a coach, then consider telling people (someone you trust to hold you to your commitment) your goals or your intentions and asking them to check in with you about it from time to time. It's a baby step toward more intense accountability, but it's a good start. And it might help you realize the value of accountability. There's a reason why lessons work. You have a lesson and the teacher expects you to practice during the week. If you never practice and there's no progress then the teacher will expect answers. You might start questioning why you're taking lessons in the first place. Every goal you're serious about, therefore, should be treated as something you'd be willing to take a lesson in, to have a teacher hold you to your intention to make progress.

If you're serious about tackling a new project or creating an ongoing writing practice, I encourage you to start with step one and move through to step three, or to tackle all of these over the course of this year. It'll change your life. I promise.

Until next month.