Putting Myself Out There...as a Geek

As a coach, my obsession was learning what worked to get people, including me, unstuck. What helps a (artist, entrepreneur, filmmaker) writer pursue their work without the crippling self-doubt and internal brokenness I felt? 

I spent a decade on this problem and as you know, I wrote this book about it.

But now, after almost three years of focused, intense, steady work on my fiction, I have results to show there as well. I have put a medical-detective-science-fiction story up on Wattpad.com. Yipee! People are reading it. And, at least a few are liking it. If you are interested, please find me there and check it out. 

The point of this post, however, is to talk about the importance of asking for help, support, and just plain attention. To notice that the road to good work is one of being vulnerable, and standing in that sensation on the daily. To say, hey, look over here at what I did! 

Not easy.

All  my life, I have had a sparkly diva within who wanted to entertain you and make you smile. But like many of us, the world let me know that dream was for special people. And I had to agree, I was not only not special, I was the worst of the worst. My childhood was like that. Maybe yours was too. I didn't come out of it thinking I had a right to anyone's attention, or applause. And for sure, being vulnerable was as terrifying as stepping in front of a bus. Full of people who were laughing at me.

Since then, I've connected with the part of me that dreams of offering stories of value, of quality and meaning. I am learning, day by day, to show my desire for readers, for a community of followers. To state plainly, I would love it if you found value in my work. To many people this is a mundane dream. To me, it is the forbidden slope of a beautiful mountain I have been looking at wistfully, all my life. 

I am climbing it, step by step. I'd be honored if you would join me. 


Practical Action

Creative Practice is a blend of mindfulness with action. Action leads to insight, which leads to planning and commitment, which leads to more action. The result is creative work, increased skill, and a fulfilled life.

I love lists. They really get me moving forward, especially ones where I can check a box or strike through my completed tasks. Here's a list I recently compiled for my own use.

What would you put, on your own list? I challenge you to have fun with this. The ideas is that when the transition into flow is tricky, or monster-inviting, breaking work down into small bits removes the overwhelm. Try it.

One Hundred Actions toward being a published author

(Stash phone somewhere inconvenient.)

1.  Post a blog entry

2.  Start a blog for the book series

3.  Post on the series FB page

4.  Tweet on @Sparkspit

5.  Start a Twitter for the book series

6.  Look at industry news

7.  Set up meetings

8.  Visit book store

9.  Read for X minutes

10.         Write a character sketch

11.         Research tech trends

12.         Free write

13.         Free write to a prompt

14.         Free write within a genre

15.         Outline

16.         Sketch a story quickly

17.         Revise a story

18.         Revise a chapter

19.         Revise a letter

20.         Read a story

21.         Write a fan letter

22.         Work on a chapter

23.         Revise an outline

24.         Create a Lexicon

25.         Seek out readers

26.         Send work out to readers

27.         Check back with readers

28.         Leak a chapter on line

29.         Start a serialized story on line

30.         Research places to post said story

31.         Write a totally new paragraph

32.         Find how-to manuals on genre

33.         Read how-to manuals on genre

34.         Create and revise personal manifesto

35.         Look for classic books to adapt

36.         Submit story to publications

37.         Write agent query letter

38.         Revise agent query letter

39.         Research group meetings

40.         Sign up for mailings

41.         Read mailings

42.         Go to a group meeting

43.         Go to a reading of new work

44.         Go to a book tour reading

45.         Sign up for a class

46.         Attend a class

47.         Correspond with teacher of a past class

48.         Research relevant publications

49.         Access relevant publications (buy or connect online)

50.         Read a relevant magazine

51.         Make a list of possible submission places

52.         Write something crazy just for fun

53.         Write a short piece “in the style of”

54.         Set up a writing group

55.         Set up a cabin retreat

56.         Set goals

57.         Set word counts

58.         Set deadlines

59.         Solicit feedback

60.         Offer feedback

61.         Work on physical descriptions

62.         Extrapolate tech potentials

63.         Extrapolate societal potentials

64.         Extrapolate spiritual potentials

65.         Extrapolate natural world potentials

66.         Create civilizations

67.         Outline a detective story (bare bones)

68.         Outline a detective story (fleshed out)

69.         Outline a caper story (bare bones)

70.         Outline a caper story (fleshed out)

71.         Outline a survival epic (bare bones)

72.         Outline a survival epic (fleshed out)

73.         Outline a war story (bare bones)

74.         Outline a war story (fleshed out)

75.         Outline a thriller (bare bones)

76.         Outline a thriller (fleshed out)

77.         Outline a horror story (bare bones)

78.         Outline a horror story (fleshed out)

79.         Create a main character

80.         Create a villain

81.         Create a maguffin

82.         Create a “problem”

83.         Solve a “problem”

84.         Invent an obstacle to love

85.         Invent the world’s salvation

86.         Make a puzzle, back to front

87.         Play with the concept of time; how can be used?

88.         Make a list of character needs in order of intensity

89.         Ponder the nature of reality (in words on a page)

90.         Ponder the nature of Humanity (in words on a page)

91.         Ponder the nature of Nature (in words on a page)

92.         Research agents

93.         Research cons

94.         Research writing conferences

95.         Meet up with supportive colleagues

96.         Look at graphic novels

97.         Study NASA’s activities

98.         Study NOAA’s activities

99.         Draw parts of worlds, machines, or devices

100.       Post a poem on poetry blog




Being Alive

At my age (not brand new) I have seen some dramatic career arcs amongst friends, clients, and former colleagues. I LOVE the long perspective, because it shows so many reasons for hope.

1. There are highs and lows in EVERY creative career. Even the most gifted artists do some rotten work, in an effort to get to the great result.

2. It is never too late. We worship youth, but youth is fleeting. Good work is forever.

3. Amazing achievements happen. Like Rick's bar in Casablanca, success might walk into your gin joint. Be ready.

Keep working.



There are facets to each of our personalities that appear and guide us. Some are wholly positive, the inner voice of "you can do it!" Others are negative, as in "Nothing ever goes your way."

But most are ambiguous, neither all good nor all bad, just invisible parts of our psyche that tend to protect the quivering, uncertain self within. 

Listening deeply to the impulses that make our under-the-radar decisions is difficult, but essential. Without self awareness, there is no true conscious choice. The trick is to understand where you got lost, deeply and intentionally. Commit to walking where you choose NOW. Then step forward.

I am deep into learning about my blocks around ambition. And let me tell you, I have some doozies.

When you think about putting yourself out there in the path of glory, or at least impact, who whispers in your ear? And is what that voice wants for you what you want for yourself?



Mountain to Climb

I was telling a friend, "I feel like whenever I learn something, I have to learn it for myself and everyone else."

He said, "You sound like you're on Seinfeld."

I laughed hard, and threw a paper napkin at him. He was right. I do sound a little whiney about this situation. But it's still TRUE.

If I go into territory I want, but fear, to tread...it makes it a lot easier if I can report back to you, and my clients, about what has been learned. And always, my clients come to me with aspects of the journey I need to learn about. They challenge me as much as I challenge them.

So, what is this treacherous climb? Going pro. Getting paid in a real, tangible way, for my creative work.

I will report how it goes. And if you have a similar quest, please let me know. We can hold hands.

The Ambition Monster

It hardly counts as any kind of deep admission these days to reveal that I struggle with anxiety. Who doesn't?

But I think a lot of us can relate to the idea that when we are up against our triggers, it helps to stop and apply a liberal dose of self compassion. It doesn't make the panic feelings disappear, but at least the reason for them can become part of a larger, worthy whole. I am not my anxiety. It is not me. It is a part of what happens when I am up against one of my monsters.

Being a coach has helped me understand that many people find ambition to be a major stressor. We want to do great things! And, wanting something you may not get can get very frustrating. Our culture teaches us that all things are possible, if we just think/act/vibrate the right way.

But that is nonsense. Sometimes, you don't get what you want. 

Even more frightening, sometimes you do. I have had more clients tell me that the fear of being successful blocks their progress more thoroughly than fear of failure. We all experience failure. But how many of us are comfortable playing the role of the grand, glorious success?

For many of us, success and the feelings it engenders are triggers. They send us off into a cloud of anxiety about the inevitable smack down to follow; disapproval, rejection, or depression. If you have ever lived with someone who is bipolar, or if you are, you know how truly crippling a low can become. 

What is the remedy for this? First off, knowing and understanding that the ambition monster is real, and not a weakness of character. Secondly, doing what you can to take care of yourself.

What is not a helpful strategy is leaving off the work that led to the panic feeling. Keep working. Separate the work from the reaction to the work. Build boundaries around that.

Whatever happens out there, don't let it in here.  The monster works for you, not the other way around. There's nothing wrong with banishing that fiend, while letting your regular practice continue.

Deep breaths.

I'm done! (I'll never be done)

One the hardest things to convince creative learners of is the need to celebrate victories. 

My logic (and the logic of cognitive therapists) is that the chemical pleasure of reward reinforces the behavior that caused it. I.e., if it feels good, we'll find a way to do it. So to make creative work a need, a habit, and a reliable muscle, introduce happy chemicals whenever a goal is reached.

But it's tricky, because of course goals are their own reward, correct?

Today I finished my draft. That is to say, the third complete draft of my sci fi novel that I have been working on FOREVER. But it's an obsession, so I'm okay with that. What's harder is the sense that I ought to seal in my satisfaction with some form of reward.

But I do. Daily work is a habit now, though I had to build from literally nothing, when creative narcolepsy limited my stints to fifteen minutes each. But finishing long-term projects is a relatively new behavior for me. And only now, when I have begun focusing enough to actually remember the beginning when I arrive at the end, do I see how important this skill will become.

So I am going to force myself to celebrate. Because continuing to complete the work I begin is key to ever becoming the published author I want to be.

So here goes: HIP HIP HOORAY!

What victory can you get kudos for, today?

Social Media and Safety

I had the good fortune to spend some time with a newly-published author recently. The outpouring of love for this young woman was inspiring, and spoke to her readers' deep need for her message.

Like many modern voices, my author friend - let's call her Willa - is out there on social media, especially twitter and instagram. Most of her ardent fan base knows her from her many outspoken, candid posts.

Here's the thing, for anyone who works outside of boundaries, letting strangers into their thoughts, postings, and their unguarded authenticity; it can be too much.

One thing Willa and I talked about was how as she becomes a bona fide celebrity, and she is charismatic, brilliant and prescient enough to pull that off, in my opinion, she will need to learn boundary setting. She will have work to do on finding real silence, privacy and safety.

Most of us have some presence on social media. Let's vow to learn safety as we leverage this amazing communication tool. We need Willa, and others like her, to be heard. And to do that, she as a living organism must be kept safe.



Falling Off The Path

There's a kind of loss in our society that few people talk about, but many people feel. It's the dichotomy between being on track, and being lost. Moving toward prosperity and fulfilment, versus flailing helplessly without direction. Sometimes people feel it as being fake, even while their lives look good on the outside.

There is an easy shorthand to the solution for this; courage to fail. But with that comes a necessary grief. If you deviate from easy categorization, expect to feel lonely. The compensation is of course to feel yourself, fully alive and engaged with things you don't need to talk yourself into. 

But the downside is real. I don't think anyone is helped by pretending otherwise. When you say yes to yourself, you say no to the agendas others may hold for you. And there will be consequences. 

If you are struggling with the messiness of being off the expected path, take heart. Like all grief, this will pass into a form that no longer feels overwhelming. I'll let you know if I discover some magic way to circumvent the pain of dismissing convention, but for now I'll tell you this; integrity is its own reward. Expect to feel more real, and more confident, even as the world looks at your choices and fails to comprehend them.

I give you permission to make choices based on your inner voice, letting the chorus of worldly expectation fade into the background. 


Breaking Bubbles

I love the freedom of spontaneous travel. Get in the car (or train, or bus) and go, without really knowing where you are headed. Recently, just such a foray took me well outside of my bubble. I ventured into a part of the country which, while not geographically far from my home, is worlds away politically, socially, and economically.

I expected to feel alienation and distance from the people there. I expected a tribal feeling of strangeness. I expected to be pickled in resentment toward their foolishness, their destructiveness, and their ignorance.

Will it surprise you to read that I did not? Of course, these people are the opposition, those on the other side, responsible for the world's ills. Right?

What I saw were people. Folks who feel the EXACT same kinds of frustration and alienation that my tribe feels:  If only the "other side" would demonstrate some common sense. If only the people who vote differently would see that their real interest lies over here, where I live. If only the powers that be understood real people, with legitimate claims on resources, instead of worrying about the desires of strangers.

I saw hard-working young people with enthusiasm and drive. I saw exhausted-looking middle agers making the best of meager means. I saw community leaders striving to bring opportunity, with mixed success. 

What I saw were ordinary, kindly-enough people who just want control over their lives, safety for their communities, and a sense that their interests are being considered in the halls of power.

Who doesn't want those things?

I wanted to feel smug, and right, and superior. But I can't. I feel compassion, and respect, and worry. Who knows what our divisions will lead us into? One thing I know; folks I disagree with act based on perfectly reasonable ideals. They want good things, even if I sometimes can't relate to their methods.

I encourage all of us to leave our bubbles, as often as possible. It is not always easy, or comfortable. But if we are going to create any kind of functioning future together, we must learn to see the opposition as human, as people with legitimate values, even if their methods infuriate us. 

When we see ourselves clearly, and our behavior as a reflection of our real goals, we can begin to steer toward the future we want. By remaining in comfortable darkness, pretending that reality is somehow removed from our day to day actions, things go wrong. In personal terms, people who want to do creative work wind up estranged from their real desires, lost and in pain, because they are not making space in their day for creative work. In political terms, we run headlong into the world we imagine, not realizing that others are willing to stick a foot out and trip us if they feel left behind.

 Just as we do with our own monsters, who seduce us to do things that seem off the path to our goals, we would benefit by looking, listening, and trying to see the fear under the noise. When a monster comes to light, it is almost always trying to protect us from harm, from shame, or from failure. This metaphor is all too easy to apply in the world today. The solution is to go to the monster, and be present. Believe me, it loses all its power in the light of true curiosity.

Try leaving your bubble, without the filter of media or the safety of smugness. It won't kill you. And you will definitely learn something; possibly compassion,  possibly even the freedom to let go of anger and move forward.

In my work as a coach, I have seen over and over how simply being seen and known changes people. It is like sun on a plant; they feel instantly stronger and more capable. We need to offer that power to others, counter-intuitive as it might appear. 

Fear multiplies itself. Let's temper it with curiosity, and a willingness to listen. One thing is sure; it couldn't hurt.


I graduated a client today. It's a sweet, happy day when someone no longer needs coaching. 

There are two reasons for being done.

One, the coaching "isn't working." I tend to avoid that outcome because I am very careful in my vetting process. Some people aren't ready for coaching because they see it as me "fixing" them. That never works, though it does add to their list of "things they've tried". Others aren't coachable because they are getting too much out of being stuck. Without shame or blame, I mostly steer clear of these two frustrating situations.

The other reason for being finished with coaching is because TA DA! We have met our goals with the work.

In the case of my client who graduated today, healing of past trauma, grief and sorrow resulted in greater self-trust and insight. In other words, the past no longer had to be prologue. By "healing" I mean looking at deeply-held truths that were unfair and invalid, but seared in like scar tissue. Sometimes having a hand to hold while you go back into the pain allows you to see it more clearly, in a way where you are not quite as implicated in your own heartache.

What does all this feel good language mean in real terms?

In this case, a long list of accomplishment in the world. Commitments met, goals reached (worldly goals, not woo woo goals), and finely crafted plans for the future. A credential in sight, a new job in her sweet spot (and a chance to resign from the old, icky one), and a larger push toward a huge but appropriate goal. (I can't be more specific because...confidentiality.) 

Measuring progress in coaching is a combination of the unseen, and the real. Today, work toward self-knowledge, better management of the past, and willingness to work hard resulted in a bountiful bunch of successes. What is better than that?

Only one thing; the future is wide open. 

What is on your list?

Falling In Love (with the work)

I often talk to clients about muscle memory, cognition, and myelin. In other words, we remind ourselves over and over how important it is to WORK. Not just talk about working.

When you commit to a regular, realistically-scaled creative practice, your muscle grows. The work gets easier to dive into, with less procrastination, guilt, and other monster dances.

Over time, with tools like soliciting feedback, deconstructing the output of admired masters, and plain experience, your work itself improves. Talent meets effort, with the result of finished projects.

But none of that is THE BIG GOAL.

I know every big time artist says this. But their lives are already defined by their work. Those of us who have struggled to become every-day creatives aren't so settled. We need to know that the time will come when no effort goes into managing our feelings about ourselves, and our work. But the effort all goes INTO THE WORK.

It will happen. It does happen. It will happen to you. Just keep setting small goals, and meet them. Keep finishing projects. Keep asking for help.

You will fall in love with the work.

And then...all the looping will become a quaint little thing you did back then, like taking your checks into the actual bank, or going to the video store. Your attention will shift. Not to utter, sustained joy. But to matters of work, career, and life, which all demand that you tend that thing you love. Your work.

Being a Loser

Okay, that word may be a little extreme. But the feeling of being unlovable, not good enough, and simply outside the bounds of acceptable comes around, even to people who are card-carrying self-help helpers.

Here's something I've learned; when I lead with my vulnerability, (not everyone, but) many people meet me with a hand to hold and a shoulder to cry on. Rather than making people go "ewww" (usually) the unvarnished truth allows them to be honest themselves. It's a relief to them that I can acknowledge our shared truth; we all feel like losers at times.

Asking for help when you most need it can feel overwhelmingly risky. BUT. Do it anyway.

If you want kindness, admit you could use a little. It's amazing how people want to dry your tears and offer their arm. Showing compassion invites agreement that you are really not as bad as all that. In fact, you're loved. Even if you don't feel you deserve to be.

People have an overflowing well of goodness. But they sometimes don't know how to offer it. Give them a way in. Admit you're a loser, just like everyone else.

We are flawed, fallible, imperfect people. At least, the sane among us are. Next time you feel like a garbage person, realize that almost everyone you know has dragged themselves off to their responsibilities feeling the same way. They've shown the ultimate bravery; continuing to try.

The trick is to keep risking, keep living, while allowing that there are ditches beside even the most beautiful road, and one of these days, each of us has our turn falling in. 


Heck Yeah

Today I had the happiest reminder that coaching WORKS. 

My client said, "I feel like I am becoming the person I was always meant to be."

Sweet words, indeed.

When I coach, I feel the same way. How lucky I am.

How about you? Who are you meant to be?

Respect, True and False

Sometimes in life you will encounter people who need your surface to reflect what they believe is their due; respect, agreement, friendliness. Some people are highly skilled at understanding and fulfilling this unspoken role play. They naturally slip into a rapport that allows the needy narcissist to feel the right way. Perhaps they just understand what is expected and are nimble about providing it, no matter their true feelings.

I am not one of those people. When I encounter a narcissist, particularly a toxic one, I shut down. I do a crummy job of hiding my emotions, be they good or bad. I am reticent about allowing that person - who to me is plainly unhealthy - any power over me. I'm a bad faker.

I recently had an encounter that ended badly, with someone being wildly put out that I didn't shelve my worries (a young relation was having a heartbreaking medical downturn) and show up happy when we ran into each other randomly, on my day off. The consequences to me were bewilderingly punitive; I was cast out of paradise. Some people need to use their power, to retain their equilibrium and stay comfortable, and heads will need to roll. 

I have apologized to this person for allowing my sorrow to show on my face, when she expected me to smile and offer myself up as emotionally available. Saying I'm sorry is about all I can do. People around me are quick to provide reasons why I shouldn't make the effort, when "everyone knows" this person is "crazy" and other more specific salacious comments.

Many of my favorite people are "crazy", and the truth is that I offended this person. I am sorry. It doesn't make me any less of a kindhearted, genuine being to admit that. One of my flaws is an inability to do hero worship. I have other things to offer, including loyalty and deep respect, but sucking up is not in my repertoire. Because I love to be around creative people, this situation will always crop up in my life. The line between originality and nuttiness is nearly non-existent and in any case, I love both.

So I take responsibility for my surface, which offended a powerful person, and will again in my life -- I can be sure. What I won't do is become defensive and buy into the shame that I am intended to feel. I failed to reflect good feelings, so I am "bad". I don't believe that kind of binary nonsense. I hope you don't allow yourself to be shoved into that sort of holy-unholy complex, either.

Bullies are sad people. They exercise their power to try and control reality, to force the world into the shape they need it to take, so they can feel okay. They are fragile. They struggle to maintain a sense of worth and slashing with their sword is sometimes the only remedy.

So, I apologize for the moments when I, by virtue of not hiding my true self, offend. But I won't redouble my efforts to be "nicer". I won't accept the idea that I really am, deep down, bad. I refuse to be defined that way, as an angel or a devil.

What I will do is hang on to my dignity, and keep risking. My writing, my coaching, and the other forms of work that I do all demand that I not let myself be projected upon by bullies. I must show up as authentic, no matter the cost. I must see clearly when people need to put me in a box for their own convenience, and refuse to climb in. 

I will pay the price for these choices. Some days, honestly, it's hard. No one likes being told they are rude, unworthy, and not okay. As an insecure, flawed, vulnerable lady myself, I'd love if the feedback I got was all hearts and roses. Lucky for me, I am deeply loved and fortunate to have friends who actually know me. We love one another for who we really are. My real loved ones are able to see that some days, when you've been at the hospital all day and now there's no dinner, and life seems wretched, it's not about them. 

If you are facing down a toxic narcissist who threatens to shame you, and cast you onto the pile of rejects, take heart. Your real self does not need the false approval of people who demand your "respect". 

What you need, what I need, is the self respect that comes from being authentic.

Also, if you see someone who doesn't look at you in a way that makes you feel good, consider taking a moment to wonder if that person is wrestling with sorrow and tragedy that day. Life isn't smooth for anyone. If your goal is having people like you and want to be your friend, compassion works far better than coercion. 

Me vs. Trauma+Loss

When I was young, it felt impossible for me to escape being defined by my losses; I either had to keep silent about them or risk people looking at me as "the girl who"...fill in the blank. 

Like many others, I wondered if I would just be myself. And, if I found that potential person, the one who hadn't lost years of school learning to being abused,  been left behind by suicide, or deeply marked one of my other sorrows, who would I be? Was I an artist, or was the only interesting thing about me the fact that I was still standing? I had a fabulous tale of woe, but maybe that was all.

Here's what I know. It doesn't matter what spurred me to grow into the person I am; the loving mother, the tenacious writer, and the supporter of risky human expression. The key for me is to accept my wounds, while trusting that they don't define me. At my age, I see the ways in which they set me free. I know myself well enough to let sadness live alongside joy.

Yesterday I was coaching a young man who was struggling with a series of losses, of his dignity, of his reputation, and of a loved one he didn't know how to live without. We talked about how in our world there's a sense that being grief-stricken is seen as weak. People in his life were ready for him to move on. But he hadn't allowed himself, in his private moments, to feel the full weight of his sorrow. So the more pressure he felt to "get on with his life", the harder he found it to allow his natural grief process. 

The work for him, as for many of us, is to separate out his valid feelings of loss, from the fear that he is that loss, that it will become all of him, swallow him whole and never let him laugh again. But when he insists on his feelings, letting the complex web of reactions to his experiences just exist without fighting them, something strangely unexpected happens.

He feels lighter. He is able to move on. Because he is ready.

Funny, huh? When we stop forcing ourselves to move forward, but stay still, the growth simply happens. Because live things naturally want to grow.

If you have unhealed sorrows that are keeping you from being present in your life and your creative work, I challenge you to try and separate YOU from your traumas. Dive in and simply be with what you feel; a perfectly reasonable response to loss.

(Do what you need to be safe in this. Trust only the trustworthy. Keep a therapist on speed-dial if you might get clinically depressed. Learn the difference between discomfort and danger and act accordingly.)

On the other side of your tears, your confusion, rage or whatever else is waiting for you to own it, you will find the gifts of vitality and unique wisdom. Rather than being less of a person, you will be more. As a friend, lover, and artist, your empathy and insights will grow.

You are much more than your wounds.


Craving Attention vs. Fearless Creation

A client I'll call Hugh had been dancing around becoming a filmmaker for fifteen years. He was educated, successful, and from the outside, already "creative." But Hugh knew he had only the most tenuous relationship with his storytelling powers. He rarely sat down to do his own work. His voice felt buried.

Enter the Loop.

Hugh started noodling with ideas, and noticed that discomfort arose every time, He kept getting stuck on - for lack of a better term - hogging the spotlight. He worried that the "true motive" behind his ambitions might just be a form of narcissism.

Okay, I said, time to disentangle two related but separate parts of a life:   1. the desire to be seen and known, versus 2. the need to satisfy the creative organism within.

1. The desire to be seen and known is universal, and normal. When artists look to that yearning as their motivation, however, the result isn't what they seek. In short, making art so people will love you doesn't satisfy. If you are able to succeed in this endeavor, what you receive is ginned-up attention, and potentially even adoration. But it's not for you, it's for your ability to please.

This feels awful. Hence, hacks turning to substances they then abuse to feel okay again.  If you are good enough, strong willed enough, and resourceful enough to manipulate the world, then you are uniquely vulnerable to conditional love.

Don't fall into conflating a need for attention with a need to create.

2. The desire to do honest, quality work is the mixed burden of the artist. This need can't be negated, only negotiated with. Creating because you need to, because the real you has something to say and you must behave with integrity, i.e. honor the real you, is totally separate from making something you know the world will applaud.

This is where the stereotypical crazy, uncompromising auteur comes from. Obeying the artist within can at times feel like pushing attention away, actively, because you don't know yourself where the work will take you. You can't know. If you did, you'd be stifling yourself. You can only start with a desired outcome, and undertake the journey with humility, knowing you might fail.  You are accepting the risk that being seen and known will expose something you don't have control over, that makes you vulnerable. It is that thing, the mysterious spark that you allow to inhabit the work, that makes it interesting. It is the risk that could result in great work. Or, bad work. Or, for most artists, some of both.

Hugh had mixed up in his mind the idea of wanting attention, versus letting his voice out to play. All his life, he'd been convinced that his motives for writing screenplays were suspect, and vaguely unacceptable. For certain, this doubt about his own creative urges inhibited him.

So when Hugh connected with his authentic, uncompromising voice, and let go of his ability to get attention for its own sake, guess what happened?

Motivation flowed through him, unfettered. Suddenly, he had permission to just simply go.

He called this "a major leap" and he could not wait to apply himself.

What would happen for you, if you disentangled the desire to be applauded from the need to do your own fearless work? 

p.s. Don't take this post as disparaging toward people who are both wildly authentic and hugely successful. I want that for both you and me. If you have a chance, spend time with a real artist who is also materially rewarded for their work. That brilliant person will show you with their actions how they protect their internal artist from external pressure. This action can be interpreted as Diva behavior. It might come off as eccentric. But big time artists have ways of making safe space to risk. If they don't master this part of their self care, they will falter. If you look, you'll see the distinction between people-pleasing and boundaries around the creative spark is part and parcel of any great artist's creative practice. 


I had a client once who wanted help with her "addiction" to a video game. She came home from her job every night and played for half an hour. She'd wasted so many hours! She felt so terrible! Couldn't I get her to use her time more productively?

I wouldn't want to.

When we drilled deeper, it came out that video games helped her wind down after a long day. They helped her transition from the outside world to her own private domain. They accessed a side of her brain she liked using.  After her play time and a quick bite to eat, she was ready to settle in work. The arrangement worked beautifully. It was her self-criticism that caused problems.

Transitions can be tricky, because in that place of letting go of distraction and getting down to work, the whole subject of "excuses" and "discipline" waits to rush in, cloaked in righteousness. Learn what helps you, and forget how you think your habits "should" look. 

Let yourself get there in your own way. 


Life During Wartime

People ask me how I can focus on writing when the world is in the midst of chaos. At best, politics are a distraction. At worst, they can inflame real, dire conflict. No one knows yet which version of events we are living through.

But I think we can agree that this is not a normal time. 

I have two pieces of advice for anyone struggling to get to their work.

1. You can remain politically active and aware, while also working. But it's not a crime to protect yourself from harm. You are allowed to turn off the news until you can breathe again. It may help you see clearly. Patterns will emerge from the overwhelming noise, and you need to be rational enough to be more proactive, less reactive. As an artist, you must do whatever you can to retain your humanity, or your work will devolve into propaganda.

2. Your values, point of view, and insights are what make you an artist. Without working to promote your political point of view, do pour all of what you are into the work. How to tell the difference between agitprop and good art? There is no answer to this, but I think there is a key in how vulnerable you allow yourself to be while working. The deeply personal -- not necessarily confessional -- but explicit and specific choices will place your work into the realm of universal, and thus powerful.

What do I mean? I am suggesting taking more risks rather than fewer, but doing so inside a structure where you aren't inventing something obviously political. 

For example, some of the greatest protest music ever written was set in a time other than the conflict at hand. Immortal paintings sometimes portray events in epic, symbolic terms rather than literally.  Literature goes to a granular level, one where you live through the characters, feel what they feel, see what they see when the world is upside down. To achieve these effects, the artists who made them chose to speak via a familiar genre, be it traditional folk songs, religious triptych, or dystopian thriller novel. They let their radical ideas cleave to recognizable conventions, so the world could understand their outrage.

(The works I am referring to are The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, sung by Joan Baez, Picasso's Guernica, and George Orwell's 1984. But I could also be speaking of Hamilton, the paintings of Kehinde Wiley/Jacob Lawrence/Jean Michel Basquiat, or The Hunger Games. This is why repressive regimes defund the arts, burn paintings, and ban books. Because these pieces of art disturb the convention even while embodying it.)

Whatever you are feeling, bring it to your work. But do so cleverly, by making choices that resist devolution into an angry rant. Choose forms that elevate your ideas to the universal human story.

No matter how you get through the days ahead, remember that artists make a difference, especially during wartime.

Peace to you, 


Sweet Spot

Goal setting is a key aspect of what I call "the creative loop". 

When you delve into your work, notice what's there while working/failing to work, and compassionately evaluate, it's time to set a new intention. Finding the right goal makes the difference between setting yourself up to win, or to get frustrated. 

Of course, there's learning in failure. Sometimes, the choices we make when attempting to discipline ourselves to work are the ones we most need to look at; why did we promise to do something unrealistic, or in conflict with our other values? Why did we procrastinate, get distracted, or create drama?

When you choose work goals that you can actually meet, you'll know you've unsnarled the tangle. 

So, what can you do today, tomorrow, this week, that is reasonable enough to follow through on? 

Once you answer that, ask this: what would make that goal not only doable but exciting, challenging, maybe even thrilling?

The sweet spot for goal setting is right there, between "realistic" and "wow". 

So what is your sweet spot? What lies between reasonable, and thrilling, for you? 

Now, there's your goal. Go get it.