Is Writing Hard?

melanie bates

“So, what do you do?” the girl asks. She has a gold star plastered on the chest of her snowy white sweater. Silver tinsel adorns the neck and cuffs. It matches her adult braces perfectly and I think her quite clever.

Her gaze tells me we’re in a competition, though, and that we’re on the train, the whistle’s been blown, and she’s five cars ahead of me already. I can feel her superiority in my solar plexus as I answer, “I’m a writer.”

I glance at a guy a short distance away who’s wearing a bright red sweater with green trim and stuffed cats sewn all over it. I haven’t been able to decide which sweater is the ugliest, but I do wish I could vote for the sleigh bell earrings that jingled past me moments ago.

“I’ve always wanted to write a book,” she says. “I just don’t have the time. I’m too busy with work. Maybe when I retire.” Her braces flash and I wonder why she didn’t go with Invisalign. I realize I’m not being very charitable.

I want to tell her I’ve heard her answer exactly three million times. Tonight. Here in this room. But I don’t. Instead I choose the passive aggressive stance that I take when I’ve allowed someone to make me feel small. “So what are you working on?”

“Oh, that’s way down the road.” I fill in the rest of her answer in my mind, except I make her small like one of those Brownies in the movie Willow, and I make myself as tall as the Jolly Green Giant. Her voice squeaks in my head: I’m busy with real work that actually helps real people live better lives. But I have this idea for a book where-

“Do you read?” I ask. I’m already situated in the Passive Aggressive car, and the train’s going too fast. I can’t jump off now.

She laughs. “Reading just makes me fall asleep.”

“So… have you studied the craft at all? Taken any classes?”

“What is there to study? Writing’s easy. You just sit down and write.”

We stand in silence for a moment before she wanders off to talk to someone wearing a Gingerbread man sweater with its leg bitten off. It says “Bite Me.” I don’t find it ugly at all. He should be disqualified.

I head to the kitchen to see if I can find some bowl to refill or a loaf of bread to break up into bite-sized chunks. I’m not even the host of the party, but I feel safer putting myself to tasks.

But the conversation plagues me for days.

Is writing easy? And if it isn’t easy, does it have to be hard? Or worse… have I been buying into the idea of the suffering artist since I wore my first black turtleneck back in high school and drank Bacardi 151 out of a brown paper bag?

As so often happens in my life, the conversation comes up a week later with a brilliant client of mine who is pondering the idea herself. We spend a fair amount of time discussing the value of something being hard. We wonder together: if something is easy, and there is no suffering, do we value it the same? Or do we place more value on the things that we suffer through; the things that are hard?

And in terms of writing…would I be proud of something that sprang forth from me with no effort at all on my part?

Before I twist myself into an existential piece of Christmas art to adorn your coffee table, I can only speak my own truth.

Writing is extraordinarily hard. There are days when I sit at my keyboard, open my manuscript, and stare at it in a haze. I struggle to write every single, solitary word on those days. I spend much of my time hating on every letter that already exists and I tell myself that I am the worst writer in the history of writers. I let myself know, with no uncertainty, that I’ll never be published, and I should just give up. Let it go. Have an easier life. Who am I to think I could be a writer anyway? It’s all rubbish. It’s 100% shite.

Writing is extraordinarily easy, too. There are days when I’m in the flow and I read what I’ve written and marvel over where it came from. I love on every single word and tell myself that I’ve got this writer thing down. I literally clap my hands with joy over my story. I imagine myself being published, and I feel such immense gratitude that it hurts—I get to be a writer. Me. How lucky am I? It’s all beautiful. All the reading, craft classes, my bachelor’s, my master’s, the gazillion craft books, all of it has been worth every penny.

I believe that whether writing is easy or hard is a choice I get to make. And value? Who gets to assign that? In part, me. I have no control over the rest. But, I also have a sneaking suspicion that those days when writing is hard, are the days when I’m comparing myself to other writers, or thinking about who might read my work, or judging myself before I’ve finished a single paragraph.

Regardless of easy or hard, I use these tricks to get stuff written:

  1. I show up regardless of how I’m feeling. I just write. I “Turn Pro” as Steven Pressfield calls it. I understand that every day isn’t going to feel as if the Muse has descended onto my fingertips and guided my work. Rather, some days it feels like the Muse has abandoned me for a six-pack of PBR, a sleeve of Saltines, and a can of spray cheese.
  2. I don’t allow myself a single thought about who might read my work if I can help it. (<— That is the #1 cause of writer’s block, in my humble opinion, and will freeze me faster than Ralphie’s tongue to the flagpole.) I’m only allowed to write for myself, and I remind myself that the only one reading my words at this moment in time is me.
  3. I write without re-reading a single word. I write until the first draft is done, and I don’t allow myself to go back and read, or judge it. <—- Judgement belongs in the realm of editing, and editing should not be done until you’re finished with your first draft. (If I were to edit in the drafting phase, I wouldn’t have written a book. Ever. I would have written ten words, and deleted nine, until after seven years of writing, I had about two pages of my novel complete. Oh wait, I did exactly that back in the day.)
  4. I understand that I can’t fix what hasn’t been written. I know that I have to have something down on the page to work with. And…as Anne Lamott says, no one get away with not writing a shitty first draft. No one. Except that one woman that no one likes very much, so I embrace that my first drafts will be spectacularly shitty. And they are.

One final note, my friends, before I log off to make Christmas goodies for the neighbors.

It’s a choice we get to make every day.

I still pull out that black turtleneck from time to time, and put my hand to my forehead while sipping proverbial whiskey, and angsting over word choice.

In fact, I wore my black turtleneck to that ugly Christmas sweater party. I was disqualified.

Resistance & The Upper Limit Problem in Creativity

resistance upper limit

Resistance has had my hands bound with anchor rope for the past few months. Maybe you’ve noticed. I haven’t written a blog since April.


But it’s more than just blogging. I hadn’t been writing on my novel either.

For those who don’t know the word in terms of creativity, or following your bliss, essentially it means you’re wholly sabotaging your efforts to do what you feel most called to do in the world. For me, that’s all things to do with writing. Steven Pressfield, in his amazing book The War of Art, describes the concept in much more depth than I ever could. Get thee a copy, posthaste. You won’t regret it.

Here’s how Resistance shows up for me.

Little Resistances:

The moment I sit down to write, I remember that I haven’t cleaned the grout in the shower since I moved in to my place in 2012. It’s absolutely imperative that I do so at that exact moment.

Or… I decide I’ve lived with the junk drawer as a junk drawer long enough and it’s time to abandon my writing, make a trip to the Container Store thirty miles away, and organize it. Pronto.

Or… as I sit in the chair with my feet crossed in my lap, fingers poised over my keyboard, the calloused bottoms of my feet rub my inner thigh and I head out for a pedicure. Immediately.

Those little insidious things that fill my mind to the point of distraction are just that — distractions. But they’re mild, really, in comparison with the biggies.

Big Resistances:

You know, things are going pretty well in your life, Melanie. You’ve written your first draft. You’ve written your second draft, half of your third, and started over on your fourth. The book is starting to come together. It’s taking shape. You’re even sort of semi-pleased. Sort of. And your business is booming. You’re doing work you love in the realm of writing. And your new rheumatoid arthritis meds appear to be working. Why don’t you join a hip-hop class?

Resistance: Oh yeah. We’ll see.

*Screeches to a Halt* I end up in the E.R. that night with some weird nodule in my knee bone. So then I see an Orthopedic surgeon. Then I go for an MRI. Blah, blah, blah.

Or… I try to blow up my relationship with my guy. I’m talking: let’s figure out in this nanosecond if the four years we’ve been happy together is enough or if we should call it quits. (More on that neuroses in a later blog.)

Blowin’ My Own Mind:

As the Universe so oft does, I was brought to a few books in the past few months that directly spoke to this phenomenon for me. One, of course, was The War of Art, but the other was The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. I’ve started to ponder whether the Upper Limit Problem that Gay speaks of is the exact same thing as the concept of Resistance that Pressfield is famous for. Bear with me.

My understanding of the Upper Limit Problem from Gay’s work is that we have a baseline of what we’re comfortable receiving that’s established when we’re quite young. This includes happiness, success, joy, financial abundance, etc… When we approach that baseline and begin to climb above it, we subconsciously self-sabotage ourselves in order to get back to that comfortable baseline. Yep. Even if that baseline is really low and it sucks. We’re inclined to want to be in the space of what’s comfortable. Ever heard the phrase we’re creatures of comfort? Yeah, that.

So how does that relate to Pressfield’s Resistance? Well… both involve the employment of self-sabotage to baser levels of comfort. Let’s bring in Mr. Maslow, too. You know, just for kicks.

Most people remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from Psych 101, right? A simple refresher: Our first priority is to take care of our most basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing. If we have that handled, we can move on to job security and a safe working environment. When we’re golden there, we can move on to feeling wanted and to a sense of belonging. Next up? Self-respect. Last… if all those lower needs are met, we can finally move upward to fulfilling our potential and achieving our dreams.

But what if we’re not comfortable up there in dream achievement and potential fulfillment? What if we’re more comfortable in job security or feeling wanted?

When we’re in Resistance, we are almost wholly focused on Maslow’s lower levels. My self-sabotaging always brings me down to my baser needs. Grout, anyone? Relationships, perhaps? Of course, I’m comfortable there. When I wander one foot over my baseline of comfort to the realm of pure joy (which is where my bliss is — where my writing resides), WHAM-O.

Obviously, I’m still noodling this out for myself. I don’t have it all locked down, and I’m not going to wait to post this blog until I do have it fully ciphered. That’s where you come in. I’d love to hear your thoughts around the subject. What’s your take? Do you see the connection between Upper Limit and Resistance? Is Resistance the effect of the Upper Limit Problem (the cause?) Are they the same?

I’ve written 1,000 words a day for the past five days. Twenty pages of pure, glorious bliss. The Muse definitely joined me on two of those days. She saw I’d been making effort and blessed me with her presence. My job is in “Turning Pro” (another golden nugget from Steven Pressfield, as well as a follow-up book to The War of Art.) It’s up to me to show up at the blank page, day after day, despite the Resistance, and to work on increasing my Upper Limit by allowing for more joy, success, and abundance. In other words, practicing my Receiving skills.

Thoughts? Alternatives? Arguments? Spot on? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

For my Visual Peeps Out There:


Embracing the Gig Economy

oIpwxeeSPy1cnwYpqJ1w_Dufer Collateral test

I don’t mean to date myself or anything, but back in the day “gig” was a term used by my musician friends who were playing a Saturday night show downtown at a little bar I know called Drink Beam ‘Til You Puke. (Ahem… *coughs*)

Not anymore, my friends. Not anymore.

There’s a whole lot of hoopla surrounding the word “gig” nowadays, and especially around the concept of the Gig Economy.

Do a quick Google search and you’ll find millions of articles about it. Politicians are flying in experts to talk about it as they gear up for elections. Money mags are writing about it. Labor leaders are worried that the gig economy “threatens to undermine the very foundation upon which middle-class America was built.” Well…to quote Clark W. Griswold, “Hallelujah, holy shit… Where’s the Tylenol.” The middle-class is already in cousin Eddie’s proverbial shitter, isn’t it, folks?

Suffice it to say, the word “gig” means a whole lot more than hangovers, hot pho and lost bras. (*who? me?*)

What Exactly is the Gig Economy?

Put simply, the gig economy speaks to “freelance work.”

But, according to Google, there’s another definition: “A job, especially one that is temporary or that has an uncertain future.”

Sounds scary, no?


As a Visionary Business Coach I suppose you could say that I help folks move from the crumbling middle-class to set up shop in the gig economy and to live a work-life that curls their ever-lovin’ toes.

I myself have been part of the gig economy since 2003. And… I’ve had my fair share of scary worst-case scenario moments as I’ve waited for new gigs to show up. I’ve imagined myself “living in a van down by the river” and “eating a steady diet of government cheese.”  I’ve panicked and freaked out, and even considered one of those tiny houses that are all the rage at the moment. (That is, until I looked at my beloved bookcases, and slapped my own self with my first American edition of Animal Farm.)

I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t have to be so scary, even through the ebbs and flows, and ups and downs. Because here’s the thing… none of my corporate jobs lasted forever. Even when I thought I had a certain future, it was a myth. Life is chaotic and ever-changing. There are no guarantees.

So… what if we were to wholly embrace the gig economy on a much deeper level? What if we were to consider gigs nestled within the gig economy? What if we said YES to temporary?

What would that look like for you?

How Can You Be Part of the Gig Economy?

  • First, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, people. All of the memories, tools, adventures and experiences you’ve had thus far in your life can come into play when considering what gigs you might offer to the world. We have a tendency to look at all of our past careers as “back then” or “over.” But I believe that all these seemingly disparate paths we’ve taken in our lives can coalesce into a big, beautiful lake of awesome that our clients can bathe in. (*eww*) These paths and experiences are what make us uniquely us. Un-copy-able. And these are the services that only we can offer in our own unique ways.
  • Second, you don’t have to quit your day job. Yet. In fact, I recommend that you offer up gigs in your down time until you have a steady flow of clients or customers. Unless, of course, you have a billion dollar nest egg and are set financially to soar off on your own with nary a care in the world.
  • Third, consider gigs within gigs. Let’s say your main gig is Life Coach. (Make no mistake, Life Coaches are a huge part of the Gig Economy.) Your clients, humans first of course, are also “gigs.” Meaning they aren’t likely to be with you until the end of time. If you’re a decent coach, in fact, they’ll be off and running and successful sooner rather than later, and you’ll likely never see them again. That’s sad to say when you grow to really enjoy working with them, but that’s your job. So… underneath the main gig of Life Coach, what are some other gigs you can offer? VIP weekends? Retreats? eCourses? Books? Group programs? Stuff outside of the box? Make a list of every single thing you love. Don’t leave a single thing out. And begin to look for patterns and start to imagine how these things might pool together into a gig only you can offer.
  • Fourth, understand deeply that everything is temporary. Even our cushy corporate jobs may be outsourced to squids at the bottom of the Atlantic. They are the smartest invertebrates, you know. The thing is… you never know. So… when you’re building a business within the gig economy, it’s important to fully embrace the temporary. You’ve gotta become zen, and Buddha, and non-attached, and all that shiz. You have to release one client who’s thriving to make room for a new client who’s ready to thrive. It’s ever-flowing, ever-changing, and awesome. An added bonus? You’ll likely never be bored.
  • Fifth, for crap’s sake, make sure you LOVE what you’re offering. Money is a great motivation. I adore money, and I firmly believe money is just a form of energy. But… often, if that’s the only motivation behind a gig, it won’t land and take root. I’ve found it to be more true that when I do something I’m absolutely, joyously in love with, that the money then follows.

In Thoreau’s words: “Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.” Then create a gig or two or three out of it. You can even make gig soup.

What say you? What gigs might you offer up in the world? And, if you’re already neck-deep in the Gig Economy, how’s it going? Have you considered any gigs within your gig?

For my visual peeps out there:


Reconciling Passion & The Leap


I’ve been working on the same novel since the beginning of time.

In my first incarnation I probably wore mammoth furs and carved this story onto a cave wall with an antler dipped in red ochre.

As a slave, I likely told it orally at the close of an endlessly long and grueling day. My “master” wouldn’t have allowed me to learn how to read and write, but that didn’t stop this creation from wanting to come through me. So I must have whispered it in the dark to my children as I tucked them into bed.

In my pioneer days, I imagine myself putting up tomatoes, scrubbing the diapers of my twelve children on a washboard, and pausing every few hours to pick up my goose quill and scratch out pieces of this story, only to have it end up in the fire because we needed starter.

Countless incarnations, same story wanting to be born through me.

This “time” around the story began to nudge me in 1999. On and off for sixteen years I’ve heeded the call—through my divorce, my cross-country move, countless surgeries, and some of the brightest and darkest days of my life.

Last year, I trashed 224 pages of it, and began again.

Yep… still the same story.

As I begin to wrap up this first book of this trilogy, I’ve been pondering my life/lives as Writer & Storyteller. And… as the Universe so oft does, I’ve been witness to some pretty incredible serendipities surrounding my thought processes.

Case in point was a conversation I listened to a few days ago between Elizabeth Gilbert and Brené Brown. It was the finale of the season of Liz’s Magic Lessons podcast.

Brené was talking about taking leaps and experiencing failure. And something she said struck me, “I don’t leap or jump for the landing. I leap for the experience through the air. Because you cannot predict the landing.” She went on to say, “I used to ask myself this question all the time: what would I do if I knew I could not fail? But now the question becomes for me: What’s worth doing, even if I fail?

(I hang my head in shame over the number of times I’ve asked a client: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?) But, since Brené is the Shame Slayer, I forgive myself and understand that was the old me. The new me that is being born, squalling and covered in slime, would much rather reflect on “What’s worth doing, even if I fail?”

Liz responded by saying she has always wanted to take a Sharpie and place an editing carrot over all the “What would you do if you knew you could not fail” bumper stickers in the world, and replace them with these questions instead:

What do you love doing so much that the word ‘failure’ doesn’t even have any meaning?

What would you do even if it was a total failure?

What do you want to do because you don’t have a choice?

Then Liz asked this question: “When did inspiration promise us that it owes us anything?”

And… all the way back to the very beginning of my soul’s time, the massive quantities of hair on my caveman body stood on end.

Liz continued: “As far as I understand inspiration, it owes you nothing, except the transcendence of the experience of working with it at all. That’s the only contract that we have with inspiration.”

Finally Liz quoted Clive James, saying: “Failure has a function. It asks you if you really want to go on making things.”

Let me repeat that, and bold it, and underline it. Here you go… Failure “asks you if you really want to go on making things.”

And the answer for me is a resounding “HELL YES!”

The Landing

Now, all of this is not to say that I don’t have intentions for my “landing” as a writer:

  • I intend to sell my speculative fiction trilogy within the next two years to tremendous success.
  • I intend to write and sell a few books a year after that, again to tremendous success.
  • I intend to make a beautiful living as a writer.
  • I intend to hit the New York Times bestseller lists, every single time.
  • I  intend for my all of my books to become International Bestsellers, again, every single time.
  • I intend to go on a worldwide book tour.
  • I intend to have tea with Philip Pullman.  Lunch with Patrick Rothfuss. Dinner with…

And… if all of the above weren’t to happen, I would still be a writer. I would still write. I would still leap and revel in my time in the air. After all, I believe my soul and all its incarnations is that of storyteller. It seems there’s no getting around that.

I can’t begin to tell you the freedom I feel to create whatever is within me.

As I pondered all of this for days, I realized that it’s been informing my work since the beginning without my realizing it.

I’m not here to help my clients write a book in 30 days (though I have some amazing colleagues who do just that.) I’m not here to help them hit the #1 category on Amazon, which usually equates to:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #324,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

#1 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Gnats > Bugs > Bug Anatomy > Extraneous Parts > Goo

Nope. I want to help them become writers. I want to be part of the leap and not the landing. I want to help them “apply ass to chair” and truly experience the process: the journey, the healing, the laughter, the tears, the transcendence. I want to help them learn how to translate what they see in their mind onto the blank page with clarity, so that others may see it as well. I want to help them dig into the dark of their internal world and bring it into the light, allowing their readers to learn something new about themselves and the world.

I want to help writers to “tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. [A] tale [that] will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. [To shape the future.] ~ The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I can’t count the number of clients who’ve come to me with business plans, and “shoulds”, and money-making ideas based on their past work histories who, after three or four sessions, finally utter this one truth: “I don’t really want to do all that. I don’t. I just want to be a writer. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

That, for me, is the crux of Liz and Brené’s conversation – to fully own and integrate our soul’s whisper (or scream, as the case may be); our passion, regardless of the outcome. And it will forever inform my work in the world as writer and Book Shaman. I want my clients to yell, midair: “YES, YES, YES… THIS, THIS, THIS.”

And… I jest with the Amazon blurb.

Sort of.

As you can clearly see from my own landing intentions, I fully support dreams, “going big or going home,” and the longing to make your mark on the world; to be seen and heard. I’m not opposed to success and bestsellerdom. I want those things too. And I know the process of platform building, marketing, getting on “the list”, managing a book tour, blah, blah, blah. I’m happy to share this experience with clients. But, my main focus needs to be on the “what”, the “calling” itself—yep…the leap.

It’s the same for my business coaching. I’m not concerned with blanket statements like this: “you have to have an opt-in with a freebie gift to get folks to sign up for your newsletter.” Instead, what feels true for you right now? What feels like freedom and love, and what inspired action can you take around that? I wholly believe:

[tweetthis]We are only responsible for inspired action and what we are called to create.[/tweetthis]

It’s time to let go of the results, the “shoulds”, the “have-tos”, and other folks’ reaction to our creations.

One of the final things Brené shared on the podcast was a quote that is tacked up on her wall that says: “Creativity: We don’t have to do it alone. We were never meant to.”  We don’t have to suffer our art, folks. We don’t have to be starving artists, huddled alone in our darkened rooms, sacrificing, slicing up bits of our soul, peppering it with spices, and serving it up on a platter. We really don’t. We just have to fully embrace and enjoy the leap, and not concern ourselves so much with the landing.

(You can listen to the whole podcast here. It’s well worth your time.)

On Writing the “Shitty First Draft”


I’ve been working on the same novel since 1999. Let me do the math for you. That’s sixteen years, folks. Now, mind you, I wasn’t “applying ass to chair” every day of those sixteen years. I took a five-year hiatus to drink my face off in Cleveland, for example. I was on break during my divorce and moves back and forth across country. I was definitely on leave during my five surgeries.

When I look back with my hindsight goggles, however, there weren’t many days that went by when I wasn’t thinking about my story and my characters. (Okay, perhaps while plugged into the morphine drip, but otherwise, yeah, I was writing in my head the whole time.)

On paper, I had written 224 pages of my trilogy. One day last fall I decided it was time to get back to it. (I’ve often wondered if I had a whole lot of living to do before I could tell this story.  I think there’s real truth there or, at least, that’s the story I’m sticking to.) Suffice it to say, I signed up for a master’s program, trashed my glorious 224 pages, plus notes, and started over on draft number two which, in essence, is really just another first draft because, just like me, my beloved novel had changed. I’m 128 pages in this go-round and, holy hell, is it awful.

Disclaimer: My “glorious” 224 pages were awful too. A complete and utter heaping pile of bat dung.

I’m not being modest.

Trust me.

The state of my second attempt at a fecal first draft has me pondering the brilliance of Anne Lamott and her concept of the “shitty first draft.” I haven’t read “Bird by Bird” (my favorite writing book of all time) for years, but I’ve used the term “shitty first draft” a billion times since then in my writing coaching. I’m not going to try to recreate Anne’s words or write them in my own voice because you just shouldn’t fuss with perfection. Here’s what she has to say:

“…shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)”

Here’s the rub… As I re-read those words I realized I really did think I would get an exemption. A hall pass. An official letter that said, “Hey, you’ve read thousands of books in all the genres, you’ve taken every writing course known to man, you went for a bachelor’s in creative writing and now you’re working on a master’s in the same vein. You’ve studied all the craft books. You’ve been blogging consistently since 2009. You go ahead and write out your brilliance on the first take.” I quite literally believed that all of those logged hours of writing, reading, studying, and helping folks to birth their own books, would mean I was off the hook for the “shitty first draft.”

I wasn’t.

But in knowing this concept inside and out, what strikes me most is what a hard time I give myself over my crappy writing. I mean, this is my work in the world. I give writers permission to write their own shitty first draft every single day. I profess it like a mantra. I’m sure my clients would like to bash my head in sometimes. I also give writers full autonomy to write what comes and I advise them to keep the creation process wholly separate from the editing process so their inner critic can’t raise its ugly head so often, or so harshly. And their books are born that way. Yet somehow, I assumed that my book baby would rush out of my creative center devoid of mucous, cooing happily, and without the cone head.

What an idiot. Or not… How can I say yes to a shitty first draft? Well, for one, I know what I want my book to be and I know it’s not there yet. That is beautiful, people. Enough cannot be said about that inherent knowing of how you want your work to be in the world; of how you see it in its future incarnation; of how glorious is its potential. That’s where all my logged hours of reading and study comes in. I know what makes up a good book, for me, and I know I’m not there yet. So I get to sit, draft after draft, and clean off the slime. If I didn’t enjoy the process so much, I’d take up nail filing or something.

Regardless, I don’t get a hall pass. I don’t get an exemption certificate. No letter is coming anytime soon. I get to sludge through every gaping hole in my plot. I get to tackle every character detail disconnect until I know my characters as well as I know myself. I get to swim upstream through my passive voice and my cloyingly annoying adverbs and -ing words. <— See what I did there?

Just like every other writer in the world.

[tweetthis]No writer gets a hall pass excusing them from writing a “shitty first draft.”[/tweetthis]

Except that one woman Anne mentioned.

And… I don’t like her very much either.

For my visual peeps out there:

final3234 copy

Books, Happiness & “10,000 Hours”

kitty in grass

I’m afraid to write this blog post. I’ve worked it, and re-worked it, and re-worked it a gazillion times. For two weeks. It just doesn’t sound tortured, no matter how much I edit. My usual angst over… whatever… is gone. My writing flows when I’m suffering… over a break-up, a spiritual crisis, a stubby toenail. I alluded to this issue in one of my last blogs When Things Are Just Too Good.

I’m fucking happy. Almost every area of my life – my relationship, my work, my creativity, my family – all of it, is just as smooth as Nutella. Some days I feel like I’m going to burst wide open, like a tabby kitten in a microwave, because I’m finally doing work that I’ve spent my entire life preparing for. My Book Shaman business is forming and flowing in such a magical way that I wonder if I’ve actually had my sticky fingers in any of it, or if the Universe cooked it all up by itself as I sat there squeeing and swooning.

It’s tough to write that. I have this belief that folks don’t really want to hear how well things are going for you. Hell, sometimes, even when I’m blissful, when someone asks, “How are you doing?” I’ll say, “Okay.” I wouldn’t want to smear my joy all over them, especially if I know things aren’t going so well in their lives. I feel folks would rather know that my health is a crap sandwich on rye and I’ve made about three girl friends in the two years that I’ve lived back in Utah. But… frankly, I don’t care about those things, they just can’t diminish how awesome I feel about the good stuff.

I’ve been gnawing on the words of a friend of mine for months. It’s a process very similar to that of my lil Yorkie, So-Kr8z, as he chaws, repositions and commences chomping and slobbering all over his prize piece of steer pizzle. The words were these, “You know, when you find your true path, you discover that every little quirky thing about you makes you perfectly suited for the task at hand that leads you to your destiny.” With those words, I realize I may have had my hand in a lot of this after all.

Case in Point:

My very first memory of myself was hiding behind my dad’s ratty, brown recliner surrounded by twenty-some Walt Disney books. They were hardbound and glorious and I wish I still had them, even with their crayon scribblings. I loved those books way more than any of my toys or baby dolls, even more than my Baby Alive who pissed her pants on cue.

My love affair with reading continued as I grew. My step-father, a number of years later, wasn’t fond of the Nancy Drew books I was obsessed with and would require that I read a history book of some type and give him a written report. The history books were big, heavy and dry and I loathed them. Little did he know that they were just large enough to conceal Nancy and the sexy Hardy Boys inside their pages.

I spent many an hour at the library of whatever town I lived in at the time. I could describe to you the layout and smell of libraries all over Wyoming. A true gift. It was in the Campbell County Public Library where I received my sex education by sneaking a copy of Wifey by Judy Bloom off the shelf and reading it in its entirety in a day.  My most fervently longed for Christmas gift was the box set of the Little House on the Prairie series bound in canary yellow. I’ve never wished for a present harder before or since. I still have them.

As an adult my house is chock full of books. I have standing bookshelves and a half dozen floating bookshelves. There are books in every room. I am a book hoarder. When I left my marriage of ten years and moved across country I took with me a single twin mattress, my clothing, two bookshelves, and thirty boxes of books. I have over six hundred titles that I’ve kept over the years all catalogued into an app on my iPhone in alphabetical order by author. There are over a hundred titles that I haven’t read yet that are categorized on my “To Be Read” shelves. My Amazon Wish List is thirteen pages long with books that I started adding back in 2000. I keep a book journal, complete with a grading system, of every book I’ve ever read.

When I was a senior in high school my grades were poor. I’d received straight A’s the year before and was the English teacher’s pet. In 12th I was placed in college English, but I just didn’t have the gumption to apply myself that year. I don’t recall that anything specific was happening in my life, just that I didn’t care. In order to graduate, my college English teacher required that I read nineteen novels in order to graduate. This was like asking a Canadian goose to suffer by flying.

I knew I wanted to be a writer at the age of seven. I’m not sure which came first, the reading or the writing. There are some who aren’t sure what their life purpose is, but that’s never been an issue in my life. It’s always come back to the writing. I started out by penning stories about witches with carbuncles. I tried my hand at a few love stories as a teenager, but my real passion revealed itself when I started reading young adult fantasy in my late teens.

I took countless Creative Writing courses and I read just about every book ever written since the beginning of time about the writing process. The phrase most used in my life is Richard Rhodes’s, “Apply ass to chair.” Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and Stephen King’s On Writing are my most cherished tomes. I majored in Creative Writing in college. I’ve absolutely bathed in everything writing since I can remember.

Not to mention my obsession with all things writerly. In fourth grade, me and my BFF (also a writer) spent hours in stationery stores buying paper, pens, stickers, and notecards. Screw the toy stores. We were obsessed.  Crap, I still get a thrill when I walk into an Office Max. I’d rather shop for paper than clothing.  I’ve been searching for the perfect pen for my entire life – I do not jest. It must feel comfortable in my hand, have a medium tip, in blue, and it must flow flawlessly, none of that skidding across the page leaving miniscule white spaces in my cursive.

So what does it all mean? Well, I never dreamed that my 10,000 hours, of Malcolm Gladwell fame, would turn into my work. I find myself knowing, inherently – like I know Mother Theresa was kind – how to do this Book Shaman work. It’s in my blood and sweat and urine. I always thought my 10,000 hours were just for my own novel.

This is all to say, don’t limit yourself by just what you can dream up. Dream. By all means, dream, but, just know that the Universe is much more clever. You just have to put in the hours.

And things are going swell. Happiness abounds.

(No kittens were harmed in the writing of this blog post. I love kittens. Truly.)

How to Write


I’ve been writing a novel since the beginning of time. Okay, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but it sure feels like it. In actuality, I started it in 1999 and have been working on it, on and off, for twelve years or so. It’s all kinda fuzzy.

And I’m only about 160 pages in, so take my advice with a single molecule of salt.

The How

Start with a clean space. Spic and span. Not a grain of dust. Get out your Swiffer and, quite literally, go to town. Buy fresh flowers and spend six hours arranging them flawlessly. Run to Bed Bath & Beyond in your pajama bottoms and 2 XL tee. Peruse the Yankee Candle aisle, picking each jar up by its bottom (you don’t want to have to buy all that broken shit), and smell each fragrance until you find the one that matches your flower arrangement. Go home, take two Excedrin to rid yourself of the fume headache that likely ensued. Take a nap.

It’s not like I spent that whole eleven years writing every day. I spent twelve years getting my education. I spent a few years drinking Jim Beam and Jagermeister. Mixed. I spent some time on a tractor at a Journey concert. I’ve been busy. Read more

5 Truthful Tips on Waiting for Acceptance from Others


I’m sitting outside my creative writing professor’s office. Waiting. I’ve been here every Wednesday for the past eight weeks during his office hours. Waiting. You see, last semester, for the first time in eleven years I shared a portion of my novel with another living being.

Let me tell you, that wasn’t easy.

I haven’t shared my novel with a.n.y.o.n.e. Period. Ever. But with the coaxing of some very dear friends I found my courage, buried somewhere in the trash bin of my mind under some broken eggshells and a couple used ketchup packets, and just did it.

This professor was supposed to read sixty pages of my novel and offer feedback and a critique. As he had hundreds of other “shitty first drafts” to sift through, he said I could pick up my critique on the first day of Spring semester. I’m still waiting. Read more

Bestseller or Bargain Bin: The Stories We Tell About Ourselves


I’m a storyteller.  I tell stories.  Recently, however, I’ve been thinking about a different type of tale; the one I’m telling myself daily about me and my life.  This got me to thinking.  Am I in a comedy or a tragedy; a fairy tale or a mystery?  And like my fiction writing, do I have some semblance of control over setting, plot, characterization, pacing, and theme?

First of all, let’s meet the protagonist of my story: me.  After the required number of years of self-doubt I’m finally coming into myself and have discovered that I’m a pretty great character.  I’m compassionate and caring.  I’m fiercely loyal.  I’m an avid listener.  While a bit of a loner, I do shower every so often and leave my apartment to forage for food.  I try to pay attention to the universe, and when attacked by a red-winged blackbird I try to figure out what it’s trying to tell me.  I can be selfish when it comes to living my best life and I’ve learned to say no –  to disappoint others in an effort to be true to myself.  I’m a girl who will leave her home and her family to move three thousand miles away when I feel the nudge from my Creator.  I hate broccoli.  I enjoyed diving out of a plane. Read more