Writing From the Heart

In recent posts I have alluded to a big change in my life coming this week. The time is nigh and I find myself in a quandary, which is why I’m late with my weekly post. Because I’m about to go through something that will (once again) turn my life upside-down for a bit (which could be good or bad, I just don’t know yet), I decided to share an excerpt of my personal memoir, written many years ago. It was written on the heels of both the 9/11 tragedy (I was working in NYC before, during, and after this life-altering day) and my mother’s death from cancer. The experience nearly wrenched my heart from me (emotionally and spiritually, anyway) and I find myself, once again, in a similar situation. The book, as it turns out, was a cathartic exercise for me, thus my title for this week’s post.

I would never accuse any writer of not writing from the heart; but I think the writing is different when the heart hurts in some way. Perhaps the catharsis of writing it down on paper helps. I’ve struggled with my writing this week (actually I’ve avoided it altogether). The words seem stuck in a nether world and I’m unable to retrieve them, as the pain is blocking my “juice,” which I wrote about in my last post.

Here it is then:

“As I move through writing about a difficult phase in my life, I spend a good amount of time thinking about universal energies. What lesson was I not learning that the universe brought me to the brink and forced me to look over the edge? I read a column in a local newspaper discussing this very subject. It seemed fitting because I’ve had a bit of writer’s block off and on lately. I believe there is no such thing as a coincidence. The universe has its own way of letting us in on the lesson/s to be learned in its own good time. One lesson I have learned: part of the reason I ended up losing so much was that the universal energies were telling me it was time to go, time to let go, and to rebuild, and move on, even though I felt I wasn’t ready. The universe, however, knew better. Fear keeps us in stagnant lives and relationships and we’re unwilling to move along even though we’ve done all we could with them. One way or another, the universe manages to bring us face to face with our issues and we are forced to work with them, whether we want to or not. If we put off dealing with our demons, they will only rear their ugly heads again in another situation farther down the road, in one possibly far worse than that which had been avoided out of fear of confrontation.  As it said in the column, “same lesson, different package.” I make a conscious effort to remember that I wasn’t being punished – though I certainly felt that way many times. Instead, I was freed from a life that was not working, not fulfilling my destiny, whatever that may be. It became time to explore the unknown, to step outside the box as it were, and to seek out new adventures and challenges.”

I really needed to read this again and I hope it helps you as well. 

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.

When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.”

– the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

 

Is No Pain Really No Gain?

I know artists are supposed to write/paint/create from their pain, but it never works for me. If anything, it makes my writing worse, downright pathetic. What sounds good or interesting or adventurous in my mind when I’m sad, depressed, or stressed never comes out good on paper. Do any of you have this experience or can you work/create from pain? Do you feel that personal pain gives your work a certain je ne sais quoi?

The other morning I daydreamed instead of getting up to start my day at the usual time. I ran a scenario through my mind in relation to both a book I’ve contemplated writing (international suspense) and some life-changing events currently making my life way more challenging than I’d like (or can handle). The dialogue was West Wing-esque, one-liner banter between me and a male protagonist who I turned into not much of a protagonist after all. When I did finally arise, I thought about putting it on paper later in the day (I like to write after dinner, as I am now), because it sounded like it would be a good alternate beginning to the suspense novel.

The words flowed from my fingers. I struggled with a bit of the dialogue, trying to remember exactly how I’d envisioned it earlier, to get the feel of the scene just right. I tried to seamlessly weave it into the suspense book as a prologue to what I’d already written. That didn’t work. So I thought I’d try it out as a separate chapter that would explain my how main character got dragged into the mess happening in the book. That didn’t work either. As I read and re-read the three or so paragraphs, the words seemed lifeless, dull, and inadequate. The main character (a facsimile of me) sounded even worse on paper than what had been in my mind that morning. She was supposed to be someone down on her luck who happens across this man and together they become involved in a tangled web of deceit complete with mobsters, money laundering, extortion, and murder. I thought if I used my personal angst as the main character’s, she would come off as brave and high-spirited, facing danger and uncertainty. Instead, she came off sounding sullen and sarcastic, and completely unlikable. Absolutely paltry. Even I don’t like her and I’m practically her!

 I haven’t deleted it (yet) but I have decided to stick with the original opening. Maybe I can work it in somewhere, maybe not. Maybe I’ll keep it for now, as a reminder of what not to write. Or to not write at all when I’m not in a good place. For me, no pain is definitely gain – it’s when I have the most “juice.” Seems I write best when I’m feeling on top of the world and nothing or no one can bring me down.

Free Publicity: Exposure and Perhaps More

In early August, I wrote a blog on getting exposure for your work via trade journals. In continuing with this theme, Sandra Beckwith of Build Book Buzz recently followed her first blog on this subject with a second and just as informative blog on getting trade journal publicity. I admit, since my last post on this topic, I have not increased my trade journal exposure. But it’s probably due to the fact that I was a crime victim and have been focused on protecting my identity and life (update: so far, so good, but I still want my Curacao pen back).

Sandra is quick to point out that publicity is NOT advertising (duh), because you can’t buy it or control it. But it is free exposure (currently in my price range) and you do sort of have to throw caution to the wind and cross your fingers at the same time. She offers six great tips (plus two bonus tips for getting and responding to interview requests):

publicity2

1) Review several journals and issues of those journals to find out what kind of content they use. Look for a ‘news brief’ section where book announcements can be added, or whether they utilize guest columnists. Do they review books? Maybe they’ll add yours to the list.

2) Check out the editorial calendar – you can find it online or request it from the editor. That way you’ll know what goes in the publication and when it goes out to the public.

3) Make a list of how you can contribute to the publication’s content. Personally, I’m not much of a list-maker so this one won’t get me far. I’ll know whether or not I want to write for a publication once I review its contents.

4) Find out who the contact person is for a specific topic/department (if applicable). Last thing you want to do is send an article to a person who doesn’t handle the section/topic you write about. Check the masthead (also called the impressum) for the necessary information.

5) Map out your strategy – this includes a press release or an offer to send a review copy (again, make sure you have the right contact person). In her article, Sandra offers a link for writing a press release.

6) And finally – send your pitch (okay, this is the one I need). If you’re pitching an article or guest column, make sure you know what they want (subjects) and what they use. Again, a cool link on how to email a press release to a journalist/editor.

Bear in mind that there is no guarantee from this endeavor; however, I’m willing to roll the dice and see how it plays out. I got lucky with one trade journal and perhaps I will again. Sometimes you just need to be patient and build momentum.

Writing as One Profit Center

I was in the mood to read a book today so I snagged a book I’ve been working my way through from the bookshelf. I’ve mentioned this book before – Making a Living Without a Job by Barbara J. Winters. I’m in a bit of a pickle at the moment (I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say that my life will be turned upside down as of end of this month, which could turn good or bad). I’ve been racking my brain on how to create more of what Barbara calls Multiple Profit Centers or MPCs. It’s her theory that by creating MPCs, you increase your potential for prosperity and a more balanced life. Each profit center/idea/ job/entrepreneurial adventure has its own rhythm; over time, you create a steady stream of income because while one or two MPCs may experience a lull in business, one or two other of your MPCs will be on the upswing and generate income.

She even mentions getting paid to write articles. Personally, I’ve not had much luck in this area (the getting paid part). In a previous blog, I wrote about getting exposure for your work via trade journals. In my experience, this type of exposure doesn’t pay (if it does, please let me know how – and now!). But I would enjoy writing articles for other publications; problem is, I’m not sure how to go about doing that (query advice anyone?). If any of you have had some success in this area, please share your experience and expertise so that we who have not yet tasted that kind of success can take a step closer.

Something else in her book got me thinking – and it made perfect sense. This is from her chapter on creating MPCs and is a quote from author and former London Business School professor Charles Handy (she quotes him in her newsletters), who advocates developing MPCs:

“Think of it this way, ” he advises. “You will have a portfolio of work like an architect has, or like your stock portfolio, no prudent investor puts all his savings into one stock, and no sensible business goes after only one customer. Yet that’s what you’ve been doing with your work and talent all these years….Now is your chance to go ‘portfolio’: to diversify your interests and do some things for money, some because they interest you, some out of love or kindness, and some for the sheer hell of it. And, moreover, it’s your chance to flex your portfolio to leave you time for all those other things – for travel, for discovery, for golf, for dining.”

Wow. That brought me back to one of my early blogs, Be Careful What You Wish For. I just realized I have already created MPCs, except that they don’t yet pay the rent. I guess I need to come up with a few more MPCs to cover the downswing of the current ones. It’s just that I feel lost amid the millions of voices already out there clambering for everyone’s business. All I can come up with at the moment is that I (and you, too) need to find a way to STAND OUT by doing something DIFFERENT with my (and your) skill set. Only then can my writing become a Multiple Profit Center that truly pays (emotionally and financially) – and supports my no-more-nine-to-five lifestyle.

What’s your MPC?