Are You Following Your Dreams?

Writing was my dream, but I had to delay it for almost forty years as I worked and raised a family. Even though I was too tired every day to write, I kept the dream alive. I read short stories and novels, studied articles and books on craft, attended classes and workshops, and asked writers why and how they did things. Often, I spoke my ideas and thoughts into a voice recorder during the one-hour commute up and down the Cajon Pass.

Musing at La Quinta Resort, Coachella Valley

Alone at La Quinta Resort, Coachella Valley

When I began writing my first book, I worried that it wasn’t good enough. I’m self-taught. My degree was in business, not writing. I had learned to write memos, not fiction.

Treebones Resort in Big Sur

Treebones Resort in Big Sur

But then I saw this: a recent review on Goodreads (for somebody else’s book, not mine) said, “The writing and characters were not high quality fancyass literature. And there were some glaring holes in the plot. And sometimes I got the characters confused now who was related to who. But by GOD this one kept me enthralled and spellbound from the first to the very last page.” The reviewer gave the book 5 stars.

Plane over Discovery Passage

Plane over Discovery Passage, Campbell River, BC

The review filled me with inspiration and motivation. I felt sure, maybe for the first time, that my creative writing degree from Self-Taught University was good enough. I would tell the best story I could, and maybe the reader would feel the connection. Maybe even love my stories.

Beach at Singer Island, West Palm Beach, Florida

Singer Island, West Palm Beach, Florida

So that’s what I did, and based on the reviews, it seems like the right choice. I’ve had some success now with my two books. After postponing my dream for four decades, it feels good. Real good. I am finally living the dream, one I intend to pursue for the rest of my life.

Sydney Harbor at night. We took the picture as we set out for open waters on a cruise ship.

So here’s the takeaway, readers. If you are old enough to finally pursue your dream, are you doing so? If not, is it because you’re afraid of being exposed as imperfect? In that case, remember that life is unpredictable, and get moving. Don’t let the perfect, as they say, be the enemy of the good.

And if you’re a younger person, still churning away in the white-hot middle years, caring for everybody other than yourself and not a spare energy molecule to expend on your dream, at least do this: start a folder or binder or box, into which you can toss or write down anything you want pertaining to your dream. Inspirations, notes, magazine articles, pictures, people who’re doing it, possible approaches, what you expect to enjoy when you finally get to focus on it – anything that will keep the dream alive. Because you want to remember, later, what it was your heart pined for when you were younger. So you can follow that melody some day.

What is your dream, and are you chasing after it now? If not, do you have a strategy? Let me know in the comments below.

Should You Quit Blogging?

If you came of age when I did, in the time of carbon paper and WhiteOut, you’re probably as enthralled as I am about all the possibilities available to us now through technology. One is the ability to start a blog, and a lot of my friends have done that. But lately, some of them are discouraged.

It’s time to rethink blogging – what it is, and isn’t. What it can give you, and what it can take away.

Let me start with a story.

I happened to notice that a popular blogger stopped posting. After a month I emailed her. I mean, sure, it’s cyberspace, but how would we, her subscribers, know if she were lying dead in a ditch or something? Turns out, she was fine, but since I was the only person who checked on her, my inquiry started a discussion about why we blog, and whether it’s really worth it. She said:

When my business was way down last year and I had time on my hands, I began to expand my blogging network.  I spent hours each day reading other people’s blogs, commenting, etc.  After awhile, I felt like I was a member of a fun club…I got so caught up in it all, I lost sight of the fact that, for me, most of the posts weren’t even worth the time it took to read them…When all was said and done, there were maybe five bloggers who I felt had something to say (you are one), beyond just being clever.

I kept asking myself what the point of it was, and I couldn’t come up with a good answer.  Tossing off blog posts is fun, and getting comments is fun as well.  But, honestly, I’ve never felt as though what I was doing was important in the big picture. It all seemed like simply a more respectable and creative version of Facebook.

I love to speak to women and to conduct workshops. That is what juices me and allows me to believe that I’m having an impact on women’s lives. And in some perfect world, I would love to write regularly for a publication, which would do the same thing for me. But I know that won’t happen.”

In response, I said:

Blogging is a mixed bag. I love it and I don’t love it. It’s an awesome way to create a community, and some of the comments really lift me up. But it’s probably not contributing to sales, and even if it is, the ROI isn’t enough to justify it.

She and I agreed we were on to something, and after our conversation, I wanted to think about it. Here’s what I decided: there are only three reasons to have a blog:

  1.  It’s an enjoyable hobby. You blog when you feel like it, and if nobody responds, big deal. Seeing your work in print is its own reward. Maybe you’ll do more with it someday, but until then, you count it as experience.
  2. You’re trying to sell something, whether it’s paid speaking engagements, book sales, advertising on your site, or a widget of some kind. You work your ass off blogging because you desire success. (Note to authors: if this is your plan, stop now. Convert your blog to a static website and apply all your resulting free time to networking on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, etc.)
  3. You’re passionate about an idea or theme, and you need to talk about it constantly. You get a charge from the sense of community arising from your visitors and their comments and emotions. You don’t care if you go hungry.

I’m number 3. I need to figure out the second half of life. I love the community that blooms when we all ponder this together. That’s why I blog, and write books, and interact on social networks. Everything I produce is about one thing: the second half of life, and living it mindfully and powerfully.

I love my Any Shiny Thing website, because it’s like being a media mogul. With a website/blog, you’re the head of a TV station, deciding what videos to post or link to. You’re the radio station owner, deciding which podcasts to produce. And you’re the newspaper owner, publishing your own little paper every week. You’re the boss, but like most self-employed people, you work for a hard-driving bitch. It takes time, energy and creativity, and you don’t get time off.

Except for the bitch part, I’d tell my friend that she actually does work for a publication that can impact women’s lives, but unfortunately, the work is unpaid (in terms of dollars. In terms of oxytocin, the chemical women experience as a result of bonding, there’s a pretty big payout! But you can’t write a check with it.)

So here’s my bottom line: as a boomer, I’m thrilled with technology, and I hope to use it to build on my topic for everybody’s benefit. But frankly, blogging can take a lot of your time and not increase your sales by one book. So it’s really important to be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish, and how much you’re willing to put into it. Because life is short, and you don’t want to burn time or energy on the wrong thing. Isn’t that one of the tenets of our discussions? One of the most important rules we all agree on, now that we’re old enough to know better?

What about you? Why are you blogging? What do you get from it?

Jane Friedman is Awesome!

Even though she doesn’t know me, I have a fantastic writing mentor in Jane Friedman, one of the top editors at the Writer’s Digest empire. She’s always posting a lot of great, free advice for writers all over the Web. I found this fantastic article on why netting and platforming is so important to do BEFORE you finish your first book.

I was so glad to find it because even though Dakota Blues isn’t quite polished enough to start querying, I’m netting like mad. I even took an officer position at the Palm Springs branch of American Pen Women to upgrade my netting skills and expand my reach. In that job, as in so much else that I’m doing, I’m working my ass off on a lot of things that don’t directly involve writing (e.g. raising money for scholarships for local women.)

I long to sit at my keyboard and hang out with my main two characters, Kristen and Frieda. They’re somewhere in the Black Hills, camping and bickering as usual, with newly-fired workaholic exec Kristen chompin’ at the bit to get back to the corporate world, but 90-year-old Frieda trying to put on the brakes because she knows that as soon as she arrives at her daughter’s house in Denver, she might as well curl up and die.

But I digress. I was thinking, “All this advertising and still no product!” However, Jane says if you wait until your book is done to start netting, you’re stoopid. Well, I’m paraphrasing. Miss F would never be so uncool. But that’s seriously her point, so adios! I gotta go platform…

Here’s How to Avoid Rejection Slips Forever

Quoting Janet Reid from a recent post on her excellent blog:

“It got me thinking. I realized there is a very simple solution for all your rejection problems. All of them, forever more. You really don’t want any more of them do you? They’re totally awful, completely depressing, and we all know Rejection Just Sucks.

“Ok, here’s the solution: Stop Writing. If you never send out another query, you’ll never get another rejection. Easy-peasy.

“Wait, that’s not a solution you’re willing to accept? Well ok then. How about we look at rejections like this:

“You love to write. You love to write more than you hate rejections. You love being a writer. So, you love rejections the least of all the parts of writing you love, but faced with a choice of no writing/no rejections, you choose to be a writer. You choose ALL the parts of being a writer, because it’s all or none, and you are a writer.

“Now back to work.”

Revenge is a Bad Reason to Create a Character

Did you ever want to get even with somebody by putting them in your book? Don’t waste your time. 

I always regret it when I create a character because I have a beef with someone or because there’s somebody who is so appalling or frustrating that I just have to write about them. They always end up looking cartoonish or pointless. You can’t put a person in a story for your own gratification alone, which totally blows the idea of getting even with anybody through your writing.

Bummer, huh? So here’s your bottom line: if it doesn’t SERVE THE STORY, it shouldn’t be in there.