Soul-Speak and Sundaes: Saying YES to Writing Dreams

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”  — Oscar Wilde

Love Heart on the beach

Last spring I shared a post called Saying No — A Successful Writer’s Must. We can’t fulfill our creative goals if we say yes to everything/everyone 100% of the time, I asserted. If we do, we’re essentially saying no to our dreams. Today I want to talk about the flip-side: the importance of saying yes to not only our goals, but our hearts and instincts.

As some of you know, I provide nutritional therapy and mentorship to individuals with psychiatric conditions, namely eating disorders. I can often predict whether an individual is going to recover successfully by the way she talks about her goals and dreams outside of her illness. Consider the following examples:

Alexa: “I can’t think about anything else, and I don’t want to. Controlling my weight is all I know. It makes me happy, or at least the happiest I could be. I don’t have other interests. This is it.”

Jen: “All I know is I don’t want to feel like this. I can’t fucking take it anymore! Sure, I had dreams once. I used to paint and make jewelry. I was going to start my own line someday. [sarcastic laugh] I don’t even have friends anymore…”

Sandy: “I miss the piano. I’ve been playing a little again… [smile] I’m good at my job, but it doesn’t make me happy. Maybe it’s silly, but I feel like I could write songs. And maybe teach.”

You can probably guess that Sandy has the greatest odds of recovery. She has something beyond her illness to say yes to, and a genuine desire to do so. Jen can get there too. If she continues to explore her frustration, it can be the launchpad for positive change. Alexa has the toughest cards in her deck. Until she starts questioning her disease and believing in, or at least hoping for something brighter, she’ll likely remain stuck or worsen.

As artists, denying our hopes and dreams is like a disease. On the milder end, we suffer artistic “colds,” mere sniffles and congestion from too little artistic nurturing. In the worst cases, we stifle our dreams completely. I’m pretty sure this can land me in the hospital. (Arguably, it has.)

We are blessed to have passions and dreams. Saying no to influences that draw us away from them won’t do much good if we then fail to say YES! to our hearts’ desires.

I’ve been reminded of this recently. Since my book release, even amidst the euphoria, I sensed a sort of void—a nagging feeling in my gut. I thought I merely missed writing fuller-time, having taken on marketing and promotions, but there was something more. A book project has been knocking on my heart’s door, and though it wasn’t my intended next step, I have to pursue it. Sure, it makes my workload heftier, but at the risk of seeming melodramatic, it makes my soul lighter. I bounced out of bed at five this morning, eager to dive in. Upon making the decision, my mood turned sunnier, and the body aches I barely recognized have vanished. It’s a lot like falling in love.

When our soul speaks, we best listen. I’ve learned this repeatedly. I see it in my own life, and in the lives of inspiring individuals facing seemingly unbeatable odds. I’m giddy each time I meet a “Sandy,” for I already sense the wonder she’s going to experience and carry out into the world. Authentic, passionate people make the world a better place. As artists we have significant opportunities to be them.

Yes, I’m an ooey-gooey pile o’ mush today—totally fine by me. As author and activist Geneen Roth wrote in Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Just About Anything, “We don’t want to EAT hot fudge sundaes as much as we want our lives to BE hot fudge sundaes.” There’s nothing wrong with savoring decadent treats, but sometimes our longings run much deeper. The real sweets derive from being true to ourselves.

I hope that whatever dreams your heart holds, you’re going for them. I’d love to hear the ooey-gooey details. What goals are you stoked about? Have you ever felt slightly lost, then found? Do your instincts speak louder than words? I ♥ hearing from you.

How Pseudo-Marriage Prepped Me for Career Decisions

In my early twenties, I had a pseudo-marriage that started with an official wedding and ended in concrete divorce—all because I wed for the wrong reasons.

“Marry you? Hmm… Will I get cute shoes?”
(Photo by Alice Hu; Dress by Dolly Couture)

Okay, I was never that snobby. That’s my alter-ego Cru-Bella de Pill, a persona I took on for particular photo shoots. But she supports what I’m about to share…

If you caught my last post, you know that I’m facing an important and increasingly common decision in my writing career. Though I haven’t officially decided, I feel confident about where I’m headed, much thanks to Professor Pseudo-Marriage.

(I use the term pseudo out of respect for my current marriage, which holds no comparison. If my marriage were a celebrated film, my first would be the reject auditions from American Idol—largely because of me…)

Reasons I Took the PseudoMarriage Leap:

Boredom, impatience and the bandwagon. At 22, I was pre-“old maid” by the high-fashion world’s standards. After working internationally and enduring serious hardships, I was taking a hiatus in Minnesota when my adventurous spirit returned. I sat twiddling my thumbs in classes I’d lost luster for and therapy I no longer needed. Meanwhile, many of my peers were married. The totally single me decided it was time. The next person I dated, I would marry.

Stubbornness. That decision stuck. My next beau became my fiance in a snap. We discussed marriage within hours of our first kiss. One year from that day, we agreed, we’d wed. And we did. It wouldn’t have mattered if friends, family, the president and Oprah called to dissuade me (well, Oprah may’ve gotten through…). My mind was made up.

Fear and insecurity. Stubbornness can be blinding. It took me over a year to realize that the decisions we’d made to marry, move across the country to a place we’d never been with virtually no money or belongings had little to do with love and adventure, and everything to do with fear and self-doubt. The last time I’d ventured out on my own, I’d ended up sick and terrified. Fearing a recurrence, I didn’t believe I could reach the “something more” I desired on my own. I and pseudo-hubby could do anything together, I presumed, giving us and our union entirely too much credit.

As in relationships, career success often requires willingness to carve our own paths, look past right nowlisten to our instincts, ask difficult questions, maintain individuality and understand ourselves. 

Ten years have passed since my pseudo-marriage. While I’m still adventurous, I haven’t taken blind, un-investigated leaps—in love, life or my career—since. Tough lessons run deep.

So when my agent presented self-publishing as a potentially useful next strategy for me, I began researching like crazy—even though my gut had strong inclinations promptly. I’ve answered the important questions, analyzed the risks versus benefits and gained insight from professionals and loved ones I trust. (Thanks, all who’ve weighed in!) I have plans for my worst-case-scenario, and my best. And unlike the pseudo-married me, I have self confidence and a happy real-marriage and life to show for it.

While it’s seldom simple, we’re all capable of making the best possible decisions for ourselves. There always unknowns and people attempting to steer us in opposing directions, but I believe our instincts know best. Every step in the right direction, feels right—even when resistance rears its head. Once we sort all the variables out and stand firmly in our decisions, a sense of euphoria sets in. And there’s little better dream-pursuing fuel than that.

How do you make major career decisions? What related lessons have you learned the hard way?

Social Media Fitness for Authors: Happy Findings

Before August of last year, social media seemed like a chore I didn’t have time for. Between novel and article writing, I figured, how could I possibly squeeze it in? Thirteen months later, I consider it not only vital, but fun. What a difference a year makes.

After signing with my agent, I wanted to know what I could do to enhance my career—aside from revising book one and writing book two. The web is chock-full of resources on writing, agent-seeking and book promoting. Information on the in-between time, however, is scarce. My agent sent me a marketing packet which described active blogging, Facebook and Twitter as essential tools for authors. Fine, I thought. Whatever it takes… But I didn’t expect it to be fun.

I zipped over to Amazon and came across Kristen Lamb’s books, Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer and We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social MediaI took one to the gym, gulping down every word at rapid stairclimber speed. About a zillion lightbulbs went on and for the first time, social media excited me. I starting blogging the next day. It’s ironic that this all went down during exercise; the parallels between physical and social media fitness are near perfect.

Meeting Kristen Lamb and other writer friends at conferences rocked my year.

Physical Fitness and Social Media Fitness: (Practically) The Same Darn Thing

Many of us start exercising to lose weight and look better, and because we believe we “should.” Getting started can be tough and intimidating. We might fear looking like fools at the gym in a sea of svelte bodies, dread waking up early or hitting the trails after work; it’s not how we want to spend our time. At first, it HURTS. Every step feels difficult and exhausting as we struggle to adapt physically and to balance our new habits with other aspects of our busy lives.

Over time, though, we start looking and feeling better. Pretty soon, aesthetic reasons aren’t what drives us. We’re happier. We make better friends and partners. We sleep better at night, wake up refreshed, experience less stress and perform better at work. We even start enjoying exercise. If we don’t, we make it enjoyable—that is if we want to continue reaping benefits. Physical fitness becomes the byproduct of a healthy lifestyle.

Many authors join social media to gain readers and sales and because we feel we “should.” But if we approach it properly, those benefits become a byproduct of a healthy, happy writer’s lifestyle—minus the hamstring aches of lunges. 😉 

Social media helps break up my day, makes me feel part of a supportive community, introduces me to fantastic friends, takes up far less time than I feared and even strengthens my writing. And I’ve been thrilled to learn that yapping our heads off about ourselves and our work doesn’t help. The keys are supporting and interacting with others and sharing content we feel passionate about—whether we strive to educate, entertain or inspire. Chances are that content will strike a chord with others.

Like physical fitness, gimmicks and shortcuts (endless auto-tweets, buying followers, having others blog for you…) don’t work. Neither does fixating on “the numbers.” Authenticity rules, and if we don’t have fun, we won’t be successful. As a girl who wrote papers to get out of phys. ed. and struggled with food, weight and dieting issues for years, trust me—I know.

I’m grateful every day for the supportive readers and friends I’ve gained. Success is no longer my driving force, but I believe it will come—as it has for many authors.

Key findings from a Neilsen report published in 2011:

  • Social networks and blogs dominate Americans’ time online, accounting for nearly a quarter of total internet time.
  • Nearly 4 in 5 active internet users visit social networks and blogs routinely.
  • Americans spend more time on Facebook any other U.S. website.
  • Nearly 40 percent of social media users access social media from their cell phone.
  • Internet users over age 55 are driving social networking growth through the mobile Internet
  • Many women view online video on social networks and blogs, but men are the heaviest online video users overall. They stream more videos and watch them longer.
  • 70 percent of adult social networkers shop online—12 percent more than the average adult internet user.
  • 53 percent of active adult social networkers follow a brand (such as authors) and 32 percent follow a celebrity.
  • Based on 10 major global markets, social networks and blogs reach over three-quarters of active internet users.
  • Blogs and social networks rule American internet time—more so than email—accounting for 23 percent of time spent online.

Fabulous related links:

Lisa Hall-Wilson: 6 Social Media Platforms – Which is bight for you?
Kristen Lamb: Everything We Need to Know About Social Media Success, We Learned in Kindergarten

How does social media influence your writing life, craft or career?  Any tips to share with newbies? 

Thank you for your ongoing support. You’ve helped me grow and brightened my days more than you know.