Sunday, May 30, 2010

We'll be focusing on Confidence in the writer's life for the entire month of June. As usual, special guest authors and other industry professionals will jump in on the workshops to offer their perspectives and tips. Look for a new blog Tuesday, June 1!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Cool Down Exercise: How Did I Find My Center This Week?

I’ve been thinking all week about what fun thing I would go out and “do” for my cool down exercise…maybe buy some canvas and paint, head to the farmer’s market, try out a new recipe, head to an art gallery to soak in all the yummy color and light...

Then a huge box arrived. A special Fed-Ex delivery from my sister in California. Despite the fact she’s moving a 3,000 square foot home and dealing with all the emotional stuff that inevitably comes with leaving your family home for a new one, managing her own candles, soaps and lotions business (, and raising a daughter, she sends me a box full of girly stuff my one-year-old daughter would enjoy, and lots of my favorite goat’s milk soaps for me, of course! Who does that? She does. That’s just Jenny. My sister is the most giving, thoughtful person I’ve ever met in my life.

So, I thought about her the whole day. Not only did she fill my day with California sunshine, she reminded me how powerful a kind act can be. Most of all, she reminded me just how important the support of others is while perusing your dream. So I thanked her. I thanked her for the box of goodies and then some. It felt good. Better than picking out the perfect tomato or the first sip of French roast. And I do so love doing those things.

How about you? Tell me what your “cool down” exercise was this week. New to The Lit Coach’s Guide? Read the “The Cool Down: Coming Back to Center” and let’s chat.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Cool Down: Coming Back to Center

I tend to be gung ho. A typical Aries, I jump into my gig with gusto, head first, full steam ahead. As soon as I wake up I’m mentally preparing my to do list for the day. As I whip up breakfast and lunches for my trio, I orchestrate the kitchen shuffle with focus and purpose. Packing backpacks, finding socks and giving last minute kisses, all before I finish my first cup of very black coffee, I’m writing emails in my head to people I need to connect with for some reason or another, thinking about this blog and mentally preparing for my private sessions. Before the morning really takes off, I pop my one-year-old daughter in the stroller and we’re rolling…gotta get my morning walk in, my only time to exercise and spend some time with the babe before I attack my day.

And then, oddly backwards and magically, I cool down. The first part of my walk is all about gratitude. I soak in the cool morning elements and think of all the things in my life I’m grateful for, opening myself up to more good things coming my way. The second part I tend to focus on perfecting my craft and create mini mental action plans to take follow up with. The final leg is the cool down, that fun stretch where I let my mind wander. That’s where we are with Passion this week, the cool down (Not to be confused with the cool off! No, no, dear writers! Keep those fires burning!).

It’s our last week focusing on Passion and it’s been quite the mental workout. It’s time to relax a bit, let the mind wander, get our hands dirty and our hair a little ruffled. It’s time to go with the flow and see where it takes us.

During a coaching session, my client, let’s call her Mel, was so thrilled to tell me about her indulgent writing experience after surviving NaNoWriMo. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. For those who participate, this organization guides and cheers on those who join for the entire month of November to bang out their novel with a specific word count goal. It’s intense. You’re supposed to write through writers block, bad plot, uninspired days, lack of sleep, “just do it” kind of writing. It’s nothing short of writing book camp. Despite all good planning and preparation, it left Mel (a graduate student of a hoity toity English University of J.K. Rowling fame) in a totally deflated, uninspired heap, with a novel she’s pretty sure will never see its way to an agent’s “must read first” pile. NaNoWriMo works for some writers, but not for Mel. It’s just not her style.

She had to take a break, a major cool down from her whirlwind writing month, to reconnect with her passion. When we resumed our sessions, she relayed how thrilled she was to have had some time to write just for herself. Not to get anywhere with it, necessarily, but to write for the sake of languidly pondering over words, choosing just the right one and letting it roll around in the mind. Just enjoying the luxury of word choice like wrapping up in a luscious cashmere blanket on a rainy day. Finding her center again, she came back to writing with newfound inspiration and appreciation for her craft.

I thought of this as I finished the last leg of my walk through the park near my home. As I rounded the corner, my thoughts and steps literally stopped in their respective tracks as an enormous red poppy commanded my attention like a firecracker of an exclamation point to Mel’s experience. Perfect timing, I thought. The bottom line? On our paths to writing and publishing success, it’s important to take some time now and then to truly reconnect with the source of our Passion. Not to get anywhere, necessarily, but just for the sake of our own enjoyment.

Your workout this week: Take time to relax from your writing schedule to do something that will bring you back to center, back to the source of your Passion. Take a few hours or take an entire day! Cook, get knuckle deep in your garden, paint with your kids, enjoy a few hours on the beach with some French roast (my idea of perfect!), read a hilarious book (ever read David Sedaris?), play the piano, write for fun, whatever! There are no rules. Savor the experience and enjoy the heck out of yourselves! Think about how great you feel and be thankful for the experience. You’ll head back to your regular writing schedule revived and inspired.

I would love to hear how it goes. Please do share your experiences with the group this week and let’s get this party started! I’ll jump in on this workout, too. Stay tuned…

Monday, May 17, 2010

Clarity of mind means clarity of passion, too; this is why a great and clear mind loves ardently and sees distinctly what he loves. Blaise Pascal

Sustaining Passion
A mini workshop with author Suzy Vitello Soule

I’ve never met a writer who didn’t love writing. Come to think of it, I’ve never met a musician, artist, photographer, actor or creative entrepreneur who didn’t absolutely love getting knee deep in creativity, period. How fun is it to wake up every day knowing you’re living out your dream, your purpose? How truly awesome is it to experience that spark of brilliance that will set you on a path toward completing an amazing piece of work? How rewarding is it (or will it be) when you see your work published? How validated do you feel as a writer when you receive glowing praise, or a “Thanks for writing that. You changed my life.” It’s a gift. Savor it. I’d love to tell you these good vibrations will stay with you all the days of your writing career…but they won’t.

We’ve all had those days when curling up on the couch with a pizza and the TV fixed on Bravo sounds like THE best idea ever. I’ll fess up; I’ve had a few of those days in my past. We’ll think, “Man, NOTHING is happening with my work. This novel is just not moving forward. I’m not getting the feedback I was hoping for; I’m not getting ANY feedback. Maybe I’m just not meant to be a writer. Maybe dad was right, I’ll never make a living this way.” Hold up. Take a step back, breathe and just relax. Even when you do what you love, you’re going to have those days that really make you second-guess your passion for writing. It goes hand in hand with the great days.

It’s our third week focusing on Passion. Last week we chose a mantra to help us wake up and create mindfully; the week before we discovered Passion as a fuel that propels our actions toward success. This week, we’re talking about how to sustain our Passion for writing when the going gets tough or mundane.

We get disconnected from our passion for writing when something gets in the way of our dream, plain and simple. So what is it? Think about your day. Maybe you can’t say no to people who want a piece of your time. Maybe you’re not able to write until the kids go to bed and by that time you’re too exhausted to form a sentence. Maybe the couch, the remote and a large glass of pinot sound like a perfect remedy to a stressful day. Whatever it is, it isn’t writing. Experiencing these frustrating disconnections frequently lead to lack of clarity (Where is this project going? Where am I going as a writer? What sort of writing career do I want?); lack of confidence (With all my obligations, I’ll never be able to realize this dream. This is not the writer’s life.); and waning passion (I’m not feeling it today). That’s where distractions introduce themselves as very convenient alternatives to stepping up your game and making things happen.

Author Suzy Vitello Soule writes for a living. Her work has been published in various journals, including Mississippi Review, Better Homes & Gardens and Willamette Week. Her personal essay, "Dancing With the Paper Rose", was included in the anthology The Spirit of Pregnancy, by NTC Press. Suzy has won several awards for fiction and poetry, including The Atlantic Monthly’s Student Writing Award, STORY Magazine’s Famous Fiction Competition, and Willamette Week’s Short Fiction Award.

Suzy lives in Portland, Oregon where, for the past several years, she’s hosted a high-caliber, weekly writing workshop whose members include Cheryl Strayed, Chuck Palahniuk, Monica Drake, Chelsea Cain and other blurb-worthy colleagues.

Recently I asked her how she keeps her passion for writing alive when the going gets tough. Here’s what she had to say.

“If you keep looking for a qualifier inviting you to the perfect writing life, forget it. There never WILL be enough time. The writers I know who are the most successful are not the most talented ones. They’re good enough, don’t get me wrong, but book deals, placing stories and essays regularly, authoring articles, living a Writer’s Life generally, is about three things, and they are very Boot Campy:

Saying No

Focus: Distilling those big ideas into a story, essay or poem. In order for the muse to do her thing, you have to gaze upon her unblinking and penetrate the artifice. You’ll encounter many “false friends” (Anne Lamott calls them ‘shitty first drafts’ I believe), but see them more as indicators for the way in, rather than obstacles.

The Lit Coach: Suzy’s attention to Focus here goes hand in hand with Clarity, one of the most important virtues I coach writers through. You must know what breed of writer you are, what type of work you want to be known for, your brand and where you see yourself going as a successful writer before you embark on this journey. You wouldn’t take off cross-country without a road map, would you?

Discipline: The guts to prioritize writing above happy hour, matinees, baking Cub Scouts cupcakes, getting a mani-pedi. Whether it’s word count, page count or the clock, goal-setting is imperative. Establish a routine and stick to it!

TLC: Yes, yes and YES! Another virtue I spend quite a bit of time on with my clients. To be successful at anything takes Discipline. It starts with taking 100% accountability for your actions. We’ll get more into this later, but the bottom line is, we are the sum of our choices.

Saying No: Sometimes it’s as simple as putting your phone on vibrate and stashing it in a drawer. If you’re going to finish that novel, you’re going to have to learn to disappoint people, and be okay with it. This is so hard for women in particular. I like to think of it as “No is the new Yes!”

TLC: Agreed! Saying “No” to others is saying “Yes” to yourself. It’s great to help people out and we should when time permits or we’ve scheduled it into our day, but dropping your creatively productive time over and over to do someone a favor will get you off track and feeling frustrated by the end of the day.

Even though these ideas sound stark and cold, they will lead to results that will bolster your confidence and get you through the tough times, and, once developed, they become easier.”

This is the life of the professional writer. These habits take time to build, however. It’s a major commitment not only to the craft but also to your career. You absolutely CAN make it as a writer with some attention to Focus, Clarity, Discipline and Time Management, all of which we’ll be discussing with more depth in the coming weeks.

It boils down to this: when you spend more time doing what you’re passionate about, which for our purposes is turning your writing into a career, the more clarity you’ll have, the more confident you’ll feel and the more in love with writing you’ll be! Yea!

Here’s your weekly exercise, writers: Carve out one hour of non-negotiable writing time every day. Stow away the phone, no texting allowed, no status bar updating and no email checking! Just write like you mean it and see where it takes you. Have fun with it!

As always, good luck and let me know how it goes!

You can find out more about Suzy Vitello Soule by visiting or

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"Keep Calm and Carry On"

"Keep Calm and Carry On"

I recently found this gem while flipping through a catalogue. A simple yet powerful reminder, this poster was intended to strengthen the resolve of the British should the Nazis invade during World War II. Can you imagine? Only in Britain. We risk the threat being overtaken by a crazed dictator, but by all means, keep calm and carry on. And there you have it. The thing is, they would have done it. At least, that’s what my grandparents would have said.

So, if an entire nation was prepared to pull itself together with the threat of a Nazi invasion looming overhead, can we as writers pull ourselves together on a daily basis to create mindfully? I should think so.

We’re keeping our focus on Passion all month. This week, our focus is on the division between Passion and Emotion. The two are close cousins and are constantly confused for one another. Remember, Passion is fuel. Emotions, on the other hand, are feelings, right? No big science going on here.

Events in our daily lives lead us full steam into joy, love, happiness, contentment, disillusionment, anger and depression, not necessarily in that order. For better or worse, emotions flavor our lives. Only a disciplined artist who is aware of their emotional intelligence is able to separate Passion and Emotion at appropriate times to create mindfully and meaningfully for their audience. If you’re writing for an audience, it’s your job as a writer to masterfully craft a piece of work that inspires emotion in your reader. If you head into your piece clouded by the emotions of the day, you will undoubtedly produce something only you can fully understand and appreciate. If you're just creating for yourself and have no want, need or desire to shape your art into a viable career, knock yourself out. If you want to enjoy some quantifiable success with your public platform and published work, then this virtue is crucial to understand and apply. Forget the tired image of the tortured artist nobody understands and create with a purpose larger than yourself.

Ellen Snortland, journalist, activist, columnist, playwright, performer, contributor to The Huffington Post and author of Beauty Bites Beast: Awaken the Warrior within Women and Girls, writes and performs about some very hot topics. Her pieces usually center on culturally sensitive issues. Not only is she passionate about her work, she truly cares about her subjects. I asked her, how has keeping the division between Passion and Emotion helped you succeed as a writer? She responded, “I make sure I'm always in touch with what my emotions are because I feel my main responsibility as a writer, actor too, is to express authentically, in words and emotions what my feelings and thoughts are over daily life as well as the grand scheme of things.

As an artist, I have a responsibility to put into words those things that most people want to avoid or deny.”

If Ellen wasn’t able to communicate authentically and mindfully, she’d be doing her subject matter a great disservice as well as place her professional credibility at stake. Read Beauty Bites Beast and you’ll see what I mean.

Here’s your exercise this week, writers: Find your motto or mantra that will keep you calm, focused and resolved to create mindfully and meaningfully, successfully. Print it, paint it, sketch it, type it, whatever, and keep it in a visible space. Look and reflect on it daily. This is your visual reminder to snap out of it and write thoughtfully. Let me know how it goes.

If you’d like to find out more about Ellen Snortland, please visit her website, She is truly one of the most amazing women I’ve ever met. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, please see her show, Now That She’s Gone. You can’t miss it.