Saturday, July 31, 2010

Clarity Through Virtue: Four Steps to Clear The Writer's Mind

I have a client, Mel*, who after switching paths from a very specialized academic publishing world to the commercial, felt she lost her professional identity, although she knew in her heart it was the right direction to go. Stepping into a writing territory that wasn't necessarily defined by hard core research, she was unsure about where to begin as a commercial writer. The artistic freedom was scary. She had questions and doubts about her original writing voice, the genre of choice, where she wanted her writing career to go and what story she wanted to tell first. To this point, she was snatching pieces of time here and there, sketching out bits and pieces of a story - names of her characters and the general mis en scene. Overall, though, she felt her entire identity as a writer was out of focus. She lacked clarity about the thing she knew she most wanted to do but didn't know how to put the pieces together or in what order. She felt totally disabled.

Lack of clarity in a writer's life can be debilitating and I don't say that lightly. The symptoms look like writer's block, unfocused or rushed prose, genre confusion and general undisciplined pieces. If left untreated, lack of clarity in a writer's life leads to unproductive, self-sabotaging behavior: lack of sleep or an over-abundance; copious couch time; over-indulgence with food and alcohol; substance abuse and possibly depression. It's a nasty downward spiral and it is very real. It's sad to me that the iconic image of The Writer or The Artist that fits this picture so well years ago is still around today. What's worse are the handfulls of professionals in this industry who support that image and dysfunctional lifestyle. I had an agent say to me once, "That's why we love them. That's why they're artists, after all." Really? I thought today's author was one who was learning everything they could with the massive amount of education in bookstores and online on how to SUCCEED with their craft and their goal of being a published author! Ever hear the story about the unagented writer who sold their book to a publisher at BEA (Book Expo America)? Or what about the writer who self-published and isn't afraid to put his book in the hands of a nearby shopper? Then there's the author who writes, tours, speaks and still has lots of quality time for her family. They're out there and thriving - these authors KNOW what they want and how to achieve their goal.

There's a lot of great, helpful info available to writers by industry professionals who genuinely want to help you. They'll tell you how to write a book proposal; how to best present your work (and yourself) to an agent; how to find the right publisher for your work; how to negotiate a book contract; how to promote yourself as an author; what to expect after the book deal and so on. This is all great stuff. This is stuff you need to know. I've read quite a few of these books and have contributed to a couple myself. I totally understand this need for information so you can digest it, follow the directions and get your work out there fast! But what's the hurry? If you've read about the path of publication from the book contract to the finished product sitting on the shelf, you know it takes a good 12-18 months, or more. Unless you've earned a six figure advance (which is unusual), you're still going to have to keep your day job. What I'm saying here, is reading these books on how to get published will only truly help you if you began the process, from concept to completion, clear minded and centered. Reading all the "How to Get Published!" books in the world aren't going to help you if you: don't know who your audience is; don't know why you want to write; don't know how to get your characters out of a rut; don't know where you want your writing career to go or don't even know how to start.

Let's refresh a bit and start from square one, my dears.

Clarity is a way of being at your most cellular level and it can be achieved one step at a time. But in gaining it, you need to step back as a writer and allow yourself the time necessary to identify and address some personal habits that may be clouding your brain. That's right. This has nothing to do with craft or putting pen to page. This is you showing up to your first surfing lesson and learning nothing but balance, otherwise you'll get killed out there. You're not catching any waves today, folks.

So hop on to your board and let's balance. Here are four Clarity Action Steps I prescribe to my clients with great results. It worked for Mel!

Drink Water!

It all starts with the clear stuff - how appropriate! According to Health Choices for Life, the brain is 75% water! Even further, your entire nervous system is like Venice, a city built on water. Your brain needs an ongoing abundance of water to send and receive neural transmissions - you know, the messages your brain sends and receives that makes life possible? Should your body experience a drought, you'll feel sluggish, confused, dizzy, lethargic. Doesn't sound very productive to me. I LOVE water. It's my favorite drink. I usually guzzle 64 ounces a day. Should I go without an abundance for a few days, I feel it mentally, physically and quickly get back on program. Believe me, I know coffee is good, and in moderation it's helpful, but your body physically needs water to survive. Water enhances clarity which leads to greater focus. Drink up!

Get Moving!

There is one particular NYT Bestselling author who loves to romanticize her early leanings toward The New Yorker rather than physical action due to lack of coordination. My goodness, how many times have I heard this one?! That's a tired excuse. First of all, all that self righteous intellectualism doesn't make a writer more talented and second of all, it takes only minor coordination to put one foot in front of the other to have a nice stroll. I'm not talking about signing up for Tai Bo or some masochistic fitness boot camp, here. I'm talking about taking a nice walk, preferably in the morning to help your brain wake up and give it the fresh air it needs to thrive and think clearly. Walking in the evenings is nice too - it's a cathartic way to wrap up the day and reflect on all the good things in your life. You have my permission to follow this up with a nice glass of red wine, which is also noted for all its antioxidant benefits (but don't forget to rehydrate with water). The practice of walking never fails to bring me clarity, new ideas, solutions, opportunities for reflection and gratitude. It's my mobile meditating time.

Eat Good Food!

Notice I didn't say, Go on a diet!, I don't like the word, but I do think it's important to eat as healthfully as you can and ENJOY the experience of preparing and eating great food! I love to eat. And while every Friday is pizza night in my family, the other days I try to fill with lots of whole grains, veggies and fruit. I love Mediterranean food, so I'm big on the health benefits of Olive Oil, tomatoes and herbs kissed by the Tuscan sun. This makes me feel good. I love cooking, love eating ( I did mention that, right?) and very much enjoy the sensual pleasures of cooking and food. When you eat well, when your body is getting the nutrients it needs, it will pay you back very kindly. Try going on a junk food binge for a few days and see how you feel. See? That wasn't so bad. I didn't force you to give up your chips and dip habit. But you should consider it.

Get Organized!

What does your creative space look like? What's sitting on top of your desk? What's the state of your files? Do you have files? What's your organization method? I urge writers to get organized well before we start talking about all the publishing nuts and bolts stuff because choosing writing as a career is like running your own small business. To be successful, you've got to have your office/creative space tidy and organized. Sure, little messes happen and paper has a fabulous way of accumulating, but clean it up. My grandfather was an Episcopalian minister whose soft, County Durham English accent and accessible, practical sermons captivated thousands of listeners during his life which ended in the seventies. I had the pleasure of reading one of his handwritten sermons about putting away your day before going to bed. The lesson was, in completing the incompletes, making sure your desk is clean at the end of each day, you'll sleep peacefully knowing your creation is right in its place. That stuck with me. It's hard to move forward not to mention create with a clear mind when your creative space or office is a mess. When you've addressed the desk situation, move to other areas of your house and start pitching the clutter. Imagine you're tossing the toxic mental junk that's been clogging up the works...stuff you're more productive without. Now you're creating space for fruitful new ideas!

When you apply these four virtues to your writer's life you will see and feel the difference. You will achieve mental clarity. Keep in mind it takes time and persistence. It's a lifestyle change and lifestyle changes are the hardest to make. If you're overwhelmed, choose one. Choose water because you will notice nearly immediate results and it's the most important and beneficial to your overall well-being.

Your exercise this week: Choose at least one Clarity Action to address: Water, Exercise, Eating Well, or Organization. Make a pact with yourself that you're going to focus on the one Clarity Action for at least one month and along the way, journal how this change makes you feel physically and mentally. Next month, choose another and build on the first Clarity habit. Keep going until you've mastered all four. Along the way, keep writing. Notice how your writing has changed and how your craft has improved. Be aware of how your inner self is growing more clear about what it wants. Listen.

Success is brought about by an accumulation of many seemingly small good habits.

How have you found Clarity? Post your short story or tips here! I'd love to know about your successes and how you overcame your Clarity challenges.

Have a beautiful week, writers!

*Not the client's real name.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Let's Get Platforming!

Ok, writers, here's the deal...I had a blog nearly finished with some good platforming building tips...but my home office has suddenly become home to someone who prefers the night shift. A BAT of all things! I could handle a confused bird, but a bat?! How does that even happen? Well, it's late, the Mr. is in bed, there's no way I'll let my tween boys go near the thing...there's no way I'M going near it...I'm lucky to have made it out alive! So there it flutters around, poor thing...and there my computer sits with my original blog copy...

Fortunately, I have other options for getting this post out. I won't have the opportunity to use my original piece, because I did say I'd get this to you mid-week and I'm keeping my word. Plus, I'll be tied up tomorrow. So I changed my course and took a look at a book by Christina Katz who piped in kindly on this week's blog on Creative Platforming with Publisher Glenn Yeffeth. Katz's book, Get Known Before The Book Deal is probably one of the most comprehensive, meaty books on the subject of building your author platform. Katz, author of Writer Mama and founder of the e-course, Platform Building Basics for Writers, writes regularly on the subject for The Willamette Writer. Check out her book! Lots of great endorsements and pubbed by a venerable press. Just so we're clear, Ms. Katz is not a part of this blogshop - I just found her, but would love to have her on. I'm not highlighting copy from her book, although you'll find similar messages, I'm sure. I just wanted to take the opportunity to direct you to a great resource on platforming I just found.

Let's get to it. As I wrote in Creative Platforming, a platform is the means by which you communicate your overall's kind of who you are. For example, I'm a hybrid of publishing consultant and writing coach. My blog is the way I communicate my core coaching message to the public...hello all you writers over there in Germany and The Philippines! My Lit Coach practice is my profession. I live what I blog and inspire others toward more productive, successful and ultimately fulfilling writer's lives. Nearly ten years prior, I was a literary agent. I couldn't have moved into my Lit Coach role without first being an agent very familiar with the ins and outs of the publishing world and how writers live. This is my platform.

But what if you're starting out from scratch? It took me nearly 10 years of nitty gritty experience, research and blisters (Los Angelians don't do well without their flip flops in New York) to build my platform. So the first rule is, be prepared to put some major hours not to mention years into building your platform. When I was an agent, I was frequently approached by writers who had a great proposal for a nonfiction book with equally wonderful sample chapters, but nobody, not even their neighbor, knew they were THE EXPERT in fly fishing, let's say. Sure, the passion was there, the craft was there, but the author's visibility in the fly fishing community was not. Overall, what this writer needs to do is establish herself as a fly fishing expert. Here's how...

Start Local and Get Noticed!

I think it's safe to say nearly everyone would love to make a career out of what they love doing...and many want to write all about it with speaking opportunities to boot. Put on your volunteer fishing caps, writers, and share the love! What's interesting about the thing you want to build your platform around? How can you share your expertise with the people in your town/city for their benefit? Get ready to volunteer your craft on a regular basis until the locals start to know you as The Fly Fishing Girl or The French Pastry Guy. Reach out to your local area papers and start getting coverage. Let them know what you do, how you're educating the community and why that should matter to them. Editors need specifics - be specific.

Go National!

Now that you're close and personal with the locals, head to your local bookseller or newsstand. Seek out magazines, journals and newspapers that you'd most likely find articles centered around your gig. Invest in the reading that's most closely related to what you do. Pay close attention to the overall voice of the publication and especially, the articles you read. What sounds like you? This is key. Use your original voice, not something you feel could be published in The New Yorker or conversely, People Magazine. Editors from these magazines know a faux voice like Anna Wintour knows Chanel, l'originale. For more tips on this, read Creating Your Original Voice with Marcela Landres.

Once you're clear on which publications are distinctly you, start crafting pitches. There are loads of resources out there online and in bookstores with how to pitch to magazines, newspapers and journals. Start researching and start asking questions. Know any freelance writers, any journalists, editors? Ask them if they would mind sharing the magic formula for making a successful pitch. Most are happy to share a few tips.

Go The Distance!

Once you find the formula, keep pitching. Don't let a few NOs stand in your way; push the negativity to the side and move on to the next one. As a writer, you're going to hear NO a lot. The reality is, editors are bombarded with pitches and slush material, not to mention the day to day of their job. They're looking for a reason to turn you down - but it's nothing personal! Really. Show them the good manners you were raised with and give them a kind thank you for considering my work. Editors (and agents) remember the less than polite writers - you don't want to burn your bridges; your piece may not be right for them now, but that doesn't mean you can't pitch to them again on another piece, right?

But let's not forget about your successes! Soon, you'll have a few published articles under your belt - yea! Don't stop there! Keep going! Running a mile doesn't make you a distance runner. Keep crafting, keep connecting and keep pitching. Keep careful records and files of all your published work so you can easily pull together this impressive info for your nonfiction book proposal an agent will be sure to love.

You gotta start somewhere and sometime. How will you do it?

Have platform tips to share? Success stories? I want to hear about it. Share them with the group.

Aha! The Mr. came down for a drink of water. Who wants to play Wild Kingdom?

Have a great week, writers!


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Creative Platforming

In publishing, the evergreen issue of Author Platform is one more and more savvy writers are finally becoming familiar with. Ah yes, the P word. The very short and sweet definition of platform from a publishing perspective is how you reach your audience; columns, articles, journal pieces, newsletters, blogs, workshops and regular appearances on TV (or your own show!) are considered platform. Pick up a reputable publishing trade magazine and no doubt you’ll see a “how to” article on crafting a successful platform. Head to your local bookseller and you’ll find a few books on the hot topic. The bottom line is, if you want to attract an agent or editor’s attention, you must possess a strong platform, period! Clearly, I see aspiring authors are listening to this “must have platform” message when I scroll through their Facebook (or other social media) pages and read their status updates about their projects and blogs – another building block of the author platform. They’re certainly busy, alright.

Relatively new to the social media scene, I’m totally fascinated by how today’s author is using this tool as a means to promote their work and broaden their network and influence. Authors don’t just have a website anymore, as they did when I was agenting, they’re now updating their status (stati?) on several social media and professional networking sites. They’re blog, blog, blogging away. Some even have pages for the main characters of their books, which I find fascinating! What agent or editor wouldn’t love an already strong following of a character that hasn’t even been formally introduced to its book cover yet?! Brilliant! Caveat: You better make good on your promise of your exciting character and get that book published one way or another or suffer some very public professional humiliation not to mention loss of integrity.

Looking around my city, I see the majority of people’s attention turned downward to the glowing rectangle in their hands. Scrolling through scads of info, suddenly “more important” things are happening online in real time. We’re getting used to this, aren’t we? This new speed of instant connection, communication and gratification? Push button publishing is easy! Sweet validation!

So does all this super quick online activity affect the speed of successful platform building, which traditionally takes years to build? Amazon has so far successfully proven self publishing through e-books has saved many writers from years of traditional publishing anguish. Will we experience the same evolution in platform crafting?

I asked Glenn Yeffeth, Publisher at
BenBella Books:

"Since an author's platform is so critical to their publishing success, how have writers become more creative with their platform building? How are you seeing writers use social media to boost their platform?"

GY: There has been an enormous amount of nonsense posted about social media and the need for a platform and I think this has taken a lot of writers in the wrong direction. So here are a few realities about social media and building a platform.

Your book has to be strong, original and fascinating to your target market. I see a lot of proposals by folks who seem to have put a lot more thought into their platform building activities than their book. Everything you do with platform building and social media is simply to light the kindling underneath the big logs – word of mouth. If your book isn’t great your social media efforts will be fairly pointless.

Having said that, using social media effectively takes as much effort and creativity as writing a book. It takes focus and passion. “Everyone should blog” is nonsense. Authors should blog if they have something unique to say and if they are prepared to invest years in building an audience. A platform transcends any given book; in fact it transcends books altogether. A strong platform drives opportunities for speaking, consulting, free-lancing, selling non-book products, career-enhancement, etc.
Whipping up a platform for a book proposal is pretty much impossible. It takes time – calendar time as well as hours.

Figure out what you are really good at – speaking, television, essay writing, radio, short pithy blog posts, whatever – and what you really know a lot about and leverage these two things to build your platform.
Focus is important, and don’t feel like you need to do everything. If twitter doesn’t fit your strengths, don’t tweet. Originality and creativity are less important than finding your strengths and focusing around them. Once you’ve done that, creativity will come a lot more readily.

TLC: So, dear writers, you may have more options and opportunity to connect than 10 years ago, but this new connection speed doesn’t necessarily change the speed or quality of platform building. It doesn’t mean your book will write itself, either (check out Inkygirl’s apropos cartoon, First Things First for some comic perspective). Take heed and take a breather – good books are still good books no matter the format. A well written book by an author who has taken years to build an impressive platform will still distinguish itself well above the slosh in the marketplace. And stellar platforms are built slower than you can say, What’s your status update?

Stay tuned this week for part two of Creative Platforming. Next up: Tips on Establishing Your Stellar Platform.

Your Exercise This Week: Do a little research on your favorite author (this century, please. Even more preferable, no later than the last 20 years). How did they get their start? How long did it take them to build their successful writing career? What was their first publishing success? What do they do (other than write books) that makes them uniquely qualified to be THE EXPERT in their field?

Have any platform building tips or success stories? Share them with the group! I want to hear all about it!

Have a fruitful day, writers!

Glenn Yeffeth is Publisher of BenBella Books. Before BenBella, Glenn was a corporate strategist and marketer who ran companies in Chicago, London and Dallas. BenBella Books, named after Glenn’s children Benjamin and Isabella, publishing boutique that aims to be the publisher of choice for a select group of authors who value personal attention, a partnership philosophy, flexibility and a creative approach to marketing. Glenn has an MBA in marketing and finance from the University of Chicago and a BA in history from Oberlin College.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Next Up on The Lit Coach's Guide

Next week Publisher Glenn Yeffeth from BenBella Books and I will discuss successful platforming strategies and why social media may not be right for every writer in Creative Platforming - a must read in today's "status update" age.

It's great to see so many new faces this week! Welcome! I'm glad you all are enjoying "Creating Your Original Voice" along with Marcela's fabulous tips! Thank you for all your positive feedback. Please do feel free to continue sharing your success tips and stories with the group.

Have a fruitful week, writers!

Photo by Beth Rigatuso of Catch Creative

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Creating Your Original Voice

Several years ago when I was a hungry agent looking for edgy fiction, I responded in an interview on Webdelsol that I was looking for fiction writers with unique, powerful voices. I mentioned I was intrigued by Chuck Palahniuk’s work for its brave style...or something to that effect. That’s all it took. The floodgates opened and I was soon inundated with query letters and emails from writers whose style was “just like Chuck’s!" Since likening your style to another published author is fair game when it comes to pitching your work (as long as your pitch is original), I accepted several of these promising submissions. I soon read enough first chapters to know that while these authors were indeed fans of Chuck’s work (and don’t ask me why, but so too were they fans of Irvine Welsh, Hunter S. Thompson and Ginsberg), they were only writing “just like Chuck” and sadly not “just like John” or “just like Jenny." They hadn’t yet developed their own original voice. While writing in the same voice as your favorite author is a very helpful and popular work-shopping tool, this is something you do to strengthen your storytelling muscles, not become your favorite author.

But what’s a writer to do? Hundreds of books get published a year. There’s no such thing as an original voice let alone story, is there? How come you see scores of vampire and chicks- in- high heels books out there? Isn’t that the same thing? Not really. Those are hot genre trends not to be confused with an author’s original voice. I can guarantee you, Chuck is the only Chuck out there writing what he writes. Likewise with David Sedaris, James Patterson, Janet Evanovich and Anne Lamott. All of these writers have put in years of time, discipline, persistence and dedication to the craft, making their writing voice uniquely recognizable.

One of the first editors I met in New York made this point abundantly clear: tell me a good story! Don’t get caught up in a language that’s not your own, just tell a good story! That’s what Marcela Landres communicated very clearly to this fresh faced agent while we sat in her office at Simon and Schuster. Her passion for original yet commercially viable fiction was contagious! And she made it sound so easy! But you and I both know it’s not, when it comes down to you in front of your computer ready to write…a good story.

I knew Marcela was the perfect pro to bring in to this blogshop. I asked her:

TLC: As an editor, no doubt you've seen countless submissions from unpublished authors who want to be the next Candace Bushnell or Dan Brown. How can a beginning author find and promote their unique voice in the sea of commercial fiction published annually?

ML: To quote Ezra Pound, “Make it new.” When you read as many submissions as agents and editors do, you quickly realize most book ideas are not original. Stand out either by telling a new story, or telling an old story in a fresh way. Here’s how:

Read the competition.

The world doesn’t need another thriller—unless you write one with a cool twist. New York Times bestselling author Linda Castillo did just that with Sworn to Silence, a police procedural set in Amish country with a protagonist who was formerly Amish. How many other Amish thrillers can you name?

Publish before you are published.

Many a commercial fiction writer has launched her career by first publishing articles in newspapers and magazines. Case in point, Candace Bushnell wrote pieces about women, relationships, and dating as a freelancer for Mademoiselle, Self, and Esquire. Those gigs eventually lead to the New York Observer column that was the basis for the Sex in the City book--the rest is history. Her freelance articles and column served two purposes: they helped Bushnell hone her voice, and they established a following for her work.

Write what you know.

Regardless of whether you’re a cop, a chef, or a cubicle-dweller, your life can be fodder for your fiction. For example, Cathleen Schine was born in Westport, CT, and lives in New York City and Venice, CA—all pretty affluent places. What does this upper middle class author write about? Yep, upper middle class people. Schine does such a great job People magazine dubbed her “a modern-day Jewish Jane Austen.”

If you must write what you don’t know, research.

Jodi Picoult is a happily married mom of three teenagers who spends her days writing and caring for her family. She has not experienced most of the drama depicted in her work. How is she able to write about what she doesn’t know? Painstaking, thorough research. For Nineteen Minutes, a novel about a school shooting, Picoult: obtained previously unreleased material from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, which had investigated the Columbine shootings; interviewed a grief counselor who worked with the families who lost children at Columbine; met with two teachers who survived the shootings in Rocori, MN; and spoke with a young man whose friend died at a school shooting. Infuse your fiction with the authenticity that can only come from experience—if not your own, then someone else’s.

TLC: Learn from the masters. In many attempts to improve his vocabulary and rhetorical discipline, Benjamin Franklin used to outline and then attempt to copy articles he considered written above his talent. According to Franklin’s autobiography, his goal was to “capture the logic and emotion” of the articles he admired. He would then go back to review his work in comparison with the original author’s work, highlight his faults and correct them. This discipline would ultimately lead to Franklin’s publishing success!

Your Exercise This Week:

Fiction Writers: Think of your favorite book. I know it may seem sacrilegious, but imagine if it were YOU writing the same story, how would you change it? How would you make it your own? If I were to take this on, one of my all time favorite books, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven would take place in rural Iowa. I’ll leave it at that. If you’ve ever read Sherman Alexie and lived anywhere rural, you’ll understand.

Nonfiction Writers: Think of your favorite “how to” book - something that changed you and inspired you to action. How would you write it using your voice and insights? Would the text have a different feel? What new perspective could you offer to the original text? Maybe Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People becomes How to Win Friends and Influence People: Life Lessons from Sam’s Deli.

Have fun with this one!

Marcela Landres, author of the e-book How Editors Think: The Real Reason They Rejected You, publishes the award-winning e-zine Latinidad, and is an Editorial Consultant who helps writers get published by editing their work and educating them on the business side of publishing. A member of the Women’s Media Group, she has acted as a judge for the PEN/Beyond Margins Award, and was formerly an editor with Simon & Schuster.

Have any success stories or tips you'd like to share? I want to know! Email me at

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Next Up on The Lit Coach's Guide

Editorial Consultant, Marcela Landres will be our guest expert next week on The Lit Coach’s Guide to The Writer’s Life. She'll share some valuable tips on how beginning authors can find and promote their unique voice in the sea of commercial fiction published annually. Ms. Landres, a former editor with Simon and Schuster, is the author of the must-read e-book, How Editors Think: The Real Reason They Rejected You.

Have a great week, writers!


Monday, July 12, 2010

A Creative Energy Makeover with Author and Musician, Mary Beth Maziarz

I’m no scientist. I walked past all those impressive buildings with equally impressive funded research programs on my college campus right into the modest touchy-feely-English-Majors-Only hall; but I do know about cause and effect. I know how one person in a bad mood effects those around them. I also know a thing or two about how not snapping out of a negative mental rut throws the brakes on some quality creativity time faster than a new James Patterson novel lands itself on The New York Times Bestseller List. And I do know reaching your own personal Creativity Nirvana has more to do with a blissfully clear mental state than the position of the stars.

Unless you’ve been hiding out the last several years, you know buzz words like, “law of attraction,” “The Secret,” and “What the Bleep Do We Know” have infiltrated the popular culture and have possibly made us think a little differently about energy – more specifically, high and low frequency vibrations. Simplified and on a physical level, the aforementioned suggest we emit high frequency vibes when we love, laugh, are open to enlightenment and other smile making things. Equally effective are low frequency vibes; we emit these vibes when we’re feeling depressed, grouchy, sad, angry, misanthropic or are employed by any other frown and growl inducing action. We send out these frequencies like a radio tower emits a signal and we receive or feel them from others, like a boat feels the ripple or wave from another boat’s nearby passage.

“Good, good, good, good vibrations”

What does all this science have to do with creativity? EVERYTHING! Try writing when you’re smack in the middle of being annoyed with someone. You’ll be left with an undisciplined rant only you care about. Conversely, try writing when you’re in the throes of lust. Seems like a great idea, right? Oh yeah, I’ve gone back to re-read something I thought was totally inspired by The Muse only to be left rolling my eyes at my over sentimental, gushy, purple prose. Yikes! While it’s important to feel these feelings and let them inspire us to artistic action, the work doesn’t end there. Before I head full steam into a writer’s workshop about the revision process, let’s get back to energy and its effects on creativity.

We’ve got author, critically acclaimed musician and creativity guru, Mary Beth Maziarz with us again this week as we continue to explore Creativity, this month’s writer’s virtue. I asked MB:

"In your book, Kick Ass Creativity: An Energy Makeover for Artists, Explorers, and Creative Professionals, you insightfully guide artists of all ilk, writers and creative professionals toward finding and directing their brilliant creative selves, cheering them all along the way toward taking action in realizing their dreams. The foundation of this enhanced creativity lies in positive energy. Describe to us how you guide artists toward identifying negative energy and how they can recycle it to positive energy."

MB: I love that you mention the concept of recycling, Erin. It IS recycling. Negative energy is powerful, and if we can redirect that power, it takes us where we want to go in life. Left to its own devices, I find that negative energy mostly just sends me to bed or the couch. And it would prefer that I bring a bag of chips.

The simplest way to notice if you’ve stirring around some negative energy is to listen to yourself. We reveal a lot when we talk to our partners and friends. If you frequently find yourself saying things that include the words “no / never / not” (along with their expanded forms “don’t / can’t / won’t / shouldn’t”), you’ve got some attention on limitations and resistance. You can turn this around by using your complaints and frustrations to help you define what it is you DO want, instead of what you don’t.

Do this by “flipping,” a technique where you shift your words around to reflect a positive outcome. For instance, if you notice yourself complaining that, “I never have time to get quality work done,” you can flip it to a positive desire: “I want to have plenty of time so I can do my best work.” It can be a little challenging at first, since declaring our desires usually includes a call to action. Yep. We might have to get resourceful or creative. We might need to ask for (and accept) help. It’s much easier to keep a helpless / martyr / victim thing going with some good old mopey complaining, but it won’t move you closer to what you really want.

I’m also a fan of just going ahead and feeling the feeling in order to help move negative energy through. When I’ve read books about positive thinking, there’s a part of me that resists the idea of constant positivity. Life has contrast. If we’re taking risks and putting ourselves out there, we may very likely come up against the occasional discomfort, pain, or frustration. Pretending these moments don’t exist (or instantly trying to talk yourself out of a being sad or mad) doesn’t feel authentic to me. It’s okay to be hurt. Feel it. Cry if you need to. Think about it. If you have someone in your life you find helpful with this kind of thing, talk with him or her. And then, when it starts to pass, let it leave. Some people hold onto their hurts with such tenacity; they expand on pain by incessantly talking about it, ruminating on it, working it into their art, journaling about it until it’s a huge part of their lives. Concentrate instead on being ready for the moment when something you find exciting or energizing dangles into your life – this is the time when negativity almost effortlessly dissolves. Think about moving toward things you want, not escaping those that you don’t.

TLC: I love that last line: move toward things you want, not escaping those that you don’t. I’ve seen, read and heard about too many artists who confuse pain with passion. Passion is the fuel that drives us forward on our creative journey; pain or negativity is an emotion that needs to be dealt with. To explore this more, visit this past blog…Write No Matter What.

MB: Exactly! Yes! Passion is the fuel. Pain, lust, freedom, worry -- these can be like flavors in our work, but not the animating force. Intention + action creates a super passionate foundation from which to work.

So, lastly, have a few “feel-good” tricks in your back pocket. Know the things that help you feel happy and grounded. If you want to get your mind off negative crap and into more fruitful territory, turn to one of these people, places, or activities where you’re relaxed and content. I like to cook – I find that the engagement of all my senses, along with a pleasing feeling that I’m nurturing my body and my family, help me shift into a better state of mind. I also like really hot baths, talking with my husband Mark on a walk, playing computer Scrabble, and having a nice glass of wine on the deck. There are about a magic dozen things I know I can turn to when things are rocky. I actually have a list, so when I’m unsure of what might make me feel better, I can just scan the list and pick one.

TLC: Time to release your inner Maria von Trapp! Keep a list, mental or post it, of your favorite happy-making things at the ready for the crummy days that inevitably pop up. My fail proof “feel good trick” is singing tunes from musicals. Jesus Christ Superstar, The Sound of Music and Oliver! are all faves.

MB: I love it! I am such a Sound of Music junkie, it's not even funny. . . perhaps we're harmonizing with each other across the country! Perfect use of the kind of stuff I mean, and we can all find the ones that really feel easy and light and fun for us. There are more ways to approach negative energy and put it to work for you – I delve into it pretty deeply in my book – but I hope this quickie intro course helps.

Happy creating, everybody!

TLC: Thank you, Mary Beth! You’ve given us a great start.

Again, writers, I urge you to read Kick Ass Creativity. I rarely promote another author’s work on my blog…instead, I like to explore and promote their paths to success and share those stories and tips with you, but I do strongly feel Mary Beth’s book is a step in the right direction if you’re looking to stock your powerful creative toolbox for the most successful writing career possible.

Your exercise this week: Reflect on MB’s statement as you practice flipping negative energy to good. “Think about moving toward things you want, not escaping those that you don’t.” What does this mean to you? Does it mean finally dealing with the stuff that’s bugging you? Does it mean tying up loose ends? Start consciously recycling all that bad energy to good and see where it takes you.

Have any success stories you’d like to share? Send them to!

Would you like to explore one-on-one coaching opportunities to inspire action, boost productivity and remove challenging obstacles? Email me at and let’s get started on your publishing success.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Next Up on The Lit Coach's Guide

Join us for the second installment of our two part blogshop series with Mary Beth Maziarz, author of Kick Ass Creativity: An Energy Makeover for Artists, Explorers and Creative Professionals. Next Monday we'll discuss how energy enhances or hinders Creativity, our virtue for the month. Maziarz will also share tips on how to shift low vibe negative energy into high vibe, creativity boosting energy.
Be sure to read Living the Creative Life, the first installment of this series, where Maziarz and I discuss and share tips on living the most productive creative life.
Have a great weekend!