Inspiration for my day. Thought I’d share. Enjoy!
What creative thing have you done today?
Five literary agents sat at a table across the front of the room. At least two hundred hopeful writers filled the audience, waiting. A basket full of anonymous query letters was to be read out loud for the panel.
If an agent liked what he or she heard, they’d let the announcer read on. If not, they’d strike the gong.
Three strikes and your query was out.
I contemplated placing my query in the basket. Yes. No. Yes. No. Back and forth, until I chickened out and didn’t do it. I was afraid to hear what they would say. Afraid they wouldn’t like my story. And I wasn’t sure if I could handle hearing all that rejection. Not when I’d worked so hard on my novel.
So I sat in the audience, listening. Letter after letter was gonged. Some made it three words. Some made it a full paragraph. Only one made it all the way through without the dreaded gong ringing.
I was blown away. How are you supposed to get past any agent if they won’t even read three words?
Afterwards, I still wished I’d been brave enough to put my letter in. I realized, I would never know if I was throwing my query letter out there in the dark, or how to improve it. There was a room full of agents willing to shed light on their take of my letter, and I didn’t take advantage of it because I was afraid.
Letting Go of Fear
If we let fear rule our dream, if we’re never willing to risk, we may get discouraged and quit. We won’t be able to see how to improve or what steps to take next. Catching our dream is more than letting our emotions rule us. It’s controlling them, working despite the fear of rejection. Despite the naysayers. Sure, our work may not be good enough yet, but we have to keep working until it is.
Even though I was petrified to enter the Gong Show that day, I had an eye-opening experience. It was a defining moment in my writing life for me. I realized so many things I needed to do to make my writing stronger. Not just in the story aspects, but in learning how to articulate and how to market my writing.
So why not take a step closer to your dream?
What’s the worst that could happen? Try something and it doesn’t work? Or ask someone for help? We don’t always like the advice we get, but sometimes, it turns out to be the very thing we need to hear, or the idea that solves our problem. And we may end up meeting a mentor or friend who will guide us closer to our dream.
Sure, rejection is painful, but victory is sweet. I know – so cliché. But if you never put yourself out there, how will you know which one you’ll end up with?
After the Gong Show, I spent the next several months reading new books on how to market my writing for publication and asking people who have been successful the best advice on how to make my query better. I even sent out that dreaded query letter to agents. It’s scary, but it will make me a stronger writer.
And next year at the conference, I’ll have my query letter ready to put in that basket.
“A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.”
~ Bo Bennett
What’s holding you back from catching your dream?
What things have discouraged you from catching your dream?
Check out the rest of the series, Catch Your Dream:
I hope everyone had a fabulous Thanksgiving. November has been probably the craziest month for writing I’ve ever had. My first attempt at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – goal 50,000 word first draft written in one month) is successful! I officially submitted my terrible draft (it really is, but don’t worry – come January, I get to fix it!), and now I get a break.
I was truly stretched in my writing. There were days when I looked at the screen and said no way. 2,000 words today? 20,000 to go? With work going on or Thanksgiving around the corner? But amazingly, new ideas came and the words were added.
On top of that, I completed a revision of my work in progress, The Breakout, which won the speculative fiction category contest for Novel Rocket last month. I’ll find out in a couple of weeks if it wins the overall. Fingers crossed! But whatever happens, it’s a much stronger manuscript and I’m excited about that.
And I have to give a shout out to my awesome husband who put up with my crazy writing overload – thanks, Matt! He even made some amazing Star Wars pies for Thanksgiving – they were soooo good!
So, now for a break and to enjoy the holidays. I need to find some coffee. And back to blogging next month!
How about you guys – any updates on your NaNoWriMo sprint?
My husband bought this crazy exercise program with the brainstorm I’d try it with him. I’m more athletically challenged than anything else, and I laughed at him when he suggested it. There was no way.
Practice Makes You Better
He bought the DVD set anyway, along with weights, yoga mat, resistance bands and chin-up bar – the whole set up. I sat back as he started the program, sweating, huffing and puffing.
“It’s so much fun,” he told me. I thought he was crazy. “Just try it one day,” he said. “If you don’t feel better, you don’t have to do.”
“Fine,” I said. This will last like five minutes.
I got my workout clothes on, pulled my hair back, not really thinking I would work up a sweat. After all, I’d only be out there for a few minutes.
But an hour passed before I realized it. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done – trying to do weights and crazy exercises. Afterward, I wasn’t as sore as I thought I would be, and I felt really good. So I kept at it. Everyday. By the next week, I was able to do push-ups (small ones of course – does a few inches count?). And I could reach my toes without pulling my muscles. I hadn’t done that since college. Yikes.
By the end of those three months, I could run further than I’d ever run before, do more sit-ups than ever before. When we push through the hard parts, we grow into people we never knew we could be. We become stronger than we ever thought possible. And we achieve the dreams we thought were beyond our grasp.
The Myth About Practice
Sometimes, that’s easier said than done. I know. Figuring out the things you need to do to make you better is a hard task. But you’ve got mentors and friends to help you. So, ask them, what do I need to do to get better?
There’s this crazy myth about practice floating around out there. It says you have to spend hours every day, repeating boring stuff to learn it. To get good at it.
For the first decade of my musical life, I adhered to this myth. I know, sadly I admit it. No one ever told me that practice could be fun. And that it didn’t have to be so hard. I’d spend hours rehearsing music, starting at the beginning and fudging my way through difficult passages. Then I’d do it all over again. And again. And again.
Sure, I got better and improved as a musician. But it took forever! Who really has hours to waste, hoping they’ll get better?
Practice Smarter, Not Harder
Then my college professor taught me the secret to efficient practice: Practice Smarter, Not Harder.
She showed me how to work on the parts that were difficult. She gave me specific steps to take during the limited time I had. How to work on smaller chunks of music. How to plan my practice time for maximum results. And how a few minutes of fundamental practice each day would build my skills.
As I pursue my dream of writing, I find this same rule is true. You have to hone your craft and practice it everyday…but it doesn’t have to be boring or hard.
So what does that look like? For me, it means setting aside writing time everyday, keeping a writing log. I practice free-writing. Blog weekly and journal. I also practice some form of writing technique regularly, such as working on better dialogue and improved plotting. There are hundreds of great writing books with tons of helpful exercises.
I also make sure to include time to write fun things – the stuff that keeps my brain awake at night, the stuff that made me fall in love with writing. Oh, and I read a lot.
We’re always practicing for something. Even right now, in this moment. The question is, are you practicing things that will move you closer to your dream? Or are you practicing a legacy of waiting and wishing your dream would come to you?
If you’re truly passionate about your dream, why not give it a try? You might find once you start practicing, you won’t want to stop. And it may be more fun than you think.
“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing that makes you good.”~Malcolm Gladwell
What ways have you found practice to help you in pursuing your dream?
Check out the rest of the series, Catch Your Dream:
I love to shop. Let me correct that. I love to get a good deal. If it’s on sale, I’m interested. No discount should be ignored. Right? When I stumbled across a wooden sign in a decorating store that read Chase Your Dreams, and it was half off, I knew I had to have it.
I promptly bought it, took it home, and hung it on my writing room wall, knowing this would be the inspiration I needed to finish my novel – the one I’d been writing for three years. Finishing would be a snap. Getting it published would be an added bonus. I didn’t need books or classes to teach me how to write a novel.
I was a writer. I knew how to write. I just needed inspiration.
Oh, if I could go back and slap my former self, that would probably have knocked some sense into me. But I don’t have a Delorean time travel car.
Here’s Your Sign
With my sign shining down on me, another labored year passed, staring at the pages of my wannabe manuscript. If I squinted just right, maybe I’d see a different way to mend the broken sentences. Or if I thought hard enough, the perfect word would flutter down from above. I was sure moving one word or sentence was the fix I needed to resuscitate my lifeless characters, to make my dialogue witty, to make my plot the next best-selling thriller.
The only problem – I didn’t know which word to move.
Months later, my rewrites still didn’t make sense. My story was still broken. I wadded up my latest draft and threw it on the floor. I didn’t have what it took to be a writer. All the hours spent in a fruitless chase. All the ideas that seemed so exciting months ago fizzled with the crumpled pages. I didn’t know what to do.
I wanted to quit.
As I glanced at my sign, I knew I was just chasing my dream. What I really wanted to do was catch it.
But how do you catch your dream?
Don’t Let Go
Something inside me wouldn’t let go of writing. Maybe it was God whispering, or more likely shouting at me, but I did the unthinkable. I had to give myself one last chance before admitting defeat. So I went to the bookstore and bought one of those dreaded writing books. A really big one with no pictures. Crazy, I know.
A funny thing happened. As I read the pages of that book, I began to see some of the mistakes I’d made were actually fixable – if you knew what you were looking for. Training could help. And I realized I’d been trying to do this whole writing thing on my own. With knowledge and community, I might be able to grow into the writer I felt called to be.
Catching My Dream
So I started on a path to catch my dream. Some days, the road was littered with potholes. Others, it was like taking the elevator. But somewhere along the way, I realized I had caught my dream and could confidently say “I am a writer.” In the next weeks of this blog series, I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learned.
Many things have helped me along this journey. I live my dream everyday. And you can, too.
What is your dream? Have you caught it yet, or are you still chasing it?
You’re ready. You’ve got the creative ideas. They’re flowing so fast, your pen can’t keep up as you scratch them out on paper. Now what?
You have to produce something from your creativity, otherwise it’s just another idea that will die with you. Whether you want to start a blog, paint a picture, write a song – you have to get the idea into a form others can use.
So the message today is simple:
No excuses. Create! That’s what you were meant to do.
3 Steps to Creative Action:
1. Plant the Seeds: Get inspired. Say no to perfectionism. Make it messy.
This week, set aside some time to think. It may be early in the morning or before you go to bed, but write your thoughts down. Let them free flow. Anything you want. If you’re stuck, ask questions or just write the first thing that comes into your head. Try this every day for a week. You’ll see some creative ideas spark.
2. Add Water: Eliminate distractions. Set creative goals.
There are tons of time management blogs and articles on being more productive out there. But let’s face it. You’ve read them before, you know what they say. The truth is, we know the things we should be doing, we just don’t do them sometimes – myself included! We let excuses take over our time.
So take small steps to eliminate distractions. Set a specific time to create. Turn off the social media for an hour. Go outside and find that tree to sit under and brainstorm. Go somewhere you won’t be bothered. For me, it’s the local library or the park by my house. Whatever works for you.
Then write down your creative goals and dreams. Why do you want to create, and what are the first steps you could do to get you there? Write them down and put the list on your computer or refrigerator – wherever you’ll see it every day.
Now do them.
3. Let them Grow: Routine, routine, routine.
Be consistent in your work. If you’re more creative in the morning, make sure you have time to create then. If you’re a night owl, wait until the kids go to bed. But do something everyday to take steps toward your goals.
In order to grow, something has to happen everyday. You may not see the progress, but trust it’s working. It may be something small, but it’s necessary to the process.
If you need help (which most of us do), get a creative partner to keep you true to your goals. A friend can keep you moving toward your dream. A mentor can guide you. You don’t have to do it all alone. Soak up the wisdom and creative talents of those around you who may be further along than you.
Repeat these steps over and over and over.
Whatever your art, the creativity is there, you simply have to tap into it and let it grow.
When my niece was a toddler, I watched her stack blocks with chubby hands. One, two, three. Then they clattered to the floor and she smiled, ready to start over. Maybe she was building a castle or trying to see how high she could stack them. Only her two-year-old mind knew. But no matter how many times the blocks fell, she stacked them again.
The Assault on our Creativity
We’re bombarded with images of perfection on a daily basis. Every commercial, every magazine, is filled with beauties with perfect skin and clothes, or houses made spotless by effortless cleaning, or gadgets that promise to make our lives easy. We aspire to achieve an image of perfection that is never possible, and yet believe it’s our fault when we don’t measure up.
When we try to catch the fleeting image of perfection, we always miss. We grow through our mistakes. Failure after failure, until we see the final outcome, the fort of blocks that stands tall.
We often try to reach perfection in our art and get angry or depressed when we don’t achieve it. But by releasing ourselves from the pursuit of perfection, we unlock the creative process. We can create what only we can create. We can find the ideas that are locked away, that are unique to us.
To create, we have to be free to make mistakes.
There’s no way to know the end result without sifting through dozens of not so great ideas first. Eventually, things that didn’t work will lead to the answer we’ve been looking for. And we’ll wonder why we never saw it a long time ago.
Through our mistakes, the best art comes.
When you’re writing your first draft, don’t stop to edit your work. You have to let it flow. It will be terrible. It will break all the rules. But there’s freedom in creating, because you can always fix it later. If you’re a musician, artist or athlete, it’s the same: the more you practice at your craft, the better you get, the more you grow, and the creativity flows.
Mistakes are the key to creativity. Without them, we never get past the ordinary. In writing, I can’t find my best words unless I allow myself to write down hundreds of really terrible ones first.
Give yourself permission to make a mess.
If you’re a musician, play without stopping, see what new, strange melodies emerge. If you’re a writer, let your characters take over rather than you telling them what to do. If you’re an artist, don’t be afraid to create what you see.
When life is messy, we’re supposed to clean it up. But if you want to create, let the mess hang around for a while, and you may find something amazing emerge.
What ways has perfection stopped you from achieving your creative best?
For More Reading:
The Moving Target
In Texas, fall means football, and for the music major, that equals marching band. Most of my college hours were spent practicing music in some form. Our band marched everyday in the heat, learning new drill and music, forging friendships that would last. We lived, slept and breathed band. But when we stepped on to the field, gave our best performance, the crowd loved it.
And all the sunburns and physical exhaustion paid off.
Our band was built through hard work, sacrifice and friendship. There’s something about a community of like-minded individuals that help us grow in our creative efforts. Without others to build us up or shape us into the final product, we stagnate.
Being a Loner
When I began creative writing, I tried to do everything by myself. I thought all I had to do was go in a room and write. That’s how famous writers do it, right? Week after week, I went over the same pages, tweaking a word here and there. I couldn’t figure out why the words didn’t sound right, or why the story playing out in my head came out so poorly on the page.
I was frustrated.
I had no idea how to tap into the creativity I knew was locked inside my head. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer. Maybe I was just grabbing at a dream.
Find A Community
I heard about a writers conference in my area and decided to give it a shot. What could I lose? Maybe there was someone who could help me figure out what I was doing wrong.
The first day, I was blown away by the amazing writers I met, their open hearts and eagerness to help a young writer. My eyes were opened to look at writing in new ways. I saw my mistakes more clearly, gained tools for how to fix them, and grew vision for how to move forward.
Build a community of writers around you, those who think like you, have a passion for creating. You never know what kind of ideas or words they will inspire, or how they may help you.
Or how you may help them.
By sharing what you’ve learned and what inspires your creativity, you may end up inspired in ways you never imagined. Your writing will be deeper, your insight more thought-provoking. And isn’t that why we write?
There’s no big secret. Growth is about immersing yourself in the world of creativity and practice, whether it’s writing or another art form. Building community develops friendships and sharpens our skills so we can write and share our passions with those around us.
Ideas for Continued Growth:
What ways have helped build your creative community?
Unleash Your Creativity Series: