We think a lot about horror and fright this time of year. Read an interesting article this week by Neil Strauss, who is someone I follow when I can. He discusses the difference between Fear and Anxiety. He's been doing some studies on this with members of the scientific community and has come to some interesting conclusions. Some I've listed below, and I've added my notes about them.
Most of what you call fear is really anxiety.
He suggests that being willing to enter the doorway of no return, or facing fear head-on, is a precursor to achieving great success. Consider the number of people who go through near-death experiences and then discover in themselves some magic and walk away changed forever. Or pushing yourself to high performance, to the point of failure, without fear, to achieve a high degree of competency. We look to the BUD/S training our Navy SEALs go through, where less than 10% of the class actually graduates, where the recruit is tested mentally as well as physically. Part of the success of that training is in pushing to the limit while setting the fear of failure to the side.
Good decisions are made from this place.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is debilitating, and it is the response to uncertainty.
Uncertainty is so uncomfortable, most people will make bad decisions to create the illusion of certainty.
Uncertainty is defined as something that is unknown or doubtful. The opposite to this, of course, is certainty, or knowing something. And that requires, as a method for ending uncertainty, that something become known, studied or understood. We run away from uncertainty when that will only enhance it. Finding out about what is troubling is the path to diminishing the effects, eliminating the anxiety. We embrace the knowledge of the cause for it, rather than withdrawing from it.
Bad decisions are made from the state of anxiety.
I used to beat myself up about writing things at the last minute, when I actually love writing that way. Not everyone can, but I enjoy it. I call it Fierce Writing, writing with my hair on fire. Inspired writing. If I were writing memoir or poetry, perhaps I would take a lighter approach, do little bits and pieces every day to keep the muscle developed.
But writing fierce is feeling the story like an extreme movie in your head, where all the characters in your tale work together to create that play. Unexpected things sometimes happen and they thrill me. Other times, if I don't feel the intensity of the story, I lay down tracks and then go back and polish the jewels to make it great. But for me, there is no great writing done until I feel the intensity and am actually living in that story, occupying the space right beside my characters, and in some cases inside their heads. I lose myself. I push my limits. I risk the point of no return.
Writing Fierce is also writing without worry. This is why Nanowrimo works for some writers. We write like our hair's on fire for 30 days. We write intense, we embrace the fear and bust through the anxiety.
We would rather not lose than win.
Safety is not always safe. But we'll do lots of things to “feel” safe, including lying to ourselves. We get excited when we gain something (except weight) but we don't like the fear of losing something. Strauss talks about making sure we crunch the numbers, look at the upside and downside of the possible outcomes before making a decision, especially if we are coming from the place of anxiety. He also suggests that if we can't make a decision, we haven't found enough people to hang with that are divergent in their thinking. We could be spending too much time in the “group polarization” process with like-minded people. Change should be embraced. Or too much time is spent on outside forces we have no control over, like the internet or TV News. They tend not to give a person knowledge, but instead help a person feel small. He advises killing your TV. See the world through your own eyes.
I've just completed an exercise where I took a big step and decided to deal with an anxiety I was having about my writing. I had been worrying about it now for some two months. I finally decided to do the old Abe Lincoln investigation where I'd list pro's on one side, and con's on the other, and then look at the whole grid to make my final decision.
Surprising, even to me, and I've done a lot of this in my lifetime through all my careers, was how simple things looked when I took a good, close look at it. It made a couple of decisions I was worrying about much easier to accept, and I took action. I made the decisions with knowledge. I put into motion something that I needed to do. I called several people I trust, I asked questions and listened. I noticed the people who went into hiding and didn't participate, and I kept researching until the answers came to me through my own eyes.
In the relative absence of fear. Amazing.
I'm writing this now at 30k feet, flying into SFO in a couple of hours. I got up early, so my apologies for not having this post out there sooner.
It was fun to get my batteries charged up. Funny how the attention of fans makes one feel excited, even more excited about the craft than we normally do. We hear those stories about what our books have meant to people, help celebrate other people's successes. I look at covers, and marketing and SWAG.
I came away thinking I need to be very choosy about where I go next year. I've already committed to some good ones. Some are new, some repeats, some I will skip for a year. My time is valuable writing. Those are my most expensive “billable” hours. I need to protect it at all costs. There's always that writing retreat, book signing, author event that looks too good to be true and tempts me. Especially when all my friends are going. I'm going to exercise the word “no” a lot more.
Naughty Nashville was good for me. So was the Unmask The Passion event in Valley Forge earlier in the month. I liked them mainly because everyone was so excited and happy to be there. There wasn't much in the way of drama (that I saw), and readers showed up not to browse, but to buy. So, attending those will require I say no to others, and I will. Valley Forge gave me a taste of history, which I loved as an added bonus.
I also learned that readers are inundated with free books, ARCS and overcommitted to Street Teams and Reader Groups. They're more overwhelmed than the authors sometimes! Reviewers are running behind. Readers avidly want to meet new authors, get surprised with new genres, books and series. My job as an author is to attract new readers, while giving my “one-click” readers material they'll devour.
I don't think there is such a thing as a One Size Fits All way of being a successful author. I see things I like and will try. I see some things that don't work and I don't have to spend time or energy trying. Success is one thing to one person and another to another. Even my own definition of success has changed several times this year.
But when the day is over and I head off to bed at night, the only thing I want to say is, “I did the best I could.” That means I wrote my best, edited my best, said thank you more than I received praise, was kind to people I want to throw my computer at, and kept myself focused. I didn't gossip, envy, complain or make excuses. I did my job. and my job–my only job–is writing.
If I do my job well, then I get to spend more and more time in my fantasy world of my own creation. I'm happier there. It's safer there. It's the stuff of magic, and creating magic is what I'm all about. Give me make believe over anything REAL any day.
Some day I'll go there and stay forever. But in the meantime, there are a lot of stories to tell, tales to spin, and people to delight.
What a glorious job that is!
Yesterday was one of those days where the pieces just fell into place, where I got to practice some of the things I've been speaking about to several groups over the last few weeks. I got to play with purpose and passion.
Writing is a practice. Living a passionate life is a practice. So is raising a family, maintaining a long-term relationship, re-bonding with good friends and creating new exciting ones. Often I get caught up in what I'm NOT doing instead of celebrating what I do have.
In the writing community sometimes there is this “mouse in the wheel” effect. We want to do everything we are drawn to, or see others do. We wish we had the money or time or other resources to do it all. But the plain fact of the matter is that we can't. We have limits.
But limits are good!
Testing limits is how we get great. We don't start out great, we practice at it until we get there. Or, perhaps we never get there, but we strive for it. We apply pressure, we PUSH OUR LIMITS. We learn to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Everyone has different limits and everyone pushes at different levels. How hard we push or how hard we stretch is based on how hard we want that goal, or that change.
Marina Adair has been a friend of mine since my first RWA chapter meeting almost six years ago. It seemed like there was so much to learn, so much to do, it was overwhelming. But we both had the same excitement for writing, and although we both took different paths, we both got to experience stretching our limits and achieving goals we never even thought possible.
I'm amazed at how sometimes old friendships can turn into new opportunities and connections, and lead the way to more magic and mayhem. Because there is certainly a little mayhem too! None of us does this crazy thing called being an author alone. We give each other a hand up. Just like we have readers who tell other people about our work, people we work with who help make us shine and help spread the word. It does indeed take a community to make an author. It takes a life of watching and pressing against the walls, to become a great mentor to others, and a great writer worth reading.
Living with some degree of stress (my old mentor said if you didn't want any stress in your life, have them surgically remove your brain and spinal cord, and float it in a saline solution for the rest of your life) is actually healthy for us. Putting it in terms of loving someone — we are driven to give them our best, because we care about what they think We are passionate about a relationship when we take the time to celebrate and treat it like the precious box of delights that relationship is.
I'm enjoying my venture in Marina's St. Helena Vineyards Kindle World. I'm also grateful for some of the good as well as the not so good things that have happened to me during my journey to get to this point. I'm not done, but I promise you, whatever comes next will be done full-on and with as much passion as I can stuff into my brain and my heart.
Because nothing else you can take with you. And that's a practice too.
As we honor and memorialize the 9-11 anniversary of the Twin Towers terrorist attacks, I'm reminded, again, how we are all connected. Forever.
We watched the towers fall from our television set in California, while on the phone with our son, who was attending NYU. He watched from the dorms some 26 blocks away.
I didn't know until later that I lost a member of my graduating class at Gunn in Palo Alto. Or that later I'd lose another member of my class in an attack on the UN offices in Algeria. I will never forget, as I'm sure most of you will never forget, where you were when you heard the news. We go forward with heavy hearts, but it never gets old to remember those who sacrificed so much. If we are truly to live, we need to do this as a world. It goes far beyond country, religion or cultural ethnicity. It is a scar on the landscape of the whole world, healed by love and remembrance.
Yesterday I spoke to the San Francisco chapter of Romance Writers of America. My topic was on becoming an Elite Warrior Indie Author. I've had the good fortune to meet, interview and be mentored by some of the greatest minds of today. Hopefully, I brought some of that to focus for the group.
A highlight of the day was that a group of readers came all the way from Sacramento to visit! It became clear to me, as I was preparing my talk, that our stories, once they leave us, no longer belong to us, but belong to the readers. How perfect that they were there.
We all want the easy walk, the life without conflict, tooling down the road of success and happiness like the resolutions in our romance novels. But reality isn't like that at all. The beauty of the fabric of life is that we are all connected. We share our lives with each other. We share our stories. We share our tears, and we share how we all move on.
Thank you for being part of my journey.
One memorable time I was at Acre Coffee in Santa Rosa, I witnessed a couple flirting and dropping notes to each other. He dropped a note to her. She opened it, smiled, wrote something in response, and, thinking no one was watching, dropped it off at his lap on the way to the bathroom. He smiled and did the same. It went on for several minutes. Did they leave together? I hope so, but I missed that part, having to make my own pit stop. My romance mind wanted to think they were strangers about to hook up. But wouldn't it be nice if it was a prearranged date between a very long-term couple?
Why don't we do this after years of marriage or long-term relationships? Well, if I knew that answer, I'd be selling that seminar out there. I suspect it's because as we age, we carve off the wild and crazy parts of ourselves, in favor of the more predictable parts that perhaps cause us less pain. I don't know about you, but I used to love jumping around with the full pot of coffee on Sunday mornings – working in the garden in cutoffs and braless, listening to Chinese music or an NPR interview. If it were today, perhaps a TED Talk blaring out over the 2 acre apple orchard we lived in back then, with a landlord from Columbia we thought might be a drug dealer. Oh my.
I often wonder what our neighbors thought of us. More than 23 cars, working at night because we felt like it with spotlights in the garden. Dancing. Running naked through the sprinklers. Oh yes, there was that day when I had to get in 13 cars in my little white uniform to get one that ran so I could go to work. And that vehicle was a 1941 Flatbed International truck we'd driven back from Indiana on a “vacation.” You know those kinds? Drove to Indiana to look at the truck in 36 hours, via Minnesota to deliver a car to a serviceman coming home and it was a free ride (except for gas). We probably didn't have the money at the time to afford a plane ride, so it would have been a bus ticket home for us. But we bought the truck, and then in Illinois bought me a 1953 Chevy.
I even hitchiked in Baja, back in the day, when it was sort of safe. Met up with a couple of guys from LA and drove all around the back streets in a looooooong red Cadillac convertable. I had more to drink than I ever had before…a lost weekend for sure. But that's another story for another time before I was married…Back to the green Chevy.
I used that green-two-toned Chevy years later when I started to sell Real Estate. People would walk out of their houses to look at it, when I doorknocked neighborhoods. I had the old Girl Scout photo I used in the ads. Even put all 4 of my kids in the back of the car and took a picture, for my brochure (remember those?). I even took all 4 of the kids to City Council meetings and listing appts., which guaranteed they wouldn't go over a half hour long.
Oh those coffee days. A wandering heart way back then. Trying to be responsible, but skirting the edges at the same time.
I think about all these times when I lament getting older. No one can ever take these away from me. And I wouldn't trade a minute for anything. I enjoyed my freedom then, and I enjoy it now even more.