A Writer's Journey, Books

All Or Nothing: Day 10 of a writer’s journey

Big Magic/ Bookended

I have some fairly disparate things to talk about today but I think there is a thread that ties them together, so bear with me as I try to make sense of it . First: There’s always something, an idea or a perspective, that is obvious to some persons but another person is completely oblivious to it. And then maybe someone says something, and like the shake of a kaleidoscope, there is an inward shift and the new pattern becomes obvious. The person wonders why they never saw it.

All or nothing…

Second: Have you heard of the All-Or-None Law? It’s from physiology and it states that when a nerve or muscle cell is stimulated with a stimuli above the threshold potential, it responds. That is, it either responds completely or not at all. All or none (If you want to read more about it, please google it. I’m using it as a metaphor. I think.) It has come to my notice today that I have been thinking of everything in life from an ‘all or none’ point of view. I can do this or I can do that. I can write or I can pursue that opportunity. If I do this, I can’t do that other thing. For sure, there are cases where I can’t do both. I can’t write and climb Mount Everest at the same time.

All or nothing/Big Magic/ Bookended

I spoke a few days ago about following your heart, focusing on what you want to do, and completing it. I also spoke of ignoring distractions. There’s a new, exciting opportunity that has shown up and I immediately panicked and thought about how I would like to try out for it and also how saying ‘yes’ to something else would adversely affect my writing. My husband gently asked, “Why can’t you do both?” And I thought immediately of my all-or-none approach – do this or do that but not both.

If you are pursuing a creative venture, you’ll have to decide for yourself whether it can be done in addition to something else. Only you can decide. There will be those times when you’ll want to or have to balance multiple commitments (e.g. day job and creative venture or day job, raising children, and creativity, or raising children, volunteering and writing etc. etc.- there are as many iterations as there are people). Other times, you may choose to focus only on one thing. It is my humble opinion that only the individual can make the choice and that choice may vary from individual to individual, on the type of project, and it may depend on where you are on the project. I put the picture of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic above because she talks at length about this. I have read the book multiple times but it’s only when I see it play out in my life that I can understand it better. You don’t have to leave everything in order to be creative (which I correlated with the All or None Law!).

Now here’s what has happened to me- the question “Why can’t you do both?” served as a liberator. I somehow felt myself growing, as if my perception of my capabilities expanded in response to the question. If I make some smart choices and manage my time well, I may be able to do justice to both. It would require more work and yes, would be a challenge, but I might just be able to do it. I needed to let go of my old image of myself as someone who can do this or do that, and try out this new version of someone who can do this and that. We’ll see how this turns out.

Text and photography © Bookended.org

A Writer's Journey

Day 9 of a writer’s journey


Note: I migrated my 2019 posts from an older blog and unfortunately, I lost the Day 9 post. From what I remember, it was a commitment to showing up and writing. I wrote that while I was in the shower, an image popped into my head. I imagined I was in a glass cabin up in the mountains. There were trees everywhere. My view from within the glass walls looked like the picture above. Because this was real life, I couldn’t actually go to a cabin where I could write uninterrupted. Instead, I had to find a way to focus and write as if I really was staying alone in a cabin in the woods. It’s great to come to this decision but I’m finding it a challenge to follow through. Day 10 is here.


Text and photography © Bookended.org

A Writer's Journey

Writer’s block: Day 8 of a writer’s journey

Writer's Journey/ Bookended.org

Having answered the question (Are you a writer?) to my satisfaction, I renewed my commitment to the book. I created time in my daily schedule to write. I had multiple overseas trips coming up in the first half of 2019 and I increased my writing efforts to make up for the time I would lose because of the travel. I immersed myself in the book and both the plot and the characters benefited from this attention, developing depth, and becoming more nuanced. But there still remained a block that would not allow me to visualize the last one third of the book. I was well and truly stuck.

Writer's block/Writer's Journey/ Bookended.org

As I wondered how I was going to get through this block, I became aware of how, in life, there is always an exquisite tension between opposing forces. Let me try to explain what I mean. I wanted to force my way through this writer’s block, keep writing even if what I wrote was nonsense. Was that the right approach? Or should I show up to write but more in the spirit of waiting for the muse to show up? Should I hustle (so popular in today’s go-go world) or should I allow for the words to show up? The answer wasn’t clear. (Another example of opposing forces, that I think is similar, is when Dr. Brené Brown talks about fitting in vs belonging. Here the choice is clear- choose to be your authentic self.) In the interest of progress, I showed up and just wrote. But even as I increased the word count, I knew I wouldn’t be keeping most of it. Two thirds of the book was done. But, what should I do next? A certain detachment crept in and an unwillingness to take responsibility for the lack of momentum – I showed up, I persevered, what else was I supposed to do? I had so many questions. For one, who was I addressing? Did I have a personal muse in addition to muses who looked after writers everywhere? Was I addressing the universe? When do we know that we should stop or let something go ( a project, a creative endeavor, a quest) and when do we know that we should press on ahead, in spite of obstacles?

Writer's block/ Writer's Journey/ Bookended.org

When are obstacles, tests of commitment, and when are they just obstacles that want to stop and divert you towards something else? Day 9 is here.

Text and photography © Bookended.org

A Writer's Journey, Books, Nonfiction

Are you a writer? Day 7 of a writer’s journey

Are you a writer?/Path Made Clear/ Bookended
Path Made Clear/ Bookended

Are you a writer?

With the arrival of 2019, I was gripped by an urgency to get on with this writing project. I wasn’t writing enough, I felt. Not writing enough. Not writing fast enough. The material was not gripping enough. I had a list of all that was I doing wrong and my inner critic assured me that it was all my fault. If only I’d worked hard enough, this book could be done by now, my inner critic said, looking at me in disappointment and shaking her head. After all, an entire year was now over and I had little to show for it. When someone asked me how the book was going, I would give an answer based on how much work I’d done that day and the level of discouragement I felt. To one person, I said it might take my entire lifetime to finish and so, please, don’t hold your breath. When another person asked, I simply smiled and tried to look mysterious. To another, I said that I have the first 2/3 roughly written out but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how to get my heroine to the end. This last was as close to the truth as I could manage. I vaguely knew how I wanted to do it but I just couldn’t visualize the plot twists and scenes to get her there. It was like I’d hit a wall.

Is it so hard, one well-meaning friend asked? Don’t you just sit down and write? I told him I did sit down and write. How hard can it be, he persisted, to sit and write out a story? Anybody can do it, he concluded. (If you are a writer, you will meet at least two people who will ask you this. Every human being is a storyteller, which is why so many of us try to become writers. We all think we can do it.) Well, I thought, anybody but me. It wasn’t the writing itself that was hard. I was stuck trying to figure how to get my heroine out of all the mess she was in. What was the point, someone else asked, what did you want her to learn? So, you see, there is all this figuring out to do and not just for the heroine. You have to figure out what each of your characters is going to do, what their outer and inner arcs of learning are, and you have to do it in a way that is plausible. Was I then not as smart as I thought I was? Perhaps there is a more important question you should ask yourself, my inner voice continued, momentarily forgetting that she had lured me onto this path: are you a writer?

It wasn’t until I was well into my forties that I knew I wanted to be a writer. It is amazing to me how oblivious I was until then. Books are the keystone of my life and words, my most powerful tools. (If this was a book written by Erle Stanley Gardner, this would be the Case Of The Cringe-worthy Cliché. Sorry!) Though one could argue that different phases of our lives call for new goals to emerge, writing should’ve been an obvious choice for me at every phase in my life. But I’m not sure why I never considered it.

Some people know from a very early age what they are going to do with their life. Be a doctor or an artist or an engineer or any of a thousand other vocations. The wanting and the direction of their ‘bliss’ is clear to them and they pursue it. (Or they don’t. But that’s another story.) For others, personality, availability of opportunities, familial or societal expectations, and economics factor into the decision. There are peculiar, individual sets of circumstances that influence us when we make any decision.

Dear reader, it is fantastic if you know what you want to be when you grow up because that is like the powerful headlamp a miner wears to see into the darkness of a cave. It is immeasurably more thrilling if you know what you want to do, create, build for the rest of your life. If you don’t know it, I am sharing insights that I hope will help. Some I have learned from my own experiences and others, from teachers everywhere.

a. Joseph Campbell said, “If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” Follow what interests you. You’ll never know where it’ll take you. Sometimes, it’ll just be to the next step and at others, it’ll take you a longer distance.

b. Be open because what you want to do may change. I used to run a small business and I found that I didn’t care about selling anything that I didn’t have a hand at creating. I don’t want to make it overly simple but sometimes that’s the only way: recognize when something doesn’t make you happy.

c. Just because you’ve found what you want to do and what makes you happy, it doesn’t mean that you won’t hate it on some days. It doesn’t mean there won’t be hurdles in your way that discourage you. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be any failures or that you won’t be disheartened by it. It doesn’t mean that there is a guarantee that it’s going to make you financially secure. What it does mean is that you dedicate yourself to your craft, you do the best you can, and, like one of those big balloons, you release it. You let it go, detaching yourself from the outcome. (There are many kinds of letting go as we talked about in the previous post.)

All this to say that I spent time pondering if I was, indeed, a writer. Would I keep trying even if it took me years to write anything? Yes. Would I ignore all the naysayers and stubbornly persist at what brought me brief spurts of intense joy? Yes, and all the naysayers would have to stand in line behind my inner critical voice. Would I care if no one read what I wrote? Yes, you will, my inner voice said quickly, trying to be kind and making sure I was honest with myself, but, she continued, we only have to worry about that if you actually finish the book. True. So, I head back to my desk because my heroine was in trouble, I still didn’t know how to get her out and I had to write.

Are you a writer?/Path Made Clear/ Bookended

Book note: I just finished reading The Path Made Clear by Oprah Winfrey and really enjoyed it. It has something for everyone, those have their path figured out and those who are in the process of figuring it out. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend the audiobook because you’ll want to hear it more than once and hearing life advice from people in their own voices makes a huge impact.

Day 8 is here. (Click for Days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,)

Text and photography © Bookended.

A Writer's Journey

Letting go: Day 6 of a writer’s journey


We are urged to let go of past hurts and disappointments and to not hold on because they are unnecessary baggage that oppress and burden the present moment. Let it go, don’t hold on. And that is very sound advice. But I’ve been thinking of another kind of letting go where, in our pursuit of perfection, we let go of things we build because they are not perfect. I wrote a small poem that expressed this kind of letting go.

Is she

Always wiping the slate clean?

Starting anew

Is she always letting go

Of the things she does?

People say

To hold onto hurts from the past 

Is to drag yourself down.

It’s baggage, 

Hurtful. Unnecessary.

We must

Let go of that which drags us down.

But there is another kind of holding on

A holding onto things you build,

That anchors,

Without dragging you down.

Is she

Too afraid to hold onto anything? 

Is she always letting go?

She knows

To hold on is to take responsibility 

For the good and the great

Things she does.

To hold on is to take responsibility

For the mediocre or awful

Things she does.

But it isn’t perfect yet, she says.

Let me start again, she says.

There is less of ‘me’

Each time.

What do you think about that kind of letting go, whether in relationships or creative projects or elsewhere in life, where our pursuit of perfection leads us to abandon and/or wait till we have the perfect finished product to show? I’d love to hear what you think. Now, the perfection-seeking part of me wanted to make sure I’d written a perfect poem before I published it. I wrote this poem many months ago and as you can see, I’m still perfecting it. I may never be done but I thought I would share it because I don’t want to wait and wait for that perfect opportunity.

Books on shelves/ Bookended

As far as Day 6 of the writing journey, the arrival of 2019 changed everything. More on that on Day 7.

Text and photography © Bookended.org

A Writer's Journey

Perfection: Day 5 of a writer’s journey

On perfection/Bookended

What is your opinion on perfection? Are you for it or are you against it? It’s only after I started writing my novel that I realized how much I loved perfection- how I craved it, and the immense amount of time and energy I sacrificed to maintain it. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with Day 5…

On perfection/Bookended

In October 2018 I started making progress in my writing. I had a basic structure, a tentative beginning, middle, and end. Sometimes I even managed a witty dialog or an inspired turn of phrase. Maybe I could actually write this, I thought to myself, feeling the faintest stirrings of joy. For the first time, the book seemed real. I’ve been involved in one creative venture or the other for the last decade and I enjoy every aspect of the creative process. I love being in the flow when the words seem to write themselves. I will wait patiently and work through creative blocks, dismantling them brick by brick. I thrill in zooming in to study the details and then panning out to get an idea of the entire project. I am happiest when I’m in the middle of all that and by the time NaNoWriMo came around, I was having the time of my life. This is not to say my writing was fantastic, just that I wrote a lot and the increasing word count was its own encouragement.

As a beginning writer you are advised to keep writing until you get that first draft written. Just do it. Don’t go back to make each sentence perfect. Don’t worry if each scene isn’t exactly as it should be. Go, go, go, at least for that first draft. Once you have that, you can go back and start fixing things and polishing up your masterpiece. This was a lesson that I struggled with because- and I didn’t know this before Nov 2018- I apparently need perfection. I need everything to be just so before I can proceed. There’s immense satisfaction in doing something well – a creative effort, doing something at work, or even cleaning the house. The problem starts when perfection, creating and maintaining it, paralyses us and/or makes us anxious. So, I learned to keep writing even though I could have spent a few more months (!) fine-tuning the first two chapters. Progress over perfection. And that led me to look at other aspects of my life. Where else was I holding up progress until things were perfect? Where else was I anxious about being perceived as perfect?

There is an amazing amount of freedom in letting go of our need for perfection or wanting to be perceived as perfect because we can acknowledge that we all are a work in progress, constantly growing and learning. We acknowledge that we all make mistakes and that we need, and are deserving of, compassion and support from each other. Less judgement. More forgiveness. It makes for a kinder, more nurturing world, yes?

PS I am trying to be more regular with posting here and I’ll be back with Day 6 soon because it looks at perfection through another lens.

Text and Photography © Bookended.org

A Writer's Journey, Books, Nonfiction

Facing fears: Day 4 of a writer’s journey

Facing fears/Meera Lee Patel/ Bookended.org

On most journeys, there comes a time that you’ll wish that at least some of the lessons you are learning had been taught in school. I reached this stage in the fall of 2018 when every day seemed to have some new life lesson that I had to learn but when progress on the book itself slowed down to the rate of thick, viscid honey moving uphill. No matter how much I showed up ready to work, no matter how disciplined I was, I couldn’t move the writing along. I did make progress on every other front and I want to give you a list of all that I learned that fall. All the lessons that I wish that I had learned in childhood and in school. While grammar and trigonometry and life sciences were undoubtedly useful, I wish we had classes dedicated to life lessons like taking your work seriously and learning to face fears.

Do take yourself and your work seriously. If you don’t, no one else will. You are the starting point for how you want people to treat the work you do. This holds true for almost every area of life. Inevitably, someone will come along and say or do something that will try to minimize what you do, how you contribute, or who you are. Hold firm in your belief in yourself and refuse to be minimized. Sure, it would be nice if everyone was supportive of each other but let go of the expectation that they ought to support you.

Don’t take yourself and the work so seriously that you are afraid of making mistakes. You will make mistakes. That is a fact of life. Sure, some mistakes are colossal and others are plain silly, but the fact remains that we all make them. No surprises there. The trick I’ve learned the hard way is to move quickly out of any feelings of shame and guilt and into the process of doing again. In other words, don’t wallow for too long.

You’ll be afraid. Fear, anxiety, doubts are constant companions on any journey. It’s to be expected. In fact, you may be afraid of being seen, acknowledged, and succeeding at what you want to do. In facing my own fears, I have read a number of writers on the subject of creativity and fear and a book that I enjoyed and that makes a great gift is Meera Lee Patel’s My Friend Fear, Finding Magic In the Unknown.

Facing fears/Meera Lee Patel/ Bookended.org

So, there I was, learning and, in some cases, re-learning these life lessons and all I could think was that time was passing and the book was still largely in my head. I persisted in showing up to write because something really important happened during this time. I stopped worrying about who would read the book or even, would I be able to get it published? The story and the characters firmly had me in their thrall and all I cared about was this: would I be able to tell a good story? That remains to be seen. But somehow, all the journeys I’d taken, all the mistakes I had made, all the life lessons I had learned, and all the days that I persisted had finally brought me to this place in time where I could be fearlessly creative to my heart’s content. Where I finally let go of my worries of the outcome. Experiencing this magical place was the treasure I was seeking. I’ll see you on Day 5. (Click to read Days 1, 2, 3)

Text and Photography © Bookended.org

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