Writing vs. Fear of Writing

This is what I believe. Sometimes I believe it more than other times.

Writing isn’t hard. Simply writing isn’t hard at all. Put one letter down after another, form the letters into words, put one word down after another, keep at it, you’re writing.

Good writing, well, good writing is harder, that’s true.

But the obstacle, really, isn’t the writing. It’s the fear of writing. The fear of our inner editors and critics, the fear of outer editors and critics. The fear that what we have to say isn’t right, isn’t good enough, isn’t interesting, isn’t worthy. The fear that we’ll be judged and ridiculed. The fear that we’ll say too much, and then everyone will know.

I’m just saying, if you’re entering into a struggle, make sure you know what you’re fighting against.


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“Aspiring” and “would-be”

For some reason, lately I’ve seen a lot of people describing themselves in profiles or introductions as “aspiring” and “would-be.” “Aspiring artist.” “Aspiring writer.” “Would-be self-publisher.”

Life is short. Time flies. Don’t be an aspiring something, a would-be anything. Just be the thing you aspire to be. The difference between aspiring and being is in the doing. So just do it. Claim it. Be it.


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Know when to hold ’em

The thing about vulnerability is that it’s like gambling. When people gamble, they don’t do it thinking they’re going to lose. If they thought they’d lose, why would they do it? No, people gamble with hearts full of optimism and hope. This time, this time, maybe they’ll win.

Vulnerability is like that. We’re vulnerable, opening our hearts, with the full knowledge that we could be hurt, smashed, ripped apart. But deep down, we believe in the end game; we completely believe we could win. The thing is, though, as often as not, being vulnerable is a risk that doesn’t pan out. I mean, it pans out on some grand philosophical level, the level of learning to be resilient and take risks, the level where you can’t win if you’re not in the game. But on the level of being hurt, you can be crushed by being vulnerable just as easily as you might win.

The difference, of course, is that you can win in life by completely eschewing actual gambling. But you can’t win in life without being vulnerable.

Which sucks.

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It’s almost June, which in Seattle means we finally get some of this:

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 10.00.21 AM

(For those of you from warmer climes: that’s a week of 70+ degrees, which means it’s finally getting warm for us.)

What this also means: time to put a new razor blade in the razor.

So this morning, I went to the drawer with the razor blades. This drawer also holds the Q-tips, the used root-touch-up brushes (perfectly good to use to clean something, surely), the haircutting scissors, and — I’d totally forgotten — some eyebrow strips, that is, plastic with sticky stuff on it that you use to pull out the unwanted hair on your eyebrows. Or more specifically, the eyebrow hair that has strayed to other parts of your face.

Those of you who are young, feel free to laugh. I well remember the time before stray hairs started appearing at will. I remember the time when my right eyebrow hadn’t yet started migrating downward, clearly trying to find out if there’s a sideburn down there it could meet up with. (There’s not. Yet.) Yes, laugh, you young, tidy-haired people. Your time will come.

And so I pulled out the box of hair removal strips, noting that the eyebrows of the woman on the package were, indeed, perfect — perfectly Photoshopped, that is. I can do that with my eyebrows, too! But unless I want to live out life as a profile picture, if I want “clean” eyebrows, the plucking life it is for me.

All of which made me wonder. Who is it who decides new trends, e.g. the trend of how we wear our eyebrows? Is there really any reason we can’t bribe this person with Nutella and wine, and get ourselves a hairy eyebrow trend? Because honestly, the thing is, people, I can’t see.

That’s right, I can’t see. I have glasses, sure, but when you’re dealing with things on your own face, you get into that zone where glasses don’t help, and without my glasses I have to be just a few inches away from something to see it. If you have a mirror, as I do, and you also have a nose, as I do, and you’re trying to peer at your eyebrows in the mirror, well, you’re out of luck.

And so it was that this morning I was inches from the mirror, steaming it up with my hot summer breath, plastering sticky plastic to my face in the hopes I’d positioned it correctly over the offending eyebrow hairs, and not, as I did that one time, about 1/8″ too far into the eyebrow. When we’re dealing with eyebrows, as it turns out, 1/8″ is quite a lot.

Eight eyebrow strips later (yes, I only have two eyebrows, but I was on a roll), I remembered the haircutting scissors I’d seen in the drawer. Because the thing is, young grasshoppers, the thing is not only do your eyebrows reach urban sprawl as you get older, but the individual hairs also start growing longer. You think this is a myth and you think it won’t happen to you, and if you’re right, you’re lucky. I’m not saying it has happened to me, but I did get the scissors out.

And did I mention I can’t really see? And if you have a mirror, and a nose, and a scissors, and you’re inches from that mirror clipping away at your eyebrows, …

But the other thing is, when you’re practically blind, you can’t really tell what your eyebrows look like, anyway.

So I’m assuming they’re just perfect. And if not they’ll grow back, probably by tomorrow.

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The fact is, I have had far more love in my life, far more loving people in my life, been loved far more than any person ever has a right to hope for or expect in one lifetime. It’s easy to forget that sometimes when life gets hard. But it’s true, and I’m grateful.


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quote gawain opportunities

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I’m not here to sell you commas.

I am not a poet. I mean, I am really not a poet. I took a poetry class in college once. A couple years ago, I found the detritus of the class, the scribblings and rimes and verses I tried to weave together into something meaningful and powerful. Among them, a poem that started thusly: “I, an eggshell. You, the egg.”

Like I said, not a poet.

But for some reason, a poem popped to my head the other night, and for some reason (maybe because I’m passionate about sharing and celebrating imperfection these days; see previous post on The Wholehearted Revolution), I’m sharing it with you now.

But what of all these arbitrary rules, world?
A comma is not gravity.
A comma is a decision someone made long ago.
I am not here to sell you commas.
I am here to share stories.
I am here to explore
the universe.

And as with that famous double rainbow from a year or two ago, we may well ask: What does it all mean?

It means this: It means, I have edited my books more or less by myself, and I’ve more or less done an excellent job, I’ve been told. However, I’ve been critiqued by some for my comma usage. Apparently I have non-conventional comma usage.

So be it.

But my stories are not about commas.

That is my point.

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Your task …

quote rumi barriers

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The Wholehearted Revolution

This week, I and thousands of other people around the world are finishing up Part 2 of Brené Brown’s online Art Journaling course (which is a very simplistic description of a very powerful program). The course ends by talking about a Wholehearted Revolution, and I’m here to say, I AM IN, and to invite you to be a part of the discussion, as well.

What is a Wholehearted Revolution?

Well, let’s back up a bit.

The first time I ever heard of Brené Brown was when something spurred me to click on a link to her first TED Talk, from the 2010 TEDx Houston conference. It was just a few weeks before I was about to publish my first book, and it had a profound impact on me, which I wrote about in one of my earliest blog posts, “Imperfection: a novel.”

Brené Brown’s first TED Talk

I’ve followed Brené’s work and career since then, voraciously devouring her videos and her books (see resources throughout and at the end of this post). The information Brené shares is life-changing.

Brené describes herself as a shame and vulnerability researcher, which at first blush sounds a bit intimidating and for some even unpleasant. But, as she says,

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” (Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection)

The bottom line, Brené says, is:

“If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things that get in the way – especially shame, fear, and vulnerability.” (Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection)

One thing I love about Brené is that she’s so honest about her own struggles. She talks very candidly about her story and her own journey to become a wholehearted person like those she discovered in her research. She doesn’t say, “I’ve got it all figured out, just do as I do and you’ll be wholehearted,” but rather, “This is what my research shows to be true, and I know it’s so hard, because I struggle too.” The fact that the woman who literally wrote the book on vulnerability and wholeheartedness still struggles is so reassuring to me, as I work my own way to the wholehearted path.

The other day, I thought about the part of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix where Harry and all the other kids have gathered to talk about all the sh*t that’s going down. Hermione’s all, “So, we need a Dark Arts teacher because the lady with the cats is not going to help us at all.” The other kids are all, “Yeah, but he-who-shall-not-be-named is totally not back.” Harry’s all, “He is. I swear.” Hermione’s all “Harry has done all this awesome stuff! He knows how to fight Voldemort!” And Harry’s all, “Look, I’m not special. I fought because I had to. I worked and I learned. This stuff is hard, but you can learn it, too. Together, we can fight the Dark Arts.” (Quite loosely paraphrased, but you get the point.)

I had this image of Brené as Harry, with Mashawn (her producer for the online ecourse) and Oprah standing strong by her sides, getting everyone ready to fight the Dark Arts.

In one of her talks, Brené said something about how if every woman suddenly decided she looks okay exactly as she is in her natural state (and therefore stopped using all the products that are designed to convince us otherwise), the economy would collapse. (That’s not the exact quote, so if you want to know the exact quote you should buy Brené’s 6-CD Power of Vulnerability audio book, and listen to the whole thing, because it’s awesome!)

Those messages that we are not beautiful as we are, that’s the Dark Arts. (In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené says: “Who benefits by my seeing these images and feeling bad about myself? Hint: This is ALWAYS about money and/or control.”) The pressure to be Cool and never Uncool, that’s the Dark Arts. The people who tell us our art and our creativity and we ourselves aren’t any good, that’s the Dark Arts. Our addictions, the things we do to numb and distance and distract ourselves from the pains and fears of our lives – and that’s not just drinking and drugs, but also overworking, overeating, overexercising, or even spending too much time on social media – those are instruments of the Dark Arts. The judgments and gremlins that get inside our heads and tell us we will never be Enough, those are the Dark Arts.

The Wholehearted Revolution is about arming ourselves to take on these Dark Arts and live wholehearted lives.


Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

So. What then, really, is the Wholehearted Revolution?

I asked Brené that question in the ecourse, but she had about a million other questions to answer and couldn’t answer them all, including mine, so I’ll give it my best shot.

About sixteen years ago Brené Brown told her husband she wanted to start a global conversation about shame and vulnerability. This is the beginning of that conversation, the beginning of the Revolution. And I’m in it.

We are tired, aren’t we? We’re tired of all the masks and shields and armor and straight jackets and all the things that keep us from showing the world who we really are, that keep us from truly being seen. We are tired of being exhausted, and of wearing that exhaustion as a badge of honor. We are tired of being told we need to be fearful of the Latest Global Frightening Thing, and we are tired of always having to find someone to blame. We are tired of being tired.

In a world where people share ALL THE THINGS! ALL THE TIME!, the Wholehearted Revolution is about learning to set boundaries and share with the people who have earned the right to hear our stories; it’s learning to navigate the world with both boundaries and compassion. (Brené says the most compassionate people she’s met are also those with the firmest boundaries.)

It’s learning to let go of anxiety, and stay calm in a noisy world in which we don’t always have control.

It’s a willingness to be vulnerable and have difficult conversations with people who are important to us, in order to forge deeper, more meaningful relationships.

It’s understanding that courage changes the world, and committing to being brave, even when we are also afraid. (As Brené says, most of us are both afraid and brave at the same time, all day, every day.) And in being brave, we pave the way for others to do the same.

So, if we’re having a Wholehearted Revolution – and I’m telling you we are, if Brené and I have anything to do with it – then I’m all in. I’m in for a better world. I’m in for courage and compassion and connection. I’m in for opening up a discussion about vulnerability and shame and fear. I’m in for gratitude and joy; I’m in for creativity and meaningful work; I’m in for laughter, dance, song, and play. I’m in for being worthy without prerequisites, for being authentic and for being seen, and for being imperfect and enough exactly as I am.

If you’re interested in being a part of the global conversation, too, you don’t have to wait for an invitation: This is it. Check out Brené’s resources, share them, and start having these important, powerful, life-changing discussions with the people you love.

And a note to Brené: Thank you for starting the Revolution.


(If you know of other great resources – I know there are so many! – let me know in the comments!)

Brené’s first TED Talk (see video above or this link)

Brené’s 2012 TED Talk, Listening to Shame

Brené’s 2014 talk in Seattle with Chase Jarvis

Brené’s 6-CD The Power of Vulnerability audio book. (I’ve given these to several friends, and every single one of those friends has listened and then shared them with someone else (and they tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on, and so on…) – trust me, these are amazing and so valuable!)

Brené’s other books and CDs, including the fabulous Daring Greatly, The Gifts of Imperfection, and more.

Brené’s website.

Brené on Twitter.

Brené on Facebook.

Join the global conversation. Commence the Wholehearted Revolution!

P.S. While you’re here, check out my books! :) There’s the Wishing Rock series (wit, wisdom, and recipes), and the Pam on the Map travelogue series! Something for everyone.


Brene Brown gifts of imperfection quotes with border


Filed under Random stuff I love

Notes on a New Novel

Last night, after an evening working on my next novel, I went to bed around 11. For nearly three hours after that, my brain was still whirring with ideas. Every few minutes I had to reach for my phone (my modern-day flashlight), grab my notebook and pen, and jot down new (and brilliant) ideas.

I’ve learned from experience that the spectacular ideas I have in the middle of the night both (1) are not always as spectacular in the morning, and (2) won’t be there in the morning at all if I don’t write them down. I’ve tried repeating them over and over to myself by way of remembering. I’ve tried convincing myself that the idea is so obvious, of course I’ll remember it.

Neither of these works. So, much as I love sleep and want nothing more than to snuggle down for a delicious eight hours, I now know that if I have a good idea (or at least what seems like a good idea at the time), I’d better write it down. Writing is hard work. There’s no point in making it harder by not recording the inspirations when they come to me.

This novel I’m working on now is a complete departure in genre from what I’ve written before (general contemporary fiction and travelogues). And I’m nervous. I’m having more fun writing it than any other book I’ve written, but at the same time, I can’t help but wonder if I’m the only person on the planet who will like the book when it’s done.

I’m not quite sure what hole to pigeon the new book into, but for now we’ll call it adventure. It takes place on Dogwinkle Island – the same island where all the Wishing Rock books are set. Why? Well, I suppose because I created Dogwinkle, and I love it dearly. I needed a setting for the new book; where better to place it than an island that is completely mine to create and manipulate however I like?

Some of the characters from the Wishing Rock series make an appearance in the new novel, too. Cameos, more or less, but I love the characters dearly and wanted to let them know I haven’t forgotten them. There may be more proper Wishing Rock books again in the future, but for now, some of these characters get to live on in this new novel.

I was trying to think how to describe this adventure book in a way that would give readers an idea of what to expect. For a while I was stuck on “Dogwinkle meets Doctor Who,” which sounds fantastic but really is more misleading than descriptive. On the other hand, it gives you an idea of the general direction I’m going in.

As I said, this book is incredibly fun to write. As you may have guessed by now, part of the reason for that is that it’s not bound by reality like my other books have been. In this new novel (which isn’t even close to having anything resembling a title yet; hopefully something will come to mind eventually!!), everything is possible. And therefore, anything and everything can and does happen. Whatever I want to exist or be possible, can exist or be possible. Which is so entertaining and gratifying as an author.

The question that plagues, me, though: Will it be entertaining for the reader, too? Will my loyal readers enjoy this book; will new readers join in? I don’t know. As much as I love this book, I don’t know if this is the kind of book anyone else will want to read. Is it too juvenile? Too pedestrian? Too cliché? Will I alienate the audience I’ve worked hard to build? Will anyone read it, anyone at all?

Regardless, as I write this book, I know I would want to read it, and I suppose that in the end, what I’ve learned is the best course of action is to write the books I want to read. None of us is an island. (See what I did there? Dogwinkle Island – none of us is an island? Get it? Next stop: a book of humor essays!) What one person likes, others are bound to like, too. The trick is finding those people, and then inviting them along for the ride.

At any rate, this novel is still in its beginning stages. Right now I’m working on the plot and structure; then I’ll go fill in all the details. I’m a bit amazed at how this novel is bringing itself together. Sometimes it feels like it’s writing itself, revealing itself to me more quickly than anything else I’ve written. That’s a good thing, because in some ways I feel like I’m too busy to write these days. If the book wants to write itself, I won’t ask questions.

Fast as the book is coming together, though, there’s still so very much work to be done. I’m hoping to have this book published by the end of 2014. We’ll see. Stay tuned!

P.S. March 9 is National Wishing Rock Day – and on that day, I’ll be announcing a contest to win a copy of my new book (print or ebook in U.S., ebook elsewhere due to shipping costs). HOWEVER, I’ll only be announcing the rules via my mailing list, so be sure to sign up now!

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