When you decide to change your life, improve your world, or reclaim your dreams you will come to a time when you get really excited about something you consider ‘silly’ or ‘trivial’ — and in that moment, you have discovered magic.
Think about it — how often do you get excited in the day-to-day? Not pleased, not happy — little kid excited. Won a trip excited. Finished the race excited. And more importantly, what do you do with that information?
Hopefully, you are already feeling happy pretty often, and doing fulfilling things sometimes. But excitement — telling strangers, breathless squealing excitement — true, rousing joy, how often does that happen?
But don’t tell me it doesn’t happen. You may just have ignored your passions for so long that they can only whisper to you. More likely, you think the things you love are silly, pointless, or a waste of time.
For myself, television writing is like that right now. I love, love LOVE watching great shows, and the bit of teleplay writing I’ve done has been very scary and exciting. But I love novel writing too (and blogging!) and maybe do see prose writing as more serious or legit. And teleplay writing scares me, it scares me to death. I wrote half of a pilot, reread it, and it terrified me — because it was good.
Fear doesn’t necessarily accompany this excitement, but the voice of ‘reason’ often does. What moves you is probably something there’s not enough of in the world, at least in your mind, but if you start telling a friend how you spent eight solid hours decorating one cupcake, you may get a lot of push back. Or a look of incredulity.
That’s okay. What you love isn’t for everyone, but if you love it passionately enough, you will transcend ridicule and find admiration. Maybe not from everyone, but if you’re madly into something, there has never been been a better time to find and connect to all the people worldwide that share your passion.
Because, while you don’t have to transmute your excitement to anyone else, many passions (and most of our great art, writing, invention, etc) plus lots of great careers, begin with a desire to share, to inspire (the root word of enthusiasm). So when something excites you more than other people, know that means that you would be willing to work longer, keep perfecting, and dream about this thing more than the average person. And as you know, there’s no traffic jams on the extra mile — there’s only people doing what excites them every day and living out their dreams.
So don’t worry about if your passion could be your paycheck — if it contains any kind of true magic and genius at all, it will probably look like the opposite for quite a long time.
That’s all right, because when you follow the things you love, you’ll be grinning like an idiot and having the time of your life.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a teleplay to write.
Recently my sister caught up on reading my last few blog posts and, with a moan, called them ‘challenging’. She wasn’t against the content or the ideas — I think it just seemed like a lot to take in after a month of busyness and bad eating, and sitting here in our unheated house with intermittent water issues.
The journey can seem long and our goals mighty, but what I don’t probably talk enough about here is how freaking amazing, fantastic, gorgeous you are (all of you, not just my sister 😉 ). You are improving, learning, and growing all the time — and you’re still pursuing your hopes and dreams with amazing tenacity.
So here’s ten fantastic, encouraging things you need to hear right now —
1. Change your life today —
2. Trust the process —
3. Stop comparing yourself —
4. This quote forever —
5. You have no idea how amazing you can be —
6. Be passionate, Be present, Be you —
7. Let’s sail beyond the horizon —
8. You are more beautiful because of what you’ve survived —
9. The time has come to actually see the person in the mirror —
10. Take a deep breath (you’ve got this) —
And finally, say to yourself —
I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember and, as I’m turning 35 in a few months, it looks like the odds are good I’ll be telling them for the rest of my life (not just gonna yell ‘That’s it! I’m done!’ as I blow out my birthday candles). But how did I grow into the writer I am today? Here’s what I remember (note: these ages may be off a little) —
Age 6 — Some of my first memories were playing with He-Man figures, though I remember liking the villain Skeletor better than the hero. We also had an Apple computer and played ‘Choose Your Own Adventure: Cave of Time’.
Age 7 — Loved listening to stories but couldn’t hardly read at all till one summer my sister and I got excited about the Athens Regional Library’s Summer Reading program. I think I read about 50 books including my first ‘big’ novel — Black Beauty.
Age 10 — Wild Ponies! Wild ponies everywhere! I loved The Black Stallion, The Island Stallion, Smoky, and all those horse stories and so I made up a lot of tales of wild horses while running around a 50 acre property my mother care-took.
Age 12 — Huge TV fan. We never had cable (still don’t) but for a while I’d watch 2-3 hours a night and tape many programs (tape, ha ha, the memories!). I once even pretended I was the head of a network and invented 50 series (each with a log line) and then rolled dice to see which were successful and got ‘high ratings’). Few of the people who call me intelligent and thoughtful today know just how many episodes of The Nanny I’ve seen.
Age 13 — ‘Sisters’ the TV show premieres. I’ve watched better shows with my sister and mother (Quantum Leap!) but something about this show makes me start telling stories about people instead of horses (mostly just Teddy & Falconer [a young George Clooney!]). Adolescence has begun.
Age 14 — I’m reading a lot of Stephen King and Dave Barry. Also, SeaQuest DSV and The X-Files debut followed by Earth 2 a year later. My sister Sarah and I spend untold hours playing out ‘episodes’ of the shows that we ‘write’ (as well as Chicago Hope). We even have props, like a bicycle tire gage that serves as a syringe.
Age 15 — I start my first book, pretty much called ‘If Dave Berry Had Written Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. I write a few chapters, enjoy it, and still remember a scene where a road crew is placing giant, brightly-colored fish in the highway, like stones in cobblestone. My adventures in literary greatness have begun.
Age 16 — I make an epic sci-fi / fantasy love story called Move to Fathom about the assistant to the president who is destined to be the soul mate to an invading alien king. Strangely enough, I only write down the dialogue, not the whole story.
Age 18 — I decide I’m serious about screenwriting. Later, when asked why, I said, “I was just enamoured by Hollywood I guess.” I take a 2 day workshop lead by Michael Hauge. As a home-schooled-off-the-radar person, it is my first formal training. I go on to complete two feature length screenplays — ‘Murder in the Movies’ which is about a murder on a murder mystery set, and ‘Divining Grace’, which is about an angel earning his wings by helping a human girl.
Age 19 — I get first job just so I can buy an amazing desktop computer with my sister for gaming. It was AWESOME. Suddenly, Duke Nukem 3D, Unreal Tournament, Arcanum, X-COM, Civ II, and Myst start to inspire me.
Age 21 — Watch High Fidelity and then start reading Nick Hornby. My favs (in time) become About a Boy, High Fidelity, and Slam.
Age 22 — I take a three week trip to England to watch the world’s largest dog show (why do other people go?). I also fall in love for the first time (well, first time recipatated) with a handsome English bloke. I come home determined to finally start my story ‘Other Gods’. I try it as a novel instead of a screenplay because I want to flesh out the world and make it deep and meaningful. I fall instantly in love with novel-writing. I also join my first critique group and learn about the evils of -ly words. And I started watching LOTR and the reading the book for the first time. Yowza! I realise I have to take my writing to a whole new level.
Age 23 — Go to my first Writer Conference. I have a fifteen minute session talking to Patrick LoBrutto, who ruins me for talking to any other agents/editor/etc types — he’s so sweet and nice and helpful. I’m probably here today because of him (at least partly)! Also see 28 Days Later — the era of my modern movie love has begun. Suddenly Rain Man and Titanic just don’t seem quite as great. Hello (in time) Danny Boyle, Zack Snyder, Guillermo del Toro, Neill Blomkamp, Darren Aronofsky, and Alfonso Cuarón.
Age 25 — Shadow of the Colossus (PS2 game) comes out. DA-mn. Never gonna forget that world. Time to up my game again.
Age 27 — I watch Deadwood, my first cable show. I know it only as ‘That show that won all those awards and people curse a ridiculous amount”. After watching the first episodes, I know it as the show that changed my idea of TV forever.
Age 29 — I finally finish my first novel ‘Other Gods’. The story of two servants of the god of Darkness (one willing and one unwilling) on a journey to destroy all of the gods on a desert planet. It clocks in a 140,000 words but I’m very proud — my first book!
Age 31 — Start my second novel ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’. I had been trying to write a sequel to ‘Other Gods’ but the timing just wasn’t right. So I decide to pick a short, sweet idea, and ‘Let my romanticism off the hook’ for the first time. A love triangle starring a man trapped in a cage is born.
Age 33 — I start People Who Have Come Alive, to inspire others to live their dreams. I also met Rob White, an Athens-area writer who has inspired me in many ways including founding the Athens Writers Association that year. I also wrote my first non-fiction book ‘How To Come Alive: a Guidebook for Living Your Dreams’ and self published for the first time. Yow! Things are getting busy!
Age 34 — Finish and self publish ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’. Will finish (soon!) 12 year project — ‘Fall Street’ novel. Am writing a teleplay. Soon to start next novel …
Still crazy after all these years.
Here’s the second half of my guide to book writing —
How to Write — a Practical Timeline
Here’s the nitty-gritty of how I get to ‘The End’:
- Get an idea. You might be reading a news article, or a another novel, watching a film, or daydreaming a ‘what if’ and it gets you — this is a good book idea.
- What kind of book? If you want to explore organic farming, is this a non-fiction investigation? A ‘how to’? A novel set on an organic farm? Figure out what first drew you in — that’s your passion.
- Who lives there? In a novel, for me, the people arise from the idea. In ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’ I ‘saw’ a cage in the middle of a Regency England estate and started asking ‘Who would be put in such a cage and for what purpose? In a memoir you might be writing about your grandmother but who influenced her? Who were her heroes? Her nemeses? Even a non-fiction book may need examples of people who succeeded — be in it building a birdhouse or starting a business.
- Make an outline / roadmap. A couple of page document, meant just for you, that hits the main points of what you want to tell.
- Research (if the spirit moves you). Some people LOVE research, others can’t stand it. Depending on the story you’re writing, you may eventually need to do some, but whether or not you like it, don’t let research slow you down too much from actually starting writing.
- Boldly begin. Start a chapter one, and make time to write. I also don’t believe in writer’s block. If something isn’t interesting to you, set it aside and write something else.
- Edit (a little) as you go. I know this runs counter to what a lot of people do but my way is to start each day rereading the pages I worked on last session and making spelling/grammar corrections along the way. I don’t worry about making big changes though; I mainly read just to get back to the flow and excitement of what I’m doing.
- Finish the first draft. Hit the last page and celebrate. Buy yourself dinner or a nice bottle of bubbly. Then put your book aside for two weeks or a month. This time is crucial to getting some distance and seeing your work with new eyes.
- Do a second draft. Reread the book, see how you feel about it — is there anything BIG you want to change? New chapters, love interests, and ideas can be worked in now. Once the ‘big picture’ looks good . . .
- Do a third draft. Start looking at the little things — each line, each word. You may feel like an extra scene is needed to explain a growing friendship, or you may discover new data to share in your ‘how to’. Reading aloud to yourself is also a great tool for ferreting out awkward sentences. The third draft is about making it as good as you can make it. Then . .
- Find trustworthy readers. This is super-important: only use people you trust, love, share your idea of a good book, and WANT to read it. If you can’t find that, it might be better to go it alone. But getting these outside opinions is valuable, provided you remember it’s your book at the end of the day and the most important person to please is yourself.
- Do a forth draft. Take feedback from your readers (try to find at least three) and decide if you need to make a few changes. If all your readers mention something, you might want to look closer at it. Most of the great feedback I’ve gotten has been about beginnings (orient the reader about the world better), little side endings (couldn’t they get away and get the money?), and lackluster areas (the ‘food’ section of my self help book eventually became ‘Energy’ after reader feedback).
- Do a final draft (and copyedit). Go over your book again, seeing how it strikes you now. Are you happy with everything or is there anything that still sticks out and bothers you? Take the time to fix it. And you do need to copyedit a lot, catching all the grammar and spelling errors you can. It can be hard to do this on your own, but there are a lot of inexpensive copyeditors out there, or you might be able to do an exchange with another writer (you’ll catch their errors easier than your own).
- Cerebrate! You just became an author!
Some common questions —
How do I get published? It’s pretty confusing these days and only you can decide what ‘published’ means to you. The traditional way is to get an agent, who in turn will try to sell your book to a traditional publishing house. You can also query a small publishing house, self-publish, or hire someone to ’self publish’ your book for you.
Say I want an agent — how do I get one? First you’ll need a very good query letter and/or proposal. There are whole books about how to write them — in a nutshell, they should recapture in a few pages what made you excited about this book and let the agent know what to expect. Queryshark is a great site about queries for fiction writers. You can find an agent on agentquery.com or by googling your favorite writer and the word ‘agent’. But, it’s super hard to get an agent right now, as their whole industry is changing and they’re not taking on a lot of new clients right now. So don’t be discouraged if you’re not chosen. And always remember, you don’t pay for an agent — instead, they get a percentage of the book sale.
How do you ‘self publish’? You can pay a printer to print up copies of your book. But the best option for a lot of people (if you book doesn’t have many pictures) is to create a paperback and an ebook using services like Createspace and Lulu. You’ll need a program like Microsoft Word, and then Createspace will give you a template that helps you design the book. The upside is that Createspace is free (you only pay for the books you buy), and puts high quality paperbacks (of yours!) into the hands of Amazon customers (and you get a percentage of the profit [higher than traditional publishing] from each sale). The down side is that it doesn’t work for books with a lot of pictures, and EVERYTHING is on you. You control how good the cover, editing, format, and marketing is — that’s a lot of power and responsibility.
What about companies that ‘help’ you self publish? The best examples of these companies really are invested in making your dream come true. The trade off is usually that you give them several thousand dollars and they take back a lot of that EVERYTHING responsibility that self publishing pushed into you — editing, formatting etc. Different packages are different prices — just be sure to do a lot of research if you go this way. And remember, it’s not anything you can’t learn to do yourself — but then, neither is making your own clothes. You just have to decide if it’s worth the cost.
I have a great idea for a book. Can I get someone else to do the ‘writing the book’ bit? Yes — if you pay them. Yes — if you want be part of a writing team and do half the work. Yes — if you’re famous in your field and have a big built-in audience. But if you have an idea (especially for fiction) and you just want someone else to do the work of writing — you’ll find writers already have too many good ideas and won’t take on some else’s. So pick up that pen!
Can I get rich and famous doing this? Of course; we’ve all read the success stories. But the most important question is What do I really want to get out of this? Don’t just lump your book in with your job, the painting you found in the attic, and the lotto ticket you bought this morning at the Quik Trip. To paraphrase Fight Club — you are not your get-rich-quick-scheme. If you spend time with your grandmother, learn her life story, and self publish it as a treasured family heirloom — does it really matter if every book club in the country isn’t reading it? If your great new plan for paying off student debt faster helps 100 kids have better lives, is that not a success? If the characters that seem as real as day to you suddenly find a home in a second heart — have you not succeeded spectacularly?
Some Tips —
- Use a computer if at all possible (it will save you a lot of time later)
- Use 11 or 12 point Times New Roman font
- Use format>linespacing>Between Lines 2 SP (or something similar in your program). This is double spacing your lines — it’s easier for editing.
- If you only have one backup of your book file, you don’t have a backup. Keep several copies on different flash drives, hard drives etc. And emailing yourself the file is a good way to keep it ‘in the cloud’.
- Name different saves along the way — yourbook010414.doc — might be a good name for an extra copy you made on Jan. 4th. If you don’t like changes you made, you can go back to the older file.
- Remember to find inspiration — songs, paintings, picture, articles, jewelry etc that can inspire your book and your characters. Put the pictures around your work area (or on a Pinterest.com board to inspire you).
- Printing out a chapter, editing it pen in hand, and reading it aloud to yourself can really make a difference in your finished product.
- Don’t worry about copyrighting your work. It’s yours from the moment you write it. If you’re concerned, you can always print out the pages and mail them to yourself. Don’t open the package; the postmark now serves as a date of when you began the work. If anyone later tried to claim it, they couldn’t. But honestly, I’ve never worried about it. And if you’re afraid of someone stealing your once-in-a-life-time Matrix-like idea — then keep it to yourself until the book is written.
- Read different things. Don’t read only romance and write romance, or only self help books and then write one. Instead, try all sorts of things and let them inspire you. Graphic novels, rap songs, 500 year old poems, British TV shows, documentaries! Your work will be better and more original if you have more interests and express them in your works.
- Get excited. There has never been a better time to write, to publish your own book, and/or to share your work online!
Somewhere in your heart you know it. Maybe this is a recent dream, but quite likely it’s been kicking around in your subconscious for some time and every once in a while, when reading a new book, or hearing an author interview, or thinking about your lifetime goals it comes to the surface — you want to write a book. Maybe you dream of being a fulltime, famous, professional writer or maybe there’s just one idea or story that begging you to expound on it and send it out into the world.
Whatever your dream project is — a memoir, non-fiction, children’s book, or novel — there are some common elements needed to move from Chapter 1 to ‘The End’.
Elements of Success in Writing:
- Figure out what you want to tell and why. Before you write a word, get a good idea of why this book? Toni Morrison says ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’ That’s always been my driving force. Figure out what makes it special and different than similar books. Don’t worry about originality yet (we’ll get to that part), just envision who your book is for. Sometimes it helps to think of a person you know who is also your intended audience.
- Plan (a little). Finding a similar book can help you get an idea of number of chapters, number of pages, type of words (for children’s books) etc that your book might have. The internet has acted to level the playing field and let you acquire ‘insider knowledge’ of the book business. Did you know there are four categories for children’s fiction? Simply do a Google search for ‘books how many children fiction categories are there’ and you can find the answer. Just remember that ten ‘Wikihow’ articles don’t necessarily equal the depth of one good how-to book. This is the ‘know the rules so you can break them’ phase.
- Make a roadmap, not a blueprint. I wish I remembered what writing book this was from, but never the less it’s still important advice: make a roadmap not a blueprint of your book. A blueprint is exacting and unchanging, but a roadmap lets you decide to take a detour when you see something interesting and you still know where you’ll be at the end of your book. A lot of beginning writers start without a roadmap, and begin with a flush of excitement but can lose their way after a few chapters. To me, a good road map is only a couple of pages long but will let you know the next ‘beat’ of your book if you get lost. The outline for my novel ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’ was two pages long and explained the main plot from beginning to end — just like you were telling a best friend the plot of a movie you saw. For my self help non-fiction book, I decided to focus on five areas of improvement (Inspiration, Freedom, Peace, Energy, Strength) and then decided to have five little chapters in each area and named them (i.e. Do Yoga). These outlines kept me moving forward while giving me the freedom to discover better ideas along the way.
- Make your goal to finish. Believe me — there’s nothing quite like the feeling of finishing your first book, of knowing you’ve done what a lot of people will talk about but never do. You can always edit and polish on later drafts but just getting finished should be your first goal. I started with screenplays and just told myself that whether or not the plot made any sense, I would reach page 100 (the length of a screenplay). I knew one writer who kept rewriting chapter one over and over again. I met him again years later and he was still writing chapter ones. Now, each person must follow their own path and it’s great he’s still writing, but if your goal is a finished book — look toward that finish line.
- Remember — you have potential. My belief is that LOVE + TIME = TALENT. If you keep writing, and reading, and learning you will get better and better. The book ‘Talent is Overrated’ has some wonderful stories about how being born ‘talented’ might mean you get out of the starting gate before everyone else, but if you’re trotting and everyone else is working hard and galloping along you’ll soon be left in the dust. If you love the book you’re writing, if you’re excited by it, the feeling will pass right along to the reader. And you are the only you who has ever been, so your work (if it’s true to you) will be original and one-of-a-kind.
- Just keep writing. Even a page a day will get you to your goal.
Next time I’ll give you a timeline for writing your novel and answer some commonly asked questions.
Perfection is a dirty word. Look up ‘perfection’ quotes and you get everything from the funny —
to the downright hostile —
And I get it, really I do. Trying to be a perfect, flawless person sets one up for heartache. Some people spend years before realizing that it’s an impossible standard — we are human, we make mistakes.
By the same measure, some people find having too high of standards stops them from producing any creative work at all, from finishing anything. That too is bad.
But I will fight to my dying day for the idea of perfection.
Why? Because why the frick else are we here (and by we I mean creators of all types)? Yes, I’m not a perfect person, not by a long shot. And my work isn’t perfect, but it’s as close to perfect as I can make it. I have high standards and love beautiful, amazing works. Yes, these works could be The Great Gatsby and they could be Sid Meier’s Pirates! I think lots of different things are absolutely impeccable manifestations of their ideal nature — Hannibal is nothing like How to Train Your Dragon nor should it be. But to me, both take their basic ideas and push them to new heights.
If you are not trying to achieve perfection in a piece of art or a novel, what is your aim? Pretty good? Nice stack of paper you got there? ‘It’s 43% of what I wanted it to be’?
To me, perfection is just the top shelf liquor of excellence. Being able to create the best version of your best vision. When I begin a project — I see, I feel, I know the highest, most splendid version of that story exist somewhere out in the universe. And my years of honing my sense of what I like tell me when I’m getting closer to that best version. But like Ira Glass says —
So, while my taste tells me when I’m getting warmer or colder, it’s only my level of craft and dedication to keep going that decides how great the work will be. Leonardo Da Vinci said “Art is never finished, only abandoned,” and there is an element of truth to that. I do the best work I can, polish as long as I can, and at some point realise I’ve reached the limits of my powers for this book. It’s a little frustrating because I know the future me will be able to write it better, but if I’ve worked hard, I feel satisfied that it is as close to perfect as I can make it at this time.
And if it pushes toward perfection, even if that’s a distant star, I smile at it. I’m proud of Other Gods and A Caged Heart Still Beats and How to Come Alive: A Guidebook to Living the Life of Your Dreams. Because they are all perfect in a way, in a way humans never quite are, because we can’t rewrite our lives and relive them.
And in the end, maybe that is what I love about perfect works — they were messy, crazy things full of jagged, broken bits and a thousand mistakes. But in the end, they form a glorious, perfect whole.
And in that sense, maybe I do believe in perfection for people too.
Yow!!! Yesterday (on day #7 of my 8 day ‘stay-cation’) I had arranged to meet well-known and respected writer. I’ve never really gotten to talk to anyone on that level before, and by contacting them, I had brought myself into this whole new range of experience.
I had been quite nervous before our meeting for coffee. Luckily I didn’t need anything from them, I was just happy for the time together. And that went surprisingly well. Except for violently knocking the table when I sat down (and spilling their drink everywhere), I’d didn’t embarrass myself. I listened politely, answered questions about myself, my family, and the Athens Writers Association that I’d founded, and after an hour we parted on friendly terms.
‘That was easy’, I thought.
It was after that the trouble started. I was driving to a nearby Publix to pick up ice cream for my sister. And I found myself starting to cry. I pulled it together for the ice cream but then bawled just about all the way back to Athens.
Why? you ask? Well, I’ve thought about it. Obviously some of it could have just been released after having been nervous, but I did feel strange, Hero’s Journey, strange. I felt like my blood had been drained away and replaced by some mystical liquid. I felt altered. I was not at all comforted by this Mentor. They’d talked about hardship and long odds, and the struggle even after ‘breaking through’. I felt like I’ve been climbing mountains for years, trying to become a better writer, and this Mentor showed me a near-sheer cliff and said ‘That’s the only way’. It was a deep challenge and it nearly broke my heart to look at it.
I remembered a very different Meeting with a Mentor more than ten years back: at a writing conference, I paid to have Patrick LoBrutto look at my first few pages and talk with me for about fifteen minutes. It was one of the highlights of my young writing life. Pat was friendly, excited about storytelling, and gentle with a new writer, both telling me it needed work and mentioning a scene he thought was quite good. ‘Quite good!’ — this from the man who worked with sci-fi gods as an editor for Tor. I think I love him to this day.
But . . . That was the Mentor I needed then and this was the Mentor I needed now. I’ve decided part of what upset me about seeing the sheer cliff, that high bar, was that I thought I’d already come a long way. And I have. I haven’t had too many chances to be around more experienced writers than I, and especially not world-renowned ones. I’ve been writing for 16 years and in the groups I frequent, I get a lot of people who look up to me. I had to realise that instead of being Master of the Baby Lengues, I was now Baby of the Big Leagues. By reaching out, by starting the Athens Writers Association, by working hard, I had climbed so far and had now passed through the mist, and met this man, and seen the next mountain. And it’s a doozy.
But it leads exactly where I want to go, and (after all the tears of vexation have dried) I’m grateful for the help and advice, the warnings, and the chance to meet someone truly great. Some Mentors are cuddly and their advice tastes more like lembras bread than medicine, and then others are a sear-the-flesh-from-your-bones force of nature that arrive to warn you that you’ve passed over the threshold into the dangerous land of elite heroes.
But they know if they can’t dissuade you, if you still choose to pick your shield and move forward, you will stronger than you’ve ever been before.
Quote from renowned author — “I didn’t get great by being patted on the back; I became great by getting my butt kicked every day.”
Spoken like a true Mentor.
When you decide to reevaluate your life, remember: you are not looking for easy answers. At this stage you are only trying to ask the right questions.
- What’s my dream life? If you could have anything, no holds bared, what would you be doing, day in and day out? It’s fine to have a big goal (climb Everest) but try to drill it down to a 24 hour picture. Dream lives still involve many of the things you are already doing — so what’s different? Imagine being excited to get to work — where do you work? What does your house look like? Who are you married to, if anyone?
- What do you want (do you really, really want)? Dreams and fantasies are often funded by the unbelievable. “I’d fly off to Paris in my private jet.” “I’d be married to Tom Hiddleson.” We think getting a great life is so impossible that we literally make it so; you might as well say you want to live on Jupiter and marry Errol Flynn — it’s as likely to happen. So instead, take time to get to the heart of your dream — past the money and movie stars — and figure out what you really desire. Maybe you’ve never been to Paris — but if you saved up all your ‘fast food’ money for two years you could do it (and be much healthier). And maybe you long to meet intelligent, joyful people and have become discouraged by the potential romantic partners in your job or social circle. Ask what makes your dream great. Most times it’s not just having more money in your hand.
- What’s making you unhappy now? Think about the last week or month — what were your most unhappy moments? Who/where/what did they involve? It’s hard to admit, but if you don’t come away happy from seeing someone, then that’s someone you need less of in your world. Life is short, and unless you birthed them or adopted them, you don’t owe anyone your happiness upon this Earth. We’ve all had friendships and relationships we’ve tried to ‘make’ work. Well, today you found your get-out-of-jail-free card; I’m officially telling you it’s okay to let things that don’t work GO. Believe me, you’ll be making room in your life for much better things. If debt or your weight are making you unhappy then even a tiny step toward a better life will improve your mood. And if your job is the problem, hang on . . .
- Do I hate my job? I just saw a Pin that said something like ‘When asked what they would reevaluate after winning the lottery, 51% of people said ‘their job’. Now, I don’t know if that’s true, but it feels right. To me that also says that, in addition to not liking their job, most people are afraid to leave because of finances. This is a tough one — we need money. But how much of it? Could you get by (and be happier) with less? Instead of imaging winning the lottery — imagine you already have. According to one estimate, the worldwide median household income is less than $10,000. So if you’re household makes more than that, you are already living the high life. So maybe a different job (even if it paid less) would be something to think about. And know there are people out there who are paid well to do your dream job; the first step to joining them is acknowledging you’re unhappy where you are.
- Am I filling my life with ‘time-wasters’? Everyone deserves ‘down time’, ‘fun time’, or a break but everything in moderation. Playing video games can be amazing but 6 hours a day for five years may not lead to a fulfilling life — unless you’re a game designer. The same way, the amount of human time spent on Facebook is astounding (and I can be as guilty as anyone, though more often it’s Pinerest for me). Just try to imagine the world, the power, and the individual lives we could build with that excess time.
- Why am I sad? You may not be sad, but if you are know that a few small changes can make life great again. You don’t need to throw out everything, you just need to realign your life with your heart’s desire. And if you have a problem that seems very hopeless — know that there’s probably a group, meeting, hotline, or program for people battling the same troubles as you. Reach out and get help.
- What am I impatient about? For me, it’s becoming a full-time writer and then traveling the world. And I know I’ll get there. But when progress feels slow, I wonder if I need to go get a college degree, move jobs, move cities, SOMETHING to prove I’m not stagnant and not going to be standing here in one place forever. If this is you, and you are doing something that should have the payoff you’re looking for (a breakthrough in job, becoming your perfect weight through a diet) then I suggest you give yourself a place in the future to re-reevaluate that one goal and decide if these small steps aren’t adding up to something big. For example, I’ve decided to write three new amazing things then look at whether I need a different day job, education, what-have-you. Until I have those three novels or plays in front of me, I won’t worry about how long I’ve been at my day job while ‘planning’ to become a full time writer.
- What’s on my ‘bucket list’? One of the things about this year is I’ve talked to some older people I know who never have done the items on their bucket list and now wonder if they’re too old. While I’m a total believer in doing as much as you can as long as you can, it is easier to climb a mountain in your 30s or 40s than your 70s. Whatever your age, part of the un-fulfillment you might be feeling is because the big things just sit on a distant horizon and never get any closer. You need to pick a before-I-die goal, pick a date (even if it’s a year or two out) and start planning, saving, and/or training for it NOW. Our lives are short and precious, leave nothing important undone.
- Why am I asking this question now? You Google-searched for this question (or are just a fan or friend of mine) — why? Are you fed up with the way things are going? Have you been trying to make changes but still feel far from your goals? The important thing is to feel empowered — this is a great moment. As soon as you start really looking at your life, you may get depressed, scared, and feel hopelessness. But the important thing to know is that this is an important first step that some people never take. You are now officially on the road to your dreams.
- Am I ready to be bold? There’s a saying, “Are you really happy or just really comfortable?” You have come to this place by your choices; some parts of your life work great and some need to be switched or fixed. But if you are at the point of knowing you need a change, then realize you really have nothing to lose. Start by cleaning your house and giving some things away, then make that bucket list plan, then start seeing what parts of your life make you happy and what things need to go. Envision your dream and walk toward it.
June 2015 update: Please visit my new site ‘How To Come Alive‘ if you’d like to learn the 25 things that have helped me most in achieving my dreams.
Now, all last year (2013 for those of you playing along at home) something was up. I started to feel uncomfortable about some parts of my ‘day’ job and about some of my friends etc. What had seemed fine for years was suddenly unbearable (at least, for a few bad days). Then, it became a super-busy holiday season at work and everything else kind of fell away.
Everything, that is, except my big dreams for 2014.
Because 2013 had awoken me up, and made me realize that it was time for a change.
For so long stability was all I wanted. After some rough personal years (2002-2005) that saw my parents divorce, my mom die and my sister and I have to do a BIG move/cleanse, things had just become peaceful and steady and stayed that way for years and years. I’d honed my writing talents in pseudo-secret and just enjoyed life.
But now things were changing and 2013 asked the question —
So then 2014 began, and it began with a rush of enthusiasm and goal-setting. And that lasted all of four days. Then the biggest cold snap in my lifetime in North Georgia happened, and while that doesn’t sound like much to you insulated city dwellers, it caused havoc for those of us with exposed water pipes.
And unfortunately, the next three months became pipe problems, flu, pipe problems, flu, pipe–etc.
It’s been the hardest time for me personally since those tough years of the early 2000s. And yet, even as it’s been happening I feel like there’s this energy and power to 2014, like it wants to be a year of great change. And, while the changes have been time-consuming and challenging this year so far, I recognize and am grateful that each one is still small and not at all bad on the scale of life changes. Nothing bad has happened to me; I just feel like a ship breaking free of its moorings.
So now the weather has warmed, flu season is passing, and the pipes are (almost) fixed. Now what?
NOW WE KICK IT INTO FUCKING OVERDRIVE.
I’ve learned so many special things in these first few months, even as I felt like I was being drug backwards, and I can’t wait to share them with you all.
I’m going Paleo.
I’m thinking about breaking into TV writing (Reign here I come!).
I want to cycle 50 miles.
And I still want very much for this to be the most exciting and transformative year of my (and your) life.
Who’s with me?