How do We Keep Improving our Writing Practice?

Writing Your Destiny picI spent over a decade of my life as a professional business writer. Add to that my years as a Sustainability Director at a non-profit in Chicago, which required that I do a lot of grant writing and create many types of marketing collateral,  I did a lot of writing.  Even during my years as a product engineer, writing was a big part of what I did to make money.  And during all these years, I appreciated editors.

I never had much problem in receiving criticism on ways my business writing could be improved.  It wasn’t difficult to keep a distance from my writing.

Creative writing is different for me, but probably shouldn’t be so much.

Many years ago, I took a few classes where my creative writing was critiqued in workshops, and I mostly hated the process.  I can’t really imagine getting a MFA where my creative writing would be workshopped and made to fit some mold.

Yet, I have to admit that I will need an editor for my novels.

I have been refining and editing drafts of my novels for years.

This year, I will finish the first novel, because my attitude about writing the novel is beginning to feel like it did when I was writing professionally for someone else.

I have stopped thinking of my creative writing as needing to be perfect or precious.  I want it to be beautiful, which I believe is a different focus.

Thought for today:  How do you view your writing as less precious, so that it can be edited and refined to be the best it could be?

Have You Ever Burnt Out Your Inner Transformer?

Crossed wires shorting out, Troy, Illinois. Af...

Crossed wires shorting out, Troy, Illinois. After a few minutes of sporadic arcing, the transformer down the street burned out. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every so often the universe seems to send me a message that at first seems inexplicable.

This morning the electricity to my house went off with a loud popping sound, like something had exploded, at around 7am.  Unlike the photo to the right, there was no bad weather to account for it.

When I called the power company, they said there were no other power outages reported, and that I should check the status in a half hour.  I was nervous about this whole thing and called a friend who said it sounds like your transformer blew.

As soon as he said the word transformer, I thought the universe is trying to tell me something about my inner transformer!

Over Extending Our Inner Transformers

There are many ways to blow out our inner transformers.  My ways include:

  • Overly aggressive plans
  • Unfair comparison to others
  • Working too many hours on the wrong projects
  • Disrespecting my body
  • Changing focus too often

You may have other ways.

A week ago, I was in aggressive mode.  I set up a clever and disciplined plan for moving into the next phase of my life.   I thought it was simple and brilliant.  Then, I tried to implement it.  It didn’t look too aggressive, but it was.  The plan called for massive change in several areas in my life simultaneously.  And after trying it for a week, I had found a way to not spend one minute working on my novel (again).

I’m not sure what my next big dream is, but I’ve told myself that my big dream for the next decade of my life is to work on novels, and yet I haven’t finished the first one.  I have been asking myself, is finishing a novel my dream?  Maybe it’s not.  I suspect novel writing isn’t my total big dream, but it is an important part of it.

dramatic dream

dramatic dream (Photo credit: unNickrMe)

So yesterday, I decided to do what life coach Jen Louden recommends:

When you get stuck in life –lower your threshold of success, and take the minimum amount of action you take to move forward.

For the first time in two months, I started working on my novel again by giving myself permission to only work on it for an hour per day.  It felt great to work on it again!

The surprising or maybe not so surprising thing was almost immediately after starting down this simpler path,  my fears of failure blew that little success out of the water.   All I could think of was every reason why I couldn’t transform any of my dreams into a reality. I went to sleep feeling disillusioned, even though in many ways my life is good now and getting better.

Fortunately, I woke up remembering whenever we are moving into a new version of ourselves, fear is going to try to keep us the same.  As I was thinking about fear, the power went off.

After I did everything I could to address the power outage, I decided to look for the message in this little life incident because it felt more important than it would seem.

Transformer

Transformer (Photo credit: Museum of Hartlepool)

Here are my thoughts about our inner transformer:

  1. It’s helpful to realize that we have an inner transformer.  It might be even helpful to give it a name and work with it archetypally.
  2. Our inner transformer has limits of what it can do.
  3. Our fear can shut off our inner transformer in an instant, if we don’t work with fear properly.
  4. The vision that our inner transformer is working with has to be stronger than our fears as many wise teachers tell us.
  5. Working with our powerful vision is easier said than done.
  6. Often, we have to experiment to find the right pace of change for our inner transformer.
  7. Even an easy small change can bring up our fear of changing our status quo, because something in us knows that small but consistent daily changes our internal power structure.

As soon as I decided to write this post about the inner transformer, the power went on.  It was one of those moments when you feel guided in life.

What about you?

  • How is your relationship with your inner transformer?
  • Is there any place in your life, where you would benefit from simpler goals and a smaller criteria of success, so that your inner transformer is working at just the right pace so that it doesn’t burn out?
  • Where can you be proud of yourself for taking small actions every day?

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Writer of Destiny: Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros signing copies of her book

Sandra Cisneros signing copies of her book (Photo credit: Gwinnett County Public Library)

I want to be

like the waves on the sea,

like the clouds in the wind,

but I’m me.

One day I’ll jump

out of my skin.

I’ll shake the sky

like a hundred violins.

Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street

A couple of years ago, my mother gave me an anniversary edition of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  This was one of those books I thought I should read but somehow never got around to reading until this week.  I’m glad that I finally read this wonderful gem.

House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street was written over 25 years ago in a Chicago that is both very different and similar to the Chicago of today.  Reading this book, I felt myself transported back to the 70’s and early 80’s when she wrote it, and also to the Chicago of the 90’s and 2000’s when the city was such a big part of my life.  I was also reminded of the stories my mother used to tell me about growing up in Chicago in the 30’s and 40’s.

My mother’s grandparents were immigrants from Germany and as I read The House on Mango Street, I could see and feel the core of the immigrant experience in coming to the intense melting pot that is Chicago.

Being a witness is important for any writer of any time, but I continue to believe that it’s even more critical that we have writers who chronicle this time in which we are living.  We live in a time when the world is changing so dramatically from what it was like for thousands of years of human and earth history. Cisneros provides a profound witness to our chaotic and ever-changing time with beauty, brevity and nuance.

Her honest and open introduction in the anniversary edition, is almost even more moving than the original story.  Cisneros combines poetry and prose in a highly readable and accessible book.  There’s much to learn from her about the craft of writing just in the House on Mango Street.  I intend to read more of her work soon.

Have any of you read other books by Cisneros that you could recommend?