In our household, my partner loves to watch Entertainment Tonight. We only have one TV, so he learns how so many people are heeding their calling (or at the very least who’s divorcing whom). But as soon as the credits start to roll, I flip the channel. Now he must ‘suffer’ through the last half of Murder, She Wrote. Compromise? Maybe. [Read more…] about Will You Heed the Call?
In her book, The Wisdom of Sundays, Oprah Winfrey writes: “The number one principle that rules my life is intention. Thought by thought, choice by choice, we are cocreating our lives based on the energy of our intention.”[note]Oprah Winfrey, The Wisdom of Sundays: Life-Changing Insights from Super Soul Conversations, Flatiron Books, 2017, p.44[/note] Or simply put: heed the call.
Whatever we want to do in this life, we must act with intention. If you want to be a writer, you write. If you want to be run for government office, at whatever level, you get out and engage with the community. Want to be a painter? Then paint.
It’s not always easy. What we want to do and what we think we should do are often in conflict with each other. There may be forces pulling you in a different direction, almost tempting you away from your heart’s true desire. Don’t give those forces the power to convince you that your goal or dream is too hard, silly, or completely impossible.
Don’t Be Discouraged
In your daily life, focus on the actions you can take to keep moving forward in the direction of your dreams. When your inner critic comes out to play, silence him. Think, too, about the company you keep. I’ve often found that people who ridicule your dreams are often the ones who gave up on their own. Stand strong. Be brave and bold. Because deep down in your gut, you know this is your calling.
Heed the call!
Do you feel you have a calling? And have you heeded the call? Click Reply or leave a comment in the section below. I’d love to hear from you.
“When we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want, with the time we’ve got.”
– Lauren Vanderkam
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with social media. I love that Twitter, more than Facebook, allows me to connect with readers and other writers. I love that I can ask a question and so many people are willing to share their knowledge and experiences. I love that, as an introvert, I feel like I’m a part of a community.
I’m less enthralled with social media when the trolls come out. The people who nitpick everything you do because everything they do is perfect. As soon as you make a mistake they come gunning for you. And it’s not that we’re not open to feedback, but they just lack the class and savoir-faire to communicate it well.
The Power of Social Media
Despite Facebook’s recent data scandal (and Mark Zuckerberg’s upcoming testify before the U.S. Congress), or Kylie Jenner and Rihanna distancing themselves from Snapchat, people don’t appear to be abandoning these networks in droves. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Medium — they’ve become, for better or for worse, an integral part of how we communicate with each other.
As a writer, social media is a huge part of my author platform. Working to build my brand, I’m told over and over again that my success will depend on my engagement, or lack thereof, with social media — especially if I want to make a living from writing alone. (I’d love, LOVE, to quit my day job and write full-time.) That’s why I subscribe to so many blogs and mailing lists: The Creative Penn, Tom Morkes, Smart Author Labs, Book Marketing Tools, Books Go Social, and others. I’m interested in staying current with industry news, knowing the trends and honing my skills. And when it comes to success, the recurrent theme I keep hearing is this:
It’s Not Enough to Write a Good Book Anymore
To be a ‘successful’ author, one of the things we’re told we must do is write a blog, posting content regularly. I’ve had a couple of different blogs on and off since 2013, but it wasn’t until early last year that I started enjoying blogging. What changed? I no longer felt pressured to do it. I didn’t feel like it was a writer’s obligation anymore. I could do it, on my own terms, to stay connected to a wider writing community. Any other things writers should do? Plenty! Build your mailing list (valid point, and I’m building mine slowly). Perhaps start a podcast. Post frequently on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Offer a course or webinar. Send out a newsletter.
Are you exhausted yet? I am!
The introvert in me balked at most of those things. All my life, I’ve never been great at selling anything. So, when it comes to self-promotion there’s even greater resistance. Maybe that means that my road to becoming a successful author — however you define it — is going to take a little longer. As I grow older (and wiser?), I’m becoming okay with that. I get it. People like Joanna Penn (the Creative Penn), Mark Dawson (Self-Publishing Formula) and Chandler Bolt (Self-Publishing School) are living the dream because they’re doing all the ‘right’ things.
I’m an author who’s published two books — one that was traditionally published and a big flop, another that I self-published in February 2017 and that people are still buying. I work full-time, travelling the world (although lately, London, UK, feels like my second home). On my days off, I’m juggling writing, running and my responsibilities at home. You can relate, right? So, every time I read from an ‘expert’ that if I want to succeed as I writer, I should consider launching a podcast or offering a webinar, I’m frustrated. I can’t imagine fitting that in when it already doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in a day to get everything done. But the bigger question I keep asking myself this: When the [insert expletive] am I supposed to write?
Here’s the thing…
Over the past few months, I’ve struggled to get in my creative time. Not because of writer’s block (that’s never been an issue for me) or jet lag, but because I’ve been chasing someone else’s dreams or idea of what the successful author life looks like. There’s something frightfully addictive about social media — Twitter and Facebook (the two I use) — that has me constantly reaching for my phone. Have you noticed how some people get offended if you don’t instantly respond to them retweeting your tweet or liking your Facebook post? And you feel like you’re missing something if you don’t have your social media apps open and aren’t paying attention to them. No more!
Challenging Myself to Do and Be Better
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been trying to live with intention. And I really like how Oprah Winfrey phrases it: “The number one principle that rules my life is intention. Thought by thought, choice by choice, we are cocreating our lives based on the energy of our intention.”[note]Oprah Winfrey, The Wisdom of Sundays, Flatiron Books, 2017, p. 44[/note] That has meant a number of different things for me. I stopped drinking (80 days strong and counting). I’m running more, improving my pace and putting in longer distances; and exercising regularly with the Nike Training app. I love food and prefer to prepare as much as possible from scratch. Over the past few months, I’ve really been paying attention to what I eat and now I scrutinize every label. Do you know how many grams of sugar there are in a 341 ml can of Minute Maid cranberry juice? 43 grams! I gave up caffeine in October 2016, but sometimes I treat myself to a regular latte — usually when I’m touring around London and have been up all night. Yes, this is me trying to live with intention.
But the most recent and dramatic change has been my introduction to the Freedom app.
A couple of years ago I discovered StayFocusd — a Google Chrome extension that limits the amount of time spent on time-wasting websites. When I was trying to finish a rewrite or complete a first draft, I’d limit how much time I could spend on sites like Twitter, Facebook or CNN before they’d be blocked. And StayFocusd has a nuclear option that blocks the entire internet on my laptop for as long as I like.
For my iPhone, I use Freedom (after five free sessions, you must buy a subscription). For the period set, all the apps on my phone are unusable. I can’t check e-mail, do banking, post on Facebook or Twitter. Nada. (Now, I’m learning to plan my day strategically so that if I need to go to Loblaws, my PC Optimum app will be functional.) But together, StayFocusd and Freedom are a powerful duo that allows me to sustain my focus and increase my productivity. More than that, I feel like I’m no longer spending time on things that distract me from my true passion.
After receiving my manuscript from my editor back in February, it felt like the corrections were taking forever. Until I found Freedom. Now, I’m sailing through them. Before Freedom, it felt like I was rushing to get out my weekly Twitter Fiction and Fiction Friday series, and scrambling to write a blog post. Not anymore. Freedom and StayFocusd are helping me to reclaim my life and my time so that I can live the life I’ve imagined.
Live the Life You Want with the Time You’ve Got
All this to say … we all have our own idea of success. Now, I’m learning not to do the things that aren’t true to who I am. I use Twitter. I love scheduling some tweets in advance, and I truly appreciate the support and encouragement I receive from that community. But I’ve decided, going forward, to scale back my presence to two days a week. Perhaps that seems a bit extreme, but I know how addictive Twitter is for me. So, Wednesday and Friday will be the days when I’ll respond to mentions, retweets and likes. Steven Pressfield, in his book Turning Pro, writes: “The amateur tweets. The pro works.”[note]Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro, Black Irish Entertainment LLC, 2012[/note] That hit me like a ton of bricks and really got me thinking about how I spend my time. And I’m no longer checking Direct Messages. I already have two e-mail accounts — one personal, one for my writing — that I struggle to manage daily. I know Direct Messages are convenient, but they feel highly impersonal and are annoying.
Admittedly, Facebook is trickier. Or there’s an illusion of it being trickier to manage. I’m talking about the Facebook Page app (I don’t use the regular Facebook app) because when I open it, this is what I’m immediately drawn to:
85% response rate. Respond faster to turn on the badge
Reach people nearby for $___
Number of likes
Facebook is constantly in your face to up your engagement. And whenever I see that I’ve lost a like or my reach is down, I wonder if it’s because I’m not engaging enough or that I’m not posting the right content. Then I end up asking myself: What more can I do? And that’s the moment I feel like Facebook has won. But, still, I’m trying to pull back because, at the end of the day, I don’t feel like I’m being true to who I am.
Some of you may remember the TV show Laverne & Shirley, starring Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. There’s a great line from the opening theme song: “We’re gonna make our dreams come true / Doin’ it our way.”
Yes, I’ve got a dream and, with the time I’ve got, I’m doing it my way.
What’s your idea of success? Do you have a strategy for your use of social media? Are you where you want to be on your creative/life journey? Let me know in the comments section below.
Beginning a new habit is, perhaps, one of the most difficult things to do. It’s easy to give up on it in the first few days or weeks. Missing one or two days in a row has the power to challenge our commitment to it. We say, “I’ll try again tomorrow,” but we never do.
When I realized I wanted to be a writer, I knew I had to write every day — no matter where I was, no matter what was happening in my life. And now, for almost twenty-five years, writing every day has kept me grounded. Especially on the days when it feels like my world is being turned upside-down and inside out.
Back in 2013, shortly after I moved to Toronto, I read Rhonda Byrne’s The Magic. If you’ve read this book, you know that Byrne believes “the magic of gratitude will change your entire life.”[note]The Magic by Rhonda Byrne, Atria Books, p. 15.[/note] And the first lesson is, “Count Your Blessings.” Byrne asks us to, as early in the day as possible, write down ten blessings for which we are grateful.
I’ve been writing my Morning Pages faithfully since 1995. It’s the first thing I do in the morning. And after reading The Magic, writing a gratitude list — counting my blessings — became part of my Morning Pages ritual.
Every day I begin counting my blessings this way: I am grateful to God (the Universe, that force higher than me … whatever you want to call it) for waking me up this morning and starting me on my way. That acknowledgement of my gratitude for having another day to enjoy the beauty that is this world has transformative power. It reminds me to stay focused on the present, to let go of anything negative that came before that moment. And when I stay present — and let go of all that is beyond me and my control — I am free. Free from the negativity trying to pull me down. Free from the naysayers who believe I’ll never succeed. Free from everybody else’s version of who I should be.
It is then that I’m living in a state of grace.
Honour Who You Are
Let me be clear. When I talk about living in a state of grace, I don’t mean it in the religious sense. I don’t think about it as being free from mortal sin. Living in a state of grace is about honouring who you are, not who others think or wish you to be. You, the abstract painter. You, the master chef. You, the fifth-grade teacher. You have unearthed the thing that has long poked at your heart, called you into service … and you’ve heeded the call.
It took me a long time to embrace the writer in me. That’s because growing up my parents (my mother especially) weren’t too keen on the idea of me pursuing a life in the arts. I was a talented young pianist, and my teachers told me I could go far if I wanted to and applied myself. The only music career my parents wanted for me was that of church organist because all artists were “druggies and alcoholics” (my mother’s words).
So when I started writing, I didn’t talk about it. I hid my journals and notebooks (when I still lived at home) to not be found out. The worst of all was that I let someone else’s vision of what an artist looked like (drug addicts and drunks) skew my own perception. I started to believe that I couldn’t succeed, and that maybe it was a world I didn’t deserve to belong to.
Things began to shift when I entered university. I spent most of my time writing instead of completing course assignments or studying. That was when I realized writing was more than just a hobby. Writing was what I was passionate about, what brought me real joy. And it would take several more years of peeling away the past before really committing to it — to be willing and feeling free to live my own life.
Oprah Winfrey, writing about fulfillment, reminds us that we must “[…] find the courage to tune out the negative voices telling you all the reasons to give up. Make the choice to turn up the volume to your unique calling, the glory that is your own life.”[note]The Wisdom of Sundays by Oprah Winfrey, Flatiron Books, p. 175.[/note] That is, undoubtedly, the best way to honour who you are.
Turning up the volume to my own unique calling, I started living in a state of grace.
This Is It
If you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning of the year, you know I’ve been “in crisis,” so to speak. Something has been shifting underneath my feet, and it’s left me feeling restless and anxious. In an otherwise happy life, I didn’t feel at home in this world. I didn’t feel like I was in a place of belonging. And that’s what scared me the most.
This journey to connect with the deepest part of myself — as scary as it feels (it’s terrifying, actually) — reminds me that this is it. Whatever I want to do, who I want to be … now is the time to act. I’m a writer, and I dream of writing full-time and being free of my day job. So what can I do today to work towards that goal? Write. Every day. And take risks, like publishing my next book (it’s back with my editor). Finish something else (I’m currently revising another novel-length manuscript). I must write every day and be grateful for my day job, which allows me, through my writing, to be of service. That also means I must be mindful of my thoughts and actions. Constantly checking Twitter, Facebook or my sales rank on Amazon won’t help me finish my next book or get to that place of belonging. Now, right here where I am, is the time to focus on what matters so that I can make the life I want.
That’s when I’m living in a state of grace.
Paulo Coelho said, “You are here to honour something called the miracle of life. You can be here to fill your hours and days with something that is meaningless. But you know that you have a reason to be here. It is the only thing that gives you enthusiasm.”[note]The Wisdom of Sundays by Oprah Winfrey, Flatiron Books, p. 178.[/note] And he’s right.
Writing is the reason I’m here, and it is the thing that gives me enthusiasm. And I’m grateful every day for my talent and gift … to be of service.
Every day I write, every day I accept that I’m enough, every day I honour who I am … I’m living in a state of grace.
Do you know the reason you’re here? Are you living your own life? Are you honouring who you are? Let me know in the comments section below.
To January I say this: Good riddance!
I spent twenty-one out of thirty-one days sick, feeling absolutely crappy. No, I was miserable. Coupled with that miserableness was a strange malaise that sent me spiralling out of control. I didn’t understand that it was life speaking to me. And worst of all, I wasn’t listening. I was tone-deaf, trying to plough my way through life as if everything was cool and under control.
When I started to feel better, the anxiousness and restlessness began to ebb. But they didn’t go away completely. Now, at the beginning of February, I’m still dealing with their residual effects: figuring out exactly where it is I belong.
Focus on the Day-to-Day
It’s an odd feeling. Actually, it’s terrifying. To have arrived at a place in life where I’m doing what I feel compelled to do (write) and still feel like something is missing. You see, when I sit down to write — whether I’m at home, in a coffee shop, or globetrotting around the world (mostly London these days) — writing takes the edge off, peels away the doubt.
So while all this ‘uncertainty’ abounds, I’m focusing on the day-to-day. I’m relying on routine to keep me grounded. I’m going back to basics.
Make the Best of the Morning. I’m a morning person, and that’s when I feel the most creative. I’m slowly getting back into the routine of waking up between 4:00 and 5:00 am. Once my Morning Pages are done, I focus on my most important projects.
Keep Distractions to a Minimum. For a long time, I used to write with the TV on in the background. I thought I could still have productive writing sessions even with the volume on low. Yet when it came time to edit something I’d written with the TV on, the writing never stood up as well as a piece completed with the TV off. Now the TV is off, Outlook is closed, and I keep my cell phone in the kitchen (away from my writing desk).
Unplugging. I think this is the hardest one of all because of how much social media is integrated into daily life. And it’s a valuable tool and resource for writers and artists alike. Still, every day I struggle with social media because it easily overwhelms me. When I roll out of bed, I stop in the kitchen to pick up my phone on the way to the bathroom to check e-mail. It’s a hard habit to break, but I’m working on it. My ‘new’ goal is to check e-mail and social media sites after completing my morning work session. This isn’t just about when and how often I use social media, but also about how I’m using it. I want my use of social media to be purposeful and to not simply be a means of distraction. To that end, I’m back using the Chrome extension, StayFocusd, to help boost my productivity.
Let Myself Play. Something I’ve always struggled with is the idea of rest and play. Because of my day job, I have myself convinced that I must spend all my free time on my days off building my writing career. In this face-paced and chaotic world, it’s easy to forget that life is rich with all its beauty and with so many things to discover. Writing is very important to me, to my life, and each day I write I am inching closer to realizing my dreams. But life isn’t, and shouldn’t be, all about writing.
When I take time to rest and play, I’m able to learn about Kensington Palace’s rich history, as I did during my recent stay in London. I read books that challenge my way of thinking or simply for pleasure; the latter allows me to discover new authors. Recent great reads include: The Wisdom of Sundays by Oprah Winfrey, The Sober Entrepreneur by Russ Perry, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and Sam by Luke Harris. When I open myself up to other experiences, when I let myself do other activities, I am gathering material for my creative stores.
Stay Active. Getting older, maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle has become extremely important to me. That’s why I recently gave up alcohol. Now, when people learn I stopped drinking to focus on my health — and not because of addiction issues — they look at me as if I have two heads. I saw how just two glasses of wine affected my energy level the next day, making me sluggish. Already struggling with being distracted and watching my productivity plummet, I didn’t need alcohol compounding that further.
I try to get a minimum of two runs in each week because, out on the trail I can, as the saying goes, “Let go, let God.” I know that running alone won’t help me achieve the lean fit I’m aiming for, but I’ve never liked going to a gym or working with weights. Last night, reading the February issue of GQ, I couldn’t help but read Benjy Hansen-Bundy’s article, “Can I Avoid People and Become Incredibly Fit?” (As an introvert, there was no way I was skipping it.) Hansen-Bundy mentions the Nike Training Club app, which he describes as “a personal trainer without the over-enthusiastic small talk.” Intrigued, I downloaded the app and set up a workout. When I got up this morning, after doing some writing, I completed the Controlled Blast workout. Forty-five minutes long! Forty-five minutes long, and I thought I was going to die. I love how the uninspired female voice says, “Don’t give up. You’re almost done.” Meanwhile, twenty minutes in, I’m covered in sweat and flat on the floor with legs that feel like Jell-O. But I didn’t give up and made it to the end (although I may have taken one or two extra recovery periods what weren’t part of the workout).
With the tumultuous January behind me, I’m focused on getting back on track. February is my clean slate, my time to be open to what life is saying, or trying to say, to me. I like how Oprah Winfrey puts it: “Everybody has a calling. Your real job in life is to figure out why you are here and get about the business of doing it.”
I think that’s why I’m ‘restless’ and asking daily: What is my purpose? Why am I here? What is trying to emerge through my life? Where do I belong?
When I show up at my day job, I know I’m not in a place of belonging. I know I’m not being the real me. And that drives the anxiety and restlessness I feel each and every day. But I also know that everything I’m feeling at the moment, everything and everyone that comes into my life right now, are necessary parts of my journey. I must be patient and listen, and the answer will come in a language I’ll understand. I will arrive at that wonderful place of belonging where I can be the best, vibrant and most alive version of myself.
In the meantime, I must focus on what matters most. That is the best way to build the life I want.
How is 2018 starting out for you? What are you struggling with? Do you need to wipe your slate clean and start again? Let me know in the comments section below.