Unstuck, On the Edge, Just as I Planned

  When I give expressive arts workshops, one of the main themes I hear over and over again is that people have something they really want to do—write a memoir, change careers, finish a project they began years ago — but they stop when they get stuck. Below are a few tips that I reach for again and again to keep myself moving when I am stuck or stymied.

  1. Set a goal and stick with your plan. Adjust as you move along the path.


At first my goals were simple, like writing a few poems about incidents in my childhood. But after getting a few poems published, which was great for my wobbly confidence, there were several rejections. I was a little discouraged, but I knew that the rejections were inevitable, so I used them as fuel. I knew I needed help, so my new objective involved working on my craft, finding critique partners, and taking classes with a mentor. I reworked my poems until they reached new levels. All the while, I moved forward as long as I kept writing.

  1. Slow the process down.

Several years ago, I worked with a coach who helped me to launch a very short-lived business. He often engaged me in role-playing, where we would practice my pitch to prospective clients. One day I came to him with a very promising offer that I needed to develop in a few days in order to submit a proposal by a deadline less than a week away. Over and over, he advised me to slow the process down. Now I use that slogan all the time. I used to be very impulsive and would jump as soon as I got enthusiastic about an idea. Over the years, I’ve realized that I need time to reflect and I do better in giving and asking for feedback if I have at least 24 hours to think about something. In this day of real-time communication, asking for 24 hours to consider an idea or an edit may seem like a luxury, but doing so has saved me endless apologies for things that may have sounded good, but just needed more time to germinate.

  1. Believe in yourself enough to take risks.

I can’t even tell you how many times I heard David Whyte, a renowned poet and conference leader, talk about walking on the edge and overcoming fear. His stories involve cantilevered bridges over deep valleys in the Himalayas and bicycling into the fierce winds of the Ayran Islands so you can stand on the sliver of a cliff overlooking the Irish Sea. I may never see those kinds of wild, physical edges, but after hearing his stories about twenty times, I realized that that very act of writing from your heart and submitting your work to a stranger constituted an edge experience. As does trying a new lesson in the classroom. You risk failure, just as surely as the hiker staring at the wobbly bridge. And I could hear David’s description of Beowulf as he sat on the edge of the lake contemplating diving into the dark waters to go after Grendel’s mother, and I’m paraphrasing, “Men have died on that shore because ordinary courage will not take them to the depths.” And that spunky, fearless little girl who thought she could sing like Haley Mills would push me into the light so that over and over, I was willing to risk rejection for the sake of my doing something I believe in.

As plan your week ahead, consider these three tips to enhance your creativity. Let me know what you’ve done to get unstuck and slow things down. While you’re at it, take a little walk along an edge that scares you a little. Maybe that means submitting your work. Or providing honest feedback to a critique partner. Writing about a difficult subject, which you’ve been avoiding. Forcing yourself to be savage with your word choices. Have you tried any of these tips? Let me know what. worked for you and how you tweaked things to suit your needs. We can all help each other!

Making My Book REAL

Velveteen Rabbit

“’What is REAL?,’ asked the Rabbit one day….”

And when a writer really loves an idea, a book can become real. Just like the Velveteen Rabbit in the eponymous children’s book by Margery Williams, for a writer’s story to become REAL takes a very long time. (In fact, you might find bald spots and missing buttons just like Rabbit!) It’s not just the writing that evolves, it’s the believing in yourself that takes time to develop. Like many writers I know, my “Not Enough” voice peppered me with doubts, whispering things like, “Well, that poem is pretty good, but will you ever be able to write lines like that again?” Thankfully, I know enough now to banish that voice to a far corner in my house and ignore her.

Writing a book involves a willingness to put in long, solitary hours and to believe utterly in the future possibility that someone, somewhere might take a chance on your work. In my case, that meant a publisher taking a chance risk on someone who had never published a book before. But every step of the way, I kept refocusing on the small, daily tasks of writing a new poem or reworking some stubborn lines, or coming up with fresh images. The Altar of Innocence —my goal—loomed in the distance, like a lovely cottage surrounded by wildflowers. I could imagine it, and I knew one day I’d find it. But meanwhile, there were other tasks at hand. I used my ability to take a “yes, and” view—something I learned from improv classes. I visualized my end goal while working on very discreet daily tasks in order to get there.

I focused on one thing at a time with dogged persistence and refused to get lost in all of the “what ifs” that inevitably crept into my consciousness. Before I knew it, a box of books arrived on my porch. Early and unexpected. Ecstatic is not too grand a word to describe how I felt at that moment.   I hauled the box inside, hoisted it up on to the counter, grabbed the Exacto knife, slit the tape, and pulled off the layers of paper keeping my babies from sliding around. All the while, I prayed that they would be as beautiful as the proofs from the publisher.

When I finally held a copy of my book — MY book — in my hands, I felt a rush of gratitude to everyone who believed in me enough to help me make my book REAL. And gratitude for the editors along the way who published my poems, faithfully submitted, one-by-one—even those rejected over and over, and those published right away. And always, every step of the way, my dreams guided my efforts. It’s as if all of my experiences—as a mother, a teacher, a workshop leader, a writer—all of those lessons about love and loss, disappointment and setbacks—have guided me on the path to making my dreams become real. And I could almost hear what the Skin Horse advised the Velveteen Rabbit:


“‘It doesn’t happen all at once……You become. It takes a long time.’”

Image urls: https://mafasworld.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/the-velveteen-rabbit-by-margery-williams2.jpg