How bullying made me a better writer

Most kids joke that their favorite subject in school is recess or lunch. Those were the times I dreaded the most. Classmates spitting gum in my hair; getting called ugly/ fatty/ freakazoid; kids running from me, afraid they would catch ‘Tracy germs.’ I ate lunch in the bathroom whenever I could sneak by the lunch attendants who seemed more preoccupied with keeping us all in one raucous room rather than ensuring that no one was getting hurt or bullied.

While I would never wish that treatment on any young child, as an adult it’s easy to notice the bright side of the past. The truth is something positive did come from that time. I truly believe that my skills as a writer were formed during the isolation and depression of bullying.

  1. It made me more observant.
    If I wasn’t bullied, I was ignored. At these times I could watch my peers; studying their gestures, their words, and their behaviors . I thought if I studied them hard enough, I would learn how to become popular. Of course that didn’t work, but I did learn how to be quiet and absorb the information around me, and put that into my writing.
  2. It taught me the art of revision.
    As a kid, I was terrible with come backs. As soon as someone dissed me, I froze up and English became like a second language to me. This made the kids laugh even more. While trying to fall asleep I would go over the insults kids hurled at me that day and come up with all the clever responses I should have said. Writing gives you the ability to sit with a cluster of words and sculpt them as much as you want until they finally resemble your elusive thoughts.  Writing gave me the ability to use my words, an ability I didn’t have on the playground.
  3. It turned me into a reader.

    In order to become a good writer, you must read. This is the best way to absorb effective structure, beautiful prose, potent vocabulary, and great ideas. I was slow to reading, in fact I didn’t start reading until 3rd grade, but once I was able to decipher those inky pages I couldn’t get enough. I escaped into the world of books. If my reality was full of play dates and giggles, I probably wouldn’t have read so much.

  4. It taught me the complexity of humanity.
    The best authors make you sympathize with people who do bad things. In order to achieve this, the author needs to have incredible understanding as to why a person would behave that way, and, most of all, she must be able to forgive that character. It took me a long time to forgive my classmates for their treatment, but eventually I was able to understand why they did it. They were scared little kids afraid that if they didn’t pick on the scapegoat they would become the scapegoat. They had siblings or parents who bullied them and they took that out on me. They thought it was a harmless joke. When my best friend arrived at our school in fifth grade, I asked her if she knew how to talk because she was so quiet. Years later she told me how much that comment hurt her, but at the time I didn’t know any better. Whatever the reason for bullying, I don’t believe that kids are evil, they were complex.
  5. It helped me handle rejection.
    Getting a letter saying “unfortunately we cannot represent you at this time,” doesn’t feel like rejection compared to what the boys used to say on my school bus. I remember one time the kids teased a boy, saying that we were boyfriend and girlfriend, at which point he pretended to throw up. His retching was so convincing that the bus driver pulled over to see if he was okay. Kids would kick the empty seat over if they saw me coming to sit next to them, or they would beg my teacher to be partnered with someone else. That was a kind of rejection that puts all future rejection in perspective.

I spent years pitying myself as the victim, not understanding what I did to warrant that kind of treatment. The truth is it doesn’t matter. Bad things happen. If we choose to let those times teach us rather than beat us, we are stronger and better for it.

What Happens When You Dream

Over six years ago, I walked into a room that would change my life forever. My parents had just taken a 30-hour personal development course, and could not stop raving about it. When I heard that my dad, my stoic, reserved dad, cried during this course I had to check it out.

I’ve assisted at The Living Course (TLC) every single time since my initial course, and I learn so much about myself and humanity during these intense hours (after you take the course once, you can come back to every course afterward for free!). One of the focuses of the course is realizing a dream that is bigger than yourself; a dream that can guide your decisions and instill your life with purpose. The second time I assisted at the course, I told a room full of people that I was going to create an artist’s colony where creative people can learn from each other and support each other.

As soon as I proclaimed this dream I realized I had no idea how I would achieve it, and I didn’t even know where it came from. Mind you, this was years before I started The Heso Project (but the course was one of the reason why I started The Heso Project). TLC gave me an environment that was so supportive, so loving, and so energetic that it allowed me to tap into an intuitive part of myself that I never heard before.

T4Years go by and I’m constantly recognizing lessons from TLC popping up in my life, but the dream I had announced didn’t seem to stick. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized I was taking huge steps toward that dream I put into words during the course. The Writers Work Conference is a supportive and nurturing space for creative people. I am now setting up a retreat for writers in the Catskills for this winter, and a reading in Manhattan for emerging authors this November. These are concrete steps toward the dream of creating an artist’s colony.

I’m so grateful to The Living Course for asking me to find my dream, giving me the support to go after it, and helping me to unburden my past. The world would be so much more passionate, nurturing, and fun if everyone took this course. I hope you will be the next person to enroll. The next course is Nov. 7-9 in Rye, New York. If you sign up by Oct. 15, you’ll get $100 off! If the price tag scares you, I ask you to take a moment and really question how much you are worth. You deserve to spend that much money on yourself. You deserve this course!

A Heso Lost and Found (Part 2)

Still wondering what my HeSo project is? I hinted at it in the last post. Since I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a writer – I sold photocopies of my stories to the kids on the block. In college, I stayed up every night writing a magical realism trilogy.  In Mozambique, I enjoyed warm, mosquito-filled nights discussing writing with my roommate, Sojourner. For the last six years I’ve been meeting with writers about once a month to critique our work. Yes, I’ve always wanted to be a writer BUT I also had some serious problems with this career choice:

  • It can be lonely. I sit across from my laptop for about eight hours a day. When I’m not writing I’m reading, which is also anti-social.
  • It’s scary. There are no guarantees. In almost every other job, you show up and you get paid. I have been working on my current novel for three years. I spent my savings traveling to Idaho to do research for it.  I turn down most social gatherings because I either need time to write, or I’m out of money. Chances are I’ll never make a cent for all this hard work. I truly believe that creative pursuits are a calling – a calling that can be full of disappointment but nonetheless impossible to ignore.
  • It uses a small part of my skill set. Writing is extremely difficult for me, but I still need other challenges. I love public speaking, I love connecting people, and I love organizing events. The thought of writing a novel is wonderful, but the thought of planning a book tour for my novel is even more exciting!

So my HeSo project is not merely to become a writer, but to become an advocate for writers. I didn’t set out to do this – it naturally evolved from my interests. A year ago, I organized a reading for my writers group. This seemed like a fun event to get me away from my computer while still fostering creativity. (I have another reading coming up this November if you’d like to join!)

I had so much fun putting the reading together that I started to think of other social events for writers.That’s when the idea of a conference hit me. I had always wanted to go to a conference but they were so expensive, and I kept hearing the same complaint: writers get lost in the crowd and it becomes a competitive environment rather than one of support. I knew plenty of people who have something to share about writing, so I figured why not create a conference that’s affordable and supportive.

All of the presenters" Christina Bryza, Gayle Squires, Annelise Sorensen, Tricia Remark, Melissa Baumgart, Tracy Sayre, and Whitney Jacoby.

All of the presenters” Christina Bryza, Gayle Squires, Annelise Sorensen, Tricia Remark, Melissa Baumgart, Tracy Sayre, and Whitney Jacoby.

I organized the first Writers Work conference last May. It was actually surprising how easy it was. I asked about twelve people to present and eight of them jumped at the opportunity to help inspire fellow writers. I was on such a high after the conference, and so many guests were telling me they wanted to come to the next one, I immediately began planning an expanded conference.

This is when all the lessons from my past failures came to help me. I had spent hours learning how to make a website for Brutal First Impressions, so it was easy to make the website for Writers Work. BFI also taught me to be ballsy, so I emailed a company that I really love and basically said, “Listen, this is my dream and I need $500 to get it started.”  In less than 24 hours, Scrivener sent me the money! (btw, if you want to purchase their amazing writing software, they give all of my readers 20% off the regular license. Enter WRITERSWORK where it asks for a promotional code.) Trying to create a manufactured product, taught me how to handle lots of balls in the air, which helped when booking the venue, getting the speakers, planning the schedule, marketing the event, among many other tasks. Most importantly, my past failures taught me that if the conference wasn’t a success, I would eventually get over it.

Well the conference was a HUGE success! Here are just some of the survey responses:

“A fabulous, well-organized event.”

“I felt invigorated and inspired by the day.”

“I went to the BEST writing workshop ever! It learned so much! I got to meet great people, and even got the chance to pitch my book to a real agent! How amazing!. I cant wait until they do it again!”

“Inspiring, motivating and a great way of connecting with professional writers.”

“Stimulating, encouraging, invigorating.”

I think I'm bracing myself on

So happy to be making this dream come true!

Well it was exhausting planning this conference, and I lost $700 on it, I would have to say it was one of the best moments of my life. I started planning the next conference for this Spring and I’m confident that this one will be profitable. I’m on the path to getting paid to do what I love. It’s not easy, but it makes my soul happy.

It’s important to stress this was a journey. If I had sat down three years ago and tried to think of what would make me happy, I never would have thought “hey, how ’bout a conference series for writers.” I only figured this out by trying lots of different jobs, making lots of mistakes, losing lots of money, and listening to myself. I’m so glad I started this blog over three years ago, and that I got to share this journey with you! I hope this story helps you with your HeSo project.

P.S. I’ll be sharing more about this conference in the upcoming weeks!

A HeSo Lost and Found (Part 1)

“Find a way to get paid to do what you love.”

That ubiquitous advice used to drive me crazy because I had no idea what I loved to do besides for watching television and eating cookies – and I couldn’t find a single job listing for a cookie taster.

I started this blog as a public quest to figure out what satisfies my HeSo. In case you’ve wondered what HeSo means, it’s my nickname for heart and soul. Like a lot of people, I got to a place in my life where I had no idea what made my soul happy. There were lots of things that made me happy – but nothing on a deeper, spiritual level.

For so long I let fear (mostly fear of being poor) control my decisions. I didn’t know how to let passion take over. Besides, how could I let passion take over my decision-making process when I didn’t even know what I was passionate about. This blog was my permission to try new things, make mistakes, and ultimately figure out my HeSo project – or as the yoga sutras describe it:

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bounds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”

Before starting this blog, I quit a lucrative job, and had $50,000 in savings. I was absolutely petrified that I would go broke and never be able to amass that sense of security again. But I had 40 loyal readers and I couldn’t let them down. In my first year on the HeSo project, I became obsessed with an invention I came up with for baby beds. I went through about $20,000 in savings for this project and ultimately had to let it go when I found out I couldn’t get safety approval. But here’s what I learned:

  • How to get comfortable taking a risk
  • How to run a small business
  • How to let go when something is not working.
Getting ready to give up on the foam

Me getting fed up with making the prototype.

It was really hard to let that dream go, and I retreated into a part-time job, thinking the security of a paycheck would help me feel like less of a failure. However, I’m extremely hard-working and that part-time job quickly became a senior management position and all of a sudden I was working sixty hours a week on a job I didn’t care about. I had to stop and remember the HeSo. I quit the next day.

By this time I was really giving into my writing urges. The dream of becoming a professional writer seemed far-fetched but that didn’t keep me from writing whenever I had the chance. Even though I was done to $10,000 in savings, I decided to take a six month break from searching for a career and focus on my writing. I took classes and began writing 750 words a day. This was really hard work, and even though it wasn’t fun all the time, my HeSo was growing – but so was my debt.

I reached a fork in the road. I realized I wanted to keep writing, but I also wanted to be able to pay the rent. I took on another part-time job that left me with enough mental energy to come home and write every day. At this time an amazing thing happened:

I told myself that I would apply for a “real” job once I dipped below my last $2,000 in savings, but until then I would push forward with my writing. Every time I came close to that threshold, money appeared from out of nowhere. First, I got a completely unexpected $1,000 refund from the government for a tax return from three years prior. Next, a client from my old job randomly decided to pay my bill which was overdue for four years. Later, I got asked to be in a focus group for one hour and the pay was $300. Again and again, money appeared when I thought I’d have to give up on writing. I decided to take that as a sign that if I was going to pursue writing, the universe will support me.

The beginning and the peak of BFI.

The beginning and the peak of BFI.

At this same time I came up with the crazy idea for Brutal First Impressions. I went to the park with a sign telling people I would give them my honest feedback about their general appearance if they gave me a few dollars. This was a HUGE hit, and everyone loved this idea – except for me. I take that back. I loved the idea, but I hated doing it. I’m naturally an introvert, so it was extremely uncomfortable for me to stand in front of a group of strangers and criticize them. Also, I love looking for the best in people, so my patrons were often disappointed when I didn’t give them harsher feedback.

I think this was the moment I realized I was done with BFI.

I think this was the moment I realized I was done with BFI.

I decided to pursue this idea anyway because everyone else was so excited by it, but deep down, I just wanted to keep writing. I started a website and got a few clients, and I did BFI in central park a few times, but it never took off and I think that’s because my heart was still in my writing. However, I did learn these valuable skills from it:

  • How to design and program a website.
  • How to market an idea
  • How to be ballsy

I am telling you all this because I love hearing about all the “failures” people go through before they discover what really works for them. The good news is that I finally figure it out. I found my HeSo project!!! … and I’ll tell you all about it in the next post :P

On That Elevator Pitch Game

Tracy:

This author is coming to my conference on Saturday, and here are the helpful tips she came up with when preparing her pitch for the agent.

Originally posted on Tricia's Remarks:

Nice little stream in the mountains

Nice little stream in the mountains during the Highlights Unworkshop

On Saturday, I’m attending my first ever writers’ conference–Writers Work, organized by friend and fellow writing group member Tracy. I admire her so much for starting this idea completely from scratch–even using her own money to invest in the project. This isn’t something that came together all at once. She’s been dreaming about this conference ever since I met her in 2012.

Which brings me to my current situation.

During the conference lunch, I have one minute to pitch an agent my book!

I can’t believe how much I’ve learned about my book through writing a pitch. I’ve completely revised my outline and found out so much more about my characters and what drives them.

What if I’d written the entire book before I figured these things out??

Perfect view of the Williamsburg Bridge

Perfect view of the Williamsburg Bridge…and please note the pirate ship

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Why you should get bedbugs

What the heck is this new musical, Bedbugs!!!, everyone is talking about? I got to see it a few nights ago and I was blown away.

After losing her mother in a tragic bedbug accident, Carly becomes an exterminator determined to rid the world of bedbugs and avenge her mother’s death. Despite warnings from her lab assistant, Burt, she creates a deadly concoction to kill the bugs, but it winds up mutating them instead. Meanwhile, Canadian pop-singer, Dionne Salon, tries to resuscitate her career, but these  mutated, hyper-sexualized bedbugs threaten to kill off all of her fans. At Dionne’s concert, Carly must decide between the bedbugs who have embraced her as their creator, and mankind who blames her for the apocalypse. In the end, it is the power of love that saves them all.

The show was hilarious, but even more fun was watching the audience crack up. I’ve never seen people laughing and enjoying themselves so much. Fred Sauter has written an amazing and unique show. Paul Leschen wrote music that is so catchy and fun you’ll beg to buy a cd.

Everyone on the team (on stage and off) is so talented, but the three leads will blow you away:

Grace McLean’s sultry voice adds depth to her rock ballads. The last notes of Silent Spring will send shivers down your spine. Her transformation on stage will make your jaw drop. There are few actresses that can play nerdy, sexy, angry, rocker babe, but Grace plays it all to the extreme.

If you haven’t heard of Brian Charles Rooney yet, you’ll never forget him after this performance as Dionne Salon. His comedic timing is only matched by his incredible vocal range. He owns the stage.

Chris Hall’s performance as Cimex, king of the bedbugs, belongs in the leagues of Tim Curry in Rocky Horror Picture Show and Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig. His voice doesn’t even seem possible. You won’t be able to take your eyes off of him. I don’t know what’s cuter, his over the top facial expressions, or his latex-clad tush. His performance is made even better by the incredible custom designs of Philip Heckman.

I know this show wouldn’t be where it is today without the enthusiasm and perseverance of my mom, Dale Joan Young, as the lead producer. Three years ago she saw a production of Bedbugs!!! at a bar and even though all of us loved it we didn’t see the potential she saw. She has lost her voice, broke her leg, and invested her savings all in the journey of bringing this show to you.

I hope you run out and see Bedbugs!!! You can buy tickets here and use the code HesoBitten for a huge discount. It’s playing at the Arclight Theater in NYC until October 26.

I Finally Get Twitter

twitterTwitter seems like a requirement for anyone with a business or a message. Everyone has it but I didn’t know a single person who actually liked it. When I asked friends if they were on twitter their responses sounded more like “Yeah I floss.”

Setting up my account for Writers Work (yes, please follow my new twitter handle), I finally saw why tweeting is fun. The key is you can’t just tweet about your own material and then never read the wall. Here’s why you should spend some time on twitter:

  • Unlike facebook, you don’t have to scroll through a thousand ads.
  • You can connect with big names. For instance, I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book and I wrote a message about it, using her handle, and she wrote back to me in seconds! You can’t do that with any other social media platform.
  • You can get really focused news. For instance, with my Heso twitter handle I follow a variety of people, but with my Writers Work account, I only follow writers. Now when I go on my twitter account for WW, I get to see hundreds of quotes about writing, and encouraging articles.
  • It’s really fast. Sometimes I don’t post things to my blog because it’s just a short thought, however that thought is perfect for twitter. I can post it, and go back to my writing without working for an hour to develop that thought into a fleshed out blog post.
  • It’s really easy to develop a following. I picked up 100 followers in the last week just because I’ve been posting more and following more people.

For a long time I didn’t see the point of twitter. All the hashtags and @ symbols were confusing and unpleasant to read. I didn’t spend any time reading other people posts. Nothing would happen when I posted a link to my blog. Like everything, the more you put into it the more you get out of it. You need to click the favorite button on tweets you like. You need to retweet the posts you like. Soon, people will start doing that for you!

Who are some people you would recommend following on twitter?

Are you waiting for permission?

I’m a huge fan of Amy Poehler’s videos on Smart GirlsIf you’ve ever wanted to start a large project, I suggest watching this video. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer met doing improv at Upright Citizens Brigade. They created a web series based on their unique friendship and sense of humor, and it took off, leading them to the hit show on Comedy Central. In this video, Amy interviews the writers and talent behind this zany comedy, Broad City.

I love it when they talk about finding your voice, and how to get started on a dream. Everything they said reminded me of starting Writers Work :)

Abbi Jacobson’s response when Amy asks how someone can copy their success says it all for me:

“A lot of people wait for someone else to tell them it’s okay to start doing something or they have to be allowed to do this. But, no, we create that. You just have to start. No one’s gonna give you permission.”

What are your ambitions? Are you waiting for permission to get started?