Inspiration

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?

Be Audacious

Jamie Cat Callan, author of Ooh La La!:: French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day, presented at my conference yesterday and one of her pieces of advice summarized the entire event for me:

“Be audacious. Even if it seems crazy, ask for what you want!”

All I knew was that I wanted to host a conference to promote talented writers and motivate aspiring writers. I didn’t know where it should be, who should speak, and what message I was trying to share. I started with a simple question “will you join me?” and one by one I amassed a panel of eight amazing speakers.

me at conference

Yesterday I was blown away by the level of insight the speakers had. Each presentation was unique and the speakers shared their personality as well as their knowledge. Looking out at the audience, I was touched to see over 40 strangers eagerly taking notes the entire time. During the social hour, so many audience members came up to me and said they couldn’t wait to go home and write (exactly what I wanted to hear).

The audience members taking their seats.

The audience members taking their seats.

I can’t tell you how many times I told people I was hosting a writers’ conference and they gave me a look like I was crazy. After all, who am I? I don’t have the backing of a credible publishing house, I don’t have thousands of dollars from sponsors, I don’t have 100,000 followers on Twitter. Who am I? I’m audacious 🙂 and it worked!

If you have a dream, start doing whatever it takes to make it happen. It might not look like how you envisioned it, but remember you are just taking the first step and that’s what will make the next step possible. Waiting around for someone to give you permission to do something is a waste of time, and it probably won’t ever happen.

Now I know that I can do this, I’m looking to expand. I would like to host the next conference in 6 months. Here’s how you can help me:

  • If you know of potential sponsors who would like to be associated with a conference that’s inspiring and motivating, one that promotes working hard for what you want, please put me in touch with them!
  • If you know engaging, approachable and inspiring speakers who are in some way connected to the writing world (publishers, agents, writers, freelancers, or something totally crazy that I can’t come up with), please put me in touch with them!
  • Follow me on Twitter and Facebook. The more followers I have, the more credible I look and the more great content you get to keep up with ;). The hashtag for this event is #writerswork

Lots more pictures will be coming! I can’t thank Jamie Cat Callan, AnneLise Sorensen, Jen Doll, Whitney Jacoby, Gayle Squires, Melissa Baumgart, Tricia Remark, and Christina Bryza enough! Also a special thanks to Capital One 360 for the venue, and Amy Stockhaus for the photography.

The basics of motivational books

English: Motivational speaker Tony Robbins at ...

Tony Robbins at a Twitter conference in 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since I started this blog, people love giving me motivational books. They are packed with great advice on how to achieve one’s dreams and how to overcome obstacles, but after you’ve read one you’ve read them all. From Tony Robbins to  The Secret, the same rules apply because they are truths that really work. So, I’ve decided to save you time and share the key tips they all have in common.

  1. The easiest way to make money is to tell people how to make money. Most of these motivational books start off with the author describing how they were down in the dumps but then they learned a few things, made millions of dollars, and now they’re going to share those few things with you so that you too can make millions of dollars. But first, give them $29.99 so that they can share those tips. Success begets success.
  2. You cannot control the timeline of your success – all you can do is prepare for it. You don’t know when you’re going to meet a crazy inventor who loves your idea and wants to give you $50k to get started, but don’t you think that investor will be more likely to give you money if you’ve already built a prototype and written a business plan? “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca
  3. You can’t get what you want until you know what you want.You know those times when you walk into the kitchen and then realize you forgot what you wanted? You stand there like an idiot scanning every surface, hoping it will trigger your memory. When you do finally remember what it was you wanted, you see it immediately. It’s usually in the most obvious place. The thing that you wanted was always there, but you won’t find it until you know what it is. Start writing down what you want out of your life, and reread those lists constantly. What you want should always be on the tip of your tongue.
  4. Create a community of support. Find mentors who inspire you and do what they have done. Find colleagues who challenge and motivate you and give them the amount of help that you would like in return. Cherish your friends who are positive, and weed out the people who stomp on dreams or fill your life with unnecessary, distracting drama.

If you would like further reading on this matter, here is a wide variety of motivational books I’d recommend. Each of the books have an amazon link, so if you buy from the link, I’ll make money and then I can achieve the first point in this post 🙂

    

4 books every writer should have

I think I enjoy reading about writing, more than I enjoy the act of writing. Writers seem to be the most sensitive, interestingly flawed people on the planet, and I love reading their candid accounts of the blessings and struggles of writing. Here are some of my favorite books on writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts, or further reading suggestions.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

 Anne has a biting sense of humor, and she’s brutally honest. I first came to this book after reading an excerpt called shitty first drafts, and I was hooked on her quirky essays ever since. She reminds the reader that writing is not a fun, rewarding activity. Writers hear the call of duty, and they can’t escape it. Without this ever-evolving challenge to express oneself, the writer would feel hollow and lost. But she also reminds us that our challenges can be conquered, and that piece by piece, bird by bird, our efforts will amount to something.

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

 This was the first book on writing I ever read. Even though he made writing seem like a tortuous, tedious task, after finishing this book, all I wanted to do was read more and write more. Half of it is a memoir and half is instructions on the craft of writing. Not only does King’s life read like one of his captivating stories, his tips are easy to follow and give the writer immediate results. I stopped over-using adverbs after reading this book. As King wrote, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” He taught me not to let the strict rules of grammar cramp my style. He taught me about persistence, rejection, and appreciation.

“Almost everyone can remember losing his or her virginity, and most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this! What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for his/her stuff?”

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

 This in not merely required reading for every writer, but for everyone who is alive. Julia gives amazing tips on how to live a more creative, fun, and fulfilling life. She makes art seem accessible, and a natural part of everyone’s existence. I’ve read this book so many times, and the margins are filled with notes, the text underlined and circled repeatedly. The key to this book, however, is that you can’t just read it; you must follow all the action steps.

“No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity.”

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I haven’t actually read this one yet. It’s been recommended by every writer I know, but I haven’t gotten around to it. Fortunately, I just ordered it and will read it soon. In the meantime, here’s a quote from it that I really enjoyed:

“I write because I am alone and move through the world alone. No one will know what has passed through me… I write because there are stories that people have forgotten to tell, because I am a woman trying to stand up in my life… I write out of hurt and how to make hurt okay; how to make myself strong and come home, and it may be the only real home I’ll ever have.”

Ok, Since I didn’t read the last book, I’m throwing in a bonus book: The Mind Of Your Story: Discover What Drives Your Fiction by Lisa Lenard-Cook

Honestly, I love just holding this elegant book. There’s something beautiful and charming about the size and illustrations. It gives a lot of useful advice on the elements of fiction, with helpful diagrams and quotes. This book is great if you are new to writing, or if you want a refresher on how to express and structure your thoughts. I’ve never heard the struggle of writing described better than this:

“One of the most important tools as a writer is the ability to keep your senses open to everything around you- not simply seeing but listening, smelling, tasting, touching, and, most difficult of all, being open and empathetic to everyone (and everything) with whom you come in contact. Being this sensitive isn’t easy, which is why I suspect, so many of us retreat into our hidey-holes to recover from our forays into the outside world…It’s all the more ironic, then, that we open, receptive, caring, over-sensitive sorts must learn to shoulder rejection far more often than other mere mortals. No, not just shoulder it, but accept it and then as quickly as possible expose the rejected part of ourselves yet again, long before the hurt has begun to heal.”

Enjoy your reading, and let me know what you think!

The Power of Writing Groups

Here’s a great article about declaring your dreams, creating a supportive community, and going out on a limb, and it happens to be written by my friend, Tricia Remark! Read about how our writing group got started:

http://pyragraph.com/2013/06/youre-an-artist-tell-people/

tricia writing group

Here we are pretending that all of our books reached #1 on the NY Times bestseller list.

Ooh La La! An Interview with Jamie Cat Callan

I’m so excited to read Jamie Cat Callan’s new book, Ooh La La!: French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day. I loved the lighthearted advice of her book, Bonjour, Happiness!, and the interesting cultural comparisons of  French Women Don’t Sleep Alone: Pleasurable Secrets to Finding Love. I also recommend The Writer’s Toolbox to any writer, or person who aspires to be more creative.

Jamie took some time out of her busy book tour to answer a few questions for us! Jouir de:

When did your love and admiration of all things French begin?

I grew up spending my summers with my French-American grandmother.  She lived simply, without a lot of material goods, but she knew how to enjoy life.  She was elegant, beautiful, and possessed a whole lot of joie de vivre.

What is the biggest difference you notice between American and French women?

The second wave feminist movement played out much differently in France than in America. As a result, Americans inherited a kind of divisiveness between men and women.  We interpreted equality as sameness.  France believes in the power of the difference between men and women. 

Also, France’s economy is dependent on the culture of women—beauty, fashion, and perfume supports so many people in France.  It can’t be taken lightly.  Women’s interest in fashion and beauty is serious business, because it supports hundreds of thousands of people.  In America, our industry is about finances, Wall Street and heavy industry.  So you see, we’re not as financially connected to beauty—but I wish we were!  

Jamie, in the middle, interviewing some French women.

In this day in age, when people are worried about the economy and international affairs, why should women concern themselves with their beauty and affect?

Okay, this may sound naive, but I believe that attention to beauty and elegance can actually save our economy and prevent wars.  First, if we understand where true beauty comes from—our hearts—there’s no need to spend a lot of money.  I can attest to this because my French grandmother lived through the Great Depression, sewing her own clothes, gardening and cutting back on luxuries.  She lived well with very little.  This is the French way. 

In terms of the threat of war—well, there will always be the threat of war.  That said, what is the point of protecting our countries, our lives, our way of living if not so that we can appreciate the tenderness of simple everyday pleasures, and yes beauty. 

I believe that beauty can actually prevent wars.  If we recognize the importance of beauty in our lives, then we will not want to destroy other beautiful things.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Always.  I wrote stories, poems and songs for my family when I was a little girl.  I loved to hear stories.  So, I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer!

What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Write.  Write.  And write some more.  Write on a regular basis and try to create a space that is special to you and your writing practice.  I believe the muse likes to visit you when you show up regularly and honor the space with your words, your thoughts, and  your dreams.  And then aside from writing, I suggest, daydreaming.  Your inner life and your powers of observations are important tools of the trade.

Finally, believe in yourself.  Keep the faith.  No matter what you’re doing—from washing dishes to working at Kinko’s, don’t forget you’re a writer and all this is your material, your paint box, your brushes and your canvas.

Describe your perfect day in France.

Ah, is there such a thing as a less-than-perfect day in France?  Okay, well, if we’re talking about just one perfect day–I would spend much of it  sitting in a café in Paris, watching the world go by.  I would walk through the Tuileries, all the way from Concord to the Louvre.  I would walk along the Seine and cross the Pont des Arts, to see all the bicycle locks that the lovers have left.  Perhaps I’d even have a little picnic on the bridge.  Oh, but I’d want to walk along the Seine and up to Notre Dame.  And then I’d walk around the Left Bank and visit the places  Hemingway and Fitzgerald frequented—Café Deux Magots and Harry’s Bar on the Right Bank. 

 

Speaking of the Right Bank, I would stop by Chanel and pay homage to the Grand Dame of modern fashion.  From there, I would walk a few blocks to Ladurée and perhaps indulge in a macaron or two.  Later, I would go to the market in Belleville and buy some fresh flowers and do a bit of people-watching.  Finally, I would have dinner at Café de l’Homme, where I’d get a table on the terrace, so I could watch the Eiffel Tower lit up against the Paris sky and I would drink champagne! 

Sounds like a perfect day to me. Merci beaucoup! I can’t wait to read your new book, and start infusing my life with more beauty and joie de vivre.

My dinner party with 5 famous people: #3 Sir Isaac Newton

I first learned about how crazy Sir Isaac Newton was from Bill Bryson’s amazing book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, and I’ve loved him ever since. (On a side note, my boy Bill was soooo close to making the guest list, but he can also be hyper-critical in his books, and I don’t want that vibe at my party. Sorry, Bill.) Besides for the fact that Newton helped us to understand force and motion, he also had an insatiable curiosity that led him to do such crazy things as stick a needle in his eye. My third dinner guest would have to be Sir Isaac Newton:

Me and Newton waiting for a seat at the trendiest new restaurant in NYC

Me and Newton waiting for a seat at the trendiest new restaurant in NYC

The night would start like this,

“Wow, Sir Isaac Newton, what an honor! May I call you Isaac?”

“I prefer Newt. Hey what’s that?” he asks, pointing to my microwave.

OK, after the initial enjoyment of explaining all the recent technology to a genius wears off, the real fun would begin. Newton was a crazy MoFo. When he didn’t think math was comprehensive enough he invented calculus! Who does that? But since he thought it would be too boring a subject (that’s my interpretation), he kept it a secret for 27 years. He learned Hebrew because he thought he could decipher clues as to the second coming of Christ. He was obsessed with figuring out how to turn base metals into precious metals. I just imagine him staring at his fork during dinner, willing it to turn to gold. It would give Louie CK a lot of great material.

Here’s a passage from A Short History of Nearly Everything:

“Newton was a decidedly off figure – brilliant beyond measure, but solitary, joyless, prickly to the point of paranoia, famously distracted (upon swinging his feet out of bed in the morning he would reportedly sometimes sit for hours, immobilized by the sudden rush of thoughts to his head), and capable of the most riveting strangeness… Once he inserted a bodkin- a long needle of the sort used for sewing leather – into his eye socket and rubbed it around “betwixt my eye and the bone as near to [the] backside of my eye as I could” just to see what would happen. What happened, miraculously, was nothing – at least nothing lasting. On another occasion, he stared at the Sun for as long as he could bear, to determine what effect it would have upon his vision. Again he escaped lasting damage, though he had to spend some days in a darkened room before his eyes forgave him.”

I’ve watched many things fall without having a single intelligent thought. Newton observes an apple falling and suddenly our whole world makes a lot more sense. We understand why things move or don’t move because of him and his three laws. He gave us the reflective microscope and the color and light theory. The least I could do is invite him over for dinner. I would serve him Turducken, baked apple and wine, and as I said before, he’ll sit next to Louie CK.

 

The greatest thing that ever happened to me

Have you ever held the most adorable baby in the world? Touched its perfect chubby cheeks? Played with its impossibly tiny toes? What do you feel when you see something so innocent and beautiful? You want to protect it, love it, you want the best for it. You imagine all the amazing things that child will grow up to be. This child doesn’t need to do anything in order to warrant your love – its pure existence is magnificent.

(photo credit: Ghastlydoor.com)

Now imagine seeing yourself as that perfect little baby. How would you treat yourself differently if you could remember how innocent and beautiful you are? We’ve all seen that image of a woman holding her baby right after giving birth – imagine loving yourself with that same intensity.

Now imagine thinking of everyone that way. Wouldn’t it be easier to forgive those who hurt you? Wouldn’t it be easier to make decisions based on love and excitement rather than anger, greed, competition, or spite? Wouldn’t it be easier to open yourself up to new relationships?

This is just one of the ways I see the world differently after taking the The Living Course. I’ve written about this many times before, and I’m going to keep talking about it because it’s something that is so beautiful and profound that it’s depressing to think not everyone will get to experience it. I took this 30 hour intensive course 5 years ago, and I’ve assisted 7 times since then. It only takes one weekend, and I love assisting because I get to watch people completely transform in a matter of hours. This is not a course for people who need to be fixed (although it will help), this is a course for successful people who want to live up to their full potential.

(photo credit: alexxstuart.com)

I’ve told everyone I love about this course (ad nauseum) because to not do so would be the most selfish act in my eyes. How can I tell someone they have to try an amazing brand of ice cream but not tell them about a course that will leave them happier and more empowered? My supreme wish is that you, my beloved reader, will take an insane risk and sign up for the next course. It runs from Feb. 8-10 and it’s in White Plains, NY. This is not something you can talk yourself into doing – you just need to take a leap of faith. So far 10 of my friends have taken the course and the one thing they always say is, “Why did I wait so long to take this course?”

Will this be the moment you decide to live your best possible life? Sign up now!

P.S. I AM IN NO MEANS GETTING COMPENSATION FOR MY ENDORSEMENT.

Here are some other posts I wrote about this course:

Defy Ventures

Do you think you could ever hug a man who has killed someone? Could you look him in the eye and feel a connection? Would you care about him and want the best for him? You’re probably shaking your head no, and I thought so too…until I volunteered with Defy Ventures.

Catherine Rohr, founder of Defy Ventures, with some of her ex-con students. (Photo credit: CSMonitor.com)

What does it take to become a successful entrepreneur?  Leadership, vision, guts, and drive (just to name a few traits). What would it take to become a powerful drug dealer? Leadership, vision, guts, and drive.  The clever folks at Defy Ventures realized that a lot of the people in jail have what it takes to become successful business leaders they just never had positive role models. They never had a chance. Defy offers an MBA-like course for ambitious former criminals in the hopes that they can turn their lives around and use their skills for the greater good.

Last month I signed up to be a judge for their business pitch competition. The students in the program, who have all gone through intensive business training as well as deep self-reflection about their pasts, have all come up with ideas for their future businesses and it was our job to listen, give feedback, and then decide which businesses we would back if we were venture capitalists. All of the judges were extremely successful business people: the guy sitting next to me had just flown in on his private jet! I must admit I was intimidated to be in the same room as them, so I can’t imagine how it must have felt to be one of the students pitching a business idea to them.

The competition was so much fun because I felt like I was on Shark Tank, but I was also in tears for most of the day because their stories were so hard to hear. One man talked about how angry he used to be that his father wasn’t around to look after him, and then he realized he was doing exactly the same thing to his sons by living a life of crime and ending up in jail. He swore to do whatever it takes to be a positive role model for them and completely turned his life around. Another man told us how the only people who treated him with respect and took care of him were the gang leaders in his neighborhood. When they realized how driven and smart he was they kept promoting him and eventually he became the leader of the gang. How different would his life have been if those gang leaders who saw potential in him were successful business leaders instead?

After that experience I signed up to be a mentor. It’s a 6 month commitment and I get to work with one of these amazingly motivated individuals and try to help them win the final competition. At the end of the year, they all present their business plan to win actual money for start-up capital. The winner can take in as much as $100 grand!

The winners of last year’s competition are running highly successful businesses and employing other hard-working individuals from the program. They went from making minimum wage and not being able to support their families to supporting several families. More importantly, they are representing an alternative lifestyle in their communities. In an interview with Oprah, Jay-Z said,

“The drug dealers were my role models. Rappers weren’t successful yet. I remember the first time I saw the Sugarhill Gang on Soul Train. I was 11 or 12. I was like, “What’s going on? How did those guys get on national TV?” And then, when I was a little older, a rapper from the neighborhood got a record deal. I was shocked. “They’re giving you money to do that?” Because by this time, the music had taken hold of the entire neighborhood. Just like crack had before, now this music had taken hold. Everyone was either DJ-ing or rapping.”

Sometimes you just need to see something before you can imagine becoming it. I grew up knowing that I could do anything. Both of my parents own their own businesses, and I knew people in all sorts of professions. Until I volunteered with Defy I didn’t know how lucky I was just to have that sort of exposure. The amazing people who go through the Defy program end up showing a little kid on the street that they don’t have to be a criminal to make money. That makes everyone safer.