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:

tricia writing group

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

Between Goals


My desk

When you have a lofty goal it’s crucial to set goals along the way, and then reward yourself for reaching those goals. It could take years to reach my goal of publishing my novel, In the Pride, so why should I wait that long to celebrate my hard work?

Recently I started posting my short-term goals next to my desk, and it’s a great reminder of the steps I need to take to get where I want to go. It’s also fun to keep track of the goals I have completed. Under each goal I write a reward. I’m currently on my third draft, so when I reach 100 pages (which I did this weekend!) I go out for a fancy dinner, for 200 pages I go to a writer’s conference, and for finishing this draft I will visit Idaho where a good chunk of my story takes place.

Another practice that has helped me stay motivated is logging the hours I spend writing. Sometimes it can feel like I’m working so hard with nothing to show for it, but watching the numbers accumulate is a great reminder of my commitment.

hoursspreadHope these tips can help with your goals!

Bye Bye BeddyBye

The 3rd prototype. BeddyBye does not come with the adorable bear suit.

If you’ve been following my blog since the beginning you’ll know that about a year ago I invented and developed a product for babies. My friend was complaining that her baby only falls asleep in bed with her, but she’s so afraid of smothering him she can’t relax – and then when her baby falls asleep he would wake up if she tried to move him to the crib. I designed a baby bed that was safe to keep in the bed with the parents. It has sturdy walls to prevent smothering, a stable base to prevent it from toppling over, and a catch to prevent blankets and sheets from riding up over the baby’s face. I did all the research and found the perfect slope to hold the baby in a position that prevents acid-reflux and SIDS. All this, and it has handles so you can move it into the crib without waking up the baby. Eventually the parents could ween the baby off falling asleep in the bed by keeping the product in the crib. I called it BeddyBye. After reading that some parents use car seats in bed with them, I realized that my product would be filling a void in the market place.

Reilly asleep in the 2nd prototype

There were a lot of highs and lows. I took an idea and developed into an actual product. I created four prototypes; the last one my cat still sleeps in every day. I held focus groups, I worked with consultants, I formed an LLC and bought the domain name for Whenever something was too intimidating and stressful I just thought of how much I wanted to see my future kids sleeping in it. I knew that I would need to get investors because the start up costs were extremely high, however, eventually there was a hurdle I couldn’t get past.

The baby product industry is tightly regulated (fortunately), and after speaking with a woman from one of the 8 safety boards I would need to get approval from, I realized that my idea was not going to get approval. The woman at the safety agency told me that they need to predict and prevent the most dangerous situations such as what if the parents put it on an unstable water mattress, or if they’re sleeping on a twin size mattress with the BeddyBye hanging over the edge. Or what will happen if the parent is a sleepwalker and kicks it off the bed in his/her sleep? These were all considerations that could only be addressed by completely changing the design and concept. Without safety approval I would never be able to sell the BeddyBye in stores, and the cost of insurance would be crippling.

My friend’s baby in the first prototype

I decided to take a break from the project (over 6 months ago). As I got some distance from it, I realized that I really hated working by myself. It’s extremely lonely. Several times I’ve thought of taking up the project again (I still think it’s a great idea, and when my cat sleeps in the prototype it breaks my heart), but honestly I don’t have the energy for it. I was at a TED talk the other day and a woman who started an art dealing business talked about how it takes delusional self-confidence to start your own business. After talking to the safety agency I lost that delusional self-confidence and it’s nearly impossible to work without it.

I know people have the best intentions when they offer suggestions for working around the safety regulations, but to be perfectly honest it’s a really sore subject for me and I don’t like talking about it. It was very hard for me to give this project up. It was hard for me to focus on the things that I learned rather than look at it as a failure. But I want to move on. So for the record I’m done with BeddyBye.

It’s never too late to be an astronaut

I love stories about people who ignore made up time lines for how your life is suppose to move along, such as the middle-aged law school student. Now I have a story about a guy who became an astronaut much later in life. Here’s where my inner-nerd comes out. Yes, I went to Space Camp (the greatest place ever), and yes, in my middle school year book when it asked where I would be in 20 years I wrote “Space.”

I think astronauts are the coolest people on the planet (and in space). You might ask why I didn’t pursue this career. I simply did not like math and physics enough to make that my expertise. I sincerely hope that one day commercial space travel will be available to the masses and I will get to  go into space without having to memorize a ton of formulas.

English: Michael J. Massimino, STS-109 mission...

On Friday I went to a free Tedx conference at Columbia. I decided I should start going to as many conferences as possible since I’m interested in starting my own. The last speaker was Michael Massimino, an astronaut who flew in 2 space shuttle missions to the Hubble Space Telescope. He shared with us his incredible story of persistence and reward.

Starting when he was 6, when he watched Neil Armstrong land on the moon, he was mesmerized by space. When he went to college he really had no idea what he wanted to study. It was only after he watched the movie The Right Stuff about a hundred times that he realized how much he wanted to be an astronaut. He changed his major which ended up pushing back his graduation date by a few years.

After he graduated he wasn’t sure if he really had what it takes to be an astronaut, so he settled for an engineering job at IMB. Two years later (maybe he watched The Right Stuff again) he realized that he couldn’t give up on his dream, so he entered the prestigious masters program at MIT.

After he graduated from MIT he applied to NASA’s space program 3 times and got rejected even after interning there. He gave up and began teaching at Georgia Tech. Eventually applied to NASA for a final time and got accepted.

Micheal began telling us about how beautiful the view of Earth is in Space. How it was prettier than what he imagined heaven to look like. He even got teary eyed talking about it. That’s when he realized that none of his struggles, none of his doubts, none of the rejection was worth giving up on his dreams. The fact that it took him a few extra years to graduate seemed so silly to him at that moment. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. It doesn’t matter if others don’t think you have what it takes. In the end it only matters that you get to do what makes you happy.

To dream the impossible dream

I’m a little speechless after watching this video, so please forgive me for not giving you much of an introduction. I just warn you, watch this in a place where it’s ok to cry. Thank you to Daily Dose of Noor for bringing this video to my attention.

An Interview with Caitlin Kelley, founder of Africa Volunteer Corps (Part 2)

And now for the completion of my interview with Caitlin Kelley. If you haven’t read the first part, click here. (Or if you’re lazy read this: Caitlin Kelley is the co-founder of Africa Volunteer Corps, an organization which trains Tanzanian volunteers and pairs them volunteer opportunities. Her mission is to utilize the existing talent in Tanzania rather than perpetuating a culture of dependency on foreign volunteers and aid (which in her opinion, and mine) does more harm than good. This also makes more financial sense. When I volunteered in Africa for 7 months it cost $5,000 (Airfare, vaccinations, visas, insurance and food and housing while I was there), but it only costs a few hundred dollars to support a local volunteer. This Tuesday she will be hosting an event called Visualize the Change 2012, where you hear stories of how local volunteers in Tanzania are making a difference. This even is also raising money for her next group of Tanzanian volunteers). And now for the interview:

Caitlin with Desmond Tutu

Has AVC changed at all since you first came up with the idea for it?


Not much. The idea came to me in a flash, in a complete eureka moment, and it felt like the entire vision downloaded from the universe all at once that night. There are ways that we might expand how we implement the vision. For example, there is a huge need for teachers in Tanzania so we are planning how we might create a special program just for teachers. And there are some great possibilities in potentially working with for-profit companies. But the original vision–of incubating African leaders for African development, of unleashing the incredible potential lying dormant in Africa’s young people, in making sure Africans are the ones in charge of improving lives in their own societies–has remained unwavering.

I love what you said about downloading the idea from the universe. I’ve learned from The Artist’s Way that there are so many answers and ideas floating around us and we just need to be perceptive to them; willing to download them from the universe. But every great idea needs funding to become a reality. What are you looking forward to about your upcoming fundraiser on Oct. 9th?

I’m really excited to inspire people with stories of grassroots African activists and the incredible work they are doing to create positive change in their own communities. In this country we tend only to hear stories about the bad things that happen in Africa, and we are aware that there are people in need, but we never hear about the many amazing local people who are doing incredible things to make the world a better place. We as a global community will improve many, many more lives if we can put fire under the momentum of those local people who are already doing great things in their own societies. 

When I was raising money for my work in Africa I met a lot of people who were angry that I wanted to help in Africa when there is already so much poverty in America. Why do you think people should care about Africa when there are so many local problems?

I believe that all human beings are our brothers and sisters. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We don’t need to have an either/or mentality about doing good. It’s wonderful to care about multiple causes. For example, obviously I am quite dedicated to Africa, but I also give a lot to causes in the U.S., especially education, the environment, and women’s health.

What changes are you looking forward to in the upcoming year?

We’re expanding! For our pilot year (this year), we placed 7 Tanzanian volunteers to work for a year at 7 development projects. Next year we want to place 20. Our model consists of investing in leaders, so for every volunteer who goes through our program, the ripple effects are huge. Earlier this year, when I saw what our volunteers had accomplished in such a short period of time, I thought, “These are only 7 people. There are 1 billion people in Africa. How many more like them are out there?” So I can’t wait to see what happens with a bigger group.

Also, most of our current volunteers have applied to extend another year, so I am really excited to see what they can accomplish with a second year and how they grow. They already inspire me so much, so I can’t wait to see what they can do with more time and experience.


How can people get involved?

By helping spread the word–to friends and on social media. And donating is a great way to make a difference for a cause you care about. Sign up to give a regular amount every month. Even a small amount is great because when nonprofits know exactly how much money is coming in every month, we can spend less time fundraising and more time doing good. We are also currently looking for people to help us with marketing and communications, grant writing, and event planning.


Wow, Caitlin, you have a long and exciting journey ahead of you, and you’ve already come so far. Was there ever a time when you wanted to give up? What made you keep going?

There haven’t (yet) been any times when I really wanted to throw my hands up and walk away, but there have been plenty of challenging moments, ones where it can be hard to see how we will move forward. But there is always a way. A few years ago, we spent a year preparing to register (i.e. incorporate), including 2 months of meeting for hours every week to hammer out 20 pages of by-laws, taking a 10 hour bus ride to the capital, only to show up at the ministry and be told that we couldn’t register the way we had planned because of a law no one (not even the lawyers we consulted) had told us about. It brought us almost completely back to square one. And it was another 2 years before we got registered. But, like many unexpected setbacks, it work out for the best because we ended up being able to register in a different way that gives us a lot more flexibility for future growth.

What keeps me going is having  a sense of humor, embracing every challenge or failure as an opportunity to grow, and believing with every fiber of my being in our mission. Life is inevitably full of barriers, especially when you are trying to create change, so you just have to remember that impossibility is an illusion. If it’s possible within the realm of physics, it’s possible. You just have to figure it out.

When things are hard or frustrating I try to take some time to connect with the bigger vision, by meditating or writing, or even talking to myself. It reconnects me with my passion and excitement and that fire in my belly. It helps me come back to knowing that every boring task or frustrating problem are all steps up the mountain, all pieces of the bigger goal.

That should be a bumper sticker, “Impossibility is an illusion.” As you can see, Caitlin has a huge and challenging dream but she’s tackling it with perseverance and passion. I know she will succeed because her mission is truly good, and she has the drive. If you’re in the New York area, I’d love to see you at her event, Visualize Change, on Tuesday, Oct. 9 from 5:30-9:30. There aren’t enough people in the world like Caitlin Kelley, so when you find one, it’s important to give them as much support as possible!

Another little tip

I’ve been working on my short story, Island of Trees, since I first got the idea for it during my trip to Nepal – two years ago. I’ve changed the main character four times, I’ve changed the perspective three times, I’ve changed the ending, the sequence, and the motivation countless times. I love the concept so much that I want to do it justice.

It seems that with every creative endeavor there is a fun period when you’re on a high and you feel so darn clever. And then the real work sets in.

Last night Mike was getting frustrated with his film scoring, and I was getting equally frustrated with my writing. When this feeling starts it’s so easy to stop working and turn on the t.v. Although it’s so annoying, we both acknowledged that the only thing to do is keeping producing – even if you think you’re making crap.

Whenever I reread something that I thought was garbage I’m always surprised by how good it is. Ok, it’s not always good, but at least I have something to work with. And here’s my tip:

It’s easier to work with shit than to work with nothing at all.

It’s almost like brainstorming; you have to throw out a bunch of ideas without any judgement, and then when you have a fresh mind you can start making it better.

Three Reasons Why My Body Is Smarter Than My Brain.

I’ve been running two to three times a week for over a year now and I’m a huge fan of the positive effects. Not on my waistline – that hasn’t changed much – but on my mentality. One thing running has shown me time and time again is that my brain has no idea what is possible. Here’s the proof:

1. For years I thought I couldn’t break a 10 minute mile. I’d feel like sh*t at that pace so I didn’t bother pushing myself to go faster. Last night I decided, oh what the hell, I’ll just run a half mile at an 8 minute pace. After four minutes I decided, heck, I’ve gone this far I might as well see how much more I can do. I finished the mile in 8 minutes and 10 seconds. Take that brain!

2. For years I thought I couldn’t run more than 2 miles. A few weekends ago I decided every Saturday I would just run for 45 minutes straight at whatever pace I could handle. I’ve been running four miles consistently since then. I guess I thought wrong again.

3. Whenever I think I can’t go any further I increase the speed on the treadmill. This is a trick my dad taught me when I was a kid. Always sprint the last quarter. It reminds your brain that it has no idea what your body can actually handle.

One thing I’ve learned from TLC, is that we often think we are living our lives at 100% when in actuality we’re living at 20% or 50% at best. I am constantly reminded of this when I run. I always think I’m giving it my all, but that’s simply not the case. Imagine what we could do if we really pushed ourselves in all aspects of life; If we stopped letting our brains say, “that’s impossible.”

We are so much more capable than we think.