Archives for October 2013

GETTING OUT OF MY OWN WAY

get out of the wayLast week I became an adolescent. Maybe even a two year old.

I attended one of those internet book marketing seminars where they tell you that you have to blog hourly, at least six days a week, and that every word you write must be keyed and tested for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) so that Google algorithms snatch your post and put it at the top of the page and everybody who reads it signs up for your email list.

When I hear things like this (translate: each time I hear anything about internet marketing), my stomach seizes up into a dark little raisin. My eyes glaze over and I get a headache. I say to myself, “If that’s what it takes, I’m going to plumbing school.”

This seminar leader actually pointed his finger at me and said, “What’s the point, if you’re not building your email list by 10-20% every week?”

My teenage self rose up from God knows where, scowled at the world, and said with the cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face logic of adolescents and two years olds, “Okay, then I won’t do it at all!

THE FALLOUT FROM “NO!”
Normally, I post on WRITE IN THE ZONE on Thursdays and on THE SOUL OF SELLING on Tuesdays, and write both posts the week before. By last Sunday night, I had written nothing. All I had was a teenager inside me with folded arms and steam coming out of her ears.

When Monday morning dawned, I realized that I’d missed writing my posts. I wrote one for THE SOUL OF SELLING in 45 minutes, and immediately got the idea for this one, which I’m enjoying tremendously.

I got out of my own way, did and wrote what gave me joy, and realized that I was having a great day even without a 20% increase in email subscribers.

KEEP ON KEEPING ON
The point is that very often, we get in our own way. We make excuses for not writing. We don’t write because we’re mad at people, or mad at ourselves. We say we don’t have enough time or energy. We make up stories about not being good enough.

We get in our own way whenever we believe something—from our own minds or from other people—that keeps us from the pleasure of writing. The trick is to remember that we are what’s in the way, not other people or outside circumstances.

THE GOOD NEWS IS THIS: No matter how much we get in our own way, we can get out of the way thoroughly and immediately just by putting fingers to keyboard or pen to paper.

STEP AWAY to STEP FORWARD

step forwardIn forty years of making my living as a freelance writer, one of the best tricks I’ve learned is to step away from what I’m writing.

It might be for a moment, and hour, or a day, but coming back to the project—or even the paragraph—with fresh eyes helps me write more productively and efficiently. It also makes the writing more fun and, I think, better.

WHEN TO STEP
When I catch myself going over and over a sentence, paragraph, or chapter, and start to feel like a hamster on a wheel, it’s time to step away. At some point, the confusion starts to build and feed on itself. I get more and more muddled, try harder, and get more irritated with myself. No good can come of continuing that process, so I step away.

Another good time to step away is when the “Download Complete” sign starts flashing in my mind. Often when I write, it’s as if information is downloading from Wherever onto the page. Each packet of information requires a certain amount of energy to download. It doesn’t have to do with the number of words or the amount of time I spend with them. It could be fifteen minutes, an hour, or several hours of writing, but when that packet has downloaded, my mind goes blank. I just don’t have any more to put into that particular project at that moment. Any more time that I spend sitting at the computer only produces back pain. No more information will come until I’ve stepped away.

I also step away whenever I’ve finished a project, whether it’s a blog post, a chapter, or a book. When I come back, I always see something that I didn’t see before I stepped away—something that very much needs to be fixed.

WHERE TO STEP
Stepping away doesn’t necessarily mean going to bed and pulling the covers over my head. And it doesn’t necessarily mean staying away for more than five minutes.

For me, stepping away just means shifting gears. I might stay at my desk and work on another writing project. I might wash the breakfast dishes, or walk around the block, or clean the bathroom, or call a friend, or make a business call, or do some research.

I rarely step away for more than ten minutes—just enough to shift my attention, change gears, use a different part of my brain, and clear my head so that I see the writing from a new perspective when I come back to it.

WHEN TO COME BACK
The point of stepping away is not to avoid the writing, but to reenergize myself to do it. I know it’s time to come back when I start wondering how that particular piece of writing is doing, out there by itself without me. Very often, a solution or “fix” will come to me when I’ve stepped away to vacuum, or to take a shower or to walk. Whenever my attention meanders naturally back to the writing project, I see a solution, or I come up against the deadline for returning that I’ve set so that I’ll finish the project, it’s time to open that file again and look at it with fresh eyes.

The solution is usually more simple than I could have imagined. I’d just gotten bolloxed up in my own thoughts before I stepped away. When I look at the paragraph newly, the “fix” is obvious.

Don’t be afraid to step away, but be sure to come back. Stepping away isn’t a way to avoid the challenge; it’s a way to meet it and move forward.

Writing as Spiritual Practice

spiritual practiceWhen we speak of the Zone, we use words like magical, mystical, out of time and space, completely focused in the present, clear, creative, energized, spontaneous, and joyful.

These words also show up when we talk about spirituality. Being in the Zone puts us in a great position to encounter the divine, and many spiritual practices train people to be in exactly the place that we call the Zone. Spiritual teachers often say that our job is simply to make ourselves available, and that the divine reaches in with grace and does the rest when we’ve put ourselves in that place. So for me, using writing as a spiritual practice means being in the Zone as much as I can, and trusting that good things will happen.

THE ZONE IS EVERYWHERE
Writing as a spiritual practice doesn’t necessarily mean writing about spiritual subjects. We can use this practice whether we’re writing poetry, fiction, technical material, blogs, journal entries, letters, or even ad copy.

As a reporter in Chicago, I once had a numinous experience while writing a news story about evils in the vacuum packed meat industry. It’s not about the words themselves, or even the effect they have on readers; it’s about the place we come from, the state in which we intentionally place ourselves when we sit down to write. That is the practice.

USING THIS PRACTICE
All we really need in order to make writing a spiritual practice is the intention to do so—and perhaps a few reminders. As with any spiritual practice, it’s easy to get distracted. A few of the things that distract me from using writing as a spiritual practice are: a floating miasma of worries, guilt, the resulting fuzz-brain, dark fears that I can’t or won’t succeed, being in a hurry to finish what I’m writing, and a wide variety of temptations like computer games.

Some pre-practices I use to counter these proclivities are: a candle on my desk, a post-it with an “om” symbol over the “on” button on my computer, and setting my alarm to chime every half hour as a signal to stop and remember.

For information, practices, and tips on writing in the Zone, please see my ebook, Creativity on Demand: Write in the Zone, available on Amazon or free on my site, www.carolcostello.net.

RICH REWARDS
Like spiritual practice in general, using writing as a spiritual practice is humbling, revealing, and an inside job. And like any spiritual practice, it yields rich rewards. There are challenges along the way, and it’s a bit stressful not to be 100% in charge, but it makes me feel good to trust and persevere, to make friends with the discomfort, to breathe, and to let go into the divine.