Monthly Archives: March 2014

Practicing your passion

Last week I wrote about becoming a writer — showing up and putting words on your paper. Today I want to talk with you about learning your craft, whatever it might be.

Besides writing, my passion is playing the piano. Your passion might be woodworking or pastry making or boat building or needlework or painting  or organizing your closet or managing the piles of papers on your desk that threaten to overtake you. The process is the same for anything you want to accomplish.

I began playing the piano when I was eight years old. I never liked to practice, much to my mother’s frustration, but I continued with lessons through college. Then I took a thirty year sabbatical while I had family and career. In the last few years I have returned to piano lessons because I want to play better and am convinced it is possible.  But from past experience I know I need accountability to a teacher.

Learning to play the piano better is the same as learning to be a writer.  Every day I choose to show up, put my derriere on the piano bench, and my fingers on the keys.  Only then is there the possibility of making music.

And I have to be willing to do the exercises, to strengthen my fingers, to refine my techniques, and to create new habits.  Progress is slow and often tedious, but eventually I enjoy the music I make. I’m not a gifted musician; my gift is perseverance in the process.

Artists like Vermeer or Michelangelo didn’t start out making masterpieces.  They threw away many attempts and drawings and mistakes.  We didn’t witness their struggles and solitary hours in their studios. We only know their work after they practiced and persevered for years.  The same is true of Julie Child or Martha Stewart: we haven’t been with them as they learned and made mistakes and filled their trash cans with failures.  We only see the results of their practice in the perfection of their craft. We didn’t sit with Beethoven or Brahms or Copeland as they toiled to get the notes right.  We only hear their symphonies and concertos — the culmination of their efforts.

And so it is with learning any skill or craft:  show up and do the work. There are no shortcuts to the process.

Claim your successes, however small they seem at the moment.

Until next Tuesday. . .



So you want to be a writer…

I often hear people say they want to be a writer. Some have shown up in my writers’ group, some I meet in casual conversations, some mention it on Facebook.

Perhaps you, too, want to be a writer. Perhaps you imagine your name on the cover of a best seller.

I, too, would like to write a best seller. Right now, my memoir is in serious process, as I continue writing and rewriting and rewriting. Progress is tangible with publication on the horizon.

But longing to be a famous writer, or thinking about writing, or talking about writing, or attending writing conferences, or reading books about writing,  does not make me a writer, though these activities may be helpful and encouraging.

If I say I want to write but I have created no poems, no short stories, no essays, no novellas, memoirs, mysteries, or romance tales, I have to ask myself, “If writing is as important as I say it is, why have I written nothing? What is holding me back? What am I afraid of?” These questions stifled my early voice as a writer.

Gradually, after many starts and stops, daily journal pages and long lapses, I learned: If I want to write I have to show up — at my computer or with pen and paper in hand. Once I am present I can put words on my paper or screen. The critic’s voice in my head shouts at me,  “You have nothing interesting to say. You never could write, what makes you think you can be a writer now?”  I kick her to the curb, refusing to give her audience. My words may be ordinary, mediocre, angry, self-conscious, daily dribble. They are not yet lovely or lyrical or significant. That can come later. First I have to write the words.

Ten minutes is enough to begin.

Then tomorrow, I show up again, and write more words. And the next day and the day after that. Consistency has grown my memoir to 100,000 words.

Show up.  Do the work.

Now I can call myself a writer.

Mission Statement

Over months and years and decades and through a gazillion words in my journals I have discovered three principles that guide my work and my life.  For me these principles apply to writing, piano practicing, relationships, choosing time away, learning new skills (calligraphy, smocking, cake decorating, catering) and probing the family archives.

At the beginning of this blogging adventure It is appropriate that I share these principles with you, so you know what drives and excites me, and causes me to embrace my life.

1.  Show up. Some call it being present in the moment.  Some call it mindfulness.  I call it coming to the table empty-handed.  I am not concerned with what tools you own, what information you have, or what confusions you are feeling.  All you have to do is show up, put your butt in the chair, and be open to what comes next.

2.  Do the work. Be willing to dig deep, even with your fingernails.  Acknowledge and understand your fears.  Own them as part of your heritage. Then dig some more until you get to the truth, the bottom line, the whys and hows that got you to this point in your life.  Be determined to persevere.  Giving up means you die on the road, like many pioneers who didn’t survive the journey west.  They were buried where they fell, passed by others who kept walking.

3.  Claim your life. When you discover your truth, use its power for your journey toward wholeness and authenticity.  Let it be a tool to change your life or choose a new path.  Your truth will enhance your current walking with new understanding, courage, and focus.

When we show up together in this dialogue, we share coffee and table space, dreams, disappointments, and expectations.  We can encourage each other and celebrate our next steps.

I’ll show up next Tuesday with more ponderings and conversation.  I look forward to hearing from you in the meantime.




Pay attention to your life

I discovered journaling more than three decades ago.  Someone said keeping a journal is one way to pay attention to your life.  At first I wrote every day, but found the discipline too difficult to maintain.  However, I felt most alive when I was writing in my journal, letting the words spill out in their own way — and it was the place I was most honest with myself.  Over time my routine changed: I wrote when I became aware of something I needed to spend time with — an idea, an emotion, a circumstance, an interaction, a conversation, a comment, a passage in a book. My journal became the place where I worked on my stuff.

At first I had nearly thirty years of life to consider, pondering seemingly random things I remembered from my childhood and my growing-into-adulthood years.  Gradually, journaling became my way to stay current with my life.  Rather that pushing things into a gunny sack and stashing it under the bed, I chose to deal with things as they happened.

Often I only had time to jot a few words in my journal, a reminder for work I needed to do when I had some alone time.  At my next opportunity I allowed my thoughts and my fears and my expectations, and my feelings to spill onto my pages — my life-blood pouring from my pen onto the pages so I could see for myself.

And so, I came to know my life, to see the patterns of my behavior, to own my contributions to situations I complained about, and to forge a new path with trembling and courage and perseverance.

Journaling is one way to claim your life.