When your last one wasn’t good

“That last one I did wasn’t very good” is an easy thing to think. We can dwell on it, especially when critics rub our faces in it.

The antidote is to start working on the next one.

It’s not to go back and try to redo.

It’s not to listen to the critics.

The only way to really get away from the past dragging us down is forward motion.

If your last poem or blog or piece of furniture or customer service call or seminar or class wasn’t the best, do another one.

Horse riders have known for a long time that if you’ve fallen off, the best thing you can do is to get back on right away. It’s conventional wisdom, right?

What if doing it again isn’t possible (you’ve fallen off a horse and broken three bones, or you messed up again and got fired)? Are you doomed to sit and wish you could have another shot for the rest of your life? No! Now’s the time to try something different and new!

By the way, if you try something different and new, you can expect your first one to not be good… but then you can cycle back to the top of this blog and repeat the process.

PS- I love to share the photo(shopped image) above because my son is learning to use Photoshop, and I’m encouraging him to keep trying and playing with it! He’s particular and detail oriented. I’m sure someday he’s going to be a heck of an editor.


A reason to live

I was asked to write an article for an online mag, and the theme was “What keeps me up at night? What gets me up in the morning?” This is such an intriguing opportunity. Often times I do a variation on the theme, but this month the theme really attracted me so I went straight after it.

What keeps me up at night: I sleep soundly, and I’m good enough at having home/work life balance that I can model that for my life coaching clients. This isn’t to say that I don’t occasionally work in the evening, but that’s usually balanced out by comp time during the day. I stay up to work on my writing projects that don’t always have an immediate financial payoff, but that feels more like hobby time even though it’s work, too. Besides the idea that something keeping you up at night is workload execution, there’s another definition for “what keeps you up at night.” Those are the things that worry you: they keep you up not because you’re working, but because you’re worrying. There are two basic categories that come to mind here: somebody’s after me, or I won’t get what I need tomorrow. These are fear-driven worry issues. The first one is an integrity issue, which could include indebtedness of a variety of kinds. The second is an issue of faith that I’ll have enough. I don’t really like the word “faith” whether you apply it to a higher power or simply to faith in yourself to go get what you need (new contracts or clients, etc.) In fact, just this week my wife and I were up a little later than usual chewing over some of these things. Business is tough, and summer is my slow season.

“I don’t need more faith,” she said, “just more work.”

I’m happy to say that I rarely have trouble sleeping because a) I don’t have too many integrity issues, enemies, or debtors, b) I work really hard so I trust that will bring results when I need them, and c) back to the top, I don’t often work late at night because I have decent work/family life balance. A few days after the hard conversation I had with my wife, things are remarkably different. I had a meeting with a major prospect who may close by the end of the month. Just in the nick of time. You have to have guts, sometimes. Faith other times. Integrity all the time.

What gets me up in the morning? That one’s easy. When the entrepreneurial journey gets tough, sometimes we talk about going back to a factory job, working for the man. The pay is steady, at least. Then we remember how miserable that makes me. I get up in the morning because I absolutely love what I do. I get to provide life coaching, lead an organization, run a business, set my own schedule, write all kinds of books, articles, blogs, and work from home. As I write this my wife is working elsewhere, and my children are home. We don’t have them in daycare. They are unfortunately being babysat by the glowing, one-eyed monster called television… But at least I know what program they’re ingesting.

I have a vision of a different world where everyone has at least one good friend. That’s why I train more coaches; a coach has many roles in terms of accountability and planning, but can also be your friend and peer when your role leaves you peerless. It’s lonely at the top. I make it less so for lots of people, and I love that. I get to deploy my creativity on a regular basis. I love that. I get up in the morning because I love my life, and my work doesn’t (usually) feel like work!

Writing Thursday, #3 in the series: Improving your abilities in Language

Getting better at Language:

Last week I talked about sharing authentically from your heart, and some differences to think about between being a poet or musician and a novelist / screenwriter / actor.

When it comes to sharing your heart, you have to understand the language (context as well as tongue) that you’re writing for. So how do we get better at understanding the language of our medium and genre?

As with heart, more isn’t necessarily better when it comes to vocabulary, either. Still, the tools at your disposal should be as broad as possible. So the building block of language is vocabulary.

That’s an easy 5- minute exercise to come up with: Read through the dictionary for five minutes every Wednesday. Look at five words. Note the ones you didn’t know before and make a flashcard for each. Don’t assume you’ll really learn the new word without looking at it seven times.

But the bigger question is how to grow in your ability to understand the Language — that is the context of your medium and genre — so that you’re well prepared to write in that realm.

This points to an exercise that is a lot longer than five minutes. The only way to immerse yourself in the language of landscape painting, for example, is to look at a lot of great landscape paintings, preferably in person. The only way to immerse yourself in the language of mystery novels is to read a lot of them — and the best ones you can find.

I wrote a literary novel. My editor asked at one point whether I was trying to write the Great American novel, and I said, “why would I try to write anything else?”

Eco says that “When the writer (or the artist in general) says he has worked without giving any thought to the rules of the process, he simply means he was working without realizing he knew the rules. … Telling how you wrote something does not mean proving it is “well” written. Poe said that the effect of the work is one thing [heart] and the knowledge of the process is another.”

It’s also been said that while Joyce was writing long, flowery sentences, Twain used sentences such as “It was a man.”  Part of using language effectively, both in the details of vocab selection and in the broader scope of speaking the language of the genre and medium, is to begin to walk unnoticed by the reader.

A popular Facebook meme says that you should never make fun of someone who speaks broken English — it means they know another language. At my son’s soccer games, the parents of Spanish-speaking families like to cheer for J.J., but they call him Yay-Yay. I love it, because I love that they root for my kid as well as their own, I see in this cheering the heart of a dad who wants all the boys to succeed. So the point is, when you’re not fluent in language it’s just going to be obvious. It doesn’t mean that you can’t write something with heart, so you shouldn’t stop writing any more than those dads should stop cheering. No! Keep going! In fact, it may give the writing a naive quality that somehow sings and may become considered great even if your language isn’t flawless. But on the other hand, fluency in context when you’re making something is worth working towards and attaining if you want to improve your abilities. Studying the language in terms of vocabulary is the building block, but reading the best literature in the category is understanding the culture that language fits into: and the best thing about this is to see how writers restrain themselves in terms of how they use the vocabulary they have, which certainly exceeds what they use: What you’re not saying is often more important than what you are saying.