A Thing Worth Doing

Julia working at the wheel.

Julia working at the wheel.

“It’s impossible to explain creativity. It’s like asking a bird, ‘How do you fly?’ You just do.” – Eric Jerome Dickey

“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” – Albert Einstein

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu

Faster isn’t always better. Fast food isn’t always the best for us and fast isn’t always better when working on any kind of project. Unfortunately, we live in a fast food society. We want instant gratification in many aspects of our lives from our food, to our entertainment, to our success. My father used to say that it was better to pay more and get exactly what you want than to save a few dollars and buy junk. And it’s better to spend time and effort on something worth doing than to rush the process.

Artist, scientists, and inventors all know about taking your time to make sure the painting, the experiment, the invention is done in the best way possible. Teachers know that their students can’t learn their lessons all in one day. Each school year’s lessons build on what the children learned the year before, the semester before, the day before. So why do some people want to rush the process of what matters most in life?

This morning the title of the one of the instructional writer’s blogs I read was this: “How fast can you write a book? (and why that’s the wrong question)” In the post, Jurgen Wolff, was cautioning his readers not to fall for any program or book that states that you can write a best selling book in only a few days, weeks or months. I know from experience that he’s right.

In the last month, I’ve been contemplating the amount of time it has taken me to get my novel, The Space Between Time, finished and ready for publication. I started it in 1999, set it aside for ten or so years and then picked it up again in 2010. Once I’d started the book, it was always in the back of my mind. I was thinking about the characters of Morgan and her father Thomas. Since I’d started the book as a tribute to my father, I didn’t want to give up the idea of finishing it. Now, of course, the main theme has changed slightly. There are two main characters, Jenna and Morgan. They connect through time to learn from one another. But it was my father who inspired me to write the book and that fact keeps me plodding along toward publishing the work he inspired. My father didn’t know that he was my inspiration and now he’s gone yet isn’t that how it is. Little and big things speak to us and help us grow, or inspire us to create something beautiful.

I’ve written before, that I finished the rough draft of this novel a year ago last December. Over these last fourteen months, I’ve allowed myself to take a step back to get a more objective view of the story lines and see where they can be improved. Writing a book is a long and sometimes tedious process. At one point I was feeling impatient. I wanted the book to be finished and I said something to that effect to my husband. I nearly wept when he said to me, “What you’re doing isn’t easy. It takes time to create something worthwhile.” I was so grateful to him for saying that because it’s true. Anything worth doing is worth doing right. So I’m an advocate for slowing down allowing yourself to take your time to build your success, to get that education, to heal your wounds and build a life worth living.

I’m happy to say that my manuscript is nearly finished now. I can feel it in my bones. That doesn’t mean there still won’t be some tweaks to be made to it. But I feel proud that I didn’t rush the process to publish it last year. It wasn’t ready then. I have to admit, I’m glad I’m a plodder when it comes to any creative project I do whether it’s writing a book, or directing a play. Taking the time to examine all the layers of what needs to be accomplished is a good thing. Whenever I’ve rushed through any project, I’ve been sorry. Rushing creates stress and stress isn’t good for optimal success on what you want to accomplish. So I encourage everyone to use slow and steady progress where creativity is involved.

Thank you to all my followers, new and old. Feel free to leave a comment and connect with me on any of my social networks.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

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On Reading and Writing

My Favorite Books

My Favorite Books

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” – Octavia Butler

“Learn as much by writing as by reading.” – Lord Acton

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” – Stephen King

I’m a member of Goodreads social network. At the beginning of the year I pledged to read 50 books. That’s a small amount of books compared to the number some of my friends and family members read every year. However, I enjoy savoring a book. I look forward to going to bed early, reading and then dreaming about the book. I find myself thinking about it at various times during the day and if the book is good the characters come alive for me.

About a year or so ago, I joined a book club group made up mostly of women who had taken my journaling class. It’s interesting to be part of the group because many of the books we read are not ones I would ordinarily choose. The latest book the group chose was, in my opinion, boring. It’s always distressing to me when I begin a novel that fails to grasp my attention because I know how much time goes into writing a novel. In a way, I feel like I’m betraying the author by not liking his or her book. Writing a novel is a huge investment of time and effort. I always want to be completely enthralled by every book I pick up, so when I begin one that I don’t like, I feel sad. I was going to slog through this particular book to the end because I felt a responsibility to the author and my fellow book club members. However, eventually, I just couldn’t continue reading.

Part of me felt bad about putting aside a book that was written by a New York Times best selling author. I thought, “Who am I to say the book wasn’t good.” Then I thought, “I’m a reader, that’s who I am. I have a right to say whether or not a particular book speaks to me.” The wonderful thing for readers is that there are so many books available. We will undoubtedly find many books that touch our lives throughout our reading lives and some books just won’t be worth our time.

As a writer, I feel sad about this particular book because I wanted to like it. It’s historical fiction during the time of the Civil War. Part of the novel I’m writing takes place during the Civil War, I was hoping to get a different perspective about the war from reading this book. I have to say that some of the scenes did give me a different perspective on the war, which is something I always look for in a good book.

As is my custom, I thought long and hard about what it was about the book that made me dislike it. I believe that’s an important exercise for all writers to undertake. The answers can help us become better writers. I’m lucky because I have a background in theatre. I’ve done lots of analyzation of plays and characters. In my opinion, what was missing from this particular book was an emotional connection among the characters. In my mind, all the greatest stories have something in common. They are multilayered and deal with universal themes. When the reader or audience can get a glimpse into a character’s soul, that’s what grasps our hearts and makes us continue reading. This particular book missed the mark in terms of character motivation and connections among the characters.

I’m in the final stages of getting my novel ready for publication. You can be sure, I’ll be going through my manuscript to make sure I’ve done the best I can to make the characters live on the page. At the same time, I’ll have to remind myself that not everyone is going to like my book. That will have to be okay. It will hurt when people write bad reviews, but as the Octavia Butler quote above says, this novel I’m working on might be crap, but I’ve got to keep writing so I can improve my skills. And I’ll keep reading to learn as much as I can from both good and bad books.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

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The Essence of a Person

Calla Lilies

Calla Lilies

“Don’t forget – no one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories that you have to tell.” – Charles de Lint

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“The strangest part about being famous is you don’t get to give first impressions anymore. Everyone already has an impression of you before you meet them.” – Kristen Stewart

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” – Albert Einstein

Last week as I was browsing Facebook, I found a link to an article in The Guardian in which it was lamented that Colleen McCullough’s obituary in an Australian newspaper was more about her looks and relationships with men, than about her brains and the many best selling books she created over her long career. As the reporter points out, it’s not the first time that articles about women concentrate more on a woman’s physical attributes and role she has played as a mother, or lack of it, before listing her other accomplishments.

That got me thinking. What is the essence of a person? Are we our looks, our family relationships, our job, or our accomplishments? Or is there something much more mysterious deep inside each of us? I think that many of us are afraid to explore who we really are which makes me sad. Think of all the wonderful things that could be accomplished if everyone was completely self-actualized.

Women are particularly plagued with image comparisons, but men face this problem too. There is a nebulous measuring stick out there for what constitutes an attractive, successful, smart man or woman. It’s a set of qualities that no one, or very few people can live up to. And if they could live up to them, would they want to? Who wants to be put into a category?

Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of looking at someone’s physical appearance, education, or situation in life, we could look into their soul and see the real person underneath? What would we find I wonder? Why is it most of us don’t care to look farther than skin deep? I know I’m asking a lot of questions, but this whole idea has been on my mind lately.

I wrote several weeks back about the fracas in my family at the end of last year. One effect of that event is that I struggled to see my sister and brother for who they really are at their essential level, rather that to judge their actions which at first caused so much pain. When I calmed down, two things came to my mind. First, they either didn’t have any idea of the effect of their actions or they thought they were doing the right thing. Second, when we have a conflict with someone, they are in essence holding up a mirror so we can examine our own motives and unhealed places. So how can I fault anyone who irritates, or attacks me? When that happens, I’m getting a chance to learn a great lesson about myself. Once I came to that conclusion, I realized that we’ll never really know another person unless we allow ourselves to look with different eyes so we can get a glimpse of their soul. To do that, we must delve deeply into our own soul. We must accept ourselves as we are with no recriminations.

The fact that Colleen McCullough’s fans raised an outcry about her obituary is just one sign that maybe people are waking up to the fact that each person is a unique gift to the world and should be honored. After all, her fans saw into her soul through the many books she wrote. When you become a fan that way, you accept the beauty of the artist’s soul and it doesn’t really matter what they look like. Maybe her fans find it easier to honor the people they meet in their everyday lives as well. Wouldn’t it be nice if that were true?

Today as I sat down to write this blog installment, a Facebook friend posted a list of qualities that are not measured by academic tests. The list was developed my Maria Montessori, a pioneer in the field of education. As I read the list, I felt that many of the things on it are also qualities that are overlooked when we reduce someone to the superficial things we first notice about them. Here are just a few things on the list: creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, humor, self-awareness, self-discipline, empathy, compassion, sense of wonder, and humility. We each have so many qualities inside of us. We are so much more than a small list of qualities that are supposed to be important. It’s my hope we will all discover who we really are so that we can appreciate others at a deeper level thus honoring who they really are.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

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Focused Attention

Cochise College Roses

Cochise College Roses

“Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.” – George Eliot

“The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.” – Elbert Hubbard

“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” – Arnold J. Toynbee

Last week I wrote about serendipity and how it has worked for me in my writing career. Trusting that serendipity will happen is a key element to being successful, but you can’t just sit back and let serendipity happen. Some say it takes hard work, but instead of hard work, I like to think of it as focused attention.

The reason I like to replace the words hard work with focused attention is because when we think of hard work, we equate it with stress and strain. However, I’ve learned from being involved in the theatre that hard work can be fun, fulfilling and energizing. If you like what you do, you can be focusing your attention on the task at hand, but it won’t feel stressful; it will be fun.

I’m sure you’ve experienced what I’m writing about. You’re doing something that captures your attention. You love every aspect of whatever it is you’re doing. It might be building a sand castle, skiing, playing with you children, cooking, or gardening. It doesn’t matter what the activity is, it’s your feeling about it that makes the difference. Time slips by and suddenly you realize that you were so absorbed in what you were doing that it seems like only a moment has gone by since you started your project. That’s focused attention.

Our souls rejoice when we’re doing what brings us joy. Isn’t that a much better way to live than dragging yourself out of bed every work day and dreading being there for the interminably long hours before you can go home? Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if everyone woke up excited to get to the work they love? So why do so many people stress themselves out doing work they hate?

Many of us cling to the old idea that we have to support ourselves somehow. Most of the time we think that means sacrificing doing what we love so we can put a roof over our heads and food on the table. I’d like to challenge that idea. Everyone of us can live the life of our dreams. It may take some effort to transition from our old life to our new, but that’s where focused attention and serendipity can help.

Our minds are powerful beyond what we may think. Many people are convinced that events happen TO us, but science and the ancient wisdom traditions tell us that what we think creates our reality. If we think we must stay trapped doing work we hate for twenty, thirty, or forty years before we can do what we love, we’ll be miserable most of our lives. I don’t know about you but I didn’t want to face that prospect.

I won’t say I was always completely successful in my efforts to find work I loved. I loved doing theatre, but it didn’t pay much and took up a great deal of my time. I missed many a family gathering because I was in rehearsal. The day came when I had to decided what was more important to me, my relationship with my husband, or theatre. I gave up theatre. But then a few years later, I got a job teaching drama. Ah, I could do what I loved and still go home at night to my husband. Yet there were aspects of teaching that were stressful. Teaching drama was nearly the right match but not quite. While I was getting my Masters in theatre, I discovered that I loved writing, but not many writers make a good living. So I buried the idea of becoming a writer and moved on.

The thing is that through the years I continued to believe that I would find the work I was meant to do. I kept my attention focused on doing what I loved to do as much as possible. One day, I remembered that I’d wanted to be a writer, but somewhere along the way I’d become convinced I couldn’t make a living doing what I loved most. My mind was split in two and clouded with thoughts that only the most special people are lucky enough to be successful at the thing they love doing. I tried to stay close to my first love. Almost all my jobs throughout the years involved some aspect of story telling, but I was never the story teller and that’s what I longed to do.

Who knows why we block our own happiness. However, something inside me kept prompting me to keep searching for the thing that would make me deeply and completely joyful. One day my focused attention paid off. Something clicked in my head and I realized I just needed to make the decision that writing is what I was going to do no matter what and that’s when serendipity began to work for me.

I haven’t published my first novel yet. Who knows if it will sell millions of copies. If it sells one or thousand copies, my efforts will be worth the years of work. Something else wonderful has happened during this process, I’ve met other authors by writing reviews of their books. I didn’t know that they would contact me when I wrote the reviews, it just happened that way. So, I’m creating positive change by meeting and supporting fellow authors and by allowing myself to tune into something greater than myself as I write my blog and books. Every little positive ripple changes the world. Because I believe that is true, I encourage you to find ways to do what you love even if it’s only in your spare time. Who knows where that focused effort will lead you.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

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