Category Archives: writing
“We have been taught to believe that negative equals realistic and positive equals unrealistic.” —Susan Jeffers
Wouldn’t it be enlightening to gather statistics on how many people have given up on dreams because someone told them their aspirations were unrealistic? How many hockey players have hung up their skates because a coach told them the National Hockey League was a long-shot? How many entrepreneurs have stopped seeking investors after being told their ideas would never sell? How many writers have filed stories in drawers after reading dire statistics about the state of the publishing business? How many people have given up because they’ve been told that “NO” equals sensible, but “YES” equals dreamland.
More importantly, how many people equate failure with negativity?
Henry Ford didn’t see failure as negative. On a recent trip to Michigan, I took this picture during our visit to the Henry Ford Museum. (Side note: Please visit the museum, if you have the chance. It’s about much more than cars; it’s about life.)
“I would rather build a big plane and learn something, even if it didn’t fly, than to build a smaller one that worked perfectly and not learn anything.” —Henry Ford
Henry Ford would rather try something unrealistic and fail positively than try something realistic and succeed negatively.
Mind-twisting, isn’t it?
Sharpen those skates, dust off that business plan, pull the stories out of the drawer: Dreamland is a fun place to live, and failure is useful too.
How you answer that question might determine your level of success, according to Stanford psychology professor, Carol Dweck. Her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, looks at why some people achieve their potential while others do not.
Early in her academic career, Dweck studied why some children gave up in the face of failure and why others persevered and went on to overcome obstacles. She discovered that the difference lay in the child’s belief about why they had failed: Those who believed they failed because they lacked an inherent ability gave up, but those who believed they failed simply because they hadn’t tried hard enough became even more motivated to keep trying.
Dweck’s studies apply to education, sports, careers, hobbies and personal relationships, and there’s another layer to this too.
Some students didn’t want to be seen to fail. For them, looking smart was far more important than learning anything, so they only took part in activities in which they knew they would not fail. They avoided any experiences that would require them to stretch and grow. Other students didn’t worry about appearances and took risks because their failures gave them a chance to learn.
In other words, some people want to showcase abilities they believe to be inherent, and other people want to enhance abilities they believe they to be malleable.
The good news is, Dweck discovered that people could change their beliefs and enjoy the benefits. When they learned to embrace failure and keep trying, they improved performance.
There’s hope for all of us who have ever said, “I can’t do math to save my life,” or “I’m no artist.” Perhaps we just need a few more failures and a little more perseverance.
Read more in Standford Alumni
I love the book The Alchemist, and I find its author, Paulo Coelho, inspirational as a writer and a human being.
Many people don’t agree. I made a visit to the “1 star” section of the Goodreads reviews of The Alchemist and discovered myriad variations on the “What a load of tripe” theme.
Those readers didn’t fall in with the fabled story of a hero journey. They didn’t buy the life wisdoms like the one quoted above. After all, since when does everyone in the universe get what they want? And what about good people who end up suffering?
Coelho recently responded to those concerns with this:
“I realized that despite the fear and the bruises of life, one has to keep on fighting for one’s dream. As Borges said in his writings ‘there no other virtue than being brave’. And one has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear.”
I think he means this: If you have the ability to complain about NOT getting what you want, then that means that you’re still breathing, and your story is not over yet. There’s still time.
Get busy. Work hard. Stop whining, because if you don’t, all you’ll get is more of the same. Fight past all those things you fear. Don’t let them paralyze you into inaction.
If you do, you might be amazed at the machinations of the universe.
Consider Paulo Coelho’s 25 Important Points. Read them here: http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2014/09/03/25-important-points/
It took a few days for all the technological pieces to fall into place at my new job. For the first while, I had no laptop or computer. I spent the time reading about files I would need to know in future and listening to the sounds of the office.
Office sounds have evolved.
Today, the ticky-ticky sound of laptop keys softly touched dominates the space. No more thunk of Selectric typewriter keys, the clickety-clack of its spinning ball of letters, and the ding of its bell at the margin.
A gentle ping signals new e-mails in Inboxes. No more rustling pink memo slips piled on desks.
The click of a mouse—computer mouse, not the real kind that might have cleaned up crumbs in drafty older offices— is far more common than the scratch of a pen.
There is the scrape of plastic security badges, not the jangle of loaded sets of keys.
My office phone, which rarely rings, plays a tune that sounds like melodic mariachi music. That is a big improvement over the spine-rattling trill of old black phones.
From time to time, the gentle murmur of a meeting conversation carries through the open-office environment. So different from the closed-door work meetings of decades ago.
When footsteps echo from managers’ offices, these days those footsteps could be made by either a male or female. Hallelujah.
Office sounds have evolved because our society has evolved.
We’re more efficient, we’re more secure, and we’re more equitable. That’s all good. But I sure do miss the sound of a good old Selectric typewriter.
I have started a new writing contract, and this one requires me to make some adjustments.
My home is my usual base of operations. I wear comfy clothes, I take frequent breaks, and when I read my writing out loud to myself no one around me questions my sanity.
But for this contract, I need to put on nice clothes, walk to a bus stop early in the morning, and commute to downtown Ottawa. I don’t have access to my email at my office, so I feel untethered. It makes it more difficult to do things I love to do but don’t get paid for, like this blog.
Shock. To. My. System.
I know, I know—what’s the big deal, right? People do this every day. True, and I’m making the adjustment.
And I look for things to appreciate. The work is interesting, my boss is fantastic, and my co-workers are positive and supportive. The experience allows me to build my writing skills in a lucrative area. I learn to juggle domestic duties more effectively.
Best of all, I don’t have a work life like the one described by a woman on the bus. (Yes, I was eavesdropping.) She said:
“I break my day up because it’s the only way I can deal with it:
8:30 to 12:00 is work;
12:00 to 1:00 is waiting for lunch;
1:00 to 1:30 is lunch;
1:30 to 3:30 is work;
3:30 to 4:30 is waiting to go home;
4:30 is home.”
I’ll adjust, and I’ll appreciate. And I’ll try not to let the blog slip . . .
Lots of people ask me where I get my ideas.
Stephen King answers the same question this way:
“. . . good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, interviewed the American poet, Ruth Stone. During that interview, Ruth Stone spoke of feeling poems:
“. . . coming at her from over the landscape like a thunderous train of air.” She said that when this happened, she felt the poem coming, it shook the earth beneath her feet, and the only thing she could do was run like hell to the house, chased by the poem. She had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Sometimes, she said, she wouldn’t be fast enough and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and it would continue on across the landscape looking for another poet.”
Wouldn’t that be exciting?
I’m helped by Julia Cameron’s morning pages. In The Artist’s Way, she recommends the daily practice of writing three pages every morning. Weird and wonderful stuff comes to me on those pages. The ideas feed this blog and my other creative writing. The ideas arise out of a creative primordial ooze; I dredge them out of the muck, and they rise to the surface with a sucking sound, brand new and unevolved.
Without fail, something comes up. Almost always I think: “I could never have thought of that on my own.”
Out of the empty sky, barreling across the landscape, or rising out of the primordial soup—however we choose to describe it—the ideas come from somewhere, someone, someplace, something outside of us.
We just recognize them when they show up.