On Not Getting It Right the First Time

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This post is dedicated to a couple of young people I know who struggle with the idea of having to get things right the first time.

file000947770525I’ve been taking a ceramics class for fun and to explore another creative outlet. For the last few weeks, we’ve been hand building different kinds of vessels and forms. But on Monday, we switched to throwing on a pottery wheel. My instructor made it look so easy, demonstrating how to center the clay and pull the sides up into a cylinder.

Then it was our turn.

We sat at our wheels and tried to coax cylinders out of our own lumps of clay.

And we tried.

And tried.

To be fair, a couple of people did quite well. But most of us…well, it took several attempts before we got anything not wobbly, let alone cylindrical.

It was frustrating. Humbling. More than once I thought, There’s no way I’m going to be able to do this.

But each time my walls grew too thin or my cylinder lost its center, I crumpled the clay back into a lump, scraped the excess from the wheel and started again.

It took a few tries, but finally, working slowly, I threw a cylinder.

Will I be able to do it again next time? I don’t know. But I’m willing to keep trying until I learn.

That’s what it’s like for starting any project. Writing a first draft of a story. Starting a new painting. Sculpting clay by hand or on the wheel.

You don’t have to get it right the first time. Few people do. The magic happens in the revisions and later attempts.

So go easy on yourself. Give yourself the freedom to try and grace when you fail.

And never, ever stop learning.

The Wisdom of Alice in Wonderland for Creatives

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned about living a creative life, it is this:

Like Alice, some days you feel tall.

Illustration by Sir John Tenniel, courtesy The Project Gutenberg

And some days you feel small.

Illustration by Sir John Tenniel, courtesy The Project Gutenberg

And through it all, you must remember to keep your head.

Illustration by Sir John Tenniel, courtesy The Project Gutenberg


The Power of Letting Go

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Hands of Chrystalee
Hands of Chrystalee (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

The more years I live on this earth, the more I understand there is power in letting go.

Letting go of what you want. Letting go of what you’re better off without. Letting go of the outcome.

When my daughter was younger, she was very attached to her toys (well, she still is). She never wanted to give anything away, whether to sell in a garage sale or to give to a charity. Again and again I would tell her that if she’s clinging to what she has, her hands aren’t free to receive new things, different things, better things. Sometimes she understood. Sometimes it was a battle.

All that time I was telling her this lesson, I was also talking to me.

Writing — more specifically, revising — is teaching me this lesson now. This idea of cutting away what your story is better off without so there’s room for something new, something better — even though you love what is already there.

It can be painful, the letting go. But what I’ve found time and again is it’s always better, after. What comes as a result of letting go is always surprising, and always greater than what I imagined it would be.

In my first rounds of edits with my editor, I had to rewrite the ending of my book so it fit the new two-book structure we’d created. This was very difficult for me. I loved-loved-loved my ending. But it wouldn’t have made sense in the story arc if I’d left it as is. So I cut the chapter and wrote a new ending. That new ending completely opens up the possibilities for the second book.

If you never let go, there’s never room for possibilities.

It comes down to ego, I think, or maybe security. We think we know best and we close ourselves off to the suggestions of others. Or we want to stay with what we know, what’s safe.

Letting go involves releasing what we think we know, releasing what we think we deserve, accepting that we’re not as in charge as we think we are.

When I think back through my life, I can count several situations where I let go of my expectations and the outcome, and it literally changed my life. (And I do mean literally, not the actually not-literal way some people use the word.)

So, ask yourself: is there something you have a death-grip on today? What would happen if you released that grip? What would happen (could happen) if you let go?

Here’s to a spirited 2013

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Happy New Year!

I spent the first day of 2013 looking at sights like this:

Far over the misty mountains cold...
Far over the misty mountains cold…

And this…

Middle Earth? No, Colorado.
Middle Earth? No, Colorado.

Now I’m back in my own shire and my own Hobbit hole, and that means comfort. The sun is shining, hubby has his feet up on the coffee table, the kids are playing with their Hobbit Lego sets and I’m drinking papaya juice.

Not a bad start to the year, really.

A couple of years ago I gave up setting resolutions for choosing a word to guide my year instead. In 2011, my word was “complete”. Last year my word was “becoming“. During our trip, I did a lot of thinking while staring at those snowing mountains. What word would fit where I am now, and help steer me to where I want to be?

I decided on “spirit“.


Main Entry: spirit [spir-it] (noun)
Definition: soul, attitude
Synonyms: air, animation, ardor, backbone, boldness, breath, character, complexion, courage, dauntlessness, disposition, earnestness, energy, enterprise, enthusiasm, essence, fire, force, frame of mind, gameness, grit, guts, heart, humor, jazz, life, life force, liveliness, mettle, mood, morale, motivation, nerve, oomph, outlook, psyche, quality, resolution, resolve, sparkle, spunk, stoutheartedness, substance, temper, temperament, tenor, vigor, vital spark, vitality, warmth, will, willpower, zest

During our jaunt through the misty mountains, I read a book that broke personality types into four categories, and gave lengthy descriptions for each. Of the four, it was blatantly clear I’m a Type 1, which means I like things light and fun. I giggle a lot. I try to offer others hope. My life is often unstructured and my schedule spontaneous.2012 was an exciting year, especially in terms of my writing career. I signed with an agent and landed a two-book deal with Knopf BFYR. My hope this year is to fill out the new shape my life has taken, as well as expand my creativity into new areas. It’s going to take a lot of boldness, courage and willpower (i.e., spirit) to make all my plans happen. I’m going to throw myself into my creative work with zest and spunk and energy (aka, spirit). And I’d like to do it all while keeping perspective on who I am, (i.e., my spirit).

I did a little searching on the word “spirit” and came across this quote from Leonardo de Vinci:

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.”

God made me this way for a reason, and my goal is to honor that in the work I do and the way I live this year.

So, here’s to a spirited 2013. *cheers*

A Scary and Amazing New Year’s Life Lesson

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A number of years ago, my husband and I traveled to Edinburgh with a couple of dear friends to celebrate New Year’s, which there is called Hogmanay.

The trip changed my life.

We had little idea what to expect from Hogmanay. Some we’d talked to compared it to Times Square. Others told us about some of the Scottish traditions surrounding the holiday, such as how the hair color of the first person to cross your door can be an auspicious sign. All, though, said Edinburgh was the place to be if you wanted to have fun.

And it was fun. Up to a point.

At midnight, we watched fireworks explode over Edinburgh Castle and sang Auld Lang Syne with 300,000 other revelers along the Royal Mile. Then we linked arms and headed off into the crowds. We had a bus to catch to get back to our hotel.

And so, apparently, did the other 300,000 people. We made our way toward The Mound, unaware that two other streets full of people were all leading to the same intersection. The crowd grew thicker and thicker around us until soon we weren’t able to move at all.

Like ocean waves, we moved wherever the force of people pressed us. I remember standing on my tiptoes, my face lifted high, searching for air. I could feel someone’s knee in my back. Beside me on one side stood my husband, on the other side was a drunk man whose eyes looked glazed over. My arm extended over that man’s shoulder, my fingers clasping my friend’s hand. I couldn’t see her or her husband, and I was desperate not to lose them in the crowd. Now and again, they passed those who’d been injured over our heads. And with every wave of pressure that rippled from the outer edges through to the center where we stood, the crowd gave a collective groan.

I remember screaming, and my husband telling me to save my air.

I remember a short woman standing in front of me, short enough I had to look down at her. She must have had little air there. In my memory there’s space between her and myself, a good foot or so of clearance, but that wouldn’t have been possible. Her hair was light brown and curly. She had a kind face, and she told me again and again, “It’s going to be OK.”

Some members of my family think she was an angel.

Despite her calm words and my husband beside me, I was afraid. More afraid than I’d ever been in my life. I stood on my tiptoes, with my face toward the winter sky and eyes trained on the little chimney tops, and I prayed the only words I could string together: Jesus, please. Over and over.

Then an amazing and unexpected thing happened. Staring at those chimneys, all of the fear drained away and I felt the most incredible sense of peace. My mind cleared, and I thought, “I’ve had a really great life. If I die in this, it’s OK.”

It was an incredible moment. But it didn’t last. The crowd pressed in and the fear returned and we again fought for air and escape.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the current pushed hard enough to push though the crowd, and we were spit out right into a police blockade where the injured people were receiving treatment. My husband hugged me and we cried.

Happy New Year, we said. It’s good to be alive.

Every New Year’s I think of that night, and that sentiment.

After Hogmanay, I experienced a season of panic attacks, and a newfound appreciation for life. I dug up the list of Things to Do Before I Die that I’d created in high school and I set to task getting things crossed off. On that list: be a published author.

Had we not taken the trip and been caught in that crowd, would I have followed my writing dreams? Maybe. But more than likely, I would have continued in the same pattern of procrastination I’d followed for years, always putting aside writing for practical things.

That trip taught me so many things bout life and death, about what is seen and what is unseen, about this world and my place in it. Each New Years when I think of that night and that crowd, I’m reminded that time is short, and there are few things as satisfying as moving toward your dreams.

Happy New Year, friends. May this be the year you follow your dreams.