The Smooth Path to a Writing Career

Image: © gearstd (Fotolia.com)

The Quick and Easy Path to a Writing Career

It’s time to reveal the secret that successful writers have known for years. From the first word on the page to six-figure publishing deals with the Big Five (Penguin, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and MacMillan), this is the quick and easy path to becoming a successful writer.

Are you ready? You know you’re ready.

If you want to succeed, if you really want to make it in this business, you need to get off your ass and write. It is as easy and as hard as that.

All the talent in the world is going to do nothing for you if you do not put it into action. You can take all the creative writing classes you want, you can read every how-to book by authors like Ernest Hemingway and Ray Bradbury, but unless you put pen to paper (or fingers to keys), you will never grow. Luck, though helpful, is not necessary. Without a completed manuscript, that so-called luck is a moot point anyway.

Simply put, there is no magic formula. You have to put the work in to get what you want.

The Round About Path to a Writing Career

In the perfect world, all writers would find their names on the New York Times Best Sellers List. In reality, few of us will make it to the big show. It takes hard work and perseverance, not to mention a thick skin, to make a career out of writing. That shouldn’t stop any one of us from the pursuit.

If you want to replace your day job with a writing career, it’s better to start now than later. To do that, you have to make room for writing in your everyday life. Not every writer started out successfully, and not every writer starts out in a job that involves writing.

Few people get it right the first time around.

Perhaps the most famous example is Stephen King. He was a janitor before he was discovered, and now he’s one of the most world-renowned authors of our time. J.D. Salinger was an entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. Kurt Vonnegut worked at a car dealership. Perhaps the most curious and interesting is Jack London. He was an oyster pirate, and yes that’s an actual thing. He would steal pearls from oyster farms on San Francisco Bay and sell them for profit.

A long line of physician authors gives me, a family doctor, hope too. Where would the world be without Michael Crichton’s iconic Jurassic Park? Robin Cook’s Invasion or Outbreak? I had the good fortune to meet both Michael Palmer and Tess Gerritsen at a writer’s conference in 2009, and they were as amazing in person as they are on the page.

These authors may not have started out where they wanted in the writing world, but they kept their storytelling alive.

Your Path to a Writing Career

Take the lead of the successful authors before you. Break through the maze that you built for yourself, the maze of self-doubt or so-called “writer’s block”, and start on your path to writing.

What you need to do is as simple as it is hard.

  1. Write when you are inspired. Never let a good idea slip away. Keep a pen and paper at the ready, even at the bedside. Some of the best ideas strike when you are falling asleep or even in your dreams.
  2. Write when you are not inspired. Waiting is a writer’s worst enemy. Do not use the excuse of writer’s block to keep you from the page. You can always edit a page of bad writing but never a blank one.
  3. Write when you have something to say. Sharing what you know can be empowering. Sharing your ideas more so. Don’t hesitate to leave your mark.
  4. Write when you don’t know what to say. Sometimes you learn more about your story as it evolves on the page. Let your ideas work themselves out. Writing helps you to grow as a person.
  5. Write because you love it. Why else would you write? If you write for fame and fortune, you could find it hard to outlast the rigors of the trade. When you write for the joy of it, it will shine through in your work.

No matter what you do, get started today. You will find that elusive “smooth path” to a writing career — it’s called writing.

Yoga or Twerking in the Park, You Decide

Image: Bench at Bryant Park, New York City, 2017 (Photo by Tanya Feke)

Welcome to Live-It-Uary, a place to celebrate life while we live it. Live-It-Uary honors people who show kindness, people who create and inspire, people who do good deeds. Thank you for making the world a better place.

Exercising in the Park

A walk in the park is expected but a twerk in the park? Now that’s something to talk about!

yoga in the park
Image: Yoga in the Bryant Park, New York City, August 18, 2017 (Photo by Tanya Feke)

Before you start thinking inappropriate thoughts, let me assure you things are not what they seem. What I am about to tell you is quite innocent — I swear — and hopefully, you find it inspirational.

It took only seconds for me to fall in love with New York City’s Bryant Park. After walking what felt like cities of blocks, I came to find hundreds of people of different colors and creeds lying on the ground in the center green. A voice on an overhead speaker invited everyone to breathe as one, to let go, to simply be in the moment.

After taking a snapshot — who wouldn’t? — I paused to breathe too, marveling at the show of humanity. All these people, strangers, felt comfortable enough to rest side by side. In a show of trust and vulnerability, they closed their eyes, they lay prostrate, and they bared themselves to the world.

Breathe in, breathe out, Daniel-san.

I quietly found a spot on the grass and sat criss-cross apple sauce. I know that’s not an official yoga name, but that’s what my kids would call it. Unfortunately, my late arrival precluded any downward dogs or mountain poses. The yoga class had come to an end, but not before I was able to appreciate the beauty of the unity around me.

yoga in the park
Image: The Josephine Shaw Lowell Fountain in Bryant Park, New York City (Photo by Tanya Feke)

Watching from the Side Lines

Bryant Park is only one of many parks in the country where you can find not only fitness classes but art exhibits, ballroom dancing, Shakespearean plays, you name it. Still, many people prefer to go it alone. Like a choose your own adventure, they pursue what makes a park special to them. Maybe that’s walking the dog or shooting free throws on the basketball court. Better yet, it could be twerking in front of a parking lot of school-aged children.

Wait, what?

My children had the good fortune to go to summer camp this year. For eight glorious weeks, they spent their days on a lake doing everything from archery to boating to swimming to zip lining. For eight glorious weeks, they took the bus from our local park to get there and back, and for eight glorious weeks, they watched a man arrive at the park, precisely at 7:30 in the morning, and work out with fervor near the baseball field. My kids called it twerking, but it wasn’t really. It was more jumping jacks, push ups, and football drills. You get the idea.

Thank goodness they have no real idea what twerking looks like!

Without knowing it, this twenty-something-year-old man became part of our summer routine. What started as a silly joke to the kids — “is Twerking Man here?” — became concern when he would show up 5 minutes late — “Oh no, I hope he is okay!” His willingness to do what he wanted to do regardless of who was watching, not caring if he would be ridiculed or mocked, meeting his goal day after day, inspired us. We offered him his privacy, didn’t approach him, but that didn’t stop us from looking forward to his visits every day.

Inspiration in the Most Unlikely Places

So much happens around us, but few people pay attention. It becomes too easy to focus on those things that affect us directly, or rather what we think affects us directly. If only we realized that everything affects us on some level. We can “not my circus, not my monkey” as much as we want, but in reality, we are all in this together. We can support each other more and be kind to each other more and send a ripple effect of positivity into the world.

Yoga in the park or twerking in the park may not seem newsworthy to you, but to me, they signify what it means to be brave. Be brave by being vulnerable with your fellow man. Be brave by not letting public opinion hold you back. Be brave by doing what you want to do.

This Live-It-Uary honors those of you who are not afraid to lay it on the line in public. You may be inspiring people without knowing it. Keep doing what you’re doing.

What It Means to Be Family

Image: Castello di Montebello, Bellinzona, Switzerland, © Boris Stroujko (Fotolia.com)

Putting Family First

One Christmas in high school I bought my boyfriend at the time two small gifts. The problem? I had purchased only one gift for each of my family members. When my father found out, he was livid. Usually the “good” kid, i.e. the one who didn’t get into trouble because she was too afraid to make people angry, I was not used to getting lambasted the way I was that night.

How dare I do more for others than for my own family?

That is only one example of my dad instilling the “family first” motto into my life. Loyalty to those who raised you. Allegiance, fealty, even obedience. It meant a lot to him.

It may be one of the reasons Ed Sheeran’s song “Castle on the Hill” resonates with me so much.

I was younger then, take me back to when

Sheeran sings about growing up and how the people he grew up with, the people who “raised him”, made him who he is today. By singing about his “family”, the song reminds me of home. It also makes me question what it really means to be family.

The Blame Game

Birthday money, as any school-aged kid knows, is better than Christmas. You save it up for a special occasion, and you dream of spending it on something that an adult would likely see as absolutely frivolous. Too bad I never got the chance to spend mine, not really. I would be ready to head to the mall to FINALLY buy the latest Wham! album or ruffled denim skirt (yes, I am a child of the 80s) but my money would be mysteriously gone.

My dad took it from me, but let’s not be semantic. The truth is he stole it because he took it without asking and never intended to return it, not if he could get away with it. What’s worse is how he made me feel when he did it. The truth is I didn’t care about cassette tapes or skirts. I cared about how my father judged me as a person. I wanted him to love me.

Found my heart and broke it here

In his attempt to shift the blame, he would make me feel guilty for not giving it freely (“Why don’t you want to help your father?”) although he never asked me for it. He would also gaslight me into thinking I had lost it somewhere (“You’re always losing things, Tanya”) when oddly enough the only thing that ever went missing were my savings.

What’s Mine Is Yours

As I got older and started to earn my own money — babysitting, working as a camp counselor, or playing cashier at Wendy’s — I tried to hide my money in my room. I had creative spots, boxes within boxes buried inside drawers inside socks, but he always managed to root it out. It came to the point that I had to keep my money at a friend’s house.

It seemed I was a terrible daughter, at least that was how I felt. I was made to feel selfish, mindless, and hollow because I did not put “family first”. To a young mind, family first twisted into money first because that was the emphasis he put on it. I was my father’s child and what was mine was his. Money was the name of the game, not love, not trust, and as I got older, I intentionally withheld it from him.

Why?

Because I loved him despite his faults.

Because I didn’t want that money to feed his addiction.

A Foundation of Limited Beliefs

My father denied taking from me until he knew he was caught. In those times, the first words out of his mouth would always be “don’t tell your mother”. He would ply me with false promises, “I’ll pay you back”, “I’ll get something special for your mother”, or “It’ll be like nothing ever happened”. Whatever he would say to keep my silence is what he would say.

Tell me, was my loyalty supposed to be to my father or to my mother? Was I supposed to hide his secrets or to tell my mother the truth? Was I supposed to be disloyal to him in the hopes that he would get healthy or was I to be disloyal to my mother by withholding information? Family first? The lines get blurred.

When we did not know the answers

As a young girl, his actions made me feel I did not deserve anything that I earned. That I should expect to sacrifice everything for the sake of what other people want and need. That I should put my needs and wants last. Sadly, it is what I have come to know and it is how I lived most of my life.

What It Means to Be Family

For me, family extends beyond blood relatives. My family are the people who were there for me growing up — relatives, friends, teachers, priests, and more. The people who made me laugh even as I struggled. The people who supported me not only when times were good but when times were hard. The people who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.

Not everyone knew what I was going through back then. We all have our crosses to bear. The truth is I have been too ashamed to speak of mine until now, but these people were not there to hear a sad story. They were there to help me build a story all my own, one of perseverance and hope. Thanks to them I am the strong woman I am today.

But these people raised me and I can’t wait to go home

In my eyes, friends are family, and I am grateful for each and every one of them. I do not hesitate to put them first.

Working It Out

Now I can see that the trouble with my dad’s philosophy for family first is that he did not live by it himself. His addiction made him put himself first. He did not realize the limited beliefs he was burdening me with as a child, how they would shake my confidence, how long it would take for me to peel them away as I grew into a young woman.

He could not know because he was hurting himself too.

My father was not a bad man; he was a lost man. We had painful moments but we had just as many beautiful, funny, and meaningful ones. When he dressed up like Santa Claus. When he sang the wrong song lyrics. When he took me for my first driving lesson. When he pretended he didn’t know I put a dent in his work van. When he dropped me off at college. When he danced with me at my wedding. When he first laid eyes on my son.

I have to remember to not let the pain overshadow everything else, even as I work through it.

And I miss the way you make me feel, it’s real
We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill

If only there were time left to make amends so that we could recover together.

It’s Okay to Be All by Myself

Image: Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), Miramax.com

My August 2017 Resolution Stats

(See my original resolutionsJanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMay, June, and July stats here)

  • Averaged 210+ minutes of exercise per week (v. good, above goal)
  • 2 recipes tried this month (v. good, at goal)
  • 8,000+ written words for the month (v. good, all writing projects combined but into my top secret writing project.)

No Shame in Being All By Myself

There is no shame in spending the night alone. Just ask Bridget who opens up Bridget Jones’s Diary to the tune of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”. She smokes a cigarette (something I would never do), drinks a glass of wine (something I occasionally do), watches some old school TV shows (something I do sometimes), reads a big book (something I do often), catches up with her messages (something I always do), and lip syncs like a diva (don’t act like you don’t do it too!).

Bridget does Bridget.

Okay, okay, maybe Bridget is not exactly in the best mindset during these opening credits. Maybe she is feeling a bit down on herself that no one has messaged her and that she has no plans on a Saturday night. Maybe she is lonely. Maybe she is disappointed, but really, it is okay.

Why? Because Bridget does not sit and wallow. She uses a night of alone time to get that disillusionment out of her system, and then she dives in to make changes over the next 1 hour and 37 minutes (*wink*) that will keep her from feeling like that ever again. In essence, it was an overdue night of self-care.

Taking Self-Care to the City

For me, a mom in her early forties working three part-time jobs, a night alone sounds divine. A night I would not have to not break up the bickering of my loving but feisty grade school children or face down a stack of plates crusted with macaroni and cheese. A night to rest, to breathe, and to simply be.

No surprise, I took Bridget’s lead, but instead of one night, I gave myself three glorious days in the big city. New York City, to be exact.

I planned my trip around the Writers Digest Conference, specifically a pre-conference called “The Emotional Craft of Fiction”. Literary agent and author Donald Maass guided the 8-hour course in what would be one of the most inspirational motivators I would have in years. There are simply not enough thank you’s I could give for what this man has unleashed in me, i.e. expect a book real soon.

This trip did more than yank me out of a profound writer’s block. It brought me to life. By allowing me to step outside of my usual responsibilities, even for 72 hours, I felt more myself than I had in a very long time. The city allowed me to dream, to imagine, to hope, to live.

Walking through the grand halls of the New York Public Library, I marveled at the architecture and the symbolism of the historic place. Like the lions that guarded the entry, I felt emboldened by the written word inside, knowing my own words would one day grace those lofty shelves. A few steps beyond lay Bryant Park, a place I can only describe as humanity in motion. Here, people from all walks of life come together in the spirit of unity, colors bleed into one, burkas mix with yamakas, languages flow into one universal conversation. The spirit of the place is breath-taking. It is comforting to know there are places in this world that thrive outside of all the hate.

There are the little things too. I ate from a food truck. I enjoyed soft serve ice cream. I got carded for a glass of wine (for anyone middle-aged, you know this is a biggie!). I ordered room service. I walked miles through the city streets. I spent my nights in a bath robe writing stories to my heart’s content.

Next time I won’t wait so long to treat myself to some self-care, but Bridget, did this trip pay off!

What Is Self-Care All About Anyway?

Self-care is a buzz word for our times, but unlike “authenticity” or “influencer”, this buzz word actually means something. Come to think of it, it could be better defined as an adult time out! There is a natural tendency, for some of us (ME, ME, ME!), to push busy lives on ourselves. Self-care allows us to stop that busy, at least for a moment, and to take the time to refuel. Otherwise, all that busy-ness empties our tanks, and let’s face it, you can only run on empty for so long.

No one wants to burn out.

What lifts me up may not do the same for you. That said, you may want to consider what kind of self-care it is that you need. Think about it. What is missing in your day to day? What would make you smile? What would add comfort? Peace? Joy? Do what feels best.

  • Emotional self-care: Acknowledging your feelings can help you cope with challenges and develop healthy relationships. Consider connecting with a friend, seeing a therapist, or writing in a journal.
  • Intellectual self-care: Stimulating the mind can open you up to creativity and innovation. Consider learning a new language, listening to music, or reading a book.
  • Physical self-care: Taking care of your body can increase your energy and boost self-esteem. Consider taking a nap, soaking in a bubble bath, or trying a new work out.
  • Social self-care: Social connection creates a sense of belonging and acceptance. Consider joining a book club, organizing a family dinner, or planning a night out with friends.
  • Spiritual self-care: Living according to your ideals and virtues brings meaning to your life. Consider attending a religious service, going on a nature walk, or practicing yoga.

We busy bees need to stop and smell the roses. Better yet, we need to savor the sweet honey in our lives. See, Bridget? There’s nothing wrong with staying in for the night.

Time to Stop the Intolerance and Hate

Image: © benjaminec (Fotolia.com)

Intolerance in America

We are as much in a civil war now as we were when the North and South fought brother against brother in 1860’s Gettysberg. Only now it is not only about race and slavery. It is about gender and religion and sexuality too.

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia draw us back into those troubling days of segregation. Those days when the color of your skin meant you could not be trusted, when the color of your skin meant you were not worthy to sit towards the front of the bus.

Simply put, this “Unite the Right” rally was not about taking down a statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee. If the rally was about preserving a historical monument, the focus would not have been on raised torches, racist and anti-Semitic chants, and hate-filled marches down the streets of Charlottesville with a threatening tone. Make no mistake. This is not about “white lives matter”. It is about “white lives matter more than yours”. Worse than that, it is “some white lives matter more than yours” because your religion and your sexual orientation clearly affect your standing in the white supremacist ideology too.

Escalating to a state of emergency, counter-protesters joined the milieu, and violence erupted from both sides. Let me say here that violence is never the answer. That didn’t stop Neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr. from driving into a group of counter-protesters, injuring 19 people and killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer.

Yes, we are in the midst of a civil war, and people are, quite literally, dying.

The Obscenity of White Supremacy and Bigotry

There will be people who will want to blame President Trump. His emboldened language, his Muslim ban, his misogyny, his mocking the disabled, his demarginalization of the poor, his attitudes and behaviors throughout the campaign and throughout his Presidency have given people a free pass of sorts.

If the leader of the free world can do it, why can’t I?

The truth is Trump did not make people hate. They already hated deep within themselves. Either they were raised that way, or they had a personal experience they used to generalize their pain against whole groups of people. What his presidency did do, however, was give a voice to their intolerance. In his way, planned or unplanned, he gave non-verbal permission for Americans to speak out on their hate.

When you look closer, President Trump is quick to denounce terrorism, but only on certain terms. He jumps to blame acts on radical Islamic terrorism, acts that have included driving into groups of people, but in the case of Charlottesville, he doesn’t outright denounce white supremacy, neo-Naziism, or white nationalism, even when we know Mr. Fields’ intentions clearly were to harm counter-protesters. Instead, the President initially blamed “many sides”. He remained equivocal. He refused to call it what it was.

There is too often a double standard. When violence is incited by Muslims, it is terror, often before there is an investigation or evidence to support that fact. When these acts of violence are committed by white men, however, it is rarely terrorism, and oftentimes, when evidence points to the contrary, it is not even labeled a hate crime.

It would take two days before President Trump would condemn the KKK, white supremacists, and Neo-Nazis. It would take two days before Attorney General Jeff Sessions would label the car attack “domestic terrorism”. It would take two days and the loss of life. Dare I ask, how soon would it have taken if Mr. Fields were a Muslim?

It would take only one day more before Mr. Trump would defend the white supremacist groups he previously denounced, before he would post and later delete a tweet of a train running over a CNN reporter (in complete distaste after a woman was run over and killed during the protest), and before he would claim that a monument of Robert E. Lee is synonymous with statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

What Does and Does Not Matter

If you are as disturbed by this turn of events as I am, take heart. Your character, your morals, your decency, do make a difference. Your voice, your actions, your kindness, it all matters. Still, there are some things that don’t matter and will never matter in this crazy world.

  • What doesn’t matter is color. The shade of your skin does not make you any less a member of the human race. One race, one Earth. We are on this planet together.
  • What doesn’t matter is gender. The number of X chromosomes you have does not make you smarter or more superior to any other human being. There are women who are stronger than men and vice versa.
  • What doesn’t matter is religion. Your belief (or not) in a God or gods does not make you better than anyone else. We should all heed the call of humanity.
  • What doesn’t matter is sexuality. Who you love is nobody’s business. Who you love is innate and natural. It is instinct. It is beautiful.

Stand tall for those things that are near and dear to you. Do not be silent. Let who you are, how you act, how you react, be a testament to what this country was founded on — “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

What does matter is acceptance, equality, justice, and respect. No one asked to be born into this world. No one asked to be a certain color, a certain gender, a certain sexuality, and no one should be judged as less than based on their life circumstances. As people, we deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We deserve to have fair opportunity. We deserve to live without fear that we will be attacked for who we are as individuals.

America rebuilt itself after that first civil war. I know we can do it again.