Authenticity, A Sign #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #Writer

My first book was not intentional. After receiving a large bonus check from the company I worked for at the time, that basically amounted to more money than my mother had probably made her entire life, I realized I hadn’t gotten here on my own. I wanted to reach out to everyone who had helped me. The process started out as a series of letters to specific individuals I wanted to thank for helping raise me after my mom passed away. I posted one of these “letters” onto my website and after receiving much encouragement from friends and strangers, I went through the creative process of finding a way to weave a connective thread through all the letters. That’s how my first book Canela came into existence.    


Now, I’m writing my second book. This time, it’s very intentional. The story continues on in the same vein, a “fictionalized memoir” – authentically true moments, captured in a chapter – spliced with other moments and/or characters to make a bigger point.  But this time, it feels a harder. It IS a harder.  

I’m still writing what I know and what I want to write, but my head now knows it’s for other “readers” or anyone who wants to read it.  When I wrote Canela, each “chapter” was specifically a letter to one person. The entire book is me having a conversation with one person. Taking those letters and going back and weaving together all the stories to make them into chapters was actually the part I enjoyed most, even though it was the most difficult.     

So, because I’m an “author” now and deemed a “real writer”, I’ve been studying and considering all the ways to go about writing this second book. You know, more professionally. More organized. Like a real writer would.  The best way to do that is to learn from the masters, right?  Read what they wrote, read all that I can about how to write, how to develop a story, how to create characters…

Damn, if I didn’t just get all messed up in my head real quick! Doubt set in almost immediately. I was waking up at night wondering, why am I even bothering? I never said I was a writer! I’m a friggin’ dancer. A performer. A goddamn financial adviser on my worst days. Writing?  When did I start writing “professionally”?  I already wrote one book. I can tick that off my stupid-ass bucket list, which seems to have things on it I never wanted to accomplish! “Author” wasn’t even ON my bucket list – so yeah, I’m done! WTF? Why am I putting myself through this again? I’m not a writer. I can’t do this anymore…  

I’m gonna go off on a tangent here but there’s a point. I got hung up on these four male characters. Real men in my life at one point or another – honestly, it’s not even really about them per se, but about my ability to write and portray them “correctly”.  The problem of course, is that while I’m writing, I’m learning about my own “isms” and it’s becoming emotional. There’s so much self-analysis in the process. This is part of what I’ve been contemplating:   the thing that makes a person (character) attractive visually is not the same thing that makes a person (character) attractive for real.

What does that mean exactly?

Well, we all know someone who is physically stunning, but the minute they open their mouth or a crisis appears, they reveal their true colors and somehow all that “beauty” you thought they had disappears instantaneously. That’s easy. But how do I write that for each individual person (character) in the scene/situation? To make it even more annoying, as I’m clearly over-thinking this writing process, I realize I’ve dated some major assholes in my life – regardless of how “pretty” they may have been! Since I’m the common denominator in all my relationships, clearly that says more about me than it does about them, right… Ugghh!  But I digress! 

And down the rabbit hole we go…

I got so hung up on “character development” that I ended up over-analyzing who these men were that I honestly just couldn’t write. It was emotionally draining. I just had to put the pen down. 

There’s a lot going in our world for sure, but this wasn’t about that. I got stuck. I got sad. I then reinforced the idea that I wasn’t a writer anyways, because look – I can’t even figure this out. So, see?  Why. Am. I. Bothering. With.This?

Then, there are signs. Whether you believe in it or not, when you’re least expecting it, even if you’re not hoping for it – you get knocked upside the head with an idea, with a solution, or just a reminder.

Jonathan Capehart, an American journalist for the Washington Post and also an MSNBC contributor, posted his latest podcast on Twitter that featured the magnificent Billy Porter.  Let me be clear: I don’t listen to podcasts EVER. I am the ONE person on the planet who does not enjoy listening when I can watch or better yet, when I can read. I don’t know what it is, but whenever I try and listen to a podcast my mind wanders and I’m off doing something else. I really have tried. I hate that I don’t enjoy them. It’s just not my thing. Until yesterday.

I’m not a crazed fan of Jonathan Capehart’s or of Billy Porter – both of these men are just fabulous at what they do and I have much respect. And for whatever reason, (SIGN. SIGN. SIGN.) I clicked on the link, thinking it was a written article by Mr. Capehart and when I realized it was a podcast, just listened to it.

In 30 minutes, I changed my whole perspective on writing my book. Again, the podcast is not about writing at all. Honestly, it’s just a wonderful interview with Billy Porter. But Billy Porter said more than a few things that just rang true to my soul – the most impact to my creative heart was this:  

“Your authenticity is your service…lean into that…”

My authenticity. It’s not only good enough, it’s needed! How I write a book, how I go about the process, however I choose to make it fit, is exactly what I’m here on the planet to do. I don’t need to be like anyone else. I don’t need to write like anyone else. I can’t. I’ll be unhappy. I’ll surely fail. But if I want to be of real service to the world, to my community, to myself, then I need to be authentically me.  That means being okay with HOW I write and how I go about the process of writing, creating, producing whatever it is. 

I am a writer. I’ve written for as long as I can remember. It has been my therapy, my best friend, my sounding board, my comfort. Writing is part of who I am. Just like being a performer, a dancer, an actor, will always be the best parts of me. It doesn’t matter the level of money I’ve received for my service, what matters is that being authentically me and sharing THAT with the world is my contribution. My talent, my greatness doesn’t lie in how I copy someone else’s work, but instead how I learn all that I can to be my best self and share all of me as best I can.

As far as writing those four beautiful men into fully developed characters…well, I was able to flesh out much more easily their entire ethos once I stopped trying to write like everyone else. Once I stopped beating myself up for being and writing like ME.  

I’ve got so much work to do. I honestly didn’t intend to write this much today, but at least now I can share this with the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. That makes me happy. For anyone reading this who doesn’t know about this Group, please click on the link and check it out. If you are a writer – this may be a great group for you to be a part of.

In the meantime, if you did listen to the Jonathan’s podcast, you’ll know he made reference to this clip. Oh, what joy!  I really am all about the JOY. And if you don’t know who Billy Porter is, find out – but also, watch this and enjoy true talent. This really is a beautiful soul creating authentically some fierce JOY. What an artist!   

The Hardest Part #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop #Writing

What’s the Hardest Part of Writing?

I guess most people would talk about “writer’s block” but I’ve already spoken about that phenomenon and it’s not the hard part of writing at all. To me, that’s just part of the process of writing. 

For me, the hardest part of writing has nothing to do with writing. 

It’s like anything else –  I’m sure there are highs and lows to being a doctor or teacher or a painter or whatever profession we may be talking about, but if you love what you do, you’ll accept those parts of the process that feel heavier at times than the parts that are light and somewhat easier. So, writer’s block is just a heavier part of the process.  Struggling to finish a chapter or connect the dots between characters, just part of the job.

The hardest part of writing is what happens AFTER you finish your masterpiece. And this goes for all types of art – whatever it may be – whether a piece of writing, or something you’ve sculpted, painted, music or even mastering your acting skills – all of it, unless you’re planning on keeping it to yourself and just sharing it with family, has to become a business. The hardest part for me was NOT being aware of what to do AFTER I’d written my manuscript. I had no idea where to start, what to do – and so I did what many people do and started submitting my unsolicited work randomly to publishing houses hoping someone would read my “brilliant” writing and just have to publish it. 

That didn’t happen. 

After being thoroughly disappointed by continuous rejection letters, or worse, no response at all, I shelved my manuscript for a couple of years.  Of course, then naturally I started to believe it was a horrible piece of writing and a stupid idea. No matter how strong of a person you are – and no matter how many times people tell you NOT to pay attention to criticism, we’re all only human.  It grates on you.  Multiple rejection letters and terrible pieces of advice from strangers who clearly had NOT read my book – did a number on my confidence.  It was not a great time for me as a writer.  Self-confidence is a thing as an artist. 

So, my advice to anyone writing their first novel or script or poetry – START to think of your creativity today as a business.  I know it’s sometimes hard to find the time to write, but if you’re committed to your work, please also take the time –even if it’s just a few minutes a week to researching the “Business” end of your industry.  It took me so long to figure it out and even NOW I’m still learning some of the tricks to the trade. 

Here is some basic information to start you thinking about your creativity (whatever it is) as a business:

  1. Join LinkedIn (yes, even if you’re a writer, or actor or sculpture or whatever). I was never a big fan, but now it’s become the best place to connect with like-minded individuals.  Here’s why it’s great:  People in all types of businesses post their successes and failures and ideas and suggestions and it’s just another avenue to learn. Here’s my link if you want to add me:   https://www.linkedin.com/in/carmensbusiness/
  • Join BlogHops.  I never knew what this was until Author Raimey Gallant saw one of my blog posts and invited me to join!  This #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop is a great resource on so many levels!  But there are many “Blog Hops” and if you don’t know what they are – because I surely didn’t – then do a quick google search and get on board. It’s an easy way to connect with the community and share your thoughts and ideas as well as learn so much about the writing world as well!  (BlogHops can be for other topics as well…)
  • This piece of advice is mostly for my script and actor friends, but I bet it also applies to really anything at all:  know who the entertainment lawyers are for your industry. And if you can pay a retainer, or sign with a lawyer on a percentage basis, know that pitching your script is something a lawyer can help you do. Yes, everything is about money, so it might be harder if you can’t afford to hire a lawyer. But I learned THIS YEAR that studios, including places like Netflix and Amazon studios will be more likely to hear a pitch from a lawyer than someone who is sending out their ideas “unsolicited”. My book has been pitched to a production company for a possible deal with Netflix – NOTHING HAS COME OF IT YET and in this town that really means NOTHING. But, it would have never even gotten to this point – a legit hearing – if I hadn’t had a contact from a “legit” source.
  • Go to places that support writers (or whatever your craft may be).  Seek out organizations that have other ways to network and grow. For example, here in Los Angeles there is a great organization called Writer’s Blok.  It was much cheaper when I first joined back in the day and I can’t lie, I think the monthly costs are a little high nowadays – but if you join their mailing lists, they do have some free sessions and free events once in a while. The point is this is another great way to network.  I prefer NOT to write with other people – but I can’t lie, when I found this group and decided to try it, I took my manuscript off the shelf and finally found a way to get it published!  It was a great place to figure out what was next. Wherever you are on the globe, there might be a place in your neighborhood that has this type of organization.  I found this by going on MeetUp and just searching for “writers” within my neighborhood.  Best thing I ever did for my book!  And my confidence!

There is so much more I could list. But I just wanted to get the idea in your head that the hardest part of writing isn’t always about the writing.  It’s about realizing that in order to get your creativity SEEN, READ, HEARD – that you’re also going to have to wrap your head around it being a business!

There are so many people who write about self-publishing and/or how to get an agent and such – so I wanted to offer some other, less talked about ideas.

My hope is that this has you at least thinking about the business end of things… I hope this was helpful. 

‘til next time,

Carmen

Take Care of YOU Simple Habits for the Writer, Creative, Everyone! #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

*Below is not a transcript of video.

A few years ago, I had to go to the doctor’s office because I was experiencing so much wrist pain I had to get it checked out.  At that time, I learned everything I needed to know about carpal tunnel syndrome and because it sidelined me for quite a while, I decided to start making some changes quickly to avoid ever going down that road again. I developed some really easy habits that I do every day that I wanted to share with everyone who writes, stares at a computer all day or is on the phone regularly.   

A lot of writers, and creative people in general, tend to overwork themselves especially when they’re in that zone or experiencing that ever elusive “light bulb” moment.  We’ll write for hours without stopping — we’re also prone to over-due it when we’re experiencing some sort of block – we’ll keep grinding and pushing, not realizing the possible physical toll we may be putting on ourselves, not to mention the mental one, by hunching over our laptops and staring at the computer screen for hours.  

I believe that keeping ourselves physically healthy is just as important as keeping our mental and emotional state in check.  As artists, sometimes we faulter on all of these in the hopes of creating that next masterpiece.  But I’d like to offer the idea that if you can implement some really simple habits now, it may help prevent you from unnecessary injury and pain later.  If you start now, it will also become a seamless part of your everyday way of working and will not impose on your creativity, but actually may help it! 

So, what am I talking about?  Well, please watch the video for a visual explanation.  But simply, start learning to take 1-minute breaks throughout your day to do some small stretches with your fingers, your wrists, neck and shoulders to give yourself a break from sitting in a static position.  Staying in the same position for long periods of time can lead to cramping, stiffness and in some cases, possible carpal tunnel syndrome.  Give yourself 30 seconds to a  minute break every hour at least, to reassess your body and stretch for just a bit. 

I use the alarm on my phone for just this purpose. I set it up to chime in one hour increments and the “ring” I use is a very subtle soothing chime. The type of “ring” you use IS important – I learned this the hard way – because sometimes you really are in that creative zone and you don’t want something to jar you out completely.  But a soft notification is just a reminder to finish the thought and do your quick stretches to take care of your fingers, shoulders, neck and overall posture. 

Please note: I’m not a doctor – so understand these ideas are what work for me and I’m sharing them with you in hopes that it will help you.  I also think it’s important to state that I don’t think these tiny stretches throughout your day should take the place of what we all should be doing to have good and healthy lives – eat right, work-out/be active, mediate, walk and make sure you hydrate with water regularly.  But adding these small moments throughout your day will definitely help with taking care of the physical part of you, the writer, the artist, the worker, so you can continue creating all those beautiful stories the world needs to hear. 

I hope this has been helpful. I’m curious what other people do to prevent from getting stiff or cramping while writing.  I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

This post is also part of a great group of writers called #AuthorToolboxBlogHop  – please click on this hashtag or the pic to find other great sources of tips and tricks that other great writers use to keep on creating… 

As always, thanks for stopping by! 

How to Become a Writer… a Better Writer #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

I was a dancer as a little kid.  I rehearsed early in the morning and after-school till late at night. I was diligent and passionate about performing and doing a fantastic job. There was also something innate about my dancing. I had to do it daily. It was a part of me.  I was pretty famous too – Well, I thought I was famous in the world, but in fact, I was just a well-known entity in my neighborhood, in my community.  Ha!  When I found out that my “fame” wasn’t world-wide I still rehearsed diligently – maybe even more so. Early in the morning before school, after-school, weekends… I developed a habit of working those muscles daily and always finding ways to improve – fame or the lack thereof, had nothing to do with it!    

Writing is the same way for me.  I don’t dance “professionally” anymore so writing has taken over that habit-forming rehearsal space.  I’m diligent about my writing practice. I write every morning in a hand-written journal, while I drink my coffee. I write during the day, generally for work.  And then, at night, I work on my stories or my exercises. My next work. My next project. Rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal.  The practice of writing. It’s part of the process, the habit of working to become a better writer.   

And just like dancing, writing takes many different forms. I’m great at some types of writing and not-so-great at others, but I’m always in the pursuit of getting better.  I love writing content – especially in first person. I love writing stories, blog posts… however, I also enjoy the struggle of writing copy for a product I have no interest in – it reminds me of ballet class. I hated ballet with all my heart as a dancer, even though I loved watching it. As most everyone knows, if you’re going to call yourself a “dancer” you better at least know the basics of ballet and find a way to push on through, even if you don’t like it!  Writing copy for a product I don’t care about is almost like that.  A good example: I wrote copy for an electrician’s website recently. As much as I didn’t care that much about the subject matter in general, it was like that ballet class – I appreciated the work I had to do and ultimately, I got through it and did it brilliantly.  But only because I’d “rehearsed” my writing over and over again. When you practice your craft and you’re thrown a new category or style, you can easily maneuver your way through it because the basics are so innate — they’re a part of you. So much so, that when given a challenge, you’re always up for the task!  I may know absolutely nothing about how to be an electrician. But, I know enough about copy and how to write to sell his work – it’s easy enough to navigate and get it done!

So, why am I bringing all this up?  Well, I get this question a lot, especially after a speaking event about how I wrote my book CANELA. Everyone thinks they can sit down and just start writing their book. They think I might have a secret formula on how to do it — How do I find the time? How did I even start?  How do I find work as a writer?  Most people want to write their own story  — surely, anyone can hire a ghost writer – that’s one way to go, but most people fancy themselves a writer.  But what they don’t realize is, like anything else you want to excel at, you have to put in the work. Writing is NOT EASY! Yesterday, someone actually explained to me that they were planning to write their book and have it published before the Christmas holiday so they could give out as a gift.  They wanted my insight into how to make that happen.  Christmas is only four months away! WHAT?!?!?!

Well, suffice it to say, I told that person they should definitely consider hiring a ghost-writer, make it a real short story of just one moment in their life and call it a day.  But for everyone else who is serious about writing – whether it be your own story or just getting better as a writer, here’s my advice about how to start and how to keep your writing strong, fresh and ready for the next challenge:

Write every single day about anything and everything!  This will help you find and develop your voice. It doesn’t matter if you do it with a pen, on a computer or just for a few minutes a day. Rehearse every day. Write. Dance. Write. Repeat.  

Think about moments in your life and write those first. Don’t worry about the book and it’s beginning, middle and end just yet.  If you’re just starting out, or if you’re just stuck on where to start, just jot down the story of you and your brother taking a sleigh ride that winter when he broke his leg. Or write about your dog when he was a puppy and you first brought him home. It doesn’t have to be long at all – a few sentences. Just start the process of thinking something and writing it down. Thinking about dancing isn’t the same as actually getting up, putting on the music and gettin’ down. Same with writing. Stop just thinking about it writing that book and instead, write that thought down NOW!

When you don’t know what to write about, write about the first thing you see: Currently, I’m looking at my lamp. I think I need to change the bulb because it flickers every-so-often. I keep meaning to buy a bulb, but I always forget. I’m going to write that down in my grocery list right now! When you practice regularly, you can easily find a way to express yourself on paper.  That’s the goal. It’s like dancing – the more you do it, the more comfortable it is to just go with it and not think too deeply about HOW to do it, it just starts to flow.

Stretch your writing skills:  Here’s a fun way to do this. Put down your pen or close your laptop.  Watch TV.  Yup, I know, trust me. Watch TV, wait for the next commercial. Any commercial.  Before the commercial really starts, turn off the TV.  Write about that product and try and sell it through your writing in a goofy way. Be fun with it, play around a bit. It really helps – and hey, you may be a copywriter and not even know it – but walla! This is another way to change up your writing rehearsal time.  If you normally write stories, try a script, or a poem or write a speech.  All of these take different types of skills as a writer and regardless of whether you do it professionally or not, it’s stretching that writing tool. Just like when I took TAP as a dancer – I’m not a tap-dancer, but I surely can tap if I have too. I never knew that, until I forced myself to try…   

Be comfortable with your own voice. This will take time.  I know a lot of people are advocates of reading as much as possible in order to become a better writer – eeeh… I’m not sure how I feel about that. Don’t get me wrong, I watched other dancers growing up and admired them, but it was the music and the constant battle to be a better dancer and finding my authentic style that made me great. So, of course everyone should read books – I love to read – but I don’t think that’s the ultimate reason why I became a decent writer. Actually, writing daily makes me a decent writer. Learning what my voice “sounded” like on paper made me a more confident writer.  Being a confident writer, makes me a viable writer worthy of getting paid and more importantly, being “seen”! So, practice that writing and get comfortable with your own style and voice on paper!

If you want to be a writer, you need to write. If you want to be a decent or great writer, then you need to put in the rehearsal, the work. It’s not any different than any other profession. Writing is a skill that takes a lot of time and effort to perfect. Maybe you’re a born writer like Misty Copeland is a “born” ballet dancer?  Maybe it’s an innate talent? Writing/Dancing comes easy to you?  But know that Misty rehearses every day.  I rehearsed every day as a dancer and now I practice every day as a writer. The greats, especially the innately gifted, always rehearse and refine their gifts.  Writing is no different.  If you want to write, then sit down and start writing!  Do the work. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!  There are no short cuts success.  Period.

Click the link below if you want some other tips from other writers, authors, etc. about how to be a writer…any tips on dancing or for further questions/comments from me, please feel free to reach out to me anytime on my contact page!