Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: perfectionism

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Last time I wrote about stress and how it can kill creativity. Many “normal” people (code for “non writers”) see our job as play, as fun. They really don’t grasp what goes into creating the stories they all enjoy and that it is a lot of work. Also, because our field is so subjective, writers must endure an onslaught of “enemies” no one else can see because often they are in our head. Sometimes, in our effort to produce the best work we can, we invite in a very dangerous enemy.

Meet….Perfect.

All of us want to do a good job. We want to put our best foot forward. We all say that we want feedback and critique, but deep down, if we are real honest, we want people to love everything we say and do. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality. We can’t please everyone, and it is easy to fall into a people-pleasing trap that will steal our passion, our art, and our very identity.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again with writers. They rework and rework and rework the first chapter of their novel, trying to make it “perfect”—which is actually code for “making everyone happy.” Here is the thing. Not gonna happen. Ever. Oh and trust me, I am giving this lecture to myself as much as anyone.

One person will say our book is too wordy. Another wants more description. We add more description and then another person is slashing through, slaughtering every adjective and metaphor.

Lessons from Aesop

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I find it interesting that some of my favorite childhood stories were about character issues that I’ve struggled with my entire life. My favorite story Old Man Whickett’s Donkey and was loosely based off one of Aesop’s fables, The Man, The Boy and The Donkey. The story in a nutshell is this.

An old man and his grandson head to market with their donkey carrying bags of grain for sale. A passerby says, “What a fool. Why buy a donkey if you aren’t going to ride him?” In response to the critic, Old Man Whickett and the boy load up and ride the donkey into the next town where another passerby says, “You cruel lazy people. That poor donkey carrying all that weight. You should be ashamed.” So Old Man Whickett and the boy dismount and carry the bags of grain and the donkey (which seriously freaked out the donkey).

Anyway—and I am probably butchering this story, but give me a break, I’ve slept since I was five—Old Man Whickett and the boy keep trying to please everyone who passes and what happens?

The bags of grain burst open and spill all over the road from being moved around so much (and in Aesop’s version the donkey falls in the river and drowns). They never make it to market and all of them are exhausted and half-dead from trying to please everyone.

Moral of the tale?

Try to please everyone and we please no one.

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The Fine Line of Fools

We have to walk what I will call the Fine Line of Fools. There are two different types of fools. There are fools who plunge ahead and don’t ask for any feedback and ignore anyone who tries to warn there might be a problem. But then there is the other type of fool who can never seem to make up her mind. She keeps changing direction every time someone has an opinion (been there, done that).

All of us are in danger of being one kind of fool or another. While the wise writer is open to critique, she also needs to know when to stand her ground. If she doesn’t learn to stand firm, that’s when the donkey hitches a ride.

I would love to tell you guys I’ve never been either of those fools, but I don’t dig getting struck with lightning.

Perfectionism and People-Pleasing Mask Fear

I have learned through a lot of trial, error and stupidity that perfectionism and people-pleasing really are just an extension of fear. If we get everyone’s opinion about our book, web site, blog, color of fingernail polish, if someone else doesn’t like it, then we don’t have to own it.

“Well, that wasn’t my idea. That was Such and Such’s idea.”

We Can’t Please EVERYONE

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Over the weekend I took a short family trip to get away and reset my head after the trauma of last month. I love mysteries and detective novels so I hastily just downloaded a book Audible recommended to me based on other books I’d enjoyed. I had never head of the author but there were 14K reviews and overall 4 stars.

So I started listening and the story was just moving at a snail’s pace. In my opinion it was wordy and pretentious and gave me no good sense of place. I kept listening for three hours until I just could’t give any more time to the book. When I looked the book up again, I realized that the author was actually the legend J.K. Rowling writing under a pen name.

I thought that it had to be me. I was just being picky. Maybe I hadn’t turned off my editor’s brain. But when I glanced at the one and two-star reviews, the commenters were saying the same things I was feeling about the story.

But isn’t that just more than a little amazing?

Not that poor J.K. had to endure one-star reviews, but that she isn’t…wait for it….wait for it…she isn’t perfect. Even the famed J.K. Rowling can’t write a book that pleases everyone. Many other readers (far more actually) enjoyed the book. So good for her! She still did her job and did it well.

***As a quick side note this is one of the many, many reasons I never leave a review unless I can give it four stars. There is a person on the other side of that review and for all I know it really could just be me. Maybe Mercury is in retrograde, my underwear is too tight, or I needed to try this book after a vacation.

Learn to Drop the Donkey

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In this new publishing world, all of us need to learn to be leaders and leaders own everything, the good and the bad. That is no easy task, and I have to admit there are times my neck starts hurting and I get this lower back pain and then I realize…I’M CARRYING THE FREAKING DONKEY! DROP THE DONKEY, YOU IDIOT!

We have to be aware that there are jerks and there are also people mean well. Humans offer constructive criticism to show love, even if there is nothing wrong. I’ve seen perfect works of fiction get eviscerated by well-meaning “helpful” critique groups.

This is why it is critical to really understand the rules of writing, why it is essential to really know what our book is about, and to learn to be confident in our brand. This way, when well-meaning folk offer us poles and twine to tie up the donkey on a sledge, we can say, “No, thanks. I think my donkey can walk.”

This is one of the many reasons I love for authors to have a blog. It really does help us develop rhino skin and trains us to publish even when the writing isn’t worthy of a Pulitzer. One mantra I have when I find I am afraid to move forward is:

Perfect is the enemy of the good.

So are you carrying the donkey? Do you find him difficult to drop? Do you fall into the trap of carrying your donkey? I know I am a notorious donkey-toter, but getting better every day. What tools, suggestion or advice would you offer to other who struggle with their respective donkeys? What are warning signs that you are carrying a donkey?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

rattheearnestpainter is JULY’s WINNER! Please send me your 5000 word WORD document, double spaced and in 12 point Times New Roman to kristen at wana intl dot com! Congratulations! You can also choose to send a one-page query letter (250 words) or three-page synopsis (750 words) instead.

Check out the other NEW classes below! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th) will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that 😉 .

We are doing ANOTHER round of Battle of the First Pages!!! August 5th THIS FRIDAY!

The first time we did this we had some tech issues doing this new format and we’ve since worked those out, but for now I am still keeping the price low ($25) until we get this streamlined to my tastes.

LIMITED SEATS. This is an open workshop where each person will submit his or her first page of the manuscript for critique. I will read the page aloud and “gong” where I would have stopped reading and explain why. This is an interactive workshop designed to see what works or what doesn’t. Are you ready to test your page in the fire?

Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages August 12th

The first five pages are the most essential part of the novel, your single most powerful selling tool. It’s how you will hook agents, editors and readers. This class will cover the most common blunders and also teach you how to hook hard and hook early. This class is 90 minutes long, 60 minutes of instruction and 30 minutes for Q&A.

Your First Five Pages Gold Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique your first five pages.

Your First Five Pages Platinum Level

This includes the webinar and a detailed critique of your first twenty pages.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

Image via Amber West WANA Commons
Image via Amber West WANA Commons

As y’all know, Spawn is in Kindergarden and now we have this lovely new experience called, “Helping with Homework.” Hubby, God love him, is new at this “being a Dad and helping with homework” stuff and has his own learning curve. He was at the kitchen table helping Spawn write out letters while I did laundry and cooked dinner. After a while, though, I noticed this homework thing was taking a really…I mean really long time.

Finally, I told Hubby I’d take over while he went and got a shower and when I looked at Spawn’s work, I immediately knew what was going so sideways.

Spawn wasn’t (yet) being graded on how well he wrote the letters. He simply had to DO them.

Hubby was trying to be a good dad so he was making Spawn erase “mistakes” and do the letter over. And, YES, the kid had a lot of nice looking Es but it was taking forever. 

What Hubby didn’t appreciate being new to this “teaching thing” was that Spawn’s just started learning to write and he is strengthening the fine muscles in his fingers and hands. His writing WILL look that bad for now. It’s no shock to the teacher. And, if his writing doesn’t improve? HA! Doctor!

Anyway, when I took over, Spawn wrote a letter and it was, of course, wonky and too small and off-center, but when he went to erase it, I stopped him and said the words I wish I would have learned MANY years ago:

“Perfect is the enemy of the good. Just keep going.”

Because he left his “mistakes” he then had a way of gauging the letters that followed and as he went, I noticed that his writing got better. Instead of being paralyzed that his writing wasn’t perfect, he was able to move forward. So long as it was legible?

Eh, close enough for government work.

Okay, so all was well and good and then the next day I get an e-mail I’d been waiting for. A year and a half ago, I wrote a mystery novel, but then I got seriously ill with Shingles. Shopping this novel just derailed, but now that I was healthy again? I was ready to get this sucker GONE.

Since we all suck at being honest about our own work, I begged an agent friend of mine to read it and give me a professional opinion. It wasn’t a genre she repped or even especially liked, but she is a rockstar who loves me and I trusted her to deliver the hard truth.

Kristen, don’t quit your day job. Stick to editing.

I sent her my novel about a week and a half earlier and of course had been hovering over my e-mail like a vulture over a baked roadkill.

*hits refresh 920th time*

When I open the e-mail, there is the news I’d been waiting for. My novel was solid and firmly in the submission phase.

Yay, OMG! OMG! Wait….*brakes screech*

Oh crap. I have to write a query letter.

I haven’t had to write a query letter for fiction since the Bush Administration. So there I am, uber-blogger-writing-expert-extraordinaire googling How to Write a Query *hangs head in shame*.

WHY?

Because self-doubt descended on me like a teenage boy on a pizza. I help with query letters ALL THE TIME. I can write them for other people in about ten minutes. Suddenly, when I had to do it for MY book? It would have been easier to perform brain surgery remotely from space using a Clapper and a vegetable peeler.

Because if I have an opportunity to over think and overcomplicate something simple? SIGN ME UP!

So there I was writing all these idiotic versions of my query.

My writing style can be compared to the works of Janet Evanovich and…

and…

and…

…and the BIBLE because my words were inspired by ANGELS.

Kill. Me. Now.

After the 78th version of this query? I am done. Put a fork in me.

I felt all smart and virtuous telling Spawn to just keep moving, to not get fixated on perfection, but what was I doing?

No agent is asking for a perfect query letter. They want an interesting query letter.

We writers have to be really really careful about worshipping perfection, and I think fiction can be far more vulnerable because it is far more subjective. There comes a time when we simply have to SHIP. Just let it go. Time to move on to something new. We could edit forever. This applies to blogs, books, query letters and eyeliner.

The world does not reward perfect books, it rewards finished books.

 

Maybe it is time to let go of that first novel you’ve been working on for the last year three years six years. You know what? Maybe it just sucks and that is okay.

My first novel seriously sucked. Heck, my first novel was being used in Guantanamo Bay to break terrorists until it was banned by the Geneva Convention.

I’ll tell you where the bomb is, just not another chapter of that BOOOOOK!

These days my first novel is in the garage because it pees on the rugs and chews on the furniture.

But remember Spawn and his homework? What was the objective? Finish the letters. It never said to make them super pretty and perfect.

Same with becoming a writer and the first novel.

Very often, our first novel is a learning curve. Just like Spawn is developing his fine writing muscles, we are too 😉 .

The first novel is our first attempt to do something most mere mortals can’t. Can we sit and finish a work spanning 60,000-100,000 words?

Or, in my case? 178,000 words.

Gimme a break! I was NEW! 😛

Yes, I was that writer. The one the agents talk about? It’s me. I am the “Alligator-in-the-Sewer” of the publishing world. I am real. I really queried a 178,000 word novel that was all genres and written for everyone to love and that would make an awesome movie and I already had started the screenplay. Did I mention merchandising?

But what I didn’t understand was that novel wasn’t meant to be queried or even published. It had already served it’s purpose and it took me a long time and way too many fruitless revisions to understand that. One of the best lessons I have learned in my career is to simply let go.

Shop it ship it or kill it but move forward.

Write the first book and move on. Write another and another. Sure, the first one might suck, but each one will suck a little less. We learn by doing. Writers only improve by writing MORE.

Perfect is the enemy of the good.

If we hope to be successful at this writing thing, we must master two diametrically opposite skills—latching on and letting go. We can’t finish if we don’t sink in our claws, but we also can’t finish if we fail to ever let go.

Virtually every long-term successful author didn’t make it with ONE novel. We make a good living at writing by writing MANY novels. But, if we don’t get good at shipping? Odds are we will never be able to write full-time. So breathe and just move forward. It gets easier.

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself too concerned with being perfect? Do you think you allow perfectionism to feed you procrastination? Are you still trying to “fix” that first novel and haven’t let go? Do you have trouble moving forward?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

August’s WINNER is lonestarjake88. Please send your 20 pages (2500 words) to kristen at wana intl dot com in a WORD document. Double-spaced and one-inch margins and CONGRATULATIONS!

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Image via QuickMeme
Image via QuickMeme

I am one of the most blessed people on the planet. Truly. I’m not a millionaire and may never be, but I’m infinitely rich. I wouldn’t trade the wonderful people I know personally and on-line for anything. This is a tough post to write because it’s vulnerable. But I know that all of us struggle and fail and fall and often what keeps us pressing is to know others have been a mess (or still are one). It’s why I’ve branded everything I do under We Are Not Alone.

I have a confession. I am a Recovered (Recovering?) Jerk. It would be nice to lie to you and tell you I never have my moments, but I do. Thankfully, they are much rarer than they used to be. Today, I’d like to talk about some of my Jerk Reformation. It could be a BOOK…okay a SERIES of books, but we will touch on the highlights.

And I realize all of you are kind and sweet and don’t need this for you, but maybe it can help with someone you know 😉 .

Perfectionism

I used to be highly critical of everyone and everything, including myself. The last part was likely what others never saw. I led those around me to believe they never measured up, but the truth was, I never measured up. I came from a highly dysfunctional and chaotic home. I knew nothing of peace. I only knew control. Granted, in my mind I was helping. Yet, I’ve learned over the years that people need love more than “help.”

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I was fraud.

On the outside my clothes were perfect, my hair perfect, my house perfect, but truth was? I was falling apart. I felt that showing any weakness was bad, that it made me a failure. This made me prideful and afraid to ask for help. Others didn’t see I needed help because, “Well, Kristen is ‘perfect'” *rolls eyes* Granted, others probably sensed I was a mess so my “perfect” facade simply generated more resentment.

People aren’t fond of phonies. Imagine that?

Life popped me on the snoot and opened my eyes to my character (or lack thereof), my poor attitude, my judgmental ways and my impossible (and stupid) standards. I couldn’t give away what I didn’t have. I had no grace for myself, so how could I give that to others?

I was white-knuckled-terrified of failure, of not knowing ALL the answers or being *gasp* WRONG. Every quiet moment was a montage in my mind of how I sucked, how I’d screwed up, how I should’ve could’ve would’ve….

BLURGH!

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff
Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Spasoff

I refused to cry, to let others know I was a mess. I bottled it up—the fear, the disappointment, the feelings of inadequacy.

What I’ve come to understand is that failure is the tuition we pay for success (Yes, I’ve been using that phrase a lot lately). Failure is vital. Failure is an event, not a state of being. Failure is to be celebrated, because it means we’re being brave. We’re trying. We’re daring to do something remarkable. As I began to give myself permission to fall on my face and laugh it off, I realized I needed to do that with others.

We don’t need critics who point out we fell and draw a diagram of our stupidity and how “they would have done it better.” Likely they wouldn’t have done it any better and even if they did? Who cares? What we need is a hand helping us up, patting us on the back and then high-fiving us for daring to TRY.

Pride

An ugly stepchild of perfectionism is pride. As I mentioned earlier I was prideful. I knew better, did it better and life was all a competition because 2nd place was the first loser.

Dumb, dumb, dumbditty-dumb-dumb.

Yes, I know. I had something to prove but was too foolish to realize there is nothing in life TO PROVE. Good people don’t judge us by our resume or our lists of accomplishments or rows of trophies. Others won’t remember our designer handbag, our perfect house, our fancy car. They will remember and respond to how we made them feel when they were in our company. 

In the United States, the average household has SEVEN credit cards. Out of your hundred closest neighbors, four homes are on the verge of being foreclosed upon. How many of us buy into the lie that others care that much? We run and scramble to keep up with the Joneses when we aren’t seeing the Joneses are BROKE, hurting and miserable.

I worked a job for years that I loathed because the pay was good and the title “impressive.” But, I longed to write. Oh, but writing meant I might have to shop at Walmart or thrift stores instead of fancy boutiques. I might have to drive an old car and clip coupons. THE HORROR! What would others THINK?

Probably nothing, LOL.

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 10.49.52 AMThe funny thing was all those people who were my friends when I could pick up the tab or take them shopping vanished when the money ran out. I learned the hard way that real friends aren’t for sale 😉 .

Pride created other problems. Because I was too afraid to admit I wasn’t the All-Knowing-Oracle-Perfect-At-All-Things, I was an unteachable @$$. This left me to relying on luck and resenting others who were successful. Tearing others down to make myself feel better.

Oh, sure, SHE’S a successful writer. If I had a more supportive family, a better computer, a magic pad of FLOWER POST-ITS I could be there too. WHAAAAAHH!

Stupid, I know.

But when I let down my guard and began to admit that perhaps-maybe-kinda-sorta that I didn’t precisely-specifically-exactly KNOW EVERYTHING I began to grow. I could take advice and even *gasp* criticism. I could separate my work from ME. Mentors, critique partners, etc. were pointing out problems in a story or a situation, not ME. Wow! Who knew?

These were baby steps to learning that my work could be flawed and I’d live and even improve. The next step? I could be flawed in my character, behavior, or attitudes and would live to tell the tale! I might even…improve.

Whoud’a thunk?

Boundaries, Anger, Forgiveness

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons
Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

For a long time I suffered with an anger problem. I’d love to lie to you guys and tell you I’m perfect and cured but I hear thunder rumbling outside and don’t want to push my luck 😀 . When I grew to a point that I could accept increasing layers of critique/criticism with my writing, I was more open to others pointing out my personal flaws.

*shivers*

I was a people-pleaser and said yes to everything. Then I’d get overloaded, stressed, angry and lash out. I’m still working on not overextending. I love to help. This is a great character trait, but it needs balance. One of the reasons I’d lash out in anger is I was realllllly bad at putting down boundaries, communicating them and sticking to them in a loving way. I’d back up and back up and back up and say, “Oh, it’s okay” when it wasn’t.

Then BOOM!

Image of a Kristen Temper Tantrum via Wikimedia Commons.
Image of a Kristen Temper Tantrum via Wikimedia Commons.

Three of my best friends, Ingrid Schaffenburg, Jay Donovan and Piper Bayard pointed this out (among other things). It hurt. I defended. I railed against the unfairness…then realized *sigh* they were correct.

What I’ve learned is that boundaries are part of all healthy relationships. I heard this metaphor and love it. Your life, MY life is like a beautiful garden (which likely needs a lot of weeding but that’s another post). Frequently we buy into the lie that fences are bad. People should be free to come in and out of our lives. This is true, which is why all good fences have a GATE.

Image courtesy of Norah Wilson WANA Commons
Image courtesy of Norah Wilson WANA Commons

We need to let people in and out and through, but this doesn’t mean we offer them permission to dump old tires and toxic waste into our space. I was letting others bring in junk and saying, “Oh, it’s okay, set the rusted emotional refrigerator there…but next time.” No, it isn’t okay. It wasn’t okay. This led to anger, resentment and then an outburst.

HOW COULD YOU PUT THAT HERE? So I LET you…. Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Rene Schweitzke
HOW COULD YOU PUT THAT HERE? So I LET you….
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Rene Schweitzke

I’d explode, then justify. Then talk about it over and over and over as if this replay made me being an angry jerk okay (Hint: It didn’t). And then I’d think about it over and over and that’s when anger had a chance to take root. I didn’t know how to forgive, thus adding to my Supreme Jerk Status.

Are We Ringing the Bell?

I used to believe that forgiving others gave them a pass, that they were somehow “getting away” with something. Unbelievably, I’d somehow forget about all the times I’d shown MY butt and wanted grace. I was wanting from others what I was unwilling to give in return.

Then I heard another story and it changed me (because I dig anecdotes).

There once was a young monk who’d been terribly wronged by another. He prayed and prayed but the anger never went away. He could not forgive no matter how hard he tried. So, he went to the old parish priest and asked for advice. The older priest knew the young man was in charge of ringing the bells for service. He said to the young man, “When you pull the rope to ring the bell, does it only sound once?”

The young monk replied, “Well, no, it keeps ringing.”

“But the ringing eventually gets softer then fades and finally stops. Correct?”

“Yes.”

“My son, anger and forgiveness is the ringing of the bell. The pain will be deafening at first and will take time to fade. Our job is to not continue to pull the rope.”

I used to believe that if I forgave, that magically-mystically the pain would go away. It doesn’t. It takes time. This is why my family was so angry (and many still are). They are still talking about when Such-and-Such did this or that and how awful they were and GOOD GRIEF that person has been DEAD for 15 years! Enough already!

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Maybe some of you have relationships where you aren’t in trouble for something you just did, you are still getting hammered with how you failed a month ago, a year ago, or when you were FIVE.

And the bells still ring.

I didn’t realize I was doing that to others. To make my poor behavior somehow better, I’d talk about how Thus-And-Such did this or that and HOW AWFUL and poor ME. Then, I was oblivious to why I couldn’t have solid relationships.

Here’s the hard news. All of us will be hurt and all of us will hurt others. It’s life. With some, we need to stop ringing bells. I was terribly abused by certain people and I had to discipline myself to let it go. I was letting someone rent space in my head for free. Failing to forgive was like drinking poison and hoping the other person would drop dead.

And this is why the gate is vital. We need to forgive. Forgiveness is for US. This doesn’t, however, mean we allow the person free reign to trample though our garden. Some people might never get to come through the gate. This doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven or are still angry, it means we are setting a BOUNDARY.

For instance, I have a family member who is like living with Mt. Vesuvius. Everything has to be HER way and she looks for opportunities to create strife. I recall the family throwing a birthday party and, as par for the course, this person arrived and within minutes, the conflict began.

In the old days, I would have bitten. It would have become a Jersey-Shores-Jerry-Springer-Argument over who’d done what or worse or whatever. We’d have fought over a list of wrongs reaching back to the 80s.

This time? I didn’t. I calmly said, “I understand you’re upset. Please go take ten minutes to cool off. But, we are here for a birthday celebration and we still want to be. But, if you are going to act this way, then I’m afraid we will have to leave. I hope you choose to let it go and enjoy the fun we’ve prepared.” And the difference this time was I was calm, but I was also FULLY prepared to leave.

As a recovering jerk, I was unwilling to take the bait. I’d learned that if I maintained peace, the offender would be the only jerk left standing. Jerks can be like a hurricane. They NEED that hot-moist air to fuel their raw powers of destruction. If we refuse to fuel them, they fizzle.

Image of a Family Reunion from SPACE, courtesy of Tom Brandt via Flickr Creative Commons.
Image of a Family Reunion from SPACE, courtesy of Tom Brandt via Flickr Creative Commons.

The same applied to ME. The perfectionism, pride, back-biting, resentment, jealousy, anger, false pretenses were fuel that kept me in the destructive cycle of being a jerk. To change, I needed to learn to love others where they are. Love myself where I am. Perfection is a lie. Pride is a poison.

We Are All Works in Progress

We all have good days, bad days and days we wish we could erase completely. Most people are not sitting up all night thinking of ways to make others miserable (Some do, so don’t let them through that gate until they knock it off). We screw up and always will.

But the good news is we can learn, grow and become better. We can discipline ourselves to look for the good in ourselves and others, because it takes no great talent to be critical. And the beautiful thing is when we learn to give ourselves permission to be imperfect, we get better at extending that grace to others.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, via Stupid.Photos

If we only want to be around “perfect” people, life will get really lonely. Also, good fence-building is a skill that takes time.

I love this blog and adore all of you. Honestly. I love how you guys talk about your struggles and lift one another up. I’m inspired by your generosity, your honesty, your newness, your authenticity, your brokenness, your flaws, your weakness, your strengths and all of it makes me better every day. I might still be a jerk without you 😀 .

What are your thoughts? Shocked I am a Recovering Jerk? Hey, we jerks need friends too. Do you struggle with perfectionism? Do you find yourself holding others to super high standards because you do it to yourself? Are you afraid of being you? Afraid if people knew your house was loaded with laundry they might not like you?

Do you deal with family who tramples through your heart and home? Are you learning about how to put up good fences too? Are you afraid if you cry you might never stop? Are you a Recovering Jerk too? What did you learn?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons
Image courtesy of Cellar Door Films WANA Commons

In my last post we discussed striving to find balance and giving ourselves permission to be imperfect. This brought about some interesting discussion and I’d like to expound. I confess. Americans are notorious for “shortening” the language.

We use a lot of words as synonyms when, truth be told, they aren’t. Or we have “blanket words” which mask truth, thus prevent us from making progress in life, with relationships, our career or even ourselves.

As writers, we of all people should appreciate the power of words. We have the ability to create entire new worlds that could possibly endure hundreds or thousands of years…all by using various combinations of symbols. Words have creative and destructive power. This is true in non-fiction, fiction and in life.

When I began college, I was on scholarship to become a doctor, thus spent over three years as a Neuroscience Major. Though I eventually earned my degree in Underwater Basket-Weaving (International Relations/Economics), I’m still a geek when it comes to science.

I subscribe to Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Discovery Magazine and inhale science books like candy, but brain science is of particular interest to me.

Did you know, for instance, that our brains cannot discern the difference between truth and lie? So, if we walk around with a self-dialogue that says, I’m just going to fail. I never finish what I start. I can’t do this. Our brains metaphorically shrug and say, “Okay. As you wish.” It is the human will that makes the difference, and will is guided by self-talk and belief.

I love leadership books and self-help, and I know they catch a lot of flack. I don’t buy the Think It and It Will Happen because this is only part of a much larger equation. We still have to put in the sweat equity. BUT, self-talk can act as an internal guidance system, which means we have to be careful of our thought life as well as what we tell ourselves and others.

Another interesting fact is that the human brain begins listening at the first ACTIVE VERB. I see this bungle in advertising all the time.

Don’t forget to sign up!

When does the brain begin listening? What is it really “hearing”?

Forget to sign up.

Changing how we talk to ourselves and others can make a HUGE difference. Instead of saying Don’t forget where you put your keys, replace that with Remember where you put your keys. You’ll be surprised how much your “memory” will improve.

Blanket Words

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Blanket words are particularly dangerous because of their vagueness. We cannot change our self-destructive behaviors, rid poor habits, gain better habits, achieve or even properly communicate if we get lazy with the language. All right, maybe some can, but life can already be tough enough, why make it tougher?

I’ve told this story before, so forgive me if you’ve heard it. Part of how I became a writer is I have HORRIFIC food allergies, which often can be diagnosed as other illnesses. In my case, I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy.

The misdiagnosis destroyed my career and wrecked my immune system. I’d had pneumonia three times in a year and couldn’t get well. I lost everything and had to move in with my mother, which was humiliating and demoralizing.

I recall my mom coming into my room one day and I was still in bed. I’d always been a neat-freak. In fact, when I was in sales, I once moved and the movers were shocked it took less than three hours to move me and took less than four hours for me to completely unpack. They teased me that I was the “House the Rubbermaid made,” meaning everything was neat and organized and labeled and in an appropriate box.

So fast-forward to me living with my mom. Laundry everywhere. I couldn’t have found my own butt without GPS and a flashlight. I’m still in bed. All I want to do is cry and OD on chocolate. My mom comes in and asks if I am depressed. This was an A-HA moment for me.

I said, “No, I’m overwhelmed. I’m angry. I don’t know where to start. I’m heartbroken.”

For the first time, I refused to use this blanket word depressed. I spoke aloud the truth of what was really happening  inside and, for the first time, this empowered me. What could I do about being “depressed” other than maybe take meds and go to yet another shrink who wanted to talk about my childhood and have me journal to my Inner Child? (I walked out of the last psychiatrist’s office the second she mentioned “journal.”)

And journaling might have been productive had I been being specific instead of playing the internal violin and using nebulous words like sad or tired or depressed. When I finally confessed I was overwhelmed?

Well, Kiddies, we can do something about that.

We can make lists of everything that is scaring the bejeezus out of us and break those frogs down into manageable parts for positive change. Anger? We can confess that and let it go. Figure out WHY then change that, too. Tired? Are we really tired or are we disillusioned, overwhelmed, or wounded? Maybe we are simply dehydrated or need more exercise and sleep.

I was really proud of my mom the other day. She works a tough job as an RN. Instead of saying, “I had a bad day” she said, “I had an arduous day.” Note the difference? Bad is a blanket and amorphous qualifier that risks tainting our overall attitude. Arduous?

“Arduous” is limited to the circumstances of that day and even implies a bit of victory because, despite the day being difficult? She MADE IT!

Careful of False Synonyms

Image Courtesy of Jenny Kaczorowski WANA Commons
Image Courtesy of Jenny Kaczorowski WANA Commons

This dovetails into my next point. There are a lot of words we use as synonyms which really aren’t. For instance, someone might say, “She is such a mature eight-year-old.” No. Maturity is only birthed from experience and, unless this eight-year-old just escaped a concentration camp? Unlikely she is mature. Now, the child might be precocious (seeming older than her years) but she isn’t mature.

She’s still a delicate little kid who needs the support of adults. “Mature” implies she’s earned emotional armor she doesn’t have and often can set the kid up for facing things alone when an adult really needs to be there for guidance and support.

Mad or angry are other false synonyms. What are we really? Disappointed? Ask the tough questions because those yield the best answers and thus can reveal the best plan to remedy the situation.

If I say to my husband, “You are such a jerk and I’m mad at you,” this limits what either of us can do.

However, if I say, “I’m really disappointed. I feel like too many of the plans for global domination and laundry are being left to me and I need help. I’m overwhelmed.” THIS implies a reality which has a plan of action to remedy the situation. Let HIM train the sea monkeys Ju-Jitsu for a change.

Situational Versus Conditional

This brings me to the impetus for this blog. “Striving for excellence” and “perfection” are two different things. If I’m caught up in “perfectionism” notice the “ism” at the end. The —ism is Latin for the condition of things. Alcoholism, racism, sexism. See how this implies a belief and a continuing state rather than an event?

The reason perfectionism is particularly nefarious is perfection is an impossible goal. Thus, when we buy into perfectionism we’re automatically setting ourselves up for failure, disappointment, self-loathing and neuroses. Perfection can’t be attained so the goal can never be reached.

There will always be someone who doesn’t like our blog/book/article. We cannot please everyone. There will always be someone fitter, thinner, richer, more talented, and The Perfection Gremlin goes nuts when faced with any kind of “competition.”

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Striving for excellence? Totally different story. We can be excellent without being “perfect.” Excellence ships. Excellence has deadlines. I can finish and let go of an excellent book. A perfect book? Good way to still be editing the same book for a decade.

Perfect steals the life from life and from art. Life is messy and rough and often what we humans love. We don’t like “perfect” people or “perfect” characters because we can’t connect and relate.

Perfectionism is qualitative, where as excellence is QUANTITATIVE. We can’t measure an imaginary ideal. We can, however measure PROGRESS.

Make it a habit to say, “I’m not where I want to be, but I’m not where I used to be. I’m growing every day.” Say it even when you don’t believe it. Eventually the brain with catch up and so will reality.

Tell Me What You WANT

I get onto my mom about this all the time (yet she still loves me and IS improving). For instance, after a major surgery last year, she started working on rebuilding muscle. She’d say, “I don’t want to be an old lady who can’t even get off the toilet.” I corrected her and said, “Okay, now tell me what you DO want instead of what you DON’T want.”

I want to be extremely fit. I want to be an energetic, athletic older woman.

Same with writing. Instead of, “I don’t want to be a failure.” Tell me/yourself what you DO want. And going back to one of the point I made earlier in the post, look at what negative and even positive goals are REALLY telling us if the brain is lazy and only begins listening at the first active verb.

I don’t want to be fat.

I want to be fit and healthy.

I don’t want to be one of those writers who never sells books.

I want to be a successful author who makes enough off my writing to quit the day job and live even more comfortably doing what I love.

This is why I LOATHE the term “aspiring writer.” Aspiring gives us a pass. It labels us as hobbyists who are holding back out of fear. “Pre-Published Author” comes with responsibility, confidence and a plan of action.

To achieve anything, we must set goals. From finishing the laundry to finishing the novel. Yet, a key component of solid goals is they are positive, actionable and attainable. And don’t let the attainable throw you off. Yes, timing, luck and chance can factor into this. BUT, I can have a goal of, “I will be a NYT Best-Selling Author” and take steps to make that reality…like, um, writing. 

Testing What We Believe

One of my first jobs as a writer was I wrote textbooks for teaching forensic writing analysis. To do this I trained for months with investigators studying thousands and thousands of writing samples (and I used to give a super cool presentation on this subject).

The FBI can look at handwriting and tell A LOT about the person and it’s a fantastic way of constructing a psychological profile. Why? Handwriting doesn’t lie.

***And people will say, Oh, but my writing is always different. I have at least five types of handwriting. To the trained eye? Nope. There are fundamentals that will remain consistent.****

I can look at a sample of writing and tell if the person still has her wisdom teeth (there is a neurological hiccup that will give an extra dollop of ink at a particular hesitation mark in rounded letters like “o” once those particular teeth are removed).

The trained analyst can see anger, aggression, level of self-esteem, suicidal tendencies, depression, emotional repression, psychosis, immaturity, narcissism, self-confidence, joy, love and on and on. The “science” (though only a tool and not admissible in court) is truly remarkable and frighteningly accurate.

There was one tidbit of my training that I’ve kept with me for the past fifteen years. In our handwriting (for most people) it is impossible to lie. Our subconscious will tattle on us every time. How? Spaces.

Most people aren’t sociopaths so we kinda suck at lying. If forced to lie in a conversation, one of the ways others spot our lie is in our hesitation.

Where were you?

I was    at the    movies.

The same phenomena happens when we write. There will be a space if we don’t believe what we’re writing. The bigger the space? The more we disbelieve what we’re “saying.”

Take out a piece of paper and a pen and write things you know you believe versus something you know is completely false (at a normal speed of writing) and look at the difference. I do this to double-check what I believe about my goals and see what I really feel on a subconscious level.

I will be a New York Times Best-Selling Author!

Or?

I    will be     a   New York Times     Best-Selling Author

Often I will crosscheck with silly sentences to compare.

I     will    give   up     writing     for    life in the     rodeo.

Thus, if I get:

I will finish my next novel by May.

I will     give    up     and go    back into     sales.

I can cross-compare and SEE what my subconscious believes is truth. And, to be blunt, when I began as a writer? I didn’t believe I’d succeed. I’d write:

One day     soon    I    will    be           published.

The spaces represent what we either don’t believe, accept or even where we might be emotionally distancing. Other things that might happen in this exercise is, if we don’t believe? We will misspell things. If we believe? We can see !s or even underlines. This shows we really are believing what we are writing.

When I began doing this 15 years ago, I didn’t believe it when I wrote I will be a successful author. I got:

I     will be   a succsessfull     writer

But, as I took steps to learn the craft, build a platform, read, train, and finish, guess what happened? Eventually my belief changed and I could literally measure how my subconscious self was improving over time with this simple exercise.

I went from:

I     will be   a succsessfull     writer

I   will be   a successful   writer (notice the spaces closing and no longer misspelled)

I am    a successful writer (Hmmm, no punctuation and still have gaps, but notice the verb change)

I am a successful writer (No more spaces)

I am a successful writer. (Improving)

I am a successful writer(BINGO!)

I believe that success, finishing, joy, peace, reaching dreams and making them reality begins in the mind. We can only achieve that which we can first conceive. I’m very careful about my self-talk. If I catch myself saying, “Don’t forget to send out that check.” I stop and say, “Remember to send out that check.”

I only permit the positive. I used to chant, “Oh, I am such a failure. Why hope for anything good? I’ll just be disappointed. I’ll never finish this book.” I expected rejection and failure, so guess what I got?

To be blunt, this transition wasn’t overnight. I had a lifetime of bad habits when it came to how I spoke about myself, my situation and others. I had to first be aware of what I was thinking and saying. Then, I had to change that and learn to rephrase in the positive. Changing my way of speaking changed my thinking and then finally my beliefs.

But, it was a process and it’s one that never ends.

Even in the darkest times when life was kicking me in the teeth, instead of playing the Woe is Me tune, I began thinking and saying, “What is this challenge developing in me? In my character? How am I going to grow stronger because of this?” It might even be something as simple as remaining peaceful. We don’t have to be at the mercy of circumstance.

We can’t choose our situation, but we can choose our attitudes. We can change how we see ourselves and our futures. And this is like bathing, it should be done daily. There is no Magic Thought Wand that’s going to transform us overnight. This is a process and a habit and it must be maintained (and paired with work), ergo why I really love that writing exercise. It’s clear when I’m slipping and allowing negativity and doubt and perfectionism to take over.

What are your thoughts? *bada bump snare* Do you have negative self-talk? Are you working to break the habit? Are you conscious about your thought life? Do you struggle with the trap of perfectionism? Are you now terrified I will see your handwriting? 😀

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

Also, I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World. THANK YOU!

 

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Image from Flikr Creative Commons via Luke Hayfield Photography

There are days I feel so enlightened, so mature…and then I think back *head desk*. Have you ever wanted to take a DeLorean back in time to kick your own @$$? Sometimes it’s nice to realize how much I’ve grown, but then I remember how much dumb stuff I’ve done…

…and I just want to use Space-Time White-Out.

I think about how poorly I reacted to certain trials, how I acted like a total jerk, how I could only see what I wanted. Yet, as much as I’d love to go back in time and change things, I know the only reason I’m better is I did a LOT of stuff wrong.

I like to blog about writing, namely because I want writers (especially the newbies) to know you are not alone. We all make a lot of the same mistakes. We all think adverbs and flashbacks are AWESOME in the beginning. The oopses are part of the learning curve.

Fear of Failure

I recall as early as four years ago being SO terrified of failure, of making a mistake. I thought I had to be perfect at everything. Yet, the weird thing is that as long as I thought I had to be perfect, I engaged in activities that assured I “never made a mistake.” I stayed in the comfort zone where I could “look good.”

But I stagnated. For the record, anything that stagnates, eventually rots and stinks.

Life In Forward Gear

One thing many of us struggle with is we can only see where we went wrong. Ask any of us to name our faults, and we can answer in essay form. But ask us what we are good at? Where we shine? It takes a minute…or a few days.

We can fall into this nasty habit of nitpicking and only looking at where we screwed up, or where we could have done better. The danger of this is that life moves forward. If we try to live a life that moves forward being guided by a rearview mirror, it’s only a matter of time until we crash.

We can’t accurately see ahead (our future) if we’re always looking back.

Be Careful Where You Focus

I’ve talked about this example before, but it’s a powerful one. My first fiction project involved a story set in Monte Carlo at the Formula One. To do research, I became friends with a lot of people in Ferrarri Racing.

One of the strangest lessons I ever heard was that drivers, who are going at mind-blowing speeds around twisting, winding roads, are always in danger of hitting the wall. But, to avoid hitting the wall, they must train themselves to NEVER LOOK at the wall. Why? Because the car goes where they eyes go.

If all we look at is where we fall short, what mistakes we’ve made, we shouldn’t be shocked when we just do the same dumb stuff over and over. We’re far wiser to make a list of what we do correctly, what we do well and focus on that, instead.

Gain a Habit of ALWAYS Phrasing Things in the Positive

The human mind cannot tell the difference between truth and lie. Just this morning, I caught myself saying, “Oh, Kristen, you are just so disorganized.” I stopped myself and said, “Kristen, you aren’t where you want to be, but look how far you’ve come. You are getting better organized each and every day.”

Instead of:

I just know I’m going to forget my keys.

I say:

Kristen, remember you put your keys here.

I find I do MUCH better when I speak in positive terms. Much of our growth will come when we change our relationship with failure and mistakes. In fact, yesterday, it hit me:

Mistakes can refine us or define us.

I will be the first to admit I have done a lot of things wrong. And, unless I pay for cryogenic stasis, odds are I will do even more stuff wrong so all of you have been forewarned :D. But my attitude is, if we aren’t failing, we aren’t doing anything interesting.

There was a time when all I could see was the high school drop out (yes, I dropped out TWICE), the person who lost her keys, who didn’t balance her checkbook, who didn’t have this or do that. But that’s wasted energy.

I goof. We all do.

And screwing up is one of life’s greatest teachers. I learned to ride a bike by falling off a BUNCH of times. This doesn’t change in life.

Sure, I’d be tempted to go back in time if I could and change some things, but then again?

Nah. I’m good.

What about you? Do you find you beat yourself up too much? Do you struggle with fear of failure? Is it hard for you to admit what you do correctly? Are you quicker to point out your flaws than your strengths? Do you think about what life might have been like if you’d “done things right”? Would you go back and change things if you could?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of April I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!