I heard this from a friend in Seattle this week: “I write with a question. After much dithering, hemming and hawing, I have found the key to my book… I would greatly appreciate your counsel on how to navigate the process of getting it published. Finding an agent, self-publishing, Amazon? This is a world about which I know nothing.” Here was my answer to her:
What an amazing place to be: right at the beginning of something new and exciting, feeling clueless, and wide open to learning! Lovely, lucky you. Take some deep breaths, find someone to celebrate, or commiserate, your current state with, and enjoy this moment. I’ll be self-publishing my eighth book this spring, and I’m still far from feeling like an expert. I think I know a few helpful things to share…
The question that you’re asking is a big one. My own short answer is this: center on who and what you love. If you love the process and the people, then you’ll be satisfied (and some days, thrilled) regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen. So part of your goal should be asking yourself these questions as you go: Do I love the process? Am I learning to say goodbye to and let go of what I don’t love? Am I making choices based at least in part on what I most love to do and who I most love to be with? How you choose to publish should reflect who you are: what you enjoy doing, what you’re good at, who you like to work with, who your community naturally is, how you and your community members/natural work mates like to work, and also, yes, at least here in the U.S. in 2018, how much money you can spend up front. I’m a present-moment person, so those are my questions. If you’re a future-leaning person, then maybe ask: Where do you see yourself and your book in 2 to 5 years? Who do you imagine will be your coworkers along the way to get there? Who will you read the book to? Where will you be? How much of a hand do you want to have in major decisions and in book promotion, distribution, and sales along the way? If you’re a learn-from-the-past person, then maybe questions like these are better questions: Who has created books or left a legacy that I respect and admire? What did they do and not do? I suggest that you talk to 4 or 5 people who have published books in the past 2 to 10 years (or longer, depending on you and your subject) related to your subject and genre so you can get a broader picture of why people choose to publish the way they do and get a clearer picture of what it takes to publish (the easier part) and to live an authoring life (the impossibly hard part if you’re not an author at heart).
If you want a really long answer, then here are some thoughts from my experience. There are hybrid approaches now, but these are your three basic choices:
- Big publishing houses. In 2009-2010, I spent about a year and a half thinking about publishing via traditional routes. That is, find an agent, shop a manuscript around, find a big publisher, work with that publisher to produce and promote the book, become J.K. Rowling, and then say whatever you want to say on Twitter without fear because the whole world has your back. In big publisher world, as a first-time author you need an agent to even be heard, unless you’re exceptionally famous or infamous. You also need a significant author platform already in place (this is all the ways you’re already listened to by the masses—such as your own blog, speaking gigs you already do, podcasts, classes you teach, programs you host, media coverage you’ve received, etc.) for your manuscript to even be considered, no matter how good it is. As the most forward-thinking and cutting edge big publishing house editor told me “In this space, we don’t start revolutions. We document revolutions that already happened, because we need to make that kind of money [big money] to survive.” So kind, he was, to say that to me, saving me years of wasted time and trouble! There are thick books of agents and publishing houses published every year to be up to date—you can ask at any bookstore for them, and start there. However, attending a few writer’s conferences is perhaps the simplest way to find an agent. You could try Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association’s (PNWA’s) next writers conference. Most big writer’s conferences set up pitch sessions that you can sign up for and then you get to pitch your book idea or manuscript to a few agents. After about 18 months of exploring this world, I decided that route wasn’t for me. I somehow knew back then that I wanted to be a full-time author: writing book after book after book regardless of what else I was doing. From my perspective back then, the big publisher world felt like choosing to spend my working life on the biggest, slowest (not to mention kind of elitist and wasteful) cruise ship on earth (where authors were deck scrubbers while others drove the ship, made the big decisions, and doled out the wages). I learned that what I enjoy is more like kayaking or sailing with a few friends—a place where everyone gets to be in charge sometimes and people adore and trust each other from the get go for their complementary skill sets. Other authors love the big publisher world. And I get it–I hate doing all the leg work for book promotions. Still, it just wasn’t for me. For one reason, even after you get an agent (which could take years, depending on how much time you have to devote to that), and then get your manuscript accepted by a big publisher (which could also take years), it can then still take an additional 1 to 3 years for the book itself to be published and reach store shelves—and this last part is on the publisher’s schedule, not yours.
- Small publishing houses. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of small publishers in the US. You can find them by asking your book nerdiest writer and reader friends (and their friends), by searching Google, and also at writer’s conferences. I suggest doing all three if you have the time. I recommend trying to find someone at a local (or emotionally local to you) small publishing house willing to talk to you about their process. Often editors from small publishing houses attend writer’s conferences where you can sign up to pitch a book idea or manuscript directly to them. You don’t necessarily need an agent with a small publisher, although you’ll most likely want an attorney to help review contracts and think about legal ramifications of some choices if you aren’t inclined to research legal questions yourself and don’t have a background in negotiations and/or mistrusting others. Artists, who tend to love and trust for a living, can be wise to partner with one kind person who mistrusts for a living. Not everyone who publishes a book is an artist, of course–you might also do fine on your own. I haven’t yet worked with a small publishing house yet, but I can now imagine doing so in the future. Likely because I’m old enough now that I have a few friends who run small publishing houses. People who run small publishing houses tend to be well, cool, from my perspective. People I enjoy spending time with. People whose passions and skills complement and stretch my own. Working with a small publisher is a far more intimate arrangement. Some small publishing houses publish just 3 to 12 books a year, so if you’re among the chosen, you are all in it to win it for your book–rising or sinking together.
- Self-publishing. This is the wild west of book publishing, and it’s where my own expertise lives. It’s still not simple, but it’s considerably simpler to self-publish in 2018 than it was 7 years ago when I started. Systems that tend toward getting simpler (not easier) with time are where I like to live, I’ve learned–likely because most of the human world is getting more complex right now. There are still emerging and new ways to work in the self-publishing space, and you can try different things with every book you publish (if that sounds like fun, this might be for you). In this space, you are the publisher/big decision maker and often the project manager while others—such as distributors, printers, editors, cover artists, indexers, etc.—essentially work for you. Getting a book to a published state can be much faster here. I self-published my first book in 2012, and I will be publishing my eighth book in March 2018. I chose to self-publish the first seven for many reasons: because a) I wanted to learn the process from end to end, b) I had the mindset (coming out of Microsoft and my doctoral program back then) of experimenting and learning at every stage as a fun thing and also confidence in my own skill set (as a dev editor I’d helped others get their books published via Microsoft Press), c) I wanted to publish some of the books quickly—for particular purposes or for particular people, in the same year I’d written them, d) I had community members with skill sets that complemented my own, e) an ability to ask for help and hire/barter skills and services with friends and friends of friends, and f) I was willing to manage the book as a project and try my hand at promotions/marketing/sales. I was lucky (and naturally inclined) to have people around me willing to learn along with me. For example, people who were editors, illustrators, publications, and manuscript to book and eBook conversion experimentors who were willing to learn along with me and work with me. I also got legal advice, as needed, from a group of attorneys that worked at the same coworking space where I worked–another place we traded services instead of paying for them. We used Amazon’s CreateSpace (book) and Kindle Direst Publishing (KDP) (eBook) for the first seven books because they were the easiest for us (back then) and we had so many other things to learn that we needed easy. They were essentially the printer and online distributor and I myself (with my spouse and closest friends) made the big decisions. We were the publisher.
Another upside to this approach is that it is a relatively inexpensive up front route. I needed that. I’d quit my day job to finish the last year of my doc program and I decided to try to write full time before pursuing another day job. Self-publishing is relatively inexpensive in that, for example, for some books I leaned on my closest friends or my spouse to do publications, formatting, and manuscript to PDF and MOBI file conversions to hand off files to Amazon (bartering their expertise on my projects for my expertise on their projects = free labor for everyone!). I’ve always paid for quality editing, but I’ve bartered my own skills and services for everything else at some point: for example, some of my cover art and promotional materials like postcards and bookmarks. The way CreateSpace and KDP (and many others) work, you pay nothing to them up front. Instead, they take a percentage of every book that’s sold, and the physical books are print-on-demand, which is invisible to anyone who purchases books online (well, except for big publishing company and other traditional purists and book makers who will notice the subtle-to-invisible quality differences). I’ve published several books for under $1,000 this way—paying only for editing and sometimes cover art up front. So this is a great way to start if you don’t have much money and want to experiment. The down side is that you are on the hook for ALL your own marketing and book promotion. Don’t quit your day job to try self publishing, unless you’re already famous somehow. We lost money on my first 3 books as we figured things out. We broke even on books 4 and 5. We made a little money on book 6 the first year. A little more on book 7. We have big plans for book 8! Another upside is that we can promote and sell these books forever (if that sounds like an upside to you, you might be a self publisher). All our books are residual income for us now. Tiny amounts trickle in each month, and more money shows up whenever we do book readings, teach workshops, give interviews, do online training, and so on (basically, whenever we show up in person we see bumps in book sales). With a traditional big publisher, to the best of my limited knowledge, your book might be promoted in a big way for just the first year (or a few years if you’re lucky). If it’s not selling well, they’ll pull it at some point.
Things have evolved quite a bit in the self-publishing world since 2012. Personally, I find working with small organizations more fun and interesting, so I’ve been looking at For my eighth book, here in 2018, I’m using BookBaby. They can handle cover art, publications/formatting, editing, conversion to ebooks, and getting it out onto all the major online booksellers and into the hands of the publishing house that makes it possible for bookstores to order and stock your book (Ingram). (Basically, all the things I’ve learned I don’t love doing or managing myself.) You can pick and choose services too: for example, I used my own editor, not theirs, since as a former editor I have dozens of editor friends–from proof readers to copy editors to dev editors. And BookBaby can connect you with book marketing/promotions consultants that charge by the hour to give you advice about how to focus your efforts and best market and promote your book. (I would have killed for that back in 2011 and 2012 and 2013–back when I was trying dozens of things and failing at almost all of them.) I’ll let you know how it goes with them. See, even after eight books, there’s still much to learn and experiment with here in self-publishing land! There are other end-to-end self-publishing services companies like BookBaby out there now, too. There’s a more local one in Portland that someone suggested to me recently: Luminare, I believe their name was. I may check them out for the next book. BookBaby is based in New Jersey.
I love self-publishing because as the publisher I automatically own all the content and can do whatever I want with it, when ever I want. There are no complicated negotiations that require an agent and few (typically) that require an attorney. BookBaby’s staff work with me: I don’t work for them. For my latest book, which is twice as long (120,000 words) as any other book I’ve written, I paid ~$1,300 for editing (which is low, thanks to my connections and friendships) and I expect to pay ~$1,500 to BookBaby for covers, publication/formatting/proofing, and getting the book to the dozen or so distributors. I now work with my husband from our own work/home studio space, Silly Dog Studios. We promote our books via an email mailing list, social media, friends, prereaders (who get a free book for providing reviews online, even bad reviews–I’m not Trump), local booksellers, in-person book readings at places that make the most sense for each particular book, as part of workshops and classes we teach here at Silly Dog Studios, and at the two big Whidbey Island farmer’s markets April-October. I’m looking into Indiebound right now to move future marketing to a space I more naturally fit than giant Amazon (who is too big to care, for example, that another Lori Kane writing 5-page terrible erotica “books” shows up in searches for me–the people may empathize, but the organization can’t, it’s just too big to make changes for one author). We also have many artist, writer, neighbor, and other small business owner friends who naturally promote books for us, too. Here in very small business land, we all promote each other’s work. That’s how we survive. More importantly, that’s how we like it and how we thrive. (I’m far better at promoting group work/community-level work and other’s work than my own individual work, which actually works just fine here in self-publishing land–I don’t have to change who I am in ways that feel unnatural to me. Daniel and I also plan to make the individual chapters of book 8 available on my website, so I can also sell individual chapters to people who don’t want the whole big book, too. My latest book is creative non-fiction and the chapters stand alone well. It’s a busy world. My audience may want just two of the 9 chapters–that’s perfectly fine with me. We’re planning to host workshops here that use the book’s content as the base. We make all our books available for sale to those who come to workshops and events here. FYI, [person-specific suggestion for my friend who asked the question] are terrific places for book readings and book sales about [your subject]! Just remember to bring cash/change, since many people there don’t want to swipe their credit card into a device on somebody else’s smart phone to buy a book!
In my professional opinion, the process to have a great-selling book, become a well-known author, or to make a full-time living as an author takes between 8 and 20 years of dedicated hard work and learning to ask for and accept community help at every turn, regardless of which publishing route you take. If you’re not an author at heart, you will fail regardless of which approach you try because your heart won’t be in it. If you are an author at heart, you will succeed regardless of which approach you try because you won’t give up no matter how many failures and rejections you encounter and you will draw people to you who will support you in your efforts and you’ll support them in theirs. You have to grow through the process of publishing and becoming an author and that growth takes time—it can’t be rushed by mere humans. I know a few exceptions who got there faster than 8 years, but those exceptions work their BUTTS off night and day, almost round the clock, 365-days per year to make that “exception” happen. As a secondary caregiver for one parent with Alzheimer’s disease and a primary care partner for the other parent (who is exhausted from 15 years of caregiving), not to mention as someone who needs a well-rounded life outside of constant book promotion to create great books in the first place, I haven’t had that kind of time to become exceptional quickly. 😉 Today, that’s fine with me. Exceptional isn’t a thing I aspire to anymore. Here in Lori Land, exceptional is a thing we all naturally are when we slow down long enough to notice.
An up side to self-publishing is that you can get a published book in your hands much faster than the big and small publisher routes. The down side is that if you’re not interested in doing ongoing community building, personal growth, marketing/promotions, and even sales some days, then you can end up with a finished book that almost nobody knows about or cares about outside of your own family (I have several of those). The biggest up side to self-publishing is that you are clearly the primary decision maker. As such, you naturally focus on what you love about the process, you learn to readily ask for help (or you get nowhere fast), in regularly asking for help in your community, you fluidly pull people to you who you need to work with next (and they need you), and you end up naturally spending quite a lot of time with people you love and respect. So if you keep at it through all the failures and second-guessing yourself and kicking yourself for trying things that you knew in your gut wouldn’t work for you, then you will one day find yourself surprised–as you type the words to your friend–that you now have a custom-made-by-you, for you, totally unique to you and kick ass author platform (aka, author’s life, aka, the life you truly want).
Loving the process and loving all (ok, almost all) of the people you work with doesn’t just makes all of your books (even the money losers) meaningful and worthwhile endeavors. It also lands you where you truly want to be, doing what you really want to be doing, wearing what you really want to be wearing, and creating the work that you are on this earth to create. Surrounded by people doing the same. Most days. Huh, wow–I think that’s where I already am.
Thank you for the big question. I hope something in there helps!
- Right to lose our way often. Creators have the right to wander, wend, and get lost as often as possible. To support each other in being lost, we listen first and at least as twice as long as we speak, and we share each other’s work and stories with the world. If we are asked to speak by another creator or world citizen who is struggling with being lost (not all do), we offer clues—not answers—as gifts for each other to find. Answers aren’t as interesting or useful as clues. Most days. We deeply love getting lost, finding our way, and offering clues for other wanders to find.
- Right to play. Creators can play whenever, wherever, however, and with whomever we choose, as long as we accept the responsibility to 1) invite all those that we impact to join us and 2) change the game together, on the fly, to suit the players and neighbors present with us. As Bernie says, “The players are more important than the game.” Earthlings deeply love play and improvisation and imagination and experimenting. All our children know this.
- Right to bask within difference. Creators are encouraged and supported in celebrating the different, the odd, the strange, the weird, the curious, the queer, the unexplainable, the horrible, the unshaken wonder within, and the outcast within ourselves and each other. We creators succeed in life in direct proportion to our ever-expanding and contracting ability to do this, and most of us set up daily and weekly rituals to practice doing just this. We deeply love curiosity and difference and outcasts and oddness, because we are all of that. As we stay with it, together, we come to love all of it. All of us.
- Right to trust humanity. Creators assume the best of humans and offer the benefit of the doubt to other humans without fear of being lied to, injured, taken advantage of, or killed. When we find that we cannot do this on our own, then we ask for help, accept help, and we help each other find people among whom we can try again. And we keep on practicing. We deeply love feeling safe in the presence of other human beings—particularly with those remarkably different from us—because this helps us feel safe when we’re alone and when we create and more confident and humble wherever we go.
- Right to be yourself and be celebrated. Earthlings are celebrated for being here, and being exactly who we are, from birth to death and in all the spaces in between. This is true whether we can see it and feel it yet or not and whether the humans physically present around us opt to participate or not. Trees, birds, soil, wind, stars, ancestors, and elders, for example, celebrate us all. When we aren’t able to be ourselves and feel celebrated, we tend to move and go get lost for a while. Or, to celebrate others to learn celebration skills. We deeply love to celebrate and be celebrated. Celebration eases the pain of loss, loneliness, illness, and death that are part of this beautiful life too. We deeply love all forms of celebration, even those that look and sound nothing like our own, and we love finding new holidays and learning new ways to celebrate.
- Right to receive an almost overwhelming amount of help from the place you live. Creators listen to the voice of a whole place before taking action. This means listening to the sounds and beings that your ears can hear when you’re outside, ideally walking or sitting on the ground, or inside with several windows open. For example, to change your part of town, listen to the people who show up; the birds, insects, and animals that show up; the sounds of the wind, plants, buildings, bodies of water, stars, vehicles, music, and any other sounds present; the ancestors now part of the ground and the sky; and then listen to the interactions between these things. Strive to be connected enough to learn from other whole places and beings taking or considering similar action. We deeply love this place we call home. She loves us back: which we can only figure out fully when we slow down and listen fully.
- Right to be a complete mess. It is not uncommon to see creators making complete fools of ourselves. We learn to proudly, openly share our works in progress, work that didn’t quite work, work that REALLY didn’t work, and work we’re stuck on and cannot proceed further on without help. We visibly ask for forgiveness when our fear accidentally hurts others. Proudly, openly ask for other perspectives and help. Proudly, openly share our difficulties, and our gifts, with our world, no matter how different or painful or odd they seem to ourselves or others. Proudly, openly weep and laugh. We deeply love earthlings, being earthlings, and all the messiness that attends us. Feeling broken? Emotional? Completely lost? Bring it on, baby! Creators can handle the mess because we love the mess and share the load as friends and community. We learn young here: there is so much art within the mess!
- Right to forgiveness. Creators make mistakes, try again, make amends, and receive forgiveness everywhere we go. We love spending time with new people and trying new things: both result in mistakes being made. Mistakes are part of our process. We learn to love being wrong or partly wrong as much as we love being right, because we—and those touched by our work and our selves—learn more (or perhaps we just remember better and longer?) when we’re wrong than when we’re right. This wouldn’t be possible without forgiveness and strong, generous, connected, wise, and wildly different communities. We deeply love living in a world so committed to experimenting, learning, growing, community, celebration of difference, and forgiveness.
- Right to not feel the need to receive apologies. Creators rarely expect others to apologize for being themselves, because we have the ability to move away (and we love to move), to imagine ourselves as others (and we love to imagine), and to create and believe rich, complex back stories (and we love to create). See #5. Creators prefer to focus on our creations and ourselves—looking inward to ourselves, our muses, our work, our nature (hello tree, my old friend), and our creator groups for solace and sense-making most days. We also know that we’ll mess up on this one because we’re human (fortunately, see #6, #7, and #8). Humans have expectations of others, and it often takes much of an individual lifetime of practice to let go of that need. Plants, animals, birds, insects, plants, stars, and soil are all far better at this one. Watch and listen to them to learn this. To show our respect for world citizens who differ from us on this, we apologize to those who need our apologies to feel whole. We seek to learn from those who differ from us on this.
- Right of shared space and home space. Creators respect our shared spaces, including the field of imagination, by treating them as our home: welcoming, comfortable, natural, and sacred within their messiness. Over time, we tend to blend what we believe to be shared (what citizens call public) space—blurring boundaries every chance we get—and what we believe to be home (what citizens call private) space for ourselves. And even when they overlap entirely, we honor both. We respect other people’s private space as private and our own need sometimes to return home. Just because we often experience this whole planet and universe as shared, and also as home, doesn’t mean all other earthlings can, or do, or want to, or even that we want to all the time. See #16 and #17. We deeply love our shared space and home spaces.
- Right to pilot your own friend ship. Creator friendships cross all imagined boundaries and last beyond individual lifetimes. Creators don’t attempt to be whole on their own (most days) and instead draw friends to them whose ways of being and skills and talents and lifestyles and struggles complement and stretch/expand their own. With certain people, our mutual energy expands exponentially. These are the friends we typically create with. Creation requires ample energy, so we move away from people when an energy drain is felt—even away from people we love, aware that movement back is always a possibility. Today, many of us are accustomed to being told that this way of being is wrong, so it’s become a right of passage into maturity for a creator to find peace with being who they are and contentment within being considered wrong by many world citizens. Friendships teach us to honor all energy. We deeply love friendships.
- Responsibility to own and evolve our own labels and titles. Creators have a right to experience ourselves as creators and co-creators instead of as a consumer, user, customer, planet destroyer, deplorable, snowflake, troll, wuss, woo woo, or any other lame-ass label human fear tries to force onto us. And. We have the responsibility to visibly live the labels and titles that we create. For example, creators create, barter, trade, swap, repurpose, recycle, grow, make, share, patch, mend, fix, gift, learn to love the old and the broken, forage, find, and live without what we don’t really need anyway, first. Then, we create some more for good measure. Only then do we buy. When we buy, we respect the seasons, respect the place we live, respect the earthlings around us, respect our bodies, and give thanks for what we’ve purchased and to all the makers who made it possible. As we can, we buy and sell with people who live nearby, with kind people, and directly with other creators, makers, artists, neighbors, small farmers, and other close community members who could use our support. Before we buy physical goods from a long distance, creators get a second opinion: we talk to an old tree or old animal first. We listen. If the tree/animal thinks it’s a good idea, then we proceed. Sometimes we get a second tree or animal’s opinion, but usually just for the fun of it. When our labels and titles lose energy, we have the responsibility to experiment, change, and create new ones as visibly as possible. Because we can, and so many others can’t, we accept this responsibility gratefully and we take it seriously in the way a two-year-old takes a toy seriously.
- Responsibility to walk in wonder, silliness, and gratitude. Earthlings are living, breathing, adorable, fluffy balls of gratitude, wonder, and silliness when we’re are born. Creators become more so as we gain experience and as we age. We are utterly surrounded by these things as we enter, as we walk in, and as we leave this world. We deeply love gratitude, wonder, and silliness—at all stages of life. Our responsibility is to learn how to stay with these core earthling traits no matter what (animals, creator ancestors, children, and true human elders are the ones to watch) and then to demonstrate them to others, particularly when people’s lives and worlds are falling apart.
- Responsibility of bees to make honey. Creators make things, grow things, and create their art or craft as if the whole world depended on it and as if their whole self does. We have the right to create/make/grow without explanation or apology for who we are, when we listen to the whole place we’re in and feel at our core that being who we really are is vitally important—even when we don’t know why yet (which, frankly, is most of the time). Deeply listening humans can trust their intuition. We are allowed to tell anyone who questions our value, including ourselves, to walk out into a field or the woods, find a bee hive, and talk directly to the bees about why they make honey. The bees will explain it better. We deeply love to make, grow, and create and to share our creations with others. That deep love of creation, and others, is enough. As with all these rights, to fully claim this right as our own, creators must experience this right as an innate right of all earthlings, not just humans. And of all world citizens, not just creators.
- Responsibility to work on your own—and walk away from others’—total bullshit. We stay present, listen, fight fairly, and fight for each other, instead of against one another. If this is our thing to work on, this is what we do. We are far too connected, and practical, for that work-against-each-other bullshit that some world citizen humans try. For creators, fighting against each other means fighting against ourselves—this flat out doesn’t work for creators. Ask literally any creator ancestor living or dead, human, plant, insect, or animal. Fighting yourself can be a teacher, yes. And still it’s one that you have to let go of to create interesting, new, or curiosity peaking work. Becoming a creator means letting go of the violence and the silencing within us in favor of creating. Again and again and again: this is a life-long daily practice. Humans who believe and do otherwise—who believe in violence and silencing as useful answers—are free to leave our presence as they wish: with our blessings. And we are free to leave their presence: as groups and as individuals. We commit to staying when we can stay—when it is our fight to fight—and to moving away or asking for more help before contempt builds a nest and sets up home within us. We move to regroup and rest and learn and grow and often because we see that it’s not our fight to fight to fight anymore or that with the help of others a fight can be reimagined into a spark and into flow. Those who allow violence and silencing of others to grow and fester within themselves cannot be recognized as leaders by creators. The violence and the silencing plugs their ears so they can’t hear the whole place that they’re in. Cut off from the world herself, they become isolated, predictable, and unable to move in interesting new ways, let alone in wise old ways, with others. Don’t be that guy. 😉 And when you are, forgive yourself, ask for forgiveness, and move on together.
- Right to cede your power to a government or organization and still be respected and loved. At the moment, world citizens who don’t claim these inalienable creators’ rights for themselves and their closest others—and who don’t own the responsibilities that attend this much freedom—cede their innate power to their national and state government constitutions and to their employers’ Human Resources policies. Creators who do accept these rights have the responsibility to treat world citizens with kindness and respect even when we don’t receive it in return. Especially when we don’t receive it in return. Because we don’t need to receive kindness and respect to have it—it lives within our communities, our work, our selves, and our home neighborhood, planet, and universe. Some believe that our art is for world citizens more than it is for ourselves. Whether that’s true for you or not (it doesn’t have to be), respecting the place we live means respecting those around us who don’t live, love, work, move, act, think, and worship like we do. We deeply love this place we live, which means loving all people here with us, even those who piss us off to no end, and not just other creators. Respect and kindness is how we demonstrate our love of this place. Many of us most enjoy the presence of other creators, because they allow us to be our whole weird and wild selves. The freest creators among us—elder creators—learn how to learn as much from world citizens who aren’t creators as those who are. Fully free creators can find the creator, and the citizen, in all earthlings. And love us all.
- Right to impact the whole world in a positive, lasting way. When we fully enjoy these rights ourselves, we dedicate our lives and our work to supporting those who want to, but can’t, fully enjoy them yet. We deeply love unleashing new creators and new work on the world. If we seek to impact the whole world in a positive way, then this is the direction we creators take. It’s not just about creating new work. Creators create more creators. Creator groups create more creator groups. Creator communities create more creator communities. Now try saying or singing that fast three times. 😉
- Responsibility to learn from everyone. This doesn’t mean you have to listen to everyone: we learn a lot by reflecting on who we listen to, who we don’t listen to, and why. This instead reflects the fact that creators can cross more imagined boundaries than other world citizens because of our deep love of doing so. We know that we are as likely to make our next vital connection and breakthrough talking with the woman driving the bus in The Netherlands or dancing with the man who washes dishes in Nigeria or playing with the local street musician on the road side as we are by talking to the tuxedo-wearing keynote speaker at a prestigious event or putting a resume into the hands of “the right people.” Those who can cross old, imagined boundaries to learn have a responsibility to do so. When we do, we open new possibility doors in our world. Creators deeply love the possibility of learning something new, or finding nuance within the known, from everyone.
- Right to receive what we need. From ourselves. Creators don’t require others’ minds to be open, for example, before moving forward. The question we typically ask ourselves is this: “Is my mind open?” We don’t require others to be creative, for example, either. Instead we ask ourselves: “Am I being as creative as I can be right now?” This tendency of ours supports internally felt freedom regardless of where we are or who we are or what is happening. That said, our experience of “self” is fluid. We are co-creators. Our self might be an individual, a small group, a community, a forest, flock of birds, or an ocean, for example, at any given point. Because the limits of our imagination rarely stop at our individual selves, our rights—and the responsibilities of deep listening, deep kindness, deep fun, and deep respect—rarely stop at our individual selves. Huh. Wow. This is so cool! Damn it feels good to be a creator.
- Responsibility to move through ideas and beliefs as a community and to let go of things—including our old ideas and selves—when they no longer serve the greater good. Without our creators’ love of doing this, and our love of continuing to learn to do this better with friends and community members, future humanity will be uniform, dry, depressed, and dull as shit. Not that I believe that will happen. Not with Mother Earth at our backs and more people waking up every day now. Just be aware that doing this work often pisses off other creators, not only other world citizens. Evolving beliefs and ideas and selves isn’t easy for most humans. At this moment. But that’s going to change in this century. Watch for it. Practice it. Dance it. Paint it. Draw it. Play it. And you’ll see.
After 20. This space has been intentionally blank for the purposes of creation. Please finish this list for your community, as often as is needed by the community as a whole…
 This is known as the Bernie DeKoven Principle.
 If you’re a creator committed to a particular human, social justice, or environmental cause, partner with a few world citizens who you create energy with and who don’t define themselves primarily as creators like you do—people interested in (and who are dedicating their lives and careers to) social amends, conflict resolution, pulling forth awareness or heart-felt apologies, and social or environmental justice. Creators aren’t experts on justice: we’re experts at falling deeply in love with the world/ourselves/simply what is. So we need to partner with world citizens such as wonderful and open-minded attorneys, judges, social workers, cops, activists, educators, conflict specialists, librarians, community-center employees, scientists, government employees, spiritual directors, and even the best politicians—not just animals, birds, fish, and trees—to foster change in human culture if we want to witness culture changes in our lifetimes. Well-informed citizens like these tend to have strong answers and cross-community connections. Creators tend to ask new and forgotten questions and arrive with a presence, and with work, that helps citizens imagine themselves as part of something larger than they previously imagined. Partnering with these people is a good match, because we teach each other and help each other not take ourselves too seriously. We remind each other of our core-deep curiosity and core-deep abilities to shift, reimagine, and play.
My mentor and friend Bernie has been told by doctors that he has a year left to live. Thanks to Bernie, I’m now aware that I—like him—have a choice here. Each new day now, actually, I have this choice: will I choose Bitterness, Sweetness, or Bittersweetness as my companion today? Luckily, thanks to Bernie, I don’t have to face this choice alone anymore.
Bernie has been playing, studying play, learning about play, and writing about play since the 1960s (as an adult, that is—I’m sure kid-Bernie did more than his fair share of playing, he probably drove his folks nuts). It didn’t occur to me until just last week that I should search his ginormous and playful database of deep fun (Deepfun.com) for the word “bitterness.” But then I did. So I did. And I was stunned by what I learned. Which is this…
I learned that playing, studying play, talking about play, thinking about play, and writing about play and deep fun and all the ways in which they manifest themselves around the world is a damn fine way to spend your life. There is a Sweetness in Bernie’s life that shows up in my imagination as a small, slightly goofy, and often mischievous creature sitting just above his right, and sometimes left, shoulder. Sweetness is an angel and a devil combined, the dappled color of a turning fall leaf, and he whispers “Let’s play!” and “Oooo, let’s try that!” and “Come on, let’s go there!” into Bernie’s ear every day. How Bernie spends his time here—the playing and the studying and the talking and wondering and the writing—all these things do a remarkable job of keeping Bitterness from stepping into his life uninvited. All those decades of writing—writing practically every day, WOW—and it’s almost as if Bitterness was listening for places to enter, waiting for just the right moment, but very few Bitterness-warranting moments appeared. So he contentedly sat on his swing, swinging.
You see, in my imagination, Bitterness sits swinging on an old tire swing dangling down from a tree branch, watching Sweetness and Bernie race around the world, and Deepfun.com, like children playing tag at twilight. Bitterness is smiling, watching, patient, and waiting. Bitterness isn’t sinister: more like the introvert kid content and enjoying the solitary swing and happy to have the more rambunctious others just slightly farther away but still in plain view. Bitterness doesn’t need to step in much at all, because clearly Sweetness and Bernie have got this. Because Bernie listens to Sweetness most days, Bitterness knows that Bernie is ok. Bernie invites Sweetness in to play most days, or vice versa. So much so, that they’ve even started to look a little bit like each other. And some days now, I notice, it’s Bernie who is the dappled angel-devil creature sitting on Sweetness’ shoulder, not the other way around. (Bernie also married Rocky, who comes from strong Sweetness-embracing stock. Lucky, lucky Bernie.)
As I wade through his six decades of writing, I notice that Bitterness moved visibly onto the Deepfun.com playground just six times. Go and look and see. And wow. Each time Bitterness stepped in, it was to visibly demonstrate how to invite Bitterness in and how to play with Bitterness. Bitterness, I learned, wants to play too. He’s just different. He’s not Sweetness. Not so easy to play with. Here’s a summary of what I learned. To get the full demonstration, search for “bitterness” yourself on Deepfun.com:
- October 13, 2003. In a post called “The Dancing Referee,” Bernie links to a video where we get to watch a man bring grace and exuberance to the difficult role/job/profession of sports (soccer, in this case) referee. Bernie notices “The officials are there, not to have fun, but to keep the way clear so that fun can be had by others. They allow the players to leave aside concerns about fairness and safety, so that they can focus everything, everything on the game. But refereeing is often a difficult role, one that leads to argument and bitterness, insult and injury. To find a space for joy in all this, to transform yourself from an official to a performer, requires courage and commitment and deep enjoyment. It kind of makes you think that anyone, regardless of role or position or function or job, can find fun, if fun is what that person is ready to find.” He ends by reflecting on a sport that doesn’t require referees (Ultimate Frisbee asks players to be their own referees) and on one that does, saying “To understand fun, we must find ways to celebrate both.” Celebrate both even though I’m not a fan of both? Hmmm. Deep fun, indeed.
- May 13, 2008. In a short post called “Pangea Day,” Bernie shares a link to a movie in which people reimagined a border wall into a volleyball net. Hmm. So Bitterness and fun belong together? Even in the presence of the worst humanity has to offer? Hmmm.
- June 28, 2008. In a post called “Sneaky Fun,” Bernie shares a link to a site designed primarily for people feeling bitter at work. People who work at computers, that is. The site transforms the Internet (a virtual place where people sneak away from tedious real-world work to explore and play) and makes the Internet look like a boring Word document on your monitor, so that you can sneak in a bit of fun under your bosses’ noses. Helping the Bitter at work be a bit naughty? I love it.
- April 25, 2011. In a piece called “Backstory,” Bernie talks about getting overwhelmed by the world and its cruelty and messes. “I want to rant and rail, to make sounds of fury, to bite the bullet of bitterness and spit it in the face of stupidity, in the hands of brutality, in the eyes of cruelty and stuff.” Damn. Wish I’d written that. And he follows that with writing down his own purpose so he can more fully look at it—simultaneously giving the world something better to read about themselves: “I write these posts to help make things a little more fun. That’s exactly, precisely what I’m here for. Fun for me, for you, for anybody who isn’t finding enough light to delight in their days… For me, play is a political act. This is what I truly believe. Playing, celebrating everything with everybody, anybody. It’s as revolutionary as a protest song, as government changing as a rally. For me, fun is healing, is health made manifest. Body health, social health, mental health, soul health.” As he writes, I think to myself “Play is an act of revolution, and clearly I’m all in.” And suddenly the whole world, and Bernie, and I are so beautiful that it makes me cry. Dammit Bernie. When did Sweetness jump onto my shoulder?
- October 20, 2015. In a post called “Elder Fun,” Bernie plays with a distant friend recovering from a stroke, demonstrating how to let go of old patterns of fun to embrace new patterns and deeper fun as we age. Fun and Bitter. Bitter and Fun. Hmmm.
- May 8, 2017. At this point, Bernie and Sweetness are living with the reality that he has less than a year to live in this beautiful, beautiful world of ours. And so am I. After reading his essay, “Play a little, talk a little, play a little, talk a little, play, play, play, talk a lot, play a little more,” (Damn, dude, your headlines just keep getting better) in the comments following the post, a friend describes the piece as “Bittersweet.” After so many years of watching Bernie and Sweetness play together, Bitterness himself, it seems, has been transformed. Finally confident that he will be invited to play, he steps onto Bernie’s own page now, feeling mostly lucky and just a tad regretful, saying “Thank you, friends, you’ve changed me. I’d like to join you in the fun. But please, call me by my true name: Bittersweet.”
And so we welcome Bittersweet into our play—a rag-tag group we are, fond of fools and filled with accidental genius—playing tag and giggling again, as glorious and warm and present now as Twilight herself.
P.S. Speaking of swings and playgrounds, Bernie has gotten a lovely company to donate some really cool swings to his local park, but they need $4,500 for the installation. If you have a little extra money, consider donating it to this most playful of causes. Go here for more details: http://www.deepfun.com/gift-family-community/.
Author Anaïs Nin said: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” and “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
Today I want to say this. This woman totally rocked. With just these two sentences—one about the power of the individual and one about the power of community—she changed my world. She changed me by saying something that I didn’t know—or that I’d lost along the way—and by inviting me to remember how amazing we humans can be.
As writers, we worry about all sorts of strange things. We worry about not having enough time to write and that we’re spending far too much time on our writing. We worry about internal and external critics and national and family politics. We worry about our own over-education and also our own remarkable cluelessness in any given moment. We worry about the state of our planet, country, neighborhood, and desk. We worry about how prolific we are on any given day and month and year. Some days I think this makes us unique. Most days I suspect this just makes us human.
Today I want to say this.
It’s not the worry that lasts. (And I expect Anaïs Nin—who once wrote erotica for $1/page so she could afford to eat—would agree with me.)
What lasts is this.
We change the world.
We change the world with just two sentences. We change things as both a lens on the world and as friends and neighbors within it. I think that totally rocks.
We are more powerful than we can remember alone. How cool is that?
This weekend I received another “Do better at marketing!” email from yet another lovely author talking about why self promotion is hard and how to make it easier. This author is far more successful than me from a book-sales perspective: thousands of people buy his books. I sold 10 last month and that was a great month for me. So I fell down the expert marketing advice rabbit hole. Again…
City Slicker Marketing
The advice centered on identifying your one WHY. Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you do this writing every day thing? According to him (and also, according to my husband, almost everyone else out there selling marketing ideas for a living), all you really need — to have more others show up for you and help promote your work — is yourself (a leader in something, he assumes), a tribe, and your one big WHY. Is anyone else out there tired of hearing the word tribe roll off the lips of white men selling marketing strategies or is it just me? Grrrr. But I digress…
Like most other artists I know, I am interested in having others help me with promotion. If I had just a little more help I could devote even more time to writing. Plus, the book promotion I’ve been trying this month isn’t working as well, or quickly, as I’d hoped. So although what this man was saying is way outside who I am and what I believe, I decided to play along, humor him, and work on identifying my Lori’s One Big Why. I devoted a whole day to this question: “Why do I get out of bed in the morning and write things that eventually become books?” Now that I see it in writing, it appears to be the exact same question Billy Crystal was asked to answer for himself in the movie City Slickers 25 years ago.
It goes against my nature to want to answer this question as an individual. I want to do this as a group with people and critters I love and live and work with! Would be far less constraining to have many reasons! But very grumpily, I spent 8 consecutive hours on this question: 12 hours if you count Daniel’s hours after I dragged him into my frustration-insight-more frustration spiral with me. After 12 hours, I/we came to several important conclusions:
- Lori shouldn’t bother spending too much time trying to force herself into a question/box created by another successful author. Listening to a distant expert — especially one asking me to think from a lone-individual perspective — frustrates the crap out of me.
- Lori should listen just a tiny little bit. As hard as this is to admit, I didn’t actually waste any time on this exercise. I learned a ton about myself, including the fact that I think the idea of One Big WHY is a terrible idea for me. I’m thrilled for you if it works for you. It’s just not me.
- I am creating my own me/us-centered marketing approach. Because following the advice of others in this area doesn’t work well for me. If forced to give advice, mine would be this. Invent your own just-for-you model. Never stop experimenting with it. Share it with others doing the same. Work with those whose presence fills you with energy. When energy lags, move. If you’re reading this, I expect you already know this. I’m no expert. We are peers.
Behold the Large and Funky Why Matrix
This is what I came up with answering the question about why I get up in the morning and write…
Despite my deep grouchiness throughout the entire process, I re-learned that:
- where and how are far more interesting to me than why. Most days. I like to dance among being lost, finding my way, and capturing a few “how this worked for me” clues in writing that could serve others (and me, later, when I forget what I learned). I want a larger-than-individual-me WHY to show up eventually, near the ends of things, where it’s as much of a surprise to me as it is to others. So we can all look at each other and go “Oh! So that was why!” It’s way more fun.
- everything I write is a surprise, and a learning experience, for me. That’s a primary reason I love writing, why I self-publish, and why I write almost every day now. This is also why I write imaginative or creative non-fiction and poetry instead of fiction. If I wrote fiction, I’d need to know the end–the bigger why–before others do. Far more fun to have someone I adore show up and tell me that A Travel Guide for Transitions is a book entirely about finding and owning your identity. What? Really? Cool. I need to read it!
- I have many, many whys for getting out of bed and writing every day. When pressed to do so by my own fears, I am able to narrow them down to 34 big WHYs (and feeding the cats and my husband made that list), but I flat out refuse to go fewer than that. To narrow further might mean I could sell more books faster, but it would make my life less interesting, which would make my books less interesting and the people I draw to me less interesting. The trade off isn’t worth it. As I get older, I keep finding new, deeper, and more surprising and interesting WHYs (and people), not fewer. These are gifts beyond measure and marketing.
- my community (aka, tribe) is comprised of groups, people, animals, bugs, birds, rocks, and trees who show up more deeply curious to learn than as experts with a message. Whether that’s by natural inclination, chance, luck, circumstance, experience, serendipity, tragedy, wild imaginings, or the grace of God. These are the people I want to spend time/my life with: the deeply curious. People in my core community not only don’t mind that I write books on all sorts of apparently unrelated subjects — finding work you love and creating soul-satisfying work space and revealing community and turning your home into a free coworking space and receiving the gifts of dementia care partnering and poetry and the experience of becoming an artist and the writing life (spoilers) and Lord knows what next — my people expect nothing less of me. We live deeply curious lives, and we stubbornly refuse to believe (or demonstrate) that human beings are anything less than surprising, curious creatures right at home in our surprising, curious worlds.
- I would rather grow slowly as an author, surrounded by the deeply curious, than grow quickly. And that’s what I’m actually already doing somehow. By hard work some days — by doing any work that allows me to keep my book writing routine — and by pure magic other days. The deeply curious insist on, and receive, both.
I Was Wrong: Words Are Never Wasted On Me
I learned this week that I’m not failing at self promotion and marketing like I suspected. I am growing slowly because I love hard work and magic, and I require both. And I consistently prioritize deep curiosity. And I love having 34 big WHYs and am disinterested in narrowing my focus to sell more books. I’m just not interested in doing promotion the way book marketing experts know/can prove it should be done. That would be dull as shit. Money is nice, but curiosity is better. Magic is better. Doing the work itself–getting to write each new day–is better. Surprise and delight and really cool humans showing up unexpectedly are better. So I’m apparently inventing a marketing approach (more likely, finding a very old one, Ms. Ego-Maniac) that requires a curiosity-led, imagination-rich life, plus hard work, serendipity, magic, and meandering to the point. I’m a member of the Bigger-Than-Me-Whys-Show-Up-At-the-End club. From an individual perspective, it’s slower than the model marketing experts sell. It’s more How to Become Successful in 100 Long, Fascinating, Surprise-Filled, Well-Lived Years than How to Sell More Books in 6 Months. But I stand by it. I am devoting my whole life to this approach, entirely surrounded by others experimenting with variations on the deeply curious or life rocks! themes. This isn’t a marketing approach. It’s a curiosity + community-centered life approach.
So yep, expert marketing advice is wasted on me. Yet together we played with that advice, went deeper into it, changing it, and pulling it into our own life approach. Words, it seems, are never wasted on us. We do love them so.
And reimagination! Love it. One of the many magic powers of the deeply curious. 🙂
After reading yet another repetitive, tired article this morning about increasing my productivity as a writer, I made a vow. As of 10 a.m., December 3rd, 2015, I will never again click on a link promising to teach me about increasing my productivity as a writer. I feel more productive already.
Worrying about productivity is a task for mindless cogs in a machine. We are not mindless cogs. We are writers. Creators. We don’t live other people’s stories. We create our own. Productive is just an adjective in deft fingers: useful only when we choose it to appear within our stories as needed. It’s nothing more than that.
1. Goals shmoals.
I wander the beach now, at times going shoeless, even in winter, to feel sand beneath my feet. I talk to deer and rabbits and birds as I walk through the woods. I chat with strangers in shops and at the dog park and with my neighbors on the street. I retreat quietly, for long chunks of time, to observe and reflect. I support my family and neighbors struggling with disconnection, heartbreak, violence, and disease. I create coworking spaces: playing with other writers and artists and humans doing other cool things. I love crafting books, poems, and essays. I love trying new things, with new people. Who I am naturally makes me a productive writer. Why did I think otherwise?
2. There is no such thing as writer’s block.
I write all the time. I write to learn. To heal. To play. To mourn. To support my world and my family. To communicate. To kill time. To pay bills. To flirt. To dream. Like a drunken bumble bee lingering among wildflowers at dusk, I write for the pure delight of it. When I can’t write, that’s not writer’s block. It’s writer’s intuition: a gift saying “There is actually something else more important to be done first.” I’ve learned to listen to it. Even when what I’d really rather do is kick it in the teeth.
The “block” might be saying that you really need to eat something. That you need to move or exercise. To work on another project for a while. Or it might be saying something bigger. You need to ask for help. You need to sell your house. Or change who you’re spending your time with right now. Maybe your next door neighbor needs help, or your sister needs a pep talk, and you need to be not writing tonight so that you’re available to notice. Or maybe you yourself need to rest. I’ve learned that if I trust the block/intuition on this one, that I don’t need to get sick to make deep rest finally happen. This fall my parents needed me to drive their car across the country for them and help set up a new home for them here near us. I couldn’t write for a few days before and most of the time while this was happening. That was a good thing. The “block” always gives me time to examine and drop my ridiculous expectations and assumptions about myself, writing, and the world so that I can return to them fresher, as something closer to the real me, instead of showing up completely exhausted and pissed off. If you must believe in the block, focus on learning to trust the block.
3. Everything I do counts as writing.
Just because others can’t see this, or don’t agree, that doesn’t make it less true for me. When I’m taking a walk, I’m pre-writing. When I’m grocery shopping or cooking, I’m feeding a writer. When I’m napping and dreaming, I’m receiving writing ideas from the universe. When I’m listening to music or attending a play or binge-watching Netflix or cleaning the cat box or noticing the sound that boots on a snow-covered sidewalk make, I am a writer. Absorbing. Listening. Learning. Imagining. When I sit in a sunbeam, I’m writing. When I mend, trade, or shop for clothes, and do laundry, I am clothing a writer. When I walk in the pouring rain, without my coat on, or I sit on the ground instead of a chair, or I offer sincere and loud direct reply to an eagle’s cry, I am a poet, poeting. I am writing every single moment of my life now. Only those who have the option to return for another life here get to be more productive than I am.
4. Procrastination is trustworthy.
What writers lack in self-confidence we more than make up for in intuition. Our intuition is rock solid even when it lands us way off course and lost in the wilderness. Especially when it lands us way off course and lost. I’ve learned to ignore people, including myself at times, who say otherwise. My procrastinating self knows that I literally have better things to be doing than the work I’m struggling to do. That struggling itself is the sign. And if that means I need to go watch silly cat videos or lurk on Facebook for a while or bake a cake from scratch for no reason, then so be it. Procrastination is a flashing sign that it’s time for a break, a shift, a move, a change, a rest. Big or small. Your call.
5. I don’t actually need to be more productive. I need to be more fully present.
Spend 5 minutes and write down everything you’ve done this year to make life better on planet earth. Be generous with yourself: pretend that it’s your best friend writing the list on your behalf. I wrote and published three books this year: one about turning your home into a free community coworking space, one for other dementia caregivers about becoming your own respite center, and one for others interested in the process of becoming a poet and an artist. I wrote two mini-books containing tips for working in and hosting an informal coworking space. I also wrote essays and poetry, and blogged them, receiving thanks and feedback, regularly. I wrote offline entirely, just something for myself, almost every week. I taught others about creativity and writing and publishing. I took on temporary writing and editing gigs to help pay the bills. I also supported family dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and the birth of a new baby, supported friends through their many struggles and joined them in their joys, prepared a home for sale and sold it, joined a memory and brain wellness center’s board at a local hospital, started a new coworking space, made new friends, drove a car across the country, helped set up a new home for my folks, took care of my neighbors’ dogs and cats, canned pickles and jams and applesauce and tomatoes for the winter, took care of my spouse and home and pets, started a small business with my husband, and gathered neighbor-offered art supplies and well wishes for the new family that bought our Seattle home.
What ridiculous, nonsensical part of me thinks that I still need to be more productive to be of value? The part of me that needs to shut the hell up.
Productivity as a goal — as handed to me by the industrial world, my own fears, and all others foolishly attempting to turn wonderfully messy humans into less messy machine-type automatons — makes no sense here in my real world. Here, productivity has more to do with getting better at noticing our already amazing world and the journey of trying to leave it a speck more amazing than we found it. Here productivity is a natural outcome of being alive and fully present in the world together. Becoming more fully present requires a whole lot of things that on the surface appear to be the opposite of productive in the large-scale industrial sense (which I now officially recognize as Ridiculous City in my story). Things like wandering the wilderness alone, helping neighbors, talking to animals, daydreaming, sitting on the ground, and doing nothing are what make me, and those I touch, so productive.
6. Receive the world lightly and embrace the consequences of doing so.
Your heroes. Your most respected mentors and teachers. Your friends and family. Your partner. Your manager. Your editor. Your boss. Your client. All your former selves. None of these people know that perfect combination of what makes you more or less productive today, right now. Receive the bits that work for you today. Let the other bits go. Lightly, gracefully, when possible, like a tree letting go of leaves. I now move away from me-specific energy drains, as kindly as possible, and move toward energy-creating-for-me people/ideas/things whenever I can. I’ve had to say “No, that doesn’t work for me.” and “This isn’t working for me anymore.” and “I can’t do things the way you do them.” and “I can’t do this the way I used to do it.” to countless deeply respected mentors, teachers, family members, and personal heroes. People who I trust 100 percent. I’ve had to say “No more!” to all my former selves too. As a novice. As a struggling writer. As a person not making enough money to live on or one who really needed the money someone was offering me for a job I didn’t want to do anymore. As a still mostly clueless (even at age 25, then 35, then 45) human. Even when I had no idea what actually would work in the moment.
For me, receiving the world lightly, gracefully, involves regularly listening to and then visibly using the voice that says “This works for me right now. This doesn’t.” It also involves regularly accepting, and eventually embracing, the consequences of this privilege: 1) allowing everyone around me to do the same, 2) connecting more deeply to others in any given moment, and 3) moving away from people regularly, when the moment isn’t quite right for connection, even away from people I love. It’s about learning to trust our collective intuition. About learning to see and trust mentors-of-the-moment as they change. Some days they’re living people. Sometimes they’re long-dead people. Often they are small groups of trusted others. Sometimes they’re dogs, cats, trees, ocean waves, rain, wind, sunshine, books, poems, songs, paintings, or birds. Some days they are the me I’m saying goodbye to.
7. Prioritize whatever keeps you awake and present in the moment. As you notice valuable results, share them.
I’m learning to honor and embrace those things that keep me aware and present: whenever and wherever they show up. Writing and making/drinking tea consistently do this for me now, so I start my day with them at the moment. Then the dog shows up to play or go for a walk, so I shift and listen to/play with the dog. Then I’m hungry, so I shift to listening to my body. Then a neighbor knocks at the door, so I give her my full attention. After that, I really want to write again. Yet after too many days of writing alone my mind begins to wander. So I follow my desire for human interaction and go to the movies with neighbors, work on a project with friends, or go work in a coworking space where I am surrounded by writers and connect to become re-energized for my own work. Yesterday two dogs came into the coworking space and wanted to play. So I played instead of finishing my work on deadline. I created better work as a result. This is what being aware in the present moment feels like. Enough at ease with disruption, most days, that you are aware that you have a variety of options anytime disruptions happen, including the option of welcoming them and running with them. Those disruptions that push us out of our comfort zones are among the best to welcome and run with, IMO. To me, they are life’s hand-crafted, person-specific, just-in-time training. And if you ignore them, they just keep on coming in ever-louder ways.
For me, this individual prioritizing of what keeps us conscious and present (and willingness to drop individual plans and expectations for disruptions and concede that often the universe or currently present collective has a better idea) is the primary difference between being a creator most of the time and being a consumer most of the time. The fully conscious part is the tricky part. To remain conscious, awake, and aware, I have to be willing to prioritize whatever keeps me conscious, awake, and aware again and again. What keeps me present is different than it is for others. For me at the moment it’s living on the edge of the ocean. Walking in the woods and on the beach. Chatting with strangers. Helping neighbors. Creating coworking spaces with friends. Giving and receiving honest opinions on things with people who appear to have little in common with me. Engaging with others to reveal hidden community and connections. Playing with dogs and cats and friends. Figuring out how to communicate with my mom who has Alzheimer’s disease and a dad who is a far-beyond-exhausted caregiver. Very light business planning (aka, co-imagination check-in meetings). These things keep me present and paying attention today.
This makes it possible for me to spontaneously say “Enough! Right here is a place for me to be writing instead of reading. Creating instead of consuming. Right here my procrastinating is pointing me to what I actually should be doing today.”
For me, today, this was it: writing an article that had absolutely nothing to do with what I planned to do on a subject that I never intended to write about, ever.
Damn it feels good be human.