Category Archives: Living Deliberately

Live Deliberately

Several times now I have had the profound experience of listening to famed author and illustrator, James A. Owen give his incredible lecture titled, “Drawing Out the Dragons.”

There were many great lessons shared and some terrific insights into life. One particular seemed to penetrate me deeply; each time I’ve heard Drawing out the Dragons, I have felt challenged, recommitted to Live Deliberately.

Much of my early life, I lived like a stick floating down a stream, subjected to the whims and will of the water flow, victim to whatever happened to me, resenting most everything, because I wanted something else, but felt powerless. In recent years I’ve discovered that I have a voice, and it is my choice whether or not I use it. Rather than letting life and the elements act on me, I have chosen to act. I have chosen to live deliberately.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

This is what I think it means to live deliberately.

Seize the day. “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.” – Henry David Thoreau

Have no fear. “If you really want to do something, no one can stop you. But if you really don’t want to do something, no one can help you.” – James A. Owen

Let go of pride. “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.” – C.S. Lewis

Find your tribe. “The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Learn, always. “Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Know thyself. “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” – Lao Tzu

To thine own self be true. “Every once in a while, the Universe opens itself up to you and you alone, and shows you something that no one else is going to understand. And you have to decide in that moment how much you believe in what you have seeneven if everyone else in the world tells you you’re wrong.” – James A. Owen

Choose.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”  Robert Frost

Inspiration

A Guest Post from Amanda McCarter

I had a lot of trouble deciding which inspiration to write about. My whole life is full of inspiration, from bedtime stories, to family TV time, writing exercises in school. The list goes on. It took a lot of consideration to whittle it down. I suppose what’s most important is the moment I decided to take writing seriously.

Most of us have probably had that moment reading a best seller where we had to scratch our heads. The prose was clunky, the dialog awkward, the plot simplistic. But the writer, whether we liked it or not, had done something. They had caught the attention of millions.

Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code gave me one of those moments. It was a fun, quick read. I enjoyed it so much, I took a college course dissecting it. I tried to read it again for the class, but the magic was gone.

I was taken aback by how boring the book was. The first read was great, but once I knew what it was about, I couldn’t bear to read it again. It was painful. And I thought, I can do better than that.

Of course, I didn’t. Dan Brown in a good author. He wrote a fantastic novel. He caught the imaginations of people around the globe. I knew I had no hope of doing anything close to that, but it did plant the seed of something.

Years later, after a failed marriage and a move to a mountain town, I found myself alone with a crappy job and struggling to pay bills. I remembered a contest I found in high school, looking for scholarships for college.

L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest, a contest for beginning science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers with only one stipulation. The entrants could not be previously published.

Writing was something I could do. I’d written a few fanfics over the years. They were somewhat popular. But I knew someone else’s universe would never get me anywhere and I wanted to be paid for my stories. So I wrote a short story, sent it to the contest, and promptly forgot about it.

Months went by. I didn’t even remember entering. Then, one day I got this strange little letter in the mail. I hadn’t won Writers of the Future. I had, however, made it to the quarter finals (now just called an honorable mention). This meant the judge had finished my story, but it was still lacking the strength of something saleable. My story was in the top ten percent of entries.

I was excited. I told everybody. I called my mom, told my co-workers, my friends, anyone who would listen. I made it to the quarter finals in a writing competition. I could write.

Well, sort of. I had a long way to go. I still do, but that little note from a complete stranger saying that I did what the majority of contestants couldn’t on my first entry meant a lot. It told me that I had something. It motivated me to keep going.

Over the next several months, I continued to write. I wrote my first novel. I wrote a lot of bad short stories. Some good ones. I found a writing community in the Writers of the Future forums. I joined a critique group. I came to understand that being a writer meant writing every day, submitting stories, and constantly striving to get better.

As time went on, I learned to draw from my favorite authors; Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, Frank Herbert. I took classes and seminars on how to be a better writer. I learned how to craft a character and form a setting. Those quarter finalists became semi-finalists. I started to self-publish my better stories and novels. Editors started giving me personal rejections.

Two years ago, I did the best thing I could for my career, prompted by my long time writing colleague, Brad Torgersen. I needed a wider group of writers, further along on the path than my current writing group. I needed more inspiration and motivation. I went to Superstars Writing Seminar.

It was a huge amount of inspiration and motivation. I got to hear from long time professionals in the field, new professionals just figuring things out, and outsiders looking in and their observations.

I won’t say it was a game changer, but it was definitely an eye opener. I started doing things differently. I saw my career differently. It became something much more tangible and will continue to do so.

I suppose, in some respects, I owe my ex-husband for my current situation. I probably never would have taken that timid step forward of submitting a short story to a contest. But I think I owe that stranger who gave me my first honorable mention more. She gave me the confidence to keep going and I will always treasure that.

About the Author:Author
Amanda McCarter grew up reading the works of Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey, Frank Herbert and dozens of other fantasy and science fiction writers. As time went on, it occurred to her to write her own fantastic stories of faraway places and distant lands.

Encouraged by her mother and her family to write, a one time hobby became an obsession and a passion. An obsession she hopes to one day make full time.

Currently, Amanda lives in Tulsa, OK with her boyfriend, a snake, two cats, and two dogs. When not dreaming of faraway places and distant lands, she spends her time knitting, reading, and playing video games.

 

The Gift of Gratitude

Bird in a Gilded CageSitting in my gilded cage, my chicks chattering discontent gave me peace. I held them close while I frowned at the bars surrounding me…

This was the beginning of a story I wrote for my eldest daughter a few years ago. I’ve seen others similar, describing the freedom someone attained through the efforts of a mentor or loved one. Like them, I wrote this story to thank my sweet girl. At only 14 years old, she started me on the path of becoming a writer. She found my efforts at my first story, which years later became an award-winning novel in my Mankind’s Redemption series.

Since that day of discovery and encouragement, she’s been my biggest fan and a source of strength amid disappointments. Not only am I inspired by the woman she has become, but I’m also thankful for the inspiration she’s given to my career.

There’s another person who made a major difference in my life more than thirty years ago. PE teachers often get overlooked in the academic system, but my elementary PE teacher took a special interest, helping me to make changes that influenced the rest of my life for the better. A friend of mine found her contact information, but every time I tried to write to her, I couldn’t seem to put my thank you into the right words. I hadn’t seen her since I was a child. Would she think me ridiculous? Writing this post has reminded me of the joy of saying, “Thank you,” regardless of the years.

If you have that special someone in your life—friend, relative, or mentor—I encourage you to take a moment and drop them a note. It can be a card, an email, or a story, but it will be worth it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an email to write. Live grateful and prosper.

Colette Black lives in Arizona with her amazing family, two dogs, and a mischievous cat. Current publications include the Mankind’s Redemption series, The Number Prophecy series, The Black Side anthology, and an appearance in One Horn to Rule Them All: A Purple Unicorn Anthology. More info at: www.coletteblack.net

The Extroverted Introvert – Faking It Until It Becomes Real

All stories require at least two participants: the storyteller and the audience. While this is obvious in the performances of bards, campfire storytellers, and stage actors, I would argue that writers are also intrinsically performers. We simply project that experience across space and time. And yet, writers and non-writers alike seem fixated on the idea that authors must be introverts to be successful. This is only true to a point.

Writers must be comfortable spending hours at a time in solitude. We need the time free from distractions to produce and polish our fiction. For that sort of work, having an introverted personality is very helpful. However, we must also be able to interact with fans and fellow professionals at conventions, book signings, and via social media. We must be able to promote ourselves to our target audience, discuss craft in an intelligent and thoughtful manner, and interact as business people. As such, writers must also be extroverted. Or have spent the time stocking our social toolbox with the extrovert’s tricks and tools.

Though the idea of an extroverted introvert seems like a fundamental conflict in dichotomy, I disagree. It really depends on how you look at the whole situation. You see, much of the discussion on introversion/extroversion recently has treated the issue as a matter of extremes. The dialog has taught us to think of them as two separate things. Instead, I believe that the difference between introverts and extroverts is more of a matter of where the individual gets their psychological and social energy, rather than being a fundamental characteristic of personality and social skills.

I am an introvert. I am a writer and an engineer. I spend most working days at my bread job in my office running calculations, researching, and solving problems. I collaborate, sure, but I can always retreat to my office and close the door when I need to focus. On the other hand, parties are work for me. I often enjoy myself, but leave the gathering feeling mentally and emotionally drained. I have to expend effort to be social, and will often feel refreshed after a weekend spent alone working on writing, watching movies, bicycling, and reading.

In contrast, I have a friend who is an extrovert. Let’s call her Jane. Jane recently started a job as an ER nurse, and so she is constantly interacting with patients, doctors, and other people. When we met in college, Jane lived in her sorority’s house, a building which was packed full of her sisters. When I expressed that I couldn’t live that way, she smiled and wistfully told me that she loved the energy of the house. When Jane surrounds herself with people, she’s excited and energetic. By my definition, she’s a classic extrovert.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy being around people, because I do. My groups just tend to be smaller than Jane’s. The most important thing to note about Jane and I is that we are both capable of functioning alone and in groups of people. It just takes effort. Jane is much better with people and social interaction than I am because she enjoys doing so and has had more practice. She’s helped me catch up over the years and taught me tricks and behaviors that I can use as an introvert to appear to be extroverted.

Social skills can be learned, practiced and perfected. At first I was faking my extroversion, but over the years, I’ve crept away from one extreme and now rest happily closer to the middle. In fact, people now insist that I must be extroverted. In my time at conventions, I’ve seen writers flub fan interactions. They may try to brush their behavior aside with the excuse “but I’m an introvert,” but they still lost a fan. Bad news for a businessperson. If they had practiced their extroverted skills that wouldn’t have happened.

Okay Nathan, you’ve convinced me that extroversion is important, but where can I start? Good question! Here are my top 10 favorite tips for being an extroverted introvert.

  1. BE GENUINE – Most people are very good at reading subtle body language cues and will know if you are faking interest in them. So, don’t try to fake it. Instead find common ground that you and the other person share as a passion. (Hint: This is what small talk is designed to do!) Then, you can be genuinely interested in the conversation. This also extends to insincere compliments. Just don’t do it.
  2. SMILE – People want to know you enjoy their company. One of the easiest ways to express this is through a simple smile. You don’t have to grin. In fact don’t as that is creepy. Even a small and genuine smile makes a big difference. Again, remember tip number 1. Try an experiment with me. For the next week, each time you approach someone make brief eye contact and smile at them. I promise that it’ll change how people interact with you.
  3. REMEMBER PEOPLE’S NAMES – I suck at remembering people’s names. It’s no excuse. Do whatever memory tool/covert glancing at badges it takes to address people by their first name. This will make them feel important and therefore more favorable towards you. One of the smartest businessmen I’ve ever known once told me that the key to success is remembering people’s names. Considering that he now runs a trucking empire that started with him driving a single pickup truck, I’d tend to believe him.
  4. BEING TIRED IS NO EXCUSE FOR BEING RUDE – For introverts, working a convention is hard. It exhausts us, makes our feet ache and puts us in a fowl mood. These are all personal problems. Our fans are at conventions to interact with us. When you are in any public space whatsoever you must have your game face on 100% of the time. Make sure each and every interaction is a positive one.
  5. NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR EXHAUSTION – As a corollary to tip 4, never call attention to the fact that you are tired by apologizing for it. Chances are, if you are doing your job they didn’t notice. By apologizing, you’ve made the other person feel like they are imposing on you, which isn’t a positive experience. However, if you’ve accidentally been rude or dismissive, be sure to apologize for that and be genuine.
  6. LET THE OTHER PERSON DO THE TALKING – “People have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Use them in their proper proportion.” ~ Jane. A benefit of this approach is that you get to conserve your social energies. All you have to do is listen, reword and repeat what they’ve said at appropriate intervals, and then ask them leading questions. Conventions are about your fans, their experiences and what they want out of you. Let them be selfish and hog the conversation. If they start apologizing for doing so, refuse their apology and insist that you are interested in what they say and ask them to go on. After an appropriate amount of time has passed, find a way to delicately remove yourself from the conversation.
  7. MASTER THE ART OF THE SOFT SELL – Nobody likes feeling pressured to spend money. Everyone you interact with on a convention floor is a person, not a mark. If you make selling to someone a difficult or unpleasant experience, people will start avoiding you. Instead, try to form a real bond with the person you are selling and if the opportunity comes up to talk about you or your work, be casual about it. Put the book in their hand and see if they buy. If it doesn’t come up, wish them a happy con and let them walk away. No social interaction is wasted time. Who knows, they may remember that nice author that took time to talk to them and look you up when they get home.
  8. IF SOMEONE IS RUDE OR HOSTILE TO YOU, KEEP YOUR COOL – You are a professional, and professionals don’t get into shouting matches on the convention floor. Especially if the other person deserves it. Stand up for yourself as necessary, walk away when you can, but always maintain your dignity and composure. The person who loses their cool first is the person who loses. Let them make an ass of themselves.
  9. TAKE RE-ENERGIZING BREAKS – I always have a set of ear buds on me when I’m at a convention. If I get flustered or need a moment, I find an uncrowded restroom, close myself in a stall, and listen to something loud and energetic for five minutes. I love music. It energizes me, helps me find my center, and lets me feel alone even when surrounded by people. It’s amazing how refreshing a small break is when you’ve been on the con floor all day. Experiment and find your re-energizing activity. Indulge for five minutes (set a timer if you have to) and then go back to work.
  10. NEVER EVER CRITICIZE ANYONE OR ANYTHING FOR ANY REASON, ESPECIALLY IF PROMPTED TO DO SO – Remember, fans attend cons for positive experiences. Not only is it tactless to criticize someone who can’t defend themselves, it makes you look bad. Remember the old adage, if you don’t have anything nice to say, be noncommittal or change the subject. Would you rather so-and-so hear that you’ve been singing their praises or criticizing their work? Writers travel in small circles, so we hear about what others are saying about us.

Writers are semi-public figures, and so we must have the skills to appear to be extroverted especially if we are not. We don’t get stalked by paparazzi or stopped on the streets by adoring fans, but we still need to be able to function in large groups. We need to be able to have meaningful interactions with complete strangers in the time it takes to sign a book and hand it back. We need to be able to feel comfortable to conduct business for the entire duration of a weekend convention. Ten years ago, I would have found that daunting. I hadn’t practiced my extroverted skills, and so it took Jane’s advice, and one of her favorite books (Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People) to teach me the importance of those skills and how to use them for my own benefit. I might not be an extrovert, but I’ve faked it so long that it has become somewhat true. In the end, that’s what matters.

 

About the Author:NathanBarra_Web
Though Nathan Barra is an engineer by profession, training and temperament, he is a storyteller by nature and at heart. Fascinated with the byplay of magic and technology, Nathan is drawn to science fantasy in both his reading and writing. He has been known, however, to wander off into other genres for “funzies.” Visit him at his webpage or Facebook Author Page.