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inspiration

“Inspiration usually comes during work,
not before it.”

-Madeleine L’Engle

…it’s that I miss writing.

I’ll admit, at first I used our renovation as an excuse for why I didn’t have time to sit down and work on my next book. In hindsight, I think I needed a mental vacation from writing. I know plently of writers who take some time away from writing in between books. In fact, I could argue that it’s critical. But I didn’t allow myself that because if I wasn’t writing then what was I doing? Instead, I started brainstorming my next book. And I quickly discovered that the passion I had for Empty Arms wasn’t there for the new book. And that scared me because I can’t devote myself to something that I’m not fired up about; the writing suffers, the proccess suffers, and I suffer. So I buried myself in our renovation. It was the perfect guise; no one could ask any questions or cry foul, because I was busy, busy, busy. Every day.

But then something unexpected happened: being away from my computer and immersed in non-writing activities, I found myself thinking about writing. A lot. New story ideas started popping into my brain and I felt my passion return. It’s as if unfocusing for a while helped me get refocused. (Side note: if you can get past the fact that he knowingly mis-quoted Bob Dylan and plagarized himself, Jonah Lehrer explores this concept in Imagine: How Creativity Works).

At last, we are T-minus two weeks until we move into our new house and while I’m really excited to live in our new space, I can’t wait to hunker down in my new writing office and get back to work.

Do you ever take mental vacations from your passion?

News of Stephen Covey’s death this past Monday took me back to a world I don’t think about often: Corporate America. At my first “real” job with a pharmaceutical company, Covey’s bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, filled storage closets and was dispensed freely to those of us on the management track. I read it, digested it, and put it into action. And eventually…I forgot about it.

The news of his death inspired me to dig out his book and refresh my memory. I immediately zoned in on Habit #3 - Put First Things First – because this is one that I’ve let slide lately. With the renovations going on over at our new house and our upcoming move, our lives have lost all sense of order. While I know this situation is only temporary, I don’t like how I’ve had to let the truly important things (being a kind, loving, patient, caring wife and a dedicated, thoughtful, inspired writer) fall by the wayside in order to handle all of the urgent matters that keep popping up (an electrician who keeps putting his foot through our ceiling, a new tile floor in the guest bathroom that was laid so unevenly you’d probably stub your toe on your way to the toilet, and a shipment of bi-fold closet doors that were all the wrong style despite my personal visit to the millwork company where they’re made). Rather than having the time and energy for dinner dates, movies, blogging, and writing, I’ve been scrambling all over town to find the perfect backsplash tile and secure the right size recessed lights.

All of the focus on these renovation demands – and the lack of focus on the truly important things - has left me feeling stressed and burnt out (which, coincidentally, is how I often felt in Corporate America). I’m thankful that this situation is temporary because I don’t like being back here, in a place where my writing and my hubby are shoved aside because of problems, deadlines, and pressing priorities. And I’m grateful for this important reminder about how I want my life to be.

I suppose for the next few weeks all I can do is balance everything to the best of my ability and keep my eye on the prize: a new home where Dave and I can get back to putting first things first.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule,
but to schedule your priorities.”

- Stephen Covey

What are your priorities?

Originally posted on December 13, 2010

On Saturday I met a young woman named Christina, who recently moved to Bethlehem from Italy. I was immediately fascinated by her story because I’ve always fantasized about one day doing the same thing…in reverse. Of course, I peppered her with questions about her journey: What made you decide to move here? Was it hard to leave your family and friends? What will you do for work? And the big one: weren’t you scared?

She smiled at all my questions and in her best English she replied, “I try not to overthink it. Living in the United States has always been a dream of mine, so I finally decided to move here and see what it’s like.”

I was stunned and inspired by her nonchalance. If I were in her shoes, I doubt I would have been as laid back. But her words reminded me how important it is to do the things we dream of and not over think them in the process. After all, it would’ve been pointless for Christina to do too much planning before her trip because she never would have been able to predict all the opportunities, people and experiences waiting for her here in Bethlehem.

We all have different journeys that we dream of taking, whether it’s relocating half-way around the world, changing careers, redefining our lifestyles or trying something new. The danger in overthinking the journey at hand is that all the unknowns can end up scaring us out of it altogether.

Like Christina, if we open ourselves to the experience and trust that we’ll find our way, we too can live our dreams with the freedom and flexibility to choose the path forward.

And really, what’s better than that?

Originally posted on October 30, 2009

Whenever I finish a book that I love, I scour the author’s bio trying to figure out what made him or her so amazing. I did this a few years ago when I finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and, believe it or not, there was one line from her bio that I found so insprirational, I never forgot it: Elizabeth went to college in New York City in the early 1990s, and spent the years after college traveling around the country and the world, working odd jobs, writing short stories and essentially creating what she has referred to as her own MFA program.

From the second I read it, I fell in love with the idea of creating your own MFA program based on your life’s experiences. It got me thinking about self-education and how important it can be as we pursue our dreams. Too often people let fears of inadequacy and education scare them into believing that they need to invest their time and money into one expensive degree after the next in order to achieve their dreams. But in many cases, this is just an avoidance tactic that people use to delay taking action.

The concept of self-directed learning, or autodidacticism, is by no means new. In fact, some of the most influential people of the ages – Socrates, Descartes, Benjamin Franklin, George Bernard Shaw, Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Edison, and Malcolm X – were autodidacts. Some were thrust into it because they couldn’t afford a formal education and others happened into it accidentally.

Business philosopher, Jim Rohn, says, ”Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”

Don’t believe him? Check out this list of some other self-taught legends:

  • Musician David Bowie
  • Magic duo Penn and Teller
  • Filmmakers James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, and Steven Soderbergh
  • Musician Frank Zappa
  • Author Terry Pratchett
  • Poet William Blake

Even author Mark Twain is known to have said: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Please understand that my purpose here is not downplay formal degree programs, just to remind you of the merits of self-education. As Elizabeth Gilbert and countless others have proven, self-directed learning can go a long way in helping you acquire the skills, knowledge and experience you need to follow your dreams.

So I ask you, what does your MFA program look like?