June 16, 2022 § 19 Comments
By Morgan Baker
I don’t like being late – to classes I teach or the airport to catch a plane. My anxiety meter goes haywire if I haven’t given myself the time to organize before school or when I’m packing to go away. Will I need my swimsuit? What about those shoes? I allow extra time wherever I go, which means I’m usually early.
My stepfather once told my daughter as he drove her to a summer job, “You’re on time if you’re ten minutes early.”
I’ve taken that to heart.
When my daughter and I went to a wedding in Montana a few years ago, we were excited about the event, and to see the big sky landscape we had heard so much about. I didn’t want to feel rushed or anxious, so I allowed for plenty of extra time to get through security and find our gate.
We watched planes taxiing to other gates from the rocking chairs we sat in. For three hours.
But when it comes to my writing, I don’t follow my own advice. I often rush it. I think I’m done way before I really am. My husband, a former journalist and editor, reminds me frequently to slow down, think the piece through, whether it’s an essay or a profile I’m working on. Wait, he says, before sending it out. There are always opportunities to expand or transform my writing.
I don’t always listen. Often, I already have a good sense of what’s working and where I need more, but instead of figuring out the fixes, I get jittery and eager and I send off the piece to trusted readers and editors, hoping they won’t notice the holes.
Not only do they notice, they fall in them.
I encourage the writers in my workshops to take their time. Sit on your work for a day or two, or more, I tell them. If it’s a timely essay, sit on it for a few hours. Wait and see how the work matures over time. Then revisit and revise. Don’t rush. Wait before taking a bite of the cookie that’s just come out of the oven. Don’t burn your mouth.
I spoke with a writer recently who has a book of essays out, and she told me some of the essays took her years to write. Years.
I don’t have years. I want to get my book of essays out now!
I’m a problem solver. I like immediate results. I can usually fix someone else’s challenge, edit their work, or find their lost car key. Helping myself is more perplexing and time consuming.
But when I linger on my pieces, like waiting to bite that hot cookie, it’s always worth it. I might remember another aspect of the topic I want to add in, or recognize a theme I didn’t see before.
I’ve been working on a collection of essays for, yes, years, and I thought I knew their purpose. but recently, I realized I was going in the wrong direction. There was a theme in my work I hadn’t seen earlier, a theme that tied my shorter pieces together from two separate projects. I am now going to select, toss, and revise. Because I’d taken my time with the essays, the theme had time to marinate before it jumped out at me.
Now I’m eager to get going. But I need to heed the yellow light ahead and slow down, take my time, let the pieces simmer, blow on them a little so they’re not so hot and I can hold them.
If I rush to pack, I might forget the shoes I need, or my bathing suit in case there’s a pool. Sometimes I have to unpack and repack to make sure I have everything I need—editing my suitcase like I edit a book. I repack, rolling my clothes instead of folding them. They take up less room that way, and there is more room to add and substitute items. Just as I can revise once more, allowing for expansion and transformation.
Morgan Baker has written for The Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, The Bark, The Bucket, Talking Writing, Cognoscenti, Motherwell, and several times for the Brevity Blog. She teaches at Emerson College and runs workshops privately (see bymorganbaker.com). She lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband and two dogs.
September 28, 2021 § 6 Comments
By Lisa Mae DeMasi
“Do what you love” may be the most overused advice in the career-improvement world. Countless superstar entrepreneurs’ TEDx talks and thought leaders’ bestselling books have quoted Maya Angelou: “pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” But that’s not always possible in practice.
I know this firsthand. Once upon a time I turned my back on a half-finished MBA and a corporate job’s maddening pace and rigid hierarchy, escaping to do what I loved: writing.
The act of quitting made me subversive, and that alone fueled creative expression. I mapped out chapters, content. Figured I’d have the memoir written in six months, employ an editor, find an agent, become a bestseller, Oprah would call, the whole bit.
Four years later I found myself gazing into my monitor, not knowing whether to put a period at the end of the sentence or keep going with a comma. I’d lost my home in foreclosure, gone bankrupt, written three hundred thousand words, revised the body of work four times. And while slurping away at my eighty-seventh cosmo, I understood what I was really missing. A mentor. Someone who’d gone before, knew how to shape art into something saleable and would come with a tribe of like-minded potential collaborators. I needed someone to touch what the poet Mary Oliver called the “wild silky” part of myself and, finally, make it palatable to the world.
Hemingway had Stein, Beethoven had Neefe. We mere mortals need mentors, too—and we can hire them. But there are thousands of writing coaches out there: some are competent, some are lousy, some are soul crushers.
How do you find your coach?
- Go with the gut: does the coach’s work style and personality jibe with your own? Do her testimonials feel obligatory and ingenuine, or honest and objective? Does she “guarantee she’ll help you write a bestseller”—or provide thorough analysis and work with you to tighten up the manuscript? Listen to your intuition. There are many fantastic coaches with integrity and know-how—don’t get stuck with empty promises.
- She’s part of your tribe: if you see a potential mentor’s work in a publication you love, or discover her in a group on social media with whom you share a vibe, chances are you have similar taste. I found my coach through my Reiki teacher. My coach had helped a fellow Reiki student get an agent and a book deal with Random House.
- She has street cred and success: my coach had testimonials from people who had published, made writing careers, and gotten bylines with top media outlets. She was also successful in her own right—an internationally acclaimed author who’d made her living writing. I knew she could trailblaze a path.
- She gets you, every single part of you: my coach works in the Gateless method, which fuses creative brain science, industry-savvy skills and tools, and radical nurturing to bring domain-changing work into the world. In this methodology, a coach leans into your greatest strengths, the energy of the writing, and the power of your work in the world to manifest your singular genius in the form of a book. Through this method, my coach helps all of me rather than just the part of me working on my craft. This might not be your style at all! Some writers crave nurturing, others want firm deadlines. Make sure your coach isn’t just about deliverables, numbers, list-building, ideal clients and great gigs—unless that’s what you want.
- It doesn’t happen overnight: Anyone who promises the world in thirty days isn’t helping you make lasting change. It took me an eleven-year journey through the trials and tribulations of a writer’s life—finding the time to write in between putting food on the table—to get to the key of mentorship. Something magical did happen with my coach, and while it felt like it happened overnight, it’s too deep and long-lasting for that.
Since working with my coach I’ve been shortlisted for prizes, published in the top online media and literary journals, and polished my memoir to pitch literary agents. But more than that, I understand that often, those who fail at doing what they loved just didn’t have the guidance they needed to learn how to soar.
What will you do today to obtain the guidance you need to succeed?
Lisa Mae DeMasi is pitching Calamity Becomes Me to literary agents, her kick-in-the-ass memoir about survival, told with insight, reflection and laugh out loud moments. She also publishes essays on the writing life and women who inspire her. Her work has been featured in Creative Nonfiction’s Tiny Truths, Horse Network, Writer Advice, WOW! Women on Writing!, Shark Reef, and the anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.