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Seven Steps on the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott When I first stumbled across “Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment” I REALLY needed it. It was one of those, ‘my dreams are going down the toilet‘ months when I was struggling to put two coherent words together and was seriously considering getting a REAL JOB!

Writing was hard. Much harder than I thought it should be. I assumed that if I was supposed to be a writer I could just, you know, be one. I thought that once I’d started writing it would all happen. I had never thought of myself as anything but a writer and I figured, by twenty-four, I should be well on my way.

I was deep in the realms of despair, regret and recrimination. I was on the verge of calling it quits when I came across this beautiful book in a second hand bookstore. It winked at me from the shelf, calling out with that “Writer” word that is always so tempting.

I’m so glad I spent the $15.98 (AUD) to buy that book that day because I read it, cover to cover and felt this amazing sense of rightness. “Seven Steps” helped me realize that what I was feeling was entirely normal. It was all a part of the process and if anything, had I not been reaching that point I’d have been either, far earlier into the journey or on the wrong path completely.

Photograph: Lynn Lott In “Seven Steps”, psychologist and self-help author Lynn Lott and mystery writer Nancy Pickard go into detail about each of the steps all writers face on the path of their individual writer’s journey. They show readers how each of the seven stages can be recognized and overcome.

Photograph: Nancy Pickard Nancy and Lynn use anecdotes from their own lives, quotes from experienced writers and real-life situations to show how each of the seven steps affect all writers and how you can move past the challenges on this intense ‘journey from frustration to fulfillment‘.

The seven steps, uncertainty, wanting, commitment, wavering, letting go, immersion, and fulfillment are fantastic markers to help you feel confident about your journey. It’s like having a road map to the way you’re supposed to feel and having permission to feel that way.

These two authors really know what they’re talking about. It is incredible to feel a sense of unity between writers; a sense of cosmic connection and belonging to a greater family who understand us. We all go through the same emotions and turmoil. We are not alone and every stage is not only normal but expected and will not last forever.

“Seven Steps” is a fantastic book for writers who need to recharge their inspiration and rebuild their sense of hope and accomplishment. No matter what stage you are at there are true methods to bring you along the path and to avoid those nasty detours that tempt us on the way.

If you are stalled on your own journey this book can help focus your mind and heart so that you can turn the key and get the car back on the road of a writer’s life. Even before I finished reading this book I was writing again. As I turned the pages I felt reenergized and could sharpen my focus, reaffirm my goals and get my schedule back into order. I came out of hibernation and started living, and writing.

If you haven’t read “Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment”, I recommend you get your hands on a copy. It’s a must-have for any writer’s bookshelf.

Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment
by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott.

First published in 2003 by Ballantine Books,
an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group.

25 September 2007

Psychological Profiling – A technique Lynn Lott uses on her psychology clients, which she calls top cards, leads into the question, “What animal are you?” – As found in “Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment” by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott.

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29 June 2007

I’m actually here, at 8pm on the dot which is amazing. I told myself earlier today that I’d come back to the screen at 8 and about ten minutes ago I thought, “Oh, I’ll just have a hot shower first, get the ideas running.” For some reason running water really does kick-start creativity. Tonight it didn’t help. Oh, it helped a little, I’m primed, ready to begin but I’m kicking around too many story ideas. It’s difficult to settle on one thing to work toward tonight.

Earlier today I wondered how writers channel their emotions when they are writing. In the past I’ve done things like write particularly angst-riddled poetry or shorts full of angry jerks. Sometimes I’d write a diatribe that denounced the sins of the world. For the most part I’ve kept all that under wraps and it’ll stay there because the things written in that turmoil really were garbage. It’s great to offload the emotions like that but terrible to dump them on to unsuspecting readers.

But tonight, I’m trying to offset the turmoil so that I can focus on creating something brilliant. Except I’m running around in circles, uncertain where to start. Part of me wondered if these emotions could be channelled in to a character. I glanced, with fleeting fancy, at FoT. Swiftly moved on because I love that story and it doesn’t feel right to use this energy there.

Instead, I moved on to thinking of channelling that darkness into Funny Signs. I’m back to calling it Funny Signs because I really loved my idea of the generations of humans wandering the universe in search of Habitable Space and so that name is reserved. The Goldilocks Zone is still a maybe but to be honest, Funny Signs is more about here, Earth, than what is out there. The fact that the aliens come from there really isn’t enough to claim a title. So, for the moment it continues to be Funny Signs and undoubtedly a more suitable title will come as I get to know the full picture better. But, just imagine the tension and anger I’ve been feeling today as the driving force of those aliens. Anger, resentment, malice. What could possibly drive them to feel that way about the Earth? I like letting the feeling settle in to them. It makes them darker, more menacing, more of a threat and a real antagonist.

One of the aspects of this story that has concerned me is the conspiracy angle. Obviously, if anyone half-authoritative makes a claim that aliens are coming then all sorts of nut-jobs are going to come out of the woodworks. So, we’d have conspiracy theorists, and alien worshippers. I keep picturing the kind of chaos that happened on the roof tops in Independence Day. The whole idea of meeting extraterrestrials is intriguing and so there would be some kind of quasi-chaos that evolves from that. But I was picturing big open fields of nothingness so trying to reconcile that image with Washington D.C. is challenging. I admit, I know next to nothing about Washington D.C. I’ve never been there. It’s the place where the politicians of America hang out. But I get the impression that it’s very metropolitan, very city, rather than wide open country. I guess I need to do some research for location to get a better idea in my head about what is available there.

Washington D.C. does however, make for very classy spy-version conspiracy. So, perhaps, rather than announcing to the world that aliens are coming, Percy could leak it to a closed circle. Perhaps the government puts a lid on it quickly enough to prevent mass hysteria. Instead of open fields covered in caravans and tents we’d have shadowy warehouses and average-Joe, suit and tie, CIA-types with all the associated secrecy.

See how dark this is getting? But I’m actually liking it which surprises me given the mood I came into this with. And the great thing about the dark CIA-secrecy angle is it is just screaming for a humorous counter in some loud and wild conspiracy theorist. You know the sort, all hawaiian shirt and down with the government. Think Mozzie from White Collar, or Sam Axe from Burn Notice.

It just occurred to me that this is all very masculine. I can’t picture a woman in that role but it could be cool to have a female CIA-agent. I was also thinking of a female research assistant. I didn’t want to risk falling backwards into a love story between the research assistant and the widowed father. It might devalue the whole family values angle to have a still grieving father falling for his assistant. The bond between father and son needs to be mended before either of them would be ready for that. But she could still work. She could even have her own unrequited crush going on. She’d be brainy which makes for a good modern woman; added to the strong CIA lady we have two very powerful, twenty-first century females that could balance out the brawn.

One of the greatest challenges I’ve always faced with my writing is juggling. It feels great to pull together a couple of lead characters but when you add the supporting cast it gets tricky. It’s not easy to give everyone the light each character deserves. Each character has his or her own backstory and their own significance. Finding the balance between supporting role and leading lady can be difficult. After all, in real life, we are the heroes of our own story. If you think about it, there really are no supporting roles. In movies, however, there has to be a spotlight and everyone else is just the filter. It becomes a game to try to juggle the roles so that they come together to build one solid story instead of wandering off into tangents of the lives of many.

I think that is where t.v. shows have more leeway. You still have a main cast but you have more freedom to wander in and out of the lives of the supporting cast. Over time we get to know a larger assembly. In Castle for example, you have Castle and Beckett, clearly in the spotlight. But over the seasons we’ve gotten to know the beautiful Alexis, Castle’s daughter; his mother, Martha; and agents Esposito and Ryan. Even the lovely Lanie has stood out and grown as a character in her own right. In a movie, it is important to limit the spotlight because there is just not enough time to run all the side stories. And still, it is important to avoid cookie cutters or cardboard. These characters need to feel real, tangible. Like I said, it’s a juggling act and I’m still not very good at juggling.

Getting back to Funny Signs, we have a growing cast. The father, (currently Graeme or George); the son, Percy; the aliens (indistinct for the moment); research assistant; CIA agent; conspiracy theorist. It’s not too many. I’ll probably throw in a research partner too. Someone to create a counterpoint for Graeme because the father needs a ground, someone male because the research assistant doesn’t give me that rock vibe. Yes, she’s solid and dependable, a brilliant scientist and firm friend but she’s not his mate (in the Australian sense of a best friend or buddy). If the partner is more light-hearted he could also show the contrast between who Graeme was before his wife died and the stick-in-the-mud he’s become since.

You know, there is some fantastic development going on here. I’m liking most of it. But I still don’t SEE the story unfolding. There are no scenes jumping out at me, begging to be written. I have characters however, which is a great start. I’m trying to think back at my writing in the past. I’ve taken too long a hiatus that it’s all fuzzy memory at the moment. But, I’ve always had this struggle to pull away the veil and really see into the story. I think that’s why I always tend to start with the characters. Because, by having characters, I have some way to communicate from this side of the wall, over the wall and into the story. Not that it is a piece of cake to get the characters talking to me. Half the time I’m arguing with myself, trying to pull the details out. It’s frustrating. Why can’t I see things clearly? Perhaps it’s because I’m always so wrapped up in the words, in the writing. Even now, every time I pause to let my mind wander I think, “I should be writing”, but thinking, daydreaming is a big part of writing.

So, time to close my eyes and ask for scenes. Specific scenes.

* Percy and Graeme – there needs to be some sort of tense confrontation to show that their relationship is strained and that the father is overworked, the boy is neglected and lonely.
* Percy looking out his window through the telescope – shadow in space
* Graeme at work – meet partner / meet assistant – show him as an astrophysicist who works too hard, is too obsessed with finding life out there, show him as brilliant, committed. Perhaps pat the dog.
* Percy creating the story – how is he planning to do that?
* CIA agent snapping down on the story
* Graeme finding out what Percy did – angry

*grimaces* Notice how these aren’t even scenes? They are events, sure, but they’re all character based. No images; no location; no action. Nothing to SEE!

Ok, pictures:

* Alien spaceship with the backdrop of a planet, on their way to Earth; perhaps passing Venus? I wonder which direction Gliese would be from Earth. I suppose the planet the alien spaceship has as a backdrop really doesn’t matter. It could be Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus; all would be equally compelling images. The ship would be advanced, smooth metals, gleaming glass. Perhaps have the ship pass through the asteroid belt with a shield that causes the asteroids to fizzle into smoke and dust. It should look powerful, menacing.

* CIA, big empty warehouse, lots of space, lots of shadows, bad fluorescent lighting. Graeme with a canvas bag over his head. He’s tied to an old wood-backed metal-framed office chair that has creaky, rusted wheels. CIA-lady is smartly dressed, tall, with black pump heels that give her an extra inch or two she doesn’t need. Pant-suit, black, obviously. Hair is a counter, blonde, a soft honey blonde, almost bimbo-blonde but she’s no light-weight. Sharp eyes, quickly assessing, compassionately cold. She has a job to do.

* The lab is top of the range. It would be interesting to see into the actual labs at Carnegie. Newest technologies, high-class, very expensive; computers, telescopes, huge observatory, whiteboards, computer simulations, pages and pages of mathematics calculations. Sara, redhead, 5’4″ dainty, petite. She’d be mousy if she weren’t so brilliant and vivacious, radiant. Obligatory white lab coat but she wears it open and underneath wears a dark blue pencil skirt, soft blue blouse. She wears kitten heels because she needs the height and those heels make her legs look stunning. Pete notices, Graeme doesn’t; Pete knows she only has eyes for Graeme. Bit of a love triangle there, two hearts beating in the wrong direction. It leaves Pete and Sara space for an attraction but I don’t know if I’ll go there, if they will.

* Dinner, something simple, reheated, doesn’t take any effort at all and tastes rather bland. A counter to the fantastic home cooking his wife used to provide and the cooking together father and son could do at the end. Percy is pushing his food around on his plate with his fork, it’s not exactly appetising. His father is buried, nose in notes, ignoring him. The notes are covering the table, only just missing the dinner plates. Complete silence between the two, Percy glances up at his father, sad eyes; father oblivious. “May I, please, have more gravy?” Graeme grunts, an acknowledgement/yes of sorts, but doesn’t take his eyes from the page. Percy kneels on his chair to reach over his plate for the gravy bowl, his elbow hits his glass of juice. Orange juice spills all over the table, glass rolls off the edge and smashes on the floor. Graeme stands up, steps backward. “Dammit, Percy! Go to your room.” Rushing to salvage papers. Percy, wide-eyed, scared. Pause. Then the boy jumps off his chair and takes off to his room. Later, he’s crying on his bed, quiet sobs, he doesn’t want his dad to hear him. Graeme in the kitchen, mopping up the mess with paper towels, he bends to pick up pieces of glass, cuts himself, swears again. There is an anguish and exhaustion in him, a sense of defeat.

Ok, three locations and a scene. That could work. I went back and added the “please” to Percy’s line. This kid is really trying to be good for his dad. I think having him be so careful around his father makes it more meaningful when he does this thing to betray his father’s trust and get his father’s attention. Especially since, he’s torn between getting his father’s attention and not being sure he really wants it. When he gets attention it’s to get yelled at so he’s both timid and yearning. Graeme overreacts, he’s strung too tightly so everything causes drama in his world, he can’t handle even little things, like a broken glass. Add that to the fact that it’s all over those papers. Important papers. Ruined papers. Somehow I need to make those papers significant to the plot. Perhaps, because they were damaged Graeme leaves them somewhere and Percy uses them to make his “aliens are coming” declaration. Somehow. What would a seven year old know of what’s on those pages. I still don’t know how he could possibly make that kind of announcement and be believed. If we made him a child genius we’d loose a vital sense of relate-ability with him. He needs to be this normal scared little boy. So how does a normal, scared little boy, tell people that aliens are coming and be believed?

He’s net gen. Perhaps he knows his way around Photoshop? If he has prints of Gliese from his father’s research he could alter those on his computer. In fact, those papers could be photographs. And initially, Percy could be cleaning them up so he can give his Dad new prints. Not that the originals wouldn’t still be on a computer, easy enough to print again. But you know, he’s seven, maybe he doesn’t realise that. Except if he’s good enough to know how to clean up a photograph with Photoshop then he’d know about digital images. It doesn’t negate the whole, doctoring an image with Photoshop thing but it definitely tempers his whole reason for grabbing those photos to begin with. I’ll think about it some more. Perhaps Graeme dumps the whole lot in the bin and Percy salvages them. I’ll let it percolate.

I’ve had a pretty productive two hours. I’m going to wrap up and make an early night of it. The sleep will do me and my mood wonders. Happy Writing!

15 February 2012

Title: How You Leave Them Feeling
Author: Jesse Ferrell
Publisher: JessTalk, hardback, 254 pages
ISBN 10: 0977881008

“Simply put, how you leave other people feeling and how people perceive you have a profound effect on the quality of your life,” declares the jacket blurb on Jesse Ferrell’s “How You Leave Them Feeling“. Ferrell encourages readers to adopt his approach in any interaction. The goal is to leave each person feeling good about himself and thus feeling good about you. When you do this, Mr. Ferrell maintains, you will be on the way to living the life you deserve, getting what you want out of life, and “living the good life now.”

Ferrell begins with a rousing introduction in which he explains the idea of the book. He describes how he saw that his own success was based on his ability to consistently leave clients and others feeling good about themselves. Then he sets the table for the main course by listing the principles on which he has built his own life. (He calls them the “Seven Essential Laws of Life”.)

In the thirteen chapters that follow, he delivers the details of his Seven Essential Laws and explains how they relate to leaving others feeling good about themselves and you. He explores subjects of attitude, communication, personal and professional development, building a support network, maintaining a healthy balance in life and more, illustrating liberally with real-life anecdotes and summing up with bits of catchy wisdom.

Some memorable points of the book for me were:

  • The idea of the personal signature or unique style by which each of us becomes known.
  • An emphasis on kindness and giving to others.
  • The importance of attitude – along with a piece of good advice: “When in doubt, leave it out… it is far easier to revisit a situation and provide additional messages than it is to take back a wrongful or inappropriate remark stemming from an attitude glitch.”
  • The importance of listening: “Sharpening your listening skills will bring you more respect and interpersonal growth than just about any other endeavor. People like to feel they are being heard. When you clearly listen to others, you are honoring the power of communication by investing the time to take in their message.”
  • The challenge to leave everything – and everyone – better than you found them.

The readability of Ferrell’s practical and crisply written material is helped by consistent organization and formatting. The text is laid out with lots of white space between paragraphs and broken up with bold-face headings. The main points of each chapter are listed again at the conclusion as action steps. A list of summary points (one-sentence statements that describe how following the actions steps will impact the reader’s behavior) and affirmations (brief positive statements for the reader to repeat or reflect on) conclude each chapter.

Jesse Ferrell, the man, comes across as enthusiastic, likable, a great friend and team player with lots of drive, integrity and clear goals. As a former executive within the Las Vegas casino marketing industry, he is now president and CEO of a professional speaking company, JessTalk Speaking Services, and seems eminently qualified to write a book of this kind. His experience in the corporate world gives added value to the personal and professional development section via the diary system he has developed and illustrates. He now works as a life coach and the “JessTalk Life Quadrant Model” he has developed for clients drives home his point about the need for and means of achieving a balanced lifestyle.

I gained much from the book. However, I would not adopt it carte blanche as my personal road guide. It is written from a humanistic perspective and is birthed out of a New Age worldview (bad energy, good energy, karma, the Cosmos, evolved soul, mantra, Mother Nature, envisioning/visualization are all terms or concepts found within). With that in mind, however, I would say that you can learn much of value from “How You Leave Them Feeling” whatever your creed.

I have encountered many of its principles in my own belief system and I decided, as I read it, to use what I could and simply discard the things with which I didn’t agree. It has certainly made me think twice about how I will treat the next telemarketer, panhandler, supermarket clerk or whomever – and that’s got to be a good thing.

Also available to download with Amazon's Kindle.

Violet Nesdoly, a poet, Christian and Children’s Author said, “The world of words has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. As a kid, whenever my Mom needed me for a job, it was a sure thing she’d find me between the covers of a book.”

You can get to know her better by reading her blog, Line Upon Line, where she shares inspiration, poetry, and thoughts on writing life. You can also find out more about Jesse Ferrell on his site, JessTalk Speaking and Coaching Services.

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28 October 2008