Here in the Midst of Challenge

I often do as you do. I read about people once they’ve already climbed the mountain and faced that lion. It’s all inspiring and humbling to do so. But what I rarely get to see is a picture into the lives of those who are fallen.

What do you if you’re not there yet?

I’m in that murky space right now.

I’ve spent 8-years in the professional nonfiction arena. And I’ve done okay for myself. I’ve worked with reputable companies. I’ve built a network of clients that can depend on me to create and complete finished articles on time. I rarely have to look for work and grateful that somehow people find me. But what I haven’t yet done is succeed in my fiction life.

In other words, I’m still climbing that mountain.

I’d like to write a riveting blog post concerning the twist and turns of countless rejections with stops and starts of my fiction career. I’d like to say I spent 7-years tolling away at my work about to give up when a glowing response from a literary agent and a top ten best-seller review gave me hope again. This is the sort of stories I end up reading about. Mostly because when people are in the middle of struggle, they’re holed up at home. They’re throwing their hands up in the air. They don’t want people to know they’re going through a hard time. They want people to celebrate with them once they’ve succeeded.

But the truth is, our seemingly weakest moments are our strongest ones. It is the times when we’re at our breaking point, when we are on the verge of giving up, that makes for great stories.

In Rising Strong, Brene Brown says the following:

“While vulnerability is the birthplace of many of the fulfilling experiences we long for — love, belonging, joy, creativity, and trust, to name a few — the process of regaining our emotional footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged. Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives; it’s the process that teaches us the most about who we are.”

This means that all of you who are writing right now and receiving those rejection letters are on the path to the greatest opportunity to elevate your courage, and your sense of identity. It’s not an easy road when we don’t know whether our work is of value or if anyone will care.

But as Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Big Magic, that doesn’t matter.


Create what you must. Write because you delight in it. Face your fears every day while you’re sitting at your computer despite the fear that it’s not good enough. Because I believe if you work at it every day, you’ll eventually get there. And all that courage it took to do so, will not only make you a better writer, but a better person.

Writing With Kids

ToddlerI often tell friends it’s harder and better than people say. I was talking about parenting, but it also applies to writing.

Last night, my two-year old son was up multiple times with a nervously high fever. When your baby’s sick, everything else goes out the window.

But on a day to day basis, there’s teething, tantrums and toddler troublemaking. There’s always reasons to not write especially when you have a child pulling at your pants. And real, understandable, legitimate reasons too. Like sleep.

I caught this post on Writing & Parenting in my Twitter feed today, and it all came tumbling back to me. It justified, validated and explained why writing sometimes feels like an uphill battle these days. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t admit to moments when I dreamed of life pre-kids when I had hours to idle at coffee shops, not even writing, just gazing out the window, pretending to write. These days, every precious minute is coveted. It’s not that I’m a slave to my writing or my writing clients. It’s cause writing is almost like a third child. It’s surprisingly that important to me.

Meet an angry, irritable soul and you’ll probably have met a creative person who hasn’t expressed himself that day.

Writing when you’ve got kids is nothing to apologize for. Sure, the guilt will get to you on days when you’d rather sit in front of your computer than put together another puzzle. But I think doing the things that fills our creative souls makes us not only better parents, but better people.

So you may have to sacrifice some time, sleep or some other activity you used to savor, but in the end, I think putting energy in what you love (writing and your kids) is all worth it.

One day when we’ve figure out as much of a balance as possible, they’ll thank us. I’m sure.


The Difference Between Fiction and Nonfiction


If you ask me what the difference between fiction and nonfiction is, I’d say, “apples and oranges.” And to most writers, that’s a given. For people who don’t write professionally, however, words are words whether they’re made up or based on fact.

There’s an art about each. And both have their challenges. For me though, using my imagination, and letting go into it are difficult. There is no way of controlling what will happen to my characters. There is no specific date or fact that can completely direct my story. That’s why writing a children’s book has been a continual hurdle for me. And why I drool over real authors the way I do over runners running past my window.

Here’s what Ayn Rand says about the two in her book, The Art of Nonfiction:

“Contrary to all schools of art and esthetics, writing is something one can learn. There is no mystery about it.

In literature, as in all the fine arts, complex premises must be set early in a person’s mind, so that a beginning adult may not have enough time to set them and thus cannot learn to write. Even these premises can be learned, theoretically, but the person would have to acquire them on his own. So I am inclined to say that fiction writing-and the fine arts in general-cannot be taught. Much of the technical skill involved can be, but not the essence.

However, any person who can speak English grammatically can learn to write nonfiction. Nonfiction writing is not difficult, though it is a technical skill.”

She says the essence of fine arts can not be taught unlike nonfiction. Anyone can write nonfiction, but where does that leave a wannabe fiction writer?

I sometimes question that myself. Does a fiction writer have to be born? Can anyone, even a straight, factual nonfiction writer create?

I’m apt to say, “Of course!”

But the journey has been a long and furiously frustrating one.

While I often offer advice on my writing posts, I’m throwing this back to you dear readers. What do you think is the main difference between fiction and nonfiction? Can a nonfiction writer learn to be a fiction writer? Which one is harder for you to compose?

The Courage in Vulnerability


Brené Brown is an expert on everything related to vulnerability. I’ve taken two of her online courses and listened to her SoundsTrue podcast recently. I’m admittedly a big huge fan.

Perhaps, it’s because I’m all too familiar with shame. It sits on my shoulder every time I publish a post, conduct a workshop/meetup or submit my writing. Until I listened to Brown, I hadn’t realized how my cheeks would burn or how embarrassed I was to let my insides show.

Rejection to me doesn’t feel uncomfortable. It feels like a slow death. It’s an end of who I am. It’s a room full of strangers laughing and pointing. It’s a deep inner ache that somehow whatever I’m doing is not enough.

Enter in my dreams and the whole thought of pursuing them seems laughable. Much better to hide behind a boring job. It’s much easier to stay with the same friendships. Way safer to keep the dreams at night and distract myself during the day with mindless activities right?

Anyone who has ever taken a big risk in being vulnerable realizes both the cost and benefit of putting yourself out on the line. You can’t truly live unless you do something that scares you sh$tless. You won’t ever feel like you’ve made your mark unless you do something that makes you feel like an idiot.. Until you risk big, you won’t feel alive.

You may will fail if you choose to live your life. But failing is a good thing. Every rejection letter you receive. Every job opportunity that doesn’t work out. Every editor that tears apart your work. Those are evidence that you are strong, and living your purpose. And there’s definitely no shame, but so much courage in that.

Failing isn’t an end state. It’s one stop on a long journey towards success.

So next time you feel defeated, remember that. Remember that failure is in its own way success. It’s a reminder that you’re fighting the fight. One more failure down, many more to go.

That’s the way we get through our writing dreams. A little bit of blind faith, hard work, and courage to be vulnerable.

The Truth About Failure

Blue woman

I had it again. It’s a reoccurring dream where I’m still in high school. The dream haunts me because I’m stuck there, unable to take the necessary courses and get the required grades to move on. Although the situation is different, the emotion is the same.

FEAR. It’s the emotion that prevents me from taking the next step.

This year embarks a new journey for me. I’m still writing, but I decided to reach outside of my comfort zone and teach workshops. Teaching stress management workshops has been my dream for almost as long as I’ve wanted to be a writer. I finally faced my fears and did my first one at the end of last year and have two more scheduled in the next few months.

I’m always surprised when people like them and prior attendees want to sign up for another one. This is despite the fact that since I’ve been working on them, I’ve slept better, my son’s cries doesn’t stir me up the way it used to and my husband says he’s noticed a significant decrease in his stress after taking it. I’m too accustomed to failure. I brace myself for it even before its made apparent.

But I read something recently on failure that changed how I perceive it.

Failure isn’t the end of your dream, nor is it proof that you won’t ever succeed. It’s indication that you might need a new path. It’s evidence that you need to try something different. But it’s also the realization that you’re doing it! Failure is a necessary part in success. You cannot avoid or sideswipe it if you want to get good at what you do.

Stop criticizing yourself by adding unnecessary suffering and burden for the things you didn’t do right. They are wasteful emotions that work only as excuses so you don’t have to try again.

In The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield talks about the pain he felt when the first movie he worked on bombed:

I’m a loser, a phony; my life is worthless, and so am I.

My friend Tony Keppelman snapped me out of it by asking if I was going to quit. Hell, no! ‘Then be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.’

That’s was when I realized I had become a pro. I had not yet had success. But I had had a real failure.”

Why I Write

{Photo from caprisco}
{Photo from caprisco}

It’s taken me years to curate enough courage to admit the secret I’ve always known. It was evident in my early obsessions-well-worn books, hardcovers and paperbacks causing a backpack strap indention in my shoulders. It explained why I begged my grandmother for a typewriter and ripped away the crisp holiday paper as if there was a toy underneath. I devoured the book catalog we got in school as if it were a menu, salivating as I thumbed through each delicious page. And while other kids played sports or with their Barbie, I found calm in the click of my new electronic typewriter and the yellowed pages of library books.

I was extremely shy and yet when my high school English teacher argued that my writing was “bad,” I told him with as much courage as my soft voice could muster that he was wrong. I stormed out with a ticket from the admissions office-a free pass to skip his class. I was elated when I discovered the reason for my excused slip-I won a journalism award for my article in our newspaper. My hot flushed face quickly melted into a pool of sweet revenge.

All this and I still waffled between Environmental Science, Business and English in college. I changed majors multiple times. But since I barely passed Accounting and was terrible in Science, I surrendered to the knowledge that I wouldn’t be able to get great grades in anything else but English.

After college, I idled in front of Borders’s career section. It was an ordinary night on the store’s dirty floor when I finally decided to do it. I had always been interested in the psychology behind the characters I read. Plus, I was bored, restless, and fresh out of ideas of what to do next in my hometown of Hawaii. It seemed like the easiest answer in the world to jump on a plane and move my life to California. I had a purpose now. I would get a graduate degree in counseling psychology.

Three years later with my shiny new degree, I was back where I started more in debt, and confused as ever. That’s when I met the woman that would change my life.

She was a friend of a friend I met at a party. There was nothing extraordinary about her or our meeting except that she told me she was a writer. Writer, I thought my heart beating quickly. This time, I couldn’t ignore how I was feeling. It stirred a forgotten desire, which started a domino effect, which turned my full-time job into a part-time gig. In the light of my dreams, I had nil motivation to continue and I finally quit.

It was difficult, but I finally relinquished my need for stability so that I could pursue my dreams. This year marks my 7th year as a freelance writer. I’ve been tempted to give up and get back to mind-numbing corporate work for the stability, the pay, and the ease that comes from a traditional career. But I keep surprising myself in my efforts to stay.

Being a writer is the best and hardest thing I’ve ever done. As I sit down in what seems to be an extremely safe and benign seat, I’m battling my inner critic. I’m stuffing down deep fears that I’m still not good enough. I’m always terrified as I put my fingers to the keyboard. But whether I failed infamously yesterday or mess up catastrophically today, experience has taught me, with certainty saved for nothing else in my life that I will be back here at my computer again tomorrow.

*I will be starting a writer’s group in my area of Mililani and will be offering personal consultation and workshops in 2015.

Subscribe to find out about upcoming Hawaii writer events here.

What Editors and Agents Really Want

{Photo by hotblack}
{Photo by hotblack}

All the rejections from articles, essays, and poems lay in a heavy heap over my heart. They are evidence of one thing that I have to keep learning repeatedly.

Success doesn’t come from replicating successful writers.

This I have to tell myself after yet another agent/teacher recommends I read a bestselling book in hopes their innovative ideas, voice or style rubs off on me.

This after my insecurity makes me succumb to Oprah’s often told lesson of trying to imitate Barbara Walters. But she learned, “I can be a better Oprah Winfrey than a pretend Barbara Walters.”

But no matter how tempting it is to try to follow in your idol’s successful path, you will not fulfill your purpose until you have the courage to step out on your own two feet.

After almost a decade of being a freelance writer, I’ve learned that while you can get jobs by writing like everyone else, you become irreplaceable when you learn to hone in on what makes you you. You become valuable when you stop trying to write like everyone else and let your own voice shine through. You will become the sought after writer who doesn’t have to actively search for work when you have the confidence to write like you.

This may take years to build up courage.

It may take awhile to find your voice and your audience.

But you will find it.

I started a writing career first in Hawaii, then in California and back to Hawaii. I also write for a company on the East Coast. But what sets me apart from the gazillion other writers around the world is my experience, story and style.

That doesn’t me you don’t follow rules or listen to editors and agents. I’ve actually spent several years getting a BA in English learning how to write like everyone else so that I could afford to write like myself. But once you get it, once you learn the basic skills so that you can write, let yourself go. Stop comparing your writing to every successful writer/blogger/author out there. You won’t get very far if you adapt the style and tone of a writer you envy. Your writing will take off only when you let the words be indicative of your personality. When you risk showing who you are to the world, that’s when people will take notice. That’s when your writing will blossom.

The One Tip That Helped Me Cope With Criticism

{Etsy artwork by JCDisplayArt}
{Etsy artwork by JCDisplayArt}

No matter how long you’ve been writing, it always gets to you. The formal rejection letter. The kind, but full revision request. No reply.

Writers are subjected to rejection as part of their job. But it doesn’t make things easier.

While I tend to get over it faster than I did 7-years ago when I started as a freelance writer, it still hurts the ego. Like a scab that you constantly pick at, my mind constantly asks, “Why oh why did I make that dumb mistake?”

That is, until I heard this Soundstrue podcast with Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message author Tara Sophia Mohr. Here is a little excerpt from the transcript:

[A]s my writing and my work have gotten more visible, it’s a constant [struggle of], am I willing to challenge my inner critic on this one? Am I willing to not believe the voice that’s saying, “I’m not ready yet to write for that publication; I’m not ready to go on that TV show; I’m not enough of an expert on the topic.” I’ve got all of those voices inside of me…”

It’s familiar verbiage for anyone risking their creative hearts on the line. But what she says after that was really mind-blowing.

“…feedback only ever tells us about the person giving the feedback; it never tells us anything about ourselves. And I really believe that…

I believe that if a million people said, “I don’t like your book, Tara,” that wouldn’t make me a bad writer and that wouldn’t make the book a bad book, but it would tell me a whole lot about what works for a reading audience, what works for contemporary readers.

And when we start to see feedback that way, it all becomes emotionally neutral information that does not take our egos on a huge roller coaster, but just gives us insight and then if we realize, “Hey, that insight is about people that I want to reach or influence or engage, I better pay attention to it.” And if it’s not, then I don’t necessarily need to pay so much attention to it. So it just becomes sort of strategic information that can help you achieve your aims, which I believe is the role of feedback; not ego boosts or ego wounds, and certainly not evaluations of your merit.”

Amazing right? 

Think about it. Every “negative feedback” you get is just evidence, information. We can allow it to define our self-worth or we can simply use it as objective data. As Mohr says, if it helps us get closer to our goals then we listen to it. If not? We don’t need to spend anymore time and energy on it.

I know it works because I’ve already used it.

Try it and let me know if it helps you too.

Why You Haven’t Gotten Published Yet

Writing in a cottage

“Friends sometimes ask, ‘Don’t you get lonely sitting by yourself all day?’ At first it seemed odd to hear myself answer No. Then I realized that I was not alone; I was in the book; I was with the characters. I was with my Self.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

The more I commit to writing fiction, the more I appreciate the genius that is Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.

I made up a fiction’s children story on the fly. My husband and I were resting at the most beautiful country cottage in Point Reyes. It was a raining, fire kindling kind of evening when I told it to him. That was 4 years ago. I’ve been plowing through since then.

And then I stopped.

I took a hiatus for many reasons. But my story was verging on complete annihilation because when you pause for that long resistance wins.

Resistance wins through rationalization.

Pressfield says in his book, “What’s particularly insidious about the rationalizations that Resistance presents to us is that a lot of them are true. They’re legitimate.”

I moved, had a baby, and was diagnosed with autoimmune disease. I got busy. Priorities shifted. But deeper than that, What right did I have anyway to write fiction? I was doing pretty well as a nonfiction writer and blogger. But fiction? Fiction was meant for truly talented writers. I was not one of them.

Since working on my fiction stories again, I have about 5 now, some completed, a few ones still in progress, I realized what was really keeping me from my work. It wasn’t the external stuff that was getting me. It was the internal belief that I couldn’t do it or that even if I could, who would read it anyway?

That is why this passage written by Pressfield in his book really hit home for me:

“What Resistance leaves out, of course, is that all this means diddly. Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France three years and counting. If Resistance couldn’t be beaten, there would be no Fifth Symphony, no Romeo and Juliet. Defeating Resistance is like giving birth. It seems absolutely impossible until you remember that women have been pulling it off successfully, with support and without, for fifty million years.”

I had given birth and yet the idea of writing a book seemed impossible. This reminded me that there are no real reasons to give up, just fear.

If we keep to our computers or our notebooks every day, whether it’s 10 minutes or 4 hours, fear won’t have disappeared, but its power will diminish into the background like the white noise of an unwatched television screen.

If you take your work seriously, your commitment will override any fears you have. And just like the ordinary man behind the screen in the Wizard of Oz, you’ll find it’s a lot less intimidating and powerful than you imagined it to be.