Friday, February 22, 2013

My Boot Camp Touchstone

Photo courtesy:
I had to rewrite this post a couple of hours before it was scheduled for release because it was eerily similar to one my good writing friend, Elaine Kehoe posted earlier this afternoon.  We had both written about the six week “I Should Be Writing! Boot Camp” that we just finished, led by our “drill sergeant”, Lisa Romeo. 

Elaine gave an eloquent account of the class and the most important accomplishment she got from it.  Don’t miss her post.  I’m going to break the #1 blogging rule and tell you to go now - really – go read it now – then come back if you want to read my re-written post about Boot Camp and what I’m taking away as my touchstone from the class.   

You’re back?  Thanks…. so we begin… last November I wrote Lisa about participating in Boot Camp.  I told her I was thinking of investing in myself and my writing with the stipend I’d received from a piece published in Chicken Soup for the Soul and wondered if the course was for me. 

By now, you know what the course was by Elaine’s account.  So let me start with Lisa’s account to me last November of what the course is not: 
“To explain how Boot Camp works first let me tell you what Boot Camp is NOT – not a craft class (though there is an option each week to submit work for private feedback); not a motivational seminar or support group (though some writers use it solely for that); not a guilt trip; not a score-keeping situation where you compare your writing output to others. It's also not easy, in the sense that it requires you to take it on, take it seriously, not simply think of it as an extra little something.”
And she was right.  It was NOT easy.  She was TOUGH. She was DIRECT. She was HONEST. She is the most challenging, resourceful and inspiring mentor I’ve ever had. 

The six weeks were filled with lessons, assignments, daily prompts and briefs, feedback on written pieces, suggested readings, resources, techniques, tips suggested readings, and one-on-one phone calls with Lisa.  We looked at our habits, our vices and our support systems.   She ran me through my paces and helped me take stock of myself as a writer.  What it meant to me to be one. Where it wove through my past, present and future and how being one fit into the fiber of my life.  And of course, the PRIMARY GOAL OF BOOT CAMP:  To be a writer who writes regularly and to incorporate change to CONTINUE to write regularly AFTER Boot Camp ended.   

And my take away touchstone?  That would be the dual tag team of commitment and accountability. 

As a good little beginning boot camper, I wanted to please the drill sergeant and started out by feeling that the most important thing was following through on the commitment(s) made on a Monday by email to Lisa about what I would accomplish the coming week and to report favorably on them during my accountability check-ins. 

You see, commitment and follow through to others has always been a strong motivator for me.  Commitment and follow through to myself…not so much.  But a funny thing happened as I passed through those accountability checks.  I began to value the work of the commitment as much as I wanted to report it “being done.”  The work, my development as a writer, and the scope of my writing began to grow. 

Before I knew it, I’d begun to create a “writing life” for myself through my commitments.  Being a steadfast calendar person, I took to plotting my commitments by the day, week, month and year.  I penciled in time to make a writing space for myself, to write and post a blog piece, to do my assignments for Boot camp, scheduled time for writing and researching markets, and wrote down the deadlines for submissions I found interesting. 

This was a major breakthrough for me and my key to continuing to write regularly after Boot Camp.  Seeing the commitments on the calendar broke what I wanted to do into manageable pieces, gave me a sense of control over what I wanted to accomplish and nudged me into areas I’d never ventured before. I even applied for a position with a new online literary magazine as a “staff reader.”  (Application acknowledged and just waiting, waiting, waiting to hear back – keep your fingers crossed!) How the commitments grew on each other and led to different areas added variety and reignited an interest in writing that I’d lost.    

However, I know myself well enough to know that valuing the work of the commitment won’t carry me for long.  I need to be accountable.  The commitment process developed and worked for me on the basis of being accountable to someone.  So now that the six weeks have ended and my accountability to Lisa has come to a close, I’m fortunate to have made a commitment with my good friend Elaine, to be accountable to each other for our writing. AND it’s super helpful that we have all the resources Lisa put at our fingertips to help guide us. 

It’s not easy to invest in ourselves.  But every once in a while when we do, the investment comes back tenfold.  I know Boot Camp is one of those rare items that will increase in value every time I go through the materials; utilize a tip, technique or writing prompt.  It’s carrying me “onward” into my writing future. 

I’ll end as I began, breaking that #1 rule and suggest you head over to Lisa’s site now and check out the next Boot Camp that starts April 8th.  Click on the other classes and/or private coaching she offers.  She’s an investment you just can’t beat. 

Do it. Do it for yourself. Do it for your writing. Do it now.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Be EXCELLENT to Each Other

I spotted this bumper sticker on a parked car as Steven and I strolled along a sidewalk in Maine last summer.  I actually stopped and took a picture of it.  Why?  It’s a good reminder.  It’s direct.  It’s simple. It’s honest.  And yes, it’s easy.  Easier than you think.

The word excellent scares people off.  They think it’s “over the top” and “highly ambitious” when really the definition is just “very good of its kind:  eminently good”.  Not so scary or unattainable in that light.

Being excellent is being mindful of the mundane, routine, everyday life most of us live and purposefully taking it up a notch.  It’s making life more enjoyable with an action for another, your tone of voice, a thoughtful task done. A please and thank you. It’s giving consideration to someone else’s point of view or situation – sometimes making a concession.  It’s in following through on your word and keeping a promise. 

So while it’s not anything over the top or highly ambitious, it is being eminently good, and being so consistently. It’s within everyone’s reach.  It costs nothing – it’s only the giving of yourself.    

You can be excellent in any relationship whether it’s with a partner, a child, a parent, a coworker, a sibling or a friend. We’re naturally excellent in the first blush of our relationships.  It’s easy when things are fresh and new.  Personalities haven’t clashed, differences in thoughts and beliefs haven’t surfaced, and often the challenges of life that tend to wear you down haven’t happened yet.  But then they do.  Months and years pass and it’s easy to hold a grudge, fall into a rut or begin to take for granted this other person who truly does mean so much to you.  You lose what being excellent to each other brings your relationship. 

Spotting that bumper sticker stopped me in my tracks.  You can’t be on a 30 year journey with someone and not stumble a time or two, which Steven and I have done.  But our past practices of embracing the little daily things we do for each other, the respect we feel for and show each other, the humor and the love, and the mindset of being a team, are what’s always brought us back on course and to the incredible place we are now.  A lifelong set of practices wrapped up in 5 little words on a bumper sticker.  Be Excellent to Each Other. 

Take a moment and think of the ones in your life who are important to you.  The ones you love. Go be excellent with them.  Be excellent to each other.  Do it now. Do it today. And every day that follows.