This Is What Life Feels Like Sometimes

I did a recent workout in the bleachers at a local high school football field. The workout instructor told us to jump up five stairs then stop and do four pushups. Then we had to run down three stairs and do four pushups.

Following that we had to jump up five more stairs and continue the process. Five stairs up, three stairs down. Again and again until we reached the top. There was probably 40 stairs, which meant 20 rounds of the 5-4-3-4 process.

I can run up 40 stairs in a few seconds. But this drill took forever.

Every time it seemed like I was making progress I had to turn around and then go back down. It felt like I would never make it to the top.

I wanted to stop in the beginning. I wanted to stop in the middle. Near the top, I wanted to just say I was close enough and call in the end.

5 stairs up, 3 stairs down. Again and again.

I could see the end, but it didn’t seem like I was ever going to get there. No matter how high I jumped or how fast I did pushups, I couldn’t get a pass to go up a level. And don’t think I didn’t consider jumping up 6 stairs and only running down 2 so that I could get to the end faster.


Eventually I made it to the top. I was sweaty and exhausted. I don’t know how long it look, but it didn’t go as fast as I would have liked. And it was definitely way harder than I would have liked.

But I made it.

My description of the workout may seem a lot like how life feels sometimes when we are chasing our goals. We can see the end and we want to get their fast. Every time we make a little progress something knocks us back down a few steps.

It feels like we will never make it to the top. We want to cheat, sneak and do anything we can to skip a level. We want to stop in the beginning. And in the middle. And, near the top, we just want to say it is close enough and call in the end.

When we make it to the top, we may not be sweaty, but we’ll probably be tired and it will certainly be way harder than we would have liked.

But we can make it.

It Is Not About Brushing Your Teeth Today

I have a dentist appointment in a few hours and I have something to admit.

I have flossed twice and brushed my teeth three times — all before noon.

It is not like this is a first date and I want to make sure I don’t have anything embarrassing in my teeth. I am not trying to impress the dental hygienist with my minty fresh breathe.

I know it is silly. They are going to clean my teeth professionally, so if there is ever a day to not brush, today would be it.

But here I am brushing and flossing right up until the minute I leave for the appointment. Deep down I know that if there is something wrong with my teeth, it will be exposed. I won’t be able to hide it from the dentist this late in the game. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking I can make things great at the last minute.

How many of us do that with our writing? We go days without practice and then on the eve of a big presentation or book pitch, we cram like crazy. We think we can make up for lost time at the last minute.

But much like my teeth, no matter how much we work on it at the 11th hour, it won’t make the difference we am looking for.

It is not about brushing my teeth today. That should have started long ago.

This Is What Inspired Today’s Post About Roadblocks

Every now and then I will get the following question:

Where do you come up with ideas for your blog posts?”

Sometimes it is said with appreciation — like how did you come up with that gem. Other times it is said with abomination — like what part of your brain is missing that made you come up with that dud.

In order to let the readers into the parts of my brain that are missing, I came up with an idea that will show how I came up with the idea for certain posts.

On certain days I will post two items. One will be the regular article, story or recap. The second will be an explanation about how the first post came about. I will try to break down where the idea originated, why I wanted to write about it and how it all came together.

Here’s the first one about today’s post Looking For Roadblocks:

The idea all started when I was watching a YouTube video of Dave Ramsey interviewing Mark Cuban. Cuban was talking about Shark Tank and how the show demonstrates that anyone can start a business and achieve the American Dream. From there he said the following:

Ideas are easy…What good is an idea if you don’t believe in it and you have to believe in it enough to take those first steps…When you have an idea and you get some confirmation of the idea you start looking for roadblocks because people are afraid to do the work or they are afraid to take those steps.”

That quote resonated with me. Probably because I am in the middle of working on a new book and am filled with all those fears that Cuban mentioned.

I figured that if two millionaires are talking about it, maybe us regular folk could learn from it. I can’t be the only one who has those thoughts.

That convinced me that the topic was post-worthy so I started thinking about how I could write about this topic (actually, I first had to Google if roadblock was one word or two words. Once I had that answer I was ready to begin). One way was to just post the video. That would have been fine, but I wanted to write a little more that that. So I had to find a way to tell a story in which I could incorporate Cuban’s idea.

Right around that time, I nearly crashed my car into a roadblock. Yes, that is an actual story. Maybe it was perked up a bit to get your attention — like the part about wiping the sweat off my forehead. Chances are I was already sweaty prior to the roadblock because it is summer in Arizona and I am a generally sweaty person. But the point remains the same.

So I had my overall point. Then I had my way to convey the point. Now all I needed was the ability to get past the roadblocks that were trying to convince me that the post would be no good.

I figured if I couldn’t get past that for this post then I would never be able to.

So here we are. That is how that blog post came about.


Side note: You can watch the entire Ramsey & Cuban interview here.


Looking For Roadblocks

The other day I was driving and about to make a left hand turn onto a street I had gone down my entire life. I’d made this turn hundreds of times so I was only half paying attention to driving and half paying attention to an audio book.

I nearly drove right into a sign that said “Road Closed.” This wasn’t a tiny sign like the kind your wife gives you when she drops hints about where she wants to go out to eat for your anniversary. It was a giant roadblock, like the kind your wife gives you when you try to check your fantasy football team during your anniversary dinner.

Thankfully, I noticed the sign just in time to swerve into the makeshift lane that was created to allow traffic to pass. From there I turned off the audio book, wiped the sweat off my forehead, grabbed the wheel with two hands and kept on driving.

When we are driving, it is important to look for roadblocks. Not spotting them can take a chunk out of your bumper and your wallet.

In other aspects of our life though, looking for roadblocks may actually be harmful. Let me explain…

I am currently working on my forth children’s book (more about that to come soon). Every time I work on a new book I follow the same pattern. I find an idea that I like. Then I start to outline a book. Next, I stop everything I am doing. Then I spend months convincing myself that this is a terrible idea. I brainstorm dozens of reasons why no one will read the book.

The topic is too boring. The story is overdone. No one wants to read all those puns. And the list goes on and on.

Before I even get started, my writing is crippled by the roadblocks I have created for myself. This would be like never moving my car from my garage because I know that one left hand turn contains a roadblock and will reduce my progress to one lane.

I would never do that while driving. I would take the roadblocks as they come and find a way to get to my destination. Even if I nearly crash, I will wipe my forehead and keep going.

Yet, in writing, I am often stalled because I am too busy looking for roadblocks. Does any of this sound familiar in your life? This isn’t just limited to writing. We do the same in dating, finances and pretty much everything else.

Before we let an idea get off the ground we try to find roadblocks. What makes a person successful is the ability to see past the roadblocks just enough to get started.

Once we get started we are going to come across roadblocks. Maybe my book isn’t going to be exciting enough for some people. Perhaps some readers will not like the 371st pun.

Not everyone is going to like our ides. But rather than have those limitations prevent us from going anywhere it is better to take those roadblocks as they come. Yes they may reduce our progress. Yes they may take a chunk out of our confidence. But no matter what they do, they can’t hurt us more than they will if they prevent us from ever getting started.

Does Writer’s Block Exist?

Today I came across this quote from author Tim Ferriss…

To which author Seth Davis agreed…

I am not going to make it a practice of arguing with authors who are way more successful than I am, but upon reading this, my first thought was that I disagree.

Surely, writer’s block exists, doesn’t it?

If Ferriss’ and Davis’ point is that it shouldn’t exist then I agree 100%. If they are saying that we shouldn’t let it stop us, then I am on their side for sure.

But saying it doesn’t exist? Just because we want something to go way or we want to power through it, doesn’t mean it is not real.

Obesity should not exist. We should not let obesity stop us.

But obesity is real. That being said, more than anything obesity can be seen as an excuse.

Maybe what Ferriss and Davis are saying is that writer’s block is merely an excuse. I know I have used it an excuse far too many time.

But it does exist. Right? Saying it doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. Or does it? I honestly have no clue. I could argue either way.

What do you think? Does writer’s block exist?

If you think it does, maybe you can try this…or this…or this. If you think it does not exist, please help me to understand why. I would love to make it not exist in my writing world.

Top 10 Lines From Snoopy’s Guide To The Writing Life

The last two months, I have highlighted the top 10 lines from two great books about writing (here & here). With so many wonderful writing books to read, I figure I will keep these top 10 lists coming.

This month’s top 10 comes from Snoopy’s Guide To The Writing Life, a roundup of 30 famous writers and entertainers responding in short essays to their favorite Snoopy “at the typewriter” strip.

Here are what I found to be the book’s top 10 lines:

#10 –

Snoopy, try this when you sit down to the typewriter: Just say to yourself, ‘What if?’ It all begins with ‘What if?'” – Clive Cussler

#9 –

The rules for writing a best-seller are simple: Take an idea you really, really like. Develop it until it is brilliant. Rewrite it for a year or two, until every word shines. The bite your nails, hold your breath, and pray like mad.” – Sidney Sheldon

#8 –

Search your heart and soul for what you have to contribute. Remember, your book must help someone with something.” – Cherie Carter-Scott

#7 –

If the characters and narrative are strong enough, they will hold our interest without any background.” – John Leggett

#6 –

Humor, as Charles Schulz, proved every day, doesn’t have to be of the slapstick variety; his humor came from the small funny things of life.” – Frances Weaver

#5 –

Most of us learn to write well by writing badly for a long, long time.” – Sue Grafton

#4 –

You need not be famous to write something worth remembering, worth preserving, worth publishing.” – Charles Champlin

#3 –

The most important advice I would suggest to beginning writers: Try to leave out the parts readers skip.” – Elmore Leonard

#2 –

An editor can always correct your spelling and fix your grammar, but only you can tell your story.” – Fannie Flagg

#1 –

Some know fame and others anonymity, but my father believed there were no shortcuts to be had in the life of the dedicated artist.” – Monte Schulz

To A Writer, There Are Only A Few Things As Rewarding As This

The last month, I have gotten lazy with my writing. This happens around the same time every year. With March Madness in full swing, there is so much basketball to follow that I find my writing gets shifted to the back burner.

My free time gets consumed with basketball — watching basketball, reading about basketball, and anticipating the next game to watch/read about. This doesn’t leave much time/energy for writing.

Sure, I could watch one less game, during which time I could knock out a blog post or two. But I don’t. I convince myself that the writing will pick back up in April. And it usually does.

But all that being said…

To a writer, there are just a few things as rewarding as writing something you are proud of.

No matter how little, or how much I am writing, I still get that hard-to-describe feeling each time I work on a post I am happy with. And I am starting to learn that I need to take advantage of that feeling and use it to my advantage during the times when writing is not the focus of my free time.

If you are a writer, you know the feeling of writing something you are proud of. And you also know that is not always easy to get to that feeling. But once you have that feeling, don’t let it go away easily. Keep writing as long as time will allow. Because sooner or later there will be another basketball game to steal your attention.

Top 10 Lines From Bird By Bird

Last month I wrote about the top 10 lines from Stephen King’s On Writing. I mentioned that it is a great resource for those of us who are trying to write books. Guess what? There are plenty of other great books on writing.

Today I would like to feature one that has been called “A gift to all of us mortals who write or ever wanted to write… sidesplittingly funny, patiently wise and alternately cranky and kind — a reveille to get off our duffs and start writing now, while we  still can.” (Seattle  Times). I am talking about Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

Here are what I found to be the book’s top 10 lines:

#10 –

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

#9 –

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artists true friend.”

#8 –

Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t–and, in fact, you’re not supposed do–know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished. First you just point at what has your attention and take the picture.”

#7 –

I mean, you can’t just sit there at your desk drooling. You have to move your hand across the paper or the keyboard. You may do it badly for a while, but you keep on doing it.”

#6 –

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

#5 –

Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.”

#4 –

E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.”

#3 –

I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good at it.”

#2 –

If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days–listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you’ve taken in, all that you’ve overheard, and you turn it into gold. (Or at least you try.)”

#1 –

My students assume that when well-respected writers sit down to write their books, they know pretty much what is going to happen because they’ve outlined most of the plot, and this is why their books turn out so beautifully and why their lives are so easy and joyful, their self-esteem so great, their childlike senses of trust and wonder so intact. Well, I do not know anyone fitting that description at all. Everyone I know flails around, kvetching and growing despondent, on the way to finding a plot and structure that work. You are welcome to join the club.”

23 Ways To Fail As A Writer

Many times, I will read something online and immediately think, “that was great, I wish I wrote it.” I may not have written it, but I can still share it. Here’s the latest…

How To Fail As A Writer by Dawn Field.

In a hilarious post for the Book Baby blog, Field provides 23 tips that will “help you stave off success and fail as a writer!” #12 and #20 are my favorites. Among many other things, she discusses:

  • what to do with an opening line
  • why we don’t need hobbies
  • and how sleep is overrated

After you read this list, you will feel much better about your chances to avoid failure as a write…I hope. Check it out…

How To Fail As A Writer

Top 10 Lines From Stephen King’s On Writing

If Stephen King readers started their own country, it would have the 3rd largest population in the world. One of the most successful authors of all time, his books have sold more than 350 million copies.

If you have ever wondered how King became such a great writer, you are in luck. His book, On Writing, details his experiences with the written word and he offers advice for aspiring writers. The memoir is full of great nuggets that can help writers at any experience level.

Here are what I found to be the top 10 lines from Stephen King’s On Writing.

#10 –

When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”

#9 –

Write with the door closed. Rewrite with the door open.”

#8 –

One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little ashamed of your short ones.”

#7 –

Fear is at the root of most bad writing – the more intense the fear the worse our writing can become.”

#6 –

While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”

#5 –

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

#4 –

John Grisham, of course, knows lawyers. What you know makes you unique in some other way. Be brave. Map the enemy’s position, come back, tell us all you know.”

#3 –

Dialogue is a skill best learned by people who enjoy talking to others — particularly listening, picking up accents, rhythms, dialects, and slang of various groups.”

#2 –

Shit, write upside down if you want to, or do it in Crayola pictographs. But no matter how you do it, there comes a point when you must judge what you’ve written and how well you wrote it. I don’t believe a story or a novel should be allowed outside the door of your study or writing room unless you feel confident that it’s reasonably reader-friendly.”

#1 –

Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”