Epic Fail Part Two: Believe it Or Not Failure Isn’t (Always) Someone Else’s Fault

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As promised after the Super Bowl Sadness, I looked into people who have made mistakes and bounced back. When I googled and asked others about this I found three interesting things:

1. Lots of people have made mistakes.

2. No one wants to talk about their own mistakes.

3. It’s much easier to think even our heroes were unrecognized — that they were unfairly rejected — than it is to think about how many times they had to sweat it out and improve to get good at what they were doing.

When I asked others face to face about famous people who recovered from big mistakes, several people paused, looked at me, and then said something like:

“Well, I’ve made lots of mistakes, but I don’t want you writing about me.”

Then I often learned of the writers or artists they know who were rejected over and over again until someone finally saw their greatness.

But, I kept thinking to myself, if that’s totally true and the writer or artist changed nothing about her/his work, then the people who rejected Harry Potter, Mickey Mouse and Jaws are the ones who made the mistakes, not Rawling, Disney, or Spielberg.

What’s worse, the rejectors had no redemption. They never recovered from their mistakes because the other organizations who saw the greatness made all the money.

What bothers me most is the idea that your stuff is either good enough, or it’s not. Either the world sees you’re already great or it does not. In this view, there is no room for the reworking a book, a drawing or a movie until it’s even better.

I”m still pondering this and what it means for my own work. But for today I will tell you of one successful artist who made mistakes, learned from them, worked hard to make corrections and went on to become a name you all know. I read of his failure in A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant life of Robert “Believe it or Not “Ripley by Neal Thompson.

Robert LeRoy Ripley got his first job as a cartoonist in San Francisco with a respected newspaper when he was a young man. Soon after, he was fired from his dream job because his work was not good enough for the publication.

Rather than rail against his fate or go back to the small town he was raised in to live out his days doing work he did not love, Ripley started taking drawing lessons and studying other cartoonists. He kept the lessons and study up even after he got his next dream job and worked ridiculously hard long hours to improve his skills.

Ripley did not resent his firing. He knew he needed to get better and put all his energy into doing just that.

His quest for improvement sometimes bordered on obsession, and I’m hoping to avoid manic no sleep sort of behavior. Still, I admire Ripley’s focus and determination in the face of his own deficiencies.

This encourages me much more than the stories of needless rejection because the amount of effort I put into getting better is under my control.

I’d also like to think those mistaken rejectors might have gotten better and gone on to recognize the next great person who knocked at the door. I’m that kind of optimist.

To finish this up today, I’ll leave you with Ira Glass who says the hardest part about beginning is allowing yourself to crank out enough stinky material until you get better, knowing all along that what you’re making smells like the fish those guys at Pike Place Market fling into the air. In other words, put in the time making mistakes.

Epic Fail Part One: The Gift of the Seahawks After the Loss

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My first column in The News Tribune ran last week. In it, I talked about my admiration for Pete Carroll and his leadership of the Seattle Seahawks. After reading it, several people I knew (and many I didn’t) sent me emails telling me how much they liked my work, including my high school English teacher Mrs. Koon.

It felt wonderful but also oddly terrifying in a way that I struggled to understand.

Apparently, it’s one thing to write along hoping someone will notice and that I will improve enough to be good. It’s another to have people watching for my next piece to see if they like it or not.

Then the Hawks lost.

Dramatically.

Because of a decision Carroll made.

I’ve read the posts and talked to my friends about it. Most people say it was a bad call. They say Pete Carroll made a mistake in throwing the ball instead of running it with Lynch or, my husband tells me, running the ‘read option’ where the Wilson fakes it to Lynch and then runs it in himself if he reads the situation correctly.

“What’s with all the throwing!?!” one person posted on my Facebook feed. “Run the ball!”

I’ve seen plenty of analysis as I’ve tried to process and understand what happened. I’ve even read smart statistics about why Carroll made the mathematically best move.

For the record, I think he made a mistake. Or, at the very least, he made a carefully calculated gamble and lost.

When I saw his face fall after the game ending interception, I felt a recognition. That is what I am afraid of when people say they liked my work and are looking forward to the next. That. Making a mistake, feeling the devastation, and having more people watching to see it.

In a strange way, it helped me that Carroll lost the Super Bowl.

Don’t get me wrong.(Please, dear fabulous Seahawks fans!)

I’d so rather we had won and keep wishing for the Hermione’s time turner so we could go back and make that last yard with Lynch, the read option, or another down. Anything.

It’s just that something about seeing a gigantic failure gives me permission to keep going, knowing that we all make mistakes.

Some will forgive us.

Some will not.

That’s the risk.

The pain of that football loss only happened to me because I cared enough to feel the absolute thrill of the victory two weeks before.

My writing is a calculated gamble I’m willing to make because the joy of getting the words right matters to me enough to face the risk of the defeat, public or not.

To that end, this month I’ll focus on the epic fail. I’ll look at different failures each week. For Carroll and for me, I’ll look for stories of resilience — of how others have overcome huge mistakes and come out stronger for the struggle.

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Creative Beginnings Part Four: The Peppermint Twist

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Another friend of mine named Robin has a musical creative outlet. She sings tenor in an a cappella quartet called The Peppermint Twist with Angie Whitten, Debra Aungst, and Shelly Bray Bristow. 

Robin Hornsby Osborn works for the Puyallup School district during the day, but in the evenings and on weekends she and her three partners take the stage, singing songs like “Beautiful” and “When I Lift Up My Head” while dressed in outfits that sparkle almost as much as their voices.

I asked her the same questions of the writer and the beauty consultant I interviewed for this series. Here’s what this talented singer had to say:

How did you get started in Peppermint Twist? Was there a person or event that got you interested?

I got started in Peppermint Twist because the previous quartet I had been in came to an end. The lead and I wanted to keep singing together, so we sought out two more singers and created a new quartet. I have been singing in quartets for about 10 years — it’s a natural progression from singing in a chorus, as it makes you a better chorus singer if you have to stand on your own (with three other people!!) in a quartet.

I have sung all my life and really enjoy the camaraderie and education I get from singing. Plus, it keeps me young!

As far as singing in general goes, my dad used to sing snippets of songs around the house. We always had music playing. My parents had records of many musicals, which my sister and I used to play and sing along and/or dance to.

I also sang in school all the way through my senior year. I also played the flute and piano, so music was really a big deal. Our parents encouraged us and provided private lessons, which really made a big difference in our skill levels. We also sang at church and since it was very small, we were also called upon to play the piano for the hymns.

In my early adult life, when I lived in New Jersey, I sang in the church choir. We left that particular church and the new one did not have any opportunities for me to sing. I’d heard a small group of women singing at a town fair and boldly asked them if they ever needed another singer to please contact me.

Funnily enough, they did!

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As I’ve moved, I’ve always sought out singing groups and found that the benefits of being part of a singing organization like Sweet Adelines really help with all the details. There are competitions every year, and arrangements and coaches available, which makes it much easier than just creating a singing group from complete scratch.

What was the hardest part about getting started?

The hardest part about getting started is dealing with stage fright. Now that I’ve done it for years and years, it is certainly easier to stand up in front of people and sing, but it’s always a little nerve-wracking. Having people around me who are also singing is a great support, it feels like a security blanket! I still do relaxation and deep breathing exercises before singing to help ease the nerves.

Singing in Peppermint Twist is really an uplifting experience. We keep getting better and better and each member is really dedicated to doing her part. It takes a lot of time, but it is totally worth it.

I always have songs running through my head and playing on my speakers, as well as doing pseudo-choreography while doing other things (like showering, getting dressed, eating – anywhere my brain doesn’t need to fully concentrate!).

My husband Wayne is very patient, as we rehearse at our house!

What do you know now that you wish you had known before you started?

I wish I had known how much fun it is earlier in life. Think how much better I’d be at this point if I’d started years ago!

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What is one of the best things that has happened for you since you began with Peppermint Twist?

A recent reminder of why I sing happened at Molbacks (garden store in Woodinville). We were singing Christmas songs one Saturday inside the store and after we’d finished one of our songs, one of the shoppers came up to us and said her mom used to sing that all the time. She had passed away and the lady said it felt like her mom was right there with us. It sent chills down our spines, and made us really happy to give that experience to her.

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Robin and her fabulous quartet conclude my series this month on creative beginnings. I’m brainstorming for February after that small football game is over this weekend. 

Meanwhile, I’m wishing you all your own creative beginnings whether or not you watch football. 

Remember to take Robin’s advice and start sooner rather than later. Think how much better you’ll be next year if you don’t wait!

Creative Beginnings Part Three: In the Pink

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For this week’s post, I interviewed Robin Stanton. Every time I buy her products, I remember her describing Mary Kay as her ‘want to job.’

Here’s what she has to say about how she started and what this creative profession with beauty has meant for her.

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How did you get started in Mary Kay? Was there a person or event that got you interested?

I was involved in Altrusa, a women’s service club, for a number of years where I met the friend who recruited me into Mary Kay.

I had been a customer off and on for about 10 years before she invited me to a make-over event. I was adamant that I was not interested in becoming a consultant and diligently tried to talk myself out of it! At the event, they were discussing the marketing plan and reasons people might choose to start a Mary Kay business. Many of them resonated with me such as buying my products at cost and having a business that would take me into retirement. (Since I pride myself on never paying full price for anything, I was sold at the mention of discount!!)

I knew that I wanted to have another stream of income in retirement, doing something that was fairly portable and allowed me the freedom and flexibility to travel/RV, so Mary Kay sounded perfect for that.

Before the discussion was finished that day, I had signed my agreement! With great excitement and anticipation, I waited for my kit to arrive so I could embark on a new journey of personal growth and enriching others’ lives.

What was the hardest part about getting started?

I had never owned my own business prior to Mary Kay and my self confidence wasn’t always the strongest when it came to tackling new challenges.

I delved through all of the materials in my kit and like a sponge, and soaked up information from anyone that I could. The down side of this was that I quickly experienced information overload, which started to paralyze me! There was a part of me that felt like I had to know it all before I set out on the journey, and so I was a bit slow to get started.

There is also a part of my personality that is a little rebellious, and, because of this, I sometimes wanted to do things my own way, ignoring the tried and true methods, steps, scripts, etc that the company provides, and instead feeling like I somehow knew a better way!

What do you know now that you wish you had known then?

There are so many things I know now that I wish I had known then.

One of them is that I am on my own journey. While there is a myriad of support from others along the way, and we are all in the same business, we all have our own “whys” for doing the business and each person needs to find her unique style in order to achieve her individual goals. This would have helped me to not compare my success to others in my unit.

Another thing I wish I had known, was that I did not need to know it all, nor would I ever know it all and to be comfortable with that.

A third thing I wish I had known, was that this was not a life or death decision! It was only a $100 investment that would open the doors to all sorts of new opportunities and growth for me. This would have alleviated some anxiety that I initially felt and undue pressure I put on myself. If I had realized that it was truly a win/win and there was not a way to lose at this venture, I think I would have approached it in a bit more relaxed manner!
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Has it been worth it? Why or why not?

It has absolutely been worth it because this business is about so much more than selling lipstick! In the process of learning how to empower others, I have learned so much about me. I’ve become more confident, organized, intuitive, knowledgeable and have developed a heart for helping others. The company has amazing tools to help build successful businesswomen, but my best growth has come from my personal interactions with customers, my director and my Mary Kay girlfriends.

Being that the company is comprised almost entirely of women, I was prepared to experience the same challenges I experience with women at my job — gossiping, back biting, undermining and other unflattering behaviors women in groups can exhibit!

I am amazed at the beautiful women I’ve had the privilege of working with in Mary Kay–women who genuinely care about each other and want to help each other be successful. This is nothing like I have ever experienced before in my dealings with women.

Mary Kay Ash (the founder of Mary Kay) was ingenious when she developed the marketing plan, because she designed a program where all women could have the same opportunities to be successful in the business if they put in the work. There weren’t a limited number of “top” positions, where women had to compete with each other, rather by helping others become successful, women were really helping themselves to be successful.
What is one of the best things that has happened for you since you began with Mary Kay?

One of the best things that has happened for me since I began Mary Kay has to be the wonderful friendships that I’ve developed, both with fellow consultants and with my customers.

I have some customers that began with me 12 years ago and continue to support me!

Despite that fact that some of my girlfriends no longer attend meetings, there is core group of us that continue to get together and fellowship on a monthly basis. Over the past 12 years, it has been wonderful “doing life” with them and I know that we will continue to do that for many years to come, because those relationships are deeply meaningful.

Of course, I can’t just stop at one best thing!

Another great thing has been having an additional source of income to supplement our other sources. My business has ebbed and flowed over the past 12 years, adapting as my life has changed.

Sometimes this means that I am more actively running my business, but when life is more hectic, my Mary Kay takes a back seat. I always know that it is there, if I need to quickly earn some money to pay a bill or we want to take a vacation and don’t have the extra funds for that. I can just work harder and make the dream a reality!

My husband decided to open a car detailing business after he was laid off from corporate America several years ago. The skills I’ve gained while building my Mary Kay business have been invaluable in helping him build a successful business of his own — bookkeeping skills, customer service, marketing, time management.

For all of these reasons, I am deeply grateful to Mary Kay Ash for her vision, tenacity and courage to develop a company for the purpose of enriching women’s lives. The impact has been felt worldwide for over 50 years!

(If you’d like to know more about Robin or Mary Kay products, you can find her on her website.)

In talking to Robin over the years I have known her and for this interview, I have marveled at how creative businesses like writing and makeup cross over. I hope next to find someone from the music world, so I can look at yet another type of creative beginning. 

Stay tuned! (Or connected to the internet, I suppose. Maybe plugged in? Cabled?)

Creative Beginnings Part Two: The Family Artist Date

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In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron insists that we need weekly artist dates alone to court our inner artist. I have done these, and they are marvelous for boosting creativity. But I have also taken my family and friends along on dates and gotten oodles of inspiration that way, too.

At the beginning of this year, I completed two New Year’s rituals together with my family and one alone. My inner artist loved them all.

First, we all went to the Nisqually Nature Preserve, a place I written about before but have never visited in the winter. If you haven’t been there in the cold, you may have missed a few birds. They apparently come out to be seen when the temperature drops.

We saw herons, a bald eagle, a woodpecker along with the usual crows, seagulls and ducks.

Later, I took my youngest son to see the trains at the Washington History Museum. I fell down on the blogging job and didn’t take pictures but I was impressed by how much my four year old loved the whole place from the trains to the other exhibits. A museum full of things you can do with children playing and learning is always a grand place to start a new year. Inner artists love this kind of play.

Finally, I went to Starbucks in Sumner and spent an hour with my headphones on (it’s loud there!) mapping out my goals for 2015. It may not sound like a thrilling date, but alone time with a notebook, music, and a cup of tea is my kind of fun.

Overall, I’m happy with the creative beginnings I chose. My  inner artist must be, too, because the word output has been good so far this year and my joy level is up.

Creative Beginnings: Part One

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This month I’d like to start a series on creative beginnings. It’s not very original. January is a time for beginning a new year and resolutions and what not.

But I am taking the excuse of a new calendar on my wall to reimagine my writing and my work by looking at what other creative people are doing. 

To start, I’d like to share an interview I did with Mary Cronk Farrell, a writer I met through a class by Dan Blank. She is a traditionally published children’s author who recently wrote PURE GRIT, a fabulous non-fiction story about the nurses who endured combat and POW camps in the Philippines during WWII.

Here’s what this professional had to say to my beginner questions:

1. I am working on historical novels and do NOT have a background in journalism like you do. How do you keep track of your research? Is there a book or class you could recommend?

I was a TV journalist so I didn’t really do much research except for interviewing people and occasionally reading documents. When I first started researching for my historical fiction I just took notes in a notebook like I did when I was a reporter.

Then I had files full of photocopies of newsclippings and pages from books etc.

Then I had files in Word filled with pages of stuff from the internet. And I usually have quite a number of books on the topic that I keep on hand. I didn’t organize it much at all.

This is what I did for basically my first four books, and it is only now as I begin a new book that I am going to get organized. So I am a horrible person to get advice on this from!

A number of writers I know swear by Scrivener. I haven’t tried it, and I keep asking them what it does that Word can’t do and I don’t get an answer that I can understand, except that you can organize your manuscript by chapter and scene and easily move things around and keep your research all organized, too.

Here’s what I am starting to do now, on the book I am just now starting to research:

1) Notes that I take, say from a book I get from interlibrary loan and have to return, I type in a word doc and use the footnote function to give the exact citation.

If I need lengthy sections from a book, I buy it. If it’s not available to buy, I will then photocopy the parts of the book I need and keep them in a physical file. I have cardboard file boxes, one for each book, or whatever.

2) For information I find on the internet, I am going with OneNote, which is the Word thing that is similar to Evernote.

Maybe you know this…in these programs you can copy text or photos from the internet and paste them onto pages in files you create. When you cut and paste it automatically adds the web address where the info came from, so you always have the link right there and go back to it.

If it’s something I will need to cite, I make sure I have the full information in case the webpage disappears.

3) I end up using a lot of newspaper articles which I often get from the library, or from other people. These I keep physical copies of in my filebox.

So…that’s about all I can tell you on research. You can probably get lots better info from others. 

2. Who helped you to get where you are in the publishing world? Who helped you with your craft? Who helped you to keep going when it would have been easier to quit? Do you have a critique group? Other support? How did you find them?

When I decided I wanted to write for children, I took a one day community college course and the instructor told us all to join SCBWI. There was one SCBWI critique group in Spokane, and after I went to a couple meetings they said they were disbanding.

I joined an online critique group, which was my only connection to the industry and other writers for a couple years. I learned a lot in that group and really got my feet wet critiquing and being critiques.

After a couple years two women from the disbanded SCBWI group decided to start a new group, and I connected up with them.

A year or two after that a published author moved to Spokane from another state and contacted us because we were a SCBWI critique group.

Sorry this is a long story, I’m going into two much detail. But all this to say that once we had this published writer, our group really got going. She shared a lot of information with us, but we started attend SCBWI conferences and we all were progressing in our writing.

We had a few writers come and go through the years, but the four of us remained the core of the group. This group has been my main support for probably the last 10-12 years, although once we all got editors or agents we stopped meeting as regularly. And this past year we have stopped meeting as a group, though we are all still friends in regular touch.

Throughout the years besides this critique group, I have attended several writing retreats and quite a number of conferences. I’ve learned a lot from that.

I have also read a lot of writing books.

I have also written a lot.

noticed over the years that I would learn something from a speaker or a book, but it was take quite a bit of time writing before what I knew in my head showed up in my writing.

3. I’m VERY focused on improving my craft right now. Do you have any recommendations?

You may be already doing these things—my best recommendations for improving craft are

1) join SCBWI and participate on the local level

2) write everyday, even if it’s only ten minutes

3) be in a critique group

I know it’s really hard to find one that is just what you need, but all I can say is keep trying. A good way is to attend a conference, try to meet people and form a group.

Also there are tons of groups on line, which is a great way to test different groups out and see what’s right for you.

4) read tons of new books in the age range and genre that you are writing.

I go to the library and look at all the books in on the “new” shelf. I’ve been doing this for about five years and I would say that after about three years of reading at least a book a week, sometimes two, I have a much better grasp on the kind of book I need to write to get published.

5) If you can afford it, attend a writing conference every year.

4. Do you have any other bits of writing or research wisdom to share?

You probably know this, but writing is REALLY hard. Don’t get down on yourself if you don’t meet your expectations. The best thing you can do is be kind to yourself and be around people who are kind to you.

There is so much rejection involved in this business, you really need a number of people to support you. Some who are writers and some who maybe aren’t writers, but they love you and respect what you’re trying to do.

Reach out.

I think if you can’t reach out when you need help, you will not make it.

With much thanks to Mary Cronk Farrell, that’s it for this first post in 2015. I feel like I’ve been beginning as a writer for more years than I want to admit in public. But I suppose Beginner’s Mind is not always a bad place to be.

Reaching out may be my theme for this year.

Wishing you all your own lovely beginnings.

That new calendar excuse for re-beginning.

That new calendar excuse for re-beginning.

Ivan the Gorilla Was Right After All: How Success Can Sneak Up On You

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In looking back over the past year on my blog, I’ve noticed something that surprised me and made my writing heart happy.

I posted The One and Only Ivan and a Measure of Peace after reading a kid lit book based on his life. The One and Only Ivan is a fictional story about a gorilla based on a true story of an animal I saw as a child in the Tacoma B&I. Katherine Applegate’s story sunk deep into my heart, and I published my review feeling like it was one of my best. No one commented or seemed to notice.

I paused for a bit like I do when I get crickets and then kept writing.

It took me a while to notice, but over the last year and a half Ivan has gotten more hits than any other post. People have viewed it 151 times. Ivan has gotten more views than the nostalgic pictures of Auburn High before the wrecking balls came through this past summer in My Doomed High School (74).

It doesn’t always take this long for others to notice posts I’ve poured my heart into. The Triple Amputation School of Beauty got noticed around the world quite quickly but still does not have as many views as Ivan.

And, honestly, I have no idea why people have been drawn to my posts. The interest in Ivan may have nothing to do with how well I wrote it. Maybe clickers are drawn to the book by an interest Applegate or maybe they just love gorillas. But a little slice of joy lights up inside me whenever I notice that people are still looking at my words about a story that captured me.

In case you want the graphics, here’s the full review of 2014 including a map of the places in the world where people could be reading about a gorilla who once lived in Tacoma, a condemned high school, or a brave woman who lives life to the fullest.

Click here to see the complete report.

I wish you all found memories of your time in 2014 and the years that came before. This year I learned sometimes it takes a while for people to notice when you’ve done your best work.

Besides. Those stats reminded me that even if people never noticed and even if they were only looking for a book review, I would still be glad I wrote about the inestimable Ivan. May you all keep doing whatever it is that brings you slices of joy whether you get crickets or clicks.