Author Archives: Donaleen

Romance Your Writing

I sent this post out to my list on Valentine’s Day but you can romance your writing all year long!

Happy Valentine’s Day, Your Writerly Highnesses!

May this day remind you of the many ways in which you can show your love. Not just in the romantically high-profile ways like giving flowers to your sweetheart, but also in the less heralded ones like extending a friendly hello to a stranger on the street, going out of your way to open a door for someone struggling with groceries…or taking two hours out of your busy day and spending it on a writing project that’s close to your heart.

Our writing projects need our love too!

When we have a longstanding relationship with our writing, as many of us do, we can take it for granted. It can become a chore, an item on a to-do list – or even worse, a source of quiet torment because we haven’t been able to get to it lately.

Here are four romantic gestures to dissolve the dreary and rekindle the spark between you and your writing.

1. Plan a date night, if you’re a night owl – or a date morning, if you’re a lark. I was busy all last week with editing work for clients, and so to ease my writerly heart, I made a plan to devote the first two hours of my Saturday to my memoir project. An act of love that not only soothed my soul, it was also fun!

2. Yes! Write for the fun of it! Being a dutiful sort, I have to remind myself to have fun with my writing. (Sad but true.) Deciding that having fun was the only requirement made for a delightful morning. And inevitably, that have-some-fun! attitude opened doors to great solutions to writing issues that had been dogging me for months.

3. Take your writing on a retreat. Dedicating time just for your writing project with no other distractions is delicious. I’m lucky enough to be part of a group of writers who periodically gather in a secluded setting – a retreat centre, a group of holiday cabins in the off-season, or even someone’s home if our numbers are low and other family members are away. We devote our days to writing on individual projects with very little interaction among us. Then we reward ourselves with a great meal (we take turns cooking dinner) and an evening of revelry! I just booked myself and my memoir into a weeklong retreat this coming April. Can’t wait!

4. Share your writing. This seems obvious, but we generally don’t write strictly for our own amusement. It’s important to find out how our words affect people. There’s little more rewarding than evoking an unexpected positive emotional response to something we’ve written. It fuels our desire to keep going. But even if the response is negative, it’s so helpful to find out how we can improve (assuming the reader is someone you trust as opposed to someone whom you know won’t support you). Finding your voice as a writer does not happen in a vacuum. Austin Kleon, author of Share Your Work, says it well: “I realize that the only way to find your voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.”

Paying attention to our writing by using our voice, by giving it our time, or by writing in community, blesses us in the best possible way – with that deep, heartfelt peace and contentment that comes from doing something we were born to do.

Come Home to Your Writing

Lately, I’ve been excited about new clients, interesting editing projects, and an upcoming writing workshop on Bowen Island – 2018 promises to be a great year!

And yet a few days ago, I struggled with a nagging anxiety arising from persistent thoughts of “not good enough,” “not deserving,” “not belonging…” It’s a familiar, painful state that I’ve usually been able to challenge and neutralize fairly quickly. But not this time.

At the end of my work day, I took myself out for a walk, my go-to remedy when I’m feeling rotten. Just a few meters down the road, the message I most needed to hear came through with blazing clarity – “You need to get at your own writing.”

Couldn’t argue with that! I had been neglecting it lately. Between illness, the distractions of a legal suit that I’d been involved in (now resolved, thank God!), Christmas, a new relationship, I’d been barely giving my own writing the time of day

And then there’s Veronica, also known as my writers’ coaching and editing business. She not only wants my undivided attention on clients’ manuscripts, but is always demanding a blog, a social media post, an email response to a potential workshop participant – and what about that talk to encourage others to get at the book they’ve been dreaming of writing?

I love Veronica – she’s dedicated and committed, but she would take over my whole life if I let her. Here’s what I need to tell her: “Look, Veronica. I know I’m not doing enough marketing, but if I’m not writing, my whole life sucks. My client work suffers, my workshops slump, my creativity flat-lines, and I am well on the road to despair. If I don’t write, there’ll be no one to do any marketing. Capiche?”

That night, before going to bed, I resolved to get up early in the morning and get at my memoir first thing. Before meditation, before exercise, and especially before descending the rabbit hole of email or Facebook.

Then, later that night, in the wee wee hours, these words woke me out of a sound sleep:

“Come home to your writing.”

It was a message that went straight to my heart in its lack of blame, its generosity, and its eternal message of welcome.

I needed an invitation that transcended writing as a “should,” or an act of will. Having been a writer for hire for much of my professional life, I have developed the will and self-discipline to get at whatever writing I’ve been commissioned to do, and to get it done.

But what about writing with no deadline attached to it? What about writing that no one cares about except me, who has not always been the most faithful of stewards? That simple phrase, “Come home to your writing” told me that writing is more than an act of will. It’s where I belong. It’s my home. As someone whose peripatetic life has tended to create a chronic sense of exile, writing has always had a place at the table for me.

My writing clients will often tell me that their lack of self-discipline is the reason they’re not getting their writing done. I often refer them to the work of Steven Pressfield, who equates writing or any other creative endeavour as a fundamental, heroic act of a warrior: “Contempt for failure is our cardinal virtue. By confining our actions territorially to our own thoughts and actions—in other words, to the work and its demands—we cut the earth from beneath the blue-painted, shield-banding, spear-branding foe.”

Steven is right. We do need to warrior up, to face the dragons of resistance, and to damned well sit down and write.

And I have come to believe that we also need to feel that writing is our home. A place of sanctuary that will always embrace us. A place that transcends our ambitions, our thoughts of what we “should” be accomplishing, or even our desire to write well. I believe that these words of the great poet and mystic, Jelaluddin Rumi, written about 800 years ago, have something to say to us:

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. This is not a caravan of despair. It doesn’t matter if you have broken your vow a thousand times, still and yet again, COME!”

Come home to your writing this year. Come home as many times as needed. There will always be a seat at the table for you.

The Courage to Cross the Finish Line

Just a few days ago, I received a beautiful new Young Adult (YA) novel in the mail, a gift from one of my clients who had hired me a year ago to provide her with feedback on her work in progress (see Masterpiece Package).

I told Lucille (not her real name) that she had a strong story idea and gave her some notes as to what she needed to do in order for her idea to be realized. She had done a lot of business writing in the past, but this was her first attempt at a novel. The issues that I identified are commonly found in novels in progress.

I told her to make sure that:

• your focus is on your main character.
• your character is active and that his/her actions are driving your story.
• you provide enough detail and examples to make the world that you’ve created come alive for your reader.
• when you use dialogue, your characters have distinct voices that reflect who they are, so that we always know who’s speaking.
• your language and tone are oriented toward a contemporary YA reader.

A year later, at another client’s book launch, Lucille came up to me and thanked me for being honest about the shortcomings in her novel, and not simply telling her what she wanted to hear. She told me that she had taken my notes to heart, had been working away on her manuscript, and would be having her own book launch soon!

What a joy it was for me to hear that! Whether or not she applied all of my suggestions was less important to me than her willingness to take the feedback, to keep going, and to carry her fledgling novel across the finish line.

It takes stubbornness to cross that finish line, it takes talent and, perhaps most important of all, it takes courage. Just this morning, I received that very message in a blog by Seth Godin, brilliant best-selling author, entrepreneur, TED talker and all-round motivational god: “You can improve your skills, get better tools and do the hard work of actually getting better…But most of all, you can realize that the most urgent work is the work of dancing with your fear, because the fear is the real reason the work isn’t getting done.”

Lucille didn’t let her fear hold her back. And that makes Lucille a hero.

“You’ve wrapped. You’ve shipped. You’ve licked this sonofabitch. Kudos to you!”
Steven Pressfield

Writing When You Don’t Know What to say

Do you think you need to know what you’re going say before you sit down to write?

You don’t.

Holding that belief, often unconsciously, is a great way to keep from writing at all and an even better way to make writing an excruciating, bloodletting experience.

For my first decade as a professional writer, I tortured myself with the assumption that I had to figure out whatever I was writing in advance. I opened a vein every time I put a word on the page. Not so surprisingly, I didn’t do much writing for the fun of it during those years, because writing wasn’t fun. It was interesting, it was rewarding, it was gratifying to be able to earn my living in such a cool way – but fun? Never – or at least rarely. Only when I was able to turn in my completed script. Then I was ecstatic. I wasn’t so much into writing as I was into having written.

I was saved by deadlines, without which I would never have begun anything. I was saved by nightfall when the whole world slept and, pulling yet another all-nighter, I sat alone at my desk, looking out the window at a darkened, tree-lined street, empty of all humanity, checking my long hair for split ends while I waited for the words to come. I was saved by page after page of yellow lined paper inscribed with my messy long-hand.

Sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated, and in the innermost of the witching hour, the words could finally appear, the ideas could flow, the solutions to writing problems could materialize – not exactly effortlessly but far more freely than in the glare of daytime when, inevitably, the reflexive belief that writing required advanced planning would once again reclaim its command over mind, heart – and pen.

As seems fitting, it was writing that freed me. In the early 1990s, when I started leading journal-writing and other kinds of creative writing workshops, I would instruct my participants to write without thinking, without letting their pen leave the page and, most important of all, without any need whatsoever for their writing to be any good. It didn’t even have to make any sense.

Timed exercises were the ticket to writerly freedom. One of my favorites was giving my writers five minutes to write their autobiography, an idea inspired by Deena Metzger’s brilliant book, Writing for Your Life. A deliciously impossible task, it often provoked unexpected insights and revelations (an unexpected bonus, never a requirement).

Because it felt weird for me to sit at the front of the room doing nothing, I wrote along with them. Seeing me scrawl away in my notebook gave them permission to scrawl away in theirs, and doing the exercises gave me something to do besides stare at them like an examination proctor. When my trusty Tibetan bell announced that time was up, I stopped when they stopped.

Writing in tandem with my participants, I freed myself as a writer.

Timed writing continues to be a mainstay in my writing workshops and is part of my personal practice as well. I do it often, and in fact am doing it right now as I write this blog! Setting a timer for a short period of time is a great way to bypass that insistent message that you need to know what you’re going to write before you write it.

The familiar advice, “get out of your own way,” when applied to writerly endeavors has always struck me as more annoying than helpful. However, I’ve come to understand it as finding a way to deactivate the inner fraidy-cat who doesn’t want any of us to write a single word unless certainty is guaranteed. Timed writing is a great way to do that.

With the exception of grocery lists and the like, writing is not about certainty. At least not the kind of writing that makes your (and your reader’s!) soul sing. “Writing is the act of discovery,” says Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones and countless other wonderful books on writing.

“We are writers, and we never ask one another where we get our ideas. We know we don’t know,” says the renowned Stephen King, author of 56 novels at last count and winner of countless writing awards.

And the great essayist, novelist, and screenwriter, Joan Didion, winner of the National Book Award for The Year of Magical Thinking, says it beautifully: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Not only do we not need to know what to say before we sit down to write, we mustn’t and we can’t. It is when we place pen on page or fingers on keyboard that we find out what we want to say. This excerpt from Wanderer, by Antonino Machado, speaks of the vicissitudes of life, but it applies equally to writing:

Wanderer, the road is your
footsteps, nothing else;
you lay down a path in
In walking you lay down a

Lay down a path of words now, Dear Writer. Set your timer for five minutes and tell me the story of your life.

You Are So Creative


One of the cruelest untruths that I hear all too frequently from my coaching clients is, “I am not creative.”

It’s not their fault that they think that way. They probably got that message as a child from a parent or teacher, who got it from a parent or teacher, who got it from a parent or teacher – and so the virus got spread.

It doesn’t help that creativity is universally associated with participation in the arts – painting, writing, dance, theatre, photography, music or whatever. If you don’t do any of those things, how can you call yourself creative?

And then there’s the commonly held belief that if your artistic efforts aren’t making you a rich and famous author, musician or movie star, what’s the point?

These beliefs are so pervasive as to be invisible but they are living rent-free in the minds of most if not all of us.

The thing is, they’re lies. Soul-sucking, confidence-quelling, dreck-depositing lies. Everyone is creative. Creativity is what makes us human and there are as many ways of applying it as there are people – raising a child, preparing a meal, teaching, gardening, constructing a shelter, building a business, solving a problem, making love, practicing the healing arts, devising a spiritual practice, decorating a home… These activities are not limited to the “gifted” or to the wealthy or to those drawn to the arts. They are fundamental to who we are.

As for that message that your creative pursuit has to be a popular success in order to be worth anything, I had to face that one head on, just a few minutes ago.

It followed from a decision I made yesterday — to write a novel. It’s been an unacknowledged longing in me, and it felt great to say yes to it. So this morning I got up early, looked through some notes for an unfinished screenplay that I’d abandoned but never forgotten, and began to consider how I could use it as a jumping off point for a novel.

Later on, I was doing a bit of writing for the project and felt this heavy despondent feeling come over me. What’s going on? Am I not supposed to be doing this? Thankfully I soon recognized it as one of my inner critics delivering that oh-so-uplifting message, “What’s the point?”

Wanda Whatsthepoint at my disservice! Remembering a great tip from the uncomparable SARK, I decided to give Wanda a job. Instead of using her critical eye to crush my spirit and cripple my creative efforts, Wanda could be a quality control inspector at a high-end garment factory — in Prague. Decent wage of 14,000 korunas a month, cool military-inspired uniform, and boundless opportunity to nitpick with impunity. Like magic, with Wanda happily engaged, the despond lifted from my soul and I lived to write another day.

One of the best ways to apply the creativity that we all possess is to effectively dispense with the voices that deny or denigrate it.

Do What Makes You Happy

My interest in creativity coaching began more than ten years ago when I was teaching a Creative Process course at the Vancouver Film School and became aware of creativity coaching guru Eric Maisel’s work. I thought creativity coaching would be a great credential and skill set to inform my teaching and consulting work.

But ultimately my decision to enroll in the CCA program had more to do with the heart than with career concerns. Seeing my enormously creative younger brother and other gifted friends giving up on their creative dreams in midlife sparked my passion to provide support and inspiration to people who feel they’re too old and it’s too late.

I can sometimes be one of them, and so I was and continue to be my steadiest client! While I’ve had a successful career as a writer/editor/script consultant, and it’s work that I enjoy, my first passion is singing. I sang before I talked, I won prizes in music festivals, my uberstrict music-loving Grade 5 teacher forgave my unremarkable Social Studies grade by uncharacteristically declaring, “You’re going to be a singer. You don’t need to know Social Studies.”

Ironically, I began my professional life as a Junior High Social Studies teacher before heading for the exit four years later and joining the film industry, a more interesting and rewarding career avenue. Derailed by circumstances, eroded by fear and neglect, any thought of a singing career had long since expired.

But my passion for singing refused to be denied. In my late 50s, I began taking singing lessons, I joined a gospel choir, I even worked up the courage to sing a blues song, aptly titled In My Girlish Days, at a concert that coincided with my 65th birthday. A feisty woman of my age came up to me afterwards and said, “I want to be you.”

Me too! It’s the “you” we all want to be. The “you” who pursues what brings us joy, without any concern about career or cash or recognition. The “you” who discovers that doing what we love fuels all aspects of our lives.

What creative endeavor makes you happy? If you don’t know, sit with that question for a few days and see what arises. Maybe it’s something that you left behind when you “grew up.” Whatever it is, I suggest you reclaim it and begin doing it again – in whatever way you can. Age is irrelevant. Creativity is our birthright. Happiness knows no bounds.

I’m going to go sing now!

The Power of Embracing Failure

This is the seventh in a series of blogs that I’m posting in response to a challenge posed by Winnie Kao, a blogger who launched “Your Turn Project,” which urges wayward bloggers like me to post a blog every day for a week.

The question for this final blog in the series is: “What are you taking with you from this challenge?”

The big takeaway for me is learning to accept failure. I was on time for the first two postings but I was late for every other posting thereafter, including this one. I had failed. Repeatedly.

After my first failure to post a blog, I was tempted to pack it in, particularly since the catalyst for this challenge, Seth Godin, author of Your Turn and many other bestselling books, had said to Winnie, “Every day that you don’t put up a blog post, you’ve failed.”

I’ve always seen failure as something terminal and lethal. How can you continue if you’ve failed? But after participating in the “Your Turn Project,” I discovered (not for the first time but such life lessons require continual repetition and reinforcement) that it isn’t fatal. Quite the opposite.

I screwed up, I forgave myself, I figured that it was better to post late than not at all and so I did. As Seth has said, “after you fail you will be one step closer to succeeding, you will be wiser and stronger and you almost certainly will be more respected by all of those that are afraid to try.”

He’s right and I would not have recognized that if I hadn’t stayed in the game. I may have failed to meet the terms of the challenge, but over a one-week period, I wrote over 3,000 words or seven reasonably useful blog posts that would not have existed otherwise. I feel good about that. I feel motivated to accept other challenges, to take more risks, and to continue to thwart those inner barriers that keep me from shipping as often as I’d like.

A big thank you to Winnie and to Seth.

Fear Is An Ally

This is the fifth in a series of blogs that I’m posting in response to a challenge posed by Winnie Kao, a blogger who launched “Your Turn Project,” which urges wayward bloggers like me to post a blog every day for a week.

Today’s question is: Tell us about a time when you surprised yourself.

I have always made an enemy out of fear and it has always delivered.

But let me take you back to December 29, 2012. I am scheduled to sing In My Girlish Days – on stage, with a band – at a party in the evening. I am getting ready to leave and feeling uninspired about the whole thing. Plus I have no clue what to wear. Nothing in the closet has any appeal. The lovely new Christmas outfit from dear friends looks fine but wrong. Everything feels wrong.

I call my cousin who convened the event. He’s pulling a lot of things together for the evening and is not keen to chat but I am nonetheless relieved to hear that he’s wearing jeans and a shirt. I can do that. Then I try to do some warm-ups and a run-through of the song. It sounds like crap.

The party is in town and will be going on past the last ferry to the Island where I am living at the time, which means I’ll be staying over, which means I have to pack an overnight bag. Not a difficult task, particularly given that I have over two hours to accomplish it, but because of my state I am almost incapable of doing it. It takes me the entire two hours to put together a little backpack and head to the ferry. I don’t even have time for breakfast.

My car is freezing cold and I feel afraid and alone. I feel like the worst possible failure – my whole life and everything about me is wrong and awful and pathetic. I call some friends and leave messages. Not asking for help directly and not sharing the full extent of my feelings, but letting them know that I’m about to perform and I’m terrified.

Saying it helps to dissipate some of the paralysis but I still feel awful. I tell myself not to try to change this state but just to breathe into it. A good bit of advice that I have sometimes been able to apply to difficult states but not generally to performance anxiety. It helps a bit. I make the ferry crossing, head to a café, order a turkey sandwich and a coffee, which helps to ground me, and then I drive over to the hall.

I arrive an hour early and help the emcee hang some decorative ducks over the band. Then the sound check begins with a young woman singing Feelin’ Good – a song I’ve always wanted to sing. She has an amazing voice and I feel intimidated. I look at the line-up for the evening program. I follow her. Great. I’m right before the incomparable Dan Mangan. Multiple award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter. Swell.

Finally, after waiting for three terrified hours, I’m called up on stage for a sound check. I haltingly try to communicate with the band what I want by way of an intro and plunge into the song just as some of the guests begin to arrive. To my great surprise, I don’t die. What a relief.

Before my big moment, I feel some nervousness but far less than before, and once I get on stage I feel surprisingly relaxed. A friend who isn’t liberal with compliments tells me I was fabulous. A number of people say that I was their favorite act. A choir leader and voice teacher tells me I was the most interesting performer because I was connected to my words. Another said I have “pipes and presence.” A tough-looking woman said, “I want to be like you.”

This experience was tangible evidence that the fear that precedes performing is an ally, not an enemy. How can you connect with your heart without having suffered, even if most of it is self-generated? This experience was an extraordinary gift to me. I felt the fear and I did it anyway. Hurray for me.

Ten Ways to Get Unstuck

This is the fifth in a series of blogs that I’m posting in response to a challenge posed by Winnie Kao, a blogger who launched “Your Turn Project,” which urges wayward bloggers like me to post a blog every day for a week.

Today’s question is: “What advice would you give for getting unstuck?”

As a Creativity Coach, feeling unable to move forward on a creative project is the most common reason that my clients contact me.

To get yourself out of the ditch, here are 10 things that you can try:

1. Change a habit – work different hours, walk a different route to or from work, call someone you wouldn’t normally reach out to, read a magazine or book that you wouldn’t normally read, etc.

2. Take your creative project for a walk or a drive. Gardening, cooking or doing dishes can be equally effective.

3. Set a time limit for writing a passage, learning a song, doing a sketch, etc. Freedom inhibits creativity.

4. Do absolutely nothing for 10, 15, 30 minutes. (Set a timer.) Lie down, listen to music, and close your eyes. The best ideas come when the mind is relaxed. Keep a notebook handy.

5. Go down to the ocean and watch the waves or go to the forest and watch the trees waving in the wind. If you don’t have access to Nature, go window watching or people watching.

6. Think about a creative problem before going to sleep, allowing the subconscious to take over. Keep a pad and pen by your bed.

7. Dance to loud raucous music in your living room.

8. Speak the truth (with kindness) about how stuck you are, if only to yourself. It’ll free your creativity!

9. List all of the ways to make your troublesome creative project worse instead of trying to fix it.

10. Get some pen and paper, set a timer for 10 minutes, and rant in writing about how pissed you are at this effing project that refuses to bend to your will.

If none of the above work for you, you may need more support. If that’s the case, email me and let’s see if I can help you.

Declutter Your Life

This is the fourth in a series of blogs that I’m posting in response to a challenge posed by Winnie Kao, an intrepid blogger who launched “Your Turn Project,” which urges wayward bloggers like me to post a blog every day for a week. I’m a few days late, but I’m still in the game.

Today’s question is, “Teach us about something that you do well.”

Decluttering. As a Feng Shui practitioner and enthusiast, I can unequivocally state that this is one of the quickest and simplest ways to change your life — in ways large and small. I’m a believer, I do it well, and so can you.

Here’s what you do.

1. Choose a space that you consider cluttered — a closet, storeroom, cabinet, trunk, desk drawer, tabletop, kitchen cupboard, etc.

2. Label three boxes or bags: THROW-AWAY; GIVE-AWAY; STOW-AWAY

3. Ask yourself these questions about each item:
Do I love it?
Do I need it?
Does it reflect and/or support who I am now?
Do I associate it with positive thoughts, memories and/or emotions?
Does it need to be fixed or repaired, and am I willing to do so within the week?
If it’s time to let it go, where is it going and when/how will I get it there?

4. Either keep the item or put it into the appropriate box or bag until you’ve gone through every item in the space.

5. If there are items that you’re not sure about, put them into a STOW-AWAY box with a reminder note dated six weeks from now and check it to see which things you still want to hang onto.

6. Prepare and label the GIVE-AWAYS to go to their new home — family, friends, charity, consignment, etc. Make sure to remove them from your space within a week.

7. Put the STOW-AWAYS in their proper places with love and gratitude.

8. Within the week, repair the KEEPERS that need to be fixed.

Well done! You’ve let go of the old and made room for the new. Keep an eye out for helpful people, opportunities and things to flow into your life.