What is Success?


As I was wrapping up the Story Camp Women’s Writing Retreat, prepping for the arrival of the Fiction Among Friends writers in the next retreat, and hustling to complete my blog post for this week, my friend author Rhett DeVane shared the following with me. Though I hadn’t told her my intended post’s focus, the perspective she offers here about success as an author is the perfect prelude to mine, which will come to you next time.        ~ Gina


What is Success?

By Rhett DeVane

On the way to my annual writers’ retreat, an epiphany slipped through the sunroof and gonged me so hard I nearly veered off the highway. The topic? Success, and whether, after twenty-plus, earnest years in the writing and publishing business, I consider myself a success.

Then a segue-thought muscled past the Frank Sinatra tune blaring from my car’s sound system: success is akin to physical beauty. It’s often a false judgment, a fleeting endorsement of what society values at that nanosecond, and, like beauty, not something to cement in the center of my writing life.

I’ve never been considered beautiful. On occasion, I clean up well; I don’t scare small children and animals, or stop five-day clocks. Instead, I rely on personality and a warped sense of humor. Those traits, I developed with guidance from my Southern, story-telling, practical-gag-playing family.

While my grandma rested in her coffin, on view for the world, her loving relatives clumped in one corner, sharing tales about the time she did this or that, and laughing as if we didn’t have good sense. If at least one person hadn’t fired stink-eye disapproval in our direction, we would’ve failed. Thing is, if Grandma could’ve sat up, wiped off the flesh-tone shellac and spoken, she would have—and her story would top all of ours put together.

Like my family, I hold humor and a pleasant outlook above society’s notion of physical beauty. So, why should I put others’ images of success ahead of my own definition?

Over the years of conferences, critique groups, and online forums, I’ve noted how writers tend to measure success by numbers, Amazon ratings, or top agents and huge publishers. Is that truly why I write? No. The joy of seeing my thoughts meld into story, to watch characters learn and grow, to make some sense of humanity, and to lend levity and light: good enough reasons.

The instant a book leaves the safety of my computer, it must survive on its own. It may not be a classic beauty, but I’ve cleaned it up, given it every ounce of my hardscrabble knowledge, and wished it Godspeed. I have been successful at my work.

A nasty trap waits for all writers: the longing for success. The moment I set sights on someone else’s target, time spent on my laptop becomes a chore. The muses pack up and head to another author who welcomes them without boundaries.

Writer’s block thrives when I get in my own way.

A friend once asked my mother about her three children—how they “turned out.” I’ll always treasure her reply. “My kids are successful. They have homes, jobs, and none of them ended up in prison.” You can’t say she didn’t set a high bar. She did her best, cleaned me up, and sent me into the world.

My mama said I was a success. There you go.

How I define personal success is up to me.


Why do you write and do you have some measure of achievement or accomplishment that you use as your barometer for success? How do you define success as an author—not someone else’s definition or terms, but your own? Share your comments below.


Rhett DeVane is the author of the “Hooch” series based on her hometown of Chattahoochee, Florida; the seventh book in the series, Parade of Horribles was released in 2017. Rhett also writes middle-grade fantasy (the “Tales from The Emerald Mountains” series), picture books, and the occasional short story and flash fiction.

 

Trusting the Evidence

When I started today’s post, I had no idea what I was going to write about. So I began putting words on the page as if I’d already completed the thing that needed to be written. It’s a little mind trick, yes, but I simply gave up control and let words flow in free-form, almost mindless, fashion, which is uncomfortable for me . . . because I like structure and organization and tidiness. And I like to be in control.

As writers with will—and humans with excess hubris—we convince ourselves we have total power to dictate and manipulate the writing process. On the first day of the annual Story Camp writing retreat, we do a workshop exercise that allows the release of these illusions of control over creativity.

It’s liberating.

And it requires massive trust in the creative process we so desperately try to make compliant.

It requires trust that our muses have our backs, trust that ideas will come and words will flow, trust that allowing messiness in a first draft makes way for magic in later versions. As I have administered and participated in this exercise, I have come to believe that the act of putting words on the page is a hallowed act of trust.

TRUST has been my overriding theme for 2017, for me personally, as well as for Around the Writer’s Table—perhaps especially for AWT. Just as I’ve learned to trust in the writer’s creative process, I have had to learn lessons in trust in all parts of my personal life and my professional endeavors.

Trusting when I’d rather be controlling hasn’t been easy.

I want to be in charge of circumstances and situations, people and outcomes. I want things to be the way I want them to be. But that’s not life, is it?

Surrendering to trust can be terrifying.

It’s an endless effort I resist even though I’ve witnessed the goodness that results from it. I believe blessings are buoyed by trust. Yet still, I must persistently reaffirm that trust is the way forward for me.

I do, after all, have plenty of evidence.

Two years ago in November, I trusted that leaving my stressful but decent-paying corporate job with health insurance and other benefits was the right decision and, since then, I have received bountiful confirmation of what surrendering to trust can do. The blessings have been remarkable.

Trusting in my decision made it possible for me to be present with family these last two years during times of bereavement and celebration—times I couldn’t have taken off the clock previously unless I had permission from a corporate god. Because I trusted, I’ve been able to participate in and/or host eight writing retreats in Florida and North Carolina over the last two years, with three more to come in January (this still blows my mind!).

Trusting that the future holds what it should has brought me talented and kind clients I am grateful for every single day. Because I have trusted, my business has grown—not without sacrifice and worry, but in a way I never dreamed would be so rewarding.

Because I trust that what I need will come, a new friend and advisor has been brought into my life, a true gift; trust also brought me two more talented and enthusiastic interns who will join us in 2018. The driving force that will lead AWT into some exciting new endeavors this next year is my trust that surrounding myself with ethical, loving, smart people and purposefully putting one foot in front of the other will take me where I’m destined to go.

Because I have trusted and continue to trust in what the Universe and the Divine have in store for me, I have an abundance of friends who uplift me, an inspiring community of writer-friends, a mastermind group who challenges me to better myself, a husband who is unceasingly supportive, and family who fills my heart and soul with love.

Yes, the evidence is there.

Because I trust, I am blessed. And I will trust—despite worry, resistance, and fear—that more goodness is to come in 2018. I wish each and every one of you a new year filled with blessings, and I hold the hope that you, too, can buoy your blessings with trust.

Love to you all and Happy New Year!
Gina Hogan Edwards

Time Well Spent

I asked Chanta Combs to share a bit about her experience with Around the Writer’s Table these last few months. In this week’s blog, she reflects on her internship with us and why it became so much more than a straightforward professional and educational experience for her. Her personal discussion about her relationship with writing will likely resonate with many of you.

Gina Hogan Edwards


My writing has become my guide on
this scary, exhilarating, and comforting journey of self-exploration.


Wow. My first semester as an intern with Around the Writer’s Table (AWT) is already over. Where did the time go?

Listening to My Inner Disquiet

I began the semester with nothing more than a compelling desire to write and a nagging curiosity to learn about the industries that foster the written word. I have always loved to read, research, and write but have spent my career (to date) monetizing these passions through conventional work as a lawyer, lobbyist, and policy advisor. While I have loved this work and have explored marvelous, unforeseen professional horizons, I am voracious for more.

My time with AWT has taught me invaluable lessons about the creative process, self-employment as a freelance editor, and my ability—and, more importantly, desire—to write.

Writing is the Teacher

My first assignment was to write these bi-monthly blogs. Because my writing has historically been analytical advocacy, plumbing the depths of the creative process seemed very foreign to me. As such, AWT spent a lot of time teaching me the dynamics that authors encounter throughout this journey.

And as I turned my understanding into writing, I not only learned about the art of writing but also about overcoming my own mental obstacles as I explore writing through a new lens. Simply put, the tools required to write authentically are the same tools required to live authentically—regardless of your vocation. Get silent, go deep, have mentors, and follow your intuition. “Just do it,” but be open to constructive feedback as you do. And as you speak your truth, embrace your personal evolution, understand that others may not, and trust the journey.

Going Deep

While writing the blogs satiated my basic need to write in a new way about new subjects, I was—unbeknownst to me—also internalizing these lessons. By early December, my mind was a muddled mess as I tried to apply these lessons to my current profession, my role as the mother of a young child, and my desire to reinvent my career. So, I spent four days alone at the beach—the place where my heart rate slows down, my mind calms, and clarity ensues.

This is when I was able to accept the fact (which apparently has been quite obvious to others for a while) that I am ready to embrace writing, editing, and publishing as a new facet of my career. I’m nervous—this is unexplored territory for me, and I feel wholly unprepared. But I am following my intuition by taking more courses at Florida State next semester, signing up for a journaling class at the end of the year, and committing to attend AWT’s Story Camp writer’s retreat to jump-start the new year.

Exploring New Dimensions

In addition to writing (and learning from) these blogs, I was able to ghost-write some material for AWT. Ghostwriting taught me another dimension about myself as a writer. First, it requires less personal vulnerability. Second, it requires a really intimate understanding not only of your readers (as all writing does) but also of the person for whom you are writing. I enjoyed stepping into her shoes and embracing her unique perspective of the content. This experience underscored the fact that I love to write for writing’s sake and don’t necessarily need public recognition to enjoy it. This appreciation has opened a whole new frontier for me, and I have already made inquiries about enrolling in a ghostwriting certification program at University of California at Long Beach.

Taking the Next Step

Needless to say, my internship with AWT surpassed my originally meager expectations. I thought I would get to write some, edit a little, and be on my merry way. I got so much more than that.

I found new layers of my soul, re-evaluated my life’s goals, enhanced some of my existing capabilities, and found new ones. Because I am eager to learn more, I will enroll for another internship with AWT in the spring semester. I am very excited, optimistic, and thankful for the journey that AWT and FSU have started with me.


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and is a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

Believe in Your Creative Journey


While writing can be perplexing, intricate, and intense,
it is a beautiful, enriching journey that will provide—in and of itself—the
strength you need to develop your authentic voice.


The world seems to measure us exclusively on our outcomes, what we produce and the quality or quantity of that production. Even those of us with creative souls tend to focus on whether our works have been published or whether we’ve sold enough copies to cover the costs of publication, much less make a profit.

But as you know, writing—in and of itself—is a journey that deserves savoring and understanding. It is oftentimes a rewarding yet arduous path that requires significant introspection, personal grit, and heaps of emotional courage.

Finding Your Creative Voice

Because writing demands both internal and external growth, we have explored this journey with you in recent months—more specifically, the stages of finding and/or reclaiming your creative voice. Based on our experiences with authors and as authors ourselves, Around the Writer’s Table has created a model to assist authors in visualizing, understanding, and embracing their stages of creative development. While our recent blogs have not specifically discussed this model, they have captured its essence. With ongoing feedback from authors, we’ll continue to refine and plumb the depths of each stage in the creative process and, of course, we’ll keep sharing with you what we learn as we go.

Thus far, we have talked about how, at the beginning of the creative journey, prioritizing and creating silence—both internally and externally—provides space to evaluate, understand, and release your creative restlessness, that inner disquiet that can be a driving force in your writing. And as you start writing, experimenting with others’ techniques is a fundamental component of the creative process. As such, exploring different authors’ methods will foster understanding and appreciation of the tools that are most effective for expressing your authentic voice.

After you’ve spent some time writing, it is important to then assess and acknowledge how far you’ve come and how far you have yet to go. Only by humbly stepping away from and objectively reviewing your work can you acknowledge what works for your writing, differentiate yourself from your mentors and teachers, and begin to fully master your authentic voice.

Once you successfully detach, evaluate, acknowledge, and act on areas for growth, you will quickly take true ownership of your writing. As you and others start to understand and embrace your new public identity as an author, objective verification and testing of your creative development should be continuous.

Ultimately, the goal is to fully integrate all parts of your life into mastering your craft so that you no longer have to compartmentalize your creative spirit or wear a mask to satiate others’ expectations of who you should be.

The Resistance

Sheesh. That’s a lot, right? And this doesn’t even consider that you may cycle through some or all of these phases more than once on your creative journey. Yes, it’s a tough trek.

Simply put, writing, like other long-term commitments, can create anxiety and a crisis in confidence as you encounter and re-encounter these various stages of creative growth. You will likely face ennui, fatigue, and an innate desire to throw your hands up, believing that you’ve gone as far as you can in your creative journey.

The Decision Point

Will you keep going? This moment, this decision is crucial and is reminiscent of a story called “Three Feet From Gold,” by Napoleon Hill in his book, Think and Grow Rich. In this story, Colorado miners invested enormous amounts of time and money to find gold, only to get frustrated and quit when they didn’t find any. After they sold their mining equipment, the buyer soon discovered that massive amounts of gold were only three feet from where these miners had stopped drilling.

The moral of the story: “Failure is a trickster with a keen sense of irony and cunning. It takes great delight in tripping one when success is almost within reach.”

Keep Going

When your internal voice of resistance speaks up, review those stages of creativity that you have cycled through and mastered. Evaluate your own experience objectively and allow that experience to serve as evidence of what you, as a writer, are capable of accomplishing. The journey itself—even with all its frustrations, rabbit holes, and complexities—should be a source of confidence to keep pursuing your true essence as a writer.


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and is a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

Overcoming Fear


As your authentic voice emerges publicly, you will experience
a range of emotions and, ultimately, new sources of strength.


I’ve struggled writing this week’s blog because other parts of my life have demanded all of my emotional energy recently—most notably, a paralyzing anxiety about the end of the year. More to the point, I started my own consulting company at the beginning of 2017; as such, the end of the calendar year raises the specter that my clients may not renew their contracts in 2018.

Simply put, I’m terrified of the unknown, of rejection, of having to start all over again. It’s an exhausting, consuming angst. So, what does any logical, mature professional do? Run for the hills. I have retreated back into myself, started making plans to close my company down, and find a path back to corporate servitude. (All while my clients, by the way, continue to call me with new projects and pay their monthly retainer fees.)

Vulnerability reigns supreme.

This psychological need to cocoon ourselves is a very natural reaction when others start seeing our work in a new, public way. Putting ourselves out there, sharing our work—whether via our writing or our other professional and personal goals—is hard. We lose our anonymity and, as a result, feel like we have much more to lose than when we just kept our ideas to ourselves. As such, we feel raw, insecure, and uncomfortable. Not much fun, is it?

Inspiration from Teddy Roosevelt helps.

During this important step of publicly testing and, in turn, verifying your creative authenticity, you will find new allegiances and supporters (like those of us at Around the Writer’s Table!) who will embrace your bravery. Bravery, you say? This self-flagellation doesn’t feel courageous or strong. It’s crazy-making; it makes me feel like I need to scrap everything I’ve ever done and start over. . . .

Ahh, but you see, fighting through the self-doubt and taking ownership of where you are, understanding where you need to go, and still expressing yourself publicly and authentically is the victory. Teddy Roosevelt understood this:

The credit belongs . . . to the man [or woman!] who is actually in the arena, who strives valiantly; . . . who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, . . . and who, at the worst, if he fails, . . . at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls . . . who know neither victory nor defeat.

Stay in the arena.

So, take a deep breath and manage your mind and emotions. You are not alone—friends (both old and new, and some unexpected), critique groups, your writing coach or editor, blogs, and writers’ organizations will support you, especially during these terrifying moments of verifying, testing, and owning your journey.

By continuing to forge ahead and fully embrace your new public identity as an author and creator, you will be able to fully integrate all parts of your life into mastering your craft. You will no longer have to compartmentalize your creative spirit or wear a mask to satiate others’ expectations of who you should be.

The butterfly emerges.

At this stage, you will experience a deeper evolution towards authenticity—and will spread your wings as you emerge from your cocoon. This stage is powerful and will lead to greater productivity, inspiration, and dedication. Enjoy this moment as you start to explore your full potential as an author in the public eye.

 


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and is a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

A Brave New World


Assessing your work and acknowledging areas for growth will create new frontiers for your craft and, more importantly, an authentic existence as an author.


You have been pouring your heart and soul onto the page, traveling through distant lands, exploring characters’ idiosyncrasies, and wrestling with words. You are telling the story you are meant to tell. That feels good, doesn’t it?

The Naked Artist

And, now, as you come up for air, you are surrounded by thousands of words—all of which represent your greatest hopes and your greatest fears. Your work undeniably represents an intimate part of you. Now, it’s time to examine where you have been and where you still need to go as a writer.

Welcome to the least popular stage of creativity—setting your vulnerabilities aside and objectively reviewing your work. During this stage, both self-assessment and external critique are vital.

Embrace Your Growing Pains

To objectively evaluate your growth as an author, you must set your creative voice on the shelf (but, wait. . .WHAT? It took so long for it to reveal itself. . .AAACK!), and invite your analytical and logical mind to the table. Because writing and evaluation are distinct tasks, you should avoid frustrating yourself by doing them simultaneously; in other words, only start the assessment process when you are at a point in your writing where you can step away from your creative drive without losing creative momentum.

In addition, this is the time you should start to consider the idea of sharing your work with other people. Yes, revealing yourself this way can be daunting, and feelings of vulnerability are normal. But allowing others to review your work is an essential part of your development as an author—only by sharing your work and understanding areas for improvement will you be able to expand your craft.

So, if you are not already part of a supportive network of other authors who can provide constructive feedback about your work, perhaps you should find one in your community or online. If that is too uncomfortable at this stage, no worries! Perhaps, you have a mentor, teacher, coach or friend who can share her experiences as a writer to provide trusted guidance on ways to stretch your wings.

Perfectly Imperfect

While you may have a lot to say as a writer, truly refining your craft requires an overall evaluation of your skills within the context of a particular project. For example, is your story appropriately answering your work’s compelling question? Is your writing appropriately showing (rather than just telling) your readers your protagonists’ wants, needs, and stake in the plot? Cutting your own words can be brutal, and you may experience fears of judgment and imperfection during this process.

Acknowledging how far you’ve come and how far you have yet to go (no matter how much experience you have) is a critical part of the journey. Only by humbly stepping away from and objectively reviewing your work can you acknowledge what works for your writing, differentiate yourself from your mentors and teachers, and begin to fully master your authentic voice.

Meeting The One

If you successfully detach, evaluate, acknowledge, and act on areas for growth, you will quickly take true ownership of your writing. You will begin to realize that YOU are the one you’ve been waiting for throughout this creative process. This critical turning point is where you will enter a new world of creative development, where acceptance replaces fear, where your craft aligns more closely with your voice, and your old assumptions disappear. While this will initially feel unfamiliar, you will soon recognize it as confidence and freedom to fully express your creative voice in ways that will resonate with your readers.


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and is a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

Imitation & Ingenuity


Emulating and mirroring other authors’ techniques
will build your creative muscle and illuminate your writing process.


In recent weeks, we have encouraged you to create silence and listen to your inner voice. Perhaps, this quiet introspection has led you outside your comfort zone on an unexpected path of self-discovery. Maybe you are challenging your own assumptions about your creative life or exploring new horizons for your writing. You could also, quite possibly, be stuck in a quagmire of self-conscious anxiety, not sure what direction to go.

Now what?

Say yes to your creative work! Now is the time to start writing and—most importantly—enjoying the process. Being an author is not linear work. . . writing will be messy, frustrating, and surprising. Regardless of your experience as an author, your authentic voice is likely to feel wobbly and uncertain with each new project. Like any of life’s meaningful challenges, you will find yourself stuck inside rabbit holes, taking startling detours, and facing seemingly insurmountable hurdles (both self-imposed and otherwise). But you will never know where the joy of writing will take you if you don’t start.

We Don’t Live on Islands.

Several years ago, my child finally realized that he could use his emerging vocabulary to more clearly articulate his annoyance with me. To do so, he would adopt a very solemn look and a very resolute tone, point his tiny index finger at me, and say, “No, Mama.” For better or for worse, I instantly recognized that look and that tone and—most undeniably—that finger. They were mine! As he was learning to find own his voice, he started by emulating me.

Similarly, during the early stages of your creative process, you will inevitably find yourself emulating other authors. Despite our best efforts to turn inwardly to foster our own authenticity, we don’t live on isolated islands or as hermits without external influences. Your experiences as a reader are part and parcel of your extraordinary personal tapestry. As such, they will naturally find their way into your writing.

Enjoy the Authors’ Dressing Room.

Experimenting with others’ techniques in your own writing can be spontaneous and unintentional; it can also be done purposefully. It is a fundamental component of the creative process, so embrace it. Explore different authors’ points of view, modes of character development, or patterns of narrative tension—all while adhering to ethical standards and copyright laws. Only by going through this process will you start to understand, appreciate, and foster the channels, language, and other tools that are most effective for expressing your authentic voice. Simply put, trying on different styles is the only way to find your perfect fit.

Get Ready to Fly.

While experimenting can be fun, you will, after a while, become bored and unsatisfied by emulating and mirroring other authors’ styles. A lack of ingenuity and feelings of inauthenticity will start to infiltrate your creative process. This, in turn, is likely to cause your inner disquiet to return. Rest assured that all of this is a normal part of the creative cycle. In fact, when other authors’ methods start to bore you, this is when you will know that your authentic voice is beginning to emerge and ready to soar.


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and is a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

This creativity tip is inspired by The 97 Best Creativity Tips Ever! by Dr. Eric Maisel (2011), and is used with his permission.

Calming the Inner Disquiet


Restlessness is a fundamental ingredient of the creative process.
Embrace it in order to understand your full artistic potential.


Carpe Diem!

In 1989, actor Robin Williams starred in The Dead Poet’s Society. As you may recall, this film centered on a small group of high school students who were suffocating under society’s conventional definition of success for them. As their English teacher, Williams uncompromisingly promoted poetry, literature, and the theater to inspire their artistic independence and creative self-expression. His repetitive incantation of the Latin phrase, “Carpe Diem” (Seize the Day), added magnitude and urgency to their journey.

As these young people discovered the joys and freedoms of the written word, they began to break the mold at their elite boarding school: they hoisted themselves on desks, marched in quirky hallway parades, and met in clandestine caves to celebrate creativity. Simply put, the movie encouraged voracious, restless souls (like mine) to undertake an imperative and uninhibited odyssey of self-exploration. Needless to say, that message resonated deeply with me. It still does.

Who is running your life?

This movie taught me to honor my intuition—which is a wonderful platitude but hard to achieve. Much like the students in Dead Poet’s Society, we are inundated at very early ages with external expectations for our lives. The world, our families, and our peers shape our realities from the beginning: sit at your desk and be quiet; go to college and get a job; pay your bills; become a spouse; buy a house in the suburbs; have perfect kids; take care of your aging parents. Oh, and don’t forget to eat organic foods, sleep ten hours every night, drink zillions of glasses of water every day, wear the highest fashions, and smile while doing it all.

Please. That life is completely exhausting. Why? Because somebody else made that list for you. Yes, we have to grow up and become responsible adults. But that journey does not have to be mutually exclusive of our aspirations, our natural predilections, and, most notably, our authentic voices.

Your inner disquiet is a pest.

Where does your imagination go when you allow it to take flight? What is your genuine story? Answering these questions honestly—and acting on those answers—requires gumption.

To get meaningful answers, you will likely have to get quiet (see our earlier blog for tips!) and go deep several times. What you will find when you enter these magical depths of introspection may surprise you, scare you, delight you, or (most likely) inspire all of those reactions. An immediate and very natural response, of course, is to cling to that tried-and-true list that somebody else made for your life.

The good news, however, is that you are hardwired with an inner voice that will guide you through all the disruption that self-discovery creates. But if you deprive it of attention long enough, that inner voice will get continuously louder and even more unruly until you are forced to pay attention to it.

Listening to and honoring my inner voice (a lifelong process, by the way) has led me to choices that would have been unimaginable if I had followed somebody else’s list for my life. My inner voice has guided me to quit a legal career so I could advise (and, ultimately, befriend) two governors on major issues of the day; to divorce a wonderfully gentle, successful man who had no idea how to speak to my soul; and to leave a lucrative, upwardly mobile corporate job because it was crushing me. All of those decisions were hard and uncomfortable. But my inner disquiet kept rising up, forcing me to ask myself difficult questions, and required me to own the direction of my life.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
~ E. E. Cummings

While it will likely create some havoc, that inner disquiet is actually a huge ally in your creative process and in your life. It is sending you a warning signal that your current path and your current choices are impeding the full expression of your authentic voice. It is telling you that you have a story that needs to be told, a path that needs to be explored, and a journey that needs to be commenced.

Don’t resist your inner disquiet.
Listen to it. Surrender to it. And enjoy the journey.
Carpe Diem!


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and is a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

This creativity tip is inspired by and based on The 97 Best Creativity Tips Ever! by Dr. Eric Maisel (2011), and is used with his permission.

Silence Is Golden


If noise clutters your mind, you will produce shallow writing.
Create silence and empower your authentic voice.


As you enter the room, you immediately feel its aching potential. The neutral walls yearn for color, texture, or art—anything to animate the room, to tell its story. Its soaring ceilings and generous bay windows invite you to stretch your legs, get comfortable, and stay awhile.

Unfortunately, this potential is utterly unrealized. Thousands of Post-it notes are slathered with scribbles and blanket the wall. Mold, mildew, and wood rot seal the windows shut, creating a musty, suffocating staleness. The pervasive clutter paralyzes you, and a low, ubiquitous hum from an indeterminate source distracts you beyond reason.

A perfect project for one of your favorite TV remodeling programs, right?

What if this were actually your creative mind, begging for your time and attention?

Your mind is a powerful force.

It is constantly filled with lists, expectations, and demands. It whirs with disparate and dynamic ideas, emotions, nervous energy, aspirations, optimism, insecurities, or despair. In addition to these ordinary (yet demanding) internal processes, our fast-paced world oftentimes distorts or completely ambushes your mental energy. Personal and professional responsibilities, twenty-four-hour cable, multiple email accounts, cell phones, text messages, and countless social media outlets create a tornado of distractions, noise, and mental bedlam for all of us.

But a noisy mind is a tired mind.

And a noisy, tired mind has limited capacity for cultivating your authentic voice. A noisy mind defaults to performing superficial work and producing writing that won’t be worth reading.

So how can you remove this mental clutter, eradicate all these Post-it notes from your mind, and create enough emotional, intellectual, and spiritual space to create? By simply turning the volume of your life down. Create silence.

We become so consumed by doing, doing, doing that we forget how to be quiet. We need silence in order to reacquaint ourselves with the powerful, purposeful, soulful, meaningful voice within us. In the silence, you will find the strength to go beneath the surface to the place where good thoughts and good sentences come together. A quiet mind interested in diving deep comes back with stunning creations.

Where to start?

Set boundaries in your external world. Unplug your phone, sign-off from your social media accounts, and turn off the TV. Tell your family, friends, roommates, and colleagues that you’re going off the grid and will be unavailable for a while.

Start for just a few minutes. With some practice, you will find yourself craving these moments—which will soon turn into hours, sometimes days (if you should be so lucky!). By isolating yourself from these external demands, you will be able to hush that ubiquitous hum that infiltrates your life, throw the windows of your musty mind open, and invite a fresh perspective into your soul.

But you still must go a step further.

Your internal noise can be just as draining as the external noise. During these cherished moments of silence, learn to observe your thoughts and emotions without being swept away by them. Breathe deeply. Meditate. Be still, both physically and mentally.

This, too, takes practice, but, with time, you will realize that your thoughts and emotions are not facts, just the rolling monologue of your mind. By slowing your inner dialogue, you will start to realize how transient your thoughts and emotions are. Only then can you prioritize the internal voices that will lead you to the appropriate intellectual, emotional, and spiritual depths where you can completely surrender to the creative process.

All of us carry an inner disquiet and long for deeper meaning. Don’t simply accept the clamoring in your mind and in your life. Prioritize and create both external and internal silence. Don’t wait until you’ve completed everything on your to-do list or resolved all the questions in your mind. And don’t expect it to occur organically. Create silence, nurture your creative mind, and fully realize the potential of your authentic voice.


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and will be a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she has finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

This creativity tip is inspired by and based on The 97 Best Creativity Tips Ever! by Dr. Eric Maisel (2011), and is used with his permission.

To Share Your Writing—or Not?

I recently attended two productive and gratifying writing events: one a week-long workshop, the other a three-day retreat. These events were, at once, similar yet very different from one another. On my long drive home from North Carolina, I contemplated those differences, as well as the impacts of these two events on my writing habits and my current project.


The major difference in those two events was the respective instructor/teacher’s philosophy about sharing our writing, which could be a current work-in-progress (WIP) such as a short story or novel, or something produced that day for a writing exercise.

Sharing Shutdown

The instructor for the first event is resolute in his opinion that sharing can often shut writers down. We too easily step into the comparison trap and the “I’m not good enough” chatter begins in our heads. It can leave us feeling exposed and raw if we don’t get what we want or expect from it.

So he presented each exercise for our own contemplation and response in the privacy, comfort, and shelter of our own minds and notebooks. The time between workshop sessions was spent independently working on our own manuscripts.

As a group, the attendees seemed pleased with this approach and everyone was massively productive during the week. We learned a great deal about one another’s projects, but no one read their work aloud or handed off printed pages to other attendees. We left satisfied with what we had accomplished on our respective writing projects.

Sharing As Validation

At the second event, we rounded out every session with each person reading her written response to that session’s exercise. Additionally, each day ended with a shared evening meal, followed by the chance to read a piece of our work aloud. Reading aloud was never required, but the opportunity was there for everyone who wanted to take it. By the end of the four days, nearly all of us had shared words we had written, either in a writing exercise or from our WIP.

On the last night, I shared a scene from my novel that I had been avoiding writing for . . . well, let’s just say, a long time. I knew it was going to tax my writing skills and be emotionally draining, too. But I had started it at the earlier workshop, and I got exactly the reaction I hoped for from the small audience that night. It still needed work, but now I knew I was heading in the right direction.

First-Time Trembles

I’ve been writing and attending events like these long enough that I see value in both approaches and am comfortable either way. But they can be intimidating for any writer who has never had a chance to share their work.

I recall my trembling hands, holding my short story manuscript the first time I read aloud to a group. I wasn’t sure the words would come. I also remember participating in my first critique group, wondering if I had “what it takes” to be a writer.

Unpredictable Outcomes

I’ve observed how individuals respond differently to the feedback they’re given–some becoming defensive and angry, some accepting it, as uplifting, with an open heart and an intention to improve. And I’ve seen how that feedback can be delivered with vitriol or with love, kindness, and honorable intent.

I have listened to writers share their opinions on a manuscript when the author never requested advice in the first place.

I have seen writers who–given the chance, but not required to read aloud–felt shamed into reading, obligated to share with the group or else be the only one “too chicken” or embarrassed to show their work.

I’ve heard about an author who shared a piece of writing in confidence with fellow authors and found out later they had discussed it, without permission, outside the original, and supposedly trusted, circle of sharing.

I know authors who have wilted and stopped writing completely after they were courageous enough to open themselves up to judgment from other writers.

I know writers who have grown and improved at their craft, their passion, because they shared their WIPs among a trusted and supportive group of kindred spirits.

Knowing if and when to share your work and with whom is an important decision that only you can make for yourself.

What has your experience been with sharing your work? Are you eager or uncomfortable doing it? Do you see benefits or disadvantages? Do you and/or your critique group have a set of rules or guidelines you follow when sharing your work and reading or hearing the work of others?

I’d love to hear your opinion and experiences in the comments below.