Thursday, October 21, 2010

Life Stories

"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are." e.e. cummings

The past has had me in its thrall over the last few weeks. A few surprising Facebook re-connections and a fiction project set during my halcyon college days has sent me into trippy territory.

As I was playing catch- up with a friend I hadn't spoken with in over ten years, it occurred to me that trying to describe your life to someone who hasn't been in it for a long time is like explaining a soap opera to someone who never watched it. It can sound a little crazy. Maybe a lot crazy.

Turns out, it's also a great writing exercise and coaching tool for anyone who wants to assess his/her life. Just where you begin tells a lot about you and what's most important in your life. Same for the details you share and the ones you omit. Remember: it's not just what you say, but also what you leave out that speaks to your story, and your life.

Of course, sometimes your audience will determine just what you say. A distant friend may be a better springboard for the unfiltered truth than say your spouse, kids or parents. That's why folks go to coaches and therapists, too. It's easier to be honest with someone who doesn't have as big a stake in the way things have turned out or appear.

On the other hand, sometimes --especially if you've had a competitive friendship with someone-- you may tend to exaggerate accomplishments and downplay disappointments. So for the purposes of the exercise, try writing a letter to a long-lost friend with whom you have nothing but affection. If there is no such person in your past, he/she can be easily conjured. This is just an exercise for you to honestly take stock in your life. Try answering the following questions within the narrative:

Where are you vs. where you thought you'd be. Have you achieved your goals/ have they changed? What is your proudest personal and professional achievements? What challenges have you faced and how have you handled adversity? What do you regret most? Who are the most important people in your life?

Don't just list the questions--and you don't have to answer all of them; there may be others that seem more relevant as you write. Just let yourself write your story, allowing your authentic voice to come through in a brief, page length version. You may be fascinated by both what you highlight and omit. And be amazed at the questions that surface.

These short life stories can be used to mine creative material for fiction and drama. They can also be fabulous barometers and teaching tools for those yearning to make personal, creative and career transitions. You may be surprised at just what emerges as your next big step.

So be brave and honest. And get ready to immerse yourself in your own life. I think you'll find it an exhilarating and illuminating journey.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cultivating the Write Stuff

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

Here's the thing about writing no one ever tells you when you're starting out and probably still in school, ensconced, perhaps in a nice cozy writing program: in the real world writing can be a pretty lonely occupation. And it can often take years before you'll have anything in the way of tangible, earthly evidence to show for your efforts.

Still in? Then get to it. Write, write, write. And read everything you can get your hands on, too. Experiment with different authors and genres. Stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. Go as far as you can without needing a cranial chiropractor.

If you're out of school, you might want to find a writing group or workshop to join. I've been a member and facilitator of such workshops and always find the connections, criticism and companionship inspiring. Even if the group is small or you don't find the critiques particularly sophisticated, you'll get a boost just by sharing your work. Heck, for some folks just leaving the house and talking to people is enough reward.

Seriously, the best thing a supportive workshop or group can do is offer you a space to be heard, encouraged and held accountable. Yeah, I said accountable. Most writers fall prey to procrastination, but with a group's weekly ( or bi-weekly) deadline approaching, you may be pleasantly surprised at your own output.

Spend your time outside the group writing and re-writing, borrowing tricks and insights you picked up from your colleagues. Don't forget to leave some time for reading, too. You'll want to unearth wisdom from professional journals and blogs to share with your fellow writers at the next session. And immerse yourself in fiction or non-fiction that ignites your passion for craft.

Do it again the next week. And the week after that. And so forth until you've actually cultivated something resembling the write stuff. You might even have something to show the world. And you'll more than likely have begun to enjoy the solitary writing life just a little bit more.

Drive safe Play nice. Think peace.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rules & Rituals

I'm not a big rules person. Oh, I believe in the Golden Rule and all that other good stuff I learned and have been (trying to) faithfully practice since Kindergarten. But when it comes to writing and life, there is no one size fits all rule book. So my advice to clients and students: forget every rule all those well meaning teachers, friends and self-help articles gave you.

Here's a sampling of some of my favorite iron-clad concepts that I've buried in wisdom's backyard: you have to write every day; never read anything while you're immersed in a project; read every single thing you can put your eyes on, only write what you know; never write from the opposite gender's p.o.v; never write in the present tense; set the scene with explicit physical descriptions; limit physical descriptions; never use adverbs!

The rules are endless. And some make sense for some people some of the time. But none of them work for everyone all the time. And since most of my clients and students are folks who have little writing experience, haven't written in a quite some time or are battling artistic blocks, handing them a list of restrictive rules seems counter-intuitive. What I try to do instead is provide prompts and offer suggestions. I encourage people to try different approaches. Play, experiment, see what fits, what works for you.

While I eschew rules, I am a believer in rituals. Not that there's a rule about it, of course, but I find developing rituals--and for me I often change them to ensure their freshness and effectiveness--help me fall into a positive, creative groove.

When I'm in a writing funk ( yeah even coaches and teachers get stuck), I will fall back on some of the practices I embraced years ago following Julia Cameron's principles in "The Artist's Way." The biggest among them: the dreaded "Morning Pages." When I first started that program, I found it difficult--no--excruciating to have to scribble three long hand stream-of-consciousness pages every single morning. For one thing--despite a checkered radio career that included hosting not one, but two morning drive shows, I am not, by nature, a morning kind of gal. I also found that rather than producing anything resembling Virginia Woolf's famed style, the pages had an early laundry list quality with a disgruntled overtone.

But after a week or so, I got into a groove and the writing started to contain glimmers of meaning and inspiration. Not that I follow this practice religiously. I go through journal writing jags; and when I do it it's usually at night. That works for me. If you're like some of my students who just can't cope with morning pages in the morning, try them at night. See if that works.

Music is also a big part of my writing process. I usually have the radio or a CD on while I'm writing. And often before I start, I'll listen to a particular song. The song often changes depending on the project. For a while, I'd listen to the entire disc I of Van Morrison's "Hymns to the Silence" before even tackling a single word. Somehow this musical meditation lured me into the characters' interior lives. It was a little time consuming, and it may have been a subconscious stall tactic. But for a time, it worked, so I indulged myself.

I've experimented with when and where I write, too. I wrote most of the first draft of my first novel at Starbucks in long hand. Much of the second one, too. I always write my first drafts in long hand. And since I need a Rosetta Stone to transcribe my own handwriting, I am motivated to hit the computer for the first re-write immediately if not sooner.

I've had clients who need to wear a particular sweater, write at a certain time of day, eat the same breakfast, go for a swim or walk before or after writing, surround themselves with good luck talismans, read a bible passage, open a fortune cookie. Hey, I'm from the whatever works school.

Just remember as a rule, there are no rules when it comes to rituals.

Drive safe. play nice. Think peace.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Writer's Fuel

Even coaches need inspiration. As I juggle myriad projects music helps motivate, inspire and soothe. Just what I listen to often depends on my mood, the pace of my schedule and the work itself. Today, I wrote a film review, radio comedy bits, edited a non-fiction how-to book and finished a chapter of the latest A.B. Sage mystery. Whoo!

Guess this classic Elton John-Bernie Taupin song--one of my faves from the heady days of adolescence which longed merely for the romanticism of an artistic career, leaving any practical considerations for a later, more sobering season--captures my hopeful, frenetic mood.

I can't speak for tomorrow. But today was a good day in the writing shop.

One word at a time, kid. One precious word at a time.

Need to make come creative changes personally or professionally? A coach can help motivate, inspire, keep you accountable to your goals and dreams. Let's start a creative conversation. The first session's on me.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Beyond the Blues

All artists are crazy. We've all heard that old cliche. And within that ignorant and often mean-spirited indictment of creative personalities is a grain of truth. Crazy, of course, is not a diagnosis, and I actually take it as a compliment. Crazy--in this context anyway-- means, to me, imaginative, liberated, uninhibited, creative.

But it's also true that many creatives suffer from depression, anxiety and other psychological disorders. From Vincent Van Gogh to Virginia Woolf, from William Styron to Kurt Cobain, the list of artistic luminaries who have grappled with mental illness is a long one. Fortunately, talk therapy and the advent of effective psychiatric medications have made it easier for those suffering to find relief and learn ways to cope with their conditions. Read more in Therese Brocahrd's article:

Dealing with depression to access our creativity

While there is greater awareness and acceptance, for some people a shame or perceived stigma surrounding mental illness still remains. This can delay, impede or thwart treatment. I have had clients who resist treatment because they fear medications, and sometimes therapy, will stifle or stunt their creativity. This is largely a myth. The reverse is more likely the case. If you don't get help, your creative well may seem to dry up. Reach out and you will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you will be able to access that pool of infinite imaginative possibilities.

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety that persist for longer than a couple of weeks, please seek help from a mental health professional.

Drive safe Play nice. Think peace.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Fail Safe

"Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."-- Samuel Beckett

A client recently admonished me to "knock off the chipper 'try, try again' nonsense." It's not so easy, he contended, to keep plugging away at something that shows no apparent evidence of ever amounting to much.

I can't argue with that. He's been toying with the same book project for over four years, having little luck with agents, publishers or, quite frankly, motivation to complete it.

But perseverance is as difficult as it is necessary. But if you are driven to succeed at anything, you will have to summon it. Somehow, some way.

When frustration sets in, ask yourself some important questions: why am I doing this? What do I expect from it? Is the pursuit of this particular goal, project, dream instilling even a modicum of joy into my life?

And don't farm them out. These are not questions to be answered by your spouse, mom, boss, coach, best friend or neighborhood yenta. Listen carefully to your honest answers.

If the object of your pursuit no longer holds the magic, sway or interest it once did, that's okay. It's merely a sign that it's time to move on. Too many of us chase around that one dream like a dog with a chewed up bone, out of habit more than real desire.

Maybe you need to take a breather. Or simply change course. Try something else. But don't give up. You might be done with that particular book, painting, rock band, invention. So what if it never came to fruition? Maybe it wasn't meant to.

Let that dream go, release its grip on your time and psyche. And embrace new possibilities. Relish this new chance to try again. To fail again. Failing better this time. Next time, you might even succeed.

Drive safe. play nice. Think peace.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Novel Approach

Been there. Not done that. Osmosis doesn't work. Just thinking about it doesn't work. Talking about it really doesn't work.

What may work? To paraphrase Dorothy Parker: putting the ass in the chair and hitting the keyboard-- or if you're like me-- the legal pad. And without a Rosetta Stone I can hardly read my own chicken scratch. So I'm motivated to head to the computer for that first re-write. Now that works for me. Most of the time.

Try it. And if you need more motivational nudges, keep coming back. You can also call or write for a creativity coaching consultation. The first session's on me.

Drive safe. play nice. Think peace.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Putting Off Procrastination

"Do Not wait; the time will never be 'just right.' Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along." -- George Herbert, English author (1593-1633)

Wish I said that. I say it--or something like-- it almost everyday. To my clients. And to myself. So many of us procrastinate, squandering valuable time and energy.

It sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but when it comes to creative endeavors, think less, and do more. Of course, there's almost always some thinking involved. But don't think your way out of a project. And don't talk about it before or during the creative process. You will defuse the flow of creative energy and often abandon the project once it's been released into the universe as a spoken idea.

I know many artists who've sabotaged themselves in this way. I've done it myself. It's exhilarating to talk about what you're doing while you're doing it. But it's far more thrilling once the work is completed--or at least--well on its way.

If you've been putting off a creative project--a poem, story, book,song, painting, garden, etc,-- now is the time to start. Don't waste time worrying about the daunting scope of the project. You can't possibly finish it all at once. All I ask is that you take one small step. Today. Spend whatever time you can spare. Even an hour. Even fifteen minutes.

If you need a nudge, if you crave permission: I'm giving it to you now. This is my gift to you: time to revel in your own creative playground.

And please don't fret over results. Just enjoy the process today. And tomorrow, too. After that we'll get serious. About play.

The only thing to put off today is procrastination.

If you'd like to discuss how a creativity coach can help you play with your artistic blocks and find your true voice, call me: (914)939-5579. Or e-mail me:'s start a creative conversation.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Change in a Safe Space

If you are sufficiently tenacious and interested, you can achieve what you want in this world.-- Alice Neel, painter.

Think about the following statements: Change is hard. Change is exciting. Which one sounds more inviting?

Approaching any change--career, relationship, diet, etc.--with the belief that it will be a long, arduous slog is far more daunting to most of us than if we embrace the change as an adventure. Re-framing the way we look at the world is the first step of finding happiness with our lives as they currently are and successfully handling transitions and effectively achieving goals.

Easier said than done, I know. And that's where an effective coach comes in. As a creativity coach I can help you define your goals and focus on the area or areas in your life that you'd like to change, expand and explore.

As a professionally trained coach and counselor with both a Masters degree in Counseling and Human Development and post-graduate work in Personal Coaching, I have helped clients in one-on-one sessions as well as through writing and personal growth workshops for ten years. I am also a professional writer--a journalist, award-winning playwright and fledgling novelist-- and radio talk show host. I have faced my share of transitions as I've navigated from the driver's seat the bumpy ride that a creative life often traverses.

I can help you:

set realistic goals
create and implement action plans
explore creative and spiritual arenas
conquer artistic blocks
work on relationships

As your coach I will: offer you a SAFE SPACE where you will always be heard, validated, encouraged and held accountable to your goals.

Coaching is a rewarding, inter-active process. As we forge this unique partnership, we will collaborate on an amazing journey of positive growth and change.

Phone sessions are available; so no matter where you are, I can be accessible to you. In person sessions and workshops are available by arrangement in New York and Connecticut, though many local clients also find phone sessions more convenient and intimate.

I invite you to start a creative conversation.

Call me at (914) 939-5579 or

Thank you.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.

Amy Beth Arkawy

Initial consultations are, of course, complimentary. Fees are reasonable.