creativity

A big milestone this week

This week marks 2 years since my early-stage breast cancer diagnosis. I worried I may never feel whole again. Now I feel great—physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m grateful for every day and for everyone who helped me get here. Onward!❤️

For those now waging their own battles with cancer and to all the people who love and care for them, please know that healing is possible. There will come a day when you look back and see how far you’ve come and how far your life stretches out in front of you, full of dreams and hopes fulfilled. You’ll be there. Keep your eyes up. Keep your head up. Keep going. And when you feel like you can’t, please call me and I’ll remind you that yes you can. And you will.

creativity

I’m on my way to the U.K.

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash. Taken at the Marble Arch in Park Lane, London.

I’m on my way to the U.K. to begin my dream of starting a graduate program in sustainability leadership at University of Cambridge and the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership. Such a mix of emotions at this pivotal moment in history— gratitude, elation, responsibility, nervousness, excitement, fear, anticipation. All of that is in my heart now as I start this path of purpose to hone all my business, science, and storytelling skills and experience to play a role in saving our planet, our stunning natural world, and all species, including our own.

When I booked this flight months ago, I had no idea how consequential this time would be for the U.K. and the world. The passing of Queen Elizabeth II and the beginning of the reign of King Charles III has brought a new sense of meaning to this trip. For decades, The Royal Family and especially King Charles III have been advocating for economic and social transformations to address climate change. King Charles is a graduate of Cambridge with a close association with the graduate program I’m about to begin, and I feel fortunate to be on this path in this place at this time. I will witness this moment in history, and will share what I experience by posting regularly here on this blog.

I feel a huge sense of responsibility and duty to use my time to protect our only home. This work is personal and professional for me. Everything I’ve been through in the past 2+ years, from the pandemic to my own successful battle against cancer caused by environmental toxins, has been fuel for me to take this journey. With the help of my doctors, modern medicine, innovative science, and my community of friends and family, I healed myself. Now I want to heal the planet.

I am willing to do whatever it takes. The changes we make (or don’t make) now will dictate how the history of our world unfolds for the next several thousand years. The consequences are that profound. We will absolutely turn the corner over the next few years. The question is what awaits us when we do, and that answer is up to all of us, individually and collectively.

I want to thank everyone who helped me to get to this place and cheered me on. There are so many of you who moved mountains and I promise to pay forward all of it. Now, it’s time to go have an adventure and personally witness this momentous time for Britain and the world. I’m excited to bring you with me.

creativity

JoyProject podcast: The Joy of The Great British Bake Off with Abby Anklam

The Joy of The Great British Bake Off with Abby Anklam

If ever there was a television show founded on pure joy, it’s The Great British Bake Off. Professional writer and home baker Abby Anklam joins us on the JoyProject podcast to talk about how she started watching Bake Off and her favorite parts of the show that make it a delight to watch. Abby also shares the bakes she tried at home that were inspired by the show and the bakes she plans to try after everything she’s learned as an avid watcher and fan. We also chat about her job as a writer and illustrator of children’s books.

About Abby:
Abigail Anklam is a writer and illustrator who writes books for young readers.

Growing up, she loved reading about fantastic adventures in incredible places and longed to have adventures of her own, just like Lucy in Narnia, Mowgli in the Jungle, or White Fang in the Arctic. So it’s no wonder that she left her Virginia home to find adventure in faraway places, like Arkansas, Italy, Arizona, & China.

During her adventures, Abigail has filled many roles. She has been a student, an actor, a zookeeper, an artist, a teacher, a bookseller, an archer, and more! She loves to learn new skills, visit new places, and try new things. Along the way, she’s experienced different ways of life, met all kinds of wonderful people, and learned about all sorts of fascinating animals. Many of those experiences and interests have found their way into her writing and art.

Right now, Abigail is working on her first children’s novel. It’s a mystery story that involves a bear, an animal trainer, and an escape from the circus. To read a sample of Abigail’s published work, click here. You’ll find an excerpt from According to Their Kinds, a collection of short animal-related stories (for adults).​

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • What makes The Great British Bake Off such a joy to watch
  • How Bake Off is different (and better!) than U.S.-based competition shows
  • What fans of Bake Off learn from the show and apply to their own baking
  • Those adorable illustrations of the bakes that have become a hallmark of the show
  • Abby’s work as a writer and illustrator of children’s books
  • The Story community where I met Abby
  • Junior Bake Off — the newest show in the Bake Off franchise now on Netflix in the U.S.
  • A quote about joy from Jaiya John sent to me by my wonderful friend, artist Rachael Harms Mahlandt

Links to resources:

creativity

My alive day — 13 years ago today

13 years ago today my New York City apartment building caught fire and I was almost trapped in the building. I used to think of this day as the worst day of my life. Now after all this time, I’ve made it into something that made me better. I became a writer and found Emerson. I learned the true value of my life. The PTSD I had got me into therapy so I could heal from trauma I’d had since childhood. It got me out of a terrible relationship and out of a job I hated. I adopted Phineas as an emotional support dog a year later.

A lot of people helped me in that immediate aftermath. They gave me a place to stay while I looked for a new apartment, helped me find my new apartment, gave me support at work, gave me the legal language to confront my landlord to get my deposit back and get out of my lease, let me borrow an air mattress, went to look at apartments with me, recommended a therapist, and 9 months before the fire had recommended rental insurance that saved me financially. So many checked on me regularly to see how I was doing. One recently checked on me after a large fire erupted in New York City earlier this year as he knows fires can still be a trigger for me. Healing takes a village, and I’m so grateful for mine.

Fire transforms everything it touches and it certainly transformed me. This healing was hard-won. I went through a lot of dark days to get here, almost ending it all at one low point. Though I’d never wish this experience on anyone, I wouldn’t wish it away for me. I have a few other big anniversaries of healing coming up. I’m not as at peace with those yet as I am with my fire. I hope time and distance will ease them, too.

creativity

How writers using multi-sensory storytelling will save the planet

Photo by Marc Wieland on Unsplash

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” ~ Antoine de Saint Exupéry, author of The Little Prince (among many others)

Today I want to talk to you about how storytelling has a vital role to play in saving the planet. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been consumed with getting ready to start my new graduate program in Sustainability Leadership at University of Cambridge. I’ve completed my first set of assignments and the first (very long!) reading list. I’ve read well over a thousand pages of documents, reports, data collections, and science journal articles. I have 10 new books on my to-be-read list, many relating to the connections between the economy, nature, and societal structure. It will come as no surprise that much of it is bleak, and there is some hope sprinkled in here and there.

Here’s what I didn’t find on a single page I read: what will our world look, feel, sound, smell, and taste like when humans learn how to live on this planet in a sustainable way?

The science matters. We have to have the reporting and data to show what’s happening in real-time right now, and explain what can happen if we don’t turn things around and fast. We need the urgency provided by the dire warnings. The doomsday scenarios are true possibilities and we’re on a collision course with them.

We also have to give people hope by explaining all we stand to gain if we change our ways, systems, governments, businesses, cities, economies, and — here’s the kicker — our values.

For decades we’ve been obsessed with efficiency and convenience, and in the process have caused a massive number of extinctions and destroyed priceless ecosystems that we’ll never see again. We stand to lose much more if we don’t realize we must value nature because nature underpins every aspect of our lives and livelihoods.

We have no future without nature and we need to wake up to that reality.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would take to give people an experience of what a truly sustainable world will be like. How can we make it an experience that sticks with people long after the experience is over, motivates them to make changes in their lives, and causes them to demand change from the businesses they patronize and the governments of which they’re citizens?

How can we, in the words of Antoine de Saint Exupéry, make them long for the healthy, thriving, clean sea, literally and figuratively?

I’ve been immensely inspired by the immersive exhibits that are all the rage right now — Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience and Imagine Picasso are two examples of the tech-centric, projection-based exhibits that are everywhere. In February, The New Yorker wrote a long, exceptional piece on this trend. For many years, I’ve been a fan of immersive theater like the wildly popular Sleep No More that’s a bit like Clue meets haunted house meets Eyes Wide Shut, complete with masks for all guests so you feel like you’re at a costume party. Since I was a child, I’ve loved choose-your-own-adventure stories. And let’s be honest; I still love choose-your-own-adventure stories.

So here’s my proposal — what if we take the:

  • technology of immersive art exhibits
  • participatory storytelling of immersive theater
  • user-guided choice of choose-your-own-adventure stories
  • science of climate change

to not tell, not show, but allow people to experience how climate change will look, sound, smell, taste, and feel if we continue on our current trajectory and if we make the needed, massive changes to save the planet, save ourselves, and save all the species who call Earth home? There would then we an online component that would connect people to one another and provide support for making the changes we need and charting collective and individual progress because as we know, what gets measured gets done.

Would that be a way to use multi-sensory storytelling as a tool to motivate people, open their hearts and minds, and give us a fighting chance at building a sustainable society together? If executed flawlessly and meaningfully with heart, I think this might be part of the solution we need that doesn’t yet exist. What do you think?

creativity

JoyProject Podcast: The Joy of Fostering Animals with Mary Talalay

The Joy of Fostering Animals with Mary Talalay

What could instantly elicit more joy than a puppy or kitten? This week we talk to Mary Talalay, an expert in fostering animals to get them ready to find their forever homes. She also mentors new fosters, especially first-timers. Mary offers advice to those new to fostering and potential fosters who are curious about what’s involved in the process. She shares stories of fosters that hold a special place in her heart and how she and her daughter initially got involved in their foster community in Maryland.

At the end of the episode I share two resources created by Best Friends Animal Society. They put together a foster program training playbook with an e-learning module, care manuals for dogs, cats, and kittens, and other helpful links. They also have free online recordings of webinars, town halls, online courses, and helpful tips on fostering.

This is a heart-warming episode for all the animal lovers out there and those who want to play a part in animals rescue and adoption.

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • What it’s like to be a foster as well as the commitment needed (it can be as a big or as small a commitment as you have time for!)
  • The community of fosters that Mary and her teenage daughter discovered and are now a part of
  • Memorable fosters that found shelter and safety in Mary’s home
  • Ways to get involved in the foster community even if you can’t take an animal into your home

Links to resources:


About Mary:
Mary Talalay has a BS in Journalism from Temple University, an MS in Organizational Dynamics from University of Pennsylvania, and an MPH from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. She played goalie for Temple University’s Division 1 Final Four Women’s Lacrosse team and was a member of Phi Sigma Sigma.

She also studied Epidemiology in Krakow, Poland with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She has certifications from Quality Matters, Sloane Consortium, (Online Learning Consortium) and is a Blackboard Exemplary Course reviewer.

Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, Mary worked as a technical and medical writer for companies such as Baxter BioScience, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and many local biotechnology companies.

She worked as a project manager for the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s MD-PhD program, creating a comprehensive database of the program alumni and assisting with grants and admissions.

She was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Slovak Republic, working as a project manager for the Slovak Ministry of Health, helping the government achieve compliance in the area of Public Health for accession into the EU. She continues to assist her Slovak colleagues with manuscript preparation pro bono.

She enjoys photography (her work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Maryland Zoo Annual Report, and KIWI Magazine), writing children’s books, travel, and kayaking.

One of her favorite overseas trips was spending Halloween in Transylvania.  Her family fosters animals for the Maryland SPCA and they lost count after the 100th kitten.

creativity

How (and Why) to Write Your First Draft Fast

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Writing a book can feel like such a daunting task that you may feel paralyzed before you even begin. Once you talk yourself down off the ledge and actually start writing, the grind can feel slow and painful. It might be such a huge lift that you abandon the project when you hit a rough patch or reach the inevitable messy middle. You run out of steam before you get a first full draft. 

This can leave you feeling inadequate and frustrated, as if you’re a failure for not finishing what you started. Then that tiny voice of doubt in your mind becomes a nonstop scream fest. It can become so loud that getting back to writing can feel too difficult. 

Then as if on cue, other ideas for other books start to enter your mind, and they start to look like a much better use of your time. Before you know it, you have files of half-started books and not a single finished manuscript. 

Sound familiar?

We’ve all been there. Truly. Every writer has half-finished work sitting on their laptop and in notebooks to get to “someday”. And that’s frustrating for all of us. 

Maybe you’re like me and truly dislike first drafts. I can’t stand them. I want to get them done as fast as possible so I can get to editing, refining, adding in details, and making that first awful draft (yes, all first drafts by all writers, even the greatest luminaries, are awful) shine brighter and brighter with every turn. 

Now that I’m writing my third book in the Emerson Page series, I’ve finally figured out how to get first drafts done quickly so I can get on with the editing and re-writing I love: I dumped the idea of getting to any specific word count on any day, for any scene, and for the book as a whole. 

What? How can I possibly forget about word count when I’m writing a book? 

Here’s how—the first draft is about one thing and one thing only: getting from the start of my story to the end, and getting to the end as fast as possible. 

Here’s my process for getting a first draft done fast:

First, I’m a cartographer:
Outlines are like roadmaps. They tell me where to go next to reach my final destination. They’re functional, not aesthetically pleasing. I write mine first on index cards—one scene per card—and then move them around to create the order of my story. This is my map for my journey.  

Second, I’m a painter:
Then when I’m happy with the flow on my index cards, I put all of the scenes into Scrivener (the software I use to write my first draft) with some additional details I’ve found in my research. I make notes about who’s in each scene, what the action is, why the scene matters to the story, and what the reader will learn by the end of the chapter that will make them want to turn the page. 

A painter starts by sketching on a blank canvas. That’s what I’m doing as a writer when I create this more detailed outline. 

Third, I’m a mason:
Now I’m ready to write. Once I have the detailed outline sketched out, I start to lay down the foundation of the story, scene by scene, brick by brick. I make tons of notes along the way, highlighted in my manuscript, of more details I eventually want to add. 

But those details aren’t my concern right now. I’m just trying to get the most basic text down so I can get to the end of the first draft. I make a note of the details I want to add and then I keep going. 

My first draft doesn’t look like much to celebrate except it absolutely is. I turned my outline and notes into prose. I got from the beginning of my story to the end. I got some dialogue down. I wrote the action sequences. Now I have something to work with. Huzzah—time to party!

Now I take a break
What? Take a break? Shouldn’t I crank away day after day until my book is a masterpiece? No. 

I write the first draft and put it away until I forget what I wrote. For me, that’s about a month. This way I come back to it with fresh eyes, ready to edit, rewrite, and get to the detail work I love. In that time, I may work on another project. Or I might take a break from writing altogether. 

Now, I’m a sculptor
With that first draft, now I’m ready to add in all those details I love. I’m ready to make that dialogue sing and make it believable. Now is the time for poetry. Now I’m really getting into my craft, and all because I’ve got something functional to work with. The edit and the rewrite (many times over in my case) is where I fix everything and make it better. 

I spend the vast majority of my writing time re-writing, and that’s exactly how I like it. I love to take something from awful to something I’m proud of. I love the detail. I love the refinement. I love incorporating all the research I’ve done, and I do plenty more research in the edit. It’s my happy place. But I can’t do any of that if I don’t have a first draft to work with so my goal is to go from idea to draft a fast as I possibly can. Let it be the stinkiest, ugliest, messiest thing I’ve ever created. I don’t care. It just has to exist. 

No one has ever read a first draft of my work. And no one ever will. The first draft is for me and only me. And there’s a freedom in that. It took me years to really get this and act on it. It’s really only now, with this third Emerson book, that I’m embracing the hideous first draft and reveling in its creation. 

And all those partially finished first drafts I have? Well, after this third Emerson book is done, I’m going to pick up each partially written first draft and get it over the line. They’ll all be the worst thing I’ve ever written, at first, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

creativity

JoyProject Podcast: The Joy of Winnie-the-Pooh with Christine Caccipuoti

The Joy of Winnie-the-Pooh with Christine Caccipuoti

A new episode of the JoyProject podcast dropped today—The Joy of Winnie-the-Pooh with Christine Caccipuoti. It’s available at this link and everywhere you get your podcasts. You can also hear it by clicking the YouTube link above.

Childhood joys never leave us. This week, we delve into all things Winnie-the-Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood with podcaster and historian Christine Caccipuoti as our guide. Christine’s loved all things Pooh for her entire life. With a mother and grandmother who loved Winnie-the-Pooh, these stories and characters were her destiny.

As the Co-producer and Co-Host of the incredible Footnoting History podcast, Christine not only delves into why she loves Pooh but also the history of the Milne family, the importance of maintaining the magic we find in childhood wonder as we age, and what may be ahead for Pooh as he and his friends begin to enter the public domain.

At the end of the podcast, I share the final passage of The House at Pooh Corner and how you can see the original Pooh stuff animals on display at the New York Public Library (and online) as part of a fantastic free exhibition going on right now.

Topics discussed in this episode:
– Christine’s podcast, Footnoting History
– Christine’s Winnie-the-Pooh episode on Footnoting History
– How Christine got interested in Winnie-the-Pooh
– How her views on the different characters in the Hundred Acre Wood have changed over the years
– The importance of maintaining childhood wonder as an adult and why having things that bring you joy in your life are so important
– The differences and similarities between the A.A. Milne stories and the Disney Pooh stories
– How and why we gravitate to certain stories and certain characters within stories
– Why so many people relate to Eeyore and how compassion is a major theme in the Hundred Acre Wood
– The history of the Milne family and how Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends came to be
– How the Pooh stories are similar to other childhood favorites such as Sesame Street, the Muppet Show, and Charlie Brown
– The messages that Milne communicated to all of us about life and friendship through Winnie-the-Pooh
– What it means for Pooh to now (sort of) be in the public domain
– What might be next for Pooh and Friends in the years ahead
– How to see the original Pooh stuffed animals in New York City

Links to resources:
– Christine’s personal website / blog – http://www.ChristineCaccipuoti.com
– Christine on Twitter – @mynameispurpose
– Christine on Instagram – @mynameispurpose
– Footnoting History (FH) Website ­ http://www.FootnotingHistory.com
– Christine’s FH episode about Pooh – https://www.footnotinghistory.com/home/winnie-the-pooh
– FH YouTube Channel –­ http://www.YouTube.com/FootnotingHistory
– FH Twitter – @historyfootnote­
– Christa on Twitter – @christanyc
– Christa on Instagram – @christarosenyc
– Christa on Facebook – @AuthorChrista 
– Christa on Medium – @christaavampato
– Christa on TikTok – @christanyc
– Christa’s website – ChristaAvampato.com
– Polonsky Exhibition of the New York Public Library’s Treasures – https://www.nypl.org/events/exhibitions/treasures
– Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends stuffed animals at the New York Public Library – https://www.nypl.org/events/exhibitions/galleries/childhood/item/4108
– The last passage of The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne – https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/808360-then-suddenly-again-christopher-robin-who-was-still-looking-at
– The Winnie-the-Pooh Show Christine saw in New York is on tour throughout the U.S. – https://winniethepoohshow.com/

About Christine:
Christine Caccipuoti is a historian, writer, and co-producer of the long-running podcast Footnoting History, where she regularly shares her love of biography.

Christine proudly co-edited Independent Scholars Meet the World: Expanding Academia beyond the Academy (University Press of Kansas, 2020) and has published / is soon publishing pieces about Blanche Barrow, Jane Manning James, and Elton John.

In addition to dealing with all things historical, Christine likes to spend her time rewatching her favorite television shows and films, learning about elephants, tweeting about musical theater, and planning vacations she may or may not eventually take.

creativity

How my life and career prepared me to work on climate change

When people ask me, “what do you do?” my response is always, “have you got a minute?” If they say yes, I say, “I’m a digital product developer / business leader / journalist / author / biomimicry scientist / public historian / tour guide, and I kicked cancer’s ass during a pandemic. Now I’m bundling up all of that experience together to fight climate change and protect the planet. Do you have any questions?”

Some of the most important research on climate change has yet to be done: What happens in a worst-case scenario? This week, an international team of scientists led by the University of Cambridge (where I will start my graduate studies in Sustainability Leadership in September) published a paper about the urgent need to do this work. As I read the piece and considered my experience, I realized my life and career have primed me to be a part of this endeavor.

Cancer during COVID-19
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. You think taking precautions to protect yourself and others from COVID is inconvenient? You think changing your lifestyle so we curb climate change in inconvenient? Trying getting cancer. Now that’s inconvenient. 

Cancer upends every facet of life to battle it. And even if you do everything right, there’s no guarantee you’ll be cancer-free. Having to face that demon and my own mortality (several times thanks to a life-threatening chemo allergy I had and never knew about) changed me. Then to find out that my cancer had a strong environmental component added insult to injury. It also lit a fire under me to change my life and dedicate my career to healing this injured planet. 

Nothing teaches you how to live like having your life on the line. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Since I had to go through it, and have emerged on the other side cancer-free, I’m determined to use what I learned to help make this world a better place for all beings.

Hope for the best; expect the worst
I’ve lived my entire life by this philosophy. At times, it’s exhausting but the tremendous upside is that I’m often prepared and rarely surprised. This thinking gave me a stiff upper lip as I’m not someone who runs from conflict or difficulty. I’m incapable of deluding myself or anyone else with any kind of pollyanna scenarios. Just give me the facts. Tell me what I could be up against and I’ll take it from there. I’ve mastered pro-con list making and I love a good SWOT analysis. Difficulty doesn’t depress me. I can sit with suffering and not be consumed by it. I’m not afraid of the future; I’m here to shape it. 

Product development
All product development, regardless of the product, service, or system being built is anchored in two principles: what problem are you trying to solve and who are you trying to solve it for? I don’t fall in love with anything I build or any idea I have. A long time ago, I fell in love with serving others and making the world a better place. My ego and my fear of rejection hover near zero. Being a product developer requires me to be measured and methodical, to care about the grand vision and every tiny detail. Strategy and tactics are two sides of the same coin and they serve each other. I like both of them equally. 

Business and leadership
I’d love to tell you that well-meaning governments, NGOs, and nonprofits are going to save the planet and humankind from destruction. They aren’t because they aren’t the problem. Business, and how we conduct business, is the problem. Because business is the problem it’s also the solution. 

Business is responsible for climate change because of the way it operates. Change the operations and you see progress toward solving the challenge. It’s not easy work. There are a lot of stakeholders with conflicting interests and priorities. Then you add the whammy of many people in the world being down on business and capitalism, and rightly so. Given all that, it’s easy to see why some businesses toss up their hands with a “I can’t do anything right so I’m just going to soldier on as I always have.” 

Except they can’t. Business and businesses will have to change and evolve. It’s not a choice anymore. Destroy the planet and every business, every person perishes. So business colleagues: buck up, roll up those sleeves, humble yourself, and get to work to make your business sustainable. I’ll be in the trenches with you and I’ll help you.  

Scientific studies in biomimicry and sustainability
Biomimicry begins and ends with the mindset of looking at a problem and asking, “how would nature solve this?” It’s a fascinating, hopeful, and wonderful way to live and work. I feel fortunate to be a biomimicry scientist. I’m excited to begin my studies at Cambridge to extend my work in biomimicry and business through sustainability leadership and bring them together to build a better world. 

Digital media
I’m often asked, “do you make your whole living in biomimicry?” No. I don’t. I have an MBA from the Darden School at the University of Virginia and I’ve worked for years to become a storyteller in a variety of mediums. I make the majority of my income working as a product developer for a media company and from my writing. I also produce and host a podcast about joy called JoyProject, used to manage Broadway shows and national theater tours, and hope to get back to producing and hosting storytelling shows, in-person and on screens large and small.

Science is what I do because I love it and it’s a force for good in the world. With my studies at Cambridge, I’m hoping to work with energy companies to end the production of fossil fuels. You can read more about my career plans here

Being a journalist and a fantasy and science fiction author
Writers make stuff up and write it down. We love playing out scenarios and asking questions like, “What if…?”, “And then what happened?”, and “How did we end up here?”. We research. We interview people. We observe. We dig through historical documents and archives. We create characters and we put them into impossible situations. This is the kind of thinking and acumen the climate change movement needs. 

Public historian and tour guide
Science was my first love. History was my second. I was a history and economics major in college at the University of Pennsylvania. I majored in history because everything has a history. It felt to me like I could do anything if I was a historian. I can happily spend countless hours reading and uncovering history, talking to people about history, showing people history, and imagining what once was, why it impacts what is, and how it will shape what’s yet to be. 

I’ve never been a person who easily fit into a box of any kind. I had no interest in that. When I was interviewing for my first job out of business school, a man interviewing me commented that my resume looked like I had done a lot of exploring. He didn’t mean this as a compliment; he was criticizing me because he thought I lacked focus. I didn’t. My focus just happened to be on anything and everything that interested me, and a lot interests me. 

I got the job, but that guy who called me an explorer was never approved of me. That’s okay. He just couldn’t see what I knew to be true—the solutions to worldwide problems need worldwide views. They need lots of different types of experience to create something that’s never been done before. Turns out all my exploring gave me exactly everything I needed to make the world a better place, and that’s what I will do. 

creativity

Start at the ending, in writing and life

Photo by Monty Allen on Unsplash

“Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” Julie Andrews, Do-Re-Mi in The Sound of Music

As writers, sometimes we have to start at the end. In my previous books, I started at the beginning and wrote all the way through to the end. It’s how I outline, too. But with this third Emerson Page book, I have to take a different approach.

I started to write the beginning with my trusty outline in-hand and quickly found myself in murky waters. So murky that I was procrastinating, which I never do. I was afraid to sit down and write, and that fear was getting in the way of delivering my draft manuscript to my publisher under a tight deadline.

I have to find another way in. I stopped writing in my usual progression of beginning to end, and flipped it on its head. Today, I’m writing the last chapter of the book, the end of Emerson’s story arc. I know where it needs to take place and what needs to happen there. With that confidence, I’ll walk backward one step, one chapter, at a time.

To be honest, I don’t like that I have to do this. I’m a creature of habit and I like my writing habits. But this leg of Emerson’s journey is the most complicated of the three books. It has many more twists, turns, and surprises. The stakes are higher, and I have to give readers an ending that’s satisfying and true to Emerson’s spirit. To do that, I have to adjust my process.

Maybe you’re facing something similar, in your writing or in your life. Something isn’t progressing as you hoped. A surprise popped up that has thrown you off-track. You’re stuck, disappointed, frustrated, or maybe you’re all of those things.

Back up and look for a different path. How can you adjust what you’re doing? Is there another way forward, even it requires you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable? Maybe like me, you have to put things in reverse. Start with the goal. Then instead of asking, “and then what happened?”, ask “how did I get here? And here? And here?”

It may turn out that the ending is the very best place to start.