Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What Is Your Greatest Obstacle To Success? (11/15/03)



Featured writer: Barbara Spicer



Contributors this month:
Anne E. Silber
Annie Scott
Barbara Spicer
Betty Winslow
Claudia Larson
Corlene VanSluizer
Jane Merryman
Susan Bono


Greatest Obstacle to Success

by Barbara Spicer

First, we have to define the terms. What is success? It used to mean pleasing my parents, then it meant being somewhere near as good as my supremely confident and talented college classmates. Then came living up to my husband's expectations, then there was giving my children all I had to give.

At 53, I've run out of people to please or use as a comparison. Now I have to come up with a meaning for the word that I can live with and just possibly live up to in the years that I have left.

Or I could drop the whole idea, like the kids on the playground when they get tired of the game, frustrated with the rules, or annoyed with their friends. They just drop kick the ball over the barbed-wire fence into the muddy manure-strewn field. End of the game, end of the question. So much for success.

Moving on to obstacle: that which stands in the way. I like the sound of the word, but not what it implies. For some reason I want to dance with the syllables, shift them, jiggle them, see where the play leads me: obstacle-optical-obsequious--obstreperous--obliging. There's a true note. I am too obliging, too eager to please.

And now I'm back where I started, more or less. So maybe that's the answer. That my greatest obstacle to success is my need to please. My eye is not on the prize, but on the audience.

I asked my son once if he could hear people cheering for him when he swam. He said he couldn't, and I believe him. It mattered that we were there at either end of the race, but in the middle of the effort, it was just him and the water.

That's what I need--that ability to focus on the task at hand, ignoring exhortations, finding in the current and push of the effort my own word for winning.

Barbara Spicer is learning to find the current in Petaluma, California.

What is your greatest obstacle to success?

  by Anne E. Silber

Writing has been a part of me since I won my first essay contest at age seven. It was so easy. I whipped off my offering in nothing flat, turned it in, the first student to do so, and that was that.

I have written and published three articles and numerous letters to editors. It has always seemed easy to do.

Now, having published my first novel, I know that the scenario has changed. There are rules for success in this "game." It didn't even occur to me to read a book or two on how to proceed and succeed in the marketplace with a novel. Considering my ignorance, I've done fairly well, but it could have been a whole lot better.

I published through iUniverse, and have not been sorry that I did. I simply didn't want to wait five years for publication. I didn't realize that I would not be welcome in bookstores. I trotted into a major independent store in Denver, and confidently proposed a wonderful holiday book signing. I was practically thrown out of the store to the sound of hissing and booing.

I knew I had a page on the Amazon and Barnes& Noble web sites, and I thought that my book would sell well because of the exposure. After a few months, when my sales were near zero, I got the drift.

It has taken me a full year after publication to put up my own web site, and utilize the many techniques to drive people to it. I am now found in many places on the web, and seek to expand as much as possible.

I had been intimidated about book signings. Now, a new non-profit organization called Authors For Charity (www.authors4charity.com) has formed, and I am going to California to join other authors in a signing for a charity that pleases me. Some holiday signings here at home are planned, too. A year ago, I didn't dream of doing these things.

My ignorance almost plowed me under. That has been a huge obstacle to my success.

I still would be as ignorant as I was a year ago if I hadn't heard of a Writers Conference in my city last April. I went, and attended many of the workshops. I couldn't believe what I had to do to start promoting my book, but I'm doing it!

Do your homework! I could have been so much farther ahead if I had done mine. I wrote and published a book, and waited for a miracle.

My miracle's name is Brian Kaufman, author of "The Breach". (www.briankaufman.net) He gave a workshop at the Conference, and I've been putting his suggestions into practice ever since. Thank you, Brian. I have risen from the dead.

Anne E. Silber, author of "Zaidy:A Story of Youth and Age in the 1940's"

www.annesilber.net


What is your greatest obstacle to success?

  by Annie Scott

often pretend that my obstacles are external, that other people or responsibilities keep me from writing. I think to myself, "If only I didn't have to earn money teaching teenagers.If only I had my own room at home for writing, instead of sharing space in my daughter's nursery.If only I lived in a city where there were interesting, inspiring people and a vibrant arts community.If only I had time and money to immerse myself in an MFA program, THEN I could finish that novel."

But all of that is a bunch of hoo-ha. There is no reason I can't sit down every day and write, little by little, the novel I have kvetched about for a decade. My truest obstacle is my own attitude; call it low self-esteem, writer's block, what have you. Simply put, I have not let myself believe that I am good enough to write. There is some whiney little pipsqueak inside me screeching, "Who the hell do you think you are, thinking you can actually get published?! What a waste of time this is. You can write and write and you just simply do not have the goods. I doubt you can even stay committed enough to tie all the strands together to finish the damn thing. You'll be off onto something else soon enough, that's how you are." And I actually must believe this little runt, because it's enough to inhibit me from continuing some days.

To get beyond this I tell myself that even bad writing is writing. A poetry teacher once told me that the writing we do today, no matter what it is, is necessary for us to be able to get to that really good stuff we will be capable of if we keep up the work and get better. So, I try to remind myself: do the work, this is a process, and it is a long road of labor which will lead someday to that perfectly crafted story.

Annie Scott lives in Tuolumne, California. You can reach her at anniscott@earthlink.net

Greatest Obstacle to Success

  by Barbara Spicer

First, we have to define the terms. What is success? It used to mean pleasing my parents, then it meant being somewhere near as good as my supremely confident and talented college classmates. Then came living up to my husband's expectations, then there was giving my children all I had to give.

At 53, I've run out of people to please or use as a comparison. Now I have to come up with a meaning for the word that I can live with and just possibly live up to in the years that I have left.

Or I could drop the whole idea, like the kids on the playground when they get tired of the game, frustrated with the rules, or annoyed with their friends. They just drop kick the ball over the barbed-wire fence into the muddy manure-strewn field. End of the game, end of the question. So much for success.

Moving on to obstacle: that which stands in the way. I like the sound of the word, but not what it implies. For some reason I want to dance with the syllables, shift them, jiggle them, see where the play leads me: obstacle-optical-obsequious--obstreperous--obliging. There's a true note. I am too obliging, too eager to please.

And now I'm back where I started, more or less. So maybe that's the answer. That my greatest obstacle to success is my need to please. My eye is not on the prize, but on the audience.

I asked my son once if he could hear people cheering for him when he swam. He said he couldn't, and I believe him. It mattered that we were there at either end of the race, but in the middle of the effort, it was just him and the water.

That's what I need--that ability to focus on the task at hand, ignoring exhortations, finding in the current and push of the effort my own word for winning.

Barbara Spicer is learning to find the current in Petaluma, California.

Betty Winslow



Probably myself. John Campbell once said, "The reason 99% of all stories written are not bought by editors is very simple. Editors never buy manuscripts that are left on the closet shelf at home." I don't keep manuscripts in my office closet (not only is there no room, but I seldom print out hard copies any more), but the principle is still valid. You have to do it. Write. Submit. Query. Keep plugging, even when you're SO not in the mood. I don't do as much of it as I should. When I do, I sell. It's that simple.

Oh, I don't sell everything, every time, but rejection is part of the job and I do not have a thin skin and editors can't buy what they can't see. It's just that there are always other things I can be doing. Napping. Playing Free Cell. Washing clothes. Baking cookies. E-mailing buddies. Doing lunch with friends. Other things. Lots of them.

I do have thick skin and I don't really mind too much being told "No!" It just means, "Move on. Next!" But to move on, I have to want it, and sometimes... I just don't want it enough. I was once told by a visiting preacher, "God says to you, 'You're not thinking big enough!'" He was so right. Oh, Lord, enlarge my vision and increase my hunger to write. Then the words will take care of themselves and the sales will follow.

Bottom line? I just need to get out of my own way!

Betty Winslow, who needs to spend more time in her Bowling Green, Ohio, office, and less time doing other stuff.

What is your greatest obstacle to success?

  by Claudia Larson

Oh man, I have no idea what prevents me from feeling successful. Sigh. EVERY day, same litany: you're not doing what you SHOULD be doing. Blah blah blah. It is so utterly boring that I feel like going very off to the right or to the left to see what the scenery is like on either side. Anything, rather than ruminate on the obstacle to my success.

Speaking of ruminating, isn't that what cows do to their food? Isn't that why they have four stomachs? So, perhaps the reason my rumination on the obstacle to my success is unsuccessful is because I don't have the anatomy for successful rumination! Egads! Or is it Eureka?

Is that the answer? I have a sneaky, smelly suspicion that lack of humor is one big ol' tire-popping pokey strip thrown across my highway of success. And the lack of the necessary adrenals to LIKE to take risks. Oh, no risk-taking for me. I'm in the bumper-guarded bowling lane of life. Don't wanna risk a gutter ball.

Oh, and then there's the passion. I think my passion fruit hit the dehydrator a long time ago. It's shriveled up to a little wrinkly pea size.

Let's see: what else is necessary for success. Cojones. I learned THAT word in Costa Rica. Anyhoo, cojones. Don't have 'em. Wrong anatomy again. I've got ovaries. Now, I'll bet THAT word isn't used too often in the Spanish/American slangization of words. Ovaries. Well, they're kinda stranded out there. And they stopped fecunding a couple of years ago. Before that they made great babies.

Success. Obstacles. Guess I'd have to say that judging every minute move I make makes for a humongous retaining wall against success!

Claudia Larson writes and tries to ruminate in Sonoma County.

Corlene VanSluizer



My greatest obstacle to success is giving my power away to some self proclaimed authority and feeling that others are the judges of how I am to measure myself. Granted, I do not live in a vacuum. I need to know myself in "you". I need to know "you" within myself. Our experiences do over lap. We can agree on the guises of pain, of love, of joy, of nostalgia, and life cycles. Having said this, if I turn over the judgment of myself to you and/or the culture as to whether I am good enough, great enough, to receive some certificate, some prize, then I have narrowed my path and my self-definition.

Success, as narcissistic as this may sound, means that I am enjoying life. I like what I am creating. My children want to be around me as adults. Friends value my love and my creative spirit. Yes, I need a mirror for my soul. So the obstacles to success are self created to a great degree but not entirely. It is a matter of balance. Obstacles to success are found in my loss of confidence; they are found in setting goals that insure failure. And essentially obstacles appear when I attempt to walk a path which is not my own.

Corlene VanSluizer is the co-creator of the Creativity Lodge in Santa Rosa , CA. Contact her at Corlene@sonic.net .

Jane Merryman



Beginner's mind. A Buddhist conceit that's a Catch-22.

The beginner's mind is free of the "should's" and "should not's" of her craft or art. She is not constrained by what has been done and what "can't" be done.

A fabric that drapes beautifully is composed of a certain type of yarn, woven with a particular weave structure, and sett at a density appropriate for the yarn and weave. I know I need to know these parameters, yet I can still have beginner's mind. If I know how to fulfill those parameters, I begin to drift from beginner's mind. The more I weave, the more I know. The more I weave, the more I love, hate, fear, and judge. How can I keep beginner's mind?

Gail Sher, a Zen Buddhist psychotherapist who writes and teaches about writing from a Buddhist perspective, says: If you are a writer, you write. Writing is the same as being. When you start out, you don't know what your writing is going to be.

This is beginner's mind.

Jane Merryman

Petaluma, California

I hike, therefore I am.


Susan Bono



I think I've written on this topic before, which points to one of my problems. I can't just write something once and get it out in the world or even just get over it. I have to make a million starts, cross out half the words I ever write and change every sentence into something not quite its original self. It's like I have the soul of a stutterer-a stutterer with Alzheimer's-someone who can't ever say what she meant, and where did I put that piece of paper, anyway?

If I had a nickel for every time I've been at work on some essay and thought, "I've already written a perfect description of that schoolyard or cemetery or drug store! Now, what journal is it in?" And the longer I look, the more gorgeous and delightful that missing piece of writing becomes in my mind. Soon I am weeping in frustration because that perfect bit of prose is lost! Lost! And I'll never be able to recreate it, never catch the original perfect freshness of that lost-forever vision.

The amount of time I waste wandering in the forest looking for those cookie crumbs I scattered weeks or years ago to mark my way is appalling. I never think to raise my eyes from the ground and take a good look around. If I did, I'd probably see billboards with RESCUE, THIS WAY! emblazoned on them, and maybe smoke rising from a woodcutter's chimney and some friendly little birds fluttering overhead to guide me.

But no, I'm forever telling myself I'm not ready, or I was ready but now I can't go on because what I'm thinking now can never compare to my original insight and I'm tired and my pen's running out of ink, how can I be a writer if I don't even have a decent pen, and what did I think was so important, anyway? I keep going on like that until I've exhausted whatever urge there was in me to write. I give up, and the piece remains unfinished. But pretty soon, I forget the agony I'm bound to suffer, and start the torture all over again with a new idea, which might be the same idea, if only I could remember.

Susan Bono is still hoping to remember in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000ó2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devilís-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so heíd know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. Davidís dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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