Monthly Archives: March 2010

Facing Fear

On our way to the Stories From the Heart Conference in Austin, Texas, in February, Richard and I drove nearly 1,500 miles through snowstorms, hail, sleet, and pounding rain, from our home in the southern Rocky Mountains across the Great Plains to the Arkansas Ozarks and then south to Austin, the edge of the Texas Hill Country. Along the way we talked from time to time about the larger and longer journey with Richard's brain cancer we've been navigating. Both journeys had their scary times, but neither is responsible for the clutch of fear that inspired the title of this post.

That fear came up–seemingly out of nowhere–as I was working through my own writing exercise with the participants in my "Writing the Hard Stuff" workshop at Stories from the Heart. In the exercise, I asked the group to look into the metaphorical suitcase that contains the also-metaphorical baggage we each carry around and identify the heaviest item in there. As they thought and wrote, I opened my laptop and looked into my own suitcase (for the record, it's a huge soft-sided case of the sort popular in the 1970s, in black watch plaid accessorized with tasteful green textured vinyl). It wasn't hard to distinguish the heaviest thing in my suitcase: fear. There's a lot of scary stuff in my life right now: Richard's brain cancer, our finances, my work, the economy, global warming, and so on. As I described the fear though, I was shocked. It was an entirely different sort of fear, and one I never thought I'd be troubled by, fear of success.

I cogitated about that fear during the remainder of the conference, and all along the thousand-plus mile drive home, including one marathon 700-mile day where we pressed on long after we were worn out in order to out-flanked a huge snowstorm blowing past us. As we navigated the storm's aftermath on the last day of the drive (that's a snowy New Mexico landscape above–those cholla cactus look pretty cold in their white blankets!), I tried to explain the fear that I saw to Richard. "I'm afraid of succeeding," I said.

He looked at me, puzzled. He's watched me work hard over several decades to establish a career as a freelance writer. "I know, it sounds weird," I continued, trying to articulate what I felt inside.

What it boils down to is this: I'm a successful writer, I'm widely and well published, including twelve books and hundreds of articles and essays in magazines and newspapers running the gamut from Audubon and Popular Mechanics, to the Los Angeles Times and High Country News. But I struggle to earn a comfortable living from my work. What's in my way? It seems that I sabotage myself with a deep-seated fear that greater success will force me to "grow up" and be someone I'm not, someone who is too busy to cultivate a kitchen garden and make her own yogurt, someone who doesn't have time to talk to the magpies in the yard or greet the sunrise and sunset, someone who has to have her makeup done and teeth whitened, someone who won't enjoy just sitting side by side with the man she loves and watching miles of snowy landscape pass by. Does that sound silly?

Perhaps. But that's the fear I recognized while participating in my own workshop. I'm afraid to write what's in my heart, afraid that voicing it will shift my life in such profound ways that I won't have have time and space to be ordinary, every day, plain-old me, the me who loves life and all the lives we share it with.

Now I've got to face that fear. For me, that means writing it out.

What fears lurk in the suitcase–or knapsack, purse, or briefcase–that holds your baggage. If you take them out and look at them in the light, what do they have to say to you? What would you say to them?

Write it all out. Like me, you may find your load–and your life–lighter afterward.

5.2: Collaboration: Trust Floats the Boat

y Janet
Grace Riehl and Stephanie Farrow

See a two-part conversation between Janet & Stephanie reflecting on their 37-year collaboration. These are the third & fourth posts on this blog-of-the-month theme of Making Collaboration Work. 



At the 2010  SCN National Memoir Conference in Austin Janet gave a workshop on how to Put
Story Poems in Your Memoir Tool Box. You can listen to her discussing story
poems on the SCN podcast:

Collaboration: Trust Floats the Boat

Trust, at the core of collaboration,
is a heart skill needed for emotional intelligence and effective joint work. Sure,
you need a work partner who balances your skills and temperament. But without
trust, it ain’t gonna work.

How do you build trust?

Personal trust begins with
common points of reference. It’s often a shared experience or sensibility. When
you share a wider passion, your work becomes an extension of friendship and
respect, and vice versa.  

For example, Stephanie and I are the
same—only different. We look different, have different lifestyles, were brought
up differently in different parts of the country.

At first blush you might not
think that we would ever be friends, much less collaborators. Truth be told, we
didn’t  become true friends until some years
after we met in Ghana. Over 37 years we’ve translated our relationship from
Ghana to New Mexico and continued as I moved to California and then to
Missouri. Thank goodness for email and wide-area calling!

Our common sensibilities and core
values allow us to bridge our differences.  Our decidedly quirky sense of
humor doesn’t hurt either.

How do you sustain trust? 

Beyond trusting each other on a
personal level, sustaining trust in a collaboration relies on the indispensable
ingredients of a shared work ethic, sense of purpose, and discipline. In
effective collaborations both partners share goals, desire quality work, and
respect one another. Both need to be committed to seeing the job through to its
mutually agreed-upon end, no matter what.

In any collaborative project, each partner
brings her own strengths and skills to the table. In the best of circumstances,
these interlock with and complement each other. Partners often find that one is
better suited for a certain task. This makes the division of responsibility
logical, even easy. When partners are equally adept, or when a task appeals to
both, the key is to parcel out tasks fairly and to the satisfaction of both
partners. Fairness and successfully solving a problem jointly bolster

The shared quality of
stick-to-itiveness generates a history of reliability. You can trust that your
partner will be there with you from beginning to end of the project. Together
you build a strong track record. 

Trust is the vessel that holds the
messiness and chaos of creative collaboration. If you’re gonna float your boat,
you don’t want it to leak.

Out next post on collaboration (5.3)
will guide you to check your ego at the door as you explore further the
emotional and relational side of collaboration. What does trust look like in



Pose questions about practical
creativity; give ideas for future cycle themes; and join in the dialog in the
comment section below. Peruse the Creative Catalyst archive at:  Create
connections through the arts and across cultures at



Dandelions, Words, and Getting Off to a Strong Start

Opening Salvos #15 by Matilda Butler

Dandelion-single Living in the country makes me appreciate all plants that manage to survive the voracious appetites of deer, the tusks of marauding wild boar, the poison of swarming bees, and even the beaks of birds (seen yesterday biting the leaves off my winter crop of snow peas). I’ve even gotten fond of dandelions, and not just for their tender edible parts. 

Dandelions are strong and if they were people, I’d call them determined. They multiply rapidly. They seem to survive almost all efforts to eliminate them. Words, on the other hand, multiply slowly and are quite susceptible to the delete key, the eraser, and even the pencil line drawn through them. Are there some types of words that are better off removed in order to let our writing shine? Are there some words that weaken rather than strengthen our openings?

An Audio with an Answer

That’s the question Kendra and I discuss in a very short audio we posted on our website earlier today. We’ve been reading books about writing, featuring those by well-known authors who have not only written bestselling books, but also written about writing. Our reading is research for the final chapter in our book Writing Alchemy. We’re pulling together some interesting concepts but leaving behind an incredible wealth of valuable ideas for readers.

Kendra got the idea that we could share some of these gems in a new series we’re calling Writing in Five: Quick Tips. These will all be five minute audios with just a single take-away for the listener. We want you to get ideas that you can quickly put into practice.

Our New SCN Online Class with More Answers

And speaking of “quickly,” we’re also discussing our new Story Circle Network online course, Writing Alchemy: Quick-Start Method. Writing Alchemy, the focus on our pre-conference workshop at Stories from the Heart V, was geared to an in-depth look at each of the five components of writing. In our new online course, we’re giving you a fast way to start using Writing Alchemy, to layout the content of the elements, and then to write a 1000 word vignette. 

Dandelion_seed_head Now you’re probably wondering why I started with dandelions. In the audio, Kendra shares a quote with you that uses dandelions as the metaphor. Click here and listen to our audio. We think it will give you a quick tip for writing success. Of course, we hope you’ll also consider taking our SCN online class. 

By the way, we’re even offering a special discount on our [Essential] Women’s Memoir Writing Workshop to all who take our SCN online course. We’ve never offered it at such a low price before and it is only available at this price to those who take our Writing Alchemy: Quick-Start online course.