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6527212 March 17, 2010

Disciplined Dreamer: Melissa Walker

"It's discipline--not the muse--that gets the work done."

I strive to be stay focused and exercise discipline. I make lists and enjoy crossing off the items as they're accomplished. When I worked full time in the pharmaceutical industry, my daily list was usually two pages long. There was so much to do! If I stopped for even a moment, I'd fail. I couldn't "do it tomorrow" because I knew morning would bring a brand new list my way.

I got a heck of a lot done! I also watched a lot of life pass me by. I lacked the time and energy needed to reach out and grab it.

Now that I'm writing and painting full time, my basic to-do list has shriveled.

It's more like:

1) Email
2) Write blog entry and post
3) Paint
5) Write novel
4) Fold and put away laundry

I often break a few of these down into much more detailed lists, but overall, it's still shorter than it was when I was: working as global director at Johnson & Johnson; raising a teenager and a toddler; working on a Master's Degree; writing a novel on the side; finding time for my husband, etc. That took tenacity, gumption, dedication, organization, and discipline!

So now that I have more time, I often feel like I'm in slow motion. It's a strange phenomenon. Sometimes having all the time in the world isn't quite the great medicine you thought it would be. The feeling of "I can do it tomorrow" sucks the life right out of you--if you lack discipline. And as my guest today, author and journalist Melissa Walker, points out, discipline is needed to bring creativity to life.

Leaving the corporate world was a huge adjustment for me, especially in terms of the writing. For nearly twenty years, I dreamed of being at home writing. Forced to carve out time, I wrote at lunch and pediatric waiting rooms. I wrote at 1:00 in the morning and while waiting in line to pick up my cheerleading daughter.

I got used to it; I adapted. Now that I'm sitting at home with nothing to do but write, it's somehow more difficult to get started. I won't say that I have writer's block, yet something is holding me back. I've written about 10,000 words on my new novel when I should have written 20,000 (according to my list).

Melissa has kindly reminded me that no matter what your situation may be, discipline remains key to seeing the work move out of your head and into your hands.

I'm giving myself a sharp slap on the wrist. Once this is posted, I'm working on that novel!

Thanks Melissa!

I often wonder if most highly creative people are born knowing what they want to do. Have you always wanted to be a writer, or was it a specific creative interest that evolved over time?

I always wanted to write. I banged out my first story, "The Very Vain Cloud," on my parents' typewriter at age six or so.

Do you have other creative interests, and if so, what are they?

I enjoy visual arts also--I love contemplating cover designs of books and thinking about colors, fonts, shapes, etc. But the truth is, that's just for fun. I don't think I have talent in that area. Writing is my real focus.

There is a stereotype that creative people are "different," which can be a positive or a negative at times. What are your thoughts on this?

I think creative people dream more, and that's a good thing!

Do you believe being creative has caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

I believe being creative has both caused some aberrations (just the fact that I don't have a traditional paycheck, for one) and helped me deal with some too. The idea of working in an office all day is an aberration to me--I knew that from the first year after I graduated from college and I set about trying to be sure I could find a career that wouldn't insist upon that. Writing pointed me in the right direction and showed me a job I could do on my own time, in my own way.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

I haven't, really. I've been lucky. My parents were always very encouraging of my dream of becoming a writer, and I think that's why I'm sitting in my pink flowered writing chair today.

I often wonder, "Am I truly creative or do I just think I am?" Have you ever wondered about this? In a world filled with creative people and people who think they're creative, how have you been able to distinguish yourself and your talent, despite any doubts along the way?

Oh yes! I can't distinguish any talent. I just wing it and hope against hope that I've put up enough smoke and mirrors to make someone think I can do this writing work. I think all writers are insecure that way. At least, that's what I hear.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. How did (or do) you cope with disappointments? What motivated you to keep going, to not give up?

I struggle with this regularly. I think everyone has ups and downs, but rolling with them instead of fighting them is important. Also: Do what you love. Then even if success feels far away, you're enjoying the journey.

I often wonder about the similarities and differences creative people have in terms of thought processes. How would you describe your creative process? How does your mind work?

I outline. I put on music. I watch TV. I take walks. My mind circles the whole time and then I sit down to work. It's really the sitting down to work that does it. It's discipline--not the muse--that gets the work done.

What are the top three characteristics of a highly creative person, in your opinion?

I don't know about everyone but I feel that my creativity comes from:

1. Being a big dreamer

2. Watching the world around me closely

3. Reading anything and everything I can get my hands on.

Many creative people have tons of ideas but never follow through. I'm not sure if it's because they lack drive, organization, or focus. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

I think fear of failure gets in our way a lot. If something's unfinished, you don't have to show it to anyone and you don't have to risk rejection. But getting something done? That's a step toward the scary process of giving it to the world. It's terrifying!___________________________________________


Next Week: Kevin O'Hanlan, Photographer/Filmmaker and New York Gallery Owner

Also watch for NEW questions on creativity in upcoming interviews.

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6527212 July 06, 2009

Final Thoughts on Teens

It's seventeen days later, and we're all grown up.

Thanks for visiting Aberration Nation during the teen event! I'd also like to send out a special THANK YOU to all the brave folks who participated, including Melissa Walker, Lisa Morguess, the four teens who shared their writing with us, and Josh, who opened up about losing his leg.

I hope all who visited not only enjoyed reading the content, but also found it thought provoking and helpful. I was hesitant to share the thoughts I had and poetry I wrote as a young person, but doing so has been a positive experience for me. Like my friend Lisa, I don't want to loose sight of all the things that happened in my life. Good or bad, they molded me into who I am ... and continue to do so. I'm still evolving. If my life had ended on that dark, hopeless Louisiana night in 1985, I would never have experienced (to name a few):

- telling my Dad how much I love him
- giving life to two beautiful daughters
- knowing the kind of love that heals wounds--the gift my husband gives me every day
- eating a bagel or drinking a martini
- seeing and playing in deep snow
- visiting Europe, Utah, Southern California, New York City, Puerto Rico, and Singapore to name a few
- camping in a trailer
- lying on the hood of a speed boat, racing through Lake George in New York, the wind in my hair
- winning a 5K run
- painting a mural on a Philadelphia building
- writing four books
- being a Director at one of the largest and most respected companies in the world, Johnson & Johnson
- being boss to many people, and having the opportunity to help them not only develop their careers but also simply enjoy coming to work
- promoting someone deserving to Associate Director and seeing her face light up
- seeing a Kansas sunset
- seeing Wicked and Phantom of the Opera on Broadway
- reading the millions of books I've found since then
- knowing my wonderful in-laws, who have touched my life
- being an Aunt to seven awesome kids
- reading a history my grandfather wrote about his life
- earning a BS degree, and then an MS degree in my 30s
- watching my daughters learn to walk, ride bikes, run, read, write, etc.
- meeting a million interesting people who have taught me that life is an absolutely beautiful jumbled mess
- learning to love myself

With all that said, here's some advice from Lisa and me (the runaway girls) on how you might possibly help a struggling teen.

With regard to the teen who looks fine and dandy, but is suffering (Penelope):

1) Listen for hints and openings offered to strike up a conversation about what's bothering him or her. (I often hinted to adults but they missed it every time.)

2) Don't assume the kid who appears to be the strongest, brightest, or most cheerful is immune to depression. Remember the signs of depression. Understand that there can be a difference between diagnosed mental illness and depression based on growing up in a depressing environment. I was taught to experience life a particular way; once I understood that I didn't have to look at life through the lens of my teacher, I began to break free of that sad lesson and find my own view.

3) Take the emotional pain a teen expresses seriously. Don't talk down to them, or treat their suffering as if it's trivial. Although they're young, they are complex individuals with deep emotion. (This happened to me numerous times, even with health care professionals.) Don't offer easy fixes to teens as if their pain is a passing phase. This makes them feel even more isolated and strange.

5) When you know a teenager is surrounded by dysfunction, don't assume they're fine just because they're smiling with a sparkle in their eye.

6) Find, create, and/or offer a safe environment where the teen can unload. Even at a young age, years of trying to keep it all together is difficult to break through. If they talk a lot about pain related to their social interactions, ask them about their family. If they smile and say they have a nice family, blah, blah, blah, dig deeper.

I was a tough nut to crack (and still am sometimes), but nobody even really tried ... I eventually had to bust my own nut.

For the obviously stressed teen who is acting out (Lisa):

There were so many obvious, glaring signs that I was troubled, and they were all overlooked. To this day, I find it just really disturbing that nobody reached out to me.

I was clearly withdrawn and depressed by the time I was in high school. My grades started to slip. I often went to school disheveled from abuse I had suffered just that morning at the hands of my mother. I even often got drunk on school grounds at lunch period and then went to classes after wards, and nobody ever picked up on it or called me on it. So, I don't know . . . I guess what I would say to adults is "Don't overlook the obvious!" I mean, it's a fine line, I'm sure. A certain amount of teenage angst and even acting out is to be expected, and I don't think adults should be right in every teenager's face offering/threatening counseling over every little thing, but I do think that adults need to just try really hard to be tuned in, to be able to recognize the difference between normal growing pains and signs of something more serious.

Thanks all!

______________________________________

Up next week on Aberration Nation, On Being Societally Disabled: An Aberration Story. If you think you have challenges, wait until you meet courageous Kev. He lives in a home for the disabled. Look around now and count your blessings. Kev does ...

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6527212 June 17, 2009

YA Author Melissa Walker Invites You ...

Popular teen magazine editor and Young Adult author Melissa Walker invites you to join me for a special teen event on Aberration Nation:

I've been a teen magazine editor for years, and I write Young Adult novels as well. Here's why: I love teenagers. It may sound strange, but I don't think I ever left my 17-year-old state of being. Sure, I know more, maybe I'm a little wiser, a little more mature ... but at my core, I'm still that girl who swooned over a new song and cried her eyes out when she left her best friends for college.

The high highs and low lows of that stage of life are the stuff of fairy tales, of epic adventures, and, of course, of novels. The teen audience is honest and open, raw and real--they'll tell you if they lovelovelovelovelovelove!!!!! something, or if it just plain sucks. And they care about whether it's good or bad. They care about the story you're sharing. They're engaged in a way adult readers often aren't.

And so I'm excited to read the Aberration Nation Teen stories ... because at that age, which is full of aberrations, every moment is alive and singing with possibility and passion.

Thanks for having me here, Penelope.

Here's how it will go down beginning on Sunday, June 21st. Every other day for approximately two weeks, the following posts will go up:

1) Why Teens: Penelope's Explanation

2) Selective Mutism: A Teen Aberration Story

3) Runaway Lisa (Part 1): An Aberration Story

4) I Lost My Leg: A Teen Aberration Story

5) Runaway Lisa (Part 2): An Aberration Story

6) I Did Not Cause 9/11: A Teen Aberration Story

7) Runaway Lisa (Part 3): An Aberration Story

8) I'm Stubborn: A Teen Aberration Story

9) Final Thoughts

As always, each post will include a few introductory thoughts from yours truly. Also expect a glimpse of the poetry I wrote as a teen throughout the event. (And if I'm brave enough, I may toss in some of my journal entries.)

Don't forget to join Melissa and I for a thought provoking journey into the differences and similarities of how we experience, view, and express our aberrations as teens and as adults.

See you on Sunday!

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