GOOD QUESTION: How can I tell when a piece of writing is “done”?

 
 
 

Dear Alex,

How can I tell when a piece of writing is “done” and ready to go out into the world?

I’m a perfectionist and feel the need to go over the thing again and again!

–Shantini

 
 

Dear Shantini,

When I was 20 years old, I decided to shave my head.

(You might be thinking, Um, excuse me? What does your hair have to do with my writing? But bear with me.)
 

Shaving my head felt liberating, and for many years, I kept my hair cropped short & pixie-like.

Then, I decided to start growing it out.

As my hair grew, little by little, I got excited about all of the different styles that I could try.

I could… blow dry my hair straight! Braid it! Do a French twist! Pig tails! Pony tails! The possibilities were endless!

Except, there was just one problem.
 

Whenever I’d attempt a glamorous new hairstyle, I’d stare at my reflection in the mirror and go:

“Huh. That does NOT look the way I’d imagined it in my mind. In fact, it looks kinda terrible. Damn it!”

I’d get frustrated and annoyed. But I kept practicing. And… slowly, over time, I got much, much better at styling my hair.
 

These days, I can whip my locks into a look that rivals that best hair salons in town.

But for a long time, I couldn’t.

Because I wasn’t good at it. Yet.
 

Here’s the reason I’m telling you this story:

When people ask me questions like:

“How can I tell when a piece of writing is done?”

Often, what they’re really asking me is:

“Why doesn’t my writing look & sound the way I want it to?

It makes sense in my head… but it’s not translating onto the page.

So I keep fussing and fussing, trying to make it better, and it’s annoying.”
 

My advice? Keep fussing.
 

That’s how you practice. That’s how you learn. That’s how you create your voice. That’s how you get better.

(If you’re curious: I revise my blog posts anywhere from 8 – 32 times each before I post them — my blogging software keeps track, so that’s how I know. I fine-tuned this particular advice column 22 times before publishing.)
 

Now… when I say “keep fussing”, I obviously don’t mean, “forever”.

If you have perfectionistic tendencies, you might want to assign yourself a time limit — say, five minutes per email, or sixty minutes per blog post — to prevent yourself from going bonkers. Choose whatever time frame feels sane and reasonable to you, and don’t punish yourself if you wind up going “over”. It’s just a guideline.

But once your time is up, ask yourself:

“Is this thing that I’ve just written going to uplift, energize, inspire, educate or entertain… someone? Anyone? Even just one person?”

If the answer is “Yes!” or even “Probably and I sure hope so!” … then you’re DONE.
 

Keep practicing & keep refining, within reason.

And congratulate yourself for caring so damn much.

Your drive to “make it better” is a good thing.
 

And in the end?

That drive… that devotion… that pull towards excellence…

That’s the fire that will help you become the kind of writer that you want to be.

 

“The way anything is developed is through practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice and more practice.” –Joyce Meyer

 

xo.

PS. How do YOU decide when your work is “ready” to go out into the world?

 
 
 

Read More good question

“I did it!” vs. “It was worth it.” (There’s a difference…)

 
 
 

Whenever I begin a new project — whether it’s a writing project, a business venture, or a personal challenge (like trying to exercise for an hour every day, for thirty days) — I usually decide on a particular “metric” that, in my mind, equals “success”.
 

“If I get 1,000 downloads, then this e-book will be a success.”

“If I have an opportunity to teach 300 students this year, then this workshop tour will be a success.”

“If I sweat at the gym for thirty hours this month, then I’ll feel like a success.”
 

There’s nothing wrong with setting specific, exciting goals.

Often, these initial goals are what motivate me to make a plan and get to work.

They’re clear and defined and it’s fun to make progress towards them — like “leveling up” in a video game.
 

But what I’ve noticed is that hitting my goals — “I did it!” — doesn’t always create a lasting sense of satisfaction.

That feeling of deep satisfaction — “Now I know that all of my efforts were worth it” — is a precious, sacred feeling.

For me, it’s a feeling that often arises long after (I think) the goal has been accomplished … long after (I think) the project is complete.

It’s a feeling that takes me by surprise.
 

It happens when…

: I get an envelope filled with origami hearts in the mail, written & folded up by teenage girls who were inspired by a video interview that I recorded. (Now I know that showing up for that interview … was worth it.)

: I get an email from a wife who says, “Because of your sexy novel, my husband and I just had amazing, beautiful sex – which hasn’t happened for a long time. Thanks.” (Now I know that obsessively fine-tuning that manuscript … was worth it.)

: A mom writes to me from across the ocean to say, “Your words are helping my daughter build confidence and make friends at her new school.” (Now I know that carefully crafting that blog post … was worth it.)

: A client writes to me three years after our last session to say, “I’ve changed for the better because of our time together.” (Now I know that slogging through that difficult client session … was worth it.)

: A student pulls me aside to say that before coming to one of my workshops, she had never written a single poem. In one day, she wrote three. And can’t wait to write more. (Now I know that being away from home for weeks on end to travel & teach … was worth it.)
 

It’s the moments of humanity and vulnerability — the unexpected rewards that I never anticipate — that make each of those choices “worth it”.

When you’re beginning a new project, it can be hard to predict what’s going to give you that sense of satisfaction.

But when the moment arrives, you’ll feel it. You’ll know.

Because any lingering fears and resentment about the project (“It was hard. It was expensive. Was it dumb? I don’t know…”) will melt away as soon as you can genuinely say:
 

“Now I know. It was worth it.”

xo.

PS. What makes something feel “worth it” to you?

 
 
 

Who is living your dream?

 
 
 

Dinner was in just a few minutes and I was mentally preparing myself to feel… miserable.

“I’m so excited to introduce you to my favorite writer,” my friend gushed. “She’s a New York Times bestselling author and she’s so smart and funny and you’re just going to loooove her!”

Internally, I thought to myself, “New York Times bestselling author? I’m sure she’s amazing… and, I’m sure I’m going to feel puny and insignificant and jealous and then hate myself for feeling that way, and… and… ugh.”

I took a breath and trotted over to the table.

And there, I was surprised to discover…

Nope. Not jealous.
 

Ms. New York Times was smart, funny and absolutely lovable, as promised. We had a delightful conversation that spanned all kinds of topics. I learned about her life. She learned about mine. We hugged and promised to have sleepover parties and stuff.

As I walked away, I had a delayed reaction epiphany:

“Huh. I’m not jealous of her talent & success… because she’s not living my dream.”
 

I always assumed that becoming a New York Times bestseller was my dream.

Isn’t that what every author is supposed to want?

Isn’t that my ultimate goal? Apparently not.

This realization left me… stupefied.

If that’s not my dream…

Then what is?
 

I began to reflect on the last couple of times that I felt… intensely jealous.

: Meeting Master Phil, a seventh degree black belt martial artist. Why? I’m jealous of his discipline, mastery and devotion.

: Having a beachside picnic with my friend Nicole, who is training to run across America. Why? I’m jealous of her discipline, mastery and devotion.

: Hanging out with my friend & client Susan, who wakes up at 5am every morning to hit a Crossfit class before starting her work for the day. Why? I’m jealous of her… you get the idea.
 

There’s a head-slammingly obvious lesson here:

Jealousy can be a teacher if you lean in… close.

And if you’re willing to feel it, explore it and hunt for the patterns.

The root of the word “jealousy” is actually an Old French word, jalousie, meaning “enthusiasm, love, longing”.

(How beautiful is that?)
 

Pay attention to the people who make you feel that kind of “enthusiastic longing”.

They might not be the people that you’d expect. They might not work in your industry. They might not look or live like you.

It could be Oprah. It could be Obama. Or it could be that lady who sits on the bus stop outside your apartment every morning, cackling with unbridled happiness.

Feel the longing, sharp as it may be.

It’s there…

To show you who you are meant to be.

xo.

PS. Who is living your dream?

What is it about them that inspires such “longing” in you?

 
 
 

Read More devotion // liberty

GOOD QUESTION: I am hopelessly in love with someone who is not available. Now what?

 
 
 

Dear Alex,

I am hopelessly and deeply in love with my colleague. He is the most kind, gorgeous and fantastic human being. We have fun together and click in every way possible.

BUT… he is in a long-term relationship and he just became a dad.

I suspect he is not super happy in his relationship, but he never talks badly about her and he isn’t a flirt (although in passing, he has said some innocent things about me being clever, beautiful and fun).

I really don’t want to start any drama, and I really don’t want to be a home wrecker.

I also really don’t want to quit my job as it is an amazing opportunity for me. But I suspect I might explode soon. What do I do?!

–[Please Withhold My Name]

 
 

Oh, sweetheart.

I remember a time in my life when I became obsessed with a colleague at work, just like you.

She was beautiful. She was witty. She was smart as a whip. She looked amazing in jeans, and in a satin dress.

She was also… not gay, bi-sexual or even remotely interested in dating women.

She was also… already dating somebody else.

In other words: she was NOT available for me to love, in the way that I wanted.

It was crushing. It was so! un! fair! Despite everything, I still fantasized about her and what “our life” together might be like.

I marveled at our “undeniable chemistry”. I blushed whenever she gave me a compliment. I read into the “deeper meaning” when she invited me over to her home for a group potluck. I analyzed every line of every email she sent me. (“The meeting has been extended from thirty minutes to forty-five, you say…? That means she wants to spend more time with me! I knew it!”)

I made up a lot of dramatic, exciting stories about “us”. Stories that may or may not have been true (most likely, not). All the while, I was distracting myself from seeking a relationship with someone who could actually love me, treasure me, and build a life with me.

Finally, I realized that my colleague was never going to “leave these wretched cubicles behind and run away with me”.

I re-opened my heart, saying to the universe:

“Now, I am ready. Bring me love. The kind that flows from both sides.”

Many years later… I found it.

Let me tell you, true love — the kind that flows from both sides, with no impediments — is infinitely sweeter than crushing on someone who is not available.

If you peel your attention away from this unavailable guy-who-just-became-a-dad… and re-open your heart to the world… leaning into the possibility of “this, or something better”… you will have a much better chance at finding that kind of love.

 

“To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.”
–David Viscott

 

As Viscott reminds us, the answer is simple:

Love. Be loved. Feel the sun from both sides.

Anything less… is a waste of your time.

xo.

PS. Read this if you’re ever feeling unwanted & rejected. There’s always something better… waiting.

 
 
 

Read More good question

Got a nude photo shoot coming up? (Who doesn’t?) My tips on how to feel brave, strong & sexy.

 
 
 

oh hi

(Photo by Danielle, of course. Nope. You don’t get to see the rest.)

 
 
 

It’s not every day that a master photographer (who also happens to be an energy worker and healer) says to you:
 

“I’d love to photograph you. Buck naked.”
 

OK, maybe those weren’t her exact words. But when Danielle Cohen asked if we could do a nude boudoir photo session together, I knew my answer was:
 

“YES.”
 

It was scary. It was weird. It was silly. It was sexy.

It shed a light on my strengths, as well as my insecurities.

Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Did I learn some things? Most definitely.

If you’re doing a nude shoot…
 

Here are my tips on how to feel brave, strong & sexy:
 

: You will be nervous. Breathe. As a smart man once said, “Fear is excitement… without the breath.”
 

: Get your hair done. Make up, too. It’s all part of the experience & you’ll be glad that you did.
 

: Think about someone who loves you when you look into the camera. (That “someone” can be a partner, a spouse, or maybe even… you.)
 

: Get a silk kimono robe. Or four. It’s just a good idea.
 

: Focus on how you want to feel (“luxurious, playful, fierce”) rather than how you want to look.
 

: Laugh. Especially when your neighbor flings open his curtains at exactly the wrong moment, staring straight into your bedroom while you’re writhing around in satin sheets. Oops.
 

: Get a big fan. Windblown Beyoncé hair is really fun.
 

: Eat some flan. There is literally no reason for me to include this “tip”, other than the fact that “flan” rhymes with “fan” and it makes me happy to say those words out loud. Fan. Flan. Fan. Flan.
 

: Be yourself. If you’re a bubblegum pink lipstick kinda gal, rock it out. If you would rather die than slip on a pair of stilettos, don’t.

You always look your best when you’re just being… you.
 

: Be stronger than you think you are. Don’t let the vicious, critical, negative voices win.

If you’ve made an appointment to get photographed, don’t flake out two days before it’s scheduled to happen.

Even if you think you’re “not ready”. Even if you think you need to “tone your stomach” or “lose ten thousand pounds first” or whatever other nonsense pops into your head.

Keep the date. Let it happen. Savor it, in all of its scariness & weirdness & silliness & sexiness.

Feel your feelings. The pleasant ones & unpleasant ones, too. It’s all good for you. It will make you even stronger.

 

“It’s sexy and beautiful to be strong.”
–Lindsey Vonn

 

Oh, and if nude photography just isn’t your thing?

That’s perfectly cool.

After all…

 

“You don’t have to be naked to be sexy.”
–Nicole Kidman

 

Clothed, unclothed, in public, in private, or somewhere in between…

Go be you — and let yourself be seen.

xo.

 

PS. When was the last time you did something that made you feel brave & strong? Or maybe even… weird & silly?

Are you glad that you did it?

 
 
 

Read More creativity // inspiration