GUEST POST: “Just Start” Annie Cowden

 

JUST START PLEASE!

Hey, you creative geniuses!! You have so many ideas just swirling through your head constantly. So, I bet you can relate to some of these phrases you have when it comes to thinking about making that vision come to life.

Does this sound familiar?

• Once I am more clear, THEN I will start!
• I’m just waiting until I have a little more clarity
• I don’t know what I want yet, so I’m just waiting
• I’m trying to figure out what it is EXACTLY I’m meant to do before I do anything

HOMIES!! I got to tell you something. And that is, this type of thinking can become habitual thinking and it is a straight up trap. As long as you keep thinking that way….no big surprise here — you’re going to keep thinking that way. Waiting leads to more waiting, period. If you wait to decide on one thing, you’ll wait to decide the next thing. And then you will comfort yourself by saying ah I’ll wait till the next go around. I’ll wait till things aren’t so crazy in my life. I’ll wait until ____________________.

There is one small (large) problem with that.

The TRUTH is, is there are not very many guarantees. So you’re betting on something that you don’t know and you can’t know is going to happen. Think about it: Are you waiting to start writing until you have the dream writing office with natural light and a fountain and no kids screaming in the background. Or maybe you’re waiting until you have more free time. (that seems kind of vague to me no offense, but I hear that one all the time).

TODAY IS ALWAYS THE DAY. Today is the day to do something towards getting your creative project off the ground. Because here is the punchline:

“Clarity doesn’t come before action, action comes before clarity”

Now hold up- I understand how this could be confusing when there is so much advice on being specific about your audience, your message, your mission statement, who you are, what you do, etc. But YOU GUYS stop taking labels so seriously. There are not rules in life. You can change your bio and your title whenever you want. You can change it twice a day if you want! You can self designate yourself whatever you want, at any time, without having to ask a soul.

 

Here’s Why You Have to Take Action Before Clarity:

 

When I say take action, I mean- what logistically and literally has to happen in order to make this happen. Who has to be contacted? What do you have to create? What physical things do you need ready?

Now ask yourself, “what is the quickest way to get this done”. Because there’s a whole lot of mojo that goes into getting a book published, recording a song, starting a business, etc. But many people start with the fluff instead of start with the juicy stuff. It’s like you’re spending all your time on the whipped cream and keep procrastinating making the pie which is what you really love doing and what you do best.

So, before I get a song recorded, I have procrastinated because of a gazillion of reasons, but I can sum them up like this:

• The song isn’t good enough yet
• I don’t know anyone who will record the guitar part for me
• I can’t afford it
• I’m waiting until I can find backup singers

Just some typical fluff. Which I know you can see similarities amongst any craft. Here’s the truth though-all of these “excuses” or “obstacles” are either A) Not true or B) can be overcome by taking action on that specific task.

So if the true, ONLY THING STOPPING me is “I can’t afford it”, if that is really honestly and sincerely the truth, then my only focus from that point on becomes getting creative to get the money. My new task at hand is to earn the money. If you will truly do anything for your craft, then these excuses don’t matter. I immediately dig into my skill sets and think what I can offer, sell clothes, reach out to people who need a dog walker or a babysitter, have a yard sale, skip out on a cost I normally buy (sacrifice something else). Because believe me, it’s possible if you want it.
Similarily if my excuse is “I don’t have backup singers yet” or “I don’t know anyone who can play a guitar” then I just need to stop whining about it and say: Okay, well what would an established professional who was looking for a musician do? Journal out all the possible solutions to your problems, and one of them will land home with you. Try one of them or try all of them.

You Are Allowed to Change Your Mind

 

Changing your mind does not mean giving up. I always want you to be honest with yourself. If you truly deeply desired to run a 10K but after 2 weeks had a few bad days and gave up, that’s not the same thing as changing your mind. But if you showed up your best self, made a promise to yourself to follow a training schedule, gave it enough time to give yourself the chance to form a new habit, then you will be opened up and exposed to more avenues of things you love more.

Maybe you stick to the training plan, and because of that you see a class at the gym which ends up bringing you WAY MORE JOY than running. If you wind up choosing the class over training, it isn’t necessarily giving up. However, it’s all about your initial intention anyway. You have to be honest about why you wanted to do the race.
-why you wanted to write the book
-why you wanted to start the non-profit
-why you wanted to be a teacher
-why you wanted to be in the show

Knowing your why will keep you going. So don’t skip taking the time to know your why!

The reason why action brings clarity, is because you are likely doing something you have never done before. So how in the world are you supposed to know exactly what to say, do, wear, when you have not done something before?!?? Sometimes I have ideas for camps/workshops for various musical theatre camps and voice lesson programs, but I avoid going to edit and finalize the flyer because “I don’t know for sure what I am offering”.

Guess what: as long as my flyer stays as a draft on my laptop, then I’m not sharing my musical passion with anyone, nobody’s kids are getting my joy and energizing classes, I’m not getting any money from my gifts, ALL BECAUSE I AM WAITING TO COME UP WITH THE PERFECT IDEA.

So to sum this up, in my case taking action can be WORKING ON THE FLYER. Maybe my very first day I don’t have to print it and hang it up, but every day I work on the flyer, the idea change a little bit. The time length of the workshop changes, the price changes, the concept changes, and the more I work on it, the closer and closer it gets to feeling like home. But I know well enough that there is no such thing as perfect, so once it hits a place that feels good and exciting in my body, I then have to take the action to print out the flyers and hang them up. And no, I don’t know all the logistics, but I will know as I go along.

To writers: When you are writing, you are not writing in permanent marker on something that is going to be hung in a museum with your name on it. You literally can change it, always. But NEVER save a good idea for later. That is the worst thing a creative can do. Because then you are essentially believing you won’t get any better ideas. Do you know how many amazing chord progressions that have come to me that I didn’t make a song with because I was waiting until I was a “better songwriter” to use them? That sounds so silly now!

The next time you feel that dark cloud come over you when you are about to begin a project, say this affirmation:

I have unlimited permission to change this as many times as I want.

We are so weird as humans. We always need permission don’t we? Sometimes just acknowledging that whatever you create isn’t permanent, is so liberating.

ALSO.

It’s very liberating to understand that, so long as you aren’t breaking laws…you really can’t screw up your path that much. We spend a lot of mental energy making decisions because we want to be “right”. Here’s a secret…one decision you make isn’t really going to alter your destiny. If you want to try doing slam poetry, well you might as well try it because we only got like 99 years on this earth so just keep doing you. When in doubt, just bring it back to the now, and ask what excites you most? ALWAYS follow the joy. Always follow the fun.

I am going to leave you with one book recommendation and one song recommendation!

Book: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
Song: Follow the Compass of Your Heart https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY5JTxFt2pM

 

Annie

 

ANNIE COWDEN is a singer, songwriter and motivational speaker. When she’s not traveling the world, she works with teens and young adults who feel deeply inspired to create amazing things in their life. She is a self-discovery leader, adventure-seeking heart follower, and music is her first language. If you would like to learn more about her coaching, please follow her wonderful page on Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/AnniesVizion/

How Unrealistic is this Romance-Genre Male Character? A Fun Rubric!

It’s no secret that women are often not written very realistically. And it’s easy to tell when the girl main character was created as nothing more than a fantasy trophy.

BUT YOU KNOW WHAT? Women characters are not exclusive to this. More prevalent and obvious, YES. But exclusive, no. Haven’t you ever noticed how every dude in a romance story has AN OUTRAGEOUS combination of “desirable” traits? It’s like the same formula over and over again.

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“Hey. I’m Liam. Captain of the football team. Want to hang out on my family’s yacht?”

Don’t believe me? Watch yourself a romance or pick up a sappy book and use this rubric as you go. Each trait earns ten points, the more points you get the more ridiculously written that character is.

 

+10 He is good looking. Obviously, this is a good place to start. Granted there is going to be some kind of attraction between characters when there’s a romance. But I’m specifically talking about a character who would be considered classically and universally good looking. Great hair. Nice smile. Chiseled chin. Tall. Modelesque rippling abs and pectorals. I mean, if the body type is even being mentioned, he might as well have “heaving bosoms”.

+10 He is smart. This character always offers witty dialogue and banter. He’s funny. He does well in school or inexplicably gets accepted to ivy league colleges. Maybe this character has a job that would need to require some serious intelligence. When he talks to the love interest he probably “surprises her” by mentioning authors/books that he likes or other smart and high cultured things.

+10 He is rich OR is in a high position of power somehow. Okay, this character either has a lot of money himself or comes from a rich family. This character could also be a boss or some kind of leader. Royalty is always popular for some reason.

+10 He is charming. This character is well liked. Popular. Has a lot of friends. Or fans. Usually, there are multiple girl characters who are obsessed with him. He is most likely confident in himself. Anyone who happens to not like him is probably jealous of him.    

+10 He is athletic. Lol. For some reason mentioning the muscles isn’t enough. This character shows ‘em off somehow. His adventuring and swordplay are effortless. He plays on the school sports team. He is probably mentioned to be “the best” at some type of physical skill.

+10 He is musically or artistically talented somehow. This is a character that sits down and plays the guitar or sings for the leading lady. Maybe he draws or paints her a picture. Maybe he immaculately decorates this outdoor area for her without any help. He might have a career as an artist or maybe his incredible talent is mentioned in passing and then never contributes anything else to the plot.

+10 He is passionate. This is an easy ten points. This is a character who is borderline berserk-o bats he is so in love. This character easily professes his love. He’s more than a little stalkerish, he follows her around everywhere even if she says no. His moods are all over the freaking place. He is sometimes yelling and punching antagonists. He oozes with jealousy, over-protection, kissing her roughly, having like zero control over his feelings. This character is SO unbridled that if she weren’t into him, she would take out a restraining order pretty quick.

+10 He is self-sacrificing. Similar to the passion trait but definitely deserves ten points on its own. This is a character who is willing to throw away anything and everything in his life for the love interest. He might give up his job, his family, his opportunities, his dreams. Maybe he gives up who he is- like he’s dangerous in some way, but gives it up for her. Sometimes he just straight up dies for her. The sacrificing thing is one huge wet dream for a woman.

+10 He’s a hero. I don’t care what context it is. If this guy rescues her from getting physically hurt in any way, shape or form. That is an automatic ten points for me.

+10 Despite having all of these characteristics he goes for an awkward underdog MC for no real reason. Yes, I’m a cynic. But COME ON. Real talk here. Why is this have-it-all-dude going to go for this rinky-dink no-one-has-ever-wanted-me-like-this chick? Right off the bat, he is in deep with her, but we never really get why. I guess because she’s attractive or something? You tell me.

 

And yes, before you call me out, I tried this rubric out with the romantic interest in my own novel and YES, I am in no way clean of this either. He scored fifty points… which is more than murkily cliché but still better than Noah from The Kissing Booth who scores an eye-rolling NINETY POINTS.

So what is the takeaway? The take away is this: As a writer, don’t be afraid to make your main characters less than perfect. We will still like them. IN FACT, we will like them MORE if we relate to their weaknesses. Is it sexy to envision a man sprawled across a worn couch, binging Netflix with Dorito dust all over his shirt? Not really. Do I want him to find love? HECK YES SO MUCH SO INVESTED. But why though? BECAUSE THAT’S MEEEEEEE! We’re the sticky gross humans looking for happiness in all the wrong places! YOUR AUDIENCE. Reach out! Connect! Don’t just give us one real person to cheer on. Give us two! Make me believe that both of them are better off together, not that one person is already swimming in the sweet life and his/her life can’t be upgraded by anyone.

Just an opinion of a half-cynic. Wink wink.

How I Motivate Myself

After the announcement of all my doings and goings on in the writing world, I’ve been hearing a lot of the same thing: I would love to do something like that, if I had that kind of motivation.

Motivation is an interesting thing. I think first and foremost the best motivation for something is having a sincere love for that thing. What is important to you? How do you prioritize your time?  I write because I feel absolutely uncontrollably COMPELLED to do it. If I don’t write for a long period of time, I get really irritable. No joke. It’s a part of me that I fully embraced a couple of years ago and haven’t been able to let go.

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But I will let you in on another secret motivational tool that I use… like a practical non-metaphoric one. It’s what got me to write a novel in twenty days. It’s the reason I’m producing short stories almost daily. In fact, it’s what is motivating me to write this blog post right now. Do you want to know what it is?

Brownies.

I buy a package of really good-looking brownies from my local grocery store. I set in on the counter where I have to see it all the time. And then I DO NOT LET MYSELF have one until I have written 1,000 words.

kroger-brownies
These little suckers

I’ll put Jack down for a nap and be COMPLETELY EXHAUSTED… and yet, I cannot stop thinking about those freaking brownies. So I very quickly write a whole bunch of words until I’ve hit the goal. And then I can finally have one.

And then you know what happens? After I eat one… I want a FREAKING ‘NOTHER ONE.

So I end up writing another thousand words, because my pregnancy cravings are too strong for me to even handle.

And that’s how I do it. And that’s why I’m even writing this post right now. I write like a steam engine trying to get a DeLorean back to 1985… and then later I go back and edit that mess… for which I reward myself more chocolate.

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It’s worked SOOOO well that I’ve actually started doing housework for small bottles of Coke. You should SEE my house right now.

Utilize your vices. Make your weaknesses work for you. Are you a fatty like me? Dude. Set goals for baked goods and you’ll be SHOCKED at the results.

In reality, dreams are really hard work. Even your passion can flicker out every once in while and that’s okay. Dangle a carrot in front of your face and KEEP AT IT!

 

ALSO PS. If you didn’t catch last week’s blog post. I have a short story being published in an anthology that comes out next month. I made some promotional artwork for it because it was really late at night and apparently I hate sleeping.

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It’s a YA story about a girl who visits her all-time crush at work after he tells her that “HE NEEDS TO TALK TO HER”DUN DUN DUN! Ooh, gurrrl. You know she had a panic-induced cringe after getting that message on her phone. Anyways, the book is available for pre-order. You can check it out here:  https://www.zpublishinghouse.com/products/utahs-emerging-writers-an-anthology?variant=14625753694323

 

The Time I Tried to Teach Myself How to Yodel

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I can’t get enough of the video of the yodeling Walmart kid. Buuuut at the same time, it’s been kind of bringing up a lot of repressed memories…

Mostly this one.

I just randomly ‘get into things’. Like when I tried to memorize Hamlet. Or when I tried to teach myself how to dance to house music. Or when I spent like two months watching Cleopatra documentaries every day. I just get really excited about niche stuff.

So one day I was like, yo, I’m going to learn how to yodel.

I hadn’t really imagined the Hank Williams covers at Walmart. Mostly, I wanted to do like an Appalachia mountain kinda thing that I could use to call my kids to dinner with.

yodelfrizzle

Anyways, so in case you didn’t know… yodeling is switching back and forth in between your lower register and falsetto voice. Your voice makes a “break” and that’s where the yodeling sound comes from.

So basically, the way to practice yodeling is to do these weird freaking scales and strain your voice like Scooby Doo after he’s had some bad Taco Bell.

eeeeh EEEH! eeeh EEEH! eeeh EEEH! And you can’t do it quietly either or your voice won’t break as well. Okay… yeah…

Well, around this time I was asked to help clean my local church building. It was like eight in the morning on a Saturday and the other people they asked were young single adults with lives. So obviously, it was just me that showed up.

Just kidding. It was me and the guy who asked me.

So I got to work cleaning my half of the church building. The classrooms. All by myself. But hey! That wasn’t such bad news. I mean, golly gee, what a PERFECT time to practice my yodeling scales.

yodel

I straight up practiced yodeling for an hour. THAT – IS – NOT – A – JOKE. I started to lose my voice before I finally finished up.

I wound the cord up around the vacuum and hauled it out into the hall… when I saw this other GUY. This effing latecomer that had UNBEKNOWNST TO ME been helping me clean my side of the church building. The whole time. The. Whole. Hour.

Oh my gosh, can you imagine this poor dude waking up early to clean a church and having to listen to this girl go “Eeeeeeeeeeuugughghh! Eeeeeeeeeuuughghghg!” for an entire hour. OH MY GOSHHHHHHH.

I think I honestly could have just buried down into the ground like a mole. I DIED.

Stopped yodeling after that traumatic experience I assure you.

Are You Ugly?

GirlMirror
Credit: Norman Rockwell, nrm.org

You are a very attractive person. There… What? You still don’t believe me? Keep reading. I’ll prove it.

I was driving to Salt Lake and that Chainsmokers song came on for the eightieth time that day. I thought to myself, “Wow, one of those guys has kind of a sexy voice.” You know, that deep one that kicks off the first chorus of “Closer”. The more I listened the more I wondered what they looked like. I began to construct a caricature in my mind and as soon as I hit a Wi-Fi spot I ran a Google Image search on my phone. They were better looking than the picture I had in my head.

chainsmokers

But something weird happened… I was really disappointed. I don’t know what I was expecting. I guess I was hoping that The Chainsmokers would be a little uglier… or dressed a lot worse… or something. Anything that would make their “sexy voices” a novelty or a hidden treasure. I didn’t want a fresh-of-the-conveyor-belt billboard kind of dude. My reaction to this experience got me delving into the concept of “beauty”.

Have you ever loved a movie that your best friend hated? Or looked at a piece of high-concept art that you didn’t get at all? That’s because art / beauty is completely subjective.

SUBJECTIVE: (adj) existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought.

For example… My favorite article of clothing is a Men’s XL flannel shirt that I got from a thrift store for $5. I adore it. I wear it AT LEAST once a week. I understand that it’s not every girl’s dream to own a floppy man shirt, but it was exactly what I was looking for. Sometimes when I slip it on I think, “At some point, someone didn’t want you”. Maybe it wasn’t their style or maybe it didn’t fit like it used to. For whatever reason it was donated to the thrift store where they decided that it was worth five dollars. But hey man. I would never give this thing up. When I wear it I feel confident and happy. It freaking completes me.

Maybe at some time in your life you were donated to a thrift store. Now you feel like you have a reduced price sticker dangling from your arm. But you know what? Just because it’s trendy to wear a frilly crop-top doesn’t mean EVERY SINGLE PERSON wants to own one. Your unique features, traits and interests are what makes you irreplaceable. When you get your heart broken you don’t ever sit around thinking “Man, I miss dat a$$.” No! You miss the way that person laughs or their taste in music. How are you ever going to find someone else as fun as them? Or someone else that can draw as well, or loves FanFiction X, or plays Jenga or WHATEVER. These are the things that people fall head over heels for and you already have it! I don’t care who you are, YOU HAVE IT! Don’t give away your quirks, because that’s how you’re going to find the right partner. Don’t give away what makes you YOU to become a boring one size fits all robot.

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Last Sunday, I was at church and I had to sit out in the foyer because my toddler was trying to pinch people’s bums through the seats. Typical Sunday. A 90-year-old woman came over to talk to me. She complemented me on how well “I filled out my dress”. Which was surprising, because I was self-conscious that I had filled it out a little too well. She then mentioned that she always had to wear long sleeves because she was embarrassed of how old and frail her arms had gotten over the years. But gosh darn it, when I saw her shuffle slowly out the door on the arm of her equally elderly husband I started to cry. Because that woman is BEAUTIFUL. I can’t even begin to fathom the love that her husband feels for her. And you know what, maybe they were both drop dead hot when they were young! But they’ve outlived the world’s standard and redefined what it is to be attracted to someone.

People will spend all the energy and ignorance of their soul trying to convince you that you should look a certain way. And that’s only because at some point in their lives they gave into the primitive fear of social rejection. Don’t let them fool you. Your worth is not defined by a number or a symmetrical formula. It’s defined by how you live your life. So live. Dream your dreams. You are a beautiful person. I promise.

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Everyone likes to do different things to feel beautiful. And you know what? That’s totally 100% real and okay! You do you boo! I’m a theater bred girl so my love of make-up is strong, HOLLA! If you have a special occasion that you want to get dolled up for- Katie is your gal. She’s a freelance make-up artist who is all about highlighting your natural beauty. Psst. Here’s her page…

https://www.facebook.com/JamesDeanLover