Monday, October 22, 2012

Living Out Loud

"So much to do, so little done, such things to be."--Elizabeth Taylor

I've been talking a lot lately about living out loud. Just what that means, all that it entails, really depends on the person living ( or trying to) live that life. Really. Remember, no one-size fits all formula for success and happiness. Sorry, if that's the instant quick fix you're looking to buy, move on: I'm not selling it here.

What I've been getting at is the notion of living the life you want as boldly and loudly as you can. Start with identifying what you want and need. Now. And as you forge into the future. That old (cliche alert) new agey slogan: "If you can dream it, you can be it, " writ large. And if you're gonna dream, you might as well dream BIG.

Be bold, audacious. And say it. Okay, here's where folks sometimes recoil. Some are afraid of potential ridicule, others fear mere mention of their desires will put the kibosh on the whole thing. I've never cared much about looking the fool in the eyes of strangers or, for that matter, my close circle. Pretty sure most folks are familiar with my various follies by now ( and most have engaged in their fair share, too). But I admit I have often employed the "jinx theory." Yep, as sagacious as I may be, I , too have fallen prey to the erroneous idea that if I actually articulate my hopes and dreams, somehow they won't come true.

Silly right? I mean come on, simply declaring my desire to write a bestselling novel, say, or host a popular syndicated radio show, doesn't negate the future success of such lofty aspirations. On the contrary, by asserting the desire I am putting both myself and the universe on notice. These are my intentions. Help me turn them into reality.

Another grand personal growth ditty: "Say it to claim it" applies here. Start by first naming the intention, then say it aloud. Say it first--and frequently--to yourself. This may actually be the hardest part for some people. Just admitting what it is that you want and need can be both daunting and an enormous relief.

Once you've become comfortable with the concept, once your intention is clear and right to you, shout it, with all your might, into the universe. Go outside, stand under the stars and roar into the night.

Now that you know, and the universe knows, you may be ready to share the intention with your coach, teacher, friends, partners. It's probably wise to skip running up to random strangers and declaring your future plans. That sort of exuberant outburst may work for some folks, but since I can't gauge the range of myriad reactions, I'm not officially recommending such free-falling enthusiasm.

Say it, claim it. Dream it, be it.

Revel in the release of the intention. And then get ready to work harder than you've ever worked in your life to make it so.

To be continued....

Cheers and onward.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Reframing Rejection

I collect nos. And if you're a writer ( or anyone looking for a job these days), you probably do, too. Unless you're Stephen King's wife or Mary Higgins Clark's daughter, you're likely to amass hundreds, if not thousands of rejection letters. I refuse to count, but I have a friend who keeps a tally. A student alphabetizes every rejection by the agent's last name; another catalogs them by date received. Some people hang them up on a wall; some burn them in a cleansing ritual; some simply toss them in the trash. I'm saving mine for an art project worthy of a National Endowment for the Arts grant or for gotcha bragging rights when I become famous. Whatever works.

Of course there are variations on the "no." Some are mere form letters, untouched by human hands. Some are more emphatic than others. The " No way in hell," is rarely bluntly stated, but often implied in the short " Dear Author" form card. But just as quickly as such an austere standard brush -off can slam the door shut, a slightly warmer rebuff can open a crack in the window of literary fortune."Not now," especially if written in hand with something akin to, "But try us again," offers a glimmer of hope. A real personalized letter with actual suggestions and a " try again later," is nothing short of promising.

All writers---novices and pros alike--need encouragement. It may seem counter-intuitive to find such a boost from a rejection letter, but it's in there. Look at it this way: sending out your work is a positive step ( assuming it's ready to be seen by editors and agents). It is your foray into the literary lottery. And like love and other games of chance, the submission process is very much a numbers game. Frequently you have to endure a succession of nos to finally arrive at that one coveted yes. But that one sweet yes can swiftly eradicate your rejection dejection.

And you never know who will see your work along the way. An unsolicited call from an editor asking me to write an article or story or a festival director seeking to produce one of my plays can help me rebound from a recent batch of rejections. Just the jolt I need to re-energize my creative juices, refuel my resolve to keep going, fortify me for yet another round of submissions.

So every time you get a rejection letter, file it, count it, catalog it, toss it. Do what works for you. But make sure the ritual includes savoring each rejection as a symbol of your commitment and faith in your own work. And know you're not alone. There are millions of us collecting nos. Like that famous little train, if you think you can convert those nos into a yes, you can.

I think I can. I think I can. And I think you can, too.

Cheers and onward


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Playing With Artistic Blocks

"We write. We talk about writing. We encourage each other. Sometimes we offer constructive criticism." That's how I nutshell my creative writing workshops to prospective participants.

The workshop is equal parts sanctuary, playground and group therapy session. We typically use the first twenty to thirty minutes of each session to just write, write, write. I offer a prompt--a photo, a song lyric, a line or scenario-- as a suggestion- a jumping off point- which can be used or eschewed in favor of an image or idea rumbling around in a writer's head. The premise: uncensored, uninhabited writing can open the creative passageway often blocked by the raging self-doubt of that pesky inner critic who always seems to tag along for the ride.

After we finish writing, folks can share or pass ( I'm the only one who never passes; I think as the facilitator it is incumbent upon me to share). No one offers criticism. How can we? We know the work can't be very good; it is after all, a very raw, rough draft. People can, however, mention a particular image that stood out, if they are so inclined.

The surprising thing: many of the images, turns of phrase, characters, are often vivid or amusing or touching. Some even serve as starting points for stories and poems, scripts and even books. You'd be amazed at what your inner artist can do when s/he is left to play without fear of recriminations, without that pounding "It's no good," "No one will care," "No one will ever publish this."

These exercises give you permission to try, to play, to experiment.  And once you dip into that creative well, you're apt to dip in again and again.

The rest of the session is open for sharing, collaborating and critiques. Got a little procrastination problem? Come on down. It's amazing what a little group accountability and encouragement can do to convert even the most adroit procrastinators into productive writers.

I encourage a generous cross sampling of fiction writers and playwrights, poets and non-fiction writers. As a genre-jumping writer myself, I find the collaborations exciting. Alchemy is often ignited as we let our guards down and explore unexpected creative terrain.

New workshops are forming soon in New York City, suburban New York and Connecticut. All workshops are open to writers regardless of skill level or genre.

Call(914) 939-5579 or write: for registration information. Private coaching sessions and writing/editing services available from anywhere.

Cheers and onward.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Game Change

"They always say time changes things, but actually you have to change them yourself. -Andy Warhol

Think about the following statements: Change is hard. Change is exciting. Which one sounds more inviting?

Approaching any change--career, artistic endeavor, relationship,diet, etc.--with the belief that it will be a long, arduous slog is far more daunting to most of us than if we embrace the change as an adventure. Re-framing the way we look at the world is the first step of finding happiness with our lives as they currently are and successfully handling transitions and effectively achieving goals.

Easier said than done, I know. And that's where an effective coach comes in. As a creativity coach I can help you define your goals and focus on the area or areas in your life that you'd like to change, expand and explore.

As a professionally trained coach and counselor with a Masters degree in Mental Health Counseling and post-graduate work in Creative Writing and Personal Coaching, I have helped clients in one-on-one sessions as well as through writing and personal growth workshops for ten years. I am also a professional writer--a journalist, award-winning playwright and novelist-- and radio talk show host. I have faced my share of transitions as I've navigated, from the driver's seat, the bumpy ride that a creative life often traverses.

I can help you:

set realistic goals
create and implement action plans
explore creative and spiritual arenas
conquer artistic blocks
work on relationships

As your coach I will: offer you a safe space where you will always be heard, validated, encouraged and held accountable to your goals.

Coaching is a rewarding, inter-active process. As we forge this unique partnership, we will collaborate on an amazing journey of positive growth and change.

Phone sessions are available; so no matter where you are, I can be accessible to you. In person sessions and workshops are available by arrangement in New York and Connecticut, though many local clients also find phone sessions more convenient and intimate.

I invite you to start a creative conversation.

Call me at (914) 939-5579 or
The first conversation, of course, is on me.

Thank you.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.

Amy Beth Arkawy

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Emotional Lockdowns & Breakthroughs

Can I see another's woe, and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another's grief, and not seek for kind relief? -- William Blake

Nature and nurture dance a full-tilt rock 'n' roll tango in Deborah Jiang Stein's adrenaline pumping memoir,"Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus." As a multi-racial child, adopted by Jewish academics in the early '60's, Deborah's feelings of isolated "otherness" are ratcheted up to mythic proportions when at the tender and tumultuous age of 12 she discovers a letter that will shatter and change her life. The adoption is obvious ( though her parents rarely talk about it), but the circumstances surrounding it are unimaginable. In the secret letter--found in her mother's sachet lined dresser drawer-- an appeal to a lawyer seeks to have Deborah's birth certificate sanitized, altering her place of birth from the Federal Women's Prison in Alderson, West Virginia to Seattle. "Nothing good will come from her knowing she lived in the prison before foster care, or that her mother was a heroin addict," her mother writes.

That devastating news will fuel Deborah's undoing and ultimately prove her salvation. "Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus" chronicles her emotional downward spiral from angry adolescent to volatile drug addicted young criminal, and her triumphant recovery and reinvention as an advocate, speaker and writer.

During a chat last week, Deborah discussed the arduous, but cathartic writing process as well as her future hopes for her Non Profit, The UnPrison Project, that sends her all over the country speaking at women's prisons and conferences.

Ironically, Deborah first fictionalized her story and shopped it as a novel. Remember this was some years back when all those phony memoirs fell off the shelves in the wake of the big James Frey fake memoir Oprah betrayal brouhaha. "Once they ( editors and agents) heard it was a true story, they kept saying it should be a memoir, but I didn't want any part of that."

So she put it away for a while. But our stories have a way of nagging at us, until they just spill out, no matter the anguish. " It's not like my story is ever far behind. I can relive the whole thing in a minute. But I wrote through a lot of wet pages," she concedes. "I had to peel the real story out of the novel."

And the real story is one of the most raw and riveting books I've read in recent memory. As a writer and a teacher and creativity coach who works with writers, I am blown away by Stein's authentic voice; there's nothing sentimental or apologetic about it. Here, give a listen to an excerpt from one of her presentations, and you'll hear what I'm talking about.

It's that unconditional love of her parents, as well as the education and opportunity to develop her creativity that save her. In case you were wondering, this is where the tutus in the title come in. As a young girl, Deborah is introduced to dance and loves it, but thinks a girl born in prison is unworthy of the elegant art. That's one of the many heartbreaking revelations. Another is when, as an adult, she finally returns to tour Alderson and is ushered into the very cell where she spent her first year of life. Her visceral reaction stirs an emotional tsunami that took me by surprise in the middle of Starbucks ( that's okay; it gave me a chance to share the book's potency with a few fellow patrons). There's also a beautiful reconciliation scene with her mother, so long in the coming, it will likely pull at your heart.

"Most of the women--whether they have any real education or not--are thirsty for change. They know they need it. They want to believe it's possible," Deborah says. "And I know having an education helped me change. It gave me a way to get out of my head, a new way to look at the world. I know it can do the same for so many others."

Of course, you don't have to have a prison story to be affected by this book. I think everyone can relate to the powerful grasp secrets can have on a person, the emotional lockdown they can slam on a vulnerable psyche. It's the sharing of those secrets, whether to the world or just yourself, that is so liberating and transformative. That's why writing can be therapeutic. And reading a book that gushes rage and regret in equal measure with reconciliation and hope can illuminate the strength and grace of the human spirit. "Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus" is one of those books.

Cheers and onward