Tag Archives: UW-Madison Writers’ Institute

what reinvention means to me (or, refueling my purpose)

Confession: I started writing this post today originally with a completely different intention. I’m familiar with the practice of letting my words carry me somewhere I never thought I’d go in the moment — welcome to writing and the art of conversation — so I surrendered to it. I promise this post has a point, so please be patient and let it unfold.

fleur de lisAfter my junior year in Florence, I decided to change my major to Italian (that way, the culture classes I’d taken wouldn’t have been for nothing — this was an attempt to speed my degree along, though we obviously know that didn’t work). And then I declared myself pre-med, which was ironic considering the fact that my dad had been trying to coerce me into becoming an MD since I was six and I was always all, “I wanna be an artist! An author! A teacher!”

No. This time, I wanted to become a doctor because I’d been overcome with gratitude for the doctors I’d had at the University of Chicago Hospitals, who had saved my life and my spirit when I’d been hospitalized for the stroke. The staff I met there was so genuinely heart-centered, so beautiful in their service that I loved them all and thought of them often. I felt that if I could touch a single person in my life in the way they had touched mine, it would make my time on Earth worthwhile.

Anyway, I toiled about being an Italian major and pre-med, not knowing if that was going to be okay. So naturally, I added creative writing to the mix.

I’d been writing since I was 10. The first “book” I ever wrote (and I’d do nearly anything to find my one and only first edition copy!) was, for lack of a better term, fan fiction. My favorite book growing up was Roald Dahl’s Matilda, to which I wrote my own sequel . . . illustrated — wait for it — in the style of original Matilda illustrator Quentin Blake. (Seriously, if I ever find it, I will have it coated in something to preserve it forever.)

from http://www.the-platform.org.uk

from http://www.the-platform.org.uk — man, this makes me nostalgic!

And ever since, I’d written story after story. It was a self-imposed discipline. My first completed original work was a novel called All That and A Cup of Milk, which I wrote at 16 and “self-published” in a binder covered in magazine cutouts of models I’d used as representations of my characters. (I was 16. ’Nuff said.)

This was my bliss. I used to come home every day after school, and like clockwork, would type away at the computer (you think I type fast now with my one superhand! I believe I even have video footage of me writing at the giant box that was my old-school desktop back in the day) working away at my stories. But . . .

To this day, I haven’t completed another book. Something anti-magical occurred during undergrad. My writing degree required what I fondly call half an English major’s worth of literature classes. (Ironically, I’d spent a few years as a kid believing I wanted to become an English teacher. HA!)

When I first learned how to read as a child, all I did was read. I used to go to the bathroom reading. I recently dragged myself to the eye doctor — one of my least favorite things to do — because I carry a hefty -10.5 contact lens prescription. This was the first year the eye doc had ever told me one of my eyes had stabilized and not gotten worse since my last visit.

Anyway. I’ve been nearsighted since I was six, and I’m sure all the 100,000s of hours I’ve spent with my little nose in a book was a heavy contributor.

When I was a creative writing major, I pretty much quit reading for pleasure. (The U of I might revoke my hard-earned degree for this.) I would come home from the school bookstores at the beginning of each semester with a stack of books as tall and thick as I was.

Meanwhile, all my scientist and numbersy friends/roommates would be all, “Why don’t you ever study?”

Italian came easy to me. After a year of forcing Florentine shopkeepers and residents to talk to my Eastern face in Italian, I had done the impossible: I’d returned to the States not only proficient, but fluent, in the language.

Because of this, I had pretty much placed out of any language courses U of I could have offered for my major, and all that was left was cultural courses. I may have been a wizard at rolling my Rs and conjugating verbs in any tense, but history is a different beast to me.

This is Dante.

This is Dante.

And then there was Dante. I spent a semester reading and studying his entire Divine Comedy (that’s three canticas — not just Inferno, but also Purgatorio and Paradiso). Let’s not forget that as a writing major I also had to dive deep into Shakespeare . . . If you escaped the education system with only an overview of Romeo & Juliet, know that for a writing or literature major, that sounds like graduating from high school with only a proficient knowledge of basic arithmetic.

And then there was Nabokov. Who to this day I still can’t say I fully understand, other than appreciate his genius.

So pretty much, “studying” for me was reading. All the time. And besides the stories I had to write for my actual writing classes, I quit writing for fun as well, after a terrible blowout that had gotten me in trouble with a roommate I had as a sophomore.

The period of pre-med lasted only a couple years at most. Physics took over my life so much that I even found references to Newtonian laws in my writing(!), and I had no social life. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am naturally an extravert, despite the fact that I have consciously chosen a very solitary pastime as my favorite vessel for carrying my voice to the masses.

Pre-med made a total nerd out of me, and it soon became apparent that I’d been trying to mold myself around subjects that I merely found interesting, but wasn’t passionate enough about to shape a career out of. (Is anyone surprised that the Italian-CW major wasn’t dedicated enough to chemistry and molecular biology to pass the MCATs?)

I think what really drove that home was the semester I was lucky enough to get kicked out of a writing class (more on that later) and then into an independent study in the creative writing department with one of its chairs. Prof. Madonick (or “Mike,” as he insisted I call him) inspired me to start my memoir.

When I wrote the first several pages of this memoir, I found five years’ worth of pent-up emotions release for the first time. Things I didn’t even know I’d been processing came out of my fingertips and onto my screen. I could barely see the words as the vision of them blurred through the tears. There were so many tears. They created a waterfall.

I was 19 years old when the stroke happened — so I was pretty much just a punk kid in the world believing I was invincible and capable of anything I could dream up. (Heck, I’m 31 today and still believe I’m capable of anything I can dream up.) But when I was 19, I both knew a lot and nothing about myself. Any self-exploration had been only at the surface level, and it wouldn’t be until I graduated that I really leapt into the vortex of personal development and self-study, because that was when I decided to give entrepreneurship a shot.

So the memoir really helped me process a lot of what I’d been feeling and experiencing underneath the façade of “everything’s just fine, and I’m just like everyone else, just a bit more gimpy.”

It had been precisely that façade that had kept me denying a lot of my own feelings. Things weren’t “just fine,” and I certainly wasn’t just like everyone else. “A bit more gimpy” looked like regular accidents and spills, anger and resentment, and an inability to do what I wanted to do how I wanted to do it.

(Hey — wearing heels is as worthy a desire as it is to not want to drool on someone while kissing them.)

The memoir had become so game-changing for me that I decided the world needed it.

I’ll say this again: The world needed it.

And I believe this is why my memoir has been incomplete since I began it in 2008. Who was I to dare provide the world with something it needed?

Two years later, I created Rehab Revolution, so that I could get a head start on creating a community of people who needed my voice. Since then, a small number of young stroke survivors have indeed reached out to me to thank me for what I’ve done for them. They truly warm my heart — and if any of them are reading this today, please know that you guys are why I write.

Four years ago, I sent myself to the UW-Madison’s Writers’ Institute conference for the first time, and I experienced a misplaced sense of shame.

Shame that I was willing to put money on the line, invest the dollars into myself as a writer, but not willing to finish my manuscript before I came.

There were what felt like hundreds of writers there, of all kinds, backgrounds, and genres, most of them there preparing to pitch their manuscripts to agents and editors who had traveled there to pick up new authors, and there I was, reeling.

What? There were people there who could potentially propel my little 34-page-and-counting Word document into an actual, tangible book? I — the twentysomething stylish girl with a limp — could actually launch this dream of becoming a full-fledged author at this conference?! “Next year,” I told myself. “Next year I’ll have it ready.”

“Next year” came around and I said the same thing. And again, and again.

In retrospect, I don’t blame myself for freezing. I had no idea what I was getting into going to this conference in the first place, so that first year was a learning experience. I discovered that the conference, rather than focusing solely on the craft, taught the side of writing I’d never learned as a writing major — it taught the business side of writing.

How to pitch. Practice your pitching. Writing a query letter. Networking.

If you remember my networking posts from 2013, that was my first year learning to network. And the first Writers’ Institute I attended was in 2012. #forshame

I remember finding myself seated next to an agent (who was looking for memoirs to sign! *facepalm*) at the (ahem) networking lunch and spiraling out of control in my head.

Ohmygodit’sanagentlookingformemoirsIshouldreallytalktohim.

I told myself that this was the Universe’s way of handing me what I wanted on a silver platter, and that if I passed it up, it would not happen again.

I forced myself to start a conversation with him . . . right as the lunch started wrapping.

He was gracious enough to indulge me for several minutes, and he even gave me a little feedback and advice before he had to run off for someone’s pitch.

I remember something he said was along the lines of not rushing my memoir, that it would take as long as it had to take. This encouraged me.

I kept repeating the “Next year I’ll have it ready” and even signing myself up for non-traditional participation in NaNoWriMo a couple of times, but I found myself somehow blocked.

Next month, I’ll be going to my fourth Writers’ Institute conference. My manuscript still sits at 34 measly pages (though to be fair, they are single-spaced). I honestly thought I’d written more.

But the truth is, that’s only because of my blog. To this day, I’ve published 209 (210 if you count this one, which I am posting there too) articles — most of them completely original content by me or by my guest writers — and while I am so happy to know that my posts are helping a small number of readers, it’s both a blessing and a curse.

It’s a curse because it fools me into believing I’ve made more progress on my book than I actually have, but it’s a blessing also because it’s deepened my resource of exploration into what my memoir could include.

On a slight aside, I totally believe in Divine Messages. What these are are repetitive whispers from the Universe, gently guiding me to what I need to embrace right now. These whispers often crescendo into outright declarations spoken by actual people I see in my day-to-day existence, and then if I’m not receptive (I’ve grown to become very receptive — the Divine always knows what I need), I have to learn the hard way why I should’ve listened in the first place.

I’ve been consistently reading Mastin Kipp’s Growing Into Grace and religiously following author Danielle LaPorte online these days, and both of these leaders (who run majorly successful businesses in spiritual and personal development work) have been through and come out on top of some major upheaval that makes my current “I’m starting my life over at 31! What to do?!” sound like major #firstworldwhining.

Mastin started out his brand, The Daily Love, with nothing but a Twitter account and an e-mail list of friends and family. Danielle got out of a humbling, bad business deal with nothing but her blog and 60 followers.

That the two of them now are spiritually fulfilled and serving the world in the ways they know best is so inspiring to me. They’re both graduates of Marie Forleo’s famous B-School, which I FINALLY signed up for this year after standing at the sidelines like a wannabe for five years.

(I did enter the scholarship contest again for the last time — once you’re a B-Schooler, you’re forever a B-schooler. Here’s my video entry.)

When I first began rebooting myself and my business, I started networking again like it was my job. (I mean . . . it totally is.) A virtual assistant that I’d met a year or two ago at a different networking group, Mary, started talking to me about my book and began supporting me in a significant way. I told her that if I didn’t finish my book now, I was never going to do it. Rather than just “being excited” or giving me verbal encouragement and then forgetting about me, she’s been nudging me and keeping me accountable to my commitment to get my memoir out there.

Have I written anything yet? Well . . . this counts, doesn’t it?

Seriously. I’ve learned that sometimes pushing through resistance just makes the resistance stronger. The fact that I’ve had my memoir actively on my mind this month and that it is sitting open on my laptop right now are already big steps if you consider my manuscript’s distinct absence from my radar for the past few years.

Here’s a screenshot of a Facebook status I posted two weeks ago. (Mary suggested I post it.)

Facebook accountability status

I also promised Anthony that I’d make a super honest effort this week to work on my memoir. He kind of thinks I should save the time, energy, and money this year, sit out the conference, and buy myself another year.

But I know better. Enter more Divine Messages: Yesterday, I came across a blog post by one of my favorite friends and leaders, success coach Kris Britton. It’s about having the courage to go “all in.” (Funny sidenote . . . she actually featured me in this post!!)

(I think the whispers are getting louder.)

B-School starts on 9 March, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to start. (The conference is on the 27th.) The year 2015 may have begun nearly three months ago, but I can feel it in my soul — this is the best year yet. I feel the culmination of everything I’ve ever done and everything that’s ever happened for me bubbling up in this moment.

I’ll be posting on my progress and anything else that comes up as I go. March will be a busy month of more reinvention, more exploration, more leaps and dives into the unknown.

The Universe will give you everything you want — and more — as long as you show that you are committed.

Thank you for reading this and allowing me to speak to you the way I know best. I love each and every one of you — even if you disagree with me and/or think I’m off my rocker. :)

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