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Guest Post by Reedsy Writer: Savannah Cordova

My Five Favorite Writing Exercises to Unlock Creativity

Ask any writer what their biggest daily challenge is. I guarantee you that most answers won’t focus on plot holes and flat characters, but on finding the inspiration and motivation to write. Even as someone who writes both professionally and in my spare time, I still have days where I stare at my computer screen for ages without typing a word, mind drawing a total blank.
It’s particularly discouraging when this happens during a creative writing session. After all, if your own project can’t compel you to write, what can? But in truth, no matter how great you feel about the piece you’re working on, sometimes you just need to reboot.
In my experience, the solution isn’t to break from writing altogether, but to shift your attention to a different exercise that will stimulate your creativity. It might even give you some ideas for your main project!
On that note, here are my five favorite writing exercises for tapping into inspiration when I’m feeling sluggish. And of course, if you need more, you can always turn to Now Write! Fiction — the entire first section is devoted to tackling this very obstacle.

1. Write a “missing” scene from a recent read

Unless you exclusively read hyper-detailed, stream-of-consciousness fiction, you’ve probably read a novel recently with at least a few blank spaces in it.
One of my favorite creative exercises is to construct these “missing” scenes — usually one that’s implied or mentioned in passing, but not shown happening to the characters. These scenes can also be something I invent myself, though they’re more satisfying to write if they fit canonically with the original work.
In any case, this is a fun challenge that’s fantastically low-pressure, as the author has already done the hard work of fleshing out the characters and their world You can simply step into that author’s shoes for a few minutes and see how you like it. Indeed, it can be creatively stimulating to not only write about someone else’s characters, but also to try and mimic their style. This may even inspire you to incorporate new stylistic elements into your own prose (though you obviously don’t want to copy them completely.)
Regarding which book to pick for this exercise, I find that more recent reads are better for me, as the details are still fresh in my mind — but you can also pick a book you’ve read so many times that you’ve committed it to heart. I also prefer this tack with fantasy and speculative fiction over realistic fiction. There’s much more flexibility when the world you’re writing about isn’t tethered too closely to our own.

2. Choose a moment from your day and expand it

Here’s another low-pressure exercise for when you’re feeling stuck: take a sliver of something from real life and turn it into a piece of creative writing.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a full story — though I have had great success starting short stories this way — it can be a few words of scenery description, an interlude about your feelings on a certain subject, vague psychological prognoses about strangers while people-watching, or whatever else you like.
This is an especially fruitful exercise when you only have a small window of time to write. I used to employ it between college classes — sitting on the campus green and pondering a fellow student, a song lyric, the poetry of a slice of pizza. Sometimes I would recap parts of my day in profound detail, creative nonfiction-style; other times, I’d go off in a more fantastical direction.
I would occasionally develop these bits of writing into full-length pieces later on. But the many passages that remained “unfinished” still served a purpose: they kept me looking out for new ideas. For those who are really burnt out on their current project, I would absolutely recommend this exercise — it’s the most enjoyable way I’ve found to refresh your mind without losing too much writing momentum.
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3. Pick a prompt that’s outside of your comfort zone

Then again, maybe you write to escape reality.
If that’s the case, a good old-fashioned writing prompt can serve the same catalytic purpose as a moment from your day. However, if you want to push yourself creatively, I’d suggest getting out of your comfort zone and choosing a prompt in a genre or on a topic you wouldn’t normally tackle.
That’s not to say you should pick a prompt that doesn’t interest you at all. But I find that, left unchecked, I gravitate toward the same types of prompts and write the same types of stories over and over. Defying complacency is key, so seek out something that intrigues you in a new and different way. For example, I’ve written very little romance, but last week I started with a “cute-meet” prompt and was quite happy with the resulting piece — not to mention the skills I honed by writing it.
On Reedsy, we have a writing prompts directory you can sort by genre, which may help you be more intrepid in your prompt selection. Or you can work with one of the hundreds of exercises available in the Now Write! books. Whatever prompt you choose for this, don’t feel like you have to write an entire story based on it. As with the previous exercises, it’s more about flexing your creative muscles than committing to a brand-new project.

4. Write in reverse chronological order

If you want to play the game on hard mode, here’s an exercise for you: write a story in reverse chronological order.
It takes more effort than any of the others on this list, and shouldn’t be your first move if you’re already feeling discouraged… but if you’re craving a creative challenge that is likely to yield interesting results, give it a try.
The beauty of this exercise is that it forces you to create a plan before you write. That might sound like a drag to some writers (Pantsers, I’m looking at you,) but it can only make your story stronger structurally. It’s also a great way to practice writing twists, which seem to function particularly well in reverse-chronological stories.
A couple of examples for those who want to see this in action: The Final Day by Edward Gold, a story that won our short fiction contest last year, and the music video for Breezeblocks by Alt-J. (Trigger warning for violence in both of them.)
In these narratives, the audience is led to believe one thing based on where the characters have “ended up,” but the reversed scenes cleverly reveal something else. Try challenging yourself to pull this off in your own piece.

5. Write a blurb about one of your projects

This final exercise circles back to your current project, but bear with me — it’s an incredibly useful tactic for seeing your work in a new light.
For this exercise, you’ll basically come up with your story or book’s elevator pitch: the hook, brief summary, and any other information that might compel readers.
Doing this forces you to evaluate your work through a reader’s eyes, so you can identify your story’s strengths and weaknesses and revise accordingly. For example, if you think you have a strong story on your hands but can’t write a hook to save your life, that’s a sign you should revisit your premise What elements can you add, or subtract, to make it more unique and interesting?
Or, maybe, in writing your blurb, you realize that certain elements of your work are derivative of someone else’s. Now’s your chance to fix it before you’re accused of plagiarism.
Another nice thing about this exercise: if you eventually self-publish on Amazon, or any other platform, you’ll have killed two birds with one stone. The blurb you wrote to gain creative clarity about your work will become the blurb that attracts new readers. So if you try this one, don’t phone it in — it could make a huge difference to your sales down the line.
Of course, perhaps the best part about creative writing exercises is that you can pick and choose what works for you. Writing a blurb might help you develop your novel, but that doesn’t mean you have to publish it.
Similarly, you might not end up completing any of these exercises, but even starting them can help immensely. Remember this as you press on, and good luck!

About Savannah Cordova

Savannah is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, she enjoys reading contemporary authors, writing short stories, and drinking iced coffee.


Guest Post by Pen Densham: Creative Person’s Survival Manual

Passion, Creativity and Success

A creative person’s survival manual

 (Excerpted from Pen Densham’s free eBook – link to download the whole book at the bottom.)
Our media business involves a zillion layers of invention, including every craft and art seen credited on those end-title crawls. Each credit connotes an innovator and creative problem-solver bringing his or her talent to bear in the creation of movie magic.

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Across the spectrum of vocations, whether you’re an actor, writer, director, inventor, chef, computer programmer, research scientist or, God help us, a weapons creator—we struggle with the process of bringing forth what has never existed through the mysterious process called creativity.
For many, this exploration toward the ultimate joy of accomplishment has a cost: anxiety!


I share these thoughts, aware of how ignorant I am of the true spectrum of your inspiration process. Which I consider pretty close to sacred. I want to dialogue “with” you and not at you. Please ignore everything here that goes against your instincts.They are usually right!
My observations come from the privilege of a longish career. A few wild, giant successes and many rejections (many!) Experiences that have given me the one thing I didn’t have when younger – “perspective”. I have discovered the scripts I’ve written from the heart have gotten them made more frequently than the projects the studios paid me to write. But, as an artist and businessman I have never been far from the pain of uncertainty, when attempting to make concrete what has flitted around inside my head.
images-1As a curious young documentary filmmaker, I explored some amazing game-changers in various fields. Like revolutionary Media Guru Marshall McLuhan, Master Magician and Psychic debunker The “Amazing” James Randi. Brilliant Canadian Architect Raymond Moriyama. Malcolm Bricklin, the car entrepreneur who built a gull-wing sports car before Delorean. Toller Cranston, the first international figure skater to perform his sport as Ballet on ice and not just muscular gymnastics – and my own mentor, Norman Jewison, who’s list of amazing films is humbling. People who have the habit of pushing beyond the limits in their fields.
What did I learn? They have a universal sense to think freely and uniquely outside their current boxes, but it didn’t prevent stress and outside criticism. They cared so much about their goals that despite the negatives they headed where their guts told them. It was infectious. I don’t think of myself as particularly gifted… More a dreamer and not a great employee, but they made me feel that pursuing my own dreams was possible.


It comes from our imaginations trying to help us define the future – but without any compass for that untrod path. Stress is normal, it evolved alongside the imagination as a protective problem solving mechanism, igniting our body’s fight or flight system. A kind of psychic radar, bouncing negative things out and reflecting on how we might defend against them. But, when it is not attached to solving a real issue, it can bounce all over the place, unnerving us in the process.
UnknownI saw the world’s most renowned stress pioneer speak. The late Dr. Hans Selye. He stated that being mugged or experiencing a surprise birthday party can create an identical adrenaline rush. Heart rate increases. Tension tightens. Breathing speeds up. But, in the mugging, the effect is felt as fear and the birthday surprise, as joy. – “Anxiety” when it is in the service of something we value is embraced as “Excitement”.
Selye said, our adrenalin glands disturb us less when we are impassioned, pursuing goals that fascinate us. Even more strongly if we feel those goals benefit others!
Unknown-1Alternately, working on projects that are against my nature. (Maybe I sold out a little?) – Trying to cash in on someone else’s goal can be painful. I have done it as a writer.And it was like trying to pluck words out of my flesh. I didn’t like the end result and failed to have the incentive to fight for it.
When I am going in the direction my instincts support, the fear of failure is still there – but mitigated with the magical excitement of discovery.

The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.
-Edwin H. Land

Download your own free copy of Pen Densham’s Passion Creativity and Success: a Creative Person’s Survival Manual.


About Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror contributor: Pen Densham

PenDenshamPen Densham rode into the movies at age 4 on a live alligator and started a life-long love of cameras and story. Pen produces, writes, directs (2 Oscar Nominations and over 60 other awards.) He is partnered in the Trilogy Entertainment Group with John Watson – their breakthrough hit was ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, and they made 16 other features such as MOLL FLANDERS (which Pen wrote and directed), BACKDRAFT, TANK GIRL, HOUDINI and Trilogy’s 2013 feature, PHANTOM submarine thriller starring Ed Harris, David Duchovny and William Fichtner. Pen also revived The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone series.


Guest Post by Raymond Obstfeld: Poems That Move

I contributed to Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror with the exercise “When the World Turns to Shit, Why Should I Care? Character Arc in Dystopian Stories” (download here.)

I want to share a passion project: a poetry blog in which I analyze poems that have some meaning to me.

A completely useless project in the grand scheme, but I love it.

What is Poems That Move?

The goal is to introduce readers to an eclectic selection of poetry by offering some personal reactions and a line-by-line analysis that may or may not be accurate, insightful, helpful. It’s all very personal interpretations, with all the limitations that implies.​

Who Am I?

I’ve taught literature and creative writing at Orange Coast College since 1976. I’ve written over 50 published books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. I’ve sold screenplays and a television show. I’ve written a graphic novel and was a writer on the reboot of Veronica Mars.
I love pop culture, which you’ll figure out soon enough through some of my eccentric notes on the poems.

How Did Poems That Move Come About?

Every other year since 1998, I have been taking a group of students to Cambridge University for a semester abroad program. During my 2016 trip, I found an anthology of poems, Poems That Make Grown Men Cry.
The collection featured a wide spectrum of famous people introducing a poem that particularly moved them. The people presenting these poems included professional writers like John Ashbery and Billy Collins as well as actors like Daniel Radcliffe and Patrick Stewart and director J.J. Abrams. I was instantly struck by how heartfelt each of their introductions was, so much so that it made me eager to read the poem.
The poems didn’t always live up to the hype. Part of the problem was that some of them had a personal connection to the poem—a context that made the poem have special meaning for them. Like Kane’s sled “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane, it’s just a sled until you get the context. Also, because many of the men selecting poems were older, a lot of the poems were about the detritus of aging: death, dying, loss of family and friends, aging, etc. So, while I very much liked most of the poems, I couldn’t read too many at once without my mood darkening considerably.
Nevertheless, I bought the companion book, Poems That Make Grown Women Cry, which had the same mix of famous people (from Joyce Carol Oates to Vanessa Redgrave to Yoko Ono.)
My experience was the same with this book: the personal introductions made me eager to read each poem and I came away with an appreciation for a whole group of poems I might not have even noticed before. Even though there were many poems I didn’t care for in both collections, I was still affected by the contributors’ candid descriptions of why those poems moved them to tears. Sometimes, those introductions were more memorable than the poems.
Because I found that experience so enriching, I wanted to make use of my many years as a literature teacher and writer to introduce readers to some poems they might not know and offer some ideas about some poems they do know.

How Are the Poems Selected?

Most of my life, I’ve focused my interest on contemporary poetry. That’s because when I was first starting out as a writer of poetry, I wanted to listen to the voices of people my age. I was under the arrogant impression that only these younger poets spoke my language, understood my emotions —indulgent crap like that.
The older I got, the more my appreciation for poets beyond my own time grew. Maybe because “my own time” was expanding at an alarming rate.
Now I am excited to hunker down with poems from before my birth because now I understand so much better how there is no “my own time” when it comes to humanity.
The poems in this blog are selected purely based on whimsy. First, I have to be moved by it on some level, have some sort of emotional reaction. Second, I have to believe that I have something to say about the poem, enough to do it some sort of justice. Some of the poems will be old, mostly within the last hundred years. Some will be contemporary.

Who Is the Audience?

I teach my creative writing students that they need to be aware of who their audience is when writing in order to maintain some consistency in tone, language, and thematic depth. When I sent my first entry (“The Cool Web”) to Bill McDonald, my former college professor and friend for 48 years, he reminded me that knowing my audience was key for the success of this blog. He was right, of course.
However, my secret power is that I’m not concerned with its success nor with being consistent. Originally, I imagined compiling an anthology of my favorite poems and short stories with hand-scrawled notes that I would pass along to my children, now 20 and 15, so that they would always have some part of me to share. Sappy, I know, but age tends to bring the sap to the bark’s surface. This blog is some sort of hybrid of that anthology for my children extended to include a larger though untargeted audience.
One of my favorite plays and movies is THE HISTORY BOYS, written by Alan Bennett. A particularly poignant scene takes place when a student (Timms) sits in a classroom with his teacher (Hector) and expresses his frustration with poetry.

TIMMS: Sir. I don’t always understand poetry.

HECTOR: You don’t always understand it? Timms, I never understand it. But learn it now, know it now and you’ll understand it whenever.

TIMMS: I don’t see how we can understand it. Most of the stuff poetry’s about hasn’t happened to us yet.

HECTOR: But it will, Timms. It will. And then you will have the antidote ready! Grief. Happiness. Even when you’re dying. Smile! We’re making your deathbeds here, boys.

I’ve always loved that exchange because literature has been a guide to me throughout my life. It has been the antidote to maladies I didn’t see coming. I pull those works out of my mental filing cabinet and they have comforted and instructed me. I try to make students see that it can do the same for them.
The big idea is that we are all going to die, but when that time comes will it be a Good Death (we feel happy and content that we were the best person we could be) or a Bad Death (we are filled with regret at having never made those human connections) Poetry can be that third rail that powers us to the person we want to become.
It’s become something of a joke in my classes that whenever we discuss a particularly challenging poem or story about marriage, parenting, death, or other topics they find far away from their own experiences, I proclaim,

“I’m making your deathbeds here, class.”

Guest Post by Jason Srebnick: A Now Write! Experience

Fiction CoverI had purchased the first book in the Now Write! series many years before my first coaching session with Laurie Lamson. I thought the book was great and it was intriguing to me that its author and series creator, Sherry Ellis, lived in Massachusetts, in a town not far from where I lived. She offered coaching lessons for writers to boot. To think I could meet in-person with a writing coach was exciting to say the least.

Sherry Ellis

I hesitated to contact Ms. Ellis because the project that I was working on at the time (and was quite passionate about) was a beloved screenplay, yet to be finished, of course. I didn’t know if she would scoff at the idea of reviewing and coaching someone on a screenplay and not “real” writing (i.e. prose.)

Then again, I didn’t ask. Ah, the insecurities that come with being an artist. That aside, I hadn’t finished it anyway, so there was no point yet. I was working a fulltime job and had a wife and two small children to support. Time spent on the screenplay was during “third shift” hours.

So I plugged away at my screenplay, night after night after night after night.

iu-1Developing character and plot and dialogue. Some days convinced I was a shoe-in for an Academy Award, the next wondering why I was wasting part of my life doing this (I’ve come to learn these ups and downs pretty much come with the territory for any writer.)

Finally, I finished and needed someone, a neutral party, to tell me if I had anything worth sending to Hollywood. By this time the Now Write! series had released a book specific to screenwriting so I hit the Now Write! website only to find out that Sherry Ellis had passed away. Ooof. Punch to the gut. Wind knocked out of me. A human life, dedicated to the arts, gone. A writing coach, in my own backyard. I had felt, somehow, that she and I were destined to work together.

Screenwriting-Cover-2I searched and contacted other writing coaches, especially ones who I could meet with in person, but either they were hard to come by or they all worked in prose. None worked in screenwriting.

Many months later, I don’t know why really, I went to the Now Write! website again. Laurie had revamped the site with a touching tribute to her Aunt and copy stating that she was taking over the series and she was offering coaching services. I emailed and asked if she was available to consult/coach on my screenplay.

She responded and said indeed she was available for consultation.

I sent along my screenplay and waited for her response with bated breath.

About two weeks later, she said she had finished reading and we arranged a call to discuss (had to be a call; she’s on the West Coast, I’m on the East.) The feedback was honest and blunt and sincere and useful.

My “little” screenplay weighed in at over 200 pages. Way too much for a screenplay, which typically run 120 pages max. Laurie touched on this in our session. She suggested that I stick to one theme (I had too many themes for a screenplay). The message among many that I took away was that I had written a novel in screenplay format. She provided encouragement but also a dose of reality, like any great coach.

In some ways I was shattered. No Academy Award after all. I didn’t take it personally because I knew the reality was a 200-page, multi-themed, screenplay wasn’t going to cut it for a first-time screenwriter. Heck maybe not even for a seasoned screenwriter with connections galore.
I contemplated many things. Should I publish it as a screenplay? I really dwelled on this one for a long time. Personally I ate up any screenplay I could read. A good number were sold on Amazon and in bookstores in “book” format (I have several) and others you could easily find on a variety of websites.

It was around this time that I noticed a large number of movies being released that were based on novels. Almost to the point where, it seemed anyways, every movie released was based on a novel. Perhaps, I thought, my entry into Hollywood would not come from submitting a screenplay but by publishing a novel, garnering an audience first and getting a movie deal that way.

I even emailed Laurie to ask her opinion: What do you think of me converting my screenplay to a novel?

Her response: I like it. Go for it!

It was then that I had an epiphany of sorts. I would no longer define myself as a screenwriter or a novelist, but rather a storyteller.

I didn’t really care if I was a hit in Hollywood. I just liked to tell stories and wanted an audience. Be it viewing or reading.

Okay, I would convert my screenplay into a novel, the one that I had put time, sweat, tears and more time into. This of course meant even more time dedicated to this particular story. All of my other ideas that were queued up would have to wait. This is one of the toughest parts of being a writer. Disciplining yourself to concentrate on the project at hand, despite the outpouring of new ideas from your subconscious. For the record, at least in my case, I think it’s a way to procrastinate as well.

But I knew how long it took me to write that screenplay. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to dedicate another year of my life to writing the novelization of it. And besides, I had never really written prose. Not in a serious way and not for a long time. The short of it was, could I even write prose? What to do?

I decided that before I embarked on the arduous task of novelizing my screenplay that I should write a short story to prove that I could in fact write prose and hang with the big boys and girls. I would then ask Laurie for feedback on this little tale and her candid advice would in some capacity, though not entirely, let me know if I should proceed.

It should be noted about now that I was paying her for all this. Laurie’s great but she does deserve to get paid. Just saying.

The Evolution of a Novel

For some time an idea had been sitting on the shelf in my brain where ideas yet to be born take up residence. It had been there for some time. It told of a character that is stuck in a dystopian future – I know, I know. Is there anything but a dystopian future these days? – where corporations ruled the world. Where work had not just tipped the balance but outright knocked the scale in the work-life balance equation completely over and crushed it into dust.

Around the same time, I had read of some reports that certain eBooks were being updated by publishers and authors without reader consent. The majority, if not all, of these updates were innocuous and innocent in their intent. Grammar and spelling changes and perhaps a slight change to some of the writing itself. All with the intention of making it better. What it boiled down to, in my eyes at least, was you were getting a second or third edition…automatically. But I guess this peeved some people off. That they were getting updates without consent. That it was in violation of something or other.

Regardless of my personal opinion on this, I thought, What if these futuristic corporate overlords did this with the intention of re-writing history to serve their own interests and agendas”? 

And what if there was this one person who was sort of a recluse living out in the country that preserved real books and lived a life that was the complete opposite of the poor corporate drone? 

And what if these two characters somehow met?

I embarked on the writing of a story. A short story. A very short story. It would be twenty pages, tops. Five thousand words at the very most. And I always envisioned leaving the ending open-ended. The reader would interpret for himself or herself what happened.

I finished a decent rough/first draft and, yikes, it weighed in at some 30,000 words. So much for short.

I contacted Laurie again. I asked her to review one short screenplay I wrote, one children’s book I wrote and my “short story” titled Bookworm.

Laurie got to the children’s book and the short screenplay first and we had a phone session to discuss. She had her usual candid and helpful feedback and overall said she loved both. Okay, now I was getting somewhere. I wasn’t crazy to think I could be a writer. Not that anyone should ever need someone else to tell them that, but it helps when you have a professional, neutral party tell you that you’ve got something. If I needed someone to tell me I was the best writer in the world I would have just gone to my mom.

Anyways, Laurie said she was going to tackle Bookworm next and would be in touch when finished.

The waiting killed me and I would check my email compulsively. I had to know what she thought of my writing.

Finally, I got an email from Laurie. I read it immediately. Damn. The email started off by telling me she was still reading; just checking in. Apparently she had a life outside of reading my story. I know, the nerve of her, right?

At the end of that email were words I will never forget. I quote: “BTW I’m loving Bookworm!!”

Yes! I might be on to something here.

Within a few weeks she finished reading and sent along notes. Laurie provides superb notes. Detailed and thoughtful. She compliments, she argues, she prods, she questions. They are awesome. We also scheduled a phone session. She had more questions, more compliments and more critical feedback during our call. But for me it was all good. < There was only one little problem. She said she had to know how it ended. She told me I couldn’t ask someone to read 30,000 words and leave them hanging. My little “let the reader decide how it ended” wasn’t going to fly. Maybe at 5,000 or fewer words but not 30,000 plus. So it was back to writing. Back to taking her feedback and applying it to the 30,000 words already written and then to coming up with at least 30,000 more.

What started out as a very short story, “a little experiment” to see if I could write prose turned into a nine-month endeavor from there.

I finished the “new” first draft and sent it off to Laurie. When she finished reading and we connected she again provided excellent feedback. Complimenting me in some areas and calling me out for being lazy in others (she was both nice about this and right.) With her notes, I went back to the re-write.

The final draft came in at over 75,000 words. I asked Laurie to be the editor and she graciously accepted.  Once her expert editing was complete, I decided to self-publish and have changed the title to Escape From Corpworld.

I had started out with a screenplay. A screenplay that wasn’t working as a screenplay. I decided to convert it into a novel. But first, I would write a short, quaint, little story to prove that I could write prose and it turned into a legitimate novel. Funny how life works isn’t it?

Escape from Corpworld coverEveryone who has read Escape From Corpworld has enjoyed it (especially my mom, but we all knew she would.) If you decide to read it, I hope you enjoy it as well.

With coaching I was able to prove to myself that I am a screenwriter, a novelist and ultimately a storyteller. I will be forever grateful.

If you have any questions for me in terms of my process, or what it was like working with Laurie, I would be happy to entertain such a discussion. Just send me an email at or contact me via my website:

And of course I need to give you the Amazon link to buy my book: Escape From Corpworld. It’s available in Kindle and paperback.

If you aren’t sure about spending the money, send me an email. I’ll gladly mail you a complimentary copy. All I ask is you write an Amazon review (good, bad or indifferent.) Amazon reviews are gold to an indie-author.

Excerpt from Escape From Corpworld: Chapter 4

Jason Srebnick is the author of Bookworm. He is a novelist, screenwriter, illustrator, poet, and cartoonist who lives in Massachusetts with his wife, two children and their dog. And books. Lots and lots of books. He currently works in IT Consulting and Management.

Guest Post by Tama Kieves: There’s Only One Note You Came To Sing

(Note from Now Write! editor Laurie Lamson:
I met Tama at a creativity conference hosted by our mutual publisher.  She gave such a heartfelt, inspiring talk, I requested a guest post.  Enjoy!)

There’s Only One Note You Came to Sing

by Career transition expert and author Tama Kieves

(excerpt from Tama’s book available from Tarcher/Perigee: Inspired & Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work!)

I listen to creative minds, visionaries, and entrepreneurs all day long in my coaching practice and I am moved by the spirit that moves them. Like you, they bounce off walls with ambition, hunger, and frustration. They secretly dream big, because they are big. Still they whisper their most meaningful desires, swallowing hard, as though they are confessing, say, a small hygiene problem or a third head. “I don’t even know if I’ll ever have what I want,” they say.

But I do. I know they are relentlessly drawn to where they belong.

male singerWe don’t choose our wildest dreams. They choose us. They point us toward our natural environment. When we’re not using our deepest gifts, we can feel like trout thrashing about on a dock desperate to find water. It’s that necessary to live our calling.


“You’re just so restless,” my mother, a torch-bearing worshipper of security, used to say to me. I thought wanting to “be all you can be” in life was a good thing, not a personality disorder to cover up with a TV Guide, or a tri-level house in Long Island. But, like many inspired souls, I’ve often felt lonely in my consistent desire for true expression. I’d envy those who could kick back in “normal” lives, enjoy a few burgers at a backyard barbecue and some nice, conventional success.

iu-paperback-coverThey’d fix a garage door, buy a house at the lake, or take a cruise to Alaska, and that would be enough. They didn’t wrestle with some unnamable gravitational pull, a colony of inner voices, or the secret claustrophobia of their own trapped potential. They didn’t need to change the world, chant some mantra, become a brand, or win a Pulitzer or a Grammy. In other words, they could just turn on the news. They didn’t need to be the news.

But a therapist of mine once said she believed my “restlessness” was an essential prerequisite for progress and abundance.

Therapists always say these things, serving up hot cocoa for the soul and wiping our chins, which is why we pay them half our gross income. She explained how restlessness wouldn’t let me fall asleep to the presence of my gifts, and the difference I could make in the world. She saw longing as a wonderful capacity to “stay attuned to what my Inspired Self wanted to become.”
Just so you know, this is why I’ve never fit in at barbecues. I just can’t talk to a financial analyst or a plumber in a Hawaiian shirt and get the words “attune” and “pass the dogs” into the same sentence. “You want more,” said my wise counselor, “because you are more. There’s more in this lifetime for you to become.”


And that’s what I’ll tell you. You have more to give us. You have a built-in, divine assignment to employ all your gifts and to realize your exponential capacity. Your inspired self has bigger fish to fry and it doesn’t perceive any of the limitations that you do. That’s why it graciously kicks you in the ribs at night and tells you to stop dreaming small.

Your desire is the full moon that stirs and pulls the tide. It’s compelling because it’s more real than anything else. You dream of the life that calls you because everything under the sun is hardwired to know where it belongs. You don’t need reasons or evidence when your bones trill with longing. Birds and fish just migrate. Everything living seeks to unfurl its own true nature…

I remember talking to my friend Angela one night. I felt suspicious of my own desire to take my creativity to the next level. I wondered if I’d just watched one too many Oprah shows. Or maybe I wanted bigger success because I was still hunting for approval or love, admittance into some elusive club, an addict on a spree. Hey, I’d been to therapy.

“I wish I could say I wanted to help the world, like Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, and that’s why I was doing this,” I said to Angela. I did want to help, but that didn’t seem to be the fuel in my engine.

“Well, why are you doing this?” she said, with a voice full of love and confidence, encouraging me to sound out possible truths. I cringed as I pinpointed a slippery feeling in the back of my consciousness, something crouching and uncomfortable.

“I want to win,” I said to her, and it felt so ugly and unenlightened, competitive and calculating. Goodbye, Dalai Lama, enter the beast with beady eyes. “I want to win,” I said again. Having confessed it, I decided to explore that naked desire more.

“It’s not that I want tons of money,” I said, though of course I’d welcome a padded bank account.

“What is it?” she said gently.

“It’s not that I want fame, though I wouldn’t mind it,” I admitted.

“Then what is it?” she repeated.

Finally, I felt an encrusted door swing open inside me. I said, “I want to win because I think I have a home run in me.” Everything within me relaxed. “It’s just the note I came to sing,” I said. Then my words and tears just flowed. “I want to be big. I want to be known. It’s the level of expression that I feel like my talent was made for. It’s my note,” I said, looking into her soft brown eyes. “It’s the only note that will feel real to me.”

Then she repeated back to me, “It’s just the note you came to sing.”


thistimeidance-cover-260x420Suddenly my desire didn’t seem so evil or garish anymore, suddenly it wasn’t narcissistic, slimy, or base. It was just the truth. It felt as natural as the inclination to write with my right hand, and love red maple leaves and coffee ice cream, or hate sauerkraut, humidity, and anyone, anywhere, who could wear Lycra and look decent. It felt neutral and ordinary and even involuntary.

I realized then that we don’t get to choose our calling. We get to choose whether or not we will listen to each nudge or flare, whether or not we will believe, and whether or not we will dedicate ourselves to this territory of homecoming within us; but we don’t get to choose which doorway has our name on it, which one swings open for us, into the wild country of heightened capacities, love, and awe.

Suddenly this need for boundless expression and a sweeping life was no longer about my ego. It was about my integrity. It was about staying true to the evolving, amazing life force within. It was simple. I needed to breathe fire so that I could breathe.

I urge you to stay true to your integrity. I urge you to listen to what only you know inside. You dream big because you’re called. Say yes to the ride. You belong in the life of your dreams. And you don’t belong anywhere else.


author_400pxTama Kieves is an honors graduate of Harvard Law School who left her law practice to write and help others discover and soar in the work they’re meant to do. She is the bestselling author of This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love and her new book Inspired & Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work!, which hit #1 on for career books. Featured in USA Today and on Oprah radio, she is a sought-after speaker and career/success/book coach, who has helped thousands world-wide to discover, launch, and thrive in the life, calling and businesses of their dreams. Join her daily on Facebook & visit and download her “Inspired Power Tool Kit“ for free coaching support for the amazing life that you are meant to live.