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My #VOTY “Own Your Creativity” video: Taking a tricky piece of writing from page to stage

I start talking :35 seconds in. If you don’t see a video, click here.

When BlogHer selected me to read one of my posts as part of their Voices of The Year keynote, I was shocked, thrilled, then daunted by the task before me: Become a Lucha Libre motivational speaker…en Español.

As someone who dishes out advice on launching writing from the page to the stage, it was ironic to find myself challenged with a less-than-ideal post to read aloud.

First problem: conceptual humor. If your humor revolves more around wordplay than telling a story, it’s easy to lose your audience. Often, the more clever the wording, the more your audience struggles to keep up with you. You say “Churros-fortify” and they think “Did Charro market a breakfast cereal?” Suddenly you find yourself three sentences into the next paragraph while the audience still chews on “Churros” and “fortify.”  Better to say “Eat some Churros.”

Also, betting against me with this piece? The list format. No matter how genius your writing, the minute an audience hears “NUMBER ONE” they begin fretting over exactly how many numerals they’ll have to sit through. My friend-cum-editor/coach Shari came to my rescue. She and I dealt with this by my setting up the structure of the piece for the audience with a whopping “NNNNNUMERO UNO” to set the tone. It needed a transition from the first sentences into the body, but notice I never counted again after that.

I then took the following measures:

1. Leave them wanting more—really, trust me, do. I used 90% of Shari’s suggested edits and simplified wherever I could. If you can say it in less words, do.

2. Dumb it down. Any words that sound too fancy/unexpected might interrupt your listener’s flow (see also, churros). Look for anything potentially confusing: I changed Sew Perfect to “Barbie Styling Head,” because Shari pointed out that the audience would hear “So perfect” and likely have no idea what I meant. Plus, Barbie+Styling+Head= FUNNY.

3. I un-mixed my metaphors. The Chicago traffic metaphor ended up feeling like a distraction from the wrestling metaphor. And why say “yup” when you can stay on-metaphor and instead say “si, si, senora!” I think this last minute addition got the biggest laugh of the piece. You’ll also notice I took out some of the Spanish pronunciation when I felt it was enough already or distracting from the message.

4. I dealt with the elephant in my piece. I’m not even close to a fluent Spanish-speaker. I wanted to address my accent immediately, so the audience didn’t have to sit there thinking “She must’ve bought the NO-NAME Rosetta Stone” for the entire time I spoke. So the first words out of my mouth became…

If you’ve dreamed of hearing lucha libre lingo from a Wisconsin Jewess? You’re in luck.

I have a creative soul. Creative talent can usher immeasurable blessings while simultaneously giving you the flying head-scissors.

I started my blog as a writing practice. It led to what professionals might call “creative self-discovery” and feels much like el tornillo; a flying cross-body press with a full twist around the axis.

Instead of giving out wardrobe advice, or re-posting my networking tips, I’d like to wish you Feliz Dia del BlogHer ‘13  by sharing my Lucha Libre moves for owning your creativity.

Nnnnnumero Uno: Become a luchador (fighter), not a referee. You can’t fight while you referee someone else’s match. Morning traffic reporters in Chicago call it gapers’ delay when traffic jams stem not from an accident, but instead from all the rubber-necking. Envy, jealousy, and spite stem from your resistance to doing your own work. Picture envy, jealousy and spite as las minis estrellas and give them la guillotina (leg drop those midget wrestlers!). You might need to facebook-stalk for a respectable amount of time and eat lots and lots of churros-fortify, but then break the gapers’ delay and return to la lucha, campeon! Go fight, Champion! Write something or take a photo or call a friend who makes you feel muy bien.

Get in el quadralitero (ring). Want to be published? Write and submit, write more, submit more! Want to speak at a conference or on air? Submit a proposal, keep pitching. You want a book deal? Write the book (or the proposal). Wish you had a column? Make contacts and keep pitching—in the meantime write the column on your blog. Ask your favorite coffee shop if you can invite some friends and read some of your favorite posts. Start your own blog community or online magazine with your blog peers. Gather friends and read your work at a café. Don’t wait for a hand-engraved wrestling speedo–Make your own opportunities.

Take off your mask la mascara (mask) once in a while. In 2008 I deemed annsrants a humor blog. Today I’m Mexican wrestling about creativity. If I only write funny here for every single post, invariably I grow uneven and begin despising this space. And believe me, when I’m uneven it really screws up my flying Centon. So occasionally I shimmy out of the humor mask, I wear la cabellera (just my hair) instead of the mask. If you write a fashion blog I hope you do a sweat suit giveaway on occasion. If you write a cooking blog, I hope you also photograph Taco Bell night. If you write a happiness blog, I hope you have a toll free number and a safety plan. Take off the mask, we want to see your face.

Own it. I had to go into therapy for this one. Why can’t I just blog for fun like a normal person? I asked shortly after I began blogging. Why do I have to take everything national? My ambition caused me shame. I felt embarrassed—ashamed—at feeling so goal-driven, and at needing and wanting to accomplish so much.  I struggled with my unexpressed potential, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I just knew that for me blogging didn’t fit the “for fun” or “hobby” check boxes. My therapist said, that’s because for you this is professional—you’re building a career. Sure, my inner-critic said “HA Career, HA if you’re talented enough, HA if you ever make any money,” but my therapist’s explanation made sense, and my soul nodded yup si, si, senora. I started owning my creative ambition and found other people proudly wearing theirs’ as sequined capes. We started saying our dreams out loud and stuff started happening. Then I started a show and…well, took it national.

One move at a time. Yes you too can perfect both the rana (frog) and the jaula (cage), but one at a time. Pick one or two dreams or goals and devote yourself—announce them out loud with your voice, and to your trusted people. You have to own it to make it happen, and you can’t achieve everything all at once. And then…

Become El Rudo (a brute). Say no, relentlessly. The moment you own your dream and name it, the universe will test you with that Barbie Styling Head Sew Perfect you wanted for Hanukkah in 1980: Want to write for our awesome site you would have killed to write for up until this exact moment? Here’s a job opening for a position you wanted 6 months ago! Mexican wrestling is fun, but your BFF wants you to run a marathon! It will happen and it will test your resolve, and nothing feels more satisfying than prioritizing yourself and your batalla (battle) over everything for the first time.

Establish the rules. Define your goal and how you get there. Create benchmarks so you can see yourself progressing measure your progress. I don’t recommend elusive goals like become popular or get discovered by an agent and land a book deal because they make passive waiting/hoping goals. Make them active by defining what popularity means to you—a certain number of followers? An impressive bio?a killer resume, evenly feathered hair [editors note: in retrospect, I probably should’ve gone back to the metaphor instead of hair feathers, but it went with “popular” to me]—and outlining your steps to get there (giveway, guest posts? facebook ad?). See also: do your work, write the book.

“Find your Capitan” was originally here, but “Because you will tire of the battle” flows naturally into “Rest and wash your uniform”

Your blog and social media are sus amigos, not El Jefe (the boss). For 99% of us, the blog will never bring fame nor especially not fortune. As soon as you view your blog and online presence as a friend or tool toward a greater goal rather than the goal itself, you can stop obsessing over how many people read and follow you, how many comments you get, who retweets you and who doesn’t. Put all that wasted energy back toward your goal, your path—la lucha! Make a list of why you keep blogging/your presence online and revisit it when you tire of the battle. Because you will tire of the battle. la batalla (battle.)

Find your Capitan. Find a mentor, a writing group, your trusted people—Parejas Increibles Incredible pairings, heels teaming up with faces! Surround yourself with other professionals who challenge you to grow, while supporting you along your journey. Sometimes these people emerge after you make your goal public. Other times they happen because you pay them for their consultation. Yes, you deserve it.

Rest and wash your uniform. Read books on real paper, exercise that chair butt beyond the swivel. Make room in your head. Re-introduce yourself to your family members. Actively seek inspiration (artistic, spiritual, edible—whatever works for you).

Breathe. Practice patience–my hardest work. Trust that your journey is unfolding as it should—that you have exactly the information you need and only the info you need when you need it. If you don’t know what your goal is, keep doing the work and trust the answer to reveal itself. I keep Melody Beattie and Pema Chodron books by my bedside, and loving people surrounding me. I seek out mentorship professionally and privately. Sometimes I meditate. Patience makes the true lucha libre for me—the free fight—because when I let go of impatience stop fighting against patience I feel free. But I also need to keep fighting for my creativity to feel free.

Some people are born into extended wrestling families. Some people are born to contribute creativity. Own it, use it, and–whatever you do–don’t skimp on your mask designer.

5. ENERGY: Go big or go home. If I delivered this piece half-assed, it would’ve fallen completely flat. While I did work some on my timing and the humor, I decided that for me communicating my passion about owning your creativity proved the key to delivering this piece successfully. Instead of fussing over how I’d say each word or line, I boiled the spirit of the piece down to two words “prioritize yourself.” I repeated those words—prioritize yourself– inside my head over and over before going on stage, because even after waiting for 2.5 hours, those words helped me find my passion and share it with the audience.

6. And sometimes I added stuff in to try to lighten it up/make it funnier.  I wanted to keep it from sounding preachy, and let’s be honest AUDIENCE LAUGHTER FILLS THE ACHING SOUL-VOID WITHIN US ALL.

Hope you enjoyed it. Besos!!

18 comments… add one

  • Pearl August 13, 2013, 8:04 am

    Informative and amusing. :-)


  • Becky August 13, 2013, 8:22 am

    Damn girl! That was amazing! So proud of you.

  • Melisa August 13, 2013, 9:36 am

    I love this. All of it.

  • Melisa August 13, 2013, 9:37 am

    Oh, also: you are my very favorite Wisconsin Jewess.

  • Becky August 13, 2013, 1:49 pm

    Um… HELLO!??! I’m in Wisconsin and Jew-ISH.

  • Leigh Ann August 13, 2013, 4:21 pm

    I loved that piece, and seeing your edits is SO helpful.

  • Suzy August 13, 2013, 11:39 pm

    At the live reading of No Kidding in NY, they filmed it and put it on our private Facebook page. When I watched it I followed along in the book. I was amazed at how many people COMPLETELY rewrote their pieces for the live show, or edited their piece to within an inch of its life. While some of the essays are funny, some are also serious, reflective, or just slightly humorous. I decided to take my piece, edit it, and at the LA reading, I took out anything that wasn’t funny hahaha a laugh a second. Since I’m a comic, I knew it would KILL me to hear silence so I made sure that didn’t happen. (it did happen anyway because I’m not clairvoyant.)

    We have another reading in October where I will do the same thing. Edited the same way. Producers in NY have approached our fearless leader, Henriette Mantel, about turning our anthology into an Off Broadway show. If I end up doing that, I won’t have any say in the editing process. This will scare me. MUCHO.

  • Heather Novak August 14, 2013, 7:21 am

    Marvelous education pour moi! Thank you once again Ann, for your transparency and HUMOR. I learned a few things here to help me keep firing my creativity! MERCI!

  • Heather August 14, 2013, 7:40 am

    It was awesome. So glad I got to hear it at BlogHer. You did an amazing job, truly.

  • Lady Jennie August 14, 2013, 9:46 am

    You did a really great job and Shari is the best. :-)

  • julie gardner August 14, 2013, 12:44 pm

    You (and Shari) are sew smart.
    Also, I love your hair.

    I know. That’s off topic – except for the fact that I never had a Barbie Styling Head which is why my own hair no es bueno.

  • dusty earth mother August 14, 2013, 7:45 pm

    It was such a pleasure working on this with you. I wish I could put your face on a Barbie Styling Head so I could keep you with me forever. And yes, that sounds like a stalker/slasher movie, but I don’t care. I love you.

  • Erin Janda Rawlings August 15, 2013, 7:27 am

    I loved listening to you at #VOTY!

    As a former English teacher, this is one of my most favorite posts of all time – the writing tips, the color-coded highlights, the extended metaphor – LOVE IT ALL!

    But above all, the message. I feel totally inspired by this piece!

  • Marta G August 15, 2013, 7:25 pm

    Best Wisconsin jewess I sort of know. Can you please help me edit ../ everything?

  • Joanna Jenkins August 16, 2013, 4:46 pm

    Now I feel better about not being able to attend BlogHer. You were AWESOME!
    xo jj

  • Jessica Watson August 17, 2013, 2:45 pm

    Love being able to put a voice to your face and your words. Thanks for all the tips, so much I hadn’t thought about.

  • Erin I'm Gonna Kill Him August 19, 2013, 6:20 am

    I love you Mexican wrestling about creativity. You are masterful at page to stage, but I know just what you mean when the page is different than the stage. And it’s hard to know until you do it (for me anyway). I learned a lot about what people could respond to live vs. what they liked reading. I have to do DWV live again soon, and I have to do it this time without any visuals or graphics to support it. I’m worried about how it will translate when I have to say “Stage One: Grief” instead of allowing a screen to do it for me. Anyway, you did a great job, Campeon.

  • B.G. August 31, 2013, 5:27 am

    Ay, chica! Muchas, muchas gracias por sharing the delicious behind-the-scenes of editing a piece to take it from page to stage. This is the kind of practical writing nerd-dom that fills my soul almost as much as the message behind your piece. I also give you an e-high-five for being vulnerable enough to show us editing. It’s the writer’s equivalent of walking out to get the paper in one’s bathrobe and wet hair. Thank you!

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