Guest Post: Rules for a Successful Writing Life from Maya Angelou By Jenny Hansen

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Guest Post: Rules for a Successful Writing Life from Maya Angelou By Jenny Hansen
Thank you to Jenny Hansen for today’s guest post, which was originally published on Writers in the Storm.

Maya Angelou, inspiration

Today I’m thinking about the people who inspired me on this writing journey.

There are the usual suspects… My mother, who encouraged my constant scribbling. The 6th grade teacher who put my essay up on the wall with a shiny gold star. Countless friends and teachers, in my home writing chapter and online. The founders and contributors here at WITS.

There are the great writers who have already passed: Pat Conroy, Blake Snyder, Zig Ziglar, Harper Lee. And Maya Angelou, who deserves a post all to herself. Angelou is who I’m thanking today, as she’s my get-up-and-go girl when I’m down about this writing life. Her quotes are in blue.

A mentor helps a person to interpret the world.

I can hear Angelou’s strong voice in my mind, that well-modulated tone that filled hundreds of auditoriums and thousands of hearts. She said, “In order to be an effective mentor, a mentor has to care.” It’s her special talent that, although we’ve never met, I still feel her care. I know I’m not alone…she has mentored millions with her words.

Her Lessons for a Successful Life

1. Do right – it will satisfy your soul.

“Try to be the best you can be. People will know you and they will add their prayers to your life and be happy for you.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m a huge fan of kindness. It doesn’t cost you anything to help lift others up. It doesn’t push you down. In fact, it will probably give you a mental lift for the next task you face. It might be a door you open, a review you write or a tweet that you share, but paying kind deeds forward will satisfy you. I promise.

Pick up the battle – this is your life. This is your world. Make it a better one where you are. It is up to us to make the world better.

2. Be courageous.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues – you can’t be kind or fair or humane or generous until you find your courage. Courage is required to defend all the other virtues, and to be a whole person.

3. Self-love is very important.

Never trust anyone who says they love you if they don’t first love themselves. At a college commencement address, Angelou shared an old African proverb with those young people: Be careful of a naked man who offers you a shirt.

If you’re having trouble with the self-love today – and we all have those days – she recommends “gathering everyone who has loved you – bring them along with you when you have to do anything.”

Think of your granny who stroked your hair as you fell asleep at night, or the relative who taught you an important skill. Think of your best friend who thinks you hang the moon and stars in the sky. If you’re a believer, think of God.

Just because your loved ones aren’t always with you anymore, doesn’t mean their love doesn’t still live inside you. Pass their love along to yourself.

4. If you don’t laugh, you will die.

The sense of humor is self-defense against life’s difficulties, but it’s also good for us. Stress is the current slow-killer in our society, paving the way for illness and depression.

This article from Laughter Online University gives several health benefits of laughter:

  • Laughter triggers the release of a cocktail of happy chemicals that boosts the immune responses, particularly components related to anti-viral and anti-tumor defenses.
  • Laughter boosts secretion of growth hormone, an enhancer of key immune responses.
  • Laughing leads to the release of endorphins, a natural opiate that has been scientifically shown to carry messages of attachment and bonding (the scientific terms for love), and to stimulate feelings of caring and forgiveness in addition to acting as a natural painkiller.
  • Laughter stimulates circulation and aids muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
  • Laughter can help you learn. This theory is held by many learning experts and leaders.

I’m quite certain that the younger Maya didn’t know the science of it all, but she learned that laughter helps you find a way forward when you feel like there is no way.

5. Be a blessing to someone.

Be a rainbow in someone’s cloud. We may not speak the same language or dance the same dance, but be a blessing to someone.

After a childhood rape, Maya Angelou stopped speaking for five years. When she stopped speaking, she started reading and the stories kept her afloat.

She knew what we all know: stories are important. They are our friends when we’re lonely, assurance when we’re scared, inspiration when we’re down. Stories are a gift and many of us write to pay that gift forward.

Angelou quotes that speak to me as a writer:

“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.”

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

“If you get, give. If you learn, teach.”

“When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that. But I’m also trying for the language. I’m trying to see how it can really sound.”

“All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells that we are all more alike than we are unalike.”

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.”

“Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”

She exhorted all of us to “turn struggles into triumphs,” know you are talented, do your best and, most of all, “keep rising.”

From her poem, Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Do you have a Maya Angelou quote that particularly speaks to you? Or a quote from a different writing mentor. Who has been a rainbow in your cloud?

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or at Writers In The Storm.

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