Whatever You Are Doing, It Is Enough.

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

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Needless to say, things are weird. And stressful and scary and if you are even checking your email these days, you are winning. If you are getting out of bed most days, if you are feeding yourself, if you are trying in any way, shape or form, you are winning.

March has been bananas, this year’s theme of ridiculous highs followed by devastating lows continuing, despite my pleas for it to stop, stop, just please STOP!

Moving to virtual teaching has been chaos. Becoming the sole breadwinner for my family has been terrifying. Trying to make progress on my novel-in-verse (and hopefully, the second book on my contract with Little Brown) has been impossible.

But there have been some bright spots. I saw the final version of my cover and it is beautiful. The colors are so indicative of the Southwest and my main characters are stunning. Obviously, I can’t spill all the details but I hope you’ll enjoy these clues until the cover is finally revealed!

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I also got feedback on my marketing wishlist and I think some really cool things are in store! I’m hoping this week will also bring some good news regarding a picture book I wrote, as well as confirmation that the novel-in-verse has officially been accepted as book two.

Things are still happening, despite the fact that the rest of life seems to be standing still. What has helped though is trying to keep all things in perspective and to remember how lucky I am that I still have my job, that I can work from home, and that I can self-quarantine without fear of losing said job.

Working from my kitchen table while overlooking my pecan tree as it begins to sprout leaves is a privilege. Ordering my groceries to be delivered and tipping the driver as much as possible is a privilege. Being warm and dry inside my cozy home is a privilege. But even though I am feeling immense gratitude, I am also feeling a million other things, some I can’t even really put into words.

And that’s okay. It’s okay to struggle with this new normal.

What’s not okay is expecting yourself to be as productive as you usually are and then shaming yourself when you’re not. Most of us writers are so used to creating in the cracks. We wake up early to write before work. We scribble in a notebook during our lunch breaks. We add to our word count late into the night when everyone else is sleeping. We are used to seeing a hole in our daily agenda and instantly filling it up with more work.

A lot of us like to track this progress with word counters or stickers or coloring in blocks in a bullet journal. When we meet our goal for the day, it feels euphoric, and when we fail to get there, it feels like the end of the world. Now every day feels like the end of the world and not just because we’re not writing. But because it literally feels like the end of the world (book of revelation style).

This is new territory; next-level trauma on a global scale. If you can create with all of that background noise, God bless you. But if you can’t, seriously, God bless you. Because this is hard and if watching other people tout their achievements online is making you crazy, save yourself and look away. This is not the time for ramping up productivity. This is the time for cozy socks, for cheesecake, for re-runs of Community. This is the time for virtual hugs, not virtual pissing contests.

Whatever you are doing, it is enough.

You are enough.

The Cost of Mining Memories

Mental Health, Writing Process

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Sometimes, zooming in on those experiences that make you unique; that give you something to draw from, that give you something to say, can be painful. Especially when you begin mining through memories you wish you could forget.

When it comes to writing novels, I am never short of ideas. I have entire Google docs full of them. But for some reason, it hasn’t been as easy trying to come up with an idea for another picture book. It feels like there’s this physical barrier between me and the past and the more I examined it, the clearer it became that there was a barrier and that I’d put it there.

Some people have extremely vivid memories from childhood. For me, most of the things that happened before I was around eight or nine years old have been wiped clean. As if my brain has been compartmentalizing my experiences since I was born.

This memory is soft and squishy, let’s make it easily accessible. This memory is scary and confusing, let’s bury it so deep no one will ever find it. This memory is too soft and squishy and causes discomfort, let’s hide this one too. This memory is absolutely terrifying, let’s blow it up nice and big so it will be extra noticeable.

And so on and so forth.

What this means is that my head is full of fragments. If I stare through the kaleidoscope long enough, sometimes an image starts to come through–a color, a time of day, a certain smell, the sound of someone’s voice. But that takes effort. Honestly, it takes courage. Because I don’t always know what I’m going to find. It could be something joyful, something that makes me feel safe and loved. Or it could be something cold. Something that makes me ache.

But it is only in the remembering that I can find what I’m looking for. Even if I don’t know what that is yet. This story that is still unwritten, it’s waiting for me to look through that kaleidoscope. To find it buried. To drudge it up from the dust and doubt that clings to time. Past me is waiting for current me to bust the door down and save the day. To take the mess and muck of the past and paint it into something beautiful. Something that matters.

Writing has always been a source of healing for me. But I think there’s something about writing these stories for that version of myself I can barely remember, that’s going to mend me in a completely new way. And sometimes mending hurts. Sometimes healing comes with a cost. But if we aren’t willing to pay it, what happens to those wounds? To those hurts no one else can see?

They may go into hiding again.

They may seem like they’ve disappeared.

But nothing heals in the dark.

So, eventually, all these things must come to light. And we can either turn away in fear, letting things fester. Or we can face it, fashioning the hurt into something new.

Zoom In

Writing Process

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When one of your dreams comes true, your ability to dream expands. Like a barren field suddenly drenched in rain. Things begin to sprout.

I never thought I would write a picture book. I always wanted to but it’s actually the form I find most intimidating. Because nothing is inconsequential. Every word matters. Every word must sing. And it must sing in a voice that children know. Children, who see truth more starkly than we do.

But then I got my book deal and the floodgates opened. I wanted to stretch myself as a writer. I wanted to wade into deeper waters. I wanted to try something new.

Emphasis on the word try.

My first attempt was…not good. Then I had another idea that just didn’t pan out.

But in these planning stages of a new project, I’m no longer alone. And it was the advice of my agent that finally brought me to the perfect concept. And her advice, essentially, was to zoom in. To latch onto a specific moment in time and ground the story in the specific details that make it so memorable.

When you’re writing a book for teens or tweens, you’re thinking of an age category; identifying your readers at the macro level. When you’re writing a picture book, you need to start much smaller. You’re not writing for a particular age group. You’re writing for a particular child.

Maybe that child is you. Maybe that child is your child or someone else’s. Either way, the things that child needs, the things that child deserves should be at the forefront of your mind.

When I started thinking of that audience of one, it led me straight to a memory I had forgotten even belonged to me. It was about living in a multi-family home surrounded by my mother, my grandparents, my aunt, and my cousins. All seven of us sharing a three-bedroom house. I wrote about playing in my grandfather’s workshop and family dinners and listening to my mom and my aunt gossiping on the couch.

Memories I hadn’t visited in such a long time. Memories I never would have thought could serve as inspiration for a children’s story. But here’s what I know now: My memories don’t have to be magical. They don’t have to be grand. What makes them meaningful is the fact that they’re mine.

It doesn’t make sense that the more you zoom in; the more specific a story is, the more it resonates. But somehow it’s true. Because it’s the kaleidoscope of details that make up our lives that make them worth living in the first place. Even when there’s heartache, even when the closer you look, the more it stings. These are the things that connect us.

Writing this story down was like unwrapping a gift. One my childhood-self needed. One my childhood-self deserved.

One some other child might actually get to read someday. Because I was brave enough to zoom in. To look at the cracks and tears and ripples, letting time and distance bend them into something beautiful.

Back to Drafting

Writing Process

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To go from a polished manuscript that was good enough to be acquired by an editor to a Draft 0, the plot of which is still mostly hidden behind a dense fog, is incredibly jarring.

My brain has been in revision mode since November. Now all of a sudden I’m supposed to shut off that inner critic so I can play around in the mud of this new story. That’s what a Draft 0 requires—getting dirty. But that’s hard to do when you’ve spent the past few months trying to get another story squeaky clean.

What’s helped me though is drafting a new project in an entirely different form. My WIP is my first novel-in-verse, something I’ve been dying to tackle ever since I read The Poet X a few years ago. I actually teach an entire unit over The Poet X during the fall and with each re-read, I have fallen more and more in love with that style of storytelling.

So I finally decided to give it a shot.

My next book is another YA contemporary romance told in dual POV and it includes all my favorite things—food, music, and family dynamics. But written entirely in verse.

The writing process for this project has been so different from the way I’ve drafted things in the past. Poetry is just more forgiving. There are less rules and so the mistakes are less glaring. Instead of feeling like I’m pulling teeth, finding the words has felt like playing in a giant sandbox. What I uncover is always a surprise and my energy when I sit down to work is much more curious and playful.

On a craft level, every poem has felt like solving a tiny puzzle that is part of this much larger puzzle that I don’t even know the shape of yet. And that’s exciting.

Sometimes, not knowing where a story is headed can feel like such a slog. Because no matter how many words you add to your word count, you’re doing it with the knowledge that most of that first draft is probably going to get cut. You’re going into the work knowing that you are making a blood and sweat sacrifice that may or may not pay off. You love the work or else you wouldn’t come back to it. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Especially when you know the words you’re writing are rotten; that they’re weeds that will need to be pulled sooner or later.

But writing in verse is different.

There’s less pressure and more room to explore. You’re writing moments, not chapters, and so it’s not as devastating to press delete. Because it was only just a thought. A handful of words. Not like a novel where making cuts feels like removing flesh.

When I’m writing poetry, I don’t feel like I’m making a blood sacrifice. I don’t feel like I’m losing something at all.

 

I feel like I’m planting tiny seeds.
Like I’m watching the flowers bloom.
Like I’m facing the sun.

I feel safe.

And I had no idea that I would love it this much.
I had no idea that I needed it this much.

But what a gift to make a mess and call it art.
What a gift to color outside the lines.

I thought there was only danger on the other side.
But there are no monsters. No storm clouds.

Only freedom.

How I’m Spending My Book Advance Part II

Marketing & Promotion

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To read about how I spent my first advance check, click here.

Here’s a quick recap:

6-months of financial coaching: $1,525 ; 3.5% of 1st advance check
Accounting Services: $1,000-$1,200 ; 3% of 1st advance check
2019 Taxes: $10,000 ; 24% of 1st advance check
Student Loans: $8,600 ; 20% of 1st advance check
Roth IRA: $6,000 (this is the maximum contribution you can make per year) ; 14% of 1st advance check
(I decided to go with Ellevest in case you’re curious. Use my link to sign up and you’ll get $20!)
3-Month Emergency Fund: $8,500 ; 20% of 1st advance check
(I actually increased this to $12,500 based on advice from my financial planner. I’ll be adding another $500 from my next advance check to reach $13,000)
AWP Registration: $250
Lodging: $425
Miscellaneous: $6,000 ; 14% of 1st advance check
(I ended up making some extra car payments with this money, $1,500 is going towards a Highlights retreat I’d like to attend in September, $700 was set aside for author photos, and $2,000 is going towards a new home office so I don’t have to write on the couch anymore.)

When it came to my first advance check, getting clear about my values was key to me making financial decisions that I didn’t end up regretting later. Did some of my plans change? Absolutely. That’s life. But because the things I valued most were at the top of my priorities list, and therefore taken care of first, I was able to be flexible in other areas of my budget without feeling like my plan was completely ruined.

For this second check, I have another list of priorities, which will most likely also experience some shifting. But here’s how I plan to spend the money based on my current circumstances:

1. Taxes

I’m stashing away another $10,000 for quarterly tax payments. After filing for 2019, I’ll have a better idea of what I’ll actually owe (and hopefully it’ll be less than this amount). But for now, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry.

2020 Taxes: $10,000 ; 47% of 2nd advance check

2. Emergency Fund Completed

I’ve been regularly meeting with a financial adviser since August. At a recent meeting, we pulled budget data from the last four months and determined that a true 3-month emergency fund for me would be about $13,000. After taking some funds from my first advance check, I was still $500 short so I’ll be topping it off with this second check.

I use a budgeting tool called YNAB. I absolutely love it and have found the different data reports it provides incredibly enlightening. It’s similar to budgeting in QuickBooks but YNAB has more capabilities and an attractive, easy to use interface. There is a fee to use the software but I think it’s well worth it, especially in terms of planning ahead for larger expenses or things like taxes.

3-Month Emergency Fund: $500 (+$12,500 from previous check = $13,000) ; 2% of 2nd advance check

3. Car Loan

I somehow managed to secure a car loan with only a 1% interest rate, which is why I chose to pay off student loans and build an emergency fund before paying off this debt.

Some people would have more peace of mind knowing they’re debt-free. I knew what would give me the most peace of mind was completing my emergency fund so I chose to focus on that instead.

Once that $400 I was previously putting toward my car loan is freed up, I’d like to start investing through the same platform I’m using for my retirement account, Ellevest.

Car Loan: $2,000 ; 9% of 2nd advance check

4. Roth IRA

I used money from my first advance check to max out my contributions for 2019. With the second check, I’ll be contributing money for 2020. The amount below is only about half of what can be contributed for 2020 but I’m hoping I’ll be able to secure another contract this year. Otherwise, I’ll take that extra $400 a month that used to go to my car payment and put it towards the IRA instead of an investment account.

Roth IRA: $3,500 ; 16% of 2nd advance check

5. Writing Expenses

I really have no idea how much money I should be setting aside for the marketing and promotion of my debut novel. Everywhere I look, I get conflicting advice about how much money to spend and what’s actually worth spending money on. Some people say conferences are absolutely worth the expense and others say they’re a waste of time and money. Some people fund their own tours while others only go where their publisher sends them.

I’m hoping I’ll have some more clarity on this issue by the time my book actually comes out. In the meantime, I’m setting aside $5,000 just in case. I came up with that number after considering the cost of travel but it could end up being way too much or not enough. Luckily, I don’t need that $5,000 for anything else essential–all my debts will be paid off and I’ll have a fully stocked emergency fund–so there’s no harm in saving it for the next twelve months or so until I have a more concrete marketing and promotional plan.

Marketing & Promotion for Book 1: $5,000 ; 24% of 2nd advance check

These are my plans for now. If you’re reading through them and asking yourself, but where’s all the fun stuff? You obviously have not been reading my blog for very long. I’m a security-seeker. Fun is inconsequential. I want to feel safe.

Do I hope that check number three will afford me a few treats and luxuries? Sure. I’d love to remodel my kitchen. I’d love to get another dog. I’d love to go on a vacation because I’ve heard they’re nice. But I would never be able to enjoy any of those things if I didn’t have these other safety nets in place first.

The last thing I want is for this advance money to feel like winning the lottery. Instead, I’m in this for the long haul and the decisions I make now will either make it easier to pursue this career full-time or they will make it practically impossible.

Again, please keep in mind that I am not a CFP and I don’t have a degree in finance. The categories above are by no means an exact template for you to follow. You have to think about your values and what’s right for you and your family.

*Stay tuned for what I’m prioritizing with advance check #3!