Am I Doing this Right?

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A few times over the past nine years I have tried to make writing my full-time gig. Either because of a cross-country move or a change in employment I have waded into the waters of being a full-time Creative a few weeks and a few months at a time. But eventually the uncertainty of how I was going to make enough money to pay my bills became too much and I’d get a “normal” day job with a “normal” paycheck.

The fear and stress would subside. I’d create a routine that made me feel safe, yet unfulfilled. Then that feeling of being unfulfilled would become too much and I’d start the cycle all over again, deciding to give writing full-time another shot or changing jobs to try to free up more time to write.

When I made the commitment to create an 18-month escape plan from my current iteration of reality, as well as the commitment to blog every day of this journey, I had no idea that I was starting this cycle all over again. That is how short my memory is. When the excitement of this journey finally wore off this past week and all I was left with was the anxiety of and pressure to make it happen, I instantly felt trapped. Then I reflected on other times in my life when I’ve felt trapped. Then I reflected on the fact that it’s usually me who is setting these traps.

Shortly after we moved to Dallas I didn’t look for employment for a couple of months because I wanted to finish my third novel. Back then I was still invisible and no one was buying my books. I took on a full-time job working from home so I could still write but it only paid $9 an hour. That wasn’t enough to make ends meet (or so I thought; I’m starting to learn I have a problem thinking I’m living in scarcity when I’m really not) so I found a job working nights and weekends to make up the difference. I was writing about 5k-10k a day, working from 8AM-4PM, and then shelving books at a library from 4:30PM-9PM.

I got sick. Pain from my shingles flared up again. I started getting regular migraines and suffered from vertigo that made it impossible to drive some days. I gained weight, lost weight, and gained it back again. I suffered from terrible insomnia. I saw an Internist and after running a bunch of tests he said my stress levels were off the charts.

Eventually, I found a full-time job that paid enough to cover the sixty hours I’d been working previously. My quality of life improved drastically. But once I settled into this routine it didn’t take long for me to start longing for something else. This is when I decided to become a teacher and to pay for graduate school with the money I was miraculously making from my books.

I keep going back to that decision and thinking about what would have happened if I’d made a different one. If I’d chosen to leap, if I’d chosen writing, where would I be now? Would I have built up an even bigger backlist and made even more money? Enough money to quell my fears and anxiety? Or would I have found myself broke again and worrying myself sick?

Maybe the choice I made was the right decision. Maybe a person like me with terrible anxiety needs more safety nets in place before I leap. Let’s face it, anything in the direction of my fears is a leap.

It’s okay if I have to fight for every inch. As long as I’m fighting.

That’s the difference between who I was then and who I am now. I am still anxious and afraid of the unknown. But I am no longer trying to control every aspect of my life. I am no longer going to put all of that weight and pressure on myself. I have a deadline, a goal in mind. But I’m also giving myself the time to get there at my own pace.

I keep reading about all of these brave and desperate people taking these giant leaps of faith. Quitting their jobs, travelling the world, and making big bold decisions with no idea of the how. It sounds so romantic. Something worth fighting for.

I want to be a fighter. I want to be brave. But if it takes me longer to escape my comfort zone, I’m okay with that. Progress is progress. I’m fighting for forward motion not a free fall into nothing. If I leap now and it doesn’t work out, I will use every mistake and bout of bad luck as an excuse to turn and run. If I plan for this leap, if I give myself  a finite amount of time to mentally and financially prepare, I won’t be able to give up at the slightest derailment. Because the slightest derailment will not ruin me.

I don’t know if I’m doing this right or wrong. Maybe the bigger the leap into the unknown, the greater the reward. Or maybe thinking that my journey has to look like it does in movies or the latest self-help New York Time’s bestseller is its own pitfall. The pitfall of pursuing perfection rather than truth. But perfection does not exist and truth is whatever I say it is.

This is my truth: I am trying. I am learning. I am moving in the direction of my dreams. I will stumble but I will not stop. I may be moving slow but I will not stop. I will not stop.

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Trust

Self publishing taught me so much about my ability to persevere and to solve problems. It taught me that I can trust my intuition and that no one but me gets to decide whether or not I share my art. Not gatekeepers at a publishing house, or current market trends, or white supremacy.

This sense of agency is exhilarating and something I have come to value deeply. But, as I often tend to do in an effort to protect myself from pain and rejection and failure, I have been clinging to this sense of agency, this solitude to my own detriment.

I keep forgetting that self-publishing didn’t just teach me that I can accomplish great things on my own but it also taught me that to be successful at something scary, something new, it’s important to reach out to those more experienced than you. To find teachers and mentors and people who can help you find your way.

Self publishing taught me that people are inherently generous. It’s intrinsic to our human nature to want to help one another. I’ve met so many people, strangers, online who were willing to give me advice without asking for anything in return. There’s this sense of community among indie authors bolstered by the reality that we’re all in this together. When one indie book succeeds and finds an audience, we all rise with the tide because it gives the entire industry more clout and more exposure.

But it’s easy to forget these things too. The good in people is a light so easily snuffed out by division and competition and distrust.

One of the reasons I was so proud to be an indie author was because of my distrust of traditional publishers. There weren’t very many books about POC and this made me suspicious, then angry. I dreamed of seeing my books in bookstores, of a little brown girl with crazy curly hair scanning the covers, her eyes widening over a character I created who looked just like her. But because I didn’t think these stories would align with a traditional publisher’s agenda, which at the time seemed to be to whitewash everything, I stopped querying agents. I stopped pursuing their acceptance. I stopped needing their permission.

I believed distancing myself from those dreams and the gatekeepers who held them was protecting me from something. But letting those fears and suspicions fester only meant that when publishers finally started to put out more diverse books I didn’t get to be a part of that positive change. I’d let myself believe that there was no one in traditional publishing taking on that fight. That wasn’t true.

I just wasn’t looking for them, which is why I didn’t find them, and why it was easier for me to maintain my self-righteous attitude about the whole thing.

What I’m beginning to figure out is that trusting the Universe means trusting the people in it. If we are all connected via universal intelligence then learning to strengthen your faith in the Universe really means learning to strengthen your faith in that connection. In people. People who are imperfect and unpredictable.

People who are inherently generous and helpful.

I want to believe this about people and I want to be able to open myself up to new relationships without being suspicious of someone else’s agenda.

This is one of the reasons I’ve started querying again. I want someone on my side who believes in my art as much as I do. There are amazing people working in publishing who are championing diverse books and making a way for so many other POC and people from marginalized communities to break into the industry. And these people have been tirelessly working and fighting this fight for equal representation for years. I want to join in that fight with them.

But that means letting down my guard and letting people in. It’s one thing to open yourself up to the Universe. It’s another to embrace the human beings who give it meaning. But that’s what we’re here to do for each other. To witness each other’s successes and pick each other up after our failures. To teach and learn. To make this crazy, chaotic, beautiful mess of an existence mean something.

To do that we have to trust in the fact that we can’t do it alone. No matter how much safer it might feel. We’re in this together and that is not a scary thing. It is a thing so full of hope. A realization that should make us feel strong and brave and completely invincible. When we trust one another, when we love one another, that is exactly what we are.

This is Not a Coincidence

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About three weeks ago I began this new spiritual practice of chilling the f**** out. What does that look like? Well, it looks like daydreaming with focus and intention, taking action where I can to turn those dreams into reality, and trusting that the Universe will aid me in this quest.

Staying in that place of total trust is not easy and I am imperfect at it most of the time. But I desperately want to trust and it’s this desperation that forces me to correct myself anytime my thoughts start to drift somewhere dark and full of doubt.

Just a few days after I decided to release all of my fears and worries and start believing in the awesomeness of my own existence, I experienced some small miracles, which I blogged about in this post. You might have read that list and seen nothing more than a string of random coincidences. A few weeks earlier and I would have too. But choosing to see them as coincidences would have meant I was analyzing them through the lens of fear and pessimism.

Let’s face it, people who are afraid, people who are pessimistic are not exactly good at spotting miracles, mostly because they’re never looking for them. But if you are looking for them, you start seeing them everywhere.

Back in October of 2018 I decided to take my novel, Pen & Xander, off of all online retailers so that I could query it and try to find an agent. In that moment I had felt this tremendous urge to make a change, to take a risk. But even though I decided to do the scary thing and leap, nothing about my mindset had actually changed. I was still self-sabotaging by thinking thoughts like: If I query this and get rejected then I’ll finally have permission to distrust and therefore reject the notion of being traditionally published altogether.

That’s right. I wanted permission to stop going after this dream. So even though I was putting myself out there by querying this novel I was still doing it from a place of fear, doubt, and extreme distrust.

Another way I self-sabotaged? I only sent the novel to two agents (there were only three on my master list but one of them was closed to queries). Yeah, those odds weren’t great. But I purposefully set it up that way to increase my chances of failing. I wanted to fail because, not only would it reinforce all of my worst fears, but by manifesting those fears I could finally face them instead of living in the anticipation of them. Which is so much worse. *eye roll*

If this all sounds insane to you, that’s because it is. It is absolutely insane to try to conjure the things you fear but I would argue that most of us are engaging in this very act on a pretty regular basis. I’m just willing to admit it.

The first agent sent me a form rejection about a month after I queried. The second agent didn’t reply at all. On her website she said that if writers didn’t receive a response within six weeks it was an automatic pass. Six weeks came and went and I just assumed that I was being rejected again.

Fast forward another month and there I am, in the midst of a quarter life crisis, reading about the law of attraction and universal intelligence and having all of these epiphanies about my career and life’s purpose. Shortly after, I decide to give this whole trusting the Universe thing a shot. I make an 18-month escape plan, focusing mostly on the milestones I want to reach, the amount of money I want to make, etc., and not so much on the how. Because in the past, the how, is where I always seemed to fall apart. It’s where I crunched the numbers–time + money = never gonna happen–and inevitably discovered that what I wanted to achieve was impossible all on my own.

But I am not all on my own. Or, at least, I don’t have to be.

I’ve been working really hard to operate under this assumption for the past three weeks. I take action where I can and trust when I cannot. I believe with everything in me that as long as I am making progress, I will eventually get to my ideal destination.

Today, almost twelve weeks after I sent my initial query, the second agent I contacted sent me a request to revise and resubmit.

Now I have two choices. I can choose to view this through the lens of fear and doubt and believe that there’s no point in revising this novel, in putting myself through such a grueling process, in trying again. That responding after twelve weeks must mean this agent isn’t really interested, that the manuscript must need too much work, that I will never be able to meet her expectations with a new draft.

Or I can choose to view this through the lens of optimism and believe that trying is all I have to be willing to do in order get the things I want, it’s all I have to do to demonstrate my faith, to prove myself. And that the timing of this agent’s response is actually perfect because now I can approach this rewrite with a positive mindset that has been fortified by all I’ve learned about myself since then.

I choose to believe that this is not a coincidence.

The person I was when I wrote the TGIB series didn’t believe in coincidences, which is why my characters, two star-crossed lovers who meet and fall in love in a dreamscape of their own creation, didn’t believe in them either. It’s also why I was able to sell almost 100,000 copies of those books. Because I believed I’d written something worthy of being read. Because I believed there was no plan B. I was going to be a writer no matter what and those books were going to play a crucial role in getting me there.

I choose to believe that this is a sign that I’m heading in the right direction.

Even if this agent doesn’t offer me representation, this rewrite must be essential. A door I must pass through even though I have no idea where it leads. That’s okay. I don’t have to know where it leads. I just have to trust that if I can be courageous enough to take that step it will all be worth it in the end.

It’s a Book-shaped Thing

I started this manuscript on December 12th, 2017. I have been trying to coax out a story from this mess in my head for over a year. And today, at 7:35 PM I have finally reached 70,000 words. It is finally a book-shaped thing.

Finally.

I wasn’t sure I would ever reach the point when this story started to feel like an actual story instead of a bunch of manic vignettes about two complete strangers who refused to reveal themselves to me no matter how much I bargained or begged. I was so afraid they’d stay strangers forever. That I would never know them and therefore never get to tell their story.

But today, I had a breakthrough. In the same way I’ve been guilty of thinking too small and too narrow and too fearfully about my own life, I was thinking much too small in regards to this story. I thought it was a love story. It’s not just love story. I struggled to see past these characters’ brokenness. There was so much beauty buried underneath.

I’m finally in that creative sweet spot between knowing and surprise and it feels like that place at the mid-point of the fall when the parachute finally opens. It feels like freedom.

Sundays are for Letting Go

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In the same week I’ve written about the importance of diligence and dedication when it comes to your Soul Work, as well as the importance of taking time off. In my own mind, these two things feel extremely contradictory. Work as hard as you can but don’t work too hard.

But I’ve realized that working through these feelings is essential on my quest to becoming less controlling and therefore, less anxious, fearful, and destructive.

Are there some necessary steps one must take in order to make their intentions clear? Yes, absolutely, some of which I’ve discussed in this post. But there is one crucial step, one giant leap that we must take first. And it’s letting go.

If you spend every waking hour working, never resting or taking a break, it’s because you believe that you are the only factor that matters to your success. It’s because you believe you are in this alone. It’s because you believe the Universe does not have your back.

Distrusting the Universe, the source of universal intelligence that gave you these gifts and inclinations in the first place, is the quickest way to derail your dreams and ensure that those endless hours you’ve spent working towards them will amount to nothing.

There must be a balance between working and trusting, between holding on and letting go. We can prioritize our Soul Work without trying to control every aspect of our progress. And in fact, we must. We must allow ourselves to yield to something bigger and greater than ourselves. We must allow ourselves to be surprised.

This is why I’ve decided to dedicate my Sundays to rest because if I don’t it only reinforces all of the fears I have about being totally alone in this venture. But I’m not. I have to trust that I’m not and I have to demonstrate that trust by doing the exact opposite of whatever my control-freak tendencies want me to do.

Control-freak-me wants to spend the entire weekend in front of my laptop even if it only sends me spiraling into despair. That is some low frequency behavior, right there. So instead, I’m spending my Sundays envisioning the week ahead while also relishing in the enormous gift of doing nothing. Because it is a gift. To know that I don’t have to kill myself in order to manifest what I want is a gift. But one that will only appear if I’m open and willing to accept it.