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.

I Did It

Mental Health, Writing Process

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I did it.

I turned in the first round of revisions on my debut novel. Without spiraling. Without losing sleep.

All I’d ever heard about writing under contract was that it was absolute torture, psychological warfare to the tenth degree. Agonizing. Anxiety-inducing. Almost impossible.

So when I finally got my edit letter, I’m not going to lie, I. was. scared.

But I didn’t have the luxury of procrastinating. I didn’t have the time to doubt. I just had to do it.

So I made a plan thanks to some amazing resources shared by Julie C. Dao on the Publishing Crawl website, I read through the manuscript and made my list of changes, then I set goals for my first pass. I took a four-day break before setting goals for my second pass. And then I just chiseled away at it.

Some scenes were really difficult to write and I saved those for days when I was operating at 100%. Some problems lacked clear solutions and I kept looping back to them until something clicked. Some days it was tedious and emotionally taxing. Others, the words poured out. But every time I got stuck and that voice crept in, whispering that I was never going to figure things out, that I was never going to get it right, I swatted it away. I did not allow those doubts to fester. I did not allow myself to give up.

Because I wanted so badly to prove to myself that I could do the work, that I could meet expectations, that I could survive in this industry for the long haul. That’s what these revisions were really about for me. Knowing that this isn’t still some pipe dream. Knowing that I have the discipline and the stamina and the creativity to sustain an entire career.

I needed to know that the pressure wouldn’t destroy me.

And when it didn’t, I learned something even more important about myself. That I was no longer interested in sacrificing my mental health in order to achieve. This process was going to have to work alongside rest and self-care. There would be no all-nighters. No writing while sick. So I paced myself, anticipating days of rest, scheduling grocery deliveries, and planning meals. Doing whatever I needed to in order to take care of myself so that I would actually be well enough to create.

I thought this first experience writing under contract would teach me all of the practical things I needed to know like how to manage my time, how to create a plan for revisions, how to interpret editorial feedback. Instead, it taught me that what I really need to practice is setting boundaries. Because the work will always be difficult. There will always be that sense of urgency to stay up all night. There will always be that self-doubt making me question every word. But those thoughts can come and go. If I let them. If I let them go.

And letting go is not easy. It’s terrifying.

But when I am lighter, when I don’t have my destiny in a death grip, the things I want are more inclined to come. The words show up, the fear fades, and I’m not so afraid of failing.

There is No Getting Rid of the Unknown

Mental Health

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I am used to things being out of my control. I teach teenagers who have helped me cultivate a level of patience that even I find impressive at times. So while I’m (still) waiting on my revision letter from my editor, it’s not impatience that’s stoking my anxiety. It’s the need to know what comes next so I can plan for how to handle it.

But, the rub is, there is no getting rid of the unknown. I can “pretend problem-solve” all day long with hypothetical scenarios I think are coming but that doesn’t actually alleviate any of my stress. In fact, it just creates more, to the point that even positive things, even things I’m genuinely excited about, are causing me anxiety.

For seven years I have blogged and written about having anxiety. I’ve written about trying to treat it, live with it, and trick it into submission. I’ve written about how it affects my creative process, how it keeps me up at night, how it haunts me in my dreams. But my anxiety is absolutely at its worst when I am in transition, moving from one phase of my life to the next. When I am shedding old skin. When I am becoming something new.

I used to think that was my intuition telling me that I was on the wrong track, that I needed to turn around, to run. And sometimes my fear is instinctual, warning me of real danger. But mostly, it’s misinformed; well-meaning but bad at communicating. The truth it wants to tell me is that these fears I’m having, the pricks of worry deep in my gut, are signs. Signaling that I’m actually getting closer to the things I want, which only feels scary because it feels good.

And…my brain can’t process good. It takes my new book deal and turns it into an opportunity to fail, to disappoint, to derail my entire career. It takes the advance money and turns it into a chance to make horrible decisions, to destroy my financial future, to become destitute. It takes my WIP and turns it into quicksand. It takes relationships and turns them into booby traps. It takes my ability to tell stories and turns them into lies, into snares that trap me in endless cycles of what ifs?

Doing this work, doing any kind of work when you have a scared child clinging to your neck and whispering terrible things in your ear is not easy. But the tighter anxiety’s hold on me, the more I cling to the hope that even if I never find balance, or a cure, or even some semblance of consistency when it comes to my mental health, I can still keep doing the work. Day by day. Pen to page. One word at a time.

This is what I can control. Not when my contract finally comes or when that first advance check hits my bank account or whether or not my editor will even like book two or if I’ll have to go on sub again or if anyone will ever buy another thing I’ve written. I can’t control most of what may come next.

Luckily, that small piece of the equation that I can control–the writing–is the most important part. That’s what I’ll keep reminding myself. In the midst of the insomnia and the nerve pain and the tension headaches. I am still in a body that can hold a pen. I am still connected to a mind that can make things up that make people smile, that make me smile. I am still telling stories from the deepest truest parts of myself. And if that’s all there is, if that’s all there will ever be, I will choose to make it enough.

Being Struck by Lightning

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

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Since getting my book deal, I’ve felt this flood of creativity. Sparks of so many different ideas and not just for new stories but multimedia projects, creative giving, and new collaborations It’s like this very public validation has somehow given me permission to explore other aspects of my creative identity and I’ve found myself, a few times, being struck by an idea so big and scary that it I know it’s my heart’s desire.

I’ve spent the past four months trying to untangle my intuition from my anxiety; trying to see which fears signal that I’m actually moving closer to my goals and therefore should keep moving in that direction. But it’s hard. I’ve made so much progress. I’ve had so many setbacks. This journey of becoming is not a straight line and sometimes I worry that I’ll be stumbling the entire way.

And it feels so familiar, this hesitancy. This apprehension about what comes next. About all of the ways I might screw it up. But hasn’t writing, more than anything else, taught me that the only way to make something is just to begin.

A lot of the ideas I’ve had are in a completely different medium than the one I’m used to working in. They require me to be creative in a completely new way. To learn new skills. To reach out to strangers in order to build relationships, to ask for help. And the first thing my brain wants to do is worry and tell myself terrible stories about how it could all go wrong.

But hasn’t writing taught me that too? That failure is part of the process. A necessary part of the process. One that no forward motion can be achieved without.

So I’m going to stop waiting for the right time. I’m going to stop waiting to be ready. There is no ready. No perfect circumstances under which to create. All creativity requires a bit of risk-taking. It’s the part of the process that makes me feel alive. That’s like being struck by lightning, every dream and desire illuminated from the inside.

I want to coax out those tiny flames, letting them grow. Even if I get burned in the process.