All or Nothing

Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

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When I think about perfectionism and creative work, the first thing that comes to mind is writer’s block. For most of us, it’s caused by this desire to avoid failure at all costs, which in turn makes it impossible to even get the words on the page. Perfectionism is never being able to finish a project. It’s endless tweaking and a sense of never being satisfied.

For the longest time, I thought that I had beaten back my own perfectionism because I knew how to finish. But perfectionism doesn’t just dictate the final product. It also dictates every step to getting there.

This week I read an article in a financial newsletter that talked about something called “0-100 thinking.” It refers to a type of perfectionism that causes people to have an all or nothing mentality when it comes to their goals. For example, if I set a goal of writing every morning before work but one morning I wake up late and only have twenty minutes to write instead of the hour I’d originally planned for, and this derails me psychologically to the point that I just give up on the endeavor altogether, then I am a 0-100 perfectionist.

Y’all, I am a 0-100 perfectionist and I didn’t realize it until now.

In my twenty-seven years, I’ve experience so many things that have literally beaten into me how unpredictable life is, how little we actually have control over. Teaching has forced me to be flexible, my long-term relationship with my partner has shown me the importance of being able to grow and change. Did I often seek out opportunities to control as many aspects of my life as I could? Absolutely. But did it derail me when things didn’t go exactly as planned? I didn’t think so.

I thought that I had learned how to go with the flow. How to fall on faith. How to take things as they come.

But in my work, I am still struggling with this beast called perfectionism that I thought I had slain long ago.

That example I mentioned earlier? That happened to me Thursday morning.

See, I was on a high last week from DVPit and all of the agents who had requested my full manuscript. It lit a fire under me to make even more progress on the rough draft of the companion novel. Waking up at 5AM to write is not new for me. I often do it at the tail end of projects or when I’m trying to build up momentum. So I decided I would work that extra writing time back into my routine, starting on Monday.

Monday through Wednesday things went really well. I woke up early, got ready, ate breakfast, and had between 45 minutes and an hour to write before heading to work. Then Thursday came around and I accidentally woke up at 4 instead of 5. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I lay there, exhausted.

That exhaustion followed me out of bed, slowing me down every step of my morning routine. My writing time dwindled down to thirty minutes. I was so discouraged I couldn’t even begin.

Then Friday morning I checked my email (which I really shouldn’t have done before getting my writing in) and there was this article all about the 0-100 mindset. I thought about how I’d totally self-sabotaged Thursday morning and then I thought about all of the other times I’ve done the exact same thing.

This 0-100 mindset has robbed me of so much progress. Of so much growth. The very things that may have fortified my confidence and given me the strength to push through my own perfectionism. The perfectionism I didn’t even think was still a problem for me.

But it is a problem. A BIG problem.

Luckily, it’s a problem I actually know how to fix. Not overnight and not all at once. That 0-100 mindset is poison even when we think it’s helping us find solutions. Instead, this is a problem I can only fix twenty minutes, ten minutes, five minutes at a time.

Friday I had exactly twenty minutes to write before work. But instead of saying, screw it, that’s not enough time, I opened up the Word document and dove in. For twenty minutes. I revised four pages of the manuscript. Four pages. That doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s four more pages than I’d done the day before and it’s four pages closer to the end.

That is what’s most important. The End.

If I can’t get there, I can’t do this professionally. But I know I can get there. I have gotten to the end eight times before with eight different novels. The question I have to ask myself now is how. Am I going to get there in weekend binges that may get wiped out by other plans? Am I going to get there by only writing when conditions are absolutely perfect? Or am I going to get there using any means necessary and with whatever time I can find or steal, whether that’s an hour or five minutes?

You can create as many versions of the perfect routine as you want. But there is no such thing. Life will always get in the way. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still do the work. Just like we have to embrace when a story takes an unexpected turn, resulting in something we never saw coming, we must also embrace a “writing routine” that is less routine than we’d hoped.

It’s okay to carve out time to write, to set boundaries, to have goals. But every time we let disappointment drive us off the path, we get farther and farther from our original destination. Whether you have all the time in the world to write or almost none, your identity as a writer does not change, and you can still make meaningful progress towards the things that matter. Telling the stories you long to tell.

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DVPit: An Emotional Journey

Motivation & Inspiration
1. Wait, there’s a Twitter Pitch contest just for marginalized creators?
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2. Someone actually thinks we’re important enough to be given a spotlight, to take up space within this community, to create a loving vibrant community of our own?
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3. Who is Beth? Beth is an angel. Beth is a warrior. Beth will save us all.
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4. Oooh look at all these success stories! I will now print photos of the legendary DVPit squad and put them up around my house so I can absorb their big book energy.
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5. And pictures of their book covers, which I will roll around in to absorb their word magic.
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6. Now my expectations are sky high. I will win DVPit (even though there is no winning/losing because we’re all in this together) and I will get an agent and sell my book and make that sweet white-man-money that will definitely be illegal soon.
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7. Okay, six pitches…six pitches…I can definitely distill my 86,000 word novel into a series of 280-character tweets that show the characters, the world, and the emotional stakes. Es muy fácil.
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8. No es fácil.
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9. Okay, WWTDSD? What Would The DVPit Squad Do? Oh, look there’s a video where Claribel explains exactly what she would do. And one from Kat Cho. And articles from Kayla Whaley, and Jalissa Corrie, and this Resources page is BOMB!
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10. Crisis averted. I got this. Now let’s draft these bitches. I mean pitches.
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11. These are shit.
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12. Maybe I should meditate and the perfect pitch will just come to me. That’s how visualization works, right?
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13. Oh shit, I fell asleep.
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14. That’s okay, everything looks better in the morning ligh–oh no! What are these? Vomit. Word vomit. All over my good pajamas.
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15. No worries. Writing is re-writing. Writing is re-writing.
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16. Okay, these aren’t bad.
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17. And look, there’s so many awesome publishing people offering to critique pitches for free. All I have to do is slide into their DMs. No big deal. Just talk to a total stranger. I can do that. I can talk to strangers. I kan tok to stran ears.

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18. I can’t talk to strangers.

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19. Okay, so this is just gonna be a hail mary, then. No one has seen these pitches but me, which means they could be terrible. I could be about to embarrass myself in front of the entire publishing community. Immediately made an outcast. Put to death.

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20. The night before DVPit. Better get some good sleep. Big day tomorrow. Like the biggest day. The most important day of your life is tomorrow why are you sleeping you must stay awake and agonize over this great unknown until it consumes you whole and then picks its teeth with your shoe laces. You’re not wearing shoes? Who goes to bed without shoes? What are you going to do if the zombie apocalypse comes or nuclear war breaks out?

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21. It’s 5 AM. 3 more hours until DVPit.

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22. Wait a minute. DVPit starts on east coast time. NOW I ONLY HAVE TWO MORE HOURS TO BECOME THE BEST WRITER I’VE EVER BEEN AND THE MOST PERFECT VERSION OF MYSELF.

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23. Let me just re-read my pitches.

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24. And re-read them again.

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25. And re-read them eight hundred times until the letters are melting off the page and I’m late for my day job that actually pays my bills. Oh shit, I forgot to pay the electric bill. $145? How can something invisible be $145? I must immediately search every door and window seal for cracks.

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26. Okay, time to open Twitter. Annnnd the party has already started without me. Everyone’s having so much fun. So much more fun than before I got here. I’ll just…leave.

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27. No. I’m here on a mission. I. CAN. DO. THIS.

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28. What should I post first? This pitch has a nice rhythm to it but this one really highlights the emotional stakes. But this other one is really funny and shows off my personality. Forget it. Just eeny-meeny-miney-moe this shit.

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29. Copy. Paste. Po–

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30. Breathe. Do it for Beth. Do it for Beth.

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31. POST.

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32. *Refresh* the DVPit hashtag. *Refresh* again. Where the hell is it?

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33. *Scrolls down* Oh, it was just buried under these other fifty tweets that were posted in the same millisecond as mine. It’ll totally be easy to find.

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34. Okay, I’ve got another hour until I can post another pitch that hopefully doesn’t suck as much as the first one and *oh* what’s this? A notification? It’s been thirty minutes and I thought my tweet had been swallowed into the bowels of Twitter. I thought that’s where it belonged. But *oh* another notification. Two notifications. Three notifications. Four. Five. Whaaaaat?

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35. I should check out the top DVPit tweets because mine is absolutely blowing up and you know I really never expected this. I can’t believe my idea is resonating with people so much. I guess I just have this special gift and, you know, come to think of it, I’ve always known I was extraordinary but sometimes it just takes opportunities like these to really see how–

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36. Oh. Someone else has like…177 likes.

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37. That’s cool.

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38. I hate myself.

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39. Four more notifications.

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40. I love myself.

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41. I finally stop refreshing my notifications and explore the DVPit feed.

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42. All my friends are here! (Well, all of the people I wish were my friends)

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43. Everyone is beautiful and magical and so insanely talented. We are what is right with the world. We are who will save it from total ruin.

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44. I breathe a sigh of relief. I am here and no one told me to leave, that I didn’t belong here. Or that I could come in but I’d have to close the door behind me so no one else could join us. Because one was enough.

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45. I breathe another sigh of relief. I am here and I feel like we have staked some kind of claim to this proverbial place that once had walls we could only peer through.

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46. It’s 8:00PM eastern time. My adrenal system is a total shit show. I am scared and I am happy. I am worried and I am excited. I am full of doubt and I am full of hope.

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Sorry, We Already Have One of Those

Motivation & Inspiration

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It’s been a few weeks since I sent off a query for the latest version of the restaurant book. 30K slimmer with a new antagonist and new ending, I am completely confident that this is it. I wrote a good book. Dare I say, a great book. It is ready. I am ready.

And yet, one nagging thought has been tormenting me, clawing its way out of the depths of my own psyche and whispering in my ear: Sorry, we already have one of those.

In other words…

We already have one Latinx author. We don’t need another one.

We already have a book featuring Latinx characters. We don’t need another one.

We already have a POC book about a restaurant. We don’t need another one.

I’ve gotten much better at recognizing my own irrational fears and using facts and other context to talk myself out of them. But this fear, no matter how irrelevant it is at certain agencies or publishers, is still not elusive enough to land it on my crazy list. Because the truth is, it does happen. The same way it happens in every other industry.

If you’re a POC and you’re the only one in your entire department or the only one in your entire company, you know what I mean. Tokenism is celebrated as “diversity” but only by the ignorant. Tokenism is still racism. Patting yourself on the back because you have one marginalized person on your team and therefore have met some socially imposed “quota” is not social justice. It’s lazy. It’s cruel.

So my fear this time of…lets’ face it, not mattering, is not entirely in my head. I feel like educationally and socially I have been conditioned to believe that there is only ever one spot for a POC. And worse, that the person who gets that spot is the one who can best adapt to whiteness.

This time, with this story and these characters, I am not watering things down or slipping on that mask I know so well. I am not apologizing for being another Latinx author who wants to break into publishing even though the gatekeepers just let one in last month and isn’t that enough diversity already?

But choosing to be defiant, to believe in myself despite the odds doesn’t get rid of the fear. It’s not something I can talk myself out of with facts and figures. It’s something that, if I want to keep going, to keep trying at this, I have to accept. I have to accept that I may experience rejection simply for being me. But in the midst of that fear I am also allowed to hope. That the industry is changing and that I myself can be a part of that positive change. I am allowed to celebrate the authors, agents, editors, and other industry professionals who are already doing that work.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I am allowed to reach for it with everything I have. But that doesn’t change the long trek through the darkness that I have to make first. Luckily, I am not alone in this. The more of us there are moving through the darkness the more ground we cover, the stronger and braver we become, the more light we cast in the other direction. Light that might inspire someone else to reach for what they want most, to believe that they deserve to get it.

Your Heart’s Desire

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

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About four years ago I was working in a public library, earning $12 an hour, all while cultivating this secret online identity as a self-published author. I was writing and creating constantly but something didn’t feel right.

Writing books was challenging but it had been a long time since I’d experienced a creative growth spurt and the itch to stretch myself, to learn, to grow became agonizing. So I did the only thing I knew how to do and I went back to school.

That’s the place where you learn new things, right?

I enrolled in a graduate program, stupidly took out student loans, and studied my ass off thinking that by graduation day I’d feel like a new me. A better me.

And it worked. At least for a little while. I completed my courses, survived student teaching, and got my first teaching job. That first year was a whirlwind. Every day, I showed up an hour early and stayed an hour late. I worked in the evenings and on weekends. I truly did stretch myself, learning so much about my content area, language learners, and the public education system.

Year two was also difficult. I was never short on challenges, on opportunities to grow.

Year three and the itch returned.

What am I doing here? I mean really doing? I’m not making an impact. I’m not even making a dent. The public education system is so broken. It’s so broken that no matter who you are–teacher, student, admin–no one enters this system and comes out unscathed. We are all hurt by it. Broken in ways we can’t even see.

I was starting to feel it. The weight of all of those systemic problems I would never be able to solve. The guilt and regret of allowing fear to choose this career for me. The work I do is meaningful and I’m grateful for this experience. But I’ve learned something about this feeling–this itch for something more. It doesn’t go away just because we want it to. Just because we’re living a life that is socially acceptable, adulting on a level comparable to our peers.

That feeling doesn’t go away until we ask in earnest: who am I and why am I here? And we open ourselves up to the reality, to the truth that the answers will be much bigger and much scarier than we want them to be.

But we don’t get to choose. The second we slipped into this skin we made an agreement to have the human experience.

This is the human experience–a million acts of bravery in the direction of our soul’s desire. And maybe we don’t get to decide that either–what our soul wants. But we can’t ignore that it wants. And it will continue to want, that desire beating, throbbing like a second pulse, until we give in and listen. Then follow.

And if we don’t, that spiritual nagging doesn’t just intensify. It hurts. In the places where we are supposed to be growing and changing we will begin to atrophy. We will begin to disappear.

I don’t want to disappear.

So I’m not just seeking out opportunities to be brave. I’m creating them. That means committing to a half-baked idea on a massive scale, telling people about my plans so they can hold me accountable, and creating my own curriculum for artistic growth. I’m acknowledging old fear-based patterns and disrupting them every chance I get. I’m speaking my mind more but also listening and I’m throwing money at opportunities I don’t yet feel good enough or worthy of taking advantage of.

I am following this ache like a siren song.

But even though I’m still not certain of where it leads, I must let it lead. Because the destination is my heart’s desire. It doesn’t matter if I don’t even know what that is yet. It doesn’t matter if I don’t think I deserve it yet. All I need to know is that it is mine.

Mine.

True North

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

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When I think about those two big scary questions–Who am I? Why am I here?–clarity usually comes to me in flashes; in fragments I try to force together like puzzle pieces. Sometimes the burst is so bright, everything illuminated, that I feel a sense of purpose and conviction so supernatural in its potency that I know for a fact God is speaking to me. Other times, the glimpse is so brief that I feel more lost and alone than before.

Which has led me to ponder new questions: How do I find my North Star? How do I keep it in my sights through the storms, the darkness, and the doubt that follows?

For the past month these questions have consumed me and I’ve let them. Even though I’d committed to daily blogging, as long as these questions were on my mind, I felt like I didn’t know what to say. Even though I desperately wanted to finish my current WIP, as long as these questions were on my mind, the act felt useless.

Because I need to know the why.

Why was I telling this story and all the others that have been fighting for my attention lately? Why are these characters so important to me? What do I want my readers to know and feel about them? What do I want them to do with those revelations? Are there other ways I can spread my message? Am I really even clear on what that is?

Some people just want to be writers, putting out a book as often as they can, whether that’s once a year, once every two years, once every ten. Pen to page, day after day. For them, that is the work. And that is beautiful. That is admirable.

But I’ve been feeling this pull lately, this stretching of my spirit to do something…more. Not something else. Not something that isn’t still storytelling. But something more. Bigger. Greater.

For months, I’ve thought that it was my fears that were getting in the way, that my anxiety was the distraction, that my problems were caused by a lack of stamina and focus. Instead, what was getting in the way was this other voice. So faint I didn’t even realize it was there.

Maybe it wasn’t even a voice. Not in the beginning. Maybe it was more like a nudge. Move. Grow. Change. It’s okay. I am with you.

But I wasn’t listening. Because I thought I already knew the answers to those big, scary questions.

Who are you?

A writer.

Why are you here?

To tell stories.

Those answers are beautiful. They are admirable. But they are also wrong. Because they are incomplete.

Usually, when we think about our life’s purpose, we start at the macro level. We approach it with giant expectations and then we crush ourselves beneath the weight of never meeting them. If we’re a writer, we might think that we have to write a book as influential as Harry Potter. Something that cultivates the values and beliefs of an entire generation. Something that reaches the far ends of the earth. That makes us rich and famous.

But what if the key to unlocking our potential is thinking much, much smaller? Not thinking that our potential is small. Not thinking that our gifts are small. But small in the sense that we are snowflakes. That the pattern of purpose alive in me is different from the purpose that’s alive in you. That it’s the subtleties and nuance of our nature that allows us to have the greatest impact because that’s what allows us to connect with the specific people who need our gifts the most.

I think I’m starting to figure out my true gifts, and more importantly, who needs them the most. In other words, I am inching towards the real answers to those big, scary questions and as the answers loom on the horizon, I can already sense that they will be much bigger and much scarier than anything I could have ever imagined. But big and scary doesn’t always mean bad. Sometimes big and scary means joy. Sometimes big and scary means freedom.