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.

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Am I Doing this Right?

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

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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.

Trust

Motivation & Inspiration, Self Publishing

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.

I’ve Made a Decision

Self Publishing, Writing Process

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For the past few months I’ve had this ball of crisscrossed wires at the pit of my stomach–shocking me every time I tried to take a deep breath, pricking me with metal fingers every time I tried to relax. Like a nudge only much more aggressive. The kind of nudge that says, “I’m not going to let you sleep or think or be until you listen.”

So I started listening.

At first, I had no idea what was wrong. I was making progress on the companion novel to Pen & Xander but it was mostly in fits and bursts. No drafting process is ever smooth so I didn’t suspect that was the source of the tension. I have a Bookbub coming up next week so any stresses about money should have been somewhat alleviated. I can always depend on the longtail to help me make it to my next pub date. I’ve written two new children’s books and am working on two more so I’m not lacking in inspiration.

But this itch was still there, still nagging at me every time I tried to sit down to work and every time I tried to do something else.

Then I looked at my calendar, trying to see the big picture, to figure out what looming event was causing me so much anxiety. I scrolled through page after page of upcoming projects and self-imposed deadlines and I realized…I wasn’t feeling anxious because something was about to happen. I was feeling anxious because nothing was about to happen.

On my calendar, I’ve noted a date when I plan to query my fantasy WIP. That date is ten months from now. In the meantime, I’m working on the companion novel to Pen & Xander, which I had planned to publish sometime in February. That’s six months away.

Then it hit me. I don’t want to wait six months or ten months to take the next necessary step in my publishing journey. I’m not talking about self-publishing the companion novel sooner or moving up my query date for the fantasy WIP. I’m talking about taking a leap. A risk. A giant step into the BIG SCARY UNKNOWN. I’m talking about querying a novel I’ve already written. A novel I already love and believe in.

You may notice that Pen & Xander has been removed from all platforms, including my website. That’s because that nagging feeling that’s been driving me nuts for the past few months was actually my dream of seeing that book on shelves, of getting it into readers hands, of getting it into my students’ hands. That’s who I wrote it for. Nacho’s Tacos isn’t just a fictional restaurant, it’s my classroom. I want those voices out in the world. I want my students to be able to point to something on the shelves and say that’s there because I matter.

Self-publishing has brought me so many amazing blessings. Amazing readers who showed me that the voices of POC writers and characters do matter. Fellow authors who are as generous as they are fearless. And the financial freedom to go back to school and become a teacher.

But I think this book has a different destiny. I think this book needs to be out in the world in a way I can’t do on my own. It’s good enough. I know it is. And I’m no longer afraid to say that it’s important enough too.

So I’m going to query this novel. I’m going to shoot my shot. Because I fear what that nudge will become if I continue to ignore it. I fear what will happen to me if I keep putting off this dream. And it may not work out. It may not find a home with an agent or a traditional publishing house. Or it might change everything. That possibility is good enough to hang a hope on. It’s good enough to try.

Should We Just Be Grateful To Be Here?

Self Publishing

The Guardian recently published a piece on the fact that “publishers are paying writers a pittance.” This is true. Traditional publishers made billions of dollars last year while the writers whose books they published worked second/third jobs, pinched pennies, and lived paycheck to paycheck. Traditional publishing has always been exploitative and it’s because of the allure, the exclusivity, the inability for authors to organize against the monopoly, and the expectation that POC writers must show their gratitude for being allowed in that space by being as amenable as possible.

I am not stating this to be critical of other authors. I’m simply acknowledging that in order to be allowed in that majority-white space we have had certain expectations placed upon us. Expectations that include being grateful for a contract, any contract, even if it values the machine dispensing the art more than the human creating it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this last point as I consider what I want to do with my Fantasy WIP. I’d love to query it but doing so will just subject me to the same exploitation. Unless things change. Unless writers start being honest about how they are being taken advantage of and call out their publishers to make it right. Unless writers stop seeing traditional publishers as gods who can subject them to any kind of mistreatment if its in exchange for a book on the shelf of a Barnes and Noble.

This is going to be the hardest part of the cycle to break–our own toxic beliefs that we are not good enough to ask for more. That we are not worthy of a bigger slice of the pie. That we should just be grateful to be acknowledged at all.

Back in 2012 I decided to self-publish because I didn’t believe there was a place for me in traditional publishing. Characters who were not white or Christian were not easy to find and it was clear they were not valued. Which meant that I would not be valued. My stories would not be valued. So I published my stories on my own.

Six years and over $125,000 later, what was once an act of defiance against the inherent bias and racism in publishing, has led me to an even bigger revelation about how it is not just a spot on a shelf that determines a book’s value but it’s how much an author was paid for the rights to that book. The paltry percentage publishers are currently paying their authors is yet another way of saying, “We are in control. You are no one without us.”

It is another way of saying, “Don’t bother trying to get into this profession unless you already possess the wealth and privilege to make it a career.” Which is simply another way of keeping marginalized people…exactly where they are. In other words, the belief that they are lifting up our voices is simply an illusion until the optics match the money in our bank accounts.

So do not be fooled by the celebrations of diversity or even the number of diverse books being published in recent years. Racism has not been eradicated from traditional publishing. It may no longer show up in the lack of marginalized authors on book shelves but it still shows up in the monetary value that is placed on those authors. Which means there is still a lot of work to do and it starts with us not being so damn amenable. It starts with us acknowledging our own worth and then demanding that others do the same.