It is Possible

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I don’t know where to start. Maybe with the last several posts that are snapshots of those brief moments between anxiety spirals when I was trying to remind myself to hope. Or maybe with the insomnia and the fears that almost stole that from me. I don’t know who to show anymore. Do I show the working creative who has written eight novels and who should now be exempt from failure? Or do I show the doubt-filled procrastinator who hasn’t been able to write in almost a month?

Obviously, the last several months have been rough and the time stamps on those blog posts about learning and growing and the fact that the creative process has its own rewards show just how few and far between the good days actually were. While waiting to come out of this, I have written about learning to give up control and being patient and showing gratitude. I have written about finding strength and trusting in a higher being and in myself. Each has not only been a declaration but a set of detailed instructions on how to survive. Because I know I will find myself in the darkness again, no matter how many constellations I’ve left to guide my way back.

I cannot change the way I am wired. I can only change how I care for myself when those wires begin to short-circuit.

Sometimes that means doing something even scarier than staring at a blank page and trying to force out magic. Sometimes that means not allowing myself to write at all.

There was a time when I was selling almost 200 books a day. Now, I’m lucky if I sell 10 copies. This means that if I don’t write and publish something new that number could drop down to 0. It’s such a tangible manifestation of failure, one I’m faced with and consumed by every time I try to write. There is no room in my brain for story, for my character’s voices, for their dreams and fears. I’m too busy wrestling with my own. And every day that I don’t produce something, is one day closer to another gigantic life change that will only hurl me in the opposite direction of everything I’ve worked so hard for.

But if all of this anxiety was stemming from not producing a single word in weeks, what would happen if I didn’t even allow myself to try? What would happen if I forced myself straight into that fear and chose not to write? Would disaster strike? Would the world end? Would I not be a real writer anymore?

The answer is—nothing—not one of these things would happen and I would sleep. I would sleep for twelve hours every night and wake up late on the weekends and my body would reclaim the rest it so desperately needed. Because worry does not just exist in your mind. It lives in your skin and your bones and every part of you that is working to keep you alive. The more you worry, the harder they work until they just can’t do it anymore. And then you must rest. You MUST.

And then you wake up and you start over.

It’s not ideal and you aren’t any less scared of it than you were before. But it is possible.

This is the latest constellation I have left for myself. It is possible. The starting over, the writing, and all of the other work that comes along with creating. I create things from scratch all the time. I can rebuild my career the same way. I can write this new book. I can finish it too. And if no one buys it…I can write something else. I can always write something else.

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Plan D

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Plan A was to sell millions of books and become rich and famous, which did not happen. Plan B was to sell a moderate but steady amount of books, which would allow me to be a full-time author. This is no longer happening. Plan C was to go back to school, become a teacher, and write on the side until I struck gold and could stash all that cash away for an early retirement. Now, early “retirement” is slowly slipping from my grasp, which brings me to plan D: Enjoy my life while making art I love.

I can’t think about the money anymore. It’s agonizing and exhausting, and in the grand scheme of things, means far less than my health and happiness. Could the money I was making last year aid me in my quest to achieve health and happiness? Sure, but only because it would bring me peace of mind. But there’s something else that has been giving me peace of mind lately, something that just last week was the source of much of my terror–the fact that, once again, I am making art that matters to no one but me.

How do I know this? Well, because we’re almost five months from the pub date of Pen & Xander and this little, invisible, book of my heart has still only sold 27 copies. And that’s okay. It’s okay because I needed to write this book and because I learned so much in the process.

I learned what it is I want to say and how I want to say it. I learned that I have a responsibility to write these kinds of characters, characters I craved as a kid but could never find. I learned that the creative process is its own reward and that just because this book hasn’t found its audience today doesn’t mean that in a year or five or ten it won’t resonate with someone as powerfully as it has with me. I learned that it’s okay to create something no one else cares or even knows about. Nothing is in vain. This book is not a failure and neither am I.

So, what does Plan D really look like? Well, it actually looks a lot like my old life when I was working 60 hours a week and writing every spare second in between. Only this time I’m not breaking myself in the process. I’m writing because I want to, not because I need to generate more income. I still want to make money and be able to write full time someday. But setbacks in my creative life have shown me that I have a lot of other gifts that are worth pouring into. I’m a good teacher. I’m not ready to give that up.

And maybe that’s why Pen & Xander hasn’t been a runaway success. Because, for the time being, I’m supposed to be in the classroom. I’m needed there, which means I’m fulfilling my purpose there. A person can have more than one. Destiny is not a narrow straight but a winding, bumpy trunk that erupts in a dazzling display of branches. Destiny is messy and full of back and forth, push and pull. Tension. Surprise.

I’m not used to allowing myself to feel surprised. Surprises scare me because they are out of my control. But I don’t need to be in control of every little detail. The minutiae may be messy, but if I stand back and examine it in the light, it is still just as beautiful as I’d hoped it would be. Maybe even more so.

Stop and Look

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I have started a million blog posts this month and swiftly deleted them all for being manic nonsense that would no doubt terrify anyone who stumbled upon them. That’s what happens when the vision you had for your life–a vision that you were slowly bringing to life–suddenly crumbles, leaving you with absolutely no idea what comes next. (I’m being dramatic–sort of).

And I have to know what comes next. I have to know so that I can meditate on it and obsess over it and live it out in my own head until the day the future actually arrives. It was working so far, this whole living in the future thing. Or so I thought. Now, the things that are causing me stress and anxiety and fear are forcing me to do something else too. Actually live in the moment for once.

Living. In the now. With my students. With my dog. With my boyfriend. With my books. I’m writing in short bursts, as if writing is just this quirky hobby that I do on my lunch break. As if I’m starting over. And for the past month this thought has absolutely terrified me. Starting over? I can’t start over. Not creatively. Not financially. But suddenly I have no choice. And I can choose to be scared or I can choose, for the first time, to give up some control–okay, complete control–and stare into the unknown with excitement and an open mind.

Choosing excitement, choosing to have an open mind does not erase my anxiety but it does make it feel less life threatening. It does make it easier for me to acknowledge that it’s there and then go about my day. It doesn’t stop me in my tracks quite as often. But when it does I try not to get lost in it. Instead, I try to breathe, to look around, and see all of the beautiful things in my life. Relics of all the hard work and long days. Relics I can actually enjoy now that I’m finally being forced to stop and look.

2018 Goals

2018

2017 Goals

  1. Buy a Home
  2. Finish Pen & Xander
  3. Start THE BOOK (aka Maite & Phoenix, which was temporarily shelved because of *this*)
  4. Hire a website designer
  5. Create paperbacks for my backlist

Goals Accomplished: 2/5

The most life-changing year for me professionally so far has been 2015. That was the year I stopped being invisible and people started buying my books. 2018 is going to be just as life-changing. Why? Because I said so…and because I have been very meticulously putting things in place so that I am more than ready for the opportunities that will inevitably come my way (again, inevitably, because I said so).

This year I am going to find an agent. I am going to get a traditional publishing deal. I am going to step even further outside of my comfort zone. I am going to take the necessary steps to eventually become a full time author. And these are the new items on my to-do list that will help me get there:

1. Finish TWO novels
This goal is a BIG one. It usually takes me about eight months to write one novel from start to finish. This year I’ll be starting and completing two. I’ve already begun writing the first in a new series and hope to finish the first draft of that project by April. Meanwhile, I’ll also be drafting another contemporary novel in the Nacho’s Tacos universe. It will focus on one of the restaurant employees and a new character who shares his love of music. It’ll be paired with a novel soundtrack and *hopefully* be ready for release by August/September.

2. Query a dystopia/fantasy series
This year taught me a very important lesson about creative work–this industry is volatile and nothing is guaranteed. I’ve realized that I shouldn’t put all of my eggs in one basket and that becoming a hybrid author might be able to offer me some more stability. In other words, it’s time to branch out and more importantly, it’s time to reach a wider audience. The novel I’m working on now deserves a wider audience, which means I’m going to query for the first time in seven years. Wish me luck!
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3. Get an agent
I’ve been a lone wolf for a long time but I’m ready to take my career to the next level and reach more readers. Once I finish and polish my WIP I’ll be focusing my search on agents that represent POC authors and that champion diverse books. One of the reasons I was drawn to self-publishing all those years ago was because I wanted to write about characters who looked like me and shared my experiences–something I’d craved but rarely been able to find in books growing up. Now, traditional publishing has become much more inclusive and I finally feel comfortable enough to try to enter that space again. But the only way I’d be willing to give up some of the freedom I’ve enjoyed as an indie author would be to find the perfect partner–someone who believes in my stories and my characters as much as I do. Someone who understands the importance of positive and diverse representations of POC in all types of media. I hope to begin querying this summer and find my perfect match by the end of the year.

4. Hire a website designer
This was on my to-do list last year but then disaster struck and spending $2,000+ on a new website design didn’t seem that essential anymore. I’m hopeful that Pen & Xander will find an audience soon, which will drive sales to the contemporary novel I plan to publish in the fall. Then I might be able to direct some of that extra income to a fancy schmancy website design that better brands me and my books. It’ll also serve as a safety net when Amazon (which currently accounts for 90% of my total sales) inevitably makes another change to its system and/or guidelines that ends up harming authors.

5. Take professional author photos
This was another one of those non-essentials I had to cut from my to-do list last year. However, due to the fact that my only author photo looks almost nothing like me now–I haven’t had blonde hair in years–I think it’s time for an update. Hopefully, it’s something I can swing this fall when I’m updating my website too.

6. Sell a thousand copies of Pen & Xander
The first reviews are coming in and the feedback from readers has been really good so far. But I can’t expect this book to reach thousands of people based on word of mouth alone. That was a giant stroke of luck when it happened for TGIB series but this time I’m writing in a different genre, which means I might just have to find an entirely different audience. It isn’t going to be easy but one thing that will make the success of this book a lot more feasible is setting specific goals. That way as I experiment more with marketing I actually have a means of measuring that success. If you’ve already gotten your copy, thank you for helping me come one step closer to my goal! Need yours? Get it here.

7. Commit to a bi-monthly newsletter
Updating and maintaining my newsletter is just one of those methods I’ll be experimenting with to see if it increases sales. My first newsletter for 2018 will go out at the end of January and then I’ll be sending bi-monthly updates. They’ll include a blog post round-up, updates on my WIP, excerpts, and exclusive giveaways/freebies. Click on one of the free goodies below and get it emailed to you upon signup!

Newsletter-Song BonusNewsletter-Bonus CookbookBackmatter Newsletter Sign-up8. Create audiobooks for my paranormal romance series
This is another one of those goals that requires money. But I think it’s worth the investment and hope to begin the pre-production process this summer.

9. Connect with and learn from other authors
Because I have declared that 2018 will be the year I enter the mysterious world of traditional publishing, I’m already brainstorming ways to commemorate the experience and connect with other writers in the process. One of the key differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing is the level of transparency between and among the people involved in each industry. Indie authors are notoriously generous, community-oriented, and constantly giving away valuable information free of charge. The OGs learned as they went and then created blogs where they shared what they’d learned with the rest of us. Traditional publishing is much more opaque and therefore intimidating. As a hybrid author I want to be as open as I’ve been about my self-publishing journey and share the growing pains along the way.

10. Pay off grad school loans
Last year I bought my first home, which completely drained my savings. Once I finish building up my 3-month emergency fund all extra income will be put towards paying off these loans, which I vowed long ago would not haunt me for the rest of my life!
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11. Invest in my retirement
Once the student loans have been obliterated it’ll be time to look toward the future again and start maxing out my retirement accounts. If you’re following my blog because you’re hoping to make writing your full-time gig someday, please understand that as a traditional or self-published author you are technically self-employed. This means that it’s your responsibility to make sure all your ducks are in a row as far as retirement is concerned. Personally, I love reading and learning about finances. They’re such a huge part of being self-employed and a business owner, which is what you are as an author. I plan to blog on those topics more over the coming year.

And there you have it–my master plan! If you don’t have one yourself, you’re truly missing out on the forward momentum that a clear vision can bring to your life. So figure out what you want, identify actionable steps to make it happen, and then write it down. More specifically, somewhere you can see so that you can pause on those promises at least once a day, reminding yourself what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for.

You. Always, remember you’re doing it for you.

What To Do When You Realize Your Idea Isn’t Original Part II

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A long, long time ago when I was working on the first book in The Girl In Between series I came across a newly released traditionally published book that shared several similarities with my novel. Of course, I completely panicked and started rethinking everything to the point of almost driving myself mad.

And then I came to the realization that lots of books have things in common–characters, setting, plot, conflict. There will always be an aspect of one of my stories that someone else has attempted to explore before. The difference? Well, the explorer, of course.

No one else has lived my life and therefore no one else has my same experiences to draw on for inspiration. No one has my voice or my perspective. No one is me. And that is how I was able to push through and continue with that series.

But then disaster struck again, only this time my WIP didn’t just share similarities with the traditionally published book I came across. The synopsis for both were practically identical.

Here, I’ll show you…

Rough synopsis for my WIP, which I used to teach my students about stakes & inciting incident during the outlining process:

Maite has just lost her twin brother in a tragic accident. His organs are donated, saving several lives. One of them is Phoenix who’s been waiting for a heart transplant for almost six months. He wants more than anything to meet the family of his organ donor and thank them for their son’s amazing gift but Maite and her parents are still in the midst of their grief and can’t imagine anything more final than hearing their son’s heart beating in someone else’s chest.

Even though they denied a meeting with him, Phoenix manages to find out the identities of his organ donor’s family. He learns that Maite is in his freshmen photography class and even though he knows he should keep his distance, something else, something stronger keeps pulling him in her direction. After partnering up for a semester-long project Maite and Phoenix slowly begin to develop feelings for one another.

Shortly after discovering that she is in love with Phoenix, Maite also discovers his true identity and realizes that he’s been keeping his connection to her twin brother a secret. Feeling betrayed and confused Maite is faced with the decision to forgive her soul mate or lose him forever.

And here’s the synopsis for Tamsyn Murray’s new novel, Instructions for a Secondhand Heart:

Jonny knows better than anyone that life is full of cruel ironies. He’s spent every day in a hospital hooked up to machines to keep his heart ticking. Then when a donor match is found for Jonny’s heart, that turns out to be the cruelest irony of all. Because for Jonny’s life to finally start, someone else’s had to end.

That someone turns out to be Neve’s twin brother, Leo. When Leo was alive, all Neve wanted was for him (and all his glorious, overshadowing perfection) to leave. Now that Leo’s actually gone forever, Neve has no idea how to move forward. Then Jonny walks into her life looking for answers, her brother’s heart beating in his chest, and everything starts to change.

Together, Neve and Jonny will have to face the future, no matter how frightening it is, while also learning to heal their hearts, no matter how much it hurts.

And cue mental breakdown…now.

I was absolutely gutted.

This…this was SO MUCH worse than the first time I discovered another book similar to my own. Because this book is practically identical!

FGHSHSGSNUDH!!!

That’s how I felt in that moment because what choice did I have but to shelve my novel? After having already spent years daydreaming about these characters and learning what makes them tick. After grieving the loss of Maite’s brother right alongside her. After diving deep into existential questions with Phoenix. Like…why do some people get to live while others don’t? And what is our responsibility to those who’ve passed on too soon?

And why, oh, why did the universe plant this story seed inside me if another writer was about the publish the exact same thing?

Did I mention how crushed I was?

But worse than that…I was confused.

I’m a very intuitive person. I’m a strict student of Fate and constantly in pursuit of my purpose. I look for signs everywhere and I usually follow them. So far, I’ve felt like Fate and I have pretty much been on the same page. But now I find myself knee deep in a very emotionally taxing project, which I now have to abandon because someone else has reached the finish line first.

And my only recourse is to CHOOSE to see it as another sign. Maybe that sign is that the next book in my queue, the one I’ve decided to query, MUST be written now. It can’t wait. And the universe had to practically shout it at me before I finally noticed.

So Fate never abandoned me. And just because I’m abandoning this story doesn’t mean I won’t be able to tell it eventually. Because even though it seems identical on the surface, below that surface is an ocean, the depths of which only I can explore.