Writing from the Top of the Mountain

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For the past year I have been trying to figure out where it all went wrong. How did I go from being on the verge of having everything I wanted to feeling farther from my dreams than ever? When did I become a magnet for fear and doubt instead of a human rocket that uses them as fuel? Where exactly did I lose myself and how do I get her back?

If I retrace my steps, perfectly, honestly, I can actually pinpoint the moment when everything took a turn for the worse, when the wheels fell off, when I gave up on myself and my dreams, giving the universe permission to do the same.

I’ve written and reflected so much on the miracle of May 2015 when, seemingly overnight, my book sales skyrocketed. I’ve looked back on that time with awe and gratitude, with confusion and disbelief. I have looked back on that moment as luck finally meeting with all of my hard work. As the beginning of something great. But in the midst of that moment of greatness I did not choose to do something great, bold, or brave. Because I did not choose to leap.

Instead, I took the money that I’d made from writing fiction and I used it to apply to grad school. I used it to build a cocoon, to mitigate risk, to stomp out my fears of change and lack and failure. I used it to give up.

I didn’t realize at the time that I was giving up. But what else do you call turning your back on a gift that big and beautiful?

In my quest to understand where it all went wrong (and therefore, how to fix it) I’ve been reading a lot about mindset, the power of positive thinking, and the rules of universal intelligence. Basically, universal intelligence is…well, you. And me. And everything. Everything is connected. Our reality is a shifting, changing thing that bends to our desires, good or bad, brave or fearful.

On some level, I have always believed this–that I am always in control of much more than I appear to be. But I also have an anxious overactive brain that can funnel just as much negative energy into something as positive energy. In fact, it’s much easier for me to funnel negative energy into something because most of my day is spent swatting away negative thoughts. I’m an expert at creating them. I can do it in my sleep, and often do, which is why I have nightmares almost every night.

But this hyperactive, extremely powerful brain of mine, when it focuses on positive things, can make miracles happen. On some level, I have always believed this too. The problem is, the line between positive thoughts and negative thoughts is coated in vaseline. I vacillate between them like an olympic ping-pong player.

Everything is awesome. I’m so happy. Look at all the abundance that surrounds me. So much excess. Things I don’t need. Things I’ve greedily hoarded when there are people in the world who are homeless and starving!

See what I mean? It’s a problem.

But a problem that I had (somehow) temporarily solved in the summer of 2015, at least long enough for something completely miraculous to happen. I keep thinking about that time in my life, trying to figure out all the ways it was different; all the ways I was different.

Here’s what I know for sure: I was frustrated with my current job. I knew I didn’t want to work there forever. I knew I hated my boss. But I also knew, with extreme certainty and clarity, that it was temporary. I felt a pull to do something bigger, greater, better. Something that would give my life purpose and make the world a better place. I believed that I was meant for that kind of responsibility and that I had unique skills and abilities that qualified me for such a role. I wanted to make more money so that I could buy a new car with a working A/C unit that didn’t stall every time I ran the heater while idling at a stop light. So that I could shelter myself from the kind of financial struggles my parents went through. So I could do good things for others.

Three years later and every single one of those basic desires is the same. What isn’t the same, is me.

In 2015, when I was daydreaming about my future, I was writing like my life depended on it, planning like my life depended on it, dreaming like my life depended on it. The things I wanted and the work I was willing to do to get them was nonnegotiable. My day job was temporary and this was also nonnegotiable. All of these nonnegotiable things were promises I was making to myself and to the universe. These promises became prayers. Declarations and then manifestations.

I told the Universe that I wanted to make a living as a writer. I showed it that I was serious by writing every spare second I had–early in the morning and late into the night. I paid for cover designs and copy editing and threw money at this dream even though it wasn’t earning me a cent.

And then the Universe answered my prayers. It gave me exactly what I wanted. Money. An audience. Control. Freedom.

But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to quiet those dark and doubting voices in my head. It wasn’t enough to make me believe that I deserved these gifts I was being given. It wasn’t enough to make me leap into that great unknown that really isn’t unknown once you realize you’re the one constructing it. Brick by brick. Every thought with the power to summon something you desire or something you fear.

I chose fear. In the face of my dreams, of my destiny, I chose fear.

Instead of trusting that the universe would continue to provide, I stopped swatting those negative thoughts away and let myself dwell on them. What will I do when the money runs out? What if I can’t write another book? What if I lose it all? What if I sabotage everything?

And I did. It took three years but every fear that I let stop me from taking that leap, every fear that has been following me around, tying me in knots, stealing my sleep and good sense, has come to fruition. And I have no one to blame but myself.

But this is also good news. Because if I’m the only one to blame for creating this problem then I’m the only one who can possibly come up with the solution. Believing this is also the first step in repairing my relationship with the Universe because it operates on the assumption that if I can change what I believe, I can change, well, everything.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to get back in the driver’s seat of this human experience that could very well be the only one I ever get. I’m going to make it count by planning and dreaming and creating and trusting like my life depends on it. I’m going to claw my way out of that black hole and stand on the top of the mountain. I’m going to give myself all the gifts and I’m going to believe with everything in me that I deserve them.

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Taking Control

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Jon Tyson

For the past five years that I’ve ben self-publishing I have paid for zero marketing. I’ve paid for cover art and copy editing and that’s it. Everything amazing that’s happened to me and my books has been because of word of mouth. Sure, in the beginning of my career I spent hours planning a few blog tours for some of my earlier contemporary novels and the first book in my paranormal series. But at most I’d get about twenty reviews and never did those appearances translate into significant sales. For almost two years I’ve mostly just sat back in awe at how far my stories have travelled, watching silently while people talk about and share my books online.

But after two years of having to do absolutely nothing in order to generate sales (except write more books, of course) everything sort of fell off a cliff in January. According to other indies, the immediate drop-off in sales happened sooner–around November–when the world was in a state of panic, unable to concentrate on work, let alone reading for pleasure. There was too much to worry about. There still is. But at least the fear of falling into a “Handmaid’s Tale-like” dystopia has loosened its grip on the majority of us just enough for us to actually function. Not that it can’t happen, but even in the midst of resisting the rule of tyranny we also need to eat, and pay the mortgage, and do all of the other things necessary for survival, which means we need to make money, which means we need to work.

But how do you survive in a society on the precipice of total ruin when the product you sell is (for most people) not considered one of those essential elements of survival? Writers know the essential value of stories, but art, as well as the appreciation of art, is so incredibly subjective. This means that when the shit hits the fan no one is going to be concerned with reading more books. They’re just not.

But…we’re not totally there yet and there’s still hope that I can eke out a living a little while longer. But how? How, when people aren’t reading as voraciously as they used to? How, when people only have enough leftover energy to consume the news? How, when that news is so depressing that it makes “frivolous” activities like experiencing or creating art seem even more futile?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. All I can do is write more books–books about human beings who are learning how to cast out their demons and approach others with compassion–and take more control over how exactly my books find readers. Part of this means being willing to finally spend a little money on marketing, which I conceded to when applying for my first BookBub ad. I’m still monitoring the results, which I’ll be sharing on the blog in the coming days. But at the same time, there are still so many factors out of my control. And it’s scary. Not just as an artist but as a teacher and a daughter and a friend and a human being. But maybe I’ve been afraid of what’s next only because I’ve felt helpless to stop it. Maybe it’s time to stop being helpless.

I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

This seems to be a disturbing trend of my twenties and even though those who are older and wiser have told me that being scared and confused is what your twenties is all about…I just can’t accept it. I need to be in control. I need my plans to pan out. I need to know myself and what I want. And I don’t. Not completely.

For the past five years I’ve been driven by dreams and by my relentless fear of having an ordinary life. I thought school was the answer. I thought writing was the answer. I thought money was the answer. But none of those things have given me the kind of success or security I’d hoped for. And for a long time I decided to just wait it out, to work in another job that didn’t fulfill me spiritually and didn’t pay me what I deserved, and to just write as much as I possibly could until one day something stuck. But I’m six novels in and I’m still not earning enough to make writing my full-time career. And I’m tired of waiting.

Maybe I’m not supposed to have all the answers in my twenties but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be proactive about finding them. My dream is to be a novelist but from now on I won’t allow that to be my only dream. I am smart and I am capable and I am ready for a new challenge. I’m ready for a new life. So, while I’ll still write every day, I’ve also decided to go back to school to get my master’s degree in education. I love books and there is so much more I can be doing in this world to contribute to the spread of literacy and love of reading. Great stories save and our young people need that now more than ever. They need righteous examples of faith and strong will. They need to be exposed to ideas that both inspire and challenge. They need to read. They need to write. To organize their thoughts and analyze their emotions and form opinions that can’t be easily swayed. Reading breeds empathy but writing breeds independence and teens in today’s world desperately need both.

I’ve always tried to write with these things in mind and to approach each story as a means of making my readers feel connected and acknowledged but there is only so much I can do from behind my keyboard. Even with access to the internet the reach of my novels is still limited. If I really want to make a difference then I’m going to have to step outside my comfort zone and join the fight for literacy on the front lines. I’m not sure if I’ll be a great teacher, or even a good one, but I know I’ve got the passion to try. I know I’m meant to make a difference in the lives of young people, and whether that’s through my novels or through teaching, that’s exactly what I plan to do.

Answers

I used to think that answers always came in the form of a solution; that they brought clarity and finality and were always true. But answers are a kaleidoscope of emotions, sensations and opinions. Sometimes they’re loud and obvious and sometimes they’re a silent nudge. Sometimes they twist like a knife right in your gut and sometimes they shield you and make you safe. But the most mystifying of them all, the truest answers, never bring us to the end of something but thrust us toward a new beginning. “Real” answers don’t bind us, they set us free, releasing us into an even greater unknown that is sometimes scarier than asking the question in the first place.

It all depends on your perspective.

For the past few months my perspective has been cloudy and dark and I thought my destiny had abandoned me. As I walked through the world there were no signs or answers and I felt like every step I took was in the wrong direction. At first I wallowed in the fear of my own mistakes, living in that place until it started to feel like home. But somewhere along the way, that fear started to rise up and I rose with it. It didn’t engulf me and it didn’t break me. The moment I finally gave myself permission to give up…I didn’t want to anymore. I couldn’t.

Whatever dark current had me trapped, whatever wave had me pinned just below the surface, suddenly broke and all at once it let go of me. I wish I could say there was some dramatic moment of triumph involved, that it was a conscious choice on my part to overcome my fears. But all it took was waking up. All it took was realizing that every day is brand new and with that many fresh starts, with that many possibilities, there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. I’m doing my best. I’m doing what i love. That’s all that matters. Not who’s paying attention, not who’s listening, not how many mistakes I make along the way. There is no right way or wrong way to make art and there is no right way or wrong way to live life. As long as I’m doing and being and putting good out into the world I don’t need to know what’s coming. I don’t need to know anything at all. The truth is I already have all the answers I need. Why am I here? What’s my purpose? How are we all connected? How can I make a difference? What’s the meaning of life?

Love.

It’s the answer to everything. So give it, receive it, speak it over everyone you meet and soak it in when it’s shared with you. Remember that it’s the reason you create. Because you love yourself and because you love the world, it’s the reason that you write or paint or compose or draw or sing or laugh or cry. It’s the reason that you’re here.

Questions

I thought this would be the year of answers but it’s turning out to be the year of questions. Big scary ones. I changed full-time jobs, hoping to feel less exhausted and more fulfilled but in all the chaos of the holidays and everything else that’s been going on, I haven’t written or revised or even thought about creating something in almost three months. It’s felt like an eternity and the more time that passes, the more I wonder whether I could actually exist this way.

Today was my first day off in the past eight and I should have spent it working on revisions but I just couldn’t get started. I didn’t want to. I was afraid of too many things–of spending another two years on the same emotional roller-coaster of being an indie author and of not. It would be so easy to stop, to just forget about this series mid-draft, to take my books off sale, to remove every bit of my social media identity. I actually considered it this week and not just because I got some shitty reviews or because I almost lost a friend because of them or because I’m tired and unhappy and unsure. But because I’m afraid.

I’ve faced my fears of failure before but this time is different because I’m not just questioning my path as a writer, I’m questioning everything about my life. I don’t want to be a bystander, a thin reed that bows whichever way the wind blows just because I’m afraid of making a mistake or of being alone. I don’t want to be afraid of the future but I am. Because for the first time in my life I don’t know what it’s supposed to look like.