Answers

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

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.

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Everything Else is Extra

Mental Health

This month I officially started working 60 hours a week and do you know what’s more motivating than having a job you hate? Having two jobs you hate. I’m being a little over-dramatic. The truth is I don’t hate my jobs. I’m grateful that I’m finally making enough money to not just survive but…oh I don’t know, maybe see a movie or buy an ice cream or something. The truth is that the stress of working so many hours is much more endurable than the stress of not being able to pay my bills. So I don’t hate working, I just hate not writing.

It’s only been a week into my new schedule and already I’m fighting off that negative self-talk and all of the terrifying “what ifs” that seem to plague me every time I’m not living up to my full potential as an artist. I’ve let feelings like this cripple me in the past, the doubt so intense that I just stopped writing altogether.  But I’ve made a promise to myself that I’m not going to let that happen this time. Because I’m not going to feel guilty about working or about wanting peace of mind. And more importantly I’m not going to buy into the falsehood that only writing in my free time means that I’m not a “real” writer.

I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t make enough money from book sales to write full time and I’m not ashamed of the fact that the jobs that do pay my bills are ones that don’t fulfill me in any way other than financially. What I do is not who I am, and that doesn’t just go for my day job but it applies to my writing as well. I write. I am a writer. But at my core, in my essence, I’m not defined by any of these things. What does define me? The effort I put in to my work, especially when I don’t feel like doing my best or when no one’s watching. The way I treat people and the way I treat myself. Things that measure something even more important than success but that measure my ability to be human. I want to be good at that because everything else is extra. The money and the success and the recognition, none of that is guaranteed, and yet I always overwhelm myself with this pressure to achieve it and end up feeling like a failure even though I’m anything but.

Writing is what I love and it is absolutely what I want to do but how much I write, how well I write, and any success that may come of it is not what will define me. I will define me, in ways big and small, tangible and intangible, not based on what I received in this life but on how much I was willing to give.

The Importance of Daily Declarations

Writing Process

When it comes to writing, and more importantly finishing, momentum is everything. Like they always say, an object in motion tends to stay in motion while in object at rest tends to stay at rest. It’s pure science, ya’ll. Another universally known scientific fact? Procrastination is a disease. The good news? It’s not incurable.

Without my routine I’m like a buoy in the breeze, my direction and motivation constantly changing according to my emotions, my circumstances, and whatever interesting website I happen to stumble upon on the internet. It’s a dangerous environment and while “freedom” is, in so many people’s minds, synonymous with creativity and inspiration, the truth is the muse must be harnessed like every other beast of burden. The muse should work when we say it’s going to work and not the other way around but the only way to accomplish this is to stop making excuses and start cracking the whip. This means that setting crystal clear and achievable expectations is a must. But not just for each story or each draft but for every minute of every day.

Holidays always have a tendency to derail my focus and sometimes it takes me weeks to find my motivation again. But just because something’s been displaced doesn’t mean it’s been lost. In my opinion, finding your focus is all about the preparation. Every day I sit down at my desk and I know everything I’m going to accomplish that day and in what order. Lists and plans don’t wok for everyone but having a clear direction is crucial. But not only do I know what I’m going to accomplish and when, I also know how long I’m going to spend on each task. In the mornings I give myself an hour and a half to write 1k-2k on my contemporary romance and then after lunch I give myself four hours to write 3k-4k on my YA series. If I don’t reach my goal in time, I leave it be. But what I’ve realized after setting these benchmarks for myself, is that after a while I tend to rise to my own expectations. When I’m out of practice it would take me up to six hours to write three thousand words but after getting used to my routine and my self-imposed obligations, I’m cranking it out in half the time.

But maintaining a routine isn’t just about showing up every day and doing the work, it’s also about finding balance. Some days the internet swallows me like a black hole and when I finally find my way back out, the laundry’s turned sour in the washer and my lunch has calcified. It’s a dangerous place, and as temperamental Creatives who are constantly looking for an excuse not to do the one thing we love most in the world (Can you believe how messed up we are?) it’s imperative that we learn how to navigate every distraction in a healthy way.

When we find ourselves getting easily distracted, or seeking out any excuse to avoid writing, it usually means one thing–that we’re lacking balance. Everyone’s heard the expression “work hard, play hard” but in the context of creative work, these lines can sometimes get blurred. When I’ve hit my writing stride, I can hibernate for days with a story, typing until my fingertips are raw and forgetting to engage in even the most basic necessities such as eating and sleeping. And I think a lot of us find ourselves working in this same pattern of extremes. When the writing really gets going we gorge ourselves on words and the second we hit a roadblock, we starve ourselves to death. But no one can survive like this. It’s not natural and if you keep telling yourself that this is “just the way I am” or this is “just how my muse works” I’ve got news for you. You’re wrong. So wrong.

When it comes to your life and your creativity, you make the rules. And whatever rules you set, the muse will adhere to as long as you’re stringent about the consequences if you falter. So set deadlines. Schedule every hour of every day, and not just your writing time, but also the amount of time you’ll spend reading or watching TV or surfing the internet. For every forty-five minutes I work, I spend fifteen reading weird news stories on the Huffington post–just enough time to give my brain a break, but not enough to break my stride. I know it may sound counter-intuitive but when it comes to creativity rules are crucial and boundaries are everything. So don’t be afraid to set out every day with a plan, to make a schedule, to create boundaries, and to set expectations. Because who knows? After making them a part of your daily declaration and creating a solid plan of attack, you just might actually reach them.

Minutes

Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

All it takes is one. One minute and then another and then another. All it takes is one minute of writing, of scribbling one word, one sentence in front of the other. Writing stories is hard and writing good ones is even harder, and sometimes as artists that’s all we can see. Not the finish line and sometimes not even the starting line. But we see the hurdles and the trenches and all of those miniature failures that go along with making art. It’s hard to feel motivated when we’re already anticipating that first roadblock but what we don’t realize is that anticipation itself IS the roadblock. The first one because it always comes just before we start. Because we’re thinking about the future instead of living in the moment.

But writing is all about the moment. Yes, we have a vision and maybe even a plan, but the actual construction of a novel doesn’t happen in the anticipation of it. It happens in the physical act of creating, of typing one word at a time. Even if it’s a terrible word or a stupid word or one that totally doesn’t make any sense. Progress is forward and progress is constantly in motion. Like your hands across the keys, like your pen across the blank page. All we have to do to conquer our fears is move. That’s it. No worrying, no sabotaging, no procrastinating. No daydreaming about all of the terrible things that could happen if you get this first word wrong. No giving up.

And most importantly no measuring your success by things that don’t exist or by things that always will. We will always be afraid. We will always fail. But the future is foreign and invisible and right now it does no exist. What does exist is this moment and what you can do in this moment shouldn’t be judged or measured outside of that. So just write. One minute, one moment at a time. That’s how you create. Not all at once but in pieces. Small pieces that can be terrible and weak and scary and amazing and brilliant and bold all at the same time. Because so are we. And being capable of both creating and being such a thing is proof that beginnings are not what we should fear, nor is failure. It’s us. Because we are powerful and we are brave and when we make the choice to be stronger and wiser than our fears, we can do absolutely anything.

The Indie Experiment-The Truth

Self Publishing, Writing Process

My Indie Journey From Start to Finish:
The Indie Experiment:The Beginning
The Indie Experiment:The Decision
The Indie Experiment:The Teacher

The Indie Experiment: The Truth

 …the thing about hiding, even if it’s just one small part of who we are, is that it doesn’t hurt anyone but us–I’ve been re-reading this line for the past half hour, trying to figure out a way to frame this part of my journey. It’s a scary part and a sad part and something I don’t know how to talk about because I never really have before. Not like this where anyone and everyone can hear me, not without ducking or dodging or hiding or making myself sick. I don’t want to talk about it but I have to. I know that. Because this is how it all began, how I wrote something down and it changed my life, how it changed me.

The Things They Didn’t Bury isn’t a story about a girl looking for her mother or a girl falling in love for the first time or a girl growing up and coming into her own. It’s about me and I didn’t even realize it until I was over 70,000 words and four drafts in. When I was sixteen I found out the man who’d raised me wasn’t my biological father. One moment I was whole and happy and safe and the next I was empty and full of cracks, pieces of me scattered in people and places and memories I’d never known. For a year I didn’t try to fill them or fix them; I didn’t acknowledge them at all. Instead, I did what my family did best, I buried that secret so far down that pretending it had never happened was almost as easy as breathing. But the thing about cracks, about pain, is that even when you can’t feel them there, even when you’ve convinced yourself that they never existed at all they still do. They are invisible and when they are invisible they are dangerous. Because when you can’t see the cracks you have no idea when they’ll split you in two.

A year after I found out that I was the family secret the man who’d raised me got sick. My father was dying and we didn’t even know it and suddenly that year of pretending was all waste. Because it only made losing him that much harder. I hadn’t dealt with things because I hadn’t known how and even when I started writing it wasn’t to pull me out of anything, it wasn’t to work through my feelings, or to serve as some kind of cure. I was writing for escape. And yet, I hadn’t escaped a thing. Because after finishing The Things They Didn’t Bury, after reading the final version of something that had been in a constant state of evolution for three years, I was faced with all of it. Everything that I’d felt, everything I didn’t want to feel, everything I thought and believed and worried about. I was faced with the truth of me. My truth. And I finally realized why I hadn’t broken down, why I hadn’t given up after being abandoned by one father and burying another. Because those things that were inside me weren’t strangling me anymore. They weren’t stewing and they weren’t ruining and they weren’t hurting me. Not like before. Because they were trapped somewhere else, in that story, in those words.

Words. That’s what saved me. Even when I wasn’t paying attention. Even when I was just trying to escape. They saved me anyway and they keep saving me. When I’m afraid of failing or I’m afraid of being rejected or I’m afraid of feeling. Writing lets me feel things without being cut open, without being destroyed. Writing lets me say anything and be anything. Writing lets me share and connect and discover. That’s why I write and why I can’t stop. Because writing frees me from the shame of secrets. Writing lets me tell the truth.