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.

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This is Not a Coincidence

Mental Health, Motivation & Inspiration

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About three weeks ago I began this new spiritual practice of chilling the f**** out. What does that look like? Well, it looks like daydreaming with focus and intention, taking action where I can to turn those dreams into reality, and trusting that the Universe will aid me in this quest.

Staying in that place of total trust is not easy and I am imperfect at it most of the time. But I desperately want to trust and it’s this desperation that forces me to correct myself anytime my thoughts start to drift somewhere dark and full of doubt.

Just a few days after I decided to release all of my fears and worries and start believing in the awesomeness of my own existence, I experienced some small miracles, which I blogged about in this post. You might have read that list and seen nothing more than a string of random coincidences. A few weeks earlier and I would have too. But choosing to see them as coincidences would have meant I was analyzing them through the lens of fear and pessimism.

Let’s face it, people who are afraid, people who are pessimistic are not exactly good at spotting miracles, mostly because they’re never looking for them. But if you are looking for them, you start seeing them everywhere.

Back in October of 2018 I decided to take my novel, Pen & Xander, off of all online retailers so that I could query it and try to find an agent. In that moment I had felt this tremendous urge to make a change, to take a risk. But even though I decided to do the scary thing and leap, nothing about my mindset had actually changed. I was still self-sabotaging by thinking thoughts like: If I query this and get rejected then I’ll finally have permission to distrust and therefore reject the notion of being traditionally published altogether.

That’s right. I wanted permission to stop going after this dream. So even though I was putting myself out there by querying this novel I was still doing it from a place of fear, doubt, and extreme distrust.

Another way I self-sabotaged? I only sent the novel to two agents (there were only three on my master list but one of them was closed to queries). Yeah, those odds weren’t great. But I purposefully set it up that way to increase my chances of failing. I wanted to fail because, not only would it reinforce all of my worst fears, but by manifesting those fears I could finally face them instead of living in the anticipation of them. Which is so much worse. *eye roll*

If this all sounds insane to you, that’s because it is. It is absolutely insane to try to conjure the things you fear but I would argue that most of us are engaging in this very act on a pretty regular basis. I’m just willing to admit it.

The first agent sent me a form rejection about a month after I queried. The second agent didn’t reply at all. On her website she said that if writers didn’t receive a response within six weeks it was an automatic pass. Six weeks came and went and I just assumed that I was being rejected again.

Fast forward another month and there I am, in the midst of a quarter life crisis, reading about the law of attraction and universal intelligence and having all of these epiphanies about my career and life’s purpose. Shortly after, I decide to give this whole trusting the Universe thing a shot. I make an 18-month escape plan, focusing mostly on the milestones I want to reach, the amount of money I want to make, etc., and not so much on the how. Because in the past, the how, is where I always seemed to fall apart. It’s where I crunched the numbers–time + money = never gonna happen–and inevitably discovered that what I wanted to achieve was impossible all on my own.

But I am not all on my own. Or, at least, I don’t have to be.

I’ve been working really hard to operate under this assumption for the past three weeks. I take action where I can and trust when I cannot. I believe with everything in me that as long as I am making progress, I will eventually get to my ideal destination.

Today, almost twelve weeks after I sent my initial query, the second agent I contacted sent me a request to revise and resubmit.

Now I have two choices. I can choose to view this through the lens of fear and doubt and believe that there’s no point in revising this novel, in putting myself through such a grueling process, in trying again. That responding after twelve weeks must mean this agent isn’t really interested, that the manuscript must need too much work, that I will never be able to meet her expectations with a new draft.

Or I can choose to view this through the lens of optimism and believe that trying is all I have to be willing to do in order get the things I want, it’s all I have to do to demonstrate my faith, to prove myself. And that the timing of this agent’s response is actually perfect because now I can approach this rewrite with a positive mindset that has been fortified by all I’ve learned about myself since then.

I choose to believe that this is not a coincidence.

The person I was when I wrote the TGIB series didn’t believe in coincidences, which is why my characters, two star-crossed lovers who meet and fall in love in a dreamscape of their own creation, didn’t believe in them either. It’s also why I was able to sell almost 100,000 copies of those books. Because I believed I’d written something worthy of being read. Because I believed there was no plan B. I was going to be a writer no matter what and those books were going to play a crucial role in getting me there.

I choose to believe that this is a sign that I’m heading in the right direction.

Even if this agent doesn’t offer me representation, this rewrite must be essential. A door I must pass through even though I have no idea where it leads. That’s okay. I don’t have to know where it leads. I just have to trust that if I can be courageous enough to take that step it will all be worth it in the end.

The Indie Experiment-The Dream

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 Indie Experiment: The Dream

It took me four years, a million drafts, two independent study courses, and time in another state to write and finally finish The Things They Didn’t Bury.The idea originated my senior year in high school and I nurtured it and explored it through my entire college experience and after each personal evolution, the story experienced a new evolution as well. I wrote every week and then every day, getting words down in a fury through my father’s illness and then picking them apart after every new creative writing course each semester. In the beginning there was no end goal, not even to finish, but as an end finally started to reveal itself I couldn’t type a word or take a step without doubting it. And this was when I realized that I did have a dream for this story and it was more than just to create or to finish, it was to write something good.

In the beginning this story was not good. It was muddled and shallow and all over the place but something inside me just wouldn’t give up on it. A lot of writers  have abandoned their first book, so many that some people even consider it a right of passage. I used to think that I’d managed to skip that step of my artist initiation but when I look back at the story I ended up with versus the story I started with, I realize that I didn’t skip a thing. The Things They Didn’t Bury is not the same story I began writing my senior year in high school. Everything from the location to the plot changed completely with the exception of just the characters names. By the time I actually finished the novel it had had several other identities, all scrapped, and all for good reason. But the point isn’t how many novels I abandoned in the process, the point is that I kept writing no matter what. When I realized that even after I finished this novel that I wouldn’t be able to stop writing I knew that it was time to come up with a plan.

Sometimes we steal dreams and sometimes we stumble across them but when a desire that big takes hold of you there’s really nothing you can do except follow it. By the time I finished my first novel I’d already declared my major and had already made the decision to pursue writing professionally. What I hadn’t decided on was how. I’d taken journalism courses, news writing courses, short story writing, poetry workshops, fiction and non-fiction writing, writing for feature films, and script writing courses, and while each method and medium spoke to me I couldn’t deny the connection I felt to the challenge of fiction writing. There was something so romantic about it and the process itself allowed for the kind of spiritual exploration I was desperately craving. I knew that I wanted to write novels and after sharing one of the earlier versions of The Things They Didn’t Bury with one of my professors he gave me some advice on querying–something I had no idea I even needed to do.

I put it off, letting the story experience a few more evolutions before I finally started to do some research. I looked into agents, trying to find a good fit, something that proved ridiculously difficult as I’d written my entire novel without a definite genre in mind. In a lot of ways, letting the novel grow as it needed to without trying to fit it into some kind of box left me with something really unique. But on the other hand it made it really difficult to pitch. I went into querying totally blind, seeking out agents who had even a smidgen of interest in multi-cultural fiction that wasn’t easily categorized. I don’t really remember how many emails I originally sent out but I do know how many personal responses I got. Zero. Every response I received was automated and could be summed up in two words: “No thanks.”

I was deflated but not necessarily devastated. The entire process was pretty exhausting but I also considered it more of an experiment rather than a genuine attempt. Part of me had always thought that the story wasn’t ready but that was mostly because I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t grown enough as a writer yet but luckily since I was only nineteen, I still had plenty of time for that. Other writers might have chosen to abandon the story at that point or at least to start something new and try to move on but I just couldn’t see myself letting it go for good. I worked on it sporadically, picking at it mostly, but not ready to do another round of re-writes. In the meantime I shifted my focus to short stories and after randomly deciding to enter a contest hosted by a small press, something pretty crazy happened. I actually won. And so began my first and only experience as an almost “traditionally” published author.

After I won the short story contest and collected my prize money, which wasn’t even enough to cover the cost of one of my textbooks, the acquisitions director asked me if I had any other short stories that I might be willing to let them include in one of their upcoming anthologies. I was totally naive and so over the moon about someone actually thinking that I was good that I sent them over two more stories to include in their collection. After they read the other stories they asked me if there was anything else I was working on and I told them about my novel in progress, the one I was still nursing a sore heart over having been rejected by all of my dream agents. Obviously I was in a somewhat vulnerable place so when they offered me a contract I was elated. Long story short, after taking the contract to my professor for his opinion, I realized that this small press was one step above a vanity press and that they were basically trying to rob me blind.

I decided to stop querying at that point or even entertaining the idea of being published until I was finished with school and had a little bit more experience. But even in the midst of attempting to take a break I still couldn’t move on from the story completely. Not yet. So I decided to give it another go, one more round of extensive re-writes to try to turn the story into what I’d always hoped it would be. After graduation I moved to Florida for about a year and a half and during that first year all I did was work on this story. It was the perfect timing and without things like school or friends or money I could focus completely on my work. I also found my very first critique partners online, whose help was so invaluable, especially since no one had read any incarnation of the story except for my professor. Working with other writers and setting deadlines for myself to query again by the Spring made me feel not just like a writer but like a grown-up. I learned so much about the importance of being self-disciplined and holding myself accountable for making my dreams come true. Because this was my dream. Somehow it had evolved from just being a passion to being a commitment, something I woke up every day with the intention of working towards. I had expectations and I had goals, and not just word counts or meeting deadlines. I wanted to be published. I wanted to write full time. All of these things were what pushed me to not only re-write the story, basically from scratch, for the hundredth time but they also pushed me to query again even after failing the first time.

When I queried the second time I was confident. I knew the story was good and that I’d reached a new level creatively. I knew that it had potential, that I had potential, and I knew that if someone would just give me a chance I could prove to them that I was in this for the long haul and that I was capable of building something even greater than just this novel, but an entire career. Unfortunately no one gave me that opportunity. Again I’d put my heart and soul on the line and again all I’d gotten in return was a bunch of automated messages from agents who didn’t see the same potential in this story that I did. And this time it actually hurt. Not a lot but a little bit. I felt the sting of rejection but even worse than that was coming to terms with the fact that this story I’d spent the past four years of my life working on may never be read.

That was the hardest part of all of it, the fact that this piece of me, this thing that had dragged me out of so much darkness, wasn’t considered worthy enough to be shared with the world. But I knew it was worthy. I knew it was important. I’ve written about some authors referring to special projects as “the book of your heart” or about having to shelve novels that mean more to them than anything they’ve ever written. Some artists might be capable of that, of abandoning things for no other reason than the fact that someone else doesn’t think any money can  be made from it. But I just don’t work that way. I think when something speaks to you or through you in a way that changes your entire life, that thing is no accident. Me writing this novel was no accident and if the experience of writing it was so revelatory, how much greater are the odds that reading it will be just as powerful? So I couldn’t abandon this story. In fact I downright refused. And even though some people might think that I made a mistake by striking out on my own or that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing and/or talking about, I have come away from the entire experience having learned a very important lesson about defiance. That sometimes defiance is good. That sometimes it is brave and right and true. Sometimes a little defiance makes all the difference.