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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WIP Wednesday

Writing Process

I know it’s not technically Wednesday but let’s just pretend like it is. Despite the tardiness, this week I’d actually vowed to integrate blogging back into my life again, especially since it’s not enough to just tell the world that I’m working on something huge, but now that I’m approaching the publication date of the first novel in my upcoming series, I think it’s time to start actually showing it. Because I am working. Non-stop. This series is literally my entire life right now and the closer I get to that fall deadline the harder it gets to breathe. Which, if you happen to also suffer from anxiety, you know I mean that quite literally. It’s a stressful time but it’s also terribly exciting, especially now that I’m back to making steady progress.

Unlike my last WIP check-in, things have actually changed this time around and I’ve actually made some huge dents in my to-do list. Book 4, the first book in my upcoming YA series, is still waiting for its final read-through before I send it off for a copy-edit. But, finger’s crossed, I will have the FINAL draft ready for spit-shine by next weekend.

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AND I’m only about 6 pages away from completing the 4th (really the 6th) draft of the sequel. This book I really struggled with. I mean, really truly, pulled my hair out struggled. And I’m still struggling, primarily with the ending. All I can hope for at this point is that everything save the last thirty or so pages is fantastic and maybe I’ll have an epiphany between now and the fall. Still it’s off to my FINAL beta reader this weekend and I can’t wait to get her feedback on how the series is evolving.

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Being that I was totally an editing machine this past month, I also made some huge progress with the third novel in the series and it is now off to my second alpha reader for review. This is hands down my favorite book in the entire series. The first two were all about discovering the story’s true identity, while this third one was just pure joy. I don’t know what made this one easier to write than all the others, surely it has a lot to do with the groundwork I laid all those months I spent writing and re-writing those first two novels from scratch. There was so much starting and stopping and so much self-doubt that by the time I got to the third novel in the series I was at least sure of the essential things, which made exploring not just a necessity anymore but something I actually looked forward to. I’m praying that plot-wise this novel is much more solid than the others but I also don’t want to let my love for it blind me from its imperfections. Luckily I’ve just sent the third draft off to one of my harshest/most insightful critique partners and I can always breathe easy knowing that her suggestions will always improve my work tenfold.

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I was supposed to resume working on the first draft of the fourth and final book in the series this past week but editing the previous two took wayyy longer than expected. I’m officially three weeks behind schedule, which sucks, but I’ve refused to go into panic mode just yet. The work I did on the previous two books was necessary and it couldn’t have gotten done any other way. Sometimes things just take longer to evolve and sometimes there are days when you’re only capable of doing so much. I worked my butt off this month but for the first time in a long time I didn’t let myself get burnt out. And for me that’s a victory. Not to mention it makes it painfully clear that some of my deadlines, okay most of my deadlines, were probably ridiculously unrealistic. But you live and you learn. So as of now the final book in the series is still sitting just shy of 50K but I plan to finish it within the next couple of weeks and then work on the first round of revisions throughout the month of August.

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Speaking of August I can’t believe that it’s really almost HERE. I’d very vaguely mentioned in the past that I was shooting for an August publication date for the first novel in the series and while, truthfully, that novel has been hanging around waiting to be tweaked one last time and published, I’m thinking of holding off for just one more month and moving the release date to September. I’d say the first and second books in the series are practically ready to go but being that I’ve found myself three weeks behind (which, like I said, really doesn’t count seeing as my deadlines were unrealistic in the first place) this final book is going to be cutting it terrifyingly close if I still want to release it this winter. Which IS still what I want. As much as I’ve enjoyed writing this series, now that I’m reaching the end, there are other places and other characters calling to me and I can’t wait to get to work on something new.

Unfortunately though, that probably won’t happen until…(let me check my calendar…) December. Well…that sucks.  At least I’ll have a nice break from this series when I get down to editing/re-writing my next NA contemporary romance, which is still in the totally unsalvageable first draft stage, so why bother putting up a fancy progress meter at all.

Last month’s WIP check-in was totally shameful. I didn’t make any substantial progress on a single thing. But this month was all about kicking it into high gear. If everything works out according to plan from this point on I will be publishing my first new novel in a YEAR. Yes, almost an entire year has gone by since I published Breathing Ghosts and it breaks my heart. And when my heart is broken I do crazy things like attempt to publish four novels in order to make up for the months of silence. Four. Like I already mentioned, I will try my hardest to get back to blogging, but if I end up dead or in a coma at least you’ll know why.

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.

Procrastination Day 4

Writing Process

I should have known this would happen. In fact, it’s been happening for the past two weeks. The incessant pinning, the random web surfing, the gorging on reality television and cookie dough ice cream, all instead of FINISHING THIS SERIES! I’m normally not a procrastinator. Being a crazed worrier usually keeps me from putting things off for fear of all of the disastrous “what ifs” that could tragically occur in the meantime but this next project on my to-do list is a totally different animal. It’s the fourth book in my YA series. FOUR. I’ve written THREE other novels in the past year, all of which are in various stages of completion. THREE. That’s a lot. A lot of words and a lot of hours and a lot of heartache and a lot of doubt. I’m exhausted. But there’s still one more to go.

Which is why I’m watching The Real Housewives and eating Chick-fil-a and pinning wedding cakes. Because my brain is just not ready to go there yet. But can you really blame me? By the end of this journey I’ll have written almost 400,000 words and there is absolutely no guarantee that it’ll all be worth it. For the past year my book sales haven’t been stellar and while I never allowed myself to obsess over the fact or even fully acknowledge it as some kind of failure, my expectations for this next project are different. I loved writing each one of my first three novels. I loved the freedom of writing for me and the freedom of self-publishing. But this time around the stakes are higher and so are my hopes. Because this could be it. Really, this could be it.

If I could just type that first word…if I could just type anything at all. If I wasn’t so terrified maybe I’d type that first word today. But since I am terrified, of failing and actually feeling it this time, I won’t. I won’t force it, not today. And not because I think procrastinating is healthy or that that voice in my head is actually right, but because I don’t want the first word in the final book of my very first series to be conjured out of fear. Or at least not just fear. I want that last first word to be conjured out of hope and conviction and pride and love and okay, maybe a little fear too. But most of all I want it to be good. And today I can’t do good. Today all I can do is this.

Hindsight–The Writer’s Life Raft

Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

Some days writing is like trying to sail against the tide and each word is rough and choppy and you don’t even have a chance to come up for air before you’re battered by another wave of self-doubt. It’s exhausting and miserable and sometimes it feels endless. But even if a bad writing day turns into a bad writing week that turns into a bad writing month, nothing lasts forever. Not good days, not bad days. Not success and not even failure. There is an ebb and flow to everything and when you’re staring at that blinking cursor or that blank page and seeing a way out feels totally impossible, maybe it’s time to stop looking ahead and start looking behind.

I’m in the middle of a writing drought and it wasn’t caused by burn-out or even fear. It’s just one of those strange moods where all I want to do is nothing. I used to fight this feeling and I used to hate myself for even having it in the first place because I have deadlines and obligations and dreams and none of those things can happen or be taken care of if all I’m doing day in and day out is sitting and staring at the walls. But that was before I realized it was only temporary. That was before I realized that sometimes taking a break can actually be a good thing.

See I used to have all of the fears about not meeting my word count and writing terrible first drafts and waking up one day having lost all of my talent as a writer. I was constantly afraid of both the things I did and didn’t do but all it really boiled down to was a fear of failure and a fear of the unknown. I was new at this and with only a couple of completed novels under my belt–all of which were written using completely different processes–I still didn’t know what I was really capable of and therefore had no idea whether or not my expectations were realistic or if any of what I was going through and/or struggling with was “normal.” What I’ve come to learn though is that there is no such thing as normal and that as long as I put my heart and soul into it, I’m capable of doing pretty much anything.

But these are truths that take a long time not only to realize but to accept. As artists there is this perpetual tug of war going on inside us between our most confident self and the one that hates every single thing we do and when we don’t have very much experience it’s often the shame and the doubt that tends to win out. Because that’s what we know, and when our triumphs are few and far between, it’s what we expect. But all it takes to change our reality is to change our perception of it. Now when I’m feeling stuck I don’t jump straight into panic mode. I don’t place blame and I don’t punish myself with negative thoughts. Instead, I stop and I think. And not about what still needs to be done but about what already has been.

Writing never gets any easier. When we grow out of certain bad habits it’s only a matter of time before we create new ones and when we conquer one obstacle ten others spontaneously manifest. But what does change, what does make things more manageable is the fact that after a while these setbacks are no longer surprises. It’s the surprise of failure that makes it so devastating but if we can make peace with the fact that it’s inevitable, that some days our writing will be terrible and that others we might not write at all, we can turn ourselves into observers of these “failures” rather than heartbroken participants. A bad writing day is nothing to panic about and neither is a terrible first draft. Sure, that sinking feeling of impending doom still nags at me sometimes when I’m forced to acknowledge something I’m not that proud of, but before it paralyzes me completely all I have to do is think back to all of those other bad days and all of those other terrible manuscripts and then I realize, if I found my way out once before there is absolutely no reason that I can’t do it again.

Patience is key when it comes to writing but so is forgiveness. If we can’t learn to be compassionate and accepting of ourselves then there is no hope for improvement. Because who can grow when they’re constantly afraid of being a disappointment? Who can grow when they’re constantly afraid to fail? I’m not as afraid of failure as I used to be but I know that’s only because I face the reality of it on a daily basis in ways both big and small. Failure is a part of life, an inevitability that can actually turn out to be a huge blessing. Because down in the trenches of failure, that’s where we learn and when we learn we grow and growing is the only way to truly change our vantage point. No one reaches the top of a mountain without stopping to look back at the journey. It would be a waste. Because that hindsight is a gift. It’s a reminder that we once suffered and struggled and doubted…and we lived. We made it out alive and the next time we’re forced to face one of our fears, we won’t bow down and tremble, in fact we won’t be afraid at all. Because there’s no reason to fear something you’ve already conquered and you can’t lose a battle that you’ve already won.