I text my oils team at the end of every week to review our wins. They’re not always business related. In fact, they’re not often business related.
Several days this week, I was tempted to sit in bed & feel bad for myself. How often do I want to say I don’t have any wins and just call it a day?
Lisa helped me realize that – hello?! – I do have 7 published books and I am getting back to work on #8 (or 11 if you count the ones I haven’t published!) Many of my new friends didn’t even know I was a writer. I fall back on the fact I’m not great at marketing (there is a lot to unpack there about fear & imposter syndrome) but part of it is because I don’t own those wins. So let’s do it….
This week I’m trying to get back to a gym schedule after a few wonky weeks. It’s important for my mental & physical health, especially this time of year. I’m working on that new book. In fact… I brought a passage to my writers group about space pirates and vampires – and read it out loud!! This little introvert went went way out of my comfort zone and did a craft fair for my oils business with Stacy that was so much fun and super successful, even though I was terrified. I’m not a holiday person (bah humbug about covers it) but I’m trying to embrace the season by putting my own spin on it – which turns out to be high on service and haunted Christmas houses. Maybe most importantly, I’m working, always, on my internal dialogue and tuning out what other people think in order to tune in to my own self and intuition. It’s not easy, but I am learning to trust myself after – well, to be honest, sh*tting on myself for a long time. I don’t have any advice there except I’m trying to lead by example, even when it’s hard. And it’s hard to own your struggles publicly, but if you’re going to own your struggles you should own your wins, too.
I did the hardest thing this week and reached out to a fellow author to ask for help.
What I’m asking for help with is a really small thing, in the grand scheme of things. It’s something I do for other people all the time. It’s something the author community is famous for. Feedback. Encouragement. I’ve shied away from communities of all kinds, largely because of that, but being a lone wolf isn’t getting me anywhere. Not lately.
I’m a giver. An over-giver, many times. It makes me a target for being used. I make myself a target for that. Part of that is because I just can’t ask for help when I need it. There are some previous traumas there, I know. At the risk of oversharing, my hesitation involves thinking I don’t deserve help. That if I can’t do it myself, I should just accept I’m not any good and give up. I’m possibly (definitely) afraid that by asking for any small thing, I’m “too much.” I’ve always been afraid of being too much. Digging out the why of that would involve going pretty deep. So instead, I just give and give and give until I have nothing left. Does that sound familiar?
I haven’t been writing, not like I should be. Not like I want to be. And I miss it. Despite my meetings with my accountability partner who has been patiently (and sometimes not so patiently) waiting for me to get my act together, I just haven’t had the inspiration or confidence. And what a crock of sh*t that is. I’d be the first person to tell you that, if I was on my A game. But I’m not. I’m fluttering around and blaming the universe & my nonexistent muse for my lack of focus and motivation. It’s part of the reason I shut down this blog a month ago. Once you lose your hold on one thing, it’s easy to slide all the way down, isn’t it? It’s easy to tell yourself you’re no good at something in order to avoid trying. It’s easy to quit and say you failed. But I didn’t fail. I stopped. And those are two very different things.
I thought – hoped – that starting again would mean just sitting back at my laptop and typing away, but there’s more to writing than words. At least for me. No one else can write a book for me, but I think, in my absence, I absolutely had to learn how to accept help. How to ask for it. Writing, for me, is more than just a hobby. It’s my life. The problem with that overlap is that a snarl in one area can led to self-isolation, both personally & professionally, which gums up my self confidence and self esteem. Those are both pretty important things. Not just when it comes to writing, but when it comes to being alive and being human. Being creative. Thinking that I deserve to be here and I have value to add.
Those are some big issues, I know. They’re not going to be solved by reaching out to an old writing pal to ask her opinion on my book, or even to ask her to keep me accountable. But it’s a step. And it’s a big step for me. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to put me back together. Or at least a few good friends I can trust.
Sometimes I wonder if all these blogs I write about my struggles is setting me in the wrong direction. That by staying with the pain – sharing it, even – I’m prolonging it. Wallowing. And I am not a wallower. I’m a person who looks for solutions. And if sharing these helps me find a solution, or helps anyone else know they’re not alone in this journey, then I’ll consider my writing a success.
But it’s not catching fire.
I don’t mean that in the conventional success way – although, let’s be honest, conventional success is as good of a bar as any. The fact that people read your words is a good indication that you have skills or talent or value. All those things I’ve been chasing. Even if people are criticizing you, they’re talking about you, right?
I don’t know that I want to go viral. But I want to know I matter. And how much do you matter when you have a small audience? Helping one person is enough, that’s for sure. But you can do so much more from the top than you can from the bottom. And I have big dreams.
I’m a political junkie, I always have been. One thing I love about elections is that you can feel when a candidate is going to win. You can feel that momentum wash over everything like a wave, and it’s so exciting and addictive. The same can be said about success in any industry. I’ve read books from indie authors I knew were going to make it big (Colleen Hoover comes to mind). I’ve watched author and reader groups balloon in size with this momentum. I’ve seen content creators explode. It’s magic, but it’s the kind of magic you can’t bottle. What’s the secret?
It’s not always based on talent. It’s not always based on confidence or extraversion (although that sure doesn’t hurt.) How do I find this momentum in my life? How do I find my me-mentum??
I don’t know the answer, but I think a lot of it has to do with knowing what you want, and showing up for it. Zig Ziglar said success is the place where preparation and opportunity meet. I can’t always control opportunity, but I can control prep. I can show up, even (especially) when it’s hard and I don’t think I’m going anywhere. I can control my focus. I can control my commitment and the work I put in, even if I can’t control how other people receive it. Maybe me-mentum is like a ball rolling down a hill? Maybe it doesn’t feel like much for the first couple rolls (or years) but when it catches fire, it goes up fast. Maybe I just need to be ready to catch fire? Primed.
I know I won’t have me-mentum if I keep changing direction every time the wind blows. I know I won’t have it if I stop doing the things I love because someone, sometime told me I’m not good enough. Maybe that someone was a top agent or editor, or maybe that someone was a really close friend or family member and it cut deeply. Maybe both. I might never catch fire, but I’ll never know if I don’t keep going.
I wish I knew how much prep was enough, how many times I’d have to show up before I know, truly, this is what I want and where I’m in alignment. Like me-mentum, you can feel alignment, and with enough of those moments, maybe I’ll be ready to catch fire.
There are a lot of what-if’s that hold me back in my life. I’ve taken time this year to root them all out, as much as I can, anyway. Many will need to be revisited time and time again. Old habits, as they say. One of those old habits is insecurity. I know what you’re thinking – that’s a pretty big umbrella. Yeah it is. I’ve blogged about the “why bother” factor when it comes to creativity. I suppose what we came up with (and thank you for helping!) was that you bother because you have to. Because, as my old friend Margo would say, you need to write like you need to breathe. Because if you don’t release those words, they suffocate you.
But what if those words aren’t good?
I think people refrain from asking this because it sounds like you’re needy and looking for validation. I can be those things sometimes. I can be super needy and looking for validation, but in this case, I’m posing an honest question. How do you know if you suck?
Traditional advice is to seek opinions, and I have. I’ve run my work through writer’s groups, beta readers, and other creatives. The thing with seeking so many opinions, though, is you get wildly different interpretations of your work. One of my readers told me there was too much tension in a book I workshopped. Another reader told me there wasn’t enough. The same can be found in reviews. Opinions are just that. They’re subjective. That’s why real validation is found inside. I know this. But I also like facts. Isn’t there some objective rating system for your writing that tells you if it’s worth pursuing or if you’re wasting your time and making a fool of yourself? The reality for most of us lies in between, but it’s funny… even if there were some kind of objective system, I probably wouldn’t believe anything positive. I suspect people who compliment me of having ulterior motives or being nice. There’s no objective system that’s going to trump your own heart. If you believe you suck, then you do. But if you need to write like you need to breathe, there might be something worth pursuing there.
Maybe part of the problem is seeking too much feedback? Back to that insecurity – not believing in myself and seeking outside validation has been a huge problem my whole life. Maybe part of the problem is trying to push myself into places and groups where I don’t belong because I’m chasing some definition of success that isn’t even mine. I’ve been in writer’s groups that were clearly not my vibe (which is more than okay, not everything is meant for everyone). But I wanted so badly to find my tribe and fit in I stubbornly refused to let go. And guess what? Those people didn’t get me, and I didn’t get them. I let their judgement define me. The same goes for the years I spent trying to traditionally publish my first books. I failed, and yes – I know fail means first attempt at learning (or forever acquiring important lessons). But it didn’t know that at the time, and I’ll be honest. Those things still hurt sometimes. I’ve let them cap my creativity. I’ve let them define the creative parts of myself. I’ve let them cage me. I’ve caged myself.
I don’t know if I have any talent. At writing or at anything else. I like to think I’ve made a passing difference in the lives of my kids, and maybe I’ve touched a few more people along the way, whether with my words or my presence or my encouragement. That’s talent, too – and as for those words? Maybe their value is subjective, but they mean something to me. I hope they mean something to you, too.
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I think it’s pretty clear by now if you’ve been reading this blog for a while that I’m in a bit of a writing slump. Fiction writing, anyway. I’ve stopped and started the same book several times, but I can’t seem to find the magic in it. When I remembered I always go through a mid-book slump (several mini-crises included), it didn’t exactly help. “The only way out is through,” is a piece of advice I recently gave a friend, but like all well-intended advice, I can’t seem to take it.
Listen, the way to finish writing your book is not to whine about it on your blog. I know that. But come along with me and maybe we can find some other ways out.
I’ve published seven full length works and have several finished unpublished works. I know how to finish a book. Or at least I thought I did. Power though! Butt in chair! Just write! It turns out that doesn’t exactly help if you don’t have motivation. Where did my muse go? It turns out I might have to look a little harder for her this time around.
Flipping the script is also a piece of advice I’m famous for giving and not taking. But how on earth do you flip motivation? You look at it a different way. Years ago, we were discussing this very topic at a writer’s group I haven’t attended in a long time, and my friend Margo was talking about finishing her first book and moving on to the next. I hope she doesn’t mind I’ve taken liberties with her quote as it’s been over ten years, but it went something like “you didn’t learn to finish writing a book. You learned to finish writing this book.” The point being, that each work is different.
Hello! Each work is different. Where was my %#^$% muse with that advice, it would have saved me a lot of time!!
I’m a pantser, that’s never going to change. What that means, quite briefly, is that I can’t outline to save my life. My characters, like me, are messy and all over the place. They take the story to places I never intended when I started out, and that’s what I love about writing. That’s my magic. I wouldn’t change it if I could, but I’ll admit to bouts of severe jealousy of my plotting friends who have every character and plot twist planned out. I wish my brain worked like that. It doesn’t. It’s chaos in here. I can either learn to live with that and harness it, or continue to mope around with motivation issues. I’ve tried it the second way. How do I go about the first?
We can’t change who we are. Maybe I can’t force myself to be a plotter (I’ve tried – doesn’t work), but I might be able to pick up bits of advice and cobble them into my own system. That book I keep picking up? It’s halfway finished. I’ve always forced myself to power through to the end before starting to edit, but what if I don’t do that this time? What if I take a moment, take a breath, and go back to the beginning? There’ve been a lot of twists and plot changes already. (One character completely disappeared. First drafts are messy!) Maybe my brain needs to untangle the plot strings and chaos this time before moving forward?
I still think “butt in chair” is good advice. I get words in when I do that. Putting dedicated time aside for writing is important (maybe shutting off social media and stepping away from your blog!) But it’s okay to try something new, too. Especially if it helps you find the joy in writing again, because that’s what it’s about for me. There are a ton of suggestions out there on the web for combating writer’s block. Prompts can be a fun way to kick start your creativity, as well as short stories or anthology submissions. (There’s a reason I’ve published anthologies between each of my series.) But for me, if I find the joy, I find the words. And sometimes that means shaking things up.
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I haven’t told anyone this, but I started writing again. Writing the way I used to write. Writing every day. Keeping a schedule, or at least, keeping myself accountable. Forcing myself past my fears and insecurities. Are they louder this time around, or did I just forget what they sounded like?
I’m not sure why, despite all the work I’ve done this year, those insecurities are so f**king loud. I’m not sure why I can talk anyone else past theirs but I can’t seem to get past my own. It’s a universal problem, I suppose. Physician, heal thyself. Writer, just f**king write.
Am I a writer, though? That’s one of the questions I ask myself. If anyone else asked me, I’d tell them it’s as simple as if you write – you’re a writer! But why is the bar so much higher for me? Do you set your own bar so high it’s unreachable? My milestones are constantly shifting. When I first started writing, I didn’t think I’d be legitimate until I finished a book.
When I finished a book, I didn’t think I’d be legitimate until I got it published.
When I got it published, I didn’t think I’d be legitimate until I got an agent.
Other milestones involve the number of sales, the number of reviews, making some random bestseller list – maybe some otherworldly feeling of success that’s not measurable (nor attainable). All things I caution other people against relying on. I know better. But yet… how do you measure success? When are you legitimate? When can you say, with confidence, I’m a writer?
I have a friend and mentor who said, at the beginning of this journey, you climb one mountain and there’s another one waiting for you. (Thank you, Jeff! You’ve said a lot of things that have helped me on my way.) Easy for him to say, I thought at the time. He’s climbed a mountain. Is my problem as simple as not acknowledging the ones I have climbed?
When will I be enough?
I’m going to tell myself the same thing I’d tell you, if you came to me with these insecurities. I’d be tempted to play them down and call them ridiculous, but they aren’t. Your fears are your fears. Under all that bullsh*t are a lot of fears about being seen, and fears about not being seen. Fears of not being enough. Fear that your words don’t matter, that they’re just lost in space. Fear that you don’t matter.
You do matter. Your words matter. If they don’t matter to anyone else, they have to matter to you. And I’ll tell you a secret. Yes, I’m hearing those insecurities and fears as I start writing again, but do you know what else I’m finding? Joy. I don’t know why the complete magic of creating characters and worlds out of thin air surprises me every time. I suppose it’s because of how heavily I was weighed down by those fears. And they’re loud, still. They’re so loud, but that doesn’t mean I have to listen to them.
Today, getting some words typed is my mountain. It might not be tall, and there are some pretty big mountains in the distance still to climb, but if I don’t take those first steps I’ll never get to them.
I just finished a whole post about new moon intention setting, and I just wasn’t feeling it.
I think it’s because I’ve been dancing around the idea of goal setting all year, and I said everything I wanted to say. Do you ever feel like you hit a wall? A brick one? At 100 miles an hour? That you’ve tried as hard as you can and there’s literally nothing else you can do? I need a reset. That’s where the new moon comes in.
Honestly, the moon is there whether I need a reset or not. She does her thing. She waxes and wanes. I have my full moon rituals that I’m honestly kind of wishy- washy about following. Reflection isn’t always my strong suit. Not this season. But how can you reflect when you don’t know what direction you’re headed? In my last blog I talked about planting seeds of love, creativity, growth, service, and courage. But how?
This month is a great time to start a new moon tradition of intention setting. I know I’ve set goals before – but let me tell you, this month I’ve not been stellar at reaching them. In fact, you might call them abject failures. I’m made the mistake of letting that make me think I’m an abject failure. Is it a mistake? I don’t know. Those feelings are pretty strong and they don’t let go easily. I love the idea of lofty goals, of reaching far and wide… of dreaming… but not if I beat myself up for not reaching those lofty goals. And I was (am) super beating myself up.
So what intentions can I set to plant seeds of joy?
I’m going to let that question stand on it’s own, because when it comes right down to it, that’s what my goals are about. I know my word of the year is commitment, but what’s commitment without joy? I forgot what it was like to enjoy doing a creative project. To laugh. To share something just for fun and not for likes or sales or follows. I think it’s a pit a lot of people fall into. Take my hand. We’re going to find joy again.
Intentions are different than goals, and I feel like they’re less pressure because an intention is an aim, not a destination. You can’t fail it. According to a quick google search, intentions are “a thing intended; an aim or plan.” Interestingly enough a second definition is also the healing process of a wound (in medical terms). Huh. Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s also a Justin Bieber song. 🙂
It isn’t as easy as just doing something you like (because who has time for that!), or quitting things, because I’ve tried that, too. But maybe it’s a matter of finding joy in the commitment. I started these things for a reason. I committed to them for a reason. Just somewhere along the way I let pressure and expectation and maybe comparison weigh me down. I forgot why I was doing them in the first place. I forgot joy.
I can use writing as a case in point here, but there are a lot of things in my life that fall under this umbrella. I used to love to write. I worked on my fiction novels without fail every day for probably ten years. Until last year. What stopped me? I could tell you it was sales or a couple bad reviews, but the reality is I stopped me. I let myself get gummed up in the process. (And let me tell you, publishing can be a process!) I forgot how much fun it is to create whole worlds and characters out of nothing. I forgot the feeling of diving in and loosing yourself in your work, totally forgetting where you are or who you are until you look up and time has passed that you have no recollection of.
That’s magic, you guys. Complete and absolute magic. And that feeling doesn’t go away no matter how many books you sell or how many reviews you get or what level of success you achieve. That. That’s joy. It doesn’t have a bottom line or a number, but maybe it doesn’t need one. It seeps into who you are and settles into your bones.
Eventually you have to come back to earth and sell said novel (or actually finish it!) No matter what business you’re in, you have to learn how to market or sell or brand. I pushed against this so hard I stifled my own creativity, but I don’t think I killed it for good. Not yet. There’s joy in the process of marketing or sales, too, if you believe in yourself and your work (or product) enough to share it with confidence. I’m working on that. But first I have to plant those seeds. I have to set those intentions.
This month, I intend to find joy in every moment and fuel that. I’m going to be authentically me, and if I don’t know exactly who that is at any given moment, I’m going to find her again. I’m going to embrace creativity and make time for it – however that looks. I’m going to share that joy and love and creativity by reaching out and being of service however I can because I’m not me if I’m not helping. And I’m going to be confident in that. Or at least try.
Maybe that won’t move my bottom line or maybe it will, but I guess the moral of the story – or the intention – is there’s more to a bottom line than what’s quantifiable. Maybe it’s about who you become along the way? There’s a lot of wisdom in that, and growth.
I think what they say about a writer who’s not writing is they’re suffering from writer’s block. I’m not suffering from writer’s block. I have so many ideas, and some of them are so exciting that I think about them almost all the time. I’m constantly plotting in my head, but for the last few months I’ve avoided writing anything down. I think what I’m suffering from is motivation block. Put simply, why bother?
I talk a lot about why bother with my accountability partner. Clearly this has been on my mind a long time – maybe forever? And if that’s true, it’s going to take a long time to unwind. Remember when you were choosing what to do with your life and you were encouraged to pick something practical? Business school here. Which did not pan out, by the way. I was one of only 4 history majors who graduated that year. The others probably went on to law school. I went on to a really long and windy creative path, and sometimes not all that creative either.
The long and windy path led me to publish seven novels, and whatever else I might believe about myself, I think they’re pretty good. My problem is that I choke at that next step: marketing myself (and yes – I’m fully aware choking is a theme in this blog. Maybe someday we’ll get to the bottom of it.)
I wish I could be fully confident in myself and the things I create, but that’s another path I’m walking. And if creativity is a long path, confidence is an eight lane highway I’m trying to cross like Frogger. Maybe some of you are too young to remember that poor little frog who was just trying to cross the street in the early days of video games. He often got squished, and I feel him on that. Some people can move on from getting run over (it happens to the best of us), but like Frogger, every time I get squished I start back on the curb afraid to take another step. I am so sick of that curb, but I’m also safe there. It’s hard to take a step when you think you’re going to get run over.
Not writing is affecting me in ways I don’t like to admit. There’s a cost to not living your life authentically, and it’s often one you pay in your head and even the rest of your body. It’s in your relationships, the way you feel about yourself, the way you carry yourself, your health, and the decisions you make. It’s a never-ending circle that you can’t be creative without believing in yourself but you can’t believe in yourself without being creative. Where does that leave me? On the curb, with Frogger.
Why bother is so much more insidious than just stopping me from writing. I don’t think you have to be a writer or even a creative to fall for its nonsense. Why bother effects my friendships, my work, my hobbies, the essential oil business I’m trying to start. Not all creative pursuits have a dollar sign attached to them – or maybe they do after a lot of work – but if you fall for why bother you’re not going to put in the work. You’re not going to try new things. You’re not going to market yourself. You’re not going to fall in love with your life and your pursuits – and man, do I miss that feeling of falling into my work. There is something about being in the zone that’s simply magic.
Instead, you’re going to tell yourself that you’re too busy, or you’re not outgoing enough, or you just plain don’t believe in yourself and what you’re doing. You’re going to fall for fear. This has been such a long, hard fight and it’s one a lot of creative people face. It’s so easy for “why bother” to become “I can’t,” and that’s the rut I’ve been stuck in. It’s so hard to crawl out of, but it starts by knowing I can, and so can you.
I know a lot of my creative friends are in a similar rut. I don’t know if it’s why bother for you, but if it is – here’s what my accountability partner and I decided. If there’s no other reason or commercial success, I have to bother for me. Once at a writer’s group we were asked why we write, and someone’s answer has always stuck with me. “I have to write like I have to breathe.” Never does that resonate more than now. I feel like I’ve been holding my breath the last 6 months and it’s time for me to take in air again. It’s time to breathe.
Deciding to set goals or follow my passions isn’t going to make me a successful, confident person overnight. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But it feels like the right step, and maybe right now all I can do is take one right step. Like Frogger, maybe I can tackle one lane at a time. I’m not even sure what’s on the other side of the highway. Maybe it’s not commercial success , but alignment. And that’s enough, because I’m writing for me. I have to.