Inconvenient inspiration, and how to seize it before it slips away

writingA few years ago, I was shopping at Trader Joe’s when I saw every parent’s nightmare unfold in front of me. A woman was gathering fruit from the bin while her toddler stood in the large part of the grocery cart. Without warning, the cart tipped and the toddler fell to the ground. The mother immediately swooped up her screaming child, consoling him while shoppers moved around them. Some people stared, and some were completely oblivious to what happened. I placed myself in her shoes, feeling her shame from any judgment over letting her son be in that part of the cart in the first place, and her worry over her son who could have been hurt much worse from the fall. Then the questions began forming in my mind. What if it was much worse? What if her son didn’t survive? As a mother, what would her identity be if her only child passed away?

That scene inspired my book, The Road to Hope, a story about Jill, a mother who loses her son to this very accident. This story also introduced an accidental character—Maddie, a pregnant teen who crosses paths with Jill. I continued the series telling Maddie’s story, infusing pieces of my life into hers, a process that allowed me to grieve and heal from experiences I’d been stuffing.

I pull inspiration for my stories from many different places. Sometimes it’s from something I witness—like the grocery store scene—that leads me to scenarios and characters that grow by just asking myself questions. Sometimes it’s from overhearing a conversation, which prompts me to fill in the gaps. Sometimes it’s inspired by moments from my life that I need to work out in fiction. And sometimes the story comes from a dream.

My first published book, A Symphony of Cicadas, was based on a dream I had while I was planning my wedding. My greatest fear at that time was that something would happen to me before I got to marry the love of my life. Because of this, I had a dream where I died in a car crash. But instead of waking up as soon as I died, the dream continued, showing how all the people I loved were moving on after my death, including my fiancé. I watched as my fiancé met and fell in love with another woman. As I witnessed this, I experienced a small bit of wistfulness. But mostly, I felt this immense rush of peace because he was happy and I knew he was going to be okay. I woke up crying, and the whole book began flowing through me. I couldn’t outline it fast enough.

This kind of dream inspiration happened again with Numbered, the book I’m currently writing. At the time, I was at a crossroads in my writing life, wondering if I had any more books in me. But then I had this dream. All I saw was a man’s face, but I knew his whole story. He was dying from cancer, despite looking completely healthy, and he knew the exact date of his death. I woke up with a question—what if everyone actually knew the date they would die? How would that affect the way they live? The story began flowing through me and I ran downstairs to get it down before I lost it, spending two hours outlining the novel, and describing the characters and their backgrounds.

Inspiration can some from anywhere, you just have to pay attention and be ready to receive it when it comes calling. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott shares how she carries index cards everywhere, ready to write down conversations, moments, anything that comes to her while she’s out and about because inspiration rarely comes when it’s convenient. Nowadays, you don’t even need index cards if you have a smartphone, because it’s just as easy to jot it down in your phone’s notes or even record it as a voice memo. Inspiration likes to hit me while I’m driving, which is an awful time for it to arrive. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve lost because I didn’t pull over immediately and get it down. By the time I reach a convenient moment, all or most of the story has already gone.

One of my favorite stories about the way inspiration works is how Liz Gilbert shared in her Ted talk about the late American poet, Ruth Stone, and how a poem would come barreling at her over the landscape. Ruth Stone’s job at that point was to drop everything and race for a pencil because if she didn’t, the poem would flow in and then out of her, searching for another poet who was ready to receive it. Watch it below (it’s less than 2 minutes long).

Have you ever had a moment when inspiration struck you when you least expected it? What did you do to make sure you didn’t lose it?

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How to silence your inner writing critic

frustrated writerA friend of mine was telling me about a young writer she knows who was having some serious doubts about her writing. Man, do I know how that feels! I think any of us who have discovered the joy of writing have also discovered the weight of it, too.

A few years back I wrote Reclaim Your Creative Soul, a book that offers tips on how to organize your inner and outer life so you can make room for writing or other creative projects. One chapter specifically deals with conquering that inner voice of doubt, so I decided to share it in its entirety.

Reclaim Your Creative Soul
Chapter 5  ~ Treat Yourself

Our worst enemy can often be ourselves. We’re the first person to find fault in our appearance, doubt our abilities, and assume everyone is better than us. When I look back at some of the things I’ve said about myself— you’re fat, other authors are so much better at this than you, no one wants to hear what you have to say, you’re not as smart as your coworkers, your book sucks, you could never pull off that look, no one likes you…. I would never say anything like that to other people. So, why do I think it’s okay to say those things to myself?

We, as artists, are probably the hardest on ourselves. It’s so easy to bash what we’ve created, even when other people recognize the magnificence of our creation. But with art comes a sort of madness, and many of us are on the verge of throwing in the towel, certain that someone is going to discover that we’re just a hack who’s pretending to get by. Anytime we think we have something figured out, our inner critic (let’s call it “Marge,” and give her a smoker’s voice, just for kicks) comes breezing in, pointing out every flaw and imperfection. If we dare to make our art public, it gets worse. We build our worth on the feedback from others, and believe we are only as good as the reviews we receive. As soon as a bad review comes in, even one that’s only slightly negative, “Marge” repeats that criticism so we’re sure to take notice. Soon, all we hear is that bad review. It’s almost like every other good thing that was said about our art was never said at all.

There’s something I need to tell you. You are a brilliant human being with a soul too big to be contained. This is why you are an artist. Your art is your way of sharing your expanding soul with the world. If art brings you fulfillment, it’s because you were meant to be an artist. People find joy in your creations, and this world would be bland without them.

But even saying that, I recognize that the only way you will ever be able to let go of “Marge” (or to at least learn to contain that saucy wench) is if you learn to fall in love with yourself.

You guys, things are about to get mushy in here. You’ve been warned.

The first step is to stop slamming yourself. Right this very moment, I want you to promise me that you’ll make a valiant effort to stop negativity in its tracks, especially if it’s not helpful. The moment that “Marge” pipes in with unsolicited feedback, I want you to kindly tell her that you don’t need her help right now, and you’re doing just fine on your own. You need to be stronger than feisty old “Marge,” and let her know who the boss is.

Of course, dominating your inner critic is near impossible, unless you have the right tools in your belt. In this case, the right tools would be solid proof that you are perfectly capable as an artist—the things you are good at doing, the characteristics you possess that draw people in, the training or life experiences you’ve had that contribute to your expertise, the products of your creativity…. This list is as long as the talents, experiences, products and values you can claim as your own.

So, what are those things for you? The only way you can know is if you list out each of these items, adding them to a list of brag-worthy things about you. Don’t be shy, it’s not like you need to show this list to anyone. In this moment, give yourself permission to be proud of yourself. Are you nice? Are you funny? Put those on there. How about if you’re organized? Or maybe you’re like me and rock an ironclad budget. Add those skills to your list. If you run out of things, consider asking other people like your spouse or your best friend. There’s no shame in it. After all, you’d do the same for them, wouldn’t you?

Once you’ve finalized your list, study it. Memorize it. Own it. This is YOUR list. You are good at these things. This list contains the very reasons why you are wonderful, talented, unique, and completely capable. And when “Marge” comes back from her smoke break to give you an earful, kindly hold up your list and remind her that you’ve got this. Then tell her to go home.

So now that you love yourself, it’s time to take yourself out on date (I warned you about the mushiness). Yes. I am seriously telling you to date yourself. This might feel a little uncomfortable, but bear with me.

I first learned the power of taking myself on a date in the early months of my divorce. I was new at being single, and discovering that I wasn’t very good at it. Ever since I had started dating in my teen years, I had always been coupled up with someone. So being single was entirely new to me. And being single with kids? I was definitely not good at this.

As I told you in the beginning of this book, I lived with my parents in those early months, and spent a good portion of that time recovering from my failed marriage in a fetal position on the couch. But sometimes my parents would give me a night off from my depression by urging me to leave the house and do something for myself. Therefore, I’d go out.

Problem is, I was not very much fun to hang out with in my state of melancholy. I didn’t want to burden any of my friends with my Eeyore attitude. I also didn’t know what to do with myself. So I did the only thing I could think of.

I went to the bookstore.

The first several times I got a night to myself, this was where I always ended up. Here, I was surrounded by good friends. Anne Lamott, Alice Sebold, Maya Angelou, Liz Gilbert, Ernest Hemingway, Tim Farrington…. I loved the smell of the bookstore, the feel of books in my hands, the colorful covers, and the even more colorful stories. I’d grab a hot chocolate from the café, and then I’d spend the evening perusing the aisles until the store was ready to close.

Eventually, these dates with myself went to the next level. That’s right folks, it was time for dinner and a movie.

On this special evening, I took myself out to an ethnic restaurant on the other side of town. I didn’t even flinch when I told the waitress, “One, please.” Inside, I was sure every eye was on me. But outwardly, I acted as if going out to eat by myself was no big thing.

Admittedly, it was a little awkward to sit at the table with no one in front of me. There was no one to talk to, or even to look at. I ate my dinner in silence, trying not to look around too much. I think I even brought a book to bide my time. Couples and families surrounded me, and it was apparent that I was the only single dining that night.

But you know what? As I ate, things started feeling a little less awkward. I realized I had somewhat of an advantage. I didn’t have to make conversation if I didn’t want to. I could fully enjoy my meal, focusing on each bite one at a time. No one was watching me. No one even cared that I was eating alone. I could order what I wanted, eat at my own pace, and just enjoy my own company.

After dinner, I walked next door to the movie theater and chose the movie I wanted to watch. Going by myself, I knew which movies it would not be—no action movies, no government schemes, no horror, no car chases. Without a date, I didn’t have to worry about coordinating tastes at all in my movie choice.

“One for ‘Garden State,’ please,” I told the person at the ticket counter.

Once inside and seated, couples surrounded me once again. But when the lights dimmed, it didn’t matter. Even more, I realized just how awesome it is to go to the movies alone. I laughed aloud at the funny parts. And when things got sad, I cried without shame. There was no one there who would see my tears, so I had a really great therapy session right there in the middle of the movie theater. It was cathartic. It was liberating. And it was the best date I’d been on in my life.

Isn’t it time you got some quality time with yourself? How about just straight-up pampering yourself, whether alone or not? There are so many things you can do. You could take yourself out for a healthy meal. You can go get a massage. You can play mini golf. You can…. Well, you can do one of these fifteen things, all under $20.

  • Take a bubble bath with bath salts and scented candles.
  • Enjoy a night in with a good book. Bonus if it includes a cozy drink and fuzzy socks.
  • Take yourself out to lunch and a matinee.
  • Buy yourself flowers. Throw in a small box of chocolates if you want to feel extra special.
  • Purchase a new magazine and read it in the park.
  • Get all Zen at a yoga class.
  • Go for a bike ride in the country. Don’t have a bike? Bike rentals are cheaper than you think.
  • Check out the animals at the zoo.
  • Learn something new at the museum.
  • Be inspired at an art gallery.
  • Visit with a friend you haven’t seen in a while.
  • Host a friend’s night in.
  • Be a tourist in your own town and check out the sights.
  • Get more sleep. Sleep in, take a nap, or go to bed early.
  • Make time for your significant other.

Now that you’re feeling all gushy about yourself, it’s time to commit. What I mean is to take a whole entire day off for yourself. If you can swing it, take a whole entire weekend.

My friend, Molly Kurland, is a successful massage therapist in the area we live, and the author of Successful Strokes: A Realistic Guide to Creating a Lucrative Massage Business. Her job as a masseuse demands a lot of her time and energy. Home life is no less energetic. Her family recently adopted two new puppies that have now reached the high-energy stage of teenagerhood. On top of that, Molly is working on writing and other creative endeavors. There just isn’t much down time. So once a month, Molly kisses her family goodbye and heads for a weekend getaway in the nearby seaside town of Gualala. Here, there is no Internet, no TV, no phone calls, nothing. There’s just her, a private room, a hot tub, and time to spend any way she wants. Sometimes she uses this free time just to read a good book. Sometimes it’s when she gets her best writing in. Sometimes it’s just a chance to breathe in silence. Molly has told me that this solo getaway is her key to happiness, and the way she ensures she can be fully present for her job and family when she’s home. She’s made it a priority to do this at least once a month.

We should all make it a priority to get away from it all on a regular basis. Just as I spelled out in chapters 1 and 4, it’s so important to take a break from the busy part of life and just be still for a moment. It’s especially important for our art so that we can unclutter our minds and create with an unencumbered soul. While taking a weekend away isn’t possible for everyone, most of us are able to take a day off, maybe even a few hours.

After all, YOU are important. Now treat yourself that way.

CHALLENGE YOURSELF

Baby Step: It’s time to write that list! Get out a pen and paper and write down all the things you’re good at, the things about you that make you wonderful, and anything else that’s positive about you. Enlist the help of your family and friends to make sure you have a complete list. Once you’re done, hold on to that list. Then refer to it any time you feel doubt or criticism start to creep in.

Level Up: Take yourself out on a date—just you. Note how it feels to spend time by yourself in a crowd of people. Does it feel weird? Are there any benefits? Could you see yourself doing this more than just this once? Write about the experience when you’re done.

Be Hardcore: Go away for the weekend. If that’s too difficult, strive for just a day. But leave town by yourself so that you can spend some time getting to know YOU.

If you’d like to purchase the whole book, you can find it here.

Numbered, a dystopian romance: Meet Noelle & Ryder

My current WIP is Numbered, a dystopian romance, set to release next year (date TBD). While we wait, I thought I’d introduce you to the main characters of this novel.

Everyone, meet Noelle and Ryder.

The year is 2050, and technology has advanced so that people know the exact date of their death and how they’re going to die. In their final 100 days, people give up their jobs, their homes, and everything in their life, say goodbye to their families, and then enter a facility where everything is taken care of for them, spending the last three months of their life in complete comfort with no worries at all.

Noelle is in her 30s, completely healthy, but knows she’s going to die of a heart attack. It’s why she’s spent every day eating healthy and exercising, trying to reverse the end fate has handed her. It’s also why she refuses to get close to anyone. She’s spent her life as a loner, and is ready to spend her last 100 days alone at River’s End.

Ryder has been battling a debilitating sickness for the past decade, but that’s not what haunts him. He’s been let down by every parent figure in his life, and has learned he’s on his own. This becomes even more true when he uncovers a secret just days before coming to River’s End.

Noelle and Ryder come to the facility on Day 100, destined to die on the same day, and determined to remain distant from everyone until the end. But when secrets come to the surface and past lies become truth, their only solace is knowing they have each other.

My writing goals for 2019

What are my writing goals for 2019?

First, let me share this year’s goals. It was NOT so much to write, but to rest, reset, and learn. I think I’ve done a killer job doing that. One of the ways I’ve done that is by reading A LOT. I’ve read across genres, good writing, bad writing, absolutely breathtaking writing. And with each book, I’ve learned things I want to do better, ways to make characters more real, how to set a scene, pacing, and so on. If anyone wants to learn how to be a better writer, those lessons are as close as their bookshelf. During this time, and for reasons other than just learning, I made a decision to NOT write. Of course, that lasted until June when a book idea grabbed me by the soul and poured through me. Now I’m close to wrapping up the rough draft, though I’ve put a pause on writing until finals are done.

Now for my next year’s goal. WRITE. I’m taking next semester off school and I plan to get ultra serious about writing and publishing. Break time is over, and my honest goal is to write 3-4 books this next year. I’m super pumped about it, and ready to put to paper all the things I’ve learned from my year of reading. I also plan to be much more proactive than I ever have been about getting my author career off the ground, and that means leading more readers to my books.

If you’re a creator, what are YOUR creative goals for 2019?

My morning routine: A peek into the first hour of my day

writing.jpgThe New York Times recently published an article by author Benjamin Spall about the morning routines of successful people, which serves as a tease to his newest book, My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired. “Your morning routine helps to ground you, and using it thoughtfully will help to set the tone for the rest of your day,” he wrote.

I agree with Spall. I love having a morning routine! It’s the one thing that sets the tone for my day. It’s the time when I can move slow, spend time in absolute quiet, and focus on where I am now and where I want to go in my life, writing career, faith, and so on.

I touch on this a little in my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, stressing the importance about creating a routine that dedicates time toward your craft. At the time that I wrote that, my morning routine included two hours of writing time before I started getting ready for work. Nowadays, I don’t have as much time in the morning for that much writing, and now save it for short evening and long weekend writing sessions. But my morning routine is still a must, and I can’t imagine going through my day without it.

Here’s what it looks like:

No. 62 (Black/Blue/Violet/Blue) 1967 by Bob Law 1934-2004
Picture of me running at 5 a.m. in the dark.

I wake up somewhere between 5 and 5:30 a.m. I refuse to wake up by an alarm clock (unless I absolutely need to wake up earlier), and I’m lucky that my body likes waking up at this time. My coffee is on a timer to start brewing at this time. While it’s brewing, I go for a morning run. If I do this first thing in the morning, I won’t have time to come up with excuses to NOT run—and believe me, I have them. Before I run, I hate running. I don’t want to go. I have to basically put my shoes on and go outside without even thinking about it or I’m just going to talk myself out of it. I remember this one day I got all the way to my front yard and looked up at the starry sky, mesmerized by how bright the stars were and how dark everything else was. It was just enough time to decide I was not going to run, and so I didn’t. Yeah…better to just lace up and start running before my brain starts working. Besides, I LOVE running after I’m done. I’m totally terrible at it, and still only run slowly and short distances, but every time I run I feel strong and know I’m improving.

coffee1By the time I make it back to the house, the coffee is done brewing and I have 30 minutes to 1 hour before I need to start getting ready for work. I drink a glass of water, and then grab my coffee. I diffuse essential oils (my favorite blend is Northern Lights Black Spruce, Lime, and Cedarwood for a tropical rain in the woods scent) and sit in my cozy chaise lounge chair between my desk and bookcase. Here, I start with my morning devotionals, and maybe a chapter in whatever inspirational book I’m reading. I tend to save my spiritual and inspirational books for the morning, and my recreational, fiction books for during the day and in the evening. Yup, that’s right—I’m a polybibliophile.

If something grabs my attention or requires further thought, and if there’s enough time, I’ll meditate/pray and journal. I journal most days, but not every day. If I don’t have time but there’s something I need to address, I’ll jot a few notes in my journal, and then finish that thought on my lunch break. Or I decide my morning routine takes precedence over getting ready for work, which means I take up the half hour I’d normally take to make food for the day. So far, I’ve only been a few minutes late for work, so I’m good.

And that’s it! Basically, before I’m required to be all things for everyone else, I’m all things for ME through exercise, spirituality, and inner reflection.

Do you have a morning routine? If you don’t, I encourage you to start one. Instead of getting up at the absolute last minute and heading straight into your day, try waking up earlier and enjoy quiet time before you have to be busy. Even just fifteen minutes could change your whole outlook. Try it, and then tell me if you notice the difference!

If you DO have a morning routine, tell me about it in the comments!

Dethroning the 6th grade queen of the playground

crown

There are two stories that stand out for me in my childhood memories.

In the first, I’m in 6th grade, standing off to the side while the new girl, surrounded by the most popular girls in my class, decided who was cool enough to hang out with her, and who wasn’t. We all played the game, though secretly I thought it was stupid. Who did she think she was? She’d only been there a week and had managed to leap to the top of our school’s social standings. So far, everyone had made the cut. It was no surprise that the prettier, more popular girls were waved on through. But when I saw some of the girls like me get the nod of approval, I stopped seeing this as a stupid game. Instead, I realized I better join in or I’d be left behind.

So, I stood in line, watching as each person faced the new girl and her two new best friends sitting on the bench of judgement. The rules were this: the applicant would ask the new girl if she could hang out with them. Then the new girl and her friends would tell that girl to wait a ways away so they could confer. They would whisper with each other, and then, when they’d decided, would call the girl back to let her know if she was worthy or not.

I reached the front of the line, and asked the obligatory question, “Can I hang out with you?” I’d just seen my two closest friends waved through, so my chances felt pretty good. But following their whispering session, the outcome was not what I expected…and everything I expected—I was not cool enough to be their friend. My friends swore their allegiance to me, telling me this girl was stupid and they weren’t going to hang out with her anymore, but the damage was done. Everyone but me, the slightly chubby girl in the handmade dress and pink Keds, was cool enough to hang out with the queen of the playground.

The second memory is years later, in high school. My social ranking stayed pretty much in the middle. I wasn’t on the bottom rung, but I had a pretty far climb to reach the top. I was hovering at average, completely self-conscious, wishing I could stand out but afraid to, just the same. My core group of friends seemed content as a band of misfits, the ones who smoked at the outskirts of campus, were on a first name basis with the school’s truancy officer, wore punk clothing, and were actively against the status quo. I was by no means a trend setter or activist, but I did like to belong. This group accepted anyone, especially those who didn’t fit the mold of the popular crowd. I was warmly welcomed. However, I stayed at the outskirts, always keeping an eye on the popular crowd—the pretty, the wealthy, the ones with cute bodies and tan legs outfitted in the latest fashions. I hid my pale skin and body shape under baggy jeans and flannel shirts, trying to disappear while still longing to be noticed. In the band of misfits, I could relax and just be me. Even still, I wished I could shine bright enough to join the happy, beautiful people that reigned in the center of the quad.

It was at a football game that I ran into an old childhood friend. As kids, we’d played together, the lines of social standings completely non-existent. But now, she was tall and beautiful, came from money, and held a solid place in the popular crowd—completely opposite of me. However, the lines between us evaporated once again, and we were friends in the moment. I was funny and brilliant, she laughed at everything I said, and then…she invited me to stay at her house that night. I suddenly had a taste of the other side, and it was glorious. We listened to music, watched a movie, slept in her princess room, and made fancy crepes for breakfast. That weekend, my whole identity changed from being the rejected 6th grade girl to a teenager that had friends in the popular crowd.

That Monday morning, I crossed the threshold that separated the misfits from the elite, and headed for my friend. She greeted me warmly, and I basked in the warmth of her shadow as I stood nearby, silent while everyone else seemed to have someone to talk with. Deep down, I knew I didn’t belong, but I pushed that feeling aside. I was here with all my new friends. And then, just as quickly, I was cast aside.

“What is she doing here?” one of the girls said, looking straight at me. The words were a magnet to the feelings of inadequacy I’d been trying to hide. Now they covered me, exposed me, left me naked and raw in front of everyone I looked up to. I had no words to defend myself. Neither did my friend, who gave me an apologetic shrug. The line was drawn. I didn’t belong. I slunk back to the misfits, and never tried to leave my caste again.

And yet here I am at 40, still playing the comparison game.

This morning, I marinated in these feelings of jealousy and personal lack. It was pretty intense. My favorite author re-released one of her series with beautiful new covers, and suddenly, all my books seemed plain and outdated, in desperate need of a makeover. Then, I began following a new friend on Instagram, and saw that all of his photos had at least 100 likes. Mine get about 25 on average. To cap it all off, I spent the weekend surrounded by a bunch of 19- and 20-year-olds in an astronomy class. Every single one of them was adorable. We all had a wonderful time. And yet, I couldn’t shake feeling like a waddling grandmother in comparison.

I started going over all the things I needed to do to up my game. I could take out a loan to pay a cover designer. I could be much more strategic about my Instagram, taking much better photos and committing to a specific filter, and maybe even coordinating which photos to take and when to post them so that I have some sort of scheme to my page. I could starve myself to get thin again, care more about polishing my appearance, be the cool, glamorous 40-year-old everyone wants to be instead of the plain, average girl I’ve been all my life.

The overwhelming feeling was that I’m not measuring up. My 6th grade fears came back to haunt me. Everyone is excelling and I’m the girl no one wants to play with. Everyone knows the rules, but I was reading in a corner when they were explained. Now I’m lost while everyone else is having a great time, effortlessly living their best life while I’m still trying to find my way.

Comparison is a bitch, and it will paralyze you in your tracks.

So, what’s the cure? First, it’s to get off social media. But then, it’s to be still. What is it you’re really feeling right now? Not the jealousy, but the feeling underneath? What are you stuffing? What are you avoiding?

What am I stuffing and avoiding?

I feel like the things I truly want are always going to be just out of reach. I know what I need to do—perfect my writing, pay for quality covers, get better at marketing myself and my books, stick to a healthy eating plan, get stricter with my spending habits—but I can’t seem to do it. I’m afraid to fully invest because I might give it my all and still fail, and then have nothing left. I’m sure that all the things I want—being attractive and in good shape, being successful as a writer, living a life free of money worries—they’re all for other people…better people. I want what other people have because I’m average, stuck on one plateau and unable to move to the next. There’s no ladder to climb in this caste system, and I have to scale the wall unaided while everyone watches, probably while they’re laughing. And if I make it, that one popular girl will be there, asking everyone “What’s she doing here?” There will be no one there to back me up, and I’ll retreat back down the wall to my comfortable plateau.

But…what if I change the narrative?

What if I looked that girl in the face and asked her the same question…because she probably asked herself that question every day. What am I doing here? What mistake will bar me from this place of privilege? What do I need to hide of my true self to remain here? What would everyone think if they knew my secrets, my true identity, my fears, my flaws?

Then, what if I asked myself the same things? What am I being inauthentic about in my effort to be loved? Accepted? Appear popular?

How’s that working out for me?

What actually IS working for me?

A friend message me yesterday about reading that North Bay Woman magazine article I was recently featured in, the one about going gray, and how it helped her come to the decision to finally take the silver plunge.

“See, you’re an inspiration, and didn’t even say anything,” she wrote.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much that means to me. I’m constantly in a battle between the real me and the one I believe everyone wants me to be. So far, I’ve never reached the latter. And all too often, I try to hide the former. But it’s the real me that wins every time I let her shine. I don’t know why that’s so hard to grasp.

I’m still going to strive for success, but I need to get clear on what that looks like. Maybe I’ve reached it and haven’t even noticed. Maybe all the doubts I have are blocking my view of the things I’m doing right.

Maybe I’m my own worst enemy—I’m the 6th grade queen of the playground or the high school caste enforcer, and no one is holding me back but ME.

Maybe I’m just like everyone else, finding the perfect filter to hide the flaws I want no one to see, only to hide the flaws that would inspire someone who desperately NEEDS to see them.

Maybe I’m full of flaws, but also some pretty damn awesome accomplishments.

Maybe I’m just me, and that’s not a bad thing.

CrissiLangwell_Jasper

P.S. The central theme of my book, Forever Thirteen, is based on bullying among middle school students. Find it here.

Cheat sheet to Crissi Langwell’s books

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Every now and then, I like to send out a reminder about the different books I’ve written over the years. I’m currently writing my next book (more on that later!), but for now, here are some of the books you may have missed. Click on the links to purchase.

 

BOOKS BY CRISSI LANGWELL

 

Contemporary Fiction:

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The Road to Hope (Hope Series, Book 1)
A chance encounter between two mothers changes the course of their lives in a story that addresses issues of child loss, homelessness, teen pregnancy, and more. This series has mature content.

Hope at the Crossroads (Hope Series, Book 2)
Teen mother Maddie is ready to turn her life around. But when her past intersects with her present life, she has some hard decisions to make…and her choice will change everything.

Hope for the Broken Girl (Hope Series, Book 3)
He promised to take care of her. He promised to be a good father to Hope. He promised she’d have everything she ever wanted. He lied. Maddie’s story concludes with the third book of the Hope series.

(Buy the entire Hope series by clicking here)

Symphony Forever

A Symphony of Cicadas (Forever After, Book 1)
Rachel and her son died in a tragic car accident, weeks before she was to be married. Now she’s in a tug-of-war between life and death, trying to hold on to the man she loves and the life she left behind. (Note: Mature content)

Forever Thirteen (Forever After, Book 2)
13-year-old Joey is stuck in the afterlife, wedged forever at the awkward place between childhood and teenager. But when his best friend’s grief turns dangerous, Joey realizes he has a purpose worth dying for.

Cupcake Release Tease

Come Here, Cupcake (Dessert for Dinner, Book 1)
Morgan Truly discovers she has a knack for baking. What she doesn’t know is that her talent with sweets comes with a sprinkle of magic.

Young Adult:

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Loving the Wind
Take a trip to Neverland with the island’s princess, Tiger Lily, as she fights to be seen as the warrior she was born to be.

Non-Fiction:

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Reclaim Your Creative Soul
The secrets to making room for your craft, even if you live a full-time life.

More coming soon. Stay tuned!

Finally, I can breathe

Things are different in my reality right now. Slower. Calmer. Happier.

Make that immensely happier.

You may have noticed I was going through a terrible time a few months back. Then you may have noticed how quiet I’ve been since. That’s because this year of confidence has included a lot of change with it:

1. I started caring for my mother-in-law full-time in January.

2. I went on family leave from my job.

3. I questioned every single thing in my life, including my writing career.

4. I quit a few things that were once very important to me.

5. I went back to work with a new attitude, and felt lighter after my time away.

6. My mother-in-law moved into a new apartment, and life went back to normal.

7. I quit my job.

breaking freeWait, what? Yep, you read that right. I QUIT MY NEWSPAPER JOB! For those of you following along, you know this is huge. I’ve been wanting to leave for years. When I published my first book 6 years ago, I was certain I was only steps away from leaving my full-time job and writing for a living. It didn’t happen with that first book, but I figured maybe it would with the second. Then the third. Then the fifth, the seventh, the ninth… When I published my tenth book, my hope was lost and I stopped seeing the point.

Here’s the thing. I was putting so much weight on my success as a writer that I stopped feeling joy in it. I was miserable at my job and I was desperate for my writing career to save me. But it just wasn’t happening. I stopped enjoying writing, which was kind of like not enjoying breathing. Writing is everything to me. I love the shape of words, how they sound to the ears and feel in the mouth. I love the way they look on paper, the swirl of cursive or the nobleness of typed fonts. I love the way you can string words together in ways that evoke powerful emotions or breathless moments. I love reading these strings of words, and I love creating them. So when I stopped seeing the point in writing, I stopped seeing the point in life. Couple that despair with the immense weight of stress from my job, and I was absolutely miserable.

And then there was that mental breakdown thing. All that angst I was feeling served as a monumental block against all my creativity. This was not only devastating, but a blow to my ego because I’d stepped away from everything I preach about when it comes to staying creative, including the tips I’d laid out in Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

In other words, I was human.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my mental breakdown was just me reaching my breaking point when things were about to change. EVERYTHING was about to change, and it all started when I took time off work to care for my mother-in-law. Not only did it help my mother-in-law and me to develop a much closer relationship, but it also gave me the space I needed to BREATHE, to put things in perspective, to figure out what I wanted in life, and what I didn’t want. I began letting go of things that were no longer feeding me. I slowed down. I prayed more, and sat in silence more. I felt the grip of fear release its hold on me, and began experiencing moments when I knew what I wanted out of life, and it wasn’t at my job.

This wasn’t a new revelation, but for the first time, I experienced what it was like to not have to know everything that was going on in the world, keep my eyes open for trending stories, think up new ways to grab people’s attention, be on at all times… I experienced what it was like to move at a regular pace and do one thing at a time, and I liked it. And I realized that I could no longer move at the pace I was going at my job. I also realized that it wasn’t my job, but me. All this time I had been hating this job and feeling like it was the job’s fault for being terrible. But really, it was that I wasn’t meant for this job. It just stopped being the right fit, and I’d tried to make it work for far too long.

Taking 7 weeks off work helped me to not only see my current job a lot clearer, but it also helped me figure out what I would enjoy instead. During my time away, I found that job and applied. After I’d been back at work a month, that other job contacted me. I gave my two weeks’ notice a few days later. I’m now the marketing coordinator at a local real estate company, where I’ve been working for a month. I’m also the happiest I’ve been in a long time. I love the work I do, and feel like I finally get to utilize the skills I have…many of which I actually gained at the newspaper.

Even more important, I feel the sunshine when I go outside, hear the birds, smell the roses, feel the ball of happiness expanding in my chest. I feel joy. I feel light. And…I feel like I can write again, which means I can finally breathe.

And it feels really, really good.

The day I met Anne Lamott…and choked

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Seven years ago, I waited in line to meet her, Annie Lamott, the author whose books I had devoured in a frantic kind of way, as if reading everything she’d written would somehow make me a better writer. I’d discovered her years before by accident when a friend told me that my confessional way of writing reminded them of her. I wanted to see what that meant, so I picked up her book, Traveling Mercies. Instantly, I was drawn into her world, at her coffee table, beside her and God and her son Sam as we compared imperfections, the wonderful sucky miraculous life of single motherhood, and how our own mothers drove us crazy and probably gave us our imperfections. I was hooked. I went on to read every other book she wrote, then followed her on social media where I gleefully witnessed her tell it like it was with no apology. I wished I could be that brave, to write out exactly what I was thinking without ever worrying about what my church thought, my coworkers thought, my mother thought. I lived vicariously through her, thinking that maybe I should have a stronger opinion on political figures and refer to God as a woman, just like she did. I wished my flattened hair was kinky enough to do something as bold as the dreads she wore, and wondered if I’d be as cool as she was when I reached my 60s.

I’d just finished hearing her tell a crowd of us “everything she knew about writing,” which only took an hour to tell. It was enough to further inspire my writing dreams. I had several unfinished novels collecting dust under my bed, and aspirations to one day be published. I wanted to ask how she gathered the courage to share unflattering stories about her family. It was one thing to share about one’s own mistakes and disparaging attributes, but to reveal the flaws of others was a thorny situation. Did they forgive her for outing them because she was the Anne Lamott? Did the pleasure of seeing their stories in print supersede their shameful shortcomings made public? Or did Annie simply step around their wagging fingers and high-pitched complaints, holding her head high on her way to writing a new bestselling, must-read novel?

“Are you nervous?” my husband asked, lacing his fingers through mine as I craned my neck toward the front of the line. I’d studied her outfit, the casual way she wore a scarf draped around her neck, the moon and star necklace I’d seen her wear on several different interviews, and how even her casual appearance seemed elegant in a way. In her writing and on stage, she’d mentioned her struggle with weight, but I saw no sign of it. Her pants were loose on her slim figure, her clothing like something out of an L.L. Bean catalog where men and women danced on beaches in colorful fashions as breezy as the wind.

“No,” I answered him, even though it was a lie. I was more aware of my stomach the closer we got, the words I wanted to say to her swimming around my head like a school of herring in an underwater tornado. My questions were starting to fade into statements, ones that told her how much she meant to me, how she inspired me, how her words made me want to be a better writer. Judging by the way the line kept inching forward, I only had a minute or two to convey my appreciation. Would it be enough? I grasped my copy of Traveling Mercies in my hand, trying to bend the curling cover so that it lay flat once again, and thinking of the other books I’d left behind. Was this really the one I wanted her to sign? It was the first book I’d read of hers, but there were others she’d written that touched me in different ways. Bird by Bird, in particular. Why hadn’t I brought that one?

One person stood between Anne Lamott and me, and my tongue was suddenly as dry as the Sahara Desert. Everything I thought I’d say to her disappeared. All my visions of her asking me out to coffee, maybe even her house, so we could discuss our shared profession of writing and my future success as an author…it all evaporated as the person in front of me ended their turn and she turned to me.

“Uh,” I started, which is always a good place to start when talking to your idol. “Uh hi.” What was wrong with me? I thought I should at least mention the book I was working on, the one that would make me famous. But then I realized she might not care, or worse, she’d ask me what it was about. “Um, my name is Crissi.”

“Nice to meet you, Crissi,” she said, her kind eyes meeting mine. This surprised me. She looked at me as if I were the only person there, giving me her full attention like I was someone important.

“Uh, nice to meet you,” I said. “I wanted to tell you, uh…” What did I want to tell her? How could I put it in words, how she’d voiced every single feelings I’d ever had, and mentioned things I’d felt shame over as if they were no big deal? How could I tell her that the love letter she wrote to her thighs, who she called “the aunties,” made me love my body a little bit better? Or that the way she wrote about her son made motherhood feel that much more special? Or how her honest way of talking about the pain of writing made me feel so much less alone?

“I wanted to tell you,” I began again. “I want you to know, uh, how much your writing has meant to me.” She smiled, seeming unrushed despite the line behind me. If I was wasting her time, she never made any show of it.

“She’s read almost all of your books,” Shawn offered, nodding at the book in my hands. Anne looked down and motioned at the book.

“Can I sign that for you?” she asked, and I handed it over. I knew I wouldn’t say anything else. I couldn’t. It was enough that I was there, standing next to Anne Lamott as she wrote my name next to hers inside the very first book of hers I’d read.

“Can I get a picture of you two?” Shawn asked, and I was so grateful he was there. Anne turned and we pressed our heads together as if we’d known each other for years. On my face was a smile, but in my head was a million cannons, firing off t-shirts into the crowd stating that my head was touching the famous dreadlocks of my favorite author, the knotted hair holding years of history I’d read about in her books—the loss of her very best friend Pammy to cancer, her difficult relationship with her mother and then losing her to Alzheimer’s, the day she let a black woman and her daughter make a religious experience out of dreadlocking her hair…the very hair that was touching mine.

“Thank you,” I breathed, and she gave me a gracious “you’re welcome” before turning to the next lucky person in line.

It wasn’t how I’d envisioned it, but it was enough. Plus, I still had her words written down in her books. And maybe, just maybe, if I ever got the chance to meet her again, I’d have better luck telling her how much she meant to me.

Stepping out of the shame storm to embrace confidence

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At the start of 2018, I dedicated this year to confidence. I aimed to build on my confidence and become more surefooted in my endeavors, my path, and make solid steps toward my future. A few days after making this vow, I agreed to be my mother-in-law’s caretaker for a week. That week turned into several months. Then the end date became unknown. My life changed dramatically, flipping from a busy life I could manage to one where I had very little control or structure. The biggest change was that my time and energy were now required for my mother-in-law, and I had very little reserved for myself.

The past few weeks have been particularly bad. I questioned everything I’ve believed in. I mean EVERYTHING. I scaled back on a lot of things. Then, I thought about what else I could scale back on. Quit the gym? Quit school? Quit writing? If there was something I could quit, it came up for consideration.

In short, I lost my confidence. I stopped believing I could write, sure that I was just fooling myself and everyone else. I stopped believing that going to school was worth it…that I was worth an education. I stopped having confidence in my abilities, my faith, my progress, my dreams, my present, my future.

Now? I think this is one huge test. It’s a hurdle I need to get over if I’m really determined to work on my confidence.

I was thinking this morning about what I want most out of life, and realized it’s really, really simple—I just want to be a better writer. This is completely within my control, too. I realized a lot of my angst was over the realization that my author career has kind of plateaued for the moment, and I grew tired of the uphill climb toward success. Thing is, I can’t really control fame or success, not completely, at least. However, I have complete power to learn more, practice what I’m learning, and keep improving on my craft. Then, I have the power to pass on what I’ve learned. To me, that would be the perfect life: to write every day and share this gift with other aspiring writers.

I also don’t need to apologize or feel shame over any of the real feelings I’m having. Last week as I was struggling, a commenter thought it amusing that I was “just now” carving out time for my creativity when I’d already written a book on making time for creativity. He wasn’t mean about it, but his words were ones already inside me—meaner ones that feed my shame over the fact that I was struggling at all after writing Reclaim Your Creative Soul. I mean, if I could write a book that shared how to get your life in order so you can be more creative, I should be living it completely, right?

WRONG.

First and foremost, I’m human. Second, so is everyone else. We all have moments when we’re down, when life throws you the unexpected, when we need a break, when we forget to take a break, when we’re feeling negative, when we mess up, when we feel like we can’t do anything right, when we question our purpose, our existence, our everything.

This week, I feel a ton better than I did last week. I see light where there used to be dark. I see hope. And I am more adamant than ever to take this one day at a time in this care-taking journey, to carve space out for me, to stop meeting change with fear, and to start seeking out possibility rather than disappointment. I plan to give this my best shot, and I plan to give myself grace if I fall down.

I plan to embrace confidence. I plan to make room for margins in my life. But most of all, I plan to be human.