Stepping out of the shame storm to embrace confidence

be bold

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.

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Avoid a mental breakdown by adding margins to your life

doingbest

I’m keeping this image huge so that you don’t miss it. I shared this from another page on my Facebook yesterday. It not only hit a nerve for me, it hit the nerve of people who came across it. How many of you can relate to this? Are there commitments you’ve made that are now consuming your life? Are you really required to keep those commitments? Can you take something off your plate for an hour? For a day? For a week? Forever?

Last weekend I had a nervous breakdown, melting into a crazy, sniveling, pathetic creature right in front of my husband. I’ve spent months caring for his mother, something I’ve taken time off work to do. But in doing so, I’ve gone weeks without any kind of break except for collapsing into bed after putting her in bed. I’ve spent every waking moment with her. This is not exhausting work, except, it is.

Thing is, I was the one placing the shackles on me. I waited until I was going out of my mind before I finally pleaded with my husband that I needed a break. It got to the point of desperation before I said anything because I was determined to be strong and white knuckle my way through this. Also, I was the one choosing to remain in the same room with her instead of going up to my own room for some moments of solitude. I was choosing to be a martyr, giving until I couldn’t give anymore.

But that does no one any good.

This past week, I have made it a point to take at least an hour or more to myself. The difference has been amazing. Before, I felt resentful every time she needed something, and if I wasn’t careful, it showed in my attitude. But once I took regular breaks, my attitude changed. The resentment disappeared. I began wanting to spend better quality time with her instead of being in the same room and hating it.

On Thursday, my husband gave me a full day off. I slept in until 7 (I start my caregiving at 5), sat in a coffee shop for 4 hours, took a nap in the afternoon, and went to the gym in the evening. I did everything I wanted to do, which wasn’t anything exciting or glamorous, but amazing just the same. I took a day when I wasn’t needed for anything at all, and that was exactly what I needed. The next day, my MIL and I had coffee together, then we watched a movie together in the afternoon, and in between, I went grocery shopping without her and read.

If you’re life is filling up too fast and you’re feeling like you’re being pulled in all directions, it’s VITAL that you take a break. You need a margin, that empty space beside the busyness of your full-time life. It may mean you can only take one hour. If you think you can’t, you’re wrong. Ask for help. You need it. If you can manage a whole day, do it. If there’s something taking up your time without adding anything to your present or future, LET IT GO. Seriously. Remember that you’re only one person, and we’re all so much better when we let others step in and give us a hand, and when we rest so we can recharge. You are not a machine, you are human. So give yourself some grace and space.


Looking for ways to create space in your hectic schedule? Check out my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

What it looks like to slow down

snailOne of my main goals with taking a temporary break from publishing is to slow down. But what does that mean? Right now, admittedly, my life already seems kind of slowed down, at least by my standards. I’m on the final two weeks of my Family Leave, and haven’t stepped foot in our bustling newsroom at the newspaper since the beginning of January. I get to stay home most of the day with my mother-in-law, and don’t really have a lot of deadlines outside of my school work or her physical therapy appointments, or just the normal stuff I do like cleaning and cooking. At surface level, my life has completely slowed down. And yet, I still feel that pressure of stress weighing on my shoulders, and it seems like there still aren’t enough hours in the day.

What does it mean to slow down? And if I’m not spending the majority of my day at work, why does it still feel like I have no time?

1. I’m trying to do all the things at the same time.

This could look like physically doing more than one thing at a time, but often it’s that I’m thinking of the next thing I need to do, or things I’d rather be doing, or all the things I still need to do, or what I should be doing while I’m doing something else. It’s me being in all places at once, which not only keeps me from being focused, but is also exhausting.

2. I’m letting distractions win.

As soon as I sit down to, say, do my homework, I’ll grab for my phone to check email, my Facebook, my Instagram, my Twitter…. If I can’t find the right thought, or I’m bored with the reading, or I don’t want to be doing this, or I’d rather take a nap, my phone is back in my hand and I’m obsessively clicking. I’m masking the discomfort with distractions, and a project that should take me 2 hours ends up taking me all day.

3. I’m tired.

I’m up every morning at 5 a.m., getting my mother-in-law bathed and dressed, making coffee and breakfast, cleaning her room, doing her laundry, spending countless hours in her presence, answering her questions, making all-day small talk…. I’m not running marathons, but I’m basically doing odd jobs and socializing all day long. As an introvert, this is painful, and yet I’m not doing anything to create space in my day for devoted rest time.

4. I’m filling my day with “busyness.”

There’s not a ton on my to-do list, but there’s enough. And when there isn’t, I’m finding other ways to stay busy, whether it be getting ahead on my studies or scrolling through social media.

So, about slowing down….

Taking an inventory of my day, I realized I’m ruled by a lot of time and energy wasters. So, here are some new ways to do things:

1. Do one thing at a time.

Mainly, this means being focused when I’m in the middle of something. Set a timer and power through until time’s up. Fight through the uncomfortable feelings of not wanting to do what I’m doing. Breathe. Stop thinking of all the things, but keep steering my attention to the one thing I’m doing at the time.

2. Block all distractions.

Keep my phone off! The timer will come in handy for this, too, by telling myself I can’t touch my phone, the internet, etc. until the time is up. Every time I reach for my phone, I’m adding more time to the thing I’m doing.

3. Rest, for real.

First off, I really need to go to bed earlier than I have been if I’m getting up at 5 every day. Also, an afternoon nap isn’t such a bad thing…and not the nap where I lay in bed scrolling social media, but the kind where I actually sleep for 30 minutes. But the biggest way for me to rest is to purposely seek out silence. I’m with my mother-in-law all day long, she loves to talk, plus she’s watching TV nonstop. I need to break up the noise with quiet time so I can hear myself think, hear God think, and just rest my brain for a little while.

4. Feed my soul.

I’m actually okay with using some winding down time for watching TV, perusing the internet, playing on my phone, etc. But if all my downtime is used for these things, I’m not really getting in any quality ME time. What refreshes my soul? I love reading, doing yoga, going to the gym, taking hikes, sitting in the sunshine, doing henna, writing for fun… But lately, I haven’t been doing any of these things. I’ve been so busy caring for my mother-in-law, and when I’m not, I’m filling my time with timewasters, believing I’m having downtime. But my soul isn’t being fed.

5. Schedule my day.

If I want to be productive and refreshed, I have to map out how I use my time. Without a schedule, I’m letting the day own me. But by giving myself time slots to get things done, I can actually do more in one day, plus I’ll have an inventory of how I’ve spent the day. I’ve just recently started doing this, and it’s working like a charm. Sometimes I don’t get everything done, and that’s okay. But it keeps me focused on how much time I have in one day, and how much time to spend on one thing. At the most, this has helped me to stop spending all day long on one piece of homework because I now have a deadline when I need to move to the next thing.

Beyond all this, I’m refraining from taking on extra, unnecessary projects (I had a moment of insanity when I mused about starting a podcast at the same time I was trying to lighten my load), I’m trying not to look too far ahead at the future, I’m reminding myself that what I’m doing now (being a learner and observer) is actually productive, and I’m practicing gentleness with myself.

How are some ways you make sure your life doesn’t feel too hectic? What are some things you do to refresh your soul?


If you aren’t sure how you could possibly fit creativity into your busy schedule, then check out my book Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

Truth telling: 5 years into this author journey, I need a change

journal

Five years ago this March, I published my very first book, A Symphony of Cicadas. I wrote that book on the heels of my wedding and honeymoon, sent it off to an editor, learned all about self-publishing, and then released it on a hope and a prayer, and lots and lots of expectations. Oh, I fooled myself into thinking I didn’t expect anything from this novel. I’d read plenty of blogs from frustrated authors to know that success wouldn’t be instant. I told myself that this book was just getting me a place on the map, and it would probably take 3 or 4 more books to reach the kind of success I wanted so I could quit my job and write novels for a living.

Now I have 10 books, and I have still not cracked the code for reaching the kind of success I once believed in. My expectations are different now, more pessimistic. I write the books out of love, adoring every part of writing and creating. But as soon as I near release day, my love becomes conditional. I place a heavy weight of expected failure on the books, and wonder how much less each book will sell than the last.

I haven’t been wrong.

I know that sounds terrible. I’m ruining the romantic notion of being a writer. Thing is, I’m a writer with a full time job and busy life, and my energy is wearing thin. The past few months have been especially trying. The beginning of this year involved my moving in with my mother-in-law for a few weeks, away from my husband and family, until we could move her into our home so I could care for her full time while on Family Leave. This is where I’ve been devoting most of my energy, and you guys, I’m tired. Some days are good, but some days I question everything I’m doing. I ended up leaving a volunteer position with my church I’ve been a part of for the past three years, just to free up some space in my life. I’m now thinking of a few more things I can clear off my plate. And my constant question to myself is “What’s the point?”

The arrival of my MIL is only one small part of this equation, though. Truth is, I’ve been struggling for years. When I wrote Reclaim Your Creative Soul, it was because I’d gone through a crisis of the soul over three specific things: my health (diet), my job, and my writing career. I had a mental breakdown, in a way, and didn’t see how I could keep going at the rate I was going. I wrote that book, sharing all the things I’d learned that allowed me to write books at a fast pace, even with a busy life. And I stand by what I wrote in that book, completely. But when, after that book, my life didn’t magically feel more peaceful, and when the things I was grappling with didn’t magically resolve themselves, I went into a major funk that has basically continued until present day. I have so many disappointment over the status of my book career, and have spent so much money on this dream, it’s ridiculous.

But my idea of success is ridiculous, too. I compare myself to big name indie authors, wondering what’s wrong with me that I don’t have what they have. But then I see the things they’re doing, and I can’t even wrap my mind around doing the same things. Regular book festival appearances in exciting places like London. Facebook Live chat sessions with fans. Daily giveaways. Being perky all the time. Never airing grievances. Basking in awesomeness. And I’m over here feeding my misery with calories and wishing I could have something for “nothing,” because being successful as an author takes so much more than just writing a book.

And so, I’m taking a break from publishing. I don’t know how long this break will be. It could be a few months, it could be a year, it could be several years, it could be forever. I don’t know. I’m focusing my energy on learning to write, taking a creative writing class, and seeking out other opportunities where I can improve my skills. I’m also figuring out if writing is even my thing. Maybe I’m just fooling myself, believing this is the path I’m supposed to be on. All I know is that when I look through my journals over the past few years, all of my lamentations are the same, and nothing has changed…I just have more books under my belt.

In the meantime, I’m not going away. I have 10 books, dammit, and I’m still pretty proud of them, even if they still haven’t given me financial freedom. I’m most likely returning to publishing once I’m more confident with my writing and much less burnt out. Besides, any books I sell will go toward any future sibling books.

Thank you for standing by me. There are a few of you who have been so faithful in buying and reading my books, cheering me on, and just being an incredible support team. I hope you know who you are, because your encouragement has sometimes been the one thing I needed to keep going on this crazy, soul-sucking, wonderful writing path. If I go rogue for a while out of necessity, I know I can come back and count on your love and loyalty.

I love you all.

Goodreads yanks giveaways from small-time authors, and I’m mad

GoodreadsWhen I first became an author, one of the most vital resources I found to get my books out there and connect with readers was Goodreads. I loved that you could join or create groups to connect with other readers who liked the same kinds of books, find new books through friend suggestions, review books, and so on. I found this platform awesome for book lovers, and I made a lot of friends there.

One of my favorite features on Goodreads was the giveaway section. As a reader, I could enter giveaways with hopes to win (haven’t yet), or just discover new reads. I’ve even bought several of the books I’ve entered to win.

But this section was even more valuable to me as an author. It was my most valuable asset to get my book in front of other people who may not have known about it. I used it to encourage people to put it on their “To Read” list, to test out new descriptions, to gauge how well my books do compared to each other (when I did simultaneous giveaways), and so on. Plus, it just feels good to give your book away to someone who wants it. It was a fabulous marketing tool, and I utilized it with every book launch. Plus, those people who shelved my books (which are in the thousands for some of my titles) are notified whenever I publish a new book. The Goodreads Giveaway was the perfect way to spread the word about my books.

That all changed this year. In January, Goodreads did away with free giveaways and now charges a minimum of $119 for each giveaway. As a small-time author, I was already feeling the pinch giving my books away, plus paying shipping and handling. Each free book runs me around $15, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but each book adds up when you’re still struggling to turn a profit. So to add $119 onto this feels like a slap in the face, and a clear message to those of us who aren’t making thousands off our books – we’re not wanted.

I get it. Goodreads is a business, and an Amazon-owned business, at that. The service they provided for authors with these giveaways was incredibly valuable, and it was quite generous that we could do it for free for as long as we’d been allowed. However, to go from $0 to $119 is a bit high, especially since I don’t believe the outcome will be profitable. I mean, I’ve been disappointed before by giving my money to Goodreads ads. Just look at their poor excuse for advertising. Spend all you want on those little tiny self-serve ads; if you’re not shelling out major bucks for banner ads, you might as well give Goodreads your wallet for nothing and call it a day.

So it looks like my Goodreads giveaway days are over. However, I am due for another giveaway, and would love your suggestions. If you’re an author, what have been some of your favorite ways to give your books away to readers? If you’re a reader, what kind of contest would you like to see? Your answer could result in a new contest, and you’ll get a mention!

P.S. J. L. Greger guest-blogged about this topic on Thonie Hevron’s blog, “Just the Facts, Ma’am,” and offered a few alternative contest ideas. Check it out here.

Book number ten is in the bag

DEMO underwater girlWell, hello there! It’s been five days since Hope for the Broken Girl published, so I naturally did a bit of a disappearing act. Being my 10th book, I’m finally accepting that about myself. I put all my soul and energy into a book, and then want to hide under a rock once it’s out (see this post for reference), simultaneously hoping everyone reads it and no one reads it.

This book was a bit different, though. I’m not shy about this book, at least for the most part. I’m reluctant to suggest this book to anyone who is a sensitive reader or gets offended by hard language or tough situations. This book is gritty, and I didn’t mince words in the story. I couldn’t, to do so would hurt the story. However, I think most readers would appreciate that about this book. I hope it reaches plenty of people, as the story is so important. It addresses domestic violence in an in-your-face kind of way, and how something like that can even happen. Why does a girl stay when her boyfriend hits her? I hope this story helps people reach the answer.

Note: Hope for the Broken Girl is the 3rd book in the Hope series, and is available here. If you haven’t started the Hope series yet, here’s the link to all three books. The first book, The Road to Hope, is free for Kindle for the rest of today, so no excuses!

coffee
Behind that coffee cup is the forest view at my mother-in-law’s magical home, where I lived for two weeks before moving her into our home.

Still, the disappearing act did happen, sort of, but for different reasons. Things have been different on the home front. As most of you know, my day job is in the newsroom at my local newspaper. However, I haven’t stepped foot in the newsroom for several weeks, and won’t for several more. I’m taking some time off to care for my mother-in-law as she regains use of her hands and feet after spinal surgery. The experience has been both rewarding and frustrating. The wonderful part is that I’ve come to know her in a whole new way, forming a friendship with her. This is a miracle in itself as I have never felt close to her, and we didn’t really know each other all that well. The frustrating part, however, is just spending time with one person day in and day out with little reprieve. I admit I’m getting a bit stir crazy, and long for the time when our family has our house back (she’s temporarily living with us) and all of our routines are back to normal (though the time away from my more-than-stressful job is incredible). I know my MIL is also wishing for her regular routine, and can’t wait to have her independence.

In the meantime, we’re hanging out daily. She sits in one corner of the living room binge watching shows in between therapy sessions, and I sit on the other with my homework all around me. I got her into “This is Us” (oh my God, that Super Bowl episode!!!), so it’s been fun re-watching the 1st season with her. And she’s becoming more independent so that I can step out of the house for an hour or so without worrying she’ll fall.

That’s what’s going on with me! What’s going on with you?

Writing exercise: Using all 5 senses

I’m reading “Make Your Words Work,” by Gary Provost, an essential book for every writer. This is a book I wish I’d read before ever attempting to write a novel. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and already I’ve learned so much.

One of the exercises in the book was to write a paragraph using all five senses. I did, and came up with the following scene.

Btw, try this exercise yourself! I’d love to read yours in the comments.

The Coffee Shop

I opened the glass door of the Java Hut with a jingle of the bells, which made way for the low murmur of conversation, along with the occasional clink of China. The rushing sound of the espresso machine served as background noise, a sweet symphony of sound as I took my place in line. I’d skipped my morning coffee when I woke up, and my mouth salivated in anticipation of the earthy brew.

I reached the front of the line, taking in the cashier’s colorful dreads, a rainbow of pink, purple, and turquoise, paired with blue eyes lined with kohl and a black painted mouth. If it weren’t for her smile, I’d have assumed she was unfriendly.

“What can I get you?”

I ordered my usual – two cups of drip, one with extra cream, and one black. She took my crinkled dollars and replaced them with a couple cold coins, which clinked in her tip jar as I dropped them.

With coffees in hand, I took a seat by the window, placing the pale coffee on the opposite side of the table, and holding the heated ceramic of my own dark brew. I breathed in, inhaling the roasted air mingled with the scent of bacon from my neighboring table. Then I raised my cup toward the empty seat in front of me.

“Ten years is a long time,” I murmured. “Think you’ll ever give up the charade?”

I clinked the cup of milky coffee, then brought my brew to my lips, sipping the scalding liquid. When I lowered my cup, the other was already empty. I picked it up and looked inside, reading the words in the bottom of the cup.

“Not yet.”

Book-release hangover is real

Book-release hangover is real. Or maybe I should say vulnerability hangover. I go through it every single time I write or release a book. Writing it, editing it, tweaking it, gathering excitement about it, feeling so proud of it, releasing it to the world.

And then, the hangover.

I released Hope at the Crossroads on Oct. 24. It was a quiet release because my town was on fire. It didn’t feel right to tout something as trivial as a book when so many people lost their homes. So I quietly hit publish, and put it out there to anyone following me on social media. The next day, it was business as usual. I was too busy, too preoccupied, too everything else to worry about what happens next after releasing something I’d poured myself into for the better part of a year.

November came, and NaNoWriMo came with it. In the midst of midterms and prepping for finals, I wrote a book. The book took everything out of me, and now that it’s done, I’ve set it down and plan to forget about it until January.

But now that it’s over, I’ve got the hangover.

Here’s what that looks like. People have bought my book. Oh my God, they’re reading my book. Holy hell, they’re reading it! Do they like it? Does anyone like it? Why haven’t they left a review??? (Refresh.) They still haven’t left a review. Only 20 people bought it. 20. I know more than 20 people. Why did only 20 people buy it? Why aren’t 20 people leaving a review? Have they even read it? Oh God, they didn’t read it. They just bought it to be nice. They don’t even like to read. No one likes to read. Why am I writing if no one likes to read? Why am I even writing? I don’t know how to write. I think I lost the muse. I think I lost my talent. Did I ever have any talent? What is wrong with me???

Here’s how else that looks. I feel spun at all times, and even the smallest thing can send me over the edge. At the same time, I’m restless, and waiting for something to change. I want to do all things. I want to do NONE of the things. I’m having a hard time reading books right now because ALL OF THEM are better than mine. The comparison monster is alive and well, and it’s pouring jealousy all over me. I want to hide in my bed until the holidays are over. I’m frustrated that my books are ignored. I’m glad my books are ignored. I want to take back everything I’ve ever written. I question what I do, what I say, how I look, what I’ve done with my life, where I’m going, that I’m even admitting my crazy instead of being uber positive so you’ll buy my books. I’ve stopped caring. I care way too much.

Does that paint a clear enough picture? I swear, there needs to be a therapist who only deals with artists.

In A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson writes, “The ego is like a gravitational force field, built up over eons of fearful thinking, which draws us away from the love in our hearts. The ego is our mental power turned against ourselves.” And oh man, is this true.

I’m battling these feelings of ego and fear, something that happens with every book release, and every time I write a book. Now I’m battling the aftermath of both, and gearing up for another book release, while trying to keep my sanity as I try to get through finals. The book-hangover is real, and I’m gonna need some tomato juice and two aspirin.

Or maybe it’s a hair of the dog thing, and I just need to write another book.

PNSD: Post NaNoWriMo Stress Disorder

For this year’s NaNoWriMo, I broke all my own rules. I let the inner critic sit on my shoulder the whole time I wrote the story. I only plotted the first part of the story, leaving me fumbling as I tried to pants my way through the rest. I kept my social media running in the background, and turned to it whenever writing felt hard (read: every 5 minutes). I looked back on the story, and almost got stuck as I worried about what I’d written. I compared my rough draft to the final draft of my favorite novels.

This year’s NaNoWriMo was a mess. Still, I managed to finish. On Saturday, I had 3,500 words left to go, and I stalled the majority of the day as I did everything but write the story. But around 3 p.m., I finally sat down and began typing, taking a break only for dinner. At 9 p.m., I verified my word count and crossed the finish line with 51,622 words.

I’ve been lucky the past several years of NaNo-ing. Two years ago, I had a blast writing Loving the Wind, a book I hadn’t planned to publish. It was just supposed to be for fun, and I even live-wrote it by sharing my rough draft chapters with readers through Wattpad. That book practically wrote itself. Last year, I wrote Hope at the Crossroads, the sequel to The Road to Hope. I was so inspired by the story, that I immediately wrote the next book of the series in December.

NaNoWriMo has always been my jam, the thing I push on other aspiring novelists as a way to get their book written. I’ve done and won NaNoWriMo for 8 years now, including this one, and it’s what taught me to write fast.

But this year was just hard. I chose to write a book I’d been stalling on writing for years, the sequel to Come Here, Cupcake. My usual genre is Contemporary Fiction. This one is a magical realism novel, but can also be considered a Rom-Com (romantic comedy). I’m more into tear-jerking scenes, this one is a much more lighthearted read. For some reason, it’s easier for me to write about heavier topics than ones just for fun. I can’t tell you how many times I had to scrap what I was writing because the tone was getting too heavy, and this was supposed to be fun.

This was supposed to be fun.

This was anything but fun.

Can I even admit that as an author? Can I tell you this and still hope you’ll read this book when I’m done editing it? Writing was HELL this past month, pure hell. This book was hell. I dreaded writing every day, and I hate that I dreaded it. Aren’t I supposed to come to my writing desk every day, full of inspiration? Aren’t I supposed to be whimsical and filled with light every day I get to write? Let me tell you, I was anything but whimsical. When I didn’t have to leave the house, I wore leggings and a holey tank top, covered with an old, frayed granny robe, my teeth unbrushed and my hair in a messy topknot. I looked as good as my novel, and felt as good, too.

This was the month just after my hometown burned in devastating fires. It was the month after I released Hope at the Crossroads to a lukewarm crowd, my heart not even into it because I was so devastated by the fires. This was the month I’d hoped to knock out my reservations about even writing this book by just ripping off the Band-Aid and going on a 30-day word sprint. It was supposed to be a month of courage and creativity. Instead, it was a month of torture and bad prose.

But now, it’s done. The whole middle section needs to be reworked, contradicting details need to be edited, scenes need to be fleshed out, and at this point, there’s no reason to love the love interest. But I’m not editing until January, maybe later. For now, this novel and I are going to our own separate corners until we can learn to speak nicely to each other. Right now, everything feels too raw.

Right now, I think I’ll sleep for a month.

Truth telling: Fear of success as an author

Last week at work, I was yelled at by a business I’d included in a newspaper article assignment. The woman on the other line called me out for not contacting them for proper information, which was true. Her voice continued to raise as she pointed her finger at everything I did wrong, and I didn’t fight her because everything she said was true. I’d written an entertaining article that ended up going gangbusters, much to my surprise, and this business was left to clean up the PR nightmare I’d unintentionally created for them by not verifying information. I felt genuinely bad, and I tried to apologize, promising a retraction. But then she hit me where it hurt.

“I see you’re a writer,” she told me. “I see you write things about how to be a writer. It would take nothing to put your name out there as someone who spreads bad information.” She let me know that if their company suffered from this article in any way, I was going down with them.

I was officially triggered. Every single fear I’ve ever had came crashing down on me, things I’ve felt all along, but now were staring me in the face. I’m not good enough. I don’t know what I’m doing. Who do I think I am? How dare I even believe I can keep playing this make-believe game of being a writer, both at work and in my personal life? I’m not educated enough. I’m not talented enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m a total and complete hack.

This triggered barrage of fears at work has seeped into my work as an author. I’m not supposed to talk about this. Who says? I don’t know. I just know that most authors keep things light and friendly, presenting their books in these neat little packages as if they didn’t spend months or years before that bleeding at their keyboard and contemplating ending it all out of self-doubt. My favorite indie authors who are making a killing at this game are funny, personable, and confident. Not me, though. I’m a complete disaster. I’m a mess. I doubt myself constantly. The worst time of my life is always book launch time, because I’ve already predicted its failure before the book is even released.

But truthfully, it’s also a relief when the book doesn’t sell. It means there’s less of a chance for someone to discover the flaws I’ve included between the pages. I’m afraid any research I’ve done hasn’t been enough. Readers will discover I don’t know how to sail a boat, grow a garden, live on a pot farm, or watch a good friend die. I’ll get something wrong, and a reader will call me on it, and the book will be destroyed.

Making it in this writing game is all I want, and it scares me the most. It would be amazing to reach the point where I can live off the proceeds from my books. But what happens if someone smears my name, either by something I’ve done, or something I haven’t done? You’ve all seen the internet mobs that come flying with their pitchforks over someone who’s done something terrible. It would take nothing for a false rumor to be spread that way and ruin someone’s life. If I had a platform, it would be too easy for someone I’d rubbed raw to smear my name and ruin my career. This woman that called me on the article could potentially ruin me by letting everyone know that I have no idea what I’m talking about, that I love to spread fake news.

This woman isn’t even my biggest fear. It’s the readers. When I’m writing a book, I am free, for the most part, of any doubts I have. It’s just me and the characters, and we’re having a great time during the weeks I write their story. But as soon as the book is ready to publish, all my fears take over. The door opens, and I invite people in to read all the things that have been private for months. I’m left vulnerable as people I don’t know pick up my story and witness what I’ve created. Worse, people I know pick up the story. I feel judged, exposed, emotional, afraid. The days after a book release, I usually hide, unable to muster a social media post or say anything about the book because I’m so spent and nursing a nasty book launch hangover.

Then there’s the marketing part. I tell people I know how to write, but I don’t know how to market. That’s a partial lie. I know things I can do that will help drum up interest, but I don’t do them because of my fear of rejection. If I tell people about the book, they will ask what it’s about, and as I tell them, I can hear a little voice telling me they’re not interested, they’re just being polite, no one reads anymore, and so on. I worry more that I will gather their interest, and then, once they read the book, they’ll be left disappointed because I failed to live up to my hype.

And, of course, there’s that one fear I spoke of a few paragraphs ago—if I gather a lot of interest, there’s more potential for someone to realize I’m a hack. I’ve published 9 books so far. I should be so much better at this game. Instead, I’m worse—and my self-doubt is my biggest reason why.

I was listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday podcast with India.Arie, who spoke about leaving the music industry for a time because she felt like she was losing herself to the commercial side and not keeping true to her own beliefs. Her obstacle was her feeling of inadequacy. When she was nominated for 7 Grammys, she was so overwhelmed she couldn’t handle it. When she didn’t win a single one, she was caught somewhere between feelings of failure and a sense of relief. I totally get her on this one. Then she told Oprah a realization she’d had just a few weeks earlier in a moment of self-doubt.

“What if Oprah decided she was too fat for TV?”

Whoa. Let’s chew on that for a second. Oprah wasn’t always OPRAH. She was once a radio station newscaster who found her calling in the talk show arena because she knew how to tell a story. But what if she had decided she couldn’t be seen in the public eye because she wasn’t thin enough, smart enough, or likable enough?

What if Steph Curry decided he wasn’t good enough at basketball?

What if Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (my obsession) felt like his life was too messy to create music?

What if Stephen King had successfully thrown away his manuscript for Carrie?

What if Jesus, Gandhi, Muhammad, Confucius, Buddha, or the Dalai Lama decided they didn’t know what they were talking about, and kept quiet because they were afraid someone would strongly disagree with them?

Earlier this year, I tattooed my favorite Bible verse on my arm: Be not afraid or discouraged. The Lord your God is with you. Joshua 1:9. Fear has been my driving force for so many years. It’s been my God. My focus this year has been on faith, and part of that journey is to let go of fear. Here we are in November, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. In many ways, I feel more afraid than ever. I wish for thick skin, and it’s ridiculously thin. I pretend I have callouses because I work at a newspaper and deal with ridicule on a daily basis. But I don’t have callouses, I have scars that keep reopening.

Not one person in this world is flawless. I’m just me, trying to figure out the world and where I fit in the story. I don’t have all the answers; I can’t even pretend that I do. But I do know that I can only own the things I can control. I can’t control how many people read my book, though I can do things to push it in their direction. I can’t control what people think about my book. But I can control what I write, and stay true to my beliefs as I write it. For that, I need to be clear on those beliefs. What’s my ultimate message? Each story incorporates something I’m grappling with in the time that I’m writing it. What have I learned from the story? What do I hope the reader will learn?

Finally, what’s my definition of success? I thought success was selling enough books so that I can be a full-time writer. However, this definition doesn’t make me happy. It feels shallow, and its broad definition makes the goal out of reach. But you know what makes me feel like I’ve fulfilled my purpose? When someone reaches out to me to say they found themselves in my story, that they felt less alone when they read it, that it reached a deep emotion inside they hadn’t even known was there. My definition of success is when a reader connects with the story I’ve told them, and I’ve changed them because of it.

That’s a definition I can live for.

There will always be critics in this world. I’m not done fearing them, but I’m trying to move away from that. The best I can do, the best any of us can do, is to remember we are all souls having a human experience. We are all connected in one way or another, even with our worst critics. What can we take from each experience? What should we leave behind. Most important, which voices in this world build us up and encourage us to be the best we can be? Those are the voices to focus on.