Gray hair, birthdays, and growing older with grace

happy-birthday-to-me9This week, I celebrated another year around the sun. For those of you who have been reading along for a while, you may recall how much I struggle with birthdays every year. It started on the day I turned 31, and my reaction to that day took me by surprise. Before I turned 31, I welcomed every birthday. I had no problem getting older. Even when I left my twenties to turn the big 3-0, I didn’t have an issue. But for some reason, turning 31 was a bigger deal. Part of it may have been because I was no officially IN my thirties, and not just 30. But I think the bigger issue was that I chose to celebrate my birthday in Disneyland. There I was on my 31st birthday, surrounded by all these young, adorable 20-something kids and I was just some washed up hag who was hiding wrinkles with makeup and gray hair with dye.

Ever since that year, I would dread each birthday as it came closer, and couldn’t get over the fact that I was aging.

For so many years, I took pride in being the younger person in the crowd. Having had my kids young, I’m often the youngest parent in the room at every school function. At my work, I was one of the youngest people in the newsroom. At my kids’ camp, I’ve been the youngest chaperone. And because my husband is 14 years older than I am, I’ve always been the youngest when we hang out with other couples. I placed a lot of pride on my youth. So when the tides started to turn, things began to get uncomfortable. As my kids got older, I stopped feeling like the young and fresh mom, and started feeling old and out of touch. My work started hiring all these young and brilliant millennials who are way quicker at learning new technology and social media skills. Younger chaperones signed on at camp, and have way more energy than my old body can handle. And so on.

Aging just became uncomfortable, because I had placed so much of my worth on my youth.

This year was different. I turned 39 on Dec. 7, and I didn’t have my annual freak out in the days leading up to my birthday. I think it’s because I’ve embraced the process of growing older. This is mostly apparent in the fact that I stopped dying my hair over a year ago. I am now sporting a brilliant streak of white in my hair.

crissigray2The decision to stop dying my hair was huge. I found my very first gray hair at 19 years old, the same week I discovered I was pregnant with my first child. I do believe the two go hand in hand. When plucking these pesky grays became too big of a job, I resorted to coloring my hair. At first, I went with all-natural dyes to ensure I wouldn’t harm my hair. But soon, I was grabbing any chemicals I could get my hands on to ensure my youth would be preserved.

Last year, I’d had enough. I knew I had a section of my hair that was all white, and it was apparent whenever I was between colorings. I realized that I didn’t want to be one of those “old ladies” who continued hiding their true color even when the jig was up. I wanted to go gray while my face still held some of its youthfulness. So last year, I decided to see what would happen if I just stopped dying it.

At first, the process was awkward. It looked silly. I wanted to hide my head in a scarf until I no longer had three-toned hair. But gradually, I began to look at my hair differently. The white section created this new and interesting feature to my hair. I’d play it up with different hairstyles, and starting receiving comments on how cool it looked. But most important, I actually stopped caring (for the most part) about how anyone saw it at all because I liked it. I thought it was beautiful.

Because my hair is long, it will be a while before the gray is completely grown out. I have about 5 inches of white, followed by another 7 or so inches of dye. But my hair has never worked as well as it does now. It feels better, it isn’t weighed down by dye, and it’s fun to play with.

crissigray1My hair is only one aspect that’s allowed me grace in growing older. My perspective, in general, has changed. Each year, I learn something new about myself and the world I live in. I learn what I can tolerate, and what I need to stop wasting so much energy on. I’ve learned to depend less on what other people think of me, and depend more on how I view myself. I’m learning to focus my attention more on my accomplishments and to stop putting so much weight on all I still have to do (this is a work in process, but I’m getting better).

Here are a few cool things that I’ve made happen this year:

  • I published two books I’m incredibly proud to have written: Reclaim Your Creative Soul and Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan
  • I enrolled in college and am finally taking the necessary steps in taking control of my career path
  • I wrote another book, even while taking college courses, by implementing the skills I preach in Reclaim Your Creative Soul
  • My husband and I went on a gorgeous Hawaii vacation that we paid for out of pocket

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I’ve also lost my fear of being older. I still place importance on my age, but it’s in a different way. I’m now proud of being one of the older people in the room. In my college classes, the younger students turn to me to help them understand what the teacher is saying. I’m one of the more experienced people at work. I can relate with the crowd I hang out with. And at camp, I let the young and fun chaperones burn themselves out while I rest my tired bones.

I have grace about growing older. Each new year means new opportunities. Each gray hair serves as a badge of my experiences and time on this earth. Each wrinkle is proof that I’ve spent a lot of time smiling and laughing. Each birthday is a celebration that I’m still here, and I still get time to fulfill my goals.

Growing older is not a curse. It’s a blessing. And I’m 39 years blessed, and still going.

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The one where I reveal too much about my failure as an author

JourneyHemingway.jpg

I started writing the 3rd novel in my Hope series (still haven’t decided on a name, so this is what I’m going to call it for now) on Dec. 1. I came into the month with a clear idea on what I wanted to happen to Maddie, and what I wanted wrapped up by the time I reached the conclusion. But all the in between stuff, like the layout of each chapter and the steps it would take to get from the beginning to end, I left that to figure out later. I was just too eager to get started on writing, and I didn’t want to lose my train of thought to create the beginning.

And so I started writing. I created my epic beginning, and it was everything I envisioned it would be. Then I came to the next chapter, and I wrote the rest of what I knew about the setup of this novel. Now I’m on Day 3 of writing, and I’ve managed to do anything but write. I’m easily distracted, and I’ve found so many things to do during this writing time, the only time I have today to work on my novel.

The reason I can’t write is because I don’t have a plan. I know where I am, and I know where I’m going. But I don’t know the in-between parts on how I want to get there.

It occurred to me today that this is exactly what’s going on with my author business. This can’t be the first time I’ve realized this, can it? I’m sure I’ve realized this before. However, this epiphany struck me today, and I suddenly feel stupid.

I’m about to be more honest than I should be in this blog, so bear with me.

Four years ago, I was polishing the manuscript that would become my very first published novel. I had this huge vision for the future, my success as an author at the very core. I was smart enough to know that my first novel wouldn’t make me millions. I’d probably only sell a few hundred copies or so. I’d heard that the third novel was the magic number, and I was banking on that one getting me out of my full-time job and onto a glittery path of being a literary celebrity. I was humble in this dream. I wouldn’t quite be J.K. Rowling. But maybe I could be as big as Liz Gilbert or Anne Lamott, or in the biggest of hopes, the next Ernest Hemingway.

That first book sold well in the first month. Of course, I had to lower my standards to see that it sold well. Amazed by my achievement of writing a book, many of my friends bought and read this novel. A portion of these friends even left reviews, prompted by my regular requests to help populate the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Over the next few months, I gave copies away and gained a few more reviews. To help speed along my plan toward success, I published two other books from writing I’d done over the years. The first was a memoir of essays on single parenting, and the second was a book on poetry.

Now I had three books! I waited for the money to start rolling in.

As you probably have guessed, my book #3 was not the magic number. I failed to recognize that you need three books to draw in the same group of people who were attracted to the first book. By publishing a fiction book, and then a parenting memoir, and finally a poetry book, I was speaking to three different crowds. I was all over the map.

And so I wrote the sequel to my first book. The first one, A Symphony of Cicadas, told of a mother who died, and her journey through the afterlife. The second book, Forever Thirteen, told about her son, a 13-year-old boy who died in the same accident. I love both of these stories. However, they should never have been written together.

Here’s why.

The first book was full of swear words and a few sex scenes. It was appropriate for the story, and I feel that stripping those parts out would take away from the story. However, the second book was written about a 13-year-old protagonist, and was definitely geared toward young adult. So, I have one book that is aimed at adults, and its companion book aimed at young teens. If these young teens want to learn about the other half of the story, they must read through a bunch of swear words and sex scenes, and grown-up situations that probably won’t even interest them.

Do you see the problem here? Because it took me a while to get it.

My third fiction book, The Road to Hope, was the literary fiction story I always wanted to write, the one where I got to write the truth in fiction. With this one, I suddenly saw a small spike in interest through sales and borrows.

My fourth fiction book, Come Here, Cupcake, bombed (note: I should not be admitting this). It’s supposed to be the start of a magical realism series, but I still haven’t brought myself to write the rest of the books because that one took so much out of me.

My fifth fiction book, Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan, is my favorite book I’ve ever written…and it still hasn’t been noticed. I still have hope that it will pick up, because I truly feel it’s a story almost anyone could enjoy. But perhaps I’m just biased because I’m such a Peter Pan fan.

In between releasing those two books was my non-fiction book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, my answer to anyone who wondered how to fit creativity into their lives when they also held a job, raised a family, or felt like they were just too busy to do anything they were passionate about. This one had the best of intentions, and a lot of vital information I’ve learned over the years. And yet, I have not been pro-active at all in getting it into the hands of people who need to read it. It’s like I thought I could just release it, and the magic would happen on its own.

That’s eight books in all over the span of four years. Eight books, and I am still working full-time at a highly stressful job, and now going to school so that I might be able to figure out what I want to do with my life that might make me happy because writing novels is not paying the bills.

I’ve spent a lot of energy lamenting my failure as an author. Again, I shouldn’t even write this. No successful author ever admits this. They write about how much they love their fans, and cool things about their book, and post photos of how awesome they are as people because they’re writing books and killing it. Me, I’m spewing my disappointment on these pages because I have 10 or less people who read this blog every day, and it’s way too long and self-loathing for anyone’s attention span.

I’ve spent thousands of dollars on covers, editing, advertising, and everything else it takes to create a book and present it to the world. I’ve spent so much time listening to podcasts, reading articles, and trying to absorb every piece of information I can gather to bring my author business to the next level. I’ve lost sleep in favor of writing, created and posted cool images for social media marketing, sent out newsletters to my mailing list, and tried to build my platform in hopes that I could grow the audience that reads any of my books.

And my sales have flat-lined. Even The Road to Hope, the one I used to see activity on every day, has been forgotten.

I realize now that I’ve spent a lot of energy on all the wrong things. Of my eight books, I have a two-book series that takes place in the afterlife—one that’s geared toward adults, and one toward young adults. I have one literary fiction book. I have a magical realism book. I have a young adult fan-fiction book. I have a parenting memoir. I have a non-fiction guide for creators. I have a poetry book.

I have eight books aimed at eight different audiences. There’s nothing for each audience to come back for, as I keep speaking to a new audience and forgetting the old. Readers can’t figure out what to expect from me, because I haven’t been clear on what I write.

And this is why I’ve failed.

Here’s the truth. I love writing literary fiction. I also love writing magical realism and young adult. I know I can write all of these. I also know people love reading across the genres. However, I need to stick to one at a time, and really build that genre up. Right now, my focus is on The Road to Hope and building that story out into a series. I have an exciting idea for it that will create a series of at least five books, and I hope it generates the same enthusiasm I feel about it.

Back to that plan for the book I’m writing now. To make this book a success, I need to pause and really think about what steps need to happen to get from beginning to end. It takes more than a good idea to write a novel. I need to plot out the story so that I don’t lose my focus as I write.

As well, I need a plan for my author business. I keep wishing for success. I keep getting distracted by all the millions of things I should be doing to gather attention toward my books. I keep begging my family and friends for support, but I don’t know how to reach beyond the people I know and hold on to them as readers. I keep lamenting the fact that I’m still a full-time employee, and my books are costing me more than I make from them. I keep wallowing in depression that things aren’t happening the way they’re supposed to happen, and then wasting my time on things that don’t work…or worse, doing nothing at all because I’m so overwhelmed by too much information, lack of energy, and the weight of failure that remains on my shoulders.

I realize now that, just like my lack of focus in writing to an audience, I’ve also developed a lack of focus when it comes to growing my business. I’ve thrown a lot of things at the wall in hopes that they’ll stick. Goodreads giveaways. Facebook advertising. Promoted Instagram posts. Paid mailing lists. Promoting to friends and family. An occasional call-out to join my mailing list. A weekly newsletter that’s opened by only 20% of the people I send it to. It’s all well and good, but there’s no focus.

So yes, I need a plan. I don’t know what that is, but I do know it needs to be more than just a few sporadic actions with no backbone. On the writing side, my focused plan is to stick to a series, and then build from there. For growing my platform, I still need to figure that out. I’m tired of writing my soul, and then releasing it into oblivion. I’m not just writing for me. Writing is my way of communication. I wish to change people through my stories, to give a new perspective, and to offer inspiration though my characters’ journeys. But that won’t happen if no one is reading my books.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. I know this is just a lot of word vomit on the page. This post is way too long. I shouldn’t even publish this. But I will for several reasons. First, if there are other authors who come across this and are frustrated by the process, I hope to offer my own warning about how lack of focus can kill your business. Second, if I ever do become successful, I want to have something I can look back to so I can remember how hard this was. I want clear evidence of the time when I was ready to throw in the towel so I can be grateful for where I’m at. Third, if I’m ever successful, I want there to be clear evidence to other authors just starting out that it’s not unique to feel lost in this crazy world of novel writing.

If you’re in the same camp as I am—wanting something so bad, feeling like it’s just out of reach, and ready to make a change to get to the next level—please let me know in the comments. I need support today, and I want to connect with others who need the same support. I want to hear from you so that I know I’m not alone. Let’s be miserable together, and then let’s cheer each other on as we move forward in building our businesses.

The story behind “Reclaim Your Creative Soul”

Last week, I was honored to speak to a group of people from my church about Reclaim Your Creative Soul, the book I published earlier this year about making more time for creativity. I began by telling them about my journey toward that book, and then I shared a quick rundown of the necessary steps to varying types of organization—both body, mind, and the space around them—so that their craft can be a priority.

This book is very personal to me. It shares many of the things I’ve come to know in my journey as a writer. I lay out the details of my writing practice, and the different ways I’ve created order in certain areas of my life to free me from distraction and allow me to focus on my craft. But more than that, it shares the spiritual journey I took toward actually writing this book. I’d like to share that with you here.

In August of 2015, I reached my breaking point. My writing was suffering because I felt like I had no creativity left in the tank. My eating habits were out of control, which resulted in weight gain, lack of energy, and a feeling of gross worthlessness. I felt overextended at my job, which was eating away at me even when I wasn’t on the clock. The successful writing career I thought I was going to have was nowhere to be seen. I actually felt like my desire to be a writer was a curse, because everything I wanted was so out of reach, and I was sure I’d be chained to being a 9-5 worker for the rest of my life.

That August, I reached a point where I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like this huge weight on my chest was consuming me. I knew if I didn’t do anything about it, I was going to go off the deep end. Something needed to change, I just didn’t know HOW. So I did the only thing I could think of doing. I took a day off from everything to focus solely on the three areas of my life that were consuming me the most: my career, my health, and my creativity.

I called this day my “soul retreat.”

During that day, I spent time with God, addressing each area that plagued me and seeking answers on what I could be doing better. I not only came away with these answers, I also received a better understanding of who I was, my worth as God’s creation, and my purpose as a creative person. I gained clarity I was unable to reach before. Most of all, I learned how to breathe again.

(I explain what happened in full detail in my book, and also in an earlier entry of this blog)

At the time, I didn’t know I was going to write this book. But the seeds began to sprout on the day I took my soul retreat. A few months later, I began laying out the bones of Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The Secrets to Organizing Your Life to Make Room for Your Craft. At face value, it was my answer to those around me who wondered how I was able to write books while holding a full-time job, raising a family, and everything else that kept me so busy. But more than that, it was a love letter to myself and those who needed to hear this message: The two biggest obstacles between you and what feeds your soul is fear and a feeling of unworthiness. More than following my guidelines toward structure and organization, my hope is that readers will began to believe they are worthy of contributing their creativity to the world, and that the world NEEDS this creativity.

Don’t get me wrong, the struggle I felt in August is not something that just magically went away . I still reach moments of overwhelm and an inability to focus. Right now, as I’ve rearranged my life to include college courses, I can feel that same weight bearing down on me. But whenever I feel this way, it’s when I know I need to pause and reevaluate where I’m at, where I’m going, and what I need to do to get there. And because of this book, I have a reminder on what needs to happen so that I can keep going.

If you are in a place where your creative life feels out of reach, I encourage you to pick up Reclaim Your Creative Soul and start working the steps toward creative freedom. Writing this book changed my life. I hope reading it changes yours.

Culture Dept. podcast: Reclaim Your Creative Soul

CultureDeptThis week I was a guest on Culture Dept., a podcast that, in their words, “features interviews with artists, creatives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights on building a sustainable, contemporary creative life.” Host Daedalus Howell and I discussed how to make creativity a huge part of one’s life, accomplishing creative goals even with a busy schedule and full-time life. These insights were from my latest book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

The podcast is only 20 minutes, perfect for your drive into work. I hope it inspires you! Also, I encourage you to subscribe to the Culture Dept. podcast. I’ve listened to almost every single episode, and each one is brilliant.

Here’s where you can find the Culture Dept. episode that I am featured on:

If you listen, let me know what you think!

You can say NO and still be a good friend

The thing about obligations is that they play on our guilt strings. We will generally say “yes” because saying “no” will disappoint the other person. We don’t want to inconvenience them or hurt their feelings. We want to be a good friend. We don’t really have a good reason to turn them down. It was our only free moment of the week, however, at least it’s not cutting into our other obligations, right?

But aren’t YOU an obligation?

Reclaim Your Creative Soul

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obligationA friend of mine contacted me today after reading this chapter on boundaries in Reclaim Your Creative Soul, and she told me how much it spoke to her. At the moment, one of her acquaintances was going through some hard life stuff, and my friend was doing what she could to be there for this person. However, this person’s needs were starting to trample my friend’s personal life, infringing on time and energy she had reserved for herself. This chapter gave my friend inspiration to take a step back, allowing her the permission she was seeking to replace boundaries that had been momentarily lost.

When it comes to our time and energy, we are our only advocates. Only YOU have the power to say NO when it comes to how you will be spending your time and energy. No one is looking out for you. No one knows how much you are capable of giving, and when it’s necessary to pull in the reins. Only you know this, and you have to speak up!

This is especially true as an artist. Because your passion is creativity-based, it can often look like you are just messing around when you are in fact working very hard on your art. If you wish to maintain your creativity as a huge part of your day-to-day life, you have to place strong boundaries around the time you plan on being creative. Making art is not messing around—it’s a serious part of who you are as a person.

For more tips on how to add more creativity to your life, read Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

Just published ~ Reclaim Your Creative Soul

3 years ago this month (March 16, 2013, to be exact), I published my very first book. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I had big visions of everything I would do with the millions I would be raking in.

Obviously, I am still working on reaching millionaire status. I did, however, accomplish my #1 goal in life—I wrote and published a book.

Today, I have published my 7th book. And I did it while holding a full-time job, raising a family, volunteering with my church and my writing group, and still having a life.

I’m not saying this to brag. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my accomplishments. But more than that, I am adamant that if I can write 7 books in 3 years while carrying on a full-time life, so can you.

Many people have asked how I am able to write books while living such a busy life. I keep hearing, “I hope I can do that someday.”

Why not make someday TODAY?

In Reclaim Your Creative Soul, I share the secrets to adding creativity back into your life, even if you feel more than busy. If you wish you had the time for your art, then know that I wrote this book for you. And because I don’t want anything to stand in your way of reading this book, I am offering a discounted price TODAY ONLY.

Kindle is 99 cents.

Print is $10.95.

Purchase your copy at bit.ly/creativesoulbook.

Thank you! And I’m so excited to hear about all the creative things you’re about to accomplish!

The countdown is on for release day!

Last August, I felt like the walls were caving in on me. I was busier than I had ever been, work was crazy hectic, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. There were days when I’d be driving to work, and the temptation to miss my exit and keep driving was overwhelming. I needed an escape. I wanted to hide. I wished that time would just stop so I could catch up.

What I really needed was a day of rest, a break from all the hectic parts of my life so that I could refocus and figure out where I was going in my life.

I ended up taking a personal soul retreat, which I wrote about here. The result was life-changing. Not only did I come away from this experience with sense of peace and a lot of clarity, I also found the inspiration for a much-needed book I had been wanting to write for a while.

reclaim tableOn Tuesday, March 15, Reclaim Your Creative Soul will be released to the world. In it, I share tips and secrets to creating order to the ordinary parts of life so that artists can find more time for creativity. My hope is that people who lead busy lives — whether full-time employees, parents, or just busy people in general — will find the inspiration they need to place a priority on their creative life, without taking away from the mandatory parts of their life. Basically, I was writing to those artists, writers, and other creative people who can’t quit their day job or their families, but still want to feel fulfilled by their art. I want to help eliminate the excuses leading to why there’s no time for art, and promote empowerment that yes, you can be an artist while leading a full, productive life.

You can pre-order it today, but it’s better to wait until March 15th when I will be offering special pricing for both Print and Kindle.

Before I sign off, I had to brag about the fact that Reclaim Your Creative Soul was mentioned in our local newspaper, the Press Democrat, today. Check it out!

reclaim newspaper.jpg

I know I work there, but that really only makes it harder to be covered in the newspaper. So to have my book mentioned is pretty cool. 🙂

Final note – the beginning of this article mentions the Sonoma County Local Author Showcase. If you’re local to Sonoma County, I invite you to head on over to the Rohnert Park-Cotati Regional Library on April 2. I’ll be there, as well a bunch of other extremely talented local authors. If you go, make sure you stop by my table and say hi!

The risks we writers have to take to succeed

This week I have an interview for a job as the editor of a magazine website. I know the job inside and out, I love this magazine, and I’m passionate about being a part of a team to strengthen this particular website. And yet, I have probably talked myself out of this job at least two dozen times. The disqualifiers I have told myself include:

I’m not educated enough.

The other candidates are likely way more qualified than I am.

I may not be able handle the pressure of this job.

I better not get my hopes up, because I probably won’t get it.

What am I doing? I’m projecting my defeat before I even plead my case about why I am perfect for this position. Why would someone hire a person who can’t even believe in themselves?

Oak Tree in Winter

I mention this here because I know I’m not alone in having a defeatist attitude in the face of opportunity. As writers, we risk rejection every single day. We risk someone disliking what we’ve written. We risk someone leaving a bad review on our book. We risk our marketing efforts being ignored. We risk looking dumb or being laughed at or being looked down upon.

What makes this so scary is the fact that a piece of our soul is in what we have written. So when someone rejects our writing, it feels like they are rejecting us. And so, the natural tendency is to keep quiet about our writing, to avoid public speaking about our book, to do anything where we can remain behind the curtain and just pray that someone will come across our writing and spread the word for us.

But the truth is, that’s not going to happen. The only way our writing will be noticed is if we are the ones who put it out there for the world to see. We have to risk failure. We have to risk rejection. We have to risk looking stupid. Most of all, we have to believe in ourselves. If we don’t, we will miss the opportunity to shine, to be discovered, to fulfill our dreams as writers.

Michael Dell, founder and CEO of computer company, Dell Inc., once said, “You don’t have to be a genius or a visionary or even a college graduate to be successful. You just need a framework and a dream.”

If you love something, if you focus your energy on learning the ins and outs of this thing—be it writing or a new job opportunity—and if you believe in it and yourself, you (and I) are qualified. You may even fail at times. But rest assured, it’s only a stepping stone on the road toward success. ♥

 

Don’t tell Colleen Hoover I Facestalked her.

Blog note: This post is kind of embarrassing. Don’t read it. Especially if you are Colleen Hoover.

There are two realities I’ve been living in lately – one of total frustration and impatience, and one of sheer excitement about possibilities. It’s whatever one I’m focusing on that dictates how I live.

Hint: Cupcakes are a delicious part of my new book series coming in 2015.
Hint: Cupcakes are a delicious part of my new book series coming in 2015.

Right now, I have several exciting things to look forward to. The first is that I have made a clear plan for getting out of debt, and the end is in sight. The second is that I am weeks away from releasing my third novel, The Road to Hope. The third exciting thing is that I have a new 4-book series coming out this next year that I am crawling out of my skin to release because I’m so excited about it.

When I focus on these three things, my whole world is rosy and I am overjoyed to greet each day. But sometimes, Negative Nelly takes over, reminding me of how much work needs to be done to get these three things off the ground, and how one slip can bring everything down.

Negative Nelly:

“You’ll never get this book finished in time.”
“Why save to pay off debt when you can buy cool things?”
“Some huge expense is going to knock your budget off center, anyway, so stop saving.”
“There are so many moving parts to this book series. You sure you want to commit to this?”
“You’re going to be stuck wishing you were a big time author forever.”
“Are you really serious about your book release schedule? Because that will never happen.”
“Why are you putting so much effort into writing books when you’re paying more than you’re receiving?”“You might as well throw in the towel. You know you will eventually, anyway.”

This morning, as I felt the excitement of possibility warming my insides, I could hear Negative Nelly knocking at my door, asking to be let in. And so I did what anyone would do in this situation.

I turned to Facebook.

Okay, so that’s not actually a good answer. If you’re feeling down about yourself or you need to get some work done, Facebook is the last place you should turn. It’s a tempting distraction from everything you should be doing, and you’re liable to feel worse about yourself after running through an endless timeline of other people’s successes or tragedies. However, this morning I came across a post by the ever prolific author, Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s on tour right now with Oprah and a bunch of other inspiring people. And the latest talks they had elicited the following statement:

“You don’t get what you wish for, you get what you believe.”

If you’ve been following my posts, you know I believe this truth with all my being. I believe we manifest whatever it is we focus on. So if we’re focusing on being a failure or not succeeding, those things will come true. But if we focus on moving forward one step at a time, reaching our goal, and living our dreams, it will come to fruition.

So I told Negative Nelly that I didn’t have time to listen to her today.

colleen hoover
Colleen Hoover

But then I went one step further. In my goal to one day be writing books for a living, I needed to see how other authors had done it. So I went back to Facebook (I know. Bear with me.), and Facestalked one of my favorite indie authors – Colleen Hoover.

Now this woman is someone you all should be following if you’re into New Adult romance, or you just like brilliantly funny people. Colleen is everywhere. She recently just came off a book tour with a few other authors writing under the label Atria Indie Authors. In the last 2.5 years, she’s written 8 books, all of which have received tons of attention. She’s in the top sellers list, like always. She releases a book, and then two months later, she has a new book she’s releasing.

The woman is on fire.

However, it wasn’t what she’s doing now that I wanted to see. I mean, it’s inspiring and all. But I wanted to see where she was when she was like me – just starting out and waiting to hit the big time. So I looked back to her beginning days, the ones where she had just published her first novel, Slammed.

First things, Colleen Hoover found a way to hit the ground running. She published Slammed at the beginning of 2012 (or possibly December 2011), and the reviews began trickling in. It seemed she really knew how to get the word out about her book. And within two months, she had the second book in the series released. And then she began hitting the bestsellers lists, including the NY Times as well as Amazon. And then she sold 100,000 copies of books in June of that year.

While this is kind of more than amazing, that wasn’t what I was looking at. I wanted to see who Colleen was back then vs. who she is today.

Today’s Colleen is incredibly successful. But back in 2012, Colleen was new to all of this. Her first few posts are months apart. And when she does post, there’s a sweet awkwardness underneath, with only a few comments and shares.

This is a vast difference from today’s posts, where hundreds of people share her words, and thousands are liking or commenting.

At any rate, one thing is unmistakable about Colleen Hoover from the very beginning – she believed in herself as a writer, and worked her butt off to make her dream a reality. I mean, it isn’t just sitting around to release quality books as quickly as she did. The fact that she became so popular so quickly is no mistake. She made that happen.

So seeing all of this, I became even more inspired to send Negative Nelly on her way and start focusing on what I need to do to get things off the ground.

Me:

“The Road to Hope is a beautiful story your readers are going to love.”
“You have some amazing ideas for this new book series coming out next year.”
“You’re going to enter 2015 almost completely debt free. Won’t that feel amazing?”
“You are living your dream right now. You are a writer. Be patient, good things are in the works.”
2015 is going to be a game changing year.”

As a final note, in Elizabeth Gilbert’s post I mentioned earlier, she confessed that before she was a bestselling author, she was serving eggs and hash browns at some greasy spoon diner. While she was waitressing, however, she never stopped believing she was a writer. She WAS a writer. Even amid rejection letter after rejection letter, she believed. She worked long days, and spent all her free time writing. And it took YEARS before success finally found her. But in all that time, before she was doing tours with Oprah or inspiring people with Eat. Pray. Love., she was a writer.

I am a writer. And you? You are whatever it is you believe yourself to be. So decide what that is. And then live it.

P.S. Colleen Hoover, you are totally welcome to Facestalk me back.

My day with Cheryl Strayed

If you’re not familiar with Cheryl Strayed, you should be.

She’s the face behind the popular advice column “Dear Sugar,” who doesn’t mince words when it comes to giving advice on matters of the heart, life, and everything in between; as well as the author of Tiny Beautiful Things, a novel that holds some of those columns.

She’s the author of Torch, a fictional novel that tells the tale of a family coping after their mother’s death – loosely based on her own family’s experience.

And she’s the author of Wild, a story of her solo journey hiking 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, and the deeper journey of learning how to live life without her mother. The novel made waves when Oprah chose it as the first book for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. It has since reached #1 on the New York Times Bestsellers List, voted Best Nonfiction Book of 2012 by The Boston Globe and Entertainment Weekly, and chosen as Best Book of the Year by NPR, St. Louis Dispatch, and Vogue.

And this author (ME!) devoured Wild in a matter of days when she picked it up on the recommendation of a friend.

I totally recommend it to you, too.

On Saturday, June 1, I joined 300 other writers at the Sheraton in Petaluma to hear what Cheryl Strayed had to say about writing – particularly memoirs – and become inspired with our own writing.

We weren’t disappointed.

Cheryl began with how to find time to write – the biggest question on every writer’s mind. How do you find time to write when you’re a full time employee, a mom of little kids, just can’t find two minutes of alone time as it is…

(Read my own thoughts on this HERE)

“I’m in the same boat,” Cheryl laughed, describing her own life with kids, a husband, and life’s priorities. “Now I’m too busy promoting my book to write.”

She told us that just because we’re a mom, a full time worker, anything we think is taking up too much of our time…it’s no reason to NOT write. She admitted that she doesn’t write every day, but instead goes on binge writing trips. At home she does her day to day stuff. But at least once a month she’ll check into a hotel and, in her words, writes like a “motherfucker”.

She advised creating time set just for writing – whether it means getting up early, staying up late, or creating your own day of binge writing.

Cheryl addressed the fear that every writer has – that it just isn’t good enough. And her common sense answer to that was that it’s better to write a book that kind of “sucked” than to not write a book at all.

“Renounce control of your novel,” she said. ” Accept that it may never be published, and relinquish your attachment to it.” She told us how, once she did that with Wild, she was able to finally write out everything she wanted to say in it.  The fear that it would just be mediocre was paralyzing her writing. Once she let that fear go, accepting that it could just be mediocre but would be the best SHE could write, the story began to flow.

And then there was the advice she gave on writing a memoir.

I have grappled with writing a memoir on my own. Just like everyone else in the world, I have a past full of horrible events I was able to overcome. And they are screaming to be written out. However, I haven’t yet done it in book form. I’ve written many essays over in my WineCountryMom blog. I’ve alluded to some things in my fictional writing. But to actually publish a full blown memoir detailing years I’ve swept under the carpet, that’s a very scary thing. However, Cheryl breathed new life into this possible future endeavor.

First off, Cheryl told us, a good memoir doesn’t hinge on what happened, but what the author MADE happen. For instance, Wild’s main storyline wasn’t about Cheryl’s hike along the PCT, it was about the growth that happened within while she was on the trail. A good memoir tells about the transcendence of moving from one realm to another. It helps the reader see something in themselves.

But how do you write a memoir without hurting those you love (or even DON’T love)? It’s not always possible, Cheryl admitted. You can’t write an honest account of your story without mentioning Mom and Dad, where you came from, siblings, close friends, romantic partners…

“It’s always the squirmy part of writing,” she told us, before telling us about her own squirmy feelings when she wrote about her dad in Wild. The 3 or 4 pages that share her feelings about her father’s abuse, neglect, and failings kept Cheryl awake at night just before the book was published. But with time, Cheryl had to come to terms that what she had simply written was her truth. “I felt sorry for a man whose daughter had to write these things about him.”

She went on to advise that, when writing a memoir, write EVERYTHING. Don’t try to figure out what stays in or what goes – there’s plenty of time for that later when you can decide whether each memory is helping or distracting from the story. Share the connections your story has – how one memory is linked to another, how it conjures up deeper emotions, and WHY.

And the one thing I’ve often wondered about – using your skills as a fiction writer to create a non-fiction writer. When you tell a story that conjures up memories from the past, you aren’t going to remember the tiny details that gave it life – how the sky looked, exact words that were spoken, the exact timing of events… Telling a tale of experiences can be a flat narrative. But as a memoir writer, you are still a storyteller. Tell the truth, but don’t forget to create a colorful story.

Cheryl then led us on a series of writing prompts to get our memoir juices flowing. We wrote about a time when something was over, or more specifically, when we KNEW it was over. We wrote about a time when we changed our mind about something we were once certain of, when we did something we never thought we’d do.  We thought about the common theme in our writing, what one thing kept popping up that was screaming to be faced head on. And we wrote about a time we went “too far.”

The basis of Cheryl Strayed’s workshop was how to create art out of experiences. The act of writing a memoir is not a selfish or narcissistic act, but a brave offering of one’s failings and hardships, and the journey to overcome what once felt unbearable. Strayed shared all she learned from writing her own memoir. And in return, she may have inspired the next crop of wild books that send the reader on a journey that changes their lives forever.

I came away from this experience more enthralled with Cheryl Strayed than I was already. There’s something so brave about a writer who lays every single part of herself on the table, the good and the bad, and trusts us – the readers – to sift through it even though it all belongs to her.

WildNotBraveAlso, I had come to this workshop, not only ready to be inspired, but also bearing gifts. I bought a new copy of the book Wild (I had read it as an eBook) for her to sign for me, and I brought a copy of my own book (not for any other reason but to share something with her that I put my life into in exchange for the story of her life she shared with me) plus a bottle of Snapple (mentioned a dozen times in Wild). It was silly and ridiculous. It was laughable. But it was something I had to do.

Thank goodness I never got the chance, lol!

Sadly I had to leave early to be able to attend my son’s baseball game. I’ve only missed one game this season, and it was because I was out of town. And as much as I love Cheryl Strayed, I love my son a million times more. So I sat in the sweltering sun and watched my son’s team lose by one point. And I kept cool by drinking Snapple.

It was so good, I think I might just buy a case for myself.

xoxo

Crissi Langwell is the debut author of A Symphony of Cicadas.  Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.