Truth telling: That pit of dread in my chest

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It depends on the day whether I’m fine or not. There are days when I’m so damn grateful for everything I have, everything I get to do, every single way I’ve been blessed in this overabundant life of mine. But then there are other days like today, when I feel like I’ll explode if someone asks me to do one more thing.

My school semester is over, and it was the hardest one I’ve experienced so far. The first semester of college, I couldn’t understand what the fuss was. It was easy, a piece of cake. The second semester was a little bit harder. For those of you following along, my English class kicked my butt in all the best ways, challenging me to dig deeper with my words. I ended that class with an A, but I fought for that A.

This semester, I was pushed way out of my comfort zone. I took no English classes, deciding to take a break because my last English class was so hard. Wow, did I regret that. I was stuck in classes I had no interest in, and the lessons were like being placed in an advanced French class with a 1st year Spanish understanding.

I shed many tears this semester.

After weeks of stress, tearing my hair out, questioning my existence, and dreaming of running away, I took my last final on Monday. I totally bombed it, but I was past the point of caring. My brain shut down and I had nothing left to give. Even the simple questions drew blanks from me. When I handed in the test, I knew more than half of it was wrong, and I hoped my teacher would count my effort as part of my credit, and that the rest of the semester’s work would outweigh the bombed test.

Here I am, two days later, and I’m still recovering. I drove home from work today with a huge knot in my chest as I regretted everything I felt stuck in—my job, my finances, several more years of school, and every other thing that forces me to work a 9-5 I dread while my dream job travels further and further away.

I have regular sessions with God about this whole dream of mine, and we’ve mapped out a plan together on how to make it happen. The simple answer right now is that I need to take a short break from writing books (my next book publishes Feb. 5. After that, who knows?) and focus on getting better at my craft through school and personal writing. With time, I will have learned things I can apply to my books, and it may help move my dream career along. But it’s going to take time.

Time. Patience. Keep getting up and doing the same thing day in and day out so that one day you can do the things you want to do. I’m tired. I’m frustrated. I wish it didn’t have to take so long. I feel like I’ve wasted so much time, and regret the things I should have been doing instead of taking shortcuts. I regret the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on publishing my books, and the hundreds I’ve made back. Each book sells less and less, costs me more and more, and I don’t have it in me to do the hustle. Because of that, I wonder if I even have it in me to be an author. If I can’t sell my books, what business do I have making this a business?

Thing is, I’ve lost my faith in my books…. There I go, admitting things I should never admit to potential readers. But there it is. I can’t suggest you read my books when I worry about how many things you will find wrong with them. This tiny admission is probably better in my personal journal than out in the open, but I find honesty is a more courageous thing to share.

At any rate, I feel guilty whenever I get stuck in this place. I prayed for this life, and I got it. I’m the one who decided to go back to school. I said yes to every single thing that now wants a piece of me. I wrote a damn book on organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft, and ever since, I’ve been so weighed down I can’t even breathe. Seems that every time I project an absolute, God laughs and proves me wrong.

I’ll be okay, I’m just having a moment. I’m sorry to be such a bummer! Tomorrow I’ll probably be back to counting my blessings, and the next day I’ll be back to lamenting my failures. It’s just the cycle I’m in.

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An update on finals, in longhand

Rather than type out everything that’s happened this week, I’ve written everything out for your reading pleasure. From the pages of my journal, here are the answers to how my finals went, if my English teacher flunked me, and if I ever mustered up the courage to give her one of my books. Enjoy!

…….

Love letter to my sadistic, ego-stripping, hard as nails English professor

When I walked into my Critical Thinking class at the beginning of this semester, I automatically assumed it would be an easy A. I’d sailed through English 1A the semester before, and thought that this advanced English class would be along the same route. After all, I’ve written eight books (and counting), and I work at a newspaper. Writing, to me, is like breathing. I figured that all of this gave me an edge on the other students, and I did my best to keep my ego in check and open myself up to learn something new.

The professor came in, and she was seriously like a dream. She was this outspoken Jewish woman who was incredibly well-versed in all the literature classics, and she brought us food so we wouldn’t starve during her class. Plus, she was a total passionate liberal, and she had numerous news sources to back up everything she stated.

Here was this book loving, newspaper reading, incredibly wise woman leading our class. I felt like I’d met my soulmate. My love for her and this class only increased when I realized I would NOT be earning an easy A. I was about to be educated, and I couldn’t have been more excited about it.

I was so naïve.

The difficulty of this course increased with each class. She raised her expectations of us to a bar we couldn’t reach. She often mused about the disservice our previous teachers had given us in not teaching us certain things, assigning certain books, pushing us to our hardest levels. Thinking back to some of the lame books and essays I’d had to read during last semester, I agreed. Yet, it didn’t change the way she kept pushing.

Things came to a head when she split us into groups so we could present a certain topic to the class. I’ve never loved public speaking. In fact, this one area holds me back in my book career. If I could figure out a way to write and sell books without ever having to speak to a crowd, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I would have traded writing a dozen essays instead of conducting a five-minute presentation in front of the class—and that’s not an exaggeration.

My group and I had spent weeks poring over the reading so that we understood our topic. I was a bundle of nerves for a whole week before that dreaded class. However, my nerves subsided (as they usually do) once it was our turn to present. When it became my turn to speak, I knew the material well enough that I didn’t even need to look at my notes. I thought we were crushing it.

And then I looked at my professor’s face.

I faltered in that moment, forgetting everything I’d studied over the past few weeks as I took in her furrowed brow, the thin line of her lips, the air of disappointment that surrounded her. Quickly, I averted my gaze and finished what we’d rehearsed. At the end of the longest five minutes of my life, I took my seat with the knowledge that we’d failed.

In fact, we had. The whole class had. Following our presentations, the professor raked us over the coals for every way we’d failed to follow directions. Our group ended up with a B on that presentation, but the way she verbally whipped us, I was sure we’d all received an F.

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I actually thought this essay was perfect when I turned it in…

Little by little, this teacher deflated the ego I’d shown up to class with on that first day. The essays I wrote, revised, and re-wrote came back to me full of red marks for things I’d missed. Class discussions became more intense. And the workload and reading requirements increased substantially. I found myself counting down the days until this class could be over so that I could curl into a fetal position and lick my wounds for the three months of summer.

As that day came closer, however, I started to realize how much she’d taught me. Her style of teaching was akin to throwing us in the deep end and telling us to swim. However, it forced us to think for ourselves as we strived to reach that impossible bar. I’m still not sure I’ve reached it; however, it seems closer than it was before.

Tomorrow is my final class with this professor, and I have mixed feelings of relief and disappointment. I don’t know if I’ll ever be in a class that will push me this hard in my Major, or will teach me this much about writing and collecting information. Honestly, if she suggested I quit school in favor of learning everything she had to teach, I’d become her disciple in a heartbeat.

As I prepare for this last class, one decision is plaguing me. This professor has no idea I’m an author. Once I realized how much I still had to learn, I chose to keep my novels under wraps. I came there to learn, and I didn’t want her to think I thought I was too big for my britches. Plus, I was sure she’d mark up my book with red ink, pointing out every time I was too wordy, used passive voice, or committed some other literary faux pas.

Now that we’ve reached the end, I keep going back and forth on whether I should reveal that I’m an author and present her with one of my books. If I did, I’d give her Loving the Wind or The Road to Hope, the two books I’m most proud to have written. But every time I think of giving them to her, I can feel the apologies and explanations rising up: I still have a lot to learn…my next books will be better…I promise to work on my passive voice…don’t read them… I’m totally overthinking what should just be a gift. All I want to do is offer her the things I’m most proud of as a thank you for all she’s offered me.

I know I need to give her one (or more) of my books. I know I need to just get over my fear and do it. I let fear win far too often, and this is one chance to overcome that fear and move forward. However, jury is still out on whether those books ever leave my backpack during my final Critical Thinking class.

P.S. If I do give her a book, which one do you think I should give her?

Focusing on one thing at time

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This morning, I found myself in between the craziness of finals. I have no more homework left to do, I have enough time to study for my next final, and the essay I’m working on for English needs a day of rest. My morning was free and clear to spend on the other things I have been wanting to do. Naturally, I picked up my manuscript for Hope at the Crossroads, and resumed editing it. I haven’t been able to work on it for weeks, so this was a rare opportunity.

But guilt and distraction reared their ugly heads, and they started whispering in my ear. What about those short stories you promised to edit? You really should be taking the time out to study. You sit all day, why not go to the gym? I know, write a blog entry!

Okay, so I folded on that last one. However, I’m going to make this short. There are always going to be other things you *should* be doing, or *could* be doing. But you can’t do everything at the same time. Right now (after this blog entry), I am working on my manuscript. Just my manuscript. Tonight I will work on my short stories. Everything else will have its time, but it’s not right now. If I keep focusing on everything I *should* be doing, I’m doing a crappy job on the one thing in front of me.

Doing one thing at a time is faster than trying to do all the things at once.


Do you lead a busy life and wish you had more time for your writing? Are all the responsibilities of your day eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Do you often wish you didn’t need to work full-time so that you had more time to write? Learn how to have both a full-time job AND a fulfilling writing career with Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.

A bad grade isn’t all that bad

Last night in my Critical Thinking class, the professor prepared us for receiving back our essays we’d turned in a few weeks earlier. The assignment had been to write a one-page, double-spaced essay on one topic. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. It’s incredibly hard to get a point across in that small amount of space, especially when you have a habit of being wordy, like me. I originally wrote two pages worth before I edited it down to one. When I turned it in, I was confident it was as good as it was going to get, and it was worthy of an A.

Spoiler alert: I was wrong.

Before we even got the essays back, we were told to write down what we thought we earned on this assignment. Naturally, I wrote down that I would get an A. I was humble about it, figuring I’d get a 45 instead of a 50 on the assignment. After all, none of us are perfect, right? I’d received A’s on all of my essays in my previous English class, so I didn’t think getting an A would be hard in this class either. Besides, I write novels and I work at a newspaper. Writing is like breathing. Getting an A was a given.

Did I mention that I was wrong?

After estimating our grade, the class then received their essays back. There was no grade on it, but there were marks on what could be improved, what was unclear, and anything else that needed fixing. Here’s what my paper looked like:

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(Yes, I blurred my essay. But I’m sure you can see how much it’s marked up) The gist of the comments were that I was way too broad in my topic (to the point that my topic wasn’t even clear), that I used a lot of extra words, and that I completely confused my professor. My citations page had a novel of an explanation as to why my essay didn’t work, how I really should have met with her first, and how I never supported my original thesis. Re-reading my “A”-worthy essay, I saw exactly what she meant, and realized I wasn’t as awesome as I thought I was.

Then we were asked to estimate our grade again. I knew I’d be lucky to get a C, but figured I probably had a D paper in front of me. When the grades were finally released, I was relieved to get a C.

And you know what? I’m embracing that C. I needed to get that “bad” grade. I needed to see that I still have so much to learn, and I’m excited to have a teacher who is not only honest in her grading, but who also takes the time to show me how to improve. You better believe that I’m holding on to this paper as a lesson—that there is always room for improvement, that I am still in learning mode, and that I need to seek help instead of thinking I can do it all on my own.

As a side note, I’m in editing mode on my yet-to-be-named sequel novels to The Road to Hope. I’m taking my time on them, though. Part of this is on purpose. I feel like I’m learning so much in my English class right now, and everything I’m learning can only benefit my writing. All those comments on my essay are the same things I need to edit on my rough drafts. So my education is benefiting all of you, too. 😉

Second side note (and I’ll be mentioning this often), I’m the featured author at Copperfield’s Books in Montgomery Village (Santa Rosa) on April 25. If you live in the Santa Rosa area, I’d love to meet you there. The event is 6-7 p.m., and I’ll be presenting The Road to Hope. I’ll also be talking about my writing and publishing process. If you’ve always wondered about writing a book and what it entails, come to this event with your questions. I encourage you to also read The Road to Hope, as I’d love to chat about the story with people who want a deeper look into the characters, storyline, etc. See my events page for more information.

Hope you all are well!

Being the school kid at 38

booksLast month, I went back to college. Actually, back isn’t the right word. I’ve never actually been to college before, unless you count that time when I taught a college class (true story). While my peers were racking up college loans to further their education, my world was filled with diapers and sleepless nights, and trying to find new ways to soothe a colicky baby. I was so jealous back then, even though this life path was my choice. But when I was stuck at home with a crying baby, I would have given anything to be out doing stupid stuff with people my own age, plus taking college courses.

Of course, I would never have appreciated it as much as I do now—the college courses, not the stupid stuff, lol. The first time I had to meet with my English professor during office hours, I must have repeated how happy I was to be in college at least 3 times. But I am. I’m sitting in classes with students who are 20 years younger than I am, learning stuff I’ve almost completely forgotten since the last time I was in school. There are a few new ways to do things (like, when did all the rules change in math???). But there are also a few things I do remember how to do. And it just feels good to learn new things. In the adult world, things are the same day in and day out. But in school, we’re on this steady incline of learning. I feel stretched and pulled, and I like it.

Plus, I’ve been on top of all my homework. Back when I was in high school, I managed to keep my homework levels to a minimum. Often I’d be doing my assignments during tutorial on the day they were due, or studying for a test the night before. I had the freedom to do this back then, as time was only my own. But now, I have a full time job, a family, and other obligations outside of school. Being lax on my homework is not an option. This week, for example, we had a huge essay assigned on Monday, due Wednesday. I knew this was coming, so I researched my topic over the weekend before it was assigned. I started writing the essay on Tuesday morning before work, then I worked on it during my lunch break, and finished it Tuesday night after my math class. If I hadn’t researched the topic beforehand, I would have choked on this assignment. It really helped to have an outline of what I was going to write before I wrote it.

The one drawback of being in school, however, is my writing is taking a backseat—at least in novel form. This was fine with me when I signed up for classes. I was ready for a break from novel writing so I could catch my breath a bit. But now, I keep getting jolted by novels I want to write, the ideas pulling at me when I’m supposed to be studying. I’m getting bit by the writing bug bad! I’ve even started an outline for my next novel with hopes to write during NaNoWriMo. But honestly, I don’t see how I’m going to be able to write a novel during November. My classes will be in full force at that point, and I use my writing time now for homework. There just isn’t a pocket of time for me to write a book at the speed I need to write for NaNoWriMo.

This is all ironic, of course, since I just wrote a book on finding time for your creative endeavors, even while living a full-time life (Reclaim Your Creative Soul). However, there is one passage in this book that is offering me the grace I need in this busy season of my life:

Your time is important. And if you are dividing your time between your art, a full-time job, raising a family, and the many other arenas of your life, you don’t have much time to waste.

Or, perhaps you feel like you have no time left for your art.

I want to pause here and acknowledge that your time is different from my time, and the time of everyone else who is reading this book. I do not know your circumstance, and I cannot dictate how you spend your time in your life. Some of you who will be able to uncover a few extra hours for your art after reading this chapter. And some of you may only be able to uncover a few minutes. Different priorities require different responses. For example, you may have very little wiggle room if you have a full-time job or are raising a family. However, I’m certain you can amend the time you spend perusing social media or watching TV.

I also want to remind you that there is a season for everything. Parents of young children probably feel more than frustrated about the lack of time left over for their creative endeavors. However, children don’t stay young forever. Eventually they become more independent, and require less of your devoted attention. Same with your job. You may be frustrated because you are working so hard at making someone else money, when you really want to be devoting your time to your art. Your time will come. You may only have an hour or so a day to give to your art, and are a slave to your cubicle for the rest of the day. This makes that one hour so much more valuable. But if you keep at it, using that hour as best as you can, the day may come when you can decrease the amount of hours you spend working for someone else, and increase the amount of time you spend creating. (Reclaim Your Creative Soul: Chapter 8, Managing Your Time)

Here’s where the grace comes in. This season is about furthering my education. It’s where my focus needs to be. In the long run, it will help me to be a better writer. Novel writing will happen, but I have to be patient. Winter break is coming up, and I’ll have 3-4 weeks to lose myself in the novel writing process. Summer break will give me a full 3 months to write seriously. But now? My writing muscle will stay toned through journaling, blogging, and, of course, school and work writing. And this is okay! I’m just getting stronger for when my writing season begins again.