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.

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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.”

Today is a new day.

dancerainHi. I’m back. Negative Nelly took over my blog yesterday, apparently, and had a field day. She does that sometimes. I think it has something to do with letting off some steam, so I allow her the space to do that, mostly in my personal journal, but sometimes here, as well.

She wants me to tell you that she’s okay, and feeling much better after releasing all that pent up tension in my blog yesterday. She still feels a little scared about her future plans and how they’ll pan out, and she still worries about whether she’s wasting her time. But she also knows that the best way out of sorrow is to first, tell the truth (which she did here), and second, to surround herself with good friends, which she did last night. She learned that she wasn’t alone in these feelings of stress and dread, that others were feeling this, too. She was reminded about how hard this past year has been, especially the past several months with the wildfires, tons of terrible current events, the season of political tension across the board we’re in, the stressful school semester she experienced, and writing a book at a time when she had so little of herself left. She realized she was drained, so no wonder she wasn’t feeling very positive.

Nelly has decided to have grace with herself, to be gentle and stop making rules to live by. She’s decided it’s best to live one day at a time, particularly while she’s on winter break. She plans to attempt to sleep in more, and maybe offset some of these negative feelings through eating nourishing foods and exercising more. But she also won’t beat herself up if she has something sweet or lays on the couch for the day.

In the meantime, I plan to let Nelly rest so I can finish editing Hope for the Broken Girl. My editor’s notes have been sitting on a shelf, waiting for me to have time to make the corrections and get this final book of the Hope series ready for publication on Feb. 5.

That is all. Thanks for all the love you’ve sent Negative Nelly!

Truth telling: That pit of dread in my chest

studyng

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.

My last week in my 30s

When I was a little girl, my parents always chose to wait until the 2nd week of December to put the tree up. My birthday is Dec. 7, and they wanted to make sure I didn’t feel like my birthday was absorbed by the holiday. I love Christmas, though! Waking up to a Christmas tree on my birthday is the best way to wake up. When I found out this was their reasoning, I put a stop to that quick. Now I have a tree before my birthday every year.

This year, I needed it. I wasn’t feeling too Christmasy, and when the hubby suggested we put the tree up, I was less than enthusiastic. I forced myself to do it, though. He put the tree up, I put on the Christmas music, then we both placed our favorite ornaments on the tree. It was exactly what I needed to get me out of my funk and remind me of what matters. Some of the ornaments are from his past life with his son and first wife. Some of mine are from my days as a single mom before I knew him. Some are ones we’ve bought together in the decade we’ve known and loved each other. All are memories that led us to this day, this hour, this moment when setting up a tree together is just a regular thing to do, but years ago it was unimaginable. This life, it’s perfect. Sure, there are times when I’m not myself, my expectations aren’t met, and things feel heavier than they should. However, I prayed for this life, and I got it. I got the man who loves me with his whole heart, the home that is always warm and bright, the writing nook to capture creativity, even the day job, the one that sometimes feels overwhelming as I chase my author dream – I prayed for it, and I’m blessed.

This is my last week of my 30s, a decade that has held the most growth and answered prayers of my life. My 20s were terrible, filled with abuse, divorce, child loss, poverty, uncertainty, and an identity crisis as I tried to figure out who I was and what I wanted. My 30s were made up of new love, new possibilities, new hopes, and the realization that my dreams were closer than I ever imagined. If my 30s were this great, I can only imagine what my 40s will bring. I’m excited. Bring it. 🎄

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.