5 Things I Learned in 2014 & Some Resolutions for 2015
I think of 2013 as "The Year I Learned To Accept Publishing For What It Is (and to stop whining about it)", and that year held a lot of rough, pretty low patches for me. I wasn't the only one. In fact, if you do a quick scan of blogs from other authors in my debut year (2012), you'll see almost every one went through the same emotional highs, lows, and fist-clenching frustrations. It's just part of the author's journey. But I weathered 2013...only to face a new year with a whole new set of challenges. Forever after, 2014 will be "The Year That I Thought I Was Creatively Broken (and then realized I wasn't)." It was a hard year, but I've stepped into 2015 with a whole new outlook—and a fresh awareness of WHO I really am, WHAT I really want, and WHY I love telling stories. Here's what I learned in 2014, and what I want to focus on as I move through 2015.
1. Saying "no" is okay.
You see, there is such a thing as too much on a to-do list, and I reached that point halfway into 2014. What with the blogging, the newslettering, the giving back, the workshop-teaching, the traveling, the drafting, the deadlines, and—of course—the general day-to-day surviving, I BURNED MYSELF OUT. Like, I scorched myself into a husk of my former self (read #2 below). It got so bad that in October I had to take an impromptu getaway for a 1.5 weeks with no internet in order to find my zen and learn to simply function again. I wrote about that whole-assing experience here, and that immersion session was a REAL eye-opener for how I operate on a creative level. Actually, you should just read this brilliant blog post because author Tricia Sullivan states it all better than I ever could. ;)
Resolution: I will practice saying "no" to external obligations that I don't need to do. In fact, stay tuned for some announcements on this coming soon. :)
2. Health and life should come first.
I think it's easy to lose sight of what matters when your job is your passion. Not only do I define myself by my writing, but I love, love, LOVE what I do. Even when I made no money off of this, I still wrote. And even if, one day, I make no money off of this, I would still write. Forever. But, as mentioned in #1, there is such a thing as too much, and when your health starts to deteriorate because you're determined to write "just one more blog post" or revise "just two more pages," then you've got a problem. I had a problem—some pretty serious health problems, actually, that were brought on by some dietary issues that were wildly, WILDLY exacerbated by my stress levels. And of course, when your health is bad, then your creative life suffers...which just increases the stress even more...which just makes the writing even harder. But in the fall of 2014, I really worked to get my health and life back on track. I started karate again (after a 5 year hiatus! Shame on me!), focused on keeping my diet 100% clean of the foods I know make me sick (bye-bye dairy and gluten and sugar :( ), and spending quality time with friends and family. I can already see a HUGE shift in not only my physical happiness, but my creative well-being.
Resolution: I will practice saying "yes" to personal, non-writing endeavors.
3. There is no Right Way to write a book.
Despite knowing this on the surface—that there is no right way to write a book—I didn't really learn this deep in my bones until late in 2014. I struggled to write a novella (like REALLY struggled) and was convinced I'd lost my mojo...Then I stepped into drafting a new full-length novel, and after a few months of seemingly fruitless brainstorming and false starts, I was seriously starting to despair... I mean, I had SUCH an easy time with Strange & Ever After and Truthwitch. Why was I struggling so much with a prequel and a sequel? To make matters worse, I kept seeing (read: actively searching for) all these authors online who outlined so easily, then stuck to said outline, and then churned out 6+ books a year... I convinced myself that if they could do it, so could I. Wrong. Just like it was wrong to try to emulate authors who wrote everyday or into the wee hours of the night or by the light of a full moon. Just because they seemed to write more/better/faster than I didn't mean their methods would work within my own weird framework. What is WRONG with me?! ⇒ That thought must've entered my head 10000000 times a day this 2014. Until, literally in the space of a heartbeat (while driving to karate, I might add), I realized 2 things: First: Not a single one of my novels has ever come out the same way. Some have required many, MANY rewrites and exploratory drafts...while some have come out almost "perfect." But just because one book poured forth in a frenzy of inspiration does not mean they all will. And when a book is hard to grind out, IT DOESN'T MEAN I AM BROKEN. It just means that this book is going to require a different approach from the last. And that's all good. Second: I cannot and absolutely MUST NOT compare my method to other writers. I think it's great—vital even—to explore other approaches to writing a novel, and I truly, truly love attending writing workshops or reading about other authors' methods. But just because something works for that guy over there doesn't mean it will work for me...and yet again, if it doesn't work for me, then IT DOESN'T MEAN I AM BROKEN.
Resolution: Remember to trust the process and allow each book to grow in its own unique way.
4. Simplify and prioritize all the stuff.
This might sound similar to #1, but I'm not talking about emotional stuff so much as physical STUFF. The clutter, the knickknacks, the jeans you swear you'll fit into next month, or the present given by a well-meaning friend that you'll NEVER use... I have so much junk—as does my husband—and late in 2014, I realized it was starting to weigh on me. My office had so many piles of un-filed paper, that I was afraid to walk in lest I be reminded of it all...and feel crippling guilt. My closet was a disorganized mess of so many things I never wore anymore. And the basement was literally filled with boxes that were unpacked despite having lived in this house for almost 2 years (I am deeply ashamed of this—not gonna lie). So hubby and I both decided it was time for a trip (or four) to Goodwill. In a single day, we got rid of two thirds of our clothing. Believe it or not, I felt instantly lighter and my clothing-decision-time in the morning has been drastically shortened. We also went through our endless supply of toiletries (do I really need that body spray from 2007 still? Yuck!), old reading material (my husband is SUCH a magazine/newspaper hoarder), unused electronics (bye-bye iPod from college!), and we even donated our old car. In a single day, everything just got simpler. Best of all, organizing my office finally seemed manageable. Gone is the miserable reminder of backed-up filing, and now I have clean place I can step into for writing. ;)
Resolution: Stop accumulating stuff. If I don't need it, I won't buy it and I definitely won't keep it.
5. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
This is something my agent, Joanna Volpe, has been telling me since I signed with her 4 years ago: "Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint." It's such a great quote, and it's true not only in the writing world, but for life in general. Rush-rush-rushing to have All The Things NOW doesn't get you where you want to go. Slowing down, focusing on the long-term, and really pushing quality over quantity—that is how you sustain a healthy career and a healthy life. I have a published trilogy and novella under my belt. That's pretty freaking cool. Even cooler is the fact that it's only the beginning. Few authors have crazy success right out of the debut-gates, and most never have New York Times Bestseller success. But does that make them unsuccessful? Goodness no! So does my own mid-list status mean I'm a failure. GOODNESS NO! Longevity is what matters here. Staying relevant, writing what I love, and keeping my own personal reader base happy—that's what really matters in the publishing biz. The same could be said for life in general, no? Longevity, doing what I love, and keeping I friends and family (and myself) happy is what really matters in the end.
Resolution: Don't put pressure on the next book to be The Big One since there are many next books still to come. This is only the beginning. :)
So there you have it, dear readers. Those were the biggest, most life-changing realizations I had in 2014—and these are the resolutions I'm holding closest for 2015. You tell me: What did you learn last year? What are you hoping to do differently (or the same) in 2015? [box]Want a FREE guide to writing a query letter? What about weekly writing advice and insider tips? Then sign up for my newsletter, the Misfits & Daydreamers, or swing by my For Writers page![/box]