Falling Behind in Writing and…Life

A stream of consciousness post…

Some days it feels like it takes all I can do to not fall behind on everything. It’s hard enough to go through the day to day–work, food, pets, bills, exercise, grocery shopping, errand running, sleeping, paying side hustle, non-paying side hustle (is it still a side-hustle, then?), editing, reading–you know, the usual list of a million things, give or take, that we all have rattling around in our brains.

I find when I have one of those days–days where I am working non-stop on x, y, or z and feel uber productive before I turn to look at the clock and see how behind I am. I still have a,b,c,d and the rest of the alphabet to get through. Why is the end of the list taking so dang long?

Days like this make it particularly hard to not to get too far into my own head. I can easily start to feel bad that I am so busy surviving that there is no room for creating. Sometimes I look at writers and creatives I admire and the astonish number of things they have coming up–events, workshops, signings, releases, publications–and think to myself how on earth do they do it all? This goes for both agented full time writers and unagented little writers like me who are trying to publish and stumbling every now and then trying to build their list of writing credits.

Writing is hard. Life is hard. And we all have to deal with at least one of those things, even if you are not a writer. So, there’s that.

Sometimes I have to remind myself of this. Writing is hard. That’s why so many people don’t do it. That’s why so many people give up and move on to something else. Yes, I have my day job which is one of the most un-writerly things I do day to day where I do math and create spreadsheets and update websites and maintain databases of complicated information and deal with state regulations. It’s hard, too, but in a different way. Yet a lot more people have jobs like mine than write, and I’m not giving up on the writing side of my life. At least not any time soon.

When you’re feeling as if you’ve fallen behind, remember that you’re actually ahead. You’re ahead of a lot of people who will never even try writing, and ahead of people who gave it a fair shot and still thought it was too hard. You’re right where you should be, not behind. Not for your journey and your ultimate destination.

So don’t get overwhelmed, take one thing at a time of that mile long to do list. And remember that writing is hard–if it was easy everyone would be doing it.

Don’t Let Fear Get to You

Over the course of the past several weeks I feel like I have been hit with the same kind of advice coming at me from so many different directions: fear is not a reason to say no.

Admittedly, I didn’t think much of it initially.  I was reading a book that said pretty much word for word that of all the reasons not to try, fear is not one.  Well, that’s great advice.  I wasn’t denying it, but I thought it was just a nice sentiment some author had a character say in a book.  But then it came up again a couple chapters later, and then it came up in a show I’m watching, and by now I feel like God is really trying to tell me something.

I even just realized that the song I am currently listening to while writing this has a similar message.

I get it now – I think? – but that doesn’t make facing something that scares you any easier.  I know in my head that fear is actually a good instinct that sometimes can spur you to action when you’re in danger.  But I also know in my heart that the only reason that explanation even pops into my head is because I’m trying to come up with an excuse.

There are a lot of opportunities or things in my life that have come up lately that scare me a little bit.  Some involve personal or entrepreneurial goals that give me pause and make me nervous, but others involve other people and the prospect of putting myself out there into a world that can oftentimes be so, very cruel.  But, I am feeling encouraged by my random (or perhaps more truthfully, ordained) stumblings across YouTube videos about seeking discomfort and running headlong into things that scare you.

So, while this blog post is all about fear, it is also about hope.  It’s about possibility and about how things could go shockingly well if you would only give them a try.  It’s about not letting fear get the best of you (or me…this is also a pep talk for myself here.)

I am choosing in this moment to heed the signs that keep being placed right in front of me and head into what scares me rather than steering around it, and I hope you – whoever is reading this – take this to heart, too.

After all, we’re all scared, but we just shouldn’t let it get to us.

Finding Your Writing Tribe

It’s always amazing to me how spending time with other writers, and learning more about writing, can leave me so incredibly invigorated.  This past weekend, I, along with some of the other borrowed solace editors, attended the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference (PPWC).  The very first blog post that I wrote on this site was inspired by the first PPWC that I attended, so now, after my third conference, it all really seems to have come full circle.

The theme of this year’s PPWC was “It Takes a Tribe.”  At first, I honestly did not get where this theme came from.  It seemed very different from the types of themes that the other conferences I attended had, and it didn’t make sense to me.  I am more familiar, I suppose, with the saying “It Takes a Village,” and so I think I associated these two sayings in my mind.  The thing that made this even more troublesome was that I had only really ever heard “It Takes a Village” in reference to child-rearing.  The mashup of both of these phrases in my muddled mind did not leave me with a clear idea of what this conference was going to be about.

I quickly learned, though, almost as much through just physically being at the conference as through all the different programming and keynote talks, what this theme means.  I have my own tribe.  I don’t always thing of it that way, but some of my best friends and trusted confidants have come to me through writing.  There are still friends who I met in a writing group or class four or five years ago who I talk to or see on a regular basis.  And these are the friends who critique my work and help me along on my many writing endeavors.  They are the ones who will talk to me about character arc or how to get into freelance editing for hours on end, and then pick up the conversation in the exact same spot we left off the next time I see them.

The thing that resonated with me the most about this past weekend was that every single speaker and New York Times best selling author (there were many of them in attendance) had their own tribe.  I don’t yet have a tribe or fellow best-selling authors, or well-known agents, or editors at one of the big five publishing houses, but when each one of these now wildly successful authors was starting out, their tribe wasn’t there yet either.  Regardless, though, the common thread through each of these author’s stories was that their tribe helped them arrive to that spot.

One of the things that stuck out to me the most was from John Gilstrap’s keynote address.  He, like many writers, ebbed and flowed in and out of the writing sphere.  Life ended up taking him to lots of non-writing careers and stops along the journey that caused him to give up or stall on writing.  I think any writer on the planet can relate to this.  There are times when sometimes you simply do not want to write (see my last blog post, if you’re wondering if that has happened for me).  But then he mentioned how someone from a previous writing group/class, a member of his writing tribe, met with him after several years and said ‘how dare you not write?’

If we as writers have stories to share, gifts to give, words to writer, how dare we stop?  We should be so impassioned about writing that we can’t stop because our story is not over yet.

So take this as encouragement from my tribe to yours – keep going.  Writing isn’t just solitary, and it isn’t just something to do when you have time and space for it.  It’s a calling of sorts, somewhere to belong.  Don’t give up on that belonging, and if you ever need inspiration, just reach out to your tribe (or make one, by going to writing groups, events, and conferences).

I know I have been more inspired to write than ever since the conference.  Sure, it’s only been a few days, but as I’m on this journey of finding myself and excavating my love of writing from the grave it’s been in for the past year, I’ve come to a new realization that I am going to stick to this.  Writing is something that I come back to again, and again, and again.  It’s where my people live, and if that’s the case, how dare I not pursue it?

It’s Hard to Find Yourself in the Midst of Life

I am a firm believer in talking about what’s hard.  I think it is a disservice to everyone if we ignore what makes us uncomfortable or ashamed.  There are things I believe that are hard things to believe, and I think we should talk about that.  There are also things that I hesitate to share, and I think that means I should share them even more.  This is one of those things, but it is something that has deeply marked me, leaving beauty marks and scars, both equally important in the narrative of my life.

As someone who adores a good narrative, I know that the hard parts must be shared as well as the good parts.  My favorite stories don’t shy away from the dark, but ultimately focus on the light.  Because there is light that comes from any darkness we encounter.  If there is one thing I know for sure in this life, it is that the light is only dimmed when darkness seems to encompass us, but there is always something good that comes out of our time in the shadows of life.

I guess you could say that for the past two years, I have been living in the shadows, and for the last half of 2018 up until about a month ago, I was in one of the darkest places I have ever walked through.  I was lost in this darkness, stumbling through the best I could and repeatedly reaching painful dead ends, and I am now finally finding myself again.  I have never understood what that meant more than I do now as I slowly undo what had left me disheartened and paralyzed for so long.

Like many things in life, I don’t think you realize what you had until it’s gone.  This goes for the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I had been shrouded in uncertainty and doubt for so long that I wasn’t even excited about creating or writing.  I’ve come to realize that those two things which, if I’m being honest, go hand in hand, make up the very core of who I am.  When you lose all urging to do the very things that make up who you are as a person, I think the fog starts to lift and reveal the harsh reality that you’ve lost yourself.  Over the course of the past year I slowly began to give excuses for my lack of motivation to embark on even the simplest of tasks.  It all started with some bad days that slowly morphed into bad weeks, then bad months, then, ultimately what I would describe as a bad year.

When you are living in this place of darkness, you start to expect only bad things to come around every turn.  Road blocks start to become the norm and dismay a space to live in, not just a stop on the journey.  Pretty soon not feeling is the only way to keep on keeping on, but I couldn’t even do that.  Instead my anxiety skyrocketed and panic attacks became something I expected, crippling me to the point where all I could do was lay on my bed waiting for my cheeks to dry as I slowly drew in raggedy breaths and counted to ten over and over again.

Worry about things that are so upsetting they trigger these types of reactions consume everything, so it is no wonder, then, that other, more important, more fruitful, more satisfying, tenets of your life get put on a shelf far out of sight and mind, left to gather dust while more pressing matters are literally pressing in and making it hard to breath under the pressure.  But despite all this, there is still also a dim flickering light.  A light that only grows brighter in hindsight knowing that I made it – and am still making it – out of the shadows.

As I move into a new, brighter chapter of my narrative, I am struck by my desire now to create — to try new things, to interact, and to start fresh. Human beings are resilient in that they are able to continuously pick themselves up and dust themselves off. I have seen it time and time again, and I have now experienced it myself. I know that creativity is what makes life worth living, and although I’ve been rejected and gone through shadowy spurts where writing was the last thing on my mind, I still know this to be true.

So use this as a bit of encouragement. Although there is darkness, there is always light. There is always purpose. There is always that knowing — an intrinsic part of the human soul — that you will find yourself again, in a new place, but better than ever.

“But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Job 23:10

Growth Isn’t Always Easy

I, like most people, went through several growth spurts during middle school.  For most of my life I’ve been taller than the majority of kids my age, so these spurts were unwelcome.  I was more mature than many my age, too, which wasn’t always the most fun (though now I see it as a huge blessing).

I got braces smack dab in the middle of sixth grade, leaving me to be one of the only middle schoolers with metal wires stuck to my teeth and an adjuster situated in the roof of my mouth that was cranked with a key.

Growth spurts are not always fun when they occur in one’s formative years.  They make for awkward conversations, awkward feelings, and awkward appearances.  I am coming to learn, though, that growth spurts continue long after one has actually stopped growing.

Life has a way of stretching a person out.  We are all constantly being molded to fit the shape of the place we are in.  This is a type of growth, a type of re-shaping.  It is a harsh and soft process all at once.

Growth, if we are all being honest, is painful.  Even the physical type of growth can be – I distinctly remember my mother telling me that the occasional aches and pains I experienced in my limbs were growing pains.  Despite the pain that sometimes comes from growth, it is a beautiful thing.

As I have come to very recently recognize, I have been in a phase of growth for the past couple of years.  Looking back on where I was last year is startling.  There has been growth since then – it hurt at times and made me cry at others, but it was still growth.

Sometimes the only way to become a better person is to run through the fire, or slog through the mud, if I’m going to be more accurate.  I think the worst part about periods of growth is that I can tell when I am in one, mainly because it hurts in new and unexpected ways than ever before, but I cannot see the end goal.  I can’t see the person I will be in a week, in a month, in a year, I just know that person will be different than the person currently making her way through the swampland.

I find in these moments I must look to the good that I know will come of this, even though I don’t know when.  I can only grasp at what the future might bring – the brilliant dawn at the end of a dark night that I know will eventually come.  I must grasp on to hope for better times yet to come, for a better me that is yet to come.  I know one day I will be that person reflecting back on life and recognizing the beauty that came from this present pain.

And I can only hope that person will be a better one.

 

I’m Still Turning Out (in Writing, in Life, in Everything)

“You say I turned out fine, I think I’m still turning out…” – AJR

It’s something I’ve heard all my life – it’ll all turn out find in the end.  Those later in life who have been successful, made a life for themselves, and seem relatively happy say during a presentation or a Thanksgiving-dinner-speech that even with all the bumps in their lives, they’ve turned out fine.  Well, what is it like in the process of still turning out?  I’m not there yet – I’m not to a a point where I can say that I’ve turned out fine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I’ve been living this lately. I am in a weird in between stage where I have accomplished a lot but am just starting out. I’ve come so very far but still have even farther to go. It is, quite honestly, a struggle. The in between is always beautiful, but I struggle to recognize the beauty in the moment.

Nevertheless, I am here. Still turning out.

The past year has been one of my hardest on many levels. I’ve had a hard time adjusting to a full time job – which is not what I thought I would be adjusting to this year – and have battled with my mind almost non stop. I have tried and tried again to maintain friendships that simply may not be worth maintaining. I have moved on to a new stage in life (a new confusing stage) while some of my friends have stayed in the phase they are in. I’ve tried to bring them with me, but it’s not worked out. I’ve tried to fit back into their lives, but the space that once was reserved for me isn’t there anymore.

I think that’s the thing that has been hard and unexpected. Life after graduation is not glamorous. It is mundane. It is stressful. It is tiring. And it is not at all what I expected. It is part of the turning out process that is wonderful in some ways and painful in others. Growing pains are a real thing, and they have come out in full force over the past year.

Life is continuously not what I thought it would be. The road I am traveling isn’t going where I thought it was, and it’s missing people I thought would still be traveling beside me. Somewhere down the line I will be able to say that I have turned our okay, but right now I’m still turning out.

So in the meantime, as I am trudging along the road, I have made it my goal to strive for beauty. I’m running towards things that make my spirits bright, even if only a little bit.

While I’m still turning out I am noticing the good days. The shouting cherry blossoms this spring that quieted and gave way to billowing lilacs. The fragrant air that rushes past my ear as I drive with the window down. My precious cat who greets me every day when I come home. The fact that there’s flowers on my desk at work and can go on walks outside everyday. These are the good things that help me trudge with a slightly lighter step. It doesn’t make everything better, but it sure does make the process of turning out seem more lovely than simply bearable. At least for a few fleeting moments throughout the day.

Writing While Overwhelmed

How about this title?  This is how I feel right now.  I am slightly (okay, maybe very) overwhelmed with life at the moment.  I like writing.  I love writing, but with the start of the semester I have been falling of the writing train as of late.  I keep getting textbooks in the mail, keep having meeting to go to because I am a teaching assistant this fall, and have been completely slammed at work (the weeks leading up to the start of the fall term are always absolutely insane in the financial aid office).

I know I’ve written almost this same thing in the past, but it is something I struggle with.  Finding time to write is hard, and trying to not beat myself about it is harder.  I know that I am busy – I work, go to school, am a teaching assistant, and am the president of a club at my university – but I’m not the only busy person in the world.   In fact, busy people are able to churn out books at an alarming rate sometimes.  Heck, even published and successful authors are insanely busy and still manage to write.

I think, though, that I am starting to learn to not listen to and compare myself to others.  I know I’ve written about this before, too, but it’s important.  Right now, getting my degree and being a successful and involved student on campus is of the utmost importance to me.  I hate to say this, but I will have time to write my book later.  I will also have time to resume writing my book once the semester has started.  I can write for small little chunks of time whenever I can.  I will still write, it may not be as much as I would like but I will write.

I will get there.  It’s alright if it just takes me a bit longer than I anticipated.

Faith and Writing

“Wherever you lead me, I know you won’t leave me.  Wherever you call me, you will make away.  Wherever we’re going – I will keep holding to the promise you have made: you will make a way.”

Sometimes doubts and insecurities flood my mind.  Lately it seems like I can’t shut them off.  I’m concerned that my graduation and, of course, about my writing.  It’s all too easy to let “what ifs” flood the mind.  I try to only let the positive “what ifs” take over, but the negative ones often stage a coup d’etat and take control.  “What if I can’t find a job after graduation?  What if my writing is more dreadful than I think it is?  What if I never get published?”  I should instead be taking risks and listening to the good “what ifs,” “What if I succeed?  What if my book hits the best seller list?  What if I have so many job offers next spring that I don’t know what to do with myself?  What if I get into that MFA program fully funded?”  I’ll never know what could happen if I let the negative “what ifs” keep me from trying.

I’m finding that trust is what helps quell those negative thoughts.  It has a lot to do with trusting myself and my own capabilities, but also in trusting my God.  My faith is what reassures me that everything will work out in the end, even if it takes longer to get to that happy ending than I anticipated.  The quote above is from a song by I Am They called “Make a Way.”  It’s core message is one of trust.  Trusting that no matter what, if what you are pursuing is what is ultimately intended for your life, then God will make a way.  

I have been listening to this song a lot lately.  When those doubts and negative “what ifs” have creeped into my mind, I’ll sing this chorus over and over in my head “I know you won’t leave me…you will make a way.”  It helps me to trust in what God has promised for my future.  It helps me remember that if writing is what God wants me to do, then I will be successful at it.  It helps me trust in his plan, even though I don’t know it yet.

I’m sure not all of you believe in God, but perhaps you believe in your own capabilities, or in the faith others have in your success.  If this song isn’t something that will inspire you to keep to the path, then let something else inspire you.  It’s crucial, though, to not let the negative “what ifs” drown out the positive ones.  Don’t let your purpose waver, and don’t stop doing what you love – whatever that may be.  

Risking it All in My Writing

“Risk being seen in all of your glory.” 

I watched a video recently of a keynote address that Jim Carrey gave several years ago, and in it he said the above quote.  “Risk being seen in all of your glory.”  His speech, like many commencement speeches, was encouraging graduates to continue on in their lives with the caveat that they need to be their best selves.  He was encouraging them all to not let the light of their talent go dim and to give what they have to the world, because the world needs it.  This quote, though, is what really stood out to me.

Every person out there has something that they burn for.  Something that grabs a hold of them and doesn’t let them go.  I thin for me, this is writing.  For others, it’s music, teaching, helping others, or sports.  There are so many things that so many people are passionate about.  What stood out to me in Jim Carrey’s speech was the idea of risking it all in favor of letting your passion out into the world.  That passion is, theoretically, what you are good at.  It’s what you are able to wake up in the morning and be excited about.  Risk putting it all out there into the world, because it will be worth it.  You could fail miserably and end up stuck, but risk that anyway.  Risk everything for a chance at doing what you love.

While the word “risk” definitely stood out, the second part of this quote cannot be ignored.  For me, the second part can be summed up in the last word: glory. Take that passion and make it magnificent.  Put so much effort and sweat into this thing so that you, and everyone around you, is blinded by the light at the end of it.  So that it keeps shining on.  So that it can be seen in all of its glory – so you can be seen in all of your glory.

When I say you, I mean you reading this.  But I also mean me.  I need to listen to this too.  I need to dive headfirst in the pool  ocean of writing and swim so far and so deep that I can’t get out again.  I want to drown in my craft so that when I finally see the light of day every inch of my being will be soaked in words that I must put on the page.  I want to risk being seen in all my glory, because it would be excruciating to not risk it all and wonder – to not even attempt to shine. You, reading this, you should too. Let’s risk it.