When Your Worst Fear Comes True

I’ve heard this a lot lately:

“What was your latest book again?”

If I Forget You.

“Oh, yeah! I remember now! That one sounded good!” Lowers eyes. “I haven’t read it yet.”

Not that I expect anyone in close proximity to read my books right away (or at all if they aren’t interested in them) because I seriously don’t, but I think I kind of cursed myself when I titled and based a book on forgetting stuff.

When I put out my novel IF I FORGET YOU, I had high hopes for it, but many great fears, as well … all of which have come true so far, and I’m pretty sure most of it is my own error. I made some pretty massively huge mistakes, the biggest one being that I didn’t market it one bit at all outside of announcing that it was published and out there. Why did I not market it? First of all, I was afraid for people to actually read it because the main character is a lot like me and I didn’t want to have to stumble upon reviews that tore it apart. Secondly, I think I released it too soon after OUT OF TUNE. Thirdly, I wanted to see if not marketing a book at all makes any sort of difference in sales. A big duh to that answer, right? It’s because I happen to know several authors who don’t market at all and their books sell just dandy. But they aren’t me, and they don’t write in a genre that doesn’t fit anywhere (i.e. clean new adult with no steamy erotic sex). At least I like to blame it on those two things, but who knows? Other people write clean new adult and do fine, but again, they aren’t me.

If I’ve learned anything in this business, it’s that there is no magical formula to selling books, and while there is a lot of luck involved in financial success, it’s also a matter of putting yourself in good situations to create that luck. It doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere (even thought it seems that way sometimes when you’re getting green with envy over another person’s success).

The thing is, folks, I’ve reached my worst fear: a novel I put out there completely 100% bombed on pretty much every level outside of the fact that I think it’s well-written, some people I highly respect who have read it say they loved it, and I’m proud of it. But a book failing the way this one has sales-wise, and after losing my publisher and feeling very alone this past year, I’ve felt at the bottom of the barrel emotionally, financially, etc. I’ve reached a point where I’ve spent way too much money on this publishing thing and dug myself too large a hole to climb out of with just selling books. So. Worst Fear Come True right there. I’ve had to attain a part-time job now that has nothing to do with writing, so now I have less time to write, and if I look at it with the bleak vision I usually look at everything (pessimist by nature here), I’d have a good mind to quit writing altogether.

Expectations are killer!

But I’m not going to quit. I’m still writing. I’ve shifted my goals, let go of some hefty dreams that have weighed me down over the past four years, and turned my eyes to different horizons. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the goals I’ve set. I’m halfway through a novel I believe in wholeheartedly, and I’m not stupid enough to believe I’m a bad writer or anything, but when I look back on the path I’ve traveled, I wonder if I’d set out on it again if I were to start all over. At this point in time, I’m not sure I would because this is just a tad bit soul sucking and it’s hard not to ask WHY AM I PUTTING MYSELF THROUGH THIS?

But like a friend of mine told me the other day after she read a blog post about what writing and publishing is like, sometimes you’re simply in the middle of a mountain meadow and you have no idea where you are, no idea if you even have a peak to climb after the ones you already reached and fell from, no idea which direction to turn. But you have to keep wandering, even if it feels aimless. Because eventually you’ll make your way out of the meadow if you don’t sit down and give up. And eventually you’ll find another peak to climb and you’ll think you’ve reached the top, but in reality there’s just another peak to climb. The trick is you usually have to go down first, and cross more meadows, then climb that peak just to find another one. There is no final destination.

So, it seems I’m in a meadow right now. A rather large one. With no flowers. But hey, I’m still writing and that has to account for something. I’m in the process of beginning to market my failed book and my other books, and I’m planning on being involved in many authorly things next year, like, gasp! conferences. All of that means I’m wandering, not sitting stagnant. One day I’ve got to make it to a spot I can at least see another peak, right?

Good Pride vs. Bad, Evil, Life-Ruining Pride

Recently, I decided to “stay off Facebook”. I haven’t deleted my account, and I’m not going to, but for me “staying off Facebook” means I’m not interacting much on there or going on there to look at other people’s news … basically because I’m jealous of everyone right now. I’m jealous of all my friends, and their friends who aren’t even my own friends. I’m jealous of people’s book deals, and book tours, and covers, and really great sales ranks, and vacations they take that I’ll never be able to afford, like, ever. I’m jealous of it all, and irrationally angry. I seem to be unhappy with my life, even though I have so many things and should be grateful. My logical brains KNOWS this. It knows to stop being jealous and be happy for others, but my irrational side keeps screaming at that other side to shut the heck up and mope around in misery. So I’ve moped around for quite a while now. I haven’t been writing. I’ve been eating healthy. I’ve been exercising, but I haven’t been entirely content. So I opened up an Instagram account and have decided to feed things through there, for the most part. Instagram seems a lot more doable for me these days, even though I’ve never really used it before.

I WANT to be connected to other people. I want to keep up. I want to be happy and interact, but I’m beginning to realize that as an author I’m not obligated to anyone for anything, which is a hard lesson for an author to learn, I think. When we put our work out there, it’s easy to feel obligated to please others with more work, better work, faster work. It’s easy to feel obligated to keep yourself out there, interacting, happy, happy, happy, happy. But as I’ve stepped away lately, I have seen and been reminded by a good friend that popularity and money simply do not matter in the grand scheme of things. The writing I produce and the quality and pride with which I put it out there? That matters. It’s all that matters.

So here’s to letting go of the bad pride — the kind that keeps me depressed and chained down by comparing myself to others — and grabbing hold of the good pride — the kind that keeps me motivated to do my best and be happy with what I’m doing. I wish the same for all of you.

Expectations

There is something to be said about the enthusiasm of others for things you are working on. For many years, I think I thrived on this enthusiasm. I think I lived and breathed it and let it fuel pretty much everything I was doing. For instance, if I started a new book, I simply couldn’t hold it inside. I had to tell someone about the idea because if I didn’t, there would be no fuel to keep that project going until the end. So, eventually, by the time I finished any novel, I had leaked the idea pretty much everywhere. People knew I was writing a book about a tone-deaf wannabe country music star, for instance. But I think all that enthusiasm can actually be a killer in the end. Because, while people may show excitement and interest and enthusiasm for a project, that only means their expectations and ideas of how it will turn out have time to grow and blossom and turn into something that will never, ever live up to what they imagined. So you lose in the end, I think, if you build something up too much.

To me, the perfect reading experience has always been one in which I pick up a book with little or no particular expectations beyond a general desire to read something engaging, and then find myself blown away by the story or the writing or both. I’m pretty sure that any book I have ever picked up (outside of classics, which have withstood the test of time) with high expectations has always proven a disappointment in one way or another. So, while I read a lot of books these days, I try not to talk too much about them with other people, especially ones on my to-read list. And, while I’m not writing at the moment, I have a feeling that when I do start writing again, it’s going to be a more private affair than it has ever been in the past. I’m not sure why this change has come about, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I’ve published enough writing to finally realize — deep down into my bones — that my writing will never 100% please anyone but myself. And that really is okay.

How To Be A Perfect Author

In order to be the perfect author, you must sit your butt down in a chair every single day and write, even if it’s only a sentence or two. But not every single day because an author must also live a full and meaningful life, and chaining yourself to a rigid schedule like that might actually be hindering you. You must also visit social networks every single day and stay on top of the publishing scene. If you don’t know what’s going on out there, how do you expect to be successful? But don’t overdo it because if you spend too much time online, you will be distracting yourself from your true vocation of writing.

Once you are published, you must not read your reviews. You must stay off Goodreads and must never check Amazon rankings or BookScan numbers. But again, you really should be in touch with readers and know their true reactions and feelings for your writing. Interacting with only diehard fans who find no fault in your writing is not going to help your writing. After all, how are you supposed to improve if you are completely ignorant to how real readers are reacting to your work? And how do you expect to market your work better if you don’t know what’s working after you’ve tried it? You need to have an idea of sales numbers as they happen instead of two or twelve months later. But don’t read those reviews and check numbers because they. will. drive. you. crazy.

You must never, ever say negative things online about writing or publishing. You do not want to appear ungrateful toward the fact that you actually got published when so many authors would die to be in your shoes. You do not want to appear jealous of any other author because that would be sour grapes and may affect your sales or the good image of your publisher. But you must appear honest and approachable. If you flout yourself too much and never share anything negative, you’re going to look like a complete fake and others are going to start resenting you. But be careful. If you say anything remotely negative, you may incur that same resentment, as well. Just. Be. Careful. And don’t even think about retreating into a shell and never saying anything online anywhere. Because didn’t you read that first paragraph were you need to be online every single day? I once disappeared from online and never said a word about my books anywhere and my sales plummeted. So you cannot disappear. But your writing will be best if you stay offline as much as possible because then you will not have those distractions eating away at you. You might even create masterpieces that will blow away the world if you retreat into obscurity like the best authors do. But you really should be visible everywhere.

You must avoid adverbs in your writing because adverbs are horribly evil. Because the word horribly in that previous sentence wasn’t necessary, now was it? So avoid those adverbs. Chain yourself to rules others have made up for you and do not experiment to figure out what your own rules are. After all, it’s the books that feel like all the other books that sell the best, isn’t it? You want to be well known and well paid as an author. The perfect author is well known and well paid.

This is most likely not the first time you have heard all of this conflicting advice. It certainly isn’t the first time for me. The nice thing is that I am not writing at the moment. Taking a step back has helped me see how ridiculous and conflicting it can be to listen to everything. Taking a step back has helped me see myself a lot more. Taking a step back has helped me see that I was right in taking a step back. Intuition. It shouldn’t be ignored. I’m not a perfect author. Perfection, I believe, is right in front of us all the time. It is not a place, but the ability to choose what will work for us and kindly saying no to the things that won’t — even if those things work for others and they are successful and we are not.

CAUTION: DANGEROUS EXPLOSIVE. HANDLE CAREFULLY.

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I’ve had people come and go in my life. Some of these friendships were fierce and strong. They were relationships that I thought would never, ever fade. I thought I would always be close to these people. I would always feel I could spill my deepest thoughts with them. We would never grow apart. But as most friendships do in our lives, they softened and eventually drifted apart. To me, they are like fireworks in the tapestry of my time here. They light up my sky, hot and powerful and bright, wowing both of us before they finally start fading away. But they always leave a lasting impression, good or bad, and that’s something I can always count on. Even now, I’ve got some amazing fireworks lighting up my sky. I hope some of them last a very, very long time.

Like these fierce friendships, my writing is fierce and bright. It has lit up my sky at certain points in my life, and at some points, it has fizzled out completely. The last time I stopped writing, it lasted five consecutive years. So it’s interesting to me that just over five years later of pursuing writing once again, I’m burned out, like one of those fireworks.

The thing is, back when I quit for five years, I was happy. I was discovering other things about myself, just like I do when I make a new friend. Those five years were quick and fierce, and then gave way to a new round of fireworks. Writing came back into my life, but I feel like the current spark — that burst of energy and heat — has faded.

I’ve been cleaning for the past few weeks. I’ve systematically gone through every room in my small town home, pulling out boxes and bins, looking in drawers and cupboards, sifting through piles of what now seems like junk. I’m donating an entire carload of this “junk” to charity. The true junk I’m tossing into the trash. Other stuff I’ve been selling on my neighborhood FB page. It seems there is no end to this cleaning, but I know I’ll eventually reach a point where this particular firework burns out, as well. My house will finally be dejunked, clean, and organized the way I like it.

All of this cleaning seems to be allowing me an opening to clean out my writing life, as well. The fireworks of my writing may feel like they have faded for now, but I have a feeling they’ll light up once again when some time has passed and I’ve had a chance to reevaluate what I really want out of all of this.

But I have no idea how long it will be. Weeks. Months. Years. I don’t know. I will continue to market what I do have out there, but that is all I can do at the moment.

Like a fierce friendship in my past, I feel like my writing has faded for now, but has left an undying impression. Friendships can sometimes be revived, and I figure my writing can, as well. One day I’ll find it again, a tightly wrapped package labeled CAUTION: DANGEROUS EXPLOSIVE. HANDLE CAREFULLY.

Here’s to careful handling. The most important things in our lives deserve it.

10 Ways To Find Your True Self

I think we construct ourselves for other people, and that’s okay … but not 100% of the time. There are times we have to be ourselves or we are going to wither away beneath our fear forever. Here are a few things you can do to uncover who you really are at the core.

All of these take courage.

1. Accept that negative things people say about you could possibly be true. And then dare to change. It’s that DARE part that hurts so much. But come on. I’ve had several people in my life tell me some pretty negative and hurtful things about myself. It wasn’t until I really dared to see what they were saying and accept that there might be some truth in what they said that I could finally face the pain and do something about it.

2. Really figure out if you are an introvert or extrovert. Nobody is 100% one or the other, but it has been proven scientifically in more places than one that everyone is bent more towards one or the other, and that we are born that way. It doesn’t change. We can often learn how to be really good at pretending to be the opposite of what we are, but it’s innate. Knowing what you really are and what that means is a huge, huge eye-opener. I’ve written a post about a book I read that might help you too.

3. Stop hiding from yourself. Literally. Look in the mirror every single day. Nothing can replace really looking at yourself in the mirror and learning to love what you see, flaws and all. I used to have horrendous acne. I still have scars, and I’m beginning to look past them now. It has been a difficult journey.

4. Make a list of what you judge about other people. It’s true what they say: the things you judge about others is what you’re judging about yourself. Sit down and figure out the judgments you make on other people. Those are the things you’re most concerned about in life, and probably the things you should try to work on for yourself instead of pushing it all on other people, even if it’s only in your thoughts.

5. Find a true hobby. Your hobbies and what you do in your spare time says a lot about you. If you don’t like that you’re playing video games four hours a day when you get home from work, maybe you should step back and figure out some other things in your life that you’d like to explore instead. Maybe you’re just an avid video gamer and you’re playing with your entire family. That says a lot right there too. Positive things! But step back and make sure you’re filling your spare time with things that you truly love, not things you’re doing just because it’s popular, or to avoid your true self.

6. Learn to say no. It’s hard to say no to people, or even opportunities, especially if it makes you feel guilty or selfish to do so. But look up at point #2. If you know what you tend toward — introverted or extroverted — you’re going to know more about your limits and the limits of others. That’s when it gets a little easier to start saying no to the things that aren’t really going to help anyone, or make them or you happy, in the long run.

7. Find some silence every single day. Life is loud. Life is crazy. Singling out some time just for you, and making sure it is quite literally SILENT, is essential … and not just for introverted people who prefer silence. I think it’s essential for human beings in general. How can you know yourself if you can’t hear yourself? Even if it’s just three minutes, find some silence to ask yourself how you’re doing and what you might need to do to alter your course, even if it’s just slightly, in order to find your center again. Sometimes that means following #6 and saying no to something. Sometimes it means saying yes.

8. Check your social media interactions. Consistently. I think a lot can be said about how we interact on social media. Take a good, hard look at how you interact and what it might be saying about you. Do you always want to prove yourself right? Are you seeking out ways to state your opinion everywhere to make yourself feel validated? What are you trying to validate and why? If you get upset after being on social media, why? Really try to figure out how social media makes you feel, how you’re interacting, what you share and why you are sharing it and what you’re expecting out of sharing it. Knowing these things and studying them can say so much about you. I’ve found that it often shows me where I’m feeling a lack in my life. That’s when I have to ask why, how, and what I should do to fill that lack.

9. Realize your true friends. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with #1. Your true friends are the people who know you best. Sit down and make a list of the people you’d tell anything to. Once you know who those people are (there probably aren’t a lot), sit down and have a chat with them about what they see as your strengths and weaknesses. If they truly love you, they’ll tell you the truth. It’s an eye opener.

10. Learn to admit your worst imperfections to other people. It’s a good thing to be able to admit to other people face-to-face that you are not perfect and there are things you’re working on. When you can realize and face your worst imperfections and admit them to other people, you are finally ready to see yourself as you are, your True Self, so to speak. Seeing that True Self doesn’t mean you’ll love that True Self, but it does mean you can start discerning between what is amazing about you and what might need some working on. And not obvious things, either, but the things that will get to the root of everything else you’d like to better about yourself.

I believe it’s only when you can see your true self that you can truly see others, as well.

Reading My Reviews Has Paralyzed Me

Although I’m always telling author friends of mine that they shouldn’t read reviews, the truth is that I do read reviews sometimes. I stay the hell away from Goodreads these days, but I didn’t always, and I do look at my Amazon reviews every once in awhile, mainly because there aren’t that many, and it’s easy to see when a new one has popped up, and let’s face it, as an author, it’s REALLY HARD NOT TO LOOK. And I still read them even though I know that 90% of what’s in them is what the reader brought to the table, not what’s actually in the book. Reviews are none of my business, but I peek anyway, and I think over the long run it has hurt me.

Why?

Because every time I sit down these days, I feel paralyzed. I have NINE titles out. Nine titles with reviews. Nine titles’ worth of reviews floating around in my head, taunting me. It’s a lot.

I write whiny characters. I write boring, slow-moving plots with robotic-like characters. My novellas are too short and not detailed enough. My female characters need to be more kick-ass. I need more sex in my stories. I need erotic sex in my stories. I need less sex in my stories. Those swear words need to go. There wasn’t enough real language. I need more world building. My characters are too timid. There is no emotional connection. On and on and on.

And yes, I know I can’t listen to reviews, but the bad thing is that I have in the past, and even though I’m a very forgetful person, those negative reviews stick like glue inside my head, especially when I see similar things said on multiple books. All the positive ones? Those seem to flit away on the breeze. Even if I read them now, their sparkle isn’t as bright anymore.

I really do listen to my editor and close beta readers and improve based on what they say, but that’s as far as it should go. I shouldn’t be changing my writing for other people. But it’s like I broke all of my fingers in the past and they’re just not healing. I’m allowing all the negativity I’ve read in the past affect what I’m doing today. It’s affecting my creativity. It’s affecting what I choose to write. It’s affecting me in ways I never thought possible, and I’m not sure how to fix it. Writing is painful these days, so painful that in the past few weeks, I’ve kind of stopped altogether. It’s not that I need constant praise and positivity to write, but I guess I’ve reached a point where I’m wanting to go in a different publishing direction with my writing, and I’m too afraid to do it because of that negativity hanging out in my head. If only I was ignorant to all of those reviews! I could write in that happy, blissful pre-publication state again. In other words, I’m a mess right now and I’ve got to figure out a way to write past all this. Anyone been here before?

 

Never Underestimate A 10-Year Idea …

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I’ve known Janci for several years. When I first met her, I had no idea she was a writer, and then when I was informed of the fact by other people around me, I was quite pleased. Not many people top the cool charts the way she does! Like me, Janci writes in several different genres, and what I’ve read of hers so far, I love. She and her husband both do what they love for careers — at home. They are an example to me of following your heart and dreams. Today, I’ve invited Janci here to my blog to talk about her new book, EVERYTHING’S FINE, and how it has stuck around for over 10 years. I know this feeling well, since THE BREAKAWAY was one such similar book for me. Read on! Janci has some great things to say here!

Janci Patterson writes fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary young adult novels. Her first book, CHASING THE SKIP, will be published by Henry Holt in 2012. Janci lives in Orem, Utah, with her husband, Drew Olds. When she’s not writing, she manages Drew’s painting business, and plays geek games of all kinds.

I wrote the first draft of Everything’s Fine in 2004, so this book was ten years in the making. The idea started with this line: “So I stole Haylee’s journal.  We might as well get that out in the open right now.”  As soon as I had that line, I knew it was the beginning of a book. I experimented with it. Why does Kira take Haylee’s journal? What is it that she’s trying to hide?

Across years worth of drafts, a few things stayed the same, but more changed. It got sent out on rounds of submission several times, and always I discovered afterward that the book still wasn’t quite working. Many times I thought about giving up on this book — about just declaring it a trunk novel and leaving it alone. But inevitably as soon as I decided that, I’d have an idea for how to make the book better, and I’d rewrite it again.

Because of its long road to publication, Everything’s Fine is my most re-written novel to date, and anyone who knows me knows I’m not shy about rewriting novels. I started over from scratch at least three times, and heavily revised it dozens of times over. To give you an idea, here are a few of the more recent changes:

  • If you’ve read the book, you know that every other chapter is an in-scene flashback from a different point in Kira and Haylee’s friendship. Those chapters didn’t even make it into the book until January, when I pulled the book out and rewrote it yet again, this time with the intent of sending it to my editor. I was having a hard time getting the reader to connect to Haylee, since she’s already dead when the book begins.  Alaya Dawn Johnson suggested that I take all the flashbacks out of the book and put them in scene, and it turned out to be just what the book needed. So grateful for that critique. Without it, I think the book might have hung out in limbo forever.
  • Kira is now an only child, but from the first draft in 2004 to the first draft that my editor read back in February, she had an older sister who came for Christmas with her college boyfriend. I loved Lainie and Derek. They had a lot of awesome scenes. But in the end, Lainie’s scenes were taking away from the space I had to develop Kira’s relationship with her mother, which was much more important to the arc. So out of the book they went.
  • For a long time, Kira’s secret was that she had an eating disorder. Then I read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, and realized I wasn’t doing any kind of justice to that concept. Then I had to give Kira a new secret … and I did, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is.

I almost gave up on this book dozens of times, but now that it’s finished, I’m so glad I didn’t. I was ready to abandon it, Kira’s voice was never ready to abandon me. I think this is a book that wanted to be written. Who was I to stand in its way? It makes me giddy to see it finally done, and in a form that other people are getting to read. Kira’s character took a long journey with me, and getting to share her story is the best of all possible endings.

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Kira thought she knew everything about her best friend, Haylee. But when Haylee commits suicide immediately after her first date with her longtime crush, Bradley Johansen, Kira is left with nothing but questions, and a gaping hole in her life where Haylee used to be. 

Kira is sure that the answers to her questions must be written in Haylee’s journal, but she’s not the only one searching for it. The more Kira learns about Haylee’s past, the more certain she is that other people grieving for Haylee are keeping secrets—especially Bradley, and Haylee’s attractive older cousin Nick. Kira is desperate to get to Haylee’s journal before anyone else finds it—to discover the truth about what happened to Haylee— 

And to hide the things that Haylee wrote down about her. 

From the author of CHASING THE SKIP comes EVERYTHING’S FINE, a new contemporary YA novel about secrets and loss, and the winner of the 2007 Utah Arts Council award for Best Young Adult Novel.

Add Everything’s Fine to your Goodreads shelf.

Purchase Everything’s Fine on Amazon

Find Janci on jancipatterson.comFacebook, and Twitter.

On Jealousy

Authors-AnonymousLast night, I watched the movie Authors Anonymous. It was a movie I’d only heard of yesterday, thanks to a friend on Facebook. Since I had spent the day bent over the toilet and feeling like crap from some sort of flu bug, I decided a movie was in order, so I rented it. I’m glad I did because it’s an interesting, almost painful story that hit me in several spots. The story is about a group of unpublished authors who welcome in a new author to their writing group. But this new author quickly finds an agent, a huge book deal, and a movie deal. Jealousy — extreme jealousy — sets in with the rest of the group. One of the authors, a Tom Clancy wannabe, decides to vanity publish his book with no success at all. The other authors — well, watch it to see what they choose to do and where that leads.

What struck me so hard was that I could relate in the most painful ways to these jealous authors. All of us authors know, or have even been, that successful author. Those jealous feelings are familiar. Needless to say, the story ends in a way I predicted, but satisfyingly surprising, nonetheless. One of the themes was:

THE ONLY WAY YOU’LL GET ANYWHERE IS BY STICKING YOUR BUTT IN THE CHAIR AND WRITING EVERY DAY

Which is true, absolutely, but even if you get everything you want, it may not last, and it may not be what you thought it would be. Plus, there is something to be said about getting stuck and not writing and figuring out important lessons along the way.

One of the authors has a picture of herself with the quote, “The only way you’ll fail is if you stop writing.”

True, true, but you’ll find failures when you keep writing too. And as I’ve said in an earlier post, the problem with the advice “never give up” is …“Never giving up will guarantee you exactly one thing every single time — experience — and sometimes nothing more.”

And the thing that really struck me is how important it is not to let success go to your head. None of the characters in this film were black and white, necessarily. Some of their stereotypes were pretty typical, but I liked how the film explored different facets of their motivations. It’s a stinging satire, filmed in a mockumentary-type style. Not everyone will appreciate it, but I certainly did. The one author who wasn’t truly jealous … let’s just say I’m a little inspired to make a few changes in my own writing life.

What a World of Saying “No” Is Like

being-sensitive-is-a-way-of-life.wps5_-724x1024As most everyone knows, I’m very sensitive. I thought I was crazy for most of my life, until I discovered that I’m actually an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) with a brain that processes things differently than 80% of the population. Basically, everything is more for me, so I am constantly going through these mini crises in my life. Just ask people I know. “Michelle is always going through some sort of Huge Event or Life Change or Big Decision,” I can hear people saying. “It must be exhausting for her.”

It is.

Sometime last year I decided it was time to start saying no to things. All those writer’s conferences so many authors insist are completely essential? I’ve said no to going. Signings? I’ve said no to many of them. Getting together with friends just to hang out? I say no probably far too often. All that photography I used to do? I’ve given it up. Church events outside of Sunday service I’m supposed to attend? I don’t attend. Play dates I should set up for my daughter? I don’t plan them. My husband’s plays? I don’t always go.

I’m starting to sound like a total deadbeat and hermit, I know, but it’s really just me pushing more and more things off my plate … to make room for what will fit. And what fits is time with my family at home, time to focus on my writing, time to focus on my spirituality, and time to exercise and stay healthy. That’s pretty much it. Everything else is extra. I love my friends, but I have had to make the difficult — and often lonely, I’ll admit — decision that those other things have to come first. I can keep in touch online or through my phone, if time allows. Maybe I’m a bad friend, I don’t know. But I can only stretch myself so much before I snap. Nobody wants to hear you are a burden in their life, and that’s not what I mean when I say no to things. All it really means is that I am creating the kind of life for myself that works for what and who I am, nothing more … so that when I do spend time with those I love, or I do find the energy to get out and play or help and support others, I’m not a total wreck. I also think it’s something that feeds itself. The more I find my own balance, the more I’m able to enjoy myself and also do for others in the long run.

So this world of saying no is a tough one not everyone will understand. But it’s one that allows me to see past the fog. It’s one that allows me to uncurl from my fetal position and actually live my life — even if that life is more solitary than other people’s lives, and even if that life is one most other people do not understand in the slightest. I’m lonelier now than I was a few years ago, I will admit. But I’m more at peace. So it’s a tradeoff, I guess. I like to be social, but if I’m not careful, I can let too many social events eat away at me until it literally takes me months to recover. It’s not just a mental issue, either. It’s physical, often erupting in issues like headaches, extreme fatigue, bouts of depression, and increased anger and anxiety. It has taken me years to figure this out, unfortunately, and even longer to figure out that it’s not only physical events, but online activity as well.

I’m not sure why I’m even sharing this. I guess it’s because I feel like I’m not understood in the writing community, or in other circles, as well. I feel like mental issues like this aren’t greatly understood unless you’ve suffered from it yourself, and it’s helpful to put it out there in some sort of explanation, even if it feels like a lame attempt at describing something truly impossible to describe. I don’t mean to hurt anyone when I say no to things, and I don’t mean to come off looking like I’m lazy or that I don’t care or don’t want to be a part of things. BECAUSE I REALLY, REALLY DO want to be a part of things, more than you can even imagine … but picture yourself at a rock concert, surrounded by thousands of disorganized, loud people, even louder music thundering through your ears and body, heavy smoke in the air, and trying to solve complicated math problems for an exam you have tomorrow. That’s kind of like the inside of my head 24-7 if I’m out of balance.

But if I’m in balance, I’m eager and excited to do all those normal, extra things! And I’m much more likely to say YES.

Here’s a good video about being HSP and saying no vs. letting go