There’s nothing better than a good morning routine. It sets me up for the rest of the day, emotionally, physically and mentally. It helps me maintain some sort of emotional equanimity so I can go the craziness that is my life all Zen and shiz. (Or at least a semblance of Zen and shiz.) My morning routine also shows me just how attached I get to having things a certain way and what kind of emotional reserves I have when things veer off path.
This morning, my routine blew up. My eyes popped open at 3:30 am, fully 90 minutes before I was supposed to wake up. My husband, who has been working overtime, got home at 4:30 and turned on the TV in the living room. My daughter, who had to catch a flight for a work trip, got up late and had to scurry around the house to get ready. My mom is visiting, effectively closing off my office/spare room as an escape route. I had nowhere to go. No place to escape chaos. No place to meditate, journal, or study.
Instead, I was stuck in the living room with my hands clenched as my husband watched the news and commented on the horror of the day’s events. I bit my tongue as I watched my daughter flailing about so I wouldn’t make a sarcastic remark about getting up earlier or having everything prepared ahead of time. Clearly, this wasn’t a teachable moment.
Or was it?
By the time my husband went to bed and my daughter left for the airport, I was a mess. My nerves were shot, my stomach was churning and a two ton heavy thing sat on my chest. Not a great way to start a day that was already crushingly busy. I had to volunteer at the school, take my mom to a hair appointment as she had a wedding to attend that afternoon, get dinner in the crockpot, pick mom back up, make it to my math study group and then go to work. I had to turn it around and fast or otherwise I would come home and dive into a vat of wine. I had maybe fifteen minutes before my mom got up. It was time for some ninja calming techniques.
Ten very slow breaths. I imagine that my stomach is a drawer that opens as I take in air through my nose. As I let the air out, the drawer contracts closed. I count on the bottom of the outbreath.
Mountain pose. I stand very tall, feet close together, arms by my sides, fingers pointing down, eyes gazing in the distance. Then I dive to a loose standing forward bend to stretch out my back. Then I straighten with my arms over my head, stretching first one arm upward and then the other.
Then I spend about five minutes jotting down my schedule. Was there anything I could move or change? It took me a minute to realize that I could skip or reschedule study group and run up to the tutoring center to get my questions answered after dropping Mom off to get her hair done which would save me about two hours out of the day. That would also give me time to stop at the store to pick up an item I was missing for dinner.
Then I took a moment to realign my thoughts. Instead of resenting running my mom around, I reminded myself to be grateful that I still have my mom with me. My struggles with math show my commitment to my goal of getting a degree. Instead of being pissed off that I had to stop at the store, I should be grateful that I have access to have so much available food. Gratitude is a game changer in my daily struggle for equanimity. My ego is like a petulant child always wanting to run the show, always wanting its way. Gratitude is a quiet way of putting my ego back in its place.
I took a deep breath. Then another. It was going to be okay. A hint of anxiety was still there, lingering just below the surface and I knew I would have to remember to deep breathe until bedtime, but a bad start to the morning didn’t mean I was stuck with a bad day. It took just ten minutes to come to grips with that concept. Lesson learned.
I’d still rather have my morning routine, though.
In writing, as in so much of life, we often concentrate on the goal. We peck away at our keyboard, longing to finish the paragraph, page, chapter, book. When we finish the book, we find that our goals have moved further off into the distance. We now need to write the query, polish the synopsis, obtain an agent, and score a book contract. Then we have more goals: second book contract, promotion, third book contract, more promotion.
Add in an industry fraught with rejection and reviews that judge both the writing and the writer, it’s no wonder that writers have historically reached for that bottle of gin, or wine or other mind-numbing poison. The advent of the Internet has been both a Godsend and a bane—research and communication are easier but at times it feels as if everyone else in the world has good writing news except you. The Internet is good at creating that little flutter of anxiety that means if you don’t hurry, ALL THE CONTRACTS WILL BE GONE AND THERE WILL BE NONE LEFT FOR YOU.
It never ends. Like a sailing ship, the goal is always just over the horizon—we never actually reach it and it becomes ever more elusive. “So concentrate on the writing,” we’re told. Yet, who is really satisfied with their own writing? Oh, we may be in flashes, but overall? “Not I,” said the little red hen.
Often, in spite of what it looks like on the outside, even working writers aren’t assured of anything. I have a total of seven traditionally published books that have been translated into four different languages, two novellas and a half a dozen articles in Writer’s Digest, yet I’ve had four agents and no books on the horizon. No one is more aware of the quicksand that most authors are sitting on than I am. I teach novel-writing classes for my local community college, attend conferences, write for magazines when I can and constantly worry about my next book sale.
So what is the solution? Perhaps the answer lies less in the goal or the outcome and more in the process. Perhaps the process is the point. It’s being mindful of the writing while actually doing it. I’ve always enjoyed timed writing sprints with friends online. It makes the time and the writing go faster, but maybe this method simply keeps me more focused on the word count than the actual words. I get sloppier in my sentence structure when I’m racing and less aware of word choice. What if in my desire to outwit my inner editor, I’m bypassing my inner writer? The one who actually enjoys word play?
People say you should only worry about what you can control and we certainly can’t control the publishing business. But maybe if we concern ourselves more with the process and less with the outcome, we will worry less about where our writing is going and enjoy the act of writing more.
So next time I sit down to work on my manuscript I’m going to try something new. I’m going to forget about daily word count goals and word racing. I’m going to open the document without expectations. And I am going to play with each word, each sentence and each passage—and try to be mindful of what I’m doing each moment.
I think one of the most important tricks in life is to figure out what to say yes to and what to say no to. This one still knocks me on my arse... I actually think that those two little words are the building blocks of your life. Your yeses and nos basically dictate how you spend your time.
People tell you that I'm the queen of no. My husband-who says yes to way too much-made up the name. My friend, Miriam, however, says I need to say no much more because she thinks I say yes way too often.
The truth lies somewhere in between. I say no to others and I say yes to myself to excess. And I’m not talking about the “Yes, I can have the extra piece of cake or third glass of wine.” (Though I do that a lot too!) I'm talking about the, “Yes, I can go to school and work three jobs and train for a half marathon and write books.
Then I’m all shocked and butt hurt when I crash and burn.
I think part of the problem is that I really don’t know what I want and the options are dizzy-making. I'm afraid that I'll say no and lose out on something good. For instance, last spring, I quit my day job. Then in the summer, I took it back (with a lot less responsibility.) I was ready to give up my college degree dream as a something impossible because it really doesn’t make financial sense. Then I registered for fall term because in spite of it being impractical, I want that degree. I just do.
I waffle. I waver. I says yes and then no and then yes again so many times it gives me vertigo. People tell me to slow down and enjoy life. What they don’t understand is that excepting a few moments of freak out, I enjoy being busy. I like feeling accomplished. I also pencil in time for friends & family, time alone, time to get out in nature, etc, so it's not all work. Sometimes I burn out. Sometimes I screw up. Sometimes I’m exhausted. But I try to remind myself that those times of exhaustion and burn out means I’m out there swinging, out there trying, out there living, and THAT makes me very happy. As anyone who has overcome cancer will tell you, living so you have time to love and learn and experience is the only thing that counts.
So for me, saying no opens up time to say yes and vice versa. It’s everyone’s job to find a yes/no ratio that works for them. I know a fellow author, (and fellow cancer survivor), who decided after a successful career writing romances that she didn’t want to write them anymore—her taste and priorities had changed. She said no to one thing so she could say yes to another. So mind your yeses and your nos. Because that, my friends, is how you make a life.
I’ve become a perfectionist. From the stoned flower child reading in a horrendously dirty house with overflowing sinks and cat-boxes to an over-achiever who posts pictures of her adventures, gourmet meals and lovely garden. I’ve gone from someone who refused to make lists on moral grounds to someone who has written blogs about how to get organized.
I’ve been headed in this direction for years, but I think these tendencies have grown exponentially with my use of social media. Now I receive pats on the back from complete strangers for my industriousness and I find the positive feedback almost irresistible. Instead of, “Look, ma, no hands,” I can now show the whole world my accomplishments. Look what the weird chick raised in Alfalfa, Oregon has done. You thought she wouldn’t amount to much, didn't you? Ha! With each pat on the back, I become more like Pavlov’s dog looking for a treat than a human being who fucks up on a regular basis. I can’t just can my vegetables, I have to show people I’m canning my vegetables. I can’t just climb a peak, I have to show people that I’m climbing a peak. I can't just make dinner, I have to show people my turnip bacon risotto with a French leek salad...oh god, there I go again...
While I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with sharing your life with others, I’m worried that other people will believe that this is all my life is. Furthermore, I’m more worried that I WILL BELIEVE THIS IS ALL MY LIFE IS.
I worry that in only showing the glossy public part of my life, I’ll become more shallow and less real. Yesterday, I opened my mouth and said something super stupid and hurtful to a friend. I didn’t mean to sound like I was bragging, but it did. Like one of those perfect pictures I post, or the list of things accomplished, it only revealed part of the story. Yes, I can do XYZ in five days, but I didn’t share that I cry myself to sleep at night, become a raging bitch and scream at everyone I love while doing it. Why didn’t I share that too? Have I become so used to only being the #allthethings Teri that I can’t share the cost of #allthethings?
On the other hand, do people really want the truth on social media? I know writers and agents who have shared the truth about their lives and their professional reputations suffer. Can I share which books have sold well and which ones haven’t without harming the illusion of success? How important is that illusion anyway? People are attracted to successful people. Is that our mammal herd mentality kicking in? How honest is too honest?
And just what are you supposed to share on social media anyway? Share too much and you get derision. (Don’t you have a life? You obviously aren’t getting enough done.)If you show pictures of your food, people don’t think you are serious enough. If you share political posts people think you’re too combative or confrontational or even naive. If you show pictures of animals who have been mistreated and or ask for donations for this or that cause, you’re subjecting people to things they don’t want to see.
That leaves us cat videos, people. Cat videos.
I’d like to say that I'll stop sharing about how I try to do #allthethings, but I know I won’t. I will, however, try to post more about the price of doing them and my failures. Expect this post in the future. "I totally fucked up today and it hurt. #human"
It’s strange. Now that I’ve reached a certain age, I can see my past friendships more clearly and because of this, I’ve become more resigned that some friendships, no matter how close we were formerly, just never had the steam to make it. There are those that last a long time and those that fade quickly, but perhaps the ones that are the most puzzling are those that last for 20 some odd years and then just sort of implode or fade away.
Remember when you were a child how easy it was to make friends? We both want to play on the swings so let’s be besties. As you grow, friendships became more and more complicated. By high school, friendships are like minefields—fraught with danger and oh, so very important. After school, making friends becomes more difficult. With work and children, friendships sort of happen on the fly. It’s a self-preservation thing—your child has reflux, my child has reflux, please for the love of god, be my friend. Or with work friends, it’s like we’re at the same place at the same time want to grab a drink before heading home? Proximity and convenience friendships are very real and for good reason. Some of these friendships last and some don’t. This is a pattern that has repeated throughout my life—some last, others don’t.
Sometimes you really hit it off with someone and after a few months they’re just too busy to meet up anymore. It takes me a while, but I usually get the hint. Others last a few a few months and then suddenly I’m too busy to meet up and they get the hint. (Others never seem to get the hint but that’s a whole nother blog!) Not all friendships are meant to last. There are still other friends that you love but neither one of you seem to make time to get together no matter how close you once were. You’re still friends on social media and you send them a card for Christmas, but that’s it. Some friends, god bless their hearts, you can go a year or so without seeing and when you do get together, it’s as if you just spoke last week.
The twenty-plus-year friendships that implode are the hardest to explain. Sometimes I think that you just outgrow them. I had some very good friends during my evangelical Christian period that I just don’t see anymore. They’re aware of my change of heart and perhaps they can't reconcile themselves to the fact that someone they once thought they were going to hang out with for eternity is now choosing hell. (Better drinks). Or maybe their spouses found out and realized that not only am I no longer in the fold, I’m most decidedly anti-fold, and they put their dominant foot down. (Many religions frown on people hanging out with non-members, and evangelical husbands, especially, can have real hesitations about their wives hanging out with an intelligent, irreverent, contentious woman. And yeah, I’m an intelligent, irreverent, and contentious woman. Which makes me a lot of fun to be around, but again, that’s a whole nother blog.)
It’s also difficult to keep friendships going in the age of social media. Some people who I thought were sane turned out to be bat-shit crazy and there are those, especially during this political year, whom I'm just like, “Oh, dear lord, I didn’t know! You think what? You support whom? How are we supposed to go out for coffee? I can’t even look at you! In fact, I think I just threw up a little in my mouth…” On the other hand, the Internet has brought me some really close friends that I've met in real life and would totally go to bat for. From, you know, afar.
It can be sad to lose friendships, but sometimes it’s liberating. Like peeling off jeans that don’t fit any more and screaming, “SCREW IT, I’M WEARING YOGA PANTS!” Other times you just nod sadly and think, yeah, it’s for the best. Sometimes there’s just too much history to pretend that either of you have anything in common any more. As I’ve grown older, I realize that is better for me to have a handful of real friends that I can invest in than it is to have a lot of friendships that I don’t have the time for. That’s the leaning in part of this blog.
The point, I think, is to be open to new friendships and relationships while remaining committed to the ones that are mutually satisfying and edifying and letting go of those that aren’t.
I've been lucky enough to have sold foreign rights to many of my books and I thought I would gather the covers altogether. I'm missing a few, but am at the mercy of my publishers to get copies so what can I do... though I would like to see the Russian version of the Summerset Abbey Series!
Speaking of the Summerset Abbey Series,here is the latest rendition from Sweden!
Is that not gorgeous???
Here is the original:
Now for Born of Illusion. Here is the original:
Here is the Brazilian cover:
And the Italian:
Which one is your favorite?
- Make coffee. Nothing can happen without coffee. Apparently there are people out there who claim productivity without coffee or some sort of caffeine, but I’ve never met any and I, for one, doubt their existence.
- Drink coffee, while checking email and scrolling through social media because you can’t be expected to write while you are waking up.
- Make a to do list. Even if you don’t follow it, it makes you feel so much more accomplished.
- Do a few household chores.
- Exercise. We’ve all read articles on how sitting is killing us and it’s difficult to be creative when you know damn well that every ten minutes in the chair is shortening your life span.
- Get a bottle of water and set it on your desk. You just worked out, you need water.
- Ignore the bottle of water and drink more coffee.
- Bring breakfast to your desk and scroll through email and social media because you can’t be expected to write while eating breakfast.
- Spend ten minutes on the phone explaining to your husband why you can’t pay the bills or go grocery shopping because you are working and he should respect that.
- Bring up your manuscript
- Answer some emails
- Watch cat videos
- Read a chapter of your manuscript to get into the groove and make a few corrections.
- Bring up the thesaurus on your computer.
- Scroll through twitter and see if anyone wants to write with you.
- Write for twenty minutes and then realize that you don’t know if this remote town in Spain had electricity in 1917 and spend another twenty minutes researching only to discover that they didn’t and now you have research what kitchens without electricity looked like in 1917, Spain.
- Write for twenty minutes and then realize you don’t need that scene and that you are padding and delete the only scene that mentioned the kitchen in the first place…
- Drink more coffee.
- Realize it’s lunch time and you have written one deleted scene.
- Eat lunch while checking social media because you can't be expected to write while eating lunch.
- Take a few sips of your water and congratulate yourself on your commitment to your health.
- Drink more coffee.
- Hit upon an idea and write for two hours in a vortex of creativity. Come up for air when you realize you need to make more coffee.
- Realize there is nothing for dinner and you really do need to go grocery shopping but you have to pay bills first to see how much money you have left to grocery shop with.
- Look at your to do list.
- Cross off a couple of things feeling accomplished. Ignore all the things you didn't get done.
- Drink more coffee knowing you probably won’t get any more work done that day.
- Console yourself that that’s okay, because you are now 1500 words ahead of where you were that morning.
- Try not to feel bad because those 1500 words have nothing to do with the project that has a deadline.
- Stop at Starbucks on the way to the store because you deserve it!
I’ve hinted about changes in my life for quite some time and thought I would take a moment to fill everyone in. True to form, I’ll do it in bullet point because it’s just so much easier that writing transitions and it is 6:00 AM.
- I have a new agent. This move was something I’d been agonizing over for quite some time and circumstances brought it to a head. While my former agent was brilliant, hardworking and talented, we had communication issues and often found ourselves on different pages. Even when we thought we were on the same page, it turned out to be in completely different books. She took my career further than I thought it could have gone, but in the end, when she moved to a new agency and position, I found that I was relieved. My new agent, the brilliant and talented Nephele Tempest and I communicate very well. The only problem is we tend to interrupt one another on the phone because we just have so much to talk about! She is also with The Knight Agency, a boutique agency that I have wanted to be a part of forever. I’m pretty much thrilled.
- I resigned my position as head teacher at the day job. This is also something I agonized over as I loved the job, the kids, my boss and my coworkers. But with school, writing and teaching at Portland Community College’s community education program, it just became too much. I was really heartsick over leaving but knew it was the right decision. However, when another position became available, I realized that even though I didn’t want the responsibilities of being a head teacher, there is no reason why I can’t continue to work there for three hours a day. So YAY!
- After I resigned from the day job for next school year, I was hired as a substitute for the Tigard/Tualatin School district as a classified substitute. I can work when I want and where I want and what positions I want and only have to give them four times a year. Even though I’ll continue working for Common Ground Extended Care, I’ll keep this one too.
- I am going to be perusing more freelance travel writing work. I really enjoy doing it and think I can be a success at it!
- Because of these new responsibilities, I won't be starting a fiction writing coach business this fall. This was another tough decision, but not only do I not have the time, I also really enjoy the give and take of a regular classroom like I have with my PCC gig. Plus, I'm not sure that anything that requires me to sit in front of a computer more is a good option for me. I need to MOVE more not SIT more!
- I probably won’t be returning to school next year. I’ve weighed the pros and cons and even though I long for an English or history degree, I don’t think I want it badly enough to learn algebra for it. I’m a little ticked off that they want to make me learn algebra to get an English degree, but that’s the way the system works and they aren’t going to change it for little ole me. I still have academic insecurities and really wanted a degree but I would really rather learn to play the flute than math. This isn’t set in stone yet, but this is the way I'm leaning. Letting go of this dream has been so hard, I can't even tell you... And I could, you know, change my mind at any given moment...
So there you have it. Changes. Sometimes change is hard but it’s good too, because it makes us stretch and grow as humans. It also helps me grow as a writer and that is something I have to continue doing.
Before the signing: Do I have enough bookmarks? Enough candy to give away? Stickers? What if I run out of something? Maybe I should have the bookseller get me more caramels, or more water. My throat gets dry if I talk too much. I hope my mom doesn’t show up. People will think I’m not professional. God, I hope I sell a lot of books or else the booksellers will think I’m a loser…
During the signing: Oh, this is fun. More people will show up. Maybe I should call my mom. That would be nice. She loves things like this. No, she’ll just tell everyone she’s my mother and the booksellers will think I was desperate. Is that woman looking at me? No, she’s running away. Doesn’t want to buy a book. Or talk to me. No one's talking to me. Maybe I’m smiling too big. I look like a freak when I smile too much. No one likes a smiley author. I’m all by myself. Maybe I'll just rearrange these pens…
Later during the book signing: That was a nice little flurry. See people do like me. That one person though… No, I don’t want to write your life story. Yes, I’m sure your life would make a wonderful book. Keep smiling. Twenty minutes of conversation and no book. Maybe if I rearrange the piles to look smaller, like I’m selling. The bookseller is so nice. She keeps asking if I need anything. A few more customers, I said, jokingly. Was it my imagination or did she look a bit pained? Maybe it was because of that one customer who said it looks like a great book, but they have it cheaper at Target. Well, at least I made it into Target…That's it. I'm calling my mother.
Toward the end of the signing: Can people see that I’m sweating? Why does that bookseller keep apologizing for the lack of customers? Doesn’t she know that it’s much better if we pretend that everything is fine? That they didn’t order in fifty books and we’ve sold six? Oh my god, I’ve eaten all the caramels. I can’t believe my mom said she was too busy to come down. Oh, God, even my mother doesn’t want to come to my signing. I’m doomed! I’ll never sell another book. Everyone will know… What did authors do before they could play games and read tweets on their cell phones…
End of the book signing: Thank God that’s over. Two hours and eight lousy books sold. Why do I do this to myself? I’ll never do another signing. What a waste of my time. I could be writing. I just want to escape…Oh, God, what does that bookseller want now? Another signing for the holidays? With other authors? Oh, that sounds like so much fun! Of course, just shoot me an email…
I feel like an imposter.
Now, I don’t feel like this about everything I do. I don’t feel like a sham educator. Even though I don’t have a degree, I’m a great teacher and the kids at the afterschool program where I work would corroborate that, even without bribery. So would my boss. I also get consistently good reviews for my community ed writing classes. More than one student has told them that my classes are just the writing breakthrough they needed. No, this feeling of being a fake is very specific.
It’s as a writer, an author, that I feel like a total poser. Like I’ve made a writer suit and slipped it on while no one is looking. (It puts the lotion on its skin.)
Intellectually, I know it’s not true. I have seven novels published by major publishers. I’ve received wonderful reviews from well-respected industry outlets such as Library School Journal, Romantic Times and Kirkus. I have countless magazine articles in nationally distributed magazines. I’ve written for major websites, as well as a handful of startups.
Yet, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop and for everyone to discover that I’m nothing but a hack in author disguise.
Every rejection, every poor review, every mistake in my research, every time an editor takes the red pen to my work, every time a book doesn’t do as well as expected, I’m embarrassed—like I’ve finally been caught out.
If my current success as a novelist isn’t enough, what would be? Would making the New York Times Best Seller list do it? Would a movie deal? Would more money or more recognition ease the anxiety or would these markers of writing success simply increase my feelings of being exposed as a phony?
I’ve discovered a name to this feeling. It’s called Imposter Syndrome and it’s actually a thing. In fact, some of the world’s most successful women suffer from it. I’m not comparing myself to the likes of Emma Watson, Maya Angelou, or Cheryl Sandberg, (all of whom have said they felt like imposters), but feelings of inadequacy and the sense that we don’t deserve success can happen to anyone. Every time I credit good luck or circumstance as being responsible for my successes rather than talent and hard work, I’m giving in to that undercurrent of anxiety that when it comes right down to it, I’m just not that good of a writer.
This syndrome is often found in people who are experts in their field because experts know the more you learn, the more you have left to learn. So the more knowledge I acquire about writing, the less qualified I feel. In addition, most writers are avid readers and it’s hard not to compare… every time I read Hemingway, Conroy, Austin, Jackson, etc, I want to throw the book overboard and walk the plank.
I wish I had some kind of happy, positive solution to hand out here, but I don’t. The reason I am up at four in the morning writing this essay is because of that feeling. I only know two things: It’s just a feeling and feelings pass and I am compelled to write so I must be a writer.
At least, I think I am.