The Great Creative Cataclysm...er...Comeback

On September 11, 2010, I sat on the 1980s-shag-carpet-covered stairs in my Los Angeles rent house and boo-hooed into the phone to my husband. Why do I remember the date so clearly?

Because it was my birthday. (And because it’s damn hard to forget the feel of 1980s shag carpet.)

My friends, I was a complete and utter creative mess. I’d written three full-length books and half of another, but I was paralyzed.

A lot of things had contributed to the mess that was me.

I was single parenting while my husband was still overseas. My son and I had repatriated after almost five years in the Middle East, which is harder than you might imagine. (Ask me about the Target toilet paper incident if you want more proof.) Some of my best writer friends and critique partners were getting multi-book publishing contracts, big-time agents, and validation that they didn’t suck.

My confidence was shot.

And as I sat there on the shag, I told my husband I thought I should throw in the towel. This writing thing was going nowhere. It was too effin’ hard. And jonesing for publication had morphed me into a ball of neurotic adjectives like tired, disheartened, swirly-brained, envious, indecisive, and completely lacking confidence.

My husband’s answer to my meltdown was to buy me huge Mac monitor as a birthday gift with the hopes I would, you know, put it to good use. 

And I did. Sort of. I piddled (for non-southerners, this means “played around with,” not “whizzed on the carpet”) with a new story, helped another author launch her business, and sat on a national board I had no business signing on for.

Let’s face it, I was dog paddling. Pathetic, huh?

So what happened with Little Miss Pitiful? (Because right now, she just ain’t a character you can root for.)

Right before we were due to move again—to the East Coast this time—my mom had a sudden heart attack and died before I could make it back home. By all that’s holy, it could’ve sunk me for good. And believe me, I was the walking dazed for a few months afterward. Losing my mom was one of the worst things that had ever happened in my life.

And it was one of the best. Because to honor my mom’s memory I had to get my ass back in the saddle.

So on August 26, 2012, I made a declaration. I was done with being unpublished. I was done acting like the chubby kid chasing after the ice cream truck. (And I can say this because I wore pretty-plus jeans for year. I was the chubby kid.)

I said aloud, “I’m no longer unpublished. From now on, I will act as if I’m published.”

A year later—on August 26, 2013—my first book was published by Carina Press, an imprint of Harlequin.

And if you’ve taken a peek at my bio, you know I’m now a USA Today bestselling author of almost 20 books. 

Hands up.jpg

Yeah, yeah, you’re thinking. But what did you do??

  • I hired a coach to help me figure out what I really wanted and what being creative meant to me.
  • I worked on my creative process and learned how I write a book. I studied others’ techniques, but I began to develop confidence in my process.
  • I developed discipline. I sat my hindparts in the chair and WROTE.
  • I got organized, putting all my little ducks in a row so I could better concentrate on the work itself.
  • I decided that my definition of success at that time was becoming published. Period.
  • And I stopped thinking so damn much about where I should’ve been in my writing career and accepted where I was. Then I started taking the next right step (ala Julia Cameron) every day.

Every day.

There’s even more backstory involved here, but to make a long story somewhat short, it took me over three years to get my creative shit together. Because I had to piece together my recovery by myself.

But I want something different for you. I want you to be able to chase your creative dreams and make cool stuff. I want your path to creative fulfillment and success to be a heckuva lot easier than mine was.

That’s why I created Kicksass Creations, a place for aspiring and professional creatives to learn how to get shit done and become more productive.

So tell me, are you in?

Five Lessons Writers Can Learn from a Two Year Old

Although I’ve published over 15 novels and novellas since August 2013, I’m still a mere child in the world of publication. 

But think about how much a child learns in the first couple of years of life. It’s seriously mind-blowing.

So today, I want to share with you five things I learned during my infancy in publishing. Because at the pace this industry is moving, an author has to stop crawling and run PDQ. (Oh, and a quick caveat to these bits I’ve learned…they’re only lessons, not rules.)

Recognize faces and smiles.

Yes, we’re busy and yes, our time gets squeezed once we’re committed to deadlines. But remember, being nice, smiling, and recognizing the work of others is important. Treating editors, readers, other authors, reviewers, bloggers, agents, and whoever else you can think of with respect is good business. And it’s also good for your soul and theirs.

 

 

Feed yourself.

Both figuratively and literally. Sometimes you have to stop the treadmill. With the reality of publishing these days, you could release a new month every month and readers would still ask for more. You could be on Facebook every second of the day and still have more things you could post or could comment on. No one is going to put out their hand cop-style and tell you to stop. You have to know when enough is enough.

Stand with help.

When your friends and colleagues offer you a hand, accept. When they need yours, reach out. Because none of us can get through the challenge of creating stories and running a small business without people to advise us, bolster us, and sometimes ply us with alcohol (not a technique I advocate with actual infants).

When my first book was contracted, all I was thinking about was gaining readership. I had a fairly broad network of other writers, primarily from starting Romance University. I let those extended relationships lag for a while, and it wasn’t smart. Because realistically, who’re you going to turn to for advice on everything from marketing to formatting? That’s right, folks who’ve been there and done that.

Don’t wait until you need people to stay in touch with them. Keep those relationships strong even though you’re trying gain readership (maybe exactly because you are).

And if you’re worried about being a “taker” at this stage, don’t over-worry about that unless you really are being a PITA to people. Believe me, once day you’ll be able to pay back all that early support and help someone else stand strong too.

Understand language.

Keep learning. Publication can rule your life. Which means you have less time for things like eating dinner with your family, walking your dogs, and showering. One thing many authors give up is taking the time to continue to learn and improve their craft.

We’re trying so hard to keep up and get ahead that we allow our love of the written word get sidetracked. But continuing to learn feeds not only our ability to write better but also fills our souls. For writing craft, James Scott Bell is my hands-down favorite. His short craft books like Write Your Novel from the Middle are well worth the money. One the subject of creativity, my go-to experts are Julia Cameron and Twyla Tharp. And if you haven’t read Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative, I highly recommend it. And for just plain ol’ mental health, you can’t do better than Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection.

Walk and run.

Go big or go home. This doesn’t mean you have to do the once-a-month publishing track or get a seat on Oprah’s show (although if you do, remember we’re kinda friends, okay?). It means you have to find ways to pull away from the pack and be the kind of craftsperson and businessperson YOU are. That may mean breaking out and trying something new, something risky. Do it even though you’re scare spitless.