This image has been the cover to my Pinterest board about life and writing ever since it was created. Some people have boards about life advice, and some people have boards for writing, but for me the two are so interconnected I didn’t want to separate them.
I’ve been thinking about this quote a lot these days. I’ve been looking over my past posts, and particularly drafts of posts chronicling the long journey towards publication. I’ve had a lot of internal ups and downs, and when I’m finally able to make that exciting announcement about a book deal, I want to be able to share with you how I felt in those moments of hope or despair.
These days, however, mostly what I feel is calm. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to this point, and today I’d like to talk a little bit about that journey.
When I stepped down from Pub Crawl two years ago, I felt lost. I knew I needed out–out from the cycle of talking about writing instead of actually writing, out from the hamster wheel of social media, out from the sense that I was failing, stagnant, unwanted. I didn’t know it then but I’d reached a plateau with my writing, and the only way I knew how to fix it was to go back to my roots. I needed to be alone, to break my habit of watching TV instead of reading, to focus on me and my writing journey instead of constantly comparing myself to others.
And slowly, the riot in my head quieted. I got a library card. I exercised outside. That first spring sometimes the only time I felt calm was when I walked my dog by the river. Something about the sound of flowing water calmed the panic in me. Everything got better. I finished rewrites on ACORAS, and knew it to be the best book I’d written thus far. I had my hope, and my pride back.
Things really didn’t turn around, however, until March 2013. Gee, what is it with me and Marches, hmm? :-) I got the chance to show Chris my entire extended family and home state of Washington. My family moved when I was nearly 17, and the relocation was traumatic. Washington is mystical; a land of oceans, forests, mountains, and of course for me the deeply intimate pull of childhood. I can’t over-emphasize how magical it was to visit the places I frequently dream about, and to step into the land of my childhood as an empowered, self-aware adult.
One of the more magical things Chris and I did was see an astrologist/Tarot card reader at the Pike Place Market. I was interested in Tarot as a way to further my study of magic and fantasy (especially after reading Maggie Stiefvater’s amazing book, The Raven Boys), and the woman we visited was an excellent introduction to the topic.
I’m ambivalent about astrology and Tarot as methods of divination; I more appreciate Tarot for its explanation of archetypes and how it can be used to further storytelling. In fact, I used a deck to help develop The Cobworld in its infancy… oddly enough, I looked over those notes again recently and ideas the deck turned up that I initially rejected ended up being exactly accurate. But, you know… that’s probably more a case of my subconscious at work than psychic cards. :-)
However, the things this lady talked to us about were spooky-accurate. She looked over my star chart (yes, I know how that sounds) and was able to pinpoint a very traumatic event in my recent past, having to do with friendships and jealousy. She warned me that I would experience another event in March 2014, and would do well to react to this one differently than I did to the last one.
On another note about Tarot (and numerology): apparently the card that represents my personality type is The Empress. The Empress is maternal and loving, but a book I was reading about the subject blew me away when it said that Empresses are often given to ‘sorrow held in the mind.’
You guys, I just fell apart. Sorrow of the mind. That’s what I have exactly. I obsess, and torture myself with jealousy. I used the successes of others to tear myself down. I let my ego be in charge, mad that others got what I felt I deserved and at the same time feeling unworthy and alienated.
The Tarot reader advised that when I felt this way, I should just ‘send love’ to those I was obsessing over. But how to do that? Just tell them, she said. I developed a mantra (You might remember all this from this post): I wish you happiness in all areas of your life, I hope you have success in whatever you do, and I hope you feel loved. Loved. Loved.
To wish love upon your enemies is… so powerful. At first I could barely think the words, not even silently inside my head. That’s how harmed I was, how much I let this ‘sorrow of the mind’ affect me. But I kept practicing and practicing, and soon every time I felt a little jealous or upset, I would just send love. The thing about words, as I’m sure you all know, is that they matter. The thing about our thoughts is that they create our reality.
And so I went about recreating my thought patterns. I rewrote my reality. I loved and released my way into letting go of all those negative emotions. And once all that was gone it left room for new things to grow. Things like patience, and this indescribable thing I can’t express succinctly, but is essentially the ability to identify things that aren’t working, and the willingness to let them go no matter how much it hurts. Though eventually the cutting of what is unnecessary hurts less and less, because you know you are moving towards something better. Thankfully for me that was only some bad habits, and the belief that everything I write is ‘precious’, as Laini Taylor puts it.
Somewhere along the way I picked up the belief that I cannot have the things I truly want in life until I’m ready for them. I’ve tried to force my destiny before, with disastrous results. Now I believe the universe has set me on a path that prepares me for the trials of the things I want, so that when I finally get them I will know how to handle them.
One of my lessons is patience. Publishing requires aeon-levels of patience, and I have developed it. Maybe it’s the acceptance that the world does not revolve around me, and maybe it’s just an increase in knowledge of the work flow behind the writing world, but waiting doesn’t get to me anymore. As someone brilliant put it, the time will pass anyway. So why are you spending all this time being anxious and worried, when you have literally zero affect on the outcome? The only thing we, as writers, can control are the words. So I put all my focus into that.
I spent the past few months rereading some of my absolute favorite books, books I would love for mine to be compared to. And not just reading them, but studying them. Comparing how I do transitions to how they do it. Comparing what I thought were The Rules of writing to what actually works; for example, two of my absolute favorite writers, Laini Taylor and Maggie Stiefvater, both use adverbs in their books, whereas I’ve been carrying around this Rule, courtesy of Stephen King, that one should never, ever use adverbs. But why? I like adverbs! I think they can be very useful, if used properly.
I read through the entire blog archives of both Maggie and Laini, tracing their publishing path and absorbing the life lessons they learned along the way. When I began editing The Cobworld I took their wisdom with me. Laini’s willingness to redo a scene as many times as it takes to get it right, and her amazing use of details to enrich her manuscripts. Maggie’s dedication towards mood and development. Both ladies are brilliant writers and conscientious human beings, and if you haven’t read their books yet you absolutely must. Laini’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone changed my life. When I read it I knew that was what I wanted my novels to be like, and have been hopefully moving toward that goal ever since.
Now The Cobworld has usurped ACORAS as the best book I’ve written, in a technical sense. As of yesterday it is out with its first critique partners, and after a brief break I’m wading back into Nameless.
But I know what you’re really wondering. Did the astrologist’s prediction come true? You know, I think it might have. Several things happened this month that would have sent Past Me into a tailspin. But this time I responded with love, towards myself and others. I focused on my own journey, the work in front of me, my own personal triumphs, and I hardly got obsessive at all ;-)
And I had another revelation.
If those hurtful things hadn’t happened to me… if I hadn’t gone through the pain of obsessing, and faced the fact that I needed to change… if I hadn’t worked hard this past year at breaking those negative mental grooves… then I probably wouldn’t have begun this journey to improve my writing. I would have been content to let my skill rest where it was. Instead I made a standard to compare myself to, in the form of a select group of amazing writers, and have found myself lacking.
Now I am hungry. I don’t want to just write a book; I want to write a book that changes someone’s life like Daughter of Smoke and Bone changed mine. I want to write a book like The Raven Boys that made every hair on my body rise because in that moment I found magic. I want to write an ache like Melina Marchetta or Kristin Cashore, and a velvety, beautiful world like Erin Morgenstern. I want to be on someone else’s ‘books I wish I’d written’ list.
I don’t care if it takes a million wrong words before I find the right ones, like Laini, or if I destroy days of work over and over until the feeling is perfect, like Maggie. I don’t want to be published; I want to be Great!
It’s… a work in progress.
So that’s where I am, and where I’m going. Working to be a better writer. Working to be a better person. Work, work, work. :-)
Yours in life and writing,