This is What Happy Looks Like

I wrote for about four hours this week. Granted, that’s almost nothing compared to before, BUT it’s four hours more than the zero I’ve been writing lately. I’m pleased. Again I’ve found that if I tell myself to write for “just one hour,” it often turns into more. If I tell myself to write for “just three hours,” I don’t write at all. Okay, writer’s mind, I play those games. Watch me.

Even though I stayed home sick on Friday, I felt relatively well this weekend. I got plenty of rest, but I also read (I finished Legendary and started Smoke in the Sun), wrote (book and blog), cleaned, and ate semi-healthy food (cobb salad … but then I rewarded myself with Glam Doll Donuts, so …).

Right now the laundry is rollicking in the washer,
my wrists don’t hurt,
I’ve smiled and laughed all weekend,
and the only tears I’ve cried were from gratefulness.

There is a man who makes me feel like a queen. I wake every morning to a text from him with a scripture verse he’s chosen for my day. I’m starting to believe that sometimes things actually last. I’m learning the best kind of man is the one who says, “You think you’re hard work? Then I want to do hard work with you.” And I really think he means it.

I feel like I’m gaining back control in ten-minute increments.

Clean for ten minutes. Rest for ten minutes. Call home for ten minutes. Balance the budget for ten minutes.

Read for thirty. Write for sixty.

The CPAP is an invention inspired by God. The novel too. I want to call down heaven to move my hands like a marionette.

I am grateful to have friends with whom I can share a paragraph here and there. Here is one for you all:

Sometimes when you stare out toward the east and see the rising sun slip over the vista, it’s so aggressively goldenrod that it makes the water looked gray, gray with one yellow road like a lasso. I remember standing on the beach last summer when my brother Natty, a five-year-old saint, said, “It’s a bridge for God, if he wants to come visit.”

Email to a Teen Writer: You Won’t Be a Starving Artist

I got a lovely email with thoughtful questions from a young writer today. I thought I’d share her questions and my answers for anyone interested.

Dear Ms. Sommers,

My name is [redacted]. I just finished my sophomore year in high school, and I am an aspiring author. I was given your email by [redacted] who helped me with a mock interview at my high school a few months ago.

If it would be okay, I have a few questions I would like to ask…

1) Do you think running a blog has helped you market your books?
2) Do you use your blog as a marketing strategy, a creative outlet alongside your books, or a little bit of both, and has it helped a lot?
3) I read that you went to Northwestern for creative writing. Are there any colleges that you think have better programs than others?
4) Do you think that taking classes for other writing styles would help my creative writing?
5) As a high schooler, I don’t have a lot of outlets to display my writing. What do you suggest on that front?
6) My family is supportive of my writing, but my parents are worried that I won’t make any money. When you were younger, were you faced with that and how did you overcome that? Did you get discouraged by it and if it did, how did you work through that?

Thank you so much!

Hi [redacted]! It’s so nice to hear from you! You have some amazing questions here.

hannah-olinger-549282-unsplashMy blog has definitely helped with marketing– and to connect with my audience who find my blog after reading my book. The blog is a marketing strategy, a creative outlet, a platform to share about issues I care deeply about (mental illness, faith, literature, underdogs), and a way to be real with readers. It’s a good way for me to keep writing and “publishing” material that while I’m working on a longer piece behind the scenes, if that makes any sense. Sometimes I think of my blog as writing “practice.”
I went to the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I loved the program. I think it’s important to learn creative writing from professors with their MFA (master of fine arts) versus their PhD (doctor of philosophy) because an MFA’s specialty is creative writing whereas a PhD’s is literature. Both are tremendously important, of course, but ultimately I think it helps a writer to learn writing from a writer instead of a literature expert. For undergraduate (the first four years of college), you may want to keep your creative writing program supplemented with professional or technical writing classes, which will help you get a great job after graduation. In undergrad, I suggest courses in fiction, poetry (even if you don’t consider yourself a poet– poetry improves your prose!), creative non-fiction like memoir, writer’s style, as well as more professional writing courses like editing/proofreading, technical writing, social media marketing, etc. If you have electives, think about using them for subjects that fascinate you, like history, mythology, science, theology– or maybe those are just my areas of interest. 🙂 Look for a writing program that makes professor and peer critiques a regular part of your coursework, and you’ll especially want to have some sort of writing project– maybe a senior capstone– where you tackle a larger project. Again, this should include a lot of peer and professor critique. My senior project was writing four poems and one memoir piece, and I got one-on-one feedback/criticism from my advisor every week– I also met with the other writers doing their projects every week, and we shared feedback too. At my school, this was a rigorous, MFA-level critique experience. It can be harder to find at an undergraduate school, but for me it was so incredibly valuable. It was what prepared me for later critiques from my agent and editor.
As a high schooler, I think it’s okay that you don’t have a lot of outlets to display your writing. Two thoughts here: firstly, you should find a way to show it off in SOME way, whether that is with your school newspaper, starting a literary magazine at your school, starting a blog, or even just sharing with your friends. You may also want to find others who are interested in writing and form a group that meets monthly to encourage each other and give feedback on each other’s work. Secondly, as you head into your junior year, I wouldn’t concern yourself TOO much with where to show off your writing. Smaller, more intimate experiences like the ones I listed can be so helpful, but it’s too early to pursue publication yet. Focus first on your craft. Publication will follow as your writing continues to improve, and as you experience more of life. This is NOT to belittle the high school experience– in fact, as a young adult author, that’s what I write about! I personally (and many other authors agree) that life experience is just as important in writing as actual writing skills. You will continue to learn and change and grow; you won’t be the same person today as you will be ten years from now, and that’s a good thing! You have meaningful things to say right now about life; you will have different meaningful perspectives in ten years. Fill all ten years with writing. 🙂 (Please don’t misunderstand me here– I only mean that our writing grows as we grow, and as a teenager, you have a lot of that in front of you. I’m 36, and *I* have a lot of that in front of me. Life experiences influence our writing in beautiful ways, so make sure to experience life.)
It can take a while to break into publishing. I graduated from college in 2003, won my first major writing award and was offered a book deal with a major publisher in 2013. Ten years!! So, what do we do during those years? You can tell your parents that I, along with most other creative writers, had no interest in being a starving artist. 🙂 The good news is that every business in every industry needs excellent writers– and those jobs are often very high paying! Before you have a book contract, you will need to work on your first novel on your own time; but while you are at it, you are highly employable. We think that writers must have jobs in places like publishing, marketing, book stores, etc., but writers are needed everywhere. I have had friends write for the corporate offices of major coffee shops, friends write for technical industries, friends write for journals and magazines that are about subjects they may not be passionate about (one friend wrote for an agriculture magazine, haha!). The highest paying jobs, I think, are in technical writing. I had a friend who did technical writing for Boston Scientific– the company was creating life-saving health devices, and she was writing instruction manuals for how to use them. Even as an intern back in the early 2000s, she was making $33/hour– after graduation, they hired her full-time– and this was a girl whose passion was writing fantasy stories about dragons! She would do her technical writing during the day at her high-paying job, then work on her novel in the evenings and weekends. The first novel you write has to be completely finished before you can pursue publishing anyway, so this is honestly the way that most authors write their first book. As for me, I work at a university in the admissions office. I do a lot of professional writing, marketing the college to families, and then in the evenings and weekends, I work on my creative projects. For nearly ALL of my friends in publishing, this is how they began. Please read my blog post about this (https://jackieleasommers.com/2017/01/11/writing-careers/) and perhaps share it with your parents as well. Writers are highly employable and are often the smartest people in any room they are in. 🙂 Yes, it is true that it may take you 5-10 years before you will have a book contract, but you will be working during that time. When people ask, “What can you do with a writing degree?” my answer is “Anything you want.”
I hope this is helpful! Keep writing! The creative life is so meaningful and fulfilling, isn’t it?
All my best,
Jackie

 

 

I always reblog the queen.

Melina Marchetta

Yes, it’s been such a long time but I promise it’s because I’ve put my head down and written a novel.  It has a release date next March and a new title, The Place on Dalhousie,but it’s still about Martha and Rosie and Jimmy.  Don’t ever ask me who I love best, because I love them all.

Here’s a bit of what goes on in their heads.

Martha wonders when kindness becomes an aphrodisiac.

***

She places her head on his chest and stays there and Jimmy knows he loves her. Is frightened to say it because he’s scared the words will come out lame.

***

The woman in the interview asked Rosie why she was interested in working with old people. Someone as young as her. Because no one in her family except for Nonna Eugenia got to grow old.

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One More Thing

I gotta get my butt in the seat. To work on this novel, I mean.

I read online that Maggie Stiefvater wrote her first published novel from 2-4 pm on Wednesdays. Butt-in-seat adds up to a finished book– it’s simple math.

There have been one thousand distractions since last fall– diagnoses and treatments, contract issues, online dating lows (and highs!)– but I think it’s time to start clocking some time in front of the manuscript.

It won’t be like it used to be– for years, I was able to write daily; for years, I wrote so many hours in a weekend. But it doesn’t have to be. Showing up from 2-4 pm on Wednesdays results in a book if you show up for enough Wednesdays. Thank you, Maggie, for reminding me of that.

This week I will show up. Next week, I’ll report how it went.

xo Jack

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“Help! My parents won’t believe me!”

I got this question just today:

I’m a 12 year old girl and I have ocd but my mom doesn’t believe me I’ve emailed many people who study ocd and they have said that I have pure ocd so what do I do.

This is hard stuff. Really hard.

What do you do when you are truly struggling but you feel too young and dependent to do much about it? When the person or people you rely on for help tells you that you’re fine?

Here are a few ideas, dear one. I also invite readers to leave ideas in the comment section, so be sure to check that out as well.

  1. Continue to educate yourself. The more you know about OCD, the more power you have over it– and the more justification you have when you discuss it with your mom next time. Read about it online, check out books from your local library, etc.
  2. Consider free resources. It’s hard to get treatment when you’re 12 and under your parents’ insurance and likely have very little means to an income. Sadly, babysitting money just won’t cut it here, and that stinks! But there are free resources. For example:
    * If you have a smartphone, download the nOCD app.
    * On Facebook, search for Pax the OCD Bot.
    * Check out a book at the local library about how to do ERP therapy (exposure and response prevention) at home on your own.
  3. Think through why your mom won’t believe you. I’m not saying that there are any good reasons, but I do know that sometimes our parents, who are often our biggest fans, don’t want to believe that we have something wrong with us. It’s scary for them, and actually, sometimes it makes them feel guilty– they wonder if it’s their fault. Again, not great reasons, but if this seems to be the case, it might help you in how you approach your mom the next time.
  4. You might find a book that really resonates with you– share it with your mom. For me, I gave my mother a copy of Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Spencer Hesser– a copy in which I had underlined all the quotes that resonated with me. At that time, it was the best I could do to explain what I was experiencing.
  5. Speak with another trusted adult. From Angie, one of my blog readers:

    I’m wondering if there are other people in your reader’s life that she might confide in and who might talk with her mom with her (or for her). In particular, I was thinking about other family members, like a trusted aunt; or perhaps a close family friend; or even a teacher or counselor from school. As an OCD therapist (and also the mom of someone with OCD) sometimes young people end up in my office for treatment because a teacher or another family member had a talk with the parent. Thinking of you, question writer! You are brave for reaching out. – Angie

I’m not an expert or a therapist, and I always encourage people to get professional help, but in this case, I can see where it’s feeling impossible to get that. Keep learning. Educating yourself about OCD empowers you, disarms OCD, gives you ideas for now, and prepares you for later. 

Hang in there, sweetheart, no matter what. And if you are feeling suicidal, call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 and be sure to let your mom know how serious it is.

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Oh, just an update.

I stopped taking that med. 

I called my doctor and said, “Do I need to taper off or can I quit cold-turkey?” I did not give an option for staying on it. She said there was no need to taper, so I’m done.

Tomorrow I’m seeing both my psychiatrist and my rheumatologist to check in and see if I need any other changes. Sadly, the “lab rat” aspect of finding the right medication is one I’m ultra familiar with.

I already feel like I’m back in control of my moods. AMEN. It’s such a bizarre feeling to theoretically know that something isn’t worth the tears but to NOT. BE. ABLE. to stop bawling. To feel like a total failure over the smallest things.

No. Yuck. I am not a failure. I have multiple illnesses, and I persist in finding treatment. That’s not failure. That’s success.

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Seen: Beer-Lahai-Roi

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

I have been slowly re-reading through the New Testament, and today it struck me that I kept reading the phrase “Jesus looked at [him/her].” I searched it online, and indeed, it’s found in all four gospels. We read of Jesus looking at his disciples with lessons, at Zacchaeus with an unexpected greeting, at Peter with a christening of a new name, at a rich young man, the story recorded as “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.”

I can only speak for myself, but: I want to be seen. 

It made me think of another story, this from the Old Testament. Hagar, an Egyptian servant, is used and abused and, pregnant, she flees. But an angel of the Lord finds her near a spring in the wilderness, where she is told the Lord has listened to her affliction.

seenSo she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her…

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The Trauma of Online Dating & Its Aftermath: a Hasty Poem

Certain words
are the overpowering cologne
of men who let me down,

And even when you say them, I only smell deception.

I cry like Niagara just to wash myself clean
Of foolishness, of judgment.

I should have known no one could love me like that.

I fight.
I fear.
I withdraw.

But you catch me by my collar when I turn to run.

You crawl into my darkness with soothing, silly words that make me wonder if maybe someday

All we will fight about is what to name our kids,
And all we will worry about is what to eat for breakfast.

Pep Talk for Myself

Gosh, this is just as true today as it was one year ago.

JACKIE LEA SOMMERS

This whole online dating thing has reminded me so much of Who I Am.

A girl woman who feels deeply, isn’t wired to be surface-level or casual, who tries to balance strength and vulnerability. Who likes herself.

Isn’t that so great? I LIKE MYSELF.

I feel like I have sort of been on the outs with myself for a few years now. I am recovering a friendship with ME. I sound like I’m about to grab a microphone and give a motivational speech, and I know it sounds so cheesy, but I don’t care. I like myself. I like myself!

I am this imperfect, dorky, confident, intelligent, playful, fun, opinionated, powerful woman, and I like myself. I have so much to learn, so many ways to grow, and that is exciting to me too.

May was a tornado. But I am still standing.

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