Obsessing vs. Brainstorming

I’ve had a very, very active brain for pretty much my entire life.  I’m the girl people always described as “the one who thinks too much.”  I have thoughts and ideas rush me like little hurricanes, and this is just as true after ERP therapy as it was before.

But there’s a huge difference too: productivity.

Before ERP, my thoughts were often OCD-induced intrusive thoughts that led me down dark avenues over and over again.  My thinking was circular, and I could re-visit the same ideas an uncountable number of times each day.  I was a hamster on a treadmill or a dog chasing its tail– that is, expending a lot of energy but going nowhere.

After ERP, my thoughts are much more welcome to me.  I can choose to focus on the ones I want.  I may still be lying awake at night, but it’s productive, and I end up jotting tons of notes and ideas down in my phone.  I start in one place, but an hour later, I’ve traveled some distance and often have huge realizations about my fictional characters and storylines.

Believe me, the latter is much more fulfilling.


For more about the ERP therapy that set me free, go to jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

I'm SO over this.

I’m SO over this.

An Author is not an Island

As regular blog readers know, I just recently signed my first book contract with HarperCollins Publishers!  I have a few people I need to thank for getting me there:

My writing group: Anna, Carra, Jaidyn, Addie, Rachel L, and Rachel R.  These ladies amaze me with their talent for writing and critiquing.

My beta readers: Melody, Brienna, Mary, Elyse, Stacey, Ashley, Cindy*, and Kristin L**, Megs, Tracy, Kristin R.

My cheerleaders: Des, Eir, and so many others.

* Cindy was also my go-to girl for basically every deep conversation I need to have regarding my characters, their actions, and their struggles.

** I credit Kristin with saving Truest twice.  She was the one who spotted the plot’s earliest flaws and helped me to fix them.  She also helped me figure out the conclusion when I was too deep in the story’s darkness to see any light.

Ben Barnhart helped me with both high-level, conceptual edits as well as line edits.  His suggestions added depth, nuance, and conflict to my story, and I’m terribly grateful.

The Big Sur Writing Workshop was an amazing experience where I read and revised Truest as well as interacted with authors, editors, and literary agents all in the children’s and YA literature industry.  I absolutely recommend it to serious YA authors who have a late-stage manuscript they’d like additional help with.

Steven Chudney, my agent, challenged me with some of the hardest revisions I have ever undertaken– and I was delighted with the results.

And now, Jill and Laurel from Katherine Tegen Books are taking me to the next level!

RevisionsAs you can see, I am the author, but I don’t work alone.  Iron truly sharpens iron, and if people end up enjoying Truest, it will be because of so many men and women who would never let me settle with mediocrity.

This, friends– this is why it shocks me when I hear young writers say that they either a) don’t feel comfortable showing other people their work or b) that they don’t think they can learn to be a better writer.  If you want to be a writer, you have to write.  If you want to be a great writer, you need help.

Or at least I do. 🙂


Swoon-worthy Books

cutetiptoesI’m not interested in the tawdry genre romance novels of heaving bosoms and shirtless beefcakes.  Give me a real guy with real faults any day.  Here are my “swooniest” picks:

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
“I’m here because of you. You’re my priority. Your happiness, in some fucked way, is tuned in to mine. Get that through your thick skull. Would I like it any other way? Hell, yes, but I don’t think that will be happening in my lifetime.”

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
“Oh, I wouldn’t mind, Hazel Grace. It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
“‘Kind of interested in you,’ he laughs, as if he can’t believe what he’s hearing. ‘I’m kind of interested in calculus and Ancient Roman warfare. You don’t use words kind of interested to describe how I feel about you.’”

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
“He smiles and takes his index finger and presses it to my lips, leaves it there until my heart lands on Jupiter: three seconds, then removes it, and heads back into the living room. Whoa – well, that was either the dorkiest or sexiest moment of my life, and I’m voting for sexy on account of my standing here dumbstruck and giddy, wondering if he did kiss me after all.”

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
“Lifting my arm, he presses his lips against the inside of my wrist. I’m utterly still; I feel my pulse tap several times against his lips, and then he releases my hand.”

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
“Do you remember all of your audiences?” Marco asks.
“Not all of them,” Celia says. “But I remember the people who look at me the way you do.”
“What way might that be?”
“As though they cannot decide if they are afraid of me or they want to kiss me.”
“I am not afraid of you,” Marco says.”

Divergent by Veronica Roth
“I feel his heartbeat against my cheek, as fast as my own.
“Are you afraid of me, too, Tobias?”
“Terrified,” he replies with a smile.”

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme over at The Broke and the Bookish

Image credit: couldn’t find the original owner of this pic!

Obsessive-Compulsives are Brave.

bebraveSometimes I think we OCs view ourselves as the antithesis of bravery because we experience so much anxiety, so much fear … and often over things that no one else seems to be struggling with.

But here’s the thing: we do it.  We battle this anxiety every. single. day.  

We get up.  We go to work and school.  We battle our way through days and nights like warriors.  People who don’t have OCD can rarely understand the terror that we stare in the eye every day.

And, most importantly, we seek out treatment– and that is the bravest thing of all.


For more about the ERP therapy that set me free, go to jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Image credit: Kelli Murray

Values & Principles

I’m going through a mentorship program at my work, and one thing my mentor and I are doing is going through True North by Bill George.  The book is about authentic leadership, and it’s great.  Even better is the accompanying workbook, which has led me through a series of challenging questions.

Lately, I had to define my values and, from them, write out my leadership principles.

Looking at the list, I realized it was so important to me that I typed them up and posted them in my office.  Here’s a pic.  Would love your thoughts and to hear your own!


Best of the Web

bestofthewebThe Independent interviewed Divergent author Veronica Roth on sex and teen fiction.

YA author S.E. Sinkhorn shares a satirical list of how to write the perfect YA heroine.

Forbes had a short piece on why YA author John Green still works with a publisher.

I died laughing watching this kiddo on Ellen.

My friend Anna posted about how to win the writing head game.

Australian author Rebecca James shared about her struggle with Second Book Syndrome.

The Millions posted a list of books hilariously re-titled to get more clicks.

At the Rabbit Room, an awesome realization from a re-reading of The Silver Chair.

I really like Taylor Swift, but even I had to admit this was hilarious.

And in the WORST of the web …

Jo Rowling says she regrets the Ron/Hermione pairing.

A Hard Decision for this Season

Routine blog readers know that I’ve been remarkably stressed in the last few months.  My stress level rocketed to such a high level on Tuesday that I thought I was nearing a panic attack.  Today I met with a therapist to talk over this season of my life and get some advice.

Right now, I am trying to juggle:
* working full-time as a college recruiter, a very fun but very socially draining role for an introvert
* revising Truest
* writing a first draft of my next book
* authoring this blog
* engaging in important conversations with fellow obsessive-compulsives
* volunteering with OCD Twin Cities
* trying to be a semi-decent friend, sister, and daughter
* a valiant attempt at healthier living.

I am not doing it well.  I’ve scaled back from my former routine of posting daily, yet I’ve still not found enough margin in my life to be comfortable for long.

The therapist tonight spoke the phrase I’ve been avoiding: “I think you need to cut something out.”

I pushed back: “These are life-giving things to me!”

He said: “The individual things are great, but they’re combining to a sum total that isn’t manageable.”

In my head, I thought of household chemicals that are fine on their own but lethal when combined.

Still, I fought it, saying, “Well, right now, what’s being cut out is sleep, healthy eating, and exercise.”

And he said, “That’s not sustainable.  You need to cut something else.”

So, with regret, for the time being, I have removed my email address from my website.  Many of you already have my email address, and you are welcome to continue using it.  I value our relationships!  But for now, I’ll be interacting with new blog readers primarily only through social media: blog comments, Facebook, Tumblr.  I had never imagined a day when I’d be withdrawing like this, and I’ll be honest, I don’t like it.  It feels cruel and a little traitorous to our deeply beloved and deeply wounded community.  I hope that people will understand.  It is one variable in my life when so many other things are non-negotiable.  I apologize.

In the absence of my email address, I will be adding some new heart-to-heart letters to OCs on this blog, which– while not the same as a personal response– will allow me to share my heart with my fellow obsessive-compulsives in the meantime.

I’ll still be blogging regularly.  You won’t miss me much (or at all).  Thanks for sticking with me in this stressful season of my life!  I’m so grateful for an amazing online community and the greatest friends and family ever.

More Thoughts on Profanity [& how ERP therapy changed my writing]

profanityAs you may have read before, I have a strange and evolving relationship with profanity.  Having grown up in a home that outlawed even pseudo-swearing (we couldn’t say gosh or shut up, among other things) paired with growing up with a mental illness elicited in me a dreadful fear of curse words– more than was ever healthy, even for a child.  For many years, my intrusive thoughts centered around illicit words, which developed in me a deep sense of guilt.

In my ERP therapy, I had to learn to think those words, even say them.  In doing so, I was stealing back power from my OCD, putting it more and more under my heel.  It was during ERP and in the year that followed that I realized a couple things:

1) Words are just words.  That said, “just words” still pack as much power as a nuke.

2) You can harm with words that are not profanity– worse than with profanity, in some cases.  A hard-hitting insult or an insincere comment can sting far worse than the word shit.

3) Shit does not equal poop.  Ass does not equal butt.  Damn does not equal darn.  They just really, really don’t.  They are completely different words.  As a writer, it’s my job to choose the best word in every line I write.  Just the same way that valor and courage both mean bravery, but those two words are not the same word.  I have to select each word with extreme care.

4) The fearsome qualities one assigns to the dreaded f-bomb are terribly reduced when you’re forced to listen to it for 80 minutes a day (again, ERP).

5) In ERP, I learned to separate myself from my OCD.  I learned to assign my intrusive thoughts to my disorder, instead of to myself.  To say, “OCD wants me to think X.”  This view, I see, has carried over into my view of my characters.  Even though I am the author, if my character John or Paul or Suzie wants to say a curse word, I don’t feel guilty.  Characters have their own histories, their own choice of words.  (Maybe you think this is strange … passing off my responsibility to characters that I’ve created.  If you do, then you’re probably not a writer.  As a writer, I have far less control over my characters than you might ever imagine.)

6) I write realistic contemporaries.  A teenager who has grown up lawlessly is going to swear.  You know that’s true.

7) In my personal life, I refuse to let OCD enslave me again.  One way it did so was by a huge and unwarranted fear of profanity.  I damn well won’t let it take control of me in that way again.

8) Personally– again, this is just for me– profanity is a small way for me to ward off the legalism that used to bind me.

9) “Let nothing unwholesome come out your mouth”: I guess I have to admit that I don’t really find curse words terribly unwholesome anymore.  I’m finding a lot of it to be based on social constructs that I don’t value enough to hold to.  I find it far more unwholesome for me to open my mouth and speak lies or to tear my fellows down.

10) This quote from Maggie Stiefvater:

Occasionally a reader will tell me that I don’t need to use swearing. They will follow this up with this well-worn phrase “you have a good enough vocabulary that you don’t need to use THOSE words.” Yes, I do. I do indeed. Since I don’t need to use them, that means I’m choosing to use them. If you trust me to be using non-swear words in a skillful way, please assume that I’m wielding my fucks and damns with the same contemplation.

As should all of you other writers out there. They’re just words. Handle them with care.

So, those are my thoughts.  I’m not terribly interested in getting into a debate, but do feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

See more of my thoughts on profanity here:
Profanity in Literature

Image credit: found this all over the internet, couldn’t find original.