5 Secrets

we all have secrets1. I worry that people won’t like Truest— or even worse, that it will fade into obscurity within months of its release. It happens all the time.

2. I wish I was married and am envious of my friends who are. I need to move to Australia. Just about any boy with that accent will do. 😉

3. I’m a feminist. I’m only starting to say it to people.

4. A superbly written book will delight me while simultaneously plunging me into a manic state. I worry so much that I won’t measure up.

5. When I haven’t seen someone in a long time and we get together, I spend the whole time imagining they are shocked by how unhealthy I am. It makes it hard to enjoy reunions that should be special.

Your turn.

P.S. Do you know who owns this image? It’s everywhere online, and I’d love to give proper credit.

What Does Compassion Look Like?

Heart in the stone fenceMany, many OCD sufferers have been contacting me lately: they want to share their story, seek advice, and– in many cases– seek reassurance. Do you really think this is OCD?

My answer is pretty standard for those I believe are truly dealing with OCD. I tell them I’m not a mental health professional but that, in my experience, what they are describing sounds a lot like other cases of OCD. I encourage them to seek out ERP therapy.

They write back: So you really do think this is OCD?

But I know this routine.

It’s usually a compulsion, their asking repeatedly.

I explain this to them, remind them that I’ve already told them what I think.

I just want to make sure, they say. You really, really think this is OCD?

I explain again that their asking me over and over is not healthy for them and that they need to do ERP.

A week later, they’ll message me and ask again. I become a broken record, refusing to give in to their compulsions and doling out tougher and tougher love:

* I’ve told you what I believe and what is the solution. I have nothing more to add.
* Can you see that you’ve asked me X times now? That is a compulsion– seeking reassurance– and I’m not going to give in to it. It’ s unhealthy for you.

Or, in some cases, I won’t respond. What more is there to say?

This troubles me.

On the one hand, I know what it’s like to be gripped with the incredible fear and doubt of OCD. I know how it dials up to a fever pitch, and how desperately you just want. some. relief.

But I also know that compulsions are a short-term non-solution that only exacerbates things. I know that ERP therapy is the long-term solution.

It puts me in a really rough spot. I fear that I come across as cold, hard-hearted, tough, even rude. The years since I underwent ERP therapy have brought such intense clarity to my thinking that sometimes it’s hard for me to empathize in the same way I once could. Don’t get me wrong. I remember the 20 years of OCD hell. I haven’t forgotten. But the almost seven years since my own successful treatment have made me more confident in just about every way– including in what the appropriate treatment for OCD is. I won’t budge on it. I won’t recommend a band-aid. I can’t.

And I can’t cater to compulsions. I did that for myself for too many heartbreaking years, and I won’t give in to something that perpetuates prison for other sufferers.

In my desperate desire for their freedom, I think I come across too tough.

I don’t know the answer to this. I’m frustrated: with myself, with others.

But I know that compulsions kept me locked up and ERP set me free. That’s the line I draw in the sand. Maybe I’m being too tough on hurting souls. But I would be a liar if I gave out band-aids to cancer patients. That’s why I refuse to parry to compulsions.

For those of you involved in advocacy, is this a problem that you’ve had to face? How have you managed it with grace and compassion? I want to fight the good fight, but I feel so frustrated and tired.

This week, I counted up all the emails that the OCD community and I have batted around for the last two years, and it was near 2500. I’ve decided that– for the time being– I can no longer respond to these emails. It’s pushing me into an unhealthy place. I closed the messaging option on my Facebook page and posted this message on my Contact page:

Due to an overwhelming number of emails about OCD, HOCD, ERP, and the like, I am no longer able to respond to personal messages about these matters; I’m not a therapist, and though it honors me that you’d share your story with me, I’ve found that I am not in a place where I can handle such stories in a healthy way. I invite you to read my message to you atwww.jackieleasommers.com/OCD-help. It is everything that I would say to you in an email. I wish you all the best as you pursue freedom from OCD. Godspeed.

These actions have given me a sense of both freedom and failure, but I hope people will understand.

Truest: An Editing Timeline

A lot a lot a LOT of work goes into writing a novel. Here’s what went into the writing of Truest, my debut novel. Please note that when I say “editing” or “revising,” I am not referring to correcting grammar and typos but rather things like adding storylines, beefing up characters, changing the structure of the novel, writing new scenes, etc.

Broken pencil fragments on yellow paper
January-June 2012:
first draft
June-December 2012: self-edits, assisted by my local writing group
December 2012: hired a local editor to do developmental edits
January-March 2013: frantic revisions/re-structuring* based on editor’s feedback
March 2013: attended Big Sur Writing Workshop for additional editing help
March-April 2013: more editing based on Big Sur feedback
April 2013: hired local editor again for line edits
April-July 2013: line editing
July 2013: signed with a literary agent and made major (and difficult) revisions based on my agent’s feedback
November 2013: literary agent sold my book to Harper
February-September 2014: re-structuring* and MAJOR, MAJOR revisions based on my editor’s feedback

After this will come copyediting. 🙂

And, let me tell you, it was all worth it. I love the characters and the story and the plot so much more than I could have ever imagined back when the idea first was born.

*The original draft had a chronological timeline. The local editor suggested I change it to a back-and-forth past-and-present timeline; I had six weeks to completely re-structure it before Big Sur. Then, later, my HarperCollins editor asked me to change it back to chronological order. She also gave me six weeks for the re-structuring.

Four Thoughts on the Writing Life

writinglifeIt’s so lonely.

Writing is quite solitary. Even though I am part of a writing community– and have so much support and collaboration with dear friends– in the end, I have to do the work alone. I can’t explain just how alone I have felt over the last month or so, especially being single. Theoretically, I understand that even if I were dating or married, I would still have to do the hard work of revisions on my own, but … I’ve felt a little untethered and singular. Very, very much solo in this treacherous territory.

It’s so hard.

Harder than I ever imagined. I’m not referring only to the actual act of writing here … but to the head game. I get to a point where I start to hate my manuscript … my beloved story that I’ve poured my soul, energy, and tears into. Do you know how crippling that is– how it folds your spirit into such ugly shapes that you worry you’ll never sort yourself out again? I’m back in therapy, folks.

But I still want it.

Things got pretty dark– to the point where I started questioning my identity as a writer, ultimately asking myself, Is this really what I want? There, in the darkness, I saw a pinprick of light: the certainty that my answer was yes.

And I’m not really alone.

My lovely new therapist asked me to picture the Holy Spirit sitting beside me, looking at our manuscript, saying, Look what we’ve made. It made me bawl. Of course. I so desperately want to honor God with my fiction. The thought of him looking on my manuscript with pride was such a reminder to me that no matter how lonely this road seems, I have a faithful companion.

Related posts:
Writing is Hard … but Worth It (I Think)
Writing and/or Life, Both Hard
The Good & Bad of Writing
Being Single and Writing a Book

Image credit: Unsplash, modified by me

The Invisible Fight

There’s a scene in C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, and Caspian land on an island inhabited by invisible people who seem to be enemies.  The group talked over their best options for escape and realized they would likely need to fight:

“Surely,” said Lucy, “if Rhince and the others on the Dawn Treader see us fighting on the shore they’ll be able to do something.”

“But they won’t see us fighting if they can’t see any enemy,” said Eustace miserably. “They’ll think we’re just swinging our swords in the air for fun.”

Couldn't find the owner of this awesome pic, but I love how many stories it tells.

Couldn’t find the owner of this awesome pic, but I love how many stories it tells.

It makes me think of OCD. Not only of OCD but other mental illnesses too.

People often cannot see the evidence of a mental illness, and so they think we’re just “swinging our swords in the air for fun.”  It’s difficult– because the enemy is so very, very real, and the stakes are high (sometimes it’s literally life-or-death), but since mental illness is invisible, the fight doesn’t always warrant the respect it’s due.

For some of us, we look perfectly “normal.” We go to work, we smile often, laugh at our friends or co-workers.  And for some of us, the battle against intrusive thoughts is almost entirely internal (especially for those of us with Pure-O, whose compulsions are usually also invisible).

I am not at all trying to pit visible illnesses against invisible ones; every individual struggle matters.  My point is just to say this: you don’t know what the person next to you is fighting. Be kind to all people.


For (lots!) more about OCD and ERP, go to jackieleasommers.com/OCD.

Let’s Talk about Blurbs

Image credit: Publishing Perspectives | Click image to read their article on blurbs!

Image credit: Publishing Perspectives | Click image to read their article on blurbs!

Blurbs.  You know, the endorsements you see on the front and back of book covers where another author tells you how spectacular the book in yours hands is.

I recently purchased and read a book only because it was blurbed by one of my all-time favorite authors.  The premise of the book, a debut novel, was not of interest to me, but because So-and-So said it was funny and clever and good, I bit the bullet and bought the book. (Oooh, nice alliteration.)

I read it.  It was not really funny or clever or good.  I was really disappointed. It made me wonder just how difficult it was to get a blurb from that particular author.  The novel that was endorsed was nothing like the novel that the blurb-writer writes.

Do you pay attention to blurbs?
Have you ever read a book only because it was endorsed by a favorite author?
If you could have anyone write a blurb for your book, whom would it be?

I choose … John Green, Melina Marchetta, Markus Zusak, Jandy Nelson, and Rainbow Rowell. #InMyDreams

The Value of an Education: Paying for College

moneyWhen I chose to attend an expensive private college, my parents didn’t bat an eye.  Okay, maybe they did behind closed doors, but in front of me, they never complained, never argued with my decision, never made me feel guilty for choosing a school that cost far more than any of the state universities.

Not only that, but they helped me to pay for it.  Growing up, my dad set aside college money for me every year on my birthday.  (I remember while growing up thinking I’d so much rather have new toys than these mysterious dollars deposited into an account somewhere.)

I graduated with student loan debt– but not much.  I wasn’t saddled with a burden too big for me to bear.  In fact, I paid off my loans about three years after I graduated.

I’m blessed.  I know it.

And that’s the point: I am so grateful for this incredible gift, this huge sacrifice my parents made to help put me through school– not only school, but the school of my choice!  As a college recruiter, I so often see parents who refuse to help their children pay for a college degree.  For some of them, it’s not a choice: they simply cannot help.  There is no money available to help put their child through school.  But for others, it is a decision.  These parents believe that their child will not understand the value of an education unless they put themselves through school on their own.

It frustrates me.

Perhaps when I was 18 years old, I couldn’t understand this, having been so coddled and supported by my amazing parents.  But I certainly did at 21.  And more and more every year since then.  I never, ever take my college education or experience for granted, and I am so terribly grateful to my parents for their sacrifices.  (If you were to ask them, they would say, “It was no sacrifice.”  That’s the kind of people they are.)

In the US, the family is expected to assist the student in paying for an education.  Even the terminology of the index number the FAFSA is coming up with shows this: it is calculating an expected family contribution (EFC).  I’m not sure when it became popular for parents to ask their children to tackle the cost of college on their own, but it frustrates me when families say that students won’t understand the value of an education unless they foot the bill.

That simply isn’t true in my case.

There are a about a million caveats to every side of the debate, I know.  But I just wanted to throw my thoughts out on the table.

And, Mom and Dad?  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for never making me feel guilty for choosing Northwestern.  Thank you for the years of hard work and saving.  These things, more than anything else, showed me the value of an education.

Love you.

Image credit: Pixabay

Grieving the Reader’s Experience

Let me be clear on one thing: I love literature.  I really, really do.  That’s why I’m a writer!

But being a writer has also drastically changed my reading experience.

In the words of Billy Collins, “Readers read great work and feel appreciative.  Writers read great work and feel a burning jealousy.”

I know I’ve talked about this before, but I just wanted to share that– in some ways– I grieve the true reader’s experience.  It’s becoming more and more rare that I can just fully take in a great book with an open, generous heart.  There is this little flame of envy that licks all over my body, and while I think it’s a bit uncharitable, it also both reminds me that I’m a writer and fuels my writing.

Though I am terribly grateful that I’m a writer down to my bones, sometimes I do long for those golden moments of childhood when I could just embrace a book with nothing but love.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love books– with a deep, passionate, fiery love– but there is usually envy in that matchhead too.  Envy and analysis: how did the author do that?  Can I do that?  What if I were to …

Sometimes I miss it.  That’s all I wanted to say.

Había una vez... (Once upon a time) by Carolina Pratto

Había una vez… (Once upon a time) by Carolina Pratto

One of those pre-birthday posts where I whine about being single

Soon, I will be thirty-two years old.  Wowza.  How in the world did that happen?  I mean, theoretically I understand that every twenty-four hours the earth does a pirouette around the sun and eventually that adds up to a long dance.

But still.

Usually every time January 17th rolls around I re-evaluate the year that just flew by, and I usually feel pretty bummed about all that I haven’t accomplished.  This year, I’m trying to celebrate all the joyous events that came about in 2013: it was another year of OCD being under my heel, I got my first book deal, I won the Katherine Paterson Prize, I started blogging for the OCD Foundation.  That’s exciting stuff!

Still single.  Always single.

I know thirty-two is not that old, but please remember that I both went to and now work for a Christian college.  Do you know what that means?  “Ring by Spring” is the [only half-joking] tagline, and all these little virgins are running around dying to have sex.  Again, I’m only half joking.

I’ve watched nearly all of my college friends get married.  I am the only unmarried roommate (of eight) from my Moyer Hall days, the only unmarried roommate (of something like 12-14 [it was like a revolving door]) of my Lodge days.  I have watched high school freshmen grow through their high school years, graduate, come to Northwestern, fall in love, and get married under my nose.  I blink, and they who were once children are wearing white and saying vows.

It’s okay.  Tonight it’s okay, at least.

It helps to have a book deal.  It almost feels like an excuse.  (This is the first Christmas in a long while I didn’t get asked if I had a boyfriend … we talked about the book deal instead.  PRAISE GOD.)  I know I don’t need to have an “excuse” for not being in a relationship … but sometimes it feels that way.  Just being honest.

In the nearly eleven years since college, I have learned vicariously through my friends just how difficult marriage is.  (Like, really, really hard.)  I’ve watched friends go through difficulties, separations, divorces that shatter my heart.  I am glad I didn’t marry young.  Not that it is wrong to marry young, but I’m such a very, very different person now than I was in college.  And I’m more emotionally stable, slower to anger, quicker to administer grace.

Anyway, to summarize this, I wish I was in love.  Heck, I’d settle for just having a crush on someone who wasn’t a fictional character.  But I’m also okay (tonight, at least) and not wasting my singleness.

jackie is single