The Art of Avoidance

Goal:
Work on novel.

Instead:
A girl has gotta eat, right? Better make some lunch.

And you can’t write while you eat, so maybe just one episode of New Girl. Ok, two episodes.

Speaking of food, I need to get groceries. I should make a grocery list.

Man, I love lists. What else do I need to do this weekend?

I really need to dedicate time to brainstorming. Add that to the list. Brainstorm about marking, book research, and blog.

Wow, the blog. I should blog. Yes, and that will get me warmed up to work on the novel.

Book research. I should read those library books before they’re due.

And then take notes.

And then brainstorm over the notes.

Maybe I should actually write a little bit about what I learned from the library books. That’s still progress, right? Short assignments?

I just need to run to pick up my prescription, and then it will be time to write.

Except Target exhausts me. Just a tiny nap. A short one. Well, okay, an hour. Two hours.

Crap. I napped three hours. Now I feel like a bum. And I still haven’t written. I should write.

And I will. I just have to wake up a little bit. Let me just eat some dinner, and then I’ll attack the novel.

Chipotle was not a good choice. I can’t write with my stomach hurting like this. Plus I have a headache. I’ll take some Ibuprofen, drink some water, wait till I can focus. I can’t focus when I feel like crap. No way. No one would expect me to.

Know what? ENOUGH. I HAVE TO WRITE. Write for one hour.

Writes for three.

That felt good. Tomorrow I should start writing earlier.

Sleep.

Wake up and avoid all over again.

exhausted writer

 

Bird by Bird, Buddy

I’ve been actually scared of writing, fearful of my manuscript, avoiding it at all costs. Some days it’s hard for me to understand how this could have happened: that I have learned to fear that which I once loved.

But deep inside, I know that I still love writing. It is all the other things that have added fear into the mix: deadlines, critique, even– in some ways– being paid for it.

Again and again, I have had to return to the advice of writing guru Anne Lamott: bird by bird, short assignments, shitty first drafts.

Bird by Bird

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Short Assignments

“Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise, or the young child swimming in the pool at the club, or the first time the man sees the woman he will marry. That is all we are going to do for now. We are just going to take this bird by bird. But we are going to finish this one short assignment.”

Shitty First Drafts

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”

And with that said– or remembered– I’m off to work on my novel. Think of me.

Love,
Jackie

P.S. If you haven’t read Bird by Bird, man, are you missing out: get it here.

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Sacred

Last week was so incredibly productive. I had to take my laptop and write in my bed, since my office somehow seemed too overwhelming, too formal, too demanding. 

So I wrote in my bed. It was a simple measure I could take to feel safer. I don’t know. Am I alone in this?

It makes me think of Virginia Woolf, of A Room of One’s Own, of how I, at 18, was so idealistic about writing that I wrote not one but two research papers meant to disprove Woolf’s claims, and how, a decade later, I would wonder, Maybe she was right.

Man, writing is hard. I saw this posted on social media today. I felt it.

I’m not complaining. Or I’m trying not to, at least. I have a calling on my life, and I am rising to it. No, my writing life isn’t easy, but it is sacred.

Lately

I am just so tired. No, that’s the wrong word. I am well rested. I guess I’m exhausted… emotionally, mentally.

Online dating is a really great way to feel like a piece of meat. I’ve heard from about 300 guys just since the start of the year, and it’s mostly made me sad.

Writing is such a beautiful thing, and it is usually life-giving to me, but lately, it’s been a battle just to open up my manuscript.

My friends are incredible… but going through some very hard things. I want to support them well, but that takes energy too. 

I have zero dollars. Please save me, tax return.

All in all, life is so good, so lovely and exciting and challenging. I’m just exhausted, that’s all. 

Psychiatrist on Monday morning. I need to see if any part of this is chemical. 

How are you, lovelies? What are your best suggestions for free/cheap self care?

8 Things That Surprised Me about Publishing My First Book

publishing surprises.jpg1. How long it would be before I’d sign the actual contract

I figured once the offer had been made, the business side of things would speed along so that we all made everything official. But I didn’t even see the contract till four months after my book deal.

2. That I’d be allowed to announce it to the public before signing the contract

I come from a place where you don’t share something until it’s set in stone. But I was able to talk about my book deal immediately, and it was even reported in Publisher’s Weekly months before I signed the contract.

3. That I’d need to learn to navigate my partnership with my editor

Thus far in my life, I had had two critique relationship experiences: in college, where if my professor suggested something, it was in my best interest to make those changes; and with my writing group of peers, where I collected ideas and feedback, but it was fully my decision whether to implement them or not. Working with my editor at HarperCollins was different– she was not my professor, though she did have more experience with writing and with story than I did; and she was not my peer, though she treated me with respect and genuine warmth. It was just a new scenario. We were partners in this project, and I had no idea what that was supposed to look like.

Ultimately, I learned to try everything she suggested. Usually I ended up loving it. If I didn’t, I would talk to her about why it wasn’t working, and we’d scrap it. There were very few things that we completely disagreed on, and in those 2-3 things, she let me win.

4. How much the book would change from the time of the book deal until the time it was published.

I swear HarperCollins purchased my book based on its potential. My editor’s first request was to rewrite the entire ending, beef up a handful of characters, and completely change the chronology of the book. In six weeks. 🙂

5. How fun release day would be!

I’d gotten so used to reading authors tell stories about how “it was just another day”– I knew I didn’t want that. It was a time to celebrate. I took the day off and drove around to local bookstores to capture my novel in the wild and sign copies; that evening, I had a giant book release party where I read passages, had door prizes, answered questions, and sold and signed books. It was a BLAST. Seriously one of the most fun days of my life. Definitely not “just another day.” Thank you to everyone who joined in on the fun!

6. How soon after publication the book would be declared a success or failure

Honestly, this was the hardest surprise. Not even a month in, people at Harper were already saying, “There, there. You’ll get ’em with book two.” Just a reminder about how important pre-orders and those first couple weeks of sales are!!

7. How much I would talk about OCD at book events … and how much it would resonate with audience members

When you’re a debut novelist like me, most of the people at your events haven’t read your book yet. So you’re talking more about yourself, your writing process, etc. than about the actual novel. I end up talking about OCD at nearly every event– and that’s because it’s such a huge part of my story. How can I talk about myself without mentioning one of my greatest challenges and greatest victories?

This has actually really helped me connect with audiences. A lot.

8. How special it is to hear from readers … and how important it is to generally avoid reviews

Some writers read all their reviews. I only read the good ones. There’s usually little actual constructive feedback to take from a negative review, and so often a reader doesn’t like your book simply because it’s just not their kind of book, you know? If someone loves vampire erotica, it’s very unlikely they will love Truest. But that doesn’t mean I need to go write vampire erotica. So, I read the good reviews. Usually if someone tags you on Twitter or Instagram, it’s because they liked your book and want you to read what they said about it.

It’s hard to explain just how special it is to hear words of praise about your book. To hear that you’ve made someone rethink things or that your book changed their life or became a new favorite or that they connected with a character or that it gave them hope during a particularly hard experience … it makes it all worthwhile. Please tell authors when you love their work. It’s like fuel. I have an Instagram comment that has lived in my heart for over a year now, ringing like a little bell.

Writing & Careers

It’s true that creative degrees usually get picked on, at least in my experience both as someone who studied creative writing AND as a college recruiter who interacts daily with college-bound students and their parents.

Creative writing– what are you gonna do with that?
You’re a theatre major? So, like, a future homeless person?
You study art … because you want to starve?

It’s annoying at best. At its worst, it usually looks like a parent insisting their artistic student choose a “safer” major– like business.

writing and careers.jpg

I have so many thoughts here.

  1. Many jobs simply require that a candidate has a bachelor’s degree, doesn’t matter what it’s in. Honestly, humanities-type majors help students learn how to think critically, which is something every employer wants. Many of the arts degrees teach students how to become incredible communicators– again, a highly regarded skill.

  2. Some jobs (like mine!) don’t even align with a particular degree, just a certain skill set. To be a recruiter at my university, you need to be a strong communicator, have great people skills, and love higher education. My colleagues have degrees in a wide variety of areas: communications, biology, youth and family studies, music, psychology, exercise science. My supervisor was a PR major; his supervisor studied business.


  3. It’s important for young artists to remember that their artistic goals will take years to accomplish. In general, most young writers don’t get a book deal with a Big Five publisher the summer after college graduation. There’s so much work to be done: a continual honing of one’s skills, reading all the books you wanted to read during college (ha!), coming up with a great idea, writing the actual book, most likely not selling that book, starting over again … in the meantime, you will still be employable.


  4. When I talk to senior English majors at my university, I ask them what their ultimate dream is. If their dream is to publish, then I tell them, Make sure you are writing. Here’s what I mean: many writing graduates pursue highly creative careers. There’s nothing wrong with this in and of itself– but most of us have a limit to our daily creative output. If you work a very creative job, will you be willing to go home and write all evening too? I tell them to go ahead and take that creative job if they want, but every couple months, they need to ask themselves, Am I still writing? If not, then something needs to change.


  5. I think, for college graduates, there is a certain pride that comes along with “working in the field.” They are more eager to say that they are doing copy editing or freelancing or writing for an organization than to say that they got a job as a bank teller or … well, a college recruiter. But the two things you need to ask yourself are these: 1) Does it pay the bills and cover your loan payment? and 2) Do I still have enough creative energy for my personal artistic projects? If so, then you are on the right road. If being a Starbucks barista pays the bills and leaves you with enough creative energy to go home and work on your novel, then you are doing it. If working at a publishing house pays the bills and is in your field, but when you go home, you have nothing left to offer on the altar of creativity, then you need to make changes.

25 Steps to Revisions for Writers with Anxiety Disorders

revisions with anxiety.png

  1. Get critique letter or email. DO NOT OPEN. DO NOT READ.
  2. Wait until you are in your safe place.
  3. Apply essential oils.
  4. Pray, if you pray.
  5. Decide to take a nap instead, just in case this is the last time you are able to find peace.
  6. Oversleep.
  7. Read editorial letter.
  8. Go back to sleep. DO NOT THINK ABOUT THE LETTER. DO NOT EMAIL EDITOR IMMEDIATELY.
  9. The next day, email editor to say thank you and acknowledge receipt of editorial letter. Ask for a few days to process things.
  10. Do not actually process things. Probably best to continue avoidance tactics at this point.
  11. When avoidance time runs out, go back to safe place.
  12. Apply essential oils.
  13. Pray, if you pray.
  14. Re-read editorial letter.
  15. Boil letter down into themes.
  16. Journal about each theme. Make a list of questions.
  17. Finally reply to editor.
  18. Repeat steps 1-8 with editor’s reply.
  19. Ask for time to process again.
  20. Do not actually process.
  21. Stay busy. Let the revision requests exist in the back of your mind while you let the sting and fear subside.
  22. Optional: take Ativan or similar prescription drug. Not optional: take nap.
  23. Depending on deadline, keep revision requests at the back of your mind until they begin to tiptoe toward the front.
  24. When they have stealthily made their way to the front of your brain AND you feel excited, return to safe place to make a plan.
  25. Revise.

If you have a question …

and would like to ask me … you can do that now.

If you’re on my actual website (www.jackieleasommers.com), just click the blue doors in the sidebar that subtly read ASK ME ANYTHING.

Otherwise you can always click here too.

It’s anonymous or not, up to you.

Why did I add this?

  1. NOT because I’m some sort of guru.
  2. But people do have lots of questions about OCD and writing and faith and stuff, and they often email me. Especially about OCD.
  3. That can be a little overwhelming, and I’d prefer a more public platform to respond.
  4. This.
  5. Also, this way we all learn together. (P.S. I can totally do the dance below.) (No joke.)

Thanks, Wildcats! I hope you’ll use this! It will really help me know what readers want to hear about! 🙂

A Better Question

Did I ever share this article with you guys? It’s important.

Instead of asking, “What do I want?” ask, “What is worth struggling for?”

I hope you’ll read this and share your thoughts.

It begins:

Everybody wants what feels good. Everyone wants to live a carefree, happy and easy life, to fall in love and have amazing sex and relationships, to look perfect and make money and be popular and well-respected and admired and a total baller to the point that people part like the Red Sea when you walk into the room.

Everyone would like that—it’s easy to like that.

If I ask you, “What do you want out of life?” and you say something like, “I want to be happy and have a great family and a job I like,” it’s so ubiquitous that it doesn’t even mean anything.

A more interesting question, a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before, is what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.

Click here to read the rest.

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Perfectionism & Writing [& OCD Too]

messyYou’d think being a perfectionist would be beneficial for an artist, but I really don’t think that’s true.

(Neither, apparently, does Google: search “artists are perfectionists” and you’ll get the following:

 

For me, being a perfectionist means that writing a book can be a slow form of torture. You see, it takes a long time for a book to even begin to resemble perfection. You have to spend months, even years, sitting uncomfortably in the middle of a mess, working through sloppy drafts and chasing rabbit trails into very disorganized forests.

Or maybe that’s just me.

In any case, it’s a continual lesson in learning to enjoy the process and not just the product. If I only enjoy the product, I will get to be happy about 24 hours out of every three years. This is a journey of embracing uncertainty, letting myself wait in the cold water till I begin to adjust.

And that’s the story of my life with OCD too. Heck, the story of my life, period.

I– a perfectionist, an OCD survivor– want pretty things in pretty boxes with pretty bows on top. I– an artist, an OCD survivor– know that’s not what life looks like. Life is full of doubt and wrong directions, wasted time and imperfect choices. Life is full of discomfort and years and years and years of tolerating discomfort … with the hope there is a pretty thing in a pretty box with a pretty bow at the end. But it is not guaranteed.

So, is art in general– or writing specifically– a difficult career choice for a perfectionist? Heck yes. But it’s fulfilling, worthwhile, hard, dirty, beautiful work– and it is helping me appreciate this fulfilling, worthwhile, hard, dirty, beautiful world.