Choosing Joy Over Misery (Plus a Thoughtful Caveat)

melancholyI don’t understand it. I don’t exactly know how to do it. But I think I’m doing it.

Last week, I wrote a long post about choosing joy:

The biggest thing that I’m learning is that I need to love the work and love the process, or I’m going to be miserable. [I read something that] was basically asking if you wanted to be the person who loved the work or the person who loved the reward. Because if you’re the latter, you’re going to spend most of your life kinda miserable. But if you can be the former, you’ll be satisfied.

It’s mysterious to me. I have zero idea how this works.

But I do believe it’s working in my life.

Last week, I got a hard email, an email that would normally spiral me into panic and tears. And, instead, I paused and reminded myself to choose joy, told myself that my writing life is going to have highs and lows but that I’ll persist, and that panic and tears would not solve problems … and there was no panic and there were no tears. Instead, I thought rationally, sought out advice from a friend, waited for a couple hours, then wrote my reply.

It occurred to me: this is how a “normal” person reacts to bad news.

It felt like the first time in my life it happened for me.

I’m growing. Somehow. I don’t know any of the secrets to this yet. Do you? I’d love to hear.

P.S. I want to clarify: this post is not in contradiction to this one. I still believe that many people with brain disorders do not have the capability to simply choose to be happy. But I am finding in my own life that medication and OCD treatment and talk therapy and prayer are tools that are making that more and more possible for me. I am one of the lucky ones who has had so many opportunities and resources. They are opening up new doors for me that were locked even just a year ago. Would love to hear your thoughts.


Dear Diary: September 2015 (Five Truths About My Novel’s Debut Month)

dear diary sept 2015

  1. It was a watershed month. I crossed that invisible line from “writer” to “published author.” It was a turning point in my life, and I’ll always remember September 1st, 2015, when my dreams became reality.
  2. It was amazing. Everyone was so happy for me. I got to celebrate with nearly 200 people, most of whom have walked this incredible journey with me and love me dearly. I cannot explain to you the way it felt to go into three bookstores that day and to see my book on shelves at every one. Especially that very first time. Cindy and I were searching for it and couldn’t find it; then from a row over, I heard Cindy say, “It’s here.” And there it was. A published book that I wrote. Characters that I had breathed into life. Even the booksellers at all the bookstores were so excited for me, had me sign copies, displayed them proudly.
  3. It was scary and hard. It was a supernova of action … and then the silence of space. It’s hard to go from having EVERYONE talking about your book to basically radio silence. It’s this tremendous build up and an explosion of interest and then, relatively, nothing. It’s terrifying. You start to wonder, “Did I spend four years of my life on something that people cared about for fewer than three weeks?” You start to compare yourself to the other novels that debuted the same day (one of which rocketed up to #1 on the NYT Bestseller List almost immediately). You start to cry.
  4. It was a month where kind words at the right moment made all the difference. In the midst of fear and negative reviews and dead air, people spoke up at the exact right moments and each one was like a miniature rescue. A sweet comment, an enthusiastic review, an excited tweet … these mattered this month when I was teetering on the edge of hopelessness. Please never underestimate how much your kind words mean to the authors who write the books you enjoy. It’s like an instant battery-recharge. It’s the strength to continue. It’s, as I said, a miniature rescue mission. Tell artists when you love their art.
  5. It was step one. Sometimes I, in my ultra-dramatic ways, felt like, with the debut day come and gone, that it was all over. But I’m wrong: everything has just begun.

Dear Diary: July 2015

Happy 35th birthday, Harry Potter! I hope all is well and your scar doesn’t hurt.

I’m feeling GOOD, friends. I am on vacation and OH, HOW I NEEDED IT. It feels like pouring restoration right into my body.

Here’s my July in a handful of pictures.

My basement is coming together, slowly but surely. Sneak peek:

july basement

I cut off A LOT of my hair (5-6 inches, I’d guess):

july haircut

I finished writing the new scenes for my book and got them organized into chronological order:

july calendar 3

july calendar 2

july calendar(Some of those dates probably have 6-10 post-its on them!)

I went on a retreat to Duluth. We watched Divergent and made Dauntless cake:

july dauntless cake

It was marvelous.

One more month till Truest is released.

It might be the vacation speaking, but I feel the best I have since, oh, March or April.

Tell me how you all are! What’s the best thing that happened to you in July??

Dear Diary: May 2015

two stacked Polaroid retro frames on wood texture

knew that April and May were going to be among the hardest months of my life, but still: living them has tested me.

I bought my house at the end of April; immediately, we started fixing it up, painting, cleaning, etc., preparing for new floors and new construction. The new carpet went in upstairs. The new wood floor went in on the main floor. The renovations began on the basement. Then I moved in.

It. is. a. mess.

The living room has all of the furniture and boxes crammed into half of the room so that the contractor has room to work on the walls on the other side. We can’t unpack, so we live mostly upstairs in our bedrooms (which, to be honest, my bedroom looks AMAZING). But it’s still tough. But it’s coming along. Slowly but surely. Monday the living room walls will be finished, and we can finally “move in.” I can’t wait.

My editor keeps apologizing to me that she hasn’t sent my editorial letter yet for Mill City Heroes, but I’m actually relieved and grateful for the rest and reprieve! If I had her revisions back right now, I think my stress would go through the roof. And my new house has such a nice, new roof. LOL.

I also taught a class this month on querying. It went SO WELL. I’m very pleased with the feedback!

So, I’m plodding away. Day by day. I love the new house and I can clearly see its potential, and that carries me. Also, I’m nervous about revisions to MCH, but not panicked. So far. I hope that holds. I hope I have learned a lot from the last year of therapy!

I miss blogging and am going to be re-entering that world in June. I can’t wait till this house is done so I can show you all pictures!

Everyone leave me an encouraging comment. I could sure use them.

Sorry this post was so scattered. That’s my life these days.

Dear Diary: April 2015

two stacked Polaroid retro frames on wood textureApril. was. stressful.

I was on edge, completely frayed, so stressed that I made myself sick.

On my plate this month: closing on my new house (today! I’m a homeowner!), planning renovations, preparing to pack/move, preparing to teach a class on querying, completing the first draft of my next novel for my editor, and focusing on marketing for Truest.

Any one of those things alone is overwhelming. All of them together about collapsed me.

But I made it. Barely.

I decided to turn in my draft a little earlier and a lot messier than I wanted to. I did a practice run of my querying class so that I would have time to revise everything before the real thing. Over Easter weekend, my parents helped me figure out home insurance and pick out floors for my new place (they’re gorgeous). I set up an appointment with a contractor to come see the place. I created a street team for Truest. I created graphics and promo materials, purchased a few items, and packaged up incentives for the street team, and mailed them out. I also had four events for my recruiting job at the university.

I spent some time bawling to my therapist.

Today I closed on my house, bought paint, and then had the closest thing to an OCD attack that I’ve had in so very, very long. I’m sure I’ll be telling you more about it soon. I caved to a few compulsions, but I also asked my friend what she would do and decided to go with that, since I can’t really trust my own choices when I get this way. I’m starting to calm down and I’m catastrophizing less, but still– I think I’d almost forgotten what a huge OCD flare-up felt like. I am not grateful for the reminder.

Regardless, I own a home. MY OWN HOME! I can’t wait for it to all start coming together.

As you can see, it was a very productive month. Heaven knows I love productivity. But the stress was just through the roof, and I am so happy to watch April end.

May will be dedicated to renovating, packing, and moving, so things will be quieter here on the blog than they’ve been since early 2012! I still plan to post the winner of the Ultimate YA Book Boyfriend tourney, some Truest-related materials, a review of the books I read in May, my Poetry 2015 Campaign review, and photos of my new house (once everything is finished!). So maybe it won’t be as quiet on the blog as I think, haha!

Dear Diary: January 2015

dd jan 2015 2Today is my spiritual birthday! Nineteen years ago, I made the best decision of my life and signed everything over to Jesus. It’s been a wild journey with him ever since!

This month has been packed to the gills. I celebrated the new year with my best friend Eir, I watched Truest start cropping up for pre-order on online bookstores all over, I turned 33 and didn’t have a third-of-a-century crisis in any way.

I spent close to a week up in Duluth on a writing retreat, where I hammered out 10k words in three days. I’m absolutely thrilled about my work in progress! The characters are gripping my heart, making me laugh, making me cry. And the best thing is that I’ve been absolutely LOVING the writing process lately. 2014 was a bit harrowing, and– truth be told– there were many stretches where I didn’t feel like I was enjoying writing anymore. Over and over, I’d ask myself, “Is this still what you want?” Sometimes I’d have to really think about it, but my answer always was yes. And now: to enjoy it again? Delicious. Hard, hard work. But good work.

Some exciting things are coming up for me! I’ll be reviewing my galleys soon, making last-minute changes and corrections to the manuscript, and the cover will be revealed next month! I’ve been so eager to show the world– I hope you’ll all love it as much as I do!

Dear Diary: July 2014

Dear Diary July 2014Does anyone else feel like 2014 is flying by? I can’t believe we’ve already reached the end of July. This month was very, very good to me for two different reasons.

First, I finally met my editor! She was a lecturer during the MFAC residency at Hamline University, which is just down the street from Northwestern, where I work. I went to hear her speak about an editor’s perspective on publishing, and she was bright and funny and wonderful, all of which I already knew from my phone conversations and emails with her. The next morning, I met up with her at a coffee shop and a list of questions I had about her suggested edits, and we had a great conversation about Truest. She had mentioned the day before that she wasn’t sure debut authors knew they were allowed to give a little pushback to their editors, and– while I definitely want to be easy to work with– it gave me a little permission. It felt as if the vice-like grip that’s been squeezing my heart for the last few months relaxed a little.

We also talked about several ideas I had for my next book, one of which I’ve written a first draft. She was excited about both ideas! Meeting and visiting with Jill was just what my tightly-wound, tortured little heart needed. I can already see how meeting her in person has improved my anxiety: the next time she contacted me with major revisions, I didn’t experience the same panic that I typically would. That, my friends, is PROGRESS.

The second thing that was fantastic about July was that I went on a “literary vacation” with my dear friend Elyse. We stayed in a condo in Duluth, and we spent most of the time working on editing, writing, and research (me for Truest and my next novel, her for a freelance editing project she had and for her master’s thesis). I’m not sure I have anyone else in my life who would be willing to go on such a “boring” vacation. I put “boring” in quotes because, though most people would have found it to be so, Elyse and I had a blast! Our condo was magnificent, and we two introverts were perfectly happy to spend most of the day on our respective laptops, clickitty-clacking on the keyboards. She is a true gem. We went on our first literary vacation last summer and decided to make it a tradition. To be honest, I’m already excited for next year. (How wild is it to think that next summer I will be [hopefully] finishing up my next novel and preparing for Truest‘s impending release date??)

butterbeer3We made butterbeer and watched Harry Potter.  Next year, we’ve decided we’re going to make Dauntless cake and watch Divergent.

One other little update for you all: I am trying my darnedest to get healthy. I have lost 18 pounds; I’m working hard on combating my trichotillomania; and I met with a therapist last night to start working on my anxiety issues; I had my desk at work ergonomically fixed up and I bought a laptop wrist pad since my wrists have been acting up (for years now, due to overuse!). I still practice ERP therapy whenever my OCD flares up. And I’ve also spent time with my favorite kiddos too– play therapy? All in all, I’m just really expecting 2015 to be a REALLY BIG year for me, and I’m doing my best to get myself ready for it. I feel great about these decisions and actions and would love your support and encouragement!

One last thing. I’m working on final edits to Truest, which has been alternately anxiety-inducing, depression-inducing, lethargy-inducing, panic-inducing, and exciting. I’m hoping August will be high on the exciting and low on the anxiety … but I’m not holding my breath.

Dear Diary (May 2014)

may ddMay. My gosh, May.

I’m super excited to announce here on my blog that Truest, my debut novel, went to auction in Germany, and the winning publisher was dvt/Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag!

For those unfamiliar with the publishing industry, “going to auction” means that there was enough interest in my book in Germany that several publishers there got to bid for my book. I’m so, so excited by the idea of my story being translated into German! My agent is a ROCKSTAR.

What a month. My baby brother graduated from college (finally), so I’ve been released from the shackles of editing all his papers! His graduation was on Mother’s Day, so we did a dual celebration. My mom has always wanted my brother to get his bachelors degree, so there was no way my sister and I could compete with Kevin’s gift.

Kevin, who can be a total charmer when he wants to be, made us all homemade thank-you cards. Here’s mine:

kevin graduated

Like that picture on the right? Apparently, that’s me, reading his papers and pondering his great intellect. HA.

Birthday girl showing off her purple tea saucer. Purple's her FAVORITE.

Birthday girl showing off her purple tea saucer. Purple’s her FAVORITE.

May also held my favorite little four-year-old’s birthday. She had a garden tea party, and I was tremendously pleased to make the guest list along with mostly 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds. Also connected to this was that I go to go toy shopping. I LOVE TOY SHOPPING. It’s so much more fun than shopping for grown-ups! I bought Aladdin and Jasmine dolls and Jasmine pajamas. Also, sparkly purple nail polish, along with the requirement that Mom helps with the nail polish. (Tracy, I cannot be responsible for any walls or floors that end up full of purple sparkles, lol!)

And then, of course, I went to Duluth to write. It was a wild ride, my friends. I am continually astonished at how difficult revisions are. Two things to say to that: 1) Getting the book deal is only the beginning, and 2) My editor at HarperCollins is the absolute best, most brilliant editor ever. She is so supportive and responsive, and her ideas and suggestions are going to make Truest something special.

Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m cut out for the writing life. I said so to my friend Cindy, who gave me this tough love:

Well, you’ve already proven that you are by a) writing a book, b) getting an agent, c) getting a contract, and d) pouring yourself into edits and taking them very seriously.

But let’s say, for argument’s sake, you’re NOT cut out for the writing life.  How will your life change?  You know it won’t.  You KNOW you’ll still write.

Don’t worry about whether you CAN do it and just DO it.  🙂

She’s right. I know I’ll still write, no matter what. So I need to quit whining and write.

Whomps, Eir, Whit, Ash, me

Whomps, Eir, Whit, Ash, me

When I came home from Duluth I had the joy of a mini-reunion with some friends from the summer camp where I grew up. Eir and Ashley I see quite often (as regular blog readers will know), but Whitney and Laura (whom we call Whompie) I almost never see! It was a fun afternoon. We got coffee and went for a walk at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis, followed by dinner and Sebastian Joe’s ice cream! What a treat to catch up with everyone– especially after being tucked away from human interaction for the week prior!

How was your May, friends?

Dear Diary (March 2014)

DD MARCH 2014March. A month and a command.  MARCH, JACKIE, MARCH!

To be honest, I feel like I spent all of March as a total recluse, ferreted away in my apartment, creating a little cave in the center of my couch.  I was, of course, working on revisions to Truest.  I felt so overwhelmed that most nights I sent myself an email into the future as a way to mentally reach out to a time when my stress level was lower. Let me tell you, I LOVE

My editor was hoping for revisions in six weeks, and I felt confident I could do it, even though I had no idea how.  I kept telling myself that if I just SHOWED UP TO WRITE over and over and over again … then eventually the work would get done.

As an example of how FutureMe works, I sent this email on February 18th and received it on March 19th:

Dear FutureMe,
You woke up at noon. Now its two and you’re lying down for a nap.

It happens.

Oh the introvert’s recovery.

Please have a lot done on the novel. Please. Say you have shown up for the last month. Please. Today you feel so … As if the project looms too large. Overwhelmed. But you have learned to eat an elephant one bite at a time.

You’ll take another bite today.

After this nap. 🙂

Persist, writer.

And that’s exactly what I did. I showed up over and over and over with a spoon to take another bite of elephant, and I finished my revisions a day ahead of schedule.  It was utterly exhausting (I don’t think I can even begin to explain to you just how much– although, as an example, I spent one day writing and then was sick the following day, spending nearly all of it sleeping), but I love the changes to my story– I hope my editor does too!

I didn’t get to hang out with many people simply because I had NO TIME, but I did find a chance to see Eir, Ashley, Desiree, and Elyse in an attempt to stay sane.

mirandasingsDesiree and I also went to a Miranda Sings concert.  She is a comedian we enjoy, and the show was super funny! It always feels good to take advantage of the Twin Cities’ offerings.

I had a week where I worked in the evenings (yuck!), attending college fairs and helping with an on-campus event where I helped promote the Northwestern English department.

divergent2Then, after I turned in my revised manuscript, I ventured back out into the world of social interaction and went to see Divergent in the theater with Eir, Ash, Des, Amanda, and Tim.  It was DELICIOUS and stressful and intense and well-done and THEO JAMES IS SO GORGEOUS I WONDER IF HE IS REALLY HUMAN.

You can read my praises for the book here.

Then, of course, off to DC for a few days!  It was so utterly lovely to spend some time with my beloved friend Cindy, though I admit I’m glad to be back in Minnesota now as– even in four days– I got homesick.

March was overwhelming, and I am sooooooo excited for APRIL!

Dear Diary (February 2014)

deardiary february 2014Oh February.

Thank the Lord that February is the shortest month we’ve got because it’s also one of the hardest ones for anyone who works in recruitment for the University of Northwestern.

… that would be me.

Early in the month, I had a reading where I shared excerpts from Truest with an audience for the first time.  It was such a fun experience.  I felt like a real author.  (I guess I am a real author!)

Photo credit: Tracy Lair

Photo credit: Tracy Lair

I talked to my editor and her assistant about some major revisions to my manuscript, and we set a goal of having a new draft in six weeks.  Let me be clear: when I say “revisions,” I am not talking about simple line edits (i.e. fix this typo, add a comma here, etc.).  I’m talking about giant structural changes, about beefing up characters, about modifying scenes for better impact.  It’s hard and it’s scary and sometimes it feels too big for me to handle, but I tell myself, butt-in-seat-hands-on-keyboard.  Six weeks of that, and it has to come out shinier on the other side, right?  Right???? 🙂

Since feelings are so deceitful, I’ve been going with what my head knows: that even though my manuscript is a torn-up mess right now, it will not always be that way.  In fact, with daily attention, it won’t even be that way a month from now.

Our admissions winter visit weekend was super successful– and also utterly exhausting.  Especially for an introvert.

We had yet another snowstorm in Minnesota– a lot of snow.  We’ve had 57 inches so far this winter.  You have to know we’re pretty sick of winter here.  My heart longs for spring.  I almost got stuck in my parking lot yet again the other day.  I got out of the car, kicked the snow around the tires, got into my vehicle, and just pleaded with God, “Please, please let me get out of here.”  I was able to back up a little and get some traction.  Readers, are you used to snow where you are?  Are your winters like mine?  The weather keeps ruining my plans with friends, and everyone seems to be sick.  Everything takes so much longer because the roads are nightmarish and slick, and you have to start braking about ten miles away from where you actually want to stop.  The snow outside right now is piled so high that it would break your heart.  I am consoled though by the days stretching out longer and longer.  The sun still out at 5:30 PM makes me feel ready to break into song the way they do in Disney movies.

Image credit: Torque News

Image credit: Torque News

I bought a new car.  A red 2014 Dodge Dart.  Thank you, author advance.

I’ve been using so much lately: sending notes into the future to encourage myself.  It’s a great reminder that I will not always be where I am in this moment.  I usually only send notes into the foreseeable future, but last week I sent one five years into the future.  Doesn’t 2019 just sound impossible?  I wonder what life will look like then.

On the OCD front, I’ve been struggling a little with intrusive thoughts when I lie awake in bed at night.  It’s been quite manageable though.  I bully my little black dot and make it sleep on the [freezing cold] apartment balcony.  (What the heck is this black dot I’m talking about?  Read here and here and here.)

I’ve been using Twitter a lot lately.  A lot a lot.  If you’re on there, you should follow me: @jackieleawrites.