Category Archives: Guilt

Embracing the Imperfect

Our lives are set up around milestones: memorable, noteworthy events that we mark with rituals and celebrations. In my own life, I can recall events that mark those big occasions: important birthdays, graduations, weddings, my godson’s baptism. There was a set moment for each of those, a moment that I can look back at and say, “Oh, yeah. I’ll never forget where I was and what I felt when that happened.”

For many writers, the journey to publication is marked with the same joyful celebratory dinners, champagne toasts, and group hugs as any of the more traditional life milestones. I love hearing friends’ stories of getting that agent phone call and bursting into tears, their families beaming with pride beside them. Their stories are beautiful, and my own heart bursts with happiness to cheer and celebrate all of that magic. But what if your own journey looks different?

Through circumstances beyond anyone’s control, my own first book milestones have been bittersweet. That heart-stopping call from my agent? I was on my way to work, and my husband was 3000 miles away on a business trip. He happened to fall asleep that night without charging his phone, so I carried my bottled-up joy to work with me. I finally couldn’t keep it in anymore, so I eagerly spilled the beans to my ten-year-old student, who could not have been any less impressed or interested. Humbling, to say the least.

A few weeks later my deal announcement appeared in the trades; seeing my photo and name in there made everything feel so real, and it meant I was finally free to share the news publicly.  However, just minutes after I saw the announcement, my husband called to tell me that his dad had been diagnosed with cancer. As our family worked together to help my father-in-law navigate the complicated world of cancer treatment, celebration couldn’t have been further from our minds. And now that he has successfully completed chemotherapy, his improved health and happiness feels like a much more special milestone for our family to mark.

I am incredibly lucky to have a publishing deal, and I am beyond grateful to have the chance to earn money as a writer. But, much as it pains me to admit it, when I remember these first Big Author Moments, while there is joy and gratitude in those memories, there is also loneliness, worry, and disappointment.  I have a book deal and a supportive circle of friends and family, but I still can’t help but wish that those first moments had been a little different. And then I can’t help but feel ashamed of myself for wishing that. It shouldn’t matter, I think. I am a jerk for caring about this.

Every writer I know has worked incredibly hard to get this far, and we all remember the wistful feeling of seeing other writers ahead of us, hitting those milestones. And while everything might look rosy and golden from a distance, there is no doubt that up close, everyone’s road is littered with frustrations and slights and missed opportunities.

So, and I’m saying this as much to myself as I am to anyone else, the journey toward publication is magical and thrilling and awesome and inspiring. But a lot of it can also be kind of sucky. That’s OK. Embrace the suck.  The disappointing, difficult, exhausting moments mean that all of this is actually happening. Living the Dream doesn’t mean turning your life into a dream; it means you’re turning your dream into real life. Your very own messy, imperfect, glorious life.


Kat Shepherd is a writer and educator living in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, and a rotating series of foster dogs. Her wonderful father-in-law lives nearby. They are planning a massive celebration when the first book from her Babysitting Nightmares series (Macmillan/Imprint) debuts in fall 2018. You’re all invited. You can find Kat at katshepherd.com or connect with her on Twitter @bookatshepherd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Celebrations, Dreams Come True, Families, Guilt, Happiness, Inspiration, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

Imbalance

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For anybody who’s working and alive, work-life balance is something that will require some thought. Since we’re mostly writers here, writing is the work I’m imagining on one side of the fulcrum. On the other side, everything else: family, friends, day job (if it’s not writing), exercise and health, tasks and chores, etc. If the balance tips too far one direction, we’re writing, but not living well. Too far the other and we’re not writing. And just when you think you’ve found that perfect balance, circumstances will shift, and you’ll have to adjust again.

I’ve spent the past weeks feeling terribly out of balance, for a host of minor reasons and two major reasons: a serious case of pneumonia, and moving out of the house we’ve lived in for the last ten years. (I always think I remember how emotionally and mentally and physically hard moving is, but I never do.)

I’ve been itching to write, but it hasn’t been happening. And when I don’t itch to write, I feel guilty, or like there’s something wrong. Writers gotta write, right?

Then a few days ago, a friend sent me a link to a post on Writer Unboxed that changed my perspective: Fallow Fields: An Argument for Letting Your Creativity Rest. The premise is that we actually hurt ourselves and our work if we try to harvest from the same field season after season. That periods of not writing are essential to produce our best work, and our best lives.

But not writing can be a scary thing. What happens when we a chunk of life drops on the scale? Have we sent our work flying off, never to return?

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Of course not. Our lives are the soil from which our work grows, and the more richly we live them, the richer the work will be. Those periods when fields lie fallow are not wasted. While I’ve not been writing, I’ve been listening to audiobooks as I pack (and now unpack) boxes. I’ve been writing a little in my journal. And most importantly, I’ve been truly immersed in the (fairly intense) physical and emotional experiences of this period in my life. All these things will make for better writing when I open up my manuscript next week.

Writers gotta write, friends. Except when they gotta just live. That’s okay too. 🙂

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profile picElaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web,@ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

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Filed under Guilt, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Being Brave: A Challenge for Writers in Particular and Humans in General

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Cool image, no? Never mind that I cropped out the part about the Temperance League, since we all know how that turned out. I prefer to think of her as a crusader against all the bad stuff we say to ourselves.

I hate my nose. HATE IT.

Hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it hate it.

Hate it.

I don’t like having my picture taken.

I feel uncomfortable in the presence of people who are pretty and confident.

I let it fuel all the other things I don’t like about myself until I’m one big ball of self-pity and guilt: about my weight, about not being a Pinterest-perfect mother, about not writing often enough, about the stupid crumbs on the floor and dishes in the sink. And let’s not even touch the whole issue of “my writing isn’t good enough.” Yeeesh.

Why not get the nose fixed and be done with it? Because my mother got hers fixed right out of high school, and she still hated herself. And we never got to have an authentic conversation about accepting what God gave you and moving on to more important things in life. Because my daughter has an Asian nose that’s not like other noses in her class and I want her to know that it doesn’t matter, that it’s part of who she is.

Except it does matter, because I let it matter, and I’ll never teach her otherwise, never teach her what it means to be brave and bold and fearless and look beyond self to those more important things if I can’t put this aside once and for all.

Here’s the crazy part: In my 20s I had a beautiful Chinese boss who was thin and glamorous, and one day she leaned across her desk and whispered to me that she liked my nose and had always thought hers was too flat. Did I suddenly wake up and realize how foolish I’d been? Did it shape my outlook for the better in any way? No, it did not. Because that was like 15 years ago, and nothing has changed.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’ve challenged myself to be braver and to KNOCK IT THE HELL OFF. It’s interfering with Stuff I Wanna Do, and I’m sick of it.

At last month’s retreat for our amazing EMLA writers and illustrators I was surrounded by high quality people, people who are changing the world for the better, who care about Issues, who are making a difference and can talk to people un-self-consciously and LIVE and WRITE and BREATHE like the well-adjusted, grateful, talented people that they are. Many of them—maybe even most of them—are introverts like me, but unless they’re all capable of faking it really well, they were able to put that aside and enjoy those moments together that are so rare and precious and valuable. Next year, I swear I’m not gonna let that slip through my fingers because of my own ridiculous issues.

I’m here to challenge you to be brave in whatever way stretches you, even just the smallest bit. It doesn’t have to mean climbing a scary tall mountain or baring your deepest insecurities on the troll-infested internet. It means identifying what scares you and taking the tiniest of steps out of your comfort zone and one step closer to whatever it is you’ve always longed for.

Living life “cramped and insane,” as Anne Lamott would say, sucks. Enough. What issue is weighing you down, keeping you from being the writer or adventurer or pet owner or open, joyful human being you’ve always wanted to be? Rip it out of you, throw it on the bonfire, and be done with it. Easier said than done, I know. But if I can click “Post” on this rambling example of over-sharing, then I know you have it in you, too.

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ChristineHayespic2 (534x800)Christine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out spring 2015 with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Guilt, Writing and Life

The 12 Days of a Book Contract (Fa la la)

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Well, tinsel my snowflakes, friends, it’s that time of year and I am deep in the trenches of the holiday concert season. It always tends to go something like, “Yay!!! Holiday music!!!” then, “Yay. Holiday music,” then, “OK, how many performances do I have left?” then, “SING FROSTY AT ME ONE MORE TIME AND I WILL CUT YOUR FACE.”

Luckily, it’s only the first week of December, so I have plenty of festive cheer and good will toward men and Emus left in the tanks. This blog attempts to capture that special, fleeting time between contract and launch — much like those 30 magical seconds between Thanksgiving and Black Friday — and in the spirit of the season, I’ve decided to reflect on the gifts large and small that a book contract has offered me. Sing along at home!

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On the First Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

1. Excitement!!!

YAY!! Like, you guys!! MY BOOK! It’s going to be a BOOK! Like for realz!! OMG SO HAPPY!! I have never, ever been this happy about anything ever.

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On the Second Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

2. Deadlines

Wait, I had my entire life to write this book in the first place, and now I have to revise it and write a whole other one? By a date?

On the Third Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

3. Money

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I have some friends who are professional folk singers, and they say, “You want to know the secret to making a million dollars in folk music? Start with two.” Writing is like that. No one should go into writing for the money. But when you’re Ramen noodle poor (. . . or would that be Ramen noodle rich?), a little advance money goes a long way. More importantly, it’s a major psychological boost to have someone say, “I like what you’re doing so much I’m going to give you money to keep doing it.”

We as consumers have the power to say this, too, by buying books or recordings or art. Pretty awesome.

On the Fourth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

4. Crippling anxiety

So, yeah. Surprise! I’ve always had a penchant for hyperventilating in Wal-Mart, but lately any amount of drama or the slightest hint of conflict has sent my brain into overdrive and curled me up into a shifty-eyed ball. Don’t get me wrong — in my shriveled, black heart, I am still deliriously happy about selling a book. But some days I just want to shove the whole thing back into my head and hide it under a squishy pink lobe where no one will ever see it, ever. Then no one will be able to give it bad reviews or say mean things about it on Amazon.

What’s worse is that there’s no escaping it. Every book ever written has been on the receiving end of bad reviews and mean comments, especially in the cold, prickly expanse of Internet. Joyce’s Ulysses has 3.73 stars out of 5 on Goodreads right now. Really. Go look, I’ll wait.

Right? 2,924 people to date have given this book one star. One reviewer claims it “ruined a week at the beach.” Ruined a week at the beach.

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There’s nothing wrong with 3.73 stars or 4.9 stars or 2.14 stars or .08 stars. As my mom says, nothing people say about a book changes even one word of that book. But the fact that I know the hate mail is coming has made my circuits go haywire. 

On the Fifth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

5. Red Bull

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Why did I take this picture?

On the Sixth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

6. Fantasy Math

I’ve never done so much math, and I used to teach math. Little fantasy maths here and there. How much money I would make if my book sold 10,000 copies. 100,000 copies. A million copies. How much money my publisher would be in the hole if my book didn’t sell any copies at all. How many words I need to write every day between Now and Then in order to have This Many Words. How many words I’ve averaged per day since This Date. How much more disposable income I would have if I ate the cats.

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Think of what I’d save on exorcisms alone.

On the Seventh Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

7. Blog interviews

As Tolstoy famously said, “The writing community rocks the house.” I’m so excited to be bouncing around to different blogs, keeping up with other writers and spreading the word about my own upcoming release. It’s super crazy fun, and writers are awesome. The strangest interview I’ve done so far was on a blog where the questions are standard, so even though it’s technically the blog interviewing you, you’re kind of interviewing yourself, and in mine you can totally tell. It’s a bit amusing and informative and lonely and weird all at the same time.

On the Eighth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

8. Sudden Limitless Capacity for Strong Opinions About Minutiae

It’s funny, my editor came to me with a couple kinda big things copyedit-wise, like the name of my protagonist, and I didn’t really care. But HOLY CATS, when my ellipses came under fire, I was ready to take a red pen to the freaking Supreme Court. And don’t you look sideways at that comma on page 9 or I will mess you up.

On the Ninth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

9. Hygiene

The best thing about writing is that it doesn’t have to involve leaving the house, or even the bed. It doesn’t require socks, showers, feeding yourself, or ever changing out of your purple polar bear pajamas. Did I say, “the best thing”? Maybe I just meant, “the thing.” Anyway, I’ve been making more of an effort lately to be presentable, because it’s not just me I’m representing at launches and conferences and workshops, it’s partially The Book as well, and The Book is made up of a lot of people. Some of whom are attractive and sophisticated.

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The Book sings Disney duets at karaoke night instead of “It’s Raining Men” because Classy.

On the Tenth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

10. Fear

The topic of Fear is a popular one here and elsewhere in the writeosphere, so I know you know where I’m coming from, my friends. The unknown is one of the scariest things there is, and getting a book deal (not to mention just writing in general) is like being handed a big fat bag of unknown. Some of the unknown is good, like excitement and anticipation. But the remainder is fear, of disappointing readers, letting my awesome publisher down, failing my awesome agent Joan, screwing up so badly that I destroy my career and possibly the future of publishing in general. We don’t need to dwell on this, but it may be helpful to hear it again. Yep. Writing is scary.

On the Eleventh Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

11. Shorter Conversations About What I Do

Writers write. It’s a pretty easy definition that doesn’t include the word “contract” anywhere at all, and I’ve already written a whole post about this on here. So this one isn’t fair, but there it is. I’ve found that it’s much easier to get to the end of the, “So, what do you do?” conversation if you can say you have a book coming out. The world appears to understand that.

On the Twelfth Day of Signing, My Contract Gave to Me . . .

12. New Friends

As we’ve established, the writing community rocks.

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“Launch party at my place. Gonna be epic. Bring your beards!”

Especially, dare I say, the kidlit/YA lit community. Seriously, guys. Everyone is all so nuts and fragile and worried and strange and delightful, and it’s the support of this huge extended writer family that gets me from one sentence to the next. Agent Joan is a total rockstar. St. Martin’s Press is a marvelous place to grow a book. And, of course, I am particularly fond of my fellow Emus, pictured here at an impromptu gathering at an SCBWI conference:

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We are a sexy, sexy bunch.

Fa-la-la-la laaaaaaa, la-la, la, laaaaaaaa! 

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When I was soliciting ideas for this post at my parents’ tree decorating yesterday, my mom’s two glasses of wine shouted, “Remainders!” and then giggled uncontrollably. NOT YET, MOTHER. IT HAS TO COME OUT FIRST.

What about you? What gifts, welcome or otherwise, has the writing life given you? 

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About Me

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Filed under Agents, Anxiety, Blogging, Book Promotion, Celebrations, Colleagues, Guilt, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, rejection and success, Reviews, Writing and Life

Writing: Now with 50 Percent Less Guilt!

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 I loved Kevan’s Monday post on interruptions and distractions. I struggle with those issues year-round, but in the summer it reaches critical mass, an affliction I like to call K3W0 (Kids: 3, Writing: 0). With travel and little league and music lessons and the many demands of keeping a household running smoothly, summer break really zaps both my productivity and my morale.

Having a book under contract has only intensified the weight of guilt I feel when I miss a day (or two or three) of writing. How can I be a “serious” writer if I can’t even squeeze writing time into my schedule? And when I do find time to sit down at the computer, the battle with interruption (other people) and distraction (myself) begins. It usually takes at least half an hour of Facebook, Twitter, email, online shopping, cute puppy videos, etc. before I find The Zone and turn off the distractions. And then, invariably, come the interruptions. Case in point: two sentences ago, my youngest popped in to tell me about an upcoming episode of Sofia the First. Something about butterflies and camping and…wait, what was I saying again?

The Zone is hard to find and easy to lose, especially when I’m in front of a computer. So I get cranky, allowing minor issues to mushroom all out of proportion, and declare the entire day a disaster. In short, I make everybody miserable.

For the sake of all parties involved, I had to find a compromise. First and foremost, it meant accepting the situation as it exists instead of stomping around like a toddler.

Second, I had to step away from the computer. Yes, dear ones, I’m referring to the lesser known form of writing involving actual pen and paper. I understand this isn’t for everyone, but for me it removes electronic distractions and allows me to write in shorter intervals, say 20 minutes riding in the car or 15 minutes waiting to pick up a child from a lesson or a birthday party. Of course I still have to type it all, but at least I have written notes to lean on, instead of a blank computer screen that double-dog dares me to run off and browse Pinterest for recipes I’ll never use.

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Your writing tool of choice?

Finally, I had to think back to more productive months of the year and remind myself that to everything there is a season. Last fall, once the kids were in school and our family routine was back in place, I was able to finish and revise MOTHMAN’S CURSE–actual proof that I am only a flake SOME of the time! Summer is simply a crazy time of year, and I had to let myself be okay with that.

So take it from me: guilt is a wasted emotion that sucks up all your positive energy and offers you nothing but grief in return. Life is complicated and unpredictable, and so are humans. If you write best in the winter, during an eclipse, eating cake, wearing a robe and slippers, at the lake, in the woods, on the roof, with crayons, on a tablet computer or a typewriter or a Commodore 64, it’s all okay. Exchange your guilt for acceptance, flexibility, and purpose. It’s a three-for-one special, and it has no expiration date.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Guilt, Writing, Writing and Life