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Keeping the spark alive: how to conquer burnout

Burnout is something all writers face at some point in time. As much as we love what we do, sometimes it feels like the creative tank has been depleted. Either the ideas are lacking, or the motivation has dried up, or maybe both– either way, it can be a maddening cocktail of emotions.

I fell into an unmotivated spiral sometime last month. It was just after the New Year, when you’re supposed to make resolutions and feel energized and ready to tackle anything. Instead, I just felt tired. I chalked it up to the fact that growing a human takes a lot of energy, and it was normal for me to not feel like tackling writing projects with my usual aplomb. Plus, I had other things on my mind… decorating a nursery, creating a baby shower registry, looking at baby name books. But regardless, I was used to fitting writing in with everything else going on in my life, and couldn’t figure out what had changed.

It was only after talking to my husband about it one night that I figured out the root of what was going on. He helped me figure out what was missing, and why I wasn’t feeling as passionately about writing as I did before. A lot of it came down to how I was using my time. Part of the problem: I was wasting too much time mindlessly scrolling through social media (I’m sure we’ve all been there!), and comparing myself to other people. I wasn’t even aware I was doing this until I heard the words come out of my mouth. Sometimes, you have to actively remind yourself that what you see on social media is someone else’s highlight reel. We all have ups and downs, but we tend not to share the lows.

The other problem (which isn’t even a problem as much as a new situation) is that I didn’t have one project to focus all of my energy on and set deadlines for, but instead, was trying to work on several projects at once. I just didn’t know how to implement a schedule to work on all of them and be productive, and also remain interested in pursuing each one. I felt like my attention span had dwindled to that of a fruit fly– bouncing from one idea to the next, but never resting long enough to give it a chance to become something.

So how am I going to fix this? First, by admitting that it’s okay to take breaks sometimes. If you’re someone like me who tries to write every day, not writing can feel extremely detrimental, and like you’re going backwards instead of moving ahead. But this isn’t always the case. Forcing it can make it feel like a chore and not like something you love, and I never want to be in that position with writing.

I’m also stepping back from social media a bit, and choosing more set hours to be online, instead of being half-there a lot of the time. Often, after a weekend was over, I didn’t feel rested at all. I had spent a good chunk of it on my phone, responding to emails that weren’t urgent in nature just to get them out of my inbox (I’m a bit obsessive about never having any unread messages linger there). But the truth is, those emails and tweets can wait. I’m making the conscious decision to unplug and focus my energy in places that make me feel creatively replenished, not drained.

My main mission is to learn how to write unselfconsciously again, something that seems instinctive but really isn’t. I need to write for me and pursue ideas that excite me, even if they don’t go anywhere. Instead of thinking “what if” in a negative way: “what if this doesn’t sell? What if this is stupid? What if I’m wasting my time?” I’m trying to turn “what if” into a positive: “What if I love this and it turns into the best thing I’ve written?” Because I know from experience that even writing that goes nowhere is not a waste of time. It’s a learning experience– and those ideas that trail off, that don’t quite make it into books, are always something that can be pursued later.

I wanted to share all of this in case anyone else out there is feeling the same way… burned out, exhausted, uninspired. You’re not alone, and you haven’t lost your talent. You’re a writer, and these are the realities we struggle with. What we do– creating something out of nothing– takes a lot, and we don’t reward ourselves enough. Take a break. Read lots of books. Reorganize your office. Go back to your characters with excitement, not fear. And write your little heart out.

My new writing space

With the new addition to our family due at the end of May, some shifting around had to happen in our house to make room for a nursery. Luckily, our basement renovation had just been finished, so my husband moved his office downstairs, and I took over his old office location, which is right next door to the nursery. When baby sleeps, I will try to write! (Or something like that…)

I was excited to have a new office to decorate, but struggled a bit initially with the layout of the room. It’s longer and more rectangular than my old office, which was more of a square, and I didn’t want it to feel narrow. Thanks to my husband, who is a genius at furniture layout, I was able to make the most of the space, and I’m really happy with the end result! The walls are painted a blue-gray color that I love (it’s actually the same shade we chose for the nursery), and I have a better desk and new computer monitor, along with my beloved desk chair and bookshelf.

 

One mission I had before moving into my new office was purge some things I wasn’t using anymore. Decluttering is one of the greatest feelings– there’s something incredibly satisfying about admitting you’re not using/wearing/reading something and donating it to a local charity instead. So that’s exactly what I did. It took a lot longer than I thought it would (this is a common theme with projects I take on…), but I was determined to have a fresh start in my new space without any clutter bogging me down. Some was thrown out, a lot was donated, and I repurposed some things I completely forgot I even had. I organized all my swag items and mailing materials, and found a spot for my massive collection of notebooks. There’s a saying about how a cluttered workspace = a cluttered mind, and I think there’s some truth to that, at least for me. As a person who errs on the scatterbrained side (especially with baby brain, which I swear, is a real thing), I can use all the zen vibes a space can give me!

 

My plan for the wall over my desk is to have all my future book covers turned into plaques and hung up. Firsts is, obviously, the first one, and when I’m slogging through a draft that I feel is going nowhere, I can look up at it and remember that I do know how to write books after all.

Now that my office is finished, I’m excited to get back to my writing routine and spend some quality time there before baby arrives!

January, briefly

Fur baby, book baby, and human baby!

The year has started off on a good note! Aside from gray skies for most of the month, things have been decidedly cheerful. I’m back into a routine with writing and revising (I had been admittedly derailed by December festivities), and recently shared some amazing news… my husband and I are expecting our first child at the end of May! We’re very excited about the new addition to our family (and my beloved dog, Abby, is hopefully just as excited to be a big sister)! Aside from needing a bit more sleep than usual, I have felt fantastic through my whole pregnancy. Hopefully that continues!

This month, I have been…

Working on: I’m revising a YA thriller (my most recent NaNo project) and have used a couple new strategies to maximize revision efficiency. As a pantser, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed at the thought of tackling my messy first draft and trying to fix what isn’t working. This time, I read the entire manuscript before making any changes, which made a huge difference. I was able to pick out inconsistencies, plot potholes and craters, and threads that are mysteriously dropped or picked up. I also printed the manuscript off so that I have something physical to review and mark up, instead of trying to scroll back and forth on my tablet screen. These changes have gone a long way toward making me a more efficient reviser, so now maybe the urge to draft won’t be so tempting all the time!

Reading: The first book I finished in 2017 was Room by Emma Donoghue, a renowned author from the same city as me. Told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, who has spent his entire life in captivity with his mother, it’s a harrowing, heartbreaking, and brilliant perspective into what happens when living in one room turns into living in the world overnight. After reading it, I watched the movie, which was so well-acted!

I was lucky enough to read a copy of A.V. Geiger’s debut novel, Follow Me Back, ahead of its May release date. It’s a YA thriller and it’s so twisty and suspenseful! I’m pretty open about my love of a plot that will keep me guessing, and this one was not just surprising, but completely shocking. (That ending!)

Next was Flower by Shea Olsen and Elizabeth Craft. I got to know Shea last year, and had been anticipating her debut YA contemporary romance novel for so long. It definitely didn’t disappoint! I finished it in one weekend and stayed up past my bedtime, and for a sleepy pregnant lady, that’s saying a lot.

I finished off the month with a book that left me completely floored- Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. This one had so many twists and turns I did not see coming. It’s dark, sharp, and haunting and at times hard to read, but it left me thinking for a long time afterward, which is a sure sign of a very compelling read.

Watching: I used to be in denial about it, but I can now say without shame that I’m totally hooked on cheesy reality shows, especially The Bachelor. They’re my guilty pleasure when I just need to turn my brain off and not think. I was excited to tune into this season, and it already looks like it’s full of drama, so I’m sure I won’t miss an episode!

2016: The Debut Year

I think I filled my quota of Firsts puns long ago, but… this really was a year of many firsts! So I keep saying it anyway, because the firsts kept coming as the months went on. My first book came out. I got to travel to other cities to promote it. I spoke on panels and attended conferences. I met my critique partner, fellow authors, one of my lovely publicists, and my amazing editor. I had a launch party. I signed more books than I can count. I cheered for my fellow debut authors and read as many of their books as I could. I got to see my book on shelves, was able to call myself a published author. Family and friends bought my book. I heard from so many readers who told me Firsts had an impact on them.

But now that the year is almost over, I’m realizing 2016 was also a year of lasts. It’s the last time I’ll ever get to call myself a debut author, which is bittersweet, because I have had such an unforgettable time being a Sweet Sixteen and Sixteen to Read, and part of the debut community. At the same time, I’m so excited to move forward into what 2017 has in store… I happen to know some very exciting and wonderful things are on the horizon!

I don’t know what word I would use to describe 2016, if I had to sum it up in one word. (I’m an author… there are too many perfect words!) Thrilling. Intense. Full. Busy. Fun. Looking back, the year feels both extra long and super short– like it wasn’t that long ago I was celebrating my book birthday with flowers and champagne, but at the same time, that I have come so far and learned so much since that day. I feel like I’m able to put things in perspective more now than I ever was in the past. I learned from my mistakes, figured out what was working, and was able to achieve balance. I had my moments of stress and anxiety, but took away important lessons from the tough times.

Most importantly of all, I realized what keeps me happy and sustained, after the debut hype started to fade. And that was writing”The End” on three new books.(I amend my earlier statement. “The End” are the most beautiful words in an author’s vocabulary!) That’s what I’m taking into 2017, more than anything else. The knowledge that working on the new thing, the next thing, anything, is what keeps me happy and inspired. Because my heart and soul is being a writer, and that means writing.

I’m so very excited to ring in the new year and so ready for everything that comes with it. Happy New Year, everyone!

December, briefly

Tree decorating fun!

Ah, December… the last month of the year, and possibly my favorite month of this year? (Which is saying a lot, because I have been pretty vocal about how much I hate any kind of snow that isn’t Jon Snow.) But this December has really been amazing for a few special reasons. Not to mention, Christmas is a magical time on its own. I love the traditions– picking out a tree and decorating it, reciting National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation word for word, making pancakes and bacon on Christmas morning– and as much as I don’t love my annual procrastination when it comes to buying gifts, I was able to relax and really enjoy the holidays this year.

This month, I have been…

Working on: For the first time in several months… not very much! After finishing the first draft of a new YA thriller last month for NaNo, I took a few weeks off to mentally recharge. It worked, because I’m itching to get back to new words!

Reading: I finished Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, and it really was everything. Heartfelt, hilarious, and so insightful, with characters who felt real. I’m not surprised that this book has not only been optioned for film, but will be an actual movie next year! So excited to see Maddie and Olly on the big screen. I also read Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard, a story about the twists and turns of female friendship (a theme I am forever excited about reading in YA). And I was lucky enough to read Riley Redgate’s sophomore novel, Noteworthy, in ARC form before its 2017 release date, and I completely fell in love with it! It’s both funny and serious, a study in gender and what that means, and explores sexuality and sexual orientation with so much nuance and sensitivity.

Watching: Aside from the traditional Christmas movies (National Lampoon! Scrooged! A Christmas Story! It’s a Wonderful Life!), my husband and I binge-watched the first season of Stranger Things and were completely captivated. Not the most Christmas-y show, but… we couldn’t stop watching! I’m a huge Winona Ryder fan, so I was very excited to see her on TV, and I really liked the entire concept… the dark, twisty nature, plus the Stephen King-esque vibe. Can’t wait for the next season!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and enjoy the last days of December before we ring in 2017!

The Hanging Garden Winter Gala

I’m thrilled to be part of this year’s Winter Gala at The Hanging Garden, a site I love featuring short fiction by YA authors. My story went live today– it’s about girls, crushes, bad decisions, and words speaking louder than actions. Each story is based on a GIF prompt, and I chose this haunting image– a heart bring traced on a girl’s shirt– and conjured up a story around what I thought it meant.

GIRLS LIKE US, by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

I loved when Siobhan got fat. You could tell she hoped nobody noticed. She always used to wear super-tight clothes. It was too much and not enough. It’s like nobody ever taught her that if you’re going to show your legs, cover up your boobs. Maybe nobody did teach her. We all knew the rumors about her mom, that she was out getting drunk five nights a week. But they were just rumors, because Siobhan didn’t have any girl friends to invite over who would actually know. And besides, having a crappy mom is no excuse for how she acted.

When she started getting fat, she came to school in frumpy clothes. Overalls and hippie-style dresses and hoodies. She let herself go. And I loved it.

It probably makes me sound like a bitch that I enjoyed Siobhan getting fat. But she stole my boyfriend, or the guy who would have been my boyfriend if she didn’t sleep with him first, just like she slept with everyone else. Kevin was supposed to be mine. Everyone knew I liked him. Everyone knew we made out at my birthday party the weekend before school started. Everyone saw his hand on my ass, his lips grazing my cheek. They saw us go into my room together. What they didn’t see was when Kevin put his hand under my shirt and I slapped it away, and what I never told anyone was how stupid I felt after, that I should have let him touch me.

Siobhan obviously did.

Read the rest of the story at The Hanging Garden here!

November, briefly

Being a writing buddy is exhausting!

Usually, November ushers in snow and cold weather and I start to get a case of the winter blahs. We have been especially lucky this month to have mild temperatures (for the most part), and I’m in much better spirits than I normally am at this time of the year. This November has been very productive and fun, and I owe a lot of that to the fact that I’m back in a solid writing groove.

This month, I have been…

Working on: Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I finished a (very sloppy) first draft of a YA contemporary thriller I have been conjuring up in my head for several months. I used this first draft to get to the heart of the story and show myself what it’s really about. As usual, my characters had different plans than I did, but for me as an author, those revelations are half the fun. Now that I have words on pages and know my characters better, I can work at refining the mess and getting the story to look on paper how it does in my head. Which is always the hardest part…

Reading: I finished two excellent Sweet Sixteen debuts: Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson, and The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander. The former is told entirely in texts, chats, and blog posts, and I loved its creativity and how totally real the characters felt. The latter, about a girl haunted by the drowning death of her twin brother who begins to challenge her fears through freediving, is beautiful and haunting and evocative. I also read Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou, whose writing is in a league of its own. Her autobiographies are many things, but inspiring tops the list. I ended the month with Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, a book I had been eager to read, and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the humor and heart, and how relationships were portrayed– family bonds, friendship, and romantic love.

Watching: After hearing so many great things about Westworld, I knew I had to start the season and give it a try. (My husband was surprised I suggested it since I’m not usually a huge fan of sci-fi.) We were both sucked in right away by the totally imaginative concept, plot twists galore, and fascinating, multi-dimensional characters. I’m glad I ventured outside of my TV comfort zone!

I love Christmas, so I’m looking forward to all that December brings… picking out a tree and decorating it, wrapping gifts, spending time with friends and family, and eating all the holiday food! Wishing you all the best in the last month of 2016!

Spotlight on Sixteens: Girls In The Moon

I was extremely lucky to read an advance copy of a seriously amazing late 2016 debut that releases next week. Girls In The Moon by Janet McNally gave me a serious book hangover, because its pages are rich and sumptuous and soaked in gorgeous language and depth.

Girls In The Moon is the story of Phoebe, the daughter of rock stars who were famous in the 90s with their band, Shelter. Phoebe lives with her mother, Meg, and hasn’t seen her father in over three years. In the heart of summer, she visits her older sister Luna in New York City, where Luna has recently dropped out of school to pursue her own musical career—a choice Meg isn’t too happy about. Phoebe wants to get the kind of answers from her family that nobody can provide, as Meg avoids talking about Shelter and Luna has seemingly convinced herself that she doesn’t need her father in her life. Phoebe’s story in the present is interlaced with flashbacks from Meg’s point of view in the early days when Shelter was being formed, and I loved the contrast—that as Phoebe surges forward in her quest for truth, Meg’s journey is going backwards, from marital breakup to the first seedlings of fame.

I cannot adequately describe how incredible the writing is in this book. Janet McNally is a poet as well as a writer, and this comes as no surprise—her use of words is thoughtful, visceral, lush, and utterly original. Her descriptions of things through Phoebe’s eyes are so unique and compelling that I wanted to highlight pretty much every line. Her sentences are infused with grace, hope, curiosity, sometimes sadness, always so much insight.

This is a book that deals with a lot of things. It’s about relationships—sisters, mother-daughter, father-daughter, friends, romantic love. It’s about regret and mistakes and choices. It’s about faith and taking chances and finding not only yourself, but different versions of yourself that you may not have yet stepped into. It’s the brassy collision of music and reality and fame and responsibility. And it’s completely captivating.

I’m so excited for everyone to discover Girls In The Moon. This is a book I’ll come back to when I need to feel inspired, because it has this magnetic energy. If there’s a formula to make words jump off a page, Janet McNally has fully mastered it.

Add Girls In The Moon to your Goodreads bookshelf.

Preorder your copy!

Learn more about Janet McNally and her writing.

October, briefly

It’s hard to believe that the end of October is here! Fall has definitely come to Ontario, and the warm days have been replaced by cool weather and plenty of beautiful changing leaves. I have officially swapped my shorts for jeans and my flip flops for boots, candy has been consumed, and my dog may have tried on a few different Halloween costumes. As much as I tend to despise what’s coming (ahem… winter), I’m trying to focus on all the things I have to look forward to in hopes that the cold weather will be more bearable!

Perfect October viewing!

Perfect October viewing!

This month, I have been…

Working on: It’s almost Halloween, so what better project to undertake than a thriller? I have apparently had darkness on the brain lately. I’m currently playing around with a couple different ideas, so we’ll see which one sticks! I’m planning to fully commit to something in November, but I have a feeling some outlining will be required, because the twisty nature of thrillers doesn’t always mesh so well with my pantsing style.

Reading: I was lucky enough to start the month with Fear the Drowning Deep by fellow Sweet Sixteener Sarah Glenn Marsh. I have known Sarah since our days in the query trenches, so getting to read her gorgeous debut was a really amazing feeling! Sarah’s writing is absolutely luminous, and this story– about monsters lurking in the deep off the Isle of Man and the girl determined to stop them from harming her village– is unique and unforgettable.

I’m currently reading City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg, which is incredibly captivating– it’s told from multiple perspectives and culminates around a blackout that happens in New York City in the summer of 1977. The writing is masterful and the characters feel so realistic. It’s the kind of book I want to take my time with, and it has been the perfect companion for chilly fall evenings.

Watching: My sister and I have an annual tradition of watching all of the Halloween episodes of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (we watched the show religiously when it was on TV), along with the classics– Hocus Pocus and Teen Wolf. It’s not Halloween otherwise!

I have some exciting plans coming up for November, so I have a feeling it will be a great month– and if the snow can hold off, that would be even better. (I’m of the mindset that the only good kind of snow is Jon Snow…)

A Halloween giveaway spectacular!

Halloween is just around the corner… and what’s even better than candy? How about winning $220 to spend on books? My Sixteen To Read sis Jennifer Bardsley has teamed up with nine authors to stir up a pretty sweet giveaway. In the cauldron is a $220 USD e-gift card to spend on Amazon.

Abby isn't what you'd call an avid Halloween fan...

Abby isn’t what you’d call an avid Halloween fan…

Click on the Rafflecopter giveawayhttp://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/bc26dd6f9/ to enter!

Want to find out more about the awesome authors involved with this giveaway? You can learn about each author at her website!

Amy Allgeyer http://www.amyallgeyer.com/
Jennifer Bardsley http://jenniferbardsley.net/
Jennifer DeGiovanni http://jenniferdigiovanni.com/
Laurie Elizabeth Flynn http://www.laurieelizabethflynn.com/
Donna Galanti http://www.donnagalanti.com/
Shaila Patel http://www.shailapatelauthor.com/
Caroline T. Patti http://carolinetpatti.com/
Meghan Rogers http://meghanrogersbooks.com/
Liza Wiemer http://lizawiemer.com/

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