Tag Archive: writing resolutions

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.

On falling short

We can probably all agree that meeting a goal is one of the most satisfying feelings imaginable. There’s a huge sense of inner pride, accompanied by the belief that you really can do anything you set your mind to. Rarely do I feel as invincible as I do after meeting a goal I set for myself. I’m Wonder Woman! Super Girl! I can take on the world!

Last month, I had a very specific and doable goal. I wanted to finish revising one of the YA contemporary drafts I had completed. I made an outline and broke it down by day, and I marked the big day on my calendar for March 31. FINISH REVISING. I imagined myself buoyed by that reminder, working away to achieve my goal, the same way I always do.

But then life got in the way. I got sick and when I’m sick, all I want to do is sleep or vegetate on the couch in front of a Sons of Anarchy marathon. Normally, I would push myself to write anyway, because I had a goal and hated the idea of letting myself down. But this time, I didn’t push myself. I let my brain be foggy, knowing any writing I attempted would feel forced and uninspired. I let myself rest. I let the calendar days pass unadorned and eyed the milestone that was March 31, knowing I had lost too much time to achieve it.

And I decided I was okay with that.

This is a new attitude for me. I’m usually incredibly hard on myself when it comes to goals and self-imposed deadlines. But I realized there was no point in punishing myself for being sick or chastising myself for losing progress. I knew I could come back stronger than ever if I gave myself time to rest.

I set a new goal for finishing those revisions, for a few days later. When I achieved it, I was proud of myself.

There will be other goals in the future, both big and small. But if I don’t reach them, the world isn’t going to end. Every day is a new opportunity for words, and a new chance to be kinder to ourselves. This year, I’m trying to measure progress less by numbers and days and more by how I feel mentally, creatively, artistically. And that’s the real goal to strive for.

March, briefly

March went by so fast that I almost forgot it was time to write this post! Besides the fact that I was derailed by a bad cold for part of the month, it was great to see the snow melt (hopefully it stays gone) and some flowers (or maybe they’re weeds… but they’re pretty!) start to shoot up from the ground in our backyard. There’s something so energizing about the first signs of spring, and as soon as the temperature rises, I’m ready to ditch my winter coat and boots for my shorts and flip-flops.

This month, I have been…

Working on: Revising, revising, revising! I’m almost done a revision of a YA contemporary project that can pretty much be summed up in three words: Girls behaving badly. This book has challenged me and made me dig deep as a writer, and seeing the story come to life has been especially rewarding. Looking forward to working more on this one, because there’s nothing I love writing more than complicated girls and their stories.

I’ve also been posting the Boys Tell All stories, which are told from the perspectives of the virgin guys Mercedes hooks up with in Firsts. I’m sharing a new story every Tuesday on Wattpad and Tumblr, and there are 10 in total. If you’re a Wattpad user, you can check out the series here, or else you can catch up here!

Reading: I’ve read a few great books by the Sweet Sixteens this month. First, Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia, which is fresh, smart, and wickedly funny– plus, the main character is arguably an unlikeable female protagonist, so obviously I was destined to love her. Next, I read My Kind of Crazy by Robin Reul, which is my kind of book– full of humor, heart, and quirks. To finish up the month, I read The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by fellow St. Martin’s Press author Lily Anderson. It’s a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and I was immediately sucked in by the witty voice and whip-sharp banter.

Watching: Since I’m now the proud owner of an Android box, I have a scarily vast wealth of movies and TV shows at my fingertips. The hardest part is deciding what to watch next (and not getting sucked into hours of viewing instead of writing, because I’m sadly not one of those people who can work effectively while a show plays in the background). The only good thing that came out of being sick this month was finishing the seasons of Sons of Anarchy I hadn’t yet seen. It’s such a compelling, gritty, well-acted show (and the eye candy that is Jax Teller doesn’t hurt, either).

That pretty much sums up March in my world! Looking forward to more mild weather, long walks, great reads, and writing progress in April!

#SixteensBlogAbout: Gratitude

This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about gratitude. Any time is a great time to think of all the things you appreciate, but for me, no time is better than right now. With FIRSTS coming out in less than two months, gratitude is something that has taken on a greater meaning than ever to me. The truth is, it can be hard to get off the roller coaster, to stop and put things in perspective. But it’s also extremely important.

I’m not grateful that winter is coming, but I do love mornings like this.

I’m grateful for so much this year. I’m grateful to be in this position, one I dreamed about for years. I’m about to be a published author. My book will be on actual bookshelves in actual stores and actual people will read it who aren’t just my mom (love you, Mom)! I’m grateful to be working with such a dedicated team of rock-star people who believe in me and this book.

I’m grateful for my fellow debut authors, with whom I’ve grown close. They’re confidantes and friends and some of the most wonderful people I know. I’m grateful for their brilliant minds and generous spirits and listening ears and creative brains and most of all, their huge hearts.

I’m grateful for the whole kidlit community. The authors I admire who have said such wonderful things about FIRSTS. The bloggers who have shown so much love for FIRSTS, who have shared their support with insurmountable enthusiasm and kindness. I’m beyond grateful for this letter, which moved me to tears. (Thank you, Jamie Victoria!)

I’m grateful to my friends and family for putting up with me. For my parents, for always being proud of me and doing so much to make my life easier (thank you for all the leftovers… I swear, I’ll learn to cook one of these years). I’m grateful to have a sister who’s also my best friend and loves wine as much as I do, and a soon-to-be brother-in-law whose positive attitude is infectious. I’m grateful for a certain sister-in-law who may be more excited for FIRSTS to be out than I am (hi, Suzanne!) I’m eternally grateful for my husband, who gives me the space I need to create and loves me no matter how grumpy I am before my morning coffee. (And that’s a high level of grump, folks.) I’m grateful to my dog for sharing her lap space with my computer and making me laugh with her crazy antics.

Yes, I have a lot for which to be grateful. I’m grateful for creating new words and revising old ones. Most of all, I’m grateful for this journey—what has already happened and what’s to come. Because I honestly wouldn’t trade a single misstep, a single bump in the road, for anything.

“I’ll do it later:” On procrastination

One of the funny things about being a writer is the great lengths we’ll sometimes go to in order to avoid writing altogether. These are the times when procrastination knocks on the door and makes itself comfortable. I thought I ditched procrastination back in university, when I spent far too many nights pulling off an essay at the eleventh hour, fueled by a disgusting amount of Red Bull. But after I started taking writing seriously, I realized that I never really broke up with procrastination. It’s still there, tempting me at my weakest moments, the bad-news older brother of motivation, my regular companion.

Procrastination

“Come on, ditch that book. We’re much more appealing today!”

I consider myself to be pretty efficient with time management. Like many writers, I have a full-time day job, so I have to be disciplined with my time to get my words in each day. I like to write for a couple hours before work every day, and sometimes tinker around in the evening too, depending on what projects I have on the go. When I have days off with no plans, I generally plan to write for most of them. All that glorious free time… what better way to fill it than with words?

But funnily enough, it’s on those days off when I struggle the most with motivation. And it’s on these days when procrastination decides to settle in and show me what else I could be doing with my time. Every so often, I give in to the temptation. On those days, my inner dialogue goes a lot like this:

A Dexter marathon on Netflix? I suppose I could watch *one* episode, then get back to my writing. (Six episodes later, my tablet has been abandoned and I’ve condemned myself to weird serial killer nightmares.)

That coffee table looks a bit dusty. Maybe I should clean the whole house. I can’t work in a pigsty!

I think my perfume collection needs to be rearranged. And might as well go through all of my makeup while I’m at it. And while I’m here, now’s a great time to clean my makeup brushes, too…

Look at that mountain of laundry! I should probably get around to that today.

My TBR list is out of control. Better make a dent in it before it gets any longer…

I need to check the mail. And it’s so nice outside, it would be a waste not to go for a walk.

I really should go grocery shopping, we’re almost out of _______ (insert any random product name here).

Gee, I hate cooking, but maybe this is the perfect time to pull out one of the cookbooks collecting dust in a drawer and master that roast recipe I dog-eared back in 2003.

This is a nice nail polish color. Why have I never worn it? Maybe I’ll give myself a manicure. Oh, but I can’t type with wet nails, so while they’re drying, I’ll watch *one* more Dexter.

Usually, I can combat procrastination by telling myself that if I can finish the work I want to accomplish, I’ll spend the rest of the day doing something non-writing related. And most times, that works. But when it doesn’t—when I waste a whole day in front of Netflix attempting some intricate nail art—I try not to be too hard on myself. I let procrastination sit down on the couch beside me and tell myself that I will finish that chapter.

Later.

#SixteensBlogAbout: Resolutions

This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about our reading resolutions for 2015. This made me start think about my writing resolutions too, which spiraled into an internal dialogue about expectation. Not other people’s expectation of me, but my expectations for myself. And I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the bar we set for ourselves is the hardest one to jump over.

As writers, words are our currency. We type hundreds, maybe thousands of them, at a time. We fill Word documents and notebooks and random scraps of paper and Post-Its and even napkins at restaurants with them. We add them. We delete them. We string them together, craft them into characters, emotions, relationships, scenes. We use them to make people laugh and cry. We turn them into entire books. And that’s a pretty amazing thing.

But I’d be lying if I said it was all about words. Because numbers squeeze their way into a writer’s world too. And once numbers become part of the equation, it’s hard to not notice them. On Twitter, where we can report how many words we have written on any given day and keep each other accountable. On the calendar in my office, where I reward myself with a sticker on days when I write at least a thousand words. On Goodreads, where we can keep track of how many books we have read throughout the year and see how many our peers have read. During NaNoWriMo, when the magic number everybody wants to hit is 50,000 words.

It’s easy to turn words into numbers and measure progress that way. I do it all the time.

So my resolution for 2015 is not to.

That’s not to say I’ll abandon my calendar or my shiny little heart stickers. That’s not to say I won’t feel a swell of pride when I hit the 5K mark after a productive afternoon. I’ll still do a happy dance and have a big glass of wine when I finish a new first draft. But my goal for 2015 is to measure progress in different ways. Progress doesn’t have to be a thousand brand new words. Progress might be editing a current manuscript, taking it to the next level. Progress might be a blog post or a short story or experimentation with something that might go nowhere. Progress might be taking a day off to read a book I’m excited about. Progress might be taking words away instead of adding them.

2014 was a busy writing year for me. I wrote three new WIPs. I edited FIRSTS, turning it into the book that sold to my amazing editor, Kat Brzozowski at Thomas Dunne Books. Then I edited some more. 2014 was a year of first drafts and revising. I also read a decent amount– somewhere in the ballpark of 65 books in a variety of genres. 2014 was a year of words and numbers. And it was incredible– I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. I successfully achieved the thing I wanted most to do, which was silence my inner editor, trust my instincts, and just write. I learned to love fast-drafting above all else.

Except the more I wrote, the harder I became on myself when I took a day off. The harder it became for me to measure progress by anything other than adding new words. I became a bit obsessive about word count. I was in a competition with myself, desperate to keep the flow going. And there’s nothing wrong with expecting a lot of yourself. Inner competition drives us, keeps us trying to make our writing better. But there has to be a balance.

My problem was, if I wasn’t adding new words, I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything. I felt like I was wasting time. If I fell short of a word goal, I was disheartened and felt like I had failed.

This year, I want to make those three first drafts shine. And that will mean a lot of things. Rewriting. Cutting scenes. Outlining. Making notes to myself in margins. A lot of this will be slow, tedious work. A big chunk of this will mean I have no new words to show for myself. And I’m okay with that. Because in 2015, I’m measuring progress not by how many words are on a page, but how I feel about what I’m doing. Just like I learned in 2014 to silence my inner editor, in 2015 I’m telling my inner critic, the one keeping score, to take a vacation.

So while my goals for 2015 aren’t all that tangible, they’re the goals that make the most sense to me. I want to make progress more about how I feel than what I do.

I’d love to know– do you have any reading or writing resolutions for 2015?

On 2013: The Learning Year

The tail end of 2012 and all of 2013 was a whirlwind.

I went to Africa. I got engaged. I moved. I made lots of paintings. I got married. I  finished and queried one book (WAITRESS) and wrote another (DAMSELS)– both New Adult contemporaries. I got several requests for partials and fulls– and also my share of rejections. I got great feedback that I will never forget. I accepted that it’s okay if your first book isn’t “the one,” or even your second or third or tenth, as long as you keep writing. Then, on a whim, I wrote a third book (FIRSTS), a Young Adult contemporary. An idea popped into my head and the book pretty much wrote itself. (Wouldn’t it be nice if that could happen all of the time?) I completed it in approximately three weeks.

2013 was a year of learning for me. I learned how I write best, how to write faster, how to use my time more efficiently. I learned to be less critical of my writing, and I learned that putting ideas on paper is the only way to ensure they become something other than an idea. I used to be almost afraid to write because I thought I was bound to disappoint myself– nothing could live up to the expectations I set in my head. But now I realize that NOT writing would be the only way to do that. Because to get anything remotely resembling a novel, you have to start with words.

I found out last year that I’m a full-fledged pantser. When I wrote WAITRESS, I tried plotting and felt completely stifled. I made outlines and didn’t follow them, and found my characters getting up to things I didn’t plan. I got frustrated that I wasn’t following my own formula. So when an idea came to me for DAMSELS, I decided to just fly with it and not outline at all. I let the characters dictate what happened next. And it was a hell of a lot more fun for me. I didn’t always feel in control– and I liked it. I thought DAMSELS would be a possible trilogy or series, but I haven’t written the sequel yet– mostly because of FIRSTS and the urgency with which it infiltrated my mind.

I also read a lot last year. I read New Adult, Young Adult, thrillers, classics, non-fiction. I have always been a voracious reader, but last year I read with a purpose. I read critically, and I sought out those “it” factors that made me interested in a book. I thought a lot about what makes a book readable, and what it came down to for me wasn’t necessarily genre or style or voice (although voice is an undeniably huge factor). But what makes a book a great book, for me, is that I just can’t wait to find out what happens next. It’s the suspense, the tension, the stakes, the hook.

This year, I have several ideas that are practically beating against the inside of my brain. I used to worry about not being able to generate ideas for books, and I wondered how authors could keep coming up with fresh material time and time again. But I’m learning that it’s about going with your instinct and writing the story that only you can write.

So going into 2014, I set some goals for myself to build on what I learned in 2013. I’m going to research and query with the hopes of finding an agent, but I won’t make the mistake of waiting for something to happen without working on another project. I always want to feel excited by a project and my ability to grow, and I think part of that is always working on something besides what you’re querying. Mostly, I want to always remind myself exactly how much I love writing. I’m going to keep creating characters and their stories, because there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

This blog is another goal for 2014. One of the best things I did last year was join the online writing community. I met some awesome writers on Agent Query Connect, which is a terrific resource for aspiring writers. I also created a Twitter account and met more great people there. Twitter exposed me to the world of contests, which was both overwhelming and rewarding. I learned the art of creating pitches for my books in 140 characters or less– and if there’s one thing harder than writing a book, it’s writing a pitch. I submitted FIRSTS (previously titled FAST GIRL) to Brenda Drake‘s Pitch Wars last month and was lucky enough to be chosen as Lori Goldstein‘s  mentee and Evelyn Ehrlich‘s first alternate. Working with these talented ladies has been a truly wonderful experience, and FIRSTS– and my writing in general– has improved as a result.

I put off starting a blog because I questioned whether I had anything interesting or original to say, but 2014 is also going to be the year I put myself out there a bit more. I want to connect with even more amazing people in the writing community, and I want to support other writers. I want to make this a space where I share my thoughts and things that inspire me.

Happy 2014, and happy writing! If you have stumbled upon my site, I hope you come again.

— Laurie

%d bloggers like this: