Tag Archive: writing

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!

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!

September, briefly

The beautiful view from the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto at the Word on the Street festival!

The beautiful view from the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto at the Word on the Street festival!

September has always been one of my favorite months. I love the changing leaves, the crispness in the air, and the electric sensation that anything can happen. Summer clung on a little longer this year (which I wasn’t complaining about… I would wear flip flops year round if I could), but now I feel like we’re firmly into fall. The month was capped off by a fantastic trip to Toronto for the Word on the Street festival, where I spoke on a panel and got to hang out with some awesome writer friends!

This month, I have been…

Working on: The first half of the month was challenging… I felt creatively blocked and my attention was scattered, leaving me a lot less productive than usual. But instead of forcing myself to work on something I wasn’t passionate about, I wrote some short stories, which motivated me to take chances and explore. I finally hit a groove with the new YA contemporary thriller that has been percolating in my mind for awhile now. I managed to get a decent amount of words down in the last couple weeks and am looking forward to more fast-drafting in October!

Reading: September has been a huge reading month for me! I started with Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, which my CP has been telling me to read for ages. I finally got a copy for my Kobo and understood exactly why it’s her favorite book. It’s deep and intense and so different from any YA book I have read. Next, I was lucky enough to read my agent-sis Samantha Joyce’s sophomore novel, Dealing in Deception, before its November release date! I literally could not put this one down… it has everything a reader could possibly want! Plot twists, humor, realistic relationships, drama, and healthy doses of romance. Next, I read the highly anticipated The Girls by Emma Cline, which deserves every bit of amazing praise it has received. The writing totally blew my mind and seriously inspired me. I followed up The Girls with another eagerly awaited 2016 debut, Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. I loved this one too… such a true-to-live glimpse of working in the restaurant industry with incredibly sensory writing that made me hungry for gourmet food more than once. I then read Not That Kind of Girl, the memoir by Lena Dunham, which I really enjoyed since I’m a huge fan of her TV show Girls. I finished the month with two excellent YA contemporaries, Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway and The Promise of Amazing by Robin Constantine.

(I guess it’s pretty obvious how I spend my time when I have writer’s block!)

Watching: I was totally sucked in by Empire, a show I have been meaning to start for awhile now. I’m a big fan of Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson (they have such great chemistry on screen together!), and I sped through the first season. I love the family dynamics and watching the lies, drama, and betrayal play out. Plus, the music is amazing!

I have a feeling October will be a really fantastic month. I’m looking forward to walks in the woods, crunching leaves underfoot, and lots of writing!

For all the Pitch Wars hopefuls

On Wednesday night, the Pitch Wars mentee list was unveiled. Excitement ensued for those chosen and there was a fun virtual Twitter dance party as everyone congratulated each other on this huge accomplishment. I remembered being on the other side of things, as a mentee two and a half years ago, madly stalking the hashtag for any and every update. I remembered my heart racing and the doubt coursing through my mind that I wasn’t going to get picked, and I’d have to move on from that. When I did get picked, I stared at the screen in disbelief, thinking there must be some kind of mistake.

Keep taking that leap of faith... you'll only get higher!

Keep taking that leap of faith… you’ll only get higher!

Why the crippling doubt? Because I had entered contests before with other manuscripts. My hopes had been high. They had promptly been crushed. I had to mentally prepare myself for disappointment, gird myself against failure. Somewhere along the line, I stopped being hopeful and started being what I called practical, steeling myself for the sting of rejection.

If I’m being perfectly honest, every time I wasn’t picked for a contest, I went into a mini-spiral of negativity. I convinced myself my writing wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t on the same level as others who had entered, that I’d never find an agent, that I should only write for fun and not put myself through the stress of trying to get published.

Sometimes I took a break. Sometimes I threw myself into a new project. But always, I went back to writing, and always, after the storm cloud had passed, I looked toward the next contest. The next query. The next thing.

What I didn’t realize then is that publishing never stops being about rejection. Even as a published author, I deal with it. And if I had let every “no” derail me, I’d be in the middle of nowhere, with no direction. But I learned to take those “nos” for what they were. Subjective opinions. Sometimes, a “no” is accompanied by great feedback that you can apply and learn from. Sometimes it’s about someone not connecting with your writing or your plot or your characters. And you know what? Every “no” is okay. Because every “no” takes you closer to the “yes” that you will get if you keep writing.

This is my first year as a Pitch Wars mentor. I was totally blown away by the level of talent and the caliber of work in my inbox. I also heard the mentor chatter behind the scenes, and it was unanimous that this year’s quality level was higher than ever. Not getting picked is NOT a no. Not even close. You have a whole community of people behind you, and that’s the beauty of Pitch Wars. Once you submit, you’re in the Pitch Wars family, and we all want you to succeed. We’re here for questions you have, advice you want, virtual hugs you need. We’re here for you.

It’s okay to be disappointed, to process whatever you’re feeling. But just remember that if you’re sending your work out there, if you’re doing your research and learning something about the publishing industry, you’re doing things right. You’re where you need to be. And I have no doubt with that attitude, you’ll get where you want to be.

Be hopeful. Be practical. Be you, because only you can write your stories, and the world wants them!

June, briefly

With my lovely agent-sis Samantha Joyce and the #TeamKrush books we found at Chapters!

Overall, June was a pretty fantastic (and busy) month. It started with a YALSA BFYA nomination, which was such a surprise and an incredible honor! The weather has been hot and sunny (my favorite!), and a truly wonderful celebration took place– my sister’s wedding. It was a very special and unforgettable day! Later in the month, I went to Toronto for a book signing event at Chapters with fellow authors Jenny Manzer and Catherine Lo, and a panel at the Canadian Writer’s Summit conference with Jenny, Catherine, Jen DiGiovanni, and Wendy McLeod MacKnight. Both events were so much fun. I felt so energized being able to talk about my path to publication with readers and writers at varying stages of the process, and I was grateful to be able to meet up with so many writer friends while I was in the city. (Erika David, Samantha Joyce, and Tanaz Bhathena, I adore you all!) The weekend was exactly what I needed to recharge and recenter myself going into the summer.

This month, I have been…

Working on: I am officially project-hopping. While the revision of one YA contemporary manuscript has most of my full attention, I’m cheating on it with two other WIPs. One is a draft of a NaNoWriMo project from 2014, which just goes to show that sometimes distance and time away really do make the heart grow fonder (and give you the space you need to figure out what wasn’t working). The other is still in the magical early stages where anything is possible, but since there’s a mystery element and things are getting twisty, I think some plotting will be required in the near future.

Reading: It was another slow reading month for me. I’m usually a very fast reader, but lately I’m not turning pages at my regular rate. I’m chalking it up to the humidity, which makes me extra sleepy! But I was able to finish The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass, which came out at the beginning of the month. It’s dark, haunting, and feels completely unique in voice and theme. I also read Girls in the Moon by Janet McNally, which is arguably one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read, and a fantastic fusion of music and love and identity. It doesn’t come out until November, but I highly recommend preordering a copy!

Watching: Besides Game of Thrones, which I’m full-on obsessed with (helloooo, Jon Snow!), my husband and I started watching Billions, which is smart, dynamic, and very interesting. I’m a big fan of Damian Lewis, who plays one of the leading roles. There’s only one season out so far, but I look forward to watching more!

That’s my world in June! Looking forward to what July brings (including a book event in Traverse City with my amazing CP, Emily Martin). And stay tuned for something fun happening next week!

On those drawer darlings

While looking through the various folders on my computer recently, I realized that I’ve completed eight books.

And started about twice that many.

In an effort to stay organized, I give each book a folder. But some of these “books” don’t quite materialize, and the folders don’t have much to show. Some are partway toward being a completed novel– one has over 30,000 words, while another is encroaching on the 50,000 mark. Some are a lot less far along– a few chapters in, or even just a few pages. As I clicked through the neglected documents, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. I had abandoned them. I never gave them a chance.

Or did I?

A drawer darling that just may be resurrected.

A drawer darling that just may be resurrected.

More than once, I’ve wondered—am I commitment-phobic? Am I just in it for the glorious honeymoon period, when everything feels shiny and effortless, before it becomes a big confusing mess? Do I take a hike when the words dry up and sentences feel like a massive undertaking and that paralyzing feeling of “what’s next” takes over?

I honestly don’t think so. I’m pretty sure my prognosis is that I’m just a regular writer.One thing my journey to publication has taught me is that most of us have lots of those half-started, half-finished, halfway-maybe-something projects in our proverbial drawers. Some of them are terrible and we’d never show them to a single soul. Some of them might become something, someday. So why do I still feel guilty that my drawer darlings exist?

I think it’s because such a huge part of success in writing is persevering through the hard times and never giving up. You’ll hear a lot of writers (myself included) say that habit is the key to success. You have to put in the work and commit in order to finish something. A first draft only has to exist, not be anywhere close to perfect. But not everything makes it even to first draft status. Those not-finished somethings don’t mean you didn’t commit or that you didn’t care. Making the choice to abandon a project isn’t the same as giving up. Maybe you’ll go back to it in a week, month, or even two years. Sometimes, distance is the best solution. And sometimes, the book just isn’t working, and you have to accept that. Accepting that it didn’t work isn’t a failure– it’s growth as an artist.

I can’t even fathom how many thousands of words of mine will never see the light of day, how many hours of work I put into projects that nobody will ever see. Maybe some people would deem that a waste of time, but I’m okay with it. None of the time and effort was a waste, because I was writing and learning and honing my skills, even if I didn’t see it at the time. I can go back to one of those abandoned folders and see why a project wasn’t working, why an idea fell flat. I can resurrect it. Or I can leave it, because the passion isn’t there anymore.

A writer’s imagination is a crazy-awesome place. There’s so much going on in there– your imagination lets you build worlds and characters out of nothing. That’s kind of like magic. Don’t cover all that with the heavy blanket of guilt. Let those words be wasted, if that’s the best thing for you. Let those drawer darlings gather dust. They’ll still be there, if– and when– you ever go back to them.

May, briefly

Some months, I start out strong and lose energy as the days get longer and my motivation wanes. May was the opposite. While I struggled at the beginning of the month, I soon hit my stride and was able to make some great progress. I feel like I have struck a good balance with writing, revising, reading, and just enjoying life– especially now that the weather has warmed up enough for me to ditch pants and boots in favor of shorts and flip-flops.

This month, I have been…

My book baby hanging out at Chapters Indigo in London!

My book baby hanging out at Chapters Indigo in London!

Working on: Thanks to some brilliant notes from my amazing CP, I was energized to finish revising one of the YA contemporary projects I completed this year. It’s from a boy’s perspective and I had such a blast writing it, and while revising can sometimes be the painful, sobering aftermath to fast drafting, this time I was able to go in and fix what needed to be fixed to make the book stronger. In the meantime, I’m also drafting something new– it’s dark and moody and messy and I’m not quite sure where it’s going, but that’s part of what makes me love it so much.

This month also meant the end of my Boys Tell All series. I’m thrilled that so many people followed the stories– we’re up to nearly 150K views on Wattpad! If you missed the series, you can read all the stories on Wattpad or Tumblr.

Reading: Sadly, I didn’t do nearly as much reading this month as I normally do. I finished Everybody Rise, which my lovely editor was kind enough to send me. It was a really fun read about climbing the social ladder in 2006 Manhattan, and the lies and scheming that go into fitting in with the elite crowd. I also read How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather, which comes out in July. I loved this one– the main character, Sam, has such a snarky, smart voice, which I adore in a narrator, and the plot kept me guessing with unique twists and turns.

Watching: I’m full-on obsessed with Girls, a show I have been wanting to watch for awhile now. I’m a huge Sex and the City fangirl, so Girls feels like a younger, messier version, and perfectly encapsulates the uncertainty of being in your early twenties and the doubt, passion, and urgency that dictate life. Plus, I love the humor– I definitely laughed out loud more than once. Lena Dunham is brilliant and basically my new life idol… I can’t believe she created this show at such a young age. (Next up, I want to read her book!)

June will be a busy month– my sister is getting married (I’m her matron of honor!), and I’ll be heading to Toronto to participate in a bookstore event and the CCWWP conference as a panelist with some amazing debut authors. More updates soon!

My rock-bottom moment

2008 Laurie being generally ridiculous.

2008 Laurie being generally ridiculous.

The year was 2008, and I had just graduated with a postgraduate diploma in Journalism. I was living in Toronto, modeling part-time, renting a box of an apartment with my faithful little Chihuahua, trying to break into the news media industry. Some of my friends who had graduated with me already had internships, and some had actual jobs. Unfortunately, it was also a time in the economy when jobs were being slashed, so my internship had ended. I was struggling to fill my days, scouring the Internet for job postings and sending my resume to any job I thought might be a decent fit. I wasn’t expecting perfection. I just wanted to pay my rent and hopefully make some connections so that I’d be on my way to a job I liked.

Then one day, I got an invitation to interview for a local news station. After days and weeks of silence on the job front, I was grateful for the opportunity. But the morning of the interview, I felt completely discombobulated. I remember that it was a freezing cold morning and no matter what outfit I tried on, nothing felt right. I didn’t feel right. I felt more like a kid playing dress-up, like I was pretending to be someone else. I shook it off, chalking it up to nerves, and took the subway to my interview. I shook hands and smiled, and things got started.

It was terrible. Worse than terrible, actually. It was like one of those nightmare where you have a huge test you forgot to study for and wake up in a cold sweat, except the nightmare was actually happening to me. I was asked questions I didn’t know how to answer about politics and news stories and events I hadn’t even heard of. I was quizzed, using photos of political figures I couldn’t identify. I was massively unprepared and the interviewer knew it. I felt humiliated and stupid. At one point during the interview, I was asked, “do you even watch this news channel?”

Honestly, the answer was no.

After an awkward good-bye (“don’t call us, we’ll call you!”), I stumbled back onto the snowy Toronto streets, called my mom, and promptly burst into tears.

It wasn’t that I didn’t get the job. It was that in that moment, I admitted to myself that I never wanted the job. I knew in that moment that I didn’t want to work in Journalism at all. It wasn’t for me. My heart was in fiction, in the stories constantly churning in my head, in the characters who whispered to me and prodded the inside of my brain. I was just too afraid to say out loud that I wanted to be a writer, that it had always been my dream, that it was what I knew I was supposed to be doing.

It took me another few years before I started writing on a regular basis, before I took it seriously and made it a priority. But I’ll never forget that day in Toronto when I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I was so miserable and depressed and certain that I’d made a giant mess of my life. But looking back, I’m glad I looked like an idiot in that interview. I’m glad I failed. Because if I hadn’t, I might have taken a job I didn’t love and pushed my own stories to the back of my head forever and dismissed them as a silly dream. That failure let me admit something that I might not have otherwise. This isn’t your path. There’s something else you’re meant to do.

Rock bottom hurts. It really, really does. You get up bruised and broken and it’s hard to start climbing out. But rock bottom happens for a reason. Find out that reason, and cling to it, because that reason is what you’re intended for.

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