Into The Shallow End

“She plucked from my lapel the invisible strand of lint (the universal act of woman to proclaim ownership).” ~O. Henry

Sitting down to a new story, is like opening your vehicle to that, oh—so—wonderful, new car smell. You know what I’m talking about. It permeates everything—the seats, the trunk, and if you have a leather interior you get that old spice suave smell in addition to it. And like cars, stories need gas. What sort of gas am I hypothetically talking about? Well, that depends on you. Fuel is fuel. So what fuels your story? Some require premium, others you can get by with the cheapest stuff available. But there is a larger question at hand here:

Are you leasing, or buying?

You might not think there is a difference, but there is, and that difference determines how you’ll treat that story. Renters tend to ignore all of the little things because they aren’t fully invested in their acquired merchandise, or where they live, or what car they drive. When you first see that story, when you open the door and smell that delicious smell, you’re making a choice right then, whether or not you’re going to be with this thing for the long haul. You might not know that, but you are. Please trust me on this, you are.

If you’re buying, your maintenance will be more regular (usually), the grade oil you use will be higher (let’s assume for the sake of conversation that the oil here is the level of time you spend invested into your craft to make it all run smoothly), and you’ll take better care of it. Why? Because you envision a future with it. You make a commitment to it.

Is it your first work? Are you afraid those bloggers might be right? You know the ones—the guys and gals who emphatically state that all novels are total shit up until your fifth or sixth (or whatever the trend is at the time)? Whether or not you are a beginner, pro, or indeed a writer of total shit, you’re still making a call when you sign up for a fresh work. If you go at it with half your heart because deep down you’re letting your insecurities and fears make your decisions for you, then you’re leasing. If you go at it with all your heart, even if you’re scared to death of the commitment, then you’ve purchased.

Sounds too simplistic doesn’t it? It isn’t really, not when you look at it carefully. Contracts are sticky, complex things. And after all, any agreement between two parties is nothing more than a contract. You’re laying out your terms, and so is the story.

So what are the story’s terms?

Well, here’s some insider information—stories don’t like to be leased. They’ll offer you all sorts of incentives NOT to lease, but if you aren’t paying any attention, you’ll look right over them. Reminds me of rebates on cars—if you don’t ask, they don’t have to give them to you.

Stories don’t want you to bail after a certain number of rejections. That’s leasing. That’s turning it all back in, after a certain number of months (form letters from agents, or publishers, or both). Less the damages of course. And whatever damage you’ve done will cost you if you invest in another story at the same dealership. You’ll carry the cost over, just like you’ll carry the wounds of rejection letters over. And the thing is, if you’ve purchased, you don’t have to deal with that—not in the same way.

When you buy, you have the right to do whatever you want to with it after the title is in your name (that would be finishing the story). You can sell it if you’d like, pocket the profit, or keep it till it has to be retired. Bottom line is that the choices here are all yours.

When you lease, you don’t own anything. You aren’t investing in anything. Sure, there are perks. It’s cheaper, for starters, to lease than to own. Maintenance is taken care of (those are all of those classes and online critique groups you’ve spent years in). The second something is “wrong” and deemed beyond repair, it’s covered and you get to turn the thing back in, whether time is up on the lease or not.

When you buy, anything beyond the warranty is your responsibility. Yet, here’s the thing: Despite all the upkeep and the hassle, once it’s paid off, then it is truly YOURS. Forever. No take backs.

For better or worse, it belongs to you. And there isn’t anything better in this world than ownership. I saw a bumper sticker once that read, “Quit laughing jackass, it’s paid for!” You might not get published right away. You might never get published. You might get published, but not make a huge career out of being an author. But, it’s PAID for! You wrote the novel(s) that most of the world merely wishes to write. Don’t ever, ever forget this. It’s the only thing that matters.

So, you tell me: Are you leasing or buying? Really look at this question and answer it for yourself as honestly as you can. It’s really easy to say, “Yes I am buying.” But are you? Do you have one foot out the door, just waiting for something better to come along so you can slide out of one lease and move onto another one? When you get a form letter, or personalized rejection in your inbox, do you console yourself by saying inwardly, “Well, it’s not my best work anyway. I can do better. Maybe they’ll like the next thing I write?” Nothing wrong with hoping for better luck next time, but my point here is this: Are you giving your story less credit than it deserves because you really don’t plan on being with it for the long run?

The new car smell fades, yes. And it’s exciting to jump into a new car every couple of years. But nothing smells as good as a title, (pun intended) fresh off the press and I can guarantee you that with a lease, you’ll never see a title. You’re only borrowing it from someone else who will one day own it.

Which I suppose brings up the final question: Are you prepared to give it up to someone else? If not, then might I suggest you renegotiate your terms before your time is up?

It’s been long enough. You’ve waded into the shallow end. Take the plunge and OWN your story!

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The Burning Days

“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.”  ~Ferdinand Foch

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~Maryanne Williamson

**Bear with me: This starts out personal, but it does have a point for writers in general**

I’m a hell of a lot of woman.

I’m not loud and I’m not always the center of attention. But I’m strong-willed, decisive, independent, absolutely certain when it comes to what I want and going for it, and I’m usually all or nothing. In other words, I don’t do luke warm … I don’t have a working definition of halfway … and I couldn’t hit mediocre if I aimed for it. If I grant you a promise or my heart, you can take both of them to the bank.

It’s what makes my writing and my characters, and the worlds they populate, what they are. It’s what centers the Adorian culture and what pivots against Ereubinian slavery and repression. It’s the center and soul of my drive career-wise and what founds every friendship I have. If I love you, then I love you for life. I simply don’t know any other way to be.

This is not the easiest thing in the world to handle if you are in any way involved with me. Just ask my publisher. They’ve had more than a few candid conversations with me about this very issue. And I’ve learned a lot through professional growth this past year and a half … how to take that energy and tone it down enough to accomplish what I want. Still … on a personal level … there’s only so much dampening you can do. And after the events of the past two months … after walking on coals and mending the broken parts of my spirit … my soul is on fire.

I mean this in the best possible way.

Part of this is because I’ve recently been focused on rediscovering who I am—altering those parts of myself that I’d slowly changed to suit someone else’s wants and needs. There is tremendous empowerment in this. There is a sense of self unlike anything I’ve ever known. And every bit of it is coming out in my prose. My voice is sure and solid, without a hint of reservation or fear or hesitation. I was speaking with a fellow author not too long ago and I was trying to explain to her this whole process and how drastically my views on public scrutiny and critical reception had shifted, and it’s tough to really understand until you’ve been where I am. I had my foundations tested and they proved solid. But, until I knew that for sure, there were always those questions in the back of my mind … What am I made of? Am I worthy? Will I make it as an author?

Even if you don’t consciously entertain these thoughts, more than likely your subconscious is or has on some level. If you’ve ever read a review with trepidation or feared a critic, then you’ve absolutely asked yourself those things … even if you didn’t realize you were doing it. And while I can’t assure you of much else, I can unequivocally tell you that at the end of the day NOTHING else matters in your writing life outside of knowing who you are. Know that … and everything else … EVERYTHING else will fall into place just like it should.

Yeah … I know. You’ve heard this before. And nothing I tell you can show you or force you into this experience. It’s hard. It involves a lot of tears and heartache and pain. And solitude. This is not an endeavor you go through with others. While they’re there for comfort and support, the quiet, silent hours are the ones in which you feel the burn. It’s steel being forged in the fire. It shapes you into your true purpose as a writer … as a human being … as a creative, bright creature who refuses to sit idly by while your future is left in someone else’s hands.

Don’t think you’re leaving your future in someone else’s hands? OK … what do you want to happen in the next five years? Where do you want to be emotionally … physically … in your career? If you don’t know where you’re going, then you can’t complain about where you wind up. Aim for greatness and you’ll reach it. Aim for the very best and you’ll most likely get it. Don’t say, “if I make it as an author.” Don’t doubt yourself.

Because you are made of awesome. You are more than worthy. You’ve already made it as an author … the world’s perception of it in the future is merely icing on the cake.

Own it.

Like I already stated … I’m a hell of a lot of woman. More so now that I’ve entered into these burning days. You’re a hell of a lot of writer. Whether you know it yet or not. And like Marilyn Monroe said, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” I don’t care if you have to tape that quote onto your computer screen … or bathroom mirror or wherever … just don’t forget it when you start to think negatively about your life, your gifts and your calling as an author. Don’t be afraid to burn brightly … hotly … and for the world to see.

Because if they can’t stand the heat … they should get out of the kitchen.

Prodigal

“Here is the world.  Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid.”  ~Frederick Buechner

When I was a little girl, I played make-believe, like so many young girls do. I made up my own characters to accompany my favorite television shows (She-Ra and He-man if you must know), not content to just accept someone else’s creations. I flitted around the yard fighting dragons and the darkness and the forces of evil. I was fortuitous, full of fire and spirit and life. I was a leader, a comforter and a friend. Through the years, I used those daydreams to cultivate a picture of the kind of woman who I wanted to be once I grew up. I would be bold and wouldn’t take less than I deserved. I wouldn’t back down in a fight. I would hold onto the goodness in others and ferret out the shadows to expose them for what they really are. I would continue to create characters and worlds and stories.

But, somewhere along the way, I lost track of that girl. She faded against the backdrop of what I thought was my “reality” and the inevitable. Bitterness crept in, and I allowed myself to live only half a life.

I said once, a year or so ago, that I wanted to be the sort of person who did those brave things—who traveled and experienced life and had no regrets. This was said in the context of my being “unable” to do much of anything out of reservation, or anxiety, or lifestyle or preconceived notions, or whatever. Fear and monotony had me by the soul and it was eating away at my heart day by day. I wondered how I could be coming so close to achieving and having what I most desired, yet still be so far away.

It’s amazing what can change in a little over a month’s time.

The truth was there all along. In my writing hid little bits and pieces of the life that I’d always longed for. The girl I’d known so well, so long ago. The sort of affection and warmth and passion that I’d always given and never wholly received. But, I segregated that part of my life away and refused to look down deep enough into that fictitious world to see what my unconscious mind was trying so desperately to tell me. What Ariana, and Jessica Slate, and Garren were trying to show me. Things about myself that these characters, in their own ways, were displaying so boldly.

Like the act of murder, once the deed is done, your world is irrevocably changed. Nothing will ever be the same. Once the truth was revealed in my personal life, and I was set free, it was like a veil being lifted. Everything is different. And not in a bad way. Not anymore. Because there were things that I needed that I wasn’t getting that I didn’t even realize I was lacking. I was a full color girl living a black and white existence full of “you can’t” and “you’ll never.”

More than merely living that half of a life, I was accepting less than I deserve. I had long since given up on things that I now insist upon in my future: I want to feel pursued, adored and cherished. Nothing less will do.

I thought I was weak, and it turns out that I’m forged of stronger steel than most. I thought I was dependent and it turns out that I’m quite fond of blazing my own trails and creating my own destinies. I used to lay awake at night, dreaming of a world where my options were limitless—figuring that the closest I would ever come would be in my writing–and it turns out that the world ahead of me can be anything I want it to be.

After all, I said I would “grow up” to be a writer and I have six books under contract with a publisher. If I can accomplish this … then setting my eyes on the future of my dreams is within reach. All I have to do is keep on going until I get there … and not settle on the way for “almost” or “good enough.”

I have several paths ahead of me. I can sit back in fear and wait on time or fate or experience to usher me to the right one, or I can step out bravely on my own and take a chance on life again. I can swallow the fear as one would a breath of fresh air, and take it as a sign that I’m still alive. I can accept that my life and what happens to me, what becomes of me, is completely up to my attitude and how I approach the things that are set before me, be they obstacles or blessings.

The doors are wide open. The paths are begging to be traveled. Dragons slain. Darkness found and set alight. Worlds are bare clay, ready to be created. My happiness is in my own hands. My ability to love and be loved is ever stronger for the strain. My insecurities and fears, like those moments as a child when I wasn’t sure which way to go in the firefly-lit night, will serve as fuel for a greater internal fire than I’ve ever set ablaze before. This life of mine is only beginning. My dreams have only begun to take shape. My future is limitless.

The prodigal daughter has returned.