A good friend of mine died. A year ago. And I just found out about it. And if it weren’t for a string of coincidental events, it would have taken me years to find out.
The last time I saw her was fifteen months ago. She called me from her bed, just having gotten into a car accident, she wanted company. I brought chicken and dumpling soup, jokes and prayers. The kind of prayers you give a dear friend when you see they are clearly going through something. We spent several hours, me at the foot of her bed cackling like school girls about getting our lives together, travelling and promised to have margaritas when she felt better. I kissed her face and told her I loved her. She was a friend that had quickly turned into a sisterfriend. I walked out the door and promised to check on her soon. Then life got in the way.
I got a new job, one that put me in her neighborhood a few weeks later. I sent her a text and go no response. A week or so later, I called and got her voice mail. Around the same time there was drama. A lot of drama, in her life and mine. I thought it was the timing of things and I figured she just needed some space. I took her silence for a petition that she was going through something and just needed me to understand. Weeks turned into months, maybe I called again, maybe I didn’t. I don’t remember.
And then I was watching the news one day and saw a story about her company downsizing. I thought, “I need to call her, I miss her.” The very next day, a parent of mine came into my office wearing a T-shirt with her company’s logo on it. She was a supervisor, like my friend. I wondered if she knew her. She did. Right then and there something in me melted.
My friend had died and I hadn’t heard. Weeks after I’d left her bedside, her sorrow and struggles had become too much. She’d warned me, I guess. I told her it would be okay and that God loved her. I prayed a prayer that was not my own words that day. And yet, in my office that day, she might as well have died the night before.
I had been a terrible friend to want to reach out but didn’t. I wanted to stop by, but didn’t. I found myself crying in the bathroom, grieving for a friendship and a life cut short, but mostly feeling guilty.
And before I knew what happened, I realized that I had been blessed with an opportunity that probably most of closest friends would’ve died for. I had gotten my chance to kiss her goodbye, to say that I loved her and to remind her that God loved her. I had never had such a profound moment with anyone, especially not someone who would be dead two weeks later. I had gotten my chance to tell her about the book that I was writing and the teaching job I was hoping to take.
Fifteen months later, just thinking of her beautiful smile and spirit make my heart heavy. But it is reminding me that not a single day or thing in my life is promised. I have a tendency to get lazy, and exhausted, taking for granted that I have dreams and goals that may never come to fruition if I don’t push, fight and bleed for them to happen.
Today I’m not writing about me struggling to find time to write and finish Good Mourning. The spirit of my beautiful friend is reminding me mourning her today is good.
She only got thirty four years.
I did’nt go away to college. Unless you count taking the bus two hours each way from the east side to get to Marygrove College, which I don’t. My dorm was a two bedroom apartment that I shared with my cousin and my six month old son. While other people my age learned about independence and responsibility by pushing the boundaries of curfews and binge drinking, I was changing Pampers and working minimum wage jobs.
This week, I am in the upper peninsula of Michigan at Lake Superior State University, a beautiful campus in Saulte Ste. Marie that has a bridge to Canada in its backyard. As the den mother to four fifth graders (my son and three of his friends), I am experiencing college in a way I never have. I have a twin sized bunk bed, there are community showers and performing arts classes in between scheduled student life activities. While my students couldn’t have been more bored at first, I could’nt help but imagine eighteen year old Racheal seeing this campus for the first time.
As I turn the corner on this quarter life crisis I’ve been having (don’t judge, it’s waaaay better to have one of these at 29 than at 40), I am realizing that it’s not the not going away to college part that I resent, but it’s feeling robbed of the experiences that suck. I think all freshmen should get a practice shot at playing the game of life before it’s real and everything after is for keeps.
As crazy as it sounds, I would tell my daughters to go out with a guy you and everybody else thinks is hot, drink as much as you think you can handle, then see if it’s as good of an idea in the morning, and go to every single event the university hosts, even if it’s nothing more than a corny movie in the student lounge. I promise you, once you are grown and in the huge world that exists outside campus halls, there are no late nights that lead to early mornings, just early mornings that mean you’ve got to get up for work. In college, you get four years of life practice, that hopefully means when it’s your turn to do it for real, you get it right.
So maybe it doesn’t always go this way. I know way too many people who got degrees at twenty-two and have no common sense to go with it. But at least they got the chance to live a little, make some mistakes and recover.
During this week at LSSU, I am telling my students to soak up every moment they are here, reminding them that unlike their friends, they are away from home, learning new things and there is an unlimited supply of ice cream and fountain Coke here (my personal favorite).
Through the eyes I have now, I can appreciate being this far from home with a few days off work, and I am not the introverted, scared girl I imagine I would’ve been in 2001. I am really an adult now (despite still feeling like a big kid sometimes), and it is okay with my soul that it went the way it did. Even if I didn’t get just one date with the hot guy on campus.
I had a dream last night that I let an expensive vase fall to the floor and it crashed into a million little pieces. I don’t know who’s vase it was, I would probably have never owned something so pretty or expensive. But I knew that somehow that vase falling to the floor meant it could never be put back together again. Waking up, I knew this was an unconscious metaphor for my marriage, and most of all, my life.
Most people who know me think my life has fallen apart. I’m getting a divorce after eight years of marriage, three children, businesses and a bunch of accumulated stuff. Singing the song about how my marriage got in trouble is exhausting, most of it coming down to me not finding the courage to listen to that itty bitty voice that kept telling me something was wrong. And not necessarily with my husband. I’m the first to admit that something has been wrong, seriously wrong with me.
I’m in transition, waiting for my house to be ready, living out of suitcases and boxes but I will tell you, I’ve have never had such clarity. Let me tell you what happens when you don’t listen to the voice that you know is your own:
-you look to others to create the happiness you wish you had the courage to create
-you blame others when the happiness you seek eludes you
-and like an buoy in the sea, you float further and further away from the you that exists inside.
If you follow this blog you know I’ve been running from things most of my adult life; my writing, vulnerability, success and now I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve been running from myself. Somewhere along the way, I stopped doing the things that made me happy, I stopped recognizing the things in the Universe that brought me joy and I stopped listening to the Racheal inside me that has pretty much always been right about things.
Despite all of the chaos around me, I am over trying to pick up the pieces and recreate the life I used to live. I am learning that just because things fall apart, doesn’t mean they are meant to be put back together again (you see how that worked out for Humpty Dumpty, right). I am hell bent on creating new experiences, and learning whatever it is the Universe is trying to teach me.
What does this have to do with my writing, you ask? Well, I just walked away from a ten year relationship, endured some of the worst drama a girl could ask for. I don’t think I have a goddamn thing to be afraid of anymore.
I have a confession to make. In learning everything there was to know about publishing, I researched and studied, then virtually stalked authors I admired. I know this sounds a little crazy, but I was looking to learn more about what impressed me as a reader and an author. I looked at book covers I would buy and I read through blogs that compelled me to come back. I made list of authors who I planned to meet one day, and somewhere after Wally Lamb and Terri McMillan was Monica Marie Jones, an energetic, talented writer right here in my own backyard.
The literary scene in Detroit is an interesting landscape. There aren’t a lot of people willing to give you information, encouragement or advice. But Monica Marie Jones is different. Not afraid to talk about the good, bad and ugly side of writing and publishing, she recently shared some thoughts on her publishing experience.
Q. You’re an accomplished author with seven titles to your credit. What motivated to write your first book, “The Ups and Downs of Being Round”?
A. There were a few things that motivated me…I had a friend in college (Who is now a published author too: Dara Nichole) who said, “I am going to write a book.” So I thought, “Hey, I want to write a book too!” After that I dabbled in writing here and there, but mostly just through journaling and poetry to process my emotions. Eventually, I began writing The Ups and Downs of Being Round, but I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with it. I sat on it for many many years. During that time I submitted an excerpt from it to Chicken Soup for the Soul. Two years after my submission they published my short story! The letter started off by saying, “Congratulations! You are a published author!” This gave me the boost and the confidence that I needed to finish writing and publishing the book. There was one more thing that was really instrumental in the completion of that book. After graduate school I couldn’t seem to find a job to save my life! I had part time gigs here and there, but I couldn’t seem to find a career in the field that I had studied. I was either over qualified or under qualified for everything that was available. This was the first time in a long time that I was forced to really sit down and be still. It was during that time that I completed the book.
Q. What were some of the challenges you faced early in your literary career?
A. One big challenge I faced was that due to my excitement about being a published author, I feel that I skimped on quality. I was so eager to get the book out and so happy to have a book in print that I didn’t put enough thought, time, energy and investment into a high quality cover design and editing. These things made it harder to get my name out as a credible author, which is already a challenge in itself.
Q. What has been your experience with rejection, failure or disappointment in the literary industry?
A. The hardest thing to stomach was my first bad review. Your book is like your baby, you think it’s the best thing in the world and you don’t want anyone to call it ugly. I cried when I got my first few poor reviews, but then I realized that everyone will not love your work. Some will love it, some will hate it, but as long as you stay true to yourself, you will be just fine. Good and bad reviews are all a part of the journey.
I’ve also learned that there are a lot of people out here that try to take advantage of new authors. It’s sad because people who are excited about their projects are paying a lot more money than they have to for subpar quality products and sometimes they get burned by not getting anything for their investment. You really have to do your research to make sure you are making smart choices, ESPECIALLY when it comes to self-publishing.
Q. What have been some of your biggest successes in the literary industry?
A. My biggest successes included my book Floss being chosen as one of the highest reviewed books of the year for Raw Sistaz and Urban Reviews, two reviewers of African American fiction that I really respect and admire. Another major success was when The Motor City Casino Hotel in Detroit approached me because they wanted to host the book release party for my novel Swag. They bought 100 books, let me use the hotel gift shop for the signing, the beautiful lounge on the top floor for the after party and a luxury suite to spend the night afterward. It was awesome!
Q. Your latest book “Monday Morning Motivation” is full of wisdom to inspire anyone, including authors to stay focused on the positive side of life. How do you find motivation to keep writing?
A. Actually, writing those Monday morning motivational messages every week is what keeps me motivated to write. When I see how they inspire people it gives me the boost that I need to keep going. I also usually address issues in those messages that I am dealing with myself.
I’m weeks away from finishing the manuscript for Good Mourning. I’ve been pregnant with this baby for way longer than nine months. In a way it feels like nine years. These characters have been bugging me for years, begging me to get to know them and tell the whole world how crazy they are. Their voices keep me up at night, tempting me to fall asleep at my computer…with my contacts still in. I’m so close to the finish line I can taste it…yet I’m getting tired.
I came across this quote recently:
“…Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon which one can neither resist nor understand.’–George Orwell
This is exactly how I feel. I ask myself, how in the hell I thought this would be my dream career, when this is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done? (And I delivered two babies, naturally, with no pain medication thank you very much.) I realize I’m feeling the kind of exhaustion that runners probably feel when their on those last few laps, or a mile or two from finishing a marathon. You can see the finish line in the distance, your body has long since gone numb but you know you can’t give up.
In talking myself through reasons I need to keep going, here is some advice I’ve collected:
1. Take a break if you need to-
Sometimes during my three or four hour writing sessions, the computer screen gets fuzzy and all I can think of is resting my face on the ‘asdf’ keys. I give myself permission for power naps. I also give myself permission to take after work naps so that I can stay up ’till two a.m. if I need to.
2. Set aside distinct time for writing, researching, and randomness-
If I tell myself it’s time to write, then I log on to Facebook or Twitter, I get absolutely no writing done. When I’m writing, I keep my internet browser closed and I time myself in one hour intervals. If it’s researching time, I strategically surf blogs, I look up something useful for my characters, or about publishing. If I’m online doing absolutely nothing but killing time, I give myself a few minutes (or fifteen) to do so. Otherwise, not carving out this kind of time takes away from my actual writing, increasing the amount of time I’m stuck still writing.
3. Share your frustration-
Not many people understand what it’s like to write a book. Outsiders think you’re crazy and wonder what the big freaking deal is. When I get really exhausted, I check in with my writer’s groups and seek solace. There, I am not the only one struggling with protagonist problems or character arcs that don’t make sense. These groups remind me that I’m not alone in my madness.
And if I’m lucky, in just a few more month’s I’ll be holding my new bundle of joy in my arms. Then praying to God it sells on Amazon.
www.writersdigest.com If you’re looking for an online writing group
http://procrastinatingwritersblog.com/ If you need help getting started
www.musesland.com And if you need inspiration
I’ve been a professional student for the last ten years. I love school. I love meeting new people who I’d otherwise never have any interaction with. And I love trading ideas on things that I give a crap about. But instead of being nine credits closer to getting my Master’s degree, I sat out this semester. I didn’t think I had another ounce of energy for learning about technology in the classroom, or praticums on classroom management, if I could not get any closer to finishing my novel.
Getting a Master’s degree means a lot to me. I’d be the first one in my family to have a graduate degree. It means I’m capable of finishing something, even when I’d rather run in front of an Amtrak train than write another paper. But it also means less time spent writing, and another delay in getting the book finished. This semester, I gave myself permission to invest in my writing, in the publishing process and into myself.
Sometimes getting what we really want means we’ve got to give up something we thought we really wanted. Here are three ways to put your money where your mouth is:
1. Master your craft- Instead of spending three nights a week in a lecture hall, I now spend my evenings taking classes in The Blogging School and PR and marketing training from Pam Perry’s Launch Like a Superstar. These courses are helping me build my brand, while helping me master new skills.
2. Invest in yourself financially- I was recently tempted to splurge on a Michael Kors purse (something that probably won’t happen again until dolphins fly and parrots live at sea). But instead of making the purchase, I paid for services that put my book one step closer to release.
3. Be prepared for the fallout- Nobody said it to my face, but people thought I was crazy for leaving school with only a few more semesters to go. While it might make sense to everybody else to graduate first, I knew that my window of opportunity was beginning to fade. Once I walked across the stage, I’d find another reason to start a PhD program. And then I’d still not be a single word closer to having a finished book.
Think about your big, hairy, audacious dream. What steps are you taking to get yourself closer to it? Otherwise, it might be time to shut up talking about it.
I’m really good at coming up with book ideas. I can see the characters in my head, and they talk to me like I owe them money. I can imagine the beginning, middle and a didn’t-see-that- coming, intense ending. But when it comes down to it, I fall flat. I can write 3,000 words in a sitting and will get six, eight chapters in before I hit the proverbial brick wall.
This process has worn me down. I’ve even stopped telling people about my working plots (maybe it’s other people’s energy that keeps jinxing my projects), afraid that the project I’m excited about today won’t ever get finished. I even read other people’s work; terrible stuff that I hope will kick me in the butt and make me write. I chastise myself, thinking “if this crap has been published, what am I waiting on?”
If you’ve been following the blog, you know that 2012 has been all about getting outside my comfort zone. It’s a deceiving little place, as it feels so warm and cozy and it really makes me think that staying home instead of networking is a good idea. In the past, I’ve convinced myself that continually changing plot direction or changing characters will work. Truth is, its a game I play that only keeps me away from a finished book.
Now, I’m throwing that kind of thinking out the window. I’m telling myself that if I can see it in my head, and if it touches me in a way that I think will resonate with others, it must be good enough to finish. I owe it to the creativity that is bursting to get out, the chance to be seen by the world.
Here are three things you can do to see yourself to the finish line:
1. Take Advantage of Momentum-
Starting is the easy part. It’s keeping the energy up and seeing a project to completion that’s hard. In order to actually finish a project, you’ve got to ride the wave of momentum when it’s there. If you’re in the mood to write, WRITE! Stay up until 3am if you have to, just write while it’s fresh on your mind.
2. Stop Being Ashamed of Your Ugly Baby-
Many of us find it hard to let other people read our stuff. We are reluctant to even let an editor touch it, afraid they will judge our writing like its a baby we just gave birth to. The truth is, not everybody is going to like your writing. Whether your book proves to be that gorgeous, award winning baby on the cover of magazines, or a strange little thing nobody takes a second look at, it yours. Stop being ashamed of it. Keep writing as if nobody will ever see it, and maybe one day they’ll love it.
3. Write Every Single Day-
Successful writers write every day, not just when they feel like it. Being self disciplined is half the battle, and if you can manage to write every day towards a bigger writing goal, you’re well on your way. I give myself 1,000 word chunks to finish daily. Do I sometimes fall asleep when I’ve only penned 879? Yes. But after I wipe drool from my mouth, I finish the last 121 words and call it a night. Reading what I’ve written the next day sometimes proves to be jibberish, but at least I’ve gotten a few words closer to my overall goal.
It’s the hardest thing some of us have ever done, and we want our life’s work to be perfect. But since it will never be perfect, do yourself a favor and just finish the book already!
I’m my own worst enemy. I procrastinate, get lazy and I over think just about everything. I tend to self sabotage, being critical of every line of prose I create; typing delete before my words ever see the light of day. I can admit it now-I am the reason I am not a best selling author.
Sure there are truck loads of shitty authors taking up valuable shelf space in Barnes & Noble. But it’s not their fault my book isn’t finished. I can’t blame this on my husband, or my four kids who don’t seem to understand what Mom’s quiet time means. I have been the thing standing in my own way.
It’s taken a series of personal challenges lately to help me understand how much I’ve been squandering my gift. I’ve always had this haunting feeling like my time on Earth was limited, but the idea that I don’t actually have forever to write a novel is finally starting to sink in. And every single day that I am not moving closer to being a published author, I realize I Ar
Here are three things you can do to get out of your own way:
1. Put yourself on blast…in essence, telling other people (strangers, co workers and your friends on Facebook) that you are a writer makes it real. They may not tell you to your face, but they will be watching you, rooting for you and will be looking to see if you deliver.
2. Make a list of goals, and do something tangible towards those goals everyday. I started the year with dozens of things I wanted to get accomplished, highlighting the tasks I completed in green. Looking at this list every day and seeing green makes me feel productive.
3. Make your publishing goals relative. Telling yourself that you are writing the next Great American Novel is a lot of pressure. The anxiety that builds up from putting that kind of weight on your writing will make you want to do absolutely nothing. So I write like no one will ever hear a word of it.
Think about how much time you have left on this planet. You’re either countable steps towards achieving your dreams, or you are closer to the end of a life marred by dreams deferred.
I write a lot about fear. I’m not ashamed to admit that I spend a lot of time trying to climb over, jump on top of and trying to down right annihilate my fears. I had a dream the other night that I was on a subway in Hong Kong (does Hong Kong even have subways?) I was looking for sushi. And I was alone. Normally, I’d wake up from a dream like that feeling anxious with palpatations and sweaty palms. Because of my low vision I hate being in foreign places. And I hate the slightest smell of raw, fishy creatures.
But this time, I woke up smiling, thinking “maybe this means I’m going to Hong Kong one day”. Okay, so maybe not Hong Kong. Maybe this means I’ll get that writing workshop in Fort. Lauderdale, and I’ll have the chance to go alone. Or maybe dreaming about fish means somebody I know is pregnant. I don’t know.
What I do know, is that as writers, we have to constantly be looking for ways to use our fears as tools to sharpen us for success. Because we are afraid of almost everything (sharing our work, being criticized, rejected, or considered a failure) we’ve got to use fear as the fuel that gets us to the other side.
Here are three things you can do right now to turn your fear into fuel:
1. Think about three things you most fear (ie. getting a rejection letter, getting a bad review or not ever selling books), then do something in direct response to that fear.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, right? Conquer your fear in bites. Send out a query, just to get the rejection letter and get it over with. (Maybe you’ll surprise yourself and not get rejected. Maybe not.)
2. Pretend there is no one watching.
Fear is a figment of our imagination. We tend to believe that there is a mysterious group of bystanders watching our every move. Sometimes we are afraid to try things because we think “they” are watching. If you’re a writer, you’ve got to write like no one will ever read a single word you write (let’s hope that doesn’t really happen.) There are no critics. No naysayers. Just you and your words. And watch that fear of not being good enough slip away.
3. Convince the Universe that fear is a liar.
Make your actions suggest your fears are irrational. If you listen to the whispers your fear gives you, it wins. By telling fear to shut the heck up, and pushing it out of the way, you give fear less and less power until it puts its tail between its legs and goes home. If I go to that strange place and no one sneaks up and murders me, lucky me. But if I never leave the house in anticipation of something bad happening to me I lose. Big time.
Think about what fears you want to silence. And the next time fear tries to whisper in your ear, tell it to shut the heck up.