Earlier this month, I had the great privilege of being on the faculty at the Highlights Foundation Summer Camp, where I got to spend a week talking craft, sharing stories, and being surrounded by a wonderful group of writerly people. Aside from the good food and good company, it was also a pleasure learning from my fellow faculty members, like Tiffany Jackson (author of Let Me Hear a Rhyme), who gave me new ways to think about plot, or Kathy Erskine (author of The Incredible Magic of Being), who in her keynote suggested posting a one-line synopsis at the top of your monitor to remind yourself of what the core of your story is.
Of course, this got me thinking about the ways I use my own monitor space--not just the screen itself (which I often use to do side-by-side document views, one with an old draft and one with a new one, so I can re-type as I revise) but also the edge of the monitor as well. In the past, I’ve put sticky notes around the edge of my monitor to remind me of revision ideas I knew I’d lose track of if I put them in my notebook, which has been practical and helpful. But lately, I’ve also begun to use this space for affirmations.
Affirmations, the internet tells me, are statements of truth to which we aspire. I think of mine as reminders, guideposts, encouragements, ways of centering myself. They remind me of my direction, the kind of writer I want to be, and what is possible. Take this one, my affirmation for 2018:
I’ve mentioned before that I’m something of a workaholic (and not always in a good way, I’ve come to realize), so this is a reminder I need. I’m not lazy if I need time to recharge. I’m not selfish if I need a moment to breathe. I’m not a failure if I need a break. Hard work and self-care are not mutually exclusive. I still struggle with this, of course. I criticize myself for not producing faster. I beat myself up for getting sick and losing days of work. But because of this affirmation, I have the words to defuse my workaholic tendencies and my feelings of guilt. Sometimes, taking time off can be an act of daring. Sometimes, self-care can be heroic.
Now, I’m starting on a brand new project, and it’s that this tender, fledgling stage, this precious moment where it can be nurtured into flourishing or snuffed out with a single careless word, and I want to be mindful of that. To that end, I’ve created new affirmations for myself:
These ones aren’t full sentences, but I don’t think they need to be. Every time I look at them, they remind me of how I want to enter this story. They remind me that, no matter what else is going on, this is what my creativity needs. This is what will get the writing done. This is how the art gets made. With courage, peace, and kindness.
To end this post, I’d like to share what each of these affirmations means to me, and if anything resonates with you, please feel free to adopt or adapt it for yourself. <3
May I write this book from a place of courage. May those voices of fear and doubt dissipate like mist burning away in sunlight. May I be brave in my choices and fearless in my craft.
May I write this book from a place of peace. May I be centered. May I be focused. May I be grounded, with my feet under me and my sights on the horizon. May I allow my distractions to fall away so that I can perceive this story with the clarity it deserves.
May I write this book from a place of kindness. May I be gentle with myself. May I be patient with my process and all of my shortcomings. May I treat myself and my creativity with empathy, understanding, and respect. May this part of my journey be suffused with love and joy, because I will never travel this part of my journey again.
I haven’t had much book news to announce this year, which means that quite a bit of my social media time (which I’ve cut back on anyway in the interests of my new year’s resolution, breathe) is spent watching other people announce new and exciting things. Which is fine. (Great, even, because some of these people I admire and respect and I adore their work.) I feel like this is just kind of the nature of the business: sometimes things are faster, sometimes things are slower, sometimes you have news, sometimes you don’t, sometimes the successes are public, sometimes they’re private.
But all this has gotten me thinking about advice I see often: Eyes on your own paper. Run your own race. Comparison is the thief of joy. In general, I think all of these pieces of advice are about the understanding that everyone’s writing and publishing journeys are different, and that your attention should be on your own path, not someone else’s. Which is such a great way to look at things, I think, because it means there is no comparison. It’s apples and oranges! It’s apples and teak trees! It’s apples and targeted online advertisements or stone quarried on some distant Scottish isle! My career doesn’t look like Famous McAuthor’s because our careers are as different as banana split sundaes and a bouquet of carnations! They are both things, for sure, but they are so different that it’s not even worth trying to compare the two.
Which brings me to this other thing I’ve been thinking about--perspective. I think, when I’m watching great things happen for other people, I can come at it from one of two standpoints: 1) a place of envy, or 2) a place of gratitude. When I look at things from a place of envy, I focus on what I don’t have. I think about how much I want a bouquet of carnations. I think about how pretty it would be, how chic, how good it would look in my room, etc. And I spend so much time wishing for that bouquet of carnations that I forget that I have anything else, including an awesome banana split sundae!
When I look at things from a place of gratitude, however, I focus on what I do have. I have banana. I have ice cream. I have chocolate sauce. I have sprinkles (and I love sprinkles). This is not a bunch of carnations, okay, but this is still a lot to be grateful for. And when I start to think about all the things I have to be grateful for, I stop worrying about not having carnations. In fact, it doesn’t even matter anymore that I don’t have a bouquet of carnations because I have all this other great stuff.
It’s not always easy to come at things from a place of gratitude, so I try to make it a practice to say thank you. I say thank you in emails. I send thank you notes. I bring thank you gifts. I don’t want to take any part of my banana split sundae for granted, because none of it is guaranteed, and it’s likely that none of it will last.
Which brings me to this: Thank you, readers. We’re over halfway through my year of Work and Process now, and sometimes it feels like no one is paying attention to these little posts on craft and creativity. But for whoever’s out there, checking out these posts every week (or even just once or twice this year), thank you for reading. Thank you for being part of my journey, and if anything at all I’ve written has struck you or stuck with you, thank you for allowing me to be part of yours, too.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended a few festivals and conferences over the past few years, and while this has been lovely and super exciting, it’s also been super stressful for my Hobbit-y, introverted, would love to have the superpower of teleportation because I get so stressed out while packing, traveling, and coming back from traveling self. I also happen to have, as my friend and colleague Tara Sim (author of The Timekeeper Trilogy and the forthcoming Scavenge the Stars) likes to put it, the immune system of a wet tissue, so I’ve spent quite a lot of time the past few years getting sick from travel. To make things as low-stress and germ-free as possible, I’ve done a couple things and accumulated a couple coping strategies for those of you who also have to travel for work and also don’t super like the act of traveling itself.
1. Eat as regularly and as healthily as possible. Due to flight times and the high cost of bad-to-mediocre airplane foods, it’s easy to miss meals or to eat junk while traveling. Yesterday, I was boarding at noon, my regular lunch time, and in the air at dinner, and I wasn’t sure what kind of meal options were going to be available to me either on the plane or during layovers. So I bought both my lunch (a Filet of Fish, which isn’t super healthy, I know, I know, but I don’t eat a ton of fast food and I really wanted it!) and my dinner (a turkey and avocado sandwich from La Brea Bakery in the airport) at 11am. I ate lunch while waiting for my plane to board and kept the sandwich in my backpack until I was on my next flight, and didn’t have “hangry” to add to my list of travel complaints.
If possible, one can always pack meals, too. When I have early morning flights, I usually bring a small bag of cereal and buy an orange juice at the airport. I’ve also packed sandwiches for lunch, because I make a good sandwich. This is easily more cost-effective than buying meals at airports--the only issue is you have to carry it around (and sometimes juggling more stuff or cramming stuff into your already-full carry on can add to your stress) and hope it doesn’t smush.
2. Bring healthy snacks. Sometimes, there just isn’t time to grab a meal, or sometimes, you’re feeling a little peckish between lunch and dinner, and this is the time for healthy snacks! I bring mine in snack-sized Ziploc bags (although I am in search of another, more sustainable yet packable option), and they usually include the kind of delicious but energy-giving stuff I’d take on a hike: dried fruit, nuts, beef jerky, trail mix. Dark chocolate can be a good addition as well. These things are tasty, healthy, and pretty-smush proof, so they make great snacks to bring for a long day of travel.
3. If you’re in the US, and you’re flying, and if it’s an option for you, get TSA Pre-check to help you get through the security lines. It takes a fingerprinting and an interview and some cash, but it’s good for five years, and that little green check mark on your boarding pass will usually get you through security lines more quickly (although not always), and you don’t have to remove your laptop and liquids from your carry-on, or remove your shoes or sweater/light jacket (which is a bonus if you’re always cold, like me).
4. Acquire a good set of luggage that works for your needs. I’ve checked soft-sided suitcases and had them tear before, so I got myself a set of hard-sided luggage with three sizes and those wheels that spin in all different directions so you can roll your suitcase without leaning/dragging it behind you (the convenience of that is great). I’ve heard great things about Away luggage, but I’ve also heard it’s pricey, so I’m probably going to use my current ones until they break before investing in new suitcases. I also have a carry-on size soft-sided luggage with a compartment for a laptop, which I sometimes need because these are work trips, after all.
5. It’s hard for me to lose a full day of work to travel, so I’ve invested in a laptop specifically for travel (it is also my regular laptop/computer because what do I need two for?). It is a small, lightweight 13” laptop with a solid state drive (for speed and for the roughness of travel). The screen is pretty small, but I have a monitor setup at home, and the small size of the keyboard means it fits on an airplane tray table and doesn’t make my bag super heavy while I’m carrying it around. This means I can work while I’m at the gate and while I’m in the air, which gives me hours of extra time to get the words down.
6. Hydrate. Public bathrooms aren’t always the cleanest and airplane bathrooms are usually super gross, so it’s tempting not to drink very much so you won’t have to use the restroom a lot, but that’s probably a mistake. Also buying bottled water sucks. But also having to wash a reusable water bottle in a hotel bathroom can be a pain (as I currently know because I dropped mine in curb water last night--yum). Whatever you choose for your convenience and conscience, drinking water throughout your travel day keeps you from getting dehydrated, which means your skin doesn’t get so dry in the airplane air conditioning, and you don’t get those headaches from not getting enough fluids, and your breath isn’t as bad!
7. Make a travel kit. This kit can have whatever emergency or daily things you might need while on the go. Mine in particular is pretty much a first aid kit (because you never know!) + my anti-get-sick arsenal. Some of this arsenal came from a post from another author that I unfortunately cannot for the life of me remember but if someone knows it, please tell me. Some of it is what works for me. I keep it all in a little complimentary beauty bag thing that I got from Air France once (see this week’s post for size comparison and contents), and because of its first-aid-ness, I also always carry it in my purse anyway. In my travel kit, you will find the following:
And those are my author travel tips! This list is by no means exhaustive, because I also try to get a good night’s sleep, and meditate in the mornings, and stretch, but I don’t always get to these things, and I ALWAYS do/bring/use the above. Traveling is stressful, but I think being prepared can make it a little easier on the nerves (and immune system).