It’s my five year anniversary of publishing my first book!
Technically, it was two days ago, but I was too busy with other projects (like announcing my next book!) to celebrate. And if i really think about it, that’s probably a pretty good way to celebrate.
My first book was a novel called How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied, all about a preteen girl who lived in a zoo, who was struggling to find her voice in the world, to share the things she cared about most. They say that an author’s first book is often secretly an autobiography, and I’m not missing the parallels between that premise and my own journey into publishing and sharing my work with the rest of the world! I’ve been a very fortunate author so far, and feel lucky every day to work with such brilliant people, tackling such amazing projects.
While I’ve officially been published for five years, I’ve been in the business of writing and self employment for a lot longer. I’ve got about a dozen books to my name now, either published or on the way, and each one has taught me something new about myself, what matters to me, and what kind of a mark I hope to leave on the world.
I could chat forever about the lessons learned on this journey so far, but I’d like to keep it simple today. There’s lots of time for lots of stories.
Here are five things I’m thinking about, as I wave to myself from five years past. Maybe they’ll offer you a little pep talk or virtual hug as you move ahead on your own journey.
1. Space. I think it is crucially important to define success for yourself when you take any journey, but a path like publishing and other creative fields can lead to madness if we’re not aware of constantly shifting goal posts. If I get right down to it, my version of success is space. Space to create. Space to make mistakes. Space to breathe. Space to live in any direction I choose. Your version of space or success might be different. But no matter who you are, giving yourself space to find your way will never hurt. See where you can create space in your life for something new, and I bet you’ll find something surprising.
2. Patience. The one thing we all need, but let’s face it, we’re never going to be truly good at being patient, are we? But it’s worth shooting for. I’ve gotten much better at this over the years, mainly because I’ve been around long enough now to see how the long game can unfold. Opportunities spring from failures. Hiccups shift to catapults. We truly don’t know what’s to come from the choices we make and the situations that arise and that helps me ease into patience in a different way. You’re only impatient if you’re assuming you know how it should go. Let the work, and world, sort itself out. I used to think that hustle was the thing that pushed me forward in the world. But I don’t think that anymore. There is definitely a time for quick thinking and quick action, but as a lifestyle, it’s completely unsustainable, and seems to breed nothing but burnout and anxiety. (Both of those aren’t great for creativity, as you know!)
Almost every part of publishing is a waiting game, and I hate the thought of living in a waiting space. Instead, let’s just set the wait aside and go back to the living space. Now, with every project, I try to allow space (there’s that word again) for what wants to happen. That mindset is my version of patience, and it’s a lot easier to swallow than accepting that ‘waiting space’ I mentioned earlier.
3. Learn from everything. I hear a lot of creatives talk about failure. Things they’ve missed out on. Mistakes they’ve made. Things we didn’t catch. Personally, I don’t like to give bandwidth to any of it. If you can learn from something that’s gone wrong, then it’s not a failure (by definition!) Chasing perfection is a fantastic way to avoid committing to anything, and all the people you idolize for their work are likely equally excellent at failing. True masters fail more often than others even try, and that keeps me going a lot through all the hiccups. Learn from it all, and all the hard bits might become a weird sort of gift. If it goes really well, that’s fantastic! And if it doesn’t, it’s experience. Both are wins in the long game.
4. The gap. In all pursuits, there’s that gap that appears. It’s the gap between where you are and where you want to be. The skills you have, and the skills you need. We all have a to-do list of becoming, and the gap between us-now and us-in-future can feel brutal. But here’s the thing: the number message I want to say to new writers relates to urgency. We all want to be there, don’t we? There, over there– that space where we imagine that things have fallen into place and we’ve achieved what we want to achieve. And all we really know about over there is that we long to be there, and that it isn’t here, that’s for sure.
Instead of beating yourself up over the gap, learning to embrace it can ease a lot of that urgency you may feel. It sounds trite to say, but our jobs as creative aren’t actually life or death, typically. There are no lions chasing us, and existing in a space of urgency isn’t meant to be a constant. (Even on a biological level, that cortisol coursing through your bloodstream when you’re worried about a project is fine in small doses, but over time, it’s a total buzzkill for creativity, and your health.) I’m starting to think that the only way to get ‘there’ is to focus solely on ‘here’.
5. Trust your gut. That’s really where it all lands, isn’t it? Being in a creative field is taxing, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not questioning something. Questioning my approach, questioning the decisions I make, questioning the projects, my skills – everything. It’s natural to seek out answers. So take in all the advice, information, and guidance you can. Seek answers to every question you’ve got. But create a buffer as you do. Don’t let it settle into your own truth until you really examine in. Look outside, but also look in. Nobody knows you or your path like you do. Take in what suits you, and pitch the rest. This is where knowledge becomes wisdom.
Above all, you do you.
I want to thank you ALL so much for reading, especially for the past five years and allowing me to hang on on your bookshelves, in your classrooms, and on your Saturday morning library trips. Here’s to the next leg of the journey!
If you like what you see here, pass it onto a creative friend! And if you really like it and want to support my writing, you can preorder my next book today! (Thank you!)