Behind the Scenes, Children's Fiction, creativity, Depression & Anxiety, Thoughts & Ramblings

Long term thinking and believing in yourself

And following on from Monday’s little rant / big lesson… I was listening to Joanna Penn’s podcast the other day (which I haven’t been listening to as much as I used to), and it was an episode about author mindset. I think it was just after she’d released her book on that topic.

Anyway, she was being interviewed and she talked about one of the ‘problems’ that many indie authors have is not thinking long-term. When I finished The Caretaker of Imagination (TCOI), my intention was to keep publishing books in a loose series (which I have), at a rate of 3-4 per year (which I haven’t). She emphasised that if you stick with it, you’ll have a backlist in no time, and that’s the best thing you can do for your career.

Helen Wadsworth (whom I now work for) introducing my books at my first launch party.

Originally, my vision was that by my 31st birthday, in January 2020, I would have a backlist of about 20 books. This would be a solid platform for myself as an author.

So what went wrong? When writing TCOI, I was a bit nervous about my lack of writing experience, but confident that with constructive criticism, lots of editing, and my love of children’s literature I would be able to produce an acceptable book. I did, and then I wrote another one, Lucy’s Story: The End of the World, which I was actually really happy with (see video below).

And then I hit a snag. I received some very un-constructive criticism, and I started comparing my work unfavourably against others. I was told the way things were done, and they weren’t always what I was doing. I started taking any feedback that was given and using it to reinforce the belief that I sucked at writing. I started listening to the rules and becoming scared of breaking them. I wasn’t making a profit, and I took that as meaning I was a failure.

Because I’m stubborn, I dragged myself through a couple more books, but they took a long time, and I was dealing with the voice of self-doubt on a constant basis. I wasn’t as proud of them as I was of TCOI or of Lucy’s Story, because the criticism and rules of other people were always in the background, ready to speak up at the hint of any praise.

What comes to mind is that old adage – the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago; the next best time is today. If I’d stuck with my original schedule, I’d have about ten books in the series by now. I have four – not even halfway.

I don’t regret the non-fiction books I’ve published in the meantime, I love that I made time for painting, and for playing with zines. Both I Am A Writer and I Am An Artist were fun to write, helpful to other people (both children and adults, surprisingly), and it was a great opportunity to work with people whom I admire. But my day job is part time, and I only started studying this year. If it hadn’t let the criticism get to me, there’s no reason why I couldn’t have done both the fiction and non-fiction books.

Four of the artists from ‘I am an Artist’: Zee, Anna, Jane & Megan (photo credit: L. Simpson)

So this is me committing to myself. I know my books have value, and I know there are readers who love my weirdness. There are many, many more stories I want to tell, so I’m going to plant that tree today to grow my backlist, build a career that I am proud of, and contribute my unique voice to the literary landscape.

Depression & Anxiety, Ranting & Rambling, Thoughts & Ramblings

Reflections on Hidden Figures – Are you your biggest obstacle?

I finally watched Hidden Figures the other night (yeah I know, about ten years after everybody else). For those of you who don’t know the story, it follows the careers of three Black American women in the 1960s who work for NASA, and play key roles in the ‘space race’ (below are the photos of the women that these characters were based on).

Obviously, they face some pretty big external obstacles. Not only do they have to deal with segregation laws, but they also have to work within a society where being a woman means you’re seen as less capable than a man.

But they find ways around problems, challenge the rules, and take initiative to prove their own worth. They take action, and if one of them falls into passive-complaining-mode, the other women help them out of it.

Watching this, as a brown-skinned woman in the 21st century, I felt that in some ways I couldn’t relate. Although I have certainly experienced social racism (and sexism), and I’m still learning that I can be a woman AND be strong, neither my sex nor my race have actually held me back from any opportunity.

My culture isn’t limited to my sex or the colour of my skin – in fact, these are some of the things I least identify with. I am a member of many groups; I have many identities. Were there prejudices there?

The more I thought about it, the more the realisation grew that the biggest obstacle I face is my own self-worth – or rather, my lack thereof. Sure, there are stigmas – I’m a self-published author, which means I get looked down on by some traditional publishing folk; I make colouring books, so I’m not a real artist; I’m a middle-class ‘privileged’ person with mental health issues (the question ‘what do you have to be depressed about?’ springs to mind here); I’m young (in author years) so I can’t be a good writer yet; I write children’s books, which aren’t real books, obviously; I’m not rich and famous, ergo I’m not successful; I don’t have a Fine Arts or Creative Writing degree, so what do I know? #rantover

But stigmas aren’t obstacles. Literally none of the above actually prevent me from doing what I want to do – the only actual obstacle is me believing that they do.

How about that for a reality check?

I don’t think that anything will change overnight for me, but it’s about ten steps forward in my efforts to shift my mindset and build my self-worth.

Depression & Anxiety, Thoughts & Ramblings

It’s okay to enjoy your work

Over the weekend I caught up with Chris, the man behind Criss-Fit (follow him on Facebook or Instagram). He recently became a personal trainer, so I wanted to feature him as a creative over on SONZA. I’ll share a link to the whole interview once it’s up, but there was one thing we talked about that I have been working through and would like to put in the public forum.

It’s the idea that if we are doing something we love, we should feel guilty about it. Now, on paper (or rather, on screen) this seems absurd, and yet it’s something I’ve struggled with for a really long time. It has only been in the last year that I’ve actually identified it as an issue and begun to work on it.

Before I started writing this post, I was working on yesterday’s page for the 100 Days Project, and I noticed this feeling of guilt. I put the page aside to write this post, because I think it’s important that we don’t feel like this. I believe that when we are doing things we’re really passionate about, the world is a better place. It’s why I became a teacher, it’s why I share my work, it’s why I try to encourage others, and it’s why I spend my time on things I love and care about.

Last week I spent a whole afternoon making these journals, and it was bliss.

But while I am doing these things, a little voice pops up sometimes and reminds me that other people are slaving away at their desk-job, or walking miles to get barely-drinkable water, or working hard physical labour. How dare I spend my time on something so frivolous and enjoyable as art?

I try to reason with it. I’m doing this project to build my connection with, and to raise awareness of the beauty of our natural world; I’m publishing to inspire children to follow their dreams; I’m interviewing awesome people to raise their profile; I’m sharing my experience of depression and anxiety so people know they’re not alone. But I know that those aren’t really why I’m doing any of it. I’m doing it because it helps me, because the process of creativity is a wondrous experience, and because I love being a part of other people’s transformations.

And I am entitled to make and share my work for those utterly selfish reasons. I am allowed to spend my time doing stuff I love doing (and some things I really don’t like doing). While I still feel responsibility to help people less fortunate than I, the way that those more fortunate than I help me, I am only human, and I am only here for a short time.

There are a few people close to me who have died, in my lifetime. When I look back on why they are so special to me, and why I looked up to them while they were around, it has nothing to do with what they sacrificed for others. What I admired about them was how they lived their daily lives with passion, and how kind they were to others. I loved them for their uniqueness, and even for their ‘flaws’.

I want to end this post with an Instagram post from my friend Amanda, that really struck a chord with me this week: “Be proud of who you are and let it come out in everything you do.”

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Depression & Anxiety, Mindfulness & Mental Health, Running

Two weeks in – Auckland (half) Marathon Training

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve signed up to the Auckland Marathon as a ‘Charity Hero’, to raise money for the Mental Health Foundation of NZ. It’s now been two weeks since I started training for the 21km run in October. What have I learnt?

For training, I’m alternating walking and running, with a day or two off. I’ve been keeping it pretty casual, and this worked well for a while. I went from only being able to run 2km (and finding it difficult) to running 4km without trouble.

My best run yet – the views helped! @ Kiwi Esplanade, Auckland.

However, I only got a couple more small runs in after that because I was too sore. I managed to push myself too much, in too short a time period, and my body was not going to let me get away with it! To counter this, I’ve spent some days ‘off’ only walking, and finding yoga routines to help stretch my muscles (see my playlist here). I might also use it as an excuse for a hot bath. To be fair, I did expect this to happen, I just thought it would happen further down the line.

What came as a surprise was how much I enjoy the act of running. I had thought that, like going to the gym, I would appreciate how I feel after a workout. Well, I do, but while I was running along the coast I was elated; lit up. People around me have noticed a change as well, in my general happiness and energy levels as well as my appearance.

So where to next? I’m going to stick to a six days on, one day off schedule, but listen to my body more. I’ll be incorporating more yoga, and doing more squats/stairs to build my quads which can’t handle the jandal right now. My goal is still to get under 30mins by the end of May (see progress here).

I’ve been fortunate to find two running-friendly tracks on the way to my two dayjobs (Kiwi Esplanade and Pakuranga Rotary Walkway). I know I can run anywhere, but it’s the views that keep me going so I’m really grateful for living in a place where views aren’t hard to find 🙂

Shameless self-promotion time:

 

Depression & Anxiety, Mindfulness & Mental Health

Serving others by serving yourself

On Sunday, I wrote a post about enjoying the journey, not just the end goal (which you can read here). I was then chatting with a friend over on Twitter, and we talked about the Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

I’m not sure where I first heard about these, but I go back from time to time and re-read these as a reminder to live in a way that will be fulfilling and enjoyable on a daily basis, not just when I reach my goals. (Of course, I’m not saying I need to be happy all the time. Sadness is a part of life. I’m okay with that.)

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, by Bronnie Ware

I found a TEDx talk from the nurse who came up with these ideas to begin with – Bronnie Ware. Her talk started out how I had expected it to, but I especially love what she talks about near the end of her speech. She tells us that if we follow our hearts, without thinking about how it will help others, we will end up in service.

“Enjoy it. Do things that seem absolutely irrelevant to service of others if that’s where your heart is calling you. Because ultimately the more connected you become with your heart’s longing the more it will eventually lead you to service anyway but it will be in a field that will bring you joy as well.” – Bronnie Ware