Embracing multipotentiality

Thoughts & Ramblings

Last week (or was it the week before?) I blogged about changing motivations, and how I am working through it. Well, I’m still working through it, which is only to be expected.

I’ve been thinking about the things that drive me, the things that excite me, and the things that had drawn me to previous endeavours. As I scroll through Instagram, I’m noticing things that trigger an ‘all lit up’ feeling (I have no idea how else to describe this, sorry!). As I’m writing this, I realise that I went through this exact exercise before I started writing for publication 🙂

This week I’ve been at the dayjob helping with renovations, which was a wonderful way to be productive and give myself a chance to think. I downloaded a bunch of CourageMaker podcasts on multipotenitality, and was particularly struck by the Magpie Maker, who has taken her love of making and ‘magpie brain’ to build her career on. I’ve often felt like the only way I can have a decent career is to hone in on one little niche and just do that one thing, forever and ever and ever (this does not appeal to me in the slightest).

While I’ve read / listened to pieces about multipotentiality before, it wasn’t until hearing the Magpie Maker talk about it that it really felt like something worthy to me, and valuable in the real world. I’m incredibly grateful for this.

I’m really happy with Blue Mushroom Books, and see it as a way to a) share my love of New Zealand, especially in terms of our unique and beautiful natural environment, and b) support fellow New Zealand creatives. It’s now my turn to make something I’m -really happy with that is for me – being creative, inspiring others, teaching, trying new things, and practicing mindfulness.

Please bear with me as I figure out what this new thing is going to look like, and how it will serve both myself, and others. Also wish me luck! ❤

On squiggly journeys and a changing self

Mindfulness & Mental Health, Thoughts & Ramblings

My writing journey began on the back of what could reasonably be called a breakdown. It was my second year in full-time classroom teaching, and I had some big emotional losses as well. On top of that, my depression and anxiety had not been diagnosed – and therefore had not been treated – so I wasn’t in a strong place to begin with.

In true Capricornian style, I was incredibly goal-driven; when I really wanted to achieve something, I would make sure that I did. My first goal was to have a publishing deal within 2 years (it took me 2 years and 3 months), and to publish 4 books a year (I published 3, plus 2 colouring books).

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NZ Book Festival 2015 – 9 months into my publishing journey

But that year, I received some cutting criticism from an author ‘friend’. She was trying to be helpful, but I allowed her words to knock my confidence. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be brave enough to write fiction again. I turned to non-fiction, intending to give myself time to heal and get back into it, and found comfort in non-fiction.

It was easier than fiction. I wasn’t putting my heart on the line, or doing anything wildly new. I wasn’t experimenting with language, and as someone who became a strong essay writer I was comfortable with my skill level. It was valuable work (I Am An Artist and I Am A Writer were made to help others, and also supported kiwi creatives in the process). I could make a deadline and write to it. It kept me feeling like a writer.

At the same time, I returned to my painting practice. My brief stint in art school was far back enough in my past that I felt I could give painting another go. I was back in my comfort zone, feeling free from outside expectations, and enjoyed the immersive process that painting has for me.

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Immersing myself in emotional, process-driven painting

I did get back to fiction, completing the 5th book in my children’s fantasy series, You Can’t Cure A Witch’s Curse, but even with my non-fiction I found it harder and harder to motivate myself. My confidence had picked up, I had 12 books’ worth of evidence behind me that I could do this, I was getting positive reviews for the most part, and I have supportive friends and family.

What on earth was going on?

I was reading Jonathon Hagger’s eBook on mindfulness when the change began to become apparent. Throughout my journey as a writer and artist, I had been on a parallel (and intertwining) journey of personal growth. I was rediscovering myself, and working on my mental health. A practice in mindfulness was a big part of this. Jonathon wrote that mindfulness is about being, not achieving.

I didn’t realise immediately, but this is what had happened to me. I was no longer as goal-driven as I had been when I set out on this journey: I had become a different person.

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Finding pleasure in slowing down.

So if my motivations were no longer achieving a goal, then what were they? Honestly, I’m still working that one out! I’ve been journalling a bit, and the topic has been on my mind since the ‘eureka moment’, but I’m not quite there yet. It’s got something to do with helping others, something to do with being ‘in flow’, and a lot to do with what makes me happy; the process more than the product. I know it’s something I need to work out moving forwards, because the way I motivated myself as a goal-driven person will not work on my current self.

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Journalling – January 2018

Change or failure? A pep talk to myself

Thoughts & Ramblings

Changing direction can feel like failure. You know, we’re taught to stick to things and not give up, to persist, to be consistent. Giving up is like admitting that the challenge has beaten you; that you’re not made of strong enough stuff.

So if I change my mind – if I stop persisting and give up to try something else – does that mean I’m not made of strong enough stuff? Is it the same as giving up?

This reaction emerged when I sat down to write this blog post. Goodness knows how many times I’ve blogged about changes. Why can’t I just stick something out?

I’ve realised that the sweet spot between my skills and my passions is creative non-fiction (including, perhaps, working with other authors as a publisher). This is quite a move from children’s fantasy fiction, and involves a change of audience as well.

So is this just me following a shiny new idea because fiction has ‘beaten’ me? Is this just giving up in a blue mushroom disguise?

I hope not.

I only started writing about five years ago. I hadn’t written a word of fiction before that since intermediate school, so I pretty much dived in head first, and everything I’ve published has been in that five year window.

So how on earth could I have expected to know what I wanted from the start? I couldn’t. Of course there were going to be changes! I was writing stories that were personal and creative, playing with zines, testing collaborations – in a word, experimenting.

And what’s the whole point of an experiment? That you don’t know what the outcome will be. It might be to find out if something is true, or to discover something new. After five years of experimenting, I am closer to something that will work for me.

Of course, the experimenting isn’t going to stop. It’s a bit like editing. First, you check the story as a whole – does it make sense? Is it exciting and engaging? Then you get into finer and finer details. At the moment, I’m refining rather than all-out experimenting.

This isn’t me throwing in the towel. It’s evaluating the outcomes of my experiments to create a business that is fulfilling, rewarding, within my skill set (but still challenging), and revolves around something I am incredibly passionate about: the beauty and wonder of our natural world.

And it’s not to say I won’t ever publish fiction again. I have The Train To Nowhere still in the works, and I’m sure there’ll be some more chapter books in my future, too – you can’t get rid of me that easily!

I am not going to see myself as a failure because I am open to change. In the words of Walt Disney: “Progress is impossible without change.” I am a work in progress, and I am proud of my work.

Go forth & experiment.

Long term thinking and believing in yourself

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

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.

Reflections on Hidden Figures – Are you your biggest obstacle?

Depression & Anxiety, Ranting & Rambling, Thoughts & Ramblings

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.