On a roll with panels!

When it comes to panels, I’m on a roll, apparently! (I forgot to get a picture, sorry!)

On Saturday, I was featured on a panel for the DC chapter of the Ellevate Network, called “Write a Book: Get Started!” I was honored to have been asked to participate. I highly respect the women in Ellevate, a professional women’s networking group, and was even more thrilled to do it because it allowed me to talk about another aspect of my life, the one readers of this blog know best: my writing life.

I’ve been on an Ellevate panel before, last fall. We were talking about how to make the most of the current age, which seems to drag on and on. I was asked to give my take as an entrepreneur/solopreneur. I encouraged everyone—as I’ve been doing for months—to make the most of this time. Doing another Ellevate panel and the other talks I’ve been doing in my business community (see here, here, here, and here) have been my way of doing that. The virtual space allows for way more exposure than in-person events; why not make yourself known in the easiest way possible?

I covered literary writing and traditional publishing, while the other person, Dr. Joanna Massey, covered business book writing and vanity and self-publishing. It was great getting a sense from her of how her process differs from mine, and how writing her books helps to bring her business.

Doing this panel also helped to reset my expectations. I’ve been immersed in the writing world for almost five years now, and everything about it seems commonplace. But I have to remember that not everyone knows what I know. For example, folks were shocked to hear that, even if my book were accepted by a publisher tomorrow, you wouldn’t see it on shelves for 18 to 24 months. They were surprised to hear that you don’t need copyright “protection” before the book is published because you can’t copyright an idea. It was nice to be able to both educate and encourage people, though I did wonder, given the amount that we threw at them, if it was encouraging at all.

It was only an hour long, so we could cover only so much. One thing I wished I’d gotten to talk about more how important having a writing community is to the process of literary writing. I touched on it just a little bit, while we were discussing how one makes time to write while working full-time and maybe having family obligations. Writing with my friend Amy on Saturday mornings since the fall has really helped push my work along. In fact, in our session right before the panel, I made headway on a short story I’ve been percolating on, finding a new entryway into the protagonist’s motivation. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I hadn’t taken the time to write with Amy. Having an accountability partner of any sort is really key when you have so much other stuff going on.

It was funny. I realized that writing and publishing are two things that I can talk nonstop about, or at least manage a really solid monologue for 20 minutes or so. I hope to bring that level of enthusiasm to my work, as I help my clients tell their story, and to my querying process, which as been kind of on hold at the moment, since I’ve got so much work going on. Clearly, I’ve got passion and I’ve got words. Now, all I want is a book to show for it. 😊

A new conference feature: Me

Two Saturdays ago, I attended Barrelhouse’s Conversations and Connections conference with two key differences.

The first was that this year’s was virtual, of course. Last year’s event was cancelled, as the DC session usually takes place in April or May, and last April or May, we were still bound to our homes. So, instead of trekking out to George Mason University on a warm Saturday morning, I fired up my laptop at my breakfast nook.

On the one hand, it was weird – the Barrelhouse conference is one of my favorites because it’s local, so almost every writer milling about is someone you know or are destined to run into again. This encourages lots of conversation (and connection, ha) and everyone is super-friendly. People were no less friendly this year, but it was hard to translate the chattiness to Zoom rooms, where we’re now conditioned not to talk over each other. On the other hand, it wasn’t so bad – I normally wind up eating a fairly mediocre Cosi bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, and this year, I was able to eat whatever was in my own kitchen. (I did, however, miss the Peruvian chicken place across the street from GMU, which writers tend to crowd because the food is so darn good.)

The other difference that was pretty key was that I was featured on The Editors Panel. Me. On the Editors Panel.

I flattered when the organizers asked me to do it, and I also kind of wondered if they were joking. I looked at who all else was on said panel and felt, for sure, they’d invited me by mistake. The others were T Kira Madden (EIC of No Tokens and author of one of my favorite memoirs, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls), Jennifer Baker (now Senior Editor at Amistad Books), Matthew Ortile (Managing Editor of Catapult and founding editor of BuzzFeed Philippines), Marisa Siegel (EIC of The Rumpus). Basically, all these famous people…plus me. It reminded me of that episode of Family Guy when there was an art exhibit that would be traveling to London, Paris, Milan, and Quahog, Rhode Island, and I was Quahog, Rhode Island.

I joked about this while I was introducing myself, and they all said I was being ridiculous. “You’re one of us!” Jenn said.

Lord have mercy.

Impostor syndrome finds funny ways of sneaking up on us, even denying the legitimacy of a perfectly legitimate invitation. And by “us,” I mean “me.” I hope one day to grow out of it, to realize that I’ve worked hard for where I am, and even if I hadn’t worked hard for it, I’m still where I am and that I should honor that.

I’m looking forward to next year’s Barrelhouse conference! I hope it’s in person, so we can chat and hug and drink boxed wine in real life. And I hope I’m invited to be on the Editors Panel again. I’ll sit on the stage and I’ll smile and laugh, like I’m supposed to be there. Because I am.

Grieving for Narcissists

Well, January was a month.

What started with great intentions of turning over a new leaf quickly turned into the chaos of insurrection, impeachment, and an inauguration.

I tried not to let the first two get to me too much, even though that’s kind of hard to do, especially because I live in DC. There’s something about the air that changes when these sorts of things happen here. Even if you don’t work on the Hill—or have absolutely nothing to do with “Washington” the way my spouse and I do as private sector corporate workers—it all impacts you somehow or another.

Perhaps it’s needless to say that I was thrilled about the inauguration. It’s a DC holiday, so I spent the day in sweats and my bathrobe. I started the morning thinking I’d work a relatively normal number of hours, until around 11am, when I decided to turn on the TV. I’ve watched several inaugurations now and all I could say about this one was, “Man, this is boring…THAT IS SO GREAT!”

I was blown away by how disrespectfully beautiful Barack and Michelle looked, and how genuinely happy everyone seemed to be to see each other, even if they were wearing masks. Even though it was muted, it was still celebratory, not the weird funereal feeling there was back in 2017.

But later in the day, around maybe 2pm or so, I started to get a headache. I lay on the couch and continued watching, feeling so much relief at how normal and dull everything was. I commented on Twitter that it felt like I was releasing muscular knots I didn’t know were there. Later, I told my therapist, “I feel like I got a deep tissue massage – I feel great and terrible at the same time.”

I continued to feel headachy and off for about a week. And I knew exactly why.

I told my spouse, “I feel like my father died all over again.”

When you remove a narcissist from your life, it can be painful. There’s a measure of grief that happens. Not because you necessarily want that person back in your life—certainly not if they were very toxic. But the human brain and body gets used to what it knows, and it finds safety in it, even if it’s not actually safe.

I reckoned the way I felt to walking for miles on a treadmill, then attempting to walk on land—it just takes a moment to readjust to the new normal that’s the actual normal.

I’ve been readjusting to my new/actual normal, one where I actively choose to extricate myself from situations involving narcissistic people. This is obviously safer and healthier for me, but I’ve been surprised at the amount of grieving that’s come with it.

If I never saw 45’s face again, I’d be happy about it. It’s not that I want to pretend that he never happened, I just want to say, “Okay, that was a thing that happened and now it’s not happening anymore and I’m still here. Let’s move forward.”

I’ve been able to do more of that the past week or so. In addition to feeling physically thrown off, January kept me busy with lots and lots of work, between my client work and a couple of new internal initiatives for my business, not to mention my short story class starting up.

But it’s a new month, and I already feel better. More like I can put one foot in front of the other on perfectly solid ground.

Never a Better Time to Write Fiction

I wrote my first post of 2021 two weeks ago, and even that time—Tuesday, January 5—felt like a different world from the one we live in since the next day.

I live in Washington, DC, and until this summer, I lived about two and half miles away from the Capitol. In fact, if I went to the corner and looked south down New Jersey Avenue, the building was very much within view. Then we moved further north, still in the District, but within walking distance to Maryland. We’re about 6 miles away from the Capitol now. I feel a world away from the action, and I’m finally grateful for that.

Even though my spouse and I were safe at home in our residential, almost suburban, neighborhood, we were discomfited by the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol, occurring not all that far away. We’d busied ourselves with work (still working from home, of course, because, remember, we’re still in a pandemic?) and almost missed that anything was happening until someone I was on the phone with mentioned the mayhem. I turned on the news and couldn’t believe my eyes. Well, I could believe my eyes, and I think that’s the sad part.

It’s sort of ironic that in my first post of the year I wrote about intentionally looking for things that delight me. In some ways, it seems naïve; in others, it seems all the more important.

My word of the year last year was “choose,” and this year, it’s kind of continuing, as I’m “choosing” to be “delighted.” Not by anything that is inherently evil (such as white supremacists storming the Capitol), of course. I’m choosing to focus on what is good.

Last Tuesday was my first day in the Writer’s Center’s Short Story program. It’s a yearlong jaunt in which we’ll write a full collection. When I first heard about it, I hesitated—I have a lot going on this year, with work and family things, not to mention my memoir, which I’m still querying.

But then I thought, this is a time in my life when I need fiction perhaps more than any other time.  

I want to reconstruct my view of people, my faith in humanity. I want to find, not distractions, but genuine beauty in that which doesn’t appear to be beautiful on the surface. In short, I’m actively looking to be delighted, even by things that might only exist in my head.

Fiction has always been a way that I’ve investigated life, especially choices I’m not inclined to make in real life. I think the past four years might have been the most stressful on my subconscious, and I’m looking forward to giving it a break by letting it meander.

The short story program is an intense one: workshopping with the class approximately every other month and also submitting 25 pages of material to the instructor each month. I’m kind of losing my breath as I think about it, but so much of that isn’t overwhelm, but excitement.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. I have high hopes and a lot of ideas—I hope to see glitter when they collide!

2021: The Year of Delights

Happy New Year, everyone!

I don’t have to tell you how odd 2020 was. We all have our stories of tragedy and heartbreak from what was, by far, the weirdest year of my life. But I have to confess, in spite of all the horribleness, a lot of great things happened to me: My business took off, I solidified my brand in a way that moved me to tears, I bought a house (!), I went on vacation to the mountains, I met some amazing new people and invested in some exciting new opportunities.

Since late 2019, I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal, and it really helped me push forward in 2020. Taking a few minutes every night to think of three to five things that I was truly grateful for that day helped reset my focus, especially when things went batty, with the lockdowns and all.

I figured this would be a fruitful exercise in 2021, too, but I wanted to do something a little bit different.

In 2019, I read Ross Gay’s essay collection, The Book of Delights. It is a – sorry – delightful book in which Gay retraces his steps every day, listing things that brought him joy. They weren’t usually big things, but the tiny things, like the fact that an old man sits at the same spot at the same coffee shop every day, or a butterfly taking flight from a flower.

At the time, I was reading it because I was struggling with how to write about not struggling. Overall, my life is a good one; any problems I have are completely and totally first-world, and I am soooo grateful for that. But where does that leave room for conflict, which makes writing great? I kept asking myself. I resolved that question, to some extent, by realizing that conflict is always present, but doesn’t have to mean suffering. In short, I allowed myself to be okay with being okay.

The next step after that, I figured, was to allow myself to be okay with being delighted.

There are so many tiny joys in the world, from the squirrels who get weird outside my office window to the navy blue color my spouse and I chose to paint the interior doors of our living room to the way I arranged the books on our bookshelves. These things bring me delight when I look at them—they basically make me smile every time I encounter them.

So, for 2021, I’m going to keep my own book of delights. I think of it as the same as gratitude journaling, only taking things one more step, saying not only, “Thank you, God, for this thing,” but also, “This is a beautiful thing!” It feels like an act of worship.

I’m excited for being delighted to open me up to whole new worlds I never noticed before. Let’s see what there is!

Merry Christmas to all…

Given that I’ve been swept into the tide of “get all the work things done by 3pm Wednesday,” this post will be short.

It has been a doozy of a year, with lots of bad but lots of good to be grateful for, especially considering the former. I hope you all have time to take a moment to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and choose joy to still be there among us.

Merry Christmas!

I was nominated for a Pushcart!

So, I meant to write a post last week, talking about how great my Thanksgiving was. Yes, it was a bit odd not traveling (for the first time in my adult life, maybe?), but it was also delightful: my spouse cooked his first Thanksgiving dinner, and it tasted amazing, and prior to eating, I took a really long walk and got some great exercise. The whole day was so simple, but so, so nice. It was a reminder of the bizarre blessings 2020 has brought us.

And now I get to announce another one of those bizarre blessings—one of my essays was nominated for a Pushcart!

The Pushcart Prize is one of the most prestigious awards a writer who publishes in literary journals can get. I was absolutely floored to learn that my essay, “Like Breathing,” had been nominated by Barrelhouse. (Barrelhouse also nominated it for Best of the Net — I cannot tell you how grateful I am to everyone at that journal!)

I wrote a blog post about the essay when it came out on Valentine’s Day (which feels like actual forever ago, not just 10 months). One thing I didn’t mention in that post was that this essay was, by far, the most emotionally-gutting work I’ve ever written. And after I wrote it, I told myself I would never go that far into my feelings ever again. Frankly, I found it extremely difficult. This is a piece I will likely never read in public because I am very likely to cry while doing so. I’m not a terribly emotional person; I like that I’m so cerebral. But I’m proud of myself for getting all of my feeling-guts out there, embodied by my 11-year-old self.

And I did not expect to get rewarded for this effort.

The night I found out, I’d worked out, taken a shower, and eaten dinner before joining my church Zoom call, snug in my bathrobe. It was a pretty big call, with 60 or 70 people, so I figured no one would really notice what I was wearing and that I could be really comfortable.

Well, this happened to be the one call in which the pastor acknowledged me by name…And there I was, in that Brady Bunch formation, in my bathrobe. Sigh.

But all turned out well. I was cozy, in my home, and in my element. That’s at the core of what made Thanksgiving all the better, and it made my Pushcart nomination all the more sweet.

A New Type of Writer’s Block

Many times over the course of my career I’ve run into the fear that I won’t be able to write because my non-writing is so…non-writing.

I spent all of business school racked with anxiety that I would never write again. I wound up being pretty prolific after I graduated—I started my first memoir, a recollection of every memory I could possibly squeeze out of my friend Jessica, who’d died a few days after my wedding. But when I started my job on the investment team of a private equity fund-of-funds in the summer of 2014, I clammed up again.

Spending three years as a full-time writer was an absolute godsend, even if it didn’t make me 100% happy (oh, being human: you get what you want and then you don’t want it, of course). It gave me the space and instruction to get out everything I could have possibly wanted to write over the course of the two years I wrote nothing while at my NYC job.

And then, last year, I started my business.

And, like clockwork, the well began to dry.

But this time, it dried differently.

I mentioned a while back that I didn’t have writers’ block months ago; I had a ton of ideas and no time to put them to paper. So, when I went to Porches over my birthday weekend last month, I poured out some 15,000 words rather effortlessly.

AND NOW, it appears that I actually do have writers’ block: Business Writers’ Block.

I wrote a post back in August alluding to this, and I thought I could overcome it somewhat quickly. To prove it, I submitted my first article to Entreprenuer.com, and it was published in September. But I have not written a single word for business publication since then.

It’s not for lack of trying. I have several articles that I’ve started and didn’t finish, or started and actually finished but decided I didn’t actually like what I’d written, so I gave up on it. It seems that I can’t figure out what I want to say, much less how I want to say it.

Some of this has to do with my sometimes not being entirely sure of the value I bring to my clients, which is cockamamie to my conscious mind, but blocking my subconscious, apparently. Sometimes I wonder if adding my voice to all of the other voices in the mix will actually do anything. There are approximately a bagillion business writers/influencers out there; what makes me so different or special?

It’s not lost on me that Thursday is Thanksgiving, and this post should have been about gratitude in some way. So, let me save it by saying: I am grateful for my clients and for the value I bring them. I am grateful for my desire and talent for writing. I am grateful that you are reading this right now. I am grateful to be making it through this very weird year and seeing the good in it.

I am grateful for the words I’ve yet to put to paper. I look forward to seeing them soon.

Trading My Shame: The Story of My Book Proposal

Last week, I finalized my book proposal.

According to the date on the files on my computer, I finished writing the first draft of it in roughly May 2018, a solid year after I finished the first draft of the manuscript. Now, you may be asking: Why on earth did it take you two and a half years to finalize the darn thing?

Well, two reasons.

First, full-on confusion. The need for a proposal with a memoir is questioned in the literary community. Some agents will ask for one right up front, even with a completed memoir manuscript. But some will say, as I was told, almost verbatim, “If an agent says you need a proposal for this, they don’t know what they’re talking about.” That agent was older and is incredibly well-respected in the industry, so maybe she just had a different way of doing things. But you can see why I would be so confused.

The second reason? Full-on shame.

I used Jane Friedman’s book proposal outline to guide me through writing it. I followed her instructions as best I could, and I thought I’d done it reasonably well, but I was petrified for someone to look at it. The feeling was worse than with the first draft of my book—I couldn’t help but feel that I’d done it completely wrong, largely because I was so afraid that I’d wasted my time writing it at all.

Despite this, I sent it to a couple of agents with my query letter anyway, and, of course, I didn’t get any yeses. I think I did this to carry on that feeling of shame, that sense of, “See, no one wants this piece of garbage I shouldn’t have bothered with anyway.”

Luckily, a turning point came a few weeks ago. I hopped on a call with a couple of local writers who are working on nonfiction books, memoirs, or hybrids of the two. They were generous enough to let me take a peek at their proposals, both of which were rather successful at getting them great book deals, so I felt I was in good hands. At first, I felt a bit more ashamed because theirs looked so good, but since theirs looked so good, I was also inspired.

I saw what my proposal could look like – beautifully formatted and enticing.

I took a deep breath and dove in. I reformatted it, adding the necessary page breaks and even changing the font from sans serif to serif.

By the end of it, I wasn’t proud of it, per se, but I felt good enough about it to finally say I need help with it. So, I took an extra step, reaching out to one of my former writing teachers to ask for recommendations for an editor, as I’d rather have someone who doesn’t know me read it and give me feedback. (I find if someone knows me too well, the mechanics of the story all make sense. But if they don’t know me, they can be completely objective.)

I know this sounds like something so small—I really did just add some page breaks and change the font—but it’s actually kind of huge. It’s a big win for me and a step in the right direction toward my memoir being born into the world.

Hooray for me!

A Week Full of Choices

What a week, huh?

I’ll be honest, I had so much going on last week that I forgot to write my blog post. I spent much of the week trying to distract myself from news about the election. On Tuesday, I gave a talk to some start-up founders at a local incubator, and while I was presenting (virtually, of course), my phone kept going off with texts from my church friends, saying they were praying for everyone. While I was glad to get their prayers, I was trying my darnedest to forget about the whole thing.

(I did go for a walk, though, since I happened to be downtown for an appointment later; lots of buildings were boarded up, in anticipation of violence, but there was really only jubilation in the air.)

img_1962

City Center, the chichi area of downtown DC, boarded up on Election Day

City Center, the chichi area of downtown DC, boarded up on Election Day
People dancing to a go-go band on 16th St, two blocks from the White House
img_1959

The jubilant atmosphere on 16th & K Sts, two blocks from the White House

 

I’ve recently learned that distraction from things that cause you anxiety is actually not a bad thing. It’s not even a coping mechanism. It’s just good business, as it were.

I’d already prayed about the election and asked that God’s will be done, even if my candidate didn’t win. Even though my candidate did win, and I am overjoyed, and I understand that everything would have been fine if he had not. Yes, a lot of terrible things have happened in the past four years, and I do believe that many terrible things would have continued to happen if someone else had won, but I suppose the only end to the world is the actual end of the world.

I know this can sound cold and callous, but in a way, I’m fighting fire with ice. I’ve gotten exhausted of feeling my cortisol levels rise so much that I could no longer watch the news or glance at the New York Times homepage. I’ve gotten tired of an elderly man I don’t know personally being the topic of every conversation among my friends and loved ones. I believe every time we engaged him, we gave him control over some part of us, which is what he wanted. Frankly, I wanted to take control over my life again.

On Sunday, I listened into the author Danielle Evans’ birthday party/launch for her new book, Office of Historical Corrections. It would have been a reading sponsored by East City Book Shop, located on Capitol Hill, but, you know, Covid. So, it was virtual. And instead of doing a traditional virtual reading, Evans decided to make it a party, since it was her actual birthday. She invited maybe six or so authors to ask her anything and to talk about their hidden talents. And it was amazing. It was the perfect cap to a highly emotionally charged weekend.

It reminded me that, at the end of the day, we have many more choices than we think we do, be they who we want to be president or how we want to present our books to the world. We are in charge of ourselves. We are in control. Let’s use it to make peace, in our own hearts and minds, and among others.