I remember the day when Whitney G emailed me, asking me to be a keynote speaker at Indie Tea. My first thought: Wait, what? My second thought: Surely that’s a typo and she doesn’t actually mean for me to give a speech.
I had the extreme pleasure and honor of being on panels and workshops through the weekend. I hosted numerous one-on-one chats with authors at every stage of their career. I learned more from the attending authors and other panelists than I ever dreamed I could. And on the last day, I gave the final motivational speech to send everyone off with a proper slap on the ass.
For two days, I listened to speeches from Brittainy C. Cherry, Corrine Michaels, and Claire Contreras, speeches that were real, speeches that made us cry and wish and aspire. And then, it was my turn.
Nervous didn’t even begin to describe it. How could I follow those women up, women who I admire and aspire to myself?
It went a little something like this.
I wrote this speech last night.
I had planned on winging a bullet point speech full of stories and platitudes about succeeding. About never giving up. But as my anxiety ratcheted up about winging it — I’m a plotter, not a pantser — I sat down at my computer and put my fingers to the keys, a place they love to be.
I found myself musing over the last few days and the conversations I’ve had, the communion with all of you. I thought about everything I’ve learned and everything I’ve shared and everything we’ve done together. And I know I’m supposed to be speaking today to motivate all you, but I find myself in the unique position to have been motivated by all of you.
Every one of you inspires me. Your thirst for knowledge, your willingness to learn, your enthusiasm and support for each other has blown me away. What I’ve learned from you this weekend, what you’ve shown me in your spirits and hearts, is more than any of us could ever teach you. Because what you have in you is something that cannot be taught.
It’s innate, a latent part of who you are. It’s the part of you who believes in you, who believes in that dream that Brittainy spoke of. It’s the part of you who wants to do the thing and do it right. And that will, that drive is what will propel you into the arms of everything you wish for.
It inspires me to stand in this room with all of you, a room of souls who are thirsty. You’re thirsty for knowledge. You’re thirsty for success. You’re thirsty for greatness. And you will work hard to get it.
You will chase that dream until you catch it because you were meant to. Because you must. Because there’s no other choice but to do it.
There’s uncertainty, yes. There’s fear and doubt. But you want that dream. You’re thirsty for that dream, so thirsty you can taste it. And right now, you are here because you want to know how you can get it.
Let me tell you a little secret.
A little closer.
You’re already living that dream.
We all love a good HEA. We love that moment when things are tied up, and the guy gets the girl and the bad guy pays. When all the things those characters worked for, their struggles and worry, the pain and strife they faced was rewarded with everything they wanted and the things they didn’t know they could ever have.
Well, right now, you’re on your way to your HEA, and being here is just another plot point on your way.
You know it isn’t easy — you’re already living it. You know the terror of writer’s block and the fear of sharing your work. You know the sheer and utter horror and elation that is release day. You know there will be days when you’re on top and days you will find yourselves in depths you fear you may never escape. You know there will be hurdles that will take you down and give you road rash. You know sometimes you won’t want to get up, and like Claire said yesterday, that’s okay. Just don’t stay down.
Every speaker this weekend has spoken of the adversity, the hardships we’ve overcome on our way, our plot points. Our Act 2 black moments when the detonator was pressed and the whole thing went kablooey.
My story you might have heard in bits and bobs over the last couple of days, but here’s the whole enchilada, and I’ll try to be brief. We all know how good I am at that.
My whole life, I have been a reader. I was the girl with the glasses and the bad hair cut and anxiety who found herself most often reading books instead of being outside, finding comfort in her weird girl life through fiction, through my imagination. I read Tolkein and Christopher Pike, the Stephen King classics and Mary Higgins Clark. I read sci fi and fantasy, places where my imagination could grow and breathe and wonder, what if?
I was a reader, chewing through every book I could get my hands on.
Until I went to college.
Suddenly I had all these things to do — a heavy college work load, plus working full time, plus RAVES, GUYS. I was busy being young, and for a very long time, I forgot that love, my first love.
It wasn’t until my kids were out of the blur and didn’t need my attention so wholly that I really began to read again. And then, of course, I dove in head first, reading around a book a day. I found myself home, surviving solely on a diet of YA, Fantasy, Sci fi, historical, women’s fiction. Surviving solely on a diet of words.
Four years ago, my book club read this book, you might of heard of it — Fifty Shades? Anybody?
I found myself realizing very quickly I needed more penetration in my fiction.
I began devouring adult paranormal romances for the first time in my life, from Sookie Stackhouse to Kresley Cole and beyond, and one night was telling my friend the story I was reading. I laughed — It’s a ghost having sex with a vampire! I don’t even know how that happens or what the fuck I’m reading, but I can’t put it down!
“You should write a book,” she said, completely offhand and most likely to get me to shut up about the ghost sex.
I pashawed, Me? Write a book? That’s crazy. I tried to write a book in the third grade after binging every single Christopher Pike book printed at the time. My story was thirteen pages long and entirely predictable and pathetic, and so my third-grade self decided that I was clearly terrible at writing and should never do it again.
The only other writing I’d ever done was in high school and into my early twenties, when my horribly angsty suburban life got to be too much, and I began writing really bad poetry.
Everybody’s got to start somewhere.
And so, as I was pashawing my friend, she asked me, “Well, what would you write about?”
I stared at her for a second, laughed, said ‘Probably ghost porn,” and excused myself for more wine.
Two nights later, I was in bed trying to fall asleep and actually entertained the ludicrous question. What would I write about? Well, something paranormal, because real life sucks, and it’s boring. Oh, what about Greek mythology? I freaking love mythology. Well, it’s romance, so obviously Aphrodite’s where it’s at. And … what if she was playing games with humans?
And then, KABLAM. The idea was born.
I could write this book, I told myself.
And then I did.
For weeks, I poured over the internet, checked out every mythology and editing book in the library, and I threw myself into it completely. It was magical, the creation of a world, of people, of thoughts and hearts and feelings and love. It was addictive. It was everything.
And that was when I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I told you all a bit the other night about that series. I did like so many of us did with our first books — I threw it out there and crossed my fingers.
No one bought that book. The fact that it wasn’t very good didn’t do me any favors.
But, long game, I told myself. Twelve book series! I’m gonna be the next Charlaine Harris and have my HBO show and it’s gonna be amazing! So I wrote the second book.
No one bought that book either.
But, Excelsior! I cried with my fist in the air and kept going. I wrote the third book, arguably my best book to date, and sold twenty-four copies on release day.
And then, I had a nervous breakdown.
Everything I’d been working for — rewriting the first book, recovering the books three times, rewriting the blurbs, the editing, the feedback, the thirst — it had gotten me nowhere. I had failed.
Or so I thought.
It was then I decided I needed a break. I needed to reasess. I’ve been an entrepreneur since 2002, not only for myself as a graphics, branding, and web designer, but I helped women who were starting their own businesses launch them online. This was my business. I knew how to do this, how to launch, how to find my market. I just had to make decisions about what I was going to do about it.
So I switched gears. I wrote an ‘erotic’ romance with not enough butt stuff, but that series did better than anything I’d ever published. And so I decided to step into something different. Something closer to my voice and my heart.
Now, at this time, my days would start off with sending my husband to work with a kiss on the cheek before sending my kids off to school. I would spend my mornings working on graphics — the scroungings of work I could find as a freelancer after the recession, after we lost everything. After lunch, my then-four-year-old would lay in bed with me and watch tv while I wrote with my headphones on and hoped she would stay still long enough to get a chapter in. When my older two came home from school, I’d change, pack everyone up, drive them to my husband’s work where I would kiss him on the cheek, wave goodbye to them all, and head to my waitressing job. And after a night of slinging fries, I’d come home, shower, kiss my husband goodnight and write until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
And that was my life. It was not a sustainable life. It was not a happy life. But it was exactly the life I needed because it was the only way I could keep chasing that dream.
So as I was writing my first romcom, my anxiety mounted and grew. It spoke louder and louder as fear does, reminding me how tired I was, how my entire family was suffering just so I could do this thing I wanted to do so badly, it had nearly consumed me.
I knew I couldn’t keep going like I was. Something had to give. I was at the point where I was going to have to make some grown-up choices about how I was spending my time, and the idea of that, the thought of that loss of my dream nearly crippled me.
But. I wrote the damn book. I tried to frame up my expectations, and came up with three questions I ask myself every release:
- What is my EXPECTATION? What did I believe would be the outcome of this release in my deep down heart?
- What is my HOPE? What do I think is within my grasp? What can I actually reach?
- What is my DREAM? What’s the pie in the sky? The absolute?
My expectation was that the release would do exactly what my other releases had done, which was not much of anything. I was prepared for that. I was the queen of that, as much as I hated it.
My hope was to make six thousand dollars so I could quit my waitressing job and write another book.
My dream was to break top 100 on Amazon.
My reality: I hit #24 on Amazon, and I earned more than I even thought was fathomable.
The next two months were insane. As I waited for my paycheck, I worked on the next book. I waited tables, because until that cash was in my account, there was no way I was going to be able to quit. My husband and I were struggling, burning the candle at both ends to try to keep food on the table. In fact, when I did get paid that first time, the time that changed my entire life, I took my youngest to the grocery store and bought a heaping cart of food because we had none.
I took home my trunk load of groceries and unloaded it, marveling at the top shelf Lucky Charms and fancy cheese I’d bought. I made a nice dinner for my family. My husband and I kissed and cried and smiled — we’d done it. We were going to be okay. I bathed my kids and tucked them into their beds. And then I laid down in my own and had a panic attack.
It was irrational, the fear I felt. I knew it in the moment and know it now, but it didn’t stop be from being afraid, doesn’t stop that little shot of adrenaline I still get when I think back. I was convinced the money would disappear. I would wake up tomorrow and it would be gone. The bank would realize the mistake and poof — I would be jobless and we would be poor and hungry again. Someone would knock on my door and I’d have to give them all of it, some debt I owed come to call, and things would go back.
It couldn’t possibly be real. These things don’t just happen.
But see — they do.
Our jobs are weird, guys — weird and hard. We work in this field where we create and put our hearts and souls on display for the world to poke and prod and stare at. We have incredible opportunities for careers that feed our creativity and make us happy, but that also sometimes steal our joy and make us miserable.
It’s a serious mind fuck. The pressure, the expectation, the elation and absolute abysmal depths we find ourselves is a rollercoaster of epic, unexplainable proportions. No one understands it but us — our peers, those of us who live it. It’s weird. It’s hard. It’s solitary. It’s lonely.
I have another secret to tell you, and this one isn’t as fun — there is no escaping fear of failure. No matter how big you are, no matter how successful you are, you will be afraid.
But here’s the thing:
It’s not when you do when things are easy that defines you — It’s what you do when it’s hard.
Some days, things will be easy. You’ll write 5K in three hours, get all your laundry folded and put away, make a healthy ass dinner that doesn’t taste like cardboard, and end the day eating your favorite dessert, reading your favorite book in your giant bathtub because the world is a wonderful place, and you are owning that motherfucker.
Some days, you will sit in front of your computer and eek out a thousand words with Cheeto dust on the shirt of the pajamas you’ve been in for three days, wondering just how you ever thought you could do this, wondering if you’re just writing drivel that no one will read and no one cares about.
Some days, your life will implode and you can’t write at all. Sometimes that implosion will take time and will and energy and desire away from you for days. Months. Longer.
Those times are the hardest.
But how will that define you? What do you do next? How does your story end? What’s the next plot point? You detonated the end of Act 2. How do you get through Act 3 to your happy ending?
There’s one answer: You put your butt in that chair and you do work.
Even if it’s for an hour. Even if you get a hundred words. Get your butt in that chair and you do that work. Because no one is going to do it but you.
Past doing the work, you’ve got to stay true to yourself. It’s so easy to compare, so easy to say, if only I had that. She’s got it made. She has her shit together.
Let me tell you something — no one in this room has their shit together. Not one of us. And that’s okay. What you see when you look at others is just a shade, a sketch of the whole of a person. It’s easy to look up and think that others have it all, but they don’t.
Define what success means to you and hang on to that. Because we all have goals — money, lists, the like — but that doesn’t define your success. You have to write because you love to write. You have to feed your soul with the joy writing brings you, in the characters you write and love and the stories that set you on fire to write. You are already successful because you did the fucking thing. Everything else is a bonus.
So I hope that every one of you takes what you’ve learned here and applies it. I hope that you keep that fire in your belly for the success, because the fact that your butt in currently in this chair puts you a step ahead. I hope that you remember that you can do this — you just have to go get it. I hope you stay thirsty and keep fighting, keep chasing that dream.
That dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately. So don’t stop hustling. Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop growing.
Thank you for inspiring me this weekend. Thank you Whitney and Nicole for putting together this event where we could come together and learn and grow, every one of us, including the panel members. Thank you for asking me to be a part of this group of incredible human beings who humble and inspire me. And thank you, authors — every one of you in this room. Thank you for rekindling my fire, my spark, with your own.
Now get out of here and get that dream. It’s yours.