From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, January 25, 2016

Its Not Over Till You've Won

Computer games, whatever your opinion of them, can actually be quite an apt analogy for life, in my opinion. 

You start out, excited and ready. You work hard, you learn a lot. You make progress and hit your first Big Boss. It might take a few tries, but finally you beat him. You've developed skills that finally enable you to beat the boss and get to the end.

And then you go to level two.

Level two teaches you how much you still have left to learn, and it hits you maybe for the first time how many levels there are ahead of you. It's very easy to give up at this point. You've had some success. You've beat a Big Boss already, haven't you?

This is the make or break moment, and we all face them. Maybe in some areas its okay to leave it here, but we all have something that we're determined to see it through to the end. For us its writing.

I've had half a dozen rejections in the past week, and that can be really disheartening. Here are a few things I'm remembering, and maybe remembering will help you too.

  • I'm remembering that I'm getting so many rejections because I'm doing so many submissions.
  • I'm remembering that many of these rejections are personal and final cut rejections. I didn't get any of those a few years ago. This is progress.
  • I'm remembering that Brandon Sanderson wrote 12 novels before he got one published, and now look at him.
  • I'm remembering that I am two writing groups richer than I was a few months ago, and this has made my writing much better.
  • I'm remembering that I just have to keep writing, because something eventually will work out.
  • I'm remembering that music always makes me feel good.

Write on!


Monday, January 18, 2016

Do You Have Your "Happy Things" Arsenal?

One of the worst parts about feeling down, for me, is that I feel completely not myself. Feeling sad and depressed is like wearing stilettos in the Amazon, or bringing an elephant to the New York Stock Exchange. It just doesn't feel natural. And then I get frustrated for feeling like I'm not myself, which only adds to the cycle of melancholy.

I don't know about you, but I don't work very well under those conditions. To me its like trying to write while wearing a space suit, or while a ferret is bouncing on your head. I know there are many writers, dead and living, who are able to use these really heavy feelings as fuel for writing, but that's just not the way it works for me. I think sadness and depression can be incredibly important in writing, and I use them as sort of the rods that hook the story to the ground, but they're not the concrete foundation.

Plus its just no fun living that way. 

Caveat: I'm not talking about clinical depression here, and other chemical imbalances. Those issues need to be dealt with very carefully, and if that's what you're dealing with, please don't feel afraid or ashamed to seek help. 

What I am talking about is knowing oneself well enough to know what yanks you out of those slumps and back into feeling your happy, normal self. Have your "Happy Things Arsenal" ready for when those slumps inevitably come.

Here are three things from my arsenal:

Exercise: I never thought I'd say this, but exercise makes me happy. I've finally learned that the begrudging preparation for going to the gym pays off big-time in how I feel when I leave. So I'm recommending exercise, but with this thought in mind: don't listen to/watch what anybody else is doing. And that includes your past self. If you've previously felt obligated to love running, and actually despise it, but secretly love swimming laps, then by all means, SWIM LAPS. If your friends all love Yoga but you love biking, then go biking! Or just take slow walks with your dog, or dive into cross-fit if that's your jam. But essentially, listen to what YOU love, and do that. That's what ends up being sustainable.

Friends and Family: This is an obvious one, but so obvious that I've occasionally found myself forgetting that its there in my Happy Arsenal. I forget that I have a couple people in my life that ALWAYS make me feel better after I talk to them. My mom, my college BFFs. Figure out who those people are in your life and don't take them for granted. When you start sensing melancholy coming on like a bad cold, call them immediately. Maybe even while you're on the way to the gym. It will stop the sadness snowball from causing an avalanche.

Faith: I think sometimes, at least for me, sadness and depression is directly related to imbalanced priorities. It's the whole mountains and molehills thing when you're not looking at things with that clearer perspective. We all know what's most important in our lives, but its so easy to forget. So whatever you do that reminds you of something bigger, that strengthens your felt connections to divinity, do those things. Pray, read the Bible or the Quoran or Wallace Stegner. Watch The Prince of Egypt or take a walk or meditate. Do all those things, or whatever it is that brings you spiritual peace.

Here's the video that directly got me out of my slump this week. It's a talk given by LDS apostle Dieter F. Utchdorf, and though its directed toward young women, I recommend it to all. I personally don't see how one can listen to this talk and feel sad afterwards. In fact, (and I know its 20 minutes so this might be asking a lot) but I'm very, very curious what you guys think of it. I'd love to know in comments:

Write on!


Monday, January 11, 2016

Why Should We Ever Do Things We Don't Wanna?

It's been harder than I thought, retracting from an "adult" back to being a student. There's a sense of independence and autonomy that you just can't get as a student because you're constantly under deadlines, constantly trying to balance things like money and social life, constantly dealing with the niggling in the back of your mind whenever you're doing something that's NOT HOMEWORK.

Don't get me wrong, I'm also totally loving it, and being around real life people who have much the same passions and are on much the same trajectory as I am is wonderfully refreshing. I've said this before, but I'll say it again: I've learned so much about my own writing through just getting all this great feedback and there's no way I would have been able to learn it on my own. (I'm beginning to believe that basically the BEST thing you can do for yourself as a writer is to make sure you're in a good writing group.)

I've been thinking about the idea of doing hard things that we don't want to do, partially because I'm confronting a little of that myself (uuughh literary theory) but mostly because I think its such an odd cultural phenomenon in our modern society. We just aren't used to doing things we don't want to. Or not doing things that we really wanna.

Writers deal with this pretty regularly, I think. The most passionate writer still has areas they really don't enjoy. (Editing? Social media? We all have 'em). And we also have days where all we really want to do is pull up Netflix and watch the last season of Parks and Rec for the third time. (I really don't blame you. Leslie Knope is my idol, and Ben Wyatt is my squee. Plus, ya know, Chris Pratt.) So why don't we? Why should we ever deny ourselves when nobody's forcing us to sit in a chair and write? Why should we edit that bleeping chapter AGAIN when nobody has a gun to our head?

The solution, I think, is to take the longer view. Yeah, for this 6 hour period, I really, really, really just want to eat muffins and catch up on Downton Abbey, but tomorrow and next week and next month I will be very glad if I use these six hours to get in 750 words instead. Or, as another example, blogging and social media has been a real struggle for me lately. That stuffs not the most important part of a writing career, by any means, but its still important, and its been frustrating for me mostly because its typically been one of the parts I enjoy most. I LOVE blogging and talking to you guys, and posting on social media and interacting with intelligent people who love what I love. So why am I sitting here tonight writing this even though I'd much rather be reading? Because I know that first, its not really that difficult once I get into it, and also, the reward is fantastic. Brightening or enlightening one persons day is worth any effort I put into my little blog posts. That's the long view.

So maybe as we start this new year, we should start it with a little grit and courage. I'm going to try to, anyway. We can do the things we are afraid or impatient about doing. We can avoid doing things, even good things, to an extent that it takes us away from the most important things. There's a joy that runs much deeper than pleasure, and even though pleasure is important, I'm trying to remember not to sacrifice the one for the other.

Write on!

Sarah Allen
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