better

Out of the Spiral

Writing has and always will be my haven. Even on the difficult days. Maybe, most especially on those days, I escape into words. I spoke about this notion of retreat with a friend and fellow writer from the MFA. In emailing back and forth with her, I wrote: Success is relative. Perseverance is everything. And in articulating that sentiment in real words, I was able to find strength in my struggle and healing in my hard work.

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So what do I mean when I say words are my retreat?

For this to make better sense, I suppose I must admit just how difficult the month of February has always been for me. I don’t think I realized this until diving into my journal archives and discovering a pattern of exhaustion and struggle; all within the month of February. This year was much the same, with the added flare up of anxiety that was all at once consuming and vicious. I always tend to retreat into myself and become insular when my anxious thoughts take over. And usually, writing is the only thing to pull me out of the perpetual spiral of spinning thoughts and racing pulse.

But this year, I couldn’t write the words I needed to find my way out of the spiral, and this, too, was terrifying and contributed further to the sense that I was not only struggling, but failing. It was a sting far worse than any rejection I’ve ever received because it was was self-actualized. The more I felt I was failing: at work and in my writing and in communicating with the people I appreciate most, the more I felt weak and waning and weathered.

Fast forward to a much needed trip to New York City to visit with one of the best friends. I didn’t take my computer. The journal I had abandoned at the end of January continued to collect dust on my desk. I brought two books, one which I had so loved in the past, and in that memory, felt safe. I arrived to an empty apartment in Astoria and slept for three hours. I walked through a neighborhood I’d yet to explore, finding food, and quiet. I let my mind go without thinking and list-making and bullying for the act of just existing. I ate and showered and read some more and prepared to see Alice By Heart, a reimagining of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I spoke of some of my anxiety with the best friend and texted with the other. Throughout the weekend, I found my way back to my favorite places that still feel a little like home. I finished that book, connecting with it even more the second time around, and I bought more books. All the while, I knew the real work would begin once I was back home.

I would find my way out of the spiral. I would put myself back together. I would be kinder to myself. I would be better.

These were all promises I made with myself from a beach in Astoria beside the best friend as we drank Shamrock shakes and watched night take over. And when I returned home, I got to work. I ordered a new planner from Archer & Olive. I found an unfinished journal that was nothing like the ones I’d used since the MFA. I read a graphic novel, and then another. I started taking melatonin on nights where I knew sleep would be evasive. I apologized to myself, and started practicing self-kindness.

So how did I make these promises into realistic goals I could accomplish?

1.) New Planner

I've kept a steady journal since my undergrad in 2012, though they have evolved since then. I was strictly using a black hardbound square grid Moleskine journal. It became a rather superstitious thing for me. And up until February, I used to set up my monthly calendar, monthly goals, and weekly to do lists within the journal along with whatever I had been writing.

Unfortunately, however, I found myself getting days or weeks behind, which is right around the time my anxiety started to intensify. I think it was initially triggered at work, which held its own set of challenges, and trickled down through my writing life. But I purchased the Archer & Olive Daily Agenda, which comes blank. I have since fallen in love with it. I do my monthly set ups at the beginning of each month (mainly because I use a new pen color so I don't set it up any earlier than that) and I fill in my baseline weekly spreads at that point, too. I write my to do tasks on a week to week basis from there, using a new quote, stickers, and correlating washi tape just to add some creative flair to planning my week.

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I think the biggest reason my process NEEDED to change was that I had stopped enjoying/utilizing the old way of planning in my journal. I realized I wasn't using it for journaling and writing as much as I had in the past, which was problematic. I was beating myself up day after day for not keeping up with it, and eventually hit my breaking point.

Since switching to this new planner, I’ve worked on a facet of my anxiety that truly was the most concerning. I was making lists. And not the usual to do list. I was making lists of things I needed to make lists for and nothing was being accomplished, but rather listed the next day and the day after that and I felt myself slipping away from progress. This is not to say that a planner cured my anxiety. But by recognizing a symptom of this spiral and working to get it under control, I was able to be more mindful and realistic about my weekly and monthly goals.

2.) Bedtime Habits

As someone who used to be a night owl, my bedtime habits have been a struggle to balance with my full-time job. Upon returning well-rested from my trip to NYC, I knew I needed to make some changes to my nighttime routine, including taking melatonin on nights when sleep seemed too far away. And this has helped. I’ve also been better about being on my computer or phone before bed, exchanging technology for reading, and it has helped immensely.

3.) Self-Kindness

This might be the biggest factor that has helped throughout the month of March, making me feel ready to conquer the rest of 2019. I am only one person. There are only so many hours in the day. I can only accomplish so much, and that is not everything. This is something I’ve focused on throughout the past month. I get through as much writing and editing and research after work until I can’t anymore. Instead of bullying myself into working past the point of exhaustion or feeling guilty for the work I haven’t done, I instead tell myself there might be more work, but there is also another day tomorrow. That’s not to say I’m giving up or procrastinating, but rather, giving myself days to recover and recharge and refill the creative well before getting back into the edits or prepping for the query trenches. It’s all about balance, and this is something I still struggle to find. But I’m trying. And for that, I am so proud.

So what does this have to do with the idea of success and perseverance?

In many ways, this year has been kind to me. I’ve had several pieces published and accepted. But I also have 61 rejections for just three months into the new year, which is where the idea that Success is relative. Perseverance is everything seems more true than anything else. Poems that have been rejected too many times in the past are finding homes, and I am still seeking representation for DREAM CATCHERS. I am back to editing the manuscript to prepare for the query trenches, and exciting things are happening soon. Though I can’t discuss them just yet, know that good news is coming! To keep up with future blog posts, the secret announcement, and what’s being published next, check in with my NEWS!

Now that I’ve found my way out of the spiral for the time being, there is still the sense that I will be trapped in that bad place again. It’s a fear, but one I’m managing. And this is not usually something I discuss, because as I’ve said, I become insular and retreat into myself and my writing. But with celebrating my successes and posting my publications, I felt there needed to be some transparency.

Too often I find myself sharing only the publication news, and maybe that does my readers a disservice. I personally don't dwell too much on rejections, and so don't often talk about them. Not because they're taboo, but I just assume everyone gets tired of listening to writers talk about rejection. But I want you, dear reader, to know that success, however you define it, comes from hard work and struggle and perseverance.

The life of the writer is just as messy as any other. But I’m trying, and I think that’s all we can do. I hope you’ll try, too!

Recalling The Magic

For the past month, I have been moving my blog posts from Wix to Squarespace in preparation for the unveiling of the new home of KAYLA KING BOOKS. And in doing such, I have taken myself back in time, recalling the magic of my life as a writer. 

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Now I don't use the word magic to mean perfect, because many of my older posts detail the difficulties of writing, from the seedling of an idea to the editing phase and beyond. But through it all, I am astounded to see a certain sensibility toward continuing on, and not giving up. And it's nice to know my stubbornness has not surrendered through rejection and the every day calamities of life. 

If anything, I've seen a change for the better. Past Kayla would be so proud to know that one word could encompass so much of her journey. But this version is always astounded to see just how much the day to day of writing is still the same, though I, myself, have changed.

You see, there is still a blank page. There are still words. At the end, there is always a story to be told. But in going through my blog posts, which began back in 2012 after I'd finished writing my first book, I was most interested to see how that once idealistic writer has changed into someone much more pragmatic, though a dreamer all the same. 

I think it's strange to think back on moments of our life; always trying to recall the biggest times. But most often it's the small moments, which garnered my own desire to commit memory to blog post. And I think we often forget just how important those smaller moments are to our much bigger journeys. 

So as I recall the magic of finding stories, finding my voice, and most importantly: finding myself along the way, I hope to leave a bit of a goodbye for the old blog, with a sense of excitement for what will come to be in this new phase of my writing life!

Next week will be the first official post over at the new home of KAYLA KING BOOKS, and I am so excited to share a slightly dark and stream-lined aesthetic, which better suits the writer I've become. No longer do I wish to hide behind complicated designs, because I know my words are enough. And my words will be the biggest showcase at my new website. 

For those who've followed along with me the past six years, I thank you. I hope you will continue to follow me on this journey and beyond. And I hope you'll check out the new website next week, and fall into my world of writing. 

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Do Better

It's the eve of my 25th birthday, and I've felt so much building to this point; the quarter life crisis, the paralysis of this place in my life, etc. I don't have a name for it, though I named a story with a similar sensibility, "Twentysomething,"  because that felt most true. 

Here's the thing: I think it's difficult talking about the trying times in our lives when we're in the trenches. In retrospect, they seem easier, maybe even manageable, because we've already made our way through them. But in the moment, the dark days seem darker, and the world seems scary.

I could tell you about the months of feeling incomplete and nowhere near enough of the person I used to be. I could tell you a story about moving an hour away from my hometown and living out of boxes for a month. But what I want you to remember is not so much that I lived in a mess, but that I was a mess. I found myself feeling bitter, not better. Now, I feel like life is too difficult some days to not be on the verge of greatness.  And there is the moment before coffee when the world still feels impossible, but I face it; I'm stubborn I suppose. 

I was recently told that maybe, it was time to give up on my dream. It was in the moment, but still the words existed. They were real. And if I were someone else, maybe I'd have listened. But like I said, I'm stubborn. I'm a dreamer. I'm a writer.

But you know this. There are certain things you know from this blog, and other things you'll never know. I'm hoping to share more of the unknown with all of you. 

I'm going back to my weekly posting schedule to keep the moments of this journey clear, and here's what you can expect in the posts to come:

1.) Stream-of-consciousness writing, and how it's helped me find consistency

2.) Writing along with the Plath Poetry Project

3.) Completing my first poetry collection

4.) Tour of the writing cave

5.) Querying process

6.) And more!

So. Much. More.

There are too many things I want from this life. I want work I love, and I want my words to find their place in the universe. I want to read a book and love it. I want to love reading again. I want to love the days while they're happening. I want to find happiness. 

And there are too many words, and not enough time; the minutes move by, and I'm almost 25. 

One thing I know for sure: I used to believe in putting good into the universe. But maybe it's just giving good to yourself.

So be good to yourselves. 

Be messy.

Be kinder. 

Be better.

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Be Better

I was meant to write a post with a similar title just after the new year. But alas, life has already gotten in the way. The post I'd planned to pen had to do with hope and belief and the word better.

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You see, for the past two years, I've chosen a word instead of a list of resolutions. The new year hasn't been about changing myself, but rather, my outlook. And this year, I chose the word better because it has such a prominent place within BOOK ONE of my Dreamer Duology. 

That post was delayed because I finally finished the novel! And I wasn't sure I would return to this word or this post until the moment I opened my journal to a bee sketch from two weeks ago.

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I am writing this now from the same chair at the same Starbucks where I completed this novel exactly two weeks ago. Two and half years after I began this strange story for graduate school, I completed the chapters, and wrote the words: END OF BOOK ONE, which have been four of my favorite words written the past month. 

So I finished my novel. 

You might be wondering what happens next, or maybe you are some future version of me returning to this post to remember what it felt like to have this story as only your own (hi, future Kayla). 

For the past two weeks I've been editing, which has meant red pens and reading whenever I can find the time. These edits were done long hand on a printed version of the manuscript. Now I am putting the edits back into the document. It's a rather arduous task, but one that is necessary to my process. 

When this is complete (and I can read this story throughout without an eye twitch from stupid mistakes and plot holes and syntax and character arcs and motivations and everything that culminates in the magic of storytelling) I will send this off and away to New York City so that the best friend can read this whole thing through. And I'll share with a few others who I trust with this story. 

While they read, I might finally tackle that TBR pile that has grown too precarious in the past two and a half years since I started this story. But I will also be researching agents that are looking for a story like mine. I will write the much dreaded query letter. And then I will take the next step. I will send the novel out into the world, and see where my words take me. 

But for now, the scent of fresh ground coffee smells like possibility and endings, because when I took that deep breath after finishing this book, coffee was all I could smell. 

And now, maybe, you're left wondering about that bee sketch. I can tell you honey bees play a prominent part in my novel, as do many other things. I can tell you I wrote the last chapter of this novel to Amber Run's new single, Fickle Game, and that the middle was produced with the Strumbellas in my ears and wine in my veins. I can tell you I cried writing a chapter and cried when I wrote the last chapter. But I don't want to tell you too much about this novel, because I am hoping you will get to read it someday.

While the following quote is spoken by my wonderfully broken protagonist, it was written by me, and I suppose there must be some truth in such a sentiment:

 "I’ve always been wonderful at writing endings, but have never been good at goodbyes."

Though the ending to this book was much more difficult to write than any other I've written before, it is true that I've never been good at goodbyes. I can't imagine what it will be like when BOOK TWO  in this duology is written and comes to a close, when I have to leave my world of dreamers behind in exchange for new characters and new worlds and new words. But for now, the journey persists, and the writing persists. 

And through the possibility of perseverance I will be better. 

I hope you will, too.