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.
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.
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.
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!