How often and how easily do you take steps out of your comfort zone?
I haven’t set any resolutions at the beginning of 2023, but I decided where my focus will be this year. Or my “word of the year”, as people often put it.
Which means constantly learning and evolving. Trying new things, welcoming new opportunities, gaining knowledge, skill, and experience. In all areas of my life. Writing, self-awareness, parenting, interacting with other humans around me.
It will most definitely involve making tons of mistakes, tripping and falling, but also getting up and giving it another try.
Because growth is painful. Growth forces us to leave our cozy comfort zone and go out there. To overcome stuff. To face our fears. To push aside our insecurities and self doubts—all that baggage we keep lugging around wherever we go. Mine’s awfully heavy, to be honest. I really need to get rid of that stuff.
So why am I telling you all this?
Because yesterday I took a huge step out of my comfort zone and started a podcast.
I’ve never tried it before and I feel terribly anxious. I want people to hear it, and I’m also terrified they will actually listen to it. I didn’t even want to share it on social media at first.
So today I’m taking another step out of my comfort zone and telling everyone about my new podcast.
It’s called Dreams, Books, and Miracles. I’ll be talking about writing and reading. Sharing parts of my writing journey and hopefully encouraging someone to embark on their own. Talking about books I enjoyed and talented authors I keep meeting in the writing community. And about how important it is to follow your dreams and overcome your fears.
If you check it out, I’ll be thrilled (terrified, of course, who am I kidding, but still thrilled!) to get some feedback. Comment, or send me an email, or suggest something you’d like to hear in the future episodes — whatever you have to say means a lot to me and supports me on this journey.
And if you’re also thinking of starting something new and taking that first step out of your comfort zone—I’m rooting for you. You can do this. You’ll be so proud of yourself for giving it a try. Go ahead, open that door and step over the threshold. Good luck!
One of my favorite fantasy reads this year was The Realm Saga by Jessica Cantwell. A beautifully crafted parallel world full of mythical creatures and people with supernatural abilities. Very likeable characters you easily get attached to. Adventure, action, romance–these books have it all.
Jessica Cantwell, the incredibly talented author of this amazing trilogy, has kindly agreed to answer some of my questions.
Thank you so much for agreeing to answer my questions! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, please?
Thank you so much for having me. My name is Jessica Cantwell and I’m the author of a young adult fantasy series titled The Realm Saga. I live in New York with my family and cats. I love being close to the water and have a passion for travel.
We have so much in common. I love being close to the water too. I even moved to a different country to live by the sea.
Have you always wanted to become a writer? What is the thing you enjoy most about writing?
No, writing was not something I really thought of. In school I had dreams of moving to Hollywood and becoming an actress. That was until one of my teachers told me I had no talent! I had a pretty troubled childhood and absolutely no guidance when it came to career goals. I didn’t know what to do, honestly. So, I did what came naturally, which was hair. I’ve been a licensed cosmetologist for over 26 years. I stumbled into writing after being a victim of gun violence when I was 17. Putting my experiences down on paper was very cathartic. It opened a whole new world into writing and the one thing I love most about it, is having the freedom to create whatever I want. It can be non-fiction or fantasy, a cozy mystery or a scary thriller. Writing is so versatile in what you write and how you choose to write it. After all, it can be a full time career or it can be just a fun hobby.
This is so terrible and I’m so sorry you had to go through that! But I guess the silver lining is that the world of writing was opened to you through that traumatic experience.
What, in your opinion, is the hardest part of being a writer? Also, what is the hardest part of being a self-published writer?
Oh goodness, I feel that there are quite a lot of obstacles when it comes to writing. For me, the hardest thing about the writing process is finding the time to do it. Balancing work, children, spouses and everything that life throws at me can be such a juggling act. I get stressed out easily and seeing others crank out book after book, when it takes me forever and a day to write one, is tough. I have to keep reminding myself to stay in my own lane! It’s a slow and steady process for sure. The hardest part of being a self-published author is exposure. Getting my name and books out into the world is tough business! REALLY tough business!
I can really relate to all that. Same struggles, same stresses. And as if the pressure from all the juggling wasn’t enough, we go ahead and put more pressure on ourselves!
There are always positives though. What do you think is the best part of being a self-published writer?
Full creative control, no deadlines and more profit. I think authors, like us, are very lucky to have the ability to self-publish. The icing on the cake is when a reader identifies with my work and becomes a fan. There is no better feeling!
Full creative control is why I chose this path too. And I am definitely a fan of your work!
Please tell us about your book series. How did you come up with the idea? How long did it take you to write the trilogy? Which characters are your favorite?
Years ago, when my children were little, I started writing screenplays. I even got as far as getting an agent and pitching the idea to movie studios. Except the script was for an animated children’s film and every studio, like Disney, said they have their own writers and that they weren’t interested. I knew then that I really wanted full control over what I wrote and a way to get it out into the world. Self-publishing on Amazon was fairly new at the time, only in e-book form, but I thought, what the hell? Twilight was very popular and I was so sick of reading about vampires! I had this idea to write a story that included Greek mythology, which is a favorite of mine, and thus, The Realm Saga was born. I wrote the first two novels and published them in e-book form in 2013. In 2014 I fell ill and, after a long few months of testing, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It was a very transitional time for me. I had a lot of changes and things to work through. Marketing my books took a back seat and because I had little to no sales, I unpublished.
In 2020 when covid hit, I joined Instagram to follow Selma Blair, who was recently diagnosed with MS. I needed to find others with MS and be a part of a community. I was working from home with extra time on my hands so I decided to re-publish those first two books. I randomly posted about it and made a sale right away! In a matter of days I stumbled upon the writing community and met other amazing writers. It wasn’t the community I intended on joining but it is what motivated me to finally finish book three.
So, the entire trilogy took over a decade to write and publish. The main character Lily, is a lot like myself. She doesn’t fit in and is quite lonely. I wanted to create a new world for her to escape to. One that accepted her for who she is and gave her the friends and family she deserves. Blaze was the first character I wrote for Lily. He’s strong, intelligent, and unique in the fact that he is a centaur. I wanted him to be a true gentleman and have all the characteristics of a chivalrous sentinel. Tracy was modeled after my husband, an irresistible, sexy, flirt, who is girl crazy. I am absolutely in love with Blaze and Tracy. Poppy shows another side of me – the short, petite, firecracker. Dmitry is the brother I always wanted. Alia takes after my spunky daughter and Sabeena is a breath of fresh air. I truly love all of the main characters that I have created. I feel like they are family!
I also fell in love with them, and with the beautiful world you created. When I was a kid, I used to be obsessed with Greek mythology, so I really liked all those references too.
Characters in your books possess some amazing superpowers. If you had a chance to choose, which one would you pick for yourself?
This is a discussion we have in my house more than I’d like to admit! Yes, we are those kinds of nerds!! I’m torn between the power of persuasion and teleporting. I have no patience, so being able to blip from place to place would be ideal. Then again, having the Jedi mind trick up my sleeve and persuading others to do what I wanted would be amazing. Imagine going to Disney or Paris and no one else is there because “Those are not the vacation spots you’re looking for?”
Love this! What an amazing idea. You’re a genius!
Teleporting is my dream too. I was also fascinated with the shapeshifting ability. That’s pretty awesome and could come in handy in many different situations.
Another thing you and I have in common is the passion for jewelry-making. And I know you make some amazing candles too! Could you please tell us a bit about that? How and when did it start? What do you enjoy about it the most?
I have this nagging pull to be creative in all forms. I bake and decorate cakes. I re-finish furniture. I paint and draw. But in 2020 when I quit a very toxic job, I knew I needed something to do, so, I started an Etsy shop where I sell candles and jewelry. I love the freedom of creating things, regardless of if it is jewelry, a candle or an imaginary world in my books. It’s beyond freeing. Sadly, I am going to close the Etsy shop down in the near future. I’m finding that I have too many fires going and need to clear my plate a bit. I will still make candles and jewelry for myself though!
That’s sad. But I understand about having too much on your plate. I stopped making jewelry when my younger son was born. There just wasn’t any space for it. Maybe things will change in the future and I’ll come back to it. So far, I’m creating worlds too, and it feels great.
The most important thing is that you’re still creating. Even if it’s for yourself. You’re absolutely right, it’s beyond freeing.
What are you currently working on, in terms of writing?
Right now I am writing a women’s literary fiction novel based on my life, the abuse I suffered as a child, and being a victim of gun violence. It is a complete 180 from my YA fantasy series and the few people that have read a sample say that it is my genre! That makes me feel great because I have a handful of women’s lit. projects that have been sitting on a shelf for a very long time. I’m about 1/3 of the way through this manuscript so maybe we will see a publication date in late fall, early winter? I’ll keep my fingers crossed. I’m also illustrating a children’s picture book series but that has been on the back burner while I get this newest story out of my head! I guess I should disclose that I read and write a wide variety of genres. I’ve considered publishing a few under a pen name but I’m very on the fence about it. As we all know, it is hard enough to market your own name/brand. I can’t imagine taking on a different persona and starting from scratch! I think I’m too old and exhausted for that!
I can’t wait to read it! I’ve been reading a lot of women’s fiction recently and have also been thinking of writing some. Maybe after I finish my series. So excited about your new project!
Also, I am truly amazed by your multiple talents (now I hear there’s illustrating, too!) and so sorry that you had to go through all those terrible things in your life.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Oh so much! Some of this I have learned the hard way so, here we go:
Definitely stay in your own lane and write at your own pace. Join a writing community for tips, tricks and advice. Focus on quality over quantity. Cranking out books that lack in quality will get you nowhere. Write for yourself and write what makes you happy. Art is subjective so you can’t please everyone. Don’t read the reviews of your books. They aren’t posted for you. And if you do, don’t let them get you down. If you write for yourself, and write what makes you happy, it will show in your work. Fans will find you. EDIT, EDIT, EDIT! Don’t skip this process because you are “self-published.” If you can’t afford an editor, use editing and dictation software to help you find mistakes. Use proof-readers, beta-readers and arc-readers to help you put your best foot forward. Use formatting software because formatting is just as crucial as editing and cover art. Yes, people do judge a book by its cover so do your research on what is trending. Have fun and know at the end of the day, you did it. If only one sale. You’re a published author.
Thank you so much for this, Jessica! It’s been an absolute pleasure getting to know you better. Looking forward to reading your next creation!
There are many reasons. I’ve always wanted to write, and when I finally started, it felt so right that I almost regretted missing all those years. I’m saying ‘almost’ because I don’t really regret anything. The way my life went, the things I had to go through, and the lessons I learned, all of this has shaped me into the person I am today. And this is the person who is finally ready to tell stories.
Going back to the reasons for writing—there are plenty. But here’s one of the most important ones I want to focus on today.
I have two sons.
I have a teenager who thinks he’s got life figured out.
And I have a toddler who is only beginning to learn what this world is all about. And when he is the same age as his big brother is now, he’ll probably think the same.
It’s okay. They are learning. And I’m learning with them.
But I’m also teaching them something too.
I’m teaching them that it’s okay to follow your dreams. No… wrong wording. Following your dreams is the right way to go. It’s in fact the only way to go if you want to find yourself. And to stay true to yourself.
I’m teaching them that following your dreams can be hard. And scary. But it’s not a reason to give up.
I’m teaching them that it’s never too late to start.
My teenage son is reading my book now. It’s not his preferred genre. And there’s a great chance he won’t like it. But every time he picks it up, he’s holding physical proof of the fact that anything is possible. That it’s possible to start writing when you’re 40 years old, when you are raising a baby, when you hardly have any time or energy, but counteract it with enough stubbornness to type on your phone in the middle of the night. To type words in the language that is foreign to you.
So maybe he’ll feel more hopeful.
He learns that if you don’t know how to do something, it’s possible to research and learn. For example, you can learn all you need to know about self-publishing your book. And while doing that, you can meet so many people on that journey. You can also genuinely connect with those people from all parts of the world. You can read their stories, support them, learn from them, and call them your friends.
So maybe he’ll feel less lonely.
He learns that you can pour your heart out on the paper (or screen), wrapping it gently in words, linking those words together and making phrases, using those phrases to build stories. Stories based on your thoughts, your feelings, your imagination, your dreams, your joy, and your pain.
So maybe he’ll learn to open his heart.
And as for my little one, he is really obsessed with my book cover. Every time he sees my book, he needs to hold it. Well, I can’t blame him, the cover is absolutely stunning. But seriously, do you know why I think he’s drawn to it? Because he can feel what it means to his mom. He can feel what I invested in that book. And I’m not talking about the financial investment here, of course. He can feel the energy coming from a dream that came true. It’s pretty much like magic.
He’ll grow up and I’ll have many more books published. But I will tell him where it all started. How I decided to follow my dream when he was a little baby. How the chapters of that very first book were created while he was sleeping in my arms.
I’ll tell him this story and then I’ll say, “You see, son, anything is possible if you really want it. You need to be brave enough to start, and then you just keep going no matter how hard it gets. Don’t give up, don’t turn back, believe in yourself, and you’ll get there.”
These are the things I want to teach my kids. And what better way is there to teach than through leading by example?
Today I would like to introduce Julie Embleton to you. Julie is a new adult fantasy author. She is also famous in the writing community for her extensive support to indie authors. And on top of all that, she’s just an amazing person who kindly agreed to answer some of my questions today.
Let’s dive in.
Hey, Julie! Thanks again for finding the time to do this. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, please?
I’m an Irish lass, and I live right beside the Irish Sea in north County Dublin. I lived abroad for many years, but always missed Ireland—yes, even the weather.
I write paranormal fantasy for the New Adult genre, so readers will find vampires, werewolves, witches and all sort of other paranormal folk in my tales. I’ve also written short stories for two fairytale retelling anthologies.
When not crafting stories from the voices in my head, you’ll find me with my tarot cards. I’ve been working as a professional tarot reader for the last six years and will soon be launching my brand new tarot website: www.creativesoultarot.com. The occult fascinates me, and I’m looking forward to sharing this passion through my blog, while continuing to offer guidance with tarot.
My career background has hotel management and HR, but I’ve just been made redundant after eighteen years with the same company, and am now taking the next year to work for myself as both an author and tarot reader, so exciting times ahead!
I’m a mum to a sassy teenager, and slave to two crazy cats.
I just love it how you described the essence of the human-feline relationships! Have you always wanted to become a writer? Or were there any other dreams?
I never dreamed of being an author. I loved books as a kid and was an avid reader, but the idea of writing didn’t kick in until I was a teenager and we studied creative writing in school. From then on I wrote dozens of stories, but they were always just for me.
As a kid, I wanted to be a nurse, but after a stay in hospital, I realised it involved dealing with puke, so I dropped that idea like a hot potato. I then fell in love with art, and soon settled on becoming a graphic designer which I now hold a degree in, but shame on me, I never followed it as a career. I fell into Hotel Management, then HR, but along the way, carried on scribbling my stories until I decided to brave independent publishing in 2013. I’m due to publish my eighth book in September 2021.
Oh, wow, this is amazing! Eighth book! Congratulations! What is the thing you enjoy most about writing?
The escapism. It’s daydreaming on a grand scale, and I get paid for it too! For me, there’s nothing more addictive than the creative flow where plots, characters and dialogue pour onto the page. When I’m in that zone, reality fades into the background. Time stops too. That in-between place makes me feel like I’m living in a different dimension and sometimes it’s hard to come back to reality.
I know what you mean. Love that feeling! What, in your opinion, is the hardest part of being a writer?
The marketing. I think for the most part that authors are an introverted lot, so putting ourselves out there and shouting for attention is as unpleasant as a hot needle to the eyeball. The self-publishing industry has changed so much since I first began, and keeping on top of trends, skills and technology is a full time job in itself. Over the next year I’m planning deep dives into Amazon ads and other marketing tools. A lot of my fellow authors are as mystified about these strategies as I am, so I’m hoping to blog about my findings!
Amazon ads. 🙈 Still dreading the thought of diving into that. I’ll be looking forward to reading about your experience! But back to your writing — please tell us more about your book series!
The Voyager Chronicles series is a trilogy that flips between the modern and medieval, with realm-hopping, sorcery shenanigans, despicable villains, gutsy heroes and heroines, and a sprinkle of romance.
In order, the titles are: The Dawning, The Veiling, The Claiming.
The Turning Moon series is centred around two werewolf packs and the paranormal threats they face from demons, fellow werewolves and even vampires. While my books are not classed as romance, there’s always romantic suspense within the plot, as I love a good happy ever after and can’t resist playing matchmaker with my characters. My next release, Torn, is book four of the Turning Moon, and book five is already under way! In order, the titles are: Bound, Released, Haunted, Torn (due September 2021)
Congrats again on the upcoming release! The series sound absolutely awesome! Here’s another thing I wanted to ask you: you are known in the Instagram writing community for the support you provide to indie authors. Can you tell us a bit more about that? When and why did you decide to start doing it? How did the famous #selfpromotesunday come into existence?
Following a conversation with a fellow author who worried she was being pushy when she self-promoted, (there’s that pesky fear of marketing again) I started the tag so indie authors could come together to share their work, with the emphasis on their post being a shameless self-promote. With a dedicated weekly tag, I wanted to give authors the opportunity to shout about their work, but also have a place to meet new friends, offer support and encouragement, ask for advice, and of course, add even more titles to heaving To Be Read piles. I didn’t think it would become as popular as it is. Even now, I get authors messaging me to say it’s the only time they promote and feel like they have the ‘right’ to because they’re using the tag. I’ve met dozens of my author friends through #selfpromotesunday and have discovered some of my favourite indie books through it too. When I first started, there were only two posts that had ever used the tag, now there are over 5000! As the host, I do my best to comment on every post, and I also share many posts on my stories, just to spread the bookish goodness even farther.
5000 posts! Julie, this is incredible! Thank you again for everything you do for indie authors! I remember that your account was blocked by Instagram, and you had to start from scratch again. That was so amazing! Not the fact that you lost your account, of course. You know what I mean. 😅 My sincere admiration to you! Why do you think it happened? Any advice on how to prevent it? Where did you find the strength and patience to do it all over again? By the way, you’re an absolute star! ⭐️
Ah, Instagram. The platform I love to hate. In January of 2021 I did unfortunately get locked out of my @julie_embleton account. Two years before then, I had downloaded a follow/unfollow app which I used a few times, found useless and forgot all about. I came across a warning on another platform about Instagram cracking down on accounts using third party apps like Later, Repost, Follow/Unfollow apps etc, and as I never used the follow app, I decided to delete it. I opened the app to see what steps I needed to take before deleting it, but because I hadn’t used it in so long, and had gained almost 2.3k followers since I’d last opened it, my guess is that it connected to Instagram and they flagged it as a phising attempt. Now when I try to log in to my old account I’m told I need to request a security code to prove it’s me accessing my account. I’ve requested it over and over since January, but the email never arrives (even though they can still email the same address with reminders of what I’ve missed since I last logged on to the account. Go figure, eh?)
From what I’ve heard, I’ll never get the account back which is disappointing. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s been tough starting from scratch all over again. I had almost 2.5k followers, but thankfully, within days of opening my new account, @julieembletonauthor lots of my Instagram friends immediately followed so I wasn’t left in the wilderness. I still use Later and Repost with my new account, but will definitely stay away from the follow/unfollow apps. I’d encourage users to do research into any apps that link to Instagram. I know lots of people who’ve been locked out and all are still out in the cold like me with years of work lost. There’s no direct customer service in Instagram, so pleas and request for help fall on deaf ears. I now have an account on MeWe and Vero, but Instagram is my main platform, even though I’d punch it in the throat if I could.
Oh, goodness, I’m glad that I have no idea how to use those apps – I guess it’s safer this way. 😅 And yes, if I were you, I’d definitely want to punch it in the throat too. 🙈 Here’s another question. Considering how much kindness and support you’re giving out to others, I really hope you’re getting it back too! Are you?
Yes, most definitely, but I don’t keep score! When I get excited about a book, I have to shout about it, it’s as simple as that. And I really enjoy sharing the Self Promote Sunday posts because I know for some authors, it’s not easy to put themselves out there, so a share here and there is simply spreading the love.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Read, write, read, write, read, write. The more you read, the more technical skill you’ll develop and employ. The more your write, the stronger your unique voice will become.
Dream big, believe in yourself, and don’t let anyone talk you down.
I think finding your tribe is vital, too. When you gather with people who are on your wavelength and aspiring for similar goals, there’s no ladder with ‘top and bottom’ achievers, it’s just everyone walking hand in hand, helping each other along the way. Your tribe are also the people who’ll nudge you out of your comfort zone and help you take bigger, braver steps that you mightn’t have taken on your own. But most importantly, they’re the people who’ll champion you and be there for your wins and fails!
Thank you for the brilliant advice, Julie! I couldn’t agree more about the importance of finding your tribe. I’m forever grateful for all the support I have received (and keep receiving) from the writing community. And I try to do my best to pay it forward. Once again, thank you for everything and I’m wishing you tremendous success in everything you do!
I got a two-star review on Goodreads. It didn’t have any text attached to it. So I don’t know what exactly the person who read my book (I do hope that they actually read the book) didn’t like about it, or what they found wrong with it.
It felt strange. It didn’t really upset me, but still, it stung a little. So I decided to reflect on my thoughts and feelings about it. I mean, I know that it’s not about me personally. It’s about my book, and it’s about that person and their opinion, which they are totally entitled to have.
But still, at some point I found myself feeling a little bit deflated and discouraged. You know, we all have those days, we all have those ups and downs. One day you feel like you’re on top of the world, and the next day you feel like you’re a complete failure. Or the imposter syndrome kicks in and it’s nagging you, saying ”Well, what did you expect? Did you think you were a good writer? And that everybody was going to read and like your book?” I’m sure many of you recognize that nasty little voice that lives inside your head.
So I was thinking about it, and analyzing my feelings, and trying to see what I’m doing wrong and what lesson I can learn from it.
And here’s what I came up with:
First of all, the only person that needs to truly believe in you and your writing (or whatever it is that you’re passionate about) is yourself. It’s great if you have a supportive environment. It’s awesome if your friends and family are there for you and they believe in you, no matter what. Or if you have an amazing streat team on Instagram, and you know that people are rooting for you all the time.
But you have to be absolutely sure that if all that is taken away from you — for any reason whatsoever — there will always be one person left on your side. YOU.
If tomorrow you wake up, and the world suddenly hates you. And people are like, “We just don’t like you anymore, and we don’t believe in you anymore. And we don’t want to read your stories anymore, and we don’t want to talk to you anymore.” Even if that extremely unpleasant scenario happens to you – you still need to be there for yourself. You have to not let anyone or anything bring you down or stop you from believing in yourself.
Second, people are different. They all have their own agenda. They have their good days and bad days. They have their moods.
People have things, other people, and circumstances that influence their every thought, their every word, and every decision. They’re not in control of it most of the time (or they choose not to be, but that’s another topic altogether.)
Let’s admit it, more often than we want to, we find ourselves not in control of our own lives. So how would you control anyone else, right?
What I’m talking about here is that you cannot influence other people, you cannot influence their opinion, you cannot influence/change/predict the next thing that they’re going to say or do, whether it’s concerning you, or anyone else, or anything else.
You can’t do anything about it. So let it go.
I’m a control freak myself, and I know too well how hard it is, but seriously, just LET IT GO. You cannot do anything about it. When you accept it, things will become much easier.
We’re all seeking approval and validation, whether we admit it or not. We all like to be praised. And valued. And liked. Even loved.
There’s nothing wrong with it, really. It’s a very natural thing. Problems start when it becomes a need, a priority, something you can’t function without.
And most of us fall into that trap more often than we would like to.
Because when we start depending on validation and approval from others – we’re trapped. Eventually, it will make us lose our real goal and forget our main destination. It will seem like we’re moving ahead, while in reality we’re just running out of breath on an invisible treadmill.
I saw a review on Goodreads recently from a fellow author Nicole Adair. She reviewed her own book, “A Tangle of Dreams.” She wrote, “I’m writing this review because the opinion that matters most to me is my own. It hasn’t always been this way, but that’s the way I’d like it to be from now on.”
There is so much power and so much wisdom in this. I keep repeating to myself, “That’s the way I’d like it to be from now on.”
Try this approach. I most definitely will.
Become your own number one fan. Your own supporter. If others offer you their approval and support, accept it with gratitude, but don’t make it a necessary condition for your success.
After all, nobody knows you better than you do. Nobody understands you better than you do. Everything else and everyone else is beyond your control.
We all have our own definition of success. We have different goals, we have different dreams and choose our own paths to follow them.
For someone, being successful is getting a new job or building the career of their dreams. For others, it’s buying a house. Or becoming a bestselling author. Or even publishing just one book, sharing that one and only story with the world.
But there is a number of obstacles on the way to success that will be common for any field or sphere you’re striving to conquer.
Being an author, I’m mostly talking about things that can prevent writers from reaching the desired level of success on their writing and publishing journey, but I’m sure that you’ll find them applicable in your particular case too.
1. “If it ain’t perfect, it ain’t worth it.”
Your enemy #1 is Perfectionism. Suffering from this disease myself, I really know what I’m talking about.
Let’s imagine that somewhere, in a parallel universe, there is a cemetery of unborn projects. Different creative projects that could have become books, songs, movies, paintings, sculptures, or any other works of art. I’m ready to bet that they would all have one cause of death engraved on their tombstones: perfectionism of their creator.
All of them have been abandoned at some point because of a ton of little (and in most cases insignificant) faults found by the only person who could bring them to life.
Most of them weren’t given a chance.
It’s sad, really.
Now that we’ve honored their memory by a minute of silence, let’s talk about why it happens. And why you need to avoid it happening to you. To your ideas and projects, I mean.
To be honest, I have no idea where my perfectionism comes from. I don’t know if any psychoanalysis will help me figure out why I constantly need to prove something to the world. I didn’t have strict parents demanding excellent grades from me. I didn’t have anyone putting additional pressure on me. I like to do it myself.
And it’s a real pain, I must tell you.
There’s a good chance you already know it.
So, what do we do?
The most important thing we need to understand is that nobody is perfect. Sounds banal, I know. We’ve all heard it a billion times. Except we didn’t really let the concept sink in. Because there’s always this nasty tiny voice whispering to us, “No one is perfect … but you need to be!”
Next time you hear this voice, tell it to shut up and leave you alone.
Truth is, you don’t. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t owe it to anyone, even to yourself. What you do owe to yourself is to give it your all. Try to be the best (and no, ‘best’ does not equal ‘perfect’) version of yourself. Learn from your mistakes and be grateful for those mistakes – because all they mean is that you’re actually trying. That you’re actually doing something. Be happy when you make mistakes. Embrace them. They are indicators of your progress.
Even your own definition of ‘perfect’ will change over time (it probably already has – multiple times – you just need to look back at some of your earlier views, concepts, and ideas and you’ll see it).
So why bother? Why struggle, suffer and pressurize yourself trying to achieve something that later on you will again view as ‘imperfect’? Total waste of your time and energy.
How about setting a permitted error percentage? A tentative one. Say, you need to get things right in 80% instances, and in the other 20% you allow yourself to make mistakes? Lets you breathe a bit more freely, doesn’t it?
Stop aiming for 100%. You’ll most probably never get there. Chances are you’ll just turn around and go back, which would be a shame, because your success was waiting for you at the destination, and you never showed up. Because you were afraid of being imperfect.
Which brings us to the next point.
2. “This is way out of my comfort zone.”
The next enemy we’re going to face is Fear.
You probably remember one or two nightmares you had, where something was scaring or threatening you, but you couldn’t move or even make a sound?
Same in life – even though in a somewhat more subtle way. Fear immobilizes us.
You might not realize it, because it is usually masked under different other emotions or feelings. But more often than you think, you can’t achieve progress or even quit altogether because of fear.
It can be fear of failure. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of being misunderstood. Fear of being judged (or laughed at). Fear of change. Fear of success (yup, that’s a thing).
I would say all of them have something in common. They are all related to a certain change. Change of status, or change of emotional state, or change of circumstances and surroundings – and it’s always followed by the need of further actions. And that’s what makes us even more uncomfortable.
We’re all living in our comfort zones. Following certain patterns. And no matter how much we complain about our life – the fact is that we’re actually quite comfortable in it, because we’re used to everything that surrounds us and even to what we think and feel and how we react to things around us.
Changing the pattern and trying something new would mean leaving the warm and cozy place where we’ve been snuggling up comfortably for years and even decades. Leaving it for the cold and windy and hostile unexplored territory, where we’ll have to learn and do new things. And stumble. And fall. And feel like a joke sometimes.
Of course it’s scary.
But I think it’s way more scary to spend the rest of your life in that little box that you delude yourself into finding comfortable.
3. “How dare I even try?”
Does the voice of Impostor Syndrome sound familiar to you? Have you ever found yourself thinking, ”What am I doing? Who do I think I am? Why am I pretending that I can do it? I’m not like them. They will see what I truly am, and it will be a disaster.”
Well, something along these lines. You got the gist.
First, we create an image in our head – a perfect one – and then we start panicking that we don’t conform to that standard. Impostor syndrome is closely tied to perfectionism, and it leads us to finding faults in anything we do, being hard on ourselves while also being overly sensitive to criticism, not appreciating our own achievements and successes and giving ourselves credit, thinking instead that we just got ”lucky” to get to a certain level. And last but not least – constantly comparing ourselves to others (not in our favor, obviously.)
You know what, I’ll just leave a quote by Neil Gaiman here. Read it and you’ll see – it’s all you need to know about impostor syndrome.
“Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”
And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”
Beautifully said. Think about it. In the end, all that matters is doing the best job we can.
4. “I want it all and I want it now.”
Impatience. My old friend. Always by my side.
I always “can’t wait.” It’s probably one of my most overused words, especially in the posts on social media.
I realize it, and I’m working on it. And I’m actually getting somewhere – the upcoming release of my book is proof.
When I started writing it last year, in the beginning I was uploading my chapters to Wattpad weekly. Which, on one hand, did me a huge favor in terms of self-discipline, but on the other hand there was an issue of seeking validation and approval.
I was new there, I didn’t have many readers. And I couldn’t wait to share my story and see what everyone thinks.
I was looking for different ways to increase my visibility and came across the annual writing contest on Wattpad. They accepted only fully completed works. I was in the very beginning, only a few chapters through. But I got excited and decided to use it as an incentive. I needed to submit a work of 50000 words, and I had two-three months for it.
The pressure I put myself under almost made me stop writing. I had a little baby and very limited time to write (he’s a toddler now and I have even less time). And I was about to rush the whole process and to end my book at 50K words … for what? Taking part in a contest?
My impatience was kicking me from behind, saying, “Go, go, go! Hurry up! Write it quickly, and submit it!”
And I almost surrendered. And then I realized I can’t make it, which led me to put the whole thing on pause for a month or two.
That was a very risky thing to do. And now, when my novel is available for pre-order on Amazon, after I came back to it and finished the first draft in my own time, at my own pace (which was again pretty fast, but realistically this time) and then spent a few months on editing it (which brought it from 92K down to 83K words) and preparing for publishing, I look back and think about how my impatience almost ruined it.
Everything valuable takes time. Don’t rush. Enjoy the process.
5. “I tried; it didn’t work immediately; so why bother.”
The last thing I wanted to discuss here is Lack of Persistence.
I’d say it’s a combination of Perfectionism and Impatience.
It’s when you have unrealistic expectations, and if they’re not met (immediately, says Impatience), you give up instead of pushing through.
So, to make it easier for yourself, first of all, ditch the expectations. Just focus on the actions you need to take on the way to your goal. Not on the result. Not on the timeline. Focus on the process. Do your best. You’ll trip and fall. Everybody does. Just get up and continue walking.
Continue giving it your best, taking responsibility, and learning from your mistakes. It will inevitably bring results. Sooner or later, one way or another.
If you really want to achieve it, you’ll keep trying. It won’t just be like “I tried once, and it didn’t work”. It’ll be more like “I’ll keep trying until I succeed.”
And it’ll most definitely be difficult. You’ll encounter all kinds of obstacles on the way. You’ll feel like giving up. You’ll feel discouraged and deflated.
But as Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Makes sense, right?
He also said something else, and I think the following quote perfectly sums up everything I was talking about here: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
“You should be proud of yourself,” my husband said. “You wrote a book.”
It was nice to hear. It meant a lot. He went on to tell me how much I have achieved and how proud he was of me.
I keep thinking about his words. Something was bothering me. And I realized what it was.
I understand that I should be proud of myself. I wrote a book. Me. By myself. In English, which isn’t even my native language. While raising a baby. And a teenager (nope, it’s not easier, I’m sure parents of teenagers will understand.)
I wrote a whole novel.
Why do I not feel proud?
I mean, I do feel good about it. I love my story. I know that after this final round of edits that I’m doing now it will shine even brighter. I can’t wait to share it with the world. I do believe that it’s going to be a great book.
But where’s that overwhelming feeling of joy and pride? Where’s the “Wow, I’m so awesome, I did it” moment?
It’s not there. There’s a whole lot of other things though. There’s “I probably could’ve done it better”; there’s “Okay, so you wrote a book, good, now get to the publishing and marketing side of things, too much to learn and do, no time to lose”; there’s “I need to write more, only where do I find the time, look, other authors are writing and releasing several books a year”. And there’s a bunch of other disturbing thoughts and worries. I’m steaming ahead in an attempt to catch up, to make up for the time I “lost” (I know it’s a misperception, but it happens when you’re dreaming of writing all your life but only start doing it when you’re 41).
And I guess I’m in too much of a rush to pause, look back at what I’ve achieved, and feel the pride. The key word here is feel. Not just understand, acknowledge or think of it as a fact. It’s important to attach some emotion to it.
Like a kid bringing home an award or a trophy from school, beaming with happiness.
That kind of proud.
I tried to remember the last time I felt anything like that. I couldn’t.
I know the feeling, though, because I feel proud of other people.
Earlier today my niece called me with some great news about her work. It’s something that she learned quite recently, and she made incredible progress in a short period of time. And now she has people who want to learn it from her. She was so thrilled to get a request from a student; her voice was filled with so much genuine happiness and pride – I could hear it although we’re thousands of miles apart and I couldn’t see her face. And I felt that pride and happiness for her. You know, that somewhat ticklish feeling of warmth in your chest, like you have your own little sun there caressing your heart with its rays.
I feel proud of my kids for their successes, big or small. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming it makes me want to cry.
I feel proud of my husband for all his accomplishments and achievements.
Why am I not that generous with pride when it comes to myself? Why do I get a “well done” and a virtual pat on the back from myself (okay, maybe a little treat sometimes too), but not the genuine feeling of pride?
Why do I find time to write long to-do lists and set tons of reminders, but don’t find time to write a list of things that I’m proud of?
Because first of all, I need to allow myself to be proud of my own achievements.
I’ll imagine there’s a ‘Settings’ menu somewhere inside my mind, and all I need to do is open that menu, find the “Appreciate yourself and feel proud” option, and hit ‘Allow’. Done.
And then I’ll write down a list of things that I’m proud of. Most probably, it won’t be that easy at the start. But I’ll still try.
And when I succeed (because of course I will succeed), I will look at the list of my achievements and I will take each and every thing on it and infuse it with a feeling. A feeling of pride and happiness. A feeling of joy, fulfillment and gratification.
I want to sit there with my eyes closed and a huge smile on my face, thinking about how amazing and cool I am.
I want you to do the same. (Well, with your own achievements though. But feel free to think that I’m amazing too, I won’t mind.)
Go change your inner settings and make that list. What have you done (recently or years ago, it doesn’t matter) that makes you feel happy and proud?
Each and every one of us is fighting battles of our own, and going through certain struggles that in most cases are not even visible to people around us. First of all, because we don’t like to share them. I mean, who wants to admit their weaknesses? Besides, we live in the time when it’s so important (and easy) to build a pretty-looking image of ourselves and our lives on social media. Right? We don’t post pictures of our messy houses or a sink full of dishes, we don’t post selfies featuring puffy eyes and messy hair after a sleepless night.
We don’t go around telling strangers (not even friends and family in most cases) that we are going through depression, anxiety, that we are facing our deepest fears in our nightmares or maybe they’re haunting us in those few quiet moments that we get to ourselves.
We want to be strong.
We need to be strong.
We need to achieve goals, to meet deadlines, to tick boxes on our to-do lists, we need to be kind, positive, supportive, optimistic, full of inner light and neverending wisdom that we use to help others.
We need to focus on the positive.
We need to count our blessings.
We need to beware of sharing our weaknesses so that people don’t use them against us.
We need to be perfect humans.
Except we’re not. None of us. Even the most productive, successful, rich, enlightened, beautiful, handsome, smart, talented human beings are not perfect. For one reason only: they are merely humans.
Flawed and weak. Annoyed and annoying. Silly and inexperienced. In the middle of learning or not even willing to learn. Insecure or arrogant. Cheerful or frustrated.
We all have one thing in common – we’re all making small steps along this path called life, sometimes blindfolded, sometimes with our hands tied behind our backs, sometimes stumbling while walking barefeet and sometimes driving a brand new Ferrari or maybe even equipped with a night vision device.
We still rarely know where we’re headed, and how exactly we can get there.
And it’s okay.
It’s okay to fall, if you get up afterwards. And you know what, it doesn’t even have to be straight away, really. If you just wanna curl into a ball and lie there for a while, it’s also okay.
It’s okay to cry, if you smile later. Not one of those fake “I’m-pretending-to-be-okay-when-I’m-dying-inside” smiles. A genuine smile that comes after your tears have cleansed your soul, and the world around you becomes colorful again (because it does, it always does) and you see a dog chasing its tail or hear a child laughing.
Stop pretending to be a superhuman and just be yourself. Your beautifully imperfect, flawed,vulnerable, fragile … wait, here it comes, that terrible insulting word … WEAK self.
Just don’t forget that you are surrounded by the same kind. All of them masking their struggles, swallowing their tears, faking their smiles. Ordinary human beings.
And as soon as you accept and embrace your weaknesses, you’ll find your strength. It won’t stay forever. You will most definitely lose it again at some point. But if it stays with you even for a while, for a small part of the way, if it gets you off your knees and puts you behind the wheel of a Ferrari – it’s worth it.
I opened my plan for the week only to realize that it was the plan for the past week.
I didn’t make a new plan for this week.
And it’s already Thursday. Somehow.
My first thought was, “I failed. Again. I keep trying to do everything right, but I never succeed.”
Of course I don’t. I never will.
The thing is, I can’t do everything right. Nobody can. And the sooner I accept that, the sooner I will start not only feeling better, but also actually getting things done.
Because getting frustrated over your own imperfections doesn’t lead you to perfection. It does, however, consume a lot of your time and energy. You know, the time and energy you could’ve spent on being productive.
If you forgot to do something, you have at least two options: 1. Go and do it now. 2. Don’t do it, but instead keep punishing yourself for forgetting about it. Looks pretty obvious, but the fact is, we tend to choose the second option more often than we think.
My week wasn’t messed up because I didn’t make a plan. Sure, I might have missed a couple things, because plans really do help to keep track of everything that needs to be done. But I haven’t missed anything vitally important. I still got a lot done. The week isn’t even over yet, so I can still catch up on other things. And I can always write a new plan.
It’s all about the choices we make. I can choose to see it as a “failure”, or I can say “Oops, I forgot to do it. Oh well, so what. Next time I’ll try to do better.”
Imagine if we could make those choices in our interactions with other people.
Your boss can remember that you are a valuable employee and treat you with respect and gratitude. Or he can choose to be a rude jerk, because he had a fight with his wife earlier and he’s in a bad mood. His choice.
Your partner can focus on the love between you and all the good moments in your relationship, or hold a grudge because of something you said or did. Again, not your choice.
You smile at the lady behind the counter in a shop, wishing her a good day. How she responds to you is her choice.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could make choices for all those people? If you could choose for them to treat you the way you want? The way you deserve?
It would be pretty cool, I agree. But we know it’s impossible. (Which makes perfect sense, because, you know, free will and all that…)
However, it is very much possible when we deal with ourselves.
You can choose to treat yourself the way you deserve to be treated.
You can choose to be kind to yourself.
You can choose to be supportive of yourself.
You can choose to be proud of your accomplishments.
You can choose to be understanding when you make a mistake.
You can choose to be patient with yourself.
You can choose to be your own best friend.
Why would you even consider being anything other than that?
The sun is shining, a light sea breeze is playing with your hair, it’s peaceful and calm. Sure, you can hear a few seagulls yelling at each other while fighting over food, but that’s just an integral part of the scenery, nothing to be annoyed about.
It’s a beautiful day. You’re in no hurry to get anywhere in particular. All you’re happily concerned with is inhaling some fresh salty air, and enjoying the look and feel of the sun rays as they caress your skin and beautifully reflect off the blue surface of the sea.
You keep walking, and you find a stone. It’s covered in bird poop. You pick it up and slide it into your pocket.
That’s your worries. Something that makes you agitated every time you think about it. Something that even gives you anxiety. Something that is now resting in the pocket of your favorite jeans, while the dust and bird excrements are rubbing against the material.
You keep walking. You find a bigger rock this time, one that’s even dirtier. You pick it up and run your fingers along its filthy surface. With a gentle smile playing on your lips, you put it carefully in the other pocket.
That’s your self-doubt.
As you continue walking, you start feeling the discomfort of the rocks rubbing against your leg through the thin lining of the pocket. You cringe, but keep walking, looking under your feet for more rocks.
There are lots of them in the sand. Offense, negativity, fears, I-can’t-s, what-if-s, I-should-have-s, I-shouldn’t-have-s, I’m-not-good-enough-s. All peppered with seagull and pigeon shit, some with a dry piece of stinking dry seaweed stuck to their surface.
Your pockets are getting heavier as you keep filling them with rocks.
It’s not that easy to walk anymore. The rocks are in fact pulling your jeans down, and you glance around to check if anyone can see that you are about to lose your pants.
But you keep walking, and picking up new rocks. The pockets are full, your hands are full. The smell is becoming more and more distinct.
You can’t let go of the rocks though.
You’re barely dragging your feet through the sand now, and you need to keep pulling those jeans up all the time.
Suddenly you remember that somewhere in the bottom of your pockets, you had some beautiful tiny seashells that you had picked up earlier. And a few pieces of beach glass, bright green, perfectly polished by the sea, looking like emeralds.
Your achievements. Your blessings. Results of your hard work. Things that are supposed to bring you joy and sense of fulfillment, were they not buried underneath a pile of dirty rocks.
You decide to sit down on the sand and empty your pockets, when a seagull bombards you from above, shitting all over your baseball cap.
That’s public opinion.
You take your cap off and study it for a minute, looking at it closely, inhaling the smell of fresh bird poop, and then you put it back on your head. Carefully, trying to make sure that all of it stays and nothing is smudged accidentally.
You then go through the contents of your pockets, putting the dirty rocks to one side and the shiny glass to the other.
You look at both piles, and then you look at the beach around you, thinking of how much easier the walk would be if you left those stones on the sand. Oh, and there’s a trash can nearby, where you could leave the dirty hat, because you’ve got a few more at home, and the shops haven’t run out of them either.
The emerald green beach glass is sparkling on the sand. You pick it up and hold it against the sun. The smooth polished surface feels so great between the tips of your fingers. You enjoy the beauty for a moment or two, and then toss the glass aside. Then you start filling your pockets with the poop-covered rocks, making sure you don’t miss a single one.
You get up clumsily, pull up your jeans with a familiar gesture and continue dragging yourself through the sand.
The sun hides behind the clouds.
The seagulls have the most annoying voices.
The contents of your pockets stink.
You sigh and head back home, holding on tightly to your newly acquired “treasures.”
Does any of this look or sound familiar by any chance?