Being Nice: Who Do You Think You Are?

I spend almost all my time trying to be a nice person. It’s always been like this; I kid you not. Like in fifth grade I was voted MOST COURTEOUS like that was some kind of damn honor or something, right?

Carrie is polite.

Carrie is courteous.

Carrie is word-of-the day worthy.

That’s not who I thought I was.

“Most Courteous” wasn’t what I wanted to be, you know, right? Like I wanted to be “Smartest” or “Prettiest” or “Class Clown” or “Most Athletic” even though “Most Athletic” is something I could never be since I have zero hand-eye coordination. This is because I don’t use my left eye to see. They thought I was blind when I was born. I had an operation. I had glasses when I was one year old and kept them all the way until fifth grade when I prayed to God every night to not have to have glasses in middle school.

There was this stupid Dorothy Parker quote that says, “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses,” and that quote was like the word of God to me. I knew I would always be most courteous and not real superlative worthy unless I actually got rid of those damn glasses.

So I prayed.

At the doctor’s office, I sat in the chair and stared at the eye chart. It was all on my right eye, I knew. It had to perform at 100 % to get rid of those damn glasses.

The doctor was all, “Can you read this line?”

And I was all, “E.”

And he was all, “Can you read this line?”

And I was all, “T.O.Z.”

He made an interesting noise, like he was impressed. “Go down as low as you can. Just keep reading each line. Start at the top. How about that?”

“Okay.” I took a deep breath and started from the top. “E F P T P Z L P E D.”

I went on and on. I could see them all.

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Sadly, the magical return of my eyesight didn’t make me magically popular as one boy reminded me at a sixth-grade dance at St Joseph’s the one Catholic church in our town. We had one Catholic church, which was where some of the Irish and French Canadian kids went. We had Protestant church, which was Presbyterian. That’s it.

I wanted to be one of those church kids so badly. But one of my dads was an atheist. Another dad was a lapsed Catholic who believed that hell was where we were living right now, on Earth. And my mom gave up her Methodist Church in Manchester because she caught the minister cheating at bowling and called him out on it.

“He lied to my face, that man,” Mom would self-righteously retell us for decades. “Right. To. My. Face. And this man was supposed to be in charge of my spiritual growth? I’ll show him spiritual growth. He was always looking at my cleavage, too. Creep.”

Bowling mattered a lot to my mom. But I was just annoyed because her cleavage and insistence that you aren’t supposed to cheat in bowling meant I couldn’t go to church.

And I wanted to.

I wanted to belong, you know?

plot pacing and proms writing tips

So, when S. slow danced with me three times in a row at the CCD dance, I felt like I might actually belong.

But then he pulled away from me and said, “Carrie, let’s face it. Neither of us are lookers. So we might as well make do with each other.”

I stepped out of his arms and I said one word, “What?”

“I’m saying… I’m saying… We’re not tens so we might as well make do.”

I cried and I ran away and hid in the bathroom. I didn’t come out even when his mom, a freaking chaperone, came in to check on me. I didn’t come out until there wasn’t any music playing at all.

Only then did I run out to my mom’s old Chevy Monte Carlo, which was waiting in the parking lot. I wrenched open the door and slammed myself inside the car.

“What is it?” Her smile went into the anger place where her lips were just straight lines. This was how she looked when she talked about her little Methodist minister friend.

I blurted out what S. said. With my mother, there was no pretending something bad hadn’t happened. There were no secrets, unless they were hers.

“That bastard,” she said.

“I’m ugly.” I sobbed that out somehow.

“You aren’t ugly. That boy is ugly. His heart is ugly. He was working some line. He thinks he’s some actor. Some comedian. He’s a punk.”

But I knew in my heart that my mom was lying. I was ugly. I had to be.

I suddenly became someone I didn’t think I was.

And the thing is, no matter how many times I’ve heard people tell me I’m not, heard boys and girls call me cute or beautiful or lovely or pretty, I’ve never believed them. It’s S.S’s words that I hear in my head, over and over again.

Neither of us are lookers.

            We’re not tens.

Writing tips and help from NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones
Prom dog

I have this other friend who photographs well. She is the opposite of me because I photograph like poop.

She says to me sometimes, “I don’t know how so many guys like you. You and me? We’re alright looking, but we’re not beautiful like OTHER GIRL.”

And I smiled at her.

OTHER GIRL is skinny and blonde and full of acne scars and holes of anxiety that threaten to eat her insides away. And I worry for her all the time.

And I am?

Alright looking, I guess. I became who she said I was.

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Her words shouldn’t matter.

It freaking matters.

 

Other people’s words have echoed and echoed and shaped me until I don’t even want to be in a photograph anymore. I’m too afraid that the image of me that I see will be even worse than I imagine.

I had delusions of insignificance. Every time I felt badly about who I was it was because someone else had put me in a comparison situation.

You know how that is right?

Ah, I’m not as successful as Rick Riordan.

Ah, I’m not as beautiful as all these famous actresses and models or even that random police dispatcher in my town. 

Ah, I’m not as smart as…

Ah, I’m not as good a runner as…

But the thing is? That’s crap. You are magical as you. You don’t need to be compared to anyone else or compare yourself to others. Superlatives are bull. We are all superlative at being ourselves.

Your life is your message to this world.

And what is that message? The truth of you? The truth of me? It sure isn’t how we look. It’s how we are on the inside. For me that’s word-of-the-day Carrie, Courteous Carrie, Writer Carrie, Photographer Carrie, Hug Your Dogs All the Time Carrie.

That’s the truth of you, too.

And looking into mirrors? It’s about more than seeing what’s on the outside, about more than being defined and labeled by what’s on that same outside. It’s about the inner you. The real you and seeing it – really seeing it – and knowing how freaking magic you are just by being you, authentically and truly you.

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That’s not saying you don’t have flaws, that you won’t mess up. We all mess up. We mess up constantly.

Some people are afraid of the #metoo movement, of making their own mistakes when it comes to racial issues, religious issues, sexuality, identity, ability.

That fear? It’s good. It makes us better. We are all heading straight into truth; burning it out of ourselves, all the ugly things that we don’t want to see. We can’t let our fear slow us down. We can’t let other people’s visions of us control us. We can’t be afraid to look into the mirrors that see deep inside of us.

Social media brings out trolls. That’s so true, but it also gives us a voice, a hope. We have a new template for telling our stories, for making our lives and for sharing them in a world where our voices often didn’t matter. We can share our magic in so many ways.

And it’s intoxicating and terrifying. People are interested in other people. People are sharing with other people. People are even interested in us. In us.

And that’s power.

And that’s magic.

Use it wisely. I know I will try to. I know I make mistakes. I know that I am human. But the thing is? I love being human. I love growing and evolving and changing. I hope you do, too.

Writing News

 

CARRIE’S BOOKS

For a complete round-up of my 16-or-so books, check out my website. And if you like us, or our podcast, or just want to support a writer, please buy one of those books, or leave a review on a site like Amazon. Those reviews help. It’s all some weird marketing algorhthym from hell, basically.

The next book coming out with Bloomsbury in August is this one! More on the series here.

Timestoppers3_005

OUR PODCAST DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE – New episode tomorrow!

Dogs are smarter than people - the podcast, writing tips, life tips, quirky humans, awesome dogs
The podcast of awesome

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice, and life tips.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can.

Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow.

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Dealing With Failure – Part One

We talk so much about the lack of civility in current culture, but there is also this great thirst to help, to care, to make a difference. And that matters. It matters.

This week I failed at something in a business way and …. Well, it shook me.

To be fair, I am pretty raw and frayed right this second and my resilience isn’t at its peak. But for whatever reason, it shook me a lot.

I cried.

I didn’t wallow, but wow. I really wanted to wallow.

Instead, I posted on Facebook and asked people what they do when they feel like they’ve failed, when they are shook, when they are sad. How do they work their way out of it?

Note: My post wasn’t asking about depression, but a lot of people answered as if it was and those answers? They helped other people reading the post. That’s a big deal. And I am thankful for it.

People are giving. People want to help

I love that people were so incredibly willing to share their strategies for when they feel pointless, when failure seems too large. And I’m going to have a series of posts where I share these strategies because that’s the cool thing.

We talk so much about the lack of civility in current culture, but there is also this great thirst to help, to care, to make a difference. And that matters. It matters.

People want to help other people feel better, get through it. Remembering that matters, especially when you feel like you’re being annoying by not being perfectly happy. Nobody is always perfectly happy.

My friends’ and readers’ advice was beautifully varied, which only made it better because you could see the similarities and trends and differences in people’s coping mechanisms.

Some of those coping mechanisms involved apps.

“I’ve been there too this week if it makes you feel any better. My tips are to be gentle with yourself. Maybe take a long walk. I’ve downloaded a meditation app to my phone called Mind Space, and that helps me. A hot shower, some comfy pajamas and a cozy book. I like Rosemund Pilcher because she’s sort of soothing.” – Shannon Hitchcock, author

And another app was really popular. It’s called Calm.

“I use the app called Calm. It’s amazing and helps me with my insomnia and my anxiety. It’s got music and stories that help me relax and not stress out as much. It’s so awesome.” – Lindsey Schultz, photographer

 

And there with other people who deliberately moved their brains’ focus via distractions that were sound-based (like an app, but not), which was super interesting to me.

“I’m prone to having that feel like a failure reaction you describe. I turn on the tv or something that shuts my brain down for a couple of hours. That helps and It sounds ridiculous but I’ve noticed listening to people laughing on tv helps even if I’m not paying attention.” – Trish Madell, author

This sort of distraction and laughter is actually a thing that is often used to help with anxiety and depression. Yes! Yes! I know the trite saying that “laughter is the medicine” but there is truth behind that.

Laughter releases endorphins. Endorphins battle stress and make our immune systems tougher. Laughter connects us with others and makes us feel less alone. Laughter uses your brain’s whole cortex.

And for us creative people, humor actually makes us more innovative, we’re more apt to improv and make leaps in our thinking. How cool is that?

Do something that makes you laugh. For whatever reason, I always laugh at America’s funniest home videos. This seems stupid, and it’s a little embarrassing to even admit, but no matter how shitty I’m feeling, if I watch enough of them, I’ll laugh and pull myself out of the heaviness of the feeling of failure. On the other hand, I’ve learned to grieve some of my failures. Losing a book contract, for me, felt like such a failure. I tried so hard not to grieve it–to push through–but sometimes we need to grieve the loss and acknowledge the sadness. I’ve even had a friend send me a sympathy card for a book loss because it’s a valid loss, something worth crying about. Not every failure is, but sometimes I think we are too quick to assume we don’t deserve to feel bad.- Jody Sparks, author

So, for my first post in this series, here are the tips that came from my brilliant friends and readers

  1. Find a good app that makes you calm. Use it.
  2. Find the funny. Watch tv. Listen to laugher.

But what both of these things do is that they create a feeling of control.

When you turn on that app and use it to feel better? You are making the choice to feel better.

When you decide to watch something funny to feel better? You are making the choice again. You feel like you are in control, which is so incredibly different than feeling like a failure, isn’t it?

Writing News

I am super excited about the upcoming TIME STOPPERS book coming out this August.  And honestly, if you want to help me feel less stressed about failure and the writing world, leaving a review for the books and buying them? That is the best thing you can do for me.

Anyway…

This middle grade fantasy series happens in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine and it’s all about friendship and magic and kids saving their magical town.

An imaginative blend of fantasy, whimsy, and suspense, with a charming cast of underdog characters . . . This new fantasy series will entice younger fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.” –  School Library Journal

 

“Sticks the landing . . . The world building is engaging . . . between the decidedly wonderful residents and the terrifying monsters who plague them.” –  BCCB

 

“Amid the magic, spells, adventure, and weirdness of this fantasy are embedded not-so-subtle life lessons about kindness, friendship, and cooperation.” –  Booklist

 

“A wild and fresh take on fantasy with an intriguing cast of characters. Dangerous and scary and fun all rolled into one. In the words of Eva the dwarf, I freaking loved it!” –  Lisa McMann, New York Times bestselling author of The Unwanteds series

 

“Effervescent, funny, and genuine.” –  Kirkus Reviews

It’s quirky. It’s awesome. It’s full of heart. You should go by the first two books now. 🙂

 

 

 

CARRIE’S BOOKS

For a complete round-up of my 16-or-so books, check out my website. And if you like us, or our podcast, or just want to support a writer, please buy one of those books, or leave a review on a site like Amazon. Those reviews help. It’s all some weird marketing algorhthym from hell, basically.

OUR PODCAST DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

Dogs are smarter than people - the podcast, writing tips, life tips, quirky humans, awesome dogs
The podcast of awesome

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips.

We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can.

Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow.

writing tips life tips carrie jones books
carrie jones books

Boobs, Awards and How to Face Your Fears in front of Katherine Paterson

Sometimes our fear of failure gets so super big that it keeps us from going towards our goals.

Do you know what I mean?

Like sometimes that fear keeps us from going after what it is we really want to do or be or experience? That’s how it is for me sometimes at least.

It almost kept me from getting an award

One time, fear almost held me back from experiencing what was probably one of the biggest moments in my little life. This is because I have social anxiety. It’s almost like stage fright. I’m so good when I’m at someone’s house or an event or a meeting, but before I get there? I spend most of my time thinking, “I do not want to go here. How do I not go here? Agh… Maybe they will cancel.”

But it isn’t because I don’t enjoy myself when I’m at my friend’s house or at an event. I love being at friends’ houses and events. I present as an extrovert and I love people.

Honesty moment: Sometimes I totally don’t enjoy myself at a meeting and my anxiety makes sense because being bored is not fun.

Anyways, my ahead-of-time anxiety comes from this weird fear of failure – that I won’t be good enough, that I will be too awkward, that people will make fun of me.

It’s all pretty second grade.

How To Face Your Fear of Failure
Wednesday Writing Wisdoma

A couple of years ago this fear almost kept me from a really cool life event. I was in D.C. for some American Library Association conference. And there was a  Vermont College of Fine Arts party that I was so stressed about. It was at Tami Lewis Brown’s House.  Katherine Paterson was going to be there.

Yes, that Katherine Paterson. Bridge to Terabithia Katherine Paterson!

I totally didn’t want to go. I was stressed about making a fool of myself in front of Katherine Paterson.

And to make it worse, I was totally freaked out about how I could avoid M. T. Anderson because he’s so tall I found it intimidating. And his book FEED was why I even applied to Vermont College. He taught there then.

And I was worried about what I was wearing because my social anxiety sends me right back into a spiral of awkward worries about superficial things.

To be fair, it was summer. So people wore dresses and sleeveless dresses. I am from Maine. I am used to fleece and flannel.

How To Face Your Fear of Failure - tips from NYT bestselling children's book author Carrie Jones
I am basically this sheep.

And I ended up having to wear my cardigan the whole time because my dress was way too cleavage-y.

How do I know this? I know this because the doorman at the hotel  stared at it and asked if I wanted to “hang out.”

Really.

And I am a children’s book author! I am supposed to be not the type of person people can ask out. Wait. Am I??

Or the type that is supposed to have their boobs hang out?

I mean, either meaning of ‘hang out?’ It wasn’t a good thing.

Anyways, I think part of the problem was I told the doorman that I loved him when he ran after the shuttle bus for me. Bad Carrie! Bad!

So, I sat on the shuttle bus, buttoning my cardigan, almost hyperventilating.

I resisted the urge to scream, “STOP THE SHUTTLE BUS!”

I resisted the urge to slip out of the shuttle when it stopped and call a cab that could take me back to the hotel.

I resisted and resisted.

And I went to the party and my hair was flat and I had a cardigan on (and buttoned) even though it was 98 degrees and then…. and then….Katherine and Tami made speeches about the awesomeness of Vermont College. I think Tobin (M.T. Anderson) may have too. And then… And then… They gave Kekla Magoon of Awesome an award for being a distinguished alumna and she cried and was beautiful and I patted her on the back and tried to tell her how she was great and deserved this so much, all while thinking how awesome she is and then…. and then….

I GOT ONE TOO!

 I look short don’t I? And Tobin looks tall and intimidating. And Katherine, Tammy, and Kekla had enough confidence to be sleeveless. Then there’s me… in a cardigan.

Seriously! I don’t know what they were doing giving me that, but I was awarded a plaque and everything and I almost died because I kept thinking, “People are going to take pictures and I am wearing my dumpy cardigan to hide my cleavage AND my hair is flat. Crud. Crud. Crud. Why did nobody tell me?”

But it was amazing. And the whole time I kept thinking that I wouldn’t even be a writer if not for the people at Vermont College and how there are so many brilliant graduates who deserved that award, and I kept looking out there in the crowd and seeing those freaking phenomenal writers and it was so completely humbling.

But then I also thought about how terrified I was when I first started at Vermont and how that fear of failing and not fitting in almost kept me from being there. Some people were already published. I had barely written one book draft if you don’t count books written in spiral notebooks in grade school.

I felt – no, I knew – that I didn’t belong and I almost quit that first week because I knew there was no way I could possibly belong there with all those people who had been writing for forever and who knew all the terms and all the publishing houses and I knew nothing.

I didn’t believe in myself at all. I was positive I would fail and I was SO AFRAID, bitterly afraid.

Lisa Jahn Clough and Emily Wing Smith and Ed Briant (who said something awesome at a reading to me) and then Tim Wynne Jones were the reasons I toughed it out that first semester. I am so very glad I did because Vermont didn’t just make me into a writer it gave me a community of fellowship, of learning and of people who I adore (even if they are tall).

And I promised myself that I was going to do my best to write books kids deserve and make it so I could deserve that award, which I almost didn’t get because:

  1. I almost missed the shuttle on purpose
  2. I almost went on a date with the hotel doorman – no just kidding!
  3. My fear of failing in front of people was SO overwhelming that it took everything I had to go.

So, how do you fight your fear of failure? Here is how I do it.

Writing tips and help from NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones carriejonesbooks.blog
Wednesday Writing Wisdom

Tough Love Yourself

Realize that if you don’t try, you’re not going to have the experience. Imagine how crappy you’re going to feel if you don’t at least try to write a novel when all you want to do is be a novelist. Realize, that you can’t publish a book unless you submit it.

IMAGINE THE WORST POSSIBLE OUTCOMES And Realize that they aren’t that bad, Honestly

When my daughter Em was little and stressed about something and/or failing I’d say, “Buddy. Is anyone going to die if you fail? Will you go to jail if you fail? Will you be forever injured? Then do it. Nothing horrifying will happen.”

I tell this to myself, too.

MAKE SMALL GOALS AND NOTICE WHEN YOU REACH THEM

Thinking about writing an entire series of novels can be overwhelming. For some of my students, thinking about writing 80,000 words (basically one YA novel) is terrifying and they are certain that they will fail when they think of it that way.

This is why I never think of it that way.

You put your big goal into smaller, more attainable bites. Writing 250 words a day for five days a week doesn’t seem as potentially fail-possible as writing 80,0000 words. And when you hit that goal? Allow yourself to notice, to feel your success. Train yourself to be successful so that failure feels like a really far away thing.

Have an Escape Route

Lots of times when we think; I am going to completely fail as a writer and have no job and go bankrupt, it helps to have a cushion, a back-up plan.

When the Emster was applying to colleges, she had a back-up college, but she also had a contingency plan about what to do if she got in nowhere. She’d take a gap year and try again. Maybe get a couple cool life experiences and skills.

In writing, when you fail? You do the same thing. Rethink your story’s structure. Start over again with your writing goal. Find a new way to get what you want, but the most important thing is to actually enjoy doing what you’re doing. Goals are awesome, but most of your life is spent is in process not achievement. Make sure you love the process and/or task so much that it doesn’t matter if you’re what society defines as ‘successful’ or not.

Sidenote: I was having all sorts of issues with wordpress yesterday so Do Good Wednesday is actually being posted on Thursday. It’s probably still Wednesday somewhere in the world, right?

Writing tips and help from NYT bestselling author Carrie Jones
Do Good Wednesday!

Here is a cool and amazing project that Rotary International is doing. If you can’t help financially? That’s totally okay. Just tell the world about the project and/or Rotary. It’s 1.2 million people all around the world doing good, making change and taking action all while making friends.

And the project?

Here’s what Kate Sieber of Rotary quickly says about it:

“Rotary members from Durango, Colorado, USA, team with the Navajo Nation to bring solar lights to remote, off-the-grid homes on the country’s largest Native American reservation.”

If you follow the link you can find out more.

WRITING NEWS AND STUFF

Book Expo America

I will be signing copies of The Spy Who Played Baseball at Book Expo America in NYC on June 1, from 11:30 to noon at the Lerner Booth.

Moe Berg The Spy Who Played Baseball
Moe Berg

THE CLASS AT THE WRITING BARN

The awesome 6-month-long Writing Barn class that they’ve let me be in charge of!? It’s happening again in July. Write! Submit! Support! is a pretty awesome class. It’s a bit like a mini MFA but way more supportive and way less money.

Write Submit Support
Look. A typewriter.

PRAISE FOR CARRIE JONES AND WRITE. SUBMIT. SUPPORT:

“Carrie has the fantastic gift as a mentor to give you honest feedback on what needs work in your manuscript without making you question your ability as a writer. She goes through the strengths and weaknesses of your submissions with thought, care and encouragement.”

I swear, I did not pay anyone to say that. I didn’t even ask them to say it. The Writing Barn just told me that the feedback had intensely kind things like that and gave me a quote.

FLYING AND ENHANCED – THE YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION SERIES

These books are out there in the world thanks to Tor.

What books? Well, cross Buffy with Men in Black and you get… you get a friends-powered action adventure based in the real world, but with a science fiction twist. More about it is here. But these are fun, fast books that are about identity, being a hero, and saying to heck with being defined by other people’s expectations.

This quick, lighthearted romp is a perfect choice for readers who like their romance served with a side of alien butt-kicking actionSchool Library Journal

TIME STOPPERS THE MIDDLE GRADE SERIES OF AWESOME

Time Stoppers’s third book comes out this summer. It’s been called a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but with heart. It takes place in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. I need to think of awesome ways to promote it because this little book series is the book series of my own middle grade heart. Plus, I wrote it for the Emster. Plus, it is fun.

Dogs are Smarter Than People

Dogs are smarter than people - the podcast, writing tips, life tips, quirky humans, awesome dogs
The podcast of awesome

And finally, our podcast had a new episode Tuesday. You can check it out here.  It’s about making your characters and yourself memorable.

If you enjoy podcast, we’d be so super grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest or subscribing to it on iTunes or Stitcher or rating it there or somewhere. Thank you! We know it’s a super small thing, but it means so much to us.