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.

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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. 🙂

 

 

 

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Authors are Really Actors Playing All the Roles

I come from a theater background – sort of. Basically, I spent a lot of my time singing and dancing and acting (badly) when I was growing up and then in college I spent a lot of my time directing and acting (badly) while I was getting my political science degree.

I’ve always talked about how using the basics of improv helps writers get over things like writer’s block, etc., and at Vermont College, I focused my graduation presentation on using those tools to help kids write.

Lately though, I’ve been thinking more about how authors are really using all the roles of theater when they create novels. We have to be actors because we have to live inside the characters and make them three-dimensional representations of people. We have to be directors because we put the story together and tell the characters where to go, and determine the viewpoint that we’re seeing the character. We have to be set designers as we create setting. We’re stage crew bringing props in and out. We’re producers because we’re putting the whole production together. We’re writers because… Well, we’re writing.

But right now, I just want to focus on how authors are really actors playing every single role in the story. That’s a lot of effort, honestly.

Method Authors – Method acting is when you immerse yourself in the role; you become someone other than yourself. Do writers do this? Sometimes, but not often. Usually we spend a lot of time researching things our characters like but not becoming the characters and/or pretending to be them. I wonder why.

Living In Another World – Actors live in the world of the moment, of the world that they are acting in. Novelists need to do this too. We have to immerse ourselves in the world that we’ve created, to envision the details, see the events, feel the feels. The best novels use concrete details to show character and place. To find concrete details, we have to see concrete details. We have to build worlds piece by piece and symbol by symbol until they are believable.

Back Story – When I was training in theater with Paul Kuritz and Pope,L, and Marty Andrecki, they all focused on the back story of the roles we played. To understand the character in the moment, we had to understand the moments that came before, what brought our character to this place to react this specific way in the play. And we didn’t need to know just the history of the character, but the history of the world and the cultural implications that influenced that character. Authors sometimes do this, too, but I think some of us could do it more.

Study Real People – To understand nuance and tics and behavior, actors often study real people and model a character on that person, or at least model a behavior of a character on that person. Writers often do that, too.

Acting and writing require empathy. You have to move outside yourself and envision how someone else will react, feel, think, instigate. That’s important when trying to create a world of civility and positive change.

Random Exercise That’s Supposed To Be Helpful

A lot of the time at school visits, I talk about the weirdest places I’ve gotten ideas and how some of those ideas are so bizarre that a sane human would just thrust them out of their mind. I talk about how you have to ‘say yes’ to your ideas no matter how weird they are, no matter how much we doubt them.

I talk about how the idea for the NEED series came from seeing a strange smelling man on my way into a fair. He had a tail wrapped in fabric. He had silver eyes. Enough said, right? While other people might have thought he was a random guy doing cosplay, my brain jumped to “human-sized pixie about to cause an apocalypse.” Since, I didn’t reject that idea and wrote about it, I ended up getting a book series that was an international bestselling.

So, what I do is have kids stand up with me and one of them has to say ‘no,’ to everything we throw out. So it goes like,

“Hey, let’s write a story about human-sized pixies?”

“No.”

“And they have to save the world?”

“No.”

“Gerbils who fall in love?”

“No.”

“People who climb a mountain and find a rainbow unicorn?”

“No.”

And it goes on like this for a minute and when I stop them, I ask, “So what happened?”

Usually, everyone says, “Nothing. Nothing happened.”

I ask if we got a story. And the answer is always, “No.” We laughed, but we did not get a story.

Writers do this to ourselves all the time. Actually, people do this all the time. We reject ideas for being too weird, too overdone, too normal, too abnormal, too anything. The secret is to go with the idea, to say yes and see what happens. That’s how stories are made.