Hello my dear writing and submitting friends! I had a different post about half written this week, when I had a moment of total and utter breakdown because I have once again taken on too much in the run-up to my book release in September. And it reminded me of a hard lesson I learned and chronicled for a friend’s blog waaaaaay back in 2012 when my first book was about to come out. So I reread the blog post, just to remind myself not to go back to that place when I realized that clearly history has taught me NOTHING because here I am, five years later, experiencing something so similar! And it hit me that THIS is the post I should share with you all this week. So here it is—a throwback to 2012, when I was just starting out in this crazy industry of ours. I hope that it encourages you in your writing and submitting journey to slow down, to learn to say no when you need to, and to take care of yourself along the way.
(This was originally posted on the blog of my talented friend, Elizabeth Stevens Omlor, where she asked authors to tell about their “Banana Peel” moments. Check her out here!)
When I sat down to write this post, I was planning to tell you a funny anecdote. You know, the kind of banana peel slip that sends you down on your tush with a comic book THUNK splashed across the page. A bruised tailbone at best, a bruised ego at worst… that was the kind of story I was going to tell. But as my fingers moved across the keyboard, something else came out. Because the truth is that while I do have laugh-out-loud stories to tell about awkward book events or mortifying editor interactions, the story that my heart wants to tell is a different one. Because not all banana peels are of the comic book variety. Some banana peels knock you down and break bones. And I was recently laid up in traction for a while.
You see, I am the most calm, centered person that most people know. Rock-solid. Unflappable. Rob and I have been married 15 years and he can count on his own two hands the number of times he has seen me really, truly cry. I am an extremely high “T” on the Myers-Briggs. Every problem has a solution. I don’t always think this is always a good thing. But it is who I am.
It was about 2 weeks before my book was scheduled to release. Being the wee babe I am in the realm of published authorhood, I felt that I needed to say yes to everything. Website, yes! Blogging and guest-blogging, yes! Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google +, Goodreads, Shelfari, yes! Designing and producing bookmarks, stickers, promotional materials in preparation for 3 upcoming events, yes! So many yeses, and all for good, productive things. The problem was that in the midst of all those yeses, the reality of my life as a mom of four kids didn’t stop. I certainly wasn’t going to say no to my four-year-old’s birthday that week. Or no to the 2 extra days in the library that I had volunteered for weeks ago. Or no to the 10 mile run I had to accomplish that week so I would be ready for the half-marathon I had been training for. Perhaps I could have said no to the soccer practices, had my husband and I not been the coaches. And maybe I should have said no to the cross-country meet, the school play try-out, or driving five 8-year-olds to a sleepover. But I didn’t.
For some reason that week, all of these things and more swirled together in a perfect storm of madness. So Thursday night, after running the sports/homework/bathing gauntlet, the kids were finally in bed and I set about mopping the floors. Because what does a person who feels totally out of control of their world do? Yup, clean the house, thinking maybe if I can just get this one thing checked off of the list, then I can feel better about my life. But in the middle of mopping, something happened. I had what I can recognize now as a full-blown panic attack. Sweating, shaking, nausea, heart-palpitations. Sobbing. I was pretty sure I was going to be one of those stories of fit women in their 30s that out of nowhere have a heart attack and die. My husband was completely mystified. Who was this woman?
I didn’t recognize her either. Where was the calm? Where was the center? Whose life was this?
It was too much. I said yes to all of these things…all of them great things…but it was too much. The unflappable had been majorly flapped. So what did I do? I started to say no. And most of the things I had to say no to were writing things. Two weeks before my book release, my blog went dark. The box of promotional postcards sat unsent. My Goodreads account collected dust. Was this the way I wanted to lead up to my debut? Absolutely not. But I found by letting those things go, I could breathe. Literally.
An hour or so after the panic attack, I was in the shower, still shaken up from the whole thing. Being of the praying persuasion, I began to pray and ask God why I was such a mess (and please don’t let me die). What came to mind was a passage from Anne Lamott’s profound book, TRAVELING MERCIES:
“I don’t know why life isn’t constructed to be seamless and safe, why we make such glaring mistakes, things fall so short of our expectations, and our hearts get broken and our kids do scary things and our parents get old and don’t always remember to put pants on before they go out for a stroll. I don’t know why it’s not more like it is in the movies, why things don’t come out neatly and lessons can’t be learned when you’re in the mood for learning them, why love and grace often come in such motley packaging.”
And somehow, in that moment, I was able to see this giant banana peel moment as love and grace…certainly in motley packaging…but love and grace nonetheless. Slowing down and saying no were necessary, and my logical-brain-thinking with a capital T-ways would never have allowed me to do it.
So my body rebelled.
And my brain shut down.
It wasn’t neat and I wasn’t in the mood, but it made me stop and feel what I needed to feel to be able to move forward with more balance. More calm. More center. And as I toddle my way through this writing and publishing business, I’ll take all the grace and love I can get…even if it means a few broken bones along the way.