Hungry Like the Wolf

I wrote this post about two weeks ago, but didn’t publish it because I thought it may come off as…I don’t know…self serving, obnoxious, something bad. But then last night I saw this blog on why it’s okay to want as long as you do something about it (she gets to the point about halfway through the post) and I figured I may as well put my honest feelings out there. Here goes nothin’…

hunger-for-success1I had one of those ah-ha moments this morning: I realized that I’m hungry to be a professional author. I always thought that phrase, “hungry,” was silly, especially when applied to the business world. It conjured up images of corporate executives on the rise who stabbed each other in the back on their way to the top. But now that I’ve experienced true artistic hunger, I get it. It’s not about stepping on others; it’s about being your best and constantly striving to raise the bar.

For me, this hunger is a type of driving ambition, a compelling force that makes me take on more in order to establish a career doing the thing I love. I’ve always known that I want to write for a living and how much I love it, but this is something more. My word for 2014 was “bloom,” and I’m ready to burst forth.

I know the only way to guarantee success (as much as one can) is to write great books. I hope I’m doing that. I’m devoting every spare moment to research for this new project that I’m really passionate about. In the process, I discovered another historical figure that it doesn’t look like much has been written about (she’s from a slightly later period than the Celts). Now I’m planning to write her story next year, along with another contemporary story and possibly a Celtic historical fiction.

I’m also planning my conference schedule for 2015. (In case you were wondering:  BEA in New York in May, the Historical Novel Society conference in Denver in June and possibly Sirens in Portland in October.) But I don’t just want to attend; I want to speak at these events, to share what I’ve learned with others. I want to get to know other authors and avid readers in person. I’m also considering applying for a two-week residency (the longest amount of vacation time I can get) at Hedgebrook (where I took classes with Deb Harkness earlier this year) for their 2015 or 2016. (Oh yeah, and I’m trying to save money to move to another city, but that’s a story for another day.)

In the midst of all this, I saw an announcement for a historical fiction book award. Obviously, I don’t qualify for that yet, but it’s on my dream list (with many others) for the future. I’ve always been award-happy (I blame it on the dance trophies when I was little), but it’s about more than pretty bauble or a fancy title; it’s about recognition by your peers. I want that. I want everything and I’m willing to work as hard as I have to in order to get it.

Yet, I know this hunger has a down side and I’m beginning to feel it. The danger in this is trying to do too much, especially too soon. So much of publishing is out of our hands as authors (as opposed to most of the writing part, save editing). All I can do right now is keep producing good work and believing things will break for me whenever they are supposed to. But in the meantime, I have to be careful to guard my health and not burn out. Thankfully, I have family and friends who are willing to tell me to take time off when I can’t see that I need it.

I’m not exactly sure why I felt that I should write about this. Maybe it was to share my experience, my joy in all the exhausting work I am doing. Maybe it’s to try to find others of like mind, to know I’m not alone in this obsessive need to write, to do more, to be more and better myself, even though very few people know who I am right now.

PS – You’re welcome for the Duran Duran earworm from the title of this post. 🙂

What are you hungry for? Have you ever had this experience? How did you handle it? How do you deal with your hunger?

A Love Letter from a Writer to Her Craft

I own a copy of this print from, so I don't feel bad using their photo. Go look at their site.

I own a copy of this print from, so I don’t feel bad using their photo. Go look at their site.

“Writing for me is like breathing.”

I actually said those words when the company I work for was going to through reorganization a few years ago and one of my bosses was considering putting me in a non-writing role. (Yes, I like it so much I do it all day long. But it’s not as much fun as writing fiction.) I wasn’t being melodramatic, either. Take away the storyteller and you take away my soul.

I write because I have to. That’s the short version of this post. If I didn’t, I really think I would lose my mind. Maybe I do it because I’m an only child and have always had to entertain myself. Maybe I watched one too many soap operas as a teenager. Maybe it’s a desire for control (of the world and lives of my characters) in a reality that is too often unpredictable. Or maybe it’s all of these things.

No matter how you look at it, I write because I have a story to tell. I would do it even if I knew I would never be published, just to get the story out of my head – even if only my family and friends ever saw it. I have voices in my head and characters who demand to be heard. They’ve chosen me over all the other writers out there, and I can’t let them down.

Most of all, I write because I love it. I like playing with language and challenging myself to be as good as my favorite authors. I want to capture the images in my head in words that (hopefully) evoke them as clearly for the reader as I see them. I love getting lost in the story, and, in rare moments, letting the characters take over and shape their own destinies. Writing is my creative outlet, the thing that makes me feel the most alive.

But writing isn’t just about the creative process. It’s also a lot of hard work. My willingness –nay, joy – at doing it is how I know I’ve found my vocation in life. The old phrase “writing is rewriting” is very true. More often than not, it means multiple rounds of editing, untangling plots that have gone awry, deleting treasured scenes, and many, many late nights. It also means taking vacation days and sometimes foregoing social gatherings just to have uninterrupted time to dedicate to my craft.

But you know what? I don’t mind that one bit. This is more than a part-time hobby to be set aside at will. It may not yet be what pays the bills, but it’s my passion. Someone told me recently that when I talk about my fiction, my entire being glows and I get excited like I’ve had too much caffeine (which I don’t consume). But in many ways, that’s only natural. Being a writer is how I self-identify. Talk to me about it and you’re giving me the opportunity to share the thing in my life that has the most meaning.

I know not everyone reading this is a writer, so you may not be able to personally relate. But I hope you experience something similar in your life, no matter what it is you choose to do. Life is too short, our moments too precious to waste on things that don’t compel us from the depths of our souls. I’ve found my calling and I hope you will, too.

What activity can you not imagine living without? What brings you authentic happiness? Please share your stories below. I’m sure we will all be uplifted by hearing from one another.

W is for What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

“Daydreaming” by Eugene de Blass. Image is public domain ({{PD-1923}}). Source: Wikimedia commons

A woman I used to work with told me a story in which her then four-year-old son asked her, “Mommy, what you do you want to be when you grow up?” The woman, nearing forty, burst into tears and sobbed, “I don’t know!”

Sound familiar? Chances are good you’ve had a similar conversation with yourself at some point in your adult life. I know I have, and recently. It’s astounding to me that our society expects us to make decisions that will affect the rest of our lives when we’re only 18 years old. I  don’t know about you, but at that age, the fog of teenage uncertainty was just beginning to clear and I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I went into business because it was safe – I knew I’d always have a job. Somewhere along the way, one of my English professors recognized I had a talent for writing and encouraged me to pick up a second major (thank you, Ben Moore!). Even then I didn’t know what I was going do. I didn’t want to teach or be a journalist, and I knew that living off of creative writing (which was nothing more than an occasional hobby at that point) was going to be too risky for my scaredy-cat nature.

I ended up in public relations as a result of the last class I took in college. Since I began my career, I’ve gotten my master’s degree, won awards and gotten my professional accreditation. I love what I do, partly because it involves writing, and it’s a creative way to support myself while I pursue my dreams. (To any of my co-workers who are reading this, yes, I am happy in my job; please don’t take this post the wrong way.) While being your own publicist is about as smart as representing yourself in court, I know having a PR background will certainly come in handy once my writing career takes off. (If nothing else, maybe it will keep me from putting my foot in my mouth publicly!)

But a few years ago I came to the realization that while I love what I do, my true passion – the thing that dominates my thoughts and brings me the most joy – is fiction writing. That’s when I really got serious about my first book. In doing that, I’ve read a ton of books on Celtic history and culture and rediscovered a love for history that, for some unknown reason, I had left behind after high school. Recently, serving as our corporate historian at my day job reminded me how much I love to research.

“A Pensive Moment” by Eugene de Blass. Image is public domain {{PD=Art}}{{PD-1923}} – published before 1923 and public domain in the US. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

If someone asked me today what I want to be when I grow up, my answer would be vastly different from what I ultimately answered in college, thanks to my life experience. Sometimes I wish there was a “do-over” option once you hit your early to mid-thirties and have had a chance to experience a little bit of life. But that’s where dreaming comes in. We’re never to old for that. I used to think that once you became an adult and got out into the real world, the need to dream would end because you’d have everything you’d ever want. But if anything, the importance of dreaming increases, because as you get more successful, your ability to change your circumstances increases as well.

I’m no longer afraid to chase my dreams. Of course I want to be a best-selling historical fiction/historical fantasy novelist. And while I work toward that at night and on the weekends, I’m doing everything I can to learn from my day job how to be versatile, hone my writing skills and handle stressful situations with grace and poise. Meanwhile, I’m planning for a dream trip to England next summer and beginning to seriously consider someday getting my Ph.D. in history from Oxford (I’m not worried about money or practicalities yet – those weigh dreams down in the early stages). Meanwhile, I’m trying to change my mindset to view every part of my life as a learning experience that I will take with me no matter where my career takes me.

For anyone struggling with balancing a dream and a day job (I bet that’s most of us!), I highly recommend the book Quitter by Jon Acuff. Contrary to what the title may imply, it’s not about up and quitting your day job. It’s about what I’ve just described, finding happiness in what you do while using it to help make your dreams a reality. And that’s not only good for us, it’s good for those who employ us as well. Talk about winning!

What about you? What do you want to be when you grow up? Have you ever found yourself with changing interests and dreams? How have you handled it? How do you balance the demands of a day job and a dream job? What are your dreams for your future?