Don’t Let the World Bring You Down

The best thing I’ve ever done for myself is getting off of social media.

I know, it sounds crazy. How can an aspiring author exist in this world without social media? How can they live without scrolling through the bookstagram tag or retweeting helpful threads written by agents? If they don’t stay up-to-date on the publishing world every minute of every day, how will they know if it’s the right time to query their debut novel? I wondered all of this at first, too. I believed the lie that the modern professional had to spend hours of their day on social media, or else they weren’t going to get anywhere. But I’m here to tell you that it simply isn’t true.

Now, I didn’t delete any of my social media accounts. It isn’t like I don’t still post, because I do recognize that social media can be a helpful tool… when used responsibly. What I did do was delete all of my social media apps from my phone. Which, let me tell you, was one helluva change. It made me realize that social media wasn’t just fun, but addicting. I had a lot of false starts at first, where I’d delete my apps but then slowly reinstall them as my craving to scroll through mindless drivel became too strong. Then I’d hit my breaking point again and uninstall them, only to come crawling back days later. This went on for months until, finally, the cravings stopped, and the apps stayed uninstalled for good. That was when things started changing for the better.

First of all, my mental health improved tenfold. I suddenly realized how much negativity social media was bringing into my life. I mean, people are just so angry online. Have you ever noticed that? Everybody is mad at something. Some of it was political, obviously, but most of the negativity that was actually invading my Twitter feed was book-related, since most of the accounts I follow on there are authors, agents, and reviewers. There were people angry about publishing scams, people angry about problematic books, people angry at each other because they had different opinions… It was endless, and so negative and toxic. It made me sad, because for me books had always been my happy place. I didn’t understand why people had to be so angry and mean about them. Leaving that toxic environment helped to make books my happy place again.

Second, it helped me escape the self-doubt that had been plaguing me since I got on social media. Between comparing my journey to the journey other writers, reading tons of conflicting opinions about what is or isn’t problematic, and being force-fed the cold hard truth about how hard it is to get published, I was a mess. It all made me feel like I would never succeed, so why even try, you know? But once I wasn’t absorbing all of that every single day, my confidence in myself and my writing soared. It wasn’t that I was just allowing myself to be blissfully ignorant–I still read blog posts and watched YouTube videos that talked about publishing and discussed controversial topics–but I was able to decide when I absorbed that content and how much of it I was absorbing. And I wasn’t just limited to listening to the loudest person in the room anymore. Now I feel more relaxed and comfortable with my writing journey and the topics that I write about.

And third, I get so much more writing done because I’m not constantly distracted. I mean, if I really wanted to be productive I’d also delete the YouTube app from my phone (though I doubt that’ll ever happen), but even with just my social media apps uninstalled I find myself writing more than I ever have before. I mean, let’s face it, it’s nearly impossible to remain 100% focused on your writing with your phone buzzing every three seconds to notify you about something happening on social media. I’ve heard of some people leaving their phones in another room while they write, but by removing the temptation completely I just feel like my head is clearer. When I was on social media all the time, I found myself zoning out during writing time, wondering what people were talking about on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr. Now that I don’t get on social media at all, though, the thought doesn’t even cross my mind. I end up totally engrossed in what I’m writing, which also makes the quality of my writing better.

So, yeah. I’m really proud of myself for managing to kick my social media habit. It’s improved my regular life and writing life in so many ways, and I can say with certainty that I won’t ever let myself fall into the trap again. Sure, some days I may quickly scroll through Twitter on my computer just to see what’s happening, but it won’t be my habit anymore. It’ll be something fun I do every once in a while just to keep up-to-date with my friends and favorite authors.

How about you? What’s your relationship with social media? Have you ever considered logging off for good? Let me know!

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Let’s Talk About Writing – The Shiny Thing

A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post titled “The Allure of the Shiny Thing” in which I discussed how I was struggling to write one novel because ideas for a million other novels were vying for my attention. The phrase had been one I’d learned from a professor at Columbia College Chicago, and at the time I was adamant that pursuing the shiny thing was the worst thing I could possibly do. However, recently I actually did give in to the shiny thing. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

I can say with complete honesty that I don’t regret starting the project that I’m now working on. Sure, it was my shiny thing, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad idea or that I shouldn’t have written it. In this post I’m not going to warn you about the dangers of the shiny thing. Rather, we’re going to talk about these three things: Understanding why the shiny thing appeals to you so much, deciding whether or not the shiny thing is worth pursuing, and knowing when it’s the right time to allow the shiny thing to demand your attention. This all may seem odd, since my previous post on the subject had all but spurned the very notion of giving the shiny thing the time of day. However, as I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve come to understand that this isn’t a black and white issue. The shiny thing is neither good nor evil. It’s just… a thing us writers have to deal with.

So, before we get into the three things I wanted to focus on today, I’ll quickly explain a bit more about what the “shiny thing” is, in case you don’t feel like going back and reading that old post. To put it simply, the shiny thing is an idea. It can be any kind of idea; an idea for a new book, an idea for a new drawing, an idea for a new video series… It’s a shiny new idea. The catch is that, usually, it distracts you from whatever creative endeavor you’re currently working on. Like I said earlier, for me it’s usually new book ideas that distract me from my most current work in progress. These ideas sit there and stare at me, begging for me to work on them right now. And, if I’m not careful, I’ll give in to them without a second thought. That’s the exact opposite of what you want to do with a shiny thing, though. You can’t just give in. You need to think long and hard before you begin working on it, or else you’ll find yourself leapfrogging from one idea to the next without ever finishing anything. However, you also can’t never give in to the shiny thing. This creates a fine line, which I’m going to help you navigate.

With that said, let’s get started. The first thing I want us to look at is the whyWhy does this shiny thing appeal to you so much? The truth is, the appeal stems largely from the fact that this idea is still in your head. What does that mean? Well, when an idea’s in your head, it’s perfect. It doesn’t have all of those bumps and blemishes that you just can’t seem to scrub out of your current work in progress, no matter how much elbow grease you put into it. However, you have to recognize that these imperfections come with the territory of making anything. It’s always, always going to be better in your head than what the final outcome is. This is, unfortunately, a fact of life.

The next step, then, is deciding whether or not this shiny thing is worth pursuing. You can’t look at it from the perspective of “Is this idea better than the one I’m currently working on?” because there’s just no way to actually know if it is or not until you write it. But, like I said before, you can’t just go jumping around from one idea to the next to find out which idea is better, because then you’ll never finish anything. Instead, you need to look at it like this: “Perfect or not, will I enjoy working on this idea? If I get it down on paper and realize that it isn’t as amazing as I thought it would be, will I still be passionate enough about it to keep working on it?” And, trust me, this is a hard assessment to make. It’ll take practice. Trial and error. God only knows how many times I misjudged my passion for a project.

“But Leighton, why would I work on my shiny thing at all? Shouldn’t I just ignore it until I’m totally, one hundred percent done with my current work in progress?” Well… Yes, and no. This is where that fine line is drawn. You have to know when it’s the right time to give in and finally start working on the shiny thing. This, I’ve found, is the trickiest part of the whole shebang. How can you tell when it’s too early or too late? I really struggled with this when it came to writing my novel The Forbidden Prophecy. When I started working on The Forbidden Prophecy, I honestly hadn’t expected it to take 3+ years to write. In the beginning, pushing off other projects seemed logical as I completed drafts one, two, three, and even four. Then, things started to get complicated. I was in creative writing courses at college, where I was starting to work on other projects for classes, getting a new idea for a novel every few weeks. Still, I was determined to put them all off until my novel was not only completed, but published. And so drafts five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and eleven all went by. All the while, shiny things came and went, and I ignored all of them while, unbeknownst to me, I burned myself out on The Forbidden Prophecy. Finally, it got to the point where I was super disappointed in my novel, while the piles of shiny things I’d stashed away were looking prettier and prettier every day. That was the day I decided to shelve The Forbidden Prophecy and start working on a new novel, one of my shiny things that had been begging to be written for a long time. And what do you know. A few weeks into writing that new project, I suddenly wanted to start revising The Forbidden Prophecy again.

This is why you can’t wait forever to start a new project. Working on one thing for so long and backlogging a ton of projects that seem pretty and perfect can absolutely kill morale. In my case, working on one of my shiny things actually made me realize that my shiny ideas weren’t so shiny after all. It had been so long since I’d written anything new, I’d forgotten that nothing I’d ever write would be perfect. Once I re-learned that lesson, it boosted my confidence in The Forbidden Prophecy again (and got me working on another novel that could also possibly be published some day in the far distant future). So, from this experience I learned that you shouldn’t just ignore your shiny things. Still, though, you can’t start them too early, either. I’d say, as a general rule of thumb, you should get a few good revisions under your belt and maybe even a beta read before starting something new. That way, you’re well into the project and won’t be tempted to drop it completely for your new idea, but you’re not too far in that you’re burning yourself out by working on one single thing for too long.

Of course, only you really know what will work best for you, so try out different things and see what clicks. Maybe starting something new after the first draft works wonders for you, or maybe you have to have been working on your project for a certain number of years before you can start something new. No matter what your style is, just remember:

The shiny thing can be a blessing or a curse. It’s up to you to decide.

Book Review – Autoboyography by Christina Lauren

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

This will be a spoiler-free review. For my spoiler-y thoughts, check out my Book Breakdown on my YouTube channel, which was posted on 4/18/2018 (My Channel).

This book was so close to being a 5/5 star read for me. Soooo close! It was honestly that good. It was cute, and fun, and well-written. It was everything I was hoping it would be. Hell, it was everything I was hoping Burro Hills would be (you can check out that review here). So kick back and relax, because this review is going to be a fun one.

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