Genre Conventions, I Defy You

One of my current favorite shows on TV is Jane the Virgin, a clever, satirical romance-drama-telenovela hybrid that is one of the smarter shows I’ve seen in the last few years. It breaks down romance and soap opera conventions while still playing within the rules of the category: even as it pokes fun at the rules of the telenovela, it abides by them. The result, while cheesy at first glance, is magnificently self-aware, snarky, and satisfying, because it trusts an audience aware of the conventions it explores.

Without getting spoilery, the first episode of the new season looks at the expectations of the romance reader/viewer, specifically that magic component, the HEA. (That’s Happily Ever After in romance lingo, for those of you who aren’t in the know.) When readers pick up a novel in the romance section of the bookstore, they expect, by and large, a happily ever after, whatever that may look like: a wedding, a baby, a kiss, a couple together forever. When writers break with that convention, it seems to create two primary results: extreme disappointment or flat-out awe at the creator of such a groundbreaking work.

As writers, most of us aren’t lucky enough to land in the second category. It takes a deft hand to write a tragic romance or a sci-fi with magical components, and it takes a truly visionary editor to find a way to sell those genre-bending pieces.

So what makes one of the successful convention-defying pieces work? Often, it’s the tricks that make all great pieces of media stand out, like great characters, compelling conflicts, and gorgeous writing. But I think there’s a secret ingredient that Jane the Virgin has unwittingly revealed: self-awareness.

While Jane the Virgin works within the rules of the telenovela, and would likely alienate its audience if it tried to tell a true tragedy, its self-awareness turns it from a typical soap opera into a deconstruction of a soap opera. By pointing out and exploring the rules of its genre, it tells a deeper story because it looks at why we have certain expectations of genre fiction. The audience becomes a part of the story.

Any time we engage with a work of fiction, we bring to it our own circumstances, our history, and our particular wants and needs. I might pick up a romance novel because I need to see that happily ever after; you might pick up a fantasy novel because you want an escape. If an author denies us the defining characteristic we are expecting from a work we’ve engaged with, they are often denying to meet our needs. But when they find a way to satisfy those needs while still surprising us, that’s when conventions become secondary to story and art is born.

What are your favorite genre-defying stories? How does genre expectation influence your reading of a particular work?

Sequels Revisited: A Sequel

There approximately a flobbity-gillion sequels being released in 2016. Have you noticed this? It seems like half the movies I’ve seen advertised are sequels, follow-ups, or continuations of years-old franchises — and, prepping for this post, I found about a dozen I haven’t seen advertised.

Fellow Scribe Nicole Evelina wrote about this phenomenon, too, arguing that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, and I had so many thoughts about it that, naturally, I thought we could use a sequel to her post. I don’t disagree with her: some of these movies are beating horses so dead, they’re basically just pounding on a burial site. But I do think there’s a phenomenon here that deserves some attention.

So what gives? Has Hollywood run out of ideas, or are we collectively so frightened of the future that we’re clinging to familiar characters and stories we already know and love?

Well, the latter may be a bit of a logical leap, but I know from my own experience that when times get tough, the familiar becomes comforting. It’s no coincidence that some of my annual rereads occur during times that are inevitably stressful: my favorite books travel to cons with me, and anniversaries of sad dates find me rereading books that make me smile.

I’m not the only one who does this, either. There wouldn’t be $200 limited collector edition DVD sets if people didn’t enjoy consuming and re-consuming the same media they already love. Comic book continuations of canceled TV series satisfy slavering fans of Joss Whedon shows, and anime series regularly horrify their fans by creating devastatingly cruel sequels to beloved shows.

Obviously, these movies were all in development for ages before their release this year, but it’s hard not to look at our national climate and see a little bit of myself in the collective return to familiar franchises. When we’re immersed daily in hatred and bigotry, it seems right to return to an Earth where we can pull together to fight off aliens (though I hear the new Independence Day is a bust!) or an ocean where the broken-hearted or disabled can be the heroes of their own adventures (Dory, I heart you!). We all need some encouragement and a reminder that some things don’t change, even if those fixed points are fictional characters we continue to love.

I realize this is a romantic view to take of what is clearly a money-making ploy (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny? Really?), but I do think that the successful franchises continue to exist because they offer us something we need. Whether it’s our love for the characters, the power of the stories being told, or the wonders of the world that’s the setting, something keeps these particular stories alive for us. And while I’m now a confirmed Ilvermorny skeptic, I do know that it can be hard to let go of the Harry Potter world.

What do you think? Is there any merit to my faith in the power of repetition?

Creativity as Therapy

The last month has kicked my butt. If I’m honest, this year has kicked my butt: it’s been a roller coaster of good and bad, with few breaks between the ups and the downs and the deeper-downs. But May has been the worst, and my husband and I have been mourning the loss of a beloved pet.

Grief is a bear. With it come sadness and depression, and depression comes hand-in-hand with a whole host of fun little friends like fatigue, social disconnection, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and loss of interest in hobbies and other day-to-day pursuits. For creative types like myself and a lot of you reading this blog post, this can translate to a loss of creative passion. When you’re exhausted and can’t concentrate and don’t want to see anyone or do anything and simply getting through the day is a struggle, writing (or sewing or painting or whatever it is that you do regularly) becomes an impossibility. In short, depression dries up the well.

May is, coincidentally, Mental Health Awareness Month, and a lot of smart people have been writing about this year’s theme, “Life With a Mental Illness.” I’ve lived with depression and anxiety, and I’ve written about that struggle elsewhere. This year, I want to focus on creative acts as a treatment for the loss of creativity.

I was discussing my sadness and the complete creative drought that has accompanied it with my very wise friend Emmie Mears recently, and she suggested that I experiment with new-to-me creative endeavors as a method of exploring and releasing my grief. I could paint or draw, even abstractly, as a way to capture my emotions and memories, and then, later, I would have a visual record of how I felt during this time. The result would be a tribute to my pet and, just as importantly, a tribute to my own feelings.

I thought this was a brilliant plan, and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a great way to work through depression and anxiety, as well as grief*. One of the most important methods of self-care is acknowledging how we feel when we feel it: many people try to dismiss or ignore feelings of depression or anxiety, and that denial does nothing but compound our feelings of inadequacy or, worse, “craziness.” Self-stigmatizing only makes it easier for society as a whole to dismiss mental illness as self-indulgent or non-existent.

Exploring a new artistic pursuit, particularly in an improvisational or freeform way, may allow us to shut off the thinking/judging parts of our brain and simply allow free expression of emotion. When we don’t have standards of quality or accomplishment we feel we need to meet, we’re able to create without judgment. And for writers, in particular, when we stop trying to use our words and instead simply create, we’re forced to acknowledge our feelings for what they are, rather than trying to explain them away.

In the end, we’re left with a record of our feelings that we can and must acknowledge as something outside of ourselves.

There are lots of free, gently-guided ways to experiment with new forms of creativity. I’ve rounded up a few here that you can check out, and Google is awash in other classes, challenges, and how-to’s. Maybe one will speak to you!

Index-Card-a-Day Challenge: I’m intrigued by this one. The goal is to create a 3×5 piece of art every day for 61 days. You can draw, paint, doodle, make a collage, sew, whatever strikes your fancy, and you end up with a physical record of everything you did or tried to do. This might be a good way to try to work through a specific problem.

Year of Rock: If you’re a musical type, you can sign up for free classes to learn guitar. While this is less free-form, you might be able to explore a side of yourself you haven’t yet been able to express. Plus, for some, the chance to turn off anxiety and simply listen and learn might have added benefits.

Art Journaling: There are approximately one bajillion links on Google about art journaling, but this art is about as freeform as you can get. That Pinterest link to “How to Start Art Journaling” ought to give you a few thousand ideas.

Free Craftsy Classes: Craftsy offers a HUGE range of courses and subjects, and the free classes might allow you to explore new crafts in a commitment-free way. Unleash your inner cake decorator! 

Private Pinterest Boards: Since I mentioned Pinterest, I can personally vouch for the creation of private Pinterest boards as a method of portable collaging. Pin places and things that make you feel peaceful; pin images that inspire you; pin images of memories or dreams. Use your private boards as a mini-getaway.

How do creative endeavors help you to work through difficult times? Have you ever experimented with a new art as a way to work through a difficult time in your life?

*Yes, art therapy is a thing that already exists! However, therapy can be pricey and inaccessible for many individuals.

Evangelion and Shards of Identity

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I’ll talk about Evangelion. I promise.

 

We see the word identity a lot these days. “Self identity.” “Cultural identity.” “Identity politics.” “I identify as…” It’s part of the human condition to constantly question who we are as individuals, as a society, as creatures who live linearly but exist non-dimensionally.

Any one of us can name a number of roles and characteristics that define us for ourselves and others: male, female, agender, parent, person of color, spoonie, bisexual, candlestick maker, superhero, whatever. Each of us is some amalgamation of descriptors that can only start to sum up the who and what of the stuff between our ears. And as intersectionality becomes a more widely recognized and emphasized facet of politics and personality, our society is coming to realize that each of us is more than our nationality, sexuality, or vocation.

asuka head tiltBut in spite of that recognition, most of us have one particular piece of identity that encapsulates the core of our being, something about ourselves we elevate and hold sacred. Maybe it’s mother or woman or lawyer or artist. American culture prioritizes the career: when strangers ask us about ourselves, we say things like, “Oh, I’m a web programmer.” It’s not what we do, it’s who we are, even if, facing our maker, that’s not the only standard by which we would wish to be judged or defined.

In part, it’s a social shorthand, a code for our place in society. When I say, “I’m a writer who moonlights as a web marketer,” I’m saying: “I’m a self-identified artistic person who works with technology as a way to supplement my income—oh, and you can likely guess that because I work in a non-essential field with a computer, you can assume that I have at least a few pennies to rub together, I’m educated, and this is probably a path I chose rather than one that was forced on me.”

Whether or not the conclusions you then draw about me based on your own experience and identity are correct is a different issue.

Self-applied taglines like this are useful, of course, but when I do it often, what I choose to publicly emphasize can begin to be reflected in my own internal hierarchy of identity. What should be a core identity, a hub around which my personal constellation of self rotates, instead becomes a gravitational identity, without which none of my secondary identifying articles can be sustained. And if that personal star of self categorization changes or, worse, implodes, I’m left with nothing but a collection of unrelated, rudderless characteristics with no basis and no direction.

Fellow Scribe Brian O’Conor and I have been rewatching Neon Genesis Evangelion for our podcast, The Young Podawans, and during this rewatch, I’ve been intensely sympathizing with one of the show’s most unlikeable characters, Asuka Langley Soryu. She’s red-headed, loud, impatient, unkind, competitive, and, above all, reckless. But that’s not why I identify with her. Rather, I see myself in her internal conflict when she begins to lose her central identity.

After a really awful defeat, Asuka’s ability to pilot an Eva begins to fade and, as a result, Asuka begins to wonder what her purpose really is; if she can’t pilot an Eva, why does she even exist?

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I may not be a mecha pilot, but I do know what it is to wonder who you are after a perceived failure at something to which your identity is pinned. I think most writers rely on the creative act to give them a place in the universe. It’s a career that requires so much input of self and such dedication over so many years, all other things can begin to seem secondary to its pursuit. And if you aren’t writing, or can’t write, who are you? What’s your point?

That road leads to clinical depression, and that’s why it’s so important to recognize the intersectionality that exists within you, without reference to cultural mores or your place in society. I may be a writer, but I’m also an artisan and a gamer and a geek and an animal lover and a pagan and so many more things that I could fill an encyclopedia simply with ME. My existence does not disintegrate when I take away once fragment of identity, even when it’s one of those core characteristics. Although my entire sense of self may shift to accommodate the new arrangement, I exist even beyond the most random collection of traits by which I may identify. Nothing can take that away.

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It’s not always an easy thing to see. But Asuka’s crisis is one that so many of us face, and the heart-wrenching realism of her struggle to reclaim any sense of worth without her former identity is part of what makes Neon Genesis Evangelion such a powerful show. While it’s not, perhaps, the most uplifting demonstration of a battle with depression, it does illustrate that this struggle is one that exists outside the ephemeral web of political climate and social commentary.

The bottom line is this: Identity is not fixed. It’s never too late to question what makes you yourself. And if something changes or breaks, that does not change the central YOU that exists underneath the labels and social cues. Even if that internal sense of self is a work in progress, it’s not something that anyone or anything else can take away.

 

My SUPER Unpopular Opinion

Have you seen the #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion hashtag on Twitter? People use to it “confess” positions as wildly different as disliking The Legend of Korra (WTF?) to liking certain Presidential candidates (…..). Sometimes it’s funny, and sometimes it’s really appalling.

I’m not sure which category my opinion falls into, but here it is: I’m not really wild about the Marvel Universe franchise.

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*pause for reaction*

I found the Thor movies cheesy and mildly irritating, in spite of an abiding love for Tom Hiddleston as Loki. I absolutely cannot stand Iron Man/Tony Stark (read: he annoys me so much, I hate myself if I laugh at one of his jokes). Captain American makes me want to lie down and take a nap, he’s so dull. I don’t really give a flip about the X-Men.

I know. It’s pretty upsetting for a geek.

It’s not a hard rule, though. I really liked Jessica Jones! The Ms. Marvel comics are quite charming, and I think they’re doing great things for comic books. But overall, I’m just not into the franchise, and I think a lot of my friends may find this pretty disappointing.

I used to think that I just wasn’t into superheroes, but that’s not quite it. I love Buffy, and what is she but the superest hero ever to slay a vampire? Maybe I only like female superheroes, which I don’t think is an entirely unreasonable position. I do like Guardians of the Galaxy, though, and that’s not all girl-power.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to diagnose myself for why I don’t care about these series and characters. Is it that I often don’t find the plots believable? Maybe. Or possibly because I like my villains nuanced, and they often feature flat bad guys? Could be, but the quality of story-telling really has improved over the years. There’s definitely something to the female-superheroes-only theory, but I suspect I might enjoy the Netflix Daredevil series if I gave it a chance.

I’ve also spent a lot of time hiding my lack of enthusiasm. I somewhat enjoyed The Avengers, so I talk that one up when tackling the subject at all. I’ll discuss Jessica Jones until innocent bystanders fall asleep. Mostly, though, I go quiet when the topic arises, because the Marvel franchises, in particular, are having a Big Moment right now, and I feel a little left on the sidelines. I don’t judge anyone for their enjoyment, or anything like that, but I will say I don’t quite get it. Whatever magic these films and series hold for others, it doesn’t seem to work for me.

And that’s fine, I guess. Opinion is opinion. My love of sexy vampires makes no sense to some, but I’m clearly not alone in that love.

Am I a lost geeky cause?

 

Rut, Kick, or Growth Spurt?

General writing wisdom holds that writers need to read. It’s like cross-training for the brain, I guess, working muscles that support the muscles we use to write. New stories fill the well, give us new ideas, make us think about different ways of telling stories. And I’m totally behind that advice—I love reading, and I’ll probably be reading books long after I stop trying to write them.

The really ambitious wisdom-giver might also tell writers to read outside of their chosen genres: the sci-fi writer should read mysteries, for example, to give them new ideas of how to build suspense. Thriller writers should read romance to learn how to use emotional connection to enrich character development.

That’s all well and good. Grand, even.

But what happens when a little healthy cross-training becomes an obsession?

For the last six weeks, I have been reading almost exclusively Regency romances. And not, like, artistic, historically accurate Regency romances. We’re talking anachronistic, sex-with-strangers, totally trashy Regency romances. The kind with gorgeous, glistening men on the covers, or sometimes with lovely women in three-quarters profile looking wistfully out at the sea. The kind they sell in airports and at grocery stores. Those romances.

It started innocently enough. It was almost Christmas. There was an anthology of Christmas-themed Regency romances on sale on Amazon. I bought it. Some of the stories were good. Some of them were appallingly bad. One of them I couldn’t finish.

Somewhere around the third story, though, I was hooked. Right around that time, writer of extraordinary, artistic-contemporary-romance-erotica-all-around-badass writer Tiffany Reisz tweeted about a Christmas Regency romance she loves, one she said was filled with hate sex. 

I couldn’t not buy that, now could I?

So I bought it, I read it, and by that time I was a goner. And I can’t tell you exactly why I’ve become so obsessed. Maybe it’s the simplicity of the stories, and the guarantee of a happy ending. Maybe it’s the escapism of a world where a prostitute can marry an earl and then be accepted by “society.” Maybe it’s my own need for low-pressure, commitment-free reading that asks no comparison to my own work. When I was a teen, I spent a month or so around finals reading Danielle Steel novels (I’m so ashamed), so apparently this is a lifelong pattern. With great stress comes the need for bad reads.

Christmas has come and gone, and I’m still reading the darn romances. I’m not using the added seasonal element to excuse myself anymore. I have better things I should be reading, friends’ books I should read, fantasy books I’ve been meaning to read. Hell, I have books own my own to read, edit, and even write.

But I’m not going to stop. I’m going to ride this rut until I crash. I spent months in 2015 not reading at all, simply because I didn’t have the mental energy to pick up a book or follow a plot, and I didn’t have the psychological energy to invest in anyone else’s troubles, fictional or otherwise. The fact that I’m reading now is a very good sign, regardless of what I’m needing. Writers and readers alike sometimes need the mental vacation that comes with consuming lighter media. There’s nothing wrong with that.

And who knows. Maybe I’m learning something, growing as a writer. If the general wisdom says it’s true, I can believe it, right?

Where Stories Live

I think as often as my books begin with a character or an idea, they begin with a place.

Sometimes it’s an epic place, like the Chimayo Badlands in New Mexico:

Sometimes it’s an amazing place, like San Francisco, California:

And sometimes it’s a familiar place, like the historic building where my husband works:

All three of these places have inspired stories, served as places where my characters can live and laugh and love. While other people may see, well, a desert and a city and a shopping mall, I see a cursed land and a world of magic and a gamer’s playground. These places, which have, at different times of my life, been my home, now belong to me as much as I ever belonged to them.

It’s not a one-for-one exchange, though. I pick and choose what parts of the place will appear in my fiction, and I corrupt them, changing them in big ways or small, while the effect they’ve had on me is permanent and complete. I will never be the same, for my time in San Francisco, while the city itself is untouched by my fictionalizing influence.

When I wrote SHAKEN, I wanted to make magic a physical part of the landscape. That gave me an excuse to play with the city’s historical quirk: my San Francisco never voted to stop burying the dead within city limits, and the remains of the dead are magically important to the city’s atmosphere.

Hmm. It sounds creepy when I put it that way.

Magical pollution by the dead aside, the fact remains that my San Francisco means nothing to the city itself, and has changed nothing for anyone living there. It’s my city now, and has less to do with the actual city than that city has to do with my creative influences. Landscapes alter our dreamscapes, and that in turns shape the way we write our stories.

Where do your stories live?

 

Five Reasons to Watch Puella Magi Madoka Magica

madoka 3

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that I recently watched and was completely floored by an anime called Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It’s a well-known and highly, highly praised series in anime circles (to which I really don’t belong), but I came across it because Netflix thought I would like it.

Well, Netflix was right.

The plot centers around a young girl named Madoka and her friends—and what happens when a magical creature offers them one miraculous wish in exchange for signing up to become a witch-fighting magical girl. Sounds simple, but naturally it gets oh-so-complicated.

I’m not an anime expert by any means, but I gather that this show is a deconstruction of the magical girl genre. In that way, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, it succeeds because it’s both the culmination and a critique of the typical genre stories. The beauty of Madoka, though, is that it’s an artistic triumph, quite literally beautiful, and it stands on its own merits as an excellent piece of storytelling.

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So here’s why you should watch:

1. The show revolves around the power of female friendship. So many shows center on romantic relationships, whether gay, straight, or something in between, that it’s easy to forget the most important relationships in our lives aren’t all about sex. While some might argue that Madoka contains romantic relationships, on its face, it’s really about female friendship: the depths of our hearts to which friendship can reach and the heights to which it can drive us to achieve.

2. It’s a masterwork of feminism without being about feminism. There are almost no male characters in this show. The magical girls aren’t special because they’re girls who are powerful. Rather, they’re special because of the sacrifices they make to protect the human race. Neither sex nor gender is an issue. To see a show like this beloved by a geeky audience is a huge triumph, particularly when women’s right to enjoy any kind of geekery, whether written works or visual, is constantly under threat. Plus, the juxtaposition of “girly” visuals and genre-elements with true darkness and despair is gloriously true to realities of human nature, let alone womanhood.

3. It’s visually stunning. I have never seen an anime as gorgeously and triumphantly experimental in its animation style. As the characters shift between worlds, the world literally shifts and becomes Other. Each witch has her own style of magic, and it’s hair-raising to see the differences between them. While the human world is beautifully drawn, the supernatural elements are phenomenal. (Sidebar: the music is also incredible.)

4. The plot twists will gut you. Any time a magical bargain is struck, there’s bound to be a price. In this case, the price is so heart-breaking that you’ll feel devastated halfway through the series—and that’s before you even get to the meat of the central story. Despite what may seem like a played-out premise, the story told here is not a simple one. Prepare yourself for heartbreak.

5. Every character is well-drawn, but Madoka and Homura could walk out of the screen. The two main characters have layers of depth that put both onions and parfaits to shame. The timid, girly-girl who initially wants power for its own sake, just so she can feel special, shows herself to have more true compassion than a Catholic saint. And the journey she takes to finally own her power traverses roads through fear and doubt most stories never touch.

And Homura? Well. You’ll just have to see.

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Bouncing Back From Burnout

Burnout.

Rarely spoken of but universally experienced, burnout is probably the reason the statistics about writers look so bad. Hundreds start writing, dozens make it to submission, and only  a few end up getting published—and much of that elimination process is actually self-selection: the “strong” survive, while the “weak” gradually fade from the pool.

It’s that binary there that’s sticky, though. What makes one writer strong, while another writer is weak? General wisdom says that writers write, and a successful writer is one who never stops writing, not even for birthdays and national holidays. And if you get sick? Well, sit down, shut up, and write about it, because writers write, damn it, and that’s how you can tell who is serious about this work. If you’re not serious, well, you’d better go home, because you won’t make it if you don’t treat it like Serious Business.

There’s some truth in it. Publishing is serious business, and if you don’t recognize that, you probably won’t get very far. But the ‘never complain, never quit’ attitude might be hurting us as much as it helps us. In the last year, I’ve seen several writer friends disappear off the face of the internet. I’ve had friends leave publishing altogether. I’ve had others get seriously sick or seriously depressed, and I’m sure there are still more I don’t know about because they haven’t publicly admitted that they’re struggling.

I’ll say it here: I’ve struggled.

The last year has been incredibly difficult for me, career-wise. And it was no picnic in the six months before that. I stepped back from blogging, I went quiet on Twitter, and I started wondering if all this heartache and struggle was what I actually wanted.

It is, but it’s taken me awhile to realize that. And recovering from burnout is a process, not an event: I have yet to magically wake up one morning and say, “Ah-ha! I feel good about my creative life once again!”

But I’m reaching the point where I want to write again. I realized recently that I miss writing, and I found myself thinking about a new character’s life choices, wondering why she wants to make the choice that will instigate a whole new book. In short, I was tending tiny plants that will, one day very soon, become a towering tree of a project—and I’d planted the seeds, without knowing it, in the dark winter of my burnout.

So how did it happen? Well, I’m not an expert, and I’m certainly not fully recovered yet, but I have noticed a few things that have helped me start to recover.

1. Put a timeline on it. Tell yourself, “I’m on vacation from writing (or a particular project, or a friendship that’s troubling you, or WHATEVER) until X date. I won’t do it, think about it, or feel guilty about not doing it or thinking about it until that time.” And then hold yourself accountable. Whether that date is one day or one year from now, give yourself that time to actually recover. Don’t spend your free time worrying about how much you’re not getting done.

2. Cultivate another part of your identity. One trouble with recovering from writing burnout is that, as writers, BEING a writer is such a big part of our identity. It’s not just what we do, it’s who we are. And if we’re not writing, we’re not just failing as a writer, we’re Failing with an emphasis on that capital F. We’re neglecting a vital part of our selfhood, so that when we do take time off, we feel adrift. But the truth is, each of us is much more than a writer: we’re friends and lovers and painters and bikers and who knows what else. Take your time off to develop some aspect of yourself that makes you happy. Discover another side of yourself.

3. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for not writing. And don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up about writing. The key here is to cherish yourself in your time off. Take time to do things you might not do when you’re not on vacation from writing: take a bubble bath when you get home from work. Do yoga in the morning when you’d normally be writing. Go to a movie on Saturday instead of staring at a blank white screen. Actually use the time you now have to recuperate and relax, and don’t just use the time to make yourself feel worse.

Those are the things that have helped me. Have you experienced burnout? And if so, how did you recover?

The Things I Never Thought I’d Do

Sometimes I stop what I’m doing, look at my life, and say, “Wow. Of all the things I never thought I’d be doing… well, this is one of them.”

I don’t mean only bad things or exciting things. Some of them are really mundane, grown-uppish things, like paying my HOA or going to the hardware every single weekend because we still don’t have the right part for the stupid broken garbage disposal. Some of them are pretty cool, like selling jewelry on Etsy. A few of them are really freaking bad, but we don’t need to talk about this here. This isn’t a post about bad or sad things. It’s a post about exciting new horizons.

Every year, instead of a resolution, I try to pick something I want to learn in the coming year. One year it was spinning (fiber, not one of those stationary bikes), another year it was guitar. This year it’s dyeing fiber, though I have so much going on that I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t get to it. I don’t look at a new year as a chance to stop doing something, or a time to reinvent myself; rather, it’s a new opportunity to grow and learn. I don’t want to stop being me, and that’s so often what resolutions are about. But I can help me to become more like the me I’ve always wanted to be.

That sentence got away from me a little.

Here’s what I mean: once upon a time, a sixth grade girl liked wearing jewelry and listening to Celtic music and reading about Arthurian queens who spun their own yarn. While I’m not still her, not completely, I still like all those things. And every day, I like to try to do something that helps me satisfy that core me. I still like Celtic music. I make some jewelry now. And by golly, I do spin my own yarn.

But at the same time, I’m now a 30-year-old woman with a mortgage and a house that needs decorating and repairing. I need to satisfy her needs and wishes, too. So maybe instead of taking Irish dance lessons, like that sixth grade girl would want, I take a class about color in design, and that applies both to the jewelry-making and the house decorating.

Do you see what I mean? Sometimes doing the things we never thought we’d do—and never doing the things we always thought we’d do—is a good thing. It means we’ve grown and changed, that we’ve lived long enough to develop new wishes and dreams. And it means that every time we do one of those things, we’re taking a chance and making a new opportunity for ourselves.

And that’s pretty exciting.

What do you do now that you never thought you would?