Advice for Learning, Writing, and Life?

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I don’t usually talk much about myself on my author social media, because, well … who the hell cares about what I do with my life that isn’t writing books. But lately, my day job and my writing have collided in some interesting ways, and it’s made me feel contemplative, so I thought I’d share, in the event that there’s someone who might find it interesting.

I think it’s pretty well established that my day job is English professor. I’m the English Education Coordinator at Sacramento State, which means I advise and teach students who are learning to be high school English teachers (I teach courses in teaching literature and teaching writing). I also teach American literature (which is what my PhD is in) and popular literature and culture (which is where my worlds sometimes collide). I also do scholarly work—research and writing—in all these areas.

So, anyway, one thing I do in this day-job world is serve as an Area Chair for the annual conference of the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association. This is an event where pop culture academics converge for four days to be fan-scholars and scholar-fans on topics ranging from comic books to Harry Potter to food culture to music to television to film to … you name it, if it’s geeky, there are probably pop culture scholars studying it. I organize and chair the Science Fiction and Fantasy and the Works of Joss Whedon areas. I also often present work of my own there. This year, I’m giving a presentation on Whedon’s problematic feminism.

Here’s where you’re muttering to yourself “She’s right. Who the hell cares?” Hold on, I’m getting to it, I promise. Or I hope, anyway.

This year the main conference organizers asked me to do a workshop on self-publishing as well. This request caused a spectacular collision between my deeply ingrained imposter syndrome and my pathological inability to say the word ‘no,’ and the result was a gory scene where my generalized anxiety was splattered all over the road, and I lay there, gasping and paralyzed.

Wow. That metaphor got really dark. Here, Lola, have a cookie and go sit down.

I don’t talk much about myself because I can’t imagine people being interested unless they’ve actually asked me a question. I don’t talk much about the specifics of my writing because I know for an absolute fact that I don’t do much “the right way.” I do what works for me, but I make no assumptions that what works for me would work for anyone else. Writing is an intensely personal endeavor, at its core. There is no one way to be a writer, or an author. There is no one way to be successful at either–except, of course, to write.

A few paragraphs ago, I mentioned that one of my day-job duties is to advise students. I’m the kind of advisor who doesn’t tell you what to do. I’m a big fan of the Socratic method: I ask you to think about what you want and need, and to figure out what you should do on your own. I’ll give you some things to think about, and some factual information. I might tell you my own experience, but I’m not going to say, “Here’s what you should do”—unless it’s something like “I really think you should get out of the way of that speeding bus now.”

Anyway, that’s how I broke my anxious paralysis about this workshop—A THREE-HOUR WORKSHOP OMG (wait, don’t think about that, keep moving)—I decided to prepare it as if I were advising students on the subject—just lay out the things that I’ve learned and that have worked and failed for me, use myself as one example in a vast and complex world of examples, and send them in directions for more information.

And it turned out, I had a lot to say. I was sort of stunned at the sheer amount of experience and knowledge I’ve gained from this endeavor that started one late-October evening in 2013, when I screwed up my courage, loaded a poorly-formatted file to Amazon, used their humble cover creator option to add a bland cover, and pressed “publish” on my first book.

There are a lot of things I know about and know you “should” do that I don’t do, because I made a choice to define my success in a certain way, to know my boundaries and understand the pivot point at which I could risk the most important facet of my success: my love of the writing itself.

I know how much I struggle with anxiety, so I draw my boundaries within my limits, and I don’t do the things that might make my “bestseller” status transcend the confines of Amazon and reach to higher realms, but would also cause that anxiety to blow up my head.

That became the focus of my workshop (3 HOURS HOW AM I GOING TO TALK FOR 3…no, chill out, it’ll be fine): define your own success. Understand what you want and strive for that. Make the goal realistic and concrete. If that goal shifts along the way, make sure it does so organically. Don’t compete—don’t measure yourself against anyone but yourself, your goals and your concept of success.

I’ve got my plan for this workshop finished, and, as it happens, I think I could go for longer than three hours, lol. The PowerPoint is freakin’ enormous. But I realized something: my advice for self-publishing authors is the same as my advice for students and could be summed up in less than three minutes: Identify what you want. Learn what you need to reach that goal. Do your best work. Build a strong community around you. Measure yourself only against yourself. Love what you do.

Also: be kind, find joy, and try to relax.

I think that’s just generally good advice for life itself.




  1. Thank you for writing and for encouraging. I’m in the midst of putting together a presentation for CATE, and I too am fighting the impostor syndrome. On another note……how can a lowly English teacher attend your presentation on Self-publishing?

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