Ten years ago, I took a major risk by leaving my teaching career to become a full-time author. I only had one book out at the time. I had no idea if my next book would sell, or how many more books I would have published, or exactly how I was going to pay my rent without a steady paycheck. I just knew that I had to overcome my fear of failure and take a major risk to create the life I wanted to live.
Some of you know that 2017 was my Year on Fire. I decided 2017 would be my Year on Fire near the end of 2016. You may recall that things were not all sparkly hearts and unicorns around that time. I was sad every day. I cried every day. I felt beaten down, defeated, even on the verge of nihilism. I couldn’t believe this was real life, that the world we were living in had become one I didn’t recognize anymore. But the sadness and crying didn’t help anyone. So I made an executive decision. 2017 would be an entire year of converting negative energy into positive energy every. single. day.
And it totally was.
Failure was not an option. 2017 would be a year in which I took the heartbreak and meanness and violence and transformed all of that negative energy into something positive that would help other people. I hit the ground running on January 1 and never looked back. Whenever I heard bad news (where bad = the most disgusting, horrible, insane information that my mind could not possibly wrap itself around), I turned off NPR or shut down Twitter and wrote 20 pages of whichever new book I was working on. I did not wallow in the badness like I did at the end of 2016. I did not have an apoplexy every time I heard the next depressing thing that would leave me curled up in a ball on the floor, bawling over war and injustice and racism and so much freaking hate like I did at the end of 2016.
I made a choice to respond in a way that was productive.
Controlling my news intake was key. Not having a TV helped tremendously with this. I did think it was important to stay informed, but there is a difference between learning about current events and wallowing in the depths of despair. I made a choice that 2017 Year on Fire would be a no wallowing zone. My technique was simple: I set my alarm every morning for the top of the NPR news hour to hear the worst, turned off the radio, and wrote 20 pages. If bad news infiltrated during the day, I learned the basic information about what happened, then shut it down and wrote 20 pages. That was my way of converting negative energy into positive energy.
All of those 20 pages added up.
This is the stack of pages I wrote in 2017 Year on Fire. It’s about, oh, three thousand more pages than I would typically write in a year.
By May I had three books written, plus a 65-page proposal for a fourth book. How did I do it? How did I write four books and start a fifth by November when for the past ten years I had written only one book a year and was overwhelmed enough just doing that?
It’s amazing how much power is generated by converting negative energy into positive energy. As Carrie Fisher advised, “Take your broken heart. Make it into art.”
This was some extreme physics at work. EPA being dismantled? Go write 20 pages. Reduced funding for climate change scientists? Go write 20 pages. Planned Parenthood locations closing? Go write 20 pages, then 20 more. Increased emphasis on oil/coal and less on solar/wind? Go write 20 pages. Federal protections for transgender students withdrawn? Go write 20 pages. Syrian refugees banned? Go write 20 pages. White supremacist Nazi idiots stomping around with tiki torches? Yeah, I just went ahead and started that fifth book.
Around this time, I read an interview with Shonda Rhimes. When she was asked about her success, she said, “I was willing to stay longer and work harder than most people. You can have one show or you can have six — I thought, ‘Why not have six?’”
Year on Fire was like that for me. I didn’t come to play. I came to SLAY.
One of the four books I’ve written this year has been the most challenging book of my life. I’m collaborating with Alloy Entertainment at Warner Bros. This is a book I never ever ever thought I would write. Like EVER. But here we are. Year on Fire began with a development meeting at Warner Bros. in January, and rounded out the fall with another one in October.
How did I finally get to their door after years of envisioning this big dream? Why am I writing a book that is painful and difficult and was like the last thing I ever thought I’d write?
My Year on Fire wasn’t only about showing up and doing the work. It was about being uncomfortable. Not just a little uncomfortable, like when it’s freezing out and you’re walking home in the icy wind slashing across your face and you can’t wait to get out of your cold, bulky winter gear and snuggle under a warm throw in your PJs and fuzzy socks with a good book, sipping hazelnut coffee topped with melty Marshmallow Fluff. I’m talking about being more uncomfortable than you have ever been in your whole entire life. I’m talking about the kind of uncomfortable that rips you wide open and spills your guts out.
See, I was super comfortable before. My writing schedule was pretty much the same every year. A new book published every summer, usually in May. Lots of vacay time in the summer. Starting a first draft in August, due by February 1. Repeat. I was extremely fortunate that this was my life for a decade, and every single one of you who have read my books made this life possible. I want to thank you with my whole heart. You are why I write. So yes, I knew comfort. As a Taurus, I crave comfort.
But then it was 2017 Year on Fire. And I yanked the soft, fluffy throw off my cozy comfort corner.
Not an easy thing to do for someone who loves routine and formerly hated change.
I busted down the walls of my comfort zone. We’re talking wrecking ball, Jaws of Life level destruction. I did scary things I’ve never done before in anticipation of transforming my life into something it had never been before. I not only learned to accept change, but I – wait for it – embraced change. What I learned is this: If you want big changes to happen, you have to make big changes. Maybe that sounds simple, but making big changes with the Unknown looming all big and scary down the line was the hardest thing for me. Big changes are scary. Big changes are hard. They take an exhausting amount of physical and emotional work that is anything but easy. Plus the whole time fear is trying to bring you down. Fear gets in your face all like, “Give up already. Give up and go back to your cozy comfort corner where everything is familiar and way easier.”
Tempting. But there was too much negative energy I wanted to convert into positive energy. There was no time to be comfortable.
2018 will be my Year of Happy. Simple in concept, challenging to implement, entirely new and a bit intimidating. The idea is this: I am only going to do things that make me happy. If it will not result in happiness, I will not do that thing. Let’s break it down. Cleaning counts as happy because a clean home equals happiness for me. Same with laundry. I am not happy doing laundry, but I am ecstatic when everything is clean and folded and put away. So yeah, the cleaning/errands/standing in line at Whole Foods parts will remain. But spending time with negative people that drain my positive energy? Going places and doing things that feel like work instead of fun? Allowing others to dictate what my life looks like, or bending and twisting my choices to squiggle out from under the tremendous weight of their judgments? Nope. No more. Time to bring some comfort back.
My Year of Happy will be a year in which I will choose to focus on happiness for myself and others. When I am happier, I can inspire more happiness in others, and that cycle will come into play stronger than ever in 2018. I’m looking forward to focusing on the things that bring me joy, immersing myself in positive energy, and eliminating negative, toxic forces from my life. Continuing to make my big dreams reality is of course a major part of what makes me happy, and there is much more hard work ahead. But that’s the thing about my work. I love what I do, so my career doesn’t feel like work. Do what you are. Do what you love.
And YOU? What did you learn about yourself in 2017? About your strengths? About the things you can tolerate, and the things you no longer want to? What will you focus on in 2018? Whatever you went through this year, whatever next year brings, know that I am right there with you in the face of change, fighting for what I believe in. This is all new for both of us, and we are in this together. So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to show up every day. We’re going to do the work. On days when we don’t show up or we don’t do the work, we’re going to take a deep breath and try again. We are going to keep doing this, the showing up and the work, until we have reached our goal. And then we’ll move on to the next goal. And then, when our goals have been achieved and our life looks a lot happier than it used to, we will celebrate making our big dreams reality.
Here’s to a whole lot of happy in 2018!