Tuesday, November 7, 2017

How I Got to New York (Part 2)



:: Read Part 1 ::


This evening I was dancing around the kitchen to music and it hit me just how crazy that was. I haven’t been one to hugely reflect on being sick, because I’ve put all my new healthy energy into living again.

But then every once in a while, the remembering hits. And it’s a tidal-wave. Three years ago right now, I was hardly surviving. I was sleeping every minute I could, my brain stopped recalling information, and I started experiencing partial seizures. One day I wrote this list of things that were difficult for me. Some were: climbing stairs, opening Ziplock bags, and opening windows. I wore the clothes that took the least energy to maneuver in. In high school, I carried around an entire backpack full of medicine and somehow had to fit seven doses into a day.

The thing is that I didn’t just pop up here. I didn’t just appear back in Virginia with a professional writing contract, an internship with Hartline Literary Agency, and a healthy body. I didn’t just get to start school and decide to work four different jobs in an industry that I love. I mean, I did. But I didn’t at first. At first, it wasn’t supposed to be possible.

The thing is that—three years ago—even after all that medicine, my body still fell short. It still didn’t work.

… and that’s part of the story I haven’t really told yet.




We spent over two years doing experimental treatment, and after those two years, my test results came back with hardly any improvement. Shortly after turning nineteen, I walked into my doctor’s office as chronically ill home-girl teenager who wanted to live in her home state forever. And then I walked out with a document that said, “Get as far away from Virginia as you can or spend the rest of your life sick.”

In three days, I left my house. I was told never to come back.

In three months, I left the state. I was told never to come back here, either.

Taking a gamble for my health, I left my family, friends, mountains, town, job, and everything I’d ever known.

Then I moved to a town I’d never visited to live with a family I’d never met. And getting better was a 50/50 chance. 

That’s how I got to New York.


Monday, November 6, 2017

How to Manage Your Crazy Workload Without Going Crazy Yourself [Guest Post]


Hi, my name is Tessa … and I’m a workaholic. I love the feeling that comes from staying productive and reaching new milestones. It keeps me striving forward as I reach for my dreams. This has lead me to a career as an author, associate literary agent at Hartline Literary, YA acquisitions editor at Illuminate YA, and editor-in-chief for Pursue Magazine.

Although being a workaholic can become unhealthy if it gets out of hand, I’ve learned, through trial and error, how to manage my crazy schedule without going crazy myself.

I think this is an important skill for all writers to learn. In order to make a living as an author these days, most of us can’t simply depend on the royalty checks we receive from our books alone. Aside from managing social media, email, and marketing our books, we have to create other streams of income as well. This can come from booking gigs as a speaker and/or a writing instructor or becoming a blogger, freelance writer, freelance editor, etc.

But how is it possible to effectively balance these separate entities without going crazy?

It comes down to evaluating how we spend our time. Here are 10 ways I’ve managed to keep everything on my plate—without losing my mind in the process.

1)    Keep a planner (or productivity app).

Although there are several planner/productivity apps people use to organize their time and tasks, I prefer to use a physical planner. For the past few years I’ve used an Erin Condren planner. This allows me to keep track of my daily to do lists, set monthly goals, and keep track of my deadlines. 





2)    Prioritize.

On my planner, I use a highlighter to highlight the tasks that are a priority for that specific day. Doing this helps me to not become overwhelmed when I look at the list as a whole, and instead I can focus on the tasks that need to be accomplished that day. The lesser-important tasks are then pushed to the next day. If they aren’t complete by the end of the week, then I usually try find time to accomplish them on Saturdays.


3)    Take breaks.

Even though I love being ambitious and staying productive, I’ve learned (the hard way) how important it is to take breaks. I try not to work any more than eight hours a day—then I’m off of the computer for the rest of the day. I’m far more productive in the long run when I do make it a priority to take daily breaks.


4)    Make time for yourself and have quiet time with God.

There’s a difference between taking a break from work and making time for yourself. When you aren’t working, do you find yourself working on other projects or doing favors for others? Analyze where your energy is spent. For most of us, it’s impossible to spend eight hours a day entirely focused on ourselves. We have a life to manage, after all! However, our energy is replenished when we do devote a certain amount of time to ourselves daily—and most importantly, when we make time to spend with God.

Every day, I try to do something for myself—whether it involves taking a walk with my dog, spending time with friends, or reading a book that I’ve been itching to read. But even if I can’t find time for myself, I make sure to protect my quiet time with God. After all, He’s the One gives me the strength I need to accomplish the daily work He’s given me. And the time I spend in prayer and in the Word will reap both earthly and eternal benefits (1 Tim. 4:8).


5)    Keep a regular schedule.

This is probably the hardest for me. I’m more of a night owl, so it requires a lot of self-discipline to go to bed early and wake up early. But I’m most productive when I can get an adequate amount of sleep at night and keep a semi-regular schedule throughout the day. 

For instance: In the mornings, after I have quiet time, breakfast, make coffee, and do my morning exercise, I then spend 20 – 30 minutes scheduling social media for the day. After that, I’ll spend about 20 minutes answering important emails. Then I begin to work on knocking tasks off my to-do list, beginning with the most important. I continue to work until around 5 or 6 in the evening.


6)    Assign days to specific projects.

This is something new I’ve started to do, and I’ve already found it to be beneficial. Since I work for separate entities, it’s easier to organize their specific tasks and assign them for different days of the week. This may change, however, depending on deadlines and such.


7)    Don’t overcommit yourself.

Do I sound like a hypocrite by advising this? ;) Honestly, I have had to learn this the hard way. I don’t like to say no to new opportunities—but I can’t juggle too much at once. When I try to do this, then I end up devoting only a small amount of my attention into each project.

I know how much I can handle per day. So, whenever I’m presented with a new project, assignment, or opportunity, I don’t let my emotions make the decision; instead, I evaluate my current to-do list. I analyze whether or not I’d have the time/energy required to perform this task. Then I can realistically know whether or not I should move forward or say no. The latter isn’t always fun, but it’s a vital part in keeping my sanity—and staying more productive in the long run.


8) Don’t be afraid to hire—or ask for—help.

I have interns and others working with me at IlluminateYA, Pursue Magazine, and Hartline Literary (including Stephanie!). Without them, it’d be impossible for me to manage 100% of the job’s responsibilities entirely on my own. 

If you’re finding it difficult to juggle your separate jobs, perhaps you should consider hiring help or seeking unpaid interns. You can hire a social media manager, secretary, publicist, etc. You can also find college students who would be happy to work at an unpaid internship in the field they’re studying. Consider posting an ad on www.internships.com. 


9) Keep your health in balance.

When our mental/physical health isn’t in balance, then we can’t adequately accomplish our daily tasks. This is why keeping good health has become a priority in my life. I make sure that my daily diet gives me the nutrition I need and that I exercise daily. Click here for my complete list of 8 ways writers can keep their health in balance.


10) Stay focused and eliminate distractions.

Only you know what distracts you the most—whether it’s social media, YouTube, housework, texts/phone calls, etc. Whatever it is, do what you can to remove those distractions when you sit down to work. Give yourself a time limit for the task you’re accomplishing; that way, you can stay focused within that timeframe.

I’ve found it helpful to change up my work locations. Some days, I might work from a coffee shop; other days, I’ll work at my standing desk; other days, I might work on my screened in porch. Do what works best for you. Just make sure that 100% of your attention is given to the specific task at hand.


Conclusion:

In order to make a living from working on your passions at home, you need to first learn the art of time management and self-discipline. Analyze how you spend your time and when your energy is at its peak. Discover how you can best keep track of your tasks—whether it’s by using an actual planner or an app.

Then, create a schedule that will allow you approx. eight hours of work, eight hours of non-work (which includes breaks and quiet time), and eight hours of sleep.

Only then will you learn the secret to managing your crazy workload—without going crazy yourself.


~ ~ ~

How do you manage your time and workload?
Do you prefer to use a planner, productivity app, checklists, etc.?







Tessa Emily Hall writes inspirational yet authentic YA fiction to show teens they’re not alone. Her passion for shedding light on clean entertainment and media for teens lead her to a career as an Associate Agent at Hartline Literary Agency, YA Acquisitions Editor for Illuminate YA (LPC Imprint), and Founder/Editor of PursueMagazine.net. Tessa's first teen devotional will release with Bethany House in 2018. She's guilty of making way too many lattes and never finishing her to-read list. When her fingers aren’t flying 116 WPM across the keyboard, she can be found speaking to teens, decorating her insulin pump, and acting in Christian films. Her favorite way to procrastinate is by connecting with readers on her blog, mailing list, social media (@tessaemilyhall), and website: www.tessaemilyhall.com.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Day of Big Dreams

Today's been the kind of day that needs a lot of deep breaths. It's my first Sunday here in Virginia since moving on Wednesday, and homesickness is hitting me pretty hard. My room is still piles of clothes and boxes, I have a cold, and somehow I still seem to be freezing despite many layers of blankets, sweatshirts, and socks. I'm starting a new job tomorrow that I'm so thankful for -- but I'm also having car trouble. So I'm nervous about even getting there. In some ways, it seems like there's a lot against me. But I know there's a lot for me, too.

Just when I was getting pretty down, I noticed this. It was written one year ago today, after I experienced a period of creative silence. It was me, three years after signing my book contract, finally beginning to hash out how I felt about everything. How I felt about waiting three years for publication, and how I felt about the future of my story.

I've worked out a lot of things since that post. When I wrote it, I wasn't expecting to. I wasn't expecting to have answers now. But here we are. I'm going to tell you about those answers soon. If you're signed up for my newsletter, you might already know some of them. I'm going to tell you about where I'm going, what I'm doing, who I'm working with, and what in it for the future of Reaching Home. But all you need to know right now is that a year later, I'm sitting in a cold Virginia bedroom and I'm here to chase my writing dreams.

In the post, I referenced today as a day of "big dreams and bright stars." It's the day I signed my book contract. The day that I finally thought I could start chasing being a writer. Here I am four years later, four years older, unpacking boxes, driving a dying car, living in a new town (again!) and all because I'm still after that dream. Still succeeding, little by little. Still dedicating my life to this.

It's not going the way that I would have planned necessarily. But one of the things that I love about dreams is that they're so strong, so important, and so passionate that we are willing to do all the hardest things to make them possible.

Yeah, it's tough.

It's t o u g h.

But it's possible.

So here we go...



To the day of big dreams and bright stars. 


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Truth Notebook 9/10/17


Freely I have given you, now freely give.
"Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."
How deep the Father's love for us.
But every day is a new beginning.
"Many dream by night... but those who dream by day will change the world."
"There is no language for this kind of loss."
The saddest kind of life must be one where you cannot pray.

You will stop at nothing 
To heal my broken soul
I realized you never left
And for this moment 
You planned ahead

The world changes today.
Some people spend so much time talking about God they don't have any time left over to act like Him.
"A stranger by sight isn't always a stranger by spirit."
They buried us. They didn't know we were seeds.
He has not left us as orphans.
So it was not you who sent me here, but God.
Even the wind and the sea obey Him.

The world is just as scary as I thought it was
But your love makes me braver still

Exceedingly and abundantly above all we ask or think.
"Grace came down and opened us like flowers."
See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
If pain makes you unable to feel, write about love instead.
"How can a man just keep walking around with his heart full of holes?"

The tune resonates in the open space 
To show us how emptiness sings


Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.
God doesn't give us permission to reject people. 
Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.
Forgive him, for the Father in Heaven has forgiven you.
If the Spirit says, "Go."
He cares about specific needs, too.
Longing for the Father's love.
Grace tonight will pull us through.
"We in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes."
I must understand my identity in God.
Thy will be done.
Jesus, my most precious treasure.

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
If stretched from sky to sky

I have decided to follow Jesus.

No turning back.

No turning back.






Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Cover Reveal: Where Dandelions Grow by Lydia Howe

Hi all! Welcome.

This is my first cover reveal ever, and I'm super happy that it gets to be for Lydia. A few years ago, Lydia and I emailed back and forth about our experiences with Lyme Disease. She had suffered from the illness for multiple years and was just beginning to get better. I was really sick, though. I will never forget how much her encouragement meant to me during those dark days. She even sent me a "get well soon" package with fuzzy socks and a notebook. This girl is gold.




Anyway... to the cover reveal!

Where Dandelions Grow is Lydia's newest novel. It's set to release in ebook on September 26th! The book is available for pre-order through Amazon at this link and only costs $0.99! Here's the blurb:


Cousins are forever, or at least they’re supposed to be.

What happens when your world falls apart and your dreams are mocked by those closest to you?

Destiny’s idyllic childhood full of laughter and cousins abruptly ended when her mom uprooted the family to move them across the country with strict instructions to never talk about Swallow Ridge again. Eleven years later Destiny moves back to her hometown, determined to find her cousins… and answers.

Plagued by generations of bitterness and manipulation, Destiny hides her life-long goal - unwilling to let anyone else trample her fragile dreams. But living in the cozy town full of dandelions teaches Destiny there’s more to life than what she’s been taught.

Is it possible Swallow Ridge not only holds the answers Destiny so intensely searches for, but also the hope?



... and the cover!



Congratulations, friend! So beautiful.

Lydia is hosting a giveaway here that you should absolutely enter. Also, be sure to check out her blog. I love reading up on all her travels and adventures!  


Let's send Lydia some love! What do you think of her cover? Is there a blogger in your life who has blessed you during a difficult time?






Monday, July 31, 2017

My Heart isn't Disposable: The Burden of a Teen Writer (Part 1)



“It’s hard to write.”

These words and other similar ones have leaked from my pen over and over these past three years.

I feel…

Overwhelmed. Shot down by the world and its wrath. My imagination, wild with pretty worlds and descriptions is also eager with longing for a better land of peace, prosperity, and life. As I imagine new worlds with characters and plot twists, I imagine our own little place in the universe to be better than it actually is.

I wonder at my struggle to string words together. My creativity has rarely run dry—It doesn’t make sense to me. Yet, it makes plenty of sense, because today I find myself constantly bombarded by the pessimistic spirit of the people around me—all living their lives void of hope, redemption, and purpose. I feel them like a current, heavily pulling my body down under the depths of their ocean over and over again. Their plague feeds off me. Over and over I say the words, “I can’t write” and I recognize that it’s their current taking me prisoner, forcing me to join their ranks. Swiftly, news programs and coworkers in despair challenge every hope that I cling to. “Life’s too hard.”
“It’s only downhill from here.”
“Make sure you like your job or you’ll have nothing to live for.”

Shots fire across the skies in Monsul, and with them take the blood of our children. Condemning words blaze from the mouths of superficial pastors, and those kill the passion in our brothers and sisters. Spirits of depression and anxiety are welcomed with open arms by our teens who haven’t been told that our God is so much stronger. I can’t write because there’s a bullet through my hope right now, placed strategically by the enemy of God, compelled by disappointment after disappointment.

So is this war?




***

When I sat down today to write my feelings out on this page, I had planned something a little bit different to say. I wanted to talk the young writer. The one who’s starting like I did, writing their goals out on post-it notes, and notching away at chapters for future books. I remember being you and today I’m wishing I could go back to being the girl who wasn’t concerned with marketing, chronic illness, or making money to live on. There’s one thing I want to tell you about the writing profession, and it’s important. By now I’m sure you’ve figured out that writing is actually one of the best things ever. I think so, too. But as you’ve listened to me lament just now, you’ll also realize that it’s hell sometimes as well. Some days, I feel like everything and everyone is against me, and still I have to press on. This is my dream.

When I started my first book so cleverly titled, “Nothing Left but Hope,” I remember how proud of it I was. I had this little folder that I kept it in and I brought it with me everywhere, sometimes to share with my closest friends, sometimes to “edit,” and sometimes just to stare at. Every word of that manuscript was completely, wholly mine, a piece of tangible imagination that nobody could take away from me. Other stories I shared as well. An unfinished novel called “When we Reach the Sunset,” my book “Rain Dancer,” and my novel, “Reaching Home,” all found their way into the hearts and inboxes of friends and relatives. Sometimes I would even share my passion with strangers, or with acquaintances who expressed interest in writing.

In 2013, all of my hard work paid off and I signed a contract on "Reaching Home" with a small publisher from out West. There is nothing in the world I was prouder of than that piece of paper. Soon after the contract though, life began to alter for me. Strangers would come up to me and ask about my book. People from my homeschool group who I hardly knew would strike up conversations about story genres and they would want to know about the characters from my novel. What was my writing style like? Had I heard of this other teen author? How much money was I going to make from my novel? Was this just some sketchy self-publishing deal? Did I know what I was getting myself into? Did I write about myself or were the characters purely made up? Could I read some of their writing and give my opinion?

Obediently, I answered these questions, and more. I allowed friends and strangers to fill my inbox with their own creations. I created polite conversations and opened up about my stories and my future as a writer. From the guidance I received from my publisher, I knew that talking about my book was important to them and imperative to my novel’s success.

It didn’t take long for me to feel overwhelmed and completely burned out. I sat down to write another book and the words stuck in my throat. Voices and opinions, criticism and enthusiasm overflowed my brain until there was no room left for creativity. I felt pressured to be something to everyone, to be a role model, a good Christian, a good writer, a good mentor. I was living every day like a high-schooler, but feeling the weight of a greater, heavier responsibility. I couldn’t put words together, I started dreading the questions, and I tip-toed around people who I thought might threaten my walls of coping mechanisms.

A few days ago, I was reflecting on this time in my life and I tried to pinpoint some sort of event or expectation that pushed me over the edge, into the oblivion of silence and self-preservation. I discovered that it was this: being an author required me to share my greatest treasure and deepest heart—my stories—with my enemies, with people I hardly knew, and with people who made me feel unsafe.     

This didn’t happen with everyone, or even with most of the people I encountered. It was probably my own sensitive heart that made me feel threatened so easily, or even my own pride. The point is that I did, I felt threatened. There are few things in this life that make me feel more uncomfortable than sharing information—even impersonal—with people I don’t trust.

With the responsibility I had to my publisher to get the word out, I felt as though it was my job to share about Reaching Home with anyone who would ask or listen. I didn’t realize how emotionally involved sharing about the story would become. I was prepared for an onslaught as soon as my book hit shelves, but I didn’t expect it to come the day I wrote my signature on that dotted line. I didn’t expect it to come this way. Fear and stress drove me to lose the joy I had found in writing. It was like my soul stopped speaking its own language. I felt so dead inside.

This summer I started a rehab program that’s supposed to help my body stop hyper-reacting to mold exposure. In the program, students are taught how to stop “trauma loops” that are created by the brain when the person feels threatened. I have started to notice that in stopping these trauma loops, not only have I been able to walk out of moldy buildings unscathed, but I have also gained significant ground with my writing. I have noticed myself thinking creatively more often, and my desire to write stems more from the joy of it and less from harsh responsibility.

Last week, for the first time, I opened up to a fellow artist about my book. I talked to her about my passion, and she listened. I talked to her about my characters, and they came alive. I found healing and peace in our conversation and in the broken “trauma loops.”

Perhaps my struggle with writing has been health related, perhaps not, perhaps it’s been a little of everything. Whatever the cause, I know I’m not the only one who has fought through the thick walls of writer’s block only to come out on the other side and realize there’s still more to conqueror. I see a lot of advice columns written to young unpublished writers, posts titled things like, “8 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Published,” and sometimes those posts make me laugh. There’s really only one thing I wish I’d known before signing my name to those documents and that is this: I wish I’d known it was okay to stay myself. I wish I’d known that among all the huge responsibilities placed upon a writer, the biggest one of all is to not change who you are. I wish I’d known that writing my heart out doesn’t make it disposable.

Sit down, breathe, and make your own path. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” Seek out the right times, places, and people to talk about writing with, and if you ever feel uncomfortable, it’s okay to stop the conversation. You don’t owe anyone information. The most success in writing comes when you know your boundaries, learn to stay true to you, and love what you create.

Love,

Stephanie



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