Browsing Category

Writing

Creative Process, Editing, Marketing, Publishing, Romance, Social Media, Uncategorized, Writing

Writing from an Authentic Place: Lessons from RWA Spring Fling

This past weekend I had the absolute pleasure to attend the Chicago-North RWA Spring Fling Conference. It was a chardonnay-and-coffee-fueled few days where I attended so many amazing sessions and met a lot of fabulous writers. This was my first RomCon, and I had no idea what to expect, but what I found was a community of smart, warm, and supportive women, both readers and writers, who share the same passions I do. I posted a picture of facebook of myself signing books, and I jokingly wrote as the caption, “home, sweet home.” But it did feel like a bit of a homecoming because for the first time in a long time I felt like I could be completely myself. Before the first session I attended, another writer asked me what I write, and I said, “Oh, you know some Fae paranormal, urban fantasy stuff…and…” I lowered my voice to a faint whisper. “…some erotica.” She touched my arm and smiled at me and said, “It’s okay. You can say erotica here.” You can say a lot of dirty words at the Spring Fling conference. All the dirty words, if you are so inclined.

All the sessions on craft were outstanding, but I also attended a lot of sessions on the business of writing. From these, I walked away with a much broader picture of the strange and dynamic romance market, and since then I’ve given a lot of thought about who I am and what I want out of this business. I attended Courtney Milan’s session “How to Make a Living as a Slow Writer,” sort of on a whim because I believed…oh, my…I truly believed I was actually a “fast” writer. Before I attended this session, I thought putting out two to three books a year was “fast.”

Wrong.

WRONG.

All writers now, but especially romance writers, exist in a market with a growing population of self-pub authors who are churning out a book a month, maybe even a book every two weeks (TWO WEEKS!). To say I’m “competing” with these writers is not really the right word. The only person I’m competing with is myself and that last book I wrote. Nonetheless, there is a “market” and readers make choices in that market. Just as there is a significant population of writers churning out books every two weeks, there is a significant, a significant, population of readers who want a new book every two weeks. I’m not going to make judgment calls or talk about quality or anything like that in regards to this business model. Romance has enough shade being thrown at it from without, we don’t need it from within. However, I know the kind of book I could write in two weeks is not the kind of book I think my readers want. You know how they say, “Write what you like to read”? It’s no surprise to me that all the writers I love are what we would now call “slow writers.” Writers like Courtney Milan, for example! I don’t have a lot of time to read, and that window is increasingly shrinking with more responsibilities, so when I do read, the books need to be “distinctive and good.” That’s exactly what Milan said. If you’re going to be slow, be distinctive and good.

And yet…

In this new age of Kindle Unlimited, self-publishing, and ebooks, the pressure to put out several books a year remains enormous. I’m a recovering academic, and for a long time I existed in a world that felt constantly on the verge of collapse. As my professors, colleagues, friends raced for scarce and highly-coveted tenure-track positions, I watched the best minds of my generation deal with deep depression and paralyzing anxiety. But I can say with all honesty, it’s nothing like what I see happening in publishing today. Just open twitter on any given day, and you’ll find several blog confessions from writers about their long descent into agonizing depression or how they had to be hospitalized because of their latest anxiety attack. It’s easy to blow it off and say, “Oh, well, you know…CREATIVES…look at Hemingway.” But no. These are smart, capable, bestselling authors with incredible business acumen. Courtney Milan was very candid in her session about her depression, and she has a law degree and a PhD in something I’m not sure I can even pronounce. The woman is no stranger to stress. In academia, they say “publish or perish,” but I really think there are some authors out there who are literally killing themselves to keep up with market pressures.

And this is why I found Milan’s presentation so refreshing because a part of my journey right now is understanding who I am as a writer and who I want to become. I don’t want to be the writer churning out books every two weeks, and I certainly don’t want to jeopardize my health for the thing I love–writing. What I enjoyed about Milan’s talk is she gave us concrete ideas about how to be smart in this current market by simulating the benefits of being a fast writer. One of those strategies is staying visible through promotional sales events, audiobooks, translations, box sets, etc. She also discussed the importance of memorability, and how we can do that by joining promotions with other writers, getting readers to follow you on facebook and twitter, and finding ways to urge readers who liked your book to subscribe to your newsletter. I’m sure there are more strategies she mentioned, but the point is, if you want to stay true to the kinds of books you want to write, it does require a bit of strategic planning. Of course the dream is to write full-time, but even if I had all the time in the world to write, I don’t know if I would want to put out more than three or four books a year. I think I would like to use that mental space to writer better books, but if that’s the case, I need to find ways to keep me from falling off what’s called “the 30 day cliff” on Amazon. Milan said it used to be 90 days, but now we have one month to engage our readers, or we’re done. Forgotten.  Don’t sit around and cry about it. Figure out how keep connected.

But I have to admit, the marketing and social media circus is exhausting sometimes, and it can often feel like no matter what we do, it makes so little difference. I had the opportunity to attend a Q&A session with Robyn Carr, who is probably the most compelling, most captivating writer I have ever met. She was candid, thoughtful, engaging, and so, so real. She talked about her successes, but also her biggest flops, the eight years where she could not sell a book, the moments when she thought she might never succeed in this business. Toward the end of the talk, I asked her about what she thought about the pressures writers are under today to market themselves and if she has any advice about how to tune it out and prioritize writing in our daily lives. She waved her hand and shook her head. “Oh, there is so much pressure on writers today,” she said. “I am so glad I’m not starting my career now because the pressure is enormous.” She went on for a bit, but then she paused and looked me in the eye and said this: “Just remember, when someone is pressuring you to do something, it says more about them than it does about you.” I thought about this answer for a long time, rolled it over and over again in my head. It really resonated with me, but I wasn’t sure why. Then it hit me, and it connected to something Robyn Carr had said earlier in her talk.

No one knows anything.

No one knows anything! We don’t know about the industry, the market, Kindle Unlimited, where digital publishing is going, or how to sell a million books. No one knows! We have ideas, but there’s no formula. So all the pressure to write blogs, get on twitter, get on facebook, make a book trailer, etc., etc., etc., probably comes from other people trying to validate their own choices. That is not to say they’re not bad choices! I would urge any debut writer to try it all, say yes as much as possible, and embrace all the aspects of marketing. It’s actually quite a bit of fun sometimes. But when I look ahead to my books coming out later this year, and I’m thinking about what I’m going to do to help them find readers, I want to make sure that my marketing is coming from a place of love—not a place of fear. I don’t want to do things to validate past-Colleen’s choices, nor do I want to do things simply to validate anyone else’s choices. I want to do marketing that a) works and b) feels authentic.

Because this was the greatest lesson I learned from Robyn Carr and the RWA Spring Fling Conference. At one point during her talk, she asked us, “Who are you? And where is your authentic place?”

These are two questions this conference helped me to answer.

Through the Veil

Elizabeth Tanner is no Tinkerbell, and her life is no fairy tale. Broke and drowning in student loans, the one thing she wants more than anything is a scholarship from the Trinity Foundation. But after the ancient Irish text she’s studying turns out to be more than just a book, she becomes their prisoner instead. And when Trinity reveals Elizabeth is half-Fae, she finds herself at the center of a plot to save the magical races of Ireland from a brutal civil war.

As Commander of Trinity’s elite warriors, Finn O’Connell isn’t used to having his authority challenged. He doesn’t know whether to punish or protect the infuriating young woman in his custody. When he discovers the Dark Fae want to use Elizabeth’s abilities to control the source of all power in the universe, he’ll risk everything to help her.

At the mercy of Trinity and enslaved to the Dark Fae, Elizabeth finds herself alone on the wrong side of an Irish myth thousands of years in the making. Refusing to be a pawn in their game, Elizabeth has to fight her way back to the man she loves, but to do so, she must wage her own war against the magic that binds her.

Available now at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Amazon UK, and Amazon Canada.

 

Marketing, Publishing, Social Media, Through the Veil, Uncategorized, Writing

Building Communities: Takeaways from the Marketing Trenches Part Two

Hey, it’s me again. I received a lot of really interesting, private responses to my blog post yesterday from some writer friends, and it should come as no surprise that I have more opinions. So many opinions.

One of the big reactions to my post yesterday was to bemoan the lack of marketing publishing does for writers in our current state of affairs. And yes, I hear that. It’s true. Marketing budgets are shrinking and it’s not fair. Here are more cookies for your feelings.

But in this post, I want to examine what it means to “market” a book in the 21st century because I think it’s inherently different to what marketing looked like twenty years ago, and hell, even ten years ago. To explain, I will start with a story from my classroom and how my teaching approach has drastically changed in the past ten years, specifically when it comes to technology.

Let me take you back to 2002. GW was President, Kelly Clarkson had just become the first American Idol, and a young Colleen Halverson had just begun her first year of graduate school as a TA teaching freshman comp. Now this year was a special year for the TA newbies because this was the year the university decided to start a new initiative involving technology literacy (or some shit buzzword. I have no idea). Basically, the university handed freshman comp a curriculum and for one extra day a week, we had to trudge up to the computer lab and do…stuff. Techy stuff.

The curriculum basically went like this:

Week One: Have students make a PowerPoint.

About what? Why? For what purpose?

Week Two: Have students create a website.

Again? Why? What should be on it? What purpose does it serve?

You can see the flaws in this pedagogical approach, I’m sure. Education without context or meaning is doomed to failure, and of course that first semester was pretty rocky. Half the time, my smarter, hipper, more tech savvy students ended up teaching the class and in the end, those websites never really got off the ground.

Fast forward to 2012 where I was teaching freshman comp full time in a computer lab, where we did create PowerPoints and we did create websites using WordPress, but this time the tech was fully integrated into their writing assignments. So, for example, their big project was to write a research paper but share it through the medium of a blog, which, because of the online medium, requires a different mode of writing and formatting. They also had to have different pages for shared PowerPoints, an annotated bibliography, an ongoing reflective research journal, etc. These blogs were shared publicly on the internet and on our library’s homepage. They served a purpose, and their academic labor was meaningful. They helped create a learning community.

It strikes me oftentimes that writers are asked to work under the 2002 model of marketing.

Create a website!

Why? About what? What purpose does it serve?

Get on twitter!

And do what, exactly? What do I tweet about?

Make a facebook page!

Ok, and what do I do with it?

We are working out of context without a purpose.

You’re probably saying, “But Colleen, I do have a purpose online! My purpose is to sell more books!”

To which I say, no.

No.

Stop.

No, I don’t think that’s our purpose (and I don’t mean that in the philosophical sense either, lulz). I think if we’re hopping on the internet with the sole purpose to sell more books, we’re internet-ing wrong.

Our purpose is not to sell a product but to build a community.

Our books are not widgets. We are not used car salesmen. But we can do something publishing houses can’t do, which is to create human connections with our audience. The internet is an amazing place to make that happen. For me, “marketing” is no longer something tangential, a “necessary evil,” or as this “extra” chore I have to do. It’s an intrinsic part of being an artist in the 21st century. It’s about building, sharing, and being a part of a community.

I wish I could tell you what should be on that facebook page or what you should tweet about to create that community. After that failed first semester, I set about shifting my curriculum to something much more meaningful, and it took me ten years to figure out an approach that felt genuinely engaging for my students. It was trying things and failing, seeing what works, and honing those strategies. Come back in ten years, and I might have more answers for you about marketing your book online.

But in the meantime, here are two people who, I think are at the forefront of rethinking what it means to exist as a working artist online: the poet Saeed Jones and rock and roll extraordinaire Amanda Palmer.

I started following Saeed Jones on twitter and immediately noted his incredible web presence. In an interview, he talks about how the boundaries of art and social media are breaking down, that art is not something that happens “out there,” beyond social media, but something that is happening on and through places like Twitter and facebook every day. A poem is a tweet. A tweet is a poem. While some might argue that this diminishes creative output, he disagrees by citing an example of a poet whose poem recently went viral.

“I think quality is even more important now. To use the social web as an example: What’s great about the web is it’s easy for something to be shared. Patricia Lockwood’s rape poem. Excellent work can get out there and take off in a way that even just 5 years ago, the idea of a poem going viral? A literary poem? A poem about rape culture? But it’s possible.”

Jones’s point is that more than ever, an artist needs to be excellent. She needs to walk the walk. The whole world is watching.

If you want to take a masterclass on building online communities, watch and observe Amanda Palmer at work. She is definitely an artist who walks the walk. Palmer uses a patron model to fund her artistic pursuits, but part of what makes her efforts so successful are 1) She fucking rocks. Seriously. And 2) She works relentlessly to connect with her patrons and supporters online. It’s fucking Leaves of Grass up in her timeline with the boundary between fan and artist, artist and fan blurring and intermingling. If you want to understand how sharing culture is changing the way artists work online, please check out her TED talk here. She explains it much more eloquently than I can. And hey, support a writer by purchasing her book here. Regardless of how you feel about her model, Palmer understands something about art and our online culture that can feel very elusive to many of us. At least for me. Watching her use the internet as a means to be an artist inspires me, and I want to be her when I grow up, for real.

All I know is this. The last books I purchased came from either tweets, a blog, a reading community like Vaginal Fantasy, or a suggestion from an online forum on Goodreads. Whether we like it or not, our work as artists is a part of a larger online community, and it’s our job to make our work in that community meaningful.

Are you picking up what I’m throwing down? Would you like to support me and  my opinions? Consider showing your love by purchasing a copy of my new fantasy romance Through the Veil.

Now available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Amazon UK, and Amazon Canada

 

Cover Reveal, Marketing, Publishing, Social Media, Through the Veil, Uncategorized, Writing

Raising My Book Baby: Marketing Takeaways from the Trenches

The blog tour for Through the Veil is winding down, and things are slowly returning back to normal around here. That gnawing, hollow feeling in my stomach has dissipated, and I’m only refreshing Amazon now twice every hour as opposed to every two seconds (it’s my first book. Don’t judge me.). Things are good, and I can stand back from the past three weeks with a strong feeling of accomplishment and with the sense that I did everything I could to bring my book out into the world.

But book marketing is a strange, elusive beast, and I can say two months ago I had absolutely no clue how and where to even begin. On the first call with my PR person, I said, “Okay, I’ve never done this before, so explain book marketing to me like you would to a small child.” And she did! Beautifully! I can’t share all the trade secrets here (and quite honestly, I still don’t understand how all this goes down), but I can tell you some things I’ve learned and some things I wished I had known before I started. A lot of folks complain that publishing runs at a snail’s pace, but nothing can prepare you for the wild, fast-paced ride of a book release. They don’t call it a “blitz” for nothing. After the first week, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. But I also felt very pleased with the results. Publishing is weird like that.

Please note that I’m not a marketing person, and I can only speak from my experience. Not every approach will work for every author. This isn’t the Church of Colleen Halverson (well, maybe sometimes, hehe), and my words are not the gospel. But here’s what I know.

  1. Start blogging now. Right now. And it’s not for the reasons you think. I know building a platform is important, and having a nice back list of blog posts can help increase your visibility. Yes, yes, all these things are true. But here’s the real reason you should start blogging—so you are prepared for the epic marathon of writing guest posts. In total, I wrote 19 guest posts to help bring Through the Veil into the world, and this isn’t including interviews. “Wow! That’s a lot!” you’re probably thinking. Why, yes. Yes it is. I told my PR people that I would be open to guest posts and the demand was enormous. And it makes sense. Guest posts are free content and don’t require the same demands as a review or even an interview. I received great responses from my blog posts, and I’m really proud of the content I cranked out. But I tell you what, I’m so glad I began blogging three years ago. I don’t blog a lot (maybe once a month), but it was enough where I had an opportunity to settle into my blogger voice, which is different from my authorial voice. A good blog post demands certain criteria, and as you blog, you learn a lot about what sort of content, length, topics, and formats really work for people. So while writing all those guest posts was pretty intense, I walked into the task with confidence.
  2. Know your core audience. Do you know your audience? Like, really know them? I’m not talking about readers who might pick up your book, but the readers out there who want to pick up exactly what you’re throwing down. I honestly didn’t. Or maybe I just didn’t think about it too much. Like most authors, when I wrote my book, I just wrote something I would like to read, and it never really occurred to me until we started packaging it how seriously I needed to evaluate my core audience. Seeing as though I signed with Entangled and there’s loads of sex in my book, I figured…yeah, romance (Oh, Colleen Halverson…so much to learn…so much to understand…). It’s true that a lot of romance readers enjoyed my book, but after reading tons of reviews of my work, I understand now that my core audience, the audience who will enjoy my stories 99% of the time is a very particular kind of woman. Who is that woman? Well, not surprisingly, they’re a lot like me. They’re the woman who, every Sunday night, loves their Walking Dead with a Downton Abbey They’re all in love with Jamie Fraser, but like to deconstruct gender roles in Game of Thrones. As they say on Project Runway, “Who’s your girl?” That’s my girl. There may be ten of us in the universe, but that’s my tribe. Know your tribe. That knowledge will dictate all of your marketing choices.
  3. Follow Book Bloggers. Before I published Through the Veil, I followed one book blogging site: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (love them!). But now? I follow several. I read a fair amount, maybe two to five books a month depending on the length of the books and my deadlines. But these folks? They read dozens and dozens of books in like, a day. They blow us all out of the water. They know your genre backwards and forwards, and they know what they like. They also talk about books in ways that may seem very different to writers and to the greater publishing industry, and there’s so much complexity in that community as to what makes for a “good book.” I’ve learned a lot by reading urban fantasy/PNR reviews lately, and seeing how the community receives different kinds of books. Colleen Halverson is still going to do Colleen Halverson, but I feel like I have a much better understanding as to how my books will fit into this world, at least more than I had before. And that is some useful knowledge to have.
  4. Hire your own PR firm. I have the best PR support from my publisher with my own publicist on speed dial. We have met via teleconference several times and we email and correspond regularly. She’s also insanely hardworking and dedicated to marketing my book. With all that said, I still plan on hiring my own PR for my next book, maybe even a second one, and I’ll tell you why. For one, it’s like doubling down your reach. My book is a pebble in the vast ocean of the internet. Anything that can bring your book to more bloggers and reviewers can’t hurt. Also, I felt like my PR firm could focus on some particular action items that freed up my Entangled publicist to funnel her energy into other avenues. If your publicist isn’t doing your cover reveal, for instance, they can hustle more reviews and work on other projects that will help your book. My PR firm, my Entangled publicist, and I all collaborated to get this book off the ground, and our combined efforts were very successful.

    I know what you’re thinking. “But I don’t wanna market my book! Why is publishing making us do this?” Wah, wah, wah. Yep, I know. Here’s a cookie. Now go eat those feelings. In an ideal world, we would all have an army of publicists pimping our books, but unless you’re Stephen King, that shit ain’t happening. Also, hustling e-books in a one-click world brings itself new challenges that require a lot of people on deck. I’m in a private group with a bunch of debut authors, and all of our marketing experiences have been vastly different. They’re not contingent upon the size and scope of the publisher either. If anything, think of your own PR firm as insurance in case the marketing for your book is limited. It happens.

    I used Between the Sheet Promotions to market my book, and I found them to be very affordable, professional, and committed to marketing my book. But do your research! I hired them on a whim, and I really, really lucked out as not all Book PR firms are created equal. Also, make sure your PR firm will reach the kind of bloggers who are in your core audience. In the end, this was some of the best money I have ever spent. I have two kids, a full-time job, and two more books coming out this year. I don’t have time to contact bloggers, set up guest posts and reviews, and coordinate things like cover reveals or trailer reveals or rafflecopters. If you do? Awesome. I—don’t. And even if I did, I would much rather be spending that time writing!

So these are some of my big takeaways from the past few weeks. There are still some things I would love to chat about, but I may save them for another day. If you have questions or comments, please post below! If I can help, I certainly will. Solidarity, my writerly brothers and sisters! Marketing can be a ball, and it’s fun to see all those different facets of the publishing engine humming along. You wrote a book! Celebrate it!

AND SPEAKING OF MARKETING…

Do you like this content? Are you my tribe? Consider supporting my writing habits by purchasing a copy of my new fantasy romance Through the Veil.

Now available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Amazon UK, and Amazon Canada

Thanks for reading!

Through the Veil, Uncategorized, Writing

Through the Veil is Now Available!

The day is here. It’s still difficult for me to wrap my head around it. I wrote a book and now it’s out in the world. I have the hard copy of Through the Veil sitting beside me at my desk, and I’m thumbing through the pages right now, all my words blurring together. I spent so much time crafting those words into sentences and paragraphs, and now they’re something. I’m not sure what yet, but they’re something.

But let’s get down to business first.

You can purchase Through the Veil at any of these fine online establishments.

Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Amazon UK, and Amazon Canada.

 

Some people have already said some really nice things about on Goodreads:

 

“If you are a fan of Irish mythology and things we may not be able to see, you need to do yourself a favor and check out this book.” ~ Give Me Books

 

“…an enchanting debut novel.” ~ Chanelle

 

“Through the Veil is a very promising start to The Aisling Chronicles. So much went down in these pages, and there’s still more to come which I feel will only get bigger and better from here.” ~ JC’s Book Haven

 

“An articulate and exciting world of Faeries and Irish Lore come to life— I couldn’t put it down from the first page.” ~ Rachel Caplinger
“If you like your women strong and like to see them succeed through adversity you’ll love this book.” ~ Tracey

 

“I was completely sucked in to Through the Veil – I finished it at 3:30 A.M. which is something I hardly ever do anymore.” ~ Margaret

 

“Through the Veil by Colleen Halverson is a gem and definite must-read! I just couldn’t put this book down!” ~ Katrina Berry

 

It feels good to know Elizabeth and Finn are finding their audience, and they’re enjoying their adventures as much as I enjoyed writing them. Of course, I appreciate any and all reviews, and I extend gratitude to anyone who takes a chance on a debut author and takes the time to write a review.

 

But here’s the exciting part of this post. To celebrate the release of Through the Veil, we’re hosting a huge giveaway.

 

 

My friend Claribel Ortega made this kickass book trailer for Through the Veil, which you can check out here.

 

Make sure after you view the book trailer that you enter to win the $25 Amazon gift card.

 

But the big kahuna is the swag pack for Through the Veil, which features hand-picked items that specifically reflect some of the magic of the novel.

 

1) A Tree of Life Pendant

2) A Book of Kells Coloring Book

3) A Tree of Life Journal

4) A one-of-a-kind, hand-painted Celtic silk scarf

5) A signed copy of Through the Veil

 

The scarf is vacuum sealed to keep it safe from my kids’ sticky hands, but here is what it looks like when it’s open.

Scarf 3

 

I know, right?!!!! It’s like the artist read my novel and knew exactly what to create. Her name is Luiza Malinowska. Please visit her Etsy shop here. Her scarves are divine!

 

Please do enter! The winner is going to be one very lucky Celtophile…

Here’s the direct link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/1cb55495746/

 

So now that we have all that out of the way, there is something I want to say because it’s important for me to make meaning out of my experiences. There’s a story I like to read to my education students, many of whom are non-traditional students, returning to fulfill a dream of becoming a teacher after years and years of putting it off because of life, family, bills, and other responsibilities. The book is called Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett. If you have a little person in your life, please go buy this book. It’s wonderful.

 

Spoilers ahead, lolz.

 

The story is about a little girl named Annabelle who finds a box of colorful yarn of seemingly endless supply. She knits herself a sweater, but there’s still more yarn. She knits sweaters for her dog, for her classmates, for the whole town, and there’s still more yarn. Annabelle fills her dark, dreary town with this colorful yarn and the town comes to life because of her beautiful handiwork.

 

But one day, a duke comes to town and offers Annabelle a million dollars for her magical box of yarn. She refuses, and so, late that night, the duke steals the box of yarn. But when he goes to open it, there’s nothing inside!

 

He curses the little girl, throwing the box of yarn out into the sea, declaring that she will never be happy again. But at the end of the book, we see the box return to Annabelle. She fishes the box from the stream and sets to work knitting again. And it turns out, the duke was wrong. Annabelle was happy.

extra yarn

 

I use this book to teach my future Elementary Ed educators how to teach their students about plot. It has a nice, neat three act structure with clear conflict and resolution. After we’ve mapped the entire plot of Extra Yarn, we go through particular moments in the story and I ask them questions like “why doesn’t the box run out of yarn?” “Why is the box empty for the duke?” But the biggest question of all is, “Why does the box return to Annabelle?”

 

The answer from my students always is, “Because love comes back to you.”

 

Love comes back to you.

 

What a powerful message, and what a powerful thing to believe.

 

I wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. As soon as I knew how to put sentences together, I was writing stories. I remember my fifth grade teacher assigning us a story based on some random topic, and I spent the whole night writing. Her jaw dropped when I turned in twenty hand-written pages the next day. When I was fourteen, I stumbled into a poetry reading at a local coffee shop, and I begged rides from my brothers every week, sometimes taking the bus across the city just so I could read one poem out loud to people. I continued to write stories and plays well into college.

 

And then something happened. I’m not sure what. Life took over, and I allowed negative people to consume my joy. I felt afraid a lot of the time. I let writing go, and for a long time I believed it was gone forever.

 

And then one cold autumn day, at a moment in my life where I felt the most defeated, I started to write a story about a young woman and an ancient manuscript. It was awkward at first, the words not quite doing what I wanted them to do, the language stilted, the picture a bit flat and out of focus. But I felt that rush of joy again, the same joy I felt in fifth grade when I scribbled out that story at my dining room table. The fear was there, it will always be there, but some greater force had taken over.

 

Love had come back to me.

 

Because that’s what love does. It finds you even in the darkest places. And if you followed me on this journey, I will tell you this is the lesson I’ve learned. That thing you loved to do when you were a kid? The thing you thought you lost? You haven’t. It’s waiting for you. And when you’re ready, it will come back to you.

 

Thank you to all who have helped me fulfill this dream. To my family, my friends, and my followers, this day belongs to all of us.