I don’t like to fly. I don’t do it often, so I’m out of practice, but I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Decatur Book Festival to talk about my first book, and so I just needed to put on my big-girl pants and get over it. I’m not the kind of anxious flyer who needs to be medicated, either with pills, or a trip to the airport bar, but I do get a serious case of heartbeat acceleration upon take-off. On my flight to Atlanta, I wore my fitness tracker so I could watch my pulse decrease as I took deeper breaths. It was inconspicuous and helped a lot. I also repeated a phrase, like a mantra, that dangled from a charm on a bracelet I’d bought last year while visiting the Edgar Allen Poe museum. It’s a quote from “The Raven”: Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore.
In the context of The Raven, it doesn’t mean much beyond, hey, there’s a big black bird at my window. I wonder what the heck is going on? But applied to my own life, I found that it really resonated, and so I wear the bracelet often, especially when I anticipate being in a situation that might make me anxious or where there’s so much going on that I need to remind myself to breathe and focus and pay attention, especially to the good stuff.
So much in this first-book journey has been pinch-me unbelievable, starting with the book’s sale two years ago, after I had given up hope so many times that I’d ever be a published author. There’s been so much to learn, and so many “firsts.” First time I saw a sketch of my main character created by the book’s amazing illustrator, Corinna Luyken. First interview. First review. First time holding the finished book in my hands. First time reading it to a roomful of children. First time signing it. Each situation, at least momentarily, took my breath away.
I’ve since been fortunate enough to sell a second book, and while it, too, was a thrilling experience, I noticed that the “high” wasn’t quite as high, and it didn’t last quite as long. This is normal, of course. Humans are very adaptable, resilient creatures. Whether we’re beset with bad news or good, we pretty quickly return to our typical baseline level of emotion.
But I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to keep riding that good vibes wave, all the time. It’s impossible, of course, to recapture the feeling of that first book sale, but with some practice, I can come close. I have found that stopping and reminding myself of my good writing fortune still brings a spark. Pausing before I turn on my laptop in the morning to remember how incredibly lucky I am to be paid for something I’ve done for fun my whole life. Pausing to look at the word “Author” on my business card.
“Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore.” I’ve also learned to laugh at myself when I feel badly about something industry-related, like my book only being on the indie bestseller list for a week (this is when I hear my husband’s voice in my head, Campbell, are you serious?). Yes, Campbell, are you serious?
I mistakenly thought when/if I ever got a book published, I’d never want for another thing, publishing wise, but of course any published author could have told me differently. You’ll still want things. Starred reviews. Awards. There’s always another level, I think, no matter how high you climb.
And you’ll still write total dud manuscripts or go for weeks without any ideas at all, thinking you’ll never write again, or write something you think is pretty good only to be told, Mmmm, maybe not.
No matter where you are in the writing journey, there are always people higher up, in the place you’d like to be, but you can’t forget to look back at where you came from. Forty years of storytelling, and so much to learn from and love, when I let my heart be still.