Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.
I don't often talk about my personal life on Go Teen Writers. Our focus here is always writing, and yet today is one of those days that I can't deny that my personal life and writing life are woven together. This fall, due to circumstances outside of writing, I've often felt drained and uninspired
Last week, when I confessed to my friend Roseanna that I was struggling to stay focused, she did that lovely thing that good friends do and validated how I was feeling. She told me, "That makes sense, considering..." And then began to list the circumstances that have surrounded me the last few months. My father has an aggressive and rare form of cancer that he's currently battling. I've been deeply disappointed by a close friend of mine. I've had a conflict with extended family that has kept me awake and crying at night. I have a two-year-old who's the size of a one-year-old, which has led to an appointment with a specialist in the next few days. And I have a book that's due to my editor in a few weeks. With all of the above sitting on my shoulders, it's been the hardest book I've ever written.
As Roseanna and I talked about our mutual lack of motivation right now, she said the old adage to both of us. "Butt in chair, and all that."
Rule One: Show up
Yes, I thought when she said that, I'm at least doing that.
All semester long, when my family has been hit by one stressful situation after another, I have maintained my butt-in-chair discipline that's so crucial to creating. I have shown up.
Even when you don't feel like it. Even when it truly feels like your life is crashing around you, as mine has often felt these last few months, the discipline of just showing up every day will help you, as Shannon so beautiful put it, to create an author and not just a story.
But my bigger issue has come after I put my butt in the chair.
Rule Two: Be Authentic
I recently had the chance to visit the Georgia O'Keefe museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Georgia O'Keefe is famous for her paintings of large flowers and skulls—sometimes painted together—but I was surprised by many of her other subjects. Skylines of New York City, where she lived for a long time. Mount Fuji. Churches in the southwest. Views from airplanes. The inside of a tent, looking out.
Something struck me as I was there at the museum, and then again as I sat here at my computer thinking, "I'm too run down to put a blog post together." Georgia O'Keefe did not try to divorce her art from her life. Rather, her life informed her art. The art was created from the riches and trials of her life, not separate from it. When she was in the southwest or reminiscing about it, that was reflected in her art. Same as when she was in New York, or anywhere else.
Yet I have tried so hard to keep my messy, stressed-out self off the page, off the blog, and off social media. I wanted to leave all that stuff outside my office door and create worlds that were independent of what I'm currently going through. Today I wanted to bring you neat, easy-to-follow, pinnable writing advice, but all I feel capable of right now is shrugging at you and saying, "I don't know either."
Last summer, a darling young writer put her copy of The Scorpio Races into my hands. "I would like your signature and your number one piece of writing advice."
I kinda froze, to be honest. Many other Big Deal writers had already signed the book, including Stiefvater herself. I wanted to write something really good, especially because I know and like this young writer, and she'd asked me to put my thoughts on the page there with other YA authors I love and admire. If I remember right, I wrote something about, "Follow your curiosity" which is advice from Elizabeth Gilbert.
I knew it was the wrong choice even as I wrote it, and I've thought about that moment many times since then. "Follow your curiosity" is fine writing advice, but it's not my number one. I mean, I hadn't heard it until this spring, and somehow I had managed to be a happy writer for over a decade, so how could it be number one?
If I could have that moment to do over again, I would write this in her book:
That's a recipe for creating art—for creating a life—that matters. Not just showing up sometimes, or occasionally being authentic. But showing up faithfully, being authentic always, and repeating the process every stinking day.