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Life Lessons from having a cute little meltdown on a mountain
It connects back to writing, I promise
Fancy meeting you here!
*insert self-flagellation for committing the ultimate author sin of neglecting my newsletter for so long blah blah*
To quote my dear and personal friend, Lizzo (this is me manifesting), “It's been a minute, tell me how you're healin/Cause I'm about to get into my feelings.”
As I’ve mentioned in previous emails, I’ve been pretty massively struggling with meeting my deadline for my sophomore YA novel (out late 2024) while also ushering The Plus One into the world and preparing to do the same for Tilly in Technicolor in August (!!!!). I always forget how hard the crash is after releasing a book—going from this super high of pride and excitement and anxiety, to the crushing feeling of failure and irrelevance within a pretty short period of time—and TPO’s post-release blues really snuck up on me and held me by the throat.
I’ve spoken to a lot of author-friends about this and it does seem that no matter how well a book does, how big a book tour, how much publicity, there’s still this free-fall of a come down that makes you feel like it wasn’t good enough. You’re book wasn’t good enough. You weren’t good enough. It’s a rough road and I highly recommend all writers find a therapist to help them through it.
I’m, unfortunately, a very competitive person—it’s one of the things I’m least comfortable with about myself. This competitiveness is most often an intrinsic thing, a hunger to always outdo my past self. Be better. Be perfect. Sometimes, it’s a benefit, providing some fire and drive and ambition to push myself. But, most of the time, it ends up causing me to not be particularly nice to myself, and it’s something I’m always working on to keep in check. But I notice this ugly little monster grows after book releases. And that’s when it tends to not only size up what I’m doing, but what others are doing too. Envy is ugly, but I’m human and am willing to admit I experience it, and it oozes it’s way through me most when I’m in this post-release low.
It’s so easy to hop on silly little social media and see the big (and well deserved!) wins of others and feel so inadequate and jealous—craving the success that they’ve reached. Which is the exact opposite of how it should be, and this is a lesson I was reminded of as I was gripping for dear life to the side of a mountain during massive wind storm in Cape Town, South Africa two days ago.
For a little background, my best friend invited me and fiance on a two week trip to Cape Town, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I fell deeply in love with the city, and I’m already itching to go back. Cape Town is home to the famous Table Mountain, the summit offering you stunning 360 degree views of the city and the ocean and an adjacent mountain called Lion’s Head.
On our last morning in South Africa, my fiance and I decided to do a sunrise hike to the summit of Lion’s Head as a farewell to the city we enjoyed so much. He and I do a fair bit of hiking since we live in the Appalachian Mountains, and I’ve accidentally gotten us into some precarious and strenuous hikes that, while tough, never created any real fear for us.
Researching Lion’s Head, articles online mentioned it being a hard, but relatively short hike, and definitely worth the effort for the views at the top. They also warned of a split in the trail where you can go the long way around the mountain, or save five minutes and climb some chains and staples up a vertical portion.
Now, I also feel it’s important to mention that I have a pretty gnarly fear of heights. It’s never one that’s bothered me hiking before, so I didn’t think much of it as we set off.
The first quarter of a mile was a well-paved incline. Silly, naive, us were talking about how our calves were already burning, and wow, doesn’t it feel so nice to start the morning like this!
About an hour later, we’re in in a cloud bank, soaking wet and scrambling on slippery rocks, ducking against huge wind gusts from the ocean. Up until this point, we’d been on a pretty clear, albeit rocky, path along the edge of the mountain. It felt a little thrilling but not scary. And then we reach the split. We can either take the long way, or go straight up the rock with the chains and staples. At the bottom, a group of hikers come down, and we ask them how bad it is to do the climb. “Not bad! Honestly, the coming down is scarier.”
Here’s the thing about me, I’m afraid of heights, but also a little bit of an adrenaline junky. My fiance and I smile at each other and start the climb.
Things derail pretty quickly from there, I’m not gonna sugar coat it. The staples are slick and placed for someone taller than me. The wind really picks up, and the fear sets in. I’m able to keep myself slightly calm while I climb, repeating over and over to myself not to panic. The problem is, I keep looking around. I look down to make sure my feet are steady, and realize how high I am. I look up and see how much further I still have to go. I look to the sides and realize I can’t see anything through the mist that I convince myself is hiding a looming edge I’ll likely fall from.
Somehow, I make it to the top of this portion. And start crying like a baby! This has never happened to me before, but I really did start crying from fear. My fiance calmed me down, hugging me close, reminding me that I had done it. The problem was, I still had a long way to go until we reached the summit of the mountain.
I got in my head at this point, the fear and the nerves pulsing heavily in my hands as we continued the next mile. This portion, while free of chains, was just straight rock scrambling, hoisting myself up steep ledges, getting wetter and slicker from the heavy fog and unforgiving wind.
Then we got to the final ascent (pic above). I’ve circled the actual summit, which wasn’t visible. Nothing around us was. We got to another rock scramble up a ledge. It wasn’t any harder or different than any of the many others we’d done. But I was petrified.
I could not get myself up there. I was trying, but my hands were so shaky, they kept slipping, panic blurring my vision. We were so close to the top, only about five more minutes away, and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it because I was so damn afraid. I saw myself slipping. I saw myself falling. I saw my future self trying to get down and being stuck.
It began to hit me that a huge amplifier of the fear was that I couldn’t see anything around me. I couldn’t actually see the summit. I didn’t know what was on either side of me. How high up was I? Was there a gentle slope on the sides if I slip? Or was it a knife’s edge to the ocean below?
I watched other hikers reach this point, squeezing past me and the rock I clutched for dear life. I watched them take a deep breath, then do the climb. And I felt so frustrated, so jealous that they weren’t stuck with this fear that was eating at me, that they were able to figure out how to conquer this spot and keep heading toward the top. My fiance kept asking me if I wanted to stop. Turn around. I was very close to saying yes.
Then, a woman stopped near where I was. She planted her hands on her hips, squinting at the ledge. “This looks like a tough one,” she said, looking at me. “But it can’t be any harder than what we’ve already done.”
I watched her make the ascent, then disappear in the clouds on her way to the top. A few more people passed, and I watched them too. I stopped watching them with envy, and watched them as an example, as a guide, on what maybe I could do too.
And, miracle of miracles, (not really, I’m just dramatic), I took a deep breath, fixed my eyes on the rock in front of me, and got over the edge. And not only did I climb that part, but I made it to the top of the entire damn thing.
The funny thing was, there was no view from the top. I didn’t see a sweeping, 360 degree view of beautiful Cape Town. I didn’t see anything at all. But it still felt worth it.
I realized, on the way down, that so much of my panic came from all the things I couldn’t see and creating problems and dangers in my mind that weren’t actually there. I wasn’t focused on putting one foot in front of the other, but what danger might be lurking in the fog, what challenge would face me next, how scary it was when I made the mistake of looking down and picturing a fall, a failure. Publishing is a lot like that.
The only control I have over any of this wild journey is the words I put on the page. I can’t control how other’s interpret them, if they enjoy them. I can’t control publicity or marketing or anyone buying the damn book. I can only keep my eyes focused on the page in front of me, the story my characters want to tell. Looking at all the other stuff, the invisible, scary fog of putting work into the world, creates that panic.
But perhaps the most important part of the hike (besides, like, not injuring myself during it) was gaining the confidence to climb that spot by watching others. Where they put their feet. Where others shuffled along the side. How some stepped and others climbed on hands and knees (me). In publishing, it’s easy to get jealous. It’s easy to see people at the top of the mountain and envy that they’re there. That they mastered the climb that seems impossible to you. To be jealous at the ease someone else conquers the part you’re stuck at. But it hit me that watching others do their thing, find their path, didn’t prevent me from also climbing, from overcoming the fear that held me paralyzed. It was my own thoughts that were holding me back, and using others as a model was actually the only way I would succeed.
It wasn’t graceful or pretty or poised or calm. I was sweating and shaking and crying and doubting myself the whole time. But I still made it to the summit. What was the most beautiful was that we all did.
Tilly in Technicolor releases in 56 days, and I’m going to do everything in my power to keep my energy and attention focused on the summit, on the thrill of the journey. And, when I turn and look at others, it will be an intentional look for guidance and inspiration, not as a comparison.
The End 🤡
No matter what challenges you’re facing, I hope you are kind to yourself. Being cruel never resulted in a better finished product.
All my love,
The [Horrifying] GIF
Can’t forget this thing:
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