Welcome to So Relatable, a bi-weekly newsletter featuring conversations about the creative process, suggestions for nourishing yourself, and inspiring links. ✨
Before my career in marketing, I spent nearly ten years in academia. I held many roles during that decade—librarian, research specialist, teaching assistant, adjunct—but one constant was a certain feeling that arrived each fall, a feeling I welcome to this day. I call it Big September Energy.
Big September Energy is New Year Energy’s spunky younger sister. Less a reckoning, and more an opportunity. While it has roots in academia, it doesn’t belong solely to the back-to-school crowd—Big September Energy is open to all of us. For me, September arrives on the heels of my birthday, after a long, languid summer when I’m in need of some fresh motivation. It also marks the start of what my goal-setting club calls Q4, the final quarter of the year and our last chance to make good on the lofty goals we set back in January. Big September Energy is renewed inspiration, an infusion of hope, and a dash of audacity.
Because I’m me, I usually celebrate September with a mile-long to-do list, but this year I’m trying something different. Instead of tackling 17 projects, I’m channeling my Big September Energy into one goal: finish the current draft of my novel, and send it to my two best readers for feedback.
This single-minded focus is partly inspired by the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown, which I recently read and really enjoyed. Essentialism, as McKeown explains, is a system for “figuring out what is most essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution toward the things that really matter.” In other words: less, but better.
The book was published in 2014, and spends a little too much time hero-worshipping certain corporate tech leaders. (Especially in light of 2016’s ongoing aftermath…) Putting that aside, however, there are still plenty of great lessons for the creatives and try-hards among us. Lessons like prioritizing your art, so your precious time isn’t lost to other obligations. Turning down opportunities, even good ones, if they don’t help you achieve your most important goal. Keeping your to-do list short and fluff-free, so you can make more progress where it actually counts.
One of my favorite chapters is called “Flow: The Genius of Routine.” (We love a routine!) In it, McKeown writes:
To some, routine can sound like where creativity and innovation go to die—the ultimate exercise in boredom. We even use the word as a synonym for pallid and bland, as in “It had just become routine for me.” And routines can indeed become this—the wrong routines. But the right routines can actually enhance innovation and creativity by giving us the equivalent of an energy rebate. Instead of spending our limited supply of discipline on making the same decisions again and again, embedding our decisions into our routine allows us to channel that discipline toward some other essential activity.
My writing routine is why I set my coffee to automatically brew the night before, why I wake up at 5:45 a.m. every day, why I gave up drinking alcohol during the week, why I send this newsletter every other Sunday. At first, it was a struggle to do those things—I hit snooze one too many times, I woke with mild hangovers, I barely hit publish on time. But now, after years of practice, my routine is second nature. I do it without even thinking, which frees me to think instead about the work in front of me, the story taking shape, the sentence on the page.
When Big September Energy arrives, I’m free to spend it how I want, and this year that means finally finishing my draft. An opportune time indeed.
Snack of the Week
For those of us who live near the beach, Labor Day Weekend marks the beginning of my favorite season—Local Summer. The tourists have cleared out and the beaches are empty, but it’s still 90 degrees and the water is perfect. For the next two months we don’t have to gaze at the ocean over the heads of a hundred sunbathers, circle the beach searching for parking, or wait in long lines at restaurants and bars. This weekend, we celebrated the start of Local Summer with a beach day, made even more perfect thanks to this smoky tempeh sandwich from Whole Foods, complete with lettuce, tomato, avocado, and vegan garlic aioli.
I lived in Texas for most of my 20s, so I was extra gutted to learn of Senate Bill 8, a new, absolutely inhumane law that bans abortion in Texas after six weeks (which is before most people even know they’re pregnant) and offers a $10,000 bounty on anyone who helps someone obtain an abortion. If you have a few extra dollars, you should probably send them to the Texas Abortion Fund right now. ❤️
What Makes Writing Groups Work? I’m a big fan of Nicole’s newsletter, and this issue offers some great tips and guidelines for writing groups. I joined one this past April (they’re currently reading my novel one chapter at a time; bless them!) and it’s been the best thing to happen to my writing life since the MFA. If you can find or start a group of your own, I highly recommend it! 🍩
The Ambiguous Loss of (Probably) Not Selling My Novel, LitHub. “When your book is on submission, there’s a pressure of silence till you know the end, a secret you keep, assuming there will be a time when you can recount the story of how it all worked out. You imagine that sheepish and giddy post, never the one saying it never happened; most people, it appears, let that sort of secret dissolve into the ether.” Having not sold two novels myself, this essay by Danielle Lazarin was extremely relatable and very beautiful. 📚
Wellness Mommy Bloggers and the Cultish Language They Use, Harper’s Bazaar. “‘Do your research’ is the ultimate thought-terminating cliché, because it claims to empower the recipient to draw her own conclusions based on her own critical thinking and evaluation of source material, but in actuality, ‘Do your research’ demands the exact opposite: total conformity to the speaker’s viewpoint.” Loved this deep dive into how the internet’s “truth telling mamas” use language in insidious ways. 💬
Thank you to Lucy H. and Elizabeth C. for helping me to celebrate 1,000 readers with a triumphant cup of coffee, and giving me the energy to tackle September!
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