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Archive for August 6th, 2015

Sierra Dafoe: World-Building — It’s Not Just for Writers
Thursday, August 6th, 2015


Hi, Delilah and everybody! It’s really wonderful to be here today — and a bit daunting, as well. You see, ten years ago I started publishing erotic romance. I’d been writing forever (at least, I think “since second grade” when you’re now fifty-one counts as forever), but 2006 was my first attempt at making writing any kind of a career. And to give myself credit, it was a pretty good attempt. Within three years I’d published over two dozen novellas, many of them pretty well-received, some of them award-winners. A few were even best-sellers on Amazon and ARe.

And then everything (or rather me, precisely) went crash.

I’d originally thought about titling this When the Words Stop, except that’s not really what happened. What happened was that the gulf between the words in my brain and my ability to get them down on paper became, for a long time, unbridgeable. A lot of things happened during that time: I got divorced. Filed bankruptcy. Had what I can only classify now, in retrospect, as a nervous breakdown. But that’s not really what I want to talk about.

The truth is, we all go through horrible things in our lives. Things that can really break us; sometimes permanently, sometimes in ways we don’t even recognize until years or even decades later. And sometimes, something happens in our present lives that hits right against those underlying fractures, and what we’d thought were solid, intentionally-chosen lives shatter like yard-sale figurines. And sometimes, when that happens, we realize those lives were actually pretty chipped and, well, unappealing all along.

Which is actually, if you think about it, a remarkable gift. I mean, how many times do we have the chance to start at square one? To really stop and reassess who we are, what’s important to us, what we want to do? To be?

sdCaptureNot that, for the first few years at least, I could appreciate that 🙂 Truth is, there was very little in my life that wasn’t a complete wreck. Finances? Ye gods. It’d be fair to say that for quite a while there, I basically didn’t have any. Living situation? Ditto, honestly. I couldn’t focus on anything. I couldn’t even, for the better part of a year, simply manage to stay in one place – three days, four days anywhere, and I started feeling like I was crawling out of my skin. And I had no idea what had happened to me. It was really pretty terrifying.

But what I eventually discovered, in and amidst the wreckage, was a much clearer sense of what was truly important to me, what I really wanted in my life. My friends. My son. A sense of self-respect (unlike friends and son, this was something I was chagrined to discover I’d only thought I had – when push came to shove, or rather life encountered “crash”, I came hard up against the realization that it was mostly illusory).

And yes, the writing.

There have been few experiences in my life as exhilarating as watching a story unfold in ways I didn’t expect, watching it surprise me, watching it take on a life of its own. When I hit those points — when a story has a resonance, a reality, all of its own — honestly, I feel like I’ve done something good. Something important. Brought something into the world that really wanted to be there. Not every story I’ve written has hit that mark for me. But a lot of them have. And I’m beginning to have faith that a lot of them will again.

It’s been a seriously slow slog these past five years, putting a life back together from square one. But the big upside is that, in the process of doing so — heck, simply in order to be able to do so — I had to take a hard, uncompromising, bare-bones look at a lot of beliefs (and behaviors) I’d been carrying around for decades, without even being aware of them.

And then I had to change them. One by one.

There are two blogs that really helped me recognize, challenge, and reshape my thinking, and I’d like to share them with you. The first is called Baggage Reclaim (link:, and while it bills itself as — and definitely is — a “dating & relationship blog”, at heart what most of the problems and issues blog owner Natalie Lue discusses really revolve around is your relationship with yourself. Around the need to be honest with yourself, and with the people in your life.

The second is Zen Habits, written by Leo Babauta. (link: In far more prosaic fashion, he looks at — what a shock! — habits. Of both the physical and mental varieties. With a cheery sort of fearlessness that occasionally made me want to smack him upside the head, but which, in my less-exasperated moments, I also found really encouraging.

If there’s any one thing I’ve taken away from the past five years, it’s a deep-seated awareness that our lives are ours. Ours to shape any way we want. Even when we can’t change the world around us, we can shape our own responses to it. We can look at our lives afresh, as often as we need or want to, and choose what we want to put in them. What we want to make important. As hard or scary or daunting as it can sometimes be, we can build our worlds.

I’d like to leave you with an image, one that has both challenged and comforted me many times over the past few years, and renewed my courage when it was flagging. It might be anti-romantic in some ways, but…

Delilah, thank you so much for having me here today. And thank you to everyone who happens to stop by!

— Sierra