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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

9 comments to “Sierra Dafoe: World-Building — It’s Not Just for Writers”

  1. Ashlyn Chase
    · August 6th, 2015 at 11:37 am · Link

    Awesome post, Sierra!
    I applaud your bravery. I went through some similar trials. Divorce (twice–not that I’m trying to one-up you, LOL) ‘nervous breakdown’, moving too much, single parenthood, poverty…
    Yeah, fun stuff (not.)

    I totally get what you’re saying about finding out self-esteem isn’t overrated. I did lots of soul searching and growing during those years. Thank goodness my life is now pretty much exactly the way I want it.

    I hope you also find your bliss, very soon. 8)

  2. Sierra Dafoe
    · August 6th, 2015 at 11:44 am · Link

    That’s not one-upping; that’s just proving you’re a die-hard optimist, Ash! 😛

    Right now for me, the bliss is in the work — it took so long to get to a point where I could even start tackling all this stuff that there’s a real joy in being in the thick of it, sleeves rolled up, some days with barely a chance to life my head up and breathe… But that’s okay 😀 I know where I’m going, and I know I’ll eventually get there.

    Thanks for the kind words! It’s good to see you.

  3. Sierra Dafoe
    · August 6th, 2015 at 12:03 pm · Link

    Oh, and this: “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…”

    — is referring to the image at the top of the blog entry. Because yeah. Sometimes you have to be your own hero. 😉

  4. Stacey Brutger
    · August 6th, 2015 at 1:42 pm · Link

    Congratulations on getting back into writing. Writing can be a lot harder than people expect, especially when life happens.

    I stumbled on one of your books years ago and devoured everything you wrote.

    It’s nice to see you have a new release! Welcome Back!

  5. Sierra Dafoe
    · August 6th, 2015 at 4:30 pm · Link

    Stacy, what a kind thing to say! Thank you. It’s good to be back!

    And speaking of being back, I had a dr.’s appointment this afternoon and had to duck out for a bit. But I’m back now :mrgreen:

  6. flchen1
    · August 6th, 2015 at 4:50 pm · Link

    Huge hugs, Sierra! Thanks for sharing a bit of your journey with us–so brave, to let us see some of your vulnerability. Life definitely doesn’t always turn out the way one thinks, and it’s a gift when we have the chance to see how that’s a good thing 🙂 Welcome back to your writing self, too! Hooray!

  7. Sierra Dafoe
    · August 6th, 2015 at 5:55 pm · Link

    Heya Fedora! I think a lot of us often feel very alone with our struggles. It’s like we have this terror that if we admit how terrified or confused or lost we feel, others will somehow look down on us for it. I still have that terror too but the irony is, what I’ve usually found when I’ve opened up and shared things is that whoever I’m talking with often gets this HUGE look of relief on their face, because suddenly it’s okay for them to feel lost and terrified, too. Because suddenly they know they’re not alone 😀

  8. Marty Rayne
    · August 6th, 2015 at 6:00 pm · Link

    Welcome back, Sierra. 🙂
    I love this sentence: “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.”
    I can identify so much with it. My life has gone through some major changes the last 7 yrs & this perfectly describes what happened to me. I’m finally overcoming it and writing again.
    Your bravery is an inspiration to any who want/need to start over again. Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to read your latest release.

  9. flchen1
    · August 6th, 2015 at 7:20 pm · Link

    I do think that is true, Sierra–whether in person or on FB or by another means, I think we’re often relieved and comforted to find fellow traveler on the road who’ll admit to some weakness 🙂 And somehow that admission actually gives us strength of sorts.

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