June began in San Antonio at the Historical Novel Society’s North American Conference, the first in-person writing conference I’ve attended since 2019. I’d forgotten how energizing it was to be around other writers. From the moment I stepped into the hotel lobby, I found myself swept up in an atmosphere of positivity and creativity.  

A large part of the enjoyment was my complete lack of agenda. I wasn’t there to promote or pitch or network. I was there to learn and absorb as much information as I could. My muse, which had been starving for the opportunity soaked it up like a sponge. It wasn’t until I returned and remembered what it was like walking the corridors between workshops that I realized how much I need writing events in my life. 

Conferences are where I am at my most authentic. Most of my days are spent walking the line between my writing ambition and other responsibilities. But at a conference, all the other facets of my personality all away leaving me free to think, breathe and talk writing.


I came home determined to harness my San Antonio energy, only to find myself on a flight to Rejkavik thirty-six hours after landing. To visit Iceland is to see nature in all its glory. As my husband liked to say, “The landscape changed every ten minutes.” Miles of green farmland would suddenly switch and become barren lava fields, or we’d turn a corner to see a glacier looming behind a field of lupine. So much of the country was untouched as well. Icelanders are very content to leave their country wild and rugged. I drank it all in, storing the images and ideas for future use.


Then came the down part of the month. A perfect storm of fatigue, time zones, and a lack of gluten-free food gave me the post-travel crud from hell. I spent five days flat on my back, with a fever and unable to keep anything down. By the time I recovered, June was almost over, the energy and enthusiasm from earlier, but a distance memory.

The reason I feel so untethered in the balancing act I mentioned earlier. Having lost three weeks, I’m in catch-up mode, meaning my days are split between administrative tasks and things like grocery shopping and laundry. There are other reasons as well, but this is the only one in my control.

And so, we reach the point of this essay.

Run (or Swim) Your Own Race

At the 2016 Olympics, South African swimmer Chad le Clos was considered Michael Phelps’s biggest challenger in the 200-meter butterfly. He beat Phelps in 2012, and he had the best time in the preliminaries. But when the race was over, le Clos wasn’t on the medal stand. He’d finished fourth in what was the worst race of his career. 

So, what happened?

During the race, le Clos looked over to see how Phelps was performing. Although just a split second, the glance was enough to distract him. Instead of swimming his race, he began racing Phelps. 

We hear things like “Run your own race” and “Stay in your lane” a lot. My colleagues and I are fond of saying, “Eyes on your own paper.” It’s a reminder that the only progress that matters is your own. Not your friend’s, not Kate Quinn’s, not that new writer who just signed with your dream agent’s .

The problem is that on days when your muse is on fragile ground – those days when you’re juggling a dozen different balls and can’t seem to gain any momentum – running your own race is hard. It’s so easy to let anxiety and judgment take control when a deal notice pops into your feed while you’re standing in the checkout line for the second time that week or when friend and friend start stressing about the industry.

That’s the mindset I’ve been battling since I beat the post-conference crud. While this doesn’t seem like a big deal, it’s costing me momentum. Rather than plodding along at my own pace, writing my own story, I’m wasting energy worrying about others. If I’m not careful, I’ll end up like Chad le Clos – sitting on the sidelines watching others collecting their prize.

The only way to regain my momentum, I realize, is to put on blinders. That is, mentally block out the negativity and industry news going on around me, and like Michael Phelps, run my own race.

Therefore, beginning after the holiday, I’m limiting my time online to only the very necessary and for the month of July spend as much energy as possible on my recent project. Fingers crossed, I will get back all the great mojo I had in San Antonio.

Barb Recommends:

What I’m Reading:

The Paris Agent by Kelly Rimmer: This story of WW2 espionage is complex and emotionally gripping. Forty pages in, I’m already on the edge of my seat fearing what will happen.

What I’m Watching:

Happy, Shiny People on Amazon Prime: A documentary that exposes the truth behind the Duggar family and the Institute in Basic Life Principles. Sexual abuse, corporeal punishment, lies…it’s scary.  

What I’m Listening to:

No Stupid Questions on the Freakonomics Network: Each week, host Angela Duckworth (author of Grit) and her guests discuss such questions as “Is it okay to be average” and “What is fun anyway”? I love listening to Angela’s self-deprecating humor.