Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Getting Real

It was a pretty normal Thursday morning. I texted my boyfriend, “I don’t even believe in souls but I think mine is dying”. It did even occur to me how melodramatic that sounded until after I sent it. I wasn’t trying to be a sad rag or a drama queen. I was just trying to express how I felt in that moment to the person that cares the most about those feelings.

It bothered me, that message. I began to think more seriously about the number that my doctor had given me, for self-referral to a therapist. We’d made light of it in her office, my insistence that my bunnies and my running were more than enough to stave off the mild bouts of depression I was sometimes bothered with. But maybe I wasn’t holding up as well as I thought.

I decided to do a self test on Psychology Today, just to see. As I was taking the test, I found myself thinking “Well, yeah, I feel sad a lot and everything sucks and I get anxious, that’s all normal. I don’t have any of these real symptoms like hearing voices, uncontrollable urges, panic attacks, etc.” It wasn’t until I was almost done that it occurred to me—maybe these things that I think are so fucking normal, that they are pointless to try to fix because I’m not really unwell, maybe other people out there would look at those items and think they are just as outlandish as the others. Maybe not everyone feels the way I do. So maybe I would call that number, later, in some future version of me that could actually pick up the phone and make that step.

When my boyfriend managed to call me that afternoon (a rare and wonderful occurrence as he is on deployment), I ended up lying on the floor of my living room, sobbing. About nothing, really, just an overwhelming agony at the fact of living my life. I was so ashamed. I felt like—feel like—I am falling to pieces. The black hole that sometimes resides in my chest has taken up a residence there so permanent that I’m not sure—that I would really be me without it there.

But enough is enough. I picked up the phone. It was terrifying, honestly. I almost hung up on the receptionist multiple times, just backed out and wanted to say “No, this is all a mistake, I just need to try harder to smile and focus on the positives in my life and I’m wasting your time because I’m just lazy,” but I didn’t. I stayed on the line. I have an appointment next week. I’m terrified to go, but I’m even more terrified to keep going on like this.

(Note: I wrote this post--or a version of it--originally for myself as a journal entry. I decided to post it here in case my experience can help anyone else. I know that many creative types struggle with issues like this, and I do believe there is hope for us all!)

Monday, November 10, 2014

One Third NaNo Check-in

Since today is a nice even number, thanks to our decimal system, as well as a nice even fraction of the month, I thought it a great time to check in on that frantic writing beast that is NaNoWriMo.

This is a pretty critical time in the life of a NaNoer. There are three main possibilities of where you are at, and I’ll look at each of those and the way forward.

1. You’re behind (<16,667 words). This may range from lagging a bit (say, 15kish) to “oh gods what am I doing” (say, 0) or anywhere in between. You’re probably frustrated about being behind. You thought you were going to slay the great NaNo beast, and instead it’s kind of kicking your ass. You may be thinking about giving up—you may have given up already! But in any case, things are not hopeless! Even if you are in our “oh gods” category, you could hit 50k by writing 2,500 words a day from here on out. That is completely doable. Besides, chances are you’ve written more than zero words, so 2,500 per day is the absolute, worst case scenario. Now let’s say that you’re in the lagging category, sitting right around 15k words. This could be a potentially more dangerous zone, believe it or not. You’re only 1 day of words behind. There is absolutely plenty of time to catch up—and you know it. So stop telling yourself that you’ll catch up later. Remember, the end of November tends to be busier than the beginning for a lot of people. Catch up now. No more excuses, you are within striking range!

2. You’re right on track (16,000-17,000 words). Good job! You likely have a schedule and a plan and are sticking to it. Maybe you hit exactly 1,667 every day and are chugging along. Maybe you’re a bit more erratic, but every few days you make sure you hit that goal line. Maybe you just had one really good day on November 1! In any case, you’re on track. Keep doing what you’re doing, but beware of burnout. You haven’t left yourself any margin, so you need to be good about sticking to your plan/schedule. But don’t worry too much, pat yourself on the back, and keeping NaNoing strong.

3. You’re ahead (>16,667 words). Congratulations! You’ve been a whirlwind of writing for the past 10 days. Maybe you want to finish early enough to enjoy Thankgsiving pie in peace. Maybe your personal goal is >50k. Maybe you’re just so in love with your new novel that it demands to be written and you must comply. You probably don’t need much advice, but I’ll just caution you against resting on your laurels. Building up a buffer so that you can enjoy a weekend off is great, but when that weekend stretches to 2 weeks…just remember, you haven’t won until 50k! (I mean, officially. I think anyone who participates has won!)

So there we have it. No matter if you’ve written 0 words or 49,999 words, your November writing adventure can end in that elusive win—or not. It’s up to you, and I have full faith!

 As a bonus, here is a pep talk I made a couple years ago, in case that sort of thing helps you. Happy NaNoing!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Am I Good Enough? How Do I Know?

I don’t think artists and writers are, in general, known for being completely calm, level-headed, secure people. Stereotype it may be, but I sure live up to the idea of a writer whose confidence varies wildly, rising to euphoric heights before crashing down so low I just want to curl up in a ball and moan “Whyyyy did I think I could do this??”

And I’m in the latter phase right now.

Editing for novel 7 has been slow. And not just slow but excruciating. Completing even a single scene, which may involve as few as 100 new words and some minor information dropped or a twirl of description added, seems like a gargantuan effort of will. I look at my list of revision notes and wonder why I so blithely dashed off notes to myself about entire new worlds and scenes to populate. And most of all, I look at the manuscript that I once loved and I think—I can’t do this. I don’t have what it takes.

It’s not just this revision or this manuscript or this moment in time, either. It’s the long slog of an unpublished writer. I read constantly about the hundreds of rejections that published authors had to overcome. I know about the endless rounds of querying and the “it just takes one yes!” mantra. So I, like many others, chin up and soldier forward, in search of that elusive agent, that elusive contract, the elusive dream of my book on a shelf for readers to enjoy.

But how do you know if you’re on the “hundreds of rejections before I found my agent” path or the “hundreds of rejections followed by hundreds more” path? Basically, how do you know if you’re actually good enough?

For a lot of people—myself included—this is a large part of the draw of trad publishing. I don’t think I could deal with the soul-crushing defeat of self-publishing and then no one reading it. It would be the end of my writerly aspirations, the humiliating squeak with which my unborn career dies. So I churn out query letters, I read books on craft, I write as much as I can, I read books on editing, I revise my writing, I get betas, I seek feedback, more query letters, endless lists of agents and the frissons of hope at every agent email that lands in my inbox. My turn could be coming.

Or maybe it’s not. There are a million wannabe writers out there, and while it’s nice to believe that none of them have mastered craft and storytelling and grammar like I have, while it’s nice to think none of them know how to follow submission guidelines, that we’re all just grinding out against the faceless wall of “no response means no” until we catch a break that is akin to winning the lottery. But the fact is that there are writers getting signed and published every day—and I’m not one of them. I’m in the slush pile with hundreds and thousands of other writers who are every bit as talented as I am and more.

So how do I know? How do I know if it’s delusion on my part? How do I know if the problem is my query letter or my first page or my first chapter or the whole manuscript or every manuscript I write?

I don’t know. I guess I just have to keep going until I find myself curled up in a ball, moaning, and don’t know how to get up anymore.