It has been a little over three months since I last posted. I thought it had been six, so it’s not as bad as I feared. I also promised myself I wouldn’t have a bunch of “sorry I haven’t posted in so long”s on my blog, so I’m not really going to drag this out.
I started to write exactly what I wanted to say for this post, the reason I decided to make a new one, but it was too much. Everything is too wrapped up in what I’ve been up to, and I have been up to just enough I can’t add it all in one reasonably-sized article. So I’ve decided to split this up. This week I’ll talk about what’s been going on these past few months, and then next week I’ll actually talk about what I’ve learned from it all.
What have I been up to?
First and foremost, I got surgery!
Since before this damned pandemic started, I’ve been trying to set things up to get it, but then…y’know…the world fucking ended. Everything opened up, I squeezed in an appointment, and now BAM. I’m a couple organs lighter. Feelsgood.jpg.
This was last Wednesday and so I’m barred from lifting anything heavier than 10 lbs until August 25th. I’m starting to come off of the OTC painkillers, so I’m feeling pretty okay. I’d like to walk a little outside like I’m supposed to, but I don’t feel like melting, so I’ve been pacing in my house like a crazy person.
This has given me the excuse I need to read and write more consistently, too, so all kinds of wins came out of this one.
Gave up on writing
And then I didn’t. And then I did again. It’s been a cycle of “I think I know what I’m doing now!” to “how could I have deluded myself into thinking I could do this at all?” over and over again. The lows have been some major depressive episodes, barely able to get out of bed because I was so disappointed in myself (and having a history of depression doesn’t help much, either).
Even though this is exactly the kind of writer’s life ‘thing’ I wanted to blog about, I couldn’t make myself do it. I felt if I tried to keep up my schedule of at least one post a week, it would be post after post of “I don’t know what I’m doing and this is haaaaard,” insulting to everyone who gets up every morning before work or kids or spouses to bang out as many words as they can.
But honestly, this is just how it is. I started this brand new career with no real training and no idea what I was doing, and, as my wonderful husband put it: figuring out what doesn’t work is also working. I’m essentially training myself which will take a lot of trial and error. I’m going to write more on this next week (this is what I originally wanted to talk about in this post), but that’s your preview, I guess. Which brings me to:
Figured some shit out
Not everything, mind you. But some shit.
I finally have a bit of a pattern to follow until I get to the end of my novel (the one I said I was going to try to finish this year, and…actually might get to the end of this draft by then???). I still don’t know for sure if this will be the answer to all my problems, but it’s been working enough I feel okay writing about it.
Either way, I haven’t broken down in tears in at least four days, so I got that going for me which is nice. No one said this job was going to be easy, especially not when you’re like me and put all of the pressure on yourself.
So what’s next?
I really, really want to get back to posting every week. I still don’t feel qualified to post a lot of “how to” articles, but I’ll sprinkle in some posts about what I’ve been learning. I’ve been doing more reading, so I will try to start writing more about that, and I’m sure there will be other things as well, both writing related and not. The next couple of weeks I’ll be doing some thinking about it, making it my job again, so hopefully I can go back to how it was. Albeit with some more fitting content.
The one where Charlie realizes they have no idea wtf they’re doing.
Something I really wish I could do is skip forward to the point where I know what I’m doing at this job. Then I would have the answer for at least a few of these questions as it pertains to my style and process:
Is this bit of preparation something that will actually help make my book better? Will I have enough skill to make sure that this minor character’s story arc and psychological growth will appear to those who read this story without it being a moralistic spoonfeeding session? Is this a story I should even bother finishing or just count as a loss and move on to more exciting projects?
Then of course, the big question: is this story ever going to be any good?
I’ll never have the answers to these questions until it’s done. That’s the painful part of writing, I guess. It’s a lot of work to get your story planned, your characters breathing, your plot rolling along, and then you have to keep hammering away until it resembles something remotely okay. The whole time you just trust that eventually someone might want to read the nonsense you’ve been butchering.
This isn’t a new revelation: writers have been complaining about this part for ages. I’m only now getting to this point because I rarely get past a first draft, or I’ll write short stories which are easier to not think as hard about.
First drafts are all the good feelings: “oh boy, this is amazing! There’s no way this could be flawed!” and then you can just put it away, whistling innocently. The subsequent drafts are you on your knees scrubbing, praying the bloodstains come out of the carpet.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that no matter how cocky you are right now (like I was before this), you will come to this point, too. The experts say don’t quit here, so I’m not going to, but dear god is it tempting. It hurts to finally open your eyes to the faults in your story. To see the supporting characters as flat or to realize a bit of world building you thought was compelling and unique doesn’t actually make any sense.
But I’m trying to remember that every first draft has massive problems, and I can see mine because I have been paying attention. I have studied stories from the greats, I have picked apart trash, and I can see where my work falls short precisely because I’m not a lost cause. What I can see, I can fix. What I can’t see, I hope my beta readers will point out to me, and then I can fix those problems, too. Which will be another painful process in itself, but let’s take this one gut-punch at a time, yeah?
Another update on the current novel. Sometimes you gotta raze your work to the ground to build something better.
Life the past year has been…let’s just say “complicated.” For anyone out there who feels like they’ve been failing themselves, join the club. We’ve all struggled to do what we’ve wanted or needed to do consistently while the world has been, y’know, ending. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. It just means we should be easy on ourselves when we fail.
The good news is, I have gotten my first dose of the vaccine, and I have finally entered the next phase of this book.
As I said in a previous post, I started this beast November 2009. It’s been extremely slow-going, but it has been going (sometimes), and that’s the important part. So what’s this new phase?
REWRITING. I am officially to the point where I have a true beginning, middle, and end planned (adding in the new second half of the book since I decided not to make it the duology I thought it was going to be). Everything is set up and organized to make the next iteration of this story a little deeper and better overall. Now it’s time to put fingers to keyboard!
In starting this next phase, I am slowly starting to realize just how little I planned when I started writing approximately one million years ago. I am still on the very first chapter and I keep having to go back to worldbuilding and character decisions I made forever ago, and undo what I had.
This isn’t a problem necessarily – I get a massive dopamine rush when I smooth out wrinkles – but it is wearing a little on my patience. I feel like I need to already have everything figured out and ready to go so that I can just sit in one spot and write for hours on end, but I keep finding problems or “that’s not quite right”s that I need to fix. But that’s what rewriting is for, isn’t it?
Plot holes are being plugged, character arcs and motivations are being better mapped out, and the weird ideas I had and never questioned are being removed. Or enhanced. Gotta have some weird, am I right?
What am I doing now?
I’m actually taking a look at what it will be like if I start from scratch entirely. Keep the basic plot points/beats of the main story, but start over with character creation, the way the story is told, the overall feel of the book. I just feel like something is missing from the originally ideas and I’m not 100% sure I can salvage what I have by just shuffling things around.
Basically this would be returning to the “ooh, I have an idea for a book!” phase of it all. I was afraid when I first thought about doing this because I thought that maybe I was just finding a loophole so that I could feel like I’m writing something new, but talking with my other writer friends, this isn’t something that’s entirely uncommon. Sometimes you just gotta raze your shit to the ground to build something better.
But what are you doing writing this post, Charlie?
Jeez, way to call me out, y’all.
Right now I’m trying to build momentum. I haven’t been writing very much the past, well…way too long and now I’m having trouble getting back into the swing of things. So now I’m writing this post to both update you all on how it’s going since I haven’t said much, and to stretch my fingers out a bit.
I’m hoping I can get my brain to focus on work in general and then I can focus more on this novel specifically. Hopefully. Pomos are helping too, but everything is incremental progress.
And that’s okay. Sometimes your progress will be agonizingly slow and take days or weeks to even make a dent, but just keep at it and eventually you will get there. Each step gets you closer, whether you’re walking or running.
For someone who wanted to write about how my writing life is going, I sure don’t talk a lot about what I’m actually writing…crippling self-consciousness will do that, I suppose. I’ve written this introduction about ten different times, adding and removing disclaimers, rewording sentences, nearly deleting this entire blog and setting fire to my computer to go back to living in the wild…you know: just writer things…
The truth is, this self-consciousness is getting embarrassing. Of course not everything I write will be perfect. Obviously not everyone is going to like even my greatest work. To pretend that it could be any other way is a ridiculous fantasy and is only hurting my ability to get this job done.
I need to figure out how to talk about my work without feeling like a child, for both future professional conversations and for allowing y’all to see what I’m working on. With this in mind, let’s do a rundown of what this novel is about, the process so far, and what I’ve been doing on it recently.
What it’s about
This is the part I’m the worst at. Explaining the plot of the more complex stories I write feels like trying to slowly rip the skin off my bones while waiting to see if the other person laughs at me for it.
Something I did a while ago was write some summaries/pitches/teasers for stories I’d been working on, so I could organize my thoughts better. This is the current (definitely not final) draft for this one:
A teenager attends her own funeral where her saviors are arrested. A Legionnaire is sent on a suicide mission as an incoherent babbler kidnaps a convenience store clerk. Fresh out of training, a Guardian Angel stumbles upon a well-kept secret. Their stories coalesce to upend the assumptions of Good versus Evil for the rest of time.
Still reading? Cool.
The beginning of, well, something
This novel was originally started alllll the way back in 2009 for NaNoWriMo. It was the first/only time I got to 50k words within the month, and wrote a beginning, middle, and end. I was mostly able to do this because I was alone the entire time except the 24 hours a week I worked.
The method I used was full on pantsing. I started with “girl trying to keep her past involvement with angels secret” and went from there. It was a process of “pace around and think of the next few steps,” write it down, then repeat until the end, occasionally with a glass or three of wine.
Like almost every novel idea I’ve had, it evolved into a series – a trilogy, in this case. After finishing the first draft, I decided to get the basics down for the next two books before I rewrote the first. I only got a little way into the second book before putting pause on my writing for nearly half a decade.
Editing draft zero
A few years ago, I read through my first draft and it was a mess. Notes and complaints dotted the draft and needed to be removed or acted on. Chapter dispersion was uneven – sometimes I switched between characters as one would expect and other times I stayed with a single character until I couldn’t think of what to do with them anymore. This led to a lot of plot inconsistencies and timeline problems. Scenes had been written and then rewritten, with both versions kept in. And of course I found plot holes you could drive a damn bus through.
What I ended up doing was printing everything out and using scissors to cut up every scene. I sat on the floor to stack each piece into which character was the focus of the story at that point, and then made a new stack as I reordered what I had into a readable narrative. As I moved the text around in my document, I also added placeholder chapters. This is a mostly blank page that says “Chapter 23 [character y] does [x]” so that I could make sure the next chapter for that character made sense.
The method of writing was chaotic, and the editing process equally so. Especially because I ended up sick during the process and prescribed Vicodin. So at times I was editing while high on medication, what I wrote while drunk.
Pro tip: don’t do that.
Eventually, I could stop taking the drugs, and I rewrote many passages so they weren’t as messy. I deleted notes, cleaned up the prose a little, and ended up putting everything on hold all over again. Every time I tried to work on it after, I felt so disconnected from who I was when I wrote it, I gave up. Or so I thought.
Enter the year of finishing things
First, I started about four other novels I still haven’t gotten as far on. After the last one in NaNo of 2020, I decided to go back and actually finish what I’ve started. I thought this was going to be painful and cringey to see the mess I left myself but I surprised myself halfway through. I cared about the characters and even though I knew what happened, found myself tense during the more exciting scenes.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of work to be done on this beast. Not only that, I realized a trilogy would be stretching it too far, so I opted to make it one book. This means I need to add an entirely new half to the plot. But that’s okay! I know where I’m headed.
What does this process look like now?
Since starting this new initiative, I’ve *deep breath* reread the book thrice, made notes on all of the ridiculous things I need to cut or change, made notes on all of the plot holes or worldbuilding I skimped out on, decided to make it all into one book, began to fill out the world better, and have started to consider combining or removing characters entirely.
It feels a lot like I’m not making progress because the book’s word count is unaffected by my efforts, but it will lay the groundwork for a much better rewrite later.
Overall, my biggest goal is to finish the book. If I make it great, then I will be ecstatic, but I’m mostly going for decent and complete. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself so I don’t fuss over it so much it remains undone. So here I am, announcing that intention and sharing the premise.
As you’ve probably noticed from my fluctuation between complaining and a lack of posts, I have had some issues writing after quitting my “day job.” I thought at first I just didn’t have the right story idea. Maybe the plot I had in mind (or the characters, or the setting, or the everything altogether) was bad and I wasn’t going to get it to work, so I abandoned the idea. This happened twice in a row. Then I thought that I was pushing myself to work too much or too often. So I took a break.
After my break, I felt much better – for about a day. Then I went straight back into feeling like shit and static filling my head. Maybe I was overwhelming myself with the steps to write something to completion. So I built a system to keep myself focused. This worked for about two weeks and then I fell right back into the pit.
Maybe I was depressed again. So I decided to narrow down what I was doing, lighten my workload. But I still suffered this…blockage of sorts. What the hell was going on?
Finally I realized I felt the worst when something external reminded me about writing. Someone would ask how my book was coming along. Or they’d make a snarky comment about how I wasn’t working on a Saturday. Just taking a peek at Medium I’d get bombarded with all kinds of writing advice articles.
The articles were, interestingly enough, the worst. Individually they aren’t bad, but I’d sit down and read a bunch in a row. Every single one of them basically saying the same thing: I should be writing content every single day.
And the problem isn’t that producing content is bad. I’m writing content right now. The problem starts when you let this outside world into your private routine. When you allow others to tell you how to write or what to write or when to write. And this happens very easily when you feel that your process or your job isn’t valid.
So what changed?
I can’t say for sure exactly where I unfucked myself. Most likely, it was a culmination of a few things.
First, I stopped trying to make myself an “authority” on anything. I stopped writing the how-to posts here. This eased my impostor syndrome quite a bit, and being honest about it felt great, but had the unintended side effect of a minor, uh, existential crisis.
What should I write now? What do I even have to say? Do I have something to say? Should I just stfu and shut down the blog?
The adage is to write what you know, but what did I really know? Well…I knew a lot about my own experiences with depression and anxiety. So I drafted up a few Medium articles on that. And never posted them.
I’m still learning how to be more honest with myself about my emotions – broadcasting heavy thoughts like that with my name out there for everyone to see felt…wrong. I just couldn’t make myself do it. What I wrote was “authentic” I guess, but publishing it just didn’t feel like me. I kept asking myself, “if not that, then what?” I agonized over this for way too long until I finally asked myself the real questions:
What drew me to writing in the first place? What is it that I like to read?
I love books that are filled with characters who struggle. I love stepping into worlds that are rich and vibrant. Adventures that make me feel alive. Relationships that feel authentic and sweet, even if they start off a bit rocky. I want to open a book and see a massive universe I can set out and explore. Especially if it goes beyond what the author has written.
Stories like Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, The Witcher, The Dark Tower series. Any world that allows you to imagine yourself living there is like catnip to me. I use literature to escape and I’d love to write the same for others.
I have ideas for short stories, too. I’ve written several, and in the spirit of the year of finishing things, I will still try to finish the majority of ones I abandoned. But publishing shorts is not my calling. Worldbuilding is.
This conclusion made me realize I’m incapable of following the route the internet has drawn up for writers. Though there’s more money to be had in publishing an article every day on Medium and in writing and submitting shorts (assuming they get accepted). Guest posts, cross posts, affiliate links, Pinterest infographics, Twitter quotes/screenshots…all of these things and more are great ways to monetize your writing and to gain an audience. I’ll have to do some of them eventually, too. None of this is bad. It’s just not what I should be doing right now.
I should be writing. I should be living in the worlds I’m crafting so that when I’m done, you can live there, too.
Because of this realization, I was able to shed the imagined expectations weighing me down. I don’t need to write 40 hours a week. Sometimes writing means getting thoughts down on paper (or pixels) whether or not they are coherent. I am writing every day, and a lot of it is unusable crap. If I need to stop mid workday and play Bugsnax or (god help me) Detroit: Become Human in order to relax, I should. If I need to take a whole day or week off in order to “refill my creative bottle” (Thanks for the metaphor, Arbor!), then I absolutely do. If my workday consists of me walking around my office in circles, mumbling new storylines or dialogue to myself, then so be it!
Stephen King says to write with the door closed, edit with the door open. He’s referring to writing a story exactly how you want to tell it, and then editing it so that it can appeal to other people as well. I feel like it should extend to your routine, too. Don’t let other people dictate how you work, just make sure you eventually do get to work.
These steps together eventually got me back on track, and I really hope outlining them will help anyone else suffering from a constant burnt-out, static-brained, panic-stricken blockage of words. Basically I think it all boiled down to getting back to why I started writing in the first place.
This is the part where I reiterate that I am so, so privileged. I get a small retirement payment every month, so I can feel like I contribute a little to my household. Beyond that, everything gets covered by my husband. We saved for a long time, we finagled our finances, and eventually got to the point where me not having any other income was doable. I can rest easy while I make-believe and do other weird writer shit. My circumstances are not normal.
If you want to only write novels, then do it! But keep a day job. Don’t force the pressure of finishing a novel on yourself – you will fail, and it will suck the whole way down. Establish a writing routine around your work. If your job leaves you exhausted at the end of the day, write at the beginning of your day. If you can’t concentrate on work when you write beforehand and it’s threatening your job, find a different job (while still working at your current one).
If you want to write articles every single day and you think you know your niche, then try it while you still have a job. With either of these options, you want to be able to support yourself (or nearly be able to support yourself) on the money you’re making from your efforts working around your dictated schedule. If you find yourself making excuses, procrastinating, getting easily discouraged, doing or being or feeling anything that keeps you from producing regularly, do not quit your job.
Anyway, the point is…
…enjoy the go! Oh wait, no, that’s something else.
But seriously, have fun while you work. If you can’t figure out how to enjoy it, it’ll be more difficult. And if you’re anything like me, the pressure to work while miserable will make you crumble. Sure, I can bust my ass to meet the occasional deadline, but I would die as a journalist. Knowing your work style, your limits, and being honest about and honoringthem both will make all the difference if you’re having issues writing like I did.
And I almost guarantee I will forget this by the time NaNoWriMo rolls around again…
Almost all of the posts on this blog so far have been carefully constructed: I figured out what to write, wrote a first draft – possibly from an outline – and then I edited it. I knew what I was going to say beforehand or at least knew what I wanted to say from the beginning.
Today I wanted to try something a little different. I’m still trying to figure out what I want out of this blog beyond the clearly stated mission already posted. Do I want this to continue being very orderly and neat and planned and polished? Is that even a realistic expectation as I go forward with my plan to finish as many stories I’ve started over the years as possible this year? I don’t really think it is. And that’s okay.
I don’t really want to stop posting here. That wouldn’t be true to the point of the whole thing. But I also need to let go of this fantasy of the truly polished blog. Of perfect entries that are instantly shareable with infographics and research. I’ve been putting so much pressure on myself to produce work in a way that is just so and it has started to eat me alive.
My time away from this blog and writing in general made me feel really fucking dumb writing all these “how to” articles when I still hadn’t published anything, and so I had decided not to do that anymore. But then I found a new problem: what the hell am I going to write instead?
Obviously I’m going to be writing fiction. I want to be a fiction author. I didn’t set out to be a blogger, not in the beginning. That wasn’t the thing I thought of when I considered my dreams. There’s nothing wrong with being that style of writing, either, but my point is that when I wanted to be a writer, “blogging” hadn’t been invented yet. I had never even heard of the internet at all before. I’m not here to write a textbook or whatever, so there’s not really a point to me trying to write a bunch of polished posts like I am.
So where does that leave me? With my original mission: I’m here to report on what this life is like for those who wanna know the more complete story. I think might end up sharing fiction I write here, but that’s for another day.
Either way, that’s where I’m at right now. I may or may not stick to a posting schedule. I think I will try, just so it’s both better for you to know when to come back and also better for SEO reasons (*~algorithms~*) but I might throw in the occasional random post depending on what’s going on.
It’s the day after typing this up – casual or not, I gotta edit – and I’m feeling much better about this. I’m going to work up to “diversifying my portfolio” and “income streams” or whatever, but I’m okay with keeping it simple for now. I’m still really new at this. I’m still learning. That’s okay.
It is very late into January, and everyone has already written their posts focusing on what they’ll start this year. I would like to write about an end. Let me explain.
This is the time that I really started to understand that Covid-19 was a thing. I hadn’t been in the office since March 15th, but it was late April that I really started to feel like I could die from it.
Everyone around me, however, kept on working like nothing was happening. There were no “is everything okay?” check-ins, everyone kept to their timelines, work quality was about the same from everyone…else. Personally, I wasn’t doing so great.
Anxiety kept me from sitting through even one full meeting since April. I regretted never having finished a single novel, never pursuing writing seriously, and here I was with the very real threat of dying everywhere around me. So (after spending way too much time panicking about this) I started a blog. I decided I was going to go all in as soon as I possibly could.
I spent a lot of time at the beginning writing a backlog of posts. That way I could simply schedule them to go up each week while I went back to writing fiction. I kept holding onto this excuse for much longer than I should have, but I did manage to develop a writing habit and schedule.
Even though I’ve been through writing classes and have written stories for most of my life, impostor syndrome demanded I stick to the basics if I ever wrote “how-to” posts. And since I was so busy writing those, I didn’t have a lot of time to do anything “writerly” to blog about like I wanted to.
Eventually I figured out how to fit writing fiction into my schedule. By that I mean I had a pretty deep backlog of posts to pick from and couldn’t realistically use that as my excuse anymore.
Because of my blog, I developed a massive self-consciousness about my fiction. Since I had the audacity to try to tell anyone how to write anything, I felt that all my writing needed to be perfect. All while telling others that “writing is rewriting” and “all first drafts are crap,” of course. This caused me to start and abandon a ludicrous amount of work.
Late October we finally got everything together financially to allow me to take a year off. The idea was basically to see where this goes. Just in time to start NaNoWriMo! Because the NaNoGods demand a virgin sacrifice, I chose to start a brand new novel (discarding the idea I’d been toying with already earlier in the year).
But now, I was no longer bringing in any money. Time was ticking. I had zero submissions accepted, no novels written, barely any views or followers, and almost no interaction on any content I wrote. This is where I started to crush myself under the pressure.
I say “crush myself” because my husband has had no hand in putting pressure on me. He has done nothing but be supportive through all of this. So I just…pressured myself enough for the both of us.
Y’know, like ya do.
Cue the depression
This brought on the feelings of I can’t do this and I’m a total failure. I felt guilty for not making any money from this dream job and I felt stupid for trying to tell others anything about the craft.
On top of all of that, I had physical illness creep into my life. So now I was sick, in pain, constantly tired, AND depressed while trying to keep working at a job that has yet to give me a payday.
I know that no one should expect to start making a living wage off writing less than a year after taking it seriously. But I couldn’t help but keep reading all these articles about how this person wrote 100,000 words in a weekend or made 10,000 off their first month, and my stressed out brain just kept pointing back at itself saying, “why isn’t that you?”
Everything settled into a general feeling of burnout, so I just stopped for a week or so. I played a new game (Detroit: Become Human – I’m literally addicted to it), read a few books, played with my cats, tried to exercise a little…then came back ready to create a brand new (honestly ridiculous) writing routine to try to counter all the problems I had before.
I’ll write much more on it later, but know that it’s a work in progress.
A part of designing this new routine included the decision to go back to a novel I started in November 2009. Even after a decade, the general concept of this book and the world within it hadn’t completely left me.
It was already outlined, mostly written, had characters and worldbuilding, and generally was okay.
Just finish it, my rational mind urged.
“FINISH ALL THE THINGS,”
my super excited side exclaimed.
I have about 64 stories/poems/songs/rants just hanging out in my Drive folders. About 9 of these are unfinished novels. This isn’t even including all of the ideas I’ve jotted down but not started yet. I have enough to last me probably until I die, but I’ve decided to have a go at finishing as much of them as I can for at least a year.
The hope is that getting these pieces completed will be both satisfying and educational. If I also manage to sell a couple of them I wouldn’t complain.
In the process, I’m sure I’ll hit snags and roadblocks, find the occasionally piece of shit, or maybe even a few hidden gems. Any insights I gain or interesting tales I can tell you about this experiment I’ll happily share, since this’ll feel more authentic than posting writing tips every week.
I understand that this kind of stems from impostor syndrome as well, but if it gets me back to writing and posting more consistently, I’ll take it.
Sometimes you’re not going to be able to write. You will wake up sick, injured, depressed, or in some other condition that prevents you from working. And if you’re anything like me, you will hate yourself for it. Let’s take a moment to examine this scenario.
What does this look like?
This is more than the obvious, “there are no words on the page.” When I talk about not being able to write, I don’t mean a surface-level “I don’t feel like it” or “I’m too busy.” I’m referring to the physically painful realization that you are incapable of putting letters down on the page to form words. Everything you have tried has failed and now your cursor blinks in time with its raucous laughter, taunting your ineptitude and the obvious forthcoming ruination of your writing career. You are doomed. Fade to black. Despacito plays.
Just kidding. But it feels this way, especially if you don’t have a lot of support behind your work.
What causes this?
Not being able to write has many different causes. Sometimes it’s a simple case of writer’s block or mental resistance. There have been so many articles written about this, including my own, so I won’t really go into detail about that here. What I wanted to talk about today is when you are struggling in some way that interferes with your ability to get thoughts from your brain to your fingers.
When you’re struggling with physical/mental illness, you’re under a lot of stress, or when you haven’t been sleeping, eating, or exercising like you need to, it can cause a thick fog to drift into your skull. It dulls your thoughts, slows you down, and makes everything feel a thousand times harder to do.
For me, it has been all of the above reasons all at once. The first day, I thought “oh sure, why not take a break? It’s alright.” The second day it started to turn into, “you should really be working, Charlie. Maybe try harder?” Then while sitting at the computer, feeling physically terrible, the thoughts of “if you don’t write anything right now, you’re taking advantage of your situation,” started to creep in. By day three and four, it was “wow, you’re really never going to amount to anything, are you?” and other nonsense.
And it is nonsense. A lot has been going on, and that’s okay. Even if I never wrote another word as long as I lived, it doesn’t mean that I never amounted to anything. That’s…a tad extreme, isn’t it? What does that mean, anyway? Amounting to what? For what?
Either way, it doesn’t matter. Here I am, writing again (and there was much rejoicing). The important part to remember, is that unless you continue to berate yourself and tell yourself that you’re nothing, I feel like there’s actually only a slim chance of never writing again.
So what do I do about it?
Be kind to yourself and ride it out. Some people depend on writing a super huge amount of words every single day in order to survive, and I’m going to be honest: I unfortunately have no advice for you. You are far beyond where I am now or probably ever will be.
But for the rest of you who aren’t living the hustler life, here’s what I’ve learned over the past week or so (yes, it’s been way longer than I would like, but that’s okay):
It happens to just about everyone. I think it actually happens to literally everyone, and those who say it doesn’t are lying, but I’ll let it be.
Beating yourself up about it only makes it worse.
Denying care to yourself (such as medications you need or getting extra rest) will only make it worse. You cannot punish yourself out of this. You aren’t being lazy, you are being mortal. That’s okay.
Don’t think that you can jump straight back into full days or pre-episode efforts right away. Take it easy when you get back. Maybe you can get right back on the horse, but I would recommend trying half or quarter efforts first.
I have realized this problem is recurring for me, so I’m going to build a backlog of posts, stories, etc. This means I’ll have something to fall back on when this happens again. At the very least I want to have blog posts I can schedule so I don’t miss a Saturday post.
What does the future hold?
Unknown. I will continue to work on getting back to a normal, full-time schedule, and then I’m going to try to keep track of everything from here on out. Major events, hours worked, the way I feel after each day is over and throughout the day as well, to make sure I’m not doing this to myself through overwork. I’m also going to keep an eye on what I’m eating, how much I’m exercising, how often I see the sun (hiss), and the like. Maybe I’ll figure out some kind of formula for how I can minimize future episodes. For now I’m going to keep being kind to myself so I can continue even a little.
Well, folks, it’s finally over. I actually stopped adding my word count to the NaNo site on the 25th, as it is basically all a lie now. Getting rid of a POV knocked a substantial amount off my story and there were some worldbuilding words included as well, so it’s not an accurate count of what I have.
I’m not too concerned with that, though.
Today was weird, attention span-wise until I got something to eat. My brain just could not sit still. “Oh, a cat! I’m cold. Now I’m too hot. Now hungr–CATS CATS CATS.” But sipping on some Soylent calmed everything down and I managed to bang out a little over a thousand words. I’m almost to the end of the outline I started, so there’s going to be a lot of discovery writing after that. I still have my major landmarks to get to, and I was already allowing myself to change or add scenes however I felt like it, so it won’t be too different. I just feel a little nervous again now that I’ll be flying mostly blind once I get there. Will I freeze? Will I hate everything? Will I fuck it all up? We’ll see!
Soon this blog will return to it’s regularly scheduled programming. Which is starting to feel a little disingenuous. I don’t know. I feel like I should write something other than writing tips for noobs, but I have no idea what that would be. Hence the Tuesday posts where I kinda just babble on about whatever. I have a feeling it’s going to turn into something like Chuck Wendig’s blog, which is essentially just a diary, except he’s actually a famous author and so people actually care what he thinks about things?
I don’t know, maybe that’s just my self-consciousness peeking through again. That’s fine, I’ll figure something out. Or I won’t and I’ll just quietly sneak away and try to finish a couple of books first.
NaNoWriMo Post Mortem
This year was quite the learning experience for me. The first year that I won, I didn’t really learn too much as I was far too busy writing down a ridiculous amount of words for a story I already knew inside and out. I knew it inside and out because I had been continuously imagining it in my daydreams for months before then. All of the other years, I started with an idea I knew quite a bit about, but ran out of time or energy or “give-a-fuck-ness” for any of it, and so not much learning happened there, either.
This year, however, I had a lot of pressure to get this story written and win NaNo. Plus I wasn’t sure how I wanted to actually tell this story and I didn’t know the characters as well. I’m not quite sure what made this so different as far as understanding the people, places, and things, but it did end up making me think really hard about what I was doing and why. I was also determined to not leave behind a mess like I did in 2009 when I “won.”
Honestly, it’s not that bad of a mess, I just never approached it with the right mindset. I was still at the “first draft = final draft” stage in thought, so every time I realized I needed to rewrite a chapter or found a poorly written paragraph I felt like a failure. Now that I am older and wiser (ha!), I realize that writing is rewriting, so I’m not as afraid of the big bad scary first draft.
Anyhow, my point is that I didn’t want to write another pile of garbage for me to sort through later. I wanted it to be legible and organized at least a little, so that I can tear it a part and rewrite it anyway.
My general process during NaNo this year:
Come up with the general idea for the novel.
Gather materials that will assist with designing the world/afterlife/nature of existence (relevant, I swear!).
Read many of the materials, skim through some that weren’t as useful as I’d hoped, discard the rest.
Plan to do write ups for different things that I learned because it’s all so neat.
Try to write up character sheets for each character.
Try to write up information on each location that is planned in the story.
Try to write up a detailed outline in stages, starting with basic “beginning, middle, end” and then expanding each of these sections until a complete understand is reached for each character in each scene so that all that needs to happen during NaNo is writing the prose.
Don’t manage to do any of these things.
Try to do worldbuilding, character creation, plotting, and writing every day for 30 days, writing a total of 1,667 each day at least, to end with 50,000 words on November 30th.
Have illnesses, burnout, doubt, imagined stress, and existential crises get in the way.
Say “fuck it” and do whatever the hell I want for the rest of the month, taking breaks on the weekends to keep my sanity.
I am going to continue to write this novel until it’s done. This is an official commitment to that. I have no idea how long it’s going to take, but I’ll make sure to get it all the way to beta readers, so that I have experience in doing so.
What this means is that I will write THE END on this first draft, doing any sort of worldbuilding, etc. as needed along the way. Then I will let it rest. After that, I’ll go through and write a detailed outline of what I have, doing the “scene work” I had planned to do before I started in order to better understand the plot holes I have and any sort of motivations I need to sort out or make obvious. From there, I’ll work out tone, character voice, descriptions, etc. and finally go through and do a proofread – looking for grammatical errors, spelling errors, etc. etc.
Then I’ll need people to read it! It’s a diverse cast of characters, so I’ll need some sensitivity readers, as well as just regular “is this good?” readers. So I guess if you’re up for that and you like urban fantasy with a touch of horror, hit me up!
Last week was something that I really had to get out and superseded this post here. This means there’s a little bit of overlap in material, but only just a little.
There’s a lot of self-disclosure involved in writing. You think really hard about what you’re going to say, how you feel, you spill your guts onto the page, and then you shove it out into the world for other people to read. To know you. To hopefully, one day, understand you.
This happens even when you write fiction – not that fiction writers are just writing semi-autobiographical stories, but you can see what types of lessons they get out of the scenarios they think will be compelling. You see their values in the way they expect certain characters to be received.
And then, of course, you have the general vulnerability of working hard on something that gets released to the world (and the trolls), open for anyone to walk past and spit on.
I’ve been feeling a lot of this self-consciousness since I started this path. My whole life I was told that creative jobs weren’t worth it, that I’d starve, that anyone who thought they could be professionally creative was just some loser child who didn’t know how the world worked. Despite all the cheery, silly posts on this blog and on Twitter, this has been the undercurrent of my life since the beginning.
So here I am, starting a new series on this blog. I thought maybe I’d talk a little more about myself and how I actually feel about going through all the changes associated with being a writer. Just on Tuesdays. I’ll still talk about writing tips that I learn or am learning or am trying. I’ll still provide more emotionally-detached updates on this process. But that’s a Saturday post. Today is dedicated to learning how to share a bit more about myself and my experiences on the job, and getting more comfortable with self-disclosure, while keeping on this side of TMI.
I put in my two weeks’ notice at work over a month ago, and when asked why I was leaving I wasn’t able to tell them the whole truth. I told them that I was stepping away for my health (which is 1,000% true). That health problem was being forced to work a job that kept me from the one dream I’ve always had, though. But explaining to them that one of their last developers was leaving to go “be a writer” felt so childish.
I can barely say it out loud to my spouse, who was the person who coordinated this exodus with me. It comes out occasionally, but I blush immediately after. Hide my face.
It also has a bit of humility in it as well. Not only do I feel like a foolish child for the dream in general, but thinking you could actually make a living off of any creative endeavor is admitting that you think you’regood enough to do so. Which is a perfectly okay thing to think about yourself, but it wasn’t when I was growing up. They taught self-esteem in school, but they socialized self-deprecation, adults and children alike.
And don’t get me wrong: I know I still have a long way to go before I’m NYT Bestseller material (if that’s even possible), but I’m not hopeless. I need practice and feedback and to learn so much, but I bet can get to “pretty okay” one day. I think. Maybe. We’ll see. Until then, I just need to keep moving forward.
There you have it, folks. The first second of many posts where I actually write on what I really wanted to make this blog about in the first place. I’m always open to questions, but until then I’ll just keep writing about what I’m thinking or feeling I suppose.