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.
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.
A lot of fear has been fucking me up recently. I say recently, but I’ve been affected by it since the beginning, I think.
I’ve always been a little odd. A dreamer. Instead of playing with the other kids I made up worlds to live in. When I learned how to read, I also started writing. My first real attempt at writing a novel came when I was in the third grade. What I couldn’t put into words, I put into images, whether paint or crayon or clay. What I couldn’t put into words or images, I put into music, by singing or playing the flute.
I saw so much potential in the world. I felt deeply about it. Cared about it. But then I was told to put it all away.
No one can make a living from painting or writing or music, said my parents. Sit down and do as you’re told, said my teachers. Play the way the rest of us do, said my peers. I was harassed and ostracized, isolated from others, and then taken advantage of and hurt even worse when I strayed from the herd.
So I learned to extinguish that which made me me. I learned that to be different is to be offensive and to be offensive is to become vulnerable. I learned to keep my opinions to myself. To keep my emotions in check. To dull my sense of wonder and excitement. This lead to a deep depression and nagging anxiety for my entire life.
As I grew, I learned new and different ways I didn’t fit in. I’m not straight, I’m not cis, I can’t honestly conform to philosphies and religions around me. My political stances are more extreme than others, and I can’t share any of it lest I, again, become ostracized.
But what does ostracization mean now? I’m an adult. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been and smart enough to see through the lies of snakes. Honestly, I’m fairly isolated anyway, even before this pandemic. I have friends, of course, but I have remained fairly withdrawn from them. I have a spouse, too, but a lot of what I think or feel still tends to go unsaid, if only out of habit.
So here I am, someone who wants to write for a living. Someone who wants to express themselves, their worldview, and their emotions, and then elicit emotions, thoughts and philosophy from their audience, but now…
Who the fuck even am I? What do I actually care about?What am I even feeling right now?
The first thing that comes to mind is grief. I am still so hurt by my dog’s passing, but I don’t mention it to anyone. No more than a, “oh no, it’s fine,” if it gets mentioned. Or I’ll talk about how I only remember the happy times with her now.
It’s all lies. I didn’t want to burden anyone with my feelings. I didn’t want to appear like I’m an attention-seeker trying to get fake internet points.
I couldn’t grasp for the longest time why anyone would go online and talk about how they really feel. The only purpose I saw in someone saying how they were sad online was to get pity, likes, money, or all three. But that’s not it, is it?
There’s definitely some manufactured authenticity out there, of course.. But then there are those who truly are just sharing themselves with the world. Those who know what it’s like to feel completely and utterly alone, who want others like them to know that they aren’t actually alone, just separated by space. Or those who are tired of being alone, and want to reach out to receive vulnerability in kind.
I am slowly finding things out, though. And, now that I’m safely tucked away in my house all the time, I’m gaining confidence in these new findings. I’m realizing that the fear that’s been holding me back has outlived its purpose.
This fear of rejection for being who I am has stopped me from being anyone. I haven’t cultivated the strength to stand up for others. I haven’t gathered the resources to help anyone else. I haven’t built anything or connected with (nearly) anyone, and I wonder who else has fallen into this trap.
Some of my beliefs or philosophies are childish or under developed as they haven’t had time to be challenged or shaped. I want to share them anyway. Some might be controversial or even offensive to some. I’m slowly learning how to be okay with that, while still open to learning to change.
I don’t have much else to say right now, except that I’m going to try to change this, starting with taking stock of the emotions I feel on a day to day basis.
So what is Charlie feeling right now? I’m feeling sadness and grief – not just for my absent fluffball of joy, but for a life poorly lived – and I’m feeling angry that I have to feel sadness and grief for both of those things. I feel a little more bold than usual, hence writing this rambling essay of nonsense, and I’m hoping that I feel just as bold when the time comes to publish it. I feel inspired by my own boldness, hopeful that it will actually help me for the future, and I feel a little narcissistic at being inspired by myself.
And now I’m chuckling at how completely insane all of this sounds, but feeling just a little more at home in my own skin.
I have recently had the privilege of buying a house, and if you have also done this, you’ll know that the process is stressful, fluid, and chaotic. We were supposed to close Monday but it kept getting pushed back day by day until two days ago. Internet, having been turned off three days ago, was restored last night, so I haven’t had the time nor resources to produce a worth-while post for you all for today.
I have a post half-done in the style I want the rest of my less opinion/experience-based posts to be written, and I am SUPER excited to have it ready for you next week.
A few months ago when I began writing posts for this blog, I had a goal: write enough posts that I could have 20 weeks worth of posts at the ready. This would allow me to schedule them, then get to writing fiction. With fiction, I would write one flash fiction story draft in a week, write a new flash fiction story in the next week, edit the first one in the third week, and then finish up editing the second one the week after that. I would be able to do this for 20 weeks – that’s approximately 5 months, or 10 stories. I would take a little bit of time to write up cover letters and find places to submit the stories I wrote each month, and then get back to writing while I waited to hear back. Adorable.
I outlined, and wrote, and re-wrote, and edited. I honed the process over time so that I could write faster and better starting with the first draft. Eventually I outlined 20 posts, but only actually finished about 8 of them. Close enough, I thought. I could just start scheduling them and go from there.
Then I had the idea that I could alternate between writing fiction and writing posts, since I had 8 weeks of posts under my belt. Including retrospectives, that was 10 weeks. So I tried that.
Truth is, when I have the pressure to do well on my mind (and little recent practice under my belt), it takes a lot longer than a week to write flash fiction. “Flash” also tends to morph into “short.” When I didn’t have the pressure there, I could write a first draft of flash in a day, so I thought I was giving myself ample time to deal with not only the writing but writer’s block as well. Apparently not.
Anyhow, I shifted from flash to posts to working on worldbuilding for a novel I want to write during NaNoWriMo this year, and sometimes I would switch between them in matters of minutes. I kept track of my word counts, so I knew I was writing something, but it didn’t feel like it. I was making little to no progress, and it only got worse once I realized my older pieces I wanted to spruce up for publishing needed major rework. Was this due to my newfound perfectionism or because they were written in a day?
But I kept pushing, kept switching, kept flailing and failing, until I found myself headed for burnout. I didn’t really know what to work on or when. I set up a schedule which helped for a little while, outlining that I’d work on fiction in the morning, blog posts at lunch (during the work week, since I have to have a “real” job for now), and then school work or whatever was most pressing after. It felt better, having some order. But I quickly devolved into chaos again.
I can’t even remember what spurred my decision to start writing out my goals, but whatever it was, I’m thankful for it. I’m still working out the kinks, and I’ve discovered that I really need to have stuff like goals and task lists very visible all the time, but here’s what I’ve started with, if you want to follow along at home:
By the end of the year, I want to:
Finish the first draft of The Dragon (mostly during NaNoWriMo, naturally)
Submit my stories to LitMags ~30 times (I’ve given up on the rejection goals for this year, since that requires them actually getting back to me by December 31st)
Finish reading 12 more books
Manage to post on my blog every Saturday until the end of the year
So I guess it’s just time to start working, right? WRONG. Your plan is bad and you should feel bad. And you probably will if you try to make that work – I know I did. Hence this article!
Breaking it Down
Knowing these specific goals, I can now break them down into smaller ones. For finishing The Dragon (I am slowly starting to hate this name, but it’s simple enough to work with it for now), I will need to make sure I finish character development, worldbuilding, and plot/story planning before November – or at least as much as I can before then. I will naturally find holes that can’t be filled until I write scenes, and in the spirit of NaNo that’s a no no. Then during November, it’s fifty thousand words I’ll need to write in thirty days.
For submissions, if I submit one story five times each month, then I can reach this goal. That means that I’ll need to finish writing/editing/polishing at least one story a month and submit it to 5 different places. This is going to definitely be a stretch considering my current burnout problem and also NaNoWriMo kind of conflicting with this goal, but that’s okay. I won’t die if I fall short, but it gives me something to reach for.
To read 12 more books is simple: read 2 of them every month until the end of the year.
Finally, posting every Saturday is just as simple as the last goal: don’t miss a Saturday! That’s making sure I finish polishing up about 4 posts a month.
But I’m not done yet!
Breaking it down even more
For The Dragon, breaking it down further is a little more difficult, mostly because characters, setting, and plot are so interconnected. Basically I’m just going to start with character development and plot first and go from there. I’m trying out Lisa Cron’s Story Genius method for this book, just to see how it goes. Don’t worry, I’ll write about that in the future.
For submissions, I’ve already got several short stories started and lined up for this year. I’ll need to rework and rewrite them, which I hope to do in the first two weeks of each month. Then I’ll let it rest for a few days while I try to find places to submit, then head back into editing and rewriting for the rest of the third week. The fourth week I’ll let it rest for a day or two, then polish it up and write the cover letter for the story of the month.
Every twoish weeks, I’ll be reading one book, and each week I will finish up and polish a post.
Also every week, I will be going even further and trying to set up every day so that I will make sure I do a little bit of what needs to be accomplished each week. Once I have everything checked off my list for the day, I can relax.
This list doesn’t include the things I’m doing for work or class or just being alive in a society of laws in general, but I have included those into my plans. In fact, because there are so many things I need to get done, I have also made sure to prioritize my goals so that if I need to remove some things, I know what to axe first.
To use my writing goals as an example, I will be lowering the number of submissions first. I still want to have experience for finishing and submitting pieces, so I won’t be nixing that goal entirely. Next will be lowering the number of books to read. Then I might end up having to just finish the prep work for The Dragon and complete the first draft early next year. I’m really hoping I don’t need to take anything off of the table completely, but if I do, it will probably end up being The Dragon. That’s mainly because of the amount of sustained effort required to see that kind of project all the way through combined with the fact that next year I should have a lot more free time to work on it, so I can catch up quickly. Everything else has a cumulative effect on my skills, so they need to stay.
This is actually the beginning of making SMART goals. I might end up setting these up in the future, but I am taking it one step at a time for now.
Update: Since I am still going to be working a full-time job in November, I am most likely going to end up nixing The Dragon until next year unless I can get enough posts written and all the prep work done before then.
What about you:do you have a goal-setting system of your own you’d like to share?
I am so tired, folx. Between anxiety attacks, I’m working full-time, doing a night class, and trying to make this whole writing thing my side gig. I haven’t come close to the rejections goal I set earlier this year, which is mostly due to having set that goal before having enough pieces to actually send out or a list of publishers ready to actually send to. Silly mistakes. But that’s what you’re here for, isn’t it? I can live with that.
I whine, but there are so many people out there who have it far worse than I do. This doesn’t make my exhaustion any less valid or, well, exhausting, but it does put things into perspective. Perspective is a good thing to keep a hold on, especially when you’re trying to do something far out of your comfort zone.
It’s been a crazy month for me personally, but also all over the world. So much so that I have forced myself to stop reading the news as much. I still keep track of the outside world through Twitter, but mostly I focus on not burning out while trying to produce work. Let’s see how that’s panned out:
Total words written: 9,523 Days missed: 5 (not including planned days off) Average WPD (words per planned working day, missed or not): 433
Okay, not super well this month. Burn out is definitely something I’m struggling with recently.
What Went Well
I set goals for myself! I’ll talk more about this next post, but I figured out what I actually want to accomplish and broke it up into increasingly smaller goals until I can set tasks every day that are relevant to them. This also allows me to:
Schedule breaks. I keep burning myself out at work, in class, and with writing, and it’s mostly making my love of the craft suffer. After figuring out that I can still achieve (most) of the goals I set while taking days off, I’ve been able to schedule days where I do nothing but chill – and by days, I mean one full day combined with days where I write but don’t work or work but don’t write. I’m still working on figuring that out, but it’s a start.
I’m in the process of trying to buy a house, which takes up so much time and mental energy. It’s a lot of “I hope this doesn’t crash down around me” combined with “that’s going to cost how much?” and a lot of “we can have chickens??” I’m excited, so it’s going in this category, but damn it’s exhausting.
Because of the budgeting we’re doing for buying a house, on top of the fact that mortgage will be cheaper than our rent, it looks like I’ll be able to attempt to take a year off from “traditional” work much sooner than anticipated. This, of course, is really showing my privilege, so please know that I am ridiculously thankful for it, and will be paying it forward once everything is settled.
After setting up a schedule and a plan, I’ve finally been able to finish a few drafts of something. It’s just flash fiction, but it feels nice. Now I just need to figure out who the hell to send it to. Which is exactly how I don’t recommend you do this whole writing thing. Find a place first, kids. Then you can make sure it fits their requirements as you go.
See the last point above. This isn’t mandatory, especially if you are writing for personal expression or don’t care about being paid/published, but it’s helpful.
I’ve been a little cocky, I think. This year that’s coming up will not necessarily be the year that I actually start making money as a writer. It might end up being when I find out I have a long way to go to write what others want to read. We’ll find out, I suppose. Either way I’m excited to start improving, and my expectations have now been sufficiently lowered.
Speaking of cocky, I’m going to be taking some time to rethink this blog. I’ll still be writing as transparently as I can about my experiences, but I think there are a lot of ways I can improve the content. More to come!
I’ve decided that I’m not much of a “morning pages” type of person. I am definitely able to write a lot of words that way, but it’s all unusable freewriting. This helps when I have writer’s block, but only takes up time I could actually be working on something otherwise. With the precious little time I have to work, I need to reserve as much as I can, which precludes morning pages. I’ll probably get back into it once I have the time to.
I planned to take planned breaks and stick to a schedule last month, and I’ve started working on this. It’s going to take some time to get into the habit, and I need practice to figure out exactly when and how to take the breaks, but I’m getting there.
Whether or not I’ve been exercising and eating well is debatable. I’ve taken lengthy morning walks twice a week with my partner, but it’s not the same intensity I used to exercise. One of the first things I’m buying when we move will be gym equipment, so maybe that’ll resolve itself.
As I mentioned above, Morning Pages are just not my thing. I tried them, but until I have more time to write, it’s not something I can indulge in.
An Errant Crow hasn’t been touched since I wrote last month’s retro! Instead, I worked on something I thought would be a quick edit (the flash fiction story I mentioned above), but I am second-guessing everything I write now. I have faith I’ll shake myself of the problem, but it’s something important enough to mention.
Goals or Action Items for Next Month
Join a writing group! I mentioned this already but I need to find a group of writers that I can workshop stories with and who’s writing I can critique as well.
Keep working on figuring out when I should schedule breaks to maximize my productivity while minimizing my encroaching burnout. I sound like one of those “rise-and-grind” bros, but honestly I’m just trying to make more time for doing what I love without completely frying my brain as I do it. It’s the mandatory stuff that’s making it difficult.
Get settled in my new home. It’s not really a writing goal directly, but will allow me to get my WRITING WALL set up. I literally just made up this term while typing the first draft of this post, but basically amounts to the random shit I will be putting on my walls for organization and motivation. I’ll be sure to take pictures and write about it, don’t worry.
Your turn! What goals did you set last month? Were you able to achieve them? Why or why not?