Tag Archives: obstacles
It’s a bad night for the pain.
Tonight it feels like a toothache filling my skull. It comes in waves, crushing and slashing, bringing nausea along to join the party. Light hurts. My children’s voices cut through me, and every movement of the bed makes all of it worse. All I can do is sit here with the lamp on, writing this out on paper to be typed out tomorrow, and try not to yell at the kids, cry, or throw up.
It’s not always like this. This kind of headache only hits me about once a month… at least, this hard. But the fact is that I spend a lot of time almost every day dealing with two problems. Pain is one. Either a milder version of this, or ice picks slamming into my temples, or feeling like I’ve been hit in the back of the head with a baseball bat.
I can deal with pain, though.
It’s the fog that’s really hurting me.
The fog used to only come with true migraines, in the days before and after. It’s a feeling like my skull is stuffed with sawdust instead of brains–a physical sensation, and quite unpleasant. It brings a feeling like tunnel vision, though my vision is actually fine. And it makes me slow. My thoughts come slowly, as do my reactions. I can’t think of words, and sometimes can’t understand questions right away. And working? Writing stories, untangling plot problems, clarifying character motivations, and polishing my work until it shines?
It wasn’t so bad when it happened once in a while. But now the fog is coming down every day. I can’t think. I can’t focus. I’m drifting in a slow, too-bright haze. I’m usually just lost enough that working is impossible, but the thoughts and ideas and potential are so close that it becomes incredibly frustrating.
Until now, I’ve been pushing myself through it. I’ve told people that everything is fine. I’ve made myself work in spite of the pain and the fog, working evenings and weekends to make up for the time I spend in bed when the kids are at school and I should be writing. I put off seeing a doctor because I didn’t have time. Because I had deadlines. Because I’d made promises (or at least dropped hints). I let my life get out of balance because of this one important thing.
A few days ago, I decided that I can’t keep going like this. I’m not doing my best work when I have no joy, when every word is a struggle. And let’s face it. Putting pressure on myself to craft a beautiful story when I can’t remember the word “spoon” is probably just compounding the issue.
This is not me giving up. I’m still working on this story every day, and I’m as excited about it as I’ve ever been. As of last week, I have all of the little moving pieces in place, and just need to put the time and the work (and the focus) in to finish it.
It’s complete in all but the final execution, and far better than I ever imagined.
All I really want to do is work on it (sleep and laundry and exercise and doctor’s appointments be damned). But it’s time for me to accept that I also need to make time to take care of myself. I have to stop beating myself up over deadlines and feeling like a failure over needing a few extra weeks to get this book ready for the world.
So I don’t have a release date for you yet. It will be after Christmas, which breaks my heart. I mean, no one with an ounce of business sense wants to miss Christmas. But you guys deserve my best. I’ve never given you less than that, and I can’t start now. I’m going to find out what’s wrong with me, and I’m going to get better. And this winter, I’m going to give you the book you deserve.
Thank you all so much for your support, for your encouragement and kind words. It all means more to me than I’ll ever be able to say.
I can’t wait to show you how this story ends.
I don’t do a lot of advice posts here. I don’t feel qualified. I’m happy to answer questions in private and chat about writing until you want to duct-tape my mouth shut, but for the most part I keep posts to talking about my work, releases, and whatever else is going on in my life.
Today, I’m going to make an exception.
We’re not going to talk about how to write, how to outline, how to create characters, or how to find an editor. Today is just going to be me sharing one big regret from my life as a writer in the hopes I can encourage someone else to not make the same mistake. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I think it might help someone out there, so here goes.
I wish I’d had the courage to write shitty books.
Does that sound strange? Let me explain.
I’m a perfectionist*. As we’ve discussed before, this doesn’t mean I’m a type-A personality who’s driven to do my best at everything. That wouldn’t be so bad. No, my perfectionism means that I expect myself to be good at everything from the get-go, without practice. Know what that leads to?
A whole lot of quitting. I’ve been like this since I was a little kid. I quit ballet, figure skating, t-ball, and guitar lessons. I wasn’t good at them right away, I had no concept of how to enjoy the experience of being challenged, I didn’t like feeling like a failure, so I gave up.
This is a horrible way to think. It’s stagnant. It relies on natural talent and coasting, and it rejects things like critique and learning from mistakes because it doesn’t want to believe anything needs to improve. Failure is terrifying, and to be avoided at all costs. Failure means you’re NOT GOOD ENOUGH, and to try means to risk finding out you’re an imposter.
I’m not proud of it, but it’s the mindset I seem to have been born with, and one I’m still learning to fight.
So that brings us to writing. I’ve always enjoyed writing, ever since I penned fanfic-ish (okay, direct rip-off) versions of my favourite stories in first grade. It was fun. I had a great imagination.
But I wanted everything to be perfect on the first draft. If I needed to work at it, that meant it wasn’t good enough, and therefore I shouldn’t bother. Criticism and suggestions for improvement made me defensive, and instead of trying to improve my work, I trashed it. Oh, and I expected my work as a first-grader to be as good as a published adult author’s.
Fast-forward to my twenties. I wanted to get back into writing. I started with short stories that I showed to very few people because I suspected they’d tell me they weren’t as good as they could be, and my ego couldn’t handle that. I believed that I had natural talent. That’s fine. Faith in oneself is essential. But I wanted that to be enough. I expected the first book I wrote to be a masterpiece, ready to have publishers swooning all over it, ready to catapult me to fame and fortune.
And I thought anything else was a waste of time.
So in between battles with depression, exhaustion from my day job, and later dealing with more depression (and babies/toddlers/small children), I started a few books.
I never finished them.
Why? Two reasons. First, they started to look like they wouldn’t be great, so I gave up. Second, I had this weird belief that I was somehow wasting ideas if I wrote them before I was good enough for them.
As though I couldn’t scrap them and re-write.
As though I couldn’t revise.
As though writing a not-quite-there-yet book and putting it under my bed to collect dust was shameful, because I wasn’t good enough.
I hated the thought of spending years working on something that wouldn’t be the Best Thing Ever. It seemed like a waste of time. I saw no reward in effort, in climbing a learning curve that exists for everyone but that I thought I should be somehow above.
Feel free to laugh. Really. I wish I could, but all I can do is wish for a time machine so I could slap some sense into to that younger me.
This is probably the worst attitude one can bring to writing: That we are above average, gifted, superior, and above criticism. It’s shooting yourself in the foot before you begin the race, then insisting you don’t need assistance. It’s a sure way to make sure you never make progress in anything.
The funny thing is, writing books that would never have seen the light of day would have been the opposite of a waste of time. Yes, it might have felt that way back then. We all want to believe that every bright, shiny idea that passes through our brains is a gift from the muses, that we are special snowflakes who will just drift to brilliance and fame because we deserve it.
But the fact is that you have to work for it. Years of writing (and finishing) bad books would have helped me write good books sooner. Maybe having a few full novels shoved under my bed would have prepared me to get Bound ready for publication in less than the 3.5 years of revisions it needed. Maybe I’d be cranking books out faster now because I’d know more about my process and how to make things work.
I wasted so much time giving up because first drafts weren’t perfect and because (surprise, surprise) writing is FRIGGING HARD. Yeah. It really is, and not all effort is rewarded equally–or financially. But if you push through, if you finish a bad book or two, you will learn so much more about the craft and about yourself as a storyteller than years of stalling and waiting can ever teach you.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I do not wish I had published a few bad books. I’m actually glad self-publishing wasn’t so promising and cheap back when I was first thinking about writing, because I know the temptation would have been there to publish books that weren’t remotely ready. Back then I was scared to let people see my work, but probably would have published anyway on the strength of my arrogance, and the reviews would have killed me. I don’t think throwing everything we write out there, letting the chips fall where they may, and revising stuff later is a good career strategy or respectful to readers (I know, some disagree with me). There are enough bad books out there, and I’m glad I was forced to wait until I had something of good quality to offer.
But I wish I had those bad books stashed in a drawer. I’m sure I’d be completely embarrassed by them, but I like to think that I’d also be thankful to past me for putting the work in, learning to fail, and letting go of perfection for long enough to actually move toward improvement.
So here’s your advice, friends. If you want to write, WRITE. Don’t wait for your abilities to magically develop to match the potential of this glorious story idea you have (trust me, you’ll have a better one soon enough, and you can always re-write it later). Put in the work writing complete and utter shit. Don’t feel like you ever have to publish it, but finish it and be open to having it critiqued. Be willing to accept the idea that you’re not a gifted genius, and that maybe you have a lot to learn. You can learn. You will learn. But hiding behind “I’m not going to bother if it’s not going to be perfect” will never get you there. Don’t write shit on purpose. Bring your A-game. Just don’t be scared of it not being amazing on the first try.
And then move on the the next thing. I’ve found that finishing each book has caused bigger shifts in my abilities as a writer than anything else, as each new book allows me to apply what I’m learning to a fresh story. I wish I’d finished more, sooner. But you can’t change the past, so what I’m doing now is trying to be open to trying new things, challenging myself, and maybe screwing up along the way.
Happy writing, friends.
*Cool footnote: After I drafted this post last week, I started reading a book called Mindset (Carol Dweck, Ph.D.). Guys, it is talking about me. The fixed mindset is everything I’ve been blabbing about and fighting against for the past few years. I’ll let you guys know how the book is once I’ve finished, but I’m pretty excited. And freaked out. Has she been stalking me? O.o
In this series of posts, I’ll be sharing a few of the things that surprised me about publishing a book, as well as a few things I wish I’d known before I started. This is all personal experience and personal opinion, shared in case it helps someone. Your mileage may vary.
For a few weeks, my life revolved around getting a book out into the world.
There were formatting issues. Proof copies. Corrections. Panic. Excitement over “Your book is now live at ____” announcements. Tears over the first glimpse of a paperback. Party planning.
Continuing struggles with my decision to not do any big promotion until I have more books out.
Trying to keep track of who wanted a signed paperback, who didn’t want one after I found out how much shipping a book costs when you live in Canada. Who had questions about how to get it elsewhere.
It’s been both fun and insane.
For the rest of the world, not so much. My family is happy for me and supportive, but I’m going to tell you a secret: Those dishes? They didn’t start doing themselves when I was e-mailing last-minute changes to my formatter.
That chicken thawing in the sink stubbornly refused to shake and/or bake itself when I was busy notifying people who won e-books at the Facebook party.
The kids still needed someone to remind them to put pants on before they answered the door, to make snacks for them, and to make sure they bathed at least twice over the course of those few weeks.
Even my headaches refused to take a vacation. They continue to insist on cutting in on my work time, whether it’s getting-a-book-out time or writing-the-next-one time.
I know. It’s crazy.
I consider myself fortunate to have a few friends who will patiently listen to my freak-outs, rants, and squeals of delight that I’m too shy to share with the wider world.
But for the most part, life really does just go on.
In a way, that’s good. It reminds me that this really isn’t the most important thing, even when it’s the most urgent. As much as I love this project, and as opposed as I am to taking a day off once in a while, there really is more to life.
I guess. 😉
*But seriously, SO FUN.
Remember when I posted pictures of my office that I built out of plastic storage bins and blankets?
Well, this is my office as of yesterday around lunch time:
Let’s back up a bit, shall we?
On Sunday, I posted what we’ll call my best-laid plans for getting a certain book ready for publication. I was getting back to my office (which had been too cold to work in since January), I was organized, I had a GAME PLAN.
On Tuesday evening, I went downstairs to work. I was moving the laundry over when I noticed a small pond near the dehumidifier. There was a wee “dangit!” moment when I thought the unit was leaking, but I got to cleaning it up before it could spread.
…and then I noticed a separate pool in the play room.
Half an hour later I was standing in freezing water that covered the toes of my rainboots in low spots, and that was slowly creeping toward MY AREA. It was also encroaching on the space occupied by our brand new, purchased-because-emergency washer and dryer.
What happened in the hours that followed was a frenzy of me following The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘s advice: “DON’T PANIC.” Really. If there was any doubt that my depression is improving, this was proof that I really am feeling better. Sure, I freaked out a little, but I delegated everything involving phone calls to AJ* and took over whatever else I could. When we moved beyond Shop-Vac territory, I got to work moving stuff upstairs and above the ever-rising water line. By midnight we had a neighbour’s sump pump going, and the water level seemed to have at least stopped rising.
By morning we were at six inches of water in spots. I FORMULATED A PLAN (come on, I deserve a few caps here), got AJ to help me implement the parts that involved getting the washer, dryer, and freezer up on to plastic bins, delegated more phone calls (to insurance and the landlord-type-people**), and took more stuff out of my office and hauled it upstairs.
Yadda yadda, contractors came late yesterday afternoon, we found out we’re on a septic system (would’ve been good to know) which is having issues with the insane amount of snow that’s melted in the past few days, there are other problems, and it might be three weeks before we can move back into our house. Oh, and insurance won’t cover contents of the basement that we lost.
So about those best laid plans.
If I were the type who thought in a certain way, I’d say this was a sign I wasn’t meant to get this book out. SOMEONE or SOMETHING in the universe is throwing up roadblocks! It’s not meant to be! I don’t think that way, and I know the timing is coincidental, but it sure feels like that.
If I had another way of thinking, I might decide that if I can just THINK POSITIVELY, all of the problems will go away and the house will be toasty warm and smelling like roses in no time.
I’m taking a slightly different course of thought and action.
I’ve decided that this is the story I’m going to be telling in ten years when people ask about publishing my first book. I’ll be able to laugh about it by then, and I’ll talk about how this was important enough to me that I took my work wherever we went. Right now that’s my in-laws’ house, but in a few days it’ll be on vacation at my parents’ house at the other end of the province, and after that it might be in a hotel 45 minutes away from home. I’ll say that I had to drive the kids back for school every day, but I worked in the school library, the still-kinda-stinky house, wherever (my kingdom for a local coffee shop!).
Stephen King wrote Carrie when he lived in a trailer with two kids and had no money. JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter as a single mother and lost her job somewhere in there. How can I offer my future fans anything less than all of my determination and the hardest work I’ve ever done on anything? Damned if I’m going to say, “Well, things went to shit and I took a few weeks off.”
That’s not to say that I’ll be sticking to my ROW80 goals exactly, because the kids are going to need a lot more hands-on time in the next few weeks, there will be a lot of driving time, and other things are sure to come up (God help us).
The point is, I’m staying thankful (more on that in a later post), and I’m not going to let this stop me.
Oh, but if I’m slow at responding to comments or e-mails, and if I drop out of the A-Z challenge after my scheduled posts dry up, you’ll know why. 😉
*If I’ve learned anything else from this, it’s the extent of my phobia. RIDICULOUS.
**Our house is owned by the government, who is Andre’s boss. It’s… interesting.
Someone recently said (and I’m really sorry I can’t remember who it was) that a writer’s brain is like a junk drawer.
It’s true. We’ve got character flotsam and setting jetsam floating around in there like nobody’s business, waiting for the day when they’ll find a home in a story. Ideas just rattle around until the day when two or more crash together to make something new, and we can pull out the tangled ball of string and paper-clips out and go, “Yeah, I can McGuyver something out of that.”
It’s stuff that many people would throw away, but we train ourselves to remember.
And there’s the dialogue. I know I’m not the only one who finds myself in a situation where suddenly comments from unknown characters are floating in my head, talking about what’s happening. I don’t usually know exactly where they’ll fit into a story, but they hang out, filling the junk drawer, waiting.
This one is re-surfacing for me today:
Him: “I don’t get why you girls make such a big deal about it. Cramps can’t be that bad.”
Her: “No? Imagine that the Incredible Hulk is grabbing your uterus and wringing it out like a damp dish rag, and you’ll have some idea of what it feels like.”
Him: *snort* “I don’t have a uterus.”
Her: “That’s right, you don’t. So just shut up about it.”
Something tells me she’s the one with the cramps. 😉
In any case, here I sit on the morning of the November 9 NaNoThon (or whatever they’re calling it), chugging a hot tea and Advil cocktail, about to start on my to-do list. It’s like I’m the protagonist in a story where my goal is to write, and the author just glommed on to the whole “throw obstacles at your protagonist” thing.
We’re going to visit the in-laws around supper time. AJ is working, so I have kids to keep busy all day (and I should probably feed them, too). I have laundry to do, suitcases to pack, birthday cards to fill out, cat litter to change, scenes to plan, and various aches and pains making me want to say “screw the world” and crawl back in bed.
Are we going to place bets on how much writing I get done today?
Let’s do this.