Life happens in the detours
Hey friends, 2019 has been a helluva year! I’m sorry if it seems like I took an impromptu vacation, I really didn’t. No, I didn’t fall off the ends of the earth either. (What does that even mean BTW, is it an old flat earther joke?) Never mind, I did go on an unscheduled hiatus, and I’m going to tell you why. There’s this thing, let’s call it Post-Publication Depression. Yeah, I know, overwrought writerly angst, making a big deal about nothing, except it wasn’t nothing.
Chymaera’s Overture (you know, that book we keep pushing) made its debut in June, and completing it has been my central focus for a while now. Once it was released (into the wild, wild world), I lost my focus, among other things. By the end of July, I was adrift, and “it” was MIA.
By “it” I mean, the energy and passion that I had for my writing. It freaking fled, and I tried to hustle through. The whole “fake it until you make it.” It wasn’t writer’s block, I was still able to come up with words and arrange them in ways that made sense, I wasn’t cut off from them. I just thought that all of mine were trash. My groove was just gone. I don’t think it was burnout, I still felt creative. I put a few story premise ideas down in my note files and fleshed them out for future exploration. I just could not make myself sit at my desk and come away with much that felt worthwhile. I didn’t want to. I stopped believing that what I created had value. I guess I stopped believing in myself. It was weird, I still had faith in my stories. I loved the concept behind Shadow Sonata (that’s the working title for the follow up to Chymaera’s Overture - you like?), I just questioned my ability to write it.
Of course, I didn’t tell anyone. I said I was OK. That’s what I always say. Then I sat in front of my computer and beat the shit out of myself.
I know you are wondering how this ties into the publication of my book. Here’s the deal, publishing a book changes your life in some fundamental ways. Not necessarily in the ways, you might expect. While I began Chymaera’s Overture years ago (an embarrassing number of years ago), it was only within the past few that I committed myself mentally to seeing it through. Until then, it was a really cool dream. Once I took it seriously, it took over my life, and not just mine. My husband and I reoriented my schedule to allow me the time the book needed. As I work full time, that meant evenings and weekends. We didn’t go out, except for family gatherings. I worked, and I wrote. My time off from writing was usually spent doing household chores. I cooked, but my husband relieved me of most of the other household tasks. The book sucked up all of my time. Writing. Editing. Getting feedback from Alpha & Beta readers. Designing a cover. Formatting the interior. Developing an author platform. And let’s be clear when you are an indie writer and publisher, the hamster wheel never stops turning.
So I released the book when I thought it was ready when I felt sure that I was ready. And then, after the stress of months and years, planning and working - literally nothing happened. The first problem with releasing your debut novel, it is only life-changing for you. You know that intellectually by the time you’ve reached this point. Still, it can take a while for the reality to resolve itself in your emotional landscape. I certainly didn’t expect strangers to run and pick up my book, but family? Friends? I don’t know, a quick jaunt over to Amazon.com? Yeah, I’d hoped. That was the first blow.
Then I realized what I hadn’t done right, which was a gut punch. Believe me, you can do all the research that you want, but you will still manage to overlook things and underestimate the importance of others. I should have built my author platform on social media first. After that, I could have created this website and blog a few years ago. I should have released ARCs and solicited reviews! While I’d worried a lot over creating a good story, I had only given marketing a passing thought.
The stick to break the camel’s back, as I mentioned earlier - the hamster wheel never stops. So while I felt like a failure that some of my family and friends couldn’t bother investing in. While I felt like a rank amateur, who’d bungled her beloved book’s debut. While I felt overwhelmingly like an impostor and not the author I’d striven to be, I was still strapped to the wheel. I couldn’t get off unless I wanted to give up, and I couldn’t give up. Not while even a few people did believe in me. Not while my husband did.
In my mind, I had already let them all down to a degree, but I couldn’t abort the mission at that point. To be honest, I trust my husband more than I do myself. He doesn’t doubt me the way I do, and I often want to be better, to be my best self for him. As a result, I struggled. There was plenty to do to support my writing. I worked on the website. Built-up my social media presence. Organized my notes and created worksheets to keep my future story ideas straight.
And I tried to write. I actually got a decent amount of words on paper, considering the turmoil I was in. But, I was unsure about all of them. I wrote several chapters of the new novel, then I recreated it; the two beginnings aren’t remotely related. They don’t even seem like they are for the same book. I created a new species, like three different times. The backstory for my antagonist has changed a disturbing amount of times. This is not how I do things. I am a slow, methodical writer. I figure out the details and work backward to how it fits into the bigger picture. When I reason my characters out, they stay that way. Of course, I rewrite, and I edit. But I’m not known for scribbling shit and scrapping it five seconds after it’s been written, only to do it again, and again, and again. I tried my regular go-to for writer’s block because I didn’t know what was going on with me. So I tried writing on my second project, a completely different genre with decidedly diverse themes. Steamy short stories that I will publish under another name. Something that usually comes easy for me, but no! I found myself second-guessing every freaking thing. I started questioning if I even knew my characters.
By this point, it was mid-October, and I decided that I just needed a little motivation. In a stroke of what was definitely not genius, I signed myself up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I had never done any of NaNoWriMo’s exercises before, and I gave myself something like 10 days to prep for November’s writing challenge. And let me tell you, that was interesting. The prep work went well. I’m a plantser, I do a fair amount of research and creation before I ever begin to write a story. I know my characters, their surroundings, and what the stakes are. The big plot points are clear to me. But I leave aspects of the story open. Kind of like climbing in the car with friends and a destination, but a funky map and a loose schedule that leaves you free to explore detours. Life happens in the detours. While NaNoWriMo usually expects participants to take a month or so to prepare, I was all, “I got this.” After all, this was a sequel that had already been roughly plotted, I was good. I read Stephen King’s On Writing (I highly recommend it BTW) to get my head right and get me pumped up to go.
Then it was November. I cannot express how badly it sucked from the very beginning for me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking NaNoWriMo, and I will try it again in the future when my head is already in the right space. When I’m feeling positive about my writing. I think it can be a useful tool to spur competition with yourself if you are positioned for that. It is not a life raft when you already feel like you are drowning. Nope, it is more like an oar to the back of the head as you try to break the surface of the water. I wrestled with the process through half of the month before I called it quits. That’s when I had to do some real soul searching and admit something was wrong.
There was no magic to it. I just started thinking about when everything started sliding downhill and why. I addressed my expectations and how I felt. And, I actually discussed it with someone, my husband. I think people are under the impression that writers are terribly in touch with their feelings all the time, that we are incredibly self-aware. Please let me disabuse you of the notion. I am in touch with my characters’ emotions. I am quite aware of them. And people around me, sure. My feelings? Meh, I’d rather not think about them, I generally don’t consider my feelings valid (yeah I know), and I try to ignore them until they make it so that I can’t. I then rankle at my weakness or the inconvenience of them. But, in discussing the situation with my husband, I got the support that I needed and some chastisement. He’d figured out something was wrong, but he didn’t know what, and he didn’t appreciate me preventing him from helping me, from understanding. Still took some weeks to process the mess I’d been avoiding. To adjust my expectations, not just for other people, but for myself. Slowly, I climbed my way out of the hole I’d dug for myself.
I’m feeling better now. Looking back on 2019, I can be proud of my successes and own my failures. I am writing again, building up my stamina, regaining the camaraderie with my characters, and the confidence I have in sharing their stories.
I am looking forward to 2020, but I’m not going to write New Year’s resolutions that I won’t keep and will just make me feel guilty. No, I’m just setting myself some reasonable goals that will have me write more, share more, and expect nothing more than the joy I get from the first two!
Stay tuned. I have so much more to say. Next time.