Afraid to Write

I’m putting this out there…

I’m afraid to try writing anything right now.

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Writing used to be my favorite thing to do. Then I started getting published. Don’t get me wrong; being published is awesome. I’m happy about it. I learned a lot about writing through the publishing process, by noting problems in my writing that editors frequently brought to my attention, by reading what others wrote, and just by writing, because the more you do something, the better you get at it.

(I still seem to have a problem with run-on sentences, though.)

The thing about learning to write better is it became a lot of pressure. With each subsequent book, I was afraid of doing it wrong. Even knowing that the first draft is meant for just getting the thoughts out of your head, I felt like I had to write the first draft as perfectly as possible, and had to edit the thing even more perfectly. That was a contributing factor, though not the primary one, to my difficulties in writing.

Now I’m at a place where the last book I submitted was rejected–for good reason; I can see the flaws in it now–and I’m struggling to write anything. I tried to fix the rejected book and got so bogged down in trying to write it better that I ended up giving up entirely on it. At least for now. I’ve been trying for the past several months to write a new book, one I thought I had plotted well enough to get it done. And last week, I reached the point where I realized it sucks. One of the characters isn’t presented the way I want him to be, and the plot is dragging. I’ve already done two major rewrites. To fix the problems I’m noticing with it now, I would have to scrap over 100 pages of writing and start the thing over from scratch. So for now, I’ve given up on that one as well.

I didn’t used to have this much trouble writing, and now it’s standing in the way of my willingness to try to write anything at all. I’m afraid of that struggle. I’m afraid that I’ll start writing something and have it go off the rails to the point that I can’t finish it. I’m afraid that whatever I write will suck. And feeling that fear is keeping me from even trying.

A couple of friends of mine have told me that I should just write, and not worry about what or how I’m writing. Just let the thoughts flow onto the page and see what happens. That’s easier said than done, but I am trying. It’s just hard on the days when I sit at the computer dreading typing that first word, because it means I’m putting myself back on the path of having to do it “right.”

Hibernation

I’m not talking about hibernating animals. I’m talking about myself.

For the past month or more, I’ve felt like I was in a cave. Everything seemed dark, and nothing was interesting. I just wanted to sleep, though I got up every day, showered, and got dressed. Some days, that was all I did.

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I’m not entirely sure what set it off. I have clinical depression, and I was definitely depressed. It was winter, which probably didn’t help any since the long, dark, cold days and nights usually make my depression worse. I’ve been struggling with a novel I’ve been trying to write for nearly a year now and just can’t seem to make work, and that was causing some major self-butt-kicking as I tried to figure out why I couldn’t wrap my head around the problem.

I also had to leave the part-time job I’d only had since September, because I was no longer able to manage the commute and work shift five days a week. The shift was only three or four hours, but the commute was nearly that long, and it was just too much for me. That was what really shoved me into the dark cave. Having to give up a job I usually enjoyed, one with that few hours involved, because I was physically and mentally unable to handle it did a number on my self-image, and that fueled the depression.

So for the past month or more, I’ve been essentially in hibernation mode, just trying to maintain things.

Tomorrow is the first day of spring here, though one wouldn’t know it by checking the temperature (below freezing as I type this) or seeing the snowbanks left from last week’s blizzard. It’s the time when things start coming out of hibernation.

I’m feeling better now. Stronger. So I’m hoping I’ll be able to make it out of hibernation too.

Oops…

January obviously got away from me! I was participating in a blog challenge on my other blog, which required me to post daily, and I completely spaced on posting on this blog.

The challenge was fun, and it required me to stretch my brain a great deal to think of enough topics to fill an entire month. It isn’t something I’m likely to do again.

Aside from the challenge, I’ve spent the past few weeks working on a novel that I started several months ago and hope to eventually finish, as well as adjusting to no longer having a job outside the home. While my kids were in school, I focused on writing, but after both had graduated, I held a part-time job. For various reasons, I’m no longer able to do that, so I’m back to trying to write full-time.

And to hopefully remembering to blog regularly.

Playing With Writing

When I was younger, writing stories was a form of playing for me. I created elaborate worlds, populated with many, many characters, and made up whatever I wanted. If I wasn’t in school, I was usually sitting somewhere with a notebook and pen, scribbling something. Or I was using my dolls to act out stories that I would later write.

Back then, I wanted to get published someday, but that wasn’t the main purpose for writing for me. It was something that made me happy. Brought me joy. The creation of the stories was the top priority.

Unfortunately, that started to change when I started getting published. Over time, writing became less about joy and far more about writing something good enough to be accepted, that readers would actually buy. It became about earning money to help pay my bills and buy food for my family.

It became something that stopped bringing me joy, and instead brought me anxiety and fear. The fear that I wasn’t good enough and never would be, especially when I saw other authors earning ten or even a hundred times what I earned. I knew I wasn’t the best at marketing, and I started feeling like I wasn’t any good at writing, either. And because I felt like I wasn’t good at it, the quality of my writing suffered.

These are things I’m working on changing now, though, and that work is part of the reason I don’t have any releases scheduled for 2018. Before I can consider myself ready to submit my work again, I need to regain the joy that got me started writing in the first place. I need to take time to play with plots and characters, with no pressure and no consequences if something doesn’t work.

I don’t know how long the process will take, but that’s okay. What I do know is I need to put myself first, and that means putting joy first.

 

“Which One?”

Recently, I had a conversation with someone I hadn’t heard from in three or four months. He asked whether I’d finished my book.

My immediate response was, “Which one?”

It isn’t that I’m working on a lot of books at this point, though that used to be the case. From 2009-2015 or so, I was always working on a book or short story, and during a lot of that time, I worked on more than one project simultaneously. If someone asked whether I’d finished my book, I genuinely had no way to know which one they were talking about, unless I remembered the last conversation I’d had with them. Even if I did remember it, though, it might not help me figure out which book  they meant, because I might have talked to them about more than one.

hard cover books in attractive colors
hard cover books in attractive colors

Nowadays, I work on one book at a time, and sometimes I’m not working on any books or stories. But as I rebuild my career in the direction it used to be–though hopefully less stressful and better organized–I’m nearly always working on something, even if it’s just a brainstorm.

In the few months since the last time I spoke to this person, I worked on, and then temporarily set aside, a young adult novel. I’ve written several short stories, and completed a novel I’d been working on for nearly a year and a half; the stories and this novel are adult fiction and under a new pen name which I haven’t officially launched yet. My memory is wonkier than it used to be, so I legitimately can’t even remember for sure when I last talked to this person, let alone which project I’d talked to him about. And I didn’t want to ask, because that would have looked a little foolish. Some people don’t understand why I don’t remember every word of every book I’ve written; most people definitely wouldn’t understand why I can’t remember what I was working on this past summer.

Since I had recently finished the adult novel, I told him that yes, I’d finished my book. I just hope that was the book he was asking about…

Completion Euphoria

There’s a certain feeling I get when I finish the first draft of a manuscript. I feel it when I finish editing rounds and when the book is released, too, but it’s strongest when I mentally type “the end” on a first draft.

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I don’t actually type “the end.” Publishers sometimes don’t like that. But in my mind, those words appear on the bottom of the final page.

The feeling is hard to describe. Euphoria is pretty close. It’s the jump-for-joy, happy, shout-from-the-rooftops sensation that fills every part of my body. I’ve been working on this book for however long. I might have had to delete half of it and start over; that happens sometimes. I’ve agonized over how to word things just right, and whether I’m repeating myself or contradicting something from earlier in the story. I’ve wondered if the bleeping thing is ever going to be finished.

And now it’s finished.

But alongside the excitement and joy of being able to say I’ve written another book, there’s a sort of let-down feeling. I’ve been working on the book for however long, and the characters have become my constant companions. During the waking moments when I’m not sitting at the computer actively typing, part of my brain has been occupied with thoughts of plot points and plot holes, and how to get the characters from A to B. Sometimes I’ve even dreamed about the story and the characters.

And now it’s finished.

Finishing the first draft of a book is definitely a time for mixed emotions. I’m never sure what emotion I’ll feel the most strongly, though I know I’ll at least be proud of myself for getting it done. But while sometimes I celebrate and literally do jump for joy, other times I cry. I know I’ll see the characters and story again, because there’s editing to do once the manuscript has set for a while, but for now they’re not going to be part of my life, and sometimes that causes me to feel sad even as I’m feeling happy.

Creating Worlds

The exciting thing about writing books is the ability to create my own worlds. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing, even when I was very young. When I was a little kid, I didn’t just have *an* imaginary friend. I had forty or fifty of them! They lived in a place called “Invisoland,” and I was the only non-invisible person who was allowed to visit that place. I created this when I was about three or four. By the time I was in school, Invisoland had cities and towns, an orphanage, and a pretty large population.

This ability to create was the catalyst for me starting to write. I had a huge imagination. I had to do something with it! So I kept inventing worlds where people had magical or psychic powers, where someone could control the weather with their thoughts, or become an accidental secret agent, or conquer evil. Finding out where the stories in my head would lead, and who would become part of them, was exciting to me. I literally didn’t know what would happen in my stories until it happened, and that was a big part of the joy of writing.

As I got older, I didn’t always have the easiest time with my peers, or with other people, but in my stories, and therefore in the world I created, the  main characters had friends. They could do whatever they wanted. I didn’t write the stories about myself, but there was at least a bit of me in every main character I created, and so the things my characters did, and the friends they had, kept me going. Things are a lot better for me now than they were then, but I still love creating new worlds and characters to populate them.

Worldbuilding is one of the most important parts of writing. Even in contemporary fiction, things have to be consistent. Fortunately, for me, it’s also one of the most fun.

First Drafts

Every story begins with an idea. Then sometimes a brainstorm or outline, or not, depending on how and whether the author likes to plan their books.

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And then the first draft comes along. Sometimes, that’s when the problems start.

For me, the first draft is a time to get the ideas onto the page, but it’s also a time when I constantly catch myself trying to write perfectly. Which isn’t even possible in the most carefully edited and revised draft, let alone the first one.

The thing is, the first draft isn’t meant to be perfect. It’s meant to be where the ideas go from the author’s head onto the paper or screen. The writing technique doesn’t matter nearly as much as just having the stuff visible. As a friend of mine used to tell me, you can’t edit what’s in your head. Get it out, and then worry about how good or bad it is. You can’t fix your brain, you can only fix what’s on the page.

I get hung up on that a lot. One thing reviewers often ding me for is the pacing of my books. It’s either uneven or too slow. So when I’m writing the first draft, I keep stressing about getting the pacing right, and then the pace of my actual *writing* slows way down, to the point where sometimes I get discouraged and stop working on the thing altogether.

That isn’t useful, and it isn’t going to get the book done. It’s a hard habit to break, though. I have to completely shift my thinking from “My publisher won’t accept this if I don’t do it right” to “I’ll have plenty of chances to do it right, so for now, let’s just get it done.”

Just getting it done is the reason first drafts exist. Everything can be fixed later, once the story is written.

Teaser- A Perfectly Nice Guy

From a work in progress. Susurrus: Season of Tides (C)2017 Evil Overlord Games. Used by permission.

I went upstairs to my room. The house only had three bedrooms, but Mom and Dad had converted the attic into a room for me when Kendrick was born. I was eleven then and didn’t want to share with a baby, and my parents didn’t want Kendrick sharing with Donovan even though she was only three and he was a baby. So I’d ended up in the attic, which was fine with me even though in the summer it could be a furnace. I had privacy, and that mattered more than staying cool. At least Dad had put in an air conditioner.

My laptop was on my bed where I’d left it. I opened it and refreshed the browser, which was already on the game forums. I’d been playing before school, even though I wasn’t supposed to be online in the mornings. What my parents didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.

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Susurrus wasn’t one of the usual types of online RPGs. Instead of choosing a character and running around bashing things, players chose a character and read things, and clicked on links that led to more things. It was kind of like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books the town library had, which I’d read as a kid, except in the game, other people were making choices that might affect yours.

No one knew I was a gamer. Like acting in community theater, it was a way-too-geeky thing that wouldn’t have gone over well in Dayfield. Some of my friends did Dungeons and Dragons, and a couple even did ren faires and that kind of thing, and they got hassled for it on a regular basis. They got hassled for being theater nerds too, which was why I’d never joined the school drama club. I liked keeping some things in my life separate.

The little envelope icon near the top of the page had a “1” beside it. Someone had messaged me, and that someone was almost definitely Corriman. No one else would have.

I clicked the envelope and read his message. Liked what you said about the mage alphabet. They should use your idea.

I couldn’t help smiling. He liked something I’d said. My idea about using the mage alphabet for graffiti to keep the city under control was probably a crappy one, and probably something the game writers had already considered. If the city was under control, there wouldn’t be much point to the game anyway. But it didn’t matter whether it was a good idea or not. Corriman liked it.

We’d been talking back and forth on forum posts since March, and after a couple weeks he’d also started messaging me privately. I felt like I knew him as well as my real-life friends. I didn’t, of course. All I really knew about him was his screen name and that his primary character in the game was a werewolf. Which meant having a crush on him was probably pretty stupid, but I felt how I felt. I just wished I had the guts to ask if he felt the same.

They probably wouldn’t use a player’s ideas, I typed. But thanks. Maybe I’ll just write a fan fic or something with the idea.

I read that a couple of times. I had never written a fan fic in my life. I didn’t write anything if I could help it. But Corriman didn’t know that, and he didn’t have to. I sent the message.

A new one from him showed up within minutes. This takes too long. Can I text you? Or message you on Facebook or something?

He wants to message me? Awesome! I started to type my phone number, then deleted it. Texting or instant messaging with Corriman would be awesome, unless he turned out not to be who I thought he was. That was the downside of only knowing him in the game. He might be a seventeen-year-old guy like he claimed, or he might be some elderly creeper who liked flirting with boys. Or he might be a serial killer.

Okay, the last one was definitely my imagination running away with me. But it still didn’t hurt to be cautious. I’d like that, but how do I know you aren’t going to stalk me or something? LOL. I was serious, but maybe the “LOL” would make it sound less offensive.

I Don’t Write That

Since I’m a published author, occasionally I’m contacted by people who are writing books, or who know someone who’s writing a book. Usually they want advice on how to get that book published. Even though sometimes, the book isn’t even started yet, let alone ready for publication.

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The thing is… I’m published in young adult fiction. My publisher only takes LGBTA+ young adult fiction. I don’t have a mental database of knowledge about every publisher of everything ever. So when someone comes to me to ask about getting a memoir published, or a picture book, or a nonfiction book about magic, I’m not going to be much help. I don’t know how publishing those things works, nor do I necessarily know publishers who take those things.

When I tell people that, though, sometimes they don’t take it well. “What do you mean, you don’t know? It’s a book! You write books! How could you not know?”

Easy. All books are not the same. All *writing* is not the same. I write pretty darn good YA fiction, but I’ve tried writing picture books and can’t do it to save my life. Sometimes I can manage writing nonfiction, but if it’s something that involves research, it probably isn’t something I’ll do well with. And most nonfiction involves research of some kind.

All publishers are not the same. Many of them, especially smaller presses, specialize, the way Harmony Ink Press specializes in LGBTA+ young adult fiction. They aren’t going to look at a memoir, or a nonfiction book, or a picture book, because that isn’t the kind of thing they publish.

Sometimes my “I don’t know” response is met with, “Well, can you find out and let me know?”

Um…no. Because I’m not willing to do *your* research and *your* legwork to get *your* book published. I have enough to do with my own books. You have access to the same resources I do. Look at books similar to the one you’ve written or want to write, and see who publishes them. Find those publishers online and see how to submit books to them. Join an author community either online or in person, or both, where you can find out more about how the process works. If all else fails, Google is your friend.

Don’t get me wrong. I love hearing that someone is excited about something they’re writing, and if they get it published, I would love to know that. But generally, the most I can do, and the most I’m willing to do, is give general advice about writing and about avoiding publishing scams, and steer people in the direction of some of the resources I mention above.

Writing is work. And some of that work is finding out for yourself *how* it works.