It’s been a week since my meltdown, and I think I’ve mostly pulled myself together with the help of friends and family. Thank you again. You know who you are.
I’ve been taking it easy, adding things back to my to-do list a little at a time. It was good that I had work that wasn’t my own to do for a few days–there was Lightspeed work, and Geek’s Guide work (new role, which I’ll blog about later), and StarShipSofa work. Being of service gave me a little bit of breathing room to collect myself and get some perspective.
Next I went through my “Inactive” folder. I have two folders for short stories, one (“Active”) for stuff I’m actually working on, and the other for stuff I’m not. Inactive stuff may be nothing but a hastily typed idea that I thought was interesting enough to warrant a working title, or it may be a completed draft of a story I lost interest in before I got around to revising it. The Inactive folder has a LOT in it. I went through all of it, and found three things that seemed like they might be fun to work on, and elevated them to Active. One was a nearly-complete draft, which I finished in a hurry and sent out for critique, and two were barely-formed ideas that just need words.
Finally I started rereading my favorite book on writing, Ray Bradbury’s “Zen in the Art of Writing.” There is absolutely nothing about technique in this book, no lectures on the use of adverbs or point of view or structure or pace. It’s just a series of pep talks; it’s Ray telling us that he did it and so can we, and reminding us that we’re in it for the love of it. He talks about identifying our loves and our fears, and tells us what he did with those things, and invites us to do them too. It’s like a hug in book form, and it has helped a lot.
So it’s sort of back-to-basics time for me. Back to things like word count and first drafts and being unafraid to suck. I learned in a different chapter of my life that sometimes we have to treat ourselves like bare beginners, and set our expectations back to zero–not with a sense of defeat, just in an effort to be gentle with ourselves. For now I’m treating myself like I would treat someone who has just started this journey, when the only thing you can really do is wave your pom-poms and say “Just keep writing! Forget about outcomes. Don’t worry about whether it will ever sell, don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Ignore your Inner Editor, and just write full steam ahead. Write for the love of it. Write, because you know you can’t do otherwise.”
“Is there someone in your life who doesn’t believe in you? Get rid of them!” – Ray Bradbury
After your emails, your comments, your chats, and a lengthy conversation with my significant other, I have concluded the following:
1. I am not alone. Not even close.
2. I have set a very high bar for myself, and thus it will take me longer to clear it. I am not willing to lower it, so I’m just going to have to suck it up.
3. There is absolutely no substitute for family and friends who believe in you.
It was hard to post that stuff–I despise self-pity in myself as much as in others, and it was hard to hang that out here. The fact that so many people emailed to say that they got it, they relate, and in a couple of cases, to thank me for posting it totally made it worth it.
So, wow, that was an interesting little train wreck yesterday. I’m not entirely sure what brought that on, apart from the cumulative wear the entry describes. The meltdown started at about 11:00 a.m. and it seemed like I did an emotional swan dive that lasted until 1:30 this morning, when I finally passed out on my office sofa.
Today I woke up feeling a little bit better. Not ready to get back on the horse, exactly, but also not in total despair. The idea of working on a story makes me cringe, but not cry. This is progress.
I think today–just for today–I’m just going to be a mom and an Assistant Editor. I assume I am going to get past this. Maybe tomorrow I’ll want to be a writer again. But not today.
There are hard days. I seem to be having a lot of them lately.
There are days–and mind you, I’ve racked up more than eight years of them now–when another day without a sale is like another pass of sandpaper over my skin, another ounce of stone added to the weight on my back; another day, proof positive, that I am not good enough.
In eight years only one day has not been a day like that.
It was okay for the first four years. I expected it. Years five, six and seven were less easy, but still, I was learning everything I could from anyone who would teach me. I was working hard and I was sure I’d get there some day soon. This year has been the hardest, partly because of that one day that was the exception, but also because I’ve got to know so many other writers who have been successful–sooner, and more often. I have friends who have achieved in a year or two what I’ve been working at for almost a decade. Hell, I know someone who sold their very first submission this week. First. Submission. Ever. Sold.
I am surrounded by success right now, and there are days when it is almost more than I can handle. Almost.
Jeremy posted about the value of stubbornness today. Go read it. He’s right. I know he’s right, I know that’s the quality that I need, and it’s the one that got me this far. I mean, who does this for eight years without a serious stubborn streak? It’s in me, no question. Right now I don’t feel stubborn, I feel weak and and broken and completely alone in my failure.
I try to remember Jay Lake’s words on the subject. I try to remember that this is normal. I try to convince myself that I just have to put one word after the other for a little while longer.
Today I am not convinced.