Knowing When to Call It

I hardly know where to begin. When I look at the time stamp on the last post I wrote here, I’m reminded of the time warp this last year was for all of us. I did not lose anyone close to me during the pandemic–thank you, Lord–though I know a few who did. My family and I remained safe and continued to do our various kinds of work throughout 2020 and beyond. I finished another novel last summer and sent it in to my agent. Then I took an enormous writing break to have what I now suspect was an actual breakdown.

Is it okay to say that when others have suffered more? Maybe not, but I’m going to say it. I basically lost my ability to sleep (sometimes at all) for a solid year. That, of course, affected everything else in my life. I prayed about it, journaled, took sleeping bills, took a short course of anti-anxiety meds, thought about going on an anti-depressant, did not go on the anti-depressant, read books, raged, studied up on peri-menopause and the effects of hormones on sleep, and finally underwent a course of CBT-I. I saw some improvement in my sleep, but what became clear is that I was afraid and somehow couldn’t become unafraid.

God was, and is, gently leading me toward understanding some things I’d rather not know about myself, about the little security structures I’ve built instead of relying on him. This is good and holy work and I’m trying to be patient as I wait on Him to restore me. I know he’s doing something.

One thing, though: I cannot write and haven’t been able to for months.

If there’s one thing writers know about the traditional publishing game it’s that, if at first you don’t succeed (or, you know, twice or whatever), you try, try again. I have two novels out, and they’ve not found a home, so, naturally, I should be writing another novel. I should be doing a lot of things, but I can’t seem to do them.

True confession: I am thinking of quitting, not on life but on writing novels. Some have suggested I go indie, bypass the gatekeepers, etc. But I don’t think that’s the solution for me–at least not now. The very idea makes me tired.

Admitting this is not an attempt to throw myself a pity party. Indeed, there are many legitimate things to grieve from this last year, and writer ennui may very well not count as one of them. On the other hand, people are people. They are made of dust and get bogged down in profound ways, even when they survive a pandemic. They should be grateful, and they sometimes are, but more often they try to fight the feeling that there’s no real point to anything.

The Bible has an answer for that: we feel like there has to be something more to this life because there IS more to it. We’re meant for another time and place. I’m trying to figure out how to live in this now and not-yet, trying to be content.

I am hoping the words will come back.

The Ennui of Presence

As I delve deeper into novel writing (and rewriting), I find myself growing quieter online. It has something to do with needing to limit mental distractions, yes, but it’s also about keeping my thoughts from draining out in a slow dribble to people I don’t actually know, thereby dissipating any creative energy I might have. The more I don’t say, the more I create, is what I guess I’m getting at.

The elephant in the room, of course, is that one needs an online presence in order to find readers for her work. I get that it’s boring to metaphorically turn my face to the sky and rip handfuls of hair out while a Hans Zimmer soundtrack plays in the background, but just know I’m over here doing it.

This guy has an online presence. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Because the less time I spend reading other people’s half-formed thoughts (and sending my own into the ether), the better I write. Or that’s my hunch, anyway.

There is absolutely no point to this post, except that I wish I knew what platform building actually is (and, yes, I’ve taken the marketing courses, so I know what experts say it is). I wish I knew if all of it had any real purpose or if it’s some Kafka-esque exercise in futility, and it turns out we’re all just wasting massive amounts of time while become dumber and less motivated to do anything real.

The irony isn’t lost on me that I’m sending these half-formed thoughts out into the ether for people I don’t know when I could be writing…

As Ordinary as Fiction

I don’t normally write about my kids. I used to, but they’re teenagers now, and I’m trying to respect their privacy. Even so, my writing habits are punctuated by mothering episodes, and it’s hard to think about my creative life without also thinking about my parenting life.

My sisters read my novel recently. They said, “It feels like YA in some parts because of the teenage voices.” I thought that was funny. I didn’t set out to write about teenagers. It just happened because that’s my world right now.

So often, our creative lives are our ordinary lives and vice versa. We conceive ideas from of the soil of our liturgies. Novels are birthed after a million laundry-folding moments.

This is as it should be–life informing art, art taking its place among myriad other realities. I hope I always have people or things to take care of, duties that demand I escape the world of fiction and join the one in front of me.

It can only make my life and art better.

Tunneling Through

I wish I had this lil’ gadget on my forehead. It would be so helpful as I continue to press forward on draft 1 of my next novel.

And I have bangs, so I could hide it, sometimes.

Instead, I’ve been giving my loved ones vacant smiles. To be fair, I may have been doing that all along. In any case, I’m using the vast majority of my creative strength on a new project, and what’s left of me isn’t worth much.

On a happy note, my debut novel advanced to the finals of the ACFW Genesis contest in the contemporary fiction category. I’ll head to San Antonio in late September to attend the awards ceremony and, obviously, to see who wins.

It’s such a shot in the arm to get outside validation on one’s work, though we shouldn’t really need it. (That’s what we tell ourselves and each other, anyway. We’re human, though, and this kind of work often leaves us wondering if we’re living in outer space). To have made it to the finals gives me courage for my current project.

Anyway, I’ve promised myself I’m not going to fall off the face of the earth just because I’m in creation mode. It’s summer, after all, and I need to feel like I went outside some. Also, I don’t want to lose momentum in the blog world.

So here I am, popping my head above ground and saying hello.

On Staying in the Purple

I’ve started writing a new novel. I’m 11,000 words in to what I expect will be an 80,000-ish word project. Since I’m pumping out the chapters, I find myself with depleted verbal reserves (most often of which I access to lecture my teenagers). So I though I’d just share this today. Seems about right.

Staying in the purple ain’t easy, folks. But the alternative is moving to crazy town.

Surviving the Social Life

Am I allowed to say something that’s already been said a million times?

Okay. The internet is mean. Social media, at least. Twitter specifically. I’ve only dipped my toe in the social whirlpool in the last couple of months. Even then, I only did it because you know what “they” say: you have to be searchable to survive.

I can’t even call it a love/hate relationship cuz there’s no love.

Most of my interactions have been pleasant enough, up to this point, because I’ve worked hard to keep them that way. But today I felt the Twitter wind in my face when I least expected it. I’m not cut out for this kind of anonymous conflict (and, to be clear, I didn’t court it with thoughtless or mean words. I asked a follow-up question on someone’s post). I’m not a troll, but I was treated like one. The whole exchange left me confused and sad.

It’s one thing to develop a thick skin because I’m sending my manuscript out to publishers who might not understand it or (worse) ignore it. That kind of toughness makes professional sense, though it’s not easy to cultivate. It’s another thing to try and change my personality.

Today left me wondering if social media toughness is something I need or want to develop. And let’s say I can’t. Then what? Do I avoid the whole scene altogether? Is that publishing suicide?

What I know is this: writing is extremely important to me. But so is emotional wellness. I want to be published. But I also want to feel safe.

I continue to wonder if both things are possible.

On Inching Forward

Today I signed with the literary agent I’d been hoping to partner with. She warned me my manuscript would need work, that I’d have to be open-minded and teachable in continuing to shape it. I’m nervous about what I don’t know, but I told her I believe in my story–and I believe in hard work. So here’s to the next stage in the process.

I need this button.

Stranger Than Fiction

Once again, I just got around to watching a movie others had seen years ago–this time, Stranger Than Fiction with Emma Thompson and Will Ferrell. (For the two of you who haven’t seen it, I won’t include spoilers). I’ve gotta admit, while the film has its flaws, it’s stuck with me for over a week.

The story is an unusual one. An author who’s suffering from writer’s block attempts to create a character who will live an ordinary life and then die at the end of the novel. A problem arises when the character becomes a real person who can hear the author narrating his life in third person. When he discovers he’s in a story he isn’t creating–and that he’ll most likely meet a heartbreaking, artistic demise–he must learn to advocate for his own life. He must confront his author.

ball shaped blur close up focus
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

The movie delves into questions about the nature of human existence and the artist’s imperative. For instance, do we own our stories, or do they live outside us? As writers, how often do we indulge ourselves by crafting stories that feel like an approximation of truth–but, in the end, rely on cynicism or well-worn tropes? Also, who’s writing the writers’ lives?

Your life?

The movie’s also about depression, about what can happen to art when an artist has lost hope. It made me think about the characters I’ve created. What would I say to them if they stood before me? Would they appreciate the endings I’ve given their stories? Would they agree that I’ve said true things? That I’ve been fair?

woman in brown top
Photo by fabio.tsu on Pexels.com

I don’t know. I think so.

Stranger Than Fiction caused me to re-examine my commitment to creating worlds where both good and bad things happen, worlds where there’s danger and sorrow, sure, but also hope. It made me want to keep on saying the truest things I know how to say.

I owe that to my myself, my readers, and to those people whose stories I write down.

 

If You Can’t Write Anything Useful, Don’t Write Anything at All

It’s popular, in some circles, to deny the existence of writer’s block.

Butt in chair! Don’t wait for the muse! Treat writing like a job! they say.

They’re mostly right. Writers can usually conquer the blank screen by typing words in succession, asking ourselves what if? and then what happened? We can work ourselves out of a jam. That is, if we’re writing fiction.

activity adventure blur business
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

You know when this “just do it” stuff doesn’t work–at least for me? When it comes to blogging.

I think the reason for this is that the blogging world has become so crowded that, if you do have a blog  and you want people to read what you write, you feel an enormous pressure to say something useful. Give readers a takeaway, an actionable step.

Right now.

I see a lot of bloggers copying other bloggers’ “useful ideas,” almost verbatim, because they’ve bought into this idea that the appearance of added value is more important than any sort of originality or creativity. The way to get readers, they’ve been told, is to do how-to posts.

  • Short ‘n’ sweet
  • Bullet points.
  • Two picture minimum.

black and white clear cool dew
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I, for one, cannot force myself to say something useful. Sometimes I do, but it’s often by accident. So I stare at the blank screen. I can’t think of a single thing to say that someone hasn’t already said.

This is not useful. There is nothing to take away.

But it’s true.

On Getting Real

Everyone says a writer needs to be vulnerable with her readers–even if she’s making up a story. In fact, she should feel a little nervous about what she puts on the page if it means she’s telling the truth.

grayscale photo of woman covering her face by her hand
Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Pexels.com

On the other hand, we live in a culture where people share stuff that may titillate but doesn’t necessarily inspire others or elevate the conversation. And then there’s the (I believe) competing idea of professionalism. Do we really want to get deep with the authors we admire, or do we want a little distance? (I, for one, do not care about Graham Greene’s favorite beverage).

Still, I have to admit I consume vulnerable writing like I eat candy corn, which is to say, once I get started I can’t stop.

I’ve been following Penelope Trunk’s writing for years, and she seems like an emotional train wreck. I don’t say this to be hateful. She says it herself. She overshares and it often gets on my nerves, so I go long seasons of cutting her out of my life. But I always come back. Being emotionally vulnerable in your writing may not make others respect you, but it does make for good reading.

adult alone black and white blur
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

So I’ll share what I thought I wouldn’t: an agent turned down my manuscript last week. She included a personal note that felt like a backhanded compliment, but it stung and made me feel like a creative imposter. I didn’t know if I should say anything about it because what if that isn’t professional? But if Penelope can talk to the internet about being incompetent at life, I guess I can admit this.

Honestly, I don’t feel better now, but maybe it’s not about me, anyway.