Thursday, December 29, 2022
Thursday, December 8, 2022
However, last night was the "long moon." (Also sometimes "cold moon" or "oak moon.") It's the last full moon before the solstice. That's an astronomic term, not just for us new age folks who like to wank off with our moon water. And whether you consider lunar cycles to have any particular spiritual significance or would just prefer to consider a social psychological practice, the long moon is a time where a lot of people ritualistically let go of the fetters and thoughts that no longer serve them.
For me, it's a tricky practice. I don't just let go of every terrible event or relationship or moment that's ever happened to me. Some of those experiences have galvanized me, and sometimes the worst things I go through end up leaving this indelible goodness in places and ways I could never have expected. And as I tried to carefully edit my list, I started to realize how well some of the ideas I wanted to let go of mapped onto my own career and creative life.
So I came up with a list for writers.
[Before we go ANY further, I want to take a moment to talk about the gaslighting effect of toxic positivity. Letting go of that which no longer serves us is NOT THE SAME THING!
We're not going to always look on the bright side. There's no benefit to feeling guilt over negative emotions. Just because "it could be worse" does not mean it isn't bad, or a person should never feel bad feelings. Not everything will work out, and the universe is cold and uncaring—not your secret conspiratorial pal. (The tendency for everything to work out is more accurately described as privilege.) Not everyone gets a happy ending. And on top of the ways in which negative emotions are ignored and shamed, toxic positivity can fountainhead a whole movement that tries to whitewash systemic and systematic injustice with "love and light" and call any attempt to accurately recognize such injustice as "negativity."
For some folks, some of the items on this list cannot be simply willed out of existence no matter how intense one's spiritual practice. Some will require years of therapy. Some need meds. Some of the items on this list (in some cases all) will be made worse by mental illnesses, and just wishing them gone on a particular full moon night won't fix the problem. Some may be chronic in the lives of a number of writers, and they will spend a lifetime working around them. I make no value or moral judgements about anyone's ABILITY to let these go. But if they can be released, a writer will be better for it.]
Spoiler alert. It'll never be perfect. You have to find the sweet spot of "as good as you can get it for what you're trying to do" and then let it go. If you're trying to write a literary masterpiece, maybe you put in a few more drafts than if you are punching out the 15th popcorn novel in a series so that your fans will buy it up and keep your rent paid for the next six months. But whatever you're trying to accomplish, at some point, it's reached its glass ceiling of limited returns. And that's when it's time for you to do what all artists should do, and move on.
Perfectionism just leads to anxiety, procrastination, and a fear of failure that will stymie ANY progress.
Make it as good as you can (for what it is). Done is better than perfect.
2- Comparative Benchmarks of Success
There will always be someone with a more widely read blog or better selling novel or who is just a little further along in their career. To say nothing of the Stephen Kings and Neil Gaimans and Colleen Hoovers who eclipse us all with their phenomenal success. This has never been clearer to me than having entire MFA cohorts gawking at my relative success while I try to justify the expense of eating at Panera for the second time in a week. I bet Stephen King gets Panera as often as he….okay, maybe best to let this go.
We are absolutely SOAKING in a commercial culture that wants us to compare ourselves to each other. (Often so we'll buy a product that'll make us feel better about that comparison—see below.) But these comparisons lead to feelings of envy, depression, and are inextricable from a certain virulent sense of entitlement about what we are due. Better to focus on the work and how to continue forth with the best possible effort day after day.
3- Rampant Materialism
Look, there's a whole movement that tries to shame poor people for going to the emergency room or for eating anything but beans and rice. Fuck that. FUCK IT. We all require safety, which includes food security, shelter, medical care, and not worrying about the clicking noise that the only car available we have to get to the job two towns over has started making. There are an awful lot of people who have nothing to cut out of a budget and who have to do what they can to make ends meet. Believe me. I walk a neighbor's dog for a few bucks anytime I want Panera.
But there is a level of materialism that a writer could do without. This is not a well-paying career until/unless one is well established with a LOT of work in the rearview. Everything from being secure on a tighter budget to not having to work long hours at some job that takes you away from writing will be served by not letting a never-sated lifestyle obsession dictate the unending quest for more and better stuff.
4- Limiting Beliefs/Negative Self-Talk
You can't do ANYTHING you set your mind to, no matter what the cishet white male motivational speaker with the six-figure salary says you can. And acknowledging systemic and systematic injustices and inequalities in a world rampant with both is not somehow what's holding folks back. No matter how clear the thought, or how many candles are lit, no one can manifest themselves out of real-world limitations.
But there is a needle to thread, especially for a writer. If you give oxygen to your catastrophic intrusive thoughts, you create a reality in which these objectives are just as impossible as you believe them to be. If you keep thinking that you can't write that book or no one will ever want to read you, you are very likely to talk yourself out of even trying. Then you definitely won't get it done.
Sometimes there's a fine line between blithely spewing rainbows up people's butts and a simple belief that you can accomplish something worthwhile if you keep trying. (Maybe not exactly what you wanted, but something.) Not every positive thought has the ability to alter your reality…but ironically, most negative ones actually do.
5- Concern for the Opinions of Others
Please understand that I'm not telling you to go publish your unedited NaNoWriMo novel because other people's opinions are useless. I'm not telling you that you don't need an editor or peer feedback or to listen to anyone. You have to be willing to listen to some people.
But it's up to you who.
If you sit around and worry about the opinions of everyone, you'll never get it done. It's just too damned scary. MOST people won't like what you do. People won't like your style. They won't like your content. They won't like your politics. They won't like your philosophy. They won't like your adherence to a style guide that puts in the comma when they wouldn't have. They won't like your adherence to a style guide that leaves out the comma that they would have put in. They won't like that you said "fuck." They won't like your joke about cishet white dudes. They won't like that you eat at Panera. There are eight billion people in the world, and even if you somehow manage to reproduce the outrageous, phenomenal, unthinkable success of She Who Shall Not be Named and sell 500 million copies (which is far from being LIKED by everyone who buys a copy, BTW), you still will have 15/16ths of the world basically unimpressed by you. MOST people aren't going to like you. And if you sit around caring about all of them, not only will your simple act of expressing YOURSELF suffer, but you'll never find the people who will think you're great.
6- Your Past Failed Goals
You either hit them or you didn't.
Kudos if you did—or got close.
If not, don't dwell on it. Get up. Dust yourself off. Set new goals—perhaps slightly easier ones. This is a new day/week/month/year.
I wanted to be published by 30…then 40…now I'm thinking 50 might be a stretch.
But if I let my failure at 30 define me, I'd never have a writing career. Hell, if I let my failure to write two articles a week during my cancer recovery define me, I'd be sunk.
If you aren't failing at goals from time to time, your goals are too easy. Set new ones.
7- Saying Yes to Everything
Protect your writing time.
Protect your writing time.
Protect your writing time.
I can't tell you what your priorities in life are. Family? MMORPGs? Sex parties? Dating? Eating at Panera? Off-road mountain biking? But if you say yes to EVERYTHING, there's nothing left for writing. It's really that simple.
8- The Excuses
We've all got them, and most of them suck.
You'd be harder pressed to find someone who DOESN'T think they have a book in them…along with a list of excuses as long ass their arm for why they haven't written it.
If you don't want to write, don't write. That's okay. No really, that's really, really, REALLY okay.
If you do want to write, you have to let go of the excuses.
[Insert a Panera joke here.]
Negative self talk is one thing. Thinking you don't need an editor or that your first draft is ready after a quick edit is another. Get rid of both.
If you want to be a writer, you have to let go of the idea that you are a gift to the written word. You need an editor (maybe two). You need to revise. You need to trust the process and rewrite rather than just polish your first draft. You need to get messy.
If you just want to self-publish, admire your own book on your own bookshelf, and never even sell enough to buy lunch at Panera, don't let me get in your way. But if you want more than your pressured-into-it friends buying your novel, you need to release your ego.
Friday, December 2, 2022
Are you having trouble writing…or maybe writing the way you once used to?Today's process prompt has two points of inspiration. The first is based on the cry I have heard from so so SO many writers that the pandemic is destroying their productivity. Even when it's not "The Pandemic™," it's the pandemic. If it isn't social distancing and risk assessment literally and directly affecting their ability to concentrate or enjoy writing, maybe that is making everything just a little bit worse. Life continues to be life-like—pandemic or no—with its break ups, deaths, massive upheavals, moves, and general lifey bumps, but toss in a pandemic and you have fewer support mechanisms, fewer mental resources, fewer enjoyed activities, and just fewer emotional reserves, and more baseline anxiety. I've seen more people unable to establish or reestablish a daily writing habit in the last couple of years than ever before. It's entirely possible that most of us could keep writing through most of these trials and clichés on our own. It's just that when the life is already being sucked out of you, there's an aggregate effect.
The second is a more personal font of inspiration. Recovering from cancer has been a slow process and I'm often not quite where I think I am in that process. I'm definitely doing better, but I can't seem to reach even my own modest goals most of the time. If I want to do three articles in a week, maybe I do one or two. I look at the calendar and think there's plenty of time to write a big article and then one of the kids gets sick.
Of course, I sing the praises of morning writing (and later a floating half hour of writing) if you're trying to jump start your creative flow, but sometimes even that seems impossible. Sometimes even thirty minutes here or there might be daunting or just getting up and getting out o, and then you need to take a step back even further.
Do not despair if you failed NaNo. Or if you can't seem to focus for long enough to get anything written. Or if you've tried to restart an hour of writing every day for the last month. You just need to break down your goals even further.
There's this idea of tiny goals—if you're not familiar with it, it's pretty easy to understand. Instead of setting goals that feel too big and are overwhelming, you set a much smaller goal. Even a reasonable goal might feel daunting so you set an EVEN SMALLER goal. Instead of meditating for twenty minutes a day, you sit in your meditation spot for thirty seconds a day (and see if you want to do a little more). Instead of doing a five mile run, you put on your running clothes and go stand on the street for two minutes.
So instead of thinking of a reasonable writing goal, think of one that is entirely too easy. Something that feels trivial—silly to even mention. Instead of writing for thirty minutes, just write ONE SENTENCE. Or if you're feeling totally baller, do a paragraph. But the point is that you don't do something you think you SHOULD be able to accomplish. You do something that is absolutely too easy for you.
Set a goal that you can't possibly fail at.
Sit down. Knock out your one sentence. (Or one paragraph. Or five minutes. Or whatever.)
Of course, once you're there and you've done a sentence, you might want to just do one more, but you don't have to. You're done. And you have one sentence more than you had before. And maybe the next day, you make it two sentences because one was so darned easy.
Sometimes a full goal is daunting. Sometimes we just need to get ourselves into position and inertia will start to carry us forward. Sometimes we need to put one in the wins column and take a victory lap instead of feeling like a failure. Don't be afraid to set the smallest of goals, knock them out, and then see where you are.
Monday, November 28, 2022
15- If you had a friend come to town who’d never been here before, where would you take them that wasn’t necessarily a big tourist spot? Or maybe you would take them to a tourist thing. Who knows :)
[Couple of notes:
1- Non writing questions are going into a full 20 Questions post when I'm done with all of them, but there are way too many to not break them up into separate posts.
2- I'm still looking for questions to answer in my mailbox. Mostly writing questions, but you can send me anything and I'll get to it eventually.]
This has happened a couple of times, and I'm usually not much into the tourist spots myself unless there's a specific place that a guest wants to go. I'll take them to Alcatraz or to see Fisherman's Wharf or the Golden Gate Bridge if they are wanting that experience, but I'm much more likely to find something they like and tailor a local adventure to that. If they want to see the ocean, we head down to Half Moon Bay and take a hike along the cliffs and then down to the beach. If they want to see a museum I'll take them to the DeYoung (or Cal Academy if they're a big nerd). If they want a vigorous hike, I'll show them the Lafayette Reservoir rim trail. If they like to eat Mexican food, we go on a Fruitvale taco crawl.
Still, I rarely do that either. A lot of my visitors are more of the "hang out and enjoy each other's company" type. We putter around locally. Maybe go for a hike. Or perhaps we just knock out some grocery shopping that I need to do anyway. We hit a few local restaurants. There's lots of talking. Maybe we watch a movie or something.
Friday, November 11, 2022
I'm not going to lie—I'm still stumbling more than I'm cranking out the word counts. It's been a long and slow road to recovery. But the posts are coming and a major project is in the works.
Basically what happened is that my editor came to me with their part of something I had been hinting that I wanted to do for a couple of years now. They had done it. It was already completely finished. Suddenly, I was in a position to get a major non-blog project done.
But there was a catch…
It was about NaNoWriMo. Which meant I had to drop everything and put it all into getting this project done if it was going to be done in time to be topical. Otherwise it would have to wait for an entire year.
So that's what I did. I dropped everything and started working. I have a shit ton of editing and polishing and revision to do as fast as I can possibly do it, as well as two articles that are absolutely essential to round out the final version of this project. One of those will go live next week as part of the regular blog, and I HOPE this thing will get off the ground while NaNo is still a thing.
Wednesday, November 2, 2022
Note 2: The multi-week, get-back-into-the-swing-of-writing mailbox-a-thon will mean that I'm off update schedule for a while while we deep dive into answering your questions.
[Remember, keep sending in your questions to email@example.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox." I will use your first name ONLY, unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. Long questions? Short answers? I'm here for it!]
First of all--I love your blog. It's helped me shape a lot of my writing philosophy. I read Brande. I started working every day I can on writing. I did the floating half-hour. It's all helped immensely, and over the past three years that I've been writing seriously, I've noticed that I've been getting better, and I have some thanks to give to you for your advice. Thank you for all you do, and hope soon you can return to blogging--but as I'm sure people tell you all the time, take care of yourself.
My mailbox questions...
Do you use an editor, or do you self-edit? What does this look like for you when you are posting 3 times or so a week?
I've been writing for three years, and have yet to publish anything. However, I've felt my writing getting substantially better over the last few months. I've been working on a short story/novella for 1.5 years or so, but while I've only recently been able to tell the story the way I want to. However, I feel that perhaps I am getting stuck on this one idea for too long. I'm not expecting to get my time back out of the work, but how do you decide when it something should be published? I feel I could wrap up the story in another rewrite or so, but when I try to work on other ideas I feel distracted by this work, knowing it is so close.
Thanks for all you do Chris, I look forward to seeing more of your work!
I usually try to open my mailbox replies with a totally hilarious joke (and believe me, they are always absolutely brilliant), but I have just got to say that it's really touching to have been doing this whole thing long enough that I'm starting to get folks writing in who have been taking my advice for years. I have a whole bookshelf section of people's first signed books with a few words of thanks for all the "You should be writing" memes or blog posts or just general advice over the years. And while my suggestion to do things like write every day or maybe skip NaNoWriMo if you don't already have experience writing at a fevered pace have always garnered a certain level of…let's say "spirited disagreement" (usually from people who have yet to hit those goals they claim rank upon their most ardent desires), once in a while folks who have gone ahead and tried what I propose take the time to write me and let me know that it actually worked like a charm and they're writing regularly and feeling much better about everything.
So to all my naysayers. "Nyaaaah!" Where's YOUR fucking bookshelf of signed first editions, huh?
Okay, that was petty. I'm being petty.
|No, not TOM Petty. |
Jesus Fucking Christ, who is in charge of picking the pictures on this blog?
Why won't they back down?
So Tyler, it turns out your first question is a lot easier to answer. I work with an amazing editor. And it's a good thing too because if you go back to before we worked together, it's REALLY painfully obvious. Not only do I make lots of mistakes (particularly when it comes to where the commas go) but there's just this noticeable dip in quality. My editor doesn't just fix my grammar and spelling. She also helps me be….a better writer than I am—or at least the best writer I can be. She teases out what I mean to say and helps me sharpen and tighten my language. Once she's gone through a draft, it's just a much better piece of work.
Occasionally I finish a post too late to get it in front of her before I need to post it, or it's just really short and I think I can probably keep it mostly error free on my own. (Narrator's voice: They couldn't.) This is inevitably when I end up finding a sentence I didn't even finish, an idea I expressed badly, and half a dozen grammar mistakes….in the first paragraph—of course that's after I've posted.
So yes, editor is good. And if you can't afford one, work out a trade. And if you can't work out a trade, at least get some peer review. And if you can't get peer review, at least get a second set of eyes from someone who isn't trying to bang you. This is part of the process for a reason. We all suffer from knowing what we MEANT when we wrote something.
The more complicated question is when you NEED an editor (and how many drafts you should do), and that gets into the tricky land of revision. I hate to answer your question with a question, but how important is this writing? As my attempts to go forth without an editor indicate, you should probably have at least a second set of eyes for anything you expect to be read.
Imagine a logarithmic graph….
|Or just look at this one if you have trouble imagining |
calculus in your head.
So revision and editing is like this graph. The first draft to the second draft will be unbelievable improvement. VERY notice. Much improve. Wow! Then the change from the second draft to the third draft will probably be somewhat less noticeable but still quite apparent. From third draft to fourth, you might feel like you are getting limited returns even though you are still improving upon the work.
Your efforts to keep polishing will keep yielding a better and better draft, but the curve will start to flatten. To get a draft that is as much improved between draft 2 and 3, you would have to do draft 4, 5, and 6 (in addition to 2, and 3, of course). Yes, it will keep getting better. There is basically no point where another pass by an editor won't find SOMETHING, but how willing are you to put in that effort? Yes, the returns get more limited. It will take longer and longer to yield a significantly better draft. How much time and energy do you want to spend improving this? Is it your Great American Novel™? Or is it the content for a random day's blog post? Masterpieces are probably most discernible from what I call "popcorn books" because they go through somewhere around five to ten more drafts.
And this is one of the painful truths of art. Perfection is a goal we must strive for but can never attain. We can just get closer and closer (like the flea in the thought experiment who jumps half the distance from point A to point B every jump). And eventually we have to decide that our work is good enough for what we're trying to achieve, call that work complete (as complete as it will be), and move on.
Deciding that a piece is ready for publication is a very personal decision if you're self-publishing (and a very gatekeepery decision if you're traditionally publishing). Obviously, I can tell you when something is clearly NOT ready (draft one…maybe two…lots of grammar errors…maybe a few continuity problems…and a chapter that is basically your freshman composition essay on why Mario is a scathing indictment of capitalism), but as you clean up your work and improve it, this becomes an increasingly subjective decision. It really has a lot to do with whether you feel the work is ready to go out into the world, and there's almost no objective way for someone else to tell you. Even in traditional publishing—where you would think you would be getting a more "ready/not ready" objective value judgement—factors like how popular the genre is matter way more than some rubric of quality. Seriously, things get published (traditionally) all the TIME with glaring errors in grammar, confusing wording, and absolute shit prose.
So I hate to leave you with a bit of a non-answer, but it's really up to you, your sense of how ready your work is, and how close to perfection you want it to be.
I will give you this one freebie though, Tyler. When writers are starting out, they tend to underestimate how much revision and editing their work needs. It is a tragically common error among new writers to assume that they just need a grammar polish. I promise promise promise pinkie swear that you (nor anyone else) will be the exception to the rule that you are going to have to do some big revision. For most starting writers, it will take a significant number of peers FAILING to tell them that they are unsung literary geniuses (and maybe even saying, "this was a little confusing and stilted") before they begin to put their ego to the side and consider editing and revision (with peer review) a crucial part of the process. If you are new to putting your work out in the world, ERR ON THE SIDE OF TOO MUCH. Later…(much later)…you will start to kind of "revise as you write" and may find that some of your less critical work can be done in only two or three drafts. However, you'll still want to do multiple drafts for the important stuff, which for most of us will include any kind of fiction to be published.
I hope that helps, Tyler. Good luck.
Thursday, October 27, 2022
While I wait for questions to roll in from my post on Tuesday, I thought I would share a little of what's been going on in my personal world. I'm not sure I can tie it into writing much without sounding like a broken
record cliché from the last years or so. ("Hey life happens, folks. But you have to write. But you have to be kind to yourself. But not TOO kind. But not too mean. But kick your ass. But gently….)
One thing about the anxiety that came up for me after cancer and surgery was that I had a hard time being still with my thoughts. I was restless and had trouble concentrating on anything. For months afterwards, I really wanted to keep busy. I couldn't sit still (I would just lose concentration and start thinking about things I was anxious about if I tried), and I would dread being alone. So I was antsy, and mostly kept trying to keep busy.
Somewhere in there I started planning little trips.
They weren't big vacations. A road trip here. A couple of days there. One planned a couple of months ago. One in the works since winter. One that wouldn't have been possible because of a train trip but then suddenly was when the trains went on strike. One practically a 17 hour (each way) road trip on a lark.
And because I wasn't paying attention to where I was putting the short trips compared to the trips that had been on the calendar for a lot longer, suddenly I had four trips lined up almost back to back in the span of about three weeks.
If that weren't enough, somewhere in there, we lost a hamster. Which….like okay it's a hamster. But for the five and eleven year old, this is some of the biggest grief they've had to contend with. The feels were big and the impact wasn't easy.
Maybe the worst part is that right before these trips started happening, I felt a shift in the anxiety. Like I know I'm not all better or done with my mental health journey or anything pollyanna like that, but I definitely felt like I was a little more comfortable in my own skin and could probably sit with my thoughts a little better and didn't need every moment of every day to be a distraction from the thoughts that would creep into my head if I dared to slow down.
So there I am in a better headspace, and just a little better able to process and maybe starting to confront that I don't even particularly ENJOY having every moment filled up with socialization, and I have four trips out of town planned. (And though I wouldn't know it until I was half way through them, a very emotional funeral was going to be happening in there too.)
It's been a weird month—nourishing and rejuvenating in many ways—but also stressful in others and a difficult schedule to carve a writing routine out of. I've had to keep reminding myself that not every day is going to be ten pages on the work in progress and promises to all my patrons, but at the same time, I've tried to keep writing a little something every day so that my skills didn't get too rusty.
Tuesday, October 25, 2022
While you could put them in the comments where you see this post and I MIGHT even see them. But chances are I won't, so if you really want to get a question answered, it will be better if you click this link and follow the directions.
So, if you've been following us with even half an iota of attention over the last year, you know that I've been recovering from cancer and surgery and have been having a hard time getting back into a writing schedule. Some of this is scheduling logistics, but most of it has been the brain fog and anxiety that comes with these sorts of life altering (and particularly life threatening) experiences.
One of the best ways I've found over the years to jumpstart a writing slump is to answer mailbox questions. They give me a topic and a jump off point, take a little less research than some of my deep dive posts, and are just a tiny bit more FUN for me. So I'm going to be doing a rash of question answering. At least a couple of weeks worth of blogging. Maybe more if I'm still struggling. Then we'll ease back into our regular update schedule.
I've got a few questions in the archives, and I'll be digging them out, dusting them off, and going through them for the good ones, but I will need MORE. Now is the time to get me your questions.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put "WAW Mailbox" in the subject.
Folks, that's not just me being fussy about submission requirements (although if you want to be published, you should learn YESTERDAY that you have to follow any and all submission guidelines to the absolute letter if you don't want your submission thrown out without even being read). I actually use those keywords to search through my fifteen THOUSAND emails. If you don't want to get lost in the immediate wash of Democrat fundraising spam, dating app notifications, Google calendar notifications, and promotions from the last ten years of shit I've signed up for, you'll put "WAW Mailbox" in the subject line, so I can find it.
Wednesday, October 12, 2022
Quick Personal/Health Update-
It became obvious in the last couple of weeks that I was not managing my anxiety well, and it was beginning to affect my personal relationships.
Some of it may have been all the travel, and some of it was definitely thinking I was visiting my mom for the last time (it's not actually that bad), but even though those things are less of an issue now, I think I could still use some extra help trying to regulate.
I've been doing better month by month since my surgery, and honestly, I've been having some genuinely good days and solid weeks lately, but it still feels like I'm only really okay if absolutely nothing goes wrong. If anything happens, suddenly I'm spinning out of control.
So I started back up talk therapy, and went to my PCP to talk about pharmaceutical options. (She recommended a low dose med for the next three to six months to help me get a little further clear of the cancer and surgery.)
Weekly Schedule Adjustments-
Our biggest schedule adjustments this week is working around the bank holiday—which shifts everything over one day. That means tomorrow I'll take the day off, and try to get something low key up on Friday. Next week I'm going to be in Monterey for three days, but I think I'll have as much time to work during downtimes as I ever do, so it might not affect much.
Old Draft 38,305
I definitely didn't get to the ol' novel these last couple of weeks. I barely kept my head above water.
Behind the Scenes-
I'm going to get this early access post written if it kills me.
Monday, October 10, 2022
So I'll be taking today completely off (which isn't exactly true since Treble and Clef are out of school). Look for our Weekly Report on Wednesday, and a truncated update schedule this week.
Friday, September 30, 2022
|Been yellow or orange for a while now.|
Dipped into red this week.
I'm going to Texas in a few days. And I've been euphemistically saying "It's probably the last visit with my mom where I won't be putting affairs in order." That phrasing has been very carefully, very deliberately preventing me from saying what is a lot more accurate: "I'm going to say goodbye." But my therapist unzipped me last week, pointing this out, along with tallying up what a year it's been. Pregnancies. Miscarriages. Health issues. Cancer. Surgery. Recovery. Major life break ups. PTSD. Long term mental health challenges. Covid-concern estrangement from a significant chunk of my chosen family. My mom's terminal illness and final stages of COPD. And that's without even counting the stressors I've willingly taken on like moving in with Rhapsody and suddenly living with the dynamic duo of Treble and Clef.
For the most part, my anxiety has improved since cancer/surgery. I have more days I feel okay. I can get to okay more of the time by focusing on my breathing or feeling my feet against the floor. I'm sleeping better, more often through the night, and less often with some kind of sleep aid. I'm writing a little more every week.
I'm doing better.
But I'm far from all better.
What I've found is that when life is challenging me, it goes out the window pretty quickly. I'm in a narrow window of tolerance (if that's a reference that you understand), and I get activated easily (or disassociate, but lately it's usually been activation). A doctor's appointment at the oncologist can still send me spinning for hours. The thought of losing 25 minutes of a carpool with someone throws me into scarcity panic and feelings of loss and abandonment. I wake up from anxiety dreams a in a panic that my partners are moving on because I've lost my glitter, and I can't find my way back to sleep for hours. I'm fine—just BARELY fine—until any challenge hits.
Going to say goodbye to my mom turns out to be JUST such a challenge.
Last week was…very difficult. I was struggling most days and feeling in crisis for a couple. I was in a difficult place with how my anxiety was affecting my personal relationships, and at one point I even had a bad enough intrusive thought that I made sure I wasn't alone.
Writing has become one of the hardest things for me to do. Maybe not as hard as admitting I have a real problem with anxiety after surgery but…oh sorry you were probably hoping for a joke here. It's not as hard as stoichiometry. Yeah, that's it. Stoichiometry.
I still love it. It's still an emotional outlet and catharsis and some kind of (shattered but hopefully re-assemblable) career. But keeping my mind from buzzing with some kind of anxious thought for long enough to focus on the writing has been Herculean. And getting up the motivation every day has been Sisyphean. And opening up my heart has been Pandorian. My attempts at metaphor fall well short of being Orphic.
And it's all Greek to me.
Some days—and I still write every day just like I advise everyone else to—I am doing little more than a half an hour stolen between visits to stores and picking up kids from school. Or I'm doing an emotional splat on my private Facebook page instead of working on an article or my fiction.
Not every mental health challenge is surmountable—certainly not with naught but a GED and a give-em-hell attitude—and I'm not here to be the ableist fucknoodle with a leaf blower (that shoots rainbows and glitter) blasting up your skirt by claiming that you have to just keep writing no matter what happens or you're not really a writer. That's a bunch of fucking bullshit.
You're a writer if you write. That's it. End of line. (The kid watched Tron so my dated pop culture references are going to be even MORE dated for a bit.)
I mean….I don't know how that career so many seem to yearn for is going to look like taking months-long breaks (mine is pretty much in tatters), and I can tell you for sure that in order to get your novel published, you're going to have to sit down and WRITE IT. There's a lot to be said for treating writing like a job if you want it to be a job, and understanding that weekend warrior effort will probably never get you career caliber results.
But I also know that writing has very few external motivators. It's pretty much you telling yourself to get to work…day after day, and that is really fucking HARD when everything feels like it's going off the rails and you can't concentrate on anything that isn't six-inches-up-your-ass urgent. Anxiety and depression—whether chronic or situational—have a way of making things that used to bring you joy bring you a lot less joy. And there's not a lot of money, fame, or glamour in writing (despite how glamorous and ritzy we definitely appear to be from the….sorry I couldn't even finish that without laughing), so if you're not getting your dopamine fix, you're down to sheer willpower.
My best suggestion is to push yourself to do absolutely as much as you possibly can and then be unswervingly compassionate with yourself for how far you fall short. If that's five minutes or ten, give yourself some grace for having written at all. If that's not your work in progress, be gentle with yourself. But try to do something. You want the habit to be there when you start feeling better. You want to know right away when the muse starts coming back. And you want the skills to have atrophied as little as possible.
This is like brushing your teeth. Your mental hygiene can absolutely decay to the point that brushing your teeth gets neglected, and I'm not here to say pollyanna shit like "Just do it." But the more it's "habit" instead of "chore" the longer you will be able to hang on during the rough times. And if you can't do thirty seconds in each quadrant with swirling strokes, you at least give them a good swipe. So that the habit is still there when you start feeling better. So that at least you've done something.
Push yourself. Be gentle with your limits. Over and over. Don't give up. Don't punish yourself. That's how you get through and come out the other end still writing. Still a writer.
I wrote the second half of this post from Texas on the second day of my trip. My mom is a little better than I thought. The world seems not QUITE so bleak, and the writing bug returned. Fortunately for me all the tools were right where I left them because I had kept writing even during the bleakest, hardest moments.
You can do it. Because all "it" is…is as much as you can do.
Thursday, September 15, 2022
Quick Personal/Health Update-
I'm sick today.
I'm not sure if it's the new Omicron Covid booster or if I picked up a bug that the little one brought home, but I've been run down, having chills, and most recently coughing.
I continue to improve mentally and emotionally, but most weeks have at least a couple of setbacks. (Tuesday night was one, and I had to cancel several plans today due to illness, and that really took the wind out of my sails.) It doesn't take much for anxiety to get the best of me at night. I can keep myself regulated and function during the day, but when the slightest spike of anxiety will jolt me awake until I've whack-a-moled it, it can often take hours (or meds) to fall asleep.
Mostly, I'm doing much better though. A month ago I'd have two or three nights a week that were rough, and two months ago, it was more like half the time. My mental health has almost caught up to where my physical health and recovery was back in April or so. That is to say that I can almost compare where I currently am mentally and emotionally with pre-cancer/pre-surgery. Concentration and focus are not quite back to where they were last summer, but they have improved to the point that now I can reliably sit down and write for an hour or two—and I can do that a couple of times a day (although I do need a rest in between).
Weekly Schedule Adjustments-
I've almost caught up on the Patron's reward tiers and bringing the Facebook page posting back up to its former glory. The later has really taken a lot more out of me than I expected, and is impacting the posting schedule more than I thought it would. Getting sick today threw me off schedule, and it's not just me sick—one of the kids is home too, which means a lot more of being on. I'm working on one last article to put up for my early access tier, and then I'm going to be getting back to a regular blog post schedule. I hoped that would be up by Friday (to go live the following Friday), but it's probably going to be the weekend.
Old Draft 38,305
I'm going to start the process of rewriting soon, and that'll mean starting over, but this is how much I had written before I decided to make a major change. Once I start over, the drafting word counts will be in each weekly report, so you can see my progress.
Behind the Scenes-
Something really big is in the works. The Inside Scoop folks already know that I'm starting to work on something very different and spread out into other projects. You should start seeing the beginning of that stuff poking out soon. But before I get going, I still have an early access post to write.
Wednesday, September 7, 2022
If you're a Patron, you've already seen the newsletter. Also the Inside Scoop for this quarter is heading to the editor tomorrow. There are more support tier rewards coming soon. (Next up is an early access post.) The front-facing blog is still running a little light on updates while I try to prioritize the folks that keep the lights on.
Quick Personal/Health Update-
I kind of overdid it last week.
Early Monday I was feeling so overwhelmed. I burned the candle at both ends—plus I burned that candle at a third, previously unknown end. I've been doing a lot of side gig and freelance work to keep up on bills (I lost a lot of income post-cancer because I haven't been updating as much). I even took on a pet sitting job that lasted ten days and required at least an hour of driving back and forth every day. It's been a sharp reminder that feeling a little better and able to do more work doesn't mean that I'm recovered.
I'm done with the pet sitting gig, and back to my regular schedule (which is only "egregiously overloaded" instead of criminally deluged and filled with goat-like screaming).
Weekly Schedule Adjustments-
I'm still working to catch up on the Patron's reward tiers and bring the Facebook page posting back up to snuff, so unless there is an absolute blowout of musejuice (which is a lot less dirty than it sounds), it is probably going to be another quiet week for the regular blog updates. Patrons are likely to notice some things happening behind the scenes though.
Behind the Scenes-
Something really big is in the works. Most of this week's writing is going to be going on behind the scenes for our Patrons. The September newsletter is already out, but expect this quarter's Inside Scoop, and if I'm doing as well as I hope I'm doing, an Early Access post as well. But I'm also starting the shift to some really big stuff.
Wednesday, August 31, 2022
|This looks like an |
More naughty librarian?
I'll take it.
It also means that YOU TOO can partake of my direct help.
I am not very good at proofreading (and rubbish at copy), but I am really good at content and development, and I can even do a little of the line/substantive editing as long as no one is expecting much help with grammar.
I do ask for what I'm worth (both given the industry average and the fact that I am already a working writer and any job is probably taking away from my writing time): $60/hr for easy jobs and up to $85/hr if I'm being asked to drop everything right away or am being given a soul crushing job.
Tuesday, August 23, 2022
Yesterday I had an appointment with my Hematologist/Oncologist, and I was pretty messed up for most of the day. THEY called me after a routine blood test, and I've learned over the last year that when a specialist reaches out to a patient, it's not quite the same as a run-of-the-mill referral. I was trying to stay positive and not entirely able to shake the feeling that I was going to get bad news.
Turns out, I’m okay.
My PCP doesn’t quite know what “normal” is for me on a couple of values, so she got worried at my white blood counts and platelets, but they weren’t low enough to worry my hematologist. One (white blood cell count) was probably low because I was recovering from covid. The other (platelets) is just…it's just something I have to live with. I have an enlarged liver and spleen and they don't know why—but it's not getting worse, so it's just a THING™. I will have to be careful if I get a bad cut or have internal bleeding.
And apparently I'll have a lifetime of doctors who will initially think my numbers are scary and want to send me to a specialist.
Weekly Schedule Adjustments-
This week I'm probably not going to be blogging much. I will try to get a "Best of" post up since I need to catch up on those, but the majority of my writing is going to be behind the scenes. My Patrons are outrageously overdue for newsletters and early access posts and such, and since they keep the lights on and the bills paid around here, that's where my effort is going until I'm all caught up.
It's been a long recovery from cancer and surgery, and a lot of people have kept right on with support even while I struggled to get up a couple of posts a week. Those folks are going to get the lion's share of my effort for a while.
Behind the Scenes-
Most of this week's writing is going to be going on behind the scenes for our Patrons.. Expect the Newsletter and The Inside Scoop, and if I'm doing as well as I hope I'm doing, an Early Access post as well.
Wednesday, August 17, 2022
While most of you just click the link I put on social media when you see that something I have written interests you, there actually IS an update schedule here, and as we enter a new phase of Covid, and I am mostly (but not FULLY) recovered from cancer and surgery, we are implementing perhaps the biggest, most significant update schedule change in the history of this blog.
Note: In addition to everything below, which will set up the schedule I am trying to achieve, I am still mentally and emotionally recovering fully from cancer and surgery. I'm doing the best I can, and sometimes that's coming up a little short.
Writing About Writing consists primarily of one guy who takes care of a couple of kids, tries to keep up with some domestic stuff, is writing a novel, posts on another blog, posts a LOT on his Facebook wall, and sometimes does really wacky shit like try to play a D&D game with friends or get laid or something.
He's also a working writer, though, so he better stop making a bunch of excuses and make with the clackity clack.
- I have written posts from my bed with 102°-fever or from coffee shops out of state while on vacation or during hospital visits to people with cancer, so it is very likely that no matter what happens, you will still get more than a couple of posts a week, and I really really really do mean MAKE AN EFFORT.
- I am absolutely balls at keeping on top of WHAT gets updated on WHICH days, and I am likely to start Tetris-ing the posts for the week if I SNEEZE too hard.
- I am still working through the full effects of the global pandemic, including the massive, unrelenting, fully permeated burnout that comes from 18 months of 70-hour weeks. (At least one more vacation in the next month or two is badly needed, and after that I'm going to take them on a more reasonable schedule than I did for the first decade of this blog.)
- I have mostly—BUT NOT FULLY—recovered from stage two colon cancer and the resection surgery to remove a tumor.
Thanks to my patrons, I have been able to quit part-time teaching, pet sitting*, and cut back on the amount of nannying I do as a side gig to focus more and more on writing. If you would like to help us write more and better updates, even a dollar a month helps me budget.
*I still have a couple of close, super-easy clients, so you might see me post about this stuff, but I don't run all over the Bay Area anymore.
Most of my major writing ends up on this blog, but some of my more throwaway thoughts don't. If you particularly enjoyed our Social Justice Bard posts, I still have many bees in my bonnet.
I invite you to follow my Public Facebook Page (you can friend it if you send me a message, but it might be better if you follow it for a while first––unfiltered me is not everyone's cup of tea). I post somewhat more "political and partisan thoughts" there (rather than just social ISSUES) and also often post "proto-versions" of what later become full blog posts (if you're interested in seeing how those things develop). [There's also personal updates and nerdery there.]
Everything I ever write for any medium (and reruns of my best stuff) gets cross-posted to that Public Facebook Page, so join me there if you want to see everything I write.
Mostly I've just done this AND my writing and not really acknowledged the ways in which the aggregate of all these five minutes here and there impact a weekly writing schedule.
There is a shame spiral that I get into when I feel like I'm not updating enough, or significantly enough, and I feel like the meta plot posts are "too fluffy" and too fun. So I am more likely to try to push myself to post something significant. (Which is ironic because I'm then more likely to not make it and have to push back the post altogether.)
However my readers have CONSISTENTLY and UNSWERVINGLY said that they like these types of posts and that they make the experience of me writing an ongoing blog more cohesive instead of just being the occasional article they want to see. So I'm really really really going to try to shut off that part of my brain that is insisting that my meta plot posts are phoning it in, and post them more often.
- Once a month I cannibalize a day of blogging to write my Patrons a newsletter, and now that the pandemic is mostly winding out of the Shelter In Place phase, four times a year, I'm going to need to write TWO newsletters.
- I absolutely need to spend a day or two every month just doing admin stuff for Writing About Writing (like catching up on emails, cleaning up menus, and the like), or it gets SO far behind, SO quickly. As it is, I sort of imagine we're going to take a year to "dig out" of the stuff I just put up.
- My Patreon tiers are perpetually in need of their rewards. Whether it's an early-access post or just a selfie from one of my hikes, I need to attend more consistently to the folks who are devoting their financial resources to my ability to be a working writer.
- Also, I have a couple of other writing projects that require my time and attention.
- From time to time when we are having a VERY busy week and need a second day to clear out the admin issues so that they don't back up, you might see the easier of the two admin posts go up on a Tuesday, but mostly I'll be working hard in the background.
- Childcare side gig (7-10 hours a week)
- Facebook Maintenance (10-12 hours a week)
The review of the best posts we did in the month prior takes up a post. Often we have some kind of announcement or meta news about what's going on or coming up. You might also see a single entry for the long-forgotten character lists or an update to one of the menus (along the top of the page).
Wednesdays will typically be the days that get cannibalized for Patron newsletters, fiction, or anything else that needs my priority attention.
We have a number of "types" of posts that are just a little lighter fare. Everything from SHORT Mailbox questions to our aforementioned meta plot posts to personal updates. Not necessarily admin or "jazz hands" but probably a little less "chewy/crunchy" than Friday posts.
Fridays, for the most part, will be The Big Post™ of the week. If you're here for the hard-hitting writing advice (with the occasional examination of how language and narrative play into broader social issues), Friday is the day to tune in. Longer Mailboxes, full craft, process, and sometimes even style articles.
Some weeks aren't going to go down like clockwork, and they might be front- or back-loaded with side gigs or other commitments. My writing career is also starting to open up occasional opportunities of interest like conventions, speaking engagements, interviews, or podcasts. On the advice of my doctor, I'm trying to be better about the (literally) health-shattering 60–70-hour weeks I was working, and I'm working to whittle that number down a lot closer to 40. That's a needle to thread when you are your own boss and you know that people will lower your income if they don't feel like they're getting enough of the content they want. I can't promise every week will go down as smoothly as three posts like end-of-the-week clockwork, but I will try really hard to get three posts up each week, and I can just about promise that I will at least do two. They might just be posted off schedule––landing on a Saturday or Sunday, for example—but barring illness, injury, or fabulously unforeseen circumstances (which I must now admit would absolutely include cancer and/or surgery), I will try hard to hit three and at least do two.
The Return of the Monthly Dedicated Novel Writing Time Increase
You may have noticed that any effort to take blogging time to give to my novel was COMPLETELY on pause during the early parts of the pandemic (and then went on pause again as I recovered from cancer/surgery). But now it is back. The hardest thing I've tried doing as a blogger is keeping my fiction at a high level of priority. It's SO easy to just write a blog, call it a day, and go put my feet up. And blogging is what I'm getting paid for, so it's even easier.
But...as much as I've surprised even myself by discovering how much I fucking love blogging, I do want to write fiction too. Finding time as much time for both is impossible, so I have to borrow from Peter to pay Cliché. While I am getting traction out of writing an hour or so of fiction first (so that then I still have to do the blogging in order to do "a day's work"), there may still be times where the needs of fiction completely take priority over blogging.
I'm firmly in the "Write Every Day" camp. But how much I write, what I write, and what I'm impassioned to write can sometimes still be a creative ebb and flow of being at my Muse's whim.
I'm also going to try something new and interesting. Each month I'm going to take an ADDITIONAL, cumulative day off to sequester myself and work on my book (as well as possibly other fiction). This isn't the only time I'll be working on my book, but I'll be diverting my blogging time towards it as well. I'll start with one day in September, and then two in October, and three in November and four in December. I'll reevaluate how things feel to my patrons at four extra days off each month—at that point I would either be updating only twice a week (if I spread the days out) or taking a full week off every month (if I took them all at once). It might depend on how close I am to finishing or a draft or something.
Hopefully, I'll have something to show for these days off by the time Patrons might begin complaining that I'm not updating enough, but I hope that the transparency and gradualness both help in that regard.
I'm adding something that I basically realized today (I first wrote this on 3/5/2020). I'm going to take a break in our "regularly scheduled program" during election weeks. Midterms, primaries, obviously the presidential ones. I just need to acknowledge that the writing that happens will be on other blogs (like NWAW) and in other places (like my Facebook page) and that unless I am backing someone polling at 90 points, it's very, very, VERY likely I'm going to have at LEAST one day where I need to go back to bed into a pillow fort with ice cream.
There MIGHT occasionally be a fourth or even fifth (?) post in a week. Usually this will happen when I need to cover some ground on "blog business." (Like when I revise an old article so much that it deserves a fresh post, update a menu, write a new answer for our F.A.Q., or otherwise do something that needs to get done, but doesn't fit into our usual posting schedule). In this case, you might see an extra post pop up from time to time on the weekend or two in one day. Fiction will also usually go up independently of our regular schedule. It's less likely to happen these days, while I'm really struggling to get back to the old posting frequency, but it used to happen a lot.
- I'm writing this blog in real time, so there will be problems with updates in real time. I still watch kids for seven to twelve hours a week. Plus my host body occasionally succumbs to these pesky Earth illnesses and requires dental and medical maintenance to serve me well. And every once in a couple of blue moons I even just take a damn day off with no preplanning. So those three posts might not always happen like clockwork or may involve going off the rails of my usual updates. Until my Patreon pays ALL the bills, my reality is that I sometimes have to prioritize paid gigs.
- I maintain a Facebook page for this blog that has over a million followers. From time to time a post I put up may intersect with a social issue, or just tick some people off, and then all the dillholes come out to play, and I have to spend a day basically babysitting the comments. I don't love it, but it has to be done or the bigots will chase off the people who I actually WANT to be there.
- This flexible update schedule should also cut down on the thing where I'm apologizing to absolutely fucking nobody that it's Thursday and I've yet to put so much as a taco video up. (MMMMM tacos.) I know that some people are annoyed by how often I apologize, and the rest don't really care. But this also settles my own inner overachiever. As long as I get in all the entries that week, my readers (who have literally never said anything in six years about my update schedule) and myself can give me a break.
- I invoke the Anything Can Happen™ real world excuse. In ordinary times, I usually have a couple of "emergency blogs" tucked away, but after surgery, I chewed through them as fast as I could tuck them away. So any bump in the road hits the blog update schedule in real time. Health complications might crop up suddenly and have me needing to do a sudden, unexpected several-hour shift or even an overnight...or maybe even more. Trust me, I'm going to feel ten times worse about missing a post than all of my readers combined.
- Admin Long-weekends at least once a month will still be a thing, but instead of "we might have an admin long weekend this month," I'm going to assume we WILL have them, and maybe we might have a POST. Since I'm not working Tuesdays and this would normally fall under the purview of a Monday "Behind the Scenes" post, I will take the first Wednesday of each month off.
Also......folks, if you like what I do, support your "local" artist. (In this case "local" means more independent, amateur, and two-bit than literally down the street.) The pandemic is not yet over, there's still a long phase of transition to work through, and I'm not in a financial position to completely give up my childcare side gig or pay someone to take over the admin of my Facebook page (both major time sinks that pull from my writing hours, but cannot be avoided without losing income that I don't yet have to spare).
Note: Hi there, Mr. Elephant. I guess we should address you.
So....yeah. I ABSOLUTELY KNOW that there is a pretty loud contingent of "Who Cares!" from the other side of the Internet, and I'll give you all a nod if this isn't your cup of tea. It's cool. You do you. Posts such as this one are not my least popular kinds of posts (that honor is reserved for meta posts about why there's no regular post…for some reason), but on the other hand, not every post can't be the barnburners of me replying to social justice hate mail.
However, I'm not going to stop posting my update schedule…every single time I adjust it.
I want you to see how messy and non-magical it all is.
Tuesday, August 16, 2022
~massive fan behind a metal grate starts spinning, slowly at first and then faster and faster~
~hallway ceiling begins to light up with florescent lights from front to back~
~P.A. crackles and squeaks with feedback~
"Test test. Is this thing on?
"Hello everyone. This is Cedrick. As you know, we have experienced some difficulties in the last year. But it's time to get back to work. Please report to the admin office for your new posting schedules and to pick up your Dunkin Donuts coupon books—no, there will be no other compensation package at this time—do not forget that a velociraptor with an accu-eye laser blaster on on its head is making its home on the fourth floor, and that Grendel is serving sloppy Joes every friday in the cafeteria."
For a long time earlier this year I couldn't have written even with the free time. I mean, I never went on hiatus (even though I now know that I should have). I was able to write a little. I wrote every day like I advise others to, but it was never much and my own brain would rebel against trying to work on most things. I couldn't focus. My anxiety was off the chart. I got a few things up, managed a big article about guns, and failed to meet my own ambitions to get back into it so many times that it started to be a cliché.
Then, sometime in the summer, I started to be able to write again. My concentration came back a little more every day. Articles started going up. Every week was better than the last. I was able to start doing the writing, but the schedule of childcare was a little bananapants. There were kids most days, and often they needed to be driven back and forth from camps.
August 11th, the kids went back to school. Thursday and Friday, I kind of just let the new reality sink in. Mondays are still going to be a regular day off. But now it's time to get to work. I have the ability. And I have the time. And for the first time almost in a year, I have both at the same time.
So…Writing About Writing is back.
Expect a ramp up this week. I have a massive backlog of admin-type posts (best of FB and such) to start putting up. Those will go up first. And a few things need to be updated for the new school year like the posting schedule. Articles should start showing up by Friday, with some NWAW offerings this weekend, and then by next week, we'll really be trying to make up for some lost time.
I missed you all. I missed this job. I was anxious every minute I that was crowdfunded and not producing content. But mostly I missed writing. I missed the long hours. I missed the weird interactions. I missed that connection with my own thoughts.
It's good to be back.
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