Sometimes you go fallow.

You probably don’t want to read this post:  it’s one of those self-centered “taking stock” posts.  Although if you’ve been hurting lately on the writing front, maybe.

So I’ve had what has been (to me) a rough year.  I won’t go into too much detail, but it seems like there’s been at least one major stressful life event per month to deal with:  life threw more at me than I could handle.

Other people deal with far more, with far better grace.  And yet it’s been constant, and from multiple directions, and my life is pretty much set up to not be under constant stress.  I close up into my little shell under stress.  I stop being human and switch over to invulnerable robot mode.  I turn off my emotions and am constantly low-grade ill.

I worked hard not to be in this place, and yet here I am.

One of the things that’s come out of this is that I’ve stopped writing a lot of my own fiction.  I still write–a lot–but it’s mostly for freelancing stuff.  I’m writing imaginative fiction; I’ve finished (and been paid for) five novels this year and am almost done with a sixth.  I love doing it, but…part of the reason that they’re so easy and fun to write is that they’re someone else’s responsibility.

I don’t come up with the ideas.  I don’t judge whether they’re good or not.  I don’t have to market or format or edit or anything.  I get to just write.

The writer’s dream, right?

Please don’t tell me that I need to be working for myself, blah blah blah.  There are reasons I’m doing this, and not all of them are because I’m too terrified to work on my own stuff some days.  Some of them are extremely practical, including cash flow and the desperate need for my internship in writing to be paid at this point–for my peace of mind.

And because I needed a break from writing things for myself.

A lot of the time when I write for myself lately, I’ll have a hair up my butt about something, and I’ll write a story explaining all about the hair up my butt.  And then I’ll go to sell it and think, “Who the @#$% wants to read about this hair up my butt?”

Sometimes people do, you know.  It’s weird.  But it’s not sustainable.

So I did a few things to try to get myself out of that:

  • I ditched a lot of books that I thought I “should” read, the award-winners in my genres, because a lot of the award winners lately have been, IMO, hair-up-the-butt stories, and I need to stay away from that for a while.
  • I started reading more in the classic crime genre.  Hard Case Crimes, Westlake, Block, that crowd.  Because there is no forgiveness in that crowd for lack of story, hair or no hair.
  • I stopped (mostly) posting about anything I have a hair up my butt about.  It was hard.  And I stopped giving a shit about writers with hairs up their butt.  Either you write good shit or you @#$%^& don’t.  I’m tired of the politics, both on the macro and micro scales.  Politics mess me up as a writer and a human being.
  • And if you get into my comments here or on FB and tell me why that justifies your politics, I will block and delete you.  Because you’re @#$%^& poison.  I still read about politics.  I may even read your screed on your website/FB feed and enjoy it.  But stay the @#$% off mine.
  • I stopped writing for myself for the most part, and worked on writing for other people.
  • I pretty much stopped blogging.  And newslettering.  And all that sideshow crap.  I just couldn’t keep it up on a regular basis, no matter how good it’s supposed to be for my career.  Minimalist writer.  What does that even mean?  Should I try to find out?  News at 11…

I’ve been too drained to put too much of myself out there lately.  And completely unsure of whether I should.  When Ray first had her surgery, I couldn’t write.  For like two weeks.  Imagine, if you will, being put on furlough for two weeks for a job that you have been fighting for years to make minimum wage at, so you no longer have savings or sick time or any reserves whatsoever.

Even after I started being able to write again, I had to rebuild stamina.  I’m just now getting back to the point of being able to write with any kind of focus for six hours at a shot.  Think of that:  normal people work eight-hour days.  Don’t think in terms of “Six hours of writing at a shot?  That’s impressive!”  Think in terms of income.  I still have days where that can’t happen, where my brain’s fried.  And I still have another hour’s worth of (unpaid) email and the like to deal with every day, and still no bennies or employer paying most of my taxes, and still too many would-be clients who are like, “But I can’t affooooord to pay you what translates to minimum wage.”  And pro markets, which I rarely get accepted by, that don’t pay professional wages anyway.  And more schadenfreud than you can shake a stick at, every time I bitch about how hard it is to do indie at all, let alone well, and the constant advice about how I should just throw more money at the situation and everything would be magically all better.  Yay.  Advice from middle-class day-job writers and writers who are already successful in traditional markets.  Yaaaaay.

So:  ghostwriting.  It’s been a blessing.

I forgot to mention a point:

  • I write five to ten story ideas every day, with the goal of finding story ideas that I can imagine selling well and that I actually would want to write.

I’ve written hundreds of story ideas lately.  Hundreds.  Some good, some bad, some so derivative that even I was rolling my eyes even as I wrote them down just to add to the list.  I know how to come up with story ideas.  I just didn’t know how to unite my interests and anyone else’s.  Another hole in my arsenal:  the one that most people start with, I think.  “I have this idea for a book; we could split the profits 50/50.”  I have heard some variation on that phrase probably more often than I get actual, out-loud comments about my last name.  “You know that your name looks like the word nipple, right?”  At any rate, I’ve gotten better at coming up with ideas that both sound good and seem fun to write.  As with anything, the key to bootstrapping a new skill is practice and repetition combined with good theory.

So I’m starting to feel more confident about ideas.

But I’m also having to start over a little bit.

If I have to produce so many hours of freelancing per day (and I pretty much do), then where’s the time for my own writing?

After regular business hours.  On weekends.  If I skimp on something else, like family or friends or, God forbid, cut back on social media.

It’s kind of nice, actually.  My own writing isn’t my job anymore.  So I have more room to screw up, which is another way to say play.  And my soul has been hurting this year, I won’t lie.  It needs some play.  But staying in my own little sandbox won’t get me where I want to go.  So I have to come out eventually.

But in a lot of ways, I’ve enjoyed being just slightly fallow, letting the part of me that constantly stresses about I’m not getting enough published I’m not promoting enough I need to blog more go on blog tours promote promote promote  just lie there and sleep.  I haven’t, for example, given a shit about Facebook ads or Google Play for months.

In the end, I think I would rather spend the time getting better as a writer, and maintaining skills on everything else at this point.

And remembering how to be brave enough to play in public.

That’s what hurts the worst at this point, now that I am handling the stress better.  I miss being able to share play with people easily and freely.  But rather than making grandiose plans about MY COMMITMENT TO MY READERS and all that, I think I’ll just have to wait and see.

Chop wood, carry water, write words.

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been struggling this year. It sounds to me, though, like you’ve done the exactly right things for yourself. Listening to what your body and mind needed and taking action to provide that. We all need to hide in a cave now and then. Perhaps even more given what we do and the constant demands about exposure exposure exposure… blah blah blah.

    Any time you want to play you let me know. I’m in!

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