There’s this part of me that’s never been okay. It’s a slice of my identity that can shapeshift and grow without any water or sunlight. Sometimes it disappears, fading into my skin, becoming a dormant killer inside my bones. It’s this parasitic cluster of cells my body can’t fight off. I try but it’s no use, it’s there and I can’t remove it. My depression and I have developed this symbiosis of sorts. I exist alongside it, and it within me, waiting for when it can overtake my soul, devouring me inch by inch.
I think it may have started as a bean I choked on as an infant because I can’t remember a day it wasn’t there. Over the years I’ve managed to live with it, ignore it, keep it out of my mind. But it circles, prowling and waiting for the right time to strike, the right moment to infect everything.
When it first ran it’s course, it wasn’t just a small part of me that wasn’t okay. That part became my whole. That once tiny grain of doubt multiplied and grew across me, turning me against myself. And the worst part of the process was when I wanted it to consume me. When I wanted to stop trying to force it into it’s small, forgotten shape. It was then I reached the depths, when I was tired of existing and there wasn’t an ounce in me that gave a shit anymore.
At some point in this tug of war I found a mirror, a reason I didn’t need to feel so alone, a reason for the beast inside to shrink and fade. Someone who made me believe life could be more than a constant shadow. Someone who was fighting, too. Together we could keep the sun out during even the darkest of nights. Together, our tiny seeds would lose their roots and the not okay part of us would be just a memory. Not okay would be something for other people, not us. And for a time, I forgot every hint of how it had been to feel not okay.
So what do you do when they prove you wrong? What do you do when they go away? When their belief in you goes up in smoke? You become that small part, just as I did. I transformed into the shapeshifting glimmer of who I used to be. I welcomed the infection, knowing I could not fend it off anymore. After all, if my mirror couldn’t see me, if I was translucent and undetectable, the definition of nothingness, how was I supposed to believe in anything else?
So I sealed my hope for happiness into a box and buried it deep inside, somewhere I couldn’t reach. A place where it could never hurt me again. I locked it in such a way that only my mirror could open it. That treasure, that possibility of never feeling not okay was a dream I kept for myself. A dream we didn’t share. I thought if I could be seen again, if I found my reflection somewhere else, that the infection inside me could be kept at bay. What I failed to realize was you only have one reflection.
So I often find myself wondering, what if I’m never okay? What if the only times I’ve felt okay didn’t actually matter? What if they were illusions of okayness and nothing more? Clearly this isn’t something to outrun or outwit, it’s there for life no matter how much I wish it wasn’t. I swallowed it years ago, when it first became me, and I cannot regurgitate it.
Once again I’m reminded of it’s poison creeping through my veins, darkening everything until I no longer believe light exists. This is where I turn everything on it’s head and get back to writing, because words are the only thing that keep me feeling kind of okay. It’s why I write. To stay afloat, to let my box of hope run free across the page, to convince myself maybe there’s a way to be okay without my mirror looking back at me. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but it’s the medicine I use to tether myself to reality. It’s how I cope with a place where my solution no longer believes in me and maybe never did. I don’t know and that’s the worst of it all. Never knowing.
I’ll be the first to admit I live for these illusions, but at least they’re not delusions I convince myself are real. At least they’re not lies I’ve wrapped around myself so tight I can no longer see the truth. My writing is a looking glass to the future, or the past, or somewhere else entirely. So I keep typing, keep fighting, the only way I know how. And sometimes I write for fun and for the joy of world-building, storytelling, and the magic of words but sometimes I write to survive. To forget that there’s a part of me that will never be okay.
Now what? After you’ve finished writing and readers have reviewed your work, it’s time to evaluate the next step. The feedback you’ve received and the criticism of your project will probably be a whole host of things that cause stress and anxiety. Mainly: how do I know what to fix?
Interpreting these notes comes down to three simple things
- Can this improve my novel?
- Do I agree with the assessment?
- What can I learn from this?
A lot of the feedback might be straightforward changes that don’t require much reorganization or revision but others may need additional research, a change in the plot or character, something much more involved. Whatever the feedback might be, try not to have a snap reaction of disagreement, but rather be open to what your readers are suggesting and evaluate everything at face value.
Go through the notes and first ask yourself each question, following through to the answer and then subsequent questions. Even if you disagree with a comment, you should take it into consideration, ultimately trying to understand what there is to learn from the suggestion.
When evaluating feedback, you need to be self-critical and objective which in the world of subjective stories can be a tough skill to master. However, there will always be the element of subjectivity so keep that in mind to identify outlying reader comments (ie- suggestions no one else picked up on) and focus on the most pertinent issues.
A reader says your pacing is off in the middle of the book and the story drags.
Ask yourself, will this feedback improve my novel? Let’s say you say yes – especially because (hypothetically) many readers have told you the same type of thing.
Secondly, decide if you agree with the assessment or not. And you can disagree, but this step is only to highlight your bias not decide if the reader was right or wrong. For the sake of this example, let’s say you agree…the story drags.
Now decide what you can learn from this. This step is crucial because it will allow you to properly reflect and plan for the story’s future as well as your own. Perhaps you discover that while you excel at introducing ideas and wrapping them up, your middle connections, as well as development of plot and characters, tends to be lacking. Not only do you know what needs to be edited, you can also focus your development of craft on these very topics.
Create your edit document, or adjust the one you’ve been working on to include new fixes. I suggest organizing this document in a Beginning, Middle, and End format – arranged by chapters or sections may work better for you. There’s no right way to edit so do whatever is best for you but be sure to include all comments you plan to revise and keep an open mind as you plow forward into the next round of writing.
Focusing on how the feedback can help improve your story will also improve your abilities as a writer. View the criticism as an opportunity to learn; use the information as fuel to become better. That’s why I love hearing what readers have to say, even if it is a bit nerve-wracking, because it offers a chance to develop your skills. So absorb all you can and use this time to grow!
Last year I wrote a blog about my writing resolutions for 2016 and I more or less held myself to them all. Yay! Given the shit-storm that was 2016, I’m pretty surprised by that. Due to such an impressive feat, I’d like to complete a new list for this year and hopefully keep myself to those as well.
Read a book a week. 2016 sucked. I think we can all agree there. As a result of my 2016 version of suckage, I fell off the cart of reading a book or more a week. For this new year, I’d like to return to that plan and keep reading- specifically ownvoices books including more WoC. Suggestions welcome!
Finish current edits. I need to be done with this story I’m working on so hard. I cannot express how much (read: MUCH). So, more or less, it’s time to move on. I fully intend to complete this tale and get back to better things.
Complete new book. Speaking of better things! I finished a draft of this new story (omg epic!) last year but ultimately it needs to be mostly rewritten (not so epic). I got about halfway through these changes before 2016 attacked with a vengeance. This year I’ll get this draft polished up and off to betas!
Ignore self-doubt. Like most writers, I suffer from bouts of self-doubt, but I try to keep myself in check and block out those thoughts. That proved difficult this last year so I’m going to work more on being aware of those feelings and knowing that they’re total crap and I’m awesome. Hear that? Awesome!
Get back to that other story. This is my resolution from last year that has carried over. I have an old MS that I think can become something incredible if I foster some time into it. I’ve been slowly brainstorming and letting ideas percolate. Hopefully this is the year that I can revisit and rework it 🙂
If you have some resolutions to share, please do! It’s always encouraging to hear other people’s goals. Shared motivation helps us all so here’s to a successful 2017, writer friends!
If you’re like me and many other writers, sometimes you lose your way. Whatever the reason might be– inspiration feels like it’s missing or maybe anxiety has become overwhelming– we all have gaps in our process. The important thing isn’t that the blank space has occurred or how long it’s been, those are merely distractions to keep you down. What you need to focus on is how to get back into the groove.
That’s about as far I got into this post before realizing I don’t really know how to do that. I wish I could say here are some exact steps, but that’s unfortunately not how this works. Honestly, when you feel stuck, it’s the worst feeling for us creative types. Our muse stops talking to us and the shimmer of life fades. Sometimes inspiration returns easily, sometimes it takes a while. Right now is one of those longer moments for a lot of us, I think. And you know what? That’s okay!
Right now we’re waiting for something to tell us it’s time. And that eternal sign doesn’t seem to be showing itself so…here’s you’re sign. It’s time. Writing every day is great but don’t feel like you’re a failure if you can’t make that happen now, or even if that doesn’t happen when everything is looking up. You write when you can. That’s what matters. Little by little you get back to what feels right.
In these challenging times, ignore the doubt flooding your thoughts and try to open your notebook, or document, or scrivener, and write a few words. Don’t force it to get a scene out or a chapter, maybe just brainstorm and start there. Maybe write about your character’s likes and dislikes rather than story content. Jump-start your creative process in whatever way works for you.
Most importantly though, whatever you do, please don’t give up. In these bouts of doubt or insecurity or plain old blahs, remember that your voice is needed in the pantheon of stories. Finding your way back to wording is vital not only to your well-being but the success of our entire community. Believe me, you matter and your story matters and we need you! It’s time to write again.
Even if it takes weeks or months to return to your regularly scheduled creative path, it’s crucial that you do. Know that you’re not alone. We all face this struggle at some point, in some cases, a few times over, so know you’ve got friends going through this same thing. Especially now. Together we’ll get through this 🙂