Fish

As a freshman in high school, I remember feeling like a little fish in a big pond, so it was only fitting that freshmen were called “fish”. I looked up to those big, wise seniors who were impossibly tall and more worldly than I, and I couldn’t imagine ever being like that. How does a guppy become a shark?

Well inevitably I became a sophomore, junior, then senior and I was the one looking down at the incoming fish, and I didn’t feel wise or worldly at all (though maybe I had impossibly tall covered). Had I missed it, somewhere along the way? Some seminar or rite of passage, some magic spell or machine that would transform me from a guppy to a shark?

Though high school is behind me now, I can’t help but feel like a fish again, staring up at those established writers and wonder, how do I get there? How is that even possible?

One thing I’ve noticed that the little voice of doubt has liked to focus on lately is my age. I used to see being young as something good for a writer–fresh, current, ambitious, wild imagination. Now I sometimes see it as a hinderance. While reading Ruin and Rising (which was unbelievable and I hope to get a review of the series up soon) I naturally admired her prose and creativity. On the other hand, I thought that some of that can only come with age and experience–broader vocabulary, more experience to draw from, a better grasp of worlds and cultures and people and relationships. How can I use something that I don’t have?

Looking up at them, they may seem larger than life and impossible to reach, but I might venture to guess that the view from up there is much like a senior looking down at the fish. Truth is, we’re all looking through a fish bowl, distorting our perceptions into reality.

There will always be certain things I do not have, and cannot have, that those with age and wisdom do. But there are also some awesome things about being young and inexperienced. And if the journey to the top of the writing food chain is anything like the high school one, it will be over before I even know it happened and I’ll look back and wonder, how did I get here?

Whether you’re young, or new to the publishing world, or both, it can be overwhelming to stand at the bottom of the food chain looking up. But everyone starts at bottom, and the only place to go from there is up.

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Best Before: Yesterday

The publishing process takes a long time. It’s a known fact, and something I’ve come to accept. But somehow I still find myself feeling like the clock is ticking, like the sand is running out on the hour glass, and there’s an anvil hanging over my head. Somehow, I feel like there’s an invisible window to getting published, and if I don’t make it in that time, I’m finished.

I feel like there’s an expiration date stamped on my forehead, and it reads: Best Before Yesterday.

Now I know this is basically irrational, but I can’t help the feeling. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. When I get another rejection, that little voice wonders: was that it? How close am I to the point where I’ve used up all my chances? I wonder if it won’t happen this year, or the next, or at all.

But here’s the thing. The little voice doesn’t know what it’s talking about. Yes, maybe it’s good so I don’t get my head too high up in the clouds without some dose of reality. But that little voice is wrong.

There is no expiration date. If I don’t get it this time, I’ll try the next, and the next, and the next. There is a part of publishing that is pure chance and luck. Finding the right agent, at the right time, with the right words. But there is also a huge part that is persistence.

By not giving up, and putting myself out there again and again and again, not only am I ahead of the crowd but I increase my chances of getting a yes with every time. I could get a hundred nos, and it wouldn’t matter. All it takes is one yes.

It doesn’t matter if you’re young, old, just started, or have been trying for years. You do not have an expiration date. Let me say that again. You do not have an expiration date. Maybe that’s hard to believe if you’ve been at this a long time. You just started, you say. You’ve only been doing this a few months, you have no idea how hard it is. Yes, it is hard. It is hard to the point of wanting to give up sometimes, but there is no time where the window to being published is closed.

The only time you expire, and lose all chances of realizing your dreams, is when you stop trying.

It’s not like an Indiana Jones movie, where you triggered the trap and have to dive through the temple door before it closes and locks you in for all eternity. That door stays open until you let it close.

So get up, dust yourself off, and wipe that invisible expiration date off your forehead. Jump back in the trenches, and keep fighting and fighting and fighting. All it takes is one victory.

Why I Don’t Write Every Day

Yes, you read that right. While practically everyone else is telling you “write every day” like a mantra to be repeated until you are getting very sleepy, I am telling you the exact opposite.

Why? Why not write every day? Isn’t practice the key to  getting better? If all the bestselling authors say it, isn’t that the secret to becoming a brilliant author?

Yes, and no. I think “write every day” is good advice for those just starting out. When you are just starting as a writer, you  need all the time and practice you can get to develop yourself as a writer, which can only really come from getting words on the page. So if you are new to writing, by all means, write every day. If you are anyone really, and you want to write every day, by all means go for it!

I am not here to stand in the way of anyone who wants to write all the time. That’s awesome, go do it! I am here to talk to those who beat themselves up because they don’t.

First of all, writing every day assumes a lot of things. You don’t have a full-time day job, or three kids, or a full class load, or a social life, or basically anything else. It assumes you have time to sit down at a computer and pour your soul out, every day of the week. Even if you can find time to wedge writing between the conference calls and cleaning spit up and cramming for a test, do you really want to write right then?

You sit down and stare at that blinking cursor on a blank part of the page, and it seems a lot less like your passion and more like another one of the day’s many chores to cross off your list. I don’t think anyone should ever feel that way about writing. When that happens, you have stopped being a writer, and become a machine, going through the motions.

Yes, there will be days you don’t feel like writing, and you shouldn’t let that stop you. You shouldn’t use lack of motivation or inspiration as an excuse, but sometimes it happens. Sometimes you just don’t feel like writing, and you shouldn’t force it. You shouldn’t force it because then your words will feel forced, which the reader can tell, not to mention you end up starting to hate everything to do with writing.

The only time I have ever forced myself to write (almost) every day was for CampNaNo. Honestly, I would never do it again. I was exhausted, and every time I sat down to write I started to hate it more and more. The words suffered for it, too. I am still cleaning up the mess of some of those scenes I wrote, and probably will be for a while to come.

I don’t write every day because writing every day sucks the life and joy out of it for me. I start to dread it, feel obligated, and guilty when I don’t. I hate that feeling. When I sit down to write, I want to feel excited. I want my mind to be whirling with all kinds of scenes and voices and images that I just can’t wait to put on the page.

Now one thing I will tell you to do (almost) every day is read. I learn more in an hour of reading than I do in ten hours of writing, and I could never get burnt out.

Writing every day works for some people, which is great (but we secretly hate those people). For those of you who it doesn’t work for (like me) don’t worry about it. Write as much as you can, as often as you can, but never let it take away your love for writing.

 

Spoons

Wow, I cannot thank y’all enough for your amazing response and support to my last post about my chronic illness. It really, really means a lot to me. But I also realized how little some people understand or realize about chronic illness, so I thought it would be important to talk a little more about what it is really like.

First, it is unpredictable. I may feel relatively “normal” for a week or so, then the next week because unable to even get out of bed (like this week). It hits without warning, and without reason. I might take all the precautions to be healthy, avoid certain things, stay hydrated, etc. but that can never stop it from happening anyways.

Second, it is nothing like normal illness. If any of you have ever had a bad case of strep, you may know that feeling of being completely drained, where your whole body aches and all you can do is sleep. That is kind of what it can be like having chronic illness, only all the time, in varying degrees. Chronic means chronic. It isn’t going to go away, or even get better. There is no cure in most cases. I can’t get healthy by working out more or juicing or meditating two hours a day. Making healthy choices can help my symptoms, but it will never truly go away.

Third, everyone is different, and no one can judge someone else’s experience or illness. One person might look relatively healthy or normal on a day-to-day basis, like me. Another might have visible symptoms such as bruising, hair loss, or need for a wheelchair or walker. Just because I can look healthy, doesn’t mean I am or even am feeling well. On the other hand, just because they look sick doesn’t mean they are useless or less than anyone else. Oh, and not judging someone else also means no advice or solutions, even if they are well-intentioned. Instead, they usually come off more condescending and hurtful than helpful. “Why don’t you try working out more?” sounds more like “If you weren’t out of shape, you wouldn’t be sick.” Not to mention, see last line above.

The Paper Butterfly showed me this great explanation of chronic illness, called the spoon theory, written by Christine Miserandino of the But You Don’t Look Sick blog. You can read the full post here, but here is an excerpt that really breaks it down. It is a little long, but absolutely worth the time.

I asked her to list off the tasks of her day, including the most simple. As, she rattled off daily chores, or just fun things to do; I explained how each one would cost her a spoon.

When she jumped right into getting ready for work as her first task of the morning…I quickly took away a spoon and she realized she hasn’t even gotten dressed yet. Showering cost her spoon, just for washing her hair and shaving her legs…Getting dressed was worth another spoon.

I stopped her and broke down every task to show her how every little detail needs to be thought about…I think she was starting to understand when she theoretically didn’t even get to work, and she was left with 6 spoons. I then explained to her that she needed to choose the rest of her day wisely, since when your “spoons” are gone, they are gone. Sometimes you can borrow against tomorrow’s “spoons”, but just think how hard tomorrow will be with less “spoons”. I also needed to explain that a person who is sick always lives with the looming thought that tomorrow may be the day that a cold comes, or an infection, or any number of things that could be very dangerous. So you do not want to run low on “spoons”, because you never know when you truly will need them. I didn’t want to depress her, but I needed to be realistic, and unfortunately being prepared for the worst is part of a real day for me.

We went through the rest of the day, and she slowly learned that skipping lunch would cost her a spoon, as well as standing on a train, or even typing at her computer too long. She was forced to make choices and think about things differently. Hypothetically, she had to choose not to run errands, so that she could eat dinner that night.

When we got to the end of her pretend day, she said she was hungry. I summarized that she had to eat dinner but she only had one spoon left. If she cooked, she wouldn’t have enough energy to clean the pots. If she went out for dinner, she might be too tired to drive home safely. Then I also explained, that I didn’t even bother to add into this game, that she was so nauseous, that cooking was probably out of the question anyway. So she decided to make soup, it was easy. I then said it is only 7pm, you have the rest of the night but maybe end up with one spoon, so you can do something fun, or clean your apartment, or do chores, but you can’t do it all.

I rarely see her emotional, so when I saw her upset I knew maybe I was getting through to her. I didn’t want my friend to be upset, but at the same time I was happy to think finally maybe someone understood me a little bit. She had tears in her eyes and asked quietly “Christine, How do you do it? Do you really do this everyday?”

I explained that some days were worse then others; some days I have more spoons then most. But I can never make it go away and I can’t forget about it, I always have to think about it. I handed her a spoon I had been holding in reserve. I said simply, “I have learned to live life with an extra spoon in my pocket, in reserve. You need to always be prepared.”

Its hard, the hardest thing I ever had to learn is to slow down, and not do everything. I fight this to this day. I hate feeling left out, having to choose to stay home, or to not get things done that I want to. I wanted her to feel that frustration. I wanted her to understand, that everything everyone else does comes so easy, but for me it is one hundred little jobs in one. I need to think about the weather, my temperature that day, and the whole day’s plans before I can attack any one given thing. When other people can simply do things, I have to attack it and make a plan like I am strategizing a war.

It is in that lifestyle, the difference between being sick and healthy. It is the beautiful ability to not think and just do. I miss that freedom. I miss never having to count “spoons”.

If you are healthy, you can never truly understand what it is like to be chronically ill, and I am really glad you don’t have to. But having an open mind and being educated can be a step towards understanding what someone goes through, and being able to better support them. It really does mean a lot.

The Fog

It’s inescapable and suffocating, a fog that consumes me entirely.

No, I’m not talking about that fog–the killer horror movie kind–but the kind that is always inside of me, all the time. Its name is Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, and today it came out with a vengeance.

If you know me or are familiar with this blog at all, you’ve likely heard me mention it before. Honestly, I don’t talk about it very often because I try not to focus on it. I refuse to let my illness win, become a part of every aspect of my life, and suck the joy out of everything that I enjoy.

But today, it did just that.

Sorry for the past few days of relative silence, but I’ve had a good reason I promise. Normally, I’m good about “powering through” my bad days. I’ve been living with my illness for more than seven years, so I’ve gotten pretty good at managing it. But if you are one of my unfortunate comrades who have chronic illness yourselves, you are all too familiar with the fog.

I’ve been reading the Shadow and Bone trilogy, so I am comparing it to the Fold. A lot of days, I am able to summon enough light to pierce through the fog, just like Alina, but others, I don’t have the strength, or it’s just not enough.

Today was one of those days. After I was up all night being physically ill, my body is completely wiped. I slept for twelve hours, then napped, and still didn’t have the energy or strength to get out of bed. I haven’t been able to sit up for more than a few minutes at a time without feeling dizzy, let alone make it out of room or down a single flight of stairs. I didn’t even have energy to hold a conversation with my boyfriend or family, and spent the day more or less in isolation, but for my ever present cuddle buddy and sick day companion.

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It has been a long time since I have had such a bad day as far as my illness. But I am reminded, even now, when it is difficult to summon enough strength to write this post, that no matter how bad things are in this body, I can escape to a hundred others.

Being trapped in this bed can feel an awful lot like sitting in a jail cell–but books and writing are a portal to an endless possibility of worlds, and freedom.

This is why I love writing, and why I will never, ever stop being a writer. I can’t. Words and ink are like oxygen and blood to me. They are my light, to pierce through the fog and the muck of this life, no matter how dark it seems.

Reading Siege and Storm got me through today. For a few hours at least, I could forget the pain and discomfort of this body, and become someone else entirely, lost in a rich, vivid, fantasy world. What could be better than that?

The reality of my illness means that I cannot always push through, and I will have to miss out on things, sometimes things that I love. I’ve missed staying connected with the writing community, work, a party, and interacting with friends and family. Please be patient with me in times like this, and know that I have not forgotten about all you lovely people, I am trying my best 🙂

I will have this illness for the rest of my life, and nothing can change that until there is a cure.  In the mean time, though, books make life a whole lot better.

And with that, I am going to finish this book, and then nap for the third time today.

Finishing Line

This is so true, and so important! The true difference between a writer and an author.

The Novice Wordsmith

Looking through Neil Gaiman’s blog the other day, I stumbled across something that gave me pause. And rightly so, because it was a list of tips for writers. You can view it here: http://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/94130974141/maxkirin-neil-gaimans-8-rules-of-writing-a

Though, of all eight tips, this one is the one that spoke to me the most: 

Of everything on that list, finishing things has been the hardest. It had never been an issue for smaller things, the projects that were short stories or little one-shots when I was a kid, but as my imagination kept running wild, I couldn’t get everything out and it sat in my head until I forgot about it.

Anxiety about getting into a new idea is normal. Look at what’s in front of you, see everything you want to get out and write and dig yourself into and not come up for air until it’s finished. Do not be intimidated, or anxious…

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Camp Nano: WINNER

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That’s right…I did it! *throws confetti and happy dances then collapses in a heap of exhaustion* Honestly, not sure how, but I beat my goal with one week to spare.

Word goal: 20,000

Final word count: 20,436

So now that it’s over, what do I think of my first NaNoWriMo experience?

It was definitely a roller coaster. There were moments I felt like a superhero on top of the world and others I wanted to cry and rip my hair out. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like if I had gone for the full 50k. But on the other hand, I knew going into it that this month was already going to be busy and hectic in the first place, so that might have been part of it. 

CampNaNo was challenging, exciting, eye-opening, fun (sometimes), painful, exhausting, and inspiring. I think my favorite part was the community and all the awesome support. I could have never done this without NaNoWordSprints or my super awesome cabin of fellow WordPress bloggers. It was also reallycool to see how different everyone was–even within our cabin, there were some going for 10k, others for 60k. Some got stuck at low word counts, others were writing demons churning out thousands a day. But that’s what was so cool, seeing how everyone worked, seeing everyone’s struggles and accomplishments, and all of us working together towards this one goal. It really felt like a team. 🙂 

What would I say to someone who is considering a NaNoWriMo event?

Know what you’regetting yourself into. Also, know yourself and what you’re capable of. Through NaNo, you’ll probably discover you’re capable of a lot more than you thought you were, but on the other hand, don’t commit to a large word count when you know you have a busy month or hectic life already. The point of NaNoWriMo, in my opinion, is to challenge yourself. Challenge yourself creatively, become a part of this community, and have fun. There is no point in participating if you start to hate writing each day, or end up overstressing yourself, and basically just have a miserable time. 

My advice to anyone participating for the first time?

Relax. It is not the end of the world if you don’t reach your goal. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible writer and you should give it up. Everyone works differently. Some people might find out that they’re not made to write in a situation like NaNo. I found it very difficult for my writing style. And as I’ve said to several people participating this month, no matter what your word count is at the end of the month, every word is one word more than you had when you started. And that is something to celebrate, whether you’re a “winner” or not. 🙂

Would I do it again, or consider NaNoWriMo?

Honestly, after this trial, I don’t know that I could do full on NaNo. Maybe, if I had a basically free month, and really put everything else aside. But with my school schedule, I don’t know that that would be possible. CampNaNo? Absolutely. Depending on where I am at next July (hopefully it will be less busy for me next year) I would love to participate again. Mainly because of the customizable word count. I know the point is to write a book in a month, but honestly I don’t really want to write a book in a month. I know my limits, and 20k turned out to be a good goal for me. Maybe next year I’ll try 30,000, and work my way up from there. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll go for the full 50? 🙂 

There’s still a week left, but where are you at? Have you met your goal, or are you inches away from the finish line? Are you struggling to churn out those last few 1ks before the end? Would you do this again, or try it for the first time? I’d love to hear what you think!