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.

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Pushing the Boundaries

As writers, we constantly ride that line between being creative and just plain crazy. We want to be fresh enough that we stand out on the shelves, but not alienate readers – we want them to think WOW, not WTF. And the gatekeepers say on one hand they’re looking for something different, but then some things are so different they don’t have a market.

It’s easy to get sucked into this. I know, I’m always over-analyzing my writing now that I’m looking at it from an industry/publishing perspective. At first, I only wrote for myself. I wasn’t scared of what people would think, because I was the only one who would read it. Now I find myself constantly second guessing, and cutting lines or scenes that might turn people away. I’m embarrassed before anyone even reads it.

And then I think,  what am I doing?

It is our job to be crazy. It is our job to push the boundaries and try new things and turn the world inside out just to see what shape it will take. I love that about writing. Sometimes I worry so much about stepping too far outside the lines into crazy-land, that I forget. Writing doesn’t have boundaries. With only 26 letters, somehow the possibilities are limitless.

Exhibit A: from DFWCON. In the query gong show (which is basically a roast of people’s queries) there was a query so outlandish that everyone, including the agents, laughed through the whole thing. Like 80-year-old grandma and aliens in her backyard crazy. But guess what? It was one of only two queries that made it, and got requests. The crazy characters are the ones we remember. Donald Maas said in his character workshop, “Don’t be afraid to push your protagonist over the edge.” I love that.

And that’s something I’d really struggled with. I’d tried to reign in the really dark and twisted bits of my story to keep it marketable to a wide audience. But that’s the problem: it is dark and twisted. One of my main characters, Crow, is really dark and twisted. But he’s an assassin for the most ruthless drug lord in the city, with a background of torture and abuse. In other words, he has some serious issues. Watering his character and his scenes down to make it a pill easier to swallow just didn’t work. He ended up feeling flat.

Now, I’ve opened the cage door, taken the chains off, and explored where he can go. It’s taken me by surprise how much he’s come to life. It’s messed up, it’s dark, it’s disturbed, but it’s raw and emotional and powerful. I got chills while writing some parts, and cried while writing others. It’s real, and it’s him. He’s become my most vivid and dynamic character. It wasn’t fair to him, or my readers, to lock him away just because he might be a little too much crazy for some people. You know what? Those people are just dumb and boring. 😉

We’re self-conscious creatures, writers. Especially when we open up our writing to the world, with the possibility of it being picked apart. But don’t be scared of that, don’t even think about it. Write what is genuine. Write for yourself, and for your story, and for your characters.

It is ten thousand times better to be too much, than not enough. Don’t tiptoe up to the edge of crazy, dive off of it. Even if you don’t keep the crazy, you’ll find a whole new world of depth to your story in the process. Your characters and your readers will thank you.

 

 

How to Fall in Love (Again)

Every writer started because they fell in love with a book, or a story, and they couldn’t rid themselves of it. We have spent hours and days and even years carefully sculpting these characters and worlds and stories. We have breathed life into them and watched as bit by bit they start to breathe and walk and talk on their own. We have laughed and cried with them. By the time we are finished, they are so entwined in ourselves they are truly a part of us.

And then we send them out to the world for the first time. Terrified, like parents sending their kids off to the first day of school. We love them more than anything, but will the world be as kind?

Then there is critique, and we have to reevaluate them. Change them, rearrange them, delete them altogether. We scrub and scrub at our story until it is gleaming and our hearts swell with pride again.

Then comes the dreaded query. Letter after letter pleading with agents to fall in love with these characters and stories the same way we have. If they could only give us the chance, we know they’d love them just as much. But they don’t see what we do. Rejection letter after rejection letter, and even weeks waiting with no response. And when you talk about your story, you talk about it in terms of pitch and word count and plot arcs. Is it marketable? Can they sell it?

And this is just the beginning. Let alone if you become published and have to do revisions and line edits and have it picked apart and editors and publishers telling you how it should be. You watch them suck all the life out of it and it becomes nothing more than numbers and marketing and profit margins.

When we are faced with this, it is hard not to fall into the pit. As I am entering the publishing process seriously for the first time, I find myself distancing from my story. It becomes a business, a product. Which it has to be, if you are going to turn writing into a career. But sometimes I get too caught up in all of this. I get too critical of myself, feedback, my own writing. I forget why I fell in love with the world and the characters I created, and can only see all the flaws that people have picked out. I found myself doubting my story entirely. Would anyone really want to read this?

I think writers are self-conscious creatures, more than most professions. How could we not be? We are having parts of ourselves judged and critiqued, for our job. That’s scary. And it can hurt sometimes too.

But I think the most important part, for those of you like me who are turning their passion into their career, is to fall in love with your story and writing all over again, every day. It’s like a relationship. When you stop dating your significant other, stop being romantic and silly and forget why you fell in love with them in the first place, it falls apart. Date your book. Tell it it’s beautiful, buy it flowers. Read it all over again and remember why you fell in love.

When I was doubting my book, I went back and started reading bits and pieces of it. Pieces I had almost forgotten about. And it was like reading it, and falling in love for the first time. I rediscovered my world and my characters and they just came back to life and all I could think was, Wow. How did ever get tired of this?

Writing is a business. But it is also an art, a passion, a part of you.

Even as it becomes a business, don’t ever forget that little kid who first picked up a book and fell in love. Write for that little kid, not for the hundred other voices trying to tell you what to do.

How Writing Saved My Life

I have debated whether or not to write a post on this for some time, but am finally relenting. When I decided to start this blog, I knew I didn’t just want it to be a fluffy, happy, light blog about writing and trying to become an author. I wanted to be honest, and not just write about the happy, pretty things. I wanted to use this as a platform to talk about the difficult things too, the things people don’t always like to talk about. It may be early on to dive into it this heavy, but regardless, here it is.

More or less this has been the most difficult week of my life. Not only did another episode of illness knock me out for a week, but as I was starting to feel better I lost someone close to me, in a completely unexpected tragedy. Now I am not telling you this so that you can feel bad for me. As I am going through this difficult time, I am realizing again what an impact writing and art have on my life, and I know that I am certainly not alone. I hope that for anyone else going through trials right now, this can be helpful to you.

A while ago, my friend and author Lindsay Cummings posted a video with her testimony, titled How Books Saved Me (you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhZsgDNGtug). Our stories are nearly uncannily similar, and it was part of the reason we became instant friends. I have been chronically ill for most of my life, and was undiagnosed until about a year ago. My last two years of high school were when my illness was at its most severe. It started when I became sick with mono–which I would find out later often triggers postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS. I struggled with extreme dizziness, weakness, and twitching (which I now know are all part of POTS) and most days I couldn’t walk, even the few feet to my bathroom, without help. I was literally trapped in my bed for three months, and as a 15 year old junior who had just moved to a new state, this was about the worst it could get. My fledgling friendships quickly died off when I disappeared from school, and even my friends back home whom I had grown up with eventually lost contact. Outside of my family, I had no human interaction. I could not have been more alone.

Even as an introvert, this was incredibly difficult. I am a very independent person, so to be entirely dependent on others for everything was hard. Outside of sleeping 16 hours a day, there was little to occupy my time. I felt alone, useless, and completely worthless. With no diagnosis and no foreseeable cure, I couldn’t see an end to this hell. I was a vegetable. How was this life even worth living?

Though my condition was not life-threatening, I felt like I was waiting to die. At that point, I would have welcomed it.

(There’s a happy ending to this, I promise!)

Enter: writing. As I’ve said before, I’ve been writing my entire life. It was certainly nothing new to me. But one thing depression does is suck all the enjoyment and love for your passions and hobbies. I was plagued by the ever-blinking cursor at the top of a blank page. Anything I did write felt dull, lifeless, and boring. Worthless.

But after three months, I had run out of Netflix movies and Friends reruns, and I was losing my mind. So I began to write, and the words spilled out of me like somewhere a levy had broken.

They were messy. They were dark and ugly sometimes. I wasn’t writing because I wanted to be an author, or even because I wanted people to read it. I was writing for myself. Though I didn’t know it at the time, through writing these characters, their story, and their emotions, I dealt with mine. It was more healing than any therapy. Through untangling the mess of their lives, I untangled mine. And before I knew it, I was staring at a blinking cursor at the end of a finished book, and something changed. I had accomplished something. I wasn’t a vegetable anymore. I wasn’t worthless–I had written a book. I was a writer.

This moment felt worthy of fireworks and endless ice cream (there weren’t any fireworks, but plenty of ice cream) but it was more than that. I had reawakened something inside myself. For the first time in months, I felt alive. 

I eventually improved enough to where I was no longer confined to my bed (thank God) but through the roller coaster years of illness, doctors, and hospital visits that followed, writing has been constant. I have gained and lost friendships, struggled through school, and been through more than my share of boys and breakups. In my crazy, unpredictable world, it was an anchor, and it still is.

While I am in a drastically better place than I was a few years ago (I am diagnosed and coping with my illness, though it is untreatable, as well as managing college, new (much better) friends, and an amazingly supportive boyfriend) life always manages to throw curveballs. Sometimes, like this week, it knocks me off my feet entirely.

It gets better.

At that time, I couldn’t see an end. My uncertain future used to make me lose hope, but now it excites me. There are so many unknown surprises and opportunities just waiting! If you are ever at the point where you can’t see an end, please don’t give up. Find something you are passionate about. Painting, writing, music, LARPing, whatever. Something that reawakens you and makes you feel alive. Fight for it. Beat it. And come out 10x stronger.

And as I have learned this week, time is so precious. We don’t know if we have five decades left or five months. Though he died too young, Vincent lived every moment of his 30 years on this earth to the absolute fullest. He was an inspiration and role model to me, and still is. It may be cliche, but life really is what you make of it. Cherish the highs, each little moment. But also appreciate the lows, learn from them, and grow stronger.

Slow down a little this week. Take the time to watch the sunrise, or make a really good cup of espresso and enjoy it instead of inhaling for the jolt of caffeine. Open a door for someone. Walk in the rain. Hug someone you love, a little too tightly.

Time is precious. Art is one of the great gifts we get to experience in this world.

It may even save your life.

 

And now that you know more about me (maybe entirely too much), I’m curious to know a little about you. What are you passionate about? What impact has art had on your life? What have you overcome, and what or who inspires you?

Share this post with someone who needs it, and spread a little love this week.