I didn't want to write this post, to be honest. I thought if I did - it would mean admitting my failures. Admitting that there's something wrong. But you see, there is something wrong. I am struggling right now. Conventional advice is that you should not air your "dirty laundry." That you shouldn't talk about "hard" or "bad" stuff. Because it depresses people. Because it shows your vulnerability. Because then you look like you want sympathy. I call bullshit. This is why we have depressed individuals who feel like they have to go through drastic measures rather than talk about it. But honestly? That's not really what this post is about. Sure, we'll talk about my depression and anxiety (as I've done here, here and here) but since this is my writing blog, I want to talk about the struggle of writing. The struggle you may not hear from writers today. Because again, who likes to admit that writing isn't always sunshine and rainbows and glittery ideas that flow from your fingertips?
WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU STRUGGLING WITH?!
Good question! I am struggling with a particularly nasty case of writing blues. I don't call it a block - because I don't really think I am blocked. I think I have reverted back in time to where I was ages and ages ago when I first started writing - fumbling around with not knowing what the hell I'm doing and doing more reading/talking about writing than actually writing. Why is this? Because I put other people and other things before myself and stopped writing for so long. I let the world close in around me and I bowed to it instead of pushing back like a badass and saying, "No. I deserve to write." And even though writing is like riding a bike, it's hard to get that momentum back. Especially when you've lost your confidence. When the industry has literally gone topsy-turvy on you since you left. The sad fact is that for a writer, even when you're not writing, you're thinking about writing. You're dreaming about it. You're missing it.
And this is terrible when you feel like you can't write. You start to get resentful and jealous and the insidious thoughts creep into your skull, "you're not good enough anyway," "the market sucks right now," "you'd probably just fail, so why try," "the book you want to write is too hard." Man those thoughts just bash and bash at your brain until it's the only words you hear drowning out everything else.
I let those words get to me. I let them sear into me until I literally wanted to give up. But I knew I couldn't. I know that I can't. I am a writer and no matter how terrifying these periods are for me, I know that there are better days ahead. But it doesn't change the fact that once I got back on the proverbial horse, that everything would be peachy keen. Because it's not.
I started off with a small goal: write a 10k word short story for an anthology. When the anthology fell through, my next goal was: publish said short story on your own. So while I managed to do both of those things, I always knew what was up on the horizon. I used to lovingly (and sometimes resentfully) refer to it as "the plague book" because no matter how many times I tried to rework, rewrite, revisit it - it would fall to pieces and inevitably... so would I. It was the first book I wrote and finished. Realistically, I know that I should leave well enough alone and shelve it. It's what most authors do. I, like many others, did not publish the first book I wrote. I wasn't prideful enough to think that the first thing I wrote would be good enough. It wasn't. It still isn't. But I did something stupid during my second year of publishing. I promised it to my readers. I got a cover made, wrote a synopsis. Shared it with the world.
But when I went to rework it - I couldn't do it. It fell to pieces... again. So I pushed it off until I could look at it again. During a particularly good run of writing, I decided - I'm going to try something new! I'm going to use this book as an experiment. And I decided to rewrite it using the "chapter in a newsletter" method. I would write a chapter, put it in my newsletter unedited and deal with it from there. I got 13 chapters in before everything fell to pieces...you guessed it... again.
This point was starting to coincide with my busy schedule, my depression and I threw in the towel. I gave up on "the plague book" once again.
Here's the BIG thing you should know about "the plague book," though - I love the premise of it. I deeply deeply love the idea of exploring the themes in this novel. Aside from Whiskey and a Gun - this is the only other book I've ever felt drawn to in a way that I can't get out of my head.
So yeah, giving up on it always feels like a big deal, because I feel like I'm giving up on a part of me.
Earlier this year, I thought I'd found a magic pill in the form of a workshop I was helping build. It was by a renowned story coach and my own mentor. The method seemed amazing and I thought to myself, "This is it, Jade. You're finally going to write the book the RIGHT way."
Do you think that happened? No. The same thing as always happened and I was devastated by it. Crippled by the feeling of failure again. Of giving up.
That was the last try before another bout of deep, dark depression. Another couple months of bashing myself and my inability to write a word. And then when I DID write - I bashed myself for not being good enough. Clever enough. Lyrical enough.
So it makes sense that when I looked at my writing life as of late and saw that the common denominator was "the plague book" I would think of shelving it for good, right? I have to tell you - I was (am?) this close. I spent hours last week letting the tears fall down my cheek as I tried (and failed) to put together another plot. To try and think of character arcs. Goals. Motivation. I shut down my computer and I thought, "This is it, Jade. You're done with this story for good."
Some people might be sitting here thinking, "what's the big deal? It's just an idea." But it's not just an idea to me. This book... this story... it represents the last twelve years of my life as I started writing. It represents an idea that I'm still so very much in love with. Putting it away for good is not an easy task - I would have to mourn and grieve it's death and move on.
But then I picked up a book called Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield. You may have heard of him - I certainly had which is why I picked up his book. And while it's filled with many great tips, tricks and anecdotes. There was something in particular that stuck out to me. Something that I read over and over and over again until it was burned into my memory:
When faced with the question “what idea should I work on?” the answer is always the same: Write your White Whale.
Here’s how you know what it is: You’re scared to death of it. Mediocre ideas never elevate the heart rate. Great ones make you break out in a sweat. The whale is your unwritten book, your unsung song, your calling as an artist. You die grappling with this thing, lashed to it, battling it even as it takes you under. You’ll know the whale by these qualities: It’s accomplishment will seem beyond your resources. Your pursuit of it will bear you into waters where no one before you has sailed. To hunt this beast will require everything you’ve got.
Whoa. That's some intense shit right there. And I thought, "Hmm. Maybe "the plague book" is actually my "white whale." And instead of being scared of it - it filled me with a newly refreshed vigor to figure. my. shit. out.
So "the plague book" is now my "white whale book" and I'm thinking of pulling on my big girl panties and trying once again.
But when is enough is enough?
IS GIVING UP REALLY THAT BAD?
My mentor Jennie Nash wrote a blog post called "Is It Time to Quit Writing Your Book?" where she interviews our shared client Tracey Cleantis. I remember reading it and thinking, "Oh my gosh. No! There is no dream too big to give up on." Last week, when I was struggling with what to do about "the plague book" aka "the white whale book" - I took the "Dreams - Let it Go or No" quiz on Tracey's website and I was stunned with the answer:
If you have 4-7 True answers: you may want to consider calling it quits. Your expectations for the dream are likely not realistic, and too much of your self-esteem and self-worth are riding on it. It is time to take a hard look at the consequences of the dream and be honest about what it is costing you.
Crap. I thought I would sail through the quiz and it would remind me that my dreams are important and I should follow them. But this dream? Could it be killing me secretly?
TO MOVE FORWARD OR NOT?
Here's the truth. I can't give up just yet. I have to give it one more honest go. One more guns 'ablazin, hooting and hollering go. Because if it's time to let it go. To bury the hatchet - I need to know that I did EVERYTHING and I really mean EVERYTHING to make it happen. To truly put it to death means knowing that I don't regret moving on. And that's the hardest thing in my opinion.
WHAT WAS THE POINT OF THIS POST?
The pure struggle and gut-aching confusion of it is the point. THIS is what it means to be a writer. To struggle and cry over an idea. To write, rewrite, replot and then toss it all away to attempt a better version. To want to give up every time. To HAVE to give up sometimes.
Writing is not easy. And ANYONE who says that it is easy is lying. Direct them to me so I can have a little 1:1 chat with them. Because they are not telling the truth. Writing also isn't all hot abs on covers and "Zomg, I hit 12k words today! #coffeebreak!" Yes, some rare times, it is like that. But mostly? It's heartache. It's loneliness. It's insecurity. It's pain. It's longing.
It's wanting to be heard when you feel you don't have a voice. It's crying out to the void and listening as nothing comes back to you.
But it's also inspiration and love and therapy. It's rewarding and triumphant and miraculous. There is nothing (and I truly mean nothing) better than the feeling of a writing high. When you've felt the words come together and your story takes shape.
So we don't give up because of the darkness... we keep fighting because of the light.
I guess the point of this post is to show you what it looks like to be a REAL writer outside of the glamorized social media lens. Because without the struggles and the darkness... we'd never be able to see the light.