Friday, October 23, 2015

It Gets Better

Trauma. Heartbreak. Pain.
Joy. Forgiveness. Letting go.

When I started this blog back in 2009, I was preparing to move back to the States from England, and I was scared. I didn't want to come back—I was happy where I was. So I focused all my energy on a manuscript I was writing at the time, trying to forget all the change that was happening around me. I was writing what I thought could be a groundbreaking concept in the YA world. Something new. Fresh. Exhilarating. I had been a writer for a long time, but for the first time, I was writing with the intention to sell.

And I believed myself to be a good writer. Actually, I was. I was. But I had so much to learn yet. For one thing, my oh so new, oh so fresh concept of a kickass angel romance was hardly novel. Had I bothered to check sales announcements—if I'd even known Publisher's Marketplace existed—I would've seen all the recent angel book sales. (May I point you to my wild-eyed post about this belated discovery: Angels Are Falling WTF.) I was ignorant, of course, as all writers are when dipping their toes into publishing. And while I recognized my ignorance to a large degree, I really had no idea how little I knew, that I was virtually an infant. I suppose because I had studied creative writing, had developed such a large body of work up until that point, I believed that this would be enough. That this gave me some sort of profound wisdom, an edge in the world of publishing.

Try not to laugh.

I wouldn't say it made me foolish. Just an infant. Naïve. Okay, foolish.

But I figured it out eventually. As soon as you learn something, you learn how hard you didn't know it before. And this, over and over, I learned.

Eventually though, you get sort of wise. While you never get used to rejection, never ever never, you get so that the processes feel rote, almost natural. Things you used to complain about you come to shrug about—it is what it is. All the information you seek online starts to feel borrowed and reused. Agents and editors you've followed start reposting old blog posts, because how many ways can you keep saying the same things? You start to realize that a lot of new agents aren't really any more informed than you are and are less experienced. You come to realize that you're no longer learning about the process, but teaching others. You get so that going to a writers conference is more about seeing old friends (and if you're very lucky, making new contacts) than learning something new, and after a while, even that gets tiresome, because everyone is tired, jokes are recycled, and the same publishing issues remain, as always, an issue.

You get to a point where it feels like you're starting to stagnate in this business, where it seems growth has come to a screeching halt, and where publishing, despite the constant flux of the market, seems to never actually evolve.

In the midst of this wisdom acquisition and stagnation, however, I stopped writing. After a series of . . . losses (trauma? shit?), I—I don't know, I suffered, I guess. And lost even my writing, the one thing that had once sustained me in the worst of times. Take the world from me, but in losing my writing, I had lost the ability to comfort myself, and all that I had written seemed worthless and wasted without the ability to move forward. For a while, I was angry. Really angry. At the world, at myself, at everything that hurt. All this knowledge I had, this experience I'd accumulated, hours and hours spent writing, editing, querying, submitting, conferencing, social media-ing, schmoozing, worrying—and after years, it had all amounted to nothing. I slipped away from publishing, from social media, from myself.

But one day, I just started writing again. A sentence here. A month later, another. A paragraph or two here and there. And then one day, I'd completed a chapter. And so it goes. I am not the writer I once was, not nearly as fast or as prolific. But I am remarkably better. Much, much better.

And I say this without any intended boastfulness. It is what it is. Even in the midst of stagnation, we can grow inwardly. In the midst of great loss, we can and do evolve. My world view and my understanding of humanity has slowly transformed, growing, and somehow in this—in grief, in grasping for joy—my grasp of language has grown stronger. And as I return to writing, slowly, steadily, achingly, I begin to understand how much better I am than I was, and how much better I can be.

Publishing may not really evolve. But . . . life does.

And you. You evolve.

Trauma. Heartbreak. Pain.
Joy. Forgiveness. Letting go.

These things change you. Afterward, you will never be who you were. And neither will your writing. You both get better, stronger.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Writer's Sad, Sad Story

I get kind irritated when people say things like, "If writing is important to you, you will make the time." Or, "Writers write—if you're not writing, you're not a writer." Or, "If you're really passionate about this, you'll never stop trying."

Bah! We sure like to invent a lot of rules for things. So judgy. All these commandments posted in some meme or a tweet, and we writers so desperate for rules in an unfairly subjective universe soak it up like gospel, retweet, and rememe, and suddenly it's as if they're written in stone.

But these rules—they're not helpful, you know? We assume they are, like they're some sort of guidelines for what makes a writer, and if I can just get myself to do this or do that, then I can call myself a writer. But they're kind of . . . crap. They're designed to make some of us feel superior (those writing like gangbusters) and the rest of us inferior at what is already the worst time of a writer's life. Like, if you aren't doing XYZ, then clearly you're a suckturd that actually hates writing deep down, so go away, you failure, and leave us real writers alone to write in our Starbucks-infused let-me-take-a-selfie-of-my-typewriter-on-my-thighs caves o'wordporn.

But, it's not like you stop being a writer just because you aren't writing right now, any more than you stop being a mom because you aren't momming right this second, any more than you stop being a foodie because you stress-ate a pint of Chunky Monkey during the Republican debate, any more than—whatever, I could go on like this forever. It's like this—you don't have to sacrifice a goat to prove how faithful and spiritual you are. (Ok, that doesn't really clarify my point). I mean, you don't have to prove your identity or your value within that identity to anyone, not even to yourself. And just because you're not actively doing something right now doesn't mean it's not important to you.

I mean, yes, obviously if you have never written anything in your life, you're kind of a lame toolbag if you start handing out business cards advertising your Writerly status, especially if you always claim to be "working" on some novel while never having actually "worked." But this isn't what I'm talking about—and even then, I don't rightly care what you call yourself. I'm not talking about what we say we are or what we identify as. This is bigger than that. Sadder.

Earlier today, I was talking to one of my BFFs about how I've been feeling. She knows, of course, that despite the awesome that my life has in many ways become, it has been fairly complicated the last few years. That I work and work, because food, children, roof. That leisure time is rarer and more precious. And that writing, which was once my thing—my escape, my mirror, my need—is now a luxury, and also my bane. I talked about how in the spare time I have I still try to write sometimes but that I don't get far, and about how other times, I think I could write right now but then don't because it feels pointless. I talked about how instead I just sit there and close up and get sad because it's pointless and don't want it to be pointless. I told her that it feels like I'm standing at a window waving goodbye to a large piece of me, like "Goodbye, torso of Carolina," just sitting there sad because I know I can stop her from leaving but I don't know how.

I wrote my first story when I was seven years old, my first real novel when I was sixteen, seventeen. Since then, I have written countless novels and stories and essays and yadda yadda. I have dreamed of publishing for a very long time. Hope has been high—and low, the blows sometimes especially hard. But through it all, I have kept writing. It has been the one gift I could always give to myself, the special, intimate time inside my own head, escaping into other people's lives, which I could invent with my very own brain. As much as I have always loved reading books, I have loved writing them more. The most important thing to me was never really to have my stories read. I mean, I have shaped, twisted, and danced in my own words, watching and feeling the stories come to life from my own head, my own fingertips. I could always access a new story whenever I wanted. If there is magic in the world—this is it.

But now, the magic has slipped away, dissolving into the fog of work and life and life and life, and I grieve. There are writers who write. And there are writers who mourn not writing.

There are no rules. Sometimes there is time to write, and motivation, and words. And sometimes there is nothing but a blank screen and grief.

It doesn't matter what you call yourself. A writer. An author. An artist. An aspiring mother-fucking scribbler. This isn't what matters. When the words are gone, you're not not those things. It's just the words are gone. They're gone

The End.