Combating anxiety

Anxiety.

Mary - beta convention
In high school, I’d wake up early every morning to write before school. The habit of writing kept me going even though I never expected anyone except my best friend to read my work.

Fearing I’ll never measure up.

Worrying about EVERYTHING. (Are people going to think this post sounds stupid? Should I be working on something else instead? Why did I waste 5 minutes staring at my phone deciding if I should turn on my music or not?)

I’ve been plagued by these anxious feelings for as long as I can remember. In elementary school I was labeled a “shy” kid, but I was anxious. I was terrified of being ridiculed if I gave the wrong answer or because my voice has always sounded a little bit like Minnie Mouse. I didn’t want to take some else’s turn to speak. (Didn’t matter that they talked over me.) I was an obsessive rule follower … ALL THE RULES.

I finally started talking in class around the time I started writing, but I was still the shy girl. I remember my 11th grade English teacher writing a response in my class journal telling me that she would appreciate me sharing my thoughts out loud with the class more often. It was a struggle. I felt like I was repeating what someone else said. I’d been quiet for so long, I didn’t know how to build on a topic. I could think of a million things I wanted to say, but getting them to come out of my mouth was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

I still struggle with tripping over my words when I talk in front of people.

Even my writing causes me anxiety, especially when I’m stuck. My CPs get to hear me worry myself sick over trends and markets and whether or not I’m the right person to write my books. I hate that about me, but I think that’s a sign of being a conscientious writer. I don’t rush out with my first draft and declare that it’s the best thing ever written. I don’t know anyone who does that, but judging by some of the tweets and agent blogs I’ve read, there are people who are SUPER-confident in their writing. I apparently don’t run in those circles. But, hey, someone has to be proud of their own work.

Anxiety raises its ugly head all the time in my life. I’m writing this post because I’m anxious about working on a story for my day job, and I’m trying to reassure myself that I can put coherent words on a page. Writing is the thing I’ve always wanted to do, but sometimes, I don’t even feel qualified to journal, much less write for publication.

When I’m overwhelmed and can’t see past the fear beating inside my brain, often the best thing I can do is put on some music, zone out, and write whatever words want to come out.

I start, stop, delete, hold my breath, and beg my brain to make sense.

Get through one more sentence.

Finish the paragraph.

Take a breath.

Hands on the keyboard, don’t take both hands off the keyboard or the words might not come back.

Write the next word that comes to mind.

Write another, and another.

Soon I’ve got something. It might be one paragraph of my WIP that took me an hour to write or an article for my day job that seemed too daunting to approach, but the words flow. They haven’t deserted me yet. I’m still writing and still worrying, but I can do it.

I’ve survived this anxiety for years. You can too.

Why I write…

Always wanted to write

I’ve written about why I stopped writing, but I only sort of hinted at how I started. Here’s my response to the famous “What made you decide to be a writer?” questions.

I started making up stories before I could write, and I acted out books and movies with my stuffed animals and Barbies. At a ridiculously young age, I was obsessed with history. Some of my stuffed animals fought in the Civil War, some of them crossed the country in covered wagons (um, a plastic shopping cart covered with a blanket), some might have even been gladiators.

On vacation one year, I made up “fractured nursery rhymes” to entertain everyone during the long drive to the beach. I don’t remember this, but it’s a favorite family story of how I’d start with a perfectly normal nursery rhyme and create a new ending. Something like: “Little Miss Muffet, sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey. Along came a spider and crawled up her leg.”

When I got a little older, I drew stories based on whatever movie, TV show, or book I was into at the moment.

I read and wrote stories that I was too shy to share, but in sixth-grade, something clicked. My teacher gave us a spelling assignment where we had to write a story using our spelling words. I didn’t want to stop, and the next week I continued my story. It kept going until I had filled an entire notebook with a story about a kid who finds a sock-stealing ghost.

From then on, kept writing. I wrote through junior high and high school, but since the internet was young, I didn’t have much of a writing community. I had a best friend who loved to write as much as I did, and we exchanged stories. It wasn’t a widespread community like I have now, but it was fun.

Writing has always been part of me. I honestly can’t imagine life without it. The stories refuse to stop chasing me. Writers

Review – Diverse YA – Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian

Book - Cut Both Ways

I finished reading Carrie Mesrobian’s Cut Both Ways last night. I was drawn in my the cover blurb, “I know how to fold myself up into anything. You can fold anything into me and it’ll blend.” I read Mesrobian’s debut novel Sex and Violence, and I was interested to see her take on a character struggling to find himself within the many different worlds he attempts to navigate.

Will Caynes splits his time between his parents’ houses. With his dad, he lives in an almost condemned construction project. At his mom’s, he feels like he’s living in a hotel where nothing belongs to him: “Every week I was somewhere new. I couldn’t just toss my shit everywhere like I was staying on permanently.”

In the suburbs, he’s falling for his best friend. In the city, he has a girlfriend. Mesrobian made a point to never use the word “bisexual” in the story. Even though Will struggles with his feelings for both Angus and Brandy, he never considers the fact that he might not be “just” straight or “just” gay.

Will’s sexual identity is never clearly stated. He struggles throughout the entire story, and Mesrobian leaves that resolution purposely vague. It’s interesting to watch how he fluctuates from Brandy to Angus and back, seeking different forms of comfort and acceptance from them both. Whomever he’s with, he blends in, a chameleon in both worlds, but never feels completely comfortable in either.

Approaching the issue of “bi-erasure” in such a manner doesn’t settle the debate, but it seems real and authentic coming from a teenage boy.

Several reviewers have given the book scathing reviews because Will cheats, but since he’s an 18-year old, figuring out who he is and where he belongs, I had sympathy for him. That’s not to say I wouldn’t be pissed off if I were Brandy and Angus, but I do understand Will’s reasons. He’s not a perfect person; he’s confused, angry, indecisive, unlikeable at times – well, basically, he’s a teenager. Mesrobian does an excellent job portraying the real, messy inner worlds of teens.

(**** Spoiler Alert****)

 

My only problem with this book is that the book ends so abruptly. There is no real resolution to anything. Will hasn’t worked anything out with Angus or Brandy, his father’s housing issues are still complicated, his homophobic step-dad hasn’t let him come home, and his mother refuses to stand up for her son.

I would have loved a few more chapters to resolve at least some of these issues. For a stand-alone, Will’s entire life remains hanging.

 

(****End Spoiler****)

 

I give 4 out of 5 stars to Cut Both Ways. It’s definitely for mature readers due to language and sexual content, but I highly recommend it to anyone in search of diverse YA.

 

It’s January 7, and I’ve already broken my resolutions

My goal for 2016 is to be more optimistic and positive, especially in relation to writing. Unfortunately, I didn’t even make it four days into the new year before my resolve began fading. At least I only set goals that I can continue to reset, so one instance of self-doubt and pessimism won’t derail me.

I’m at a weird place in my writing. My manuscript for FTP is complete. I queried it early last year, but I didn’t get much response. I had a couple of requests for partials and fulls, but those slowly fizzled with the common refrain that the agent “didn’t connect with my manuscript” the way she had hoped. *SIGH* Since last I queried, I’ve found new critique partners and sent my MS off to some excellent betas I met during contests. They have given me a lot of wonderful feedback, but since I’m in the middle of my WIP, I don’t want to lose momentum by stopping to revise FTP.

But agents I love have been been updating the #MSWL, and their lists include things that my CPs and I think my stories would be perfect fits for! I am so in love with my current WIP that I don’t want to stop until I reach the very end, and I can work on revisions to FTP once my CPs and betas have my WIP, but I need about 800 hours in a day to get everything I want to do done.

It’s hard to be optimistic and actively pursue writing as a career when my husband doesn’t see it as more than a strange hobby. I’m not sure if he actually supports me or not. I am trying to view it as a second job, something that will hopefully lead to getting published and ultimately selling my books. That’s difficult to do when my writing career exists almost entirely of stolen seconds.

Yesterday I had a meltdown.

I didn’t get accepted to a writing retreat I wanted desperately to attend. I hadn’t realized how badly I wanted to go until I got my rejection letter.One of my CPs got accepted, and I was jealous. (I still love you, K.G.! Sorry for being a bit of a basket case.)

I felt stuck in my WIP. I’d be staring down the start of a new chapter for days, and nothing I wrote was working.

I felt like all the agents I want to query would be sick of their #MSWL items by the time I get around to querying. I always feel like I’m a step behind.

So I cried – while sitting at my desk at work, while rocking my toddler who refused to go to sleep, while talking to my husband, while talking with friends on Twitter. I cried and I got angry. I told my husband I feel like he doesn’t care about my writing and what it means to me.

I had an honest to goodness meltdown, and honestly, I wasn’t sorry. I’m still not sorry. I’m tired of pinning up all my emotions inside me and pretending I never feel anything because that’s what we’re “supposed” to do.

Maybe it’s not the most glamorous thing to admit that I cried angry, frustrated, disappointed tears for an hour, but it’s true. Real people feel real emotions, and I’ve been so tired and exhausted lately, it was good to let them out.

Totally having a writing cry on the 6th of January when I’ve decided to be more positive doesn’t sound like I’m succeeding with my goal-setting, but I woke up this morning in a better state of mind. I’ve written almost 600 words on the scene that wouldn’t cooperate, and I have a smile on my face again.

I’m still positive and optimistic that things will turn out well this year.

You DO have what it takes

You DO have what it takes

Some time in high school I began writing a book. That wasn’t unusual for me. I’d been writing since before I could actually spell the words I wanted to use. But the book I started wouldn’t stop, so I wrote, and I wrote, and I filled two 3-inch binders with words. It never had a title; my best friend (a fellow writer and my first critique partner) and I just called it “Megan and Jacob” because those were my main characters’ names.

Right then and there in high school, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to publish a book and share my stories with readers, but at some point in college, I lost my focus. I let a guy who I thought knew more than I did tell me that my writing was “schmaltzy” and that it would never amount to anything. I realize now that we were working in two completely different genres (adult literary = him, YA contemporary =me), and different rules apply. But my 20-year old self just heard, “Your words don’t matter. You don’t have what it takes.”

I finished my B.A. with a double major of creative writing and psychology, but I didn’t want to write fiction anymore. I took journalism classes, photography, memoir writing – anything to exercise my creative side without letting myself think that I could ever do anything with those old binders stuffed into the back of my closet.

For fun, I started a few short stories and novels, but I never shared them. I even shredded the two notebooks that contained a half-finished New Adult WIP. I think another is still on a very outdated laptop with floppy disks that was ancient when I started using it, and I may have scrapped it during a move. Needless to say, I believed what I heard as an undergraduate and that nobody wanted my fiction.

It wasn’t until 2013 that my high school critique partner contacted me on Facebook. We lost touch not long after college, but Sarah wanted to know what had happened to my story – the one that was 6-inches thick with notes and scribbles and ideas our high school selves poured into my characters. She had an agent, was attending conferences, and was in the process of learning about the publishing industry, so what was I doing with my writing?

I currently have no idea where my binders went. They might be in a box in a closet or they might be in a landfill, but Megan and Jacob were real enough to me that they never really left, even after all the self-battery I inflicted on my writing skills. I started from scratch because I knew their story by heart.

Somehow, I finished the entire manuscript. I’ve polished, revised, sent it to betas, CPs, and I’ve even started querying. I did it. I made a story people enjoy. YA isn’t a phase, a fad, or a trend. It’s as real as my college classmate’s aspirations to be published by the New Yorker, and maybe I don’t have a “real” book yet, but I’m working on it.

#novelaesthetics for “Megan and Jacob” (now known as Fall to Pieces) (Photos from Pinterest, credit applied wherever I can find it.)

FTP - kiss

Bonfire

FPT - Ben's barn

Pills

First post of 2016: A look at what I’m working on

First post of 2016: A look at what I’m working on

A few days ago I worked out the #novelaesthetics for my current WIP. This is the story that interrupted work on my now-finished manuscript and demanded that I work on it during 2013 Nanowrimo. I’ve written and taken apart at least three partial drafts of this story, but I’m beyond excited about it now.

I hope to have it finished and ready for critique partners and beta readers to pull it apart by early spring. In the meantime, these are the images that stand out to me.