A Writing Affair

For six months, I hated everything I wrote. I think I’ve said that here before, so I’ll spare you any rehashing of the sad details. Instead, let’s talk about now. Over the past couple of weeks, suddenly, I am writing a new story I really like with characters I obsess over.

“What is your story?” I find myself asking her. “Why did you leave home and never go back?”

She doesn’t answer immediately. She tells me she’d rather talk about that guy she just met, the one dragging her back into her old patterns and keeping her mind off the very question I keep asking her.

I think about her multiple times a day, every day, even when I’m not writing. The feeling is amazing. It’s a feeling I worried I’d lost for good.

But if your main character won’t yet be coaxed into revealing all the details of her past, it’s hard to write 2,000 words a day on her story.

So, while feeling optimistic, I opened up an old work I’d put aside months ago. You might remember I mentioned a novel about a genderfluid autistic boy. I put that project down when I panicked over getting the autistic boy’s voice right. That was one of the many recent projects I came to abandon, only this one had made it to 50,000 words. That’s a lot of words to just throw away.

I discovered, when I opened that project again, that the story moved me and I didn’t hate it. I heard the characters’ voices in it, even the autistic boy’s, and I connected again with the idea driving its creation. I fell in love with it all over. I already know how this one ends. I already know what these boys will go through. I just need to get the voice right and type it out to the finale.

From the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, I now have *two* stories on my mind. It’s almost like an affair. I should be dedicating myself to just one of them. But, strangely, it doesn’t feel like cheating. They just ride alongside each other like siblings in the back of a minivan with their earbuds shoved in their ears. They’re content to go together, but have no interest in communicating with each other.

That analogy kind of falls apart when considering the age difference of the characters in each of these stories. But you get the idea.

I have no idea when either will be finished, or *if* either will ever be finished. I have no plans to jinx this joy by giving myself deadlines. I’m just happy to again be writing something(s) I love.

Thank You, Bette

Today for lunch I had a taco, a Pepsi, and all my sadness. I just swallowed my sadness down with every bite but it never left.

I have been questioning the direction my life is taking and trying to figure out if I’m on the right path. I’m trying to figure out if I am sinking or rising. Am I important or insignificant? To whom? Do I care? Should I?

*sigh*

My thoughts have been so heavy I can barely move.

And then, as I was working on my novel (which I did *not* want to do), I wrote these lines which may or may not make it to the final edit:

“I’m sorry I made you have the party when you didn’t want it.”
Seth looked at his mother with uncertainty about how to respond. Cautiously he said, “Don’t worry about it.”
A Bette Midler song came on the radio and Hannah turned it up.

Then I started thinking about Bette Midler because I couldn’t think of anything she sings except Wind Beneath My Wings. So, I searched videos on YouTube. (Did I mention how I really didn’t feel like working on my novel anyway?)

I came across an interview she did in 1984 for Good Morning America. It was cut into two separate videos. I enjoyed them so much. They really helped me take a deep breath about where I am right now in regards to my writing and just being the person I am.

Thank you, Bette.

Note to Self, On Being an Author

Note to self:

You have always been a writer, from the moment you asked your mother how to spell “I love you”. From the moment you read that poem in fourth grade which made everything make sense in a way nothing else ever had, you wanted to recreate that feeling. Metaphors were magic. You wrote for you, always. You wrote to make sense of the strangeness around you, to find God, to make peace with whatever truth revealed itself.

Eventually, you wanted to write to be published. You wanted to write about truth, but not in a journalistic way. You wanted to create fiction with purpose, to expose truths, to touch people deeply. You knew you wanted this, but not how to get there. You were nobody. You were from a small southern town. You had no education beyond high school. You had won no writing awards. You knew no other authors. You doubted yourself, not your writing.

But, a couple years ago you saw the possibility present itself. You knew you would have time to devote to writing your first novel. You began with shaking hands and a vague idea about how to get started. You were afraid to type the first words. You spent days searching for images to depict your characters, explored maps to decide on setting, and created an outline. When you finally put your fingers to the keys, your story flew onto your screen like music from a flute. It was happening. You couldn’t believe it, but it was finally happening.

Two chapters in, you knew you wouldn’t quit. You knew you wouldn’t walk away halfway through like so many other projects you had started in the past. Writing was different. It felt exhilarating. This was going to happen. One way or another, you were going to be a published author.

You asked yourself, “What do you want?”

You answered yourself, “I just want to write a book, to know I can. I want to publish it, to put it out there in the universe. I want a few readers to read it, just a few. And of those few, I want at least one to love it.”

When you read that now, what do you think? All of those things you wanted have come true. You have published two novels and two novellas. They have been read by many and at least a handful of people have loved them enough to tell you so. Everything you set out to achieve has been accomplished.

You should be so freaking proud of yourself.

So why aren’t you? Why do you now stare at your sales chart, your statistics, your feedback and desperately want something more? Do you even know what more you want? What is it? To be a bestseller? Do you want to be famous?

No. You don’t. You don’t care anything about that. Everything you wanted in the beginning is what you want now, what you already have. Please, recognize this.

I know how excited you get when someone says how much your stories move them. I also know how soon the feeling dies when you take your eyes off your own goals and begin to compare yourself with others. For every person who says they love you, there’s an author with a million readers reminding you, by their existence alone, what success “should” look like, reminding you that you did not set your goals high enough, reminding you that you are still nobody.

But for a nobody you have done so much. And for a nobody, you have created and put things out in the world which others have valued. To them, you are not nobody.

No one else is going to be able to tell you what is enough. If you don’t set that bar, there never will be one. You will always be chasing other people’s dreams and kicking yourself for failing to reach them. You are the only person who can follow your bliss, create your heaven, find peace with what comes of your creations.

Remind yourself of this. Daily.

4BookHeader

Becoming an Author – My Year One

In January 2014, my husband’s 2013 W2 forms started coming in the mail. That was when it hit me. For the first time since 1991 (when I was 18), I had earned nothing. I had no income to claim. I had made zero dollars.

By all other standards, we were doing well in 2013. My husband had been offered a new job in Texas at the end of 2012. We moved 900 miles away from everyone we knew and landed in what I still think of as the “perfect house for right now.” It isn’t a small task to move six people across the country. There is the physical part of loading and unloading box after box. There is also the tedious job of moving our finances, making accounts for online bill pay, and creating an entirely new budget based on new income and new expenses.

And then there was the most difficult part, the emotional task of getting four kids settled into their new schools. One child needed Gifted testing, another needed to jump through dozens of hoops to get into a special ed pre-K program. One child had a 504 plan for anxiety, and another cried because we had to leave her best friend back in Tennessee. Also, with new insurance covering more treatments than our old, there were many doctor appointments, referrals, and therapies to schedule and transport kids to and from. The changes were a roller coaster ride of highs and lows.

I hadn’t noticed, through all the chaos and literal “work”, that I was not making any money. It was the farthest thing from my mind until my husband’s W2 forms started to roll in.

It’s strange how I can move 900 miles away from my family, have barely any time to breathe for the work which must be done, yet never feel trapped by the loneliness or trapped by the responsibilities. I felt at home with my tasks and my place in the world. But, as soon as I realized I had not earned a single cent in 2013, I felt walls shoot up around me, boxing me inside.

Over the years, my role had shifted. I had once been the parent who worked while my husband studied for certifications as he switched careers. When my second daughter was born, his career-switch was complete and he earned enough money for me to quit my job, but not without sacrifices. I had sold vintage clothes online for a while before becoming a substitute mail carrier. My availability plummeted when my son was diagnosed with autism and had almost daily therapy appointments. Add to that how my babysitters were no longer comfortable dealing with him. So, it reached a point I had to quit work. A month later, my husband landed the job in Texas.

Throughout our time together, my husband had gotten another bachelor’s degree and a plethora of certifications. He had chosen his path and accomplished his goal. He is now the happiest I have ever known him to be with his job.

And me? I have always felt it was important for me to stay at home with my kids. But I often felt I was neglecting the other part of my “self”, the part of me which is not just a receptor and processor for the needs of others. I am good at it, and I love it, but that is not all I am.

I resolved that I would have an income in 2014. I would start a business, like I had when I sold vintage clothes. Perhaps I would open and Etsy shop and stitch together patchwork dogs and owls and other animals. (I love to sew, so, so, so much!) But stitching up one animal would take me an entire day or longer. And there was no way I would make my money back from the hours I put in.

In the past, crafting, sewing, and resale had been things to fill up the few hours I had between infant feedings or diaper changes. I always had toddlers milling about, wanting to help, or screaming at each other from the other room. I made the best I could of it, always having a project to escape to on the rare moments when there was silence and peace.

But in 2014 my son was finally in Kindergarten, the last of my kids to go off to a six hour school day. For me, the first couple of months were one Netflix binge after another, catching up on all the adult television I had missed in the last 13 years. Then came the realization that I was doing “nothing”, earning “nothing”, becoming “nothing”. Crafting had been necessary therapy. But it was not my dream.

Writing was my bliss. Oh how I loved to write! All of my life I had loved it. All of my adult life I had wanted to write a novel, or a work of nonfiction, a children’s book, a collection of poetry, or ALL of it. The way it feels to look at an object and think of how it makes me feel, and then to roll around words in my mind until just the right ones come together to describe that very thing… I had forgotten what it was like, because it was impossible for me to do with the kids at my feet. I had let go of the dream after childbirth like I let go of skinny jeans and make-up. There had been no place for it. But suddenly there existed a place for it again.

“I’m just going to try this,” I told myself. “It’s not like I’m doing anything else with my time. I’ll just begin, see where it takes me.” I declared myself a writer.

What did I expect? Honestly… I expected to write a novel and make a couple thousand dollars in 2014, maybe more in 2015.

Naivety is a necessary stage we all must go through.

I wanted to do everything perfectly. I had a long list of things I needed: awesome cover art, an editor, proofreader, beta readers, a website (a cool one), social media accounts, ISBN numbers, advertising…. I had a long list and no money to pay for any of it. I refused my mother’s repeated offers to assist me. I refused to put anything on our credit cards. I needed, NEEDED, to become an author all on my own.

My first book was published in September 2014. The only thing I paid for was my “doing business as” license, ISBN numbers, and my cover art. In four months, my first novel earned about a dozen dollars more than what I spent to create it (not including time).

So far in 2015, I published my second novel, paying for that means I’m currently at a loss of a few hundred dollars. I basically dug a hole. But I have two books to show for it, two books which have received overwhelmingly positive reviews by those (few) who have read it. Those books will still be there, no added work needed, for the rest of the year. Hopefully they will gain some attention, but I am no longer foolish enough to expect anything either way.

I accomplished my goal for 2014. I became an author and I earned income. I no longer wonder if I am missing out on my dream, or worry that I might fail. I no longer exist as only a servant to those I love. My life feels complete with the work I do as a mother and the work I do as a writer. So I have no regrets at all. I am blissful.

Blissful, and still unable to support myself.

Take from that what you wish, new authors-to-be. I mean it to be neither encouraging nor discouraging. My only advice for you would be: Do not expect to make enough to repay your debts. The amount of your book’s awesomeness will not necessarily equal the amount of your book’s earnings. If that doesn’t scare you away, then carry on.

Books