Friday, May 31, 2013

The Things They Don't Tell You...

Writing, like most jobs, seems sort of awesome from the outside. You tell people you write YA and they're all, "Cool. I read Twilight..." and you're off on a conversation. And there are many parts that are awesome (I think I've mentioned wearing my Wii PJ bottoms all day). But also, like most jobs, there are things that you don't know about until you're on the inside. And I'm not talking about things in the "journey to publication" because frankly, I think that you can find a blog about almost any part of that. I'm talking about the things that happen to your psyche as a writer.

So, since I'm awkwardly candid about many things in my life, I'm going to discuss some of them today.

I'm an extrovert. Spending long days in front of my computer, not talking to anyone but my dog, can make me a little batty. I pick up my kids from school and I can't stop talking. I get on the phone with writer friends and I can't stop talking. I go to a school BBQ on the weekend and I can't stop talking. It's sort of embarrassing really. But after spending 6-8 hours every day in my own head, I am DESPERATE for communication.

Yes, I have a day job. But my day job is editing the voices in other people's heads and I do that from home. When we have editorial conference calls, my days are always better because I've heard other people talking.

The tricky thing about this is that it seems solvable. I should just have lunch with friends. Go to the gym. Take walks with neighbors. Volunteer at the kids' school. Pop on Twitter and start interacting with virtual friends. Call my parents. BUT, I have a job. I have writing deadlines. I have edit deadlines for my day job. When I say I'm lonely, the solution isn't to start doing all the things and getting out in the world, because I honestly can't.

So I compensate by going to conferences, book signings, etc. I sop up the energy of people by teaching Sunday school, going to church, sitting at tball games, being part of an author group (14ery!), having short phone calls with friends while I walk the dog.

This is not a new concept for most writers, but for those in the outside world who see us staring out of our windows or staring up at the same spot on the ceiling, we appear to be slacking. And if you go on social media platforms and start following writers, you see that they're all: "1k in 1 hour. I wrote 9k today." And basically, for those of us who have many days of writing 59 words or less, we are ever reminded of our own mediocrity. The outside world thinks we're slacking, and even worse, WE think we're slacking. How has XXX author sold 7 books in two years while I am 30k into a book that I hate so much I'm ready to throw my computer in the toilet?

Everyone has days where every word they write is crap. Some people say, "Write anyway." That doesn't work for me. Why do I need to sit in front of my computer being faced with my own suck? It's better for me to walk away and come back to it. I imagine that this is different for every person. But believe me, writing is hard. And once you've written more than one book, and you've sold one of those books, you have a whole new layer to start worrying about. Because then author "brands" and sales teams and publicity and marketing and every other damn thing starts getting in the way of your writing. And you second guess everything you do. After you've sold a book, you get to spend time in the place of raging insecurity that in some ways is even worse than the initial insecurity of putting your stuff out there. The stakes are higher. The pool is bigger and for all the times you practiced jumping off the side, the high dive is a lot higher than you could ever imagine.

I say this out of a great deal of affection. I know that there are many, many people who need the additional income of their writing to support their families (including me). More, I know there are people who do this for a living and their writing is the only income for their families. I would never tell anyone not to write.
But writing isn't a 9-5 job, it's pretty much 24/7. For me, at least. And I think for most writers. I don't know many who can just "turn it off". If we have a story in our head, there's no powering down. Yes, we can walk away from the computer. But our head is in a different game. Believe me, I've cheered more than once for the opposite team at a tball game because I was trying to solve a plot hole. I've gone to the grocery store to get something for my husband, bought something totally different, and returned to him an hour and a half later without his thing. I've been late for carpool pick-up because I wanted to finish a scene.
I spent an entire spa vacation with my mom and sisters, holed up in my room, writing the first draft of Fault Line. I've missed spending time with my kids because even if I've been there, I haven't been THERE.
And yes, mental health-wise, it is a good thing that I do write because it mostly makes me happy and all the voices and ideas have a place to go. But I understand that this life choice isn't without a great deal of tolerance and sacrifice from the people that I love. And I want to honestly acknowledge that. When I'm in the writer mode, I'm a bit of a sucky wife, mom, friend, sister, aunt, daughter, etc.

There are days when we've written the perfect words. There are days when amazing things have happened. There are days when the other writers/bloggers/readers we've met along the way have said wonderful things that make us so grateful for their existence. There are days when we're walking the dog and picking our kids up and wearing our Wii PJ bottoms and think, "I live the best fricking life in all the world." And it is a greater rush than anything we've known. Because the highs can be very high. And we maybe don't say that enough either.
We worry about the things we can't control. We compare ourselves to others. We fret. We regret. We spend too much time on what we could be instead of what we are.
And yet, if we're lucky, we have more moments when we say, "this is perfect and I am so grateful for it" than when we say, "I suck."

I wish that for all of you.


Matthew MacNish said...

I adore your awkward candor. I'm the same, often oversharing, but I'd rather put it all out there than try to remember what I need to keep secret.

I've had more downs than ups so far in my writing career, and I haven't been writing lately, because of a minor bout of discouragement, but I'll get over it, and I won't ever give up.

Thanks for letting us in, Christa.

Amber Lough said...

You wrote everything I've been feeling/thinking the past month. Apparently, you can add "mind reader" to your list of talents.

I'm an extrovert too, and this is lonely, sitting here (right now, actually) staring at my computer when all I want to do is talk to someone, share information (in person), etc. I overshare when I'm at meetings/parties/grocery store. If I were dog, I'd be a beagle.

Thank goodness for 14ery and twitter and conferences, because otherwise it would be worse. (And on that note, thank goodness for programs like Freedom that block me from chatting, so I can get work done.)

Writing is hard, but frankly, it's the kind of hard I want. I think bagging groceries would be harder for me, even if I would get to say hi to dozens of people an hour.

M.J. Fifield said...

I, too, have done the grocery store thing. I go for some milk and come home with a bag of chocolate and four lines of dialogue I hope will develop into a exciting full scene.

Jaime Morrow said...

What a great post, Christa. I can especially relate to the lonely aspect of writing that you speak of. I find myself blathering like an idiot whenever I'm in all-too-rare (these days) social engagements, like everything that's been building up in my head needs to come out in one feel swoop. And yes, it's kind of embarrassing. (I go home and just facepalm thinking about how I babbled on and on...) So you are so not alone there!

Thanks for the honest and thoughtful post. :-)

Wendy Higgins said...

Thank you for writing this. I am in love with you.

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

I love all of this Christa-- I found myself nodding along the whole time. My teaching job helps counteract some of the loneliness, but as summer rolls in that changes. It is so smart to be aware of the whole package and to seek to better understand how it impacts us. Well done.

Carrie Mesrobian said...

Nodding nodding nodding.

This actually made me write my own 'on writing' post which I rarely do. But this was so spot-on I couldn't help myself.

Awkward Candor is the name of our band.

Leah Braemel said...

I'm an introvert, but writing can still be lonely, especially when I'm in the "my writing sucks" mode and I need a shoulder to lean on and someone to keep me writing. But the paragraph about the 1K/1hr and the people who can write numerous books in a year really hit home. Thank you so much for this post.

Elodie said...

<3 you! Your post is not only honest and oh so true, it´s also one of those posts I´m bookmarking when I feel myself going a bit cuckoo to remind myself, I´m not alone! Thank you!

mooderino said...

All very true, but worth it.

Moody Writing

Suzi said...

So do you get busted by your kids for cheering for the wrong team?

That's totally funny. But I totally get it. :)

Haneen Ibrahim said...

A great explanation for the writer's life.

Morgan said...

Seriously love this. Can't even tell you. <3

roxanne s. sukhan said...

Such a fabulous post. Seriously.

Brinda said...

Your honesty on this blog is the best.

I'm going on beach vacation in a week and my editor says she's sending my edits soon. All I can think am I going to manage doing that without making my family mad? Really.

I understand.

Anonymous said...

I related to almost every word in this post! Well said, and thanks for oversharing :-)

Lindsay Smith said...

Great post, Christa! I totally agree about writing being 24/7--even when you're not actively writing, if you're in the middle of a story, it's always churning in the back of your mind. Can be very distracting! Sometimes it's all I can do to get to my computer/a notepad in time to jot down notes.