To answer a question

People ask me this all the time: What do you want from your writing? I always get the feeling that they want me to write them a story on the spot. “I want to be a NY Times bestseller with a nice car and be everybody’s buddy.”

They want me to stay something stupid. They want to roll their eyes and click their tongue at my rockstar delusion. “Now you know…”

It’s easy to do that, isn’t it? It’s easy to assume that people have wild dreams. And I should have wild dreams because I’m supposedly wired to have them.

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Right message, right time

I know these are things writers should — no, must — do: write every day, read more, edit meticulously, read more, eat rejection and shit out art, read more, attend conferences. Keep your anxiety tucked in. People may notice you’re weird and lumpy but you’re an artist. Eccentricity may be acceptable.

Our local writing conference is two days of workshops and networking. I tend to opt out on the networking part, but I have friends among the crowd. This year I focused mostly on craft workshops dealing with subjects like voice, short nonfiction, dialogue, dystopian sci-fi and grotesque poetry. I also took the Sunday “master class” program with writer Steven Barnes.

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Mid-month breakdown

It’s a shade past mid-month and it needs to be said that I’m a goddamn mess.

I had a short story that I submitted for critiques through a local writing group and was so confused by the results — one very complimentary, one neutral, one hated the very paper the story was written on — that I added back in a few things I’d taken out to hit the word count limits for the critique program and shipped it off to a freelance editor. That ate a day.

I finished the last set of poem drafts for my collab. book with artist/illustrator C.D. Flamond. There went a day.

I wrote a complicated prose poem about the sea for no particular reason. Bye bye, daylight.

I’m not that far behind with my NaPoWriMo poems, but my Camp NaNoWriMo project? Man, I will be lucky if I get that and my Created revision done by July so I can move onto my Devil Rode West draft.

I’ve just lost my focus when it comes to writing longer things and the more I write poems and short stories the more I think I should be focusing on novellas and novels.

I’ve been turning to the tarot to discuss my writing problems. I feel like the cards offer a creative detour through the trash overanalysis of my usual thoughts. I keep drawing the tower when I ask about my writing. My gut response to the card is negative — I mean the fucking thing is on fire and shit is falling from it. But the more I think about it, especially in association with the other cards I frequently draw, I feel like it’s a plea to rip my normal processes apart and approach everything anew.

I’m not sure just yet how I’m going to do it, but I feel like it must be done. If for nothing else than to shake off this sense that I’m getting nothing productive done. It’s time for a change.

My artistic temperament

I feel as if I’ve tried to write this a thousand times but never had the right framing for it. I keep tripping over it. It’s the roadmap of scars under my clothes that I take care to hide. I keep opting for the literary and artistic equivalent of turtlenecks and strangling quietly instead of admitting that it’s there. It’s toxic behavior. It’s bad for me. It’s bad for anyone who reads my work and thinks they have an idea of who I might be or where I’m writing from.

I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and general anxiety disorder when I was 18 and deal with cyclical periods of very profound depression and high-anxiety high-production hypomania. This is why sometimes I will go through months where I am very responsive to people, where I crank out massive amounts of artistic work and do alright with no sleep. Then I will sink into periods of self-deprecating, defeatist bullshit deepened by a complete loss of drive, the urge to sleep all the time and a tendency to cry over literally anything (or nothing). I detach from people and my work because I hate myself when I’m depressed and I don’t want other people to feel burdened by me or have their mood brought down by something I did.

I cover this up in my professional and social life by coping to anxiety and introversion. It’s feels like a relatively common neurosis and generally unfavorable personality traits are more socially acceptable than a mood disorder.

I also use my quiet, detached behavior to cover up when I’m having problems with my physical disorders which I also don’t talk about because I’m afraid it will be embarrassing or cost me opportunities at work or in my artistic pursuits. I have three invisible medical conditions commonly referred to in acronym, I assume because nobody wants to talk about poop (IBS-C); woman beards, cysts and awful periods (PCOS); or water-triggered acid barfing (GERD). I do admit that sometimes my heartburn keeps me up, but I downplay it. I say have a sore throat or didn’t sleep much. When the reality of it is usually: I was up all night worried I was going to choke on my own stomach acid and die. Today, it feels as if I couldn’t swallow applesauce if I wanted to. I would so much rather be with my kids because I still feel the cold hand of death on my shoulder and they’re all I can be bothered to give a fuck about right now. But I usually just talk softly and go on with my day. I don’t want anyone to think I can’t handle my workload because I don’t know if I can afford to be unemployed right now.

There are so many ways that I’m cutting my own throat in the name of protecting my ability to be employed and, in some respects, my ability to hold my head up in public. Yet keeping huge parts of myself hidden can be a huge burden, sometimes it just  feels like lying.

Most of my art is very emotionally focused. I’ve always loved writing horror and dark-tinted speculative fiction because even the settings seem to seethe vivid emotion, which has always been the true language of my experience as a human being. I feel emotion profoundly, I don’t know if this is because of or despite my psychological and physical disorders — but it’s very obviously affected by it.

Art is about offering unique takes on the human experience, but also about the commonalities of our experiences. I’ve been hiding huge pieces of myself for the wrong reasons. Not anymore.

April challenges

April is a uniquely tough month. In my part of the world, the thaw begins and it’s bright later in the day and you begin to remember that there are things outside that you can experience without choking on sub-zero wind and/or filling your boots with ice water upon each step.

And then there are the twin challenges of Camp NaNoWriMo and NaPoWriMo, which I’d suppose sane folks may roll together — “I will write 1,000 words of poetry in April.” Fair enough, but in my sphere, self-torment is the only effective cure to an overriding tendency to procrastinate.

So here I am, five days into April wondering how to work my exhausted misery into a clever angle to produce unique written works. I’m grinding my teeth again and I don’t have time to go to the grocery store and so I’m surviving off of break-room coffee and junk from my pantry that didn’t seem appetizing when I cared what I was eating. Yesterday, I panicked in response to barometric pressure of an oncoming  rainstorm and for a slim moment, I almost forgot that I was in Washington and not Ohio and no — tornadoes aren’t really a thing here (comparatively).

I’m pathetic, really. A head case living of of pickled carrots and “Herbal Magic” tea my grandma gave me because she heard I like tea and she’s had it since 1998 and wasn’t sure what else to do with it. But I have absolute confidence that when April 30 comes I will have 30 alright first draft poems and a complete first draft of Lost Constellations. I can do it, and so can anyone else.

I encourage every creative writer out there to be themselves. To be the loser, the head case, the pathetic nervous wreck on an ill-advised diet — and to use that angle to write something amazing this month. Regardless of what if any April challenge you take. Write to communicate who you are and what it means to be alive and put it out there.

I know that amazing expression can come from challenge, so challenge yourself.


If you want to watch my progress on my challenges you follow these links: Camp NaNo stats, #NaPoWriMo on my Tumblr.

Why NaNoWriMo?

This year, I have arranged my calendar around writing my novel first drafts during NaNoWriMo events and saving the months in between for revision, planning, or focusing on short stories or poetry.

But why do I participate in NaNoWriMo? Plenty of real authors have opinions about it one way or another. It’s quite a common thing to look down your nose at the idea — “You cannot rush art.”

With this mentality, a writer can spend YEARS on constructing the first draft, aching over every detail and finally submit the perfect manuscript to a publisher who may accept it, and it may do well. Yet, it seems like this is the same mentality that leads people to believe that once you get that one book out there your world rips open and all of a sudden you’ve become some glorious god on your literary throne, the storied legitimate writer. You quit your day job, you move from weird shut-in to eccentric genius status, you never go hungry again…

And while we all may want to believe that this happens and will happen to us. I’ve read a lot of articles and how to books and author biographies and probability says: this will not happen to us. But really, what artist is ever done? Who is ever content to rest on their laurels after putting out a single work? There’s no damn way I could.

The nature of art is ongoing. A pure form of communication that grows with a person. I had a ridiculous cumulative word count last year in my Scrivener files (read: not including my online or day job activity) and I hope to have more this year. And most of it will probably never see the light of day, it’s all practice, revision fodder — the raw stuff that will at some point lead to that brilliant final draft masterpiece (theoretically).

NaNoWriMo encourages this — more, it encourages good habits. It encourages you to set a word count goal and then carefully presses you to reach it. I use the month, the momentum to write a draft and let it go. I’m bad at this. I like to pick at things, to see how many ways I can rewrite something. But that behavior is not productive.

In the months between April, July and November I revise my drafts, I plot out sequels and short stories that further develop my characters and ideas. And through this process I’ve learned to set goals, to push myself to meet those goals and to let my first draft be just a rough draft.