Essays, Misc

Red Wine and a Side Order of Confidence, Please

There’s nothing quite like setting foot in a social function for triggering every insecurity I have in a span of 2 seconds flat. Last night, I got a taste of how far I had come in regards to self-confidence as well as a view of how far I still have to go.

Let me explain.

Last week, Deanna Radford from my writing group (a wonderful poet who’s into some really interesting edgy music) mentioned a cocktail party that was taking place on Feb. 16 at a local hotel. It was part of an event where sales reps from book publishers meet with local bookstores to do business, but a new feature—the cocktail—was added to allow writers the chance to mingle with these publishing superpowers. Though I’m not a fan of social gatherings of this kind, I am trying to figure out the Montreal writing scene and thought this would be a great chance to get a lay of the land, so to speak, and agreed to go. Honestly, I had no idea what I was walking into. I figured the event would be held conference-style in a hall where I could sip wine in a dark corner and recon the room. If things got too crazy, then I could slip out ninja-style and no one would be the wiser. But right from the start, I was confounded. The event was held in a penthouse and it was a small group, maybe 30-40 people. This meant I would be in close proximity to people. And OMG, people would see me and I would have to talk.

And then it happened: a very nice, talkative sales rep entered my bubble and asked the question I was not prepared for: ‘So what’s your book about?’

Now, I write all the time about characters sweating bullets when under stress, but this was the first time in a while that I can remember actually feeling sweat ‘trickling down my back’ and ‘pricking at my brow’. Note that it is a horrible, horrible…horrible…feeling. I literally stood there thinking: Do I give her a log line? Tag line? Short or long pitch? Or talk from the heart? The traffic jam in my brain led to nonsensical stuttering until something—I have no idea what–came out. Luckily, she was very understanding, and seeing that I was a genre writer and independent, she very kindly hooked me up with the manager of a popular local bookstore.

From www.beyondanxietyanddepression.com
From http://www.beyondanxietyanddepression.com

By then, I was more than thankful for the counter stocked with wine. Lots and lots of wonderful, red, nerve-soothing, brain-numbing wine. I made sure my cup was full. The fuller it was, the less I had to talk. Oh, and the food table also came in handy for that.

The evening trucked on. The wine kicked in. My brain settled down. I met some lovely writers, two of which I gave my business card to once they showed interest in what I was doing (writing and this blog). I chatted with reps from some of the big publishing companies, sat across an ottoman from the Harper Collins rep, and chatted with the rep from Penguin-Random House from across the dinning room table about the power of social media and how it has become an essential too to writers and publishers. I smiled and nodded, happy to learn that, in this regard, I seem to be on the right track. I walked away going, ‘I just talked to the rep from one of the biggest publishing houses in the country. Say what?!’

Talking about myself is the hardest thing to do, as I can’t imagine anything more boring to a listener than hearing about me. And being introduced as ‘a writer’ with ‘one published book and another on the way’ was hard to get used to, especially being independent amidst people working under the traditional model. I mean, I write and have published, but I don’t have a label backing me. Who can vouch for my legitimacy as a ‘writer’? But, I was lucky. I had two wonderful friends flanking me (Cora Siré, a fantastic writer and poet and one of the most intelligent women I know, and Deanna already mentioned above). They introduced me to publishers and other people deeply involved in the Montreal writing scene that they already knew, and their lead-ins made for smooth introductions. Not only that, they talked me up. Listening to them made me realize that I had done some interesting things–stuff I was proud of–that were worth talking about. This realization enabled me to smile wider, shake hands with more gusto, and greet people with greater ease (dare I say confidence?).

I left the evening with my head swirling. What did I really get out of the experience? How can I apply it to what’s happening in my writing life now? Here are two thoughts:

1) As in independent author, the evening itself wasn’t that useful. None of my books are published by any of the companies present nor will they appear in bookstores because of it (I’ve learned that many bookstores don’t accept independently published books unless they are backed by a label of some sort). However, Deanna noted that it’s important to put faces to names. One day, if I manage to successfully publish with a traditional company, or try to set up a reading or a book-launch or other event, these contacts just might come in handy.  

2) I learned that independent/self-published authors are making strides and are earning respect. Most of the time, when I stated that I had self-published, I detected what I thought were looks bordering on respect and interest. One seemed to appreciate that ‘going it alone’ gave me the chance to learn the ropes. Another rep admitted that indie publishing has its place and that it was a good thing that writers have more options than before. I hadn’t expected these responses but they were definitely welcome.

I think my point is this: being a lone writer and staying behind the desk might be comfortable, but we’ve known for a long time that the market is changing. Writers are expected to ‘get out there’ more than ever before. We are being called to understand and to participate in the business side of things, including marketing, promotion, and networking, things that don’t have anything to do with writing itself. It’s not comfortable, but it seems to be becoming a must. Did everything go smoothly last night? Nope. But I survived. It was scary and challenging, but the experience was invaluable. My suggestion? Try to get out there, see what you can learn from other writers, about the relationships between the movers and the shakers. Start with small events and go with good friends who have experience with this sort of thing who can help you out when you need it. And then feel good about stepping out of your comfort zone.

What are your thoughts? Do you find it hard to talk about yourself and your work? What do you do to get over it? Do you like these kinds of social functions? What do you think about writers being called to step into the forefront more and more often?

Essays, Misc

Writing is a Marathon, Not a Race

Writing fatigue.

You’re probably thinking, ‘Oh, no, here she goes again!’ Well, yes and no. I have been writing a lot on this subject because that’s where I’ve been living for the last little while. And though it might not make for the most interesting subject to blog about, I suspect that, somewhere in cyber-space, other writers are suffering the same thing. Some may be even a little shy to be open about it because, well, let’s be honest we know writing is hard work. How often do you come across those memes or quotes that say ‘Never give up!’ or that ‘Keep your eye on the prize!’ or ‘Victory comes to those who stick it out!’

Blah.

Blah.

Friggin’ blah.

The thing is, despite my sarcasm, I believe them. Succeeding in any venture, whether it’s business, art, our 9-5 jobs, or anything we want to do well, requires time, effort and sacrifice. But what I’m also learning–the hard way, is that as much as there are moments to strive, there are moments when we have to rest.

Rest? How can that be productive? We live in a Go!Go!Go! world. Didn’t you hear that rest is for the weak? Don’t sleep! Work, work, work! That’s the method to the madness I have been following for the last few years and though it has produced some great results, it burned me out.

I felt it coming around August. For more than three years, I worked on building this writing…career I’ll call it, since that’s what I hope it will become. From past posts, some of you know the route I took to get here, but for those who don’t, it included writing groups, critique groups, finding a writing partner, trial and error writing—which included receiving plenty of lambasting–learning how to build a writing platform, social networking—you get the picture. It’s a ton of work to do when you have a regular job, and a family, who often doesn’t get to see much of me when I’m ‘in the zone.’

But over the summer, something cool happened. I started blogging. The first one on Blogger did alight, but when I moved to WordPress—wow! Things really expanded and, suddenly, in addition to writing I had this other passion to nurture. It was great. I got sucked in. I went willingly, happily, but—

I was already drained by then. And it only got worse.

I’m a goal-oriented person; I’m at my best when I have a challenge to crush. That’s just who I am. Probably the pressure to ‘make it’ was fuelled by anxiety—I couldn’t rest. I had to keep getting better, I had to keep producing. If I wanted to make it—thereby ensuring that the sacrifices I’d made didn’t go to waste–then I had to keep pushing. What’s that expression? ‘Sleep when you’re dead?’

Almost. Or that’s sorta how it felt at times.

I threw myself into writing, tortured myself by reading other people’s work that was better than mine and, out of a sense of inferiority, set out to create something I thought was just as good. I read business articles and platform-building post after post so I could beat myself up over all the things I wasn’t doing. I literally could not, and would not rest.

It was insane. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been through this.

The kicker came the day I asked a friend for a prompt. I was so tired but I hadn’t written anything for a few days. Despite the fatigue, that story was one of my best up to that point. Yay! Then I tackled another challenge, one which led to the writing of Mad Mac. I remember sitting that night with the laptop on my lap thinking, ‘I can’t do this.’ But somehow I did. It felt like pushing past the Wall in running—I was (mentally) exhausted but something else took over and pushed me past my normal limits to finish the job. But something ‘crashed’ inside me that night.

Image from wonderingfair.com
Image from wonderingfair.com

For a long time afterwards, just the thought of writing made me feel tired; a heaviness fell over my hands and a fog clouded my mind. My brain just said, ‘No.’ Despite the need to write, I instead turned to drawing, blogging, focussing on marketing my book—anything except serious writing. At first, I was nervous. How long would this last? What if I’m blocked for good? But as much as I was concerned, I decided to let it go. I felt free for the first time in a long time. Despite not writing anything creatively while fighting the words, ‘A writer has to write every day!’ I managed to say, ‘Screw that. Not today.’

I’m past all that now. A few things have changed. Primarily, I managed to find myself again. Probably, if you reread some of my recent posts you’ll notice a trend—the drive to succeed led to a disconnect with myself and why I love to write in the first place. I don’t read my G+ threads anymore, nor do I read writing ‘how to’ posts or other people’s writing (except books). Perhaps I’ll go back to that stuff in the future, but right now, the peace and quiet is sublime. I also found a few books with which to relax my mind and to feed my creative self. One of them inspired me directly to get back to writing. The day after I finished it, I picked up my current, unfinished manuscript and got to work.

I think the point of this post is to say that it’s okay to admit you’re tired–and maybe spinning out of control. And that it’s okay to stop. To take a break to find your centre; it will come back to you. The world doesn’t stop spinning, it never rests, but sometimes we have to.

 So, what about you? Anyone else have thoughts to share on this subject? I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading! 🙂

Stories

My Face-Flash Fiction

I wrote this mini-story in support of a friend who’s going through a hard time. It’s inspired by the following prompt:

The Prompt
Your character wants to find the source of a strange noise they can hear. Tell the story of how they find out what that sound is…



MY FACE


I can hear it running around inside my head. An incessant scratching. Or raking. Like fingernails over a blackboard. Shouting andscreaming don’t drown it out; it just gets louder, swallowing my voice. Beating my head with my hands can’t shake it out; they are sore from trying.

And then I look down. Clumps of hair rain down to the black and white bathroom floor from between my fingers.

The noise is a drone. It squeezes out thought and reason.

I am afraid.

Something shatters. Flecks of reflected silver splash against the wall. I’ve broken the mirror. Half a refracted face looks back at me. My face.

Mine?

The phone is in my hand. A warm voice pours out of the receiver. ‘Hello?’

‘Mom!’ I’m shouting but I can’t stop. ‘I-I–’ The sound blares, a mushroom-cloud of toxic thought exploding in my head. My fingers spasm but I manage to cling to the phone. ‘It’s happening!’

Again, warmth floods towards me, poking a tiny hole in the darkness. ‘Stay where you are. Don’t move. I’m coming.’

The phone beeps when I shut it off. I see the red-tinted broken pieces of mirror lying beside me on the floor. I close my eyes, stick my fingers in my ears and wait.

D. Forde (May 2013)