Essays, Misc

When You Are Discouraged

I haven’t posted many articles about my ‘writer’s experience’ lately, mostly because I figured a series of depressing posts featuring my rants and raves wouldn’t be very interesting. Okay, maybe interesting but not very useful.  We all face moments of frustration and disappointment when we strive to succeed at something we are passionate about. The challenge becomes how to get out of that black hole and what to do with ourselves once we do. 

Months ago, when the first phase of this downward spiral hit, I was coming to grips with reality: finding success as a writer is extremely hard. Not to mention that no matter how good our writing might be, that is no guarantee that an agent or publisher will want to work with us.   

Reality check number two: wanting to reclaim control of my book, I cancelled the contract with the company that published it, but now I had the monumental job of doing everything myself: republishing the book, marketing and promoting it, figuring out the numbers and following stats and purchases, if there were any. I felt like I had made a huge mistake. The burden is massive. Fact is, I just don’t have the financial or time resources necessary to sell my books the way the experts say I should. And, I’m not an island. I have kids, a household to maintain and a fulltime job. No matter how much I wish otherwise, I can’t just dump my job to write fulltime. In order to maintain balance in my life, I had to sacrifice writing time to be present elsewhere. It was that, or burn out. 

Still, this current phase was different. I wasn’t feeling good about my writing. I’d produce something I thought was good, but the comments I got back all seemed negative to me. Then the doubts set in. Had I lost my touch? Were people just not into what I was writing? Did they not get it? And so on. And on…and on.

image from youthvoices.net
image from youthvoices.net

Part of this comes from the writing group I joined. The group itself is great. I love the social aspect. And chatting about the art-form we are passionate about while working together to improve our pieces is wonderful. However, we each have our individual styles, most often skewing towards literary fiction. I have often felt a little like a fish out of water. Sometimes I wondered if I would be better off in a genre-oriented group. But a big part of the reason I joined was to benefit from the lit-oriented environment. 

Anyway, I finally broke. And it was this breaking that led to getting out of that black hole. Below are two of the main things I learned: 

  1. Talk to the right people. I have a small circle of internet writing friends I trust, and they gave me a place to vent. I’m sure I tried their patience, but I appreciate their concern and the time they gave me. Then someone in the writing group mentioned an upcoming writing retreat, so I took a chance and contacted the host. Her name is Lise Weil, professor, founder of literary magazines, and award-winning writer, though I didn’t know this when we spoke. (Thank goodness because I would felt intimidated otherwise). Mrs. Weil ‘got’ my problem right away. When she voiced my own suspicion that my writing world had been ‘shaken up’, I immediately relaxed. The tension seeped out of me, like someone had just sucked the poison from a snake bite. Just having someone name your problem and empathize with you can get you back on track. Needless to say, I will be attending the retreat and I will be blogging about that. 🙂
  2. Always come back to your centre. Exploring new writing styles led me away from my own Voice. This insecurity caused me to seek approval and validation from others and to concluding my work was bad when things didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped. I forgot that failure doesn’t mean the work itself is bad, or that I suck. It just means I need to work harder. And I must be patient. Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about how I was feeling and inspiration led me to bang out a flash fiction piece to accompany it. It was raw and fuelled by angst, but it felt great to put my feelings in prose. The piece even won a flash fiction contest I was encouraged to participate in. Last weekend, I went for breakfast with Sharon from my group again, and we wrote short pieces based on paintings hanging in the restaurant. I had no idea what to write, but I shut out my doubts and let my fingers do the work. I was thrilled with the result.  The point is, these experiences reminded me that writing from the heart is what makes me happy, and that I most enjoy writing when I don’t always know where the story is going to go.  I feel alive when I’m not trying to be this or that kind of writer. When the most important critic of anything I write is me because what is on paper is my truth. 

And that is what I learned. I’m going back to basics, back to what makes me love writing in the first place—pure self-expression. Some will get on board and some won’t. I may never become famous, and people might not ‘get’ or like my work. But at least every piece will be me.

Picture by Amanda Staley
Picture by Amanda Staley
Essays, Misc

Finding Your Way Through the Writer’s Black Hole

Welcome back! It’s been ages since I’ve posted but that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle. A lot has happened these last few months but whether or not they’re worth writing about…eh, I’ll let you decide.

So, for a while I wrote about the writer’s life, noting its ups and downs and the lessons learned along the way. You can read about them in the Essays menu but some of the most popular are: My Real Writing Life and The Real, REAL Writer’s Life and Final Thoughts on a Writer’s Life. During my time away from blogging I continued to learn writing’s tough lessons, ultimately surviving what I now refer to as the Writer’s Black Hole.

image from youthvoices.net
image from youthvoices.net

In the posts mentioned above, I was very honest about my struggles. I had thrown myself into writing, trying to learn the craft and the business aspect at the same time. Like most, I sacrificed a lot–money, family time, energy and sanity to move the mountains necessary to succeed at this thing. The more I pushed to ‘make it’, running around like a possessed chicken without its head, two things were happening: 1) I was burning out, and 2) I was beginning to accept that success doesn’t happen overnight, no matter how hard I wished it to. Notice I said accept. See, I’d already realized that truth on a brain level but not at an emotional one, and the latter is where the magic happened this time around. Both points were excruciating to swallow.

But that’s the great thing about life experience. You can learn from it and grow stronger…if you allow it. I hated being in that Black Hole. It happened during a rough personal time (I was recovering from surgery which kept me off work for 3 months) and when I felt I needed support and encouragement the most, nothing happened. My blog seemed to lose steam, some good writer friends had gone in different directions, and I just didn’t have the energy to actively pursue promoting my book and maintaining social media, are some examples. After going so hard for so long, it felt like I’d been cruising along in a manual transmission car that had suddenly broken down and was now stuck in idle.

image from stylebizz.com
image from stylebizz.com

It sucked. I hated every minute of it. But as the walk through the Black Hole continued, I started to see the benefits. With the frenetic pace slowed to a crawl, I had time to think. I had time to assess my journey. I was able to make choices about what was really important to me and what wasn’t. And best of all, I finally felt free of social media’s yoke. Don’t get me wrong. I love using it to stay in touch and it’s a great resource, but for a long time I felt like it was mastering me rather than the other way around. I almost did a happy dance once its reign of terror was over.

So, how did I spend those quiet months? I got busy in other, more effective ways. I revised Wolf’s Bane, the sequel to The Purple Morrow, twice—once before sending it to beta-readers and then again afterwards; I beta-read my friend’s manuscript; worked on the final book in the Papilion trilogy and finally named it (Berserker); launched my writer’s website, and a whole lot more. I did all that on my time and because I wanted to.

image from www.saiadolugar.com.br
image from http://www.saiadolugar.com.br

Last thing: when I used to watch Dr. Phil, something he often said stood out in my mind and it relates to how we define success. Before I descended into the Black Hole, I thought the only way to feel I’d ‘made it’ was to have sold tons of books, to be featured here and there, or to have the words, “best-selling” after my name. The Black Hole experience caused me to confront the biggest demon of all, answering the one question I’d been trying to avoid: “What happens if I fail?” After all the work I’d put in over the years failure simply wasn’t an option.

The beauty is that facing that question is what led to making it out of the Black Hole. Once I was able to say, “So what if I fail?” the anxiety drained away and I was able to see and appreciate the things that were working. Like, there are certain online friends who just seem to know when I need a boost because that’s when I’ll get an encouraging email, or a Like on FB or a Share on Google or a surprise mention on some other social media platform. Or, I’d remember the people who told me how much they were moved by one of my stories. Last night, my aunt left me a FB message thanking me for pursuing my dreams. It’s not the first time someone has said that to me, which reminded me how privileged I am to do what I love to do. Last week, I posted an interview featuring local writer Su Sokol, and later that same week we met for coffee and talked for two hours about writing.

And last Friday, I visited my daughter’s class to talk about writing. It was fantastic! For the activity, they broke into groups and wrote a story based on writing prompts they came up with (I will be blogging about this soon). I’ve written it before and I’ll do it again: something magical happens when we take writing out of cyberspace and into the real world. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.

Success? We define it for ourselves, not the world. And if we keep looking ‘out there’ for it, we’ll miss the ways we are successful close to home, which, in most cases, are the most important. My daughter was proud that I came to her class. How do I know? Because she confirmed that I hadn’t embarrassed her. For anyone who has an 8 year old, you know how much that speaks!

Anyway, more on this line of thought to come as it has totally changed my outlook on what I write and why, as well as what I hope to achieve. But in the end, I just hope that anyone who is wandering through their own Black Hole will take heart and see that it’s not all bad. In fact, in can launch you to places you never could have gotten to otherwise.

How about you? Have you walked through a similar journey through the Black Hole? Share your story below!

Misc, Stories

Black Hole-Flash Fiction

So, a little explanation before getting to the story. Maybe it can help someone facing a creative block, I dunno, but a few words of intro seem fitting.

This piece was never supposed to be. I had participated in a flash fiction contest and chose the second of the two prompts on which to build my entry. I thought I was done, only I kept thinking about the unused prompt. It seemed pretty generic at first, basically a creative twist on ‘It was a dark and stormy night…’ I wasn’t inspired by it, but I also couldn’t leave it alone. It’s easy to write when we feel inspired, but what about when we don’t? As easy as it is to write reams when the ideas are swirling and the juices are pumping, it’s just as easy to walk away from the computer when we come up empty.

So I had a challenge on my hands, and yes, this is what I live for. I sat there and stared at the blank screen. And started and stared some more, until my eyes watered. Then I realized that as much as the prompt I used for the contest dropped the writer into the unfolding action, this particular one dropped me into a place leading to the action (at least that’s how I read it). So I decided to let my fingers run over the keyboard to see where they led. And they led straight to a …

Black Hole

Prompt: ”Sleet pinging against dark glass behind him, wind whipped leaves stampeding past his feet on the unlit path, an eerie howl screaming through the treetops; he knew he had trespassed against all reason and common sense, yet he walked further, bent against the storm, forward to meet his nightmare face-to-face.”

Dean corrected himself. Their nightmare. Ellen was gone now and it was possibly all his fault.

Pulling up his collar against the biting cold, he jammed his hands under his armpits to keep warm. The room he was heading back to was straight ahead and one floor down. He shuddered. The bowels of the castle resided in darkness; it took a slew of standing high-wattage lights to push it back. Then he thought of the other darkness, the one that writhed like the charged clouds of a storm; the one born of a blackness that ate light—and God only knew what else.

He thought of Ellen and shuddered again.

Dean continued down the corridor, his footsteps clanging against the worn stone. The effect was ominous; hollow echoes, reverberating and steady like a heartbeat. Darned boots! Shoulda worn sneakers!

Where was Ellen anyway? One minute she’d been in the lab with him and the next, she was—gone. Had he turned the wrong knob? Mislabeled the elements? Used too much power? Not enough? She hadn’t even had time to cry out—or say goodbye. Knowing the threat she’d posed, a part of him thought he should be happy. But he wasn’t, not entirely, anyway.

He walked faster through the dusty halls, finally taking the steps leading down to the cellars. The one he was looking for was at the back. It was way after hours so Dean would have the place to himself. The two of them had tried the experiment earlier that night, so none of the other team members knew what had happened. Maybe he could get her back. Then no one would ever know.

He shoved open the rotting door with a shoulder. Why the bean-counters chose this location he couldn’t guess, but there must be something about the old castle which had attracted their attention.

“Magic,” Ellen had said a few hours before. She followed the statement by humming the Twilight Zone theme.

“Magic is not scientific. It’s fantasy.”

Ellen moved to pass in front of him on the way to the light-table, pausing to wipe away a smudge of lipstick from his neck. “Just like our affair isn’t really an affair?”

Dean eyed the gold band around his finger. “Exactly.”

Settling into the vinyl chair, Ellen rested her elbows on the table’s edge. “Lots of people thought ‘science’ was witchcraft before they understood the laws of nature.”

“And if there was Magic in this place, how would you quantify it?”

“By the same means you qualify sex as love.”

Dean grimaced. He didn’t like when she used that one on him and it she seemed to use it more and more often. “Maybe we should focus on the experiment?”

She shrugged. “You mean, where you try to figure out how long it will be before I stop opening my door to you at two in the morning?”

“No,” he said, still bristling, “The one we’re here for. To open a wormhole.”

“Whatever. I’m tired of this argument. We have it at least once a week.”

“You keep bringing it up.”

“Because you never take me seriously.”

“Start talking some sense and maybe I will.”

“Screw you.”

“What? Now? After you’ve insulted me?”

She looked across the light-table at him. It was a black look.

That look matched that bitch’s black heart, he thought with irritation as he pushed aside the memory of that discussion to tend to the machine. Still, she hadn’t always been that way. Shaking his head, Dean checked and rechecked the settings to make sure they were right. Then, he frowned. Everything was right, but would it work? Taking a breath, he hesitated a second and then pushed the green button.

The machine screamed as it turned on. Bands of darkness slithered from the four metal prongs gathered at its centre, twisting and growing, quicker and quicker, until the streams melded into a swirling black ball. Dean slid one of the buttons along the face of the console, increasing the energy output. The black ball grew exponentially.

Just as he was debating whether to continue—for staring into this swelling ball, he suddenly realized how foolish it was to do this alone—he was grabbed by the neck. His feet lifted off the floor and he was moving towards the light-sucking black hole.

“What, have you lost your sense of humor? Why don’t you try being flippant with me now!” It was Ellen’s voice only he couldn’t see her.

“Where are you?” he gasped, trying to free himself from her invisible hand. “What’s going on?”

“At first, I thought you’d gotten rid of me on purpose. But maybe I was wrong. Maybe you really do care.” The hand squeezed, crushing his windpipe.

“I care! I c—“ His voice was cut off.

Just before blacking out, Dean saw two coal black eyes staring into his and a wisp of what looked like smoke outlining the shape of a woman. “Good. Then you won’t mind if I take you with me.”

“Wh…whe…?”

“Where?” Ellen laughed, all the while pulling him towards the now closing portal. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m taking you into this bitch’s black heart!”

Dyane Forde (September 2013)