Well, it’s done. The last scene needed to complete the manuscript for book three of my Papilion Trilogy, Berserker, is done. All that’s left to do it to blend the snippets into the main story, to diligently consider the beta readers’ feedback I received (some of which is still on the way), and then hit the last rounds of editing.
I won’t lie. I felt like giving up. This has been the toughest year in writing yet, and there were more than a few periods when I felt like walking away. It’s tough to be a writer, tougher when resources are financially out of reach, when human resources are scarce (reviewers, beta readers), and when Life keeps getting in the way. Discouragement and lack of motivation were constant enemies; we wrestled a lot.
When I started The Purple Morrowfour years ago or so, I had one book in mind. I purposely wrote a simple story, being that it had a complex theme : exploring self-doubt and loss and what it takes to move on, in a fantasy context. That grew to two books—Wolf’s Baneliterally became the bane of my existence for 2 years, and Berserker—well, yeah. I was often two hairs shy of losing it more than once. … …Funny how the book titles see, to reflect my mental state at the time of writing…
Anyway, the end is in sight. Berserker started as a writing challenge : write a million words in a year. I started out great—in two months I had about 50k or something. But then I hit a block and let the manuscript sit. I worked on other things while periodically going back and adding to it. But there were challenges, the main one being: How to write a satisfying trilogy ending? Some people have been faithful, reading all the books, they are invested in the characters and what’s happening to them, screaming at the end of book 2 and rabid for more–
Don’t you sometimes feel that writing the ending of a story is tough? So coming to writing the ending of a trilogy…
I was afraid of screwing it up.
Actually, I lied. I haven’t written the ending yet. But I will. I’m waiting for the editing to pull the story threads together to inspire the right ending in order to satisfy my readers. Fingers crossed.
Anyway, I guess this is a thank you to everyone who has read my books, who has motivated and encouraged me with their comments and feedback and support. Know that you played an important role in getting this project finished. 🙂
So, back to work! Still lots to do but at least now there is light at the end of the tunnel.
I’d love to hear your writing stories, both good and bad. Are you struggling, or riding the wave of success? Tell me about it 🙂
A few weeks ago, you might remember that I had the equivalent of a writer’s meltdown until I made two conclusions, one of which involved meeting a certain person by the name Lise Weil. (You can read about it here). After talking to her and learning about the writing retreat that she runs a few times a year, I decided I would attend the next one. It took place yesterday.
Now, what’s the difference between a workshop and a retreat? After attending both kinds of events, I can say this: a workshop is where you go to tune-up your writing skills while a retreat is where you go to tune-up your creative core (i.e. your Self).
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I arrived at the apartment at 11AM, and not long after four other women arrived. With the exception of one (who is a member of my writing group), I didn’t know any of them. However, they were all warm and welcoming.
After some opening chit-chat, we began the day with dream work. We had all been asked to write down our dreams leading up to the event. Each person then shared their dream and then the others had a chance to comment. I am a big believer in the power and messages of dreams, so I was very interested to see where this led. As expected, the activity gave way to some interesting insights and revelations. I had analyzed mine before attending the meeting, but it wasn’t until I listened to the others that I began to see the connection to writing. As my thoughts broke through the little box of interpretations I had built, I was now able to discern issues like, concerns about being a ‘legitimate’ writer and the validity of having a writing blog when I haven’t sold tons of books or ‘made it’. Basically, this dream opened the door to my darkest, deepest insecurities.
Another example: one woman shared her belief that her words and ideas had no value because they were fragments and not part of a whole, realized piece. In my opinion, her words were magic. Each phrase carried so much weight and beauty, and her expression was so pure and raw. And, when read together, the lines did read like a poem (a whole piece). But my real point was this: Why weren’t the words themselves, or her visceral, honest expression, enough? (On the way home that night when I reflected on this conversation, I realized that this is a question that I should be asking myself). As you can see, things were already getting interesting.
The next activity was to write something inspired by a poem. Lise passed around a bag and we each blindly choose one. The underlying expectation was that each person would somehow choose the poem that was ‘right’ for them. I think, for the most part, we all did. Mine was a wonderful poem by Cynthia Rich called Buddahdarma. Lines like, ‘You are not the person that you knew before’, ‘Your being opens like an unseen door’ amongst others connected to my pit of insecurity. In the writing exercise that followed, the poem inspired the creation of a complete, introspective narrative of 1000 words called A Mirror Tells No Lies. Writing on the fly like that, carried by the power of a few choice words, was revelatory. The resulting story was rife with concepts and metaphors that I must unpack, and Lise suggested I analyse the sections of the poem that triggered that creative burst as a means of better understanding why it connected. This was homework I actually looked forward to.
After that, we took a walk. It’s a deep freeze in Montreal right now, so going outside for an hour was no joke. But, after sitting for so long, I admit it was time to be active. So, I bundled up, grabbed my notebook (yes, we had an assignment to) and got walking. The assignment involved ‘being in the moment’, connecting with what’s happening around us and paying attention to ourselves. Once I got used to the cold, I realized how wonderful it was to connect with my body in motion. One of the women attends an African dance school and she spoke of the importance of the body connecting with the mind. I was reminded that we interact with the world through our bodies which affects our mind and soul. In essence, it impacts our creativity. So I walked, and I sensed, and I experienced. Then I found a little café, enjoyed my unctuous peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie and double latte, and completed my assignment. It’s a free-writing piece, no editing, a journal entry of sorts discussing what the day meant to me. Here is a sample:
‘…I’ve been waiting for this retreat. I wasn’t sure what I would get from it or even what I wanted—I just knew I wanted the experience. It’s nice to be around others who don’t have it all together either—I feel normal. Rather than feeling ‘less than’ because one person has done this, or won this, or talks the good talk. I’m not competing—I’m being. I write and I feel excited. I listen and I feel moved. I share and I feel listened to. This is a unique and precious moment.
‘ I am trying to find my voice and my identity within myself and my writing. In the mess that is my life at the moment, it feels wonderful to be focused on 1 thing. There is no contingency planning, nor worrying; the stress of real life is ‘out there’ and I can concentrate on me. I can delve into understanding this thing I like to do, and that makes me feel grounded. Or it could, if only I could bring this ‘quiet’ back with me into the real world. And, I guess, that is the question for me: How to not lose this focus? How to quiet myself and listen to me when the winds around blow so hard and so fast? The winds of children, and husband, and work, and finding time to have a life outside—it’s a whirlwind spinning at breathtaking speed. Either way, however it ends, I’ve had today. And I am grateful for it.’
I now know that I went to the retreat to find my voice. Not only to find it, but to find value and purpose in that voice. And to learn to love it. Our voices are a reflection of our soul, who we are in the deep and shadowy places as much in the bright and sunny ones. That is the mystery behind the Mirror story that I was to analyse and the reason that poem struck a chord so hard that my fingers could do nothing but write a story to illustrate that awakening. I am my writing, and my writing is me. The good, the bad. The beauty, and the horror. And with that acceptance comes a measure of peace.
How about you? Can you relate to this experience? Have you attended a writing retreat and what did you get from the experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.🙂
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.
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:
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. 🙂
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.
I’ll be writing more about setting writing goals later, but I took matters into my own hands today and did that and wrote my first flash fiction story in a while. I’ve been focusing on short stories, finishing my novel, and blogging so it’s been a while since I went back to this fun yet challenging activity.
I wrote ‘The Task’ out of desperation. The story that follows is a fictionalized representation of a real situation. 2015 started off rough: my brain was stuffed with disorganized plans and ideas, leftover goals from 2014, and a lot of anxiety about what to do next. Also, coincidentally (?) I ran into a lot of posts about setting writing goals and knowing what it is you want from your writing experience. Even thesiteI got the prompt from, StoryADay.org, had some info about that on their home page. Anyhoo, here’s the story. Enjoy! And drop me a line about how your 2015 writing year began and what your goals are. I’d love to hear them!
The Prompt: feeling overwhelmed
The Task (381 words)
The pencil tips snaps, leaving an ugly gap in the line. What the heck was I writing again? I scan the nearly blank page, and vague memories, like blind men in fog, come stumbling back to me. Oh right. That.
I change pencils and hit the page again. The words come, haltingly, but at least they come. Grey lines begin to fill the page, and slowly there is more grey than white. My anxiety decreases, excitement and confidence rises. For the first time in weeks, I’m in control. The mess of nagging thoughts, doubts, insecurities—the chaos–finally tamed.
You’ll never amount to anything. All your work is in vain. Who reads your stuff anyway?
I flip the pencil around, jamming the eraser across the page. Shut up!
Why are you pushing yourself so hard? You really think anyone cares about your work?
Pink bits of eraser collect in piles on the page. The white of the page begins to dominate the grey. Soon, I’ll tear through the sheet. My daughter did that last night when she struggled with math. She’d had to tape the hole closed and then write on wrinkly paper. I’d been mad at her for being careless. And now, look at me.
The evil voice laughed in my ear. It didn’t have to speak—it’s message was loud and clear.
Shut up! I’ll finish this!
No you won’t. You’ll give up. You’ll fail. All your scribblings won’t matter in the end.
Damn you, I won’t!
The paper rips. I stare at the pile of pencils scattered around my desk. Jagged wood pokes into the air where the tips have all broken off. There is paper spilling out of the garbage bin, enough to be a fire hazard under the right conditions. But I am finished.
Writing Goals leaps up in grey letters from the page, followed by a clear, detailed plan of my writing intentions for the next two months. I sweep a hand over the page, grandiose. Victorious. Eat that! I throw down my pencil, push away from the page and hit the computer.
The evil voice is silent.
I smile. And get to work.
‘Goal number 1,’ I mutter under my breath, as my fingers fly over the keys, ‘start writing again…’
In the posts mentioned above, I was very honest about my struggles. I had thrown myselfinto 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.
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.
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!