Shaky Ground

I knew, before publishing Magic Most Deadly, that almost all authors go through a stage of ennui, discouragement, and even fear that they’ll never be able to write again after they publish their first book.

So when it all happened, I was prepared for it.

I just wasn’t prepared for it to last so long.

I am writing again—but it’s hard. Nothing flows. Nothing feels right. There’s no spark. I find myself putting off writing to read, or to wash dishes, or bake, or any of a hundred other numerous things that are good and important in and of themselves but should never come in the way of my writing time.

Part of it is disappointment. I knew MMD wasn’t going to set the world on fire. I knew the internet wasn’t going to explode over it, that people wouldn’t be lining up to buy copies, that nobody would be pounding on my door to beg an interview, that publishers wouldn’t be falling all over themselves to offer me a contract. And yet … the fact that it came out with a whimper instead of a bang, and fizzled almost at once was—and is—hard.

If I didn’t care about people reading what I write, I wouldn’t bother with publishing at all. I’d just write my own stories for my own amusement and leave it at that. But there is something deep inside me that needs to share my writing with other people. It is deeply important to me. Not for fame or for money (although, not gonna lie, I would sooo love to be able to support the family while Carl’s in seminary, rather than him having to work and do school), and I’m not even sure why, but there it is.

So when I offer the world this story, and the world doesn’t even notice it was offered, yes, it stings. And it makes it hard to remind myself that my voice counts, that my stories matter, even if they are just light-hearted and fun.

It makes it hard to persevere.

am persevering, because like Emily Starr, if you took everything else away from me I would still write. I can’t not write, but it has lost, I hope temporarily, much of its zest and joy for me.

Carl has reminded me that it is winter, and I went through the incredibly painful process of losing my grandfather in December, followed immediately by a whirlwind of holiday busyness, followed by sickness felling everyone but me in the family one by one in recent weeks (thank you, thank you God and vitamin supplements, for fixing my immune system so that thus far I’ve resisted the illnesses), and that it’s natural for me to feel discouraged this time of year, whatever is going on, due to lack of sunlight and fresh air and constantly being cold (although I’d actually rather be perpetually cold than hot, but that’s neither here nor there). So I’m trying not to take the discouragement too seriously. At the same time, I don’t want to dismiss it altogether.

Last night, once again frustrated that everything I write lately never gets beyond surface depth, and yet doesn’t have any of the humor I value so much either, I re-read something I’d written about two years ago. A crazy fan-fiction mash-up of all my favorite sci-fi and fantasy stories, with me in the thick of it (yes, a self-insert, but not technically a Mary-Sue since nobody fell in love with me, and I didn’t save the world and die tragically) (well okay, I did sort-of die tragically, but not for real, and Voyager’s doctor and Mara Jade brought me back to life, and it was mostly a plot device to let them be grumpy and snarky, not for me to be a Heroine), with not much plot but just a whole lot of fun.

I actually laughed out loud at parts, bits I had forgotten I had ever written, and other parts made me really impressed with their unexpected depth. It was simultaneously great and awful, because it told me that I can write humor and passion and Truth, but it also made me wonder if I can only do so when playing with other people’s characters, in a story never meant for anyone’s eyes but my own.

I don’t have a neat, pithy ending paragraph to end with here. I guess the title of this post says it all, really—I’m not sinking, but I’m not on solid ground, either. Everything is currently very shaky beneath my feet. The best I can do is keep cautiously inching my way forward, hoping to eventually get out of the mire and back onto the firm path, and can move forward once more.

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10 thoughts on “Shaky Ground

  1. I wish I could give you some magic cure or wonderful bit of advice. But I can’t. All I can say is that you’ll get through this. It’s hard and full of discouragement, but latch on to the little bit of light that you see. And like you already told yourself, you write because you can’t not write. And you’ll rediscover that joy that comes from creating.

    And I can give you a little warning–it won’t be the last time you go through this. :(

    • Thanks for the encouragement (and warning), Connie. It helps so much hearing from others who have experienced similar things. I don’t mind just plugging away, so long as it gets me somewhere. I can be a plodder instead of a sprinter, no problem – it’s the feeling that I’m plodding without ever actually going anywhere that gets me down. So knowing that yes, there IS light at the end of this tunnel (oh my goodness, I am mixing my metaphors SO MUCH right now), even if it’s going to take me a while to reach it, helps immensely.

      And honestly, the warning that this will come again helps, too. Being blindsided by something is just about the worst.

  2. I’d like to tell you that sometimes things have to simmer a long time before they boil, but you know that. Also I can’t guarantee that some day MMD will be a bestseller. I hope very much that it is. What I do know is that you are a very talented writer, that F Scott Fitzgerald thought that The Great Gatsby was a colossal failure, and that S.A.D. is a very real thing.

    I suffer from it too. I think that I suffer from it worse now that I did before I was home with Ladybug. Being cooped up indoors, being cold, coming down off the high of Christmas, grief, and illness can have its toll on our mental and spiritual well-being. You may be sinking, but reach out your hand, I and others will grab it.

    • Thank you, Adrienne. I have been so blessed that, with as many moves as we’ve made, I’ve managed to make some marvelous friends who stick with me regardless of location.

      I always forget about SAD until it actually gets me – because I like winter. I like being cozy and snuggled into our home, I like being able to drink gallons of tea, I like snow and ice, winter sports, piercing blue skies, time to work on quilting projects … but it does take its toll on me, which I always conveniently forget when it’s July and I’m sweltering and moaning about how much I miss winter. I’m taking Vitamin D supplements this winter and eating as much fruit and vegetables as I can, which IS helping, but nothing quite beats the real sun.

  3. I know exactly what you mean with so much of this. I’ve felt this way since my book came out (almost two years ago now); I’ve only just gotten to where I’m excited about writing again, rather than dreading it like a chore and getting frustrated when the words are emotionless and mechanical and terrible. And I still can’t bring myself to work on what I need to be working on, Book 2 in my series.

    So I don’t know if I can give you any advice, since I’m rather new to all this myself; I certainly can’t give you any hard-and-fast advice. But I guess what I’d say is… don’t pressure yourself too much. Keep writing, but don’t overdo it, and don’t get discouraged when you only write 500 words a day or 100 or 20 (and every other writer friend in your Twitter feed is cranking out 2k). Eventually the joy will come back; it has for me, slowly. Reading helps tremendously.

    I don’t want to sound trite or cliche, but don’t give up!

    • This thought came to me today, and I wrote it in my journal (in my nice handwriting, to boot): I have a book that Means Something inside me, buried deep. I will dig it out eventually. For now, I just keep writing the stories I can reach.

      I think, without realizing it, I had started thinking that if I couldn’t write that great, meaningful, powerful story RIGHT NOW, that meant I was failing as a writer. I’ve written one light, fun story, so now OBVIOUSLY I must be ready for something deeper and More Important. Coming to an understanding that just because I might only be able to write lighter stuff for now doesn’t mean I will never be able to write something deeper has helped free me up tremendously. And, I hope, that it will help my writing to not be so dour, too. I miss writing stuff that makes me chuckle both while writing it, and while re-reading it afterward.

  4. I will add my two cents- not as writer, but as reader. several of my favourite living authors wrote the very best book that was in them over a decade after writing/publishing their first novel. some of them were commercially successful authors, and some were not, but the key here is that it takes a good deal of time and practice (and trial&error) to unearth the things we hold deepest in our hearts- ESPECIALLY i think when those things are original work. it is as though the first novel, and the second novel, and the ninth novel were all helping to excavate the largest jewel.

    • “it is as though the first novel, and the second novel, and the ninth novel were all helping to excavate the largest jewel.” This is such a lovely way of looking at it. Thank you!

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