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Around and Around and Around We Go

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this blog post for about 3 1/2 years. At first I kept putting it off because I thought that one of these days I would come up with a solution to some of the problems I’ve been wrestling with and then I would finally know how to write this post. But at this point I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there’s never really going to be a solution. So I figured I might as well just write this and send it out into the world to see if it resonates with anyone else.

In January of 2017, a couple of weeks before Trump’s inauguration, I ended up in the hospital for 3 days and, honestly, my life has been pretty chaotic since then (to be fair, it was pretty chaotic before then, too, but I love the symmetry of that image). The chaos in the outside world has mirrored the chaos in my own life. And every time I think I’ve finally found my footing and can take a breath, settle into a routine, let go of panic, the floor crumbles underneath me right on schedule.

Since that hospital stay I’ve had months long battles with my insurance company over name/gender changes and medication coverage, top surgery (a good thing, but still major surgery with a long recovery) and a year of intense post-surgery nerve pain afterwards (not such a good thing). I’ve had to navigate changing insurance companies after Blue Cross left California (when they sent me the letter announcing they were leaving, my brain completely blocked it out, I had no memory of receiving anything, which is the only time that’s ever happened to me in my life). I’ve had to deal with changing the name and gender on my driver’s license twice because they lost my paperwork, and I’ve had multiple issues with my car. I’ve gone through several jobs, at times working two jobs at once (which is challenging even when not dealing with chronic illness) and I’ve dropped out of two different study programs (one in Waldorf education and one in library and information technology). I’ve also had to take care of a cat with serious health issues ending in her sudden death last year. I am probably forgetting something.

The point is, I was already exhausted. And then the pandemic hit and I lost my job, the job that I had spent YEARS trying to get because it was a part time job that actually paid enough that I could barely qualify for an insurance subsidy. I lost that job with no explanation, in the middle of a pandemic, during record unemployment, at a time when working outside the home is particularly unsafe (especially for someone on immune suppressants and living with a diabetic). And I’m in a better position than most people. I live with my parents so I don’t have to worry about paying rent. I’m on unemployment. I am probably going to be fine. But I don’t know what to do with the fact that I spent YEARS working towards this goal only for it to go up in smoke through no fault of my own. I don’t know how to deal with the fact that I spent so much time and energy chasing stability only for everything to blow up so spectacularly in my face.

And those are just the many upheavals in my own life. Alongside that has been the never ending litany of disasters that is the Trump presidency. There are the myriad ways in which this administration has targeted trans people and the myriad ways they’ve tried to do away with the ACA and the protections that came with it, like making sure those of us with pre-existing conditions can even get health insurance. There have been the ever-increasing wildfires in California, worrying about friends and family losing their houses and their lives, worrying about my parents’ house and our own lives. The ever-growing threat of climate change. And those are only the things that affect me personally.

Back in that long ago January of 2017, before I ended up in the hospital, I had this naive idea that I would spend the next four years of this presidency DOING something to stop all these terrible things from happening, to stop climate change, to stop Trump, to stop them taking away the things I was so close to achieving (transition! cheaper health insurance!). But then I ended up in the hospital and there was always some emergency to navigate. I’ve felt like a hamster on an endless wheel spinning between trying to take care of my health/navigate the medical industry (its own part time job), trying to get a better job/more financial independence, trying to have a writing career, and trying to do some form of activism even if it’s just writing letters to representatives or signing petitions. None of it ever feels like it’s enough.

And the result is that no matter what I’m doing I always feel like I’m doing the wrong thing. If I’m trying to get a better job I feel like I should be writing, if I’m writing I feel like I should be volunteering, if I’m writing letters to representatives I feel like I should be doing something like yoga to manage my pain, if I’m doing yoga I feel like I should be job searching. On and on. Only it’s worse because whenever I’m doing one thing there’s at least three other options clamoring for my attention. It’s paralyzing and it makes it so that half the time I don’t do anything because I don’t even know what to prioritize.

In the past, well meaning friends have suggested that I just do a little bit of everything, but that approach always leaves me feeling stretched thin like I’m trying to juggle twenty balls in the air and dropping them all on my head. Others have stressed the importance of self care, but self care in a state of emergency often feels like a luxury. If you’re standing on the beach in front of an oncoming tidal wave you don’t stop to practice self care. You get the hell off of that beach.

Now with the pandemic in full swing I feel even more overwhelmed. Do I drop everything and focus on finding another job? What would that even look like in the age of COVID 19 when all the things I have experience in (education, libraries) feel incredibly unsafe? Do I try learning new skills or take whatever I can get? Do I focus even harder on taking care of my body in case I get sick? Do I take this opportunity to write more now that it isn’t safe to leave the house and hope that that eventually leads to some extra income? Do I try to volunteer for an organization that’s helping people through this disaster if I can find a safe way to help?

The truth is I have felt enormously guilty over the past few years that I’m not doing more to fight back against all the awful things happening in the world and at the same time I’ve felt trapped by my body and my lack of independence. It seems like an enormous privilege to have the support of my parents and a roof over my head, but I also don’t want to spend the rest of my life financially dependent on them. And mixed up with everything else is the fear that every time I put off writing I’m putting off any hope of my writing dreams coming true for something that may very well fall apart like my other jobs have. After all, writing, like any art, so often happens in the cracks of a person’s life. We have to make that time happen or it doesn’t happen at all. We have to prioritize it.

A part of me feels like if the world is falling apart I might as well just do whatever I want to do (since trying to be practical has worked out so well for me 😒). But another part of me thinks about the people who are dying because of this administration, because of racism, because of climate change, a tsunami that’s already bearing down on us, and thinks, “How can I possibly sit here in my house reading books and writing? What good does that do anyone?!” And yet another part of me worries that in order to be truly helpful I’d have to become something I’m not. I have friends who are lawyers and activists, for example, impressive people who actually accomplish things! But I don’t know how to do the things they do and I’m not sure I even want to. I want to be what I am, which is a creative person. I just don’t know how to be that and be of use in a world that feels like it’s falling apart.

Anyway, this is a long and messy post but these are some of the things I’ve been wrestling with for years. Do you have the same struggles, reader? How have you figured out how to prioritize in these chaotic times? If you’re also a creative person, how are you finding the time and energy to create? And do you struggle with guilt too? I’d like to think I’m not the only one going through this.

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Still Alive

Wow, so first of all I can’t believe I haven’t posted here in six whole years! A lot has happened since then, as you can probably tell by the name and pronoun change. I think most of the people who follow this blog know me IRL, but just in case, surprise! I’m one of those terrifying transgenders taking over the country. I’m not really sure how much I want to talk about gender stuff here (mostly because my feelings about gender are complicated and confusing even to myself), but suffice to say I’m cool with he or they pronouns and my name is Jonathan now. Thanks for your support and understanding.

I’m hoping to post here a little more regularly now that I’m stuck at home (I lost my job in April), but I am also trying to make time for writing more poetry and fiction so, as always, I need to figure out how to balance those two things without hurting my hands (I have chronic pain so can’t do a lot of typing and sitting at the computer without flareups). I’ve been wanting to do a blog series on the dreaded Writer’s Block for awhile because I have a lot of thoughts about that, and I think it would be fun to do some short reviews of books that I’m reading to recommend to others, even though I’m a little terrified of my ability to write reviews.

If there’s anything in particular you want me to write about let me know in a comment. And I hope this blog post finds you all safe.

Uncategorized, Writing

The Next Big Thing

First of all, a thank you to Lyn Miller-Lachmann for tagging me in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop. You can read all about her awesome new book, Rogue, here.

I was originally going to write about my thesis, Triptych, but then this shiny new idea took over my brain so I’m going to write about that instead. You’ll just have to forgive me 🙂

What is the working title of your book?

La isla de la luna or The Island of the Moon.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This actually started as a story that the protagonist in Triptych was writing. So it was originally a story within a story. Then it kept getting longer and more complicated and eventually became more interesting than the original novel and seduced me away from it, lol.

What genre does your book fall under?

Spanish-flavored fantasy?

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I have no idea how to answer this. Most of the Spanish actors I know are older than my protagonists. Clearly I need to watch more Spanish films.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A young girl washes up on one of the last floating islands with the power to control the sea and meets the dangerous Crooked Man, a magician who makes her question everything she’s taken for granted: her courtiers and friends, her magic and her past.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Hopefully when I finish this it will be represented by an agent!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’ve only written bits and pieces so far. I’m nowhere near done yet.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This is another hard question. I haven’t seen a whole lot of Spanish-themed fantasy books. I’d say “Pan’s Labyrinth” (even though it’s obviously not a book), but the time period is all wrong.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been seriously needing to write some self-indulgent fantasy and this story has given me permission to do that. I’ve always been in love with the sea and dreamed of having my own island and being able to do magic. I’m also very fond of tricksy magicians. So this story rose up out of my desire to write about many of the things that excite me as a writer/reader. I actually sat down recently and brainstormed all the exciting things I could put in this book. It made me deliriously happy.

What else about your book might pique the readers interest?

I’m just going to write you a list of awesomeness to entice you. This story contains: the daughter of the sea, a shape shifting magician who collects hearts, a floating island, an Iberian lynx named Fuego, a red fox named Lucifer, a ship wreck, a curse, a troupe of traveling players, masquerade balls, and ships with black sails. Hey, there may even be pirates. We’ll see 😉

And now to tag other writers to share their Next Big Thing…

L. Marie

Sharon Van Zandt

Val Howlett

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In Which I Contemplate The Post-MFA Writing Life And The Difficulties Of Getting Stuck

When I was at VCFA, Tom Green gave a speech at one of the commencements that addressed the problem of MFA students graduating and then not writing again, sometimes for years. He even admitted (bravely!) that this had happened to him after he graduated. I remember, at the time, dismissing the whole thing, thinking, “Come on, that’ll never happen to me. I’m too determined. I’ve got so many ideas. I’m a real writer!” LOL, in other words, I was totally asking for it.

I graduated this summer and it was scary and wonderful and bittersweet. And then I got home and I didn’t feel like writing. But more than that, I suddenly hated writing. The whole process felt like trying to cram my head through the eye of a needle. So I stopped for a month. But I was terrified I would never start again so I forced myself back to work. And writing felt like work. Boring, miserable, “Why am I doing this to myself?” work. And why was I doing this to myself? Why not just quit and join the circus or find myself an actual pirate ship or *gasp* get a normal job like a sensible person? That would be so much easier than writing.

But then I’d come up with a wonderful idea for my WIP and be filled with enough elation to continue writing for a few days, even weeks sometimes. I’d think, “Yes! I’ve figured everything out now. It’ll be fine.” Unfortunately, the doors of apathy would inevitably slam closed again and writing would slip back into feeling like work. So I’d stop writing and start coming up with inane plans. “I need to fill the well,” I would say to myself. So I’d read stacks of books. Or “Short stories, Ray Bradbury says we should all start with short stories, not novels.” So I’d try writing short stories, instead. On and on endlessly, stopping, starting, standing on my head…

And then in December my existential crisis seemed to settle down. I thought about how if I stopped working on this novel and started something else I would probably never finish anything. I began having morbid and dramatic dialogues with myself, such as: “Shawna, if you suddenly get cancer what are you going to regret not having done before you died?” And the answer was always: “Not having finished this %$@%** novel!” I sat down and tried to make reasonable goals for myself and I wrote and I wrote and writing wasn’t hateful. I kept waiting for the crisis to hit again, but it didn’t. It slunk away. And I’m still writing now, albeit very slowly. I haven’t run off to join the nearest circus or commandeer any pirate ships or become a librarian (although it’s very tempting). I’m not writing in a constant state of ecstasy, but that’s to be expected, and writing no longer feels like trying to fit my head through an infinitesimally small space.

What happened? I’m not entirely sure. I suppose maybe I just needed a break or needed to find my way out of the labyrinth. And, of course, I might wake up tomorrow and change my mind about everything all over again. But I do have a few theories as to why these past few months have been such a struggle and I want to take a moment to explore each of them.

I moved to a new state. This is probably the most obvious obstacle. Graduation is always a time of liminality, but add to that moving to a new place and having to start so much of life from scratch is enough to make anyone want to curl up into a tiny mewling ball of despair. When I actually think about everything I’ve done in the past six months, I’m amazed I managed to write anything at all. That said, I honestly think even if I hadn’t moved to a new place after graduation I still would’ve struggled with writing.

Lack of a schedule and deadlines. Okay, so this is the second most obvious issue. I actually wasn’t too worried about having to create my own schedule/deadlines because I’ve always been pretty disciplined. But I suspect there’s always going to be a period of adjustment and one thing I definitely realized is that the MFA level of discipline is not necessarily sustainable. It is a lot of work, and, once again, with moving and job hunting and dealing with so much upheaval it is practically impossible to come up with a schedule and stick to it. I’m still working on figuring that out.

I got burnt out. Did I mention that getting an MFA is a lot of work? Two years of doing little else but writing and reading will burn anyone out. And while I’m grateful that I got to do this program without having to juggle a full-time job, the unfortunate result was that I spent the last two years living like a hermit. Seriously, days would go by without me even leaving the house once. So when I graduated and there were no longer packet deadlines and schedules to follow I wanted nothing more than to let down my hair, kick off my shoes, run wild through the streets and never be disciplined again.

Boredom. I have now been working on this same novel for two years and I have yet to even make it through the middle of a draft. I am so sick of this story! And, oh, the shiny, much more exciting brand new ideas that plague me! This has been really hard for me, trying to reignite my passion for a project that feels interminable while simultaneously resisting the siren-call of fresh story ideas. But reminding myself of all the exciting bits helps, as has remembering that part of the reason this book has taken so long to finish is because I was working on it in school, which meant going through many revisions instead of writing straight through a draft. Right now I’m clinging to the hope that writing through a full draft will be much faster for me in the future. Also, bribery is motivating.

The sudden, dramatic lack of a safety net. There is something odd about getting nearly constant feedback on your writing for two years only to suddenly graduate and be on your own. Don’t get me wrong, I think being on our own as writers is absolutely essential. We have to learn to trust ourselves, not rely entirely on other people, but it is disorienting. Thankfully, graduation does not mean floating off into the ether. I do have a wonderful community of writers now to share feedback with…if I ever manage to finish this novel…

Performance anxiety and the fear of failure.* Hands down, this has been the obstacle that’s startled and dismayed me the most because I never expected it. But first, some explanation. I did a lot of theatre in high school and the thing about acting (and singing!) that always terrified me the most was auditioning. In my mind nothing was scarier than that. Then, while practicing for an audition, my voice teacher at the time revealed to me that her greatest fear was actually getting the role because then you had to worry about going through with the whole thing and not letting everyone down. This was news to me. I understood the terror of auditioning. To me failure was not getting the role. But as soon as she introduced this newer and more terrifying idea I started to feel that sense of performance anxiety. What if I got the role and then messed it up? What if I really wasn’t good enough and everyone regretted casting me?

I never expected to feel this way about writing, but it has been a struggle. Having an MFA degree is like having an enormously high standard to live up to. I feel I should know more, be a better writer, and there is a fear of letting everyone down. What if my advisors hate all the changes I’ve made to my book? What if my beloved Secret Gardeners hate it? The doubts and insecurities can take over my mind. But at the end of the day, I’ve had to learn to just breathe and trust the process and realize I cannot possibly satisfy everyone, even the people I love and admire most. And perhaps most importantly I’ve tried to remind myself of a line from a beautiful drawing of a corvid by Charles van Sandwyk that hangs over my desk: “A word, lovingly written, lives for ever.” If I cannot love what I write then I might as well quit now and do something else, and while I do think it’s important to think about your audience, I really do believe it’s most important to write for oneself, otherwise why go through all that struggle and heartache?

Anyway, this has been my experience of post-MFA life so far. I’m sure it’s been different for all of us. I just wanted to share my own perspective in case anyone else has had similar experiences and also so that you know that getting stuck isn’t permanent or a symptom of some terrible failing. In the end, you might decide you would much rather be a pirate than a person who writes about pirates, but if you find yourself in any of the above states please know it will get better. You will learn things about yourself and possibly forget them again. But if you put one foot in front of the other eventually you will get where you’re going. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself…

* I’m actually glad I went through this particular anxiety because I suspect this is what newly published authors feel in spades. And if I ever do publish a novel at least I’ll know to expect that and recognize it for what it is, which is just fear, plain and simple.

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In Which I Return (But Hopefully Not From The Dead)

Whew! I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since I last posted here. 2012 was a crazy year. I gave a lecture on characterization. I wrote a 75 page creative thesis. I went to Germany for a month. I graduated from my MFA program and I moved to a new city. I think I’m just now starting to get my feet back under me again.

Anyway, I have lots of things I want to talk about like post-MFA life, and what’s going on with my work in progress a.k.a. my thesis, and my dad’s new book that came out in December. So I’m going to try to post something at least once a week. I can do that, right?

Here’s to more regular posting!

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Killing Your Darlings Part 1

Okay, okay! So I was supposed to post something once a week. But I had this crazy idea to scrap most of what I had written of my novel and start over again so I’m currently in panic-and-chain-myself-to-the-computer mode. Therefore a real post will have to wait. I will try to actually write something useful when I’m done killing my darlings. I will even try to give you all the gory details so you can gasp in horror with me or something. And I will, of course, try to keep myself from wallowing in despair.

Hasta luego,

Your humble blogger.

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The Trouble with Backstory

I spent most of last semester alternating every other chapter of my novel between the past (backstory) and the present (the actual story, I guess) and in the process lost any semblance of logic. Characters would do things for no particular reason I could think of other than that I didn’t know what else to have them do. Or they would become my plot bitches and do really stupid, nonsensical things just to further the plot I wanted the novel to have. I have a problem with that in particular. So I finally decided to put my foot down and rearrange everything in chronological order.

There’s a lot of stuff that happens to my protagonist in the past that affects the present day story and it’s been phenomenally helpful to explore that past, but I think—for me, at least—writing the draft chronologically is the way to go. Otherwise it’s too easy to get lost in chains of events or actions that don’t make sense. What amuses me is that I had to do the same thing with the last novel I was working on. I kept trying to write from whenever the “actual” story was supposed to start and just couldn’t figure out what I was doing, so I ended up writing the protagonists’ stories from their birth to the present day. So maybe this is just my writing process. Maybe I just need to write out my characters’ pasts before I can get anywhere. It does make me wonder about non-linear novels in general, though. Do most people write them chronologically and then make them non-linear in revision? Or do other writers have a greater capacity for organizing things in their heads than I do? I don’t know.

The thing I worry about is (once I have the whole draft written out) trying to figure out how to work that backstory into the rest of the story. Do I tell the whole story in chronological order? But then how would it fit into the genre of YA? Are there any YA books that start with the protagonist as a young child and then work their way up through adolescence? If I don’t keep it in chronological order, then do I go back to alternating every other chapter between the past and the present? Do I alternate in chronological order or mix up the flashbacks so that they come up at relevant times? One of my classmates in my workshop this residency suggested I could use a particular image to tie chapters together. So for example, a key might show up in the flashback and then reappear in the present day scene. I love that idea and I think I’ll definitely have to try it once I have the whole draft written and can reorganize it. But for now I’m trying not to stress out and just focus on writing the draft in whatever way I need to write it. Still, I think it’s interesting to ponder these questions…and perhaps interesting to know that a novel can be written in one way, but ultimately structured in a completely different way.

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Back to Work

I have returned at last from the frozen wasteland that is Vermont and its below freezing weather ready to launch into my fourth (and final!) semester at VCFA. *Weeps* I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. Fourth semester is when things get serious. We have to complete a publication worthy manuscript of at least 75 pages and prepare the lecture that we will give our final residency. After hearing the graduating students read their work this january and attending a number of fascinating lectures I’m feeling slightly intimidated. I have never written/given a lecture in my life. I don’t even have a completed draft of a novel (although most of us fourth semesters don’t either, so I really shouldn’t worry about that). Still, I get the sense that I really need to go deeper than I ever have before this semester and I’m excited to see what I come up with.

So with all that said, here is what I’ll be focusing on this semester:

The novel: I’m going to continue working on the novel I’ve been writing the past two semesters and right now I’m trying to cement as much of the backstory as I can. I also plan on drawing maps of all the important locations real and fantastical, a floor plan of the house so I don’t get lost, and descriptions of all the important places events unfold. I think I may even break out my sketchbook and draw *gasp*. I am super excited about this. I’m also going to spend some time focusing on all my main characters so I can get a better sense of who they are and what they want. I really struggle with this sort of thing, so I’ve got a bunch of character worksheet templates I’m going to fill out to get me thinking and I may sit down and interview my characters again.

The reading/research: Since my novel is about a family of Iberian (Spanish) origin and the fantastical elements draw on Spanish folklore (duende) I’m going to focus my reading on the culture and history of Spain. I’ve found very few YA or MG books actually set in Spain or dealing with Spanish American families from Spain so I’m probably going to be reading a number of adult books by Spanish authors. The exciting part of this is that many of these books I can’t find in English so I get to read them in Spanish. Yes, that counts! I’m also going to explore magic realism and other sorts of fantastical genre-bending books. And finally I’m hoping to read more books about non-anglo american characters because I think there are some aspects to the immigrant/“outsider” perspective that are universal.

The lecture: And finally, for my lecture I’ll be doing something on characterization. Right now I’m not sure how broad or narrow my lecture should be because I’m fascinated by the different tools various writers use for characterization (character collages, interviews, worksheets, free writing, etc), but I only have 45 minutes to talk about this and I don’t know if it would be more helpful to give a broad overview of various techniques or just focus on one or two. So I guess we’ll see how that goes.

I’m going to be working with Julie Larios (so exciting!) this semester so I’m hoping I’ll get to do some poetry, too. I’ve been neglecting my poor poetry! As for this blog, I’m going to really try this time to post something once a week, so I’ll probably be going more into depth on some of this stuff in the next few months. That’s all for now. If any one has any book suggestions or character development techniques I’d love to hear them 🙂

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Off to Residency and Some Advice From Anne Lamott

Tomorrow I fly off to Vermont for my fourth residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts! I can’t believe it! This will be my last semester and then I graduate in July. And it has gone by so fast! Just a year and a half ago I thought: two years? That’s going to take forever! Apparently time flies when you’re working your butt off and having fun.

I’m also trying to mentally prepare myself for working on my creative thesis (which will probably be the YA novel I’ve been working on the past two semesters) and my graduate lecture (which is very up in the air at the moment but might involve characterization and how writers create compelling characters). In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying lectures and workshops and (maybe?) some snow 🙂 So I will leave you in the capable hands of Anne Lamott who has some pretty clever things to say about finding more time to write:

http://www.sunset.com/travel/anne-lamott-how-to-find-time-00418000067331/

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Writing Through Hard Times

Note: I actually wrote this a few weeks ago, but my computer died so I couldn’t post it. I’m feeling a lot better and a lot more inspired, but I still think this is an interesting question to examine so I’m posting it.

I was trying to come up with a really clever title for this post, but I guess this will have to do. Suffice to say, I have been going through a hard time lately, the details of which I will not be getting into in this post. But the reason I wanted to bring this up is because it’s effecting my writing, which is kind of what this whole blog is about, right?

I have never really believed in writer’s block. I’ve always thought of it as a lack of imagination and I have lacked many things in my life, but never imagination. I’ve never had the feeling that the well was dry. If anything, I’ve felt that I had too many ideas, more than I could ever possibly write down or do justice to. Of course, now that I’m saying all this I’m thinking, “Just wait, Shawna. Wait until you’ve written fifty books and then see how full the well is.” I’m sure there is someone older and wiser out there who has experienced writer’s block and is probably cackling at me behind my back, but whatever. This post is not about writer’s block. This post is about what to do when you don’t feel like doing anything, least of all writing a novel that the critic in your brain assures you probably sucks anyway so why bother?

Anyone who writes seriously is familiar with the age-old arguments from the ranks of more inexperienced writers: I just don’t feel like writing today. It’s Thursday, I can’t write on Thursdays. I’m not in the mood. I’m too tired. I’m not feeling inspired enough. I’m not wearing the right underwear, blah blah blah, I need a marionberry muffin. Anyone who feels this way should try doing an MFA program and see just how far inspiration gets them.

Moving on, Peter Beagle tells this story—which I think is the best description of what it really means to be an artist that I have ever heard—about his uncle who was a painter. Everyday this guy would get up, go to his studio and do the work, just like…wait for it…IT WAS HIS JOB! In other words, he didn’t wait around for inspiration to strike. He would paint and sometimes it would go well and sometimes it wouldn’t. He didn’t lock himself in a garret and wait for a full moon to rise while wearing a spotted undershirt and holding a purple balloon (who does that?).

Still, being a pretentious pseudo-artist, being uninspired, that’s not exactly what I’m talking about. What do you do when for lack of a better word you are simply depressed?

I’ve often been amused when going through hard times in the past by the well-meaning advice of friends who insist that I use my pain as inspiration in my work. I am not too embarrassed to admit that I love the romanticized notion of the despairing poet/writer who spills his soul onto the waiting page in heartsick despair, and I think everyone does use some of that pain in their work to some extent, but in reality it is really difficult to be in any sort of mental anguish and manage to write something coherent, much less powerful and moving and true. Pain is a raw emotion, especially recent pain, and those who try to make instant art out of it mostly get melodramatic, maudlin poetry that should probably never see the light of day. I have only ever managed to write one thing that I thought was beautiful when experiencing a great amount of raw pain and that was when my cat died and I still have no idea how I managed it.

It’s much easier to write about pain you can think about than it is to write about pain you don’t want to think about or that paralyzes you. So anyway, you’re in pain and you’re stuck and nothing seems very magical or meaningful and you’re pissed off at the universe because you had this whole word count goal you were aiming for and life so got in the way of that and what do you do? How do you get up every morning and pretend like nothing has changed? My answer so far has been: you don’t. You take a break from the angsty YA novel that is driving you insane and you write a new short story full of silliness and Christmas and a very depressed Norse god. And you don’t feel guilty about it. Because sometimes you need to push through a story, sure, but sometimes you just need to stop and take a break. Do something different. Do something fun and silly and lighthearted and not care if it sucks because it’s your Christmas present to yourself!

And the crazy thing is it seems to be helping. I’ve actually got ideas about going back to my novel and shaking things up. Like moving all the chapters around (thank you scrivener!) so they’re all in chronological order and I can actually try to build the story from the ground up instead of getting all confused cause my story has no foundation. Or even just allowing myself to daydream about it and play with all the what ifs. The hardest part has actually been starting, but once I get into a chapter (if things are going well) I actually do get a little swept up in it so it’s not such a slog. And I do feel bad still about not getting very much accomplished, but sometimes shit happens and it makes you realize, “I’m not writing for a word count goal or to impress people or get a publishing deal. I’m writing out of love. And what I need the most right now, after everything that’s happened, is love.”

So what about you, denizens of the interwebs? How do you manage to write through hard times and pain? Any advice?