Crossposted to the Deadline Dames.
It’s been a rough year. To say the least. Major Life Changes, some I talk about here and some I don’t, have come thick and fast. Eight months ago I wasn’t sure I’d make it. Three months ago I saw light at the end of the tunnel. A month ago I decided I was, in fact, okay and going to stay that way.
I’ve been writing all the while.
On Wednesday I finished the zero draft of the fifth Strange Angels book. I never leave the keyboard after I finish something, whether it be a chapter or a whole piece, so I opened up the next Jill Kismet book and tinkered on it a bit. Then I dragged my weary self to bed, nerves jumping and the flywheel that was powering the story still sparking and fizzing inside my head. Finishing a book is like that, for me–there’s a nervous sense of all that energy and focus bleeding away but not nearly fast enough to let me rest, everything in me raw and quivering. It’s kind of like the adrenaline aftermath of a crisis, before your body gets the memo that everything’s over and it can collapse.
I lay in bed, and I realized with a start that I’d actually finished three books since my life began to implode last May. I was afraid during each one that I wouldn’t be able to get to the end, that the crises would rob me of needed energy to finish or that without the fuel of adrenaline and pain I wouldn’t be able to write something good. This is a perfect example of the irrationality of severe stress, because I was afraid of contradictory things at the same time. Telling myself it was irrational did not help, because then I felt crazy. The only thing that helped was the habit of looking at what needed to be finished first, putting my head down, and plowing through. Breakdowns, crying jags, and dealing with the minutiae and paperwork of a life undergoing massive changes was all very well, but I had wordcount to achieve.
I was so afraid I wouldn’t make my deadlines. There’s no shame in admitting I was terrified. Would I lose my edge or my empathy for my characters if I wasn’t miserable? Would I have to find another job because the writing would suddenly fail? Would my editors look askance at the manuscripts I turned in and gently tell me, “This is unpublishable…just go away”?
I was afraid of all that, and more.
Yet I finished three books. My editors liked the first two as much as they’ve liked anything else, revisions were just the same as they always were. The third has to rest before I can make any judgment, but I suspect it will be no worse than any other messy, terrible, hole-filled zero draft.
Time and again I keep coming back to the simple fact that writing is what I was meant and made to do. I can’t imagine living without it. And writing keeps saving me long after it feels like the rest of the world’s given up. All I have to do is show up, and the Muse is there. As long as I suit up and start swinging, she keeps feeding me the balls. My end of the bargain is simply to make writing a daily priority, and writing takes care of the rest. It is my life-raft, my safety line, my rope, my net, the way I make sense of the world and the way the world makes sense of me.
At the rock wall on Thursday, one young man could barely get four feet off the ground. Shaking, sweating, but grimly determined, he would clip in and climb those four feet. The belayer on duty encouraged him each time. “It doesn’t matter how high you climb. It just matters that you get on the wall. It’s okay. Take your time. It’s not a race or a contest.”
Watching that, I thought of where I was months ago, too frightened to reach the top of the wall. Clinging, terrified, to any hold I could reach, despite marked routes. Just getting into my harness and clipping onto the rope was a victory. Just putting my hands on the wall was another. The actual climbing? A series of small victories. And I thought, as I dusted my hands with chalk and glanced at my belayer, real courage isn’t fearlessness. It’s trusting yourself despite the fear.
I keep coming back to this essential fact, over and over again. Writing has taught me this much, and writing keeps patiently reteaching me when I forget, as I frequently do. Sometimes I feel like an idiot when I realize that once again, I’ve proven to myself that all I have to do is show up and be ready to work, and the writing takes care of the rest.
I suppose I’d feel a lot more idiotic if I actually quit.
So here’s what I have to say this morning. Do that thing you love. Don’t stop. It doesn’t have to be writing. It’s whatever your thing is. But do it. Show up and swing. Get into the habit of doing it during the good times, so it can carry you through the bad. I can promise you that you will surprise yourself. You will eventually get to the top of the wall. You will eventually get to the end of the book. You will eventually get to wherever you need to go. That thing you love, that thing you do, it’s endlessly faithful. As long as you’re in there swinging, the Muse or whatever else will be right there with you. It’s not a contest; it’s not about winning. Or if it is, winning might not be what you think it is.
To me, right now, the winning is just showing up. It is looking back and realizing that once again, writing has saved my life, because I cared enough to show up every damn day. Even when I was half-dead of heartbreak, even when bathing or feeding myself seemed like an insurmountable obstacle, even when I didn’t know how I was going to get through another five minutes without the pain eating me whole, the writing was always there. The writing, for me, will always be there.
I kind of feel like a goober for doubting it.
Over and out.
Or actually, NOT over and out. I promised a giveaway of Jealousy, due to release on July 29. So here’s the rules: comment over at the Deadline Dames, by midnight PST on Sunday, July 11, (do NOT comment here!) and with the help of Random.org I will pick two winners to receive signed copies of Jealousy. I can only ship to those in the US; sorry about that, but that’s the way it is.