Fear is the mind-killer except when it isn’t.

I’ve taken some big behind-the-scenes authoring steps recently. I’m pretty nervous about them, but they’re not the point of this post. I’m also not writing about the news being full of atrocities, nor about my nation sliding into OVERT fascism. although those are infuriating, terrible, horrifying things.

Nope. This post is about my relationship with fear as a general thing.

It’s been a while since I talked about feeling frightened most of the time, most days. That’s been going on a lot longer than the current world events, but it’s on my mind lately because it’s tangentially related to my lack of activism and also to my writing.

Most of the things about life that make me happy also terrify me. And by terror I don’t mean I get nervous or worried or fretful about outcomes. I don’t even mean hollow-bellied imposter-cloaked fear-of-failure fear.

I mean the “heart pounding, can’t breathe, feel like vomiting, just-might-piss-myself” kind of fear. This anxious panic isn’t reserved for writing. Not by a long shot.

A lot of normal activities (f’rex simple one-on-one human interactions with friends, loud noises, scheduled appointments, necessary hygiene) you name it, it can leave me slogging through a swamp of of fight-or-flight overload.

I didn’t ask for the quirk. It came with the brain.

I’m also an adrenaline-seeker. Didn’t ask to be, but there it is. Brain. I live for living on the edge, I hunt for things that will raise my heart rate, brighten my vision, knot my guts,, and basically freak me out. This is done on an instinctive level. I can rationalize it all I want, but it isn’t rational.

The biochemical one-two punch has allowed me to function with an appearance of normalcy most of my life. One quirk goes a long way towards balancing the other. It also means I don’t often freak out when major things happen. My baseline is already up there. There’s almost a leveling sensation.

I mastered doing regular-life things on a regular basis before adolescence. All The Things scared me but I enjoyed the experience as long as I stuck to small, manageable doses, so I achieved a dysfunctional functionality. I thrive in a high-structure environment that goes through irregular major disruptions.

Along the way to my current advanced age, I learned  the hard way that hardly anyone recognizes when I’m terrified. Even when I’m standing dizzy and sweaty right next to someone, wondering if I’m about to die RIGHT THERE, most people don’t realize how freaked out I am.

I’d always known I don’t act frightened in a typical way (enough emergency situations where I got praised for calm handling got that message across) but I never connected it with people not realizing I daily dance on a cliff’s edge of coping.

I found out that it was atypical when my life got knocked off its moorings and the terror started erupting as actual anxiety/panic attacks a few years ago. I had to find a new balance, and part of that meant communicating more openly about my feelings.

And when I mention I’m on the edge of a freakout, I get looks of surprise and doubt. Imposter syndrome is brought on  by hearing over and over again, “Oh, but you’re doing great. You don’t look scared. You look fine.” Be aware: when you say that to someone who’s over-the-top anxious, it’s not as encouraging as you think. Anxiety twists that. Seeing is believing. When you say you can’t see the fear, you’re saying you don’t believe in it–even if you do.

Looking calm is a one part survival skill for me, and one part habituation. One, being seen as calm is important for a leader, and I get steered into leadership all the time for reasons I cannot explain.  Two, that adrenaline quirk means I crave fear. So I’m used to feeling it. On edge is my go-to. Basically I am having fun...

…right up to that certain point when the fun stops. That’s when I say something. At that point any tiny little thing will bring on total meltdown. Then I’m bolting for the door of a crowded restaurant, or sneaking out of a party early because…um…fear-induced wardrobe malfunction.

If I say I’m scared, I need protection, not a pep talk.

Here’s the other shoe to drop: even without meltdowns, adrenaline is exhausting. I guard against over-stimulation to protect my balance. I have hard limits. I push them constantly, (see: risk-seeker) but I have to conserve my energy. This means I’m really good at the whole “learn to say no” advice creators get. Not so good at ducking the guilt of doing it, but that’s a different problem. Until I started studying up on it, I never realized how many of my daily behaviors were rooted in emotional self-defense.

The TL;DR: this is my friendly every-so-often reminders that I am not brave. I only play brave on the outside, and it’s hard, tiring work. The crazier the world gets, the more rips in the social contract our government makes, the more I realize how scared I always am. All. The. Time.

I’m aggravating the problem with my creativity –fear lurks everywhere writing intersects with audience. Social media or reader outreach, even mentioning I have a thing to share or that I’m feeling excited about a new story…it’s all a big swamp of scariness.  Since it’s also my happy place I cannot resist diving into that slough, but…BUT.

It’s still like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane into the open sky. (which is one thing I haven’t done, by the way, because typical risk-seeking behavior loses a lot of its appeal when basic tasks like making phone calls provide a monstrous adrenaline rush.  Who needs roller coasters? I buy groceries!)

And again I digress. As usual.

Maybe the takeaway is this: I’m skipping along the scary edge a lot lately, in a world that’s getting progressively murkier by the hour. So if I seem more withdrawn than usual, it’s because I’m a lot more exhausted than ever. I wish I wasn’t, because there’s a lot worth doing right now.

Jesus fucking Christ, there’s a lot that needs doing. There’s been a lot for decades. The surface armor of suppression and willful ignorance has been scraped off the festering ugliness, so I suppose this could lead to healing. It could lead to bleeding out.

Get angry. Get registered. If you can, get out there and fight. I’ll keep doing what little I can. For sure I’ll keep writing stories that provide a little respite from the darkness.

That’s what I can do.

As usual, the picture is a fluffy addendum with no larger purpose.

 

Feeling Ranty About Writing (Again)

The next person who tells me The Best Way To Write That First Draft is to “just keep writing, don’t edit, don’t worry about changing anything until you’re done all the way to The End” will be figuratively hit over the head with all seven completed novels I successfully wrote while self-editing like a mad fiend.  I will grant two of those novels were hopeless dreck, but I got better. I know  how to finish. I know what the fuck I am doing.

Yah, sure, I sometimes piss and moan about my struggles with this writing gig, but I’m sick and tired of getting chirpy-happy brightsiding advice in reply. Gaps in my happiness are not openings through which to insert boilerplate one-size-fits-all Writing Advice. Do not poke my process. I will bite those fucking fingers off.

<deep breath>

I am not pissing on other ways of doing. I adore reading “How I Did It” stories. I enjoy peering down the roads not taken and trying new tricks and stretching my skills–at my on speed, and in my own oddball way. That’s discovery and exploration.

But slapping the same information into my online space as responsive commentary (or throwing it unasked in my face in person) is like reaching for a tissue and getting sandpaper instead.

Suggestions to “Try X, it works for me/my friend/this famous person” erode my emotional defenses. Those offhand remarks, however kindly intended,  carry implicit messages of disapproval of whatever I’m doing now. They scrape me raw.

When I gripe, I need comfort, not Perky Writing 101. Gnashing my teeth over uncooperative prose indicates desire for commiseration, empathy, and/or demands for productivity. It is NOT an invitation for correction of the many, many, flaws in my writing craft.

I already know the way I write best is not what’s recommended by successful/ commercial/ profitable writers or taught in any workshop. I have been to workshops. I have taken classes.  I’ve tried the tried&true. It. Doen’t. Work. For. Me.

And yet, hard as I march to my own rhythm, the drumbeat never drowns out Common Wisdom.  Why so stubborn?  My brain whispers in this annoying little voice it uses when it’s being a shit. Try it that other way. Do that other thingYes, last time changing up your writing stopped you cold and killed your spirit, but maybe this time it’ll be different. Why do you keep pretending you know better than all the experts and teachers, you egotistical hack?

That annoying whisper is hard enough to silence without unsolicited advice giving it a megaphone and amplifier.

I self-edit constantly, I don’t outline in detail or make character sheets or do ANYthing I’m “supposed” to do, and yet left to myself I can produce a clean, editable novel manuscript in as little as few months…

…or as long as several years. Why such a range? Here’s a confession:  I write only when I can delude myself into thinking that someone else actually-really-truly wants to pick up what I’m laying down and wants it RIGHT NOW.

The right now part is critical. I’ll likely miss every deadline laid down, but having them does motivate me. But I can’t set my own deadlines.  I’m good at deluding myself, but the idea that anyone else (in the larger sense of The General Public, not in the sense of my loyal couple dozen fans…) wants my writing NOW? That’s too big a bouncer for me to swallow.

So. I stop writing when being constantly hounded about process AND when I think nobody else really cares if I ever finish or not. Fragile, frail flower, that’s me. Piss, moan, stomp, stomp. Oh, look. I’m griping again. Life as usual.

 

NO I AM NOT ASKING FOR ADVICE. I am just sulking here in my internet corner, much the same way my cat grumbles to himself when he’s settling into his blanket for a nap.

This isn’t my first rodeo. When I’m bucking and and growling all over the ring to work off my temper, don’t step in there with advice. You’ll get stomped on like a baby chick. If I want advice on how to ride the bronco, I promise I will ask for it. I will even use interrogative phrasing and proper punctuation to make abundantly clear that I am making questions.

Otherwise cheers and hollering and applause from the sidelines is what I actually need. In case anyone was wondering.

What’s in a name?

Naming books is not my favorite activity. I would rather write another hundred thousand words of narrative than pick the two to five words that will capture its essence on the cover.  Anyone who has seen the initial working titles for most of my work would agree that creating names is not my strong suit.  (two examples of too many: “Carl Finally Gets Some Action” and “Dusty’s Story”)

The shortcoming affects more than writing. We had a cat we called “Kitten” all sixteen years of his life because that’s the best name I could come up with. (We told the vet to list him as Alexander Batwing Spook, but none of those monikers ever stuck for day-to-day use.)

Anyway. Titles. On rare occasions the proper one just comes to me with the concept attached. (Rough Passages felt right for the series the instant it popped into mind, f’rex.)  I wish the process worked like that all the time, but no. It’s usually a long, excruciating research project involving weeks of brainstorming, muttered curses, disappointing reactions from Beloved Alpha Reader, and lots of check-searches to avoid use of an accidentally offensive, clichéd, or market-saturated phrase.

And sometimes when I’m brainstorming I come up with titles that speak to me…but neither fit my work-in progress perfectly nor immediately inspire stories to go along with them.

I keep coming back to this list I posted a couple of weeks ago. I am still searching for a better title than Heartwood for the upcoming Rough Passages novel. For your amusement, here’s a second look at the sad options I’ve collected so far:

  • All The Days In Darkness
  • Chase the Whirlwind
  • In the House of Mourning
  • A Crackling of Thorns
  • The Heart Is a Trap
  • A Handful of Tranquility
  • What Wise Hearts Know
  • Sagging Rafters, Leaking Souls
  • Like Clouds After Rain, The Days of Trouble Come

And these sound like a fantasy trilogy to me, tho’ I have zero idea what kind. Something dark & epic maybe.

  • Break the Golden Bowl
  • Cut the Silver Cord
  • A Wheel Broken At the Well

That’s all for now. Why post all this (again)? Because I felt like sharing and this topi is on my mind?  Yup, It is that simple. It also means I am less likely to lose the list if ever I decide to use any of them. Yes, I can irrevocably delete things by accident. I have witnesses.

If by chance you think any of these would make a great title for a book about a woman facing the exposure of her dark past and the loss of her new life when she gains a phenomenal superpower…well. Let me know.