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Public Glee vs. the Private Abyss

I've had a number of conversations that start the same way, people wondering just how much to share on blogs or Facebook or Twitter about their families, their kids, their photos or struggles, the truths they wanted to be open about versus the fact that they were authors with "fans" and didn't want to expose their lives to everybody. "How do you keep your public and private lives separate online?" My answer has always been: "I don't put my private life online."

This is only partially true. I am completely open about my geekery, my love of books and steampunk, costuming and gaming, cooking, karate, my passion for gender rights, GLBTQI advocacy and prevention education, I've even nicknamed my kids to share anecdotes and quotes, but there is a line I've drawn in the proverbial sand and since I'm not THAT big of a name, that has been enough for me to keep some details off the radar, and while it sometimes feels like a half-truth, I think it's good to keep some things private, especially when it involves other people.

But not when it's this.

I love writing--I have my whole life--but recently, I've stopped writing. This is bad in many ways, including the fact that I'm under contract, have hopes of publishing other books I've written and those I have planned, but mostly because writing is my go-to place, my solace, my escape from stress and pressure that rule my other lives* and to have that be the cause of stress and anxiety is tantamount to having my own hands turn against me, trying to choke my own throat--works in B-horror movies, but not so much in real life. It's a paralytic feeling. Being one who had a near-miss with paralysis, I'm not thrilled to get another taste.

I use black humor to jokingly reference the fact that my neck snapped back in September, 2012. The truth of the matter is that accident was one of the most frightening moments of my life and put me on my back for a solid 4.5 months, taking over 11 months to recover to almost 90% mobility. I couldn't stand or walk for more than 20 minutes at a time, I wore a neck brace and was on pain meds (which I detest for that cotton-brained feeling), I suffered vertigo and nausea for nearly a year, I couldn't read or write (!!!) and my regular karate workouts went from consistent to zilch. I lay on the couch, head and knees propped up with pillows, for most of my waking hours. I was SO BORED! I could only listen to music or watch TV and those aren't things I usually do. (Reading books made me want to vomit within a few pages.) The truth was that I simply wasn't built for being lazy and complained to my husband that being a couch potato was *exhausting*--I felt like I was vibrating in place with the impatience to move, pushing desperately against that sinking feeling of being slowly swallowed by the couch.

Then came the day when I stopped fighting it.

Still under deadline, I forced myself to do copyedits 20 minutes at a time, taking breaks to resettle my eyes and stomach, before I'd do it again (and again and again) to get my book in on time. I am nothing if not committed.** My writing time had halved since I couldn't manage to keep up the energy I had for my usual nighttime writing stint (9pm-midnight), being physically exhausted by the end of the day. I couldn't go out. I was frustrated and insular. As an extrovert, this was psychological doom. I stepped away from social media for fear of saying too much. I quietly gained weight I couldn't lose. By the time I was clawing out of this, my second book in the series had been bumped back, I had a new two-book deal on the table and things were looking up...until I tripped on the stairs going out to the car, gaining a sprain, a strain and a hairline fracture in my right foot/ankle and earning a pair of crutches and a boot for my trouble.

Now I couldn't drive. I couldn't exercise, although I had just started up again 3 months prior. Winter was coming and I am no fan of lost sunlight--I think the phrase is "seasonal affective disorder" meaning I'm no fan of lost sunlight. I stopped going out. I started having panic attacks. The Earth and I were slowly growing darker by degrees. I sank into depression, a lifelong frenemy that I usually stave off with heavy exercise and forcing myself outside the house for at least 4 hours a day, but I couldn't do either of these things. Then I lost my agent and no small part of my wits. For the first time ever, I elected to try anti-depressants, enduring uncertainty, sleeplessness, muggy-headedness and searing headaches, but nothing worked. It felt hopeless. I was a wreck. My health suffered. My family suffered. My writing suffered.

And I felt I couldn't tell anybody.

I know many writers have talked about depression far more eloquently and empathically than I--Andrea Cremer, Mike Jung, Myra McEntire and Libba Bray to name a few--and I had nothing to add to the conversation except that I'd managed mine over the years by increasing my exercise. Without that option, my world crumbled. It was a quiet, frightened collapse because now it didn't simply risk myself, but my family, my income, and potentially, my career. I'm not a earning enough to make the risk worth it; I hadn't earned a paycheck in nearly a year, we were feeling the pinch at home and at work, my growing kids needed shoes, my husband asked what I was going to do next now that writing was out? I couldn't imagine. Not write? Are you kidding? I felt like I'd failed across the board, which didn't improve my mood or my ability to write. And that is the flipside of having a public voice and a private life--there is so much of our stories that cannot be told because while being a writer is public, being a human being is private.

So I fell into a dark and quiet hole, feeling creatively defunct and physically spray-tanned in Crisco. Fortunately, I knew myself well enough to know that I'd pull myself out of it (eventually), which I did. I applied myself to getting a new agent, I tentatively outlined fresh ideas, I had gained so much weight that I didn't recognize myself but I concentrated on getting healed and getting better and am now moving at 75-80%, eating right and beginning to move in karate and at the gym. The sun is out. My kids are happy. I re-energized myself at NESCBWI and BEA surrounded by intelligent, creative people and geeky bibliophiles, which felt so good! I'm on the mend and things are looking up.

But I haven't been writing. Barely, if at all. And that frightens me in that little dark cave deep inside my psyche because I've always had writing. Always. So I keep jotting down notes, making partial outlines, sticking colored Post Its on the 4 Act Structure board on my wall, aligning myself to Inspiration and Motivation. Book 4 is on the block. I have 3 projects I'd love to make happen. I'm at the keys for this blog post and it's taking shape, step by step, bird by bird, with a smile and sunlight.

This is private, but now it's public because it's real and part of my story.

Thanks for listening.


* My other lives include wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, advocate, activist and a whole slew of other titles that involve worlds-upon-worlds that I do not share online. There is a great deal of my life that is (thankfully) counterbalanced by being an author, and I value the escape, the place to think things through and the ability to vent what cannot be said aloud in polite company. Books have always been my salvation. Aren't they yours?
** Never to an asylum, although that has been a deeply rooted, lifelong fear due to genetic predispositions in my family tree. It really helps to have a twisted sense of humor about these things!

Comments

( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
robinellen
Jul. 7th, 2014 08:39 pm (UTC)
Wow, you've been through the valley! I don't really talk about my low points, either (though mine tend to be short-lived...if one lasted for months, I'd probably have to find a way to get it out, no?). I'm so glad you're finding your way out (and not surprised -- you're an incredibly strong person). I think the writing will definitely come...you're poking the fire, keeping those embers glowing...and when the time is right, you'll be able to stoke the flame again. :) (((HUGS))) and many prayers and good thoughts, my friend!
dawn_metcalf
Jul. 7th, 2014 11:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Robin. I think one of the hardest things to do is know when/how to come clean in order to move on. Fortunately, most of this is past so now: ONWARDS!
(Deleted comment)
dawn_metcalf
Jul. 7th, 2014 11:37 pm (UTC)
Yes, it is. Thanks, Jenn.

Now all I have to do is apply this to any of the 4 projects I so desperately want to photocopy from my brain onto paper without that pesky ME getting in the way! ;-)
deva_fagan
Jul. 7th, 2014 11:48 pm (UTC)
You are such a strong, vibrant person, Dawn, and I am so happy to hear that things seem to be looking up. The writing will return! I'm sending lots of good thoughts to you for healing, and a quick return of creative energy. Thank you for sharing this.
dawn_metcalf
Jul. 8th, 2014 12:48 am (UTC)
Thanks, Deva! You are one of the bright stars and voices on the screen "out there" and I deeply appreciate both it and you. :-)
fabulousfrock
Jul. 8th, 2014 12:26 am (UTC)
Oh my goodness, Dawn. You poor thing. Not being able to move around or do anything makes it really hard to cope.

I've found that one of the worst parts about writing is the fact that I don't feel like I can talk about things I really NEED to talk about. I don't want to vent on Facebook about how writing this sequel has been complete hell and I hate this book and I wish I could financially afford to say screw it and walk away except I also hate giving up on something I poured so much time into but I've been sobbing like, weekly if not daily...(it is almost done, thank god).

But I also don't have like, a go-to friend I can talk to about everything, and anyway...I feel like I really need a person who has been through the same situation I've been through who can tell me they made it and sometimes I don't even know who that person would be. I also hate admitting anything that feels failureish.

But, what has helped me is that many other writers have talked about their struggles, with certain books, with feelings of failure or inadequacy, or depression in general, so I appreciate this post and I intend to write one myself about my hard year writing this book, once I've gotten through it, to pay the reassurance forward that these challenges do pass.

*HUGS*
dawn_metcalf
Jul. 8th, 2014 12:50 am (UTC)
I KNOW! *hugs*

The truest thing in here for me is "while being a writer is public, being a human being is private" and I don't want to whine or complain, but it is also SO HARD without any way to vent it for fear of sounding "down."

And oh how I hear you about sequels! I'd never written one let alone a series and this @#$%^&*'s HARD. Thank goodness we writers have one another to help pull us through. Together.

*high five*
tezmilleroz
Jul. 8th, 2014 01:28 am (UTC)
Glad to hear you're on the mend :-)
dawn_metcalf
Jul. 8th, 2014 11:43 am (UTC)
Thanks. I am. Which is why I could write about it! :-)
(Deleted comment)
dawn_metcalf
Jul. 8th, 2014 11:43 am (UTC)
You are wonderful in so many ways!!!
(Anonymous)
Jul. 9th, 2014 01:11 am (UTC)
*hugs* You are too, and we've been creative partners before...wanna write a screenplay I don't have time to write?
kenjari
Jul. 8th, 2014 03:01 am (UTC)
Oh, that is so rough. I'm glad things are finally on the upswing. *hugs*
dawn_metcalf
Jul. 8th, 2014 11:44 am (UTC)
Yes! Upswing! Sun! Smiles!

And now to lose weight and write books--what life is all about, really. ;-)
stephanieburgis
Jul. 8th, 2014 10:35 am (UTC)
Oh, Dawn, huge, huge *HUGS*. I can't imagine how hard this must have been and must continue to be.

But I can't believe that the writing won't come back, with time. You've been badly hurt, emotionally and creatively as well as physically. It takes a long time for that kind of thing to heal, and when you've been creatively wounded like that, the writing often just won't come on command…but it will again, in time, when the wound finally has healed.

I know that might not help - and oh God do I know the panic of NEEDING to produce something commercial FAST, financially speaking! I'm so sorry that's making everything so much harder for you, in every way - but I do truly believe that the writing will come back to you when it's ready. And you're doing everything you possibly can to make yourself ready for it right now.

And I think you're wonderful. *HUGS*
dawn_metcalf
Jul. 8th, 2014 11:47 am (UTC)
Thank you so much. It's good to know that there are others out there who KNOW and smile and encourage once we're past that fog. You're wonderful, too and *HUGS* right back!

The funny thing is that I had a dream where I was getting writing advice from Neil Gaiman (one of my big literary heroes) and after I'd just got done explaining the problem I was having, I woke up before he could give me an answer. Stupid brain!!!

Still, I take it as a psychological sign that I'm creatively on the mend. ;-)
cyn2write
Jul. 8th, 2014 01:23 pm (UTC)
Wow, everything you've been going through! Big hugs!! You deserve them!! I am amazed that you have been able to tackle as much as you have considering all those challenges. I often deal with depression and inability to write for months at a time, so I understand that feeling. And I am happy things are starting to look up for you.
dawn_metcalf
Jul. 8th, 2014 03:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Cyn. It's good to have folks who understand AND who keep getting out there! I'm looking forward to when all the Road Runner spinning takes hold and I can take off again!
jennygordon
Jul. 9th, 2014 11:57 am (UTC)
Hi Dawn, I don't often comment over here, but after reading this moving and heartfelt post, I wanted to send my best wishes. I have a health condition which means I often can't write when I want, or for as long as I want, and Life Stuff over the past year has restrained me further, so I empathise to a degree with how you're feeling.

Don't forget that you don't actually have to be writing to be ... writing (if you see what I mean). Jotting a few notes, writing a blog post, reading or watching something inspirational, or even thinking and planning writing still counts. It's still exercising those creative muscles.

One step at a time, and you've taken so many of those already that I'm sure you'll make it to the top of the damned mountain when the time is right.

dawn_metcalf
Jul. 9th, 2014 08:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you & I'm sorry to hear that you have similar challenges but FEAR NOT! The fact that we are here, now, commiserating via the keys means that something is working from brain-to-fingertips so I take this as a Very Good Sign that we can overcome whatever obstacles life throws at us and get back to the passions that fire us up.

ONWARDS, MY FRIEND! *toots bugle* *charges forward* *takes extra care not to trip and fall on face* *smiles*
jennygordon
Jul. 10th, 2014 06:49 am (UTC)
Lol!

And absolutely! I refuse to be defeated!

I heard an exchange on the radio last night:

"Sarge, we're surrounded!"

"Oh good, that means we can attack in any direction!"

It made me smile :O)
dawn_metcalf
Jul. 11th, 2014 12:08 am (UTC)
That is awesome!!!!
olmue
Jul. 9th, 2014 10:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, hugs, Dawn! That is massive amounts of stuff to deal with. It's no wonder all your brain energy was otherwise occupied. I think we writers have to be gentle with ourselves, especially in times like these. It's all still in there. But some times are times for swimming furiously, and other times are the times to sit back and write about it. Sending you tons of sunshine and gentle filling-in-of-holes.
dawn_metcalf
Jul. 10th, 2014 02:37 am (UTC)
You are a darling & I so appreciate your reaching out--thank you! Bit by bit, bird by bird, we'll see through to the other side sooner rather than later.

Sunshine & kittens!
livejournal
Jul. 10th, 2014 12:27 am (UTC)
Losing and finding the center
User writerjenn referenced to your post from Losing and finding the center saying: [...] on not writing when life gets in the way, and the self-perpetuating negative cycle that can result [...]
aprilhenry
Jul. 10th, 2014 03:22 am (UTC)
What a tough row to hoe!

I remember when you had that happen to you. I grapple in kung fu all the time. Luckily, none of the guys is big enough to try that on me (or I'm too big) and besides I think it wouldn't be legal.

My 17th book just came out and I just turned in 18 or 19. I HATED it every day I was writing it,s something I really can't say publicly. Hated it, hated it. It was a slog. The last year has been tough personally but good professionally, which is the part people notice.

My editor loved it and it got the lightest edits of any book I've ever written.

Are you blocked? I liked http://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Prolific-Definitive-Procrastination-Perfectionism-ebook/dp/B006J7BZ8E/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1404962477&sr=8-3&keywords=writers+block and http://www.amazon.com/Unstuck-Supportive-Practical-Working-Through-ebook/dp/B008S0JQZY/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1404962515&sr=8-6&keywords=writers+block

Edited at 2014-07-10 03:23 am (UTC)
dawn_metcalf
Jul. 11th, 2014 12:20 am (UTC)
Isn't it weird how completely unbalanced it all is?

...or maybe that was just the wrestling... ;-)

*hugs* We are not alone.
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )