I’ve been in this whole “let me be a productive writer, finally” phase for all of one week, and I’ve already had my first full-blown melt-down.
And I’m not talking a “sigh and hastily delete something I was working on because all things are terrible” meltdown. I’m talking “Hyperventilating and realizing my life’s ambition has been a giant ruse, and now I’m a failure” meltdown.
Let’s take it back a bit.
I follow a page on Facebook, Freedom With Writing, and it’s always posting great links to open submissions–they’re usually categorized somehow, too, and the focus is on publications that compensate the authors. A few days ago I saw a link to Neoglyphic’s open submission for an anthology, and upon seeing the focus being genre-writing (which is precisely the type of writing I love best), I thought to myself, “Gee, I should at least try. What could it hurt?”
Initially, I had no ideas what to submit. I haven’t produced a short story in ages, and I had no ideas at hand (which I’ll get to later). I stared at my computer for a while, watching the video on the Neoglyphic site over and over again, listening to Aaron Safronoff talk about how he wanted to help create an opportunity for writers who may not find many that often. I was determined to submit something.
So, after some contemplation, I realized I had an old Sci-Fi piece that I wrote ages ago (and by ages I mean I was still a teenager). I vaguely recalled a great reception for the piece by my peers, and thought, “I’ll just work with this piece.”
Long story short, I spent about four hours editing, re-writing, and rearranging this piece. The primary problem, I felt, was that it was about 2K words over the word limit specified for this contest, so I had to whittle it down, and by doing so cut out some big scenes.
And then I sat back and rested.
And then I read it again. And I realized what a terrible mistake I’d made.
Everything I had originally loved about this piece–the main character’s personality–had been cut from the work in this final form. The character (who is essentially a murderous ancient alien stuck on Earth, alone) had a tendency to go on these long internal monologues directed towards the reader, and it really showed how fractured this poor being was, and also in a way gave some sort of justification for his utter frustration with humankind. Most of these monologues were cut or whittled down so far that his personality, which was the entire point of the piece, was gone.
I had a melt-down at this point.
I think all writers go through it: that moment where you convince yourself you have no talent and are completely wasting your time. I started ruminating on my age and the lack of any real work production, kicking myself in the butt for not being braver about submitting to magazines. I stared at my work and found it rudimentary, not because it actually is, but because when you’re in a down it’s just so easy to keep bringing yourself further down.
I started crying, I looked around my studio apartment and thought that it was time to just give in and give up the dream of writing and just live my day to day life trying to make ends meet and hope I found a new passion.
I probably stayed this way for half an hour, on the phone with my friend. Luckily he was nice enough to try and talk me down, told me that the piece was worth saving and re-expanding upon, told me to come up with a fresh idea and start from there.
At first I was irritated. He didn’t understand how terrible I was and that there was no potential in me. He thought I could just come up with something new, like it was easy.
And actually, he was right. I could just think of a new piece. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have anything ready–I could type something else up and edit it a few times before the deadline. He talked me through some ideas, asked me questions to get my brain going, and then he let it go.
And today, I had a great idea for a new piece. I hastily wrote it down in my notebook all of yesterday, and this morning I woke up and knew where a piece could go. After speaking to him this morning and running the idea past him, he told me to just try, and see what happened.
In my quest to merely “get something out there” I had temporarily lost sight of the reason I love writing–the storytelling. I was focused on the quantity (word count) instead of the quality (depth) of the piece, because I was so flustered with myself, thinking I needed to be doing more.
It was a nice reminder that there is no timeline for happiness or success. As long as you work towards it, you’re working towards it. For some it may take longer. For some it may happen sooner. But in the quest to reach your goal–your dream–you can’t forget the reason you wanted it in the first place. And for me, the dream is always to be able to tell the story I want to tell, not the one I think the world wants.
So, for the rest of the night, after some brainstorming for future blogposts, I’m going to be working on a brand new short story that wavers somewhere between sci-fi and horror.
Wish me luck, internets?