Writing With A Broken Brain

I stare at the screen, take in the whiteness, change the colour of the page to see if it’ll help.

Then I change the colour of the font. Not that I can tell, what with the lack of words and all. But it’s the thought that counts, and changing the font colour, or style, is helpful for writer’s block, so maybe, maybe it’ll work.

It doesn’t. This isn’t writer’s block. It’s depression and/or anxiety.

I know the things that work to stop these moments, though those things are often left abandoned on the sidewalk as I speed ahead to try and get it all done. Eight hours sleep. Proper workplace. Three meals, enough water. Fish oil tablets. Quiet, or at least a little bit of quiet time daily. Not feeling like I’m constantly on call to save the day. 

Not feeling like the world is caving in around me would also be good, but the more anxious I get, the more I feel it, and the more I feel it, the more I try to outrun it and only make it worse.

The hard part is learning to stand, frozen in place when you feel like you’re going to die if you don’t run. Not literally- I know the world’s not actually caving in. But the panic is there, and the instinct to try and avoid that uncomfortable sense of futility is overwhelming.

On those days, if I have to write for work, I can generally force something into existence. But writing for me? I stare at the page.

Once upon a time, I used to verbally and emotionally eviscerate myself for that. Took it as a sign of laziness, rather than my mind screaming ‘stop’ and tearing itself apart until I obeyed, until I freeze and let the world crumble around me. This is what happens when I’m pushing myself too hard, too often, for too long.

It happens way, way too often.

Sometimes the only thing to do is stop. And sometimes stopping for even twenty minutes is enough of a reboot to get things started again. Maybe I’ll read for fun. Or take a shower. Or listen to music and sing along without caring about how I sound. I’ll take my tablets, eat and drink if I’ve forgotten it, maybe even go have a nap if I know I’m overtired.

Sometimes, the page stops being white, or whatever ridiculous colour it’s become in my quest to just do something, anything. And sometimes I’ll sip tea from a proper cup, snuggle under a blanket (I get cold when I’m upset, or stressed, like I’ve actually gone into shock. Because clearly, weirdness is my superpower here), and read something suitably trashy (no crime, no horror, nothing filled with angst or characters whose self-loathing too closely resembles my own). When I’m back in the real world, I’ll paint again, filling A5 journals with art that might not be fantastic, but is pretty damned therapeutic.

Sometimes it’s enough to get me back on my feet. Sometimes it takes a few days to set me to rights. But slowly, I’m learning that the kindest thing I can do is not try to write when this is my reality. I’ll hate what I write anyway- it’ll be harried and forced, and nothing will flow the way it needs to- and it’ll only be deleted.

They say you have to write every day, but honestly? The world doesn’t end if you don’t obey that rule.

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Reply to an Addendum

Dear Peter M. Ball,

GET OUTTA MY HEAD.

All snark aside, this is actually why I adore Peter as a mental health writer, and value the hell out of him as a friend. Peter has a habit of saying things that I’ve been struggling to figure out how to articulate, or mentioning things in passing that knock me on my ass for a while because they’re so me it’s scary. Also? He was wonderful enough to add a follow on piece to his article here, over at Man Vs Bear. Go, read it. It’s wonderful.

Back? Okay then.

Let me tell you the worst kept secret in the history of secrets: I’m not good at the whole ‘being social’ thing.

Pick your jaw up off the ground, guys. Don’t be mean.

It baffles me most days that I freelance, because it actually hurts to do the job that I love to do. I don’t mean ‘I get a little stressed sometimes’ here. I mean ‘this job dramatically and negatively impacts my mental health on a near daily basis and I force myself to do it anyway for the nuggets of awesome hidden away in the panic and vomiting’.

You see the Insta pics of that latest movie review, right? And it looks like a lot of fun. And in the second that picture is taken, it is fun. And when I say I love my job, I do actually mean that I love that part of my job. But through that photo, what you miss is the lead up- the part where I stress about tickets a dozen times (which reminds me I left the ticket to tonight’s gig at home- fuck), and making sure everyone gets equal spare ticket nabbing privileges, and arranging times to meet up, and getting there early but not too early, and oh gods there’s just so many fucking people. And it’s always worse when it’s a kid’s movie because parents and grandparents are the worst and will push in front of you and teach their loin-leavings to be rude and horrible to other people in general for the sake of getting one spot closer in line. And if you don’t hate kids, parents, and grandparents by the time you’re in your seat, you’re pretty much guaranteed a sainthood.

I hate the lining up bit. And the other people behind me where I can’t see them bit (hyper-vigilance is fun, y’all), and the part where you get knocked into repeatedly or crashed into by kids, or have people reading your phone over your shoulder. And the part where you have to try and make idle chit chat with bored people and you don’t actually know what to say because talking with new people really, really isn’t my strong suit. And god forbid you say something controversial like, ‘Actually, I’m a freelance writer and reviewer’ when they ask what you do or how you managed to get a ticket, because the automatic response is almost always bitchy, and it’s hard to smile and not snark back.

The seeing the movie and talking about it bit? Love it. The interacting with people? Not so much.

Interviews are painful, too, which is why I favour phone interviews to in person ones. On a phone call, no one can see you flailing, and fidgeting, or driving your nails into your palms or your wrists or your legs to stop yourself from panicking because you’re 100% sure you’ve fucked something up even if you’re not sure how you’ve done it.

I have literally drawn blood trying to stop myself having a panic attack during a phone interview. And I still, voluntarily, do interviews.

Even the transcription process hurts, because in listening to the audio I can pinpoint every single stumble I made. Oh, that’s where I screwed up and said the wrong word like a complete moron.

Oh, that’s where I got the name slightly wrong because I’m an asshole.

OMG KYLIE WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?

I can handle in person interviews if I know the person, though even then I’m hyperaware of how awkward I am, and the way I try and cover it over by being, y’know, super happy hyper girl pretending not to be holy shit I think I’m gonna puke girl.

I am not a social butterfly by nature, but I glue those fucking wings on and make do.

 

So when Peter talks about the stress of making a call- I get it. I have started phone interviews with tears running down my face because I’m so panicked. I have had a panic attack down the phone line to my editor when a guy I was meant to interview gleefully screwed me around and I had no idea what to do about i. I have drawn blood trying to focus. I literally have every interview q&a prep page including the following:

Hi [name]! It’s Kylie from [insert publication here]. How are you?

That’s great to hear! Are you still alright for our interview?

Awesome!

Why? Because when I’m anxious- and that’s a certainty with interviews- there’s a high chance I’ll be so focused on not mispronouncing words or stumbling over names that I’ll forget the really basic stuff. Like not coming across like an asshole.

To put it in perspective: my interview with Tim Ferguson is my favourite interview, and the one I was the most confident in. But I still can barely stand to listen to the audio because I know every moment I flailed, and every point I struggled to keep up, and ad-lib questions, and every moment I was flailing stupidly at the phone because oh my gods I really respect this guy and what if I fuck it up? I’m gonna fuck it up, of course I am. That’s what I do.

And that was me on a good day.

‘You Had One Job’ by Peter M. Ball

I am utterly thrilled to say that our first guest poster is Peter M. Ball! Peter is a particularly kick-ass writer based in Brisbane, Australia. He’s got a brilliant turn of phrase, and a wicked mind for storytelling…and a habit of talking about mental health in a way that breaks my heart and reaffirms the entire point of this series: you’re not alone. You can find more of his writing- and links to some rather wonderful books- at his site, Man Vs Bear

1.

I’m about to make breakfast when the realisation hits me: I didn’t put the dishwasher on last night. Because I didn’t put the dishwasher on, there are no clean bowls for porridge this morning. Because there are no clean bowls for porridge, it should be quite obvious I’m a useless piece of shit. Come on Peter, you stupid mother-fucker, you had one goddamn job yesterday.

It takes 65 words to express that moment. Less than a minute of typing to transmute it into the beginning of a journey, a hook I can build around. A moment of anxiety rendered through the filter of a pithy internet meme. The part of my brain that deals with narrative is already looking for what comes next.

Another part of my brain is still dwelling on the dishes. It took three seconds to pull a pasta bowl out of my cupboard and use it instead. That doesn’t matter. I fucked up. One more in a string of fuck-ups that speak to the fact I’m sorry excuse for a human being.

I’m still dwelling on it an hour later, when I come back to this essay. An hour after that, as I’m eating lunch. Rationally, I know I had many jobs yesterday. I spent hours catching up with a close friend I hadn’t seen in months. I wrote a first draft of this essay that will never see the light of day. I obsessed about the flaws that first draft. I ate take-out burritos, which meant there were no dishes to put in the dishwasher, which is how I missed the step where I turned the dishwasher on.

I did not have one job yesterday. I never have one job.

2.

Let’s not fuck around. When Kylie asked me say a few things about mental health and writing, her one request was ‘talk about how you manage your bad days.’

The answer to that is simple: I don’t. The bad days are bad days, and when they hit, nothing gets done.

I plan around them when I can, mitigating their impact on deadlines. I look at the thirty days in the month, and figure I’ll be productive for about twenty-three. The rest will get taken up by other things, some of which will be bad days where my brain sends me into a tailspin and everything’s a struggle.

At worst…well, I sink for a week or two. On the really bad days I do not write, because I do not deserve to write. I do not deserve to eat real food or make sensible choices about how I spend my money. I do not deserve to have ambitions.

To write on a bad day is to acknowledge there’s a future, and the possibility that I will continue to exist. That I will wake up tomorrow and this process of pretending I’m a functional human being will start all over again.

On the bad days, that thought is terrifying.

3.

Today is not a bad day, but it could turn into one.

I didn’t write yesterday, among all the things I was doing. I mean, sure, I wrote a first draft of this essay, but it wasn’t good and it wasn’t finished and besides, it doesn’t really count. Only fiction counts as writing. The same part of my brain that focuses on my failure to turn on a dishwasher comes into play.

It doesn’t matter that I’d planned yesterday as a day off. That I’d specifically set aside the fiction project to write this and hang out with my friend and eat burritos and talk shit. That I cleaned my house before said friend came over, and answered emails that kept my writing career running.

You had one goddamn job, Peter. You had one goddamn job.

The worst part about writing is the speed with which it becomes a stick you can use to flagellate yourself, especially if you’re the kind of person who deals with anxiety or depression or other mental health challenges.

4.

I put a lot of value on being smart. For years it was my defence mechanism against that hollow feeling I wasn’t yet ready to call depression. I tethered my sense of self-worth to the twin docks of I am smart and I can write.

Here’s the real irony in all this – to write regularly and intelligently, particularly now that I’m aware that depression and anxiety will fuck with me, I need to admit that I’m actually pretty dumb. If I want to write consistently and avoid the bad days, I have to embrace all the simple, stupid thing that help manage my mental state.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I get at least seven hours of sleep, which means going to bed at 11 and waking up at 7.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I take my medication, even though my current medication means alcohol is likely to make my liver explode and that completely sucks.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I track my negative thoughts and dismantle them using the toolkit provided by cognitive behavioural therapy, even though it makes me feel like an idiot.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I make use of a CBT app on my phone to track things, and obey its daily reminders.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I start projects early and work on them consistently, instead of trying to burn through them before a rapidly approaching deadline.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I do incredibly twee things, like create gratitude lists. Or when I go out and walk every day and eat healthy meals. Or when I make time to catch up with friends, even if it’s for a half-hour, even when I am reasonably certain that I am too feral to be around people.

Let’s be clear: I hate all of this. I do not want to be this person. I would much rather be a freewheeling, creative genius who shits rainbows and has their brilliance acknowledged by everyone around them.  The fact that I am not that person is frustrating as hell.

It doesn’t fucking matter.

I want to be a writer who makes a living from their work, and I want that even more than I hate being the person who needs to do those other things. It isn’t easy. It isn’t fun. It’s just what needs to be done

5.

I don’t like writing about mental health, particularly my own. I force myself to do it quite often, but in the back of my mind there’s this lingering fear that this time is the time when someone will finalise realise the truth. That I’m not actually depressed or anxious, but I am a lazy fuck-up too scared of my own ambitions to actively pursue them. You’re not unwell, that voice whispers, you just need to be fucking better than you are. Stop pretending that you’re good enough.

That thought is always with me. Stop pretending that you’re good enough. Stop pretending. Stop. Stop. It’s grappled with every time I sit down to write. Is this story good enough? This book? This essay?

It’s when the voice get something to point to – a failure, however small – that I crash into the bad days and get nothing done. Look, the voice says, see how bad you fucked this up? You deserve this. You suck. Now everyone will know.

Because the bad days are bad, it’s easy to villainize that nagging thought without acknowledging that it can be a positive thing. The need to be smarter and better drives me as often as it sinks me into the quagmire. It led me to take a stupid challenge that became my first book, or write a short story to prove someone wrong that ended up getting reprinted over and over and over.

The line between a good day and a bad day is frequently just having enough bandwidth to recognise that voice as part of a polyphony, not the entire conversation.

6.

I fear having my depression invalidated because…well, for starters, that’s the nature of being depressed, and there is something comforting about the possibility that you, at your worst, aren’t necessarily 100% to blame.

But it’s not just that. At all.

The worst part about the bad days was never the depression itself, because depression didn’t give me the space to care about anything. What really fucked with me was the week just after I emerged from a depressive quagmire, when the internal monologue stopped playing “nothing matters, so why bother,” and I started to give shit about writing and work again.

Suddenly I looked back at the time I lost and felt nothing but shame, panic, and anger. I was lazy and out of control, and I didn’t understand what caused it. Why could I write consistently and regularly for weeks a time, only to sink into this shit for no reason?

And so I would come out of a low period and try to make up for it, putting together incredibly ambitious and quite unreasonable plans to try and make those feelings go away. Often this meant throwing myself at big, public projects where people would validate me. Public displays of productivity are easy, when you’re a writer. You don’t even need to finish projects, just show that you’re working a lot.

To be able to look back on a bad week and go, “oh, right, I was just depressed,” circumvents a lot of self-loathing. Freeing up the mental resources that used to go into bolstering my ego means it’s easier to get back to writing, simply because I’m willing to cut myself a break.

7.

It occurs to me that I still haven’t put the dishwasher on. More dishes have accumulated on the sink, and there are still no clean bowls if I need them. Do I stop writing and go deal with the problem, or do I keep working while I’ve got the thread of the narrative? I stick with typing, ‘cause that’s what I’m doing right now. ‘Cause taking care of me frequently rates beneath finishing something I’m writing for someone else.

Even though that’s one of the things that I should monitor better than I do.

I’ve almost talked myself into the dishes when I get a notification on google hangouts. My fortnightly writers catch-up is starting, a meeting I’ve forgotten because I didn’t do my weekly diary seven days back. A gap in my process, which I know better than to ignore because it leads to anxiety when shit like this occurs

Jesus, Peter, you had one job…

8.

The worst part about writing about my mental health isn’t the fear. No, the worst part is knowing that you’re still a writer, that stories and essays have structures and conventions. Characters in stories start off broken, and they are made whole by the climax. The problems of the beginning are resolved by the end, all neat and clean.

If you write long enough, this becomes instinct. The reader has stuck with you until the end, and now you owe them an epiphany.

I have nothing for you.  In terms of dealing with writing and my own mental health, I’m a rough draft, not the final product. Everything is very much a work in progress. What helps some weeks helps less a month later; anxiety triggers that send me into a tailspin get worse, or better, or go away.

And yet again, the thought is there: Jesus, Peter, you had one job.

Today, I just have the energy to put that thought in the box marked anxiety, which sits next to the box marked depression, and them aside long enough to do this job, and the next one, and the one after that.

It’s not much as epiphany’s go, but right now it’s the best I’ve got.

Broken Words

There are certain phrases I’ve been programmed to say, regardless of their validity or fairness.

I’m fine, just tired.

I’m sorry, it’s all my fault.

I can’t draw.

Honesty is for the internet, because the conversations online are often less taxing than ones offline. Also? I’m often a coward. It’s easier to take the blame or shrug off the problem than it is to risk the people I know telling me they don’t believe me. My current counsellor calls me an ‘unwilling people pleaser’.

He kinda has a point.

I found myself, over and over, saying I couldn’t draw today. Silliness happened online, and I wanted, needed, to draw it. Me feeling inspired to art, knowing it would be seen by someone I respect the hell out of? It’s rare.

When I was in highschool, I had a shitty art teacher who made me feel like crap about everything I tried to do. I started out passionate, engaged. Not a shocker: growing up when I was asked what I wanted to be, my answer was almost always ‘writer, singer, artist’. Sometimes ‘palaeontologist’ so I could work with my big sister. By the time I graduated I was half-assing assignments like nobody’s business because, over and over, that art teacher told me I was shit at art, and eventually I gave up and started believing.

Grade nine, she ‘helped’ me with an assignment, taking over and adding glue and white paint to the surface of my artwork while I was out of the room. She’d suggested the addition, and I’d said no, I didn’t think it’d work with what I was trying to do. She failed me for those additions, because they were too much and ruined the overall look of it. It clearly didn’t go with what I was trying to do.  She even managed to break the triptych I’d made for an art showing at the school, cutting the linking chains and gluing Velcro to the back of the timber, and basically making sure it couldn’t be salvaged after the event. She hung the pictures- of ghosts, because I was a morbid little shit even back then- upside down. I remember looking at everyone else’s work, all beautifully presented, with mine arranged upside down and lopsidedly haphazard, hidden in the back like it was an embarrassment. In class, the old cow would stand behind me as I worked, pointing out flaws and asking why I couldn’t be like her favourite student.

Four years of that, and it was ingrained pretty well that I suck at art. It took years to even pick up a coloured pencil again. But the thing is, I enjoy being creative. And I’m even okay at it when I get out of my own way.

For the first time in forever, I decided to make something and show someone. It’s not perfect, granted- I’m not going to be animating anything for Disney. But I like it. It’s cute. And it makes me happy. It also makes the person I’m giving it to happy, which is kinda the point.

But still, even looking at a piece of paper covered in proof to the contrary, in the back of my mind I hear ‘I can’t draw.’ To the point I got spooked. I actually worried whether one of my friends would be angry about it- even though he’s the kindest, most easy going person who would never give someone shit for imperfect art. I was genuinely worried he’ll be mad about a picture because ‘I can’t draw’ and he might be offended that I took the silly and made an ugly picture of it even though I know it’s not ugly and actually like it.

My brain is a complicated place to be.

We all have a running narrative of bullshit forced into our heads from ourselves, but also from those around us. The unhelpful relative who tells us that we could stand to lose some weight if we want to get/keep a partner. The teacher who told us boys only like girls who smile (jokes on you, asshole: I still get hit on when I’m scowling, so there!) The helpful sort who explained that creativity is a hobby, not a career, and starving artist is all you’ll ever be because you’re not talented enough to be in the minority of successful art makers.

I’ve recently started cognitive behavioural therapy, which is fucking phenomenal for someone who likes picking things apart to study them. It’s hard, sometimes, but I kinda love it, because it’s like dissecting a story to see how the author made it work.

I am the writer of my life story, and gods dammit, but I’ve made it a hell of a complicated narrative.

In a way, in CBT sessions we play a game: find a negative thought currently fucking me up, and figure out where it came from. What started that fear, or running monologue? And how do I change that belief now?

I was scared to show a friend a picture of some My Little Ponies because a woman told me when I was younger that I can’t ‘do’ art properly. Given she was in a position of authority on the subject and was bullying the hell out of me, I started to believe her, to the point where that voice in my head telling me I suck is hers, even after all these years.

What I didn’t expect was how that ‘you’re not creative’ fucks me over as a writer. I’ve been writing fiction for years, but rarely sharing it. Certainly never getting it published away from spheres I control, even though I want to be an author. But I hesitate, over and over.  Because ‘you’re not creative’ wormed its way into the part of my creativity that means the most to me.

The bullshit we’re told is sneaky. It gets into the nooks and crannies you don’t expect it to be in, until you’re left wondering what the absolute fuck is wrong with you. You chalk yourself up to lazy asshole levels of uselessness, beat yourself up emotionally for the wasted effort, and never realise that there might be something just below the surface.

We’re all a melting pot of our own baggage, and the baggage other people have dumped onto us, knowingly or not.

The thing about epiphanies is that they’re fucking worthless on their own. I am really, really good at having them- at picking things apart and understanding why they’re happening. What I suck at is figuring out how to fix things.

I’m getting slowly better though. Here, I know that Van Gogh had a good point: if you hear a voice saying you can’t paint, paint and it’ll stfu. Push through, and take some of the pressure off, and suddenly that big scary ‘can’t’ is turning into a ‘kinda can’. Take the Dory approach (just keep swimming), and ‘kinda can’ turns into ‘can’ turns into ‘fuck me, I’m awesome’.

When they said you have to suffer for your art, I had no idea that they actually meant that you’ll probably suffer crippling self-doubt and a society given belief that you’re unworthy to call yourself a creative. But there you go.

The Sunday Circle: A Reckoning

It’s… it’s been a while since I’ve done this, gentle reader.

The utterly kick-ass wonder, Peter M. Ball, has a weekly Q&A opp over at Man Vs Bear, asking 3 simple questions. I’ve been meaning to answer these weekly for a while now. No, really, there are drafts and everything.

So here’s me, sheepishly creeping back into the routine.

What are you working on this week?
Too freakin’ much. Nobody should be shocked at this point. I’m trying to get the review blog live, finally, after a kabillion irritating setbacks. It means figuring out how to set it out, and… yeah. Not my happy place.

I’m also trying to get back into a writing habit, because the move last month absolutely destroyed my focus, and my ability to get anything done. I need to get back on track with the music challenge, and Smart People Talking, too. I’m still trying to catch up on the reviews owing, because, again, moving house sucks heartily.

And I’m trying to wrap my head around how much writing I need to get done this year to keep up with all the longer form projects I’m involved in. You know that moment when you start thinking you’ve maybe bit off more than you can chew, but you decide to try and choke it down anyway because what’s the worst that could happen? 

Yeah. That’s me.

What is inspiring you at the moment?
The new project is a lot of fun, and getting to bounce ideas off someone is awesome. The idea of learning in a more hands-on way about the industry is equal parts brilliant and terrifying.

Being somewhere with minimal internet and zero TV means having to actually write or read, which is great for productivity. Or it will be, when I can get my brain up and running properly.

What part of your project are you trying to avoid?
Designing the review blog. Because Jesus-freakin-Christ, that’s the part I hate. Have you seen how shittily basic this blog is? For whatever reason, whenever I try and trudge my way through the design stuff, I just… my brain just does not compute wtf needs to be done to make it all suck less.

I want it to look good. Professionally casual, I suppose? It’s a bunch of people wanking lyrical about books, nothing academic or overly serious, but I don’t want it to look like some 13 year old’s dear diary, either. But easy af to navigate, and no stupid poppy-uppy mofo asking for people to subscribe or whatever before they’ve even gotten to look at the blog. Because those things are the devil’s work.

And I need to figure out how to (cheaply, because sudden unexpected move means all hail the poverty for a while) make sure that the authors are credited properly. One of the sites I freelance for has the owners name show up on the links, so it essentially credits her for everyone’s work until you click the link and read down. I 100% don’t want to do that. But I don’t know enough to not do that, and this is why this part of the project has been summarily ignored. Like, I need to have one person uploading, because everyone is busy af and it’s easier just to have one person scheduling things than everyone trying to. But I want everyone’s work immediately and clearly credited to them. And I have no idea how to explain that in a way that someone who knows how to fix the problem is understanding.

Honestly, we’re all speaking English, but we’re speaking vastly different languages right now. I hates it, precious.

Also? The writing. Mostly because I’m just a tad overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things I need to get done, and my brain is just kinda looking like Sam Neil when he first sees a dinosaur:

dafuq is that dinosaur doing there

 

Fail. Fail Better.

At the beginning of the year, I set myself an ambitious, but not entirely unreasonable challenge: 2,000 words of writing every day for the year. Which sounds kinda cruisy until you do the math: that’s 730,000 words in a year.

…That’s a big number.

I kicked ass in January, and came close to hitting 1/7th of my goal in the first month of the year. February? Not so much. Life became about the stress of the move, big time. If you’ve ever had minimal money and maximum need for accommodation in Brisbane (or anywhere with unreasonably high rent)… you know what it’s like.  2k a day became ‘get your work done and survive’.

It’s hard getting back into the swing of writing. Even with so small a break, it feels like the muscle memory has died off in the weeks I’ve been freefalling and focused elsewhere.

The voice of anxiety is booming that it’s doomed- how can I catch up? To be back on track means getting another 86k written this month. That’s a big ask with a sprained finger I’m meant to be resting.

Shall I give you a moment to get the dirty jokes out of your system?

crowley is bored
I’m waiting…

We good to continue? Lovely. No, it wasn’t doing anything fun. It was hauling stuff around. And now every time I use it to hit a key (or turn on a light, or use my phone… or…) it reminds me, rather painfully, that I need to cut that shit right out this instant. I want to write, but I also kinda want the pain to stop, too.

So how do you get back on track when it feels like that goal lives on the impossible end of the spectrum? You learn to fail better. I managed about 13k last month. I doubt I’ll make 100k this month to compensate, and that’s okay, even though in this moment anything less than 100k feels like an epic kind of fail. I’m already at 14k- I’ve already beat last month’s word count in two days of work. Instead of saying ‘I must hit 100k’, let’s say 70k- about 10k more than my set monthly target. If I add that little bit extra each month, boom. I’m caught up by the end of the year. It still feels like a bit of a failure, because I’m rocking the anxiety girl chic right now, but it’s failing better than last month, at least.

It’s not always about the massive instant fix. Sometimes, slow and steady is the better option.

Goals and Life

Last month, life went fairly well. Rocked the fiction writing goals, made progress on a bunch of stories- things went so well I blasted past my original word count target by 30k-ish.

I rocked it like a hurricane.

This month? Not so much.

I’m frantically house hunting, which, if you’ve ever tried to find affordable, pet friendly, public transport accessible housing in Brisbane, you’ll know it’s the mental equivalent of stabbing yourself in the arm, over and over every single day, hoping that this time it won’t hurt as much. Funnily enough, that doesn’t help get things done.

At the same time, I’m packing, or trying to. It’s a slow process to try and find all the little bits that have gone awry over the last year, especially when you work from home and actually have to… y’know, get that work done. It’s even more fun to be trying during a heatwave, in a house without air con or fans, with three cats demanding regular attention.

In ye olde worldy days, when I was young and stupid, I asked writers- a lot- how they managed to make it all work. I mean, let’s be honest: life is a shit storm sometimes. How does anyone get anything done in that?

And almost every single writer trotted out that painful line ‘if you value it, you’ll do it’. Which, let’s be honest, is the sort of privileged, hunk of shit answer that sounds like it’s given to them along with the publishing contract in a cheesy ‘how to’ guide style format. I’m gonna be honest: as soon as anyone says it, I assume the biggest issue they’ve ever faced is a slightly sore toe. Maybe a vague sense of unease that lasted about five minutes.

I tend to roll my eyes and look for someone slightly more real and relatable to talk to.

You can value the hell out of something, and still not be able to give it the attention it needs or deserves. The truth is that sometimes, life is gonna kick you in the crotch, and you’re gonna need to rest instead of forcing your way through the pain to the other side. Sometimes, other things need to be of higher value in your life. Like not being homeless. Or not having to replace a bunch of stuff at the worst possible time. There are gonna be times when you write like it’s the easiest thing in the world, and there are gonna be times when every word feels like you’re dragging it kicking and screaming from a tar pit and trying to scrub it clean while it tries to rip your arms off. That’s pretty damn time consuming.

My goal this month was 52-ish thousand words. I’ve just passed 12k. And, honestly? That’s okay. That’s actually pretty damn phenomenal, given the circumstances. Instead of focusing on the lost 40k, I’m focusing on the found 12.

The more stress I throw at myself to get it done, to try and write 40k and pack and move and house hunt and…and…and… the more I’m going to struggle. The more I try to play catch up, the more I throw guilt into the mix, the more impossible it’ll feel, and the quicker I’ll give up. Guilt kills creativity.

So instead, I’m kicking back and relaxing. I’m saying it’s totally fine that there will be months where I get nothing much done. It happens. Life goes on. 12k is infinitely worthy of celebration in a month like this.

Hell, 10 words in a month like this? Still a number to be proud of. Surviving the month without getting a single word down would have been worthy of celebration.

Sometimes, where you’re at is enough. Sometimes, you need to put down the goals you’re beating yourself to death with, and accept that next month will be better.

Progress, not perfection, right?