“2015 was a year of struggle and perseverance… but it was the year that defined me as a writer.”
My 2015 can practically be summed up in the sentence above, and though I could very easily leave it at that, I will go into depth, because I feel that in some ways it was one of my worst years, and yet, one of my best. A statement that is difficult to understand without explanation. Because how can it be the best and the worst? Yet, that’s just part of life, isn’t it? We take the good with the bad, and we come to realize that we only recognize the good things when we’ve experienced the darkness. It’s the only way we can see the contrast for what it really is.
Because so much happened in 2015, I struggled a bit on how to write this post – and maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to commit words to screen. But I finally decided to go about this in parts, because in a way, that’s how 2015 shaped up in the end… all these separate parts came together to make the whole.
OF DECLINING HEALTH
Though it’s hard to admit – not only to myself, but to others – I won’t sugarcoat this. I’ll let it be known that I spent far too much time within the past couple years not writing at all. You’ll hear, time and time again – from authors and artists alike – that the best way to hone your craft is to work at it every day. And I really do believe that. One of the hardest things I’ve discovered about writing over the years is that the longer you allow yourself to fall out of the habit, the longer it will take you to pick it back up. I’ve reread entire drafts of my story more than once due to allowing myself to fall out of writing too often. The best thing you can do as a writer is to do exactly that – write. It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular, but just the act of writing, keeps you in the writing spirit. It’s one of the reasons that I have a dedicated writing journal. Because I’ve found that even taking the time to complain to yourself about how much your writing sucks or how far you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole in terms of actually working, it’s still writing and it keeps your mind in the habit.
That being said, I spent the majority of the last few years lost amidst depression and failing health. I don’t know when the problems began, but I remember when they truly culminated – probably 3-4 years ago – and feeling terrible became the new normal. I had terrible brain fog all the time, making it difficult to focus on writing and keep things straight in the story. And even when that would clear, I was tired all the time. So tired that it didn’t matter if I slept 3 hours or 12, I always felt like I needed a nap a few hours after I woke up. I had panic attacks for no reason. As well as breaking down and crying for no reason, other than the fact that I was frustrated, not knowing what was going on, and just wanted my life back.
In the fall of 2014, the doctors finally discovered that I have an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Finally having a name to place the blame on was half the battle, but it would still take nearly another year of battling symptoms and fighting doctors before I felt decent.
So, 2015 continued on much like 2014 ended… appearing like there was no real hope in sight. Trying to align myself with the fact that maybe feeling like shit was just my normal, and trying this, that, and the other to reconcile myself to that fact. I tried different diets, tested out different supplements… hoping that something would take to make me feel at least a tish better. I would go in swings, feeling good maybe once or twice a month. Though, as to if that really made a difference, I don’t know. It almost felt as if those few days of feeling good just made me realize all the more what I was missing out on when I returned to the usual days of feeling terrible.
Amidst all this, I tried to write here and there, but I fell into the terrible habit of telling myself that, “I don’t feel great today… tomorrow… Tomorrow, I’ll finally work.” But that quickly became the daily mantra, and a week later, a month later, I would still be telling myself the same thing with nothing to show for it. Even when I did find the ambition to do so much as open a blank Word document, or to open some of my previous writing, I would practically sit there with my vision blurry, trying to figure out what to say, what to write. It felt more and more as if I were losing myself. My art suffered, and in a way, I believe that left me to suffer all the more – as if all that untapped artistic drive within myself was withering in the darkness and backfiring, turning into an internal poison.
One quote that has always stuck with me is:
“A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”
And I really do believe that.
I continued to gather more symptoms – wicked insomnia and hair loss that scared me – before I finally found a doctor that would listen to me. After months on medication that didn’t help me much at all, I was finally able to go on the natural – Armour – that I had wanted since the beginning of this journey since reading that people with Hashimoto’s do far better on it.
It still took a month or two to really kick in, but I began feeling better and better.
THE WALL OF DARKNESS
A great weight had been lifted from my life, but it took me another few weeks to realize just how much damage had been done in that time – not only to my mentality, but to my writing.
I had tried to write here and there along this zig-zaggin journey, though hardly anything of real worth had presented itself during this time. I might have editing a chapter or two – though I remember hitting that brick wall in my edit, and hitting it hard. I danced around the same three chapters for months – hating the story, hating the writing, trying to get it to behave and fit in with the rest of the story. (I actually wonder still if anyone that pays attention close enough could find it in the final book.)
But, it was during this ongoing fight that I ran into the worst days ever with my writing, and to be honest, it had nothing at all to do with the writing itself. Strangely enough.
No, what haunts me to this day, is that I was met with what is probably every author’s worst nightmare: my characters themselves actually fell silent.
And, sadly enough, it actually took me a couple of weeks to realize it…
But I started writing Nyte-Fyre way back in 2006, and since then my characters have always been with me in my mind… constantly bickering, speaking with one another, letting little facts about themselves slip. Writing is probably one of those rare professions that it’s actually part of the job description to have voices in your head, and to listen to them. It had become such a constant chatter that I had kept a notebook by my bed for years to write down conversation pieces that would pop up.
Nigh on ten years, I’d had that cast of characters living with me, co-habituating in my mind. I had grown used to their individual voices vying for my attention. So, it would be a bit of an understatement to say that when they fell silent, I felt lost. I had never experienced this before, and I felt so empty, drifting aimlessly into a silent void.
And it was during this time, looking at the draft of “Sparks and Shadows” and how much work was still left, and trying to find any shred of voice of my characters to cling to, that I began to horrifically wonder if maybe this wasn’t the end. Maybe this was my sign that I should give up. Rather than my characters talking, my inner critic – that had always been there regardless – was given all the more room to rear her ugly head and repeat to me all my fears. That I had never been meant to write. That I wasn’t an artist. A writer. That I was wasting my time. Just how many times could I tell people that this would be the year that my novel would finally be done. That it would finally be published…
Maybe it really was time to hang it up and find something else to do.
And for one of the first times in my life, I actually considered it.
THE STRUGGLE AND THE PERSEVERANCE
That very easily could have been the end. There are probably a lot of people that would have taken that as a sign and moved on.
However, if I am anything besides creative, it’s stubborn.
It was tempting to toss it all to the wayside and allow myself to be defeated, but there’s something stinging in that word… defeat.
2006, I had started with a small seed of an idea and went with it, allowed myself to be drawn into the magic of writing, of creation.
Was I really going to allow 9 ½ years to go to complete and utter waste?
So many days I felt like I hadn’t really gotten anywhere with the story… but look at the Nyte-Fyre folder on my computer and it’ll tell you otherwise.
A 421 page first draft of the first novel. Half of what had already been rewritten for the edit. Side stories and back stories. About 25% of the second novel and half of the third, and some of the fourth, thanks to three consecutive years of participating in NaNoWriMo. Not to mention the copious amounts of notebooks filled with thoughts and notes and character conversations and whatnot floating about the room. Those years hadn’t been entirely wasted, and I had a story blossoming, waiting to finish blooming to tell me that.
Was I really prepared to give all that up?
No… I wasn’t. Because I knew in a way, that even if I had reconciled that I would never write another word on Nyte-Fyre again, it wouldn’t go away. That unfinished business would haunt me for the rest of my life, and it would feel as if the word ‘failure’ was stamped on my head for everyone to see.
The thing is that I’ve always taken on projects that might have been challenging, or more than I needed, because I’ve always been stubborn enough to pull through. It might take me awhile, but I don’t take failure as an option.
I bought a daily desk calendar last year of Latin quotes, and one of them that stuck with me is something that I’ve kept and pertained to my writing ever since, if only because it’s the mentality that I have:
“Either don’t try, or else carry it through.”
Basically, if you don’t plan on finishing it, don’t even bother starting. And though it may sound harsh, to me, it’s inspiring.
And that alone is one of the things that kept me going throughout 2015. It acted as an inspiration, and at the same time, almost a taunt. “Why did you even start if you didn’t think you could finish this project? If you had planned on giving up?”
Because I couldn’t be haunted by that. I wouldn’t allow it.
So, I did what needed to be done.
I sat down and I began to work.
It was difficult, no doubt. Especially at first. Though I had half of the edit/rewrite done, I was stuck in a compromising position – I had left off at the part that had tossed me headfirst into that brick wall, essentially leaving me with a writing concussion. Not a great place to start. Not only that, but my characters were still missing in action, and I still felt so far from the end it wasn’t even close to being funny. But I was tired of telling people that “This will be the year!” with nothing to show for it come January.
I did what I never wanted to do with my writing – instead of fun, it became work, it became my job. Some days that I would grudgingly drag myself to.
But, I made it work.
I printed off all that I had of the rewrite, and I read it through – realigning myself with the story and the characters. I perused my endless notes and all the entries in my writing journals. (I knew I had kept those journals for a reason, though I never thought when I began that particular venture in my writing in 2012 that they would actually at one point become detrimental to my continuation as a writer.)
And once I re-familiarized myself with the story, I began to edit again. It was a slow process, but I dutifully worked, day after day. Sometimes it would only be a paragraph at a time, other times I’d get a whole chapter done in a day. My biggest problem was that I still wasn’t straight editing. I was still stuck in parts of the book that I knew needed to be rewritten and reworked. Some of the hardest things I discovered in that process was deciding what to keep, and if I was going to keep it, where to put it. There were certain lines that I knew I wanted to keep for certain, and in my drive to make sure they were back in the story, they ended up in the writing multiple times, causing more frustration.
One of the things that cut my rewriting time down a bit was that I left myself a note about where that brick wall had assaulted me and taunted me for months and moved on. I knew that I would still have to return and smooth that over, but I moved on to what I knew I could work with.
For the longest time, “Sparks and Shadows” has been broken down into sections – maybe 5 in all. So, I moved on to my final rewrite section, and though difficult at first, I was given the chance to enjoy myself again, if only briefly.
One of the things that I discovered that I hated about editing was that this story has been with me for nearly 10 years. I knew what happened in the first book. I’d spent years with it. It was no longer new and exciting to me. I didn’t want to remain stuck in limbo there. I wanted to move on, to explore new writing and to feel the magic of discovery again. And though it wasn’t the height of that, moving into this section that had so much rewriting left, gave me just enough of a taste of that to keep moving on.
It took me a couple weeks, but once I moved on from that section, so began the tedious work of the actual editing. I began this novel when I was 15, so needless to say, my writing style had changed a bit. So, it was my ongoing goal now to smooth over that writing so that it read cohesively, readers unaware that there were 8,9, almost 10 years writing difference between some sections. This was a slow and tedious process, but I plucked away at it daily.
There were times during this process when I began to wonder if it would ever end.
And then I ran into a day where as I was going through, the writing seemed to grow better dramatically. I suddenly wasn’t having to edit nearly as much and it was making the process go a lot faster. This right here was when I felt that heavy weight finally lifted off my shoulders. And I knew that though I still had a bit to go, the end was near. The light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t a train, it was actual daylight.
It wasn’t long after that that I finally, after all those years, finished what I had started with the edit. I reached the end of the book again. And I returned to those chapters in the middle, and sussed those out to something workable.
I had finished what had begun to look unattainable.
However, that wasn’t the end.
I may have finished the final draft, but I still wasn’t done.
Had I decided on taking the traditional route of publishing, then I would have begun the waiting game. I’d have written a query letter and sent it off to agents and publishers with my fingers crossed. But I had decided a number of years ago, that although it would be difficult, I wanted to try my hand first at self-publishing. I didn’t want to give up the majority of my rights for a small royalty after all the work I had put into it.
Yet, that left me with a lot of work that most authors don’t have to deal with.
And one of those definitely proved to be far more hassle and frustration that I remember, and that was a demon called ‘formatting.’
The thing was that I thought I had that under control. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I had a coupon code for a handful of free printed books from a company called CreateSpace. I used that in 2014 to print off what I’ve been calling since my test-copies. Essentially, these were never meant for resale. I only wanted to see what the book would look like in print. In a way, it was a token of all my previous work and a physical reminder of my goal at large. My 2014 test copies were a print off of my first draft. But, though it’s writing that I wouldn’t necessarily send out to the world (save for my close friends who read that draft), it challenged me to pick up those editing and formatting skills.
Having done the formatting once before, I mistakenly thought that it was going to be easy the second time around.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Though a good majority of the formatting process is still a copy and paste job, what you’ve got to watch out for is the pesky formatting that Word likes to throw at you. Though a wonderful program most of the times, it definitely has its downfalls once in awhile. Especially when trying to format. Word has a nasty habit of taking what you tell it to do, and doing something different.
Not only that, but I made the mistake of thinking that 10 chapters a day would be a good goal… that is until you realize just how long ten chapters is. I have 81 in all. So, essentially, my 8 day project turned into a month.
As I copied and pasted, I wasn’t only transferring over my chapters, I was doing a final run-through grammatical edit. I had to figure out what my chapter headings would look like – what font to use, what size, and the spacing from the top of the page and in between. I had to add page numbers, and figure out how the dreaded headers and footers worked. Something that was all the more difficult when you add in the conundrum of wanting different odd and even headers, and no header at all present on chapter title pages. That was where most of the headache came in. I would get one thing figured out, and then something stupid would take its place – like all my odd page numbers disappearing.
But again, my stubbornness came into play. I know that self-publishing sites offer these services – but I did my own formatting and my own cover art. I spent numerous hours searching forums for answers and playing around. I learned more about headers and footers, and a spectacular feature called ‘page-breaks.’ It was a long process, but I feel like I learned so much in the long run. And with seven or eight books total in the series, I’ll be using that knowledge again.
Though long days of frustration and my vision going blurry from staring at a computer screen for so long, I crossed that bridge as well.
A bridge that had felt off limits to me for so long.
It was a long and twisting journey, but I had finally reached the end.
ENTER THE DREAM
Now I would, after all those years, get to reap the rewards.
I remember feeling so jittery when I sent those final files off, wondering if there were things that I had missed, if maybe I should have spent more time honing the story or if people would even want to read it. I had experienced for so many years what probably every artist has heard in their lifetime… “Oh, so you write (draw, paint, etc…). That’s nice. So, what do you really do?”
Of course I was nervous.
But then I got that first box of books. It was only 25 copies, but it’s certainly surreal to open a large box and have multiple copies of your own book looking back at you. To have people buy it. To create the Kindle file and to be able to look it up online. To see your novel and your name on big name sites like Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com.
To be honest, it still feels like a dream. Like some fantasy world I’ve stepped into.
So far, I’ve sold probably 100 copies in person and online. I’ve run a giveaway through GoodReads (which I will be doing again soon), and I’ve received numerous comments.
Most of which consist of “Holy crap!” when they see the actual size of this novel (a whopping 694 pages), to “I couldn’t put it down! When is the next one coming out?”
It’s been a long time coming, but all of this is just fuel for me to continue what, deep in my heart and soul, I knew I was meant to do all along. I may have lost my way a few times, but maybe in the end, it’s the struggle that brings out our true colors and shows us what we were really meant for.
I still remember starting the novel way back in 2006, and I remember that day in 2011 (December 29th) when I wrote the final word of the first draft – long before I even knew that “Sparks and Shadows” would be the final chapter. I was high on that ultimate thrill and magic of writing, of having completed such a long project, and knowing that I had faithfully stuck with it for all those years. Most of those years I had only written 5 chapters a year.
I could have given up anytime during those early years. Those statistics alone should have left me with a dark cloud over my head, taunting me and telling me it couldn’t be done. Yet, I was never deterred. I soldiered on. And honestly, I don’t think quitting ever once crossed my mind those first few years.
There are times when I wish I could return to that carefree writer that was filled with that blazing spark.
Now, it’s not to say that I don’t enjoy writing anymore – if that were the case, I wouldn’t continue to do it. But, I’ve walked the other side of that line now. That realization that writing isn’t always easy. That, as much as you can love it, you can also find yourself loathing it as well… the long days of not writing a word, of spending more time hitting the backspace key as opposed to committing words to paper, and wondering if there isn’t something better you can be doing with your time.
It’s hard to come back from that.
Though, not impossible.
And, maybe I’m one of those people that needed that harsh slap in the face.
I’ve felt the magic of writing, and I’ve also danced amongst the flames of writing hell.
But, I think what makes you a true writer is when you keep going despite those difficulties, and instead of living on one side or the other, you find a way to balance those two hemispheres and to walk that thin line in between.
Because, really, what is the light without the darkness? It’s all about contrast.
~ Kendrick von Schiller
P.S: And if anything good at all has come out of this (besides finding the drive and the courage to publish my first novel), it’s that my characters voices have returned to me in full force. It was as if they had picked up on waning ambition and had collectively decided to test me by gathering in a corner and remaining silent. Yet, as I got back into writing, they slowly returned to me, as if they could tell by my returning to the writing that I wasn’t going to give up. I wonder if they hadn’t planned that all along. The thing is, they haven’t shut up since… and to be honest… I wouldn’t have it any other way.