I’ve been watching a lot of my older friends (and a few of my peers) on social media post about homeschooling and trying to figure out how to get their child to engage with at-home lessons during this pandemic. There are so many tools out there for them to use: websites to crowdsource lesson plans, video tools for teaching lessons to multiple people (crowdsourcing education or stuff schools have set up so teachers can have lessons with their students without anyone needing to leave home), websites with all kinds of neat learning tools, and so much more. Some people are even choosing to forego standard education and instead focus on life lessons like cooking, home maintenance, simple car repair, baking, and the sort of things that schools no longer teach children that are still essential life skills. It’s amazing watching the world shift before my eyes.
In the past year, amongst all the other hard truths and difficult steps of my growth, I came face-to-face with the fact that I never learned how to recover since I spent almost my entire life coping. Specifically, due to the situation I grew up in and the life I was choosing for myself in my college years, I never learned to recover from things because I never had the time or opportunity to do more than cope.
I’m quite good at coping. Throw me into any difficult situation, any amount of stress, any environment, and I’ll make it work. I’ll get things done, achieve my goals, and manage to keep my sanity. Like a lot of people who grew up with stress and trauma as an everyday part of my life, I got so used to it that I feel uncomfortable without a constant high-level of stress so I tend to thrive when things get difficult. In the years since I graduated college, leaving behind the orderly environments and clear, outlined goals, I’ve discovered that there is an upper limit to how much I can handle. I don’t thrive under highly stressful situations so much as I never learned how to live comfortably in any other kind of situation.
What made it click this past year was talking with my roommate about how to organize his studying and classwork time. He’s a student now and he regularly struggles with staying focus on his work because he’s an extrovert and can be easily distracted by anyone even walking into the room he’s working in. He remarked that he gets frustrated because he wants to go do stuff with me and our other roommate, and I agreed that it is harder for him as a late-20s adult going to college when most of his friends have already graduated. He can’t connect and enjoy studying with his classmates because some of them are a decade younger than him, and he doesn’t have a group of friends to study with since we’re all playing video games or going out (I’ve offered to sit and write with him if he wants company while he works, but he has yet to take me up on it).
While we were talking about strategies to help him focus, I told him some anecdotes from my years in college and the lessons I learned. During my junior and senior years, when I figured out what I wanted to do and buckled down to work, I did homework or worked six nights of the week. Between classes, studying, and working full time, I got one night off a week, so I took Thursday nights off to play video games with my friends. Other than that, I ignored everyone or told them they could join me as I studied in the library or in the English Department lounge. I picked studying and work over everything else and counted on my friends to understand. Some of them did, some of them didn’t, but what mattered most to me was making the right choice for myself.
All that stuff tumbled around my head for a while before it finally connected with the final piece to the puzzle. One of the most important things I ever learned from a professor in college was a saying he liked (and still likes) to repeat to all of his classes. “I know some of you will say that you write your best papers at the last minute, as the deadline approaches. That isn’t true. What is true is that you only write your papers at the last minute.” It was a lesson I took to heart then and something that connected what I learned by choosing myself in college with what I’ve been learning from the books I’m reading about trauma (they’ll show up in a review sometime).
All of this made it clear that nothing had changed from college. I hadn’t become deficient in someway. I hadn’t lost anything. I just got worn out because I assumed that I thrived when under a great deal of stress instead of questioning if I had ever tried to live without that much stress. I’d gradually worn myself down because I could just keep coping until I was physically incapable of continuing. Even after I knew I wasn’t really fine, when I’d seen the cracks in the world I was building for myself and did my best to patch them, I still thought I could keep doing what I was doing and the changes I’d made to my world would eventually fix things. Turns out what I needed to change was me.
I still think I made the right choice back then to change jobs. I think that, overall, my world is much better than it was three years ago even as I’m currently breaking it all apart and building most of it back up again. I also think that what I really needed was to learn how to rest. How to recover. They sound so easy, right? The idea of resting is super easy until you try to explain it to someone, isn’t it? You grab for metaphor and simile, confident that the person you’re talking to understands it and you just have to find the right bridge to connect your understand and theirs. I didn’t really understand it. I thought I did. If you’d asked me even three months ago, I’d have explained that resting is like gasping for air after a sprint, taking the minute you have to get as much air into your lungs before you’re up and sprinting again. Recovery is the break you take during a marathon to stretch a cramped muscle, drink a sports drink/energy slurry, and use the bathroom before you carry on running.
I’m sure you can see the flaw in my understanding. Those are breaks. Reprieves. Moments of peace in a storm. Real rest and recovery are something else entirely. To be entirely fair to myself, it’s difficult to understand that you misunderstood something most people can’t explain and that most people take for granted. For instance, did you know that most old memories are typically viewed in third person, almost like a story you’ve told yourself (or that someone else has told you)? You don’t really see most old memories through your own eyes, you see yourself participating in them.
Until very recently, I thought that it was normal for all memories to be first person. Memories weren’t stories so much as resubmerging myself in a moment long past. In most people, the only first-person memories are the recent ones and the traumatic ones. For me, my trauma changed the way my brain stored information so thoroughly only a handful, if that, of my memories were in third-person. I don’t think those count as real memories though since I know the photographs of those moments and I’m pretty sure I just built a story around those moments that I’ve labeled a memory. They’re all from before I was 2 and I don’t think my memory is that good.
You can see how I might have a bit of a warped understanding of some things, yeah? It’s hard to really grasp how different my understanding of the world is from yours when all we can do is use metaphors to approximate our own experiences and ideas in the hopes of evoking someone else’s.
After a month and a half of rest, three weeks of which got eaten up as coping time since I talked to my parents one week before I had two solid weeks of all-day meetings, I think I’ve kind of gotten it figured out. Enough so, anyway, that I can do it every day. I’ve literally got it built into my daily schedule every day but Monday (I kinda go all day Monday, without stop, from 6am until 10pm). While that might seem a bit absurd, to schedule rest and recovery, it’s kind of who I am? I like order and having a time marked out and a box to check for every day makes it a bit easier to take the time to actually rest and recover.
I’m still pretty burnt out. Nothing is going to fix that in any short amount of time, but the rest I’ve taken has provided me with enough energy and strength to go back to writing every day, to working on my projects, and to figure out how to choose me right now. I’ve never been good at advocating for myself, but nobody else expects as much from me as I do. Any and all of my D&D players are happy to play D&D modules instead of custom campaigns. My friends understand if I don’t go for a hike with them because I need to do laundry and make D&D battle maps for the one remaining custom campaign I’m running. And if they don’t… Well, their loss.
I’m choosing myself again and I’m comfortable with the knowledge that this won’t be easy. I may stop talking to some people I’m close to if they won’t respect my needs and boundaries. I may need to get a new job if nothing changes and the same problems repeat without end. I may have to cut back on all of the D&D I’m doing so I have energy for other projects and the players who lose out might not like it. I may have to skip everything I’d planned for an evening because I really need to rest more and I’ll have to learn how to be more adaptable. There are no hard-and-fast rules here, other than I need to be aware of how I’m doing at any given moment so I can make the calls I need.
This may not seem difficult, but I almost chickened out of telling my at-work D&D group that I needed us to switch to running modules because creating the entire campaign might take the same number of hours as preparing a module, but running a module takes a lot less energy. And that’s the easiest of all the things I might need to do. They only get harder from here.
Wish me luck.
One of my goals for this year is to find balance in my life. While it might seem like this statement is so vague as to be entirely useless, I kind of planned it that way. I get so caught up in my goals and working on projects that I find it difficult to split my attention or to stay focused on big goals instead of little ones. So, instead of giving myself narrow, specific goals to work on or work towards, I’m keeping them general and focusing on the big picture. Instead of trying to lose weight this year or trying to prioritize my mental wellness, I want to be healthy. Instead of updating my blog every day, working on a book, or running three D&D campaigns, I want to create. Instead of trying to stay three weeks ahead in blog posts or reading a book a week, I want to find balance between work and relaxation.
My grandfather was prescribed Hospice Care today. That bit of news, accompanied by the tidbit that his tests all came back saying he wasn’t a match to the genetic profile they needed for a last-ditch treatment effort, has thrown off not just my plans for today but my plans for the next few weeks. When I found out he had only a few weeks left unless he was a genetic match for this special treatment, I planned on heading back to Chicago at a moment’s notice in case something happened and that I’d spent at least one day every weekend in Chicago, visiting family with a particular emphasis on my grandpa. Now I’m planning the same thing, along with preparing a long-term bag that I’ll keep in the trunk of my car and getting my computer area reconfigured so I can dismantle it quickly for travel so I can work remotely if I wind up staying in Chicago for any length of time. We don’t know for sure how long he has left, but it’s probably more accurate to measure in weeks than anything else.
It’s difficult to focus on writing anything, right now. I’ve been trying all day to get my mind into gear for this and it’s basically just grinding the gears rather than actually slipping into gear. Trying to make myself write anything is doing more harm than good and I wasn’t able to create the stockpile of blog posts I wanted to have finished by now, so I’m going on hiatus for a bit.
I hate the thought of stopping, honestly. This decision has been tearing at me all day, despite the fact that it’s been lurking in the back of my mind every time I’ve gotten to my daily writing time and felt the black wave of grief and exhaustion (which are all I have left at this point) wash over me. I want to write more, but trying to make it happen is just making things worse on myself. As is the thought of stopping something I’ve done for four hundred thirteen consecutive days. I’m immensely proud of that streak of daily posts and the daily writing they represent, but I’ve pretty much run myself to the point of a breakdown and I can’t afford to have one of those right now. My stress levels are higher than they’ve ever been, I’m dealing with difficult emotions, I constantly feel run down and exhausted no matter how much rest I get, I’m pretty sure I’m currently sick and only not laid up in bed because I can’t afford to be, and all I want in the world is to keep writing and updating this blog because at least then I can point at it and say “look what I’ve done.”
This past year has been pretty awful for me and it has taken every scrap of willpower I have to make it this far right now. Choosing to take a break feels like giving up and writing this post, making this decision, feels like I’m rolling my soul in a pile of broken glass because daily writing and daily blog posts was all I fucking wanted out of this year. That’s it. My one goal for 2018 was to update this blog every day, write every day, and do whatever it takes to keep those things going. Just thinking about it and everything I’ve worked through up to this point makes me want to delete this entire post and re-write it as a “I’m not going to let this stop me” post. I’m not going to do that, though. I’m going to take a break. I’m going to stop making myself do this every day. I’m going to go back to journaling extensively every day. I’m going to reflect, try to deal with my emotions, deal with my anticipatory grieving, deal with my regular grieving, and then try to come back to this in the new year once I’m no longer traveling every weekend or constantly fighting back exhaustion that makes me want to just dissolve into a puddle of tears on my bed when I get home from work.
I am tempted to leave myself wiggle room for musing posts over the next few weeks, like I did seven or eight months ago when I was stressed and trying to figure out what was going on with my emotions. That might allow me to continue updating every day without the stress of creating new fiction, poetry, and reviewing things, but I think I really need a break from the internet in addition to every thing else as well. I don’t know if that’s going to mean deactivating Facebook and removing Twitter from my phone, or if that’s just going to mean I spend more time away from the computer, but I think I need that right now. Beyond the grief and pain I’m dealing with right now, I haven’t taken a break in over a year. Even the planned breaks wound up not being breaks because I was always working on something during that time. I had a project to do or some writing goal to accomplish. Whatever it was, it pretty much negated the whole point of the break, even if I tried to convince myself otherwise.
So I get I’m concurrently going on vacation and taking a hiatus. The vacation will end on the second of January, so that’s the earliest I’ll be back to writing. The hiatus will end once I’ve dealt with my grief enough to not feel like I’m shaving years off my life and pulling off splinters of my soul to sit down and make something specific. I’ll probably keep writing, but that’ll be expressive stuff rather than following the planned posts ideas I picked out a few weeks ago. I’ll be exploring my emotions and trying to cope with what’s going on rather than writing about pre-established fictional characters or creating parodies of famous poems.
See? I can’t even take a break without planning something for me to be doing while taking said break. Whatever. The point is I’m taking away the obligation and drive parts. I’m just going to create if I feel like and catch up on my giant collection of unread books if not. I’m going to try to figure out better routines for myself, ones that incorporate better physical self-care, and see if I can finally do something about the burn-out I’ve been fighting for almost an entire year.
Or maybe two weeks will pass and I’ll still be tired. Who knows. All I know is that writing feels incredibly painful today and I need it to stop feeling painful. Even if I want to write, even if I’m willing to put up with the pain (which I clearly am, given this blog post), I don’t think it’s going to be healthy to pull more than this out of my for the next couple weeks, at least. Catch you all later. You know how to reach me.
My absolute least-favorite part of the winter is driving anywhere further than around my town. Normally, driving places and making plans that give me extra time to meander from my starting point to my destination is my favorite thing to do that involves moving. In the winter, though, my favorite activity turns into a morass of idiotic drivers who forget how to drive every year couple with terrible weather conditions that make you curse every moron who thinks they can just drive over ice like it’s pavement. No matter how cautious you are, you always find that one incredibly slick spot of ice and wind up sliding toward the absolute worst part of the road, since it’s the only spot with a ditch while literally every other spot for miles is perfect level ground you could just drive away from. You’ve got a chance to make the right call and avoid it, but sometimes there’s an asshole right behind you who zips past the icy patch, no problem, and is passing you while you slide so you don’t really have a chance to avoid the ditch since you’ve got no space on the road anymore. As you sit in the ditch, watching for a tow, you try to appreciate the fact that at least he didn’t slide into the back of your car since he was way to close to you to stop in time.
Don’t even get me started on trying to drive somewhere for the holidays. Unless you’re actually driving on Christmas day, and only specifically between cities during non-peak driving hours, you’re not getting anywhere quickly. Forget trying to even do any local driving as the holidays approach because all the routes take you past shopping centers (because that’s just how traffic management works: it allows you to go near every important, high-traffic areas in what should be a rapid pace outside of rush-hour) since they’re going to be backed up despite the fact that online shopping is way better than trying to find what you want in a mall. While there are things you can’t always do online, such as supporting your local businesses, those are never the places that get crowded. It is always the shopping centers and malls because apparently everyone, their mother, their grandmother, and every single one of their cousins all have to go to the mall every day to see if the mall kiosks have finally turned into something interesting instead of another cell phone or knickknack/plastic jewelry stand.
Even if you do manage to avoid all the traffic and the peak-driving hours, there’s a good chance your carefully made plans will be completely ruined by the weather since it frequently decides to, out of nowhere, dump a metric ton of snow on your area when you took your eyes off the forecast for one day. Then you’re forced to try to escape before it falls or to wait until it’s over and be forced to drive at the same time as everyone else who decided it was a good idea to wait. No matter which choice you make, it winds up being the wrong one. It’s as true as the fact that buttered toast always falls butter-side down and that cats always land on their feet. An incontrovertible fact of nature. If you leave early, then it sneaks its way in front of you and falls right as you’re hitting the difficult part of your drive. If you leave late, then so does everyone else as your local population decided to be sensible for once and not all try to drive through the snow. Even if you try to outsmart the dichotomy by choosing to stay home instead of drive at all, you choice is still wrong because it suddenly decides that this one storm is the only time it won’t wind up snowing double the predicted amount. It’ll snow a light dusting of stuff that’s quickly swept away by wind or that melts under he suddenly clear sky as the temperatures never quite make it as long as they were predicted to.
One day, when quick, efficient, long-distance public transport is available, most of these problems will be solved. I can guarantee that I’d ride a bullet train if one existed between here and Chicago. I’d hop on that, ship all my gifts to my parent’s house instead of my place, ride down a day early, do my wrapping, and then head home whenever I wanted because there’d be trains every day but Christmas Day. It’d make things so much easier on me and everyone else who was moving between states or who didn’t want to deal with the hassle of driving through bad weather/roads full of morons being morons. Which are always worse than bad weather since they’re also available in “it’s snowing so I’m going to drive so close to you that you won’t be able to see my headlines” and “I’m going to continue to drive at ninety miles per hours despite the fact that I can’t see further than thirty feet ahead of myself at any given time” editions. Truly, they are the worst roadway companions. Especially because they seem to always have those horrible, bright LED or Halogen headlights that are focused up at the cars in front of them instead of down at the road for whatever dumb reason. Pretty much every awful thing other drives can do while traveling the same direction you are will be one of the moronic drivers who forgets how to drive in the winter. It’s so incredibly awful that I forgot how bad it is every year until I experience it again and am reminded of just how much I hate driving long distances during the winter.
There is no world in which the amount of stress you get from driving during winter is worth putting up with if you have literally any other options available to you aside from taking a bus. Which, let me tell you, is another can of worms entirely. A worse can of worms. Thought crowded roads were bad? Try riding a crowded bus down a crowded road while rubbing shoulders with someone who decided deodorant or basic hygiene was something other people did while dealing with people who feel like they have a right to comment on what book you’re reading or how you’re trying to survive the twelves hours of hell it takes to ride two hundred miles. You didn’t think you’d be able to get a direct bus, did you? All of those filled up last Christmas. Of course there’s still a seat available for you somewhere, but it always happens to be on the bus that their breaks down on the highway or that has to stop at two dozen cities or gas stations along the way to your destination, turning a three-hour drive into eleven and a half hours of sitting on seats that were worn out the day they were put in the bus. I used to ride buses from where I went to college back to Chicago for every holiday and, while I like riding the bus and appreciate the need for affordable travel from one place to another that doesn’t involve owning a car, I still hated every single bus ride while I was on it. Maybe if there were trains like any sensible society would have, the buses wouldn’t be so friggin’ awful all the time.
This year, instead of going to visit relatives for the holidays, spend your time and money on buying a new video game or seeing how many single dollar bills you need to burn in order to keep your apartment at a comfortable temperature. You’ll probably enjoy the latter more since at least you’ll be able to sleep in your own bed.
Actually, better yet, buy a house and then make your entire family come visit you for the holidays. Then you can enjoy being around your family but not have to deal with driving during the holidays. Or invent teleportation devices. Really, the only problem is driving. If you can find another good method for spending the holidays with your family, I’d recommend going with that option.
When this eventually posts, I’ll have been awake for five hours and working for at least three. Not because I have to, but because I’m a team player and mostly looking for something to for a bit of overtime that doesn’t require staying late during the week. Actually, it’s mostly the latter, though I’ll admit I do feel a little compelled to help out because the work needs doing.
The team I work for, “The Misfits” as we aptly call ourselves, given that we create stage machinery for use in theaters while working for what is ostensibly a theater lighting company, are in the middle of moving to a new location at our facility. It’s an entirely new section of the building meant to house all of Research and Development. Plus Marketing, it seems, which was a weird last-minute addition I think happened because they wanted to work in the cool new building. That’s an understandable sentiment, really, and it should be fine since this new building is a part of my company’s plans for growth. You can’t hire more people if you’ve got nowhere for them to work!
I’ve been with this company, and a part of this team, for almost two years now. I love the people I work with, I love the job I’m doing, and this company feels like home in a way my previous one never could have. I still struggle with impostor syndrome sometimes, mostly when I’m doing something like pushing a new process I’ve developed or trying to solve a problem that isn’t my responsibility, but that’s growing less over time as my coworkers and my manager support me. Which is probably the biggest change from my last job to this one. If I see a problem that needs fixing and actually do the work to figure out how best to fix it, people here see that and do their best to support my efforts rather than try to tear me down or get me to believe that everything is fine the way it is despite constantly complaining about things (which is literally what happened at my previous job). Even if doing all the work and trying to be the extrovert needed to push whatever changes are needed leaves me exhausted and unable to move from my couch to my kitchen at the end of the day, I know it’s worth it. Knowing I’ll be able to go in the next day and see everyone pulling with me rather than pushing against me (okay, maybe not EVERYONE, but most people) makes it worth it.
I don’t exactly wake up in the morning and feel excited to go to work, but I don’t dread it. Personally, I prefer it this way. Being that excited about something sounds exhausting and draining. I’ve got enough going on these days without spending all my energy on being excited about going in to work. I like what I do, the company I work for, and the people I work with, but genuine excitement is a rare thing for me. I spend a lot of energy trying to stay calm and relaxed as part of dealing with my anxiety and OCD, so I then to be enthusiastic without being excited. More of an enduring constant application of personal resources than a quick expenditure of emotional energy.
It’s a nice change, from two years ago. My life isn’t perfect and neither is this job, but it’s a good deal better than it used to be and I often find myself in need of a reminder. Not because I think it’s worse or because I’m miserable about something, but because it’s important to keep in mind how much things have changed over the years and how that change has tended toward being a positive change rather than a negative one. As I struggle to deal with all the curveballs life is throwing me lately, I need to keep myself focused on the arc of my life because it’s difficult to remember during times like these that the general trajectory is upward. It hasn’t always been, but it is right now.
It’s not something that snaps me out of my depressive episodes, but it’s something that makes it a little easier to rest at night or to release the tension I’m holding in my shoulders. I don’t think there’s any way to snap myself out of this one I’m in right now since it’s probably the first legitimate externally-sourced period of sadness I’ve experienced in a long time and it’s a time-oriented thing. It’s not going to go away for a while. It’s something I’ll need to learn to live with and part of that is contextualizing it. Finding where it fits in the landscape of my life. It’s going to take a while, but enough reflection and contemplation will get me there eventually. All that remains at this point is to make the time for them and that’s going to be difficult since I’m shorter on time than ever before.
Sorry if today’s post is a bit of a downer, but yesterday’s poem should make it clear that I got some back news just recently and I’m still trying to deal with it. I hope your month is going well and I hope you’re having a good day.
I did it. I broke one hundred thousand words in a single month (since I wrote this post last night). I ended this post with a total of one hundred thousand eight hundred thirty-five words for the month and I am immensely proud of myself. I even bought a bottle of champagne–excuse me, sparkling wine–to pop as soon as I finished this post and, while I’m too cheap to buy good champagne, it was nice to just have something to pop at the end of the day. It tasted alright, too, but I can’t really tell the difference between various wines and I don’t really care that much about it so I’m cool with that.
It was nice to actually manage this goal, given how my month went. So much happened… Honestly, I’m pretty curious about how much I could accomplish in a month if I didn’t have to spend a lot of it learning to cope with my grandfather’s mortality and the constant stress of trying to lead my team at work into a new process I developed. If I actually had energy when I got home from work… The thought of just how much I could get done is staggering. I’ve done an average of three thousand three hundred thirty-three words a day and yet my actual median is about five thousand. If I could do that every day, I could do fifty percent more words in a month, and that’s at my current pace with my current levels of energy. If I keep up this writing thing, I might be able to get even more written during a focused hour than my current record of two thousand words. If I get a better handle on my mental health, especially my anxiety and depression, I’ll have more energy and get even more done in a day. There’s always room for improvement and I’m excited to see how I continue to improve.
While I’m sure plenty of people write more than I do, even if I do get up to one hundred fifty thousand words a month, I’m not looking to compare to them. Personal accomplishments count more to me, anyway. I’d rather beat my own record than compete with someone else for the high score, in both video games and my personal life. I love a challenge, I love having a rival, but I’m more about support and helping each other achieve new heights rather than trying to out-do each other or trying to be top frog in the well. As much fun as it might be to say I’m the best, that’s not really what motivates me. Striving to be the best is a journey with an end. Striving to be better is a journey that can take you from the day you start to the day you die. I’m all about the long-term, really, in everything thing I do. Finances, career, self-improvement, romantic/platonic relationships… Everything. I’m good at predicting outcomes and I rely on that skill to guide me. Trying to always be better than myself only ever leads me forward and upward.
As much fun as this was, though, I’m really looking forward to a thirty to fifty thousand word month. I need some rest and the winter holidays are going to be stressful enough without trying to spend every second writing. I mean, I’m not going to stop myself from writing when I want to, but I’m not going to force it again. I need a break to rest my mind. Since your brain is like a muscle, in that it gets stronger the more you use it, it is just as important to give it a chance to rest after pushing yourself to new heights. So I’m going to let my brain rest and recover these next few weeks and then we’ll see just how much stronger it’s gotten as a result of this month by trying some new personal challenge. Or, you know, just adding a reasonable amount of book writing in addition to my blog writing. It doesn’t need to be another month of one hundred thousand words. I’ll probably just aim for a thousand extra words a day of book writing. That seems reasonable but also ambitious enough to keep me moving forward. I’ll probably aim for a total over a month rather than a daily limit so I can deal with busy days that don’t leave me room for writing without feeling stressed out about missing a thousand words.
Honestly, as much as I really want to outline my plans for the next year, I think I need to rest before I do that. It’s not even nine and my brain is already so fuzzy that I have to go back and read through sentences I just wrote to figure out what I’m trying to say as I write them. I’m also looking forward to sleeping in. And an end to stress headaches…
As much as I want to keep going, I think I’m going to call it here. It’s time to rest and, while I plan to continue to update my blog every day, I think I might take an entire day off of writing for the first time in several months. Just… play some video games or something. It’ll be nice. Thanks for taking this journey with me and I hope something I posted was of use to you. I also hope you’re continuing to write. It’s a pretty great feeling to see your words on the page or screen, so I hope you get to enjoy that for a while longer.
Today is day -335 of #NaNoWriMo2019 and I’m excited about next year already! Really, though, this is a Saturday Morning Musing post and I wrote 999,999 words last month so I’m gonna rest now. I’m so tired.
The best decision I made in the past year was to start writing every day. It was also the dumbest. And the wisest. Probably not the most lucrative but definitely the most valuable. And it’s been nearly a year since I started, even if I’m still a month and a week short of the decision to keep what I started for National Novel Writing Month 2017 going for an entire year. I planned a month of blog updates: thirty posts about writing, what inspires me, and prompts to help people get working on their own National Novel Writing Month projects. This upcoming Wednesday’s review, the one that will go up on October thirty-first, will be the 365th post. I have a hard time believing I’ve almost done it and, at the same time, it doesn’t feel like a big deal.
I literally put everything (well, everything but the bare minimum I need to keep my life going) behind writing and posting to my blog every day. I haven’t played more than a couple of hours of video games a week since early September so I could make sure my blog got updated every day and I wrote every day even when I was working twelve-hour days. Because of this level of dedication over the course of a year, now the idea of not updating my blog or not writing every day feels foreign. I didn’t even stop to consider no longer updating this blog every day once the year was up, I just started planning all of my November blog posts so I could get some of them out of the way ahead of time and put more of my energy toward getting my National Novel Writing Month challenges done.
I have made zero money as a result of this writing, so far, and I doubt I’ll ever make much off this blog, even if I decide to add advertisements. That’s alright, though, because being able to write every day and to have writing projects to work on every day has lent my life an incredibly amount of meaning and satisfaction. The only thing that compares to a day of writing or posting a popular piece that gets a comment or two is what I felt when I played through Breath of the Wild for the first time, in March of 2017. I have gotten more, personally, out of my decision to push my limits like this than out of any other writing project I’ve ever done. It feels really good to have a purpose and a goal every day, even when work is slow or so busy I feel like I’m just being swept along by the tidal wave of work that needs to be done. Something that feels like forward progress when I can’t seem to make any in the other parts of my life.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t handle free time well. I suck at doing nothing and I will probably have a mental breakdown if I’m ever forced to just tend to my house or do small bits of gardening or whatever when I retire. I need projects. I need challenges. I need to feel like I’m growing or improving myself in order to enjoy my day-to-day life. Without that stuff, I start to feel like I’m stagnating or like I’m wasting my time. Most of that comes from my anxiety and isn’t reflective of my actual life in any way, and it would probably be more healthy for me to address the root of why I feel this way rather than fill my time with things to do, but finding projects is easier than analyzing my deepest mental health issues. Plus, I can do both. Analysis takes a long time and constructive projects within reason aren’t a bad coping mechanism. Working myself to the point where I’m too depressed and burned out to feel anything but tired is a bad coping mechanism. It’s also something I do far more frequently than I should. It’s also why I have several days off over the next week, because I pushed myself that far and a couple of friends plus my therapist all agreed that I really need to let myself take a break. Hell, even I agreed I need a break once I started being caught up in my own dumb attempts to convince myself and them that I was doing just fine.
I think I’m going to add a little bit more to my “writing every day – year two edition” challenge. I’m going to try to increase my efficiency so that I still have time for other stuff, like exercising every day and having downtime for stuff like playing video games or spending time with my roommates. Or dating again. Haven’t had time for that in a couple of months. Which is unfortunate because that was around when my desire to date came back following my breakup at the beginning of the summer. I haven’t had the time for a lot of stuff, like dealing with the four stacks of books on my floor, shredding junk mail, or cleaning out my closet. I’ve taken the time to keep all of those things orderly and organized at least, but I am getting a little tired of needing to step carefully through my bedroom door so I don’t accidentally trip on one of the stacks of books and knock over one of my bookshelves on the way down. For the next year, I’m going to take the time to do all that stuff and keep writing. I’m even getting started now! I’ve measure the one bit of open space I’ve got and I’m going to be using my vacation time to go find a shelf that will fit in that space. Maybe get my oil changed or, shit, get a haircut. I haven’t gotten a haircut in two years, as of this week, and I’m getting really sick of the whole “long hair” thing because ponytail headaches are the bane of my existence.
All that aside, I really do believe that writing every day was the best decision I’ve made in years. I feel excited by the prospect of working on all the projects I’ve got tumbling around my head, and I’m ecstatic to see the comments from my editor (whose advice and guidance is responsible for most of my growth as a writer) go from big notes about story structures and character details (especially about female characters) to minor comments about typing “then” instead of “them.” Without her support and assistance, I’d probably have given up on this daily writing thing a long time ago. But here I am. Four posts short of a full year. It’s a good feeling and I’m excited to show what I’ve got in store for my 365th post. You haven’t got long to wait, but I hope you enjoy it as much as I have been.
That is the point, though. Ultimately, anyway. I do this for myself and I’m enjoying the shit out of it, even if I’m so exhausted I dozed off while writing this half a dozen time.
National Novel Writing Month is coming up. That’s a bit of big deal for me because I’ve at least participated every year since 2013 and won every year but 2016 when I was applying and interviewing for a new job. I also created a challenge for myself, to raise the stakes, every year since 2014 when I found myself a little bored with just writing 50,000 words again. The year after that, I wrote an entire story in a month (which is big deal for me since I am anything but concise). Last year, I wrote 50,000 words of a new story that wound up being more foresight than fiction, ran a support group for my friends who were trying National Novel Writing Month, and updated my blog every day of the month (which was a part of the support since it was stuff about writing, about what inspires me, and some prompts to help them push through when they feel stuck). This year, though, I’m struggling with what my extra challenge should be.
The support group could be fun to do again, but the only people I know who are doing National Novel Writing Month are people who have been doing it as long as I have been, or longer, and who don’t really need support to write. A space for us to connect and talk about writing is always good, but I won’t really need to actively support them. I still plan to do the blog posts, but that’s just the same thing as last year. There’s nothing new to this challenge, which means it isn’t challenge. It’s just the same thing all over again and that means I’m not actually going to try my best.
I could make the argument that I’ve never been this burned out, worn down, and just all-around-exhausted when starting a National Novel Writing Month before, so it’ll be difficult enough for me to get anything done on time or according to whatever plan I come up with (as evidenced by the fact that half my blog posts are “late” these days, showing up in the afternoon instead of their typical nine or eleven in the morning time). That feels like a cop-out. I dislike cop-outs. It gets to easy to let them slide in the future if you start using them now and I am all about staying firm and focused on my goals. I didn’t get to almost a year of writing every day and posting on my blog every day by letting myself compromise, so doing that literally the day after I hit 365 consecutive posts would feel like I was spitting in the face of my own accomplishment.
One of my friends suggested I write a humorous romance novel and, upon hearing that, the rest of them took up the call. Suggestions from something involving characters from a D&D campaign that ended a while ago to a romance novel about a modern male protagonist trying to live his normal 20-something modern life while his girlfriend is someone out of a highly-sexual romance novel that pokes fun at the sort of contrived situations involved in a lot of cornier (and absolutely amazing sounding) romance novels. Seriously, there’s a whole series about some vampire/angel/insert-monster-template-here brothers who kill vampire demons and are actually immortal vikings who sometimes time travel. How is that not a story you gotta hear? I can’t find the link my friends provided while trying to convince me to write a romance novel, but it was a riot. It would definitely be a challenge since I’ve read only a handful of romance novels and it isn’t something I’m normally interesting in writing. Being able to stay focused and working on a project that isn’t something I’m terribly interested in would be a good skill to have, though, since a lot of good writers wind up writing what the publisher wants rather than strictly what they want. Being able to do “made to order” fiction would be a good skill to work on.
All of my other ideas have something to do with my blog. For instance, I could keep up with daily posts with National Novel Writing Month support and encouragement posts, but also include my serial science fiction story and reviews. Maybe even throw in my flash fiction updates, too. Basically just keep up the popular part of my blog, the fun part of my blog, and the only story I’ll have ever finished if I keep at it. If I keep that up, I’ll probably finish Coldheart and Iron on Christmas Day and post the epilogue on New Years Day, which feels like a damn fine way to start 2019.
Of course, I could also do this regardless of my National Novel Writing Month. If I work my ass off over during the rest of October, I could have all my blog posts written. That’s only 50,000 words in addition to the 14,000 I have to do for this month’s blog posts. Totally possible to do all that in eleven days. I mean, that’s only six thousand words a day! Easy-peasy! No sweat! I could do that in my sleep! I mean, I’ve basically signed up for 50,000 plus 30,000 plus whatever my extra challenge is for next month unless I find a way to work ahead this month. All on top of my normal work hours, my usual obligations, and the fact that I’m going to need to work out or at least go on a long walk every day so I don’t turn into a pile of pudding. I really suck at taking it easy, don’t I?
But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? This isn’t supposed to be easy. I’m supposed to be working on stuff in order to grow as a writer. I want to widen my horizons, improve my skills, and try things I wouldn’t normally try. Fifty thousand words is all well and good, but I’ve done that five times so far. I want to do something new, try to push myself in a new direction, and maybe lose myself in something bigger than my own problems. I’m going to struggle with my mental health, but I always do. I may need to find better ways to cope with what’s going on in my head, but that also means I won’t be able to let it have as much sway as it does on days like today since I won’t be able to spend four hours writing a blog post that’s just over one thousand words.
As I’ve learned throughout my live, and during the past year especially, I work best when I don’t have room for error. Pass or fail scenarios are my jam, even if the chances of passing are small. I’m going to pick some dumb, ridiculously huge goal, try to cram a month’s of writing into eleven days so all my blog posts are written ahead of time, and then I’m going to create a made-to-order romance novel in order to force myself to improve my ability to write things that aren’t necessarily something that thrills me.
To that end, here are my three ideas:
- Something based on some D&D characters from a really old game (that happens in a D&D world, with quantifiable numbers and stuff, rather than a “typical” fantasy world).
- Aggressive Romance Novel Woman meets normal 20-something dude and worlds collide. Hilarity Ensues.
- Astronaut/Werewolf/Demon/Mole-Person man meets Basic “Becky” and falls madly in love, but only during Pumpkin Spice season.
- Air-Force Pilot/Old-School Vampire/Faerie/Lizard-woman falls in love with a hipster trying to French press his coffee in his yurt in the woods.
Comment your preferred option(s)! You can pick as many as you like.