Last week I had a panic attack.
It was the first panic attack I can remember having since college. I was sitting at work reading a book on self editing for fiction writers, and the book just wasn’t really doing it for me. The authors wrote in a tone that came off as dismissive and arrogant. They presented example after example after example. I became lost in a crush of information and quickly found myself overwhelmed. I was convinced that my writing was absolute trash. I know, at one point or another, most authors do; I’d be lying if I said I’d never felt that way, but this time I really felt that way.
I completely believed that the story I had just finished reading (and I actually very much enjoyed) was terrible and I should delete it then go throw myself of a cliff, because my art was bad and I should feel bad. (this is a bit of hyperbole, I didn’t want to throw myself off a cliff, but I felt pretty horrid).
So I put the editing book down and started working through the rewrite of Transmuted (it’s going pretty well if you’re interested). Most of the content was stuff I was familiar with already. It was nice to have language for some of the concepts now, but I didn’t walk away from the book shining and radiant new knowledge.
But that wasn’t the end of my anxiety.
Earlier this week, I was feeling pretty crappy. I did not sleep well Sunday night, so I woke up tired and irritable. I went to work, kept my head down, and did whatever tasks came my way. Whenever I had a few minutes here and there, I did some rewriting. I can look back now and see that it was a mistake, but, if you know anything about me, you know that I can be an obstinate asshole.
I was running into a lot of trouble with my dialogue. Specifically, I was thinking that a young girl in my story speaks too formally sometimes. I was inconsolable; I wanted to find something wrong. No, I needed to believe that I was doing something wrong, and I picked my dialogue.
My fiance tried to calm me, but…obstinate asshole. Eventually I realized that I just needed to take the day off. Instead of rewriting, I made some tea, talked about a few of the scenes I was thinking of adding in the rewrite, decided one of the scenes I wanted to add wasn’t right for the book (it would have inflated a plot element way out of proportion and made false promises to my readers), and played some video games. Yesterday I started rewriting again, and again I was upset about this little girl who spoke far too much like an adult.
Then I got to a part where the little girl was talking to other children, and something past me did punched me square in the face. I realized that when she was around other children, she spoke much more like a child. This is important because a large part of this character is that she does not want to be perceived as a child.
I had written her dialogue to emulate an adult’s speech when she spoke with other adults.
I’ve no memory of doing this. I don’t think I even did it intentionally, but I did it. I had added a layer of depth to her that I didn’t even think about doing. Not even an obstinate asshole can ignore proof on the page.
So what’s that all mean? It means that we should all have a little faith in ourselves. I work hard to make my characters feel real and to make my story compelling. But, even after throwing myself at the pursuit of storytelling harder than I’ve thrown myself at anything in my life, I refuse to believe that I’ve done anything worthwhile. I’m so ready to tell myself that I haven’t tried hard enough that I believed it. I lied to myself, and I fell for it. And I’m willing to bet a few of you have done the same.
I wanted to take a moment to tell you that, if you’re struggling towards something, if you want something so bad that it hurts, if you feel like you’ve found something you love and you have to fight to take every step towards that goal, don’t feel the need to hurt yourself over it. It’s fine to get discouraged; it’s fine to get upset about something and just take a day off. Play some video games, talk to someone, cry, do whatever you need to do. But don’t stop. Have a little faith and be gentle with yourself. Just stay calm and write/act/paint/draw/art on. In the end, you’ll be happy you did.
I know I am.