Writerly Confessions

SpellcheckConfession

This post has languished in my draft file, in one form or another, for well over a month. It’s not meant as a pity-party post, but more as a State of the State of Mind. Honestly, I hesitate to admit to any of it, but here goes.

Confession #1: I don’t have a reliable computer of my own right now.

Sometime back in mid-February, the left hinge on my laptop cracked, which made the screen tear apart every time I went to open it. Just leave it open then, right? Yeah. The next day, the computer itself started acting like it had had a stroke, and the day after that, it gave me the fatal blue screen and claimed not to have a hard drive when I tried to restart it.

Thanks to a timely prompting, I had just backed up all of my writing files to a thumb drive. The laptop did restart on subsequent attempts, but my confidence in it was shot and I’ve only turned it on three times since then. Basically all of my work relies on Word and Excel documents. With the impending Windows OS update on the horizon, I have been borrowing computer time elsewhere and working off of file-sharing software. (And yes, I know I could get an Apple instead, but Office for Mac has a horrible reputation, and I can’t justify shelling out that amount of cash when my main program would be subpar.) Which means,

Confession #2: I haven’t started any new writing projects since finishing a manuscript last January.

In some respects, this is okay. I’ve been editing The Legendary Inge and prepping it for publication. I’ve worked on various freelance projects, which have provided me with actual paychecks. I’ve also started into a second-draft edit of a book I wrote 4-ish years ago. So it’s not like I’ve been totally delinquent in the writing arena. I just haven’t committed to any new projects (aside from one, brief foray that lasted for all of a page before I decided I can’t write on someone else’s computer, even if the file is saved elsewhere).

However, the creative valve has been in its “off” position for long enough that it leads me to

Confession #3: I often wonder if my well of creativity has run dry.

Is this a common concern among writers? I don’t know. When I first started writing, I never thought I had it in me to finish even one book, let alone 12, and I grapple with a near-constant fear that as I progress, I’m really just writing the same book over and over and over again. I see parallels in my characters, my plots, my themes. They each have their different quirks, of course, but I wonder how one book would stand under close scrutiny with another, whether I’m wearing into a “you’ve read one, you’ve read them all” sort of rut. What’s the point of treading across the same grounds again and again? And then I go and look at the list of 7 original plots and I just… I don’t know. Give up? Because, really,

Confession #4: I often struggle with whether to give up writing entirely.

By “often,” I mean basically every day. I look at what I’m doing, what I’ve done, and what lies ahead, and I think, “Okay, Kate, you’ve had your fun. Maybe it’s time to abandon ship and go live in the real world. Get a real job with a steady paycheck and give up on this pipe dream.” And my Id adds in a whisper, “You were never really that good at it anyway.” And I’m not. Most of the time I’m a mass of writhing insecurities cobbled together with apathy and cynicism. The apathy is what whispers back to that insidious Id, “And your point? No one gives a rip.”

Oh, Apathy, my dear friend for all these years, how much heartache you’ve spared me!

Ever since I started writing, I’ve wondered if I should stop, if it was a waste of time, if I was capable of producing anything of quality, how writing fiction fit into my worldview and my goals in life (or lack thereof, unfortunately). When I was in high school, I thought, “I’ll quit when I start college.” In college, it was, “I’ll quit when I graduate.” After graduation, “I’ll quit when I turn 22” and then “…when I turn 25” and then “…when I’ve finished my Master’s.” And every time, I reneged.

When I finished my MA I finally decided to give writing a fair shake, but 7+ years down the road, I don’t feel like I’ve hacked very far into the bush at all. Mostly because I haven’t. The path in front of me is clotted with obstacles, and I can still see the easy way behind me. I can also see others hacking their way through the overgrowth in front of them, and I admire them for it. I’m just still dithering, but without a specific deadline to renege on anymore.

The past 2-3 months have been pretty difficult, insofar as my writing struggle goes. I attended a writer’s conference (also in February, when the laptop fizzled) and saw the energy of the other attendees, and their enthusiasm, and their renewed determination to go out and create. I just wanted to go home and burn everything to ashes. (Thank you, Apathy, for intercepting that desire.)

In general, crowds drain me to a soulless husk anyway, but attending class after class of, “Hey, this is how you should write!” and “You need to do this but not that,” instead of motivating me to hone my craft simply instilled in me the message, “Hey, stupid, you’re doing it wrong.” And that created inner conflict, because I’m not doing it wrong, and some of the well-meant advice was poorly wrought, and most of it consisted of guidelines or suggestions rather than hard-and-fast rules. But that inner conflict churned up doubts and hopelessness, and I had to stay quiet for some time afterward as I sorted it all out.

On some level, it’s hard not to feel like the broken laptop and the dormant creativity and the vast alienation I feel in a crowd of writers aren’t a combined message from the universe that it’s time for me to give up and move on.

But I can’t. I can’t let it go. I don’t know why. I’m far enough removed from the process right now that I’m not going to claim something poetic, like that it’s etched into my soul, or that I would wither and die without writing. I think I could live just fine on that easy path. I really just don’t want to. And as much as it feels like the universe is giving me the perfect opportunity for a graceful exit, I haven’t actually received that message from The Only One Who Matters.

We’re tight. I think He’d tell me.

In short, forgive me, Dear Reader, please. My faults are many. I will continue to struggle, to dither, to haphazardly post (or not). I know I should be better, more committed, more aggressive, more routine. I should be, but I’m not.

And really, that is cause for gratitude, not hopelessness. A work in progress, after all, still has endless opportunities to improve.

10 Responses to Writerly Confessions
  1. W.R. Gingell says:

    I for one am VERY glad you didn’t give up! Also, I’ll be preeeeety cranky if you give up now- I still want more of Emily and Oliver et al 😀

    That apathy is pretty hard to beat, though.

    Sometimes I feel the same in my Christian life. Things get hard (or sometimes depression sets in for no apparent reason) and I find myself thinking ‘What’s the point of it all? I’m no good at it, I’m a miserable failure, and I might as well give up.’
    Only I can’t. By God’s grace I’m kept with him, and I’ve such a horror of losing him that I feel I’d put up with anything just for any scraps I can get.

    It’s a bit like that with writing. If you’re anything like me, I don’t think you’ll ever be able to give it up. (I certainly hope not!) And to give some perspective: Spindle (my latest) is a complete rewrite of a book that started more than ten years ago. Wolfskin was a complete rewrite that started longer ago than that. Masque was pretty much the only one I wrote entirely in the last 6(ish) years. The cycle of my Two Monarchies sequence is something I’ve had in mind for at least ten years, and I don’t think I’ll be starting on anything REALLY new for another (at least!) 5 years.

    But sometimes I look at that scraggly line on my kdp dashboard and think ‘what’s the point?’ Just when I think my sales are hitting a regular flow, they drop again. It’s kind of soul-sucking.

    • kstradling says:

      I keep a disconnect from that kdp line. I have to look at it as a passing curiosity rather than as a return on my investments (of time more so than money). “Oh, look! 4 people bought my book last week! I wonder why.” 😀

      My relationship with God is one of the reasons I’ve struggled with writing for so long. So many books come equipped with a fundamentally godless paradigm, and that’s a baseline that I can’t accept. It was only a couple of years ago that I realized (or that He reminded me, more like) that Christ taught truth through parables. He was a storyteller, in other words, so surely He sees value in the art.

      I love the writing perspective you’ve shared, too. Thank you. It’s so easy to see someone’s final product and disregard the hours, weeks, months, and years that went into its production. In my humble opinion, your time has been well spent. I enjoyed Masque so much that I deliberately saved Wolfskin for vacation, when I knew I would have solid, guilt-free reading time. And I savored every last paragraph. So I’m looking forward to August, when Spindle comes out! 😀

      • W.R. Gingell says:

        Yes! That whole paradigm! It’s why I don’t write any ‘real life’ fiction (yet. I have a few Christian YA books in progress, they’re just VERY hard to write right) It’s also why I write fantasy- in fact, I think it’s one of the first things I noticed in Kingdom of Ruses, the thing that made me wonder if you were a Christian, too.

        • kstradling says:

          That’s EXACTLY why I write fantasy. (Well, plus I really like writing in multiple layers, and fantasy is such a perfect medium for that.) Yes, I’m a Christian. More specifically, I’m a Mormon, and that paradigm is basically impossible to write into “real life” fiction. So, I’ll stick with fundamental truths in a fantasy setting, I guess. 🙂

  2. W.R. Gingell says:

    Also: (ha! thought you’d got rid of me after that long screed? nope!)

    I have never gotten anything out of ‘how to write’ type conferences. I’ve done all my learning by osmosis, basking in the sunlight of all the glorious authors I love. All the ‘you must do this’ and ‘you must not do that’ don’t really move me. Usually the people saying those things are the kind of people whose writing I do NOT admire. So why would I listen to ’em?

    Your writing has enchanted and delighted me so many times: in fact, I think I’ve read ‘Kingdom of Ruses’ about three or four times now. I figure if I get to be as good as you in my lifetime, that I’ll be very satisfied with myself as a writer.

    I know this wasn’t a fishing expedition for compliments and encouragement, but Imma give ’em anyway. Because I CAN 😀

    • kstradling says:

      It definitely was not a fishing expedition, but I’m grateful for your encouragement. Just so you know, you’re one of those “others hacking their way through the overgrowth in front of them” that I admire. You’re doing a pretty awesome job so far, from my vantage point.

      As for writer’s conferences, I think they’re a lot like panning for gold. They have valuable flecks, but there’s a lot of silt, too. Logically I know to sift out the advice that doesn’t apply to me, but the emotional toll is harder to deal with.

      (Most of the current writing trends make me want to tear my hair out, TBH, but it’s nice to know what they are… so that I can do the opposite, hahahaha.)

      • W.R. Gingell says:

        Yes! Fight the man! Be a rebel 😀 I write what I want to read, so I don’t pay TOO much attention to trends. Fortunately for me, retold fairytales are making a comeback just now, so I’m in prime position (for now…)

        • kstradling says:

          Yep! You’re right on trend, but your retellings are also inventive and original. Prime position indeed. Go forth and conquer!

  3. W.R. Gingell says:

    ‘The Legendary Gingell’ 😀

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