The match, the stone, the spark …
Sometimes you feel slow.
Sometimes you stand in the middle of a room and can’t even turn your head fast enough to keep up with the people around you, let alone get your legs going to follow them; a haze is pumping through your veins.
This is where I am.
It started with my writing. The haze surrounds new pages, old pages, outlines, edit notes. I’ve lost any sense of instinct, and my gut has gone cold. Good sentences look no different than terrible ones, elegant plot twists look the same as cliches.
I’ve written/revised/edited four manuscripts since fall 2012, a little under two years. When I take a break, my brain smothers me with characters and plots and worlds. When I write, my brain tortures me with the kinds of things every person with a manuscript is tortured with: crippling doubt, poor eating habits, and the roller-coaster driven by characters who don’t necessarily agree with your precious outline.
Faced with those two lovely options, I chose no breaks. I write, I revise, I edit (repeat and repeat), and when the queries go out, I immediately start Page 1 of my next story. But after four stories, everything in me begged to learn if the alternative hell of a break might be the lesser of two Exorcist-level evils.
It didn’t take me long to realize that, for me, breaks are worse. A LOT WORSE. The haze rolled in, and even infected the revision stage of the manuscript I was winding down with.
But no matter, because my writing happy place was on the horizon: The Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana, a town that is sooooo Muncie it required its own hashtag.
Educational seminars, inspiring minds, incredible friends who just plain get it. These things awaited. Last year, the conference was a full-on fuel recharge. I learned, I got inspired, I enjoyed the solidarity of good friends.
This year, only that third piece held true … the friends.
While determined writers raced from session to session, I fumbled with my schedule, never really able to draw a straight line between what was being taught and what I most needed. I didn’t march into rooms and demand wisdom. No, I moved in slow motion and when the lecturer started I almost immediately felt like I was in the wrong room.
The lessons didn’t resonate, as sharp and well-researched as they all were. And despite no longer feeling intimidated by the literary agents in our midst, I nonetheless found myself tripping over the words of my own pitch, as if my mouth had gone numb and my lips just weren’t moving the same speed as my brain.
Another session done, and back into the lobby I went, squinting into the glare of sunlight through skylights above. The lobby was the hive, and the bees buzzed in one and out another corridor. I needed a drink, and I don’t drink.
Standing in that lobby midway through the first day, shortly after realizing someone had called my name five times before I heard them, a terrible yet comforting realization scrolled its way across my field of vision, like text on a Time Square ticker:
I’m lost, and I’m too tired to find my way.
I don’t know what genre to write next, let alone what story. I don’t know what the missing pieces are from earlier manuscripts, let alone how to fill them. I don’t know a good sentence from a bad one. And I don’t know my own name being called, from the milieu of nearby conversations.
With four manuscripts in under two years, a lack of direction has never been the problem. And with the nearly 250 queries I’ve sent for the first three stories, resolve has always eclipsed rejection.
Yet here I am, lost and tired.
Maybe it’s because I change genres. Maybe it’s because I’ve written too much too fast. Maybe it’s because I don’t believe in small victories, and can muster only an ounce of joy at a full request. Maybe it’s because I have a truly great story in me but haven’t found it yet. Or, maybe it’s because I have nothing left at all, and that realization has me at a loss for, well, words.
Back in that lobby at the conference, I slide over to a table and rest my tired soul in an uncomfortable chair. I lean back and do all I can do from a seated position: I take stock. “What do you have?” I ask myself.
The match: I have four manuscripts, and one of them is really good.
The stone: I have a bone-shattering desire to write another one that is really good.
The spark: And I have writing friends who, to their core, believe in me.
When the experience of one good story is struck against the desire to create a new one, a spark catches the eye of my tribe, my best friends, and their belief can burn through the thickest haze.
I write this so anyone else who finds themselves lost and tired, can see my light through the haze and know they’re keeping good company. I’m no less lost and I’m no less tired, but there’s comfort in finally putting a name to what ails me.