Friday, April 8, 2016

Rejected, Accepted, and Still Going

Excel has probably about a million different features and formulas, but honestly I don’t use any of them. My husband set up our budget spreadsheet and is an Excel master, but I’m more of a basic user.

I use Excel to track my submissions. What I submitted, when it was sent off, where I sent it to, if it was an article or short story, and if it was accepted or rejected.

The “Rejected” column has me feeling a little beaten down. As writers, we all know that rejections far outweigh the “yes”s, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to take. For me, it’s not so much the individual rejections, it’s the image of them all combined in a tidy little spreadsheet.

Those few “yes”s, though? They’re the sip of water when I’m trudging through the desert, fighting to get over the next sand dune to that magical land of full-on publication. Recently I’ve had two articles published and not much else, although not for lack of trying and pitching and querying the shit out of myself.

Recently, though, I got a larger drink of water when I found out that my short story I’m Coming, Mary will be published in this year’s SandScript. That acceptance came at just the right time, as I had been struggling with my competence as a writer. I mean come on, you can only have so many people say, “Sorry, not for us,” before you start to question the validity of your chosen career path.

Writing isn’t easy, and it isn’t necessarily the softest on the ego, but I still couldn’t picture myself doing anything else. Which is why I drink through the rejections. You know, sometimes.

How do you deal with rejections?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

4 Ways I Deal with My Depression

Last time that I discussed my struggle with depression I was in the process of seeking help…again. Right now, though, I’m doing OK. It’s work, a surprising amount of work actually, but it’s working.

I still have down days and up days, but in general the vast majority of days are riding comfortably in the middle, neither too or too high. Here is how I manage my depression.

1. Medicine
Look, some people despise the idea of medication. I used to be one of them. When I was a teenager I would sometimes flush my pills down the toilet because I couldn’t bear the thought of taking anything else. No matter what your thoughts might be on overmedicating or treating mental illnesses through pharmaceutical drugs, I thrive while staying on my medication.

There is one downside though – it makes me weirdly sweatier than normal. Silver lining of that downside, if I accidentally forget to take my medicine I become unbearably sweaty, like, to the point that once my daughter crawled into my bed at 3 in the morning and said, “Mommy…why is your bed wet?” No, I did not pee the bed. Also, I don't forget my medication anymore.

2. Exercise
Depending on the week, I average about 4-6 days of exercise. Primarily, I love to run, especially with my dog. I also hit the gym 2 days a week to strength train and I recently started working with a personal trainer. Honestly, the fewer days a week I exercise the more likely it is that I start sliding back into my depression.

I’m not sure what it is about exercising. Maybe it gives me a tangible accomplishment to focus on or maybe all the endorphins are giving my medication a boost, who knows.

3. Eating Well
I am by far not the only person in America who has struggled with dangerous deprivation and binge eating cycles. Fair warning, this will not result in weight loss. While part of my focus right now is to lose weight until I reach a healthier mass for my height, I’m doing it while eating well.

Yep, lots of veggies, no more late-night binges, and actually eating to avoid hunger, which actually helps with those late night binges. This also means coping with difficult or frustrating situations in ways that don’t involve food.

4. Breathing
I forget the actual name for this technique, but whatever. I call it 4-breathing. Closing my eyes, I breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, breathe out over another 4 seconds, hold it for 4, then start all over again.

Along with my depression and anxiety, I also deal with a lot of anger issues. I know, shocking. But among a number of other techniques, 4-breathing is one of my best tools to battle depression, anger, and anxiety. 

I don't think that there is any magic recipe for treating and handling depression, but there are a lot of tools out there that can be used to make things better. So from me to you, if you're struggling, remember that there is help, and when you're ready, reach out for it.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Writing? Put it on the to-do list

Look, I get it, no one likes to-do lists. They have a bad reputation for being the tools of controlling individuals who have trouble letting go. “No, we can’t do that. It’s not on the list, see?”

But fuck it, I LOVE to-do lists. Mostly because I wouldn’t get anything done without them. Want to know something else? Something that might make you want to throw up in your mouth a little?

I also make to-not-do lists. Like, shit I need to avoid. They mostly look like this:

  • Dick around on the internet (there's nothing for you there)
  • Nap
  • Watch more than 1 hour of TV
  • Wallow in self-pity

And yes, I re-write my to-not-do list every day in my planner. Why? I’m a writer who works from home, I need a proverbial boss to pass by my non-existent cubicle every now and then to make sure I’m being productive. With my planner positioned right next to my keyboard all I have to do is glance over and, “OH EXCUSE ME SIR NO I WASN’T GETTING ON FACEBOOK OK BYE.”

But my to-do lists are honestly just as effective, even if my kids have been conspiring to keep alternating weeks to get sick while my husband’s deployment drags on for what feels like forever. One of the reasons that to-do lists seem to be shunned by creative people is the constrains that they can place on the creative process. There are many writers and artists who feel as if they can’t get down to work until inspiration strikes.

I’m of a different variety. Basically, force me to sit down and I’ll hammer it all out right then and there. For me, sitting down to the computer or the notebook is my spark of inspiration. Kind of. Look, if I don’t make myself do it, I’ll fall back on the old reliable, “Oh, I’ll get to that when I have a wider open schedule.” I never, ever have a wide open schedule. No one does.

To-do lists haven’t always been my best friend, and to-not-do lists are an even more recent addition to my game plan, but they’ve become invaluable assets to my writing goals and career. I might not mark off every item, especially when someone (not naming names but TOTALLYMYKIDS) is sick again, but the lists keep me focused and moving forward.

What are your feelings on to-do lists?

Friday, February 19, 2016

In Defense of the Notebook

Hands up (and be honest), who has a writer's notebook?

I stopped using a notebook for several years and only recently picked the habit back up last September, but it's already proved to be invaluable. This cute little thing? Yeah, that's mine.

What's not important is the canvas cover (which is totally adorable) or the zippered compartment where I keep a pen. What really matters is found in the scribbles on the pages. I've filled this notebook with everything, including but not limited to:

  • Angry, emotional-fueled rants
  • Lists of cool jobs for characters
  • Lists of possible titles
  • Writing exercises and prompts
  • Dream analyses (Come on, someone getting shot in Kroger parking lot is a crazy recurring theme)
  • Interesting moments in my day
  • Short story ideas

My daily journaling isn't necessarily a play-by-play of that day or even recent events. Sometimes it's fiction, sometimes a list, sometimes it's only 2 sentences, like when I wrote:

     Nicholas leaves on October 14.
     Nicholas is leaving and I can't breathe.

For the record, I did start breathing again. No worries, my lungs going strong.

But other than staying in the habit of daily writing, there is an enormous benefit to keeping a writer's journal. One, your husband might buy you brand new journals for Christmas that you are dying to start using (The Doctor throwing the TARDIS at a dalek? YES PLEASE.), and two, they are literally a little black book of ideas.

I have a short story due in my workshop in a couple weeks that I've been struggling with. On more than one occasion, I sat down at the computer and typed and erased a dozen first lines before giving up.

Later, while flipping through my notebook, I spotted one of the titles I'd jotted down for future use. And jesus fucking christ, BAM, there it was. The idea. The story. The plot. Even the characters!

So hey, if you haven't used it in a while, pull out your notebook and put it to good use. And if you can, put a picture of your notebook in the comments, I want to see yours!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Oh wait, I'm supposed to be running a blog...

You know what I’m pretty much, almost completely, for real just about done with? School.

Last fall I switched my degree from an associate of science to an associate of arts, took 15 credit hours (including my 5-hour physics class, which should have been worth WAY MORE than 5 measly credits), and basically ran on a weird mix of adrenaline, coffee, and late nights that were only appropriate for my early 20s. And I passed. I passed everything. I even got out of physics with a B.

Last fall, my husband deployed and my son later spent a week in the hospital.

Last fall, I had to take a temporary leave of absence from work. And I love my job.

Last fall, I felt like I lost myself.

Bob Ross gets life.
Because guys, last fall fucking sucked. Like, for real. Big time. But it was OK, because I finished my associate degree and was going to start University of Arizona (with a conservative 9 credit hours because fuck anything else). Then I saw the tuition. My husband and I had been saving for a year and a half to avoid taking out student loans that we just can’t take on, and tuition for a single semester was well over $2,000 MORE than we’d managed to save.

What. The. Fuck.

So hey, fun news! I have an associate of arts aaaand that’s about it for the foreseeable future. Sorry creative writing major, more than $10,000 a year is more than anyone can afford, much less a small family with two young kids and childcare bills and, oh you know, the desire to buy groceries and toilet paper.

But all isn’t lost. At least not yet. Instead, I’m sticking around my community college with its deliciously reasonably priced classes. This semester I’m enrolled in the advanced fiction writing workshop so that I can hammer out a few solid short stories complete with feedback and enforced by deadlines.
Next fall? Next fall won’t suck, and here’s why.

I’ll be in the advanced novel writing workshop, I’ll still be at my job, I’ll be writing still, pushing forward with submissions, and my husband will have his adorable ass back home, right where it belongs.

Plus side to saying “Fuck this” to moving on toward a bachelor degree? My reading time has pretty much quadrupled. What do you mean I don’t need to figure out the acceleration needed to safely stop a vehicle from careening into a raging river of death? (Bonus points if you get the move reference.) Oh fuck yes, I’m reading.

And what else? Words are flowing out of me like never before.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Depression Discussion

It’s easy to become complacent with the pervasive myths about mental illness that continue to circulate, to hold back from speaking up even as those we love spread misinformation in fear of disclosing that we suffer from what they’re disparaging.

Mental illness so often seems to be framed as an outlook problem. I’ve heard that if people would just remember to “look on the bright side” they might be better. If people weren’t so overdramatic they would realize that everything is OK. If people would just try to look for the good, they would find it.

To the very few people in my life with whom I’ve shared this side of myself, I’ve lamented the lack of honest, harsh, real discussions of mental health not only on the Internet, but in the news and day-to-day life. Maybe it’s because the words just aren’t there. As a writer, words are my most powerful tools that I wield to create stories and worlds with unimaginable depth.

But mental health? Depression? Anxiety, suicide, bipolar disorder? I’ve never touched these subjects, because I simply don’t have the words.

For my dear husband, who witnesses my enormous highs as I sail forward and leap from one monstrous goal to the other only to fall, sailing downward towards darkness and emptiness and depths that even he can’t find me in, all I have to say is, “I feel like I’m slipping back.” And right now I'm slipping.

I try to hold on so goddamn hard. For my husband, for my kids. But depression has a stronger hold on me than I’ve ever had on it.

I went on my first antidepressant at age 12. Age 12. I want to be a normal, OK, well-adjusted adult with normal stress and normal problems and normal, average reactions to things. But I don’t know what that feels like.

So how do you start the discussion of depression when you don’t have the words and you don’t have a normal to weigh yourself against? When you can’t even stop the burn of shame when you go to get your medicine refilled, and the nurse asks you about feelings of hopelessness, because hopelessness is what led you there? It led my husband to begging me to make the phone call, to go to the appointments, to get the help, to stay on the medicine, to hang on, to just hang on for him.

How do you say, “Yes, I woke up and took a shower, fed my kids, got them out of the house, and drove myself here today. But I can’t focus anymore. It’s affecting my work. It’s affecting my school. I’m sleeping through alarms and never really waking up and drinking caffeine like it’s the last goddamn glass of fresh water this side of the Mississippi. It’s affecting my marriage and my parenting and my ability and will to sit down and push out the words that are in my head.”

You have to admit these things to another human being who is going through problems of her own, and you wonder how she manages to survive day to day. Is she just like you, pushing through a day, an hour, a minute at a time? Or is that smile real, and does she know something you don’t? Is her brain normal, not broken, adept at handling daily life and all that goes with it?

As writers we’re supposed to address the real in even the most fantastic of situations. The raw feelings, emotions, reactions, but for depression I just don’t have the words I need to start the conversation.

But my husband does. He has the words that have wrapped around me and carried me through days I didn’t know that I could survive. “I love you, and I’m here when you’re ready.”

I guess we have the power to use our words to start this discussion, even if all of the right ones haven’t surfaced yet. As bloggers and writers, I’d like to encourage you to write about depression. You’re experience with it, with watching a loved one suffer from it, or just your impression of mental illness and all that goes with it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What I'm Reading (and what I'm Not)

OK, depending on your opinion of how many books it is appropriate to read at once, your opinion of me might be about to change.

I like to read more than one book at a time.

Stop throwing things at me.

Seriously, I have met people who have gasped out loud at the notion of reading multiple books at once. I know I'm not the only person who does this, but they act like I've just told them about everything my husband and I did in bed last night.

Which was nothing, because I convinced him to let the dog sleep in our room and she snuggled the fuck right up between us like the coziest cuddle buddy you've ever had.

But hey, people follow more than one TV show at a time, which is basically the same thing, so...yeah. Take that, gaspers!

A lot of the time I end up splitting my readings between physical books (or eBooks) and an audio book (what up, Audible!). And if you now hate me even more for my love of audiobooks, I don't care. As per this article I wrote, they rock, and they will always rock.

Anyway, my physical read right now is How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu, and so far it is as fantastic and wonderful as the title and cover promised it would be. I found it at Bookman's, our favorite used bookstore here in Tucson, and it immediately went to the (almost) top of my to-read list.

There's math, physics, time-travel and AI bosses who have no idea that they're little more than some code in a piece of software, but still enjoy using phrases like, "Yo dog."

My audio-book (which I listen to while driving, running, at the gym and while unloading the dishwasher if everyone would just be quiet for like two seconds) is You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost) by Felicia Day.

And oh my god, she is wonderful. I first discovered Felica Day through her web series The Guild, and she's been in other internet sensations like Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and the Dragon Age: Redemption web series.

In short, she's wonderful and hilarious and has just enough social anxiety to make me feel like we could totes be best friends. 

So what are you reading (or listening to) right now?