I was asked how readers could help me keep MNML going, and the answer sort of snowballed into something that would be more appropriate as a journal post than a comment reply. So here it is:
I really wish I knew. Comments help. Reviews help (well, positive ones do, heh.) When I was writing 3+ chapters a week I could handle the pressure of feeling obligated to produce that much content. These days I don’t have any specified posting days. That definitely has a negative impact on my productivity — but I’m not entirely certain I could keep to a schedule even if it was just one post a week.
Right now it seems like the three biggest obstacles I have to writing more are finances, time scarcity, and self-doubt.
Finances seem like a silly reason to not write — how is that a factor, right? But the fact is that I’m under a lot of pressure to continue providing for my family group. My day job takes nine hours out of every day. These are high stress hours that leave me emotionally depleted from the effort of forcing myself to do as much as I can — which has been steadily declining, as the job itself is a dead end. Attempts to look for work elsewhere always end up being paralyzed with fear that I can’t do the work, fear that someone will take exception to my being transgender; fear that I will somehow not make it in the new position and not be able to go back to my old one, which would screw us financially. And, of course, depression over the fact that none of the other jobs I can find are remotely related to things that I actually want to do with my life, and so I suspect they would eventually devolve to the same situation I’m in now.
Time is the second major factor against my writing more. I don’t have enough. I spend nine hours at the day job. I have to go to bed at a set time because I have to take sleeping pills just to sleep most nights; if I don’t have a long enough window after that I’m exhausted for the next day. If I do get enough sleep, I’m exhausted for the morning, anyway. My medication for the tumor was adjusted downward at my last doctor’s appointment, and I suspect this has been contributing to my lack of energy again. The upshot is that I typically have four hours a day available to myself, from when I get home until when I should be medicating myself so I can sleep. One of those hours typically goes to family and dinner. The preceding hour is usually spent laying on a bed or couch, trying to let go of the work day. The last two have been going to excessive escapist reading, lately. Or sometimes to some game development, since that is similarly creative/escapist like writing but doesn’t require the same sort of emotional creativity. And two nights out of the week I have standing commitments that occupy the entire evening., and some evenings have protest events which, provided I have the emotional and mental and physical wherewithal, I attend because POUTUS 45 and the republican regime is a nightmare.
Basically, I don’t feel like I have the time (while having energy and motivation) to accomplish anything of meaning for myself. Weekends I typically spend the mornings at work, making up hours that I had to take for doctors’ or therapy appointments. The afternoons/evenings go to my weekly visit with my one friend outside of our apartment community, escapism, or to attending political protest events.
Which brings me to the third leg of this stool of “sitting my ass down and doing nothing:” self-doubt.
I have a lot of it. Always have. I grew up with the messages “You can do anything” and “there’s always someone better than you” from school, and “everyone else is stupid” and “you need to be better than everyone else” at home. My folks were and are emotionally absent elitists. They provided for me physically, and they did whatever was necessary to keep up appearances of a healthy family — but it was always about appearances.
Seriously: once, after someone had confessed to a group of us about an difficult time they were having, Dad told us kids “If someone needs help; asks for help, you have to understand that and do your best to give it to them. But don’t you ever do what he just did and make your problems be someone else’s.”
The appearance of perfection was all that mattered when I was growing up. And I absorbed that the way Abby absorbed rabid timberwolves and helpless bunnies. It was bad enough that the fear of failure crippled me physically — when I finished my first book, Aaranox, I was unable to submit it for publication out of fear of rejection. I mean: I wrote the cover letter. Got the envelope; the self addressed one for replies. Had the address and postage on. And couldn’t carry it out of my room to put in the outgoing mail. I wound up curled up on the floor, wretching and sobbing, when I tried because any rejection — any failure — meant that I couldn’t write at all and I couldn’t afford to risk giving that up by trying.
I still have that manuscript. In it’s envelope, addressed and stamped. It still makes me nauseous every time I come across it.
This idea, that being rejected by an editor — someone who’s job is to determine who is or isn’t worthy of publication — would mean the end of my hopes to be an author, is why I went the online publication route. There were other factors as well: I genuinely want to make people’s lives better through entertainment, and I want my work to be available to people regardless of whether or not they can afford to buy it. I’m not very mercenary — hell, I’m not really capitalist. But that fear was the big one.
Since then I’ve gotten on medication for the anxiety. I could probably actually submit to a traditional publisher — but I’ve become rather invested in the indie route as a matter of philosophy. I do want my work to be freely available to people, regardless of their current financial state. Shoot: having been in desperate need of entertainment and unable to afford it, I’ve gone ravenously through web-lit myself.
I’d like to start a second series, written specifically so that I could submit it to Kindle Unlimited. That’s about as far as I’m willing to compromise on the “freely available/getting paid for it” scale. I would ideally keep at least one active series that was completely free online, and then have the rest qualify for Kindle Unlimited. That seems to be the most financially viable route without abandoning my promises to keep MNML up for free or my moral imperative to provide something for people regardless of what I get back for it, with the understanding that not being able to afford access to something doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have it.
Anyway, I got a little side tracked there. My point is: I’m on medication for the anxiety, and that works rather well. But my original therapist didn’t really follow up past that. The symptoms were gone, so she didn’t bother addressing the sources. And all of that emotional history has resulted in more snarls than just anxiety: such as my ongoing (and at times just as crippling) feelings of inadequacy, imposter syndrome, and simple futility.
I’m not hit with anxiety attacks (most of the time) when I try to write, or plan time for writing, or post to RRL. Instead, it’s more of a constant narrative of “what’s the point of this?” “Other stories are better.” “Why bother? You’re just going to be too tired to keep up with it later.”
“What’s the point?” is the big question. I can’t shake it. It’s always followed by some sort of negative statement: “What’s the point? You’ll never make a living off this.” “What’s the point? No one really cares how this ends.” “What’s the point? You could be working on something real.” “What’s the point? You aren’t making money like this.” “What’s the point? You’re just another vampire hack.” “What’s the point? Anyone could do better than this.” “What’s the point? This story doesn’t even make sense.” “What’s the point? You don’t even have time to finish a chapter right now.”
And on and on and on. One or two might actually be vocalized in my thoughts, but all of the negativity is there. It’s like I think: “I should write the next chapter,” and then I run face first into a giant plexiglass wall of self doubt and derision. I had that under better control when I was writing regularly. I had a history I could point out to myself and say: “no, see: I’ve finished a book. Two books. Three. Four. Five!” Now, though, that’s derailed. And I find myself thinking: “What’s the point? I’m just going to spaz out and disappoint everyone again by leaving them hanging.”
The “What’s the point?” question is particularly devastating at my day job because I don’t care about the product anymore, the company treats me like a cog, I’m at the end of my promotion chain and I already know that the merit raise system is stacked to reduce the raises of anyone who earns more than the average for their position (ie, anyone who has consistently gotten merit raises in the past, like me.) So, I try to make myself work and wind up staring at the screen thinking “what’s the point?” Even though I know that we need the paycheck and the insurance to keep on with life.
When I was writing regularly, the equally regular comments from readers kept me excited and invested. I wanted to write more so I could post more, so I could read more comments and get that vicarious sense of my own work — and that warmth of knowing that I’d made something that people liked. I think my first writing project (predating MNML and Et Alia) failed because I had comments turned off because I was afraid of criticism — and so I missed out on the positive feedback that kept me going back when I was posting 3+ chapters a week.
I’m in therapy again, but so far I haven’t really been clicking with this therapist. I’ve had a few good sessions, where I’ve figured things out about myself and things I hadn’t been admitting until I said them out loud — but she’s more introspection oriented, and what I really need are the practicals.
I’ve mentioned it before: Abby’s history of self harm in MNML is based off of my own. Self harm was the only strategy I had that could give me a grip on the combination of my anxiety and my self derision. I promised Jae to stop harming myself, and medication took care of the anxiety for the most part — but I have no idea how to cope with things in the absence of the option of self harm. Getting flogged by a dom I can trust to know where the line between catharsis and harm is helps, but I have a shortage of people I can go to for that — and it feels really weird to ask someone I don’t already have the right sort of emotional relationship with to help me like that.
The bigger problem, then, is that in the absence of a partner who can let me engage in a physical catharsis safely, I don’t have a way to deal with the negativity on my own. Or at least, I haven’t developed anything into a reliable tool. Most of the awareness and calming exercises I do know are geared toward helping reduce immediate stress and anxiety. Not so much toward self-doubt, internalized pessimism (mind you: I’m optimistic about life. I anticipate that any bad situation will work itself out, eventually. I’m a pessimist when it comes to the value of my contribution, or of myself) and general negativity.
I guess that’s where I’m at. I need better ways to deal with my emotions. Especially the whole active absence of confidence (what is the word for it? It’s not lack of confidence: it’s actively tearing yourself down) and low self-esteem and high personal negativity. If you have any recommendations: tips, techniques, recommendable self-help books, articles, friendly sadists/doms in the Saint Louis area; whatever — please feel free to email them to me or comment them below.
Thanks for listening,