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Being Kind to Myself

light of knowledge 003Chronic illnesses are assholes. My most current diagnosis happened just over a year ago and was a huge relief after years of reacting to weird things and nothing really making sense to me or my team of amazing doctors. However, this is a tricksy disorder. One that I can take all the meds in the world to prevent reactions but I might still have them if I already have an abundance of histamines floating around in my body and I’m exposed to a trigger. It’s also caused a lot of pain, inflammation, and brain fog that has made writing difficult. At the height of symptoms before the diagnosis, I could sit at the computer for hours and not write a thing, and not for lack of trying. I tried, but brain fog will mess you up. Not being able to think of the words I know as well as not forming coherent sentences will make any writer frustrated. I think I was beyond frustrated though. I was angry that I was unable to do what I love.

Then there were days where I was able to write and it felt like things were flowing, but then after spending a week on one scene alone I’d decide it was unusable. All that time spent on something that would not make it into the final manuscript. Talk about frustrating.

What was I doing?

I gave in. I stopped writing because the stress of being unable to made my mast cell disorder worse. Yeah, stress is a trigger. Good times.

We’ve been doing med changes one at a time and I finally got to the point where I could start writing again earlier this year. But I would be productive for a day and then nothing for a week. Rinse. Repeat.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. After having a short period of productivity, I had a couple of weeks of not being able to at all again.

Have I mentioned the frustration and anger?

And then, by some sign from the universe, this Tumblr post kept popping up on my Facebook feed:

Terry Pratchett

Image description: Tumblr user mikeyshackwriting: I saw a post talking about how Terry Pratchett only wrote 400 words a day, how that goal helped him write literally dozens of books before he died. So I reduced my own daily word goal. I went down from 1,000 to 200. With that 800-word wall taken down, I’ve been writing more. “I won’t get on tumblr/watch TV/draw/read until I hit my word goal” used to be something I said as self-restraint. And when I inevitably couldn’t cough up four pages in one sitting, I felt like garbage, and the pleasurable hobbies I had planned on felt like I was cheating myself when I just gave up. Now it’s something I say because I just have to finish this scene, just have to round out this conversation, can’t stop now, because I’m enjoying myself, I’m having an amazing time writing. Something that hasn’t been true of my original works since middle school. And sometimes I think, “Well, two hundred is technically less than four hundred.” And I have to stop myself, because – I am writing half as much as Terry Pratchett. Terry fucking Pratchett, who not only published regularly up until his death, but published books that were consistently good. And this has also been an immense help as a writer with ADHD, because I don’t feel bad when I take a break from writing – two hundred words works up quick, after all. If I take a break at 150, I have a whole day to write 50 more words, and I’ve rarely written less than 200 words and not felt the need to keep writing because I need to tie up a loose end anyways. Yes, sometimes, I do not produce a single thing worth keeping in those two hundred words. But it’s much easier to edit two hundred words of bad writing than it is to edit no writing at all.

I finally realized that part of what was blocking me was myself. Yeah. I was getting in my own way.

I wasn’t being as kind to myself as I thought I was. Because the kindness I was extending myself was overshadowed by a negative feedback loop playing in the background so softly it wasn’t recognizable.

Have you ever been listening to music on your computer and you’re opening websites to read articles, find recipes, or whatever and something feels off about the music, but you can’t quite put your finger on it but you continue, thinking maybe you’re imagining things? That’s been me for the last few years and pretty much every time I attempted to write.

Finally, you close some tabs and you realize that a video had been running on autoplay in one of those tabs and you think, “I’m not going crazy. There really was something else playing.”

After a couple of weeks of not being able to write (chronic illnesses are assholes) the last couple of weeks have been productive. Not wildly productive, breaking 1k word counts. More in the sense that I was able to write with a clear sense of where the scene is headed, how it needs to change from the original, and what comes next. One day after the last time I saw the Tumblr meme above I left myself a kind note with a reminder of what to focus on the next day. Seems like a no-brainer, yeah?

The norm is I write myself snarky notes, and anyone I’ve beta read for knows I can be pretty snarky. Not mean snarky, all in fun snarkiness. The problem with that is when I go long stretches without being able to write because of brain fog or pain or both I have to work extra hard to beat down negative self-talk as soon as it starts. Because what am I if I’m not productive?

That’s the problem with chronic illness. We’re socialized to believe our worth lies in our productivity and what we can provide others rather than we have worth because we exist. Everyone with chronic illness, physical and/or mental, can relate to that feeling of having no worth when we are physically/mentally unable to do anything. We see the glazed look in people’s eyes when we try to share our struggles, and so many of us end up struggling in silence to avoid that glazed look or the inevitable unsolicited advice that is nowhere near helpful. We extend kindness to others and don’t get the same in return. We have to be kind to ourselves which is a struggle in itself as well because it’s counter to negative self-talk. The instinct is to internally put ourselves down because we are worthless because we aren’t producing anything. It’s hard for us to see that we have worth just for existing because that’s not what we’re taught as we’re growing up.

So here I am. Leaving myself kind notes in my manuscript before I turn off the computer for the day. I’m better armed against said negative self-talk the next day. And by kind, I don’t necessarily mean being positive about everything. Not at all. I give myself praise. “Hey, you did great today despite having a rough start and feeling like crap.” Acknowledging the stumbling blocks and the fact that I was able to get around them has been key. Do I hit 400 words every day? No. There have been days where my brain just wouldn’t cooperate. For the most part, though, I’m hitting it and sometimes continue. Reminding myself that the day before there were things out of my control hindering my progress is what shuts down the negative self-talk. I can’t tell myself I was lazy when I wasn’t. I genuinely couldn’t function.

kindness post

Image description: cropped photo of one typed line on a computer screen highlighted in bright green. Text reads: keep it up, you’re doing great.

I wasn’t sure how my little experiment on myself would turn out. The worst that could happen was things stayed the same. But they didn’t. They’ve improved and I have to thank everything that pointed in the direction of mikeyshackwriting’s Tumblr post for it.

To those of you who are in this same struggle, you are worthy no matter what. You do not have to live up to society’s expectations to prove or keep that worth. It is yours and no one can take it away from you. Just remember to extend the same kindness to yourself that you grant to others.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

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Real Settings

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The Encinitas sign at night.

I never planned on setting Family Ties in Encinitas, or even in California. Unconsciously, the settings I was imagining as I wrote the first draft were familiar to me. In the end, connecting my characters to a setting I knew helped me to better connect with them. The same thing with The Downward Spiral. I didn’t intend to set it in San Diego, it just made sense to me that I set it there which led to me connecting the story and characters to characters from another book I’m working on and its fictional setting in Southern California – if you’ve read The Downward Spiral feel free to guess which characters you’ll see again in the future.

There are more real settings in Family Ties than in The Downward Spiral. While in Southern California on our road trip I took some pictures of places mentioned in Family Ties along with some pictures that inspired a scene in The Downward Spiral.

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The fictional Encinitas High School and La Costa High School in Family Ties are based on different areas of San Dieguito Academy (formerly San Dieguito High School). The parking lot is where Sara gets picked up and dropped off at La Costa High School. It has changed a bit since I went to school there but not too much.

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This is the courtyard of the school where Sara, Arissa, Jason, and Damien spent many lunches.

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Outside the fictional biology room and where Sara and Jason spent lunch alone further down.

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Magic Mountain which was mentioned but did not have a scene. I took this as we were driving to L.A. from Napa.

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A view of Moonlight Beach from the parking lot. This is the first beach mentioned in Family Ties.

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The picnic tables at Moonlight Beach where one scene took place in Family Ties.

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Cardiff State Beach where a couple of nighttime scenes were set. It wouldn’t be nearly as pretty if I tried to take a picture of it at night, though.

For more on Encinitas, you can check out this video from the Encinitas Coast Life Blog.

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Entrance to Hotel Del Coronado.

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The backside where Sara and Jason would’ve walked through to get to the beach…

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There were more places I wanted to take pictures of after leaving Coronado but we got called away and had to go back up to Carlsbad. Included in what I wanted to take pictures of was San Diego Bay, which had a scene in The Downward Spiral.

While researching Jason and Sara’s apartment in L.A., I searched for buildings within walking distance to UCLA and found the Levering Arms. They included floor plans in their photos and I chose one of them as their new home.

The other real setting I used in The Downward Spiral was Balboa Park. We met up with my friend and fellow author, Richard D. Mellinger, one afternoon and spent several hours wandering through the park while chatting. I’ll share more about that in another post. What’s important for this post is that I was inspired to write a scene that takes place in the Japanese Friendship Garden on the deck of the Inamori Pavillion. The garden is rather large and Inamori Pavillion, if you take the same route we did, is a natural stopping point before returning to the entrance.

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This bridge is one of several in the garden. One of my favorite things to photograph in Japanese gardens are the bridges, particularly drum bridges.

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Ikebana inside Inamori Pavillion.

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Last but not least, the koi that inspired a funny moment in The Downward Spiral.

My next book takes place in mostly real settings but it’s also set in the 1990s, so many of the businesses that I use are no longer around. In some cases, the buildings themselves have been torn down. Intrigued? I’ll give you a little peek of one location in closing…

Make Horse

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Skating On Review Ice

Books from the bookstore are great, but so are the ebooks by my friends.

Reviews and ratings are a tricksy thing. As writers, what do we expect from our friends in the public eye when we put our work out for the world to consume? Ego stroking? Reassurances? Love it or else? Honesty? Flattery? We want people to like our stories, but the truth is, not everyone will. I knew this before I gave my beta readers Family Ties. I knew there was a possibility that someone would tell me they hated it. While they stroked my ego with the praise in their notes, they were honest with what needed work and what they wanted to see. Did I use every piece of feedback? No, but I used the majority of it to make my story richer, which is what feedback is supposed to help writers do.

My initial experience with Goodreads when I started using it a year ago, was to rate books usually with a four or five star. Then I started reading books where the phrases were wrong, plots were thin, characters weren’t developed, and nothing was believable. I stopped and reassessed what I was doing because when all is said and done, if I’m rating/reviewing something high when the writer’s skill in that particular piece of work really isn’t that high then it reflects back on me. I consider the technical writing with plot, character development, continuity, and realistic behavior/situations when rating/reviewing. My emotional response factors in there, but not as much. I recently rated a novel by a well-known sci-fi author with three stars because it wasn’t his best.

When I see reviews (because I do all I can to avoid reading them) on Amazon or Goodreads that are four or five stars when the book is riddled with plot holes, inconsistencies, unrealistic behavior/situations, and/or typos it makes me wonder what everyone is thinking when they’re reading the same thing I’m reading. Reviews are completely subjective and we are all drawn into a story in different ways. But there are storytelling basics to be followed and if they aren’t, I question the ratings and reviews. Even before discovering Goodreads, I didn’t put much stock in book reviews as a reader. I never choose what book I’m going to buy/borrow based on reviews.

I tend to be honest and blunt because I don’t believe in sugar coating things, and working with teenage boys for a decade honed that tendency. It wasn’t helpful to them to be anything but forthright after all they had been through before I worked with them. We want people to be kind to our “baby” when we publish it. We want people to like it. We want our friends and family to support us because it’s invaluable, especially coming from our most trusted loved ones. But does that support include a review/rating that isn’t entirely truthful? Just like with the boys, it’s not helpful. It’s not true validation and it’s misleading to potential readers/fans who do read reviews before purchasing a book.

I want genuine feedback about my writing, especially from my friends. I want to know what I missed so I make sure to make it present in my next novel. I want to continually hone my skills and I can’t do that if reviews only pile on the praise.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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