I’m in this super deep funk right now where I can’t see up from down. Sure, I can blame COVID, but this has been going on since way before we knew what it was like to SIP for months on end. In an attempt to purge myself of every block standing in the way of my writing, I’m going to be ultra vulnerable here and spew my stuff in this blog post. Get comfy. This is long.
I have three manuscripts under my belt right now. All of them require a lot of work to get them to final draft mode. I’ve shared parts of each of them to other writers to receive feedback and improve them. Some of that feedback has had me making so many changes, they no longer feel like the story I was once passionate about. As a result, I am not excited about any of these novels, and I HATE writing right now. I can’t even bring myself to write. Even journaling has felt like too much. Sure, I’ll get spurts of inspiration when I sit down and edit, but for the most part, I just keep the manuscript put away and I fill my time with things I “have” to do. In other words, I am protecting myself against my writing by making myself too busy. And yet, I still have time to write, and I’m just not.
Part of the issue is that I just got done taking a bunch of writing classes. Don’t get me wrong – I learned so much from these classes, and my writing improved a ton. But with these lessons came a lot of self-doubt. I have been overwhelmed by self-doubt. We read stories by brilliant writers that were doing things in their writing I never noticed before, and I am now slouching under the weight of inadequacy. I shared writing I was extremely proud of, and received a lot of great feedback on what was working, and what could be fixed. But then I found my head spinning at the suggestions, unsure what to listen to and what to brush aside, and then began over-editing, and then lost my interest in what I was writing.
Hence, the reason I now have three rough draft manuscripts and no final.
The one message that’s tripped me up the most was told to me by a dear friend who meant well, but whose words cut me to the core and I can’t seem to break away from. He told me I was a great writer, but not a good storyteller. And now all I hear when I sit down to write are those words…words I’ve given authority over my life. I mean, how ridiculous is that? It’s one person’s opinion, and I can’t escape the weight of them.
Those words are tied to my novel, Come Here, Cupcake, and I don’t want to go into all the specifics, but that novel was a struggle and a half. I just had so many negative things happen writing that book, and in the final production of it. This friend helped with the production of this book, and predicted it would be a turning point in my career (as in, I was a bad storyteller beforehand, but this book changed all that). Well, he was right, because ever since then, I have not been able to stop questioning my writing ability.
Fast forward to 2017, and I wrote Just Desserts, the sequel to Come Here, Cupcake in the wake of the Santa Rosa fires. Not only did my hometown burn, but I was working at the newspaper, doing my part to keep the public informed (we won a Pulitzer for our hard work, so there’s that). I was exhausted when I wrote that book, and the result was a really, really rough draft.
A rough draft that I am now trying to edit.
Why am I doing this? Obligation, I guess. The original Come Here, Cupcake was a standalone novel, but the revised version left on a cliffhanger. So anyone who reads that book wonders what happens next. Good question. I’m wondering that, too. There’s so much I need to edit in this book, and on top of that, I am being internally pounded by the words, “You’re not a good storyteller,” because this is the series where those words originated. I seriously want to drop this book and wash my hands of the whole series, maybe even take Come Here, Cupcake down completely just to be free of it. But the other part of me wonders if I might free myself of these words if I can write this book and do it some justice.
And still another part of me wonders if this book is worth my time, if I’m preventing myself from writing worthy novels by editing a piece of crap.
In the meantime, I’m just sitting here, avoiding writing altogether.
You know when you grow up in your parents’ religion and believe everyone else has it wrong, and how full their lives would be if they could only experience what you experience? What happens when you suddenly see your faith through new eyes, when you suddenly become aware that your belief system is actually hurting other people? What if you find yourself worshiping next to people who sing of love, but also believe in laws or leaders who harm other people? What if you suddenly become aware that the belief system you grew up with might not be the only path to God? What if your ideas about God begin to shift completely to the point where you no longer believe you know anything about God, and sometimes even question if God exists at all? What if all your friendships were based on your original thoughts about God, and to speak of this would fracture those relationships? What if your whole identity was based on your original thoughts about God, and now you don’t know who you are anymore?
Welcome to my world.
My current story of rejection starts with my questions about faith, beginning with the decision to stop going to church. I wrote an article about it and published it on Medium, thinking it was a nice anonymous place for me to write my truth and no one I knew would ever read it. Well dang if it didn’t go viral. That article was read by tens of thousands of people and shared many times over until eventually my own pastor read it. My husband and I were just going to quietly leave our church, and suddenly our decision was made public. My pastor sent me a nice text about it, but completely misread what I wrote. I texted back, but apparently he never got the message. By that time, though, I just wanted to be free of it. I was getting messages from all sides about that article, and was grappling with whether to take it down because of the haters, or to leave it up for those people who found hope in it. That, and I was also hurt that our pastor never even noticed our absence (it had been months) until that article, and we thought we were close with his family.
Here’s the rejection part, which feels a little silly to even write this. The pastor’s wife left my newsletter list – a list I write in maybe once every few months just to let people know I’m still alive. It felt like a message just for me, letting me know that if I’m struggling with my faith, then she wants no part of me. Maybe that wasn’t what she was saying. Maybe she was just cleaning up the amount of emails she receives, and mine just happened to casually be one of them. But it felt like a rejection.
We haven’t heard from them since.
Social Media is another sore spot for me, in that it’s at the center of some hard feelings. I swear, I should just quit. The latest is that I was blocked and unfriended on Facebook by my aunt, which also seems like such a stupid thing to be upset about, but I’m dumbfounded because I have no idea what I did. I am stuck somewhere between apathy (she has every right to set a boundary) and extreme anger (wtf! I seriously have no idea what spurred this!). I have spent my whole entire life as a people pleaser, watching my P’s and Q’s so that I don’t offend anyone, to the point where I keep silent and smile when someone is blatantly rude to me, my biggest goal being to keep the peace. And this whole blocking thing has unhinged something in me that makes me want to throw two middle fingers up to the air and let everyone who crosses my path know what I think of them, starting with family members who take no issue with offending me.
Rejection, in any form, hurts. At the core of all of this, I am hurt. I feel like I’m in sixth grade all over again, shunned by the popular girls and made to play by herself, and wondering if there’s anyone outside my household worth trusting anymore. This whole COVID thing has brought our world to its knees in more ways than just a disease and economic fallout. It’s also magnifying feelings of loneliness and self-doubt, and I’m obviously not immune.
And yet, there’s hope.
The first is an unofficial writing group I’ve joined, headed up by one of my very favorite authors. This is an author I’ve always named as someone I’d love to meet and gleam writing advice from, and now I have the opportunity to be mentored by him. Just the fact that we’re conversing like old friends makes me feel incredibly grateful.
The second is being invited to join a writing critique group made up of women who are not only great writers, but also know how to critique a piece with love, respecting the author. If I keep going with Just Desserts, this just might be the group that will turn my feelings around about it, and help me jump my writing block hurdle.
The third…I’m still figuring it out. I feel like all these questions about life, faith, writing, etc, could actually be necessary to break me open, exposing me to something greater than I could ever imagine (hello, huge publishing contract, I’m ready!). Or it could just be sending me down shit creek. I guess I’ll see.
One of my coworkers gave me this advice when we started swapping self-doubt stories – “Talk to yourself like the perfect mother.” Oh man, I like that. It means saying something along the lines of, “Hey Crissi, wipe your face and let’s sit with this manuscript for a moment. I know you have all these reasons why it’s a pile of poo, but what do you see in there that you love? You can’t find it? Well, how about this sentence? You wrote that, you brilliant girl! Can you believe it? Because I can, and I know you have more of that in you.”
You guys, let’s all try talking to ourselves that way, okay?
Thanks for reading.