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WHO: Your humble narrator
WHAT: The Girl of Illusions, chapters 1-3, drafted and polished
WHEN: January 31, 2013
WHERE: On my couch, at my laptop
HOW: With all deliberate speed
WHY THIS IS RIDICULOUS: Have you seen my word count?
Oh, well. Here goes.
(Trigger warnings: discussion of suicidal thoughts, depression, and bullying.)
The wires in my brain are a little bit crossed, and sometimes this makes life unnecessarily interesting. For instance, in the middle of a depressive episode, I’ll be waiting for the metro and I’ll think, very academically, about what it would be like to jump onto the tracks. (I’ll spare you the details.) There’s a railing that runs just behind where I typically stand, and I hold on to it. Just in case.
Later, my brain returns to a more or less neurotypical state and I am severely creeped out.
Mind you, this is when I’m an adult, with all the perspective I can muster at the age of 23. I know now that I don’t want to die, no matter what. But what if the depression had started earlier, in middle school? Honestly, I’m not sure I would be here.
I don’t think I was bullied. Teased, mocked, rejected, absolutely, but nothing out of the ordinary for a weird and socially awkward twelve-year-old. (That doesn’t make it okay, of course! I just don’t want to equate my experiences with the really horrifying things that happen to girls [and boys] like Amanda Todd.) At the time, of course, it felt like the end of the world. The youth group at church, which should have been fun or at least a safe space, made me miserable. The idea of dealing with any sort of mental disorder on top of that gives me the shivers.
And yet, that is exactly what so many kids go through every day. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the lifetime prevalence of “severe” mental disorders among 13 to 18-year-old Americans is 21.4%. Since the most recent Current Population Survey (November 2012) says that this age group makes up about 7.8% of the population, that works out to over 5 million people. Given that these kids are by definition different, my guess would be that a lot of them are dealing not only with a mental disorder, but also with someone in one of their communities–school, church, whatever–making their life hell.
To be clear, bullying is awful whether it happens to someone perfectly well-adjusted or someone who maybe isn’t so much. But I do think the intersection of these two problems–bullying and mental disorders–can be particularly dangerous, and too often, fatal.
Yes, this entire post is a reaction to me finally watching the YouTube video of Amanda Todd talking about her experiences. (Extra trigger warnings: discussion of attempted suicide and self-harm, and a graphic image of the latter. And I recommend skipping the comments.) Amanda faced truly awful harassment and described suffering from anxiety and depression as a result. She committed suicide when she was 15.
As Amanda Palmer wrote on her blog (where I saw the video today), “I wish I’d found her.”
I don’t interact with middle or high school students much in my daily life right now. (In health care consulting, they are pretty thin on the ground.) But I hope that they’ll read my books someday. And if they read my books, and if they reach out to me, I will make myself a safe space for them.
I don’t know yet how I’ll do this. I don’t think it’s as easy as putting a button on my website and calling it done. If anyone has suggestions, I’d love to hear them.
Maybe it starts like this: it’s not your fault, you are better than they say you are, and you are not alone.
First, full disclosure: as far as last year’s resolutions are concerned, I didn’t do very well.
- To keep writing (with a goal of 75,000 words): I did keep writing, obviously, but while I didn’t keep careful track, I am pretty sure that 75,000 words didn’t happen. I guess I can give myself half a point for that one.
- To read two books per month and two short stories per week: I finished 21 books, so I came close to that part, but I definitely did not read 100+ short stories. No points.
- To believe in myself even when it was hard: three weeks ago, I was disappointed in myself for not having a book contract yet or something. No points there, either.
In fairness to myself, I made those resolutions before I got this job. So, what do I want for myself in 2013?
- To keep moving forward. Things are going really well, but that’s no reason to let myself stagnate. Specifically:
- Write 50,000 words on The Girl of Illusions and at least one short story.
- Complete at least two levels of my shiny new Rosetta Stone software (Spanish, if you’re curious).
- To read more (again). Let’s try something different this year: three books per month, one short story per week.
There are other things I want, but there’s no way I have the time to make them all happen (especially if I keep resolutions 1 and 2). So, in true economist fashion, I’ll act to maximize my utility and see how my preferences shake out.
Happy new year!
Holy damn. What a year.
I got a job. I moved to Washington, DC. I got an agent. My novel went on submission. I started writing a new book. I went to the Nebula Awards. I met a lot of really awesome people.
This time last year, I was still waiting for all of that, and I was rapidly losing any assurance that it would come. It was entirely possible, then, that I would not get any job offers, that I would have to continue looking for an agent, and that 2012 would be a long list of doors that failed to open.
Obviously, everything is different now. I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to this year, but as good friends reminded me recently, I’m 23. I have time to take the world by storm. And for the first time in my adult life (yes, I know that hasn’t been a lot of time, shut up), I feel like I’m on solid ground.
Here’s to 2013, and everything to come.
When I was twelve or so, my great-uncle, who was also a writer, gave my first stab at a novella to his editor, who sent me some encouraging but constructive criticism. (In retrospect, she was far too kind about the literary merits of The Second Rose, but I was very tiny.) From that experience, and from attending Alpha, getting critiqued became a vital part of my writing process. I can’t say I’ve exactly developed a thick skin, but I’ve become acutely conscious of how much I have yet to learn, which works almost as well.
And aside from the eat-your-vegetables self-improvement aspect, I actually sort of like getting critiques. Critiques involve people reading my writing, which is pretty much the best thing in the world. Until someone reads a story, it’s locked up inside my head, waiting to get out.
So, critiques are awesome, and I seek them out whenever I feel like I’ve done all that I can do to make a story great. When I was getting feedback on the first three chapters of The Girl of Illusions, I got some amazing critiques, including one that made me think more about things like geopolitics and spy skills (hi, Rachel), and another that made me feel like I had lucked into a master class on how to put a novel outline together. (Thanks, Diana!) I learned things from everyone who gave me a critique, and I feel very fortunate to have such brilliant friends.
But as I embark on the third draft of these chapters (which, for those of you playing along at home, I have been working on since at least August), I wonder if maybe I didn’t overdo it. My friend Jon was surprised to hear that I’m getting critiques at this stage of the process.
Me: No, it’s a good thing! [blah blah silly plot decisions]
Him: Do you think you wouldn’t have figured that out on your own?
Me: Maybe, but it would be a lot harder to fix down the road.
He had a point. I’ve been so wrapped up in making these chapters perfect that I’ve almost forgotten how to have faith in myself–in my ability to tell the story that matters most to me. I need to get that back.
So, where do I go from here? First of all, I’m taking a break, and enjoying the holiday with my family and friends. Then, I’m cutting myself off… except for my agent, no one else gets to see the book until I’ve at least finished a draft.
I can do this.
Happy holidays, everyone!
It looks like mockery won’t be necessary this time. I finished the second draft of chapters 1-3 on November 26, which even gave me a few days to polish things up a bit. I’m going to go over it one more time and then send it to a few people who graciously agreed to read it.
I ended up needing to write about 6,000 new words, which is really productive for me. For some reason, although the last iteration of chapter 3 took me about a month to write, I finished the new chapter 3 in… what, two days? I think this is because I took one of Rachel Aaron’s rules for writing well and quickly to heart: if I couldn’t figure out a way to make any given scene something that I was excited about writing, I revamped it, cut it, or combined it with something else.
So, that worked out. Yay! The next step is to go back to the outline and fix some problems I’ve noticed with that.
As previously established, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have aspirations of my own. And I feel like if I don’t set some sort of deadline for myself, it’ll be too easy to tinker endlessly with the first three chapters of The Girl of Illusions, and/or procrastinate on writing the new parts.
So, here’s the deal: I have 11,500 words so far. In between throwing stuff out and adding new material, I’m guessing I need to write about 7,500 words in order to have a second draft of chapters 1-3. I would like to do this by November 30.
That’s 625 words a day, less if I’m overestimating the number of words I need. My previous post notwithstanding, I feel that this is doable.
I’ll be back on December 1 to report the outcome.
I write slowly. This is not news. For me, winning NaNoWriMo is approximately as likely as finishing a marathon. Writing 500 words in a day is a victory; writing too much in a day is likely to leave me burned out and hating the sight of Times New Roman.
And that’s where I am right now. I’ve written almost 2000 words of outline revisions in the last two days. First, I wrote the sloppy version with parentheticals, notes to self, and no more than two TV Tropes references. Then, I spent this evening turning that into something that other people might be allowed to read.
The first three chapters of this manuscript took me three months to write, and now I’m considering throwing out half those words, maybe more. How is this going to be a book, let alone a trilogy?
I’ve been burned out before, of course, so I know it won’t necessarily last. I need food, herbal tea, and sleep, in roughly that order, and I need to step back from this story. In a couple of days, maybe I can come up with a plan of attack. But not today.