Showing posts with label vade mecem. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vade mecem. Show all posts

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Confessions of an Anxious Writer: Episode I

A Story

In the future, I hope to share my experiences living with anxiety as a writer.  The best way to begin our first episode is with a story.   

In the fall of 2005, I was taking the second exam in my favorite class, England from 1066 to 1688. I'd been studying hard, but it hadn't felt like studying because the stories of medieval England, as told by my engaging professor, had sparked my imagination.  It should have been an easy, fun exam (if there is such a thing): a few paragraphs describing Joan of Arc, the War of the Roses, the dramatic death of Richard III and the reign of Elizabeth I.

But something happened that I had not expected: a melt down.  (I mean, why on Earth hadn't it happened in that awful statistics class?)  I remember sitting there in the classroom, quiet but for the sounds of other students' pens and shuffling papers, and suddenly feeling all the knowledge I had packed into my brain evaporate, leaving my head empty... making plenty of room for panic.  I found myself completely unable to write - paralyzed and ashamed and terribly confused. 

What a blessing it was that Professor Carole caught sight of me turning a bright shade of crimson, biting down on my hand to stifle any sounds as the tears streamed down my face. She gently coaxed me out of my chair and into the hallway.  "Go home and rest," she said. "You can take the exam when you're feeling better.  There's nothing to be ashamed of."

This was just one of many stories I can tell you from my life that fell into place when I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) in college.  I knew I'd been an excessively worried and weepy little girl and teenager, but no one had ever been able to tell me why.  These days I can tell you plainly: my brain produces too much serotonin.  I am not overly sensitive or twitty.  It's the way I was made.

Writing and Anxiety

As a writer, this self-knowledge has been extremely helpful, especially as the writer's path is by nature precarious.  Having set out to publish a novel and knowing that it might take years for this dream to be achieved, I know it is not for the faint of heart.  Though early in the process, I have been beset by anxious thoughts, an internal Sturm und Drang of doubts and fears mixing with the desperate desire to get my story out there.  As you know, the direct way for an unpublished writer to begin that journey is to appeal to literary agents via (hundreds of) query letters - a subjective process that can either make or break you.  Arguments for practicality and "common sense" would ask, understandably, why on Earth I'd choose this path when it is 1.) uncertain and an indirect path to "success", and 2.) likely to expose me to more anxiety-causing situations.  In other words, isn't writing the stupidest thing you could do?

Far from it.  Throughout my life, but especially now in my late twenties, I have realized how much writing has been a natural survival mechanism.  My days are better and calmer when I stick to a self-prescribed regimen of at least 2,000 words per day - 2,000 words most likely spent world-building in my novels.  Somehow said activity balances the chemicals in my brain.  I equate this to having a C-drive cleaner on your PC; writing gets rid of the chemical junk and allows my brain to function better.  Writing is the one thing I know I can rely on for solace and steady ground.  It is not simply a fun little hobby I picked up in childhood and was never quite able to grow out of like a child and a beloved stuffed animal.

Writing is not only an enjoyable activity, but a lifestyle.  It is something that I love, something that brings order to my otherwise chaotic world.  The more I learn about craft, the more I learn about myself, and the more I want to bring my stories to the world to share with other people.  For these reasons, the uncertain road to publication becomes less daunting and more of a necessary learning experience.  That does not mean my anxiety will ever fully go away.  It does mean that facing anxiety-provoking situations is a necessary risk (or self-challenge) for the sake of art. 

Again, I think of what Stephen King said: art is a support system for life, not the other way around.  He was talking about a desk, but this can be applied more broadly.  Art is medicine, the antidote for situations out of our control.  Let's face it: much of the human experience is out of our control.  Finding out how to make that art work beautifully is our most important quest.  No one else can take that journey for you.  

Plain Facts About Anxiety

  • Anxiety is characterized by exaggerated worry and tension, though there might be nothing specific to provoke it.  A person with Generalized Anxiety constantly anticipates disaster, or a combination of any number of snowballing crises such as health, money, family or job-related stresses.
  • Anxiety is caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters (messenger chemicals) in the brain.
  • Anxiety disorders are chronic.  They are not the result of someone simply "not dealing" with their problems.  An anxiety disorder is about how someone was made, not about their choices.  Seeking (or not seeking) treatment in counseling and in medication is a choice.
  • Telling an anxiety sufferer to "get over it" is unhelpful, and might make his or her anxiety worse.
  • Anxiety is hereditary.
  • Anxiety is often closely connected to depression.  
  • Twice as many women as men suffer from anxiety.
  • In brief, methods of treatment can include: 1.) Medication to balance out the chemicals, 2.) counseling, which will give you the tools to change how you approach your anxiety, your triggers and your mechanisms of coping, 3.) exercise, 4.) eating right and staying hydrated, 5.) get plenty of sleep, 6.) reducing the time spent on social networking sites.


Friday, December 7, 2012

AIL Day 87: mettlesome

Day 87?  Really?  Today's adventure in logophilia is


Mettlesome is an adjective that means "full of vigor and stamina, spirited," and obviously "to have mettle".  I remember stumbling across this word and thinking of it's homonym "meddlesome", which implies mischief or sabotage.  Mettle on the other hand means courageousness, endurance, vigor of strength and temperament.  Imagine how glad I was to discover this was a virtue! 

This trying-to-find-an-agent-and-build-an-online-voice thing is quite the test of my mettle - or, more metaphorically speaking, testing the mettle and metal (iron?) that is in my personality and reinforces me when life seems to take me nowhere or backwards fast.  I spent the last two weeks combing through and revising my novel once again - not because I'm a masochist but to make sure this novel is the absolute best work I can offer.  I will be sending out another query (via snail-mail... or "hard mail" as they call it in my novel) next week, hoping of course, but also looking ahead to the next agent, the next set of materials I must prepare.  I'm learning to bounce back, to continue work on the sequel of this newly finished brain-child, to challenge myself in the physical art of making envelopes and other paper-goods for Christmas presents, to steam puddings and bake cookies, to build up that mettle and metal for the next day, the next week, the next month.  This winter won't be a dormant period, but it will be a waiting period, a testing period, and I must remind myself that there will be a Spring, even if the Winter is long and hard.  Thanks all of you for coming with me!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Launching the Novel (j)

Here goes... I emailed my novel to the first agent on my list today, so wish me luck that this process is off to a kind start.  We are in for a winter of waiting and writing.  From what I've gathered, it will more than likely take a long, long time to find an agent 1.) willing to look at the manuscript, 2.) willing to represent it, 3.) able to publish it.  This is an exercise in patience, not futility. 

I'll let you know how I'm feeling about it later on! Keep writing, I've heard.  Keep writing.  This should be a no-brainer in any situation, but it has become my mantra.  I'm clinging to it like a lifeline, all limbs, fingers and toes.  Thanks for clinging with me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Sisyphean Synopsis (Jillian)

I mentioned Sisyphus this morning right?  He was the man with the impossible task of rolling a boulder up a hill only to have it go rolling down again - eternal punishment for something he did to the chagrin of the gods. 

Since I've completed my novel and intend to send it to agents - the starting point for any novelist hoping to publish - there have been the inevitable tasks to complete, ends to sew up tightly, advice to be read and heeded.  It was quite a strange transition to make from one day being immersed in a world of words to the next when I was on my own again, orbiting that world instead of walking it.  The tasks are writing the dreaded query letter and writing a synopsis.  Ick.  Double ick.

The query letter is a basic, basic, basic letter no more than one page long.  It is the piece of writing one emails/mails to an agent, selling one's book in a matter of two (sometimes three) well-crafted paragraphs... in other words, just a handful of sentences to grab his/her attention.  The first paragraph involves the hook sentence much like that on a book jacket that encapsulates the novel's story, essence and selling-potential in one go.  The next paragraph is a slightly bigger expansion or synopsis of that hook paragraph.  The third is a discussion of one's credentials.  Etcetera.

Somehow I wrote it, rewrote it, embellished, pared down, expanded, pared down, cut, cut, cut, until the thing was the epitome of professional succinctness and naunce.  It is not easy, I tell you, to "say more with less" but it can be done.  After all, writing 125,000 words is a lot easier than 500 or 300: greater margin for error, for one thing. I think if one comes out of the process with a satisfactory query letter one doesn't mind showing to friends and complete strangers, one has grown as a writer.

The synopsis is my present onus.  This is a 1-2 page summary of the book, written dryly with all the facts about the story more or less revealed in sequence.  I didn't realize I needed one until I began to look at submission requirements to particular agencies and did a little subsequent research.  Luckily, Chuck Sambuchino of Writer Unboxed posted some advice on this very thing months ago, of which I found helpful.  One of the things I learned is that a synopsis is very important in genre fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, bla, bla) so that agents can easily follow whether or not one's novel has Acts I, III and III in the right places and in the right proportions.  It makes perfect sense, and yet it seems hopelessly Sisyphean.

Of course, my novel is science fiction, and I realized there is no way around this thing.  "One to two pages?" I asked aloud.  No one heard but the cat, who thinks I'm a nut anyway. "Double spaced?  How can I implode an entire 125,000 word novel into two pages?" The camel through the needle's eye... sort of...

When my panic wore off, I had to remind myself that I thought the exact same thing for the query.  Then, the reaction had been, "An entire novel in one paragraph?  Can't do it!" Obviously, I could and did, but it took me a while.  I'm in the process of reminding myself that the synopsis is really just a bit bigger than the query itself, another expansion of the details presented in those little paragraphs.  But slogging through it in the meantime is utter torture.

Advice to self (and others):

1.) Work on the synopsis a little every day, just like the query letter, then put it away and work on something else.  The first versions will stink, but first drafts of anything usually do.  If you don't have a first draft, how else can you write a better second draft and a good third draft?

2.) Patience.  When I'm on roll - having just finished a project or otherwise blindsided with enthusiasm and overconfidence - I often get the delusion that I can send out the query letter or the entire submission inside of a week if I just work hard enough on it.  This is unrealistic thinking.  Better to take time on something like a query or a synopsis than to send something off that it is rough around the edges.  Remember that you don't have a deadline yet.  That will come later.  Above all: no self-deprecations!

3.) Simplify, simplify, simplify, as Mr. Thoreau said.

4.) In the hours spent away from the query or synopsis, write something from the heart - get back into a routine.  Otherwise, you may feel drained and blocked for no reason.  Writing a query letter or a synopsis does not preclude you from going ahead with new stories.  This is for your sanity.

5.) Read lots of advice on formatting, etc.  Don't ignore it.

6.) Remember that you are doing this for your novel, your brainchild.  It is worth the torture.  And it might not nearly be as bad it seemed at the end.

All right.  Back to the boulder up the hill...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 8: Vade Mecem (Jillian)

After a thorough search, today's word, conveyed in to you in rudimentary calligraphy is...

Vade mecem (noun) is from the Latin (in case you couldn't tell) for "go with me" (or "come hither", as I'd say).  It is a book or manual for easy reference, or an item regularly carried about by a person.  Sometimes both, I'd imagine.

I'd like to think the blog (and perhaps Twitter) is the vade mecem of the internet age.  Now that many of us (not myself, however) have smarty-pants phones that connect to the internet and convey updates on our friends' thoughts, the latest celebrity melodrama or the weather.  We google from where we're standing.  We search and follow directions from these devices.  From an intellectual standpoint, the blog is a public journal, a different kind of vade mecem.  Depending on your subject matter, you're inviting your readers along for an adventure - not necessarily plotting directions but experiences.  I'd like to think that Daedalus is helpful - perhaps not a manual, but a source of encouragement to be carried about through the year.  This isn't my or Michelle's personal-minutia blog, but I'd hope we can share our challenges as writers. 

Honestly, this Autumn might be a tough one for me.  I might have mentioned it before, but I'm currently drafting a query letter for my novel.  I hope to get the first query sent to a literary agency in the next couple of weeks.  I've never done so before, and the more I think about it, the more it's like standing on the edge of an abyss.  The only way to know what lies beyond is take a leap of faith.  As that unfolds, I'm considering applying to a graduate creative writing program again.  I hope that through Daedalus you can come along with me on this journey in the dark, and we can figure out the world that is literary agents and publishing and graduate school applications together.  Who knows where we might end up?


to a blog by three people who write, for anyone else who wants to write. It's a cruel world for creators, and here we promise support, whimsy, and curiosity that will hopefully keep your pen moving and keyboard tapping!

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