What Does Not Kill Me...
These are the things my negative inner voice (aka, my Skinny) has said about my current work in progress:
This is boring.
You’ve started in the wrong place.
Your voice is all wrong.
There’s no character arc.
There’s no story arc.
You have no idea how to plot a novel, do you?
What makes you think anyone will care about this story?
Nobody’s going to read this, anyway.
That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.
And most damning of all, because it echoes what my 11th grade English teacher said about my first short story:
What’s the point?
My Skinny has always been pretty loud (which is probably part of the reason I cry every time I hear Donna read any part of her book—even the funny bits). But being published has made my Skinny louder. Because now she speaks with the voices of the negative reviewers, with the indifferent insouciance of Kirkus and even occasionally with the voices of people on my “team”. My Skinny is a master impersonator.
It’s a shame she only remembers the bad stuff.
Several years ago, I worked with a Skinny in the flesh. This person was supposed to be my mentor, guiding me in the career I thought I would pursue forever because I loved the work I did. But this person told me—every single day—how ill equipped I was for my chosen career. She pointed out everything I did wrong until it seemed I never did anything right. And the entire establishment I worked for backed her up. Never listened to my side, even when I knew I was right and that this person was doing damage to more people than just myself. Every day, I battled tears and self-loathing because I wanted to do my job well. Because I thought it was my calling. Because, long before, another mentor had convinced me I’d be good at it. Because I have pursued other goals through worse and ended up triumphant (or at least alive and stronger—Nietsche would be proud). Because I am not a quitter.
I got sick. I ended up with a migraine. Not just one day. Or a couple. Constant. I could hardly go outside because the light shattered me. I had to leave the room when my kids played Lego because the noise of the pieces rattling against each other made me want to curl into a ball and die. Even now, just thinking back to that time, I can feel the pressure building in my cranium.
It was the best decision I’ve ever made (aside from agreeing to marry my husband). Because I started writing. My failure, as Donna pointed out yesterday, worked in my favor.
Nietsche was right. What does not kill me only serves to make me stronger. My headaches are virtually nonexistent, and when they do reappear, they only last a day. My Skinny is only in my head, and sometimes I can even make her shut up.
|My son got me this on a school trip|
to D.C. It's my writing mug.
Even better, I have found my real calling. I have found the thing I won’t quit, no matter how loud my Skinny gets.
Sometimes things get bad and I feel like no one wants to read my books and like I don’t know how to plot and my characters are cardboard and I can’t envision what happens next. Sometimes, I begin to believe the one-star reviews on Goodreads. Sometimes, I feel like my agent and my editor and my publisher were all just deluded and I'm really not a writer and I should just go get a job at Starbucks.
Sometimes, I just want to quit. So I think about the day I did.
I ask myself—is it really as bad as all that?
The answer is always no. Because I love my characters. I love building stories around them. I love how they speak to me, sometimes in the middle of the night, with voices that cannot be abandoned.
I'm a writer. I can't not write.
So I keep pushing through.