Not exactly the most cheerful Pinkie Pie-ish post I’ve ever done but as a budding writer, and a human being, I think all of you that have a chance to read this will understand. Maybe not exactly, but you’ve definitely been in this realm of feeling.
Every human that has ever grown up past the age of seven knows what it’s like to be whelmed. Overwhelmed by the stress of school, tests, bullying, siblings, parents and the world in general. Underwhelmed when things disappoint or don’t go our way. This state of being is as reliable as love or anger or fear. It sneaks up on you sometimes or blind sides you like a freaking Mack Truck.
Yesterday was a Mack Truck day for me.
As artists, we all get frustrated sometimes with our work. Whether it’s a huge complicated piece that will take weeks to finish or something we’ve done a hundred times before but it just never comes out the same. (I have an issue like this baking brownies. *SIGH* ) We are our own worst critics and sometimes we just can’t deal. We throw down the paint brushes, rip out pages from the notebook, toss the burnt cookies into the trash. Whatever. F#%k it. Hands held high and head down, we walk away. Underwhelmed with ourselves; overwhelmed with the amount of work done and still needs to be done. Plus all the other crap we gotta deal with like, say LIVING.
Yesterday I had a crisis of faith in my current WIP Hourglass Crescendo. My husband came home for lunch to find me cocooned in a king sized fuzzy blanket on our couch with only my foot hanging out and a mess of white papers scattered in front of me. Thrown, minutes before, with an angry cry and a determination to table flip and give up. He didn’t sympathize at all. He’s seen this before in me. (After 15 years you’d expect not, right?) And he knows it’s especially bad in October because of my Seasonal Affective Disorder. So he knew better than console me or offer me advice. He knew it was something I had to come to grips with on my own. He just calmly picked up my things and laid them aside.
So what was the problem this time? Plot? Structure? Arcs? Pacing? Lack of dark chocolate and Fireball whiskey? Yes, yes, yes, yes and FECKING HELL YES. Everything was wrong. Everything was off!! All my months of “Professional” organization and outlining suddenly didn’t make sense. It was written in Swahili. Who the hell decided THAT would make a good First Act? It doesn’t’ make sense and its soooo long-winded. Ugh, piece of crap. Nobody will want to read this drivel. Hell, I don’t even want to read it! I can be working on my craft projects right now or helping my sisters with their Halloween costumes. I have Mermaid tails to crochet for my kids and a wire Bat necklace to construct for a friend’s birthday. I need groceries! I need to do laundry! I need to go check e-mails and finish that Harry Potter book and and and— I don’t need to deal with this crap!
OVERWHELMED!! TOO MUCH!! BRAIN IS SCREAMING!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
*WHOOSH!!!*<— sound of index cards, pens and heaps of paper hitting the floor once again.
Half an hour later: I’m still cocooned in a fuzzy blanket. Brain goes numb, flooded with liquid nitrogen logic to cool the boiling point temperatures. Okay. So you hate your manuscript. Everything is wrong and it doesn’t make sense and it’s drivel. I give my cool logical brain an affirmative NOD. Solution? YES PLEASE! Scrap it and start over. Wha….? Yes. It’s the only way. WHA…????
ENTER OWEN, BESTIE EXTRAORDINAIRE
My Greenhorn best friend, intelligent as he is, is extremely masochistic. He dared to poke the bear while she was drowning in self-pity. He knew something was wrong when I didn’t flood him with texts all day or answer his. So he asked and I hesitated for all of ten seconds. Part of me knew it was slightly pathetic to be relying on a nineteen year old kid to make me feel better. Me, a mom of two, a wife of ten years, and a grown ass woman of thirty-one.
Yeah I know. Shut up.
But he gets upset when I don’t say things so I let him have it, fingers typing furiously over the keyboard. He knew I was frustrated too because I didn’t have a single misspelled word. (That only happens when I’m extremely focused.) After a little while, he wrote back this:
I was at that point where you just laugh to keep from killing things. It was the laugh that says “Really? REALLY? Walk away if you choose life.” There’s that UNDER-whelmed feeling again. I was kind of expecting him to have the answer to my problems. Magically and inexplicably. Poor guy. He doesn’t realize I place so much of my weight on his shoulders. Of course he couldn’t know this is what was going on so he follows it up that brilliant advice with his version of a “Shrinky Session” where he tries to find the psychological reasoning behind my recent table flip.
He called it “intriguing and frustrating” because he saw clearly my path to success but I couldn’t/wouldn’t take that way. So glad to be entertainment, darling. (He likes puzzles. Very logical fellow. I don’t hold it against him). But the more we talked, the more I sunk into my Whelmed psyche and dug up some gems of epiphany. So it actually proved quite useful. And, BONUS, the resulting conversation spawned this new category on my BLOG “The Psychology of becoming a Novelist”.
Strange too–or maybe not so strange-a lot to the things we talked about I’ve already discussed in my BLOG here. Despair, not feeling good enough, failure, organization, experience… it was all stuff I’d forgotten when the Overwhelmed feeling kicked into overdrive. My brain WHOOSHED all of it to the floor along with my story notes.
Whether you’re overwhelmed with how much work you still have to do or underwhelmed with what you’re producing, STOP. Give yourself a break. Walk away from the computer, put down your pen and just go occupy your brain elsewhere. Do it for the rest of the day and don’t think about writing anymore. Watch a movie. Go walk the dog a second time. Go drive with the windows down and the music blaring. TRUST ME. You’ll feel better for it and you’ll come back feeling calmer and more focused.
Sometimes we forget things when we get whelmed. We forget that Writing is what we want to do and we’re getting better at it, step by step. We forget that millions of people are, or have been, in our shoes before. NO, we’re not where we want to be at the moment but do you really want to fast track the journey to being published? No? I didn’t think so. We have a lot to learn and the only way to get better is–you guessed it….
JUST WRITE. But not when you’re Whelmed.
(Haha. Owen, I love you. I owe you a giant cup of tea ❤ )