Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Detox is a bitch

I've spent the past five or six days in a funk.  I sat inside and did nothing but read novels.  I thought about writing, then felt unworthy and didn't.  I ate meals of ramen noodles, then felt awful as I slipped into carb overload.  A pile of dirty dishes grew to take over a counter and a half.  I had no clean plates.  No clean forks.  I do not know if the mountain of dishes fed the funk, or if it was a symptom.  I suspect it was both.

For three days now I've made myself go walking each evening.  Tonight I tackled Dirty Dish Mountain;  It is no more.  I've switched to a ramen-free diet.

I'm feeling better, but not good. I'm still just barely writing.

I told a writing friend, and she suggested that perhaps this was the post-Odyssey low.  (She'd read about it as the "infamous post-Clarion writers block," but given the similarities of the programs we're certain there's PTSD symptom overlap.)

Perhaps it is, I told her, I just didn't expect it to last this long.  More precisely, I thought it was over.

For about five days after returning from Odyssey I was comatose, waking up just long enough to make coffee and go back to sleep.  Then I recovered.  I got my feet back under me.  I cleaned like a maniac.  I made plans.  I did research.  I reclaimed my life and my brainpower.  Or so I thought.

Detox is a bitch.

I might have physically recovered, but I'm now at the I'm Unworthy stage of recovery.  On Friday, I finished reading the Mercy Thompson series of books by Patricia Briggs, which are absolutely great urban fantasy novels.  And by great I mean that they are entertaining, engaging, plotted better than I could plot, and they don't do any of those things you're not supposed to do ... and they didn't do any of the things that keep tripping me up when I write.  I came to the panicked conclusion that if I wrote urban fantasy I couldn't write as well as that.  Of course, I've read a lot of urban fantasy that's not as good as Patricia Briggs, so the feeling of unworthiness shouldn't have been as overwhelming as it was.  But detox is full of downward spirals and this was (is) one of them.

Here's the tough thing about Odyssey's six week workshop set up: you make giant leaps forward while you're there, but the leaps are never good enough.  There's always some other goal on the horizon that you've not yet achieved, and you're always aware of it.  You feel the great joy of achieving a goal and overcoming a weakness in your story, only to have the workshop shred it for other reasons.

Now, I'm a very practical person when it comes to workshop.  I know that workshop is a place to put aside your feelings and get honest feedback from a large group of readers who have the training to articulate what in the story makes them feel the way they do. I do not consider my stories to be my "babies" or "children" or "gems" or even "diamonds in the rough." They're stories and they can always be made better. I appreciate and understand the process.

The feeling of frustration does not stem from having "my baby" shredded; it stems from making giant leaps forward, and then having workshop tell you that the story's still not good enough.

It's true that it's the job of the workshop to ferret out the issues in any piece of fiction, and that a workshop of happy readers who tell you work work is finished and ready to send out the door "as is" is a useless workshop ... but damn if that don't take the wind out of your sails.

It was week three of workshop when I got to the point where I knew that my ideas weren't going to work, but I didn't yet know enough to fix them.  That was six weeks ago, and I feel like I've stalled at that place.

Highly Recommended