Writing Through It: Depression, Anxiety, and Coping Mechanisms

My new back yard. Image by Natania Barron, CC BY SA 3.0

We just moved. The whole house. Granted, it was only a couple of miles away. But it still sucks, it still interrupts everything, and it still makes writing just about impossible. Not that writing is always at the top of my list of things to do these days. I mean, in a perfect world it would be. But I’ve got kids and pets and family and responsibilities… and a house full of boxes. So. Many. Boxes. At this point I’m beyond the whole “write every day” thing which, when starting out, is super important. Of course. But reality? Yeah. I still don’t have a desk situation set up, so writing’s been slow (and, oddly, typing hasn’t been bothering me on the normal keyboard… I’ll pretend that isn’t weird or whatever). But it’s happening even if it’s slow. It’s 80,000 words of happening. Which is awesome. ::insert happy dance::

However, the world has been upside-down for weeks, now. We all got sick just as the move started. Just after we’d all been sick. Then the baby decided it was a perfect time to start walking. And, to save what sanity I have remaining, I also decided it was time to do something about my anxiety levels which, for the last few months, have been catastrophic. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve gone back on antidepressants, and so far it seems to be helping a great deal. I’ve had some truly great nights of sleep, which have been at the center of my struggles, and I’m grateful.

I won’t say that antidepressants make me a better writer. But they allow me to get out of the awful feedback loops brought about by anxiety. I’m not the first person to ever notice that writers suffer from depression seemingly more than non-creatives. And recently Jim C. Hines wrote a far better piece than this one on writing and depression and medication. The first time around, I had postpartum depression. While I did, indeed, have a baby about ten months ago, this instance is different. Because my relationship with my daughter couldn’t be better. To be candid, I’ve bonded with her in a way that I was never able to do with my son due to PPD. I was afraid of my own child, paralyzed by fear and rushing thoughts and anxiety when it came to my son. Zoloft mended some of that, but also left me feeling a bit distanced from the world. Eventually, I was able to cope without the medicine. I never thought I’d have to rely on it again.

But this time, it’s been something else. When I finally met with my GP, I was in tears and shaky. When I told her everything that’s been going on in my life–valid, awful, heartbreaking things–on top of the insomnia and anxiety, she agreed it was time for help. “You seem like a really good person,” she said to me. “Just take some time for yourself. It’s okay to get help.”

I’ll admit, it’s frustrating. Part of me feels annoyed that I’m on this prescription train again. I’m also annoyed that I’ve had some really hard days in spite of the medication. I want to be strong enough to power through things, but I know I can’t. Writing is my coping mechanism, but that doesn’t always work. When I can’t write because of anxiety and depression, the rest of me starts to fall apart. I remember talking to my psychiatrist when I was diagnosed with PPD and explaining, “It’s not even that I don’t have time to write. Because it’s one thing to be so busy you don’t do it. But I’m not even thinking about it. I don’t care about it any more.” Thankfully, I didn’t get to that point with the current project, but it was getting close.

Six years ago, medicine helped me focus enough to complete my second novel. Now, it’s giving me the focus to finish my seventh, and hopefully to edit my sixth. But the healing isn’t all in the chemicals. The healing is still in those pages, in the words. So, hopefully, in time, they’ll be all that I need. We’ll see.

“People’s dream…

Format Quote

“People’s dreams are made out of what they do all day. The same way a dog that runs after rabbits will dream of rabbits. It’s what you do that makes your soul, not the other way around.” — Barbara Kingsolver

It’s what you do that makes your soul.

No, no, NaNo!

Stuff from my yard. CC BY SA 3.0 — Image by Natania Barron

So I’m not saying I’m not doing NaNoWriMo. And I’m not saying I am. I’m going to be mercurial and special about it, so there.

Life is moving in about a thousand different directions as we speak (I haven’t written much this weekend but… I collected pine cones from the yard, and spray painted them and made a wreath and a tree sculpture thing and designed and painted the Steve head from Minecraft for my eldest kid, while he critiqued every brush stroke and also dealt with his total meltdown at AC Moore–all while still trying to process that he’s likely got Asperger’s and “something else” and there’s nothing that I did wrong, but it’s still going to be this way for a long time, and it’s never going to be “easy” and how the hell am I supposed to get everything done with this teething baby and… oh, look… shiny pinecones!), and while writing has been happening in some capacity it’s not exactly, um, as fluid or as streamlined as I’d like it to be (read: I wrote 7K this last week, and deleted 2K, and… most of it has happened after 11pm). I just got over one of those humps during the editing process. You know what I mean. I just got tired of my own writing. I started to contemplate abandoning ship, taking up the mantle of another job altogether, and moving on. Of course this is natural. Just a few days ago I was contemplating how great the book is, how much I love it, and how I can’t wait to share it with the world.

This is why I started using the #writecrazy hashtag this week. It’s been like that. Also scotch. And wine. And chocolate.

Anyway, writing for the month of November won’t be NaNoWriMo numbers. I’m mixed, to say the least, on the approach, but I can’t say it hasn’t worked for me (considering my only published novel started its infancy as a NaNoWriMo book, even if only about 20% of that original draft made it into the final round).

But! What I’m doing for November is changing the tape. Flipping the disk. Going to side B. I’ll be putting down Rock Revival and starting up again with The Other Country. I had been stuck for quite some time with TOC, and I let it go during my pregnant months. Then, last night, awake while I was supposed to be sleeping, I started “playing the tape” of the book in my head and seriously considering where it might go. And lo! Just like that, I knew the next scene, after months and months of scratching my head. It’s going to take some heavy lifting. Unusually for me, I’m having a tough time with the main character. The current draft has his name as Charlie, but that’s totally not staying. Or maybe it is. I don’t know. I have to get to know him better.

And maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m choosing this book. I feel like Charlie and Kate from Rock Revival would like each other. They’d get each other. Right after I finished Queen of None I started working on Pilgrim again. And I had this odd hitch where I felt like Maddie and Anna hated each other. And I was seeing Maddie with Anna’s eyes and… yeah. #writecrazy all right. That’s not to say that everything is connected. But I think it’s perilously important to choose complimentary work when you can. Charlie and Kate’s stories couldn’t be more different, but they both still are my “kids” if you will. And I need to make sure everyone plays nice. Especially at this moment when Real Life and Everything seem too big and pressing and overwhelming to be of much help.

So, anyway. I’m not not doing NaNo. Not exactly. Good luck to those who are. Or aren’t. Here’s to those telling stories every day and those who do it just one month a year. The most important part is the telling, after all.

Five Ways Social Media Can Destroy Your Writing (and, Potentially, Your Career)

Ah, social media. You can’t cross the street any more without having it cross your consciousness (I wonder if there’s a check-in here!). And as useful as social media can be for us writerly types, I guarantee you for every pro there is a serious and potentially hazardous con. Having written before on some of the reasons I love Twitter for writing, I thought I’d share five ways that social media can, you know, go all Cthulhu on your writing rather than foster it.

1) You drive yourself to distraction. This is perhaps the most obvious pitfall of social media. It’s damn distracting. There’s plenty of time to talk about writing, to meet new writers, to see and read and absorb everyone else’s processes and approaches and learn about the business and agents and publishing and… and… Wait, when was the last time you actually sat down and wrote something? And finished it? And submitted it? Yeah, I thought so. Spend too much time writing and thinking about social media, and before you know it that hard-earned writing time evaporates like wine on a hot skillet. There’s lots of time for learning the craft, and building a network is important. But the second you start spending more time broadcasting than actually creating you’ve got your priorities mixed up. (Don’t think you’re addicted: Check out the Oatmeal’s “How Addicted to Facebook Are You Quiz” for some laughs.)

Solution: Some writers use various types of software to turn off Twitter, Facebook, etc., during writing times. Others are just self-disciplined. Me? I block out hour time periods. For that hour, I’m allowed only to write. Then, I get five or ten minutes to check the wide world. Honestly, sometimes I just keep on writing because, well, there’s a lot less noise out there.

2) You broadcast too much. This is something I’ve seen from very young, fledgeling writers, to established and critically acclaimed writers. Yes, there is too much of a good thing. Over sharing. Over gloating. TMI. You know what I mean. Sure, it’s up to you to do as you will with your social media accounts. I’m not the police. I’m just saying, as a book fan and a writer myself, there’ve been many people that I’ve stopped following simply because their feeds got too, well, uncomfortable or, to turn a phrase, commercial. As much as I don’t want to hear about every single meal and migraine, I don’t want to have to endure a feed that’s nothing but self-promotion. Balance, friends.

Solution: Ask some good friends for critiques of your social media feeds if you’re worried. Write a manifesto about what you do and don’t share. If you care about that sort of thing. If you don’t, well, more power to you. Just know that your social media persona is as close as some of your fans, potential colleagues, and publishers are ever going to get to you. And if you want to make money off this writing thing, it’s probably a good idea to present yourself well. Okay, so maybe you have a huge, established audience and you couldn’t care less about what people think of you because you bathe in dollar bills. I still hold that one bad turn could ruin your career, especially if it reeks of scandal.

3) You get into arguments with other people. You know. Like, every other day. Yes, I believe that discourse is important. The only way that we progress is through understanding, which can sometimes take the form of heated discussions. But is social media the place for this? Likely not. And for a few reasons. a) it’s painfully public so everyone gets to listen to your late-night, Pabst-fueled rantings uncensored and before you have the chance to delete them b) the internet is FOREVER, man. Be a dick once, and it will haunt you for a lifetime, and c) it’s not a good place to be when you’re heated and angry and out for blood. (Penny Arcade even posits that even some folks probably aren’t in that good of a place when they sign up…)

Solution: You’re really pissed off? Good. Maybe you can do something to change the injustice. But take some time to cool off before you oust Major Jerkward Editor to the world. Be tactful. Try blog posts, mobilize your friends, prepare a response. Then you’re not a hot-head drunkard writer who comes off looking petty and jealous, you’re a well-spoken expert on the situation who added something really cool to the discussion and changed a few minds. (Also: try not to take yourself so seriously. I swear, in four years, you’ll look back at this and have a good laugh. Or a cry. Hopefully the former and not the latter.)

4) You’re very vocal about whose writing you do and don’t like. This is beyond issues of content. If you really hate a particular writer simply for the way they write or a particular choice they made in their story, trumpeting it to the social network isn’t the best idea. Why? Well, take a quick look at how many people you’re connected on, say, Facebook. You know, the other day, Facebook recommended that I friend Peter Straub, because apparently we have a whole lot of friends in common. Yeah, that whole six-degrees thing just got a whole lost closer with social media. Thankfully, I like Peter Straub. But if I ranted and raved about how much I detested him, then ran into him virtually or IRL, you know… that might be a bit awkward. And potentially damaging.

Solution: Critique, don’t simply dislike. Don’t let emotion get in the way of reading/projecting about what you’ve read. That goes beyond being a bad social media person — that’s just being a bad reader. If you’re reviewing something, you owe it to yourself and to the writing community to explain why you didn’t like it. You also owe it to everyone to actually read the book. Done well, you come across as someone who knows their stuff and you might even give insight into the writer’s own work. Remember, all writers are still in progress! (Note: some writers do believe they aren’t progressing, and others still can’t take any criticism at all. But at least if you respond intelligently, you cover yourself in the future! While not cool, IMO, I’ve still seen plenty of writers go after other writers and readers either on Twitter, Facebook, or blogs, for bad reviews… Remember that whole thing about the internet being forever? Yeah… totally goes both ways.)

5) You think you’re ready when you’re not. It’s so exciting to see other authors selling stories and doing book tours and signing book deals. But if you start comparing yourself and your career to theirs, you’re in for trouble. The truth is that there’s no magic formula. And submitting a bunch of half-thought stories and novels to publishers before they’re ready, just because you dream of the day you can Tweet: “I sold my book!” is not a good idea. I’ve been guilty myself of this, I will freely admit (while social media wasn’t the only culprit in my progress paralysis, it certainly didn’t help!). A false-sense of your own skill leads to nothing but heartbreak. Unfortunately, for the majority of writers out there, hope does nothing for actually selling a book. Also, beware promises that sound too good: vanity presses, people who want your money to publish your book. It’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff online sometimes, but generally speaking, there is no pot of gold at the end of most promised rainbows.

Solution: Measure success with your own yardstick. Make goals that make sense for you and your experience. Maybe it’s just finishing a short story this year. Maybe it’s scoring an agent. But  framing your success in terms of other peoples’ is a recipe for disaster and, ultimately, massive disappointment. The only thing that writers have in common when it comes to success: damned hard work. To quote Jeff VanderMeer from Facebook earlier today (and to give a nod in general to Booklife, which goes into this better than I do): “If you’re not willing to put in the time and effort, if you don’t like hard work, don’t be a writer. Don’t be a writer if you don’t like to read. The world doesn’t need another punk-ass pretender.”

I’m sure there are lot of other pitfalls of social media, but these are the ones I’ve become most familiar with. Above all, practice moderation, folks. Any tool can become a distraction. Anything you say can be found again. And the only person who can truly control how you’re perceived is you. You want to be an irreverent, irate creative? Go right ahead. Just know that there are possible ramifications. You want to avoid social media altogether and go the Luddite route? Rock on. Just know that you’re also missing out on some pretty huge opportunities. (Or… maybe… in some cases, you’re not!)

How about you? Anyone fallen into any of these traps or discovered others? How do you balance social media and your writing life?

Further Reading:

Home Again, Home Again

Home from Dragon*Con as of this Monday, but life has been, as usual, too hectic for a moment’s rest. That, and the entire house is sick one way or another here. So I’m only now just getting down to reflect on the last weekend.

General consensus is that I don’t know if I’m cut out for Dragon*Con in the long run. There are just too many people, events are too disorganized, and just getting from one hotel to another is a tour de force. The most wonderful moments I had were spending time with friends and other writers (including a very memorable nightcap atop a rotating bar with Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, the delightful Laura Anne Gilman, and my husband… we talked about publishing, licking frogs toads, and other craziness…) But my suspicion is that sort of thing can be done at other conventions where I don’t have to wade through a sea of sticky flesh to get there.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the spirit of Dragon*Con. I love that people can go and express themselves and not be judged. I just came to the conclusion that well, a) I’m not a costumer and b) I’m not that huge of a “fan” I guess. Most of my idols (if you call them that) are writers and, luckily, I’ve met quite a few of those I really, truly admire. More than anything I want to focus my convention going on writerly events, or at least conventions with a more intimate and immersive writing track (not to say I didn’t experience any good writing panels, I totally did; but the rest of the convention definitely got in the way!).

At any rate. Next year will be WorldCon for sure. I can’t pass up Chicago!

Other than the travels and the sickness there has been very little excitement in the Writing Realm save for the anticipation now that I have sent out books for blurbage. Scary. The book is out in a few months, and I’m feeling anxious. Which I’m told is totally natural, and doesn’t really go away even with subsequent publications.

I have a few posts in mind for the coming weeks including my new thoughts on steampunk, writing when it’s hard, and a revisited discussion of social media and the writer’s life. So stay tuned!

Oh! One more thing. I stumbled upon an old pile of short stories and fragments today while digging through to find “Blue Heron” (a real science fiction story I wrote… which is still hilarious to me) and discovered this little fragment I have no real recollection of writing. But I like the tone, and it has wolves. So I thought I’d share. I honestly have no idea where I was going with it, but I kind of like it. It’s titled “Meander” and is just the beginning of something.

It always starts with thunder, doesn’t it? Atmosphere. The convalescence of sight and sound, the air itself charged and everything rumbling, rumbling, away toward the mountains. Without such a backdrop the story loses some of its power, falters when the imagination cannot rightfully escape the mundane, the steely constraints of our reality.

So I start that way. I tell them about the thunder.

The littlest pups are afraid, even without mention of stranger tides. The weather is enough to frighten them, to remind them of nights huddled together in the cave, the wind and rain lashing against the rocks, light illuminating our eyes with each and every flash.

We are wolves, and we have many stories to tell. I am the wolfteller, and so I begin.

Daja buries her muzzle in her sister’s side, and Old Hide licks his teeth knowingly. He knows this story well.

I am the wolfteller, and I remember when Old Hide was just Hide, named for his propensity toward doing just that. Now his muzzle is white, and he has sired six generations.

But I am still young. The stories keep me so.

Just as I begin again, Daja interrupts. The fear has ebbed away, and she is finding her courage to speak; it will serve her well, someday.

Six Ways Twitter Can Make You A Better Writer

Many people consider Twitter solely for networking purposes, for meeting people with common interests and conversing. And while that’s a big part of it, Twitter can also be a very useful tool for improving your writing.

When I first started building my Twitter follow list, I started with a lot of writers. And soon I discovered, mostly through feeds of people like Jay Lake and Paul Jessup, the #wip hashtag. Easy enough, WIP stands for “work in progress”. Basically, writers sample little 140 character or less sections from their work, sharing it with their friends and followers. Not every writer does this (either some don’t like the attention it brings, while others might feel it’s a little too flashy or something) I’ve found it very helpful for a number of reasons.

  • Most importantly, excerpting your #wip brings people into your creative process. It allows your friends, fellow writers, and general followers a glimpse into your current project. The line you tweet may or may not be that good; it may or may not end up in your final draft. But does it matter? If you’re a new or emerging writer and you have a tidbit to share, it’s a great way to get buzz. If you’re a more established writer it helps to generate excitement about your new project and certainly gives fans of your work a reason to follow your feed (besides, you know, tweeting about what you eat).
  • #wip sampling also leaves a written record of what you’re working on when. I find this very useful, and something enlightening, to go back and watch my progress. I can actually figure out how long it took to write various short stories and novels by searching the #wip tag in my posts. To get even more specific, I can add another hashtag, mostly for myself, that indicates what project I’m on (sort of just for myself).
  • #wip sampling really forces you to look at the words. It takes them out of context of the story, which is a fantastic way to edit. In fact, there’s probably only one or two instances where I’ve ever tweeted a #wip that I didn’t end up editing. Sometimes the rhythm of the language is off, sometimes it just dosen’t punch enough; other times, it just needs a tiny tweak to make it better. In the end, it puts a good distance between that sentence or sentences and the whole work. No, I don’t suggest tweeting every sentence just to edit, but if you can every once in a while it can certainly give you some insight.
  • I do this exercise typically when I’ve hit my 1K for the day. I’ll look over the whole work and try and find the best section to tweet. If there’s nothing–absolutely nothing–for me to share, chances are that I’ve done something wrong. If I’ve written 1,000 words and nothing is worth sharing with my writer and reader friends, then something is surely missing. There’s got to be some place with tension, with humor, with excitement! If there isn’t, I’ll go back and do some house-cleaning, even if it’s a first draft.
  • If you’re shy about your work, and don’t like to share, tweeting little bits and pieces is a good way to warm you up. Because, honestly, if you’re going to start publishing, well, everyone is going to have access to everything. While some #wip tweets get responses, many don’t. Mostly because they’re just snippets, of course. But it’s a perfect opportunity to get your feet wet.
  • Lastly, I love going through my friends’ #wip tags. It makes me feel like part of a writing community. String them together and you’ve got some truly fascinating tidbits of creativity going on. Widen your scope through all of Twitter, and there’s a collective, beautiful cacophony of image and craft. To me, that’s just absolutely inspiring. Knowing that other writers are doing the same thing as I am (hopefully not exactly the same, but you get my drift) definitely encourages me to get through the daily writing grind and make my work better.

How about you? Have you discovered any way that social media has helped your writing process?

What future Natania told past Natania.

Photo by Pierre J.
Photo by Pierre J.

No, I can’t really go back in time (if I could, you’d be reading this on a telegraph!). But if I could, there’s a few things I’d tell myself about writing, publication, and and the business of print.

Never underestimate the kindness and generosity of other writers. Most of the progress I’ve made this last year has been because of the friendships I’ve made with other SF/F writers. First it was through WordPress, then it was through Twitter. Not only have other writers helped me learn the ropes and what to expect, but they’ve been a constant source of inspiration and support during the writing, editing, and shopping process.

Never underestimate the selfishness and self-centeredness of other writers. While, thankfully, not as common as the nice folks, there are some astonishingly vain writers out there who are writing for one reason: themselves. They feed off of praise and adulation, and love to talk about themselves and their work but rarely help other people. Steer clear of these folks, no matter what honeyed promises they give you.

Listen to agents. It’s hard advice, at first. It will likely burst your happy little bubble, and will be difficult to hear. At first you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of queries each and every agent gets, then by the sheer fail of it all. But then you’ll realize how important it is that you listen to their advice because, unlike ten years ago, now with Twitter and Facebook and the blogsplosion, you have the opportunity to be in the know. The secrets are out, for the most part. But, conversely, you have no excuse for being ignorant! So in some ways, the competition is even more intense. Keep on your toes.

The Internet is not magic. Just because you blog, podcast, write, critique, and are involved in active Twitter chats doesn’t mean you’ll find success. It can help, of course, but it still takes persistence and work. There are no magic publication fairies that will scoop up your manuscript and whisk it off to Tor. That said, you have to act as your own emissary–so be on good behavior, and try not to be a dick.

Rejection isn’t personal. It’s biased, yes, but not personal. It’s also part of the game. Learning to wear rejection as a badge of honor is a good idea, but it’s no easy task. You can think you’re tough, but life is weird. Chances are you’ll get a major rejection on a day that was crap already, and no matter how much you try to say it doesn’t bother you, it will. It’s natural. It’s something you hoped for, and nothing sucks so much as the destruction of hope (even if it’s just temporary). However, you’re only allowed to let it bother you for a day, an hour, a small increment of time, and then move on. If you can’t move on, frankly, you’re just not cut out for this business.

Make your own victories. It’s not about what you’re writing compared to everyone else. It’s not even about your word count. It’s about telling your story and telling it right. It’s about finding your own voice. Make daily goals, and stick to them. As long as you keep championing on, the sting of rejection won’t be so harsh.

Never take your readers for granted. Their input is some of the most meaningful and helpful you’ll ever get. There is nothing so amazing as sharing something with a reader and having them enjoy it, having the story mean something to them, too. Listen to everything they say… their comments can be more insightful than the most seasoned critic.

Grow a pair. You’ll find, as you continue to write, and move beyond that first novel, that there are things you should have done, could have done, and were afraid to do. Be fearless. Go out on a limb. Be the voice you want to hear. Maybe you can’t slay dragons in real life, but you can do anything between the lines. Trust your imagination, listen to your characters, and be brave enough to heed what you hear.

Read, read, read. Never go a day without reading something. Read books that rock, books that suck. Read how-to books and mystery novels and gardening books. Read cooking books and encyclopedias. Learn from the craft, never stop the stream of information. It is what you love, and if you stray from that path, you’ll get lost. Trust me, I know.

Dreams and revelations.

I have written lots of stuff over the years, but my problem is always finalization, finishing. The first finished novel I ever wrote is a prequel, of sorts, to The Aldersgate, occurring in the same world but some 400 years before. It’s called Peter of Windbourne, and it has been sitting in stasis for… oh, three years or so.

First novels are a tricky business. Writing them is like having your first crush; it’s a hectic, messy, emotional process, and the outcome isn’t necessarily something you hold onto for the rest of your life. Peter isn’t that bad, but it’s had a major, central problem that has taken me a very long time to figure out. In fact, I didn’t think I would figure it out. I started to assume, after a few years, that the book itself would just… lie in state.

Funny thing happened last night, though. I dreamed I was in the book. Namely, that I was Peter, the protagonist. It was a very vivid, intricate, and emotional dream. I specifically recall holding a sword at one point and being very… well, psyched about it. Who wouldn’t be?

With the dream on my mind this morning, I was making coffee when a rather huge revelation about Peter’s character hit me. Something I have missed since he appeared to me ten years ago. Something huge and meaningful and exciting. It’s not a panacea for the issues with the book, but it’s a springboard, and more importantly, it’s the component that changes the story from a rather cut-and-dry sword and sorcery epic fantasy to something far from ordinary…

Crap. Now to find the time to do this!

Living with a writer.

I sometimes wonder what it’s like dealing with me. I mean, being a writer and immersing yourself in imaginary and weird worlds (and sometimes… universes, omniverses, and fractalverses) is by no stretch a “normal” thing to do. My kid, sure, he’s two, and he probably thinks what I do is normal. But how do I explain to him what’s going on in my head?

So, in a nod to my husband for putting up with me, here’s some things you might notice if you live with a writer:

Incoherent mumbling. This is usually reserved for writers in the process of thinking a novel out. You may hear quips of dialogues, sudden phrases like “That’s it!” or “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that before!” followed by strangled cries and notes of frustration. You see, the problem is that for most of us, writing invades our normal lives. You may see a half-full jar of dill pickles ripe for the eating, but the writer will likely see a swamp of green algae where their heroine is currently stuck, and figures out that–yes, the log floating by is exactly what they needed to move this scene forward.

Obsession. This runs the gamut, but most writers have experienced this. Something, from somewhere, whether it be Incan mythology, medieval dance crazes, Mongolian ritual cooking, or the flight patterns of certain Asiatic birds, will strike the fancy of the writer. It may have nothing to do with our WIP (that’s… Work In Progress for the uninitiated) but that doesn’t matter. Because it just might be important. And when and if it becomes important, we will know every last minuscule detail. Even if might only be relegated to a footnote.

Semi-coherent lectures. I often grace my husband late at night with these little beauties, when I’ve been writing a chunk and can’t seem to dislodge my characters from my consciousness. In spite of the fact he’s not yet read what I’m writing, or has been involved, I still find it necessary to lecture for a good hour or so on the nature of steam engines, or Malory’s take on Sir Gawain, or what I plan on doing with the myth when I get my hands on it, and how perfectly it melded with the main intent of my protagonist!

Roller coaster moods. No women jokes here–this is something I’ve seen in many male writers as well. We go through peaks and valleys during our creative processes. One day I’m convinced I’m writing the next best-seller, and am prepared to pay off my student loans, the next I’m ready to toss it all in and go back to retail. This is especially the case if your writer-in-residence is not published. We live in limbo, toil in the knowledge that there’s a chance, somewhere out there, that we’ll find success. And we want to succeed, but we can’t stop writing, even if it seems bleak.

Disorganized/Organized behavior. Writers fall into two main categories, most often. Those who organize, and those who don’t. If you’re like me, you flourish in chaos. Papers aren’t proper if they aren’t in piles. Journals are never completed; novels are spread between Moleskines, sketch-pads, and at least two different word processing programs. If you move something on me, I’ll never find it again, but I’ll swear I knew exactly where it was. Similarly with the organized sorts, everything must be in its place. So much so that sometimes you spend a good deal of your time preparing to write, and making your notes, your mood, your total writerly experience is up to par. And if you move something on an organized writer, be prepared for blood–and war.

Sudden and strange appearances, disappearances. I admit I have no idea how my brain makes connections. But sometimes I’ll be in the middle of the mundane, and must–or else–write what I’ve just thought. This might be in the middle of dinner, a date, a movie, a shower. The muses have one hell of a sense of humor. Alternatively, you may swear your writer friend or spouse or partner was “locked in for the day” when, after fifteen minutes, they reappear again wanting to watch the whole Battlestar Galactica series out of nowhere. That said: the muses have one hell of a sense of humor.

And finally, a penchant for embarrassing conversations with friends and families. Let’s face it, the whole “novel writer” concept is a little difficult to explain to the world at large, especially to those not of the literary slant. This is why when, in the company of someone who seems excited about our WIPs, we have to gush. Sometimes it’s not appropriate. Sometimes we mistake fear and terror for interest. But three hours later, you’ll have a good idea how loyal your friend or family member is…