Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bring on the Angst, or Confidence: the B Side

So. Let’s talk angst.

My last post was all about confidence and making yourself into the person you want to be and being confident and basically telling the universe “sit, stay” and making it your pet.*

*pet being used here in the place of a much more appropriate word that would increase the PG rating of this post.

But there were some replies (I would link, but they’re now f-locked) talking about how such happy-happy-joy-joy posts felt dishonest and fake (not specifically mine, but the entire Happy-Happy-Joy-Joy genre of posts). That by not talking about the negative aspects of writing, I wasn’t showing the whole story, and was instead portraying a Disney-esque Pollyanna Dancing Through Fields of Sunflowers Tossing Rose Petals and Baby Puppies over Shoulders Image of Writing.*

*I paraphrase.

Okay. Gloves off. Let’s talk about angst. Let’s talk about self-doubt. Let’s talk about everything in writing professionally that is not daisy chains and pillow-top mattresses and glossy dust-jackets. No, it’s not all smiling at my ARCs and petting my final drafts and planning my formal tea parties with Maureen Johnson.

Here’s what it also is.

-It’s realizing that I have four months to write the sequel to SHIVER, and that it had better live up to SHIVER’s wild success, or I will be instantly transported to has-been status.

-It’s having two toddlers in a rural area without childcare and realizing that I, again, have four months to write the sequel to SHIVER.

-It’s being frustrated with edits; seeing a problem but not knowing how to fix it. It’s seeing edits but not realizing what they are trying to say. It’s seeing edits but having no objectivity after reading your own novel seven times.

-It’s waiting months for your initial advance check to come in and swallowing your humility to ask your parents to pay your rent. And telling your cat he’s going to have to start eating those song birds you told him to avoid.

-It’s getting fifty pages into a novel under contract, realizing you started it all wrong, and hitting delete. While the timer keeps ticking down.

-It’s turning down friends’ invitations to dinners, movies, and chippendale dancers because you have copy edits due.

-It’s staying up until two in the morning to get that rough draft done on time. And two in the morning the next night. And the next night. And the next. . .

-It’s finding out that those flashy lights and nausea you’ve been getting are called hormonal migraines, and you’re going to get them every month, and yes, they will floor you and make you unable to do anything but lay in your bed and listen to Jon Secada.

-It’s getting delayed in an airport while traveling to and from a book events and realizing, slowly, that this means a day of not eating because of your preservative allergy. Nothing. Except for apple juice out of a vending machine.

-It’s staring at page 75 of your work in progress and saying “I don’t know where I’m going with this. Holy frick, I have no clue what I was trying to say here.”

-It’s getting your first review of your favorite novel and it says it’s about dog sex.

-It’s waiting to go out and speak to fifty important people about your novel and feeling dizzy as you try to remember what you’re going to say. Something about dogs? and sex?

-It’s watching your husband bundle the kids and extended family into the car for a day trip you can’t go on because you’re working. Probably to IKEA. Because you love IKEA, and missing it makes you sad. Tiny Swedish furniture turns you on.

-It’s lying in bed at night and thinking “why isn’t this plot thread working? what if my editor doesn’t like it? will this have commercial appeal? what if just am writing the same novel over and over?”

-It’s being gone for two days and coming back to 160 e-mails that all need to be answered in the next two days when all you want to do is sleep.

-It’s wondering if you’re too visible in the small town where you live; wondering if you need to worry about mentioning your kids’ names in your blog; wondering if writing will change your life.

-It’s worrying that writing won’t change your life.

-It’s piles of deductions and tax paperwork and enough receipts to surf on.

-It’s finishing that draft, hitting send, thinking “that’s done” and immediately opening up the copy edits on your other novel.

Sound bad?

It’s not.

It’s also doing what I love. Yes, there is tedium. Yes, there’s frustration. But there’s also wild highs and the excitement of opening up that draft to work on it and the little thrill of anticipation when you send off a new novel to your editor. It’s the getting to work without taking off my pajama bottoms or finding a bra. It’s deducting YA novels as a research expense. It’s seeing what I want and doing what I need to get there, positive and negative. I would say it’s 5% angst and 95% life.

Do I have self-doubt? Of course. Life is no fun without a challenge and the definition of a challenge is that it’s something you’re not sure that you’ll be able to tackle successfully. A challenge has doubt built right into it.

Do I have angst and worry? Yeah. Will checks get here in time to cover school? Will I finish this book on time? Will I be able to get a sitter for this conference? There’s plenty to worry about. In fact, I could spend all my time doing worrying. But I wouldn’t have time for those 160 e-mails then, much less going to IKEA to admire tiny Swedish furniture.

The fact is, the little funks and doubts and worries make it better. If you don’t see what the consequences would be of failing, victory isn’t as sweet. I think this is what Carrie was trying to say about insecurity. To a certain extent, I embrace the hard parts and the parts that make me smack my forehead against my keyboard. Lows make the highs higher. But the fact is that I’m too busy to give myself over to too much angst. If something happens, I cling onto my husband for two minutes and wail “I wish I was Queen Elizabeth” or something else evocative, and then I sit down and I get to work. If it seems like I don’t post about the down sides, it’s because I don’t really give them the time of day. They’re there, they’re a fact of life, you handle them.

Are they really a down side? Or are they just a different side?


ElegantSnobbery said...

OMG, you have to turn down Chippendale dancers??? Okay, maybe the writing life is not for me.

And for record... that review was very poorly written. Waaaay too much rambling. She could have used an editor... I bet your book is fantastic. I know I'm going to read it, dog-sex review, or not.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

*grin* Thanks.

Kristen said...

That was a horrid review by that girl on goodreads. I'm glad the angst is only 5% - because I think you'd be in a looney bin hospital, not still on the computer blogging and writing. :)

Angiegirl said...

Ditto on the mostly incoherent review. The whole time I was thinking, Did we read the same book? That was nuts. And the book is fantastic.

I'm sorry you missed out on IKEA. That's harsh.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Kristen, I'm glad you thought so. Honestly, I laughed so hard at it, though. It was actually the perfect negative review to start out with, because it was just so . . . ludicrous and over the top.

And Angie, I'll catch up the IKEA when I turn in my revisions. Must. Pet. Furniture.

And thanks. :)

vivien said...

EXCELLENT post :>)

AnneB said...

Didn't you get the memo about NEVER reading reviews of your book? The only solution is to include cat sex in the sequel, and iguana sex in the sequel to that, and cuttlefish sex the book after that...

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Thanks, Vivien!

And Anne, ooooohhhh, I'm all over that cuttlefish nookie.

Kim said...

Fantastic. Thank you for sharing! I love the line about challenge having doubt built into it. It's so true! I never thought about it that way. :)

I know how you feel; I'm choosing the challenging and scary road, too. But I guess that's the purpose of love: to push us to do the things we won't dream of doing otherwise.

Keep writing and following your passions; I'll promise to do the same.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Thanks, Kim. And YES. It's worth it.

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